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Bernard Weiner's Blog -- Summer, 2004


April 20, 2004

"Change the World "

The scariest aspect that came out of Bush's pathetic press conference was not his desire to change the Middle Eastern region by invading Iraq -- he'd said that many times before -- but his hysterical overreaching: Now, in his messianic complex, he thinks it's his role to "change the world." 

We should know by now to beware of ideologues who want to "change the world." They usually are so blinded by their zeal, and hamstrung by their ignorance of the world's complexities, that nothing but disaster results.

We're seeing that in microcosm in Iraq, where the neo-cons -- who wanted to use the example of Iraq to change the entire Middle East -- understood (and still understand) precious little of the realities on the ground: the messy politics of the country, the strength of religious fervor, the power of nationalism, the language, the history, the cultural clues, and everything else. Now it's a full scale catastrophe -- for the Iraqis, the U.S. military, the Middle East, the United Nations, and everyone else.

And they want to FUBAR the entire world?

Yank the chain and flush them out -- if not by impeachment soon, by the election results in November.


Dangerous to Get Too Close to the Bushman

Josh Marshall in Talking Points Memo puts his finger on a major issue that was pretty much ignored amidst all the attention focused on the 9/11 hearings and the unraveling situation in Iraq: It seems that foreign politicians tend to lose elections when their citizens view them as being too close to the Bush Administration.

It's happened in Spain, and now it's happening in South Korea -- with the huge leftist victory last week in parliamentary elections.

Marshall writes of the Korea case: "There are at least a couple points of interest here. One is an uncanny parallel to recent events in the United States. An out-of-touch conservative opposition party impeaches a liberal president on the basis of essentially trumped up charges against the overwhelming wishes of the public. Conservative party then faces a fierce backlash at the polls as the electorate punishes them for an attempted constitutional coup and ignoring the popular will.

"...Setting aside these uncanny parallels, there's a more immediate significance to this result. It is the continuance of a global trend in which elections in countries allied to the United States are being won by parties advocating loosening ties with America. Running against America -- or really against George W. Bush makes for great politics almost everywhere in the world.

"We saw it in South Korea two years ago. Then later that year in Germany. Recently in Spain. And now again in Korea -- with many other examples along the way.

"Each election had its own internal dynamics. But in each case opposition to the policies of the Bush administration became a salient, even defining issue."

Might this explain why Brigadier Nick Carter has suggested a clever way out for British troops in Basra? The Brits can't simply cut and run like Spain -- as this would infuriate Bush, who is dedicated to "staying the course" regardless of the price, and would demonstrate to the British electorate that Tony Blair was wrong. But Brig. Carter hinted how the British pullout could occur. As
Juan Cole posts from a Telegraph story:

"During an interview in Basra last week Brig Carter acknowledged that the Coalition's presence in southern Iraq was entirely dependent on the goodwill of the local Shia Muslim leader, Sayid Ali al-Safi al-Musawi. He represents Ayatollah Sistani, Iraq's leading Shia cleric. 'The moment that Sayid Ali says, "We don't want the Coalition here", we might as well go home', Brig. Carter said."


Will the U.S. Really Invade Najaf?

Leaders throughout the world -- Muslim, Christian, Jewish -- have told the Bush Administration that, if it knows what's good for it, it had better not invade the holy city of Najaf in their hunt for bad-boy radical cleric Al Sadr. Even Sadr's religious/political enemy, Ayatollah Sistani, has predicted a full-scale Muslim uprising if the sanctuary city is violated, especially by a Western, mainly Christian army.

The chief Iranian cleric, Ali Khameni, has warned the Bush Administration in strong terms: "The American forces will have committed the biggest act of stupidity in their entire lives if they took this vile step." (www.juancole.com).

But, given the desperate situation in which the U.S. military finds itself in Iraq, and the propensity of the Bush Administration always to select the wrong policy time and time again in that country, it now seems entirely plausible that Bush will order the attack on Najaf to proceed. Bush&Co. is the gang that can't shoot straight, and can't think straight, so anything is possible.


Rice's Non-History Lesson

Condi Rice was left twisting in the wind by Bush&Co. She went before the 9/11 Commission unwilling to even entertain the idea of revealing the notorious August 6, 2004 ("He Knew!)" Presidential Daily Briefing memo from the CIA. A few days later, in the face of unrelenting pressure from the commission, press, public and fellow nervous Republicans, the Administration released that PDB memo.

Someone in the Administration, along with the FBI and CIA, has been fingered to take the fall for Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld, and her initials are C.R. Anything to keep the finger of responsibility from pointing to the real progenitors of the 9/11 coverup: Rove & Cheney, and their presidential sock-puppet.

Rice is no great loss. She either was an integral part of a criminal conspiracy to lie and cover-up, or she's the most incompetent national security advisor ever -- well, OK, she's both -- never following through on anything related to counter-terrorism. Whether the pitcher hits the stone or the stone hits the pitcher, it isn't good for the pitcher.

And how did Ms. Pitcher attempt to deflect attention away from that pesky PDB? She hauled out the worst adjective neo-cons can lay on something or someone: irrelevant. Nothing to see here, folks, just move along; that PDB contained mainly "historical" material.

Nothing could symbolize the Bush Administration's reasons for failure, in so many areas of policy, as its misuse of that term.

Bush&Co. do not know history and they do not care to know history -- all they want to do is to move on to the next item on the grab-and-run agenda. They seem to believe that by ignoring history, they can ignore the direct effects that historical events have on current and future ones. History doesn't work that way. And now Bush&Co. are having their faces ground into the dust of real-world historical relevance.

Of course, though the August 6th PDB memo is replete with "historical" references, it is also focused on the awful warning-signs of the pre-9/11 period -- and the links between past and present couldn't be more obvious or vital. But, for whatever conscious or incompetent reasons, they were ignored by the Iraq-obsessed Bush Administration and 3000 souls died on their watch.


Someone Help This Man, Please

Are we dealing with an idiot or a man deeply in need of serious help, divorced from reality?

Read this:

From that story from Fort Hood, Texas, headlined "Bush Says It's 'Hard to Tell' If Casualties Will Keep Mounting in Iraq,": "Bush called it 'a tough week.' The president says it's 'hard to tell' if such fighting will continue."


Cheers for Senator Kerrey -- and Senator Kerry


I've always thought former Senator Bob Kerrey something of a loose-cannon flake, but he earned my respect big time during Condi Rice's testimony when he departed from the 9/11 script and confronted her on the idiocy of her boss' policies and incompetencies with regard to the Iraq War.

His comments barely made the papers the day after Rice's testimony,
so here they are.

Thank you, Senator Kerrey.

Kerrey: Let me ask a question that -- well, actually, let me say -- I can't pass this up. I know it'll take into my 10-minute time. But as somebody who supported the war in Iraq, I'm not going to get the national security adviser 30 feet away from me very often over the next 90 days, and I've got to tell you, I believe a number of things.

I believe, first of all, that we underestimate that this war on terrorism is really a war against radical Islam. Terrorism is a tactic. It's not a war itself.

Secondly, let me say that I don't think we understand how the Muslim world views us, and I'm terribly worried that the military tactics in Iraq are going to do a number of things, and they're all bad...

I think we're going to end up with civil war if we continue down the military operation strategies that we have in place. I say that sincerely as someone that supported the war in the first place.

Let me say, secondly, that I don't know how it could be otherwise, given the way that we're able to see these military operations, even the restrictions that are imposed upon the press, that this doesn't provide an opportunity for al Qaeda to have increasing success at recruiting people to attack the United States It worries me. And I wanted to make that declaration. You needn't comment on it, but as I said, I'm not going to have an opportunity to talk to you this closely. And I wanted to tell you that I think the military operations are dangerously off track. And it's largely a U.S. Army -- 125,000 out of 145,000 -- largely a Christian army in a Muslim nation. So I take that on board for what it's worth."


The other Senator Kerry, candidate John, has been getting more and more forthright on Bush's failures as a commander in chief as well. A few days ago, the putative Democratic nominee lashed out at Bush thusly.

Senator Kerry called the situation in Iraq "one of the greatest failures of diplomacy and failures of judgment that I have seen in all the time that I've been in public life. Where are the people with the flowers, throwing them in the streets, welcoming the American liberators the way Dick Cheney said they would be? Since I fought in Vietnam, I have not seen an arrogance in our foreign policy like this."

..During the radio interview, Kerry said it appeared that President Bush's June 30 deadline for transferring control of the country to the Iraqis was set "by the American election, not by the stability of Iraq."

He said Bush still has to explain who he would be handing power to in Iraq. "Is he transferring it over to these people in the streets?" Kerry asked. "Is he transferring it over to Muqtada al-Sadr? Is he transferring it over to Ayatollah Sistani. Is he transferring it over to this group of people who make up the so-called provisional council who have no authority?"

Bush could give no answer to this question at his pitiable press conference, choosing to lay the transfer details at the feet of the U.N. special envoy, who came up with his own amorphous plan okayed by no Iraqi (yet) who matters in that country. This is called faith-based diplomacy: You have no idea what will happen, but you proceed with faith that something will come along to bail you out. What a way to run a country!


April 26, 2004

The situation in Iraq in general and in Najaf in particular is getting more and more worrisome, as it appears that the U.S. -- forgetting the inevitability of unforeseen consequences -- is about ready to move into the holy Muslim city of Najaf, against the advice of virtually all the various religious and ethnic factions in Iraq and beyond.

The U.S. military has been tasked by Rumsfeld to walk gently into Najaf and Fallujah while carrying its big stick. But one can almost predict that some mistake will be made by some soldier, or a rocket will go astray, and a sacred shrine or mosque will be hit. Then all hell breaks loose, the unwanted material will hit the fan, and word will go out in Muslim circles that a full-scale assault has been launched on Najaf, one of the holiest of cities in that religion. A country- and perhaps world-wide rebellion will ensue against the U.S. policy in Iraq.

The U.S. will attempt to shift the blame to al-Sadr or to Iran, but the responsibility will rest on the U.S. decision to escalate the standoff, even if in a "minor" way, in order to demonstrate that America has effective control of the situation.

As for Iran, as Middle East specialist Prof. Juan Cole notes, "what comes across here is that actually many Iranian officials want Iraq to be a stable neighbor, and are worried that the US is mishandling it and that trouble will spread across the border to Iran. They were perfectly happy to offer their good offices to help resolve the current standoff at Najaf, but clearly no major party to the dispute was interested in having them do that, including especially Muqtada al-Sadr.

"The Ledeenist drumbeat on the Brownshirt side of the Republican Party that Iran is behind the recent instability in the Shiite south is directly contradicted by Iranian actions and by Muqtada al-Sadr's refusal to see his supposed patrons. In fact, I suspect Ahmad Chalabi gets more money from Iran than Muqtada does. And, it seems obvious that the US administrators are the ones who provoked the clashes, which were not spontaneous but came in response to a US attempt to arrest Muqtada."


Always good to hear what the residents of Iraq think about what's going on. That's why the info provided by the blogger known as "Baghdad Burning" is so important. Here's one from her from a few days ago:

"To lessen the feelings of anti-Americanism, might I make a few suggestions? Stop the collective punishment. When Mark Kimmett stutters through a press conference babbling about 'precision weapons' and 'military targets' in Falloojeh, who is he kidding? Falloojeh is a small city made up of low, simple houses, little shops and mosques. Is he implying that the 600 civilians who died during the bombing and the thousands injured and maimed were all 'insurgents'? Are houses, shops and mosques now military targets?

"What I'm trying to say is that we don't need news networks to make us angry or frustrated. All you need to do is talk to one of the Falloojeh refugees making their way tentatively into Baghdad; look at the tear-stained faces, the eyes glazed over with something like shock. In our neighborhood alone there are at least 4 families from Falloojeh who have come to stay with family and friends in Baghdad. The stories they tell are terrible and grim and it's hard to believe that they've gone through so much. "I think western news networks are far too tame. They show the Hollywood version of war- strong troops in uniform, hostile Iraqis being captured and made to face 'justice' and the White House turkey posing with the Thanksgiving turkey -- which is just fine. But what about the destruction that comes with war and occupation? What about the death? I don't mean just the images of dead Iraqis scattered all over, but dead Americans too. People should *have* to see those images. Why is it not ok to show dead Iraqis and American troops in Iraq, but it's fine to show the catastrophe of September 11 over and over again? I wish every person who emails me supporting the war, safe behind their computer, secure in their narrow mind and fixed views, could actually come and experience the war live. I wish they could spend just 24 hours in Baghdad today and hear Mark Kimmett talk about the death of 700 'insurgents' like it was a proud day for Americans everywhere..."


The Bush Administration does not want the American people to be able to actually see the effects of the Iraq war on some of its own troops. If you want to see the photos banned by the Bush Administration of flag-draped coffins arriving at Dover Air Force base -- these are not inflammatory pictures, mind you, just tasteful, documentary-type photos of U.S. soldiers handling with care the bodies of the dead soldiers arriving back on U.S. soil -- go to these mirror sites: Media.newsfrom babylon or warblogging.com .


Don't know about how the Pro-Choice March was handled by the media in your area, but even here in liberal Northern California, the coverage was curious. "Thousands of people marched in Washington, D.C." was the usual lead-in, which in the public mind could mean anything from two thousand to two hundred thousand. I saw only one local channel, and no national report, that alluded up top to the fact that perhaps more than a half-million people demonstrated. The actual count probably was closer to three-quarters of a million women, men and children marching in support of a woman's right to choose an abortion, if necessary.

The impressive march went off with few hitches or glitches, and should have served as a warning to politicians not to ignore the pro-choice forces, who are ready to mobilize against Bush and other anti-choice leaders in the coming election.

The most disgusting spin of the day was Bush lackey Karen Hughes' comparison of pro-choicers with al Qaida terrorists. Here's what she said: ""I think that after September 11, the American people are valuing life more and we need policies to value the dignity and worth of every life," she said. "President Bush has worked to say, let's be reasonable, let's work to value life, let's reduce the number of abortions, let's increase adoptions. And I think those are the kinds of policies the American people can support, particularly at a time when we're facing an enemy and, really, the fundamental issue between us and the terror network we fight is that we value every life."

It's the old "you're with us or with the terrorists" conflation: If you support a woman's right to choose, you are on the side of evil, the terrorists are evil, ergo you are on the side of the terrorists." Shame on Hughes and her Roveian handlers. For more on Hughes and the hypocrisies involved from the Bush Administration on these sexual behavior/abortion issues, see Steve Gilliard's blog on the pro-choice march.

See Kos's take, where he writes: "The latest example [of reprehensible commentary] is Karen Hughes, who dove down and wallowed in the same gutter recently occupied by Secretary of Education Rod Paige. (Paige, you may remember, characterized teachers unions as terrorist organizations). When asked about today's pro-choice rally, Hughes revealed that the administration would prefer that voters not distinguish supporting terrorists from supporting a woman's right to exercise control over her own body."

Also check out Trapper John's report at Daily Kos for
a solid report from the march.


And speaking of Republican hypocrisies, check out David Sirota's blog www.davidsirota.com where he takes Dick Cheney down a peg or two by reminding Cheney, who is happy to denounce John Kerry's alleged desire to cut defense spending, that Cheney as House Leader attacked Ronald Reagan in 1984 for NOT cutting defense spending. Here's the quote from the 12/16/84 Washington Post:

Said Cheney: [If Reagan] "doesn't really cut defense, he becomes the No. 1 special pleader in town...The severity of the deficit is great enough that the president has to reach out and take a whack at everything to be credible...If you're going to rule out the other two [Social Security cuts and a tax increase], then you've got to hit defense."


April 28, 2004

Got this email yesterday from a high school chum which confirms a suspicion I've had for many months now. It began when I traveled around Texas and and New York and the South last year and found precious few true believers in George W. Bush.

In recent days, it seems that more and more died-in-the-wool Republicans are abandoning Bush big-time. They've had it with his extremist policies, his war-mongering, his incompetence, his avoiding his own accountability in what's going wrong, his ruining of the economy and jobs situation. Read this excerpt from my friend Diane's letter and then read the next item, and see if those two accounts resonate with your own experience.

"...One bright note: I had a Kerry button on leaving work one day and a young attorney got on at our corporate floor. He looked at the button and said, 'Good. I'm a registered Republican and I have never voted for a Democrat. I can't stand Bush.' I said, 'Yes, he's pretty stupid.' He said, 'It's not that. He's a liar and thinks he's almighty God.' He was going to get off at the garage level, but decided to ride down to the lobby with me just to express his hatred of Bush. This conversation gave me a lot of hope. Surely there are other Republicans hiding in the closet until November."


And this recent item from Josh Marshall's blog, Talking Points Memo:

Dick Cheney goes to Westminster College, the site of Winston Churchill's 'iron curtain' speech, and embarrasses himself by sandbagging the University President who accepted Cheney's request to speak at the college.

Here's the first graf of an email President Fletcher M. Lamkin sent to faculty, students and staff this afternoon ...

"I would like to thank each and every one of you who were so courteous and respectful to Mr. Cheney during his visit and speech. Frankly, I must admit that I was surprised and disappointed that Mr. Cheney chose to step off the high ground and resort to Kerry-bashing for a large portion of his speech. The content and tone of his speech was not provided to us prior to the event -- we had only been told the speech would be about foreign policy, including issues in Iraq. Nevertheless, I was extremely proud of the students, staff, and faculty who represented the College so well during the organization of the visit and during the speech itself -- inside and outside of the gym."

A college president taking on the Vice President of the United States for bringing partisan politics into a college visit and speech! Way to go, Fletcher Lamkin! The Bushies are genuinely worried about the November election, and are starting to behave in a desperate fashion. Good riddance to bad rubbish.

PostScript:  President Lampkin has decided to extend a speaking invitation to John Kerry.


Rove and the rest of the Bush boys may rue the day they decided to attack John Kerry's military record. Not just because it's a sterling, heroic one, but because it reminds everyone that Bush's military record, that of it that has been released, makes him seem like a draft-avoiding slacker.

I added that proviso above because it looks like a whole can of worms has been opened up, since Kerry (like John McCain before him, in the 2000 campaign) has supplied the press with all his relevant military records, but it is highly likely that Bush held some of his military records back. The implication is obvious: Whatever is in those withheld records is not at all helpful to the Bush campaign.

James Moore
writes about this in Salon:

"The president and his staff are doing a very good job of convincing the public he has released all of his National Guard records and that they prove he was responsible during his time in Alabama and Texas. But the critical documents have still not been seen. The mandatory written report about Bush's grounding is mysteriously not in the released file, nor is any other disciplinary evidence. A document showing a 'roll-up,' or the accumulation of his total retirement points, is also absent, and so are his actual pay stubs. If the president truly wanted to end the conjecture about his time in the Guard, he would allow an examination of his pay stubs and any IRS W-2 forms from his Guard years. These can be pieced together to determine when he was paid and whether he earned enough to have met his sworn obligations. "...Unlike lawyers, journalists pay little attention to concepts like chain of custody for evidence. In the case of the president's Guard records, whoever possessed them and had the motive and opportunity to clean them up is a critical question. When Bush left the Guard about a half year early to attend Harvard Business School, his hard-copy record was retained in a military personnel records jacket at the Austin offices of the Texas Guard. Eventually, those documents were committed to microfiche. A copy of the microfiche was then sent to the Air Reserve Personnel Center in Denver and the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis. Those records are considered private, and they cannot be released to anyone without the signature of the serviceman or woman. The White House has never indicated that Bush has signed the authorization form. And this is what prompts unending suspicion. "The documents given to Washington reporters were printed from one of those two microfiches. According to two separate sources within the Guard who saw the printout and spoke with me, the microfiche was shipped to the office of Maj. Gen. Danny James, commander of the Air National Guard Bureau in Arlington, Va. James' staff printed out all of the documents on the film and then, according to those same sources, James vetted the material. Subsequent to being scrutinized by James (who commanded the Texas Guard and was promoted to Washington by Bush,) the records were then sent to the White House for further scrutiny prior to release to the news media. "This is a considerably different process from what was practiced by Sen. John McCain during the 2000 presidential campaign ... McCain signed a release form, and his entire record, a stack of papers more than a foot tall, was made available to reporters without being vetted by the campaign."


Josh Marshall writes  that "[ Maj. Gen. Danny] James is the same James who is accused of assisting in scrubbing the paper copies of the president's record back in 1997 -- a charge that is of course roundly denied, but which is also discussed at some length in the Salon piece.

"Now, as I say, I just don't know the details of all this well enough any more to make a judgment about these various claims and accusations.

"But why exactly can't the president just release his records the way McCain did? "And, is that story about James getting a chance to go over these files true? If it is, I'd say some scribblers in town got suckered. Big time, as the vice president would say."


Juan Cole, an expert on Arabs in the Middle East  explains why the type of warfare being waged by the U.S. commanders in the field in Iraq is destined to fail, and bring further discredit and shame on the American leaders who sent the soldiers there in such numbers:

"I made the mistake of turning on the television in the middle of the day and was treated to horrific images of part of the Julan quarter of Fallujah in flames. It appears that the Marines took fire from there and called in AC-130 strikes against the points from which the fire originated.

"...AC-130 warplanes are effective against troops deployed on a battlefield, but should not be used against urban targets. They were used effectively against the Taliban and al-Qaeda in the field Afghanistan, and against the Republican Guards on the battlefield in the recent Iraq war. They and other such aerial weapons are what make a civil war of any conventional sort in Iraq unlikely, since the first time someone fields 150 men on a battlefield, they can just be taken out by the AC-130s. (Urban riots and alleyway fighting are a different proposition). I'm no expert on military hardware and do not pretend to be, but this makes scary reading even for a layman.

"The immense firepower of these warplanes, however, simply should not be being unleashed against the Julan quarter. You cannot do that so precisely that you ensure that innocent civilians are not massacred along with the guerrillas. It is a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention."


Kos explains why Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter's victory at the polls Tuesday was a win for Bush but a devastating blow to neo-conservatives. Whether the liberals, who have Joe Hoeffel waiting in the wings to defeat the Republican candidate in November, were harmed or will benefit from Specter's victory is an open question.

Anyway, check out Kos' short account of Tuesday's vote, and follow the bouncing electoral votes.


April 30, 2004

You may recall that during his recent testimony before the 9/11 Commission, John Ashcroft on the spot declassified a memo written by one of the Commissioners, Jamie Gorelick -- about the rules by which the FBI and CIA could cooperate on intelligence matters during the '90s -- which then led to rightwing calls for her to resign from the Commission.

According to Josh Marshall, Ashcroft has declassified 30 more documents  that refer to Gorelick, and which therefore might be used by pro-Bush forces to try to get Democrat Gorelick off the Commission. This is hard-ball politics from the hard-nosed Ashcroft.

But the interesting point here, Marshall notes, is that Bush claims not to have known anything about what his Attorney General was doing in this regard, and is "disappointed" that he did all this instantaneous declassifying and sharing of the memos with the public.

Bush's press spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters that "the president looks at this and doesn't believe that there ought to be finger-pointing....I think the president was disappointed about....putting that on their Web site."

It's not clear what this public reprimand might signify, but, as Marshall says, "certainly, something happened here." We'll all have to stay tuned. There may be some fire underneath all the smoke.


Atrios has a minor scooplet here:

"Yesterday's big news: There will be no full record of the [9/11 Commission] session, even by the White House.

"Elisabeth Bumiller and Philip Shenon write in the New York Times: 'The White House said on Tuesday that there would be no recording or formal transcription of the historic joint interview of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney by the independent commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks'."

"John Roberts reports for CBS News: 'The White House today claimed that commission interviews with Bill Clinton and Al Gore were not transcribed. But in fact, CBS News has learned, those sessions were recorded and will eventually be transcribed'."

The best we can hope for, I guess, is drips and drabs of leaks from those who were inside the room. Bush came out and proudly said he had eaten all his vegetables -- he said he'd answered every question put to him, as if he wasn't supposed to do that as a matter of course -- but wouldn't say what he'd talked about.

So let the leaking commence. Otherwise, we'll have to wait until the Commission's report is issued in July to see how they fold-in the comments of Bush and Cheney.


Digsby  praises Matthew Yglesias for pointing out the obvious that most everyone else had missed:

"The DNC should be blastfaxing to every mediamoron in the Washington, who up to now have not said word one about this obvious discrepancy:

"'If we had something to hide, we wouldn't have met with them in the first place,' [Bush said after his testimony to the 9/11 Commission].

"Back in the real world of course, Bush did refuse to meet with the commission, only to back down in the face of public pressure. Then he refused to meet for more than one hour and, again, he wound up backing down in the face of public pressure. Finally, he agreed to let the commission ask their questions, but only on the dual condition that Cheney be at his side and that no transcript of the meeting be released. That doesn't sound at all like the pattern of behavior of a president who's trying to hide something. Why, it's been 'unprecedented cooperation' from the get-go. And we all remember how eager Condoleezza Rice was to testify....' "I've had the cable news on all morning and not one member of the "press" has noted this bullshit. It's spoonfeeding time, Terry."


You know about Bush's aide Karen Hughes comparing pro-choice politicians with terrorists, and then trying to claim she never made the comparison.

Well, Kos quotes conservative commentator Tucker Carlsen on Hughes' habit of baldfaced lying:

"'I heard that [on the campaign bus, Bush communications director] Karen Hughes accused me of lying. And so I called Karen and asked her why she was saying this, and she had this almost Orwellian rap that she laid on me about how things she'd heard -- that I watched her hear -- she in fact had never heard, and she'd never heard Bush use profanity ever. It was insane.

"I've obviously been lied to a lot by campaign operatives, but the striking thing about the way she lied was she knew I knew she was lying, and she did it anyway. There is no word in English that captures that. It almost crosses over from bravado into mental illness."

[Kos summarizes:] "Liars. The whole lot of them. Hughes, Rove, Bush, Cheney, Powell, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Negroponte, and so on. Liars."


Juan Cole dissects  the inner meaning in the USA Poll of Iraqis  and what they think about the U.S. Occupation. Here are a few paragraphs; check out the rest.

"From March 22 to April 2, 60 trained Iraqi pollsters interviewed 3,444 randomly selected Iraqis for USA Today. This is one of the first polls in Iraq that seems to me well weighted statistically, though to be sure we'd have to know more than USA Today told us.

"The numbers are negative for the US, and are much more negative than previous such polls. Moreover, the polling ended by April 2, just before the Shiite uprising and the worst of the Fallujah fighting, so that it is highly likely that the present attitudes of the Iraqi public toward the US are much more negative.

"Amazingly, 57% of Iraqis say that US troops should leave Iraq immediately. If one subtracted the Kurds, a much higher percentage of Arabic speaking Iraqis say this. And, they say it with their eyes open. About 57% also admit that life would get harder (i.e. there would be a lot of instability) if the US suddenly withdrew. They want the US gone anyway, and will take their chances.

"Over half say there are circumstances under which it is all right to attack US troops! A February poll I discussed here had said that only 10% of Iraqi Shiites held that attacks on US troops were ever justified, and 30% of Sunni Arabs felt that way. The number in al-Anbar province (think Fallujah) was 70%, but it was high for Iraq at that time. Again, if the earlier polling was correct, there was a massive shift in opinion on this matter. We went from having about 3 million Iraqis think it was all right to attack US troops to more than 13 million."


Hesiod comments on the decision by the Sinclair Broadcast Group's decision not to broadcast Friday's "Nightline," where Ted Koppel will read the names and show the photos of all the Americans who have died in the Iraq War to date:

"If you wanted iron clad proof that conservatives have gone completely around the bend, they are accusing Nightline of being, get this, PARTISAN, because they will honor the young men and women who gave their lives in Iraq by reading their names, and showing their photos.

"Only in the twisted minds of right wingers would simply showing the American people the names and faces of those who died in Iraq be considered "partisan," or an attempt to "undermine" the United States' effort in Iraq.

"Would they say the same thing if this were done in a World War II newsreel? Of course not.

"They'd applaud it as a reverent memorial to those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.

"It's only when the war is a complete disaster, and the man who caused their deaths is running for reelection that it becomes "partisan."

"How disgusting. How pathetic. How dishonorable.

"At long last, have you no sense of decency?"
 


May 3, 2004

You remember how it worked in the old Cold War days? A country, often run by a dictator, would suddenly proclaim itself "anti-Communist" and the U.S. would shovel millions of dollars in foreign/military aid its way. Didn't matter whether the "anti-Communist" claim was based on fact -- just the mere use of that phrase was a guaranteed bonanza for that country's treasury (often to be siphoned off into Swiss bank accounts by the dictator).

Here's the newest wrinkle on that old con -- from a story by Konstantin Testorides of the Associated Press -- and it's a deadly one.

