July 30, 2004

The Kerry Speech

A few quick take-aways on the Kerry speech.

Note, he couldn't help but mention John McCain.

And then I reached out across the aisle with John McCain to work to find the truth about our P.O.W.'s and missing in action and to finally make peace in Vietnam.

But, er, remember--McCain has endorsed Dubya.

This son of a millworker is ready to lead and next January, Americans will be proud to have a fighter for the middle class to succeed Dick Cheney as vice president of the United States.

Was I the only person who caught a slightly patronizing tone in Kerry's voice when the word "millworker" rolled off his Brahmin lips?

As president, I will wage this war with the lessons I learned in war. Before you go to battle, you have to be able to look a parent in the eye and truthfully say: "I tried everything possible to avoid sending your son or daughter into harm's way. But we had no choice. We had to protect the American people, fundamental American values against a threat that was real and imminent." So lesson number one, this is the only justification for going to war.

And on my first day in office, I will send a message to every man and woman in our armed forces: You will never be asked to fight a war without a plan to win the peace.

His most powerful point--a hard punch at the breezy 'greeted as liberators' crowd at the Pentagon who screamed for en masse de-Baathification and never allowed enough troops to get in theater.

Still, would the Dems (most of whom voted for the war, including Kerry) have done it better?

I defended this country as a young man and I will defend it as president. Let there be no mistake: I will never hesitate to use force when it is required. Any attack will be met with a swift and a certain response. I will never give any nation or any institution a veto over our national security. And I will build a stronger military. We will add 40,000 active duty troops - not in Iraq, but to strengthen American forces that are now overstretched, overextended and under pressure. We will double our special forces to conduct antiterrorist operations. And we will provide our troops with the newest weapons and technology to save their lives and win the battle. And we will end the backdoor draft of the National Guard and reservists.

To all who serve in our armed forces today I say help is on the way.

Read this passage carefully. Note the phrase "end the backdoor draft." It's juxtaposed with the follow on sentence regarding telling those who serve in the armed forces that "help is on the way."

Is it just me, or do you get a slightly uncomfortable feeling that "help", in this context (the "backdoor draft"), means a withdrawal (if gradual but at a good pace) from Iraq? That said "help" is really a reversion to a traditional post-Vietnam Democratic party outlook that distrusts the projection of American power overseas--viewing it as a somewhat nefarious influence on the world stage?

Oh, and let's be clear. That extra 40,000 troops? Not a single one, emphasis added above and, indeed, in the speech, are heading Baghdad way. Just in case anyone got some crazy idea...But what, heaven forbid, if they were needed there? Non-starter, it would seem. Another indication that faux-realism in Iraq is code for let's get out sooner rather than later.

Sully gets it:

No mention of democracy in Iraq or Afghanistan. No mention of the terrorist forces that are amassed there. No reference to the elections scheduled for January. No mention of Iran. And the whole point is about process - about how to wage a war, not whether it should be waged. This is a man who clearly wants the U.S. out of the region where our future is at stake, and who believes that simply by taking office, other powers can somehow pick up the slack. Memo to Kerry: no other powers can pick up the slack. They don't have the troops or the technology or the will. His strategy is pure defense. This sentence is his strongest threat: "Any attack will be met with a swift and certain response." So let's wait, shall we?

This was a very well organized convention. As Brit Hume noted on Fox--the Dems remedied their balloon deficit this go around. The pomp, confetti, in your face patriotism--all were in the proverbial house. And big time.

Kerry:

You see that flag up there. We call her Old Glory. The Stars and Stripes forever. I fought under that flag, as did so many of those people who are here tonight and all across the country. That flag flew from the gun turret right behind my head. And it was shot through and through and tattered, but it never ceased to wave in the wind. It draped the caskets of men that I served with and friends I grew up with. For us that flag is the most powerful symbol of who we are and what we believe in. Our strength. Our diversity. Our love of country. All that makes America both great and good.

That flag doesn't belong to any president. It doesn't belong to any ideology. It doesn't belong to any party. It belongs to all the American people.

Got it?

Throw in Wes Clark's "thump of enemy mortars."

