Friday, July 30, 2004

Quote Of The Day

What do our opponents mean when they apply to us the label "Liberal?" If by "Liberal" they mean, as they want people to believe, someone who is soft in his policies abroad, who is against local government, and who is unconcerned with the taxpayer's dollar, then … we are not that kind of "Liberal." But if by a "Liberal" they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people -- their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights, and their civil liberties -- someone who believes we can break through the stalemate and suspicions that grip us in our policies abroad, if that is what they mean by a "Liberal," then I'm proud to say I'm a "Liberal."

- John F. Kennedy, September 14, 1960

Me too Mr. Kennedy.

For more discussion on the word "liberal" and all its many splendored connotations, here is a link to a brief piece by Eric Alterman.

It's Still The Economy Stupid

Despite the unbridled enthusiasm, and occasional outlandish claims, the fact remains that the economy is still lumbering along at a sluggish pace, punctuated by occasional fits and spurts of growth. Listening to the right wing punditizing by such spin-meisters as Mary Matalin, you could be under the impression that this is the strongest economy of the century or even the past decade, but the facts simply to not bear statements like these out. More news was released today by the Commerce Department, and it doesn't fit into the rosy predictions of many Bush supporters:

The U.S. economy grew at an annual rate of just 3 percent in the spring, a dramatic slowdown from the rapid pace of the past year, as consumer spending fell to the weakest rate since the slowdown of 2001, the government reported Friday.

The size of the slowdown caught economists by surprise. Many had been looking for GDP growth to come in around 3.8 percent in the second quarter. Even that would have been a sharp deceleration for an economy that had been growing at a 5.4 percent annual rate through the year ending in March.
The bad growth numbers comes on the heels of disappointing job numbers for June that were also recently released:

Job growth slowed dramatically in June, as employers added just 112,000 workers to payrolls last month, a number that came in well below forecasts by private economists.

The gain was about half of May's revised gain of 235,000 jobs, and was the weakest since February following three straight months of strong job growth, the Labor Department reported.
These numbers give credence to the narrative of the jobless recovery, and compartmentalized growth. The two-tiered recovery, which has favored the wealthiest at the expense of the middle and lower class. The Wall Street Journal, of all sources, recently published an article further examining this dynamic (via Billmon)

"To date, the [recovery's] primary beneficiaries have been upper-income households," concludes Dean Maki, a J.P. Morgan Chase (and former Federal Reserve) economist who has studied the ways that changes in wealth affect spending. In research he sent to clients this month, Mr. Maki said, "Two of the main factors supporting spending over the past year, tax cuts and increases in [stock] wealth, have sharply benefited upper income households relative to others."

Upper-income families, who pay the most in taxes and reaped the largest gains from the tax cuts President Bush championed, drove a surge of consumer spending a year ago that helped to rev up the recovery. Wealthier households also have been big beneficiaries of the stronger stock market, higher corporate profits, bigger dividend payments and the boom in housing.

Lower and middle-income households have benefited from some of these trends, but not nearly as much. For them paychecks and day-to-day living expenses have a much bigger effect. Many have been squeezed, with wages under pressure and with gasoline and food prices higher. The resulting two-tier recovery is showing up in vivid detail in the way Americans are spending their money.
I think that the Bush campaign and their supporters have been too quick to claim that the issue of the economy is off the table. With torpid overall growth and similarly mediocre job performance, and with the increased pressure on the middle and lower classes, the economy could still be a determining factor in 2004. Furthermore, the repetitious mantra of strength and growth in the economic sector could backfire among voters who find themselves facing the uncertain jobs market, and difficulties of rising health care costs, tuition and gasoline prices, and overall fiscal insecurity. Bush's own father turned off many voters who perceived him as out of touch due to his insistence that the economy was strong in 1992, because the reality for many voters was something completely different.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

You Ruined The Surprise

On July 7, 2004, The New Republic ran an article that had many explosive claims about the influence the Bush administration was exerting on Pakistan, through a mixture of threats and rewards, to produce a headline grabbing arrest of a senior al-Qaeda member before the election in November in order to buoy the President's sagging approval ratings. The article even went into detail about the preferred timing for the release of the news of capture:

The New Republic has learned that Pakistani security officials have been told they must produce HVTs [high-value al Qaeda targets] by the election. According to one source in Pakistan's powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), "The Pakistani government is really desperate and wants to flush out bin Laden and his associates after the latest pressures from the U.S. administration to deliver before the [upcoming] U.S. elections."

What's more, this source claims that Bush administration officials have told their Pakistani counterparts they have a date in mind for announcing this achievement: "The last ten days of July deadline has been given repeatedly by visitors to Islamabad and during [ul-Haq's] meetings in Washington." Says McCormack: "I'm aware of no such comment." But according to this ISI official, a White House aide told ul-Haq last spring that "it would be best if the arrest or killing of [any] HVT were announced on twenty-six, twenty-seven, or twenty-eight July"--the first three days of the Democratic National Convention in Boston.
At the time, this article was dismissed by many as yet another unfounded conspiracy theory or perhaps some misinformation by Pakistanis hostile to the Bush administration. But consider this amazing coincidence as reported on today:

Pakistani security forces have captured a high-level al Qaeda operative [Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani] who was on the FBI's most-wanted terrorist list in connection with the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Africa, Interior Minister Faisal Saleh Hayat said Thursday.
So, true to form the Pakistanis did produce a high value target before the election in November. What's even more amazing, they announced his capture on July 28th, the day that John Kerry is set to accept the nomination and address the Democratic Convention. That's right, the news was released today even though the suspect was captured "a few days back," according to Pakistani officials. Addressing the choice of timing to release the news to the press, Minister Faisal Saleh Hayat said "officials wanted to be sure of Ghailani's identity before making the capture public." Pardon my skepticism.

This of course raises some very disturbing questions. Most importantly, if the Bush administration was capable of pressuring the Pakistanis, and these efforts got results, why did they wait until the summer of 2004 to use this tactic? Why the special interest in the news being released during the Democratic Convention? Shouldn't the effort to round up and neutralize al-Qaeda be the foremost goal, surpassing political considerations? Would the world not have been safer had not Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani been apprehended before July 2004?

I'm afraid that the answer to those questions leads to some pretty damning conclusions. It certainly seems that the Bush administration has not been vigilant in its prosecution of the war against radical Islamist jihadists. The safety of this country is in the hands of people who are more concerned with polls and elections, than doing everything within their power to take down al-Qaeda. Once again, as foretold in the prescient admonishments of Paul O'Neill, John DiIulio, and Richard Clarke, politics has trumped policy for the "Mayberry Machiavellis."

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Raising The Barack

Political speeches are primarily judged by two criteria: style and substance. It is not sufficient to be deemed a great oration for the content of the speech to be relevant or resonant. The speaker must also possess a gift for conveying those ideas to the audience, a voice to captivate them and a tenor to move them, the acumen needed to articulate with clear conviction, enough to convince the listener of the speaker's sincerity, determination and the rightness of his ideas. This past Tuesday night, these two components of skilled locution were brought together brilliantly.

Setting: the Democratic Convention at the Fleet Center in Boston. Enter stage left: A relative unknown named Barack Obama, a state Senator from Illinois who is running, as a heavy favorite, for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by retiring Senator Peter Fitzgerald (R), a race that could tilt the balance of power in the Senate to the Democratic Party. Although operating in relative obscurity until only recently, his speech was highly anticipated, preceded by an ever augmenting sense of promise, touting this rising star as the Tiger Woods of the Democratic Party. The label refers as much to his diverse ethnic background (his father is Kenyan and his mother is Caucasian from Kansas, and he was raised by an Indonesian step-father at times in Indonesia), as his apparent prodigious political talents. Of note, if elected he would become only the third African American Senator since Reconstruction.

Despite the daunting expectations, and the hype churned into a froth by the swarm of 24-hour media coverage, Barack Obama rose to the occasion, even surpassing the lofty bar set by those anticipating his performance. He seemlessly intertwined compelling content with smooth eloquence.  In so doing, he succeeded in delivering the finest speech to date at the Democratic Convention. Considering how adroit Clinton was the night before, this is high praise. But praise well deserved.

With a deftness beyond his years (although he looks much younger, he is actually 42) and experience, limited to state politics in Illinois, (although it should be noted, he is a graduate of Harvard Law school, and the first African American Editor of the Harvard Law Review), he delivered a powerful and moving speech, which also stayed away from divisive or polarizing themes.