Follow the bouncing logic ball here. First you have to know that since breaking away from Yugoslavia in 1991, the tiny country of Macedonia has been trying mightily to ingratiate itself with the United States so as to pick up economic and political support in joining the Western camp. Not having a great deal of luck, elements in the Macedonia Interior Ministry and police hierarchy thought up a brilliant plan:

How about luring some illegal Pakistani immigrants to Macedonia, murdering them and then claiming they were "terrorists"? And so they did, in March of 2002.

Seven such Pakistani civilians were murdered, after they supposedly ambushed Macedonian police units; the "terrorists" were reported to have had all sorts of heavy ammunition in their possession. Turns out none of that was true.

Now a group of Macedonians, including the former Interior Minister, three former police commanders, two special police officers and a businessman are under arrest for complicity in the murders of the innocent Pakistanis.

A police spokeswoman said that the killings were part of an attempt to present Macedonia as participating "in the war against terrorism and demonstrate Macedonia's commitment to the war on terror."

Better get used to this sort of thing. If John Ashcroft can shred the Constitution in the name of the war on "terrorism," why not officials from small, poor countries abroad?


Apparently, torture of prisoners suspected of being Iraqi "terrorists" falls in this same category of permissible behavior by U.S. military/CIA interrogators.

You've heard by now of the systematic torture of Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Ghraib jail -- the same jail that was a notorious torture center under Saddam -- by agents of U.S. military intelligence. If you aren't that up on the scandal, check out Seymour Hersh's astoundingly detailed story, based on official reports leaked to him, in the current issue of The New Yorker.  In it, Hersh reveals how high up the chain of command the knowledge of the torturing went.


Hesiod carries the argument of ultimate responsibility as high as it can go, to the desk of one George W. Bush:

"And I don't mean merely his decision to invade Iraq, although that's a necessary component. I mean it this way: Why were those Iraqi soldiers tortured like that in the first place? According to the latest accounts, it was not born, sui generis, of inhumanity or inherent cruelty.

"It was at the behest and encouragement of INTELLIGENCE officials. But what intelligence were they trying to gather at such a high cost? Well, ask yourself this question: 'Why did we go to war with Iraq?'

"Thus: A) They wanted intelligence on where those weapons of mass destruction were hidden, so as to justify the war and make George W. Bush look good. B) They wanted information on where Saddam Hussein and his cronies were hiding out to justify the war, and make George W. Bush look good.

"All of that is patently obvious, of course. But what really disturbs me is that, what if we invaded Iraq for all the reasons piously asserted by the war-floggers? You know, to 'liberate' the Iraqi people, and 'transform the middle East'?

"What if President Bush had made that our central organizing principle in this invasion from the beginning? Would all the torture and humiliation still have occurred? We will never truly know the answer to that question. But the logic of torture at Abu Ghraib prison surely wouldn't have been so pungent.

"So, I guess, it comes down to George W. Bush and his quest for his own cojones, trickling on down to the gung-ho intelligence operatives charged with making the boss look good.

"Don't believe me? Remember what our Special Forces team supposedly told Saddam Hussein when they finally dug him out of that spider hole? 'President Bush sends his regards.' Not: 'We arrest in you in the name of the free people of Iraq,' or 'You are under arrest for crimes against humanity.; It was 'President Bush sends his regards.' You can almost see the smirk in that phrase. It was a message from one mafia boss to another."


In addition to Seymour Hersh's major article, Billmon has another major scoop, this one, diary entries from an interrogator named Joe Ryan at Abu Ghraib, who also is a conservative talk-show host on radio station KSTP in Minneapolis.

"More recently, Joe has been serving as a military interrogator at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, and KSTP has been posting his diary on their web site.

"For some strange reason, though, the radio station recently removed Joe's diary from its site. Unfortunately for KSTP - and, I suspect, for Joe - the page has been cached by Google. A copy also now resides on my hard drive.

"The diary is a fascinating read - not least because it documents the fact that as of last Sunday, one of the private contractors identified in the Army's own internal investigation of the torture scandal was still at Abu Ghraib, and may still have been supervising or conducting interrogations."

I have a sneaking suspicion that the private contractor in question, who was still working at Abu Ghraib last Sunday, may no longer be employed there.


More on Joe Ryan. Turn over one rock, and a whole lot of other creatures start blinking in the harsh glare of publicity. Here's David Neiwert reporting:

"Here is evidence that the torture of Iraqi prisoners (as previously suggested) may well proceed to the highest levels of the chain of command:

"Radio personality Joe Ryan, who posts an online diary from Iraq and has been involved with prisoner interrogation, has discussed at length some of the other people interrogating prisoners at Abu Graib. In his April 13th entry, he named someone of particular interest:

"'Wild' Bill Armstrong is one of our interrogators. He and I are both in the Force Protection section. Bill is married with five kids and a devout Christian, father, and husband. He arrived here two weeks before I did. Bill knows interrogation and reporting doctrine better than anyone here. Of course it was his career in the army and now he teaches at the school house in Arizona when he is not over here playing in the sand. I see Bill and know there are some incredible people in America. Here is a man who has already served in the military for 22 years, has a bunch of children, good job, and decides that he is needed over here so heads over to contribute. Politically, Bill makes Rush Limbaugh look like a flaming liberal by comparison. He is also leaving here after his R&R and will become the division cage site lead out in Fallujah.'

"The 'school house in Arizona' is almost certainly Fort Huachuca, whose prisoner-interrogation course was described a year ago in ArmyLINK News:

"FORT HUACHUCA, Ariz. (Army News Service, Feb. 24, 2003) -- A new course at the U.S. Army Intelligence Center began last month to train soldiers how to extract intelligence from Al Qaeda detainees. "The Intelligence Support to Counter Terrorism course began Jan. 27 to specifically train the next rotation of National Guard and Army Reserve military intelligence soldiers heading to Guantanamo.

"The course resulted from a visit to Guantanamo Bay a few months ago by Brig. Gen. John Custer, U.S. Army Intelligence Center and Fort Huachuca acting commander. He returned from the detainee facility there convinced that the military intelligence soldiers on the ground needed to be better equipped to gather information.

"After briefing Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on the limited training the intel soldiers had to obtain critical information from Al Qaeda, the Intelligence Center devised a new course to help support the global war on terrorism."

"This [writes Neiwert], of course, raises an immediate question: How much does Rumsfeld know about the interrogation program put into place at Abu Ghraib? How much planning went into this program? And did he ever brief the president?

"Amnesty International today called for a thorough and independent investigation of the Abu Ghraib atrocities, observing that this is not an isolated case:

"'Amnesty International has received frequent reports of torture or other ill-treatment by Coalition Forces during the past year. Detainees have reported being routinely subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment during arrest and detention. Many have told Amnesty International that they were tortured and ill-treated by US and UK troops during interrogation. Methods often reported include prolonged sleep deprivation; beatings; prolonged restraint in painful positions, sometimes combined with exposure to loud music; prolonged hooding; and exposure to bright lights. Virtually none of the allegations of torture or ill-treatment has been adequately investigated by the authorities'."

"Human Rights Watch today demanded the same:

"The promised U.S. investigation into the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners should not stop with the lower-level soldiers who were immediately involved, Human Rights Watch said today. The United States should also investigate the superiors of these soldiers to see whether they ordered or knowingly tolerated these abuses."

"Indeed, this investigation should include every level of the chain of command. Anything less will constitute a cover-up."


For more insights into this whole Iraq torture mess, check out Wolf Blitzer's interview with Seymour Hersh, reproduced on Corrente.

The Hersh interview begins with a CNN clip of Joint Chief of Staff General Richard Myers asserting that "There was no, no, no evidence of systematic abuse in the system at all."

Hersh replies: "But let me read you the kind of stuff he said that predated the photographing. 'Breaking chemical lights and pouring the phosphoritic acid liquid on detainees, pouring cold water on naked detainees, beating detainees with broomhandle and a chair, threatening them with rape, sodomizing a detainee with chemical lights and perhaps a broomstick, sicking military dogs on detainees.' I mean...

"BLITZER: Very graphic, and it gets even worse because I read the excerpts that you included in your article. But the bottom line, he says, General Myers, this was not -- there's no evidence of systematic abuse. This may have been a few soldiers simply going bad.

"HERSH: Taguba [ who did the most recent official report for the Pentagon] says otherwise. He says this is across the board. And what he says that's very important, is that these are jails, by the way, when we talk about prisoners, these are full of civilians. These are people picked up at random checkpoints and random going into houses. And even in the Taguba report, he mentions that upwards of 60 percent or more have nothing to do with anything.

"So they're people just there. There's no processing. It's sort of a complete failure of anything the Geneva Convention calls for. And what can I tell you? The fish rots from the head: [General] Sanchez."


And, finally, here is Josh Marshall's take on the Iraq torture story, from another angle:

"An article out from the Associated Press says that the half-dozen soldiers facing courts-martial for torturing prisoners in Iraq 'did not receive in-depth training on the Geneva Conventions.' That was the message from an Army spokeswoman in Iraq and it's apparently echoed by at least one of the accused's lawyer.

"A question: Can this possibly matter? Perhaps as a fine point of law this would be relevant in court-martial proceeding. And the tolerance or intolerance of these soldiers' commanding officers for this behavior is relevant. But surely no formal training in the Geneva Convention guidelines should be needed to warn people off these sorts of outrages.

"I'm not inclined to believe that these sorts of things are widespread. Put tens of thousands of young men and women in a hostile situation, give them near absolute control over people they learn to both fear and hate in equal measure, and awful things are bound to happen.

"But looking at even the facts now on the table this doesn't sound like something entirely isolated. Nor does it seem like these folks felt they had a lot to fear from oversight from superiors. The fact that the Brits are now being accused of something similar points me further toward such suspicion.

"Whatever the truth, these revelations deal the US a staggering blow to its credulity or, really, its authority. There are so many folks in the region inclined to believe the worst about our actions and intentions. And this challenges the assumptions of those inclined to believe the best."


May 5, 2004

Per Josh Marshall, check out this blatant obfuscation from Rummy at his Pentagon press conference Tuesday:

Don Rumsfeld: "I think that -- I'm not a lawyer. My impression is that what has been charged thus far is abuse, which I believe technically is different from torture. I don't know if it is correct to say what you just said, that torture has taken place, or that there's been a conviction for torture. And therefore I'm not going to address the torture word."

Then, from the official Tagabu report, read this stomach-wrenching description of what U.S. interrogators did to Iraqis in custody

Taguba Report: "Breaking chemical lights and pouring the phosphoric liquid on detainees; pouring cold water on naked detainees; beating detainees with a broom handle and a chair; threatening male detainees with rape; allowing a military police guard to stitch the wound of a detainee who was injured after being slammed against the wall in his cell; sodomizing a detainee with a chemical light and perhaps a broom stick, and using military working dogs to frighten and intimidate detainees with threats of attack, and in one instance actually biting a detainee."

What's a little roughhousing horseplay between jailer and jailee, eh, Rummy?

By the way, if you want to read the entire document -- an unusually frank (for the military), no-holds-barred report by Major General Antonio M. Taguba -- you can now
check it out online.


You'd think that this Taguba report, one that has such far-reaching implications for American policy in Iraq and throughout the Arab Middle East and beyond, would be read widely in the Pentagon and White House. But, even though the report was finished in February, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Richard Myers hasn't read it, and apparently George W. not only hasn't seen it, but may not even have known that the report had been completed months ago and was available for reading.

Josh Marshall  quotes from Bush's answers to reporters' questions yesterday:

Q: Are you concerned that there was a report completed in February that apparently --

THE PRESIDENT: I haven't seen --

Q: -- Myers didn't know about yesterday --

THE PRESIDENT: Well, if Myers didn't know about it, I didn't know about it. In other words, he's part of the chain -- actually, he's not in the chain of command, but he's a high ranking official. We'll find out.

Q: The question is, should something causing --

THE PRESIDENT: I just need to know --

Q: -- concern, raised eyebrows --

THE PRESIDENT: Exactly. I think you'll find the investigation started quickly when they found out what was going on. What I need to know is what the investigators concluded.

[Marshall concludes:] "From this exchange, the president seemed unaware of what the report even was and claimed to believe that he somehow couldn't get a hold of it until it came up through the chain of command.

"The point here isn't that the president is stupid, but that he seems blithely indifferent to what is a huge setback to American goals and standing in the Middle East and indeed throughout the world.

"There's an echo here of his response to the pre-9/11 warnings streaming up through the government bureaucracy. It hasn't landed on his desk yet, with an action plan, so what is he supposed to do? He talked to Rumsfeld who says he's on top of it. So what more can be done?

"This isn't a matter of the aesthetics of leadership. It is another example of how this president is a passive commander-in-chief, how he demands no accountability and, because of that, allows problems to fester and grow. Though this may not be a direct example of it, he also creates a climate tolerant of rule-breaking that seeps down into the ranks of his subordinates, mixing with and reinforcing those other shortcomings.

"The disasters now facing the country in Iraq -- some in slow motion, others by quick violence -- aren't just happening on the president's watch. They are happening in a real sense, really in the deepest sense, because of him -- because of his attention to the simulacra of leadership rather than the real thing, which is more difficult and demanding, both personally and morally."


Over at the Whiskey Bar, Billmon weighs in on the ongoing coverup at Abu Ghraib with this bit of reporting:

In late August and early September, 2003, a team from the U.S. detention facility in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, visited Iraq to see whether it could help U.S. forces there obtain better information from detainees. That team was overseen by Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, commander at Guantánamo. Among its recommendations were that military police guards act as 'an enabler for interrogation,' Taguba's report found.

Then this from the Los Angeles Times, "Report on Iraqi Prison Found 'Systematic and Illegal Abuse'", May 3, 2004:

"Without detailing the abuses, the military brought criminal charges in March against six soldiers over incidents, allegedly the ones in the photos, at the prison in November and December 2003 ... In addition, the commander of the Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, detention facility, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, is being sent to Iraq to take over the coalition detention facilities."

[Billmon explodes:] "Talk about sending the fox to guard the henhouse! Based on what's been revealed of the Taguba report, Miller appears to be a key cog in the transmission belt that brought Guantánamo's interrogation practices to Abu Ghraib in the first place."


Tom Shaller at Daily Kos  has a go at deconstructing Rumsfeld's press conference answers, and it's a delicious slicing:

"Herewith a synopsis of the Rumsfeldian spin on the Abu Ghraib prison activities, and the real meaning of it:

1. "We are shocked and outraged." Even though we've known since January that something wrong was happening.

"2. "We will get to the bottom of this." CNN correspondent Jamie McIntyre reported this afternoon that there are or were 35 separate investigations underway, 25 that involve prisoner deaths, including two that are homicide investigations -- not to mention at least one male soldier who is alleged to have raped a female Iraqi prisoner, thereby restoring the "rape rooms" the president told us had been banished forever thanks to the invasion. Is that the bottom, Secretary Rumsfeld, or will there be news of something yet worse?

3. "The system works. The system works." Direct Rummy quote that sounds eerily like Nigel Tufnel's "but these go to 11" Spinal Tap moment...yet according to members of both parties on the Senate Armed Services Committee, who say that in countless meetings and appearances by Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, their deputies, and representatives from private contractors in the past few months, the system didn't work because DoD made no mention, not even a whiff, of potential prison problems.

Put it all together -- feigned outrage only after the story is public; the assurance that the matter will now be handled appropriately which means it was therefore bungled up until this point; the insistence that nothing improper or "unsystemic" has occurred -- and you get a nice capsule of how the Bush Administration manages so much of its policy.

Which begs the question that always puzzles me about Republicans, and that is this: Aside from the fact that they are more concerned about running for and winning office than running the government itself (other than into the ground), given that good management makes for good policy, and that both combine to make for good politics, how is it that the Bushies manage, time and again, to prove their ineptness?...

But more puzzling is the fact that, even if he cared not one whit about good war management for management's sake, Cheshire Cat Rummy should have been clever enough to know that this would get out eventually, and had the sense to at least alert somebody in Congress during closed session so he and Bush would now be insulated...which can only lead to this conclusion: Deep down, Rumsfeld thought, if not hoped, it would never get out.


Apparently, Jerry Bremer, the U.S. Viceroy in Iraq, apparently was informed in November about the tortures at Abu Ghraib, but did nothing.

Juan Cole reports:

"Abdul Basit Turki, Iraq's first Minister of Human Rights, had his resignation accepted on Sunday. He had tendered it in response to the way the US dealt with the situation in Fallujah, among other issues. He maintained that he had heard horror stories about abuses at Abu Ghuraib last fall and had briefed American civil administrator Paul Bremer about them, but that Bremer took no action:

' In November I talked to Mr Bremer about human rights violations in general and in jails in particular. He listened but there was no answer. At the first meeting, I asked to be allowed to visit the security prisoners, but I failed," he said. "I told him the news. He didn't take care about the information I gave him." '

Tony Cordesman argues that the prison abuse scandal may have fatally undermined the US war on terror. ' "Those Americans who mistreated the prisoners may not have realized it, but they acted in the direct interests of al Qaeda, the insurgents, and the enemies of the U.S.," said Tony Cordesman at the Center for Strategic and International Studies who has held various positions in government. "These negative images validate all other negative images and interact with them," he said in a statement, citing "careless U.S. rhetoric about Arabs and Islam," failures to stabilize Iraq, continued Israeli-Palestinian violence and fears the United States is out to dominate the Middle East. ' "


From Salon's War Room, here's Geraldine Sealey's report, "This Man Needs a Factchecker," on Bush's stump speech:

"It's time to revise the president's stump speech. We wouldn't want anyone out there to be misled, and surely, he wouldn't either.

We found, in just a handful of sentences from a speech Bush gave on his "bus tour," several misleading comments that would not pass the muster of even a junior factchecker. Even saying Bush is on a "bus tour" isn't quite right. Apparently, the president is taking the kind of bus tour that involves flying in an airplane.

Here are seven consecutive sentences from Bush's speech at a Michigan rally on Monday. We counted four factual problems. If we had more time, we'd fact-check the whole speech. But you get the idea.

"My opponent admits that Saddam Hussein was a threat. He just didn't support my decision to remove Saddam from power. (1) Maybe he was hoping Saddam would lose the next Iraqi election. (Laughter.) We showed the dictator and a watching world that America means what it says. (Applause.) Because -- because we acted, Saddam's torture chambers are closed. (2) Because we acted, Iraq's weapons programs are ended forever. (3) (Applause.) Because we acted, nations like Libya got the message and renounced their own weapons programs. (4) (Applause.)

1.) Actually, Kerry voted to authorize the use of force in Iraq. He disagreed with the president's rush to use force. As Kerry wrote in an op-ed in September 2002: "Regime change in Iraq is a worthy goal. But regime change by itself is not a justification for going to war. Absent a Qaeda connection, overthrowing Saddam Hussein -- the ultimate weapons-inspection enforcement mechanism -- should be the last step, not the first."

2.) Saddam's torture chambers may be closed, but the president should be embarrassed to even mention the phrase "torture chamber" and Iraq in the same sentence this week. One Iraqi prisoner allegedly abused at the U.S.-run prison Abu Ghraib say he preferred Saddam's brand of torture to what the American troops meted out.

3.) Since no one, not even the scores of U.S. agents scouring bombed-out Iraq, has found evidence that Saddam had active WMD programs just prior to the invasion last year, it is not right to say they were ended "because we acted." In fact, they "ended" well before Bush rushed to war with shoddy proof. The UN says Iraq hadn't had WMD of any significance since 1994.

4.) Libya again. He continues to mention the Iraq War as the reason Muammar Gaddafi got religion and gave up pursuit of WMD programs. To get a different, correct view on this topic, read Brookings' Martin Indyk's piece, called "The Iraq War did not Force Gadaffi's Hand.")/

This man is dangerous with the facts -- and he's relying on the hope that most people coming to see him speak won't do some independent research to figure out what's right and wrong. But really, when there are this many bungled truths being tossed about in such rapid succession -- who has the time?


Finally from Josh Marshall, one of the best bloggers and most savvy reporters in Washington, on John Dizard's super article, "How Ahmed Chalabi Conned the Neo-Cons":

"The broad outlines of this story -- Chalabi ditching his neocon friends for the Iranian mullahs -- have been clear for some time. But here it is in all its lurid detail. And though one can dispute this or that point of author John Dizard's interpretations -- I would dispute a few of them -- he's got neocons on the record dumping on Chalabi and the members of the Chalabi clan dumping on them. And those quotations just aren't open to interpretation.

"The upshot of the piece is that Chalabi's neocon supporters are beginning to realize that he is every bit the huckster and fraud that his most unyielding enemies at State and CIA said he was. He lured them in with all manner of improbable claims about the pain-free peace he'd make with Israel, how he'd upend Arab nationalism and generally make all the intractable conundrums of the region disappear."

"In the popular political imagination we're familiar with the neocons as conniving militarists, masters of intrigue and cabals, graspers for the oil supplies of the world, and all the rest. But here we have them in what I suspect is the truest light: as college kid rubes who head out for a weekend in Vegas, get scammed out of their money by a two-bit hustler on the first night and then get played for fools by a couple hookers who leave them naked and handcuffed to their hotel beds."


May 10, 2004

Listening to Rumsfeld's Congressional testimony the other day was like hearing a bad, warped record.

The Bush Administration, once again caught up in a major scandal of its own devising, is running the old scam that has worked for it so many times before. First you deny you knew of the problem; then you assert that once you did know, you were appalled and took immediate measures to correct the situation; then, to take the pressure off and to reduce the glare of bad publicity, you call on "the system" to do its investigatory work of many months. If things heat up, you announce that you're going to appoint an "independent" commission to investigate, one you pack with friendlies who won't dig too deeply. In the meantime, you throw a few tiny fish overboard and hope that will satisfy the sharks. If that doesn't work, you throw a bigger fish overboard, maybe a general or head of department. And, if that doesn't do it, you make a Cabinet member walk the plank.

Short of sacrificing the senior officers and the Secretary of Defense, we've witnessed all of those stages now with regard to the Iraq torture scandal. The first, and continuing, line of defense is: This is just an "aberration," a few "bad apples." We'll try them and convict them, and move on.

But, whoops, there's too much evidence confirming that these MPs and guards were not operating on their own, but were instructed and ordered by their superiors to harass, abuse, humiliate and brutalize those detainees in their charge. Here are just three places to start (here and here and here) -- confessions by some of the guards in question.

These orders (as the euphemous military language goes) to "soften them up" came down from top officers in Iraq after Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, the head honcho of the notorious detainee camp at Guantánamo visited the U.S. detention facilities in Iraq and ordered the MPs to act as "an enabler for interrogation," Taguba's report found.  Miller, unbelievably, is the new guy in charge of the Abu Ghraib prison.

Are we supposed to believe that the head generals in Iraq, at some point knowledgeable about what was happening in the various jails and prisons under their control, were acting totally on their own, and never checked with the Pentagon about these ongoing interrogation policies and the scandals that were likely to result from them? That Rumsfeld and Myers, and Cheney and Bush, knew nothing about what was going on?

Paul Bremer was told of the abuse allegations in November of 2003 ; the International Red Cross  and other human-rights groups had been ringing loud alarm bells for more than a year; they knew what was happening, the Iraqis knew what was happening to their sons and daughters, lots of Americans emailed back home what was happening, even various Army investigations revealed what was happening.

But Rumsfeld, the loyal soldier, fell on his sword before Congress and said that even though he learned of the abuses in January, he never told Bush anything about all this, and neither did he tell the appropriate Congressional leaders. What were he and Gen. Myers thinking, that the photos would never get out? (If true, they should resign for stupidity, if nothing else.)

Myers, it turns out, contacted CBS in mid-April, two weeks before the whole mess exploded, and asked them not to run the photos, so Myers and Rumsfeld knew the photos were out there in the public realm, but decided to do nothing. They also knew of General Taguba's devastating report  on Abu Ghraib, and that it had been leaked. They knew that the established interrogation policy included using guards to "soften up" the prisoners for interrogation. But about all these explosive matters, they did and said nothing.

And then it all blew up in their faces, as it should have, thanks largely to Sy Hersh at The New Yorker and 60 Minutes II. So what does Rumsfeld tell Congress (under oath, by the way, so he's liable for perjury)? He throws them some little fishes, deflects questions about interrogation policy, claims he was waiting for photos to be sent to him rather than just ordering them onto his desk, and fudges his answers about how high up the chain of command the rot went. Disgraceful.

That obfuscation/delaying routine is not going to work this time. Already, some of those little fishes are telling how they were following orders of their superiors to abuse -- and in some cases apparently torture to death -- their charges, as reported here and here.   All one has to do is follow that chain, link by link, back to the Pentagon and White House.

So what's next (other than putting American troops and civilians at further risk in Iraq)? Rumsfeld, hoping to forestall a full-scale, Watergate-like Congressional probe, is appointing his own commission to, as it were, investigate himself. And, if things get too hot, Rummy may resign -- anything to ensure that Bush gets re-elected, so that the underlying policies of greed and conquest can continue. And so that future pardons can be handed out, if necessary, and jobs as well.

We are told to expect a lot more, and a lot worse, photos and stories to come about the endemic, systemic torture and abuse and rape and murder of prisoners by U.S. guards -- which shouldn't surprise us because those atrocities are inevitably part and parcel of Bush&Co.'s police-state interrogation procedures, to extract ("exploit") information from the prisoners.

The U.S. carries out many of the same procedures at Guantánamo, in Afghanistan, and no doubt many other gulags in U.S. control elsewhere around the world. It is condoned policy -- and carefully arranged so that these detainees, some of whom are referred to by the made-up term "enemy combatants" (rather than "prisoners of war"), do not fall under the Geneva Conventions for humane treatment of detainees.

It's a national and moral disgrace. All of it -- the interrogation policy, the policy-makers, the guards carrying out the policy, the pornographic videos and photos, the brutalities, the humiliations, the tortures, the deaths, the rapes, and more yet to come.

Rumsfeld must go, the whole involved chain of command must be fired, the higher-ups who approved or condoned these abusive policies must go. That means Bush and Cheney, by impeachment or resignation -- or, if neither of those happens between in the next five months, on Election Day in November.

A thorough cleansing is in order, from top to bottom. Get the investigatory enemas started. Get the cameras out. It's showtime.


May 17, 2004

Rumsfeld Is Getting Spooked

You don't want to piss off the spooks.

Bush&Co. signed its own unfolding death warrant when it made the intelligence agencies -- especially the CIA, FBI and DIA -- the fall guys for what went wrong in a number of sensitive areas, especially on Iraq and the pre-9/11 period. And when Rove and Cheney, for purposes of political revenge, orchestrated the outing of a covert CIA agent, Bush&Co. sealed their doom.

The spooks know where the bodies are buried, and they don't mind exhuming them for maximum effect against the whole neo-con lot in the White House and Pentagon.

The latest revelation, of course -- based on leaks to The New Yorker's Seymour Hersh -- is that Rumsfeld himself ordered the harsh-interrogation program. These revelations bring the crimes of Abu Ghraib (and at other U.S. facilities in Iraq, Afghanistan, Cuba and elsewhere) closer to the White House. But they also open Rumsfeld and his lieutenant, Stephen Cambone, to possible criminal charges of perjury before Congress.

Note: It's long been common knowledge that Rumsfeld was one of the founders (along with Cheney, Wolfowitz, Feith, et al.) of The Project for The New American Century -- the extreme rightwing outfit that in the '90s urged, after there was no other superpower to stop the U.S., a policy of aggressive ("pre-emptive") wars, starting with Iraq. But what many don't know is that Cambone, now the head intelligence guy in Rumsfeld's office, helped write the key PNAC document that set out the aggrandizing policies and goals for U.S. foreign/military policy.

It looks like Rumsfeld will have to go, sooner rather than later. His problems may help explain why Bush lathered him with so much praise last week (a superb Secretary of Defense, a true patriot, etc.), even in the face of the unfolding Iraq-torture stories. Bush wanted to make sure Rummy kept his mouth shut about other Bush&Co. crimes. (Rumsfeld must know that even though he's going to take a whole lot of public relations heat, and face possible criminal charges, a pardon is awaiting in the wings -- IF Bush manages to remain in office.)

So many of Bush&Co.'s wounds are self-inflicted, and stem from their desire for absolute control and absolute secrecy. If you want to read the grisly details, be sure to check out John W. Dean's "Worse Than Watergate" book.

For example, when the FBI and CIA and DIA couldn't and wouldn't produce the intelligence that backed up Bush&Co.'s claims about Iraq's alleged WMDs and supposed ties to Al Qaida, Rumsfeld set up his own intelligence-gathering agency, the Office of Special Plans, stocked it with political appointees of the PNAC persuasion, and, lo and behold, got the "intelligence" he wanted, which was used to manipulate the Congress and American people into approving the war plans.

Now the chickens are coming home to roost, and the only question is whether throwing Rumsfeld overboard will protect the rest of the rotten crew in the White House. Dust off those impeachment statutes, we're in for one hell of a political ride.