Or Max Cleland:

It was April 1968, I was being airlifted out of Vietnam on a stretcher. At that moment Ensign John Kerry was headed in a different direction. He was on a Navy ship in the Pacific requesting transfer into Vietnam, into the line of fire. He had graduated from college. The world was his oyster. There were a lot of other things he could have done with his life. But he wanted to serve because he had been raised to believe that service to one's country is honorable, is noble and is good.

Shali:

We live in a dangerous time. Terrorists have attacked our home, here at home, and they continue to strike around the world. And the greatest danger before us is that theses terrorists will somehow get their hands on weapons of mass destruction. And if that were not enough, some nations continue to threaten regional stability while pursuing their own nuclear ambitions, which threaten all of us.

But throughout his campaign, John Kerry has shown time and again that he understands these dangers and that he is fully prepared for the challenges ahead.

Yep, it's all very red-meat, Stars & Stripes, no-one is going to call me out on my patriotism and ability to fight the global war on terror kinda stuff.

But, isn't there, a 'you doth protest too much' quality to it all?

That's what I'm worried about.

Note, even in hawkish (the politican formerly known as) Joementum's speech:

John Kerry and John Edwards are committed to finishing that work, to honoring the service of our soldiers, and to supporting them and their families when they come home. We owe them our support in this noble cause.

Always this emphasis on coming home, finishing up, getting out. It's not going to be that easy, however, if we want to do the job right.

Which is why I trust Bush more at the foreign policy helm of the United States at this juncture (though I'd love to see their respective cabinets ahead of time). I think he gets, in his gut, the generational committment aspect of what we are involved with in the Middle East and the war on terror. Against that, his black and white view of the world often results in too simple policies or policy drift as State and Defense clash and no one effectively umpires.

But, I guess, what matters most for me is a real committment to push forward an ambitious foreign policy agenda past '04. And, sadly, I'm not sure Kerry will really make such a committment.

Combined with some mid-course corrections by Bush (let's see better public diplomacy, more adult supervision of the Middle East peace process, a NSC advisor who forges common policies) I think he's the smarter play right now.

So if Drezner is a p = .54 with p = (probability of voting for Kerry); I'd count myself a p = .30 (meaning I'm 70% pulling the Elephant lever).

Fearing that Don Rumsfeld might stick around (he of the revolting insouciance re: Abu Ghraib) and/or that someone unqualified for SecState (won't name names just yet) replaces Powell keeps me around that zone, ie. not firmer in my support for Dubya.

Posted by Gregory at 04:11 PM | Comments (0)

Bush-Kerry

Check this out for a little pre-weekend levity (audio required).

Posted by Gregory at 11:51 AM | Comments (5)

July 29, 2004

Marshall Metamorphosizes into Moronic Mooreian

Have you ever heard of "Foopie," "Fupi'' or "Ahmed the Tanzanian"?

Neither had I until tonight (or newer fish like Zarqawi had, blissfully, crowded him out of my consciousness). He is an al-Qaeda terrorist who was allegedly behind the Tanzania and Kenya U.S. Embassy bombings back in the late '90s.

It appears he was arrested last Sunday by Pakistani authorities in a major firefight. His arrest has been made public today by the Pakistani authorities. The FBI has made no comment--and haven't yet been officially informed by the Pakistani authorities. In due course, reportedly, the suspect will be turned over to American authorities.

Enter Josh Marshall--all, adolescent-style, hotted up and breathless:

I'm not going to be able to watch the television coverage of this throughout the day. But many of you will. So I'd be very, very curious to hear whether when, oh say, CNN goes on about how this al Qaida guy has been hauled in they will mention at all, or with any consistency, that one of the most respected political magazines in the United States reported just weeks ago on the pressure the administration has been placing on the Pakistanis to serve up an al Qaida bad guy on this day.

Will they make the obvious connection? Or will they just ignore it?

This is just the latest, but perhaps the most blatant, example of how this administration has placed politics and, really, political dirty tricks above national security itself, and along the way persisted in defining political deviance down until tactics we used to associate with banana republics start to seem commonplace here.

And while we're at it, this is yet another example of how truly important it is that we democratize the Middle East. Because once we have, some of them will be able to come back here and redemocratize us.