Eschewing some of the more charged racial rhetoric characterized by iconoclastic movement figures like Jesse Jackson, Obama celebrated the diversity of his heritage but emphasized the unity of America, the oneness of its peoples:

"There's not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there's the United States of America."
In many ways he represents the next wave of the Civil Rights movement. His frame of reference is not rooted in segregation and Jim Crow, and as such he is able to connect to the current problems of race in a more dialectical manner. Although he respects and acknowledges the numerous and invaluable contributions of those that came before him, and recognizes the challenges that remain, his focus was on his "abiding faith in the possibilities of this nation."

Echoing the recent controversial statements made by Bill Cosby, and touching on some of the themes of blackness gone awry as espoused by Debra Dickerson, Obama called on members of the black community to own up to their personal responsibility in the face of their struggle (although his was a velvet touch compared to Cosby's hammer):

"Go into any inner city neighborhood, and folks will tell you that government alone can't teach kids to learn. They know that parents have to parent, that children can't achieve unless we raise their expectations and turn off the television sets and eradicate the slander that says a black youth with a book is acting white."
He returned to the theme of unity to dispel the pundit-driven, hyper-exaggerated and overly mythologized narrative of Red State/Blue State political cleavages and ideological polarization. Rather than divide, he unites:

"...There's not a liberal America and a conservative America - there's the United States of America. The pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats. But I've got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the Blue States, and we don't like federal agents poking around our libraries in the Red States. We coach Little League in the Blue States and have gay friends in the Red States. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and patriots who supported it. We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America."
Building on this concept of one America, he appealed to the compassionate America. The empathetic America. The America for which morality is not the understudy to moralism, but for which real values are put into action and not used as red herrings to drive wedges between families, neighbors and countrymen.

"If there's a child on the south side of Chicago who can't read, that matters to me, even if it's not my child. If there's a senior citizen somewhere who can't pay for her prescription and has to choose between medicine and the rent, that makes my life poorer, even if it's not my grandmother. If there's an Arab American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process, that threatens my civil liberties. It's that fundamental belief - I am my brother's keeper, I am my sister's keeper - that makes this country work. It's what allows us to pursue our individual dreams, yet still come together as a single American family. "E pluribus unum." Out of many, one."
He rounded out the speech with strong words on Kerry's ability and determination to prosecute the war against jihadist Islamist terrorists.  And of course, he discussed at length the economic hardships facing the middle and working classes in this uniquely two-tiered recovery. He used anecdotes to convey the impact of unemployment and underemployment, skyrocketing health care costs, and the lack of quality public education on an ever shrinking middle class. What he did, though, was carefully craft his solutions and rhetoric so as to break with what has at times, fairly or otherwise, been an affliction ascribed to the Democratic Party: the belief in the omnipotence of a government initiated solution.

"Don't get me wrong. The people I meet in small towns and big cities, in diners and office parks, they don't expect government to solve all their problems. They know they have to work hard to get ahead and they want to. Go into the collar counties around Chicago, and people will tell you they don't want their tax money wasted by a welfare agency or the Pentagon. Go into any inner city neighborhood, and folks will tell you that government alone can't teach kids to learn."
Having thus laid out the parameters, he also recognizes that just because government can't do all things corrective, and right all wrongs, that doesn't mean that policy priorities cannot have a tremendously beneficial impact on the opportunities for every American and the quality of life that they can achieve through hard work and perseverance:

"But they sense, deep in their bones, that with just a change in priorities, we can make sure that every child in America has a decent shot at life, and that the doors of opportunity remain open to all. They know we can do better. And they want that choice."
His clarity, wisdom and charisma serve Obama Barack well.  His charm and appeal are winning over converts at the speed of sound.  It is no wonder that the buzz du jour has him as a likely candidate to become the eventual first African American president.  Only time will tell but after watching his performance at the podium during the Convention, all I can say is for Obama, the sky is the limit.  For he has embraced "the audacity of hope" and it is an infectious idea.

The full text of his speech can be found here (but of course the text does not capture his praiseworthy oratory talent) 

Monday, July 26, 2004

Running On Empty

The Army is running out of bullets, both literally and figuratively. As reported in the Washington Post, the protracted conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the increased use of live ammunition in training exercises, has left the Army in the awkward position of importing small caliber bullets from foreign countries, chief among them Britain and Israel. The use of Israeli munitions in two Muslim countries will, unfortunately, prove to be yet another public relations setback for the United States a region of the world where our popularity is seemingly at its nadir. But that is a topic for another day.

What struck me about the story of the Army running out of bullets is how that really is a metaphor for our current foreign policy options. Nothing has brought this reality home more than the latest
revelations regarding Iran. It has recently come to the public's attention, through the release of the 9/11 Commission's report, that Iran, not Iraq, actually had a close working relationship with al-Qaeda, including their continued refusal to extradite several top al-Qaeda leaders currently in Iran. In addition, Iran provided safe haven and sanctuary to 10 of the 19 hijackers, and possibly worked with al-Qaeda on the Khobar Tower bombings in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 Americans. Iran is also sending intelligence and military operatives into Iraq to arm, fund, indoctrinate and train Shiite militias hostile to the U.S. presence, in particular Al Sadr's Mahdi Army. Iranian troops are also reportedly guarding the most influential Iraqi Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al Husseini al Sistani. On top of that, Iran, not Iraq, is actively pursuing nuclear weapons, and has advanced centrifuges needed to enrich weapons grade uranium, and possibly the raw materials needed to take that ominous step.

So here we have a country that has worked with al-Qaeda in the past, still harbors top level al-Qaeda leadership in open defiance of requests for extradition from the United States and Saudi Arabia, is actively working to undermine our efforts in Iraq, and is on the fast track to acquiring the most potent and destructive of WMDs and what is our response? Nothing.

Our Army is overtaxed and stretched thin with overall troop retention and recruitment imperiled. Our military and intelligence apparatuses are bogged down in Iraq, and beholden to the requirements and obligations that the invasion and subsequent reconstruction has demanded. The Army is literally out of bullets. This has diminished our capacity to use the threat of force as a deterrent, especially for nations such as Iran. So in a sense, our foreign policy capacity is out of bullets too.

Iran knows we won't invade. They are aware that we are hamstrung and lack the military manpower to effectively deal with them. This, of course, has only emboldened that regime to further pursue its objectives. It is now more than clear that it is not effective to topple a regime, such as Iran's, if a more vile, threatening, anti-American regime should rise up in its wake because we are not willing or able to successfully reconstruct the country. As we are learning, the reconstruction and and rehabilitation of a country post-regime change requires an enormous commitment of troops, time, money and effort. We simply do not have what it takes to undertake such a Herculean effort in Iran, or any other country at this point.

Considering this grim reality, it can be argued that the invasion of Iraq has made us less safe by removing an invaluable tool for conducting foreign policy, what Teddy Roosevelt called the "big stick." We're not carrying it anymore, and at such a perilous moment in history. The military's sword is lodged in the stone called Iraq. Now all we need is a new leader to extricate it.


With the celluloid images of terrified prisoners, some dead, some naked, some clad in only an opaque hood, fading from the collective short attention span of our country, Lt. Gen. Paul T. Mikolashek, the Army's inspector general has released his findings from an investigation into the prisoner torture scandal. Apparently the Army is banking on the fact that our penchant to be easily distracted will also be accompanied by a bout of mass amnesia. Despite the overwhelming weight of evidence amassed from various sources, including the earlier report prepared by the Army's own Major General Antonio Taguba and other internal Army reports, the inspector general's report clings to the preposterous, all but debunked, "few bad apples theory."

Contradicting Taguba and
other Army reports, Mikolashek's report found no systematic abuse, but instead came to the conclusion that the abuse, torture and homicides were the result of "unauthorized actions taken by a few individuals, coupled with the failure of a few leaders to provide adequate monitoring, supervision and leadership over those soldiers." Despite the fact that there were 94 documented incidences of abuse, torture and death, occurring at multiple locations in Iraq and in a separate country, Afghanistan, the report insisted that the abuse was perpetrated by a seemingly ubiquitous handful of soldiers.

Mikolashek's conclusion that these acts were the sole purview of a small clique of bad soldiers is also at odds with the
report prepared by the notoriously non-partisan and meticulously impartial International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC).

The ICRC report cites abuses, some "tantamount to torture," including physical violence, hooding, humiliation and threats of "imminent execution."

According to the ICRC, these methods of physical and psychological coercion were used by the military intelligence in a systematic way to gain confessions and extract information and other forms of cooperation from persons who had been arrested in connection with suspected security offenses or deemed to have an "intelligence value."

Pierre Kraehenbuehl, ICRC director of operations, said the report had been given to U.S. officials in February 2004, but it only summarized what the agency had been telling U.S. officials in detail between March and November 2003 "either in direct face-to-face conversations or in written interventions."