Digsby sums up Seymour Hersh's newest smoking-gun story on Rumsfeld:

Seymour Hersh's latest  reveals the existence of a black operation put into high gear after 9/11 that was stupidly pushed into Iraq due to frustration and impatience at the Pentagon.

First, let me say that I am not all that surprised that such a program existed nor that it was given greater ability to operate independently after 9/11. As Hersh points out, these clandestine operations had been used during the cold war and I certainly assumed that dealing with the asymmetrical threat of terrorism would probably require at least some element of high risk spook-style activity. It would be naive to think it wouldn't. In the hands of these unbelievable incompetents in the Bush administration, it naturally turned into a complete disaster.

Moral questions aside (and there are many), as the article details, the problem is that if you use these techniques in anything but the most secret and rarest of ways and it comes into the hands of regular people instead of highly trained specialists using real intelligence, then it is not only ineffective in obtaining useful information, it is dramatically counterproductive in terms of compromising long-term policy goals.

The CIA sources, perhaps covering their asses, tell Hersh that even they backed off of this stuff when it came to using it against regular people in Iraq. Some in the Pentagon apparently maintain that they had been getting good intelligence on the insurgency using these harsh measures until the "hillbillys" got involved and took pictures, which I find hard to believe. If anything the insurgency got stronger over the period they were sweeping innocent people off the streets and then torturing them in prisons, so it doesn't track that they were really getting anywhere. In fact, it looks as if it may have contributed to the US military's problems. If they mean that they managed to get Saddam, I hardly think that was such a big coup. After all, he had terrorized the population for over 30 years so it's not unlikely that someone would have dropped a dime on him eventually.

The fact is that these torture techniques in anybody's hands are a terrible way to get information. People will say anything under torture. I suspect that the "historical information" that General Ripper is so proud of obtaining in Gitmo is probably bullshit. Certainly, after being down there for more than 2 years those prisoners don't know shit today. Believing their own hype about Gitmo, these people inexorably came to believe that if they just inflicted a little more pain and humiliation in Iraq they'd get the answers they wanted. Meanwhile, bin Laden is still at large and Iraq has blown up into a nightmare.

So, it is a case of macho overstepping and making things worse than they already were, much as the march to Iraq itself was a case of macho overstepping and making things worse rather than better. Evidently, the events of 9/11 released some testosterone rush in the pinched, unfulfilled systems of the ivory tower neocons and they lost the ability to reason and plan.

Hersh's article pretty much confirms that the person who gave the orders to take off the gloves in Abu Ghraib is Don Rumsfeld gofer, Steven Cambone, the man most uniquely unqualified to hold his office since well ... President Bush. Of course, Cambone being the ultimate micromanager's clerk means that Rummy himself was well aware of everything that went on and approved it.

It's becoming more and more obvious that the White House was intimately involved in these issues, regardless of their plausible deniability....One of the main reasons they wanted to create the "unlawful combatant" designation was to allow unfettered interrogations. The White House counsel, Alberto Gonzales, led that argument...


And Billmon weighs in from another angle:

Sy Hersh blows the cover -- all of it -- off the real story behind Abu Ghraib. And it's about as bad as I had expected - maybe even a little worse.

...The notion that Arabs are particularly vulnerable to sexual humiliation became a talking point among pro-war Washington conservatives in the months before the March, 2003, invasion of Iraq.

One book that was frequently cited was "The Arab Mind," a study of Arab culture and psychology, first published in 1973, by Raphael Patai, a cultural anthropologist who taught at, among other universities, Columbia and Princeton, and who died in 1996.

The book includes a twenty-five-page chapter on Arabs and sex, depicting sex as a taboo vested with shame and repression. "The segregation of the sexes, the veiling of the women . . . and all the other minute rules that govern and restrict contact between men and women, have the effect of making sex a prime mental preoccupation in the Arab world," Patai wrote. Homosexual activity, "or any indication of homosexual leanings, as with all other expressions of sexuality, is never given any publicity. These are private affairs and remain in private."

The Patai book, an academic told me, was "the bible of the neocons on Arab behavior."  In their discussions, he said, two themes emerged: "one, that Arabs only understand force and, two, that the biggest weakness of Arabs is shame and humiliation."


And Atrios notes that Sy Hersh is not the only source here. He quotes Newsweek's backgrounder:

The Bush administration created a bold legal framework to justify this system of interrogation, according to internal government memos obtained by Newsweek. What started as a carefully thought-out, if aggressive, policy of interrogation in a covert war—designed mainly for use by a handful of CIA professionals—evolved into ever-more ungoverned tactics that ended up in the hands of untrained MPs in a big, hot war. Originally, Geneva Conventions protections were stripped only from Qaeda and Taliban prisoners. But later Rumsfeld himself, impressed by the success of techniques used against Qaeda suspects at Guantánamo Bay, seemingly set in motion a process that led to their use in Iraq, even though that war was supposed to have been governed by the Geneva Conventions. Ultimately, reservist MPs, like those at Abu Ghraib, were drawn into a system in which fear and humiliation were used to break prisoners' resistance to interrogation.

..The administration also began "rendering"—or delivering terror suspects to foreign governments for interrogation. Why? At a classified briefing for senators not long after 9/11, CIA Director George Tenet was asked whether Washington was going to get governments known for their brutality to turn over Qaeda suspects to the United States. Congressional sources told Newsweek that Tenet suggested it might be better sometimes for such suspects to remain in the hands of foreign authorities, who might be able to use more aggressive interrogation methods. By 2004, the United States was running a covert charter airline moving CIA prisoners from one secret facility to another, sources say. The reason? It was judged impolitic (and too traceable) to use the U.S. Air Force.

...Toward the end of 2002, orders came down the political chain at DOD that the Geneva Conventions were to be reinterpreted to allow tougher methods of interrogation. "There was almost a revolt" by the service judge advocates general, or JAGs, the top military lawyers who had originally allied with Powell against the new rules, says a knowledgeable source. The JAGs, including the lawyers in the office of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Richard Myers, fought their civilian bosses for months—but finally lost. In April 22003, new and tougher interrogation techniques were approved.

Covertly, though, the JAGs made a final effort. They went to see Scott Horton, a specialist in international human-rights law and a major player in the New York City Bar Association's human-rights work. The JAGs told Horton they could only talk obliquely about practices that were classified. But they said the U.S. military's 50-year history of observing the demands of the Geneva Conventions was now being overturned. "There is a calculated effort to create an atmosphere of legal ambiguity" about how the conventions should be interpreted and applied, they told Horton. And the prime movers in this effort, they told him, were DOD Under Secretary for Policy Douglas Feith and DOD general counsel William Haynes. There was, they warned, "a real risk of a disaster" for U.S. interests.


And, finally, Juan Cole has a go:

Sy Hersh's expose of an ultra-secret unit of two hundred inside the Pentagon is probably the nail in the coffin of Rumsfeld's tenure at the Department of Defense, and may well be a factor in the presidential elections.

Disturbingly, Sen. Joe Lieberman endorsed torture as an information extraction mechanism on Wolf Blitzer's show on Sunday. He gave the tired example of whether, if one of the 9/11 hijackers had fallen into US hands, one wouldn't have wanted all means used to extract information about the coming attack? There are several things wrong with this stance. First, torture does not work, and there is no evidence that it worked at Abu Ghuraib. Second, the argument that the ends justify the means always turns human beings into monsters. If something is morally wrong, you don't do it if you hope to remain a moral society. Society would be a lot safer if all known heads of identified criminal organizations were taken out by police snipers. We don't do that. Why? Sen. Lieberman should think about it. That way lies a descent into barbarity before which September 11 would pale.

We Americans either stand for something or we don't. What I always assumed we stood for was the US Constitution. Our State Department annually rates other countries by how well their record stacks up against the US Bill of Rights. That custom seems an implicit admission that we hold these rights and values to be universal, not limited to US soil or only a privilege of citizens. And here is what the founding generation of Americans thought about Abu Ghuraib and torture:

Article 10: "Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted."


And about those confounded Geneva Conventions, which keep getting in the way of the U.S. doing whatever the hell it wants, Hesiod  notes:

Umm...I hate to tell the Bush administration, but while the Geneva Conventions may not apply to our Al Qaeda captives, the International Convention against Torture may. And yes, the United States is a signatory of the convention...(We also passed a federal statute outlawing it, and assigning severe criminal penalties.) Here are the first four articles, which I think we can safely say, have been repeatedly violated as a matter of POLICY by the Bush administration.

Article 1

1. For the purposes of this Convention, torture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.

2. This article is without prejudice to any international instrument or national legislation which does or may contain provisions of wider application.

Article 2

1. Each State Party shall take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction.

2. No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.

3. An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture.

Article 3

1. No State Party shall expel, return ("refouler") or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.

2. For the purpose of determining whether there are such grounds, the competent authorities shall take into account all relevant considerations including, where applicable, the existence in the State concerned of a consistent pattern of gross, flagrant or mass violations of human rights.

Article 4

1. Each State Party shall ensure that all acts of torture are offences under its criminal law. The same shall apply to an attempt to commit torture and to an act by any person which constitutes complicity or participation in torture.

2. Each State Party shall make these offences punishable by appropriate penalties which take into account their grave nature."


May 21, 2004

Who Lost Iraq?

So FUBAR is the U.S. war in Iraq -- and we're less than six weeks away from "handover" day when a non-existent interim government is supposed to start administering the country! -- that the blame game already has started. It's called "Who Lost Iraq?"

If the Bush Administration -- which, of course, never ever makes mistakes -- can't pull a victory, or something they can call a victory, out of a magic hat, then someone is going to have to pay the price for failure. Want to guess whom it will be?

Here, as I see it, are the current scapegoat candidates, followed by Bush&Co.'s not-for-publication spin:

1. John Kerry and the liberal press and politicians in the U.S.: They never fully supported the Bush war effort in Iraq, and publicized only the worst aspects of our crusa ...make that campaign. Unpatriotic traitors.

2. John McCain: Though a Republican by party affiliation, he's been carping and criticizing our policy -- the old tactic of a thousand cuts -- and thus showed he really was settling scores with the Bush campaign, while giving Kerry ammunition. Another traitor.

3. Al Qaida: They moved their clandestine cadres into Iraq and began organizing the otherwise friendly locals into bloody insurgents. Otherwise, things would have been copasetic, or at least bearable.

4. Saddam Hussein: He dispersed his troops a year ago when U.S. victory was certain, and then activated them again -- led by his former Ba'athist officers -- once the U.S. was occupying the various cities. Shoulda sent him to Abu Ghraib.

5. Ahmed Chalabi: He was all set to be our guy in Baghdad, but for some reason was unable to galvanize the Iraqi population behind him; he began secretly trying to build his own power base -- he even met with Iranian leaders -- perhaps in anticipation of launching a coup attempt to create a government opposed to our objectives.

6. Ayatollah Sistani, and that mad monk Al-Sadr: They refused to go along with our ideas about how best to grow a democracy in Iraq; they wanted to have direct elections.

7. Hans Blix and David Kay: They didn't find any of the weapons of mass destruction the exiles told us were hidden all over the place. They probably are liberal Democrats, the bastards.

8. Kofi Annan: He kept trying to stick the United Nations' nose into our war, instead of getting on board with the program.

9. Ten million protesters before the war even started: They were deluded, probably led by Commies or Islam-lovers, and put pressure on a number of governments not to support the war.

10. Old Europe: They were so mean and nasty to us, telling us in public that we were making a bad mistake, that Iraq was a quagmire in the making, and so wouldn't participate. The French were the worst, along with the Germans and now the Spanish -- and probably those damn Italians coming up. Luckily, we can count on New Europe -- all those old former Commie states, anxious to do business with us -- and, of course, on good ol' Tony Blair, whose nose couldn't be higher up our you-know-what. What a brave, loyal puppy.

11. A Few Bad Apples: A few of the troops guarding the prisoners at a few jails in Iraq got carried away and hazed some of the terror suspects. We will make sure they are punished and that the Iraqis and everyone else in the region knows we Americans don't do things like that.

12. Photo leakers: If nobody has sent the goddamn photos over the internet, nobody would know, or care, about prisoners being abused and who authorized the harsh interrogation policy. Idiots.

13. Bill Clinton: Um, he was...he said...well, he must have had a hand in it, somewhere.

14. John Kerry, the liberal press, John McCain, Al Qaida, Saddam, Ahmed Chalabi, some Islamic monks, Blix and Kay, Kofi, the bloody French, A Few Bad Apples, the photo-leakers, Bill Clinton: We had a great plan, we made no mistakes, everyone else screwed it up.


Granted, it is a bit early for the "Who Lost Iraq?" game to be played full force. But the preliminary rounds are getting underway. Check out Josh Marshall's Talking Points Memo blog):

...[Notice the] increasing velocity and ferocity of war-hawks trying to shift the blame for their own goofs by inventing a new stab-in-the-back theory...to cushion their consciences from the brunt of recognizing the dire pass to which their own foolishness and reckless zeal have brought their country.

The chief example I've seen -- though there must be many others -- is John Podhoretz's column  in The New York Post from last Friday, May 14th.

The column is a string of accusations. The first is against The New York Times for, according to Podhoretz, blaming the United States, rather than his murderers, for Nick Berg's death. "The Times," writes Podhoretz, in concluding this section of his piece, "is leading the mainstream media in turning the United States into the bad guys in Iraq."

...At length, the column concludes with these four grafs:

"So let's be clear what's going on here. As we speak, 138,000 Americans are
serving under dangerous conditions in Iraq. And our forces in Karbala are fighting against the goons and thugs of Muqtada al-Sadr with some success. They're risking their lives for freedom and honor and duty and love of country.

"And conventional liberal opinion wants them to lose.

"Conventional liberal opinion believes that the Abu Ghraib photos are the true meaning of the war, and that Nick Berg is just another victim of callous U.S. policy.

"Conventional liberal opinion is actively seeking the humiliation and defeat of the United States in Iraq."

[Marshall continues:] Let's be a little more clear about what's going on here. Having led the country perilously close to humiliation and defeat, the architects of the war want to shift the blame for what's happened to their opponents who either said the whole thing was a mistake in the first place or criticized the incompetence of its execution as it unfolded. They take the blame, the moral accountability, by 'wishing' for a bad result. That at least is Podhoretz's reasoning.

If ever there was an example of moral up-is-downism, this is it. And claiming that their political opponents -- liberal, in Podhoretz's usage here, is just a catch-all -- want defeat and humiliation for their country is certainly the most gutterish sort of slander there is.

There's something almost uncomfortable about watching the mix of desperation, panicked zeal and projection evidenced in Podhoretz's column. It's like the pornography of watching someone beg for his life or shift the blame onto someone else when they've been caught in the act -- with the added twist of spasms of aggression mixed in. But on a broader level, it's in character. Not for Podhoretz -- this isn't at all directed at him as a person -- but for the movement, the crew, he's part of and is trying to defend.

How'd we get into this? After 50 years of pretty consistently prudential foreign policy, managed mostly on a consensus of bipartisan agreement (yes, there are exceptions, but by and large, true), they decided to bet the national ranch on an idea. Actually it was a series of ideas, wrapped together in an odd tangle that could look like an odd jumble when viewed from outside. The key, however, was betting the national ranch on steep odds.

Only, they weren't confident the country would get behind such a riverboat gamble. So they lied about what they were doing. They didn't trust the people -- which might be an epitaph we should return to.

Now, what do we expect of people who make reckless gambles with other people's money? Of people who can't discipline themselves enough to distinguish between their hopes and reality? What do you expect of that ne'er-do-well relative who's always hitting you up for a loan because he's come up with a sure thing?

Do you expect those sorts of folks to take responsibility when things go bad? Or do you expect them to blame others?

Character, alas, really does count.


Kevin Drum www.washingtonmonthly.com  takes a look at the battle scene in Iraq and comes up with some interesting questions:

...Some military officers are also concerned that Washington is now cutting back on its original goal of eliminating major flash points in Iraq before June 30. They say the United States has basically retreated in Fallujah, handing over control of the Sunni city to a former Iraqi general who is now commanding some of the very insurgents U.S. forces were fighting -- again, in the name of expediency.

"What we're trying to do is extricate ourselves from Fallujah," said a senior U.S. official familiar with U.S. strategy who would speak only on the condition of anonymity. "There's overwhelming pressure with the Coalition Provisional Authority and the White House to deliver a successful Iraq transition, and Iraq is proving uncooperative."

This is via Andrew Sullivan, who asks, "is the president telling the truth or is the anonymous 'senior administration official'?"

I wonder how much more of this it takes before people like Sullivan stop asking this question and see the obvious answer. Sure, other things equal, Bush would like to win the war, but his every action for the past year has shown that he's not willing to risk reelection to do it. He got talked into the neocon dreamland in which Iraq would be a quick and easy war, and now he just wants a face-saving — and job saving — way of getting out. .

Aside from lots of pretty speeches, I can't think of a single action he's taken in the past 12 months that indicates any real seriousness about winning in Iraq. Anybody out there care to suggest anything?


Steve Guilliard takes a longer look at Sy Hersh's blockbuster New Yorker article.

Congential liars

It's been a long few days, and the mistakes and outright lies running through the news have been astounding. The lies about Iraq reminds me of a line from Apocalypse Now: "The bullshit flew so fast, you needed wings to stay above it.".

There was no program named "copper green"? [The Pentagon denied the existence of the program mentioned in Hersh's report.] Please. Sy Hersh isn't Jayson Blair, sorry. If he claims there was a program, it existed. Not that he was hurt by the useless whining assholes at CounterPunch, and the besotted Christopher 'hic" Hitchens. The White House can issue all the non-denial denials they want, they have no credibility left. Anyone who would trust the word of Bush is either a sucker or a fool.

Then, of course, you have the generals lying, or at least obfuscating what is going on. If Rick Sanchez feels so bad about Abu Ghraib, he can retire. He certainly should do more than say he's sorry. If someone fucked his kid in the ass with a cylume light, he might want more than words,

No one wants to be responsible. They claim responsibility, because words are cheap, but to be responsible, which would require atonement, to sand niggers no less, isn't going to come easy. Cliff May, one of these think-tank assholes who litter cable news, he wanted to know if the Red Cross went to Iran and Syria to check their jails. And I was stunned. Are these our new moral comparisons? Theocracies and dictatorships? What's the point? That because Syria tortures, we get to torture too?

I think not.

Now, we just shot up another Iraqi wedding. With 45 dead. Women and children included. People forget that our war routinely kills the innocent. Abu Ghraib is merely the very thick icing on a very large cake. Of course, the Pentagon is lying again. Claiming they were attacking foreign fighters, yet another gun-firing wedding party is shot up by a helo.

They are lying about who will run Iraq as well. The head of the IGC was blown to shit going into the Green Zone. Do they think that the next guy they pick won't get blown up the same way? The fact that they have to guess who will be Johnny on the spot shouldn't make anyone feel happy.

These lies are truly disheartening, because it seems everyone is pretending the obvious didn't happen. Something very wrong happened at Abu Ghraib which started in Washington. Yet, we never get straight answers from anyone. Just resign now, tell the truth and be done with it. Don't drag it out. It will all come out in the end anyway.


Atrios comes up with a nugget of a piece:

Quotes You Won't Read Here
 

I understand that the foreign news frequently places a different emphasis on the US News and it isn't always evidence of their superiority. However, this is from testimony to the Senate yesterday about the Most Important War Ever. And, at least using Google News, I can't find a damn thing on it domestically.  From the Guardian:

"I believe we are absolutely on the brink of failure. We are looking into the abyss," General Joseph Hoar, a former commander in chief of US central command, told the Senate foreign relations committee.

...Larry Diamond, an analyst at the conservative Hoover Institution, said: "I think it's clear that the United States now faces a perilous situation in Iraq.

"We have failed to come anywhere near meeting the post-war expectations of
Iraqis for security and post-war reconstruction.

"There is only one word for a situation in which you cannot win and you cannot withdraw - quagmire."

...General Hoar was equally scathing about the calibre of the Bush administration. "The policy people in both Washington and Baghdad," he said, "have demonstrated their inability to do a job on a day-to-day basis this past year."


Juan Cole quotes the Washington Post's Daniel Williams  as wondering whether the Iraq experiment can be salvaged. Cole says "the article is one of the more clear-eyed I have seen":

"We could not imagine the deterioration leading to such a point. It's getting worse day after day, and no one has been able to put an end to it. Who is going to protect the next government, no matter what kind it is?" said Abdul Jalil Mohsen, a former Iraqi general and member of the Iraqi National Accord .

"There's no question: A small band of people can paralyze the country," said Mahmoud Othman, an independent Kurdish member of the council. "They are armed and organized and this is the difficulty. The people who did this have no respect for anything of value. It's a real danger to Iraq, the Iraqis and to an agenda to achieve any kind of democracy." '

"Just look around," said Bakran Ohan, who sells baby clothes. "Do you see any police? Any soldiers? There is a complete lack of security. It won't change from day to night on June 30." '

[Gen.] Kimmit denied that the Italians had retreated [from Nasiriyah]. "They just moved to a more secure camp," he said. '

One thing Williams does not bring up [Cole writes] is the degree to which much of the turmoil is the direct result of poor American decision-making. The decision to dissolve the Iraqi army. The decision to try to arrest Muqtada al-Sadr. Decisions, the rationale of which most observers would have difficulty seeing. The whole Iraq enterprise has been run from the beginning as a plot, with no transparency and all kinds of ulterior motives, and that is what has sunk it.


Another post by Cole:
 

Poll: Muqtada Second Most Popular Politician in Iraq

Roula Khalaf of the Financial Times reports the results of a poll of 1600 Iraqis from all major ethnic groups.

The results confirm that radical young Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who is holed up in Najaf as his militiamen fight the Americans, has emerged as among the more popular politicians in Iraq, already suggested by a poll done in late March and reported in the Washington Post.

"Respondents saw Mr Sadr as the second most influential figure in Iraq, next only to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the country's most senior Shia cleric. Some 32 per cent of respondents said they strongly supported Mr Sadr and another 36 per cent said they somewhat supported him. Ibrahim Jaafari, the head of the Shia Islamist Daawa party and a member of the governing council, came next on the list."

Nearly 90 percent of Iraqis surveyed saw the US troops as occupiers, not liberators. This is up from 20 percent in October of 2003 and 47 percent in January, 2004.


Enough on the war.  Corrente posts this one about the power behind the Bush throne, Karl Rove:

Taking Things Personally

The delightful column to which I am about to link you is not my find; that honor belongs to the Farmer, who is busy tending to more earthly matters, (of the daily bread, production of variety), and thus asked if I might wish to blog upon it.

The intriguing title of the column by Tom Blackburn of the Palm Beach Post is "A girl gave Rove a bloody nose," which refers to a story Mr. Rove told as part of a commencement talk he gave at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University. Mr. Blackburn gives us the AP version of that story:

"At the age of 9, I put a Nixon bumper sticker on my wire basket in the front of my bicycle. Unfortunately, the little Catholic girl down the street was a couple of years and about 20 pounds on me. She was for Kennedy. When she saw me on my bike with my bumper sticker for Nixon, she put me on the ground, flattened me out and gave me a bloody nose."

Mr. Blackburn then goes on to comment:

That's supposed to be a cute story about the man who enjoys being called

"Bush's brain" bleeding for Republican Richard Nixon at the age of 9. But why did his assailant have to be a Catholic? Is the implication supposed to be that no one else would stick up for a Catholic running for president? It is, despite the plain historical fact that John F. Kennedy wouldn't have been elected if his votes came only from Catholics.

But Mr. Rove's bully had to be a Catholic, not a generic American. She was
undoubtedly Irish, which would make her a brawler, although Mr. Rove didn't spell it out. With that audience, he didn't have to; the Liberty graduates could fill in the blank.

The point I take from the story -- even though Mr. Rove didn't intend it -- is that at a tender age, Mr. Rove was attracted to the kind of politician who leaves office one step ahead of the impeachment posse. For that point, the girl didn't have to be Catholic. For Mr. Rove's intended point, though, she had to be Catholic because the politics he preaches and practices is "us against them," and there weren't likely to be many Catholic "thems" in the Liberty audience.

Mr. Blackburn takes what Mr. Rove was doing personally, and in the process of explaining why, gives us a stirring defense of the separation of state and religion.


May 24, 2004

CHALABI SCANDAL AND BERG MURDER


This blog is about ignorance. Mainly mine.

I don't know what to make of two of the hottest items in the news: Nick Berg's murder and the Ahmed Chalabi affair. I've seen and read a lot of speculation and alleged facts about both of these major stories, but I confess to being much less certain about the truth, which may or may not reveal itself more fully in the coming weeks.

Nick Berg's Murder

Rabid insurgents have beheaded and otherwise sliced up bodies of Americans killed during convoy ambushes and roadside bombs, so the beheading of a captured American by Iraqis out for Abu Ghraib revenge could make sense. (A good share of Muslim governments and organizations denounced Berg's execution as being both against the teachings of the Koran, and counter-productive to the anti-Occupation cause.)

But there are troubling questions that have been raised as to whether the true killers of Berg were really those connected to Al Qaida, as the U.S. was quick to claim, or were thugs under control of the American military -- either covert ops at Abu Ghraib, with their faces hidden and dressed up as Arabs, or U.S.-friendly Iraqi policemen acting the parts.

The Bush Administration has been guilty of so much lying and deception that it's easy to at least entertain the possibility that they're lying again on the Berg case, and, if you're into conspiracy theories, ordered the whole thing in order to try to deactivate the torture-scandal by showing the bestiality of the enemy. Many Muslims believed that from the get-go, but even some Americans are thinking such thoughts also. For two examples, here, and here.

Me? I don't know what to believe, but I'm searching for the clues as they unravel.

One possible smoking-gun possibility may rest with the camera that took the video of the Berg execution.  Here's one theory of how it might play out: "Today video was released showing prisoners being tortured by Americans. Apparently Kodak film experts at Kodak Park in Rochester New York have compared the digital watermarks of the torture video and the beheading video and have determined that one of the cameras used in the Nick Berg beheading is the same camera that took the prison torture video."

I've seen no independent verification of that alleged Kodak test, but it's worth keeping an eye out for more details, especially if it can be established that the Berg video was shot at Abu Ghraib. Some Iraqi suspects have been arrested in Iraq in connection with the beheading, and maybe we'll learn more from and about them, but probably always through a U.S. military lens. Stay tuned.

Ahmed Chalabi's Fall

One could go batty trying to parse out the convolutions in this complex tale of intrigue and double-crossing. Is Chalabi a U.S. puppet? Is Chalabi a front man for Israeli interests? Is Chalabi an Iranian spy? Is Chalabi a patsy for unseen forces yet to be uncovered? Is this about Chalabi at all, or is what's unfolding mostly a public escalation of the ongoing bitter private dispute between State and Defense, the "realists" vs. the "neo-cons"? Any of these theories true? All of them true?

I haven't the foggiest. Clearly, what we are seeing on the surface of this story is but the tip of an enormous iceberg of internecine warfare in the U.S. government, and Middle East double-dealing, intrigue, corruption, backstabbing, and double- and triple-crossing. The coming weeks and months will tell us more.

There is one Chalabi theory that I find intriguing. Follow this tortuous reasoning: The U.S. neo-cons (Cheney, Rumsfeld, Perle, Wolfowitz, et. al) wanted, and still would want, to install Chalabi as Saddam's successor. But Chalabi never really caught on with the Iraqi public, who viewed him as a likely U.S. puppet. So there was no chance Chalabi could take over and do the U.S. bidding. But if Chalabi can be made to look like an Iraqi nationalist angry at American interference in Iraqi internal affairs and anxious for the U.S. military to get out of Iraq, then his stock might go up with the Iraqi public. Thus, the raid on his compound and the U.S. denunciations of Chalabi, with Chalabi even more vehemently attacking the U.S.

Follow that? Anyway, I'm not sure I believe that theory, since the U.S. has moved so strongly against Chalabi to the point of accusing him of being a spy for Iran. And why would the Iraqis want a spy for Iran (its hated border-enemy for so many years) at the head of their government, Iraqi nationalist or no?

The best-case scenario for American progressives would be this one: If it can be shown that Chalabi indeed was passing classified U.S. secrets to Iran and that those intelligence reports had been furnished to him by key Bush Administration officials (Cheney? Perle? Feith? Cambone? Rumsfeld?), those U.S. neo-cons could be charged with revealing top-secret reports to a foreign power. Not good for Bush's election chances.

This might not be as far-fetched as it sounds, as we already know, from Bob Woodward's book, that Cheney and Rumsfeld showed Prince Bandar, the Saudi ambassador to the U.S., the U.S.'s top-secret war plans for Iraq prior to the invasion. So it's entirely possible that someone like Perle and his friends revealed classified intelligence to Chalabi, which, unbeknownst to them was being passed on to Iran. (The lesson is: Beware of trusting foreign "friends" -- you can get bitten in the behind later by that blind trust.)