Are you, like, kidding me? Please.

Ignore the descent into what Martin Amis would call the "moronic inferno" in Marshall's last graf (the inane musings about 'redemocratization'). Concentrate instead on the incendiary, and grossly unfounded, charges in his penultimate graf.

Let's begin by predicating that, to get anywhere near bouncing Kerry's speech off the networks, the HVT in question would need a lot more H in the VT, so to speak. All told, it would have to be UBL himself.

And did Josh read this part of the NYT article linked above?

His arrest appears to be the first high-level detention that has resulted from a series of Pakistani military operations launched in the country's remote northwestern tribal areas five months ago.

Did 'dirty tricks' Dick Cheney know it would take five months to get a second-tier HVT delivered up by Islamabad after a gunbattle this past Sunday? Just, er, to crowd out Kerry from the Boston podium action?

Friends, this is flatly risible fare isn't it? Or I am some buffoonish naif from an innocent and so-far-away pre-Watergate era?

Either way, let me issue a challenge to Josh Marshall. Since he's ostensibly an investigative reporter (tectonic-plates a shiftin' under le tout Washington), I'd urge him to support his musings about how the Bush Administration has put "political dirty tricks above national security itself."

I'd ask TPM to provide concrete evidence (no anonymous sources, please!) about how the Bush Administration, at any time in, say, the past 6-12 months, asked the Pakistani authorities to either delay searching for an HVT or, alternately, asked the Pakistani authorities to delay announcing the capture of an HVT (until the Democratic Convention) they had already apprehended.

If he can produce such a story (one that passes a preponderance of the evidence smell test)--I'll eat the New Republic issue where that meme was first aired (or at least the pages where the article in question appeared!).

Show me the money, Josh. Or, even better, quit sliming senior policymakers throughout the Bush Administration with your ad hoc, gratuitous attacks.

UPDATE: From the old TNR article:

The last ten days of July deadline has been given repeatedly by visitors to Islamabad and during [ul-Haq's] meetings in Washington." Says McCormack: "I'm aware of no such comment." But according to this ISI official, a White House aide told ul-Haq last spring that "it would be best if the arrest or killing of [any] HVT were announced on twenty-six, twenty-seven, or twenty-eight July"--the first three days of the Democratic National Convention in Boston.

Yo, what gives? It's the 29th of July today, right? We wanted the ISI to turn UBL over on the first three days of the convention--not the last--the better to get the full news cycle...what happened?

MORE: Some common sense from Will Baude: "coincidences happen, and...capturing terrorists is good."

And Tom Maguire wonders whether Josh Marshall feels the capture of HVTs is a bad thing.

Question: How many on the Left would be sad if UBL were genuinely captured, all dirty-tricks aside and purely coincidentally, at 10:01 PM tonight? I'd like to think few, if any--but still, just asking...

MORE STILL:

By the way, the argument that the U.S. simply froze its activities regarding hunting down UBL during 2002 and 2003 is simply false.

Just do some Googling. You'll find stuff like this from '02.

Note this gun-battle (two years before the Convention almost to the day!) served as the first "confirmation of the presence of Al-Qaeda militants in tribal areas of Pakistan."

Or how about 2003--when, according to the Richard Clarke crowd--the entire world stopped but for ill-advised military operations around Tikrit and Fallujah.

Nope, military activities continued in Afghanistan that year too (this Carlotta Gall article is from February of 2003)

There has been an increase in recent weeks in cross-border activity from Pakistan by militants opposed to the U.S. presence in Afghanistan, particularly in southern Afghanistan where a group of rebels set up base in mountain caves near the border with Pakistan. Hundreds of U.S. soldiers battled with the rebels last week and have spent days since sweeping the mountains and caves to clear the area. Afghan officials complain that Pakistan is doing nothing to apprehend Al Qaeda and Taliban troublemakers and is actively encouraging them. U.S. military officials have also expressed frustration at Pakistan's failure to contain the cross-border activity.

Khalizad also showed a rare sign of impatience with the Afghan government Monday, saying it needed to do "more and better" in its part in the reform and reconstruction of the country. He reinforced the U.S. commitment to assist Afghanistan even if there is a war in Iraq. "The U.S. is capable of doing more than one thing at the same time," he said, "and resources required for Afghanistan, in its entirety, we are able to deliver on and we are committed to delivering on no matter what happens in Iraq."