Kraehenbuehl said the abuse of prisoners represents more than isolated acts, and that the problems were not limited to Abu Ghraib.

"We were dealing here with a broad pattern, not individual acts. There was a pattern and a system," he said. [emphasis added]

Mikolashek's stubborn insistence on reserving all blame for a handful of low level enlisted soldiers also flies in the face of the evolving narrative of
legal justifications for torture that were promulgated by White House attorneys and Ashcroft's Department of Justice, and their use to initiate the infamous "Copper Green" tactics implemented at the behest of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. It is worth noting that Mikolashek made no attempt to find out who had authorized threatening prisoners with dogs and sexually humiliating hooded men, despite the fact that there is evidence that these tactics were specifically green-lighted by General Ricardo Sanchez.

In an
article by Seymour Hersh, the details of the Copper Green program were laid out in detail. Here is an excerpt:

The roots of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal lie not in the criminal inclinations of a few Army reservists but in a decision, approved last year by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, to expand a highly secret operation, which had been focused on the hunt for Al Qaeda, to the interrogation of prisoners in Iraq. Rumsfeld's decision embittered the American intelligence community, damaged the effectiveness of élite combat units, and hurt America's prospects in the war on terror.

According to interviews with several past and present American intelligence officials, the Pentagon's operation, known inside the intelligence community by several code words, including Copper Green, encouraged physical coercion and sexual humiliation of Iraqi prisoners in an effort to generate more intelligence about the growing insurgency in Iraq. A senior C.I.A. official, in confirming the details of this account last week, said that the operation stemmed from Rumsfeld's long-standing desire to wrest control of America's clandestine and paramilitary operations from the C.I.A.
If any conclusion can be drawn from the Mikolashek report, it is that the Pentagon should not be left to investigate itself. As is obvious, the conflict of interest is too often insurmountable. Instead, there should be a bipartisan commission established with broad subpoena powers so that the full extent of this scandal can be known, up and down the chain of command, with the blame being leveled where it belongs, and not solely with a handful of scapegoats, albeit blameworthy in their own right.

As additional background information, there is an editorial from the Military Times with an interesting perspective on the scandal that I posted

Here is a summary of the causes of deaths for detainees as catalogued by
this Army survey.

Friday, July 23, 2004

The War Against al-Qaeda

An article written by author and policy expert Ronald Bruce St John (the father of Total Information Awareness's correspondent in Japan, Alex St John) touches on some of the sentiments regarding the linguistic significance of the phrase the "war on terror" expressed in a post by Publius. Publius quotes an article in today's Washington Post:

"The Sept. 11 commission report offers a broad critique of a central tenet of the Bush administration's foreign policy -- that the attacks have required a 'war on terrorism.' The report argues that the notion of fighting an enemy called "terrorism" is too diffuse and vague to be effective."

Publius's own take on the issue (from an earlier posting):

That's a very important insight. It's wonderfully ironic that idiots like Andrew Sullivan demagogue people who characterize anti-terrorism as a law enforcement operation, when that's exactly what it is. When Sullivan spews bile towards the "law enforcement" people, he's making the same erroneous assumptions about the centrality of states. For instance, if you see the conflict with terrorism as a problem rooted in bad nation-states, then you must see the conflict as a war - and nations must therefore be invaded. But if you see it as a transnational conspiracy with private funding (much like organized crime), then invasions are actually counterproductive, especially if they enrage and radicalize private sources of wealth and individuals who become willing to use that wealth for terrorism. To classify the conflict with terror (linguistically speaking) as a "war" is simply wrong - and it confuses Americans and makes them less likely to understand the conflict.
Now let's take a look at St John's analysis:

First, the Bush administration has steadfastly refused to define terrorism. In the Bush lexicon, terrorism is a catchall term for interpreting diverse conflicts, from separatist movements to paramilitary activity to arms and narcotics trafficking. The failure to define terrorism enabled the White House to label almost anybody opposed to its policies as a terrorist organization. Groups as diverse in structure and objectives as Peru's Shining Path, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, Basque Fatherland and Liberty, the Communist Party of the Philippines, and Hamas are on the State Department's list of designated foreign terrorist organizations.

Early on, this approach served the White House well in its search for recruits in the war on terrorism. Opposition groups in countries whose support the U.S. deemed essential to winning the war were often labeled "terrorist" in an effort to curry support from host governments.

But over time, the failure to define terrorism has become a real liability. The U.S. now has some 5 million names on its master terror watch list, people who are identified as terrorist or believed to represent a potential threat. By listing any terrorist from any terrorist organization, we create a problem, not a solution. We lose focus, and we jeopardize democratic values, trying to monitor that vast number of people. The size of this inclusive terror list also belies official statements that the real concern, al-Qaeda and its affiliates, are relatively small in number, a few hundred or thousand at most.

Related to the first factor is the Bush administration's eager application of the al-Qaeda label to virtually any Islamic group threatening terrorist acts. Regional terrorist groups are invariably portrayed as having been co-opted by al-Qaeda and subject to its command and control. As a result, geographical and country specialists have been forced on the defensive. With the media focused on the global war on terrorism, the White House is not interested in the historical, political, economic, and cultural factors that shaped regional dissident groups. Take Southeast Asia as an example. All of the U.S.-designated terrorist groups in the region were founded long before al-Qaeda made its appearance. Some originated in the 1940s. Al-Qaeda wannabes are out there, often motivated by Bush administration policies, but al-Qaeda isn't everywhere.

Third, the Bush administration has come to see Arab-Muslim terrorism as a phenomenon quite separate from its causes. The Israeli-Palestinian dispute remains the central issue in the Middle East, and until Washington returns to the role of honest broker, there is no hope for a peaceful resolution. The Bush administration has largely accepted the Israeli version of the Intifada, viewing the violence of the Palestinians as "terror" and the inevitable Israeli response as "legitimate self-defense." As a result, both sides are trapped in a downward spiral of violence and retaliation. White House support for Israel's policy of extrajudicial killings, which undermines U.S. initiatives to promote human rights, democracy, and civil society in the region, only compounds the problem.
The Bush administration has used their continued conflation of country specific political uprisings with terrorism, and the inclusion of other distinct Islamic militant groups under the umbrella of al-Qaeda, for multiple purposes. As St John notes, this has been an effective tool for garnering support for the actions of U.S. foreign policy from the governments of otherwise indifferent or hostile countries. We offer to bestow the stigmatizing label of "terrorist" on whatever domestic group they are confronting in return for their consent. This is a tangible incentive, because once declared "terrorists" the countries in question can, and do, switch to more forceful and far reaching tactics.

More damaging, perhaps, has been the Bush administration's ability to deliberately mischaracterize the role of nation states, such as Iraq, in the war against al-Qaeda. It is not uncommon for Bush to refer to Saddam Hussein as a patron of "suiciders" and an aider of "terrorists." Technically, he is referring to Saddam's support for Palestinian militant groups, almost completely unrelated to the mission and methods of al-Qaeda. He is not so careful to clarify though. Furthermore, because militant uprisings, particularly Muslim ones, have been made so indistinguishable from al-Qaeda and its aspirations, the leap was not hard for the American public to make. This at least partially explains the fact that over the past two-plus years, a majority of Americans have expressed belief that Saddam Hussein was in some way behind the 9/11 attacks (the number was initially as high as 70%, but has been coming down to around 50% and below in recent polls), even though all the evidence, and the bi-partisan reports, indicates that Saddam had no collaborative relationship with al-Qaeda, let alone a hand in the 9/11 attacks.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Do You Remember When....

In a previous post, I pointed out that of the seven charges that Saddam Hussein will eventually face from the Iraqi justice system, charges 1-5 occurred during, or before, the period which the Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations had a close working relationship with Saddam Hussein. The seven are:

1. Killing religious figures, 1974

2. Killing political activists over 30 years (1974-Present)

3. Killing thousands of the Kurdish Barzani clan, 1983

4. Anfal ethnic cleansing campaign against Kurds, 1987-88

5. Gassing Kurdish villagers in Halabja, 1988

6. Invading Kuwait, 1990

7. Suppressing Kurdish and Shia uprisings, 1991

Viewing Hussein as an ally and bulwark against the spread of the radical Islam espoused by his neighbor, Iran, Reagan and Bush continued to assist Hussein throughout this period, despite his notoriously treacherous human rights record and continuous use of WMDs against his own people and the Iranians.