Anyway, this deeply complex story will be unraveling for days and weeks and months -- at the same time that more photos and videos of U.S./U.K. torture will be coming out, at the same time that possible indictments will be revealed of the key figures in the Bush Administration who outed Valerie Plame as a covert CIA agent, at the same time the 9/11 commission will be issuing its final report on the Administration's failure to act on pre-9/11 knowledge. Oh, it's going to be a rich Summer and Fall in American presidential politics!


Kevin Drum at Washington Monthly  passes on some truly disturbing charges against Chalabi, ones that led to U.S. troops in effect being sent into an ambush of a war:

A couple of months ago Bob Drogin of the LA Times broke the story of "Curveball," a key Iraqi informant who showed up in a German refugee camp and claimed that he had built biological warfare trucks for the Iraqi army. Only later did the CIA learn that he was actually the brother of one of Ahmed Chalabi's top aides and had probably been coached to provide false information.

Today, Drogin carries the story a step further:

Ahmad Chalabi, the onetime White House favorite who has been implicated in an alleged Iranian spy operation, sent Iraqi defectors to at least eight Western spy services before the war in an apparent effort to dupe them about Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's illicit weapons programs, current and former U.S. intelligence officials said.

....Because even friendly spy services rarely share the identities of their informants or let outsiders meet or debrief their sources, it has only in recent months become clear that Chalabi's group sent defectors with inaccurate or misleading information to Denmark, England, Italy, France, Germany, Spain and Sweden, as well as to the United States, the officials said.

...."We had a lot of sources, but it was all coming from the same pot," said a former senior U.S. intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "They were all INC guys. And none of them panned out."

A U.S. official confirmed that defectors from Chalabi's organization had provided suspect information to numerous Western intelligence agencies. "It's safe to say he tried to game the system," the official said.

Those tough-minded, hardnosed, not-afraid-to-face-the-real-world neocons sure picked the wrong guy to place their faith in, didn't they? But hey -- at least Chalabi and the Iranians got exactly what they wanted: the downfall of Saddam Hussein. And Osama bin Laden got exactly what he wanted too: a Western occupying force in the heart of the Arab world to act as a recruiting device for al-Qaeda. The neocons played their assigned role in this drama to perfection.

Unfortunately, the phrase "useful idiots" is already taken, so we'll have to come up with a new one for these guys. Any ideas?


Corrente adds to the charges:

Neocon creature and Iranian spy Chalabi's disinformation campaign. Too, too delicious. Almost too rich: If it weren't for the cost in treasure and lives of Bush bungling that Chalabi enabled.

Ahmed Chalabi, the one-time White House favourite who has been implicated in an alleged Iranian spy operation, sent Iraqi defectors to at least eight Western spy services before the war in an apparent effort to dupe them about Saddam Hussein's illicit weapons programs.

US investigators are now seeking to determine if the effort was secretly supported by Iran's intelligence service to help persuade the Bush Administration to oust the Baghdad regime, Tehran's long-time enemy.

US officials say the INC may have been acting on its own, rather that at Iran's behest, when it sent out a steady stream of defectors between 1998 and 2003 with apparently coordinated claims about Baghdad's purported weapons of mass destruction.

Because even friendly spy services rarely share the identities of their informants, or let outsiders meet or debrief their sources, it has become clear only in recent months that Mr. Chalabi's group sent defectors with inaccurate or misleading information to Denmark, England, Italy...France, Germany, Spain and Sweden, as well as to the US, the officials said.

In some case US intelligence analysts used information from now-discredited "foreign intelligence sources" to corroborate their own assessments of Saddam's suspected illegal weapons. Few of the CIA's pre-war judgments have been proved accurate so far.

"We had a lot of sources, but it was all coming from the same pot," said a former senior US intelligence official.

"They were all INC guys. And none of them panned out."

Looks like the entire Bush foreign policy apparat were just babies by comparison to the Iraqi intelligence service.

Gee, I wonder if anyone in the administration will take responsibility.


Digsby quotes Richard Perle, probably Chalabi's biggest boosterman in the Bush Administration, as saying as late as a few days ago:

"The CIA despises [Ahmed] Chalabi; the State Department despises him. They did everything they could to put him out of business. Now there is a deliberate effort to marginalize him."

"He has devoted his life to freeing his country," Perle added. "He is a man of enormous intelligence, and I believe the effort to marginalize him will fail. They will end up looking ridiculous."

I don't think even Rummy could drive a wedge between those two crazy young kids in love.

Thursday's raid appeared to be a final break between Mr. Chalabi and his former US patrons. But Gen. Myers defended the INC, saying its military intelligence had been "useful and accurate" during the year-long occupation.

"The organisation that he is associated with has provided intelligence to our intelligence unit there in Baghdad that has saved soldiers' lives," he told a congressional committee.

Gen. Myers' comments reflect the personal support that Mr. Chalabi enjoys in some sections of the administration, particularly the Pentagon. However, this support has been overriden by the importance attached to the political process by Paul Bremer, head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, and Lakhdar Brahimi, United Nations special envoy to Iraq. To them, Mr. Chalabi has come to be seen as an obstacle to UN plans to form a caretaker government to assume sovereignty.


Hesiod offers:

This is stunning. The whole "get Saddam" movement among the neocons, as fueled by Ahmed Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress, was a front operation for the Iranians to get rid of Saddam Hussein.

No. The Neocons weren't actually intentionally working for the Iranians. That would, at least, be worthy of respect for their deviousness and cleverness. No. They were dupes. D-U-P-E-S.

The kind of folk who, in past eras here in the United States, would be pilloried by the conservative movement. People who would be decried as traitors...ad nauseum.

Now, how will the neocons and the conservatives get out of this one? Well...first they will blame Bill Clinton. They will claim that it was Clinton' intelligence agencies that started providing money to the INC and relied on them for intelligence about Iraq.

All that would be true. Except for the fact that Bill Clinton never trusted the INC. The CIA started to cut off the INC, which drew the opprobrium of the neocons (or shall we call them "Iranian dupes?").

And, frankly, Bill Clinton didn't go to war with Iraq, and depose the Hussein regime on the "strength" of faulty intelligence. So, while he was tempted, and kept his options open, he didn't fall for the scam.

What's the upshot of all of this? Well, it's that we went to war with Iraq because we allowed ourselves to get conned by the Iranians into thinking Saddam Hussein posed a threat to us.


And here's an Iraqi perspective, from River, that estimable blogger at Baghdad Burning:

...I always enjoy a good Chalabi interview. His answers to questions are always so completely antagonistic to Iraqi public opinion that the whole thing makes a delightful show - rather like a vicious Chihuahua in the midst of a dozen bulldogs. There were several amusing moments during the interview [Sunday on Al Araby TV network]. He kept waving around his arms and made numerous flourishing movements with his hands to emphasize some key points. A few interesting things I noted about the interview: he was suddenly using the word 'occupation'. During past interviews, he would never use the word 'occupation'. He used to insist on calling the invading army et al. 'coalition' and the whole fiasco was persistently labeled a 'liberation' by him and his cronies.

He made several insipid comments about the raid and his falling out with Bremer and the rest. My favorite comment was his "I've won the prize! I've won the Iraqi nationality prize…" Followed by a large grin (with several gapps between the teeth). The prize he was so proudly referring to was the disapproval of the CIA and 'occupation'. Apparently, he thinks that now that he has been blacklisted by the CPA, he will be enfolded by the tender arms of the Iraqi public. It's almost exhausting to see his endless optimism. At the same time, it's amazing to see his 'about-face' regarding his American popularity. A few months ago, his value to the Bush administration was the personal achievement he was proudest of- he never failed to flaunt his American connections.

Of course, several things occurred to us, after hearing of the raid. The first thing I thought was, "Well, it's about time…" Then, as the newws began to sink in, it made less since. Chalabi was America's lapdog- why is he suddenly unsuitable for the new Iraq? He was convicted in Jordan several years ago and everyone knows he's a crook and a terrible politician… I'm also convvinced that the Bush administration knew full well that he was highly unpopular in Iraq. He's not just a puppet - he's a mercenary. He encouraged the sanctions that killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and maimed the country itself. He supported the war and occupation vehemently and fabricated lies about weapons and threats to further his cause. He's a criminal - and a lousy one at that.

In the end, America had to know that Chalabi was virtually useless. Why this sudden change of heart towards Mercenary #1? People are saying that it is a ploy to help him rise in popularity, but I can hardly believe that. Could the decision-makers currently mulling over the Iraq situation be so ridiculously optimistic? Or could they have really been so wrong in the past? We have a saying in Arabic, "En kint tedri, fe tilk musseeba… in kint la tedri, fa ill musseebatu a'adham" which means, "If you knew, then that was a catastrophe… and if you didn't know, then the catastrophe is greater."


Finally, we close with this delicious question posed by Atrios:

So, if Chalabi's group really is a front for Iranians why isn't he standing hooded in a dark room with wires hooked up to his genitals instead of, you know, being on every Sunday news show...?


May 28, 2004

THE IRAQI MONKEY ON BUSH'S BACK

Bush's absolutely awful speech last week -- the one where he promised to lay out his "plan" for how to proceed in Iraq-- is good news electorally for Kerry and the Democrats. But, sad to say, it presages more death and destruction for Iraq and Iraqis -- and for our young men and women who are being sent into the killing zone -- and more damage to America's national interests.

We know that Bush&Co. venture into fantasyland pretty often, refusing to see the real world for what it is, but still it's difficult to believe they thought they could get away with such a disgracefully empty collection of trite phrases and stay-the-course pronouncements in Bush's Iraq address. One has to think they hauled out the old platitudes yet again as an experiment, to see how much they might really need to change.

They got their answer almost immediately. The darts came flying in from all directions -- Republicans, military men, Pelosi, Kennedy, Zinni, Bill Clinton, and now from two true heavyweights, Al Gore and John Kerry. Unless the Rove boys are total bunglers -- I heard that chuckle! -- the next Bush speech on Iraq will be quite different, including some important initiatives.

Bush&Co. are so desperate to get the Iraq monkey off their back, they might even go for early direct elections -- even if it means an Islamic theocracy. Anything to stop the political bleeding. Including, if the U.N. can come up with candidates willing to serve in an interim government, the remote possibility that Bush will declare "victory" now that "democracy is established and on its way in Iraq," and remove the U.S. troops.

Not likely, I agree, but the situation is so dire for the U.S. -- and thus for Bush's hopes to win a second term -- that nothing is off the table. All that counts right now is politics; everything else, and everyone else, can be tossed overboard, if need be. (If Bush pulls out a victory in November, then it's back to the drawing boards for how to control the greater Middle East.)

 

GORE LETS IT RIP

Gore's blockbuster speech, really laying the wood to Bush and Cheney -- and calling for the resignations of Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Rice, Tenet, et al. -- was the Gore we would liked to have seen on the campaign trail in 2000. You've got to read it. It says it all. (See sample excerpts below.)

Kerry's foreign policy address  the next day paled a bit in comparison, but at least it had some oomph and contained some major attacks on Bush incompetence in Iraq and elsewhere.

Kerry must come to realize that he can't risk merely a narrow victory in November. A terrorist attack that revives 9/11 fright and rally-'round-the-President feelings could wipe out all the public-opinion gains the Democrats are accruing right now. (Which is why Ashcroft whipped out the rushed, hyped Al-Qaida-is-coming warning the other day -- even though there was no new intelligence to justify it.) In addition, close races in the major states in play could be offset by someone fiddling with the computer tallies just enough to throw the race to BushCheney.

SUNSHINE & STAKES

No, garlic and crosses won't do the trick here. It's sunlight and a stake-through-the-heart that are required -- the sunshine of revealing more and more of the lies and incompetencies behind much of Bush&Co. policy, the stake-through-the-heart of a landslide victory that can't be undone by terrorism or altered by vote-tampering.

That's why it's good to see Kerry coming out of his oh-so-polite shell and raising the political stakes to match the misleading ads and scurrilous dirty tricks employed by Karl Rove. If Kerry really wants to win, and guarantee his victory, he's got to generate a passion for change in the electorate big enough for a HUGE landslide in November. And, if he and we play our cards right, and if Bush&Co. continue to implode in scandal after scandal, we even could break the back of the GOP's stranglehold in Congress, and maybe (I can dream) get impeachment proceedings started.

Stranger things have happened, and Bush&Co. seem absolutely possessed by the self-destructive virus that comes with ignorance, stubbornness, arrogance, and the belief they are doing the work of God, on orders.

Unless they take their anti-viral medication and get back on track soon, they will have only their fundamentalist base to rely on (maybe 30-35% of the vote), with moderates and traditional conservatives, members of the military, veterans, independents, etc. joining the Democrats to get these guys and their reckless, dangerous policies out of the White House. If they even can last thro ugh November.

Oh, happy day!

 

Iraq is such a disaster that even the neo-cons that got us into the mess are sounding gloomy as they read the electoral handwriting on the wall. Atrios found this quote:

"The truth is it wouldn't take much actually to turn this around, not that they necessarily will," said Gary Schmitt, executive director of the Project for The New American Century, a leading neoconservative think tank. "There are a lot of very positive trends going on in Iraq, and I think if you take care of the security situation and the political trend lines toward real elections, in fact I think Iraq is more than salvageable." As Atrios notes, those are mighty BIG "ifs".


Hesiod says that Richard Perle is "officially off the reservation":

Richard Perle, until recently a powerful adviser to U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, described U.S. policy in post-war Iraq as a failure.

"I would be the first to acknowledge we allowed the liberation (of Iraq) to subside into an occupation. And I think that was a grave error, and in some ways a continuing error," said Perle, former chair of the influential Defence Policy Board, which advises the Pentagon.


The neo-cons had such a smooth ride for such a long time that they're somewhat shellshocked as they realize they have to face the music that is public scrutiny.

Read this from Kos:

"Ahh, this is the kind of story  [by former Clinton senior aide Sidney Blumenthal] that warms the heart.

At a well-appointed conservative think tank in downtown Washington and across the Potomac River at the Pentagon, FBI agents have begun paying quiet calls on prominent neoconservatives, who are being interviewed in an investigation of potential espionage, according to intelligence sources. Who gave Ahmed Chalabi classified information about the plans of the U.S. government and military?

The Iraqi neocon favorite, tipped to lead his liberated country post-invasion, has been identified by the CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency as an Iranian double agent, passing secrets to that citadel of the "axis of evil" for decades. All the while the neocons cosseted, promoted and arranged for more than $30 million in Pentagon payments to the George Washington manqué of Iraq. In return, he fed them a steady diet of disinformation, and in the run-up to the war he sent various exiles to nine nations' intelligence agencies to spread falsehoods about weapons of mass destruction.

If the administration had wanted other material to provide a rationale for invasion, no doubt that would have been fabricated. Either Chalabi perpetrated the greatest con since the Trojan horse or he was the agent of influence for the most successful intelligence operation conducted by Iran, or both.

So will the neocons get their comeuppance? Probably not. But there is a sort of delicious irony in seeing these assholes, who for so long screamed "treason!" at anyone who opposed their foolish plans, suddenly become the subject of an espionage investigation.

So next time any Bush apologist questions your patriotism, ask right back -- "Who sold out our nation to an 'Axis of Evil' spy? Heck, who invited this spy to the State of the Union Address?" It wasn't the anti-war crowd.

And while reading that piece by Sydney Blumenthal, don't miss the final paragraph, the Mother of all Rants:

Washington, which was just weeks ago in the grip of neoconservative orthodoxy and absolute belief in Bush's inevitability and righteousness, is now in the throes of agonizing events and being ripped apart by investigations. Things fall apart; all that was hidden is revealed; all sacred exposed as profane: the military, loyal and lumbering, betrayed and embittered; the general in the field, Lt. Gen. Sanchez, disgraced and cashiered; and the most respected retired generals training their artillery on those who have ill-used the troops, still dying in the field; the intelligence agencies, a nautilus of chambers, abused and angry, its retired operatives plying their craft with the press corps, seeping dangerous truths; the press, hesitatingly and wobbly, investigating its own falsehoods; the neocons, publicly redoubling their passionate intensity, defending their hero and deceiver Chalabi, privately squabbling, anxiously awaiting the footsteps of FBI agents; Colin Powell, once the most acclaimed man in America, embarked on an endless quest to restore his reputation, damaged above all by his failure of nerve; everyone in the line of fire motioning toward the chain of command, spiraling upward and sideways, until the finger pointing in a phalanx is directed at the hollow crown.

Amen, brother.


Robert Dreyfuss at TomPaine.com carries the Chalabi story a bit further:

The fallout from the fall of Ahmad Chalabi looks like it might splash all over the Pentacons — the neocon hardliners in the Pentagon who've backed Chalabi since the '90s. And Chalabi's backers are worried. Here's today's Wall Street Journal editorial, citing a report in The New York Times that U.S. intelligence officials are investigating Pentagon officials:

Critics of Mr. Bush's Iraq policy are using the raid and the leaks as an excuse for demanding a purge of anyone who ever supported Mr. Chalabi. A Monday piece in The New York Times, based on more anonymous leaks, noted that 'intelligence officials' are investigating a handful of officials in Washington and Iraq who dealt regularly with Mr. Chalabi.' Are they Iranian agents, too?

Maybe, and maybe not. But next, here's a report from The Guardian:

An intelligence source in Washington said the CIA confirmed its long-held suspicions when it discovered that a piece of information from an electronic communications intercept by the National Security Agency had ended up in Iranian hands. The information was so sensitive that its circulation had been restricted to a handful of officials.

"This was 'sensitive compartmented information'—SCI—and it it was tracked right back to the Iranians through [high-level Chalabi aide] Aras Habib," the intelligence source said.

The DIA is also reported to have launched its own inquiry into the INC-Iran link.

An intelligence source in Washington said the FBI investigation into the affair would begin with Mr. Chalabi's "handlers" in the Pentagon, who include William Luti, the former head of the Office of Special Plans, and his immediate superior, Douglas Feith, the Under-Secretary of Defence for Policy. There is no evidence that they were the source of the leaks. Other INC supporters at the Pentagon may have given away classified information in an attempt to give Mr. Chalabi an advantage in the struggle for power surrounding the transfer of sovereignty to an Iraqi government on June 30.

Next is this, from UPI yesterday, reporting that the FBI is investigating a Pentagon official and a former Pentagon official for having passed classified info to Chalabi. Though not named, the two officials in the UPI story are, according to my sources, Harold Rhode, an official in the Pentagon's Office of Net Assessment, and Michael Rubin, now at the American Enterprise Institute. Reports UPI:

...It's not clear where all this might lead. Certainly, the CIA is a sworn enemy of Chalabi, and it has been for many years. And certainly, Chalabi's enemies would love to use the scandal over Chalabi's Iran connections to tarnish his Pentagon allies. But it seems to me unlikely that they would risk a formal investigation unless they had some concrete evidence to support what otherwise would be a witch hunt.


Digby lauds Gore and Kerry for the tone and content of their major speeches:

I urge all of you to read President Gore's speech if you didn't get to see him give it.

Al Gore has a unique position in the eyes of the world, especially in places where Machiavellian vote-counting schemes are the norm rather than the exception. He is the shadow president, the man who should be at the helm instead of the man whom they have almost universally come to despise.

His words have particular meaning because they express to many the beliefs of the majority of Americans. He alone has the authority to speak for all of us who were cheated and have been forced to sit by as this usurper, through incompetence, misplaced machismo and --- most of all --- unbelievable hubris, has managed to destroy more than half a century's worth of international goodwill and over two centuries hard won belief by the American people in the rule of law.

The world is watching to see what we do in November. They are counting on us to save this country and them. Al Gore is the single best person to reassure the world that we are serious, we understand the problem and we are going to deal with it.

A few excerpts follow, but I urge you, again, to read the whole speech:

AL GORE'S SPEECH (EXCERPTS)

What happened at the prison, it is now clear, was not the result of random acts by "a few bad apples," it was the natural consequence of the Bush Administration policy that has dismantled those wise constraints and has made war on America's checks and balances.

The abuse of the prisoners at Abu Ghraib flowed directly from the abuse of
the truth that characterized the Administration's march to war and the abuse of the trust that had been placed in President Bush by the American people in the aftermath of September 11th.

There was then, there is now and there would have been regardless of what Bush did, a threat of terrorism that we would have to deal with. But instead of making it better, he has made it infinitely worse. We are less safe because of his policies. He has created more anger and righteous indignation against us as Americans than any leader of our country in the 228 years of our existence as a nation -- because of his attitude of contempt for any person, institution or nation who disagrees with him.

...President Bush said in his speech Monday night that the war in Iraq is "the central front in the war on terror." It's not the central front in the war on terror, but it has unfortunately become the central recruiting office for terrorists. [Dick Cheney said, "This war may last the rest of our lives.] The unpleasant truth is that President Bush's utter incompetence has made the world a far more dangerous place and dramatically increased the threat of terrorism against the United States. Just yesterday, the International Institute of Strategic Studies reported that the Iraq conflict " has arguable focused the energies and resources of Al Qaeda and its followers while diluting those of the global counterterrorism coalition." The ISS said that in the wake of the war in Iraq Al Qaeda now has more than 18,000 potential terrorists scattered around the world and the war in Iraq is swelling its ranks.

...Make no mistake, the damage done at Abu Ghraib is not only to America's reputation and America's strategic interests, but also to America's spirit. It is also crucial for our nation to recognize - and to recognize quickly - that the damage our nation has suffered in the world is far, far more serious than President Bush's belated and tepid response would lead people to believe. Remember how shocked each of us, individually, was when we first saw those hideous images. The natural tendency was to first recoil from the images, and then to assume that they represented a strange and rare aberration that resulted from a few twisted minds or, as the Pentagon assured us, "a few bad apples."

But as today's shocking news reaffirms yet again, this was not rare. It was not an aberration. Today's New York Times reports that an Army survey of prisoner deaths and mistreatment in Iraq and Afghanistan "show a widespread pattern of abuse involving more military units than previously known.'

Nor did these abuses spring from a few twisted minds at the lowest ranks of our military enlisted personnel. No, it came from twisted values and atrocious policies at the highest levels of our government. This was done in our name, by our leaders. These horrors were the predictable consequence of policy choices that flowed directly from this administration's contempt for the rule of law. And the dominance they have been seeking is truly not simply unworthy of America - it is also an illusory goal in its own right.

...A policy based on domination of the rest of the world not only creates enemies for the United States and creates recruits for Al Qaeda, it also undermines the international cooperation that is essential to defeating the efforts of terrorists who wish harm and intimidate Americans.

Unilateralism, as we have painfully seen in Iraq, is its own reward. Going it alone may satisfy a political instinct but it is dangerous to our military, even without their Commander in Chief taunting terrorists to "bring it on."

...They resent any constraint as an insult to their will to dominate and exercise power. Their appetite for power is astonishing. It has led them to introduce a new level of viciousness in partisan politics. It is that viciousness that led them to attack as unpatriotic, Senator Max Cleland, who lost three limbs in combat during the Vietnam War.

...The abhorrent acts in the prison were a direct consequence of the culture of impunity encouraged, authorized and instituted by Bush and Rumsfeld in their statements that the Geneva Conventions did not apply. The apparent war crimes that took place were the logical, inevitable outcome of policies and statements from the administration.

...President Bush offered a brief and half-hearted apology to the Arab world - but he should apologize to the American people for abandoning the Geneva Conventions. He also owes an apology to the U.S. Army for cavalierly sending them into harm's way while ignoring the best advice of their commanders. Perhaps most importantly of all, he should apologize to all those men and women throughout our world who have held the ideal of the United States of America as a shining goal, to inspire their hopeful efforts to bring about justice under a rule of law in their own lands. Of course, the problem with all these legitimate requests is that a sincere apology requires an admission of error, a willingness to accept responsibility and to hold people accountable. And President Bush is not only unwilling to acknowledge error. He has thus far been unwilling to hold anyone in his administration accountable for the worst strategic and military miscalculations and mistakes in the history of the United States of America.

...In December of 2000, even though I strongly disagreed with the decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to order a halt to the counting of legally cast ballots, I saw it as my duty to reaffirm my own strong belief that we are a nation of laws and not only accept the decision, but do what I could to prevent efforts to delegitimize George Bush as he took the oath of office as president.

I did not at that moment imagine that Bush would, in the presidency that ensued, demonstrate utter contempt for the rule of law and work at every turn to frustrate accountability...

So today, I want to speak on behalf of those Americans who feel that President Bush has betrayed our nation's trust, those who are horrified at what has been done in our name, and all those who want the rest of the world to know that we Americans see the abuses that occurred in the prisons of Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo and secret locations as yet undisclosed as completely out of keeping with the character and basic nature of the American people and at odds with the principles on which America stands.

I believe we have a duty to hold President Bush accountable - and I believe we will. As Lincoln said at our time of greatest trial, "We - even we here - hold the power, and bear the responsibility."

I hope that this speech is covered heavily in the rest of the world. The situation is so dire that it is important that people realize that the duly elected president of the United States stands in stark contrast to the usurper who sits in the White House. These words could go a long way to calm some of the anger overseas by clearly and distinctly separating the hated president from the American people.


KERRY COMES OUT SWINGING


For what it's worth [Digby continues] Kerry is on the same page this week as Gore. I don't think this is an accident.

At the same moment Attorney General John Ashcroft was telling reporters in Washington that al-Qaida may be planning an attack on the United States, Sen. John Kerry was in Seattle, arguing that Ashcroft and his Bush administration colleagues have failed to do enough to prepare for such an attack.

Noting that Bush administration officials have repeatedly said that a terrorist attack in the United States is a question of "when, not if," Kerry asked why the administration hasn't moved more decisively to increase the number of cops on the street, to require inspections of cargo container ships, to increase security on trains and to protect nuclear power plants and other potentially vulnerable targets.

"I'm not going to stand in front of you as a potential president and say to you that you can protect every single place and harden every single target in the country -- all Americans know that," Kerry told a few thousand supporters who braved Seattle's drizzle to see the candidate speak on a public pier. "But what we can do is protect against catastrophe. What we can do is protect those places that are most logical places for the largest potential damage or danger. And that is the responsibility of a president." While Kerry didn't specifically say -- as some of his supporters have -- that Ashcroft's warnings could be a politically motivated ploy to shore up Bush's free-falling approval ratings, he came awfully close to doing so. "We deserve a president of the United States who doesn't make homeland security a photo opportunity and the rhetoric of a campaign," Kerry said. "We deserve a president who makes America safer."

Kerry begins an 11-day "focus" on national security and foreign policy in Seattle Thursday with what aides are billing as a major speech on terrorism and the war on Iraq. Wednesday's speech -- in which Kerry said that Bush had repeatedly misled the country about Iraq -- may have been a preview of things to come.

Invoking his own experience in Vietnam, Kerry said that the ultimate test of a commander-in-chief in wartime comes when he must look the parents of a fallen soldier in the eye. At that moment, Kerry said the president must be able to say of any war: "I tried to do everything in my power to avoid it, but the threat was such that we had no choice." Bush, Kerry said, "failed -- and fails -- that test in Iraq."


Steve Guilliard is spot-on in examining "Why Iraq Is Not Working":

This will be short and painless. Print it out and hand it to your few remaining friends who support the war.

1) There is no internal political support for either the IGC [Iraq Governing Council] or the UN version of an occupational government.

The UN rep picking the new head of Vichy Iraq was enraged when someone from the GOPCPA leaked his name. The guy, realizing that the resistance would kill him like a dog via car bomb, promptly refused the job. The fact is that the only representative Iraqi leadership are religious leaders. Brahimi wanted to pick a technocrat, but no matter how you say it, it's still spelled P-e-t-a-i-n, and we all know how he wound up. Not that it matters. Without a heads up from Sistani and the Sunni clerics, the guy is going to be killed by the resistance, Al Qaeda or the US (by accident, of course).

The Kurds, with 20 percent of the population, are now demanding the Presidency or Vice Presidency, which is sure to send Sadr and his Sunni allies into a rage. The Kurds took part in the fighting at Fallujah, and many, many Iraqis are none too happy with their countrymen.

2) Splitting Iraq is vastly unpopular with most Iraqis.

While Peter Galbraith has been running around on the behest of his Kurdish allies, calling for "a loose confederation", which would let the Kurds destroy the territorial integrity of Iraq, while doing their own thing (smuggling, disrupting neighboring nations), Phebe Marr, one of the few actual Iraq historians in the US, gave him the smackdown on Nightline last week. The simple fact is that the Kurds will face a massive Turkish invasion if they get what they want. They also forget how ALL Iraqis opposed the Turks joining the occupation force.

This new "splitting Iraq" meme is really based in an ignorance of Iraq's economy. Without access to the income from the southern oil fields, the rest of Iraq will go bankrupt. You can't leave the Sunnis without income and splitting Iraq would turn it into a Middle Bank, with poor people with guns fighting their neighbors.