These subtleties and nettlesome facts don't fit the Spence Ackerman and Josh Marshall's of the world narrative. When you run a blog whose basic premise is that Iraq is inexorably going to hell (Ackerman) or that this administration is worse than Nixon's in its manifold dirty tricks chicanery (Marshall)--well, the spin just keeps coming--facts (quite often) be damned.

Posted by Gregory at 11:26 PM | Comments (65)

Platform Plagiarization Watch

I've taken a look at the Democratic Platform and, in particular, its stances on two of the most pressing foreign policy challenges of the day: Afghanistan and Iraq. My conclusion: the Democrats offer nothing that Bush hasn't already. Put simply, they've basically cribbed this Administration's Afghanistan and Iraq policies.

Don't believe me? Well, let's take a closer look. ( Here's a link to the platform-warning, PDF).

On Afghanistan, the Democratic Platform states that "nowhere is the need for collective endeavor greater than in Afghanistan." (By the by, I'm not sure that's right, an implosion in Iraq would likely have even more disastrous effects than one in Afghanistan, at least in the immediate term, but let's put that aside for the moment).

So anyway, what is offered up by way of a new and improved Afghanistan policy?

Here's the key text from the Platform:

We must expand NATO forces outside Kabul. We must accelerate training for the Afghan army and police. The program to disarm and reintegrate warlord militias into society must be expedited and expanded into a mainstream strategy. We will attack the exploding opium trade ignored by the Bush Administration by doubling our counter-narcotics assistance to the Karzai government and reinvigorating the regional drug control program.

Sounds great, huh?

Except we're doing all of the above already.

We're expanding NATO forces outside Kabul (more here on so-called PRTs being beefed up). We are already accelerating training for Afghan army and police. The so-called DDR program has already gone "mainstream" (whatever that means) with the U.S. as largest donor. And yeah, opium trade is on the rise--but the Bush administration is also invigorating its counter-narcotics efforts and "reinvigorating" the regional drug program. Read this testimony by the Assistant Secretary of State for Counter-Narcotics Robert Charles about our efforts alongside the Brits--who are leading the effort in this area.

So nothing new to see here folks, move along.

Now, how about Iraq? It merits a full two pages in the platform. The first page (at p. 8) rehashes a lot of the mantras of the past year: the case for WMD was "badly exaggerated" (true, but why then was Dick Gephardt standing side by side with Dubya, spearheading Congressional authorization of the war and ostensibly also thinking the WMD intel was a 'slam dunk') no true "international coalition" (except for the U.K., Australia, Italy, Spain (dare I mention them?), Netherlands, Poland, Japan, S. Korea--and, more quietly, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait among many others); and Graydon Carter talking points about a shortage of bulletproof vests on the ground (go to West Point, where I visited four years back, and take a little unofficial poll of the cadets to see which party they think takes better care of the military).

Now there are some fair points too: we didn't go in with "sufficient forces" and our plan to "win the peace" could have been much better--our assumptions were way over-optimistic and the transformationalists at the Pentagon didn't understand peacemaking requires lots of grunts on the ground (it's interesting to note, isn't it, that the platform speaks of winning the "peace"--conceding, to a fashion, that the fabled "major combat operations" are actually really over....).

But let's look at the all-important specific policy prescriptions the Democrats plan to bring to the table in Iraq. As you'll see, with one unimportant exception (a High Commissioner), it's like my analysis of Afghanistan above--ain't nothing new!

To win over allies, we must share responsibility with those nations that answer our call, and treat them with respect. We must lead, but we must listen. The rewards of respect are enormous. We must convince NATO to take on a more significant role and contribute additional military forces. As other countries, including Muslim majority countries, contribute troops, the United States will be able to reduce its military presence in Iraq, and we intend to do this when approrpriate so that the military support needed by a sovereign Iraqi government will no longer be seen as the direct continuation of an American military presence.