I thought I would take this opportunity to remind my readers exactly what the nature of this assistance was. A story appearing in the Washington Post two years ago which quotes, among other sources, Reagan administration officials and recently declassified Reagan administration documents, tells of assistance to Iraq in the form of military aid, economic aid, logistical support and intelligence and biological and chemical weapon precursors that continued even after the Halabja massacre.

The story of U.S. involvement with Saddam Hussein in the years before his 1990 attack on Kuwait -- which included large-scale intelligence sharing, supply of cluster bombs through a Chilean front company, and facilitating Iraq's acquisition of chemical and biological precursors -- is a topical example of the underside of U.S. foreign policy.

A review of thousands of declassified government documents and interviews with former policymakers shows that U.S. intelligence and logistical support played a crucial role in shoring up Iraqi defenses against the "human wave" attacks by suicidal Iranian troops. The administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush authorized the sale to Iraq of numerous items that had both military and civilian applications, including poisonous chemicals and deadly biological viruses, such as anthrax and bubonic plague. [emphasis added]

According to a sworn court affidavit prepared in 1995 by Howard Teicher, a former National Security Council official who worked on Iraqi policy during the Reagan administration, the United States "actively supported the Iraqi war effort by supplying the Iraqis with billions of dollars of credits, by providing military intelligence and advice to the Iraqis, and by closely monitoring third country arms sales to Iraq to make sure Iraq had the military weaponry required." Teicher said in the affidavit that former CIA director William Casey used a Chilean company, Cardoen, to supply Iraq with cluster bombs that could be used to disrupt the Iranian human wave attacks.

To prevent an Iraqi collapse, the Reagan administration supplied battlefield intelligence on Iranian troop buildups to the Iraqis, sometimes through third parties such as Saudi Arabia. The U.S. tilt toward Iraq was enshrined in National Security Decision Directive 114 of Nov. 26, 1983, one of the few important Reagan era foreign policy decisions that still remains classified. According to former U.S. officials, the directive stated that the United States would do "whatever was necessary and legal" to prevent Iraq from losing the war with Iran.

Although U.S. arms manufacturers were not as deeply involved as German or British companies in selling weaponry to Iraq, the Reagan administration effectively turned a blind eye to the export of "dual use" items such as chemical precursors and steel tubes that can have military and civilian applications. According to several former officials, the State and Commerce departments promoted trade in such items as a way to boost U.S. exports and acquire political leverage over Hussein.

And then there were these embarrassing revelations:

When United Nations weapons inspectors were allowed into Iraq after the 1991 Gulf War, they compiled long lists of chemicals, missile components, and computers from American suppliers, including such household names as Union Carbide and Honeywell, which were being used for military purposes.

A 1994 investigation by the Senate Banking Committee turned up dozens of biological agents shipped to Iraq during the mid-'80s under license from the Commerce Department, including various strains of anthrax, subsequently identified by the Pentagon as a key component of the Iraqi biological warfare program. The Commerce Department also approved the export of insecticides to Iraq, despite widespread suspicions that they were being used for chemical warfare.

There were dissenting voices though, and not just from the usual suspects like the United Nations and the "do gooders" in the human rights organizations and the ICRC. These were policy makers inside the CIA and other governmental agencies.

It was a horrible mistake then, but we have got it right now," says Kenneth M. Pollack, a former CIA military analyst and author of "The Threatening Storm," which makes the case for war with Iraq. "My fellow [CIA] analysts and I were warning at the time that Hussein was a very nasty character. We were constantly fighting the State Department.

The sad fact is that aid continued to flow to Iraq even after the massacre in Halabja, that has given rise to the popular lament, and part of the justification for the war, "he gassed his own people."

Although U.S. export controls to Iraq were tightened up in the late 1980s, there were still many loopholes. In December 1988, Dow Chemical sold $1.5 million of pesticides to Iraq, despite U.S. government concerns that they could be used as chemical warfare agents. An Export-Import Bank official reported in a memorandum that he could find "no reason" to stop the sale, despite evidence that the pesticides were "highly toxic" to humans and would cause death "from asphyxiation."

Far from declining, the supply of U.S. military intelligence to Iraq actually expanded in 1988, according to a 1999 book by Francona, "Ally to Adversary: an Eyewitness Account of Iraq's Fall from Grace." Informed sources said much of the battlefield intelligence was channeled to the Iraqis by the CIA office in Baghdad.

The U.S. policy of cultivating Hussein as a moderate and reasonable Arab leader continued right up until he invaded Kuwait in August 1990, documents show. When the then-U.S. ambassador to Baghdad, April Glaspie, met with Hussein on July 25, 1990, a week before the Iraqi attack on Kuwait, she assured him that Bush "wanted better and deeper relations," according to an Iraqi transcript of the conversation. "President Bush is an intelligent man," the ambassador told Hussein, referring to the father of the current president. "He is not going to declare an economic war against Iraq."

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Musical Interlude Part 2

As a follow up to my earlier Musical Interlude, I would like to take some of the comments made by loyal TIA reader Mike and expand on them. Mike said, among other things:

-New York radio is the worst. There is one classic rock station (q104.3) and their library consists of about 50 CDs, 5 of which are Meatloaf and Journey. And this is the best New York has to offer! For those with Long Island ties, 92.7 has recently switched to a Spanish format. Thank God. What had been the alternative station was alternating Madonna with the Smiths. WDRE/LIR had run its course. RIP.
I think Mike is on to something, but apparently his critique of the local NYC area radio programming and MTV was really just the tip of the iceberg, and he is less alone in his angst than he might think.   The New York radio microcosm is actually indicative of a nationwide epidemic that has so weakened the afflicted patient known as broadcast radio, that the death o fthe infirmed may be imminent.

Barry Ritholz at the
Big Picture, points to the fact that fewer and fewer Americans are listening to broadcast radio, the erstwhile engine of the American recording industry, one of our most successful exports and cultural contribution to the world since the mid-20th Century.

Why the adandonment of radio? Ritholz echoes some of Mike's observations:

Stations which were once a way to discover new music have become bland sources of uniform playlists. At present, the heavy emphasis (or over-emphasis) is on hip hop; This comes after a long dalliance with insipid boy bands. Listeners left in droves.
So Mike and Ritholz agree, but who is to blame? Whose hand is on the trigger of the smoking gun aimed at the five toes of radio? Why none other than the avaricious juggernaut of consolidation Clear Channel.

Clear Channel's fastest growth is behind it. When they were early in the process of consolidating and homogenizing U.S. radio, they had a huge growth curve ahead of them. At an earlier point in their growth cycle, Clear Channel was able to wring out massive cost savings as they consolidated their network. That phase is now over.

This efficiency, cost cutting, and uniformity came at a cost: Clear Channel wracked up big margins with their streamlined McMusic programming, but they ended up driving away listeners, also.

Consider the state of radio before Clear Channel was given the greenlight by Congress to consolidate: There were many hundreds of local radio stations -- which required 100's of station managers, 100's of musical programmers, and many 100's of DJs. Across the U.S., you could hear music with a more local flavor. In cities, as you scrolled across the radio dial, you could hear a broad variety of songs, bands and musical genres. Even the same radio format -- classic rock, alternative, pop, etc. -- there were diverse playlists within each genre.

It may not have been "personalized" just for you, but the diversity of musical sources meant that there was likely something on the dial you wanted to listen to. No matter how obscure your musical tastes were, odds favored that there was at least one station worthy of being put into your car radio's presets.

Clear Channel replaced most of this unique programming with a handful of their own "talent." Depending upon the format the mega-station decided upon, they could simply plug in an existing show from their.
As Ritholz notes, what is in one sense a brilliant strategy from a business point of view, does not always translate into the world of art and music. The uniform, bland, playlist mandated pop perpetuated by Clear Channel is eating itself. It has become so large and centralized that its radio empire is collapsing under its own weight. And it has come to this:

So it was with no small amount of amusement that we heard yesterday that radio giant Clear Channel (CCU) was announcing they were cutting back the amount of ad time they would sell on the radio each hour, to a mere 15 minutes per hour, starting January 1, 2005.

The "spin" was that the largest radio player in the U.S. Would be able to use this "enforced scarcity" to raise the value of each spot.

The reality was -- ahem -- somewhat different.
In reality, Clear Channel is having a very difficult time selling ad space because there are fewer listeners to attract advertiser dollars. But this media consolidation shipwreck doesn't end with the listing hull of broadcast radio. Others are being dragged down by the undertow:

Clear Channel didn't only hurt radio -- they drew first blood from the recording industry also. Music fans only buy what they hear; Less music on the radio meant decreasing purchases of CDs. I'm convinced that the ever shrinking national radio playlist caused by radio consolidation is one of the key factors in the declining CD sales nationwide.
So what are folks like Mike to do? Aside from burrowing deep into your own record collection or relying on the ephemeral word of mouth transmission of recommendations, there are other formats that have arisen to serve the market.