Besides the fact that it would be a violation of international law, it's just a very stupid idea based on our perceptions of Iraq and not reality.

3) Our allies are not coming to help us

As the German Ambassador to the US said so plainly on CNN, how would NATO help the occupation? The Iraqis will kill Germans just like they kill Poles, British and until recently, the Spanish. There is no clamor for NATO to occupy Iraq. Iraqs aren't saying "Germany save us." Besides, there aren't the votes to deploy troops in these Parliaments. International occupation is just adding targets for the resistance.

4)The Iraqis have made a choice: to undermine the Occupation.

The fact is that anyone working for the occupation faces intimidation or death. This isn't the consensus of a few people, but widely supported by average Iraqis. Someone has to be talking to the resistance. That resistance is widespread, with people in every corner of the GOPCPA. One of the fundamental mistakes of the US was to assume, despite all available evidence, Iraqis supported the occupation. Sistani could have sent thousands into the police and military with one word. So when Bush says "the Iraqis have to stand for freedom," he ignores the reality that most Iraqis are content to watch Americans die without lifting a finger to help.

5) Reconstruction is a corrupt, poorly managed nightmare.

The GOPCPA cannot maintain anything in Iraq. Instead of hiring reconstruction experts from NGO's, they hired from the Heritage Foundation's reject list. People who were ideologically sound were hired over the competant and trained. People like Michael Ledeen's daughter, Simone, were given the task of rebuilding Iraq's economy. Imagine the reaction of highly educated, Harvard, Oxford and Sorbonne-trained Iraqi economists, when they could get into the Green Zone, dealing with these idiot children. By sending the pure, loyal and untrained, they told the Iraqis they were not serious people. The neocons were allowed to turn Iraq into their playground, and test their wacky theories. Meanwhile Iraqi oil facilities have been attacked 54 times since the occupation started.

Rumors of overcharging and kickback litter the news on a near-daily basis. Halliburton has been accused of running empty [truck] trailers to get paid from the US government. Even so, the lack of security which is endemic in Iraq makes reconstruction a nightmare.

6) No security means nothing can get done.

Even reporters have to travel with "security consultants" to do their stories. Baghdad is effectively cut off from the rest of the country. The road net is insecure and remains that way, at best. The fact is that the US doesn't have the troops to secure the roads, and will not get any. This is the kind of job our Pakistani auxillaries would have done, but since their intervention would immediately launch a civil war in Pakistan, it's not going to happen. We're about to send two training units to Iraq, we're so short of troops. The 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, the OPFOR unit at Ft. Irwin, is being sent to Iraq. Now, you don't have to be a nuclear physicist or a military strategist to see how dangerous this is. The 11th ACR is the unit other units need to train in combat proficiency. Sending them to Iraq is a sign of pure desperation. Other units cannot train effectively if the 11th ACR is in Iraq, hunting guerrillas.

The US's reliance on Iraqi security forces is really a reliance on a force which will ultimately fail. They have no commitment to the government and no support within the wider community. We can Iraqimize the force, but if Sistani issues a fatwa, who do you think they will support? The US and Iraqi Vichy governments? Or their clerics?

In short, Bush's strategy is failing, and none of this relies on the abject hatred caused by our actions at Abu Ghraib. That just makes any US plan in Iraq unsustainable. The IGC hasn't been asking questions about kicking US forces out of Iraq for their health. No Iraqi government could ever be considered legitimate if it allowed the US to establish bases there. That's a political non-starter as much as shipping oil to Haifa. The Army thinks they'll be there five years, but in reality, five months is a stretch. We don't have the men and NATO is going to decline to lend us a hand, no matter what they say in Congress. The US has to leave Iraq at some point and that point will be sooner rather than later. We are at the early stages of the Abu Ghraib scandal and in the end, it will so discredit US policy that we'll have to flee the country.


June 7, 2004

Life Is Politics

I attended a wedding the other day of two friends who have lived together for 34 years and have three grown children in their 20s. It was a legal wedding -- with an officiating minister and all the trimmings -- but also a touching re-affirmation of their commitment to each other, with beautifully expressed vows, both comic and serious.

Why were they making their relationship legal after all these years? In addition to wanting to renew their deep love for each other in the presence of their children and friends, they had a very practical reason: To tie up the legal/financial ends.

They wanted to ensure they could access Social Security survivor benefits; to make sure doctors and hospitals would recognize their union for visitation and decision-making purposes; to remove any obstacles for their children in settling estates, etc. In short, they desired to make sure that society's laws -- per usual, several generations behind the realities about how many folks arrange their relationships -- would not, and could not, interfere in the most intimate matters of their lives.

Another couple at the wedding reception -- who also had lived together for decades -- revealed that just recently they, too, had tied the marital knot, at City Hall, for many of the same legal/financial reasons.

Someone else told me at the reception that if a same-sex married couple was traveling through Oklahoma with their children and there was a car accident, the state would not permit those parents to make health-care decisions for their injured kids. Disgraceful!

Eventually, as I say, all politics is local -- and personal. Which may be why the mood of the country is steadily shifting toward more acceptance of gay marriage and homosexuality in general. So many heterosexuals know gays -- from work or church or school or even in their own extended families -- and know these people are not "sexual perverts" with "a gay agenda," but as folks pretty much like themselves, with a different sexual orientation and the same goals for themselves and their families. Politics suddenly becomes personal.

Then, too, there is the demographic factor: the younger heterosexual generation has grown up comfortably with gays, who they know as people proud of and comfortable with their sexual orientation. It's just no big thing.

I always tear up at weddings, and this one -- of our friends finally tying the knot after 34 years -- was especially moving, as I watched their three grown kids sit there in the front row, in awe as their parents acknowledged their long and constant commitment to each other, in the past, now and into the unknown future.

Finally, though nobody even mentioned this at the reception, if Bush were to be elected in November, the self-righteous zealots who are America's homegrown Taliban might well come up with even more restrictive legislation aimed at deviance from the social norms as interpreted by the theocratic neocons. All the more reason to work for Bush&Co.'s defeat, just in case you couldn't come up with any other reasons, ha.


Another telling anecdote from the wedding reception. A friend on a recent flight, seated on the aisle, was engaged in spirited political conversation with the passenger seated by the window. After dodging the zingers flying by her, the woman in the middle eventually told my friend that she had no interest in politics and had no intention of voting in the coming presidential election.

"This was a woman with two M.A.s, a registered nurse, and had absolutely zilch knowledge of, or interest in, the political issues that were affecting her life in health care, as a woman, as a citizen," said my friend. "I couldn't believe it."

Luckily, she related, it was a five-hour flight, and she spent a good share of that time filling in her seatmate on what the Bush policy was on a woman's right to choose, on Medicare and Social Security, on health care and stem-cell research, on the lies and deceptions that led us into Iraq and that are getting our young men and women killed, and so on. By the time the plane landed in San Francisco, another anybody-but-Bush voter was born.

And that's yet another way this campaign will be won: By each of us reaching out to friends, neighbors, colleagues, fellow congregants, even strangers on planes, and letting them know what the issues are and how they affect them and their families and communities. More and more conservatives, independents, middle-of-the-roaders are peeling off from the Bush base. Let's keep the momentum building. (See also "Persuadables Are Up For Grabs -- If You Can Get Them To Pay Attention" at Kos).


Ronald Reagan has died and already the canonization moves have begun from the right -- put him on Mt. Rushmore! -- and the denunciations from the left.

There are plenty of reasons to despise the Reagan presidency, and there's no need for me to document all the crimes of commission and omission (see some of the bloggers below), but the liberal/progressive camp needs to be aware of the positive things that came out of the Reagan years as well, and which angered many Hard-Right conservatives at the time.

* Reagan rejected the hard-line approach of his hawkish advisors (who urged him not to make any deals with the Soviet "evil empire") to reach a political detente, largely on the basis of his intuition about Mikhail Gorbachev. Such action may well have averted a nuclear confrontation.

* Reagan approved a bill that, in the case of abortions, included exceptions for women who'd been raped, or victims of incest, or whose lives or personal health might be put at risk because of the operation. He signed the bill into law.

* Reagan actually raised taxes when the economy/budget made doing so a necessity, rather than letting the poor and middle-class assume the entire burden. Anathema to the government-is-the-enemy crowd.

In short, when one looks at previous Republican presidents -- especially Nixon and Reagan and George H. W. Bush -- and then at the current resident of the White House, those conservative icons look almost benign in comparison. Though locked into their own rigidities and theories -- and while carrying out all sorts of crimes and scandals -- they at least on occasion exhibited genuine compassion for others, and more understanding of the true complexities of the real world.

Those presidents were genuine conservatives, not the pretend Bush model, who with every action reveals himself as a close-minded radical, a zealot locked into dangerous simplicities -- one who is endangering our country's future with his reckless policies, both foreign and domestic. Unelected, uninformed and, at this stage by so many true conservatives, unwanted. Good riddance to bad rubbish in November.


Kos includes the following posts about Reagan:

Ronald Reagan - In Memoriam

by DemFromCT June 6, 2004

...As we watch the memorial discussions and reminiscing, some real and some (to be expected) exaggerated, I think it appropriate to wish his family peace, and to honor this American President in the most fitting way possible. Not a coin, not Mt. Rushmore, but with the memorial Nancy asked for.  Whenever Reagan's name comes up, and overblown tributes are suggested that seem inappropriate, this should be the humble response.

In a rare appearance last month, former first lady Nancy Reagan spoke at an
event to raise money for embryo stem cell research. She hoped, she said, that others would benefit from research on such diseases as Alzheimer's, which had afflicted her husband, Ronald.

"Ronnie's long journey has finally taken him to a distant place where I can no longer reach him," she said. "Because of this, I'm determined to do whatever I can to save other families from this pain."

Reagan, 82, who was married to the nation's 40th president for 52 years, had been by the ailing president's side, particularly as the family publicly acknowledged his bout with the disease 10 years ago.

Reagan's recent public support of stem cell research, however, has put her at odds with other Republicans, including President George W. Bush, who opposes the research.

Still, Reagan, whose support carries much clout, is doing what she says she has to do. "I just don't see how we can turn our back on this," she said at the fund-raiser.

I agree with Nancy Reagan. Alzheimer's runs in my family, too. I don't see how we can turn our back on this, either.


Reagan's Great Achievement

by DHinMI June 5th, 2004

Trapper John [see below] wisely counsels us to be wary of giving fodder to the winger who are just dying for the opportunity to see us gloat about Reagan's death, and to spew venom at him and his legacy.  I have no interest today in attacking Reagan's legacy; in fact, I wish to praise him for his prescience in recognizing that Mikhail Gorbachev was a dramatically different man than the line of tired apparatchiks he succeeded. Reagan recognized that this was a man that he could bargain with, a man who wanted to make the world a safer place, and place less vulnerable to a nuclear war that would destroy all life as we know it. In short, Reagan looked into Gorbachev's soul, and knew this was a man the U.S. could and should trust.

But Reagan's greatest achievement -- his work with Gorbachev, including arms reduction treaties and the resulting lowering of tensions between the superpowers, which allowed Gorbachev to begin the reforms that led the Soviets to relinquish control over Eastern Europe and paved the way for Yeltsin's final destruction of the Soviet system -- was pursued against the advice of some of the most hawkish Republicans in his administration and in Congress. So tonight, as we live in a world where the danger of nuclear war is much lower than it was in 1985, when Reagan and Gorbachev first met, let us praise Reagan for ignoring the advice of those who said bargaining with Gorbachev would endanger the safe ty of the free world, especially then-Defense Department official Richard Perle and then-Wyoming Congressman Dick Cheney.


Revisionist History Time

by Tom Schaller

As addendum to Trapper John's great post below, let's keep in mind that the battle to establish Reagan's legacy is already underway. (Wolf Blitzer just said on CNN that Reagan's great timing in life continued in death, as he passed on the eve of the 60th anniversary of D-Day, the signature moment of a war that...what, Wolf?...that Reagan fought in during movie appearances?)

Now, we know conservatives hate revisionist history. So, first accord Reagan whatever period of respect you deem appropriate. But then, in the interest of making sure the historical record is as clear and full as possible, make sure you read Josh Green's article from January 2003, in which Green debunks Reagan's conservative credentials, especially how he raised income taxes and payroll taxes and grew the size of the federal bureaucracy. People at work, school, etc. will be talking about Reagan, and the simplistic "won the Cold War while cutting taxes" Cliffs-notes distillation that will no doubt be repeated as scripture.

Here are some key graphs from Green:

Reagan is, to be sure, one of the most conservative presidents in U.S. history and will certainly be remembered as such. His record on the environment, defense, and economic policy is very much in line with its portrayal. But he entered office as an ideologue who promised a conservative revolution, vowing to slash the size of government, radically scale back entitlements, and deploy the powers of the presidency in pursuit of socially and culturally conservative goals. That he essentially failed in this mission hasn't stopped partisan biographers from pretending otherwise. (Noonan writes of his 1980 campaign pledges: "Done, done, done, done, done, done, and done. Every bit of it.")

A sober review of Reagan's presidency doesn't yield the seamlessly conservative record being peddled today. Federal government expanded on his watch. The conservative desire to outlaw abortion was never seriously pursued. Reagan broke with the hardliners in his administration and compromised with the Soviets on arms control. His assault on entitlements never materialized; instead he saved Social Security in 1983. And he repeatedly ignored the fundamental conservative dogma that taxes should never be raised.

All of this has been airbrushed from the new literature of Reagan...


Ronald Reagan Is Dead

by Trapper John

Ronald Reagan died today at the age of 93. He earned the enmity of many of us on the left through his dismantling of the New Deal and enabling of a culture of greed -- but we should not forget that he was once one of us, an FDR Democrat. His journey to the far right mirrored a similar, if less dramatic, shift that occurred in the general American psyche. And while Reagan cannot be excused for his utter failure as president, we must never see him solely as a symbol of a shameful era -- because his rise was attributable in part to an inertia and lack of vision that gripped our predecessors on the left. It was in part our inability to satisfy the hunger of Americans for positive leadership that caused Reagan and other former liberals to embrace a radical ideology that was before only espoused by crackpots and the prophets of selfishness.

So while we rightly condemned Reagan for his extremism and hostility to the egalitarian ideals of his youth, perhaps we should take this occasion not only to remember Reagan's failings, but also to reflect upon the failings of the left that allowed the ascension of the extreme right. We've learned a lot about how to talk with the American people over the past few years, and we've reclaimed the fighting spirit that has characterized the best of the left through American history -- let's never again allow ourselves to become so self-satisfied that we allow another Reagan to capture the hearts of everyday Americans. And let us remember that in spite of his many faults, he was a human being, and his family is entitled to an appropriate level of decorum in their time of loss.

UPDATE: And let's ensure that the same Republican machine that cried about supposedly untoward politicization of the Paul Wellstone memorial service doesn't use Reagan's passing as an excuse to play politics. I mean, we know that they'd never do that, but . . .


Billmon takes a long view of Reagan's presidency:

...In hindsight, it's easy to see that Reagan's election was the end of many things - the end of the '70s, and the mood of experimentation that went with it (the '70s were when the '60s went mainstream); the end of the "Vietnam syndrome," and the temporary popular revulsion against imperial military adventures; the end of the political alignment that emerged from the New Deal, the end of the New Left and its hopeless ambitions -- the end, really, of the post-World War II era.

I found it hard to hate Reagan - even though I detested most of what he stood for, believed and sought to do. Yes, he was as ignorant and stubborn and incapable of rational thought as our current president, but he wasn't arrogant - or at least, he didn't come across as arrogant. He lacked Bush's infuriating sense of entitlement, and his nasty temper. Reagan smiled, he didn't smirk.

With the benefit of distance and hindsight, I can also admit that not all of Reagan's economic policies were reckless and incoherent - although his fiscal policies certainly were, and eventually had to be undone at great cost. (See David Stockman's "The Triumph of Politics.")

...I'll leave the pluses and minuses of Reaganomics for the historians. At this late date, it's hardly worth arguing about. Reagan's foreign policies, on the other hand, still make my blood boil, even after all these years. His decision to challenge the Soviets on every front - which, given the senility and paranoia of the Brezhnev-era Soviet leadership, could easily have led to war - is, of course, relentlessly promoted by the conservative propaganda machine as the masterstroke that ended the Cold War. In reality, it was the end of the Cold War (made possible by Mikhail Gorbachev's rise to power) that headed off the disaster that Reagan's recklessness might otherwise have triggered.

The legacy of Reagan's policies in the Middle East, meanwhile, are still being paid for -- in blood. The cynical promotion of Islamic fundamentalism as a weapon against the Soviets in Afghanistan, the alliance of convenience with Saddam Hussein against Iran, the forging of a new "strategic relationship" with Israel, the corrupt dealings with the House of Saud, and (perhaps most ironic, given Reagan's tough guy image) the weakness and indecision of his disastrous intervention in Beirut -- all of these helped set the stage for what the neocons now like to call World War IV, and badly weakened the geopolitical ability of the United States to wage that war.

But all this pales in comparison to Reagan's war crimes in Central America. We'll probably never know just how stained his hands were by the blood of the thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of defenseless peasants who were slaughtered in the Guatemalan highlands, or the leftist politicians, union leaders and human rights activists kidnapped and killed by the Salvadoran death squads, or the tortured in Honduran prisons, or terrorized by his beloved Contras.

Did Reagan's men covertly support these murders? Or did they just look the other way? Did Reagan ever know just what kind of charnel house he helped create? Or did he live completely in his fantasy world of freedom fighters and "founding fathers"? Either way, it was in Central America that Reagan most clearly earned that nickname the hippies pinned on him back in Berkeley: "fascist gun in the West."

Looking back, it's also easy to see the propaganda connections between Reagan's war in Central America and the current Orwellian nightmare in Iraq. There were the same moral oversimplifications - pure goodness versus absolute evil - the same flowery rhetoric about freedom and democracy (to be administered to impoverished campesinos with machine guns and torture chambers.) There was the same lurid hype about the dire danger to the homeland - as when Reagan famously warned that Nicaragua was just a "two-day drive from Harlington, Texas."

And of course, we're even looking at some of the same actors - Elliot Abrams, John Negroponte, Colin Powell. To a large degree, the Reagan administration's covert wars in both Central America and the Middle East formed the template for how the war in Iraq was packaged, sold and - unfortunately - fought.

So, while Reagan - like the entire decade of the '80s - has faded into history, I certainly won't mourn his passing. And I suppose I'll just have to grit my teeth and do my best to ignore the glowing tributes and bipartisan praise we'll be subjected to over the next few days - just as I did when Nixon died. The ritual deification of Ronald Reagan has become one of the essential bonds that holds the modern Republican Party together - not to mention a lucrative fundraising vehicle for some of its leading lights. The rest of us will just have to make the best of it.

To me, the tremendous conservative nostalgia for Ronald Reagan is a sign of a movement that is, if not in decline, then poised on the cusp of it. It's an implicit admission that the golden age, when a conservative ideologue like Reagan could win the support of an overwhelming majority of Americans (and not just the instinctual cultural loyalty of red-state America) has passed away.

The contrast with Bush the younger - desperately scrambling to avoid defeat in a bitterly polarized electorate - is painfully clear. In its obsessive desire to glorify Ronald Reagan, the conservative movement is retreating psychologically into its own past. Its a sign that the political era that opened the night Reagan was elected may also be nearing its end.

To which I can only say: Rest in peace.


Finally, let's close the Reagan summing-up with Steve Gilliard's tough look back at the damage wrought by the conservative president:

The hagiography started as soon as they announced Reagan's death. How he ended the cold war, how he was a decisive leader, all this nonsense about Reagan which is just ridiculous.

The British have a tradition: when someone dies, their newspaper obituary tells the truth. Americans like to say something kind about the dead, no matter how scummy they were. Even Nixon got a halo in death, where only Hunter Thompson reminded people of who exactly he was and how the honors given him were, well, wrong.

This deification of Reagan began as soon as Clinton took office. There has been pressure to name everything but rest stop toilets after the man. Some right wing cranks wanted to add him to Mount Rushmore, as if FDR didn't exist. They forced his name on an unhappy Washington DC, by renaming the airport, still called by many, National.

So let's get past all the maudlin bullshit and discuss what Reagan really did.

First, Reagan rode to power on a wave of reaction to the Civil Rights struggle. California, a state with a deep well of racial resentment, supported Reagan, who would protect the establishment and call for students to be murdered on their campuses. Reagan was regarded as a crank by many on the left, but his appeal to middle America was strong. It wasn't that Reagan was a racist, as far as is known, he wasn't. But he sure could pander to them, as he did in 1984 at Philadelphia, MS. For those of you unaware, that is the place three civil rights workers were murdered by the Klan. It would be like a British Prime Ministerial candidate going to Amritsar to talk about the glory of the British Army (the site of a 1921 massacre of peaceful Indian protesters).

Reagan pandered to the racist right with ease, even as Barry Goldwater, the man he supported in 1964 with a convention speech, slowly backed away from many of his reactionary views. Instead, Reagan depicted blacks as "welfare queens" leeching off the society, when in reality, white women are the largest recipients of AFDC. Reagan used race like a club to hammer minorities and pander to the racist right.

We need to ask what hath Reagan wrought. His economic policies crippled this country, preventing the kind of long term structural changes which are still needed. How long will American businesses have to foot the bill for health insurance? How long will unequal funding for schools exist? How long will the right of women to control their bodies be subject to restrictions? This is the real, domestic legacy of Ronald Reagan. His breaking of the PATCO strike began the road to anti-Union policies across business. Once, businesses wanted labor peace, after Reagan, strike breaking was permitted, hell encouraged.

Reagan began the road of crippling America's ability to care for Americans. Now we have this failed trickle down economic policy pushed by yet another President. One that leaves Americans in record debt and record bankruptcies. Instead of tax rates which fairly distribute the burden of funding America, the rich have been encouraged to avoid their fair share. Ronald Reagan began the bankrupting of America and the creation of a super wealthy CEO class, one where their great grandchildren will never have to work, an aristocracy of trustifarians. Under Reagan hypocracy and selfishness became the rule of the road. Not just in public life, where his staff routinely lied, eventually leading to Iran-Contra.

But if Reagan started to ruin America, his foreign policy left the dead around like fallen leaves. His foreign policy was a disaster by any standard. Dead nuns in El Salvador, murdered school teachers in Nicaragua, the tortured in Argentina, the seizure of Grenade, the failed intervention in Lebanon, the aerial assassination attempt on Khaddafi, which led to the bombing of Pam Am flight 103. Reagan's policies left a trail of failure and disaster at every turn.

How to explain funding the deeply corrupt Contras? Former Somocista generals who funded their war by the drug trade? Who murdered the innocent. Or the war in Guatemala and the genocide of the Indian population. Or the war in El Salvador, where American nuns, among many others, were raped and murdered. A government so callous that it murdered an archbishop in his church.

Reagan's foreign policy left a trail of death and fear wherever it touched.

But Iran-Contra was the defining moment. Despite a congressional prohibition on aid to the Contras, a group inside the White House decided to circumvent the law, so ineptly, and so completely, we wound up arming Iran and getting few hostages held in Lebanon released. We also sold chemical and biological weapons to Iraq. While Saddam murdered thousands, the US government was his ally. Even after 34 sailors were murdered by an Iraqi exocet missile, we still backed Saddam. No governmental outrage, no demands on Saddam. Like the Liberty incident, we turned our backs and hoped for the best. Reagan and his conservative hagiographers, have wanted to claim his massive defense build up broke the Soviets, which rips the bravery and courage of the Czechs and East Germans who finally overthrew their dictatorial governments.

Reagan also embraced Angolan UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi, the puppet of the racist South African regime. He repeatedly refused to back away from him, despite South Africa's notorious, and it later turned out, mad, racial policies. Not until 1988, when the Cuban army decisively defeat the SADF at Cuito Carnevale in Angola, did the war end. The US turned its back as the South African-sponsored Renamo massacred their way across Mozambique. No one knows how many Africans died in the wars of South Africa, but US complicity with the racist regime of South Africa helped extend their lifespan. At no point did Reagan do anything to stop this.

Silent complicity was the hallmark of Reagan's policy towards dictatorships. From Indonesia to El Salvador, the innocent died and the US said nothing, did nothing, except make their lives worse. We backed the guerrilla groups in Afghanistan, funding the most radical ones and then leaving the country in disarray.

Reagan's legacy is a dark one, one of backing murderers and robbing America of a fairer future. It wasn't that he was an evil man, or a bad one. It is what he believed and what he supported caused so much pain and misery for so many people, who had to live with the results of his policies.


On the 60th anniversary of World War II's D-Day, here's Christopher Dickey's "The Last Roll Call"  article (via Atrios), on Bush's speech at Normandy:

When George W. Bush makes his D-Day anniversary visit to the Normandy beaches on Sunday, we're going to hear a lot of well-honed speeches trying to compare the righteous combat forced on us in World War II with the war of choice we've entered into in Iraq. But only speechmakers from coddled, comfortable backgrounds who've never heard a shot fired in anger, much less seen "dead men by mass production," would dare use the blood of those who died at Normandy 60 years ago to try to cleanse their conscience of those dying in Iraq today.

The United States entered World War II, as it had entered World War I, to defeat a proven aggressor and bring the war to an end. The Bush administration actually won its righteous war, in Afghanistan after the aggression of September 11, 2001. But that victory came too quickly, it seems, for our leaders to get much satisfaction from it. So they sent our kids to Iraq. And what is the goal there today, now that the reasons we were given at first have proved to be grand delusions? To spread democracy? To extirpate the very idea of terrorism? To work the will of God? Sixty years ago, those who thought they could teach the world how to live the only right way, which was their way, and launched unprovoked wars claiming this was the only thing could do to defend their values—those were the people we called the enemy.

>>But let's be clear about the soldiers. Our soldiers. Those men and women in Iraq today are, indeed, just as heroic as those at Normandy. They have been put in the wrong place at the wrong time for the wrong reasons, but that's not their fault. They are fighting and dying and trying to build something good as soldiers, despite the most foolhardy civilian leadership in the modern history of the United States. Like any G.I. Joe in World War II, they're making the best of a bad situation.


June 4, 2004

TENET FALLS ON THE SWORD

The Bush Administration has to gamble that those it forces out don't turn around and bite them in the behind. Richard Clarke and Paul O'Neill come to mind. But CIA Director George Tenet may keep his mouth shut. We don't know what promises were made to Tenet, but he made it clear several months ago that he was prepared to accept the designated-fall-guy role for a Bush&Co. in desperate need of a high-level scapegoat.

Tenet saw how his agency's intelligence analysts were ignored with regard to Iraq -- when they wouldn't and couldn't provide the WMD "evidence" to justify the Iraq invasion, Rumsfeld made sure to get it by setting up his private intelligence-gathering group inside his own office at the Pentagon, the Office of Special Plans -- and how, despite his own warnings to Bush not to use the phony story about Saddam obtaining "yellowcake" uranium from Niger, Bush used it anyway in his State of the Union speech.

So Tenet, who said he is leaving for "personal reasons," knows where the bodies are buried in the Administration, and could, if he chose to, rat out Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld and probably Ashcroft. But that game can be played both ways; they know where Tenet is vulnerable, and can squeeze him to stay mum. In short, we're not likely to learn much from Tenet from now until the election, although one can always hope.

That's my take.

 Here's Josh Marshall's:

Word has been out for some time that the Senate Intelligence Committee report on intelligence failures is terrible for Tenet. So that could be a cause of his resignation.

For my part, Tenet strikes me as a sort of tragic figure. Under his tenure the CIA got many things wrong about Iraq -- though largely by making estimates in the direction his critics, who now want him sacked, embraced. (A person who's intimately knowledgeable about this intel stuff recently told me that their sense was that the CIA would have gotten a lot of the basic intel stuff wrong without any help from Chalabi.) Then, on top of these errors, the White House added further gross exaggerations, which in many instances Tenet tried to knock down.

Now he's the fall-guy for it all, in all likelihood made to take the fall by the true bad-actors.

Having said all that, beside the possibility that the White House's favored Iraqi exile was an Iranian agent, that the spy chief just got canned, that the OSD is wired to polygraphs, and that the president has had to retain outside counsel in the investigation into which members of his staff burned one of the country's own spies, I'd say the place is being run like a pretty well-oiled machine.



BUSH LAWYERS-UP

In another area of vulnerability -- Bush's knowledge of the Plame-outing conspirators -- Dim Son has felt compelled to begin consulting with a private criminal-lawyer. Bush may or may not be any more connected to the case than simply being called to give testimony about others (most likely about chief political advisor Karl Rove, and Dick Cheney and his chief of staff, "Scooter" Libby), but the implication is clear: The Grand Jury is active and may be zeroing in on the chief suspects, with indictments to be expected in the near-future.