All well and good--but we're already striving to do so. Question: How will Kerry be better at it? Because Jacques will play warm cuddle and work the phone lines to Algiers with more alacrity? Whatever, let's be serious.

Second, we need to create an international High Commissioner to serve as the senior international representative working with the Iraqi government.

Ah yes, the Yasushi Akashi approach to solving tough geopolitical problems. Look, we've already bent over backwards vis-a-vis giving Lakhdar Brahimi mega-leeway on smoothing out electoral modalities with the likes of Ayatollah Sistani. What will appointment of a High Commissioner accomplish, precisely?

I mean, don't get me wrong, it sounds great guys--and the Davos wing of the Forbes party will doubtless be cheered by all the high falutin' contact diplomacy ring of it all. But what difference will it really make on the ground or for Iraq? Pretty much zilch--as the UN Special Envoy is already doing this same job.

At the same time, U.S. and international policies must take into consideration the best interests of the Iraqi people. The Iraqi people desperately need financial and technical assistance that is not swallowed up by bureaucracy and no-bid contracts, but instead goes directly into grassroots organizations. They need to see the tangible benefits of reconstruction: jobs, infrastructure, and services. They should also receive the full benefits of their own oil production as quickly as possible, so as to rebuild their country and help themselves as individuals, while also reducing the costs of security and reconstruction on the American taxpayer and the costs of gasoline to American consumers. And they need to be able to communicate their concerns to international authorities without feeling they are being disrespected in their own country.

Call this the Halliburton clause of the Iraq platform plank. "No-bid contracts" bad; "grassroots oganizations; good (snag a Nader voter!). Oil to the people, man! (that's, of course, already stated U.S. government policy on Iraq) Oh, and get those prices down at the pump over here too, while you at it...

No folks, this isn't a serious attempt to think about how to better deliver services and the benefits of reconstruction to the Iraqi people. It's simply a recitation about how those balding white guys at Halliburton are enriching themselves on the backs of the Iraqi people for the benefit of Dick Cheney and assorted oil multinationals. And I'm just not buying this tired and lame Democratic talking point.

Finally, the last Iraq related item from the Dems:

America also needs a massive training effort to build Iraqi security forces that can actually provide security for the Iraqi people. It must be done in the field and on the job as well as in the classroom. Units cannot be put on the street without backup from international security forces. This is a task we must do in partnership with other nations, not just on our own.

Folks, the whole point of the recent NATO Istanbul summit was to 'train and equip' Iraqi forces "with other nations." Now, some Iraqi cadets might have to trek all the way to the Paris suburbs to be trained in crack gendarmarie tactiques--but other NATO countries will be likely providing on the ground training.

Again, nothing new here. It's being done already. And, you know, the Democrats must realize that. After all, why else would they feel compelled, in the platform itself, to write: "They [Bush Administration] are now taking up the suggestions that many Democrats have been making for over a year."

But, er, that's not quite right.

It's the Democrats who are taking up the Iraq policies the Republicans adopted about half a year back during the strategic re-think post the bloody travails of last April in Iraq.

Or am I missing something?

Posted by Gregory at 12:32 PM | Comments (23)

July 28, 2004

More Reckless Unilateralism

In talks with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, Saudi Arabia today proposed the creation of an Islamic force to help stabilize Iraq and potentially someday replace at least some of the U.S.-led military coalition, according to senior Arab diplomats here...

...Although no countries have signed on, a senior Saudi official suggested that Pakistan, Malaysia, Algeria, Bangladesh and Morocco are among strong possibilities. But no countries on Iraq's borders, including Saudi Arabia or Jordan, which already offered troops, would be included.

--from a Robin Wright piece in the WaPo.

At first, I cringed. The Saudis?

A, er, neighboring country?

But then I read the follow on graf quoted above detailing some of the countries in play. Good picks, all told. Now, as T.S. Eliot used to say, between the idea and the reality...falls the shadow. The "shadow", of course, being whether Islamabad, Kuala Lumpur, Algiers, Dhaka and/or Rabat would really ante up troops for the Iraq effort.