Filling the void: The market abhors a vacuum, and in my opinion, a combination of 4 alternatives stepped into the void created by lack of Radio diversity:

1) Internet;
2) Satellite Radio;
3) iPods;
4) P2P
In some ways this story offers a parable for the excesses of the de-regulation/cult of consolidation paradigm. Yes de-regulation and consolidation can cut costs by streamlining operations and centralizing production, which eliminates duplication and redundancy, but is this always the most efficient model?

The answer is obviously no, especially in the creative fields, where diversity, flexibility, and sensitivity to local tastes that are prone to quick moving evolutions demands a more decentralized and leaner corporate animal. Diversity is the lifeblood of creativity and artistic expression. This represents a victory for the resilience of individualism in the face of aesthetic tyranny (excuse the hyperbole), that the population will not simply accept what it is force fed, and will instead go in search of new and tantalizing dishes. This development is an encouraging sign amidst a sea of pop culture uniformity. Long live Rock.

The warning is actually more germane, but for slightly different reasons, for the spector of media consolidation, an examination of which I discussed
here but will not explain now, since this is a music issue.

[Update: So I lied. I couldn't resist the urge to address the media consolidation epidemic. Here is a quote from an
opinion piece penned by Ted Turner via Just A Bump In The Beltway that is relevant to the above discussion of radio and consolidation:

In the media, as in any industry, big corporations play a vital role, but so do small, emerging ones. When you lose small businesses, you lose big ideas. People who own their own businesses are their own bosses. They are independent thinkers. They know they can't compete by imitating the big guys--they have to innovate, so they're less obsessed with earnings than they are with ideas. They are quicker to seize on new technologies and new product ideas. They steal market share from the big companies, spurring them to adopt new approaches. This process promotes competition, which leads to higher product and service quality, more jobs, and greater wealth. It's called capitalism.

But without the proper rules, healthy capitalist markets turn into sluggish oligopolies, and that is what's happening in media today. Large corporations are more profit-focused and risk-averse. They often kill local programming because it's expensive, and they push national programming because it's cheap--even if their decisions run counter to local interests and community values. Their managers are more averse to innovation because they're afraid of being fired for an idea that fails. They prefer to sit on the sidelines, waiting to buy the businesses of the risk-takers who succeed.
On the frightening pace of media consolidation:

To get a flavor of how consolidated the industry has become, consider this: In 1990, the major broadcast networks--ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox--fully or partially owned just 12.5 percent of the new series they aired. By 2000, it was 56.3 percent. Just two years later, it had surged to 77.5 percent.

In this environment, most independent media firms either get gobbled up by one of the big companies or driven out of business altogether. Yet instead of balancing the rules to give independent broadcasters a fair chance in the market, Washington continues to tilt the playing field to favor the biggest players. Last summer, the FCC passed another round of sweeping pro-consolidation rules that, among other things, further raised the cap on the number of TV stations a company can own.
This should rile any person who holds freedom of the press in any type of regard.]

Cutting Through The Yellow Tape

Amidst the yellow haze of the journalistic feeding frenzy over the veracity of Joseph Wilson's claims regarding his trip to Niger, the truthfulness of President Bush's now infamous January 28, 2003 State of the Union Address in which he uttered the controversial sixteen words about Iraq's attempts to acquire uranium from Niger, and the release of two governmental findings (the British Butler Report and the American Senate Intelligence Committee Report) that shed some light on the two issues, it is easy to miss the forest for the trees.

The words in question: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."

The two most important questions that remain concerning this scandal are first, did Iraq in fact try to acquire yellow cake uranium from Niger (and its related sidebar: if so were they successful), and were the claims made in the President's speech justified by the then existing intelligence.

On the first point, there are slightly conflicting conclusions depending on what source you consider. The Butler Report, prepared at the behest of the British government, came to the conclusion that the claim that Iraq had at one point made attempts to buy uranium were "well founded" and that Bush was justified to rely on them, although the Butler Report did not explain in detail how or why it came to the conclusion that the intelligence was sound (even the Butler Report acknowledges that Iraq did not indeed acquire the uranium).

As detailed in an article in a USA Today article , the findings of the Butler Report contrast sharply with those of the Senate Intelligence Committee's report which "accepted the CIA's ultimate assessment - not reached until after the war - that there was little if any credible evidence available to U.S. intelligence to support the charge that Iraq sought, let alone bought, uranium from Niger."

On the second point, whether Bush was justified in including these claims in his State of the Union Address, as discussed in a Washington Post Op-Ed piece, the Senate Report stated that the "bipartisan Senate investigation said the conclusion was a reasonable one at least until October 2002." However, President Bush's speech was delivered in January 28, 2003, almost three months after the CIA had deemed the evidence to be unreliable, as the Senate Committee found. So the question remains, was Bush right in relying on a claim made by British intelligence that his own CIA claimed was unreasonable, unfounded and dubious? Especially in light of the fact that the intelligence community tried to prevent these claims from appearing in the speech because of their weakness.

Returning to the first question, whether Iraq indeed tried to acquire uranium from Niger, the USA Today article lays out some of the salient facts:

• Why would Iraq try to buy uranium from Niger when it already had uranium of its own? Iraq had 550 tons of partially processed uranium ore, or yellowcake, that it had mined and processed itself or imported in the 1980s from Niger. But the material was subject to United Nations inspections, and Iraq's uranium mining and processing facilities had been destroyed in the 1991 Persian Gulf War. British intelligence believed Iraq wanted a secret source of uranium to evade U.N. inspections. U.S. intelligence said Iraq was unlikely to risk exposure in an international uranium deal and would more likely divert its own stockpile because the U.N. inspections occurred only once a year.

• Has the White House changed its position on Bush's January 2003 charge? The White House has not withdrawn or amended its statement last July that the intelligence behind the charge "did not rise to the level of inclusion in a presidential speech."It is also known that there were some documents that related to a purported transaction of uranium between Iraq and Niger that were forged and that these forgeries were initially relied on as evidence by some foreign intelligence agencies, including the British.

It is also known that there were some documents that related to a purported transaction of uranium between Iraq and Niger that were forged and that these forgeries were initially relied on as evidence by some foreign intelligence agencies, including the British.  

Also, on the USA Today article has this on Joseph Wilson:

• What was Wilson's role? Wilson had been an ambassador to Gabon and was posted to Niger earlier in his career. In 1999, he had gone to Niger to gather information about rumors of uranium sales to Iraq. The CIA sent Wilson back to Niger in February 2002 to check on unconfirmed reports about an Iraqi contract to buy uranium. Wilson reported that he found no evidence of a contract and that Niger's uranium was under French control and could not be diverted to Iraq.

He said Niger's former prime minister, Ibrahim Mayaki, had told him that in 1999 he had been approached by a businessman who urged him to meet with an Iraqi delegation. Mayaki said he assumed the meeting would be about uranium, but uranium never came up.

• What did the Senate Intelligence Committee report say about Wilson, and how does he respond? The committee reported that CIA analysts believe Mayaki's comments about the meeting, while inconclusive, tended to support allegations that Iraq was at least trying to buy uranium. Wilson says the Mayaki information was thin and notes that the CIA did not deem it important enough to report to the White House.

The committee reported that Wilson conceded he may have "misspoken" when he told a reporter last year that documents purporting to confirm an Iraq-Niger deal were forgeries when, in fact, he had no access to those documents and could not have known they were forgeries. Wilson says he never claimed to have known about the forged documents.

The committee also questioned Wilson's repeated denials that his wife had "anything to do" with his selection by the CIA to go to Niger. It quoted from a memo by Plame that lays out Wilson's qualifications for the assignment. Wilson and the CIA confirm that the agency, not Plame, selected him for the mission. He says the memo merely laid out his qualifications after he was picked.

In the spirit of fairness, Joseph Wilson does rebut some of the contentions in the Senate Report here.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

The Difference A Letter Makes

The 9/11 Commission is about to release a report containing shocking details of close ties to al-Qaeda and a close working relationship with the terrorist organization.  The only catch is, this relationship is not between Iraq and al-Qaeda, but rather Iraq's neighbor Iran.  But what difference does one letter make?
As reported in the New York Times, "The evidence about an Iran-Qaeda tie contrasts sharply with what the Sept. 11 commission staff has concluded is a dearth of intelligence showing a working relationship between Iraq and the terror network, a judgment that has alarmed the White House since it appears to undermine a central justification of last year's invasion of Iraq."
Time Magazine quotes Thomas Kean, Republican chairman of the 9/11 Commission, "We believe....that there were a lot more active contacts, frankly, with Iran and with Pakistan than there were with Iraq."