If Bush testifies to the Grand Jury hearing evidence on the illegal naming of Valerie Plame as a CIA covert operative -- which probably was done to exact revenge on Ambassador Joseph Wilson IV, for telling the truth about the "yellowcake" scandal, and to warn other whistleblowers to keep their whistles to themselves -- presumably, if Bush lies, he could later be charged with perjury. Get that man into the witness chair, pronto!



CHALABI? BARELY MET THE GUY

It's so pitiful, it's almost funny. I'm referring to Bush's mad dance to distance himself from Ahmed Chalabi. Chalabi? Chalabi? Oh yes, that guy from Iraq. Don't really know the man. I think he's a friend of Laura's. "I think I met with him at the State of the Union and just kind of working through the rope line...But I haven't had any extensive conversations with him." (actual Bush quote)

[Here, courtesy Atrios http://atrios.blogspot.com  is what Bush said last February to Tim Russert on Meet the Press: "I'm very aware of this basic law they're writing. They're not going to develop that because right here in the Oval Office I sat down with Mr. Pachachi and Chalabi and al-Hakim..."]

Talk about humiliation! Poor Chalabi must be going bonkers trying to figure out how, in the space of a few days, he could go from the Americans' choice to succeed Saddam Hussein to pariah figure and alleged Iranian spy.

Reminds one of the same dance Bush did when close buddy Kenneth Lay got his Enron gonads caught in a wringer and Bush began tap-dancing away as fast as he could from his good friend and lifelong benefactor. Kenneth Lay? Kenneth Lay? Don't really know the man that well. (Another actual Bush quote:) "I believe I met Mr. Lay when he was working for my opponent."

 Right.



THE "NEW" IRAQI GOVERNMENT

It turns out that the "new" Iraqi government is, surprise!, pretty much the "old" Iraqi government, under a new title. Instead of being "provisional," now it's "interim" -- and with a political leg up to become the legitimately elected government in January of 2005.

It will be interesting to see how the various Iraqi factions deal with the involuted process where the government appointed by Americans now has appointed itself (with a few additions) as the new government, and that the Bush Administration announced its firm support immediately. It should not surprise anybody if large segments of the Iraqi populace look at this new ruling body and conclude that it's somewhat lacking in legitimacy. The Grand Ayatollah Sistani, who favors direct elections, gave his highly tentative approval, but said he would observe how the new government conducts itself before making a final judgment.

How much of the new government's occasional opposition to American policy and presence is genuine and how much feigned (to give them more street cred from ordinary Iraqis) is not clear. What is clear is that these wily Iraqi politicians created a fait accompli on the ground, acing out the U.N.'s Brahimi, who was supposed to be choosing a government unconnected to the one installed originally by the Americans.

Brahimi is pissed: Kevin Drum reports: "Asked how big a role the American administration had in forming the government and selecting the prime minister and president, Brahimi reminded reporters that American Ambassador L. Paul Bremer runs things in Iraq. 'Bremer is the dictator of Iraq,' he said. 'He has the money. He has the signature.' He later added: 'I will not say who was my first choice, and who was not my first choice...I will remind you that the Americans are governing this country'."

Oh, did you catch Colin Powell's admission that no Iraqi government will tell the U.S. what it can or can't do militarily in that country? Bush claims, with a straight face, that the U.S. is granting Iraq "full sovereignty" on July 1st, but Powell has let the cat out of the bag as to what really will happen.



"VOLUNTEERS" ARE RE-UPPED

You can bet that Bush will lose a lot of the military vote in November, based on the unconscionable way his Administration has used and abused the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now he's extended their "voluntary" duty to keep them in those two countries far beyond the time they were told they'd be there. (In other cultures and at other times, the terminology would be: "involuntary servitude" or "slavery.") Similar bait-and-switch tactics have been used on earlier troops, keeping them in harm's way in Iraq, and scams have been utilized to trick National Guard troops to re-up.

All of this is at least partially due to Rumsfeld and his fellow neo-con advisors, who thought they could carry out two major wars on the cheap, with what amounts to a skeleton crew of soldiers, because the "bad guys" in Iraq and Afghanistan would be wiped out quickly in the U.S. blitzkrieg campaigns, and insurgent forces wouldn't dare take on the mighty military of the superpower United States of America.

We should know better by now. It's shameful for Bush&Co. to take out their own failures on the backs of the young men and women who deserve far better. And, by the way, they aren't treated all that much better by the Bush Administration once they leave the service in terms of care and benefits. John Kerry, a veteran who understands better than anyone what servicemen go through, is going to eat Bush for lunch on these military issues, with passion.

In an op-ed piece in the New York Times, Andrew Exum, a former Army captain in Afghanistan, called the treatment of soldiers under stop-loss programs "shameful."

"Many, if not most, of the soldiers in this latest Iraq-bound wave are already veterans of several tours in Iraq and Afghanistan...They have honorably completed their active duty obligations. But like draftees, they have been conscripted to meet the additional needs in Iraq."

Senator Kerry called the move a "backdoor draft."



TO THE STREETS

Finally, a reminder that this Saturday (June 5), there will be major anti-war marches in Washington, D.C., San Francisco and Los Angeles. We need that oppositional energy in the streets.


Josh Marshall on Tenet and Chalabi:

Mike Allen has some good follow-up on the president and his decision to bring on a personal lawyer in the Plame matter. Allen quotes the president as saying:

"This is a criminal matter. It's a serious matter. I met with an attorney to determine whether or not I need his advice, and if I deem I need his advice I'll probably hire him."

This follows the White House line from last night. The president "consulted" Jim Sharp to advise him on whether or not he needs Sharp's advice. And based on that advice, if the president decides he does need Sharp's advice, he'll probably retain him so he can get the advice.


What about Tenet? All the chatter -- not to mention simple logic -- says he was fired. The Times gets it right  when they say that the way this was announced was "almost bizarre."

Actually, here concision should be the handmaiden of precision. Drop the "almost". It was bizarre.

Thus the Times:

Mr. Bush announced the resignation in a way that was almost bizarre. He had just addressed reporters and photographers in a fairly innocuous Rose Garden session with Australia's prime minister, John Howard. Then the session was adjourned, as Mr. Bush apparently prepared to depart for nearby Andrews Air Force Base and his flight to Europe, where he is to take part in ceremonies marking the 60th anniversary of the Normady invasion and meet European leaders -- some of whom have been sharply critical of the campaign in Iraq.

But minutes later, Mr. Bush reappeared on the sun-drenched White House lawn, stunning listeners with the news of Mr. Tenet's resignation, which the president said would be effective in mid-July. Until then, Mr. Bush said, the C.I.A.'s deputy director, John McLaughlin, will be acting director.

The president praised Mr. Tenet's qualities as a public servant, saying: "He's strong. He's resolute. He's served his nation as the director for seven years. He has been a strong and able leader at the agency. He's been a, he's been a strong leader in the war on terror, and I will miss him."

Then Mr. Bush walked away, declining to take questions or offer any insight into what Mr. Tenet's personal reasons might be.

...For my part, Tenet strikes me as a sort of tragic figure. Under his tenure the CIA got many things wrong about Iraq -- though largely by making estimates in the direction his critics, who now want him sacked, embraced. (A person who's intimately knowledgeable about this intel stuff recently told me that their sense was that the CIA would have gotten a lot of the basic intel stuff wrong without any help from Chalabi.) Then, on top of these errors, the White House added further gross exaggerations, which in many instances Tenet tried to knock down.

Now he's the fall-guy for it all, in all likelihood made to take the fall by the true bad-actors.

Having said all that, beside the possibility that the White House's favored Iraqi exile was an Iranian agent, that the spy chief just got canned, that the OSD is wired to polygraphs, and that the president has had to retain outside counsel in the investigation into which members of his staff burned one of the country's own spies, I'd say the place is being run like a pretty well-oiled machine.


The [argument] from the Chalabites is that Chalabi's enemies at the CIA have seized on obviously bogus or questionable intelligence to neutralize him because of their long-standing hostility to him. Basically, they argue, this is just his enemies using an excuse to destroy him.

In my mind, two facts argue against this hypothesis. The first is that people on the inside -- people who know the relevant facts -- and who are either indifferent to or friendly to Chalabi seem to be taking this very seriously. If it was so obviously trumped up, I doubt they would do so.

The second point goes more to the root of the claim. Every charge we've ever heard about Chalabi -- going back almost a decade now -- has been answered by his friends with claims that the CIA or the State Department simply has it out for him because they don't believe he can be controlled and that they're against the 'democracy' that Chalabi represents.

They on the other hand maintained that they just thought Chalabi was a liar and a crook and that we shouldn't have anything to do with him.

At this point, who has the better part of that argument? The Chalabites or the CIA/State? Right. Pretty much answers itself, doesn't it?

One other point, the word I've heard from several Chalabi-friendly sources with good contacts on the inside doesn't throw doubt on the charges against Chalabi so much as it suggests that someone at the CIA or elsewhere in the Intelligence Community might be responsible for the leak to Chalabi. I think that's inherently implausible. But I think that tells us a lot about how seriously we should take claims that Chalabi is being set up.


Billmon www.billmon.org  writes on the new Iraqi government and on the Pentagon's "Stop-Loss" plan:

President Bush on Tuesday praised the new Iraqi leaders as "strong patriots committed to a free Iraq" but warned of "increasing violence" as the United States and its allies prepare to hand over sovereignty.

The problem here is that the more the administration denies that the new Iraqi "government" is simply a bunch of U.S. puppets, the more they <i>look<-i> like a bunch of U.S. puppets. But then, these guys have never been very big on the soft sell.


There have been numerous past civilizations in which military service became a lifelong, hereditary obligation, passed down from father to son - usually in exchange for land grants or other economic benefits. Some of our soldiers must be wondering whether the United States is evolving in that same direction:

Army widens
'stop-loss' program:

>>The Army will prevent soldiers in units set to deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan from leaving the service at the end of their terms, a top general said Wednesday.

>>The announcement, an expansion of an Army program called "stop-loss," means that thousands of soldiers who had expected to retire or otherwise leave the military will have to stay on for the duration of their deployment to those combat zones.

Since we've reached the point where just about every active duty unit in the Army is either in Iraq or Afghanistan, or will soon return there, it seems like it's become something of an Orwellian euphemism to speak of a "volunteer army."

When the Pentagon starts extending stop loss orders to the first-born sons and daughters of service people, I guess we'll know we've reached the next stage of feudalism.


Kevin Drum discusses the just-discovered Enron tapes, which reveal for all to hear Kenny Lay's boys chortling at the economic rape of the State of California:

CBS News has obtained tapes of Enron traders gloating about how successfully they've gamed the California energy market in 2000:

"He just fucks California," says one Enron employee. "He steals money from California to the tune of about a million."

"Will you rephrase that?" asks a second employee.

"OK, he, um, he arbitrages the California market to the tune of a million bucks or two a day," replies the first.

There's lots more like it. Just click the link to read the whole story.

By the way, did you know that beginning in 1977 California began a comprehensive campaign to improve energy efficiency using a combination of regulation and free market mechanisms? And that per capita energy growth was flat by the mid-1990s? And that California was one of the lowest per-capita energy consumers in the nation when the 2000 crisis hit?

Just thought you'd all like to know.


David Sirota throws a little light on the Bush Administration's Medicare-discount card scam:

With the Medicare drug discount card program starting today, the Center for American Progress (where I work) released a new report showing that 20 of the 73 companies that the White House approved to participate in the program have been involved in federal/state fraud charges. These same 20 companies have significant ties to the Bush Administration. The report, entitled "Paying to Play," also finds:

-- Those 20 companies involved in fraud charges gave more than $3 million to the President and conservatives in Congress since the 2000 election cycle. That represents more than 60% of the total contributions given to the President and conservatives from all 73 approved card companies.

-- Seven of the President's "Pioneers" (those who raised $100,000 or more for him) work at companies approved for the program.

-- Three of the seven Pioneers are linked to companies approved for the card program, even though their companies were involved in fraud.

The full study can be found
here.


Mark Kleimann focuses on Chalabi, Tenet and Bush hiring a Plame-case lawyer.

Josh Marshall and Brad DeLong are wondering why Chalabi hasn't been arrested in connection with his apparent gift to the Iranians of one of our most precious secrets: that we'd broken the Iranians' codes.

It's a good question, but it has a simple answer: Chalabi didn't break any of our laws.

He's not an American. He didn't have a security clearance. He's a Shi'a Iraqi and the head of a political party the INC, and he owes loyalty to (in some order) his country, his sect, and his party. If he persuaded some of the neocons that he was "one of us," that was a sharp move on his part and a mistake on theirs, but, as Lincoln would have noticed, calling an Iraqi an American doesn't make him one.

Since Chalabi owes no loyalty to the United States, he is, as purely logical matter, incapable of betraying the United States. And it's not a crime for a foreign national who has never signed a security agreement to do whatever he likes with information someone hands him. (If there were evidence Chalabi had paid for the information of stolen it, that would be a different matter; then he would arguably be a spy, and criminally chargeable as such. But so far there's no evidence of that.)

So it was neither disloyal nor illegal for him to take information some American official gave him and use it as seemed best to him for the good of his country, his party, his sect, and himself. If he acted contrary to the interests or laws of Iraq, that's for the Iraqis to decide.

But it was illegal (though not, I'm sure, subjectively disloyal) for the American official, whoever he was, to share such a sensitive secret with a foreigner. And that's why it was illegal: foreigners aren't to be trusted with such secrets.

Similarly, if Chalabi did in fact help con the United States into liberating his country from a tyrant that's something he can legitimately brag about. (Though it was somewhat impolitic of him to do so as volubly as he did.) Deception is, after all, a legitimate tool of diplomacy. If Franklin deceived the court of Louis XVI into providing help to the American Revolution, would anyone call that misconduct on Franklin's part?

What seems to have happened here is that Chalabi remembered where his loyalties lay, while his neocon sponsors forgot. He conned them. Their bad, not his.


If George Tenet was fired, as Josh Marshall thinks, why did the firing seem to take the President by surprise?

I have absolutely no information on this I didn't get from public sources, but it seems to me more plausible that Tenet decided he'd had enough -- perhaps after having seen a draft of the Senate Intelligence Committee report -- and headed for the door on his own, catching Team Bush flat-footed.

An even more optimistic possibility from the anti-Bush perspective: Tenet wanted to use the fact that the neocons in OSD and the VP's shop and their buddy Chalabi had managed to blow a major cryptographic secret to persuade the President to carry out a purge of the people who have been giving him such bad advice, and quit when he lost that argument.

In any case, whether Tenet jumped, fell, or was pushed, he's now (to switch metaphors) potentially a skunk outside the tent pissing in. If he's sufficiently angry or concerned for the country, he could do the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign a world of damage.


No, thinking about hiring a lawyer isn't the same as admitting guilt, or even intending to obstruct the investigation, and I wish the DNC spokesgeek hadn't tried to pretend otherwise.

But it does seems as if the special prosecutor thinks that Mr. Bush might be able to aid him in his inquiries, and that the White House Counsel doesn't think it appropriate to advise the President on what to say. That's unlikely to be good news for Mr. Bush. At minimum, it suggests that someone close to him is under suspicion.

(I'm not persuaded by the spin that every time Fitzgerald takes a bold investigative step -- subpoenaing reporters, seeking to question the President -- it's merely his ritual due diligence before dismissing the grand jury without any indictments. That might be right, but it doesn't seem to me the least hypothesis.)

Another worrisome development for the President: if his consultation with his new lawyer leaked so promptly to the press, Mr. Bush needs either a new assistant or a new lawyer. My betting would be on the latter: the obscure counselor the President consulted seems to have taken the opportunity to become somewhat less obscure.

Bad lawyer! Bad lawyer! No retainer!
 


May 31, 2004


OK, here are three questions having to do with the New York Times "apology," the naming of a post-June 30th interim Iraqi prime minister, and the Al Qaida attack on oil-company workers in Saudi Arabia over the weekend.

1) The New York Times has issued a "modified, limited" mea culpa for its coverage leading up to the Iraq War. Question: Is that the end of the matter, or will the paper finally fire Judith Miller -- the reporter whose articles passed on so much of the faulty exile/neo-con propaganda and thus exercised an enormous influence on getting the U.S. into war?

Miller wasn't even named in the paper's long "note" to its readers -- interestingly, published not on the front page (where Miller's war-stories usually were placed) but buried way back in the paper -- even though a goodly number of her stories were cited as egregious examples of poor journalism.

Here's how it worked. Chalabi and his neo-con supporters at the Pentagon or in Cheney's office would feed Miller some false, alarming information -- having to do with, say, biological weapons supposedly ready to be unleashed, or nuclear research supposedly being conducted -- and she would write a scary story, quoting unnamed "reliable sources." The New York Times would put the story on its front page.

Then Cheney, the point man for pushing the "we-need-to-get-Saddam-immediately" line, would go on national TV and repeat much the same information and notably add that it wasn't just him saying this, but the august New York Times had published similar facts. Other Administration officials would parrot the same line. More newspapers all around the country, and the world, would pick up Miller's story and similar "facts" by Bush spokesmen -- and why wouldn't they? The New York Times is the "paper of record," so, it was assumed, the information in the story must be solidly sourced and verified.

Tony Blair in London would pass on the New York Times and Cheney assertions to his Parliament and citizens. Well, you get the picture: Garbage in one end comes out the other end as confirmed, heightened "fact" -- when in actuality, it is nothing more than a bigger bag of very smelly garbage.

All very ha-ha until you realize that Congress permitted itself to be convinced by such "intelligence" and agit-prop "reporting" to give Bush&Co. a blank-check to initiate a full-scale war, and thousands of lives have been lost as a result -- and continue to be fed into the rathole that is the Iraq War. Disgraceful!



2. It's hard to figure out how Iyad Allawi came to be chosen as the new interim prime minister of the soon-to-be "sovereign" state of Iraq. The U.N. envoy Brahimi had settled on another leader, a scientist unconnected to Iraq's governing council, but couldn't get everyone to agree.

Question: Did the Iraqi Governing Council see a window of opportunity and picked Allawi while Brahimi was otherwise engaged on his hunt, and while the Bush Administration was riven with internal fights between the neo-cons at Defense and the realists at State? Or did the CIA, which managed to push the damaged-goods Chalabi out of the way, arrange for its own next-favored candidates to take over the new interim government? Not clear at all what the answer is.

Another question: Will the various factions in the Iraqi population -- especially in the Shia and Kurd communities -- support the self-selection of a leader who comes with suspect CIA and Chalabi connections (Allawi is Chalabi's cousin), one named to the IGC by the Americans in the first place?

Final question: What will be the reaction of the new Iraqi leadership, and the various Iraqi factions, when, on July 1, the "full sovereignty" promised by President Bush turns out to be a sham?  The U.S. military will still exercise de facto control, and the contracts favoring U.S. corporations lock the Iraqi government into financial second-class status.

More questions than answers, but since the U.S. is operating in the murky world of Iraq political intrigue with little knowledge of the culture, and no real plan for the future, it's questions such as these that may be the most important.



3. Saudi terrorists associated with Al Qaida shot up some oil-company offices over the weekend, killing what they call "infidels" and "crusaders." Question: Why this relatively meaningless gesture when they could have destroyed a good share of the oil facility and pipelines and forced the U.S. and the Western world into an economic recession or worse?

The implication certainly is there that, for reasons we don't understand, Al Qaida decided to engage in a mere symbolic shoot-'em-up instead. Perhaps the answers have something to do with internal Saudi politics, or with a conviction that their extreme-Islamist forces (aided by a faction within the Saudi royal family) will soon take over the country, and, if and when that happens, they want control of an intact oil production system. A story worth keeping an eye on.

More below, from other bloggers, on some of these questions, and other matters.


Mark Kleiman encapsulates nicely some of the absurdities of the situation:

1. We're turning over full sovereignty to the Iraqi government to be installed June 30, except that the Iraqi army will still be taking orders from the American Army and the newly sovereign government won't be able to ask the American Army to leave. As the LA Times headline put it, "Full power -- with limits."   Someone ought to have the President read Hobbes -- or maybe have someone read Hobbes out loud to the President -- so he will understand that "partially sovereign" makes about much sense as "partially pregnant."

2. The occupation will end June 30 but the number of troops in the [U.S.] army that gives orders to the Iraqi army will increase.

3. The Geneva Conventions fully apply to Iraq except for hostage-taking in violation of the Geneva Conventions).

That's just today's crop...


Steve Guilliard, in a blog called "Dead Man Walking," takes a dim view on the appointment of Allawi:

This is ridiculous. Here I was, ready to relax, watch Ashley Judd jump around in her panties on Fox, and I read about the totally screwed up selection process. Iyad Allawi, head of the Iraqi National Accord, a former Baathist and a CIA/MI6 rentboy, is now PM. You don't have to wear a tin foil hat to realize this guy is dead. They blew up Sergio DeMello, one of the Hakims, and Shia pilgrims. How Allawi expects to stay alive is beyond me.

Usually, like Noriega, they hide their CIA ties. This guy, besides coming from the hated Chalabi family, worked for the CIA and MI6. You don't have to be Sadr to think this stinks on ice. The Brahimi "agreement" seems like a US hustle to me. So they couldn't get Chalabi in the job, so they get his cousin. Not that Iraqis are that stupid, they know a hustle when they see one, so they will try their level best to blow him away, probably via semtex car bomb.

What's the big mistake? They picked someone from the hated IGC [Iraq Governing Council]. Iraqis hate these exiles who came back to scoop up the country while their kids fought the wars and suffered under the sanctions. These people cannot be given credibility by the US, UN or EU. By picking an exile, especially one greedy, desperate or stupid enough to take the job, is reinforcing failure. They could have picked a worse US puppet, but that's unlikely.

Laura Rozen a Washington-based national security reporter, wrote that Chalabi was caught by a "European intelligence agency" (read GCHQ, the British NSA) passing methods and sources of signal intelligence to Iraq.

Jonathan Pollard is still in jail for doing the same thing for Israel. John Walker is serving life for this. Handing over signals intelligence is one way to go to jail forever. It is the US gold standard, and they get very upset when it goes into other people's hands. Especially Iranian hands. The worst intelligence failures in the US were signal intelligence.

You cannot get more serious than an accusation of trading signals intelligence. And that means someone in DOD is a traitor. It's treason to even discuss sources and methods, so how did a foreign national without the SCI (above Top Secret, Secure Compartmentalized Intelligence) required to discuss such a subject be able to pass them on to Iran? Someone, and I mean a ranking civilian, passed them on and the list who can get that kind of thing is real small, a hundred people or so, outside NSA. The reason they cut [Chalabi] off so fast was the proven allegation he revealed the gold standard of US secrets.

There is no way that Chalabi could have gotten that info without someone high in DOD giving them to him. Doing so was treason. Not in the Bob Novak way, but real, go-to-jail-for-life treason. It would be a massive intelligence failure if this is true. Chalabi should have never had access to this information. Whoever gave it to him betrayed the United States.


Xymphora comments on the passing of top-secret information to Chalabi while he may or may not have been on the Iranian spy payroll:

Bob Dreyfuss summarizes new allegations that high officials in the Bush Administration (the names mentioned are Feith, Luti, Rhode and Rubin) passed highly classified electronic communications intercepts to Ahmad Chalabi in order to help him gain power in Iraq, and this intelligence ended up in the hands of the Iranians. If this is true - and I have to say that the whole Chalabi-Iran story is very fishy, and I particularly wonder how anyone can be sure where the Iranians obtained the intelligence (unless, of course, the CIA deliberately planted some sort of identifying tags in it to entrap the neocons!) -- it would dwarf the affair of the outing of Valerie Plame and might actually lead to somebody going to jail.


And here's the Robert Dreyfuss article mentioned above,

The fallout from the fall of Ahmad Chalabi looks like it might splash all over the Pentagon—the neocon hardliners in the Pentagon who've backed Chalabi since the '90s. And Chalabi's backers are worried. Here's today's Wall Street Journal editorial, citing a report in The New York Times that U.S. intelligence officials are investigating Pentagon officials:

Critics of Mr. Bush's Iraq policy are using the raid and the leaks as an excuse for demanding a purge of anyone who ever supported Mr. Chalabi. A Monday piece in The New York Times , based on more anonymous leaks, noted that 'intelligence officials' are investigating a handful of officials in Washington and Iraq who dealt regularly with Mr. Chalabi.' Are they Iranian agents, too?

Maybe, and maybe not. But next, here's a report from The Guardian :

An intelligence source in Washington said the CIA confirmed its long-held suspicions when it discovered that a piece of information from an electronic communications intercept by the National Security Agency had ended up in Iranian hands. The information was so sensitive that its circulation had been restricted to a handful of officials.

"This was 'sensitive compartmented information'—SCI—and it it was tracked right back to the Iranians through Aras Habib," the intelligence source said.

The DIA is also reported to have launched its own inquiry into the INC-Iran link.

An intelligence source in Washington said the FBI investigation into the affair would begin with Mr. Chalabi's "handlers" in the Pentagon, who include William Luti, the former head of the office of special plans, and his immediate superior, Douglas Feith, the under secretary of defence for policy. There is no evidence that they were the source of the leaks. Other INC supporters at the Pentagon may have given away classified information in an attempt to give Mr. Chalabi an advantage in the struggle for power surrounding the transfer of sovereignty to an Iraqi government on June 30.

Next is this, from UPI yesterday, reporting that the FBI is investigating a Pentagon official and a former Pentagon official for having passed classified info to Chalabi. Though not named, the two officials in the UPI story are, according to my sources, Harold Rhode, an official in the Pentagon's Office of Net Assessment, and Michael Rubin, now at the American Enterprise Institute. Reports UPI:

Officials of the Coalition Provisional Authority are suspected of having leaked sensitive CIA and Pentagon intercepts to the U.S.-funded Iraqi National Congress, which passed them on to the government of Iran, according to federal law enforcement officials and serving and former U.S. intelligence officials.

These sources also acknowledged that the Bush administration has been the victim of an enormous Iran-perpetrated intelligence fraud that worked to provoke a U.S. military invasion of Iraq in order to defeat Iran's bitter, long-time enemy, a campaign of deception which one U.S. source called "positively a most brilliant and extraordinarily successful operation."

This source said that some of the intercepts are believed to have been given to Chalabi by two U.S. officials of the Coalition Provision Authority, both of whom are not named here because UPI could not reach them for comment.

Other targets of the probe include senior and other Pentagon officials who dealt with Chalabi on a regular basis, this source said.

One former CPA official has returned to the United States and is employed at the American Enterprise Institute, the former very senior official said, a fact which FBI sources confirmed without additional comment.

When I asked Rubin if the story was accurate, he replied with the three-word message: "It is untrue."

It's not clear where all this might lead. Certainly, the CIA is a sworn enemy of Chalabi, and it has been for many years. And certainly, Chalabi's enemies would love to use the scandal over Chalabi's Iran connections to tarnish his Pentacon allies. But it seems to me unlikely that they would risk a formal investigation unless they had some concrete evidence to support what otherwise would be a witch hunt.


Digby shows how much campaign politics is determining what is coming out of the Bush Administration these days. (And, by the way, did anyone notice that an FBI "urgent" terrorist warning over the weekend to several major cities was quietly rescinded due to "faulty intelligence"? Oh, more: by law only the head of the Homeland Security Department can issue a public warning; Ashcroft did his original hyped public warning last week on his own, no doubt after receiving his Rove-ian marching orders. Nobody even told poor Tom Ridge the warning was coming. This gang of thieves is imploding more day by day.)

So, here's Digby on the chaos within the Bush Administration: Â It really has fallen completely apart. The government, I mean. The CIA and the Pentagon are at each others throats, as we already knew. The State Department and the Pentagon, too. The office of Homeland Security is pissed at the Justice Department. Everybody hates everybody.

Now, according to Laura Rozen, the White House is tacitly approving all this infighting as long as nobody directly criticizes Junior Codpiece:

Secondly, about Condoleezza Rice's meeting with the pro-Chalabi crowd last week. I am told Rice requested the meeting with Perle, Woolsey, Gingrich, Pletka, Rubin et al, to ask them not to go off the reservation, in reaction to the White House cut off of Chalabi. And if you have noticed, they have refrained for the most part from directing their public criticism directly at the White House, attacking the CIA, DIA and State instead for a policy decision that came from the very top.

That's how bad its gotten. Go ahead and rake our administration over the coals if you want to. Just don't say anything bad about Junior. (Voters don't know that the president is responsible for the whole executive branch so they won't hold it against him.)...


Now, on to the New York Times "apology."  Digby has a go at making sense of the Times' action:

Daniel Okrent [the New York Times' ombudsman] says the paper failed in its WMD coverage prior to the war. Everybody is at fault and it's wrong to single anybody out in particular and the way to put this behind them is to finally report the truth. Great.