But does anyone seriously believe Kerry's election would change the dynamic re: said countries willingness to do so? Would his much ballyhooed "tougher" stance with the Saudis (likely as fictitious as his earlier rumblings about bringing adult supervision to the Holy Land) do the trick instead?!? No, the Saudis (who would probably be funding a large part of these deployments) would then become more reticent to cooperate, wouldn't they?

And would Kerry's victory mean that Jacques (he of the 800 troops in Afghanistan) and Gerard (approx 2,000) would suddenly send in big batallions to Fallujah too? You know, just for kicks!

Of course not. My point? I've yet to hear (aside from vague talk about "respect" and how strength and wisdom are not opposing values) what the Democratic alternative is on its approach to the war on terror.

Coming soon, how the Democratic platform's foreign policy stances are basically cribbed from presently existing Republican policies in both of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Posted by Gregory at 10:12 PM | Comments (3)

Convention Blogging

There has been none so far at B.D. as you've doubtless noticed.

I feel at an obvious disadvantage, of course, as the main speeches start up around 1:00 AM London time.

And writing about them the following evening, especially in this rapid-fire medium, would appear a bit stale, wouldn't it? That said, I have read the Dem platform (despite Howard Dean saying platforms don't mean squat) and hope to have some thoughts on it. And perhaps certain key parts of Bill Clinton's speech.

Anyway, just a shout out to let you know I'm, er, trying to pay attention to it from my vantage point. And that I hope to have something up in relatively short order.

BTW, and this isn't meant as a diss of witty, smart guys like Patrick Belton--but I think Andrew is pretty right that the whole convention blogging thing has amounted to much ado about nothing (in terms of value-added content; it does give us bloggers more street cred as we increasingly encroach upon the preserves of more traditional media).

The blogging could likely be just as good (better?) if done from a Best Western near Logan with C-SPAN tuned in as the pizza gets delivered (and doubtless more comfy too!).

And doesn't much of the convention blogging have a slightly ditzy 'look 'ma I'm at the convention' quality? Or are these just sour grapes from far-away Belgravia?

Posted by Gregory at 06:40 PM | Comments (11)

Afghanistan Watch

I just had dinner recently with an international humanitarian aid worker (with decades of experience) who recently spent two months in Afghanistan. Having worked with him in the Balkans, I trust his judgment and know him to be a keen observer who 'gets' the local dynamics on the ground rapidly.

In short, he largely agrees that such good news is pretty legit.

Yes, parts of southeast Afghanistan are no-go zones for humanitarian aid workers. Yes, Karzai is, pretty much, Mayor of Kabul--varied warlords (Dostum in large swaths of the North; Khan in the environs of Herat) run much of the show. Yes the drug trade is rampant--and the local authorities often complicit (they'll burn down a farmer's crops, for instance, if they don't get a slice of the action).

But, my contact told me, a significant majority of Afghanis continue to be hugely cheered that the U.S. help rid them of the hyper-oppressive Taliban yoke. And, while the U.S. is not necessarily winning any major popularity contests by their presence there--they are disliked much less than, say, the Russians (almost universally loathed) and the Pakistanis (also particularly disliked as nettlesome interlopers through much of the country).

And the country is moving, if often in faltering manner, in a positive direction (as Sully's link helps showcase). Let's not forget either that the war was won in quite impressive fashion. Unlike the Soviets, who had the advantage of sharing a border with the country, we weren't bogged down for 10 years. It's all too easy to forget it was a real war and could have proven a disaster.

Bottom line: Of the two wars fought under Bush's tenure--this one, particularly given the no-brainer circumstances under which we needed to go in--has proved to be, so far, a pretty major success.

Despite all the yelping on about letting UBL escape in Tora Bora--I am very confident in my judgment that a Gore national security team would not have handled this issue so well. There's no point rehashing that really--except that we are going to hear a lot about how Bush 'let UBL escape' in the coming months. Once in a while, we should call B.S. on that meme. People should be reminded that Al Gore wouldn't have magically plucked UBL out of the hinterlands of southeast Afghanistan--whether or not Iraq ever happened.

NB: My contact also went in and out of Iraq eight times recently. He, er, wasn't as cheery about the going-ons there. More on why another time.