The many ties, connections and collaborations are detailed in the Time Magazine article: 
1.  Harboring al-Qaeda:  "A senior U.S. official told TIME that the Commission has uncovered evidence suggesting that between eight and ten of the 14 'muscle' hijackers-that is, those involved in gaining control of the four 9/11 aircraft and subduing the crew and passengers-passed through Iran in the period from October 2000 to February 2001. Sources also tell TIME that Commission investigators found that Iran had a history of allowing al-Qaeda members to enter and exit Iran across the Afghan border. This practice dated back to October 2000, with Iranian officials issuing specific instructions to their border guards-in some cases not to put stamps in the passports of al-Qaeda personnel-and otherwise not harass them and to facilitate their travel across the frontier."
"Since 9/11 the U.S. has held direct talks with Iran-and through intermediaries including Britain, Switzerland and Saudi Arabia-concerning the fate of scores of al-Qaeda that Iran has acknowledged are in the country, including an unspecified number of senior leaders, whom one senior U.S. official called al-Qaeda's 'management council'. The U.S. as well as the Saudis have unsuccessfully sought the repatriation of this group, which is widely thought to include Saad bin Laden, the son of Osama bin Laden, as well of other key al-Qaeda figures."
2. Overtures for Collaboration:  "The senior official also told TIME that the report will note that Iranian officials approached the al-Qaeda leadership after the bombing of the USS Cole and proposed a collaborative relationship in future attacks on the U.S., but the offer was turned down by bin Laden because he did not want to alienate his supporters in Saudi Arabia. "  The reluctance on the part of Bin Laden was likely in consideration for religious cleavages as Saudi Arabia is predominately Sunni while Iran is almost entirely Shiite, as well as historical political animosity between the two regional powers (which is also due in large part to sectarian hostility).
3. Working Relationship:  "These findings follow a Commission staff report, released in June, which suggested that al-Qaeda may have collaborated with Hezbollah and its Iranian sponsors in the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers, a key American military barracks in Saudi Arabia."
Now consider for a moment the tenuous and shaky evidence used to support the claims of a relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda.  There is one documented meeting between Iraqi officials and al-Qaeda leadership that took place in Sudan in the mid-90's, and some other less documented communications that resulted in no collaboration.  The meeting in Sudan served as a pretext for al-Qaeda's request for aid from Iraq, which Iraq subsequently ignored.  Then there is the dubious alleged meeting between 9/11 ringleader Mohammad Atta and an Iraqi intelligence operative in Prague, Czech Republic in 2001.  Despite the claim by Vice President Cheney that the possibility that such a meeting occurred cannot be ruled out entirely, Czech intelligence officials, as well as the FBI and CIA, claim that the evidence strongly suggests that such a meeting never happened.
What is worse though is the calamitous results the invasion of Iraq has had on our overstretched and overtaxed U.S. military forces, and how this has diminished our capacity to use the threat of force as a deterrent, especially for nations such as Iran.  This lack of a credible threat has had serious reprecussions on the policy initiatives of Iran.  First, a look at how our recent foreign policy has impacted Iran.  In the first of two expensive and asset draining conflicts, the U.S. military toppled a hostile regime on Iran's eastern front (the Taliban) leaving the warlords to step into the power vacuum, with the most powerful warlords currently in power being pro-Iranian Shiites.  Then we took out Iran's long time nemesis, and frequent adversary, in the west (Saddam Hussein), and we left behind what will eventually be an extremely pro-Iranian Shiite government in its wake.
For Shiites, a minority Muslim sect that have suffered violent repression for centuries at the hands of the Sunni majority, sectarian ties almost always transcend national borders, which were drawn more or less arbitrarily in the early part of the 20th Century.  For example, during and after the Iran-Iraq war, Saddam often lashed out at the Shiites in the south for providing aid to the Iranians. These were some of his bloodiest crackdowns.
Another boon for Iran, has come in the realm of public perception. As reported in a Knight-Ridder article (6/24/04) "The protracted war with insurgents in Iraq has also weakened America's standing in the region. Many people across the Middle East have begun to embrace Iran's vision of the United States as a 'Great Satan.' America's aim of bringing democracy to the region doesn't square with what they see happening. Instead, they're convinced that American policy is aimed at controlling the Middle East's vast oil reserves and subduing both Shiite and Sunni Muslims."
As Iran gains influence and power in the region, and inches closer to nuclear capacity, the U.S. is left with fewer options to take due to our overstretched military and intelligence apparatuses. As Sy Hersh reported, senior intelligence officials acknowledged this predicament in relation to Iran: "we know we can't attack them right now, they know we can't attack them, and what's worse, they know that we know we can't attack them."  
Iran knows we won't invade. They are aware that we are hamstrung and lack the military manpower to effectively deal with them.  It is now more than clear that it is not effective to topple a regime, such as Iran's, if a more vile, threatening, anti-American regime should rise up in its wake because we are not willing or able to successfully reconstruct the country.  It is also now apparent that such an invasion would galvanize popular support around the extremist hard-liners, while the moderate reformist voices will be muted or side-lined, which would be counter-productive to say the least.
There is also this added twist with Iran: If we were to invade Iran at this point, the Iraqi Shiites would rise up against us in open revolt and we will have lost Iraq completely. We would be fighting a two front war, and Iran thinks we won't be willing to do that. They're probably right.
Because of this, and other factors, Iran is openly taunting us. They are harboring many senior al-Qaeda leaders and refusing to extradite them to the US or even Saudi Arabia, aggressively pursuing an advanced nuclear program (with much of the material and technology coming from Pakistan), and sending intelligence and military ops in Iraq to arm, fund, indoctrinate and train Shiite militias hostile to the U.S. presence, in particular Al Sadr's Mahdi Army.  Iranian troops are also reportedly guarding the most influential Iraqi Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al Husseini al Sistani.   Iran seems to be covering all bases in its effort to cultivate support among the majority Iraqi Shiites.
Iran will be the unintended victor for our great mis-adventure in Iraq, and they will be emboldened by their increased prominence and our diminished capacity to respond with military force. But at least Saddam won't be able to give his vast stockpiles of WMDs to his extensive array of long established allies in al-Qaeda.


Monday, July 19, 2004

What If?

Eric Alterman has put together a priceless exercise in fictional history. Here is a one act play that takes place in the aftermath of 9/11:

Date: September 12, 2001
Scene: The Oval Office.
Characters: President George W. Bush and an Imaginary Honest Adviser.

George Bush: Boy, that was scary. Let's invade someone.
Imaginary Honest Adviser: Yes, sir, but who?
GB: Well, who did it?
IHA: We're not certain, sir, but we think it was Al Qaida.
GB: They couldn't have done it alone. Who helped them?
IHA: Well sir, most of the hijackers were from Saudi Arabia and the regime there has been a big help. They received extensive help from over the years from the Pakistan military and security services. Oh, and it turns out that the Iranians have been helping as well.
GB: Hmm, any of those regimes planning on gong nuclear anytime soon? That would really be scary.
IHA: Sir, that would be Iran and Pakistan.
GB: Any of 'em democracies?
IHA: Nope.
GB: OK, Let me get this straight. The Saudis are anti-democratic and help the terrorists who attacked us. The Iranians and the Pakistanis are anti-democratic, help the terrorists who attacked us, and have either acquired or are about to acquire nuclear weapons.
IHA: Yes sir.
GB: Great. Let's invade Iraq.

Allow me to add a couple of other relevant topics that the imaginary honest adviser could have discussed with the President:

1. Not only does Pakistan, who greatly supported Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, have nuclear weapons, but they sold the technology and raw materials to Iran, North Korea and Libya to name a few (that would be two out of three members of the "Axis of Evil," the only absentee being Iraq).

2. Invading Iraq would greatly aid Iran by eliminating its nemesis to the West in Saddam Hussein, and allowing for the power vacuum to be filled by a predominately Shiite pro-Iranian regime.

3. Invading any Muslim country will incite anti-American radicalism and provide a boon to Al-Qaeda's recruitment efforts, so we need to pick our fights wisely and with the utmost discretion.

4. All wars have enormous financial costs and are unpredictable in nature so there are several unintended consequences that could be unleashed that will destabilize any region we invade while at the same time our military is bogged down and less able to address the result from the destabilization. So again we need to pick our fights wisely and with the utmost discretion.