Here's the problem. Like the Bush administration, they seem to think that "taking responsibility" means acting as if it was some vague and ephemeral "somebody" who committed the act and then going on as if nothing happened. These are children's ethics.

The only way journalists will understand that repeatedly publishing and hyping incorrect information (particularly disinformation) is unacceptable is if they will pay a price for doing so. That's what grown-ups expect when they screw up. And the only way the public can be assured that The New York Times cares about its credibility is if it holds the people who made these massive errors responsible.

The New York Times recently fired Jayson Blair and Rick Bragg because they plagiarized and misrepresented the truth. Presumably, the paper did this because its credibility was at stake. They simply could not countenance publishing work that was not truthful because then people would stop believing what they printed and wouldn't buy the paper. Yet, they have repeatedly allowed themselves to be used by GOP Washington players to further their agenda over the last twelve years and as a result have printed wrong or misleading information hundreds of times. Sometimes, as with the Wen Ho Lee story, they investigated the problems, issued a mea culpa and then moved on. Other times, as with the endless Whitewater and independent counsel stories, they simply never addressed it. The hyped WMD stories are only the latest in a series of politically motivated disinformation campaigns.

And, the problem remains. After twelve years of blown story after blown story, it is time for the press (and not just The NY Times) to either declare that they are extensions of the Republican Party or expose their sources when they've shown themselves to be purposefully passing incorrect information (which Okrent endorses as proper journalistic ethics.)

Judith Miller undoubtedly believes she is being unfairly scapegoated, but she is not. Blair and Bragg were fired for offenses that didn't lead to any real consequences other than a lot of journalistic navel gazing. Yet Miller, more than anyone, was a willing tool for certain political friends and sources and used her prestige and position on the paper of record to further their agenda to take this country into a war. That is inexcusable. However, The New York Times has decided to excuse her and others like Patrick Tyler and Jill Abrahamson and is allowing them to keep their jobs.

Fine. If the paper wishes to hang its credibility on journalists like this then it obviously no longer cares about it. Therefore, the New York Times is collectively guilty and should be held responsible for the actions of these failed journalists.

The paper of record has officially chosen to became just another daily rag.

RIP, Gray Lady.


And Atrios logs in:

...to be fair, Left I does highlight one place where Okrent gets it exactly right.

That automatic editor defense, 'We're not confirming what he says, we're just reporting it,' may apply to the statements of people speaking on the record. For anonymous sources, it's worse than no defense. It's a license granted to liars. The contract between a reporter and an unnamed source - the offer of info rmation in return for anonymity - is properly a binding one. But I believe that a source who turns out to have lied has breached that contract, and can fairly be exposed. The victims of the lie are the paper's readers, and the contract with them supersedes all others.

When an anonymous source with an agenda burns you, then immediately the story should be inverted. It is no longer about whatever the source is feeding you, it is now that the source lied to you. It isn't just about having an obligation to readers, it's recognizing that there is now a real story to tell, such as "Bush Administration Officials Trying to Manipulate Public By Lying to Media."

Until editors and reporters are willing to internalize the basic idea that anonymous sources must be outed when they're caught lying, they should not be used.


Here's how David Neiwert sees the attack campaign against John Kerry:

We knew all along that the Bush campaign would stop at nothing, stooping to even the most outrageous smear, to defeat John Kerry this November. Now it's happening. It's becoming clearer every day that one of the chief Republican talking points emerging in the campaign is the suggestion that a vote for Kerry is a vote for Al Qaeda -- because, purportedly, the terrorists secretly want Bush defeated, since Kerry is "soft" on the "war on terror." Of course, a cornerstone of this ploy is the belief that the so-called liberal media will gladly transmit this smear.

Atrios recently caught one of the more egregious examples of this meme being broadcast on CNN's Wolf Blitzer program.

...What's really Newspeakish in an utterly Bizzarro kind of fashion about this particular instance of the smear is that it turns on its head what at least one purported Al Qaeda faction has actually said, to wit:

The statement said it supported President Bush in his reelection campaign, and would prefer him to win in November rather than the Democratic candidate John Kerry, as it was not possible to find a leader "more foolish than you (Bush), who deals with matters by force rather than with wisdom." In comments addressed to Bush, the group said:

"Kerry will kill our nation while it sleeps because he and the Democrats have the cunning to embellish blasphemy and present it to the Arab and Muslim nation as civilization."

"Because of this we desire you (Bush) to be elected."


And remember all the controversy about the mass-killing by U.S. forces at a supposed "wedding party" in Iraq? The U.S. military commanders continue to spout the line that the house near the Syrian border was a legitimate target, supposedly housing terrorists; there is video footage that seems to back up the locals' claim that it was a genuine wedding celebration that was bombed and attacked. Juan Cole posts this:

The controversy on the US bombing of what appears to have been a wedding party near Syria continues to boil, with this al Jazeerah editorial taking the con side to the story, while Gen. Kimmit sticks to his guns. I thought readers might be interested in an assessment by an academic with long experience in the region. McGuire Gibson of the University of Chicago writes:

As someone who has worked for more than 35 years in Iraq, and for several years in Syria, right up against the Iraqi border, I can add some information on the situation there. All along both sides of the border are small settlements of people, who make their living by herding. Any village or encampment on either side will have in it a mixture of people who were born on the other. Many women from villages in Iraq marry relatives who live in Syria, and vice versa. In fact, in the village of Hamoukar where I was digging from 1999 until 2001, probably half of the families have close relatives in Iraq or were born there. The border is relatively undefended and unfenced, and in the past people could cross, but they took risks in doing so.

There was a certain amount of smuggling, usually consumer goods, and I would be very greatly surprised if there has not been a greatly enhanced degree of trading across the border, given the demand for products that exists in Iraq now. A few years ago, Iraq and Syria both thawed relations and allowed visits, and a lot of villagers in Syria went to Iraq to see relatives whom they had not seen in years, and some Iraqis were allowed to visit Syrian relatives. Iraqi taxi cabs, easily identifiable by their orange and white colors, were numerous on the roads of Syria in the past five years.

In the current situation, with the Iraqi secret police no longer getting reports from agents among the populace, the visits by Syrians would have been greatly increased. As far as I have been able to find out, there were some attempts to control the border points at Tell Kochek, Abu Kemal and on the superhighways to Syria and Jordan, but I would be surprised if the long desert border has been much controlled. That there were men from Syria in the Iraqi village that was attacked would not be at all surprising, given the fact that there was a wedding and that there was and is commerce across the border. The arrival of the guests might have looked very suspicious on satellite images That there should be foreign money is also not surprising. There is a lot of foreign money in Iraq and there has been for years.

Everything you have been saying about the Shia also rings true. I have worked most of my career in the south of Iraq, at Nippur (near Afak, Diwaniyah area). What I know to be the case is that most people would have preferred a secular government, that the Shia do not want to split the country up, and that the US and British blunders in the south have been based on no information, outdated WW I concepts, or distorted information from self-serving people who have been outside the country for many years. The Occupation authority has made it almost impossible to have a political base other than religion or ethnic community, and we are thus creating splits and tension between Iraqis that have not been very noticeable in the past.

McGuire Gibson
Professor of Mesopotamian Archaeology
Oriental Institute, University of Chicago

 


June 11, 2004

The Bush Dictatorship Revealed: L'etat c'est moi

There's only one issue to discuss right now: the extra-constitutional rules and philosophy of the Bush Administration, as revealed in the legal briefs and memos drafted for Rumsfeld and Ashcroft and Bush on the torture question.

Joke: Ronald Reagan really died two months ago, but word was not released until the torture memos-scandal erupted this week. Humor or not, the Reagan death and funeral wiped everything else out of the news. So, as a corrective, we'll devote this blog only to the memos topic, and hope that once the conservative mass-media's orgy of funeral coverage is over, once the attempted elevation of Reagan into political sainthood is finished, the country can return to the ramifications of these memos and start the required investigations for real.

And start the moves toward impeachment as well, of Rumsfeld and Ashcroft for starters, the Big Boys shortly thereafter.

We used to make light of Bush's jokes about his fondness for running the show as a dictator; little did we know that shortly after 9/11 (and perhaps even before), his Administration would begin moving precisely in that direction.

The underlying philosophy behind the legal briefs and memos in question can be summarized thusly: The President is the Commander-in-Chief. The President says we're in a war. The Commander-in-Chief in a time of war can lay aside all laws and treaties, and do whatever he feels he has to do, in the name of national security.

What this means in practice is: Since in a war against terrorism, there is no definitive end, what the U.S. is waging is permanent war -- against the Al Qaida network and against those nation-states that the president deems worthy of being invaded, for real or invented reasons. Since the president is permitted to establish his own set of laws for the duration of the war, it follows that anyone who criticizes his actions ipso facto is giving aid and comfort to the enemy, and can be dealt with at any time by the police agencies of the state. Don't mess with us.

Can't get much closer to dictatorship than that. This is the world, and philosophy, of Pinochet, Stalin, Hitler. Or, closer to home, Richard Nixon, who claimed that when a president takes any action, because he is the president, by definition his actions are not illegal.

"ABOVE THE LAW" NO LONGER A METAPHOR

Note: I'm not saying or suggesting that Bush is Hitler or Stalin or Pinochet, rather that the policies and philosophies expressed, which already have been put into practice and are being defended by the Bush Administration and its supporters, clearly and inevitably takes our country down that road to political dictatorship.

("The breadth of authority in the [memo] report is wholly unprecedented," says Avi Cover, a senior attorney with the U.S. Law and Security programme of Human Rights First, formerly known as Lawyers Committee for Human Rights. "Until now, we've used the rhetoric of a president who is 'above the law,' but this document makes that [assertion] explicit; it's not a metaphor anymore."
Even conservatives that are doing all they can to keep Bush in office, and thus preserve their party's majority status in Congress, are having great difficulty coming to the defense of Bush&Co. on this issue. If impeachment is initiated in the next few months, it will come with the aid of Republicans appalled by these extra-constitutional moves by Bush and his handlers to sidestep the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Congress, the courts, indeed any individual or institution that gets in their way.

Let me reiterate: What is being discussed here is not the torture of detainees or prisoners in the "war on terror."  That is an important issue all its own, one that flows naturally from the philosophy being advanced in the leaked memos. (And, by the way, even though Ashcroft has asserted that he will not turn over the memos to the Congress -- which could be grounds for citing him for contempt of Congress -- some of the documents already are out on the internet.

What IS being examined here is the proclaimed right of this Administration to torture anyone, to imprison anyone, to invade any country, simply because (it is claimed) as Commander-in-Chief in a war, he has the sole right to decide who should be prosecuted, imprisoned, tortured, invaded, killed.

THE SUPREME LEADER

According to this cockamamie interpretation of how America works, the Constitution and Bill of Rights are null and void whenever the president decides to "lay aside" laws and act on his own authority. L'etat c'est moi: I am the State. No legislature, no court, no international body can, or should, get in the way. This is wartime. I am the Supreme Leader. Sieg heil!

You think I'm exaggerating, comparing this totalitarian philosophy of government with those of the Stalinist or Hitlerian states?  Just read for yourself the ##52-page memo  on the sordid justifications the Bush Administration lawyers thought up to allow for, even facilitate, the torture of suspects in custody.

Now the Bushies will claim that those were just working drafts, or philosophical speculations by government attorneys, never adopted into official policy, never turned into orders or laws. And, in the narrowest sense -- even though government actions to date have mirrored what was laid out in those documents -- they may be correct that Bush never explicitly signed a written order that said "go thou and torture."

But underlings understand what is being communicated by their bosses, based on their demands for information, their body language, the many discussions that have been held on the topic in question, the tone of voice in their wanting certain conclusions to be reached, etc. Hitler, for example, never had to authorize in writing the genocide of six million Jews and Gypsies and homosexuals. He didn't have to: the philosophy of maltreatment and destruction had been hammered out over the months in memorandums and discussions around tables. The word filtered down the chain of command. Everyone knew what they were supposed to do, with no written orders necessary.

In the case of prisoner-torture and abuse at Guantánamo and in Iraq and elsewhere, the memoranda commissioned by the Justice and Defense Departments (with, per usual, only the State Department objecting) laid out the attitude of this radical, extremist Administration: Find us a way that we can extract information from prisoners in our custody that will not amount to war crimes under the various conventions and treaties about torture.

HOW TO GET AROUND THE TREATIES

The ways they came up with, while morally and legally reprehensible, were ingenious. 1) We won't have "prisoners of war," which are covered under the Geneva Conventions; we'll invent new terms not covered, such as "enemy combatants." 2) We will claim a new universal right for the president: acting under his authority as Commander-in-Chief during "wartime," he can authorize whatever he wants, whenever he wants, and all will be justified under his oath to protect the national security. Therefore, whatever he authorizes is not unlawful, because he IS the law.

And, to protect those who carry out and facilitate the torture and abuse, all the president has to do is sign a document authorizing him to fulfill the orders, and, in a magic instant, they are thus immunized from war-crimes charges by any federal or international court because (drum roll, please) they were only "following orders." ("To protect subordinates should they be charged with torture, the memo advised that Mr. Bush issue a 'presidential directive or other writing' that could serve as evidence, since authority to set aside the laws is inherent in the president'."  Click heels, arms out.

"If anyone in the higher levels of government acted in reliance on this advice, those persons should be impeached. If they authorized torture, it may be that they have committed, and should be tried for, war crimes. And, as we learned at Nuremberg, 'I was just following orders' is NOT (and should not be) a defense," writes attorney Michael Froomkin.  Brazen chutzpah! These swaggering bullies simply dismiss the possible validity of any moral or legal or political judgments other than their own, and (secretly) barrel on full-steam ahead. Why?  Because they and they alone know what is Good; everyone who disagrees is either Evil or inadvertently serving the cause of Evil. If the former, they can be imprisoned and/or wiped out; if the latter, they can be charged and punished, which will alert others to keep their traps shut, lest they get the same treatment.

OVERTHROWING THE CONSTITUTION

Our Founding Fathers were all too aware of that type of thinking and government, which is why they rebelled against a tyrannical monarch, and set up their own carefully thought-through system of governance, one designed to prevent any one person or faction from too easily being able to do civic damage in the name of righteousness. The checks-and-balances system of government, with a strong free press ferreting out scandals and dangerous rascals, was designed to ensure democracy and freedom.

That system of government has worked beautifully (if sluggishly) for more than two centuries. But within just a few years, acting out of greed and power-hunger, a few extremist ideologues have tried to turn that system on its head, installing what amounts to a king as president, and woe be unto those who demur or oppose.

Using fear and demagoguery after the terrors of 9/11 -- an attack they knew was coming but did nothing to prevent or ameliorate -- those ideologues manipulated the Congress and populace into giving them a blank check to go after those who perpetrated this terrorist mass-murder, and they've been riding that same horse ever since in service of their other, more extreme agenda. They even invented a non-existent tie-in to 9/11 to justify their invasion of Iraq -- and then, much later, with very little attendant publicity, Bush admitted that there hadn't been any such relationship.

IMPEACHMENT AND ELECTIONS

Friends (and any Democratic office-holders reading this), we either stop this pack of wolves here -- by impeaching them now, or in November throwing them out of the offices they've disgraced -- or we wind up living in a police-state at home, and carrying out more disastrous imperial wars abroad. Is this the country so many veterans have fought and died for? Is this the kind of government you want your kids raised under? Is this, finally, what we've come to in America because we didn't pay enough attention to what was really happening under our noses, and permitted ourselves to be snowed and manipulated so easily?

I think not. It's time for us to raise our voices in a mighty roar to our elected officials, to organize our friends and neighbors, to shout out to the rest of the world that this is not the true America and will not stand.

We will not permit a dictatorship, not matter what is claims as its reasons, to destroy our Constitution and Bill of Rights, to damage America's reputation abroad, to place our national interests in such jeopardy, to deform our economy and social system by spending hundreds of billions of dollars in foreign adventurism, to ruin our environment, to close off true learning opportunities to our children.

We've learned our lesson from Vietnam: We will not permit our country to be "destroyed in order to save it." This Administration has to leave. The sooner the better. The longer they stay in power, the worse it is for all of us.

Just go!


To read what some other bloggers have to say so brilliantly on this torture-memo issue, check out:

Josh Marshall 
Billmon 
Digby 
Corrente 
Atrios   
Kos  
 


June 14, 2004

Bush Answers Torture Question -- NOT!

Now that the official "It's Mourning in America" period is over, it's back to the real world of politics and shame.

Read this colloquy between a BBC reporter and George Bush at this weekend's G-8 Summit press conference:

Q. Mr. President, I wanted to return to the question of torture. What we've learned from these memos this week is that the Department of Justice lawyers and the Pentagon lawyers have essentially worked out a way that U.S. officials can torture detainees without running afoul of the law. So when you say that you want the U.S. to adhere to international and U.S. laws, that's not very comforting. This is a moral question: Is torture ever justified?

THE PRESIDENT: Look, I'm going to say it one more time. If I -- maybe -- maybe I can be more clear. The instructions went out to our people to adhere to law. That ought to comfort you. We're a nation of law. We adhere to laws. We have laws on the books. You might look at those laws, and that might provide comfort for you. And those were the instructions out of -- from me to the government.

The first thing that strikes one (at least the "one" writing this blog) is the willingness of the reporter to get out on the record a serious charge against Bush. He knew he wasn't going to get an answer -- and that he might not be permitted to ask any more questions of the U.S. President again -- but it's so important to bring certain issues into the public arena, so that others will start talking about them.

Here, the British reporter went to the heart of a major problem for Bush and his lackeys involved in the huge-and-growing torture scandal, one that could well result in impeachment charges being brought against Bush/Cheney/Ashcroft/Rumsfeld.

That is: If your Administration's lawyers have altered the definition of the "rule of law" to make the President the final arbiter of what that "law" is, then when you say your Administration has nowhere violated the "law," you make logical sense -- even if your policy is totally immoral and, when the courts get through with it, may well be ruled to be illegal.

The second thing that I find striking in the press-conference exchange above is that Bush -- in addition to hiding behind the new, improved meaning of "law" supplied him by his lawyers -- evades the thrust of the question. He stays away from the "moral" reference, and ignores the question of when torture might be justified.

In short, a a classic non-answer, with touches of chicanery about it, since the meaning of the "law" has been shifted -- without most American citizens even being aware that, according to Bush&Co. attorneys, the President and the President alone, since he's the Commander-in-Chief in "wartime," now gets to make and interpret all the laws, and no court and no Congress is (according to the Bush interpretation) permitted to interfere.

Sounds like dictatorship to me. I'm not comforted in the slightest. As a matter of fact, I'm frightened and immensely angry at this illegal, unconstitutional usurpation of all power into the hands of one person. (See my new essay out tomorrow on The Crisis Papers, as well as my previous blog: "The Bush Dictatorship Revealed: L'etat c'est moi," below on this page).


RON-RON TAKES ON BUSH

For me, 95% of the chock-a-block TV coverage of the Reagan death and funeral, while moving in spots, was pretty much a waste of time, filled with unwarranted adulation and sycophantic rightwing coverage designed to canonize the 40th president into political sainthood.

Bush's eulogy was more subtle than might have been expected in trying to wrap himself in the Reagan shroud, by highlighting aspects of Reagan policy that bear an amazing resemblance to Bush's own actions. But, even in this watered-down version, the attempt was a bit too obvious, read like it came from a speechwriter and not from the heart, and didn't work in any case. The most recent polls indicate that, if anything, Bush lost ground when folks could measure him against Reagan and against the other political heavyweights in attendance.

But the entire orgy of Reaganiana was worth it for one moment of courage and truth. Ron Reagan Jr., standing in front of his father's coffin, the world's elite mourners, and all of us out there in TV land, came down hard on the current pretender to the throne in just a few sentences. He nowhere mentioned Bush's name or his foreign policy, but everyone knew exactly what was being said and about whom.

"Dad was also a deeply, unabashedly religious man. But he never made the fatal mistake of so many politicians wearing his faith on his sleeve to gain political advantage. True, after he was shot and nearly killed early in his presidency, he came to believe that God had spared him in order that he might do good. But he accepted that as a responsibility, not a mandate. And there is a profound difference."

On the one hand, Ron Jr. was saying, you've got this good man, my father, who was very religious but never used his faith as a holier-than-thou weapon in the political arena; God had given him this heavy responsibility and he was going to try to exercise it to the best of his ability. On the other hand, we've got this fundamentalist guy in charge who constantly beats the drum for his religious interpretation as the only one that's true. Not only that, but he believes God has talked to him directly and mandated that he start wars for no good reason, and young men and women and countless innocent civilians are being killed as a result.

Thank you, Ron-Ron, for your courage and your wisdom -- and for your writing skills: "He came to believe that God had spared him in order that he might do good. But he accepted that as a responsibility, not a mandate. And there is a profound difference." That is a model of compact, impressive, subtle prose. A budding young politician in the making?


GOODBYE TO AN EXCEPTIONAL BLOGGER

I write these blogs twice a week, and it's difficult work. I can't imagine doing it every day; the hard, never-ending slog would be debilitating. But there are wonderful, politically-savvy bloggers out there who do the job, day after day, mostly for little or no compensation.  (For just a few of the best, check out our Recommended Blogsites).  They do it because someone has to do it, has to find the truth amid the garbage, has to keep the crimes and buffooneries of this Administration before the American voters.

But we've lost a major one. The blogger who goes by the name of "Hesiod" a few days ago announced to his readers that he was quitting the blogging rat-race, after two years of daily reporting and commentary. I don't know what brought him to his decision, perhaps just simple burnout. Whatever the reason, Hesiod has earned all our plaudits and thank-yous for a job well done. Wherever and whoever you are, Hesiod, all the best to you. Your nose for news and winning sense of humor will be much missed.


Below are excerpts of commentaries by other bloggers on some of the issues raised here.
 

Josh Marshall  www.talkingpointsmemo.com carries on the torture-memos discussion:

..."What I've authorized is that we stay within U.S. law," Bush told reporters at the close of the G-8 summit in Savannah, Ga. 

Asked if torture is ever justified, Bush replied, "Look, I'm going to say it one more time. ... The instructions went out to our people to adhere to law. That ought to comfort you."

When addressing this topic, President Bush placed great emphasis on the fact that whatever may have happened would have been consistent with his order that "anything we did would conform to U.S. law and would be consistent with international treaty obligations."

But that statement has a certain, shall we say, tortured ring to it when we've just seen this lengthy Pentagon memo, which describes novel and improbable legal interpretations by which actions that seem on their face to violate US laws and international treaties actually do not because of the president's plenary powers as commander-in-chief and grand interrogation muckety-muck.

And one other thing: can we have a show of hands of those who still think those half-dozen reservists weren't
following orders?


Even back home they're starting to wonder. This from an editorial  in yesterday's Houston Chronicle:

The United States' moral authority to call for the rule of law and respect for human rights has been undermined by legal machinations the Bush administration undertook to justify torturing prisoners taken in the war on terror.

Administration officials have attempted to downplay the significance of a March 6, 2003, Justice Department memorandum that concluded that, as commander in chief in time of war, President George W. Bush is bound neither by federal law nor the tenets of the Geneva Conventions that ban torture as a means of extracting information from detainees.

...The March memo asserts that interrogators could inflict severe pain on a detainee with impunity as long as the intent was something other than to torture. An interrogator would be culpable only if he knew his actions would inflict suffering that is severe enough to induce "prolonged" physical or mental effects. An interrogator would be immune from punishment if he believed he acted to prevent a larger harm, the lawyers determined.

The memos were obviously concocted to defend acts that are clearly beyond the bounds of a civilized nation.

The memos support the view that the prisoner abuses uncovered at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq were not merely the grave mistakes of a few soldiers, but resulted from policies formed at the highest levels of government. They strengthen concerns about how detainees at Guantánamo and in Afghanistan are being treated.

As I suggest in The Hill, I think we're actually pretty far past that point.

We're like contestants on Wheel of Fortune with a long phrase spelled out in front of us with maybe one or two letters missing. We know what the letters spell. It's obvious. We just don't have the heart to say it out loud.


Digby also gets the point:

Ronald Reagan is still dead. In other news, America is now officially a Rogue State. (For the full compendium of news stories, opinion and blogorama on the subject: Sisyphus Shrugged - torture link dump.

In the president's beautiful mind, he didn't order torture because he told the lawyers to make a legal finding that torture was ok and so they found that what we call torture is legal now but it isn't called torture anymore because torture is still illegal. So the president followed the law.

And lots of people pitched in to make it all possible.


Xymphora chimes in with a joke and a damn good question about legal liability:

A legally astute joke from Jay Leno
found here:

"According to the New York Times, last year White House lawyers concluded that President Bush could legally order interrogators to torture and even kill people in the interest of national security - so if that's legal, what the hell are we charging Saddam Hussein with?"

By the way, shouldn't the lawyers who signed the torture opinions, knowing they were wrong in international and domestic law, and knowing they were to be used to justify breaches of international and domestic law, be disbarred; and charged under those same international and domestic laws  for conspiring to facilitate the use of torture by American troops?


Corrente spots a sentence worth further exploration, and discusses a whores-"vaccine" story:

The key words from the Terror Q&A and the G8 press conference: "The authorization I issued." This is a document that must be brought out into the light of day (by way of a subpoena from Sen. Warner's committee?).

Unless, of course, the document doesn't really say anything. If the administration really is operating on fuhrerprinzip, it won't.


Vaccine We all know the theory of how vaccine works, right? You give a little tiny bit of the real disease, or else a watered-down version of it, and all yer little immune system cells whomp it up good. Then when you get exposed to a full dose of the real disease in all its awfulness, it doesn't bother you a bit. You're immune.

My guess is that the videos Sy Hersh talked about, the photos of Abu Graihb guards "having sex" with Iraqi women prisoners, should be coming out in the next few days. Here's the vaccine you're being given ahead of time. It's a two-stage dose:

(1) It's no big deal, the women were whores. Can't rape a whore, right?

(2) It's even less of a big deal because the guys were drunk. We've all done stupid things when we're drunk, right? Peered at the person next to us in the harsh early morning light and gnawed off our arms to escape? Wink wink, nudge nudge, know what I mean? Awful things happen in wartime. Boys will be boys. Frathouse pranks.

That's not what I was thinking when I first saw this story from the ## LATimes. I'm sure Greg Miller had no idea he was being set up to provide cover for worse things to come.


Finally, Juan Cole, using the Matrix characters, takes a look at recent polls and demographics and how they might work against Bush, since he looks like a leader Not In Control:

California and Florida: Polls and Demographics work against Bush; Has W. morphed from Neo to Smith?

Ron Fournier of the Associated Press has a fascinating article on the changes in Florida's political geography since the last election. He points out that over 700,000 voters have moved into Florida, which now has over 9 million voters, and the immigrants are disproportionately African-American and Latino. His sources think this non-trivial population movement could well throw Florida to Kerry. The Iraq quagmire appears to loom large for Floridians as a reason to vote against Bush, even among voters who supported him the last time.

It seems to me that there is a bottom line for presidents. They have to at least look like they are in control or getting control. One of the reasons Dwight Eisenhower was so angry at the Israelis, French and British for attacking Egypt in late October, 1956, was that they had not told him about the plot and it made him look like he was not in control, on the eve of an election. Ike knew about the Control factor. He called up British PM Anthony Eden and cursed him out "like an old sailor." Jimmy Carter looked like he wasn't in control because of the Iran hostage crisis, and he was thrown out. Voters can forgive momentary lapses in control. Most people don't hold September 11 against President Bush the way former security czar Dick Clarke does.

But to rally around the president in a crisis is a temporary sentiment. After the first bloom is off the problem, he has to show that he is in control again. Bush did that well in Afghanistan, though apparently reluctantly, since he wanted to go after Iraq first but Tony Blair dissuaded him. But now Bush is stuck in Iraq and he looks like he is not in control. The charade of a "transfer of sovereignty" (when there is no Iraqi army and there are 138,000 US troops in Iraq) is not going to restore the sense of control. As long as you have that kind of troop strength in Iraq, I don't believe most Americans will buy the argument that it is now Allawi's show.

A new Los Angeles Times poll indicates that a majority of Americans now thinks it was not worthwhile going to war in Iraq (53%). This is up from 43% in March. And over 60% of Americans think the US is bogged down in Iraq. This Reuters article says that 52% of Americans still thought that the US was winning the war and less than a quarter thought the insurgents were winning. But you could read that statistic the other way around and conclude that almost half of Americans do not believe that the US is winning, even if they are reluctant to admit that the insurgents are. If over half think the enterprise not worthwhile and nearly half think we are losing, it becomes clearer why Iraq shows up as so important in Floridians' attitudes toward Bush. The two taken together equal A President Not in Control.