UPDATE: I see in the (excellent) comment thread that I'm being taken to task for my contention that Gore wouldn't have handled Afghanistan as well as Bush. Some commenters are crying foul, and saying that it was a total no-brainer to go into Afghanistan. Of course, I'm not arguing that Gore wouldn't have gone into Afghanistan. I'm arguing that the way he would have done so would have been less effective.

What do I mean? I think a Gore Administration Sec State (yes, even if Holbrooke) wouldn't have been as effective in getting Musharraf on board as quickly and effectively as was accomplished by Powell. I think we wouldn't have handled the nervous Russians as well re: getting bases up in southern Uzbekistan. I think we would have wasted precious time at the U.N. and dilly-dallying re: the force and content of our ultimatum to the Taliban.

And, it not just me. I wish I could find it, but (believe it or not) I well recall an article around the time of the Afghanistan conflict about how some leading Democrats were actually heartened that Bush had prevailed in Florida. They felt, at that time of utmost urgency and sense of national peril, that the Bush administration's national security team was better suited to handle the hugely urgent and complex challenges facing the nation. And they were right (at least then before we mucked up so royally much of the post-war planning in Iraq).

Help me find the article! It was in, yep, the New York Times.

Posted by Gregory at 03:11 PM | Comments (45)

Raines: Class Warfare Nigh!

The system has never been more thoroughly gamed than by Bush and his minders. For that matter, the class warfare has not been so intense in the United States since the days of the robber barons. But so far only one class is fighting, and the ever-widening income gap in America shows who has been winning. At the Democratic convention, there'll be a lot to watch for by way of a predictor of the November election. One I'll have my eye on is whether Kerry-Edwards seem to have a plan for freeing the political prisoners of George W. Bush's brand of cultural populism.

-- Howell Raines, writing in today's WaPo.

And we needed Dan Okrent to tell us the NYT was a liberal paper!

P.S. Isn't it hugely hyperbolic to say that "the class warfare has not been so intense in the United States since the days of the robber barons"?

Worth noting, consumer confidence figures are at a two year high this month:

The creation of 1.3 million jobs so far this election year is starting to lift optimism that lagged as gasoline prices rose as much as 35 percent and higher food and health-care costs helped push up consumer prices 3.3 percent from June 2003. The Conference Board said the percentage of Americans who consider jobs hard to find is now the lowest since October 2000.

The improved outlook is helping sustain demand for housing as interest rates rise, with combined new and existing homes setting a third straight record in June. The median selling price of new homes increased 1.7 percent to $209,900 in June from a month earlier, the Commerce Department said.

``Rising home prices are another reason why consumers feel so confident,'' said Joseph LaVorgna, chief U.S. fixed-income economist at Deutsche Bank Securities LLC in New York.

Now, I should caveat this by admitting I'm something of a mega-bear. I think we likely have something of a housing bubble in our midst, am worried about a pretty hard landing in China (with carry over renewed prospects for contagion in Asia), and see myriad negative 'externalities' up the pike (ranging from mega-terror attacks, to oil price shocks, to a major drop in the dollar). And while I think the Dow is pretty range-bound--I wouldn't be surprised to see it dip back into the 8,000 range (or even lower) in the next 12-18 months.

But hey, markets go up; and markets go down. And, right now, the economy is doing pretty damn well given the bubble of the late '90's, the attendant recession, and 9/11.

This, very obviously, is not going to hurt Bush, is it? 1.3MM jobs created this year is pretty good, after all...

...and they're pretty good jobs, it would appear:

Greenspan told Congress on July 21 that the Fed has not ``been able to find a significantly meaningful change'' in job quality.

FactCheck.org, an arm of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, on July 9 said employment ``has recently increased by more than 1 million (jobs) in categories that on average paid above the median earnings'' of $541 a week. ``By that measure, the jobs gained are overwhelmingly good jobs, the very opposite of the claim made by Kerry and his allies.''

So much for Rainesian class warfare, huh (and Kerry's campaign spin...)?

Posted by Gregory at 12:53 AM | Comments (17)

July 26, 2004

The Perils of Appeasement

Remember how depressed we all were by the electoral results after the Madrid bombings of 3/11?

And, more recently, by news of the Philippino pull-out from Iraq?

Reading this depressing article, I'm reminded again of Churchill's famous aphorism: "an appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last."