Then of course there are the other issues that might not have been as foreseeable even for the imaginary honest adviser such as the catastrophic impact of the Abu-Ghraib debacle, the weakening of traditional alliances, and the loss of credibility for our intelligence gathering and threat assessment capacities. But these sorts of conversations only take place with Presidents that "do nuance" and who are interested in the wider ramifications and implications of foreign policy. Not those that are prone to black and white snap judgments, that are stubbornly defended even in the face of overwhelming evidence.

Friday, July 16, 2004

Old King Cole

Juan Cole (who has been doing some impressive work lately) had such an insightful post that I wanted to reprint it in full. He responds to several assertions made by President Bush in a recent speech, which I'm sure will be incorporated in Bush's re-election pitch to be repeated ad nauseum. Cole takes apart these claims point by point in a manner befitting a prosecutor's cross examination. If only the rest of the "liberal media" were as thorough. Here is Cole's take:

President Bush gave a speech on Tuesday in which he made specific claims about how the United States is safer as a result of his military action. I dispute assertions about particular Middle Eastern or South Asian countries.

"The world is changing for the better because of American leadership. America is safer today because we are leading the world. Afghanistan was once the home of al-Qaeda. Now terror camps are closed, democracy is rising, and the American people are safer," he said.

Cole: The Afghanistan war was the right war at the right time, and it did break up the network of al-Qaeda training camps from which terrorists would have gone on hitting the United States. But the fact is that Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld did not want to fight that war after September 11. Rumsfeld sniffed that "there were no good targets" in Afghanistan. Bush, Rumsfeld and Cheney all wanted to leave al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and attack Iraq first. At first Wolfowitz was leaked as the proponent of this crazy idea, and although he did back it, it is now clear from insider accounts like that of Richard Clark that the three top leaders just mentioned wanted Iraq first. The UK ambassador to the US maintains that it was Tony Blair who talked Bush into going after al-Qaeda in Afghanistan first, with a promise that he would later support an Iraq war. MI6 would have been briefing Tony about the dire threat coming from Afghanistan, and he, unlike the Bush team, could see the dangers of getting bogged down in an Iraq quagmire while al-Qaeda and the Taliban were still in control of Afghanistan. (Can you imagine the full scope of that disaster that Bush had planned for us?)

Even after Bush was dragged kicking and screaming into doing the right thing by Blair, he did it half-heartedly. He let Bin Laden and al-Zawahiri escape. (I'll repeat that. He let Bin Laden and al-Zawahiri escape). Instead of rebuilding and stabilizing Afghanistan, as he promised, he put almost nothing into reconstruction for that country.

Then he let the poppy growing industry come back with a vengeance. Afghanistan's GNP is $5 billion a year. At least $2 billion of that is poppies, and Afghanistan has become the top source for heroin in Europe. With al-Qaeda and the Taliban still powerful in the country or its borderlands, Afghanistan is on the way to becoming a terrorist's dream-- a place worse than Colombia from which narco-terrorism can be funded and launched. This looming disaster will certainly blow back on the American homeland. Yet Bush is doing nothing to avert it.

As for democracy and liberating 50 million people, neither the people of Afghanistan nor that of Iraq have elected national governments by popular sovereignty. It is not entirely clear when they will be able to do so. For the moment, there hasn't been any introduction of anything like democracy. The US invaded each and installed a government of its choosing. That isn't democracy. In Iraq, Paul Bremer repeatedly blocked democratic municipal elections. That was a great lesson for the people in democracy, all right.

The dictator in Iraq had the "capability of producing weapons of mass murder. And now, the dictator is a threat to nobody, and the American people are safer."

Bush must think we are a nation of retards if he believes we will buy this language of Saddam having the "capability" to produce weapons of mass destruction. All countries have the "capability." The point is that Iraq had given up its WMD programs and destroyed the stockpiles. The US was not in any danger from Iraq, and so cannot be safer because it was invaded.

Worse, the American invasion of Iraq is a major recruitment poster for al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda's message was that the Americans are coming to Muslim lands. 'They will invade your countries, expropriate your property, rape your women, and humiliate your men,' al-Qaeda screams. What does Bush do? He proves al-Qaeda right. More angry young Arab men are ready to fight the United States now than ever before. Bush is less popular than Bin Laden in most Muslim countries according to polls.

Not only has the Bush administration angered the Sunni Muslim world with its invasion and hamhanded occupation of Iraq, but it has managed to turn the Shiites against us too, by desecrating the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala this past spring.

The US is arguably much less safe because of the invasion of Iraq.

He said Pakistan used to be a safe transit point for terrorists on missions of murder. "Now Pakistani forces are rounding up terrorists, and the American people are safer."

This is a nice sound bite but bears no resemblance to reality. The major jihadi groups in Pakistan are still operating, and the Pakistani government has been largely unable or unwilling to stop them. The Pakistanis did arrest some 500 al-Qaeda Arabs, but Pakistani courts have not cooperated with its attempts to subject the jihadis to mass arrests. A major jihadi leader was sitting in parliament until he was assassinated recently!

Moreover, Pakistan remains virtually a military dictatorship, where parliament is not sovereign and where Gen. Musharraf basically appoints and removes prime ministers by fiat (PM Jamali was recently forced out).

In Saudi Arabia, terrorists were meeting little opposition, but today the Saudi Government is taking the fight to al-Qaeda, and the American people are safer, he said.

In Saudi Arabia, Americans were relatively safe before the Iraq war. Now Americans are in danger in Saudi Arabia, and are fleeing the country. This is an improvement?

Not long ago, Libya was spending millions to acquire weapons of mass destruction. "Now, thousands of Libya's chemical munitions have been destroyed. Libya has given up nuclear processing equipment, and the American people are safer," he claimed.

Oh, give it up. Libya had been trying to make that deal for years. (The European pressure and boycott was what had done the trick). What really changed was that the Americans became more receptive to such a deal. But then right in the middle of Qaddafi coming in from the cold it surfaced that he had gotten up a plot to assassinate a Saudi leader! Made it hard to crow too loud about rehabilitating him.

Plus Bush does not mention that the entire Muslim world is royally pissed off at the United States for coddling Ariel Sharon while he gobbles up nearly half of the West Bank, expropriating and brutalizing the Palestinians in the process. Even the World Court has condemned his greedy fence, which annexes massive amounts of Palestinian land. Bush has just lain down on the ground and pleaded with Sharon to walk all over him with hobnail boots, and then smiled for the privilege. Arab satellite television shows Israelis repressing Palestinians every day. The Bush administration has actually endorsed the forcible Israeli annexation of Palestinian land, which violates the United Nations Charter and the Geneva Accords!

Pursuing a policy that makes us highly unpopular with 1.3 billion people is not a means of making us safer.

So, no, Americans are not safer, Mr. Bush. They face the threat of substantial narco-terrorism from Afghanistan. Iraq is a security nightmare that could well blow back on the American homeland. Pakistan remains a military dictatorship with a host of militant jihadi movements that had been fomented by the hardline Pakistani military intelligence. Saudi Arabia is witnessing increased al-Qaeda activity and attacks on Westerners. And the Israeli-Palestine dispute is being left to fester and poison the world.

These are not achievements to be proud of. This is a string of disasters. We are not safer. We face incredible danger because of the way the Bush administration has grossly mishandled the Middle East.

The State's Right

An article appearing in yesterday's Los Angeles Times details how State Department officials were busily trying to correct the numerous misleading and factually inaccurate statements that were in the speech prepared by the intelligence community that Colin Powell was set to deliver to the United Nations.  

Days before Secretary of State Colin L. Powell was to present the case for war with Iraq to the United Nations, State Department analysts found dozens of factual problems in drafts of his speech, according to new documents contained in the Senate report on intelligence failures released last week.

Two memos included with the Senate report listed objections that State Department experts lodged as they reviewed successive drafts of the Powell speech. Although many of the claims considered inflated or unsupported were removed through painstaking debate by Powell and intelligence officials, the speech he ultimately presented contained material that was in dispute among State Department experts.