The poll also found that Kerry leads Bush nationwide by 51 to 44 percent. By 51% to 16%, they felt that Bush is "too ideological and stubborn." Over half of Americans think Bush is too ideological and stubborn? This is a remarkable statistic. It is important because it helps explain why they think he is not in control. He is perceived as having a tragic flaw, like a Greek or Shakespearian tragic protagonist, which prevents him from being in control and gets him into messes. Hamlet was indecisive, Macbeth over-ambitious, etc. OK, for Americans probably one should think in terms of a flawed character in some recent film. But my rhetorical analysis would remain the same.

(Here's a try: Neo and Smith in The Matrix are actually similar in many ways. Both of them want to overturn the Matrix status quo, both of them use violence, both of them are seeking to become something more than they are, are seeking to escape the trap of the pods in which the machines have imprisoned them. But Neo is open to reality, is willing to question, to go where the leads take him. Perhaps most Americans saw Bush as like Neo in the months immediately after September 11. Smith is "too ideological and stubborn," and as a result over-reaches at a crucial moment. It seems to me that his Iraq misadventure, Abu Ghuraib, Torturegate, the proto-fascist memos of the counsels to the president--all this has made Bush look increasingly Smith-like. If you are running for office, you want to be seen by the young people as like Neo, and not at all like Smith.)


June 23, 2004

Down the News Shaft for Political Ore

This past week's news provides a rich vein for mining. Not sure I have a lot of firm answers, but do have some informed guesses:

Why at this late date did Putin claim Russia told the Bush Administration that Saddam Hussein was planning to attack the U.S. mainland? He says now that this intelligence was provided sometime between 9/11/2001 and the U.S. invasion of Iraq in early-2003.

Two theories are circulating: One is (if you believe this intelligence dump really happened) that Putin knew he could easily roll the naive Bush, and so, for his own geopolitical reasons, supplied the U.S. with false data in order to get the U.S. bogged down in an Iraqi quagmire while Russia surreptitiously built up its alliances in oil-rich Central Asia.

Sort of a Russian variant of the Chalabi exiles who, to realize their own political goals, fed Bush&Co. false and embellished "intelligence" about how easy it would be to conquer Iraq. In both cases, the naive neocons -- anxious for their own geopolitical reasons to get a strategic foothold in the Middle East -- swallowed the bait whole.

The other theory is that Putin was attempting to help out his good buddy Bush, who recently has been assaulted on all sides by evidence that he had no justifiable reason for attacking Iraq. I mean, all Bush's rationales have been proven false: no WMDs, no mushroom clouds over America, no drone planes attacking the Eastern Seaboard, no nuclear weapons program, no ties to the 9/11 attacks, and now, even Bush/Cheney's claim of Saddam's close connections with Al Qaida has been blown apart by the 9/11 Commission. (We won't even mention the latter-day claim that the U.S. invaded Iraq because Saddam was a cruel ruler who tortured and killed Iraqi prisoners in his care. The pot calling the kettle black and all that...)

So, either on his own or as a result of a gentle request from someone in the Bush camp, Putin last week reveals that maybe the U.S. had a solid reason to attack Saddam first. Doesn't pass the smell test in the slightest, but maybe that's not the point.

FOG, MIRRORS & BLOWING SMOKE

Which leads to the point. The 9/11 Commission is pretty adamant in its staff report that Iraq had no operational tie or close collaboration with Al Qaida, or even much of a relationship at all. But why, then, do Bush and Cheney keep insisting that there was such a connection? Why on earth would they want to look foolish still spouting that nonsense?

My theory is that Bush&Co. are throwing out confusion chaff. They've been telling those lies and deceptive remarks for so long now, and it was working well -- at one point, up to 70% of Americans believed Saddam was somehow connected to 9/11 -- that they figure it can't hurt to keep making the Iraq/Al Qaida assertions. That way, their minions in the mass-media can refer to the "confusion" and "controversy" surrounding the issue, implying that both sides are equal in their point of view.

It's the old Big Lie, smoke-and-mirrors trick. Throw some fog out there, blow some more fog, keep the fog coming; for a good many would-be voters, the truth gets all gets dim and puzzling -- and so they stick with the government's consistent version, Big Lie or no Big Lie.

Reminds me of the friendly science panel Bush appointed several years ago to back him on the global-warming "controversy"; the scientists did their research and shocked their boss by saying the situation was even worse than most scientists had imagined and something had to be done immediately to cut carbon monoxide emissions from cars and trucks. Bush denounced his own panel as "bureaucrats," removed the conclusions from the EPA annual report, and bowed to the desires of the polluters when rewriting emission standards.

BUSH QUOTE TYING SADDAM TO 9/11

Bush says he never overtly tied Saddam Hussein to the 9/11 attack. He and his spokesmen for months intimated, hinted, conflated, deceived but, he insists, never came right out and included Iraq in the 9/11 charge. Whoops! He forgot that records are kept. Here's at least one claim he made where he went over the line that he said he never crossed. (Hurrah for blogger David Sirota,  who posted the quote on June 18, 2004, first noted by USA Today on June 16, 2004.)

"In a letter to Congress on March 19, 2003 -- the day the war in Iraq began -- Bush said that the war was permitted under legislation authorizing force against those who 'planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001'."

Whoops, indeed.

WHAT, WHEN & WHAT ACTION TAKEN?

The 9/11 Commission's staff report focused on the utter chaos, bumbling mistakes, unpreparedness, shoddy chain of command structure and so on within the government. Doesn't this let all the air out of the balloon of conspiracy at the top? In this view, what happened on 9/11 was merely the to-be-expected, normal screwups of any government and military bureaucracy during a major crisis.

Admitting that there always was, and in this case certainly was, chaos and confusion in the lower ranks, this does not detract from the central questions in the investigation, still to be definitively answered: What did Bush and his closest advisors know about an impending major attack? When did they know it (from the intelligence reports, many of them quite detailed, coming into the White House from various countries in the summer of 2001)? What did they do about it, or what should they have done about it, given their pre-knowledge?

It's possible that when the Commissioners produce their own final report next month, they might well fault Bush for not acting on those fairly specific warnings by calling together the various department heads and getting them energized and alerted for a coming major Al Qaida terrorist attack. Might have saved some lives. Bush's dereliction of duty -- whether by incompetence or by design -- is manifold.

Also interesting: With George Tenet becoming a civilian shortly, after years as CIA chief, he may well be, or at least should be, recalled to testify outside the strictures of government service. If so, and if placed under oath again, he may have some very interesting tales to tell.

THE BUSH CENTER IS NOT HOLDING

How should one interpret the high-powered diplomats, military officers and other former Bush/Reagan officials who have banded together to denounce Bush policy and urge his defeat in November?

Diplomats and Military Commanders for Change, a bipartisan group of 27 retired ambassadors and senior military officers, last week unequivocally condemned Bush's foreign policy, contending Bush has failed at "preserving national security and providing world leadership."

A possible interpretation: The corporate/conservative elite -- including Bush's own father -- is sending the message to the Republican Party to abandon Dubya or risk going damage to their own political and economic interests.

These are no liberal pantywaists, no peaceniks, talking. These are heavy-hitter insiders, who have clout in GOP and political/military circles around the country. Just look at some of the names: Admiral William Crowe, former Chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President Reagan; Admiral Stansfield Turner, former head of the CIA under Carter; General Joseph Hoar, commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East under President Bush 1; Jack F. Matlock Jr., ambassador to the Soviet Union under Reagan and Bush 1; William Harrop, ambassador to Israel under Bush 1; and so on.

If Bush and Cheney and Rove don't take the hint, and choose to continue on their self-destructive and America-destructive course, one can expect that more big-name defections will follow. (Might we hope that Colin Powell has been biding his time, waiting for the most effective moment to make his leap for freedom? Oh, let it be so.)

SCANDAL ERUPTIONS

How close are the various scandals to erupting into indictments? Here are my guesstimates. For the outing of a covert CIA agent Valerie Plame by "two senior Administration officials": very close. For Cheney (on various Halliburton and energy schemes), getting closer. For Enron's Kenneth Lay (and what then might be revealed about BushCheney ties): very close. For 9/11 Commission on Bush's nonchalant attitude toward pre-9/11 knowledge: about a month away. The torture-memo scandal implicating BushCheneyRumsfeld: unfolding in more ugly ways each day. Chalabi scandal (who fed the Iraqi national highly-classified U.S. secrets?): not likely to yield much anytime soon.

The GOP still controls the levers of power in the House and Senate, so impeachment is unlikely in the short run. But if the scandals keep erupting, and if more and more of the business/military elite see Bush as a liability, and he won't leave or drop out of the race on his own, the word may go out to the House and Senate leaders to initiate hearings on possible impeachment. Not likely, but things are moving so fast in Washington these days that it's not outside the realm of possibility.

The Democrats have to keep up the pressure, and, where necessary, initiate hearings on their own on some of these scandals, trying to unearth the truth. Kerry has to start weighing in more forcefully on these matters, and tying them together in a meaningful way -- similar to what Al Gore has been doing in his recent, hard-hitting speeches. Kerry hasn't got all that much time to play nicey nice.

The election is only four-plus months away, John.


For more on some of the issues raised above, see bloggers:

Josh Marshall  www.talkingpointsmemo.com
Billmon  www.billmon.org
Digby  http://digbysblog.blogspot.com
Corrente  http://corrente.blogspot.com
Robert Dreyfuss  www.tompaine.com/archives/the_dreyfuss_report.php
Kevin Drum  www.washingtonmonthly.com
Steve Gilliard  http://stevegilliard.blogspot.com

And check out this week's Best of the Blogs in
The Crisis Papers.


June 25, 2004

Bush's Torture Scam: Behind the Documents Deceit

Here's the way it works. Bush&Co. are so secretive that they will never, ever, release internal decision-making documents to the public. And certainly not classified documents, never, ever.

Oh, yes, there is a teeny exception: when the Bush Administration is taking such heat on one scandal or another that, in order to deflect attention and limit the political damage, suddenly stacks of documents are delivered to the press.

But, in this self-serving schema, the Administration makes sure not to release all the relevant documents. It engages in what the Nixon crew during the Watergate scandal called a "modified, limited hangout" -- that is, releasing selectively those pieces of paper likely to help the Administration's case, and keeping secret those likely to reveal truths that should not see the light of day.

That's what happened, you remember, with Bush's AWOL scandal: for years it was claimed there weren't any such Texas National Guard records, but when the heat got too intense, a whole sheaf of documents suddenly materialized. But, of course the dump didn't include the more relevant, medical ones; the Associated Press announced a few days ago that it is suing to obtain the entire lot.

And now the same "modified, limited hangout" is operative with regard to the Bush Administration's torture-scandal.

Anything to Stop the Bleeding:

The political fallout from those torture-memos made public in the past several weeks -- those prepared for Rumsfeld, Ashcroft and the White House -- was simply too damaging. White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales said the documents were released because the Administration "felt it was harmful to this country in terms of the notion that we may be engaged in torture." In other words, the documents were made public not because torture is illegal and immoral (and usually counter-productive to boot), but because of the public-relations damage this whole torture brouhaha was bringing to the United States. (And, left unsaid, "to our election chances in November.") The political bleeding had to be stopped.

Those torture memos were designed to give Bush legal justifications for state-approved torture, plus they asserted that he, as Commander-in-Chief, was above the reach of the law.

So a few days ago, in a clear effort to counter those damaging revelations, the Bush Administration went public with the secret papers in order to prove that Bush never authorized torture and that he did not approve his attorneys' torture memos. Not only that, but Bush unequivocally told the press: "I have never ordered torture. I will never order torture. The values of this country are such that torture is not a part of our soul and our being."

Behind the headlines -- designed to make Bush look like a force for morality and decency -- was the fact that even though he claimed the Administration had "rescinded" the torture memos for reworking, he did not renounce the philosophy behind them; Gonzales said:  "The analyses underpinning the president's decisions stand and are not being reviewed."

And he gave himself a number of outs that would keep in place many of the controversial interrogation techniques.

Loopholes to Permit Torture:

For example, it turns out that he still asserts the right to place himself above the law -- out of reach of Congress and the courts -- whenever he feels the need to do so.  Bush said in the Feb. 7, 2002 memo: "I accept the legal conclusion of the Attorney General and the Department of Justice that I have the authority to suspend Geneva (conventions) as between the United States and Afghanistan. I reserve the right to exercise this authority in this or future conflicts."

In addition, Bush's written command in that 2002 letter -- ordering U.S. forces to obey all the laws of humane treatment of prisoners -- contains a huge, glaring caveat. Here's the key command: “As a matter of policy, the United States Armed Forces shall continue to treat detainees humanely and, to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity, in a manner consistent with the principles of Geneva.”

In other words, if the head jailer at one of the many U.S. prison camps around the world determines that "military necessity" requires violations of the anti-torture laws or anti-torture conventions, he would be justified in carrying out what is euphemistically called "harsh interrogation techniques," to wit: torture. It has been so ordered by a written command of the President of the United States.

Attorney Michael Froomkin notes: "It’s also important to keep the confusing timeline straight. The OLC [Office of Legal Counsel] torture memo was delivered in August 2002, i.e. several months after this [Bush] order. Thus, it is clear that this command, in Feb. 2002, to be 'humane' was not the last word on the subject in the minds of all policy makers, including the President’s closest advisors, such as his Legal Counsel. And we know that the Walker Group [the Pentagon lawyers working to draft their now-infamous torture memo] was still chewing on the torture question in March 2003..."

So, one can reasonably view Bush's 2002 letter as little more than a cover-my-ass document, designed so that Bush later could assert: See, I told them what to do, and somehow by the time the order went down the chain of command, there were distortions and bad behavior by a few "bad apple" officers and troops. I'm in the clear.

But it also seems clear that none of the Bush Administration lawyers -- in the White House or in Ashcroft's Justice Department or in Rumsfeld's Defense Department -- paid the slightest attention to the Bush commands, because they were aware that Bush's letter was not to be taken seriously as policy. After all, three departments of the Bush Administration had been ordered to work for more than a year and a half, well past the time when Bush's letter was written, to devise justifications precisely for harsh interrogation techniques.

And so, over the objections of the State Department lawyers, the Ashcroft/Rumsfield working group continued trying to hammer out ways around the anti-torture laws and treaties, and eventually came up with all sorts of horrific justifications for torture and for turning Bush into a dictator beyond the reach of the law.

The word went down the chain of command and the torturing took off big time in Afghanistan, Iraq and no doubt at other U.S. prisons around the world -- with more than 37 detainees (that we know of) dying while in U.S. custody, many of them during or after harsh interrogations.

Tortured Definitions of "Turture:"

Let us conclude with a variant on what the definition of "is" is. Let us not forget that the Bushies prefer to use the term "abuse," because they've altered the common-sense meaning of the word "torture."

Torture, according to them, is pain so intense as to come close to death. The August 1, 2002, legal memo concluded that "the ban on torture is limited to only the most extreme forms of physical and mental harm," which the document defined as akin to "death or organ failure." Behaviors other than that -- lighter beatings, threats to kill their families, humiliations, near-drownings, etc. -- are not automatically "torture," under the Bush Administration definition, even though such acts are expressly forbidden under the Geneva Convention.

In short, the Administration's partial release of torture-related documents, plus Bush's statement about never authorizing "torture," amounts to a disgraceful scam:

* First, the publicizing of the documents is highly selective, showing us only that which they want to highlight and hiding the rest.

* Second, Bush asserts the right to authorize "torture" anytime he, in his wisdom as Commander-in-Chief, decides that it's called for -- which effectively puts him above the law, out of the reach of Congress and the U.S. and international courts. And his underlings can violate the torture laws and treaties anytime they decide that "military necessity" requires it.

* Third, the definition of "torture" is so...um, tortured, that it gives interrogators a fairly open field when terrorizing those they are questioning, which pretty much means they can do what they want with a prisoner up to the point of excruciating, near-death pain or organ-damage.

Now, do we all feel "comforted" by that?


June 28, 2004

Vacation Lazing & No Escape from Politics

Here I am sitting in a hammock, laptop on my knees, under some shade trees in the blistering California sun. Technology has made it so easy to connect to the world -- and so tempting not to. All I have to do is to push the "escape" ("escapist") button, and I can remain blissfully unaware of what's happening outside my vacation purview.

We just took the golden retriever we're "dog-sitting" on a long walk, where we cooled off in the bracing Russian River here in California's Sonoma wine country.

The cares of the world were far away. I could just relax and open myself to the glories of nature, the warm sun, the refreshing river, the lush vegetation, the great meals in downtown Healdsburg, and so on.

It felt good to know that others, in print and online, are dealing with the crimes of commission and omission by the current Bush/Cheney administration: the death and destruction in Iraq as a result of American's neocon theoreticians, the tortures committed in our names, the destruction of our Constitutional guarantees of due process of law and a commitment to the Bill of Rights, the strangulation of social programs so necessary and desired by so many Americans, the saddling of our economy (and our children) with humongous debt, etc. etc.

You may have just noticed that it's impossible for me to stay in that blissful vacation mode for long.

I am dedicated to the defeat of Bush&Co. on November 2, and the restoration of legitimate power in the United States. My soul tells me -- and a lot of others like me -- that there can be no permanent time-out. Breaks now and then for refreshment of one's soul and commitment, yes. But no surcease from the fight itself.

So, before we get on our bicycles to tour the backroads and visit some wineries, let's take a quick look at some of the news of the day.

CONTROLLING THE FLOW

As with everything else in their Administration, BushCheneyRove cannot accept criticism of their actions -- especially not when the most current polls show them losing ground daily to Kerry.

So they're a little, how shall we say, hyper sensitive these days as the stress levels mount.

* Cheney, on the floor of the Senate, tells Sen. Leahy to go "fuck yourself" -- in those words -- after Cheney objected to Leahy and his fellow Democrats pointing out Halliburton's various corrupt practices in Iraq and elsewhere.

* Bush, after being sharply questioned by an Irish reporter about the morality and incompetence of his Iraq policies, goes whining  to the Irish Embassy about his treatment and then withdraws an exclusive interivew  the reporter was supposed to have with Laura Bush. Oh, by the way, as Atrios notes,   Bush was supplied the reporter's questions three days in advance of the interview.

* Bush&Co., which already has set up a stealth organization to deride Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" film, is trying to keep Moore from advertising his documentary  in the Fall, as the election draws nearer.

Moore's film, meanwhile -- which focuses on Bush Administration actions and non-actions on September 11, 2001 -- is doing turnaway business at the box offices across the country. This news may explain why, as a form of long-range protection, a group of GOP-supporting investors, including The Carlyle Group (long associated with the Bush Family), has purchased the huge Loew's movie-theater chain.

* Bush may be having trouble handling the pressure -- the accelerating meltdown in Iraq, being questioned by prosecutors in the Valerie Plame scandal, his falling poll numbers , being abandoned by many key Republican officials who denounce his policies, facing more aggressive journalists, etc. A report in a Washington, D.C., insider newsletter says his aides are starting to wonder about his mental health as he exhibits erratic, paranoid behavior  in private.

* Reporters keep asking him about America's torture policies, specifically about the fact that the tortures and abuse continued long after Bush's 2002 memo that seemed to say -- wink, wink, nod, nod -- that the U.S. troops shouldn't do such bad things to prisoners in their care. Unless, of course, "military necessity"  dictates such torture, and then it's OK.

Enough from me. Below are some excellent blogs that delve even further into some of these issues, along with other matters.


BIDEN, BALLS & BULLFROGS

I've always wondered whether Democrats have any balls whatsoever when they meet in private with Bush in the White House. At least one, Sen. Joe Biden, does -- at least according to the senator himself. Check this out from Kevin Drum www.washingtonmonthly.com:

Via Jack O'Toole, here's an excerpt from a Rolling Stone round table about Iraq:

Surely the Abu Ghraib prison scandal didn't help. Should Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld or other Bush officials resign?

Rand Beers: The Navy has a custom -- if a ship runs aground, the captain is relieved regardless of who is responsible. That's how Abu Ghraib should be handled.

Joe Biden: I was in the Oval Office the other day, and the president asked me what I would do about resignations. I said, "Look, Mr. President, would I keep Rumsfeld? Absolutely not." And I turned to Vice President Cheney, who was there, and I said, "Mr. Vice President, I wouldn't keep you if it weren't constitutionally required." I turned back to the president and said, "Mr. President, Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld are bright guys, really patriotic, but they've been dead wrong on every major piece of advice they've given you. That's why I'd get rid of them, Mr. President -- not just Abu Ghraib." They said nothing. Just sat like big old bullfrogs on a log and looked at me.

Big old bullfrogs. Yeah. Here's one more quote from Biden:

Biden: About six months ago, the president said to me, "Well, at least I make strong decisions, I lead." I said, "Mr. President, look behind you. Leaders have followers. No one's following. Nobody."

This is one of Bush's problems: he honestly thinks that the mere act of making "strong decisions" makes him a leader. It doesn't even occur to him that a leader is someone who makes good decisions and then persuades other people to support them.


CHANGING THE TONE IN WASHINGTON

Billmon  explores the Dick Cheney F-word incident in a more historical context:

Now we know what Bush was talking about. I mean you can say "fuck yourself" in many different tones of voice - angry, joking, whiny, etc. Cheney's tone, of course, is a snarly bass growl.

And if you think he's even going to think about apologizing, then you don't know Dick:

Cheney said he "probably" used an obscenity in an argument Tuesday on the Senate floor with Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) and added that he had no regrets. "I expressed myself rather forcefully, felt better after I had done it," Cheney told Neil Cavuto of Fox News. The vice president said those who heard the putdown agreed with him. "I think that a lot of my colleagues felt that what I had said badly needed to be said, that it was long overdue."

Ironically enough, it was only last Thursday that Al Hunt, the Wall Street Journal editorial page's house liberal, dug up a quote from Cheney dating back to the late Cretaceous period (circa the mid-1980's), in which the Laramie Lineman complained about the lack of "comity" in the Democratic Congress.

Cheney: No fucking comity at all. Fucking Democrats.

The Washington Post's Dana Milbank and Helen Dewar do a nice job of digging up a few quotes from Bush's past - specifically, from his campaign promise to be a "uniter, not a divider."

President Bush had made his vow to "change the tone in Washington" a central part of his 2000 campaign, calling bipartisan cooperation "the challenge of our moment."

"Our nation must rise above a house divided," he said in his victory speech in December 2000. "I know America wants reconciliation and unity. I know Americans want progress. And we will seize this moment and deliver."

To be fair, you never heard Cheney talking that way - then or now. In his own calm but gruff way, the veep is very much on the same wave length as the rest of the conservative ultras - men who understand, as Grover Norquist memorably put it, that bipartisanship is just another name for date rape.

Unlike Shrub, Cheney doesn't bother pretending otherwise. Nor has he really needed to, given his status as the ultimate conservative insider. Wyoming congressmen and Texas oil industry executives don't usually have to worry too much about bipartisanship, since they're both products of what amount to ideological monocultures.

I don't remember Dick Cheney being such an asshole when he was Secretary of Defense, but then the Pentagon wasn't my beat, and Cheney wasn't exactly the kind of guy who attracted a lot of attention outside the military-industrial complex and its media camp followers. Of his attitude and personality in the Ford White House, I can say nothing. That was before my time - and, anyway, part of the pre-Cambrian era when it comes to the "comity" of U.S. politics.

There's been speculation that the Veep's surliness, like his current neoconservative extremism, is a byproduct of his bypass surgery, which has been known to induce dramatic personality changes in the patient (turning him or her into a "pump head," to use the vernacular.)

Personally, I doubt it - the heart doesn't seem to have ever been a particularly important organ in Cheney's psychology. (A man who produces an offspring nine months and one day after learning that only fathers will qualify for a student draft deferment can't exactly be called someone who is ruled by his emotions.)

No, I think what we have here is a byproduct of the enormous stress and growing panic that appears to be engulfing the neocons (and their maximum leader) as everything they've touched over the past two years turns to absolute shit. Cheney, the rock of the Rockies, the ultimate unflappable man, may finally be cracking.

What set the Veep off, apparently, was Leahy's attempt to make small talk - or, as Big Dick put it, "act like, you know, everything's peaches and cream" - at a ceremonial Senate photo shoot. Cheney wasn't having any of it, not when the Democrats are doing such a aggressive (and effective) job of trashing his beloved former employer, Halliburton. Apparently, publicizing the Pentagon's own findings about the exceptionally close interest taken in Halliburton contracts by Cheney's staff (including his chief of staff) is considered hitting below the belt.

It's ridiculous, really, for one of the reigning dons of the conservative mafia - which practically invented the modern art of negative campaigning back in the late 1970s (the heyday of the National Conservative Political Action Committee) to suddenly develop such a thin skin about the practice. It's a sensitivity that certainly wasn't on display when the Christian right's golden boy, Ralph Reed, labeled Max Cleland an ex officio member of Al Qaeda, or when the RNC morphed Paul Wellstone's funeral into a Nuremberg rally, or when Bill Frist accused Richard Clarke of perjury on the Senate floor - without having read one word of Clarke's testimony.

Wellstone's son has told the story of Frist coming up to him at the funeral, and offering not the slightest apology for having attacked his father's patriotism in a Senate speech not long before the 2002 elections. "That was just politics," Frist supposedly said, echoing Bush's non-apology to John McCain after the 2000 South Carolina primary - not to mention Sal Tessio's classic line from the Godfather: "Tell Mike I always liked him. It was just business."

So, OK, that's the way the game is played now - hard and rough. And when a company like Halliburton makes itself (and its former CEO) a fat, juicy target by exporting Enron's management techniques and business ethics to the war in Iraq, does anyone really believe the opposition - in an election year - isn't going to go after the story with hammer and tongs??

The problem, as is so often the case, is the classic bully's syndrome: They can dish it out, but they can't take it. To me, that's a valuable strategic weakness in an opponent. Cheney, in a completely spontaneous way, has just shown the Democrats where his sore spot is. So instead of making a big deal about Big Dick's use of the f word, the Dems should simply crank up the Halliburton-bashing. Instead of Halliburton Week, make it Halliburton Month.

After all, getting even is always better than getting mad.


WINK & A NOD AT TORTURE

Over at Corrente, here's a discussion of the major Bush&Co. push to defuse the torture scandal:

The WhiteWash House is now in full stonewall mode on the torture memos it commissioned, and is now working the cover story hard: Doing the usual managed release of "all" (ha) the documents, which in this case turn out to be full of loopholes ("military necessity").

The amazing thing will be, as usual, that Bush will think his maneuvers to shirk responsibility are subtle and secretive, when in fact they are amazingly clumsy and obvious. Oh well. Nobody ever went broke—even the blogosphere—by underestimating the crassness of the Bush administration.

Here at Corrente, we've argued that although torture will probably not be shown to have been ordered through the official chain of command (that would be the cover story, right), it is extremely likely that it was ordered (and managed, and concealed) by an apparatus we've called The Fog Machine. Kinda like discovering a new, hitherto unseen planet, by looking at the motion of the planets we know, eh? After all, we know these guys (good former Trots all) set up back channels whenever the official ones get in the way (exhibit 1: The Office of Feith-based intelligence).

And we've also argued that the orders for torture were conveyed through "nods and winks" — much as the orders for the Final Solution were conveyed to Hitler's willing executioners. (There. I've used the H word.) The lack of a clear chain of command, the removal of military insignias, the confusion between contractors, the military, and "other agencies", is by design: The chaos enables the operation of the Stanford Effect, where people given power over others surrender their scruples.

But where do the "nods and winks" come from? Bush himself, of course, and also Rumsfeld. But I think we've been ignoring the biggest torture meme propagator of all: Rush Limbaugh. [Check out this essay by actor/activist Mike Farrell:]

[Limbaugh called the torture] "a brilliant maneuver" and compared it to a college fraternity prank: "This is no different than what happens at the Skull and Bones initiation," he said.

[Limbaugh] excused the actions of our soldiers this way: "You know, these people are being fired at every day. I'm talking about people having a good time, these people, you ever heard of emotional release?  You ever heard of need to blow some steam off?"

One full hour of "The Rush Limbaugh Show" is broadcast [by AFRTS] every weekday directly to our soldiers in Iraq and around the world -- to nearly 1 million U.S. troops in more than 175 countries and U.S. territories. Moreover, it is the only hour-long partisan political talk show broadcast daily to the troops.

AFRTS provides stateside radio and television programming, 'a touch of home' to U.S. service men and women.

Why should American taxpayers pay for the broadcasting of such inexcusable views to U.S. troops? Why, at a combustible moment like this one, would we be funneling Limbaugh's trivializations to our men and women at the front? Does Limbaugh's pro-torture propaganda really qualify as "a touch of home"?

Limbaugh's comments, and their tacit endorsement by the U.S. government, send a message to U.S. servicemen and servicewomen that torture is not a subject to be taken seriously and that these are actions that can be excused. Nothing could be more wrong than that.  (via LA Times )

Another piece of the For Machine puzzle falls into place. The genius of the Bush administrator has been to privatize the "nods and winks" process.

Limbaugh's willing torturers....

 


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