Of course, the now infamous speech by Powell has been criticized by the world community for the many errors, miscalculations and exaggerations that were expressed, most notably the claim that Iraq had mobile weapons laboratories, chemical weapons stockpiles, was pursuing nuclear weapons and the claim that "there can be no doubt that Saddam Hussein has biological weapons and the capability to rapidly produce more, many more."  This speech has become, in many respects, the most public example of how the U.S. misrepresented intelligence on Iraqi unconventional weapons programs.
That being said, it appears that Powell and his staff harbored grave concerns about the veracity of many of the claims that made it into initial drafts of the speech.  
Offering the first detailed look at claims that were stripped from the case for war advanced by Powell, a Jan. 31, 2003, memo cataloged 38 claims to which State Department analysts objected.
In response, 28 were either removed from the draft or altered, according to the Senate report, which was released Friday and included scathing criticism of the CIA and other U.S. intelligence services.
The analysts, describing many of the claims as "weak" and assigning grades to arguments on a 5-star scale, warned Powell against making an array of allegations they deemed implausible. They also warned against including Iraqi communications intercepts they deemed ambiguous and against speculating that terrorists might "come through Baghdad and pick-up biological weapons" as if they were stocked on store shelves.
In their critique, State Department analysts repeatedly warned that Powell was being put in the position of drawing the most sinister conclusions from satellite images, communications intercepts and human intelligence reports that had alternative, less-incriminating explanations.

Despite the efforts and critiques by members of the State Department, Powell delivered a speech rife with errors that has now seriously weakened the credibility of the U.S. intelligence community internationally.  Considering the magnitude of the problems we are now facing, nuclear non-proliferation and the spread of radical Islamist terrorism, this loss of credibility could not have come at a less opportune time.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

The CIA Strikes Back

It appears that the acting head of the Central Intelligence Agency, John E. McLaughlin, is bristling at the suggestion that the intelligence community is to blame for the decision to invade Iraq last year. McLaughlin, apparently not as willing to fall on his sword as his predecessor George Tenet, claimed that there should have been a more rigorous debate in the run-up to the invasion based on the caveats, dissents and qualifications that appeared in the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), a document that contained the assessment of Iraq's WMDs and al-Qaeda links prepared for the White House by the CIA.

According to an article in today's New York Times, McLaughlin "said Wednesday that American intelligence agencies should not be blamed if there was inadequate debate about the decision to go to war against Iraq."

"Those comments...were aimed at the Senate Intelligence Committee, which issued a report last week that portrayed American intelligence agencies as having exaggerated the evidence that Iraq had illicit weapons. But the comments also were an implicit retort to arguments that the Central Intelligence Agency, not President Bush, was primarily responsible for sending the country to war."

In an interview on CNN McLaughlin argued that the Bush team was wrong to place so much emphasis on the NIE, and that "to treat the document as a pivotal element in the march to war would be 'an oversimplification of the situation.'" He added, "If there wasn't sufficient debate about these issues, it wasn't the fault of the people who prepared this estimate."

The document included some qualifications and dissents, and Mr. McLaughlin suggested that these caveats should have given rise to more vigorous debate than was heard about the degree to which Iraq posed a threat to the United States. Part of the problem may be related to the fact that Bush relied on a one page summary of the NIE that largely ignored the dissenting evidence and conditional language in the NIE.

As was reported in yesterday's New York Times, the one page review, "prepared for President Bush in October 2002, summarized the findings of a classified, 90-page National Intelligence Estimate about Iraq's illicit weapons. Congressional officials said that notes taken by Senate staffers who were permitted to review the document show that it eliminated references to dissent within the government about the National Intelligence Estimate's conclusions."

There is also a precedent for believing this summary is incomplete in its treatment of the evidence. The same article notes that, "A separate white paper summarizing the National Intelligence Estimate was made public in October 2002. The Senate report criticized the white paper as having 'misrepresented' what the Senate committee described as a 'more carefully worded assessment' in the classified intelligence estimate. For example, the white paper excluded information found in the National Intelligence Estimate, like the names of intelligence agencies that had dissented from some of the findings, most importantly on Iraq's nuclear weapons program. That approach, the Senate committee said, 'provided readers with an incomplete picture of the nature and extent of the debate within the intelligence community regarding these issues.'

Among the specific dissents excluded from the public white paper on Iraq's weapons was the view of the State Department's intelligence branch, spelled out in the classified version of the document, that Iraq's importation of aluminum tubes could not be conclusively tied to a continuing nuclear weapons program, as other intelligence agencies asserted. Also left out of the white paper was the view of Air Force intelligence that pilotless aerial vehicles being built by Iraq, seen by other intelligence agencies as designed to deliver chemical or biological weapons, were not suited for that purpose."

The White House is refusing to release this one page document to the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Also in today's Times, an interesting sign of dischord in the otherwise well disciplined GOP. Despite the fact that President Bush has been claiming that the removal of Saddam Hussein is justification enough for the war, despite the lack of WMDs and ties to al-Qaeda, conservative Republican Senator, and member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Pat Roberts of Kansas, seemed to indicate that the humanitarian cause is not a sufficient rationale in retrospect

"Mr. Roberts said he was 'not too sure' that the administration would have invaded if it had known how flimsy the intelligence was on Iraq and illicit weapons. Instead, the senator said, Mr. Bush might well have advocated efforts to maintain sanctions against Iraq and to continue to try to unearth the truth through the work of United Nations inspectors. 'I don't think the president would have said that military action is justified right now,' Mr. Roberts said. If the administration had been given 'accurate intelligence,' he said, Mr. Bush 'might have said, 'Saddam's a bad guy, and we've got to continue with the no-fly zones and with inspections.'"

Bush = Omarossa?

Reuters is reporting that Donald Trump has some pretty harsh words for President Bush, and his handling of the war in Iraq, in an interview appearing in the upcoming August edition of Esquire. Looks like Trump would, um, fire Bush for his incompetence:

"Look at the war in Iraq and the mess that we're in. I would never have handled it that way. Does anybody really believe that Iraq is going to be a wonderful democracy where people are going to run down to the voting box and gently put in their ballot and the winner is happily going to step up to lead the country?," said Trump.

"C'mon. Two minutes after we leave, there's going to be a revolution, and the meanest, toughest, smartest, most vicious guy will take over. And he'll have weapons of mass destruction, which Saddam didn't have," Trump said in excerpts of the interview released in advance to Reuters.

"What was the purpose of the whole thing? Hundreds and hundreds of young people killed. And what about the people coming back with no arms and no legs? Not to mention the other side. All those Iraqi kids who've been blown to pieces. And it turns out that all of the reasons for the war were blatantly wrong. All this for nothing!," Trump said.

Trump also proclaims he would be "tougher" on terrorism.

"Bin Laden would have been caught long ago. Tell me, how is it possible that we can't find a guy who's six-foot-six and supposedly needs a dialysis machine? Can you explain that one to me? We have all our energies focused on one place, where they shouldn't be focused," he said.

What Is Rush Gonna Say About This?

Seymour Hersh has once again dropped a bombshell on the public with his startling revelations made in a speech he recently delivered. Tim Dunlop at The Road To Surfdom, pointed me in the direction of Ed Cone's site which quotes Hersh's speech. I posted last week that there is evidence, including testimonials from U.S. servicemen and NGOs like UNICEF and the Red Cross, that the U.S. has hundreds of children detained in prisons in Iraq including Abu Ghraib. These sources also claim that these children have been subjected to abuse and torture at the hands of their American captors. Apparently Hersh has some evidence of just how extreme and insidious that abuse and torture was in certain scenarios.

Here is the shocking synopsis, via Ed Cone (who also has the streaming video of Hersh's speech):

Seymour Hersh says the US government has videotapes of boys being sodomized at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. [emphasis added]

"The worst is the soundtrack of the boys shrieking," the reporter told an ACLU convention last week. Hersh says there was "a massive amount of criminal wrongdoing that was covered up at the highest command out there, and higher."

He called the prison scene "a series of massive crimes, criminal activity by the president and the vice president, by this administration anyway…war crimes."

The outrages have cost us the support of moderate Arabs, says Hersh. "They see us as a sexually perverse society."

Hersh describes a Pentagon in crisis. The defense department budget is "in incredible chaos," he says, with large sums of cash missing, including something like $1 billion that was supposed to be in Iraq.

"The disaffecion inside the Pentagon is extremeley accute," Hersh says. He tells the story of an officer telling Rumsfeld how bad things are, and Rummy turning to a ranking general yes-man who reassured him that things are just fine. Says Hersh, "The Secretary of Defense is simply incapable of hearing what he doesn’t want to hear."

The Iraqi insurgency, he says,was operating in 1-to-3 man cells a year ago, now in 10-15 man cells, and despite the harsh questioning, "we still know nothing about them...we have no tactical information.”

He says the foreign element among insurgents is overstated, and that bogeyman Zarqawi is "a composite figure" hyped by our government.

The war, he says, has escalated to "fullscale, increasingly intense military activity."

Hersh described the folks in charge of US policy as neoconservative cultists" who have taken the government over, and show "how fragile our democracy is."

He ripped the supine US press, pledged to bring home all the facts he could, said he was not sure he could deliver all the daming info he suspects about Bush administration responsibility for Abu Ghraib.

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