The day of the bombings [in Madrid], analysts at the Forsvarets Forskningsinstitutt, a Norwegian think tank near Oslo, retrieved a document that they had noticed on an Islamist Web site the previous December. At the time, the document had not made a big impression, but now, in light of the events in Madrid, it read like a terrorist road map. Titled “Jihadi Iraq: Hopes and Dangers,” it had been prepared by a previously unknown entity called the Media Committee for the Victory of the Iraqi People (Mujahideen Services Center).

Here's a synopsis of the al-Qaeda document "Jihadi Iraq: Hopes and Dangers" mentioned in the New Yorker article.

Key portions:

The main thesis proposed in the document is that America cannot be coerced to leave Iraq by military-political means alone, but the Islamist resistance can succeed if it makes the occupation of Iraq as costly as possible - in economic terms - for the United States.

The document therefore offers a number of specific "policy recommendations" in order to increase the economic impact of the insurgency and the jihadi campaign in Iraq. The most important of these recommendations consists of trying to limit the number of American allies present in Iraq, because America must not be allowed to share the cost of occupation with a wide coalition of countries. If the mujahidin can force US allies to withdraw from Iraq then America will be left to cover the expenses on her own, which she cannot sustain for very long. The intermediary strategic goal is therefore to make one or two of the US allies leave the coalition, because this will cause others to follow suit and the dominos will start falling.

The document then analyses three countries (Britain, Spain and Poland) in depth, with a view to identifying the weakest link or the domino piece most likely to fall first. The author provides a surprisingly informed and nuanced analysis of the domestic political map in each country. He argues that each country will react differently to violent attacks against its forces because of domestic political factors:

Poland, for example, is unlikely to withdraw from the coalition because there is political consensus on foreign policy, and the country has a very high tolerance for human casualties.

Britain is easier to force out of Iraq, because the popular opposition to the war and the occupation is so high. However, the author estimates that Britain will only withdraw from Iraq in one of two cases: either if Britain suffers significant human casualties in Iraq or if Spain and Italy withdraws first.

Spain on the other hand is very vulnerable to attacks on its forces, primarily because public opposition to the war is almost total, and the government is virtually on its own on this issue. The author therefore identifies Spain as the weakest link in the coalition.

These are smart people we are combatting. As the report I link showcases, their knowledge and instincts for the Spanish political scene are pretty impressive.

Here's another excerpt:

We think that the Spanish government could not tolerate more than two, maximum three blows [ed. note: recall Spanish targets in Iraq were targeted pre-3/11], after which it will have to withdraw as a result of popular pressure. If its troops still remain in Iraq after these blows, then the victory of the Socialist Party is almost secured, and the withdrawal of the Spanish forces will be on its electoral programme.

Lastly, we are emphasise that a withdrawal of the Spanish or Italian forces from Iraq would put huge pressure on the British presence (in Iraq), a pressure that Tony Blair might not be able to withstand, and hence the domino tiles would fall quickly. Yet, the basic problem of making the first tile fall still remains." [emphasis in original]

The domino theory--as seen from al-Q.

Of course, Madrid (and now the Philippines) further embolden them:

Four days later, the Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades, a group claiming affiliation with Al Qaeda, sent a bombastic message to the London newspaper Al-Quds al-Arabi, avowing responsibility for the train bombings. “Whose turn will it be next?” the authors taunt. “Is it Japan, America, Italy, Britain, Saudi Arabia, or Australia?” The message also addressed the speculation that the terrorists would try to replicate their political success in Spain by disrupting the November U.S. elections. “We are very keen that Bush does not lose the upcoming elections,” the authors write. Bush’s “idiocy and religious fanaticism” are useful, the authors contend, for they stir the Islamic world to action.

(A very brief digression, but I blogged about the al-Q wants Bush to win theme--and why al-Q are wrong too-- here).

When I read something like this--I am reminded of how lucky we were and are to have had a leader like Tony Blair in power in London. He is widely denigrated as a Dubya poodle, of course, over here. But his courage and conviction in the face of major domestic opposition has been truly inspiring. And remember, unlike Aznar and Berloscuni, he was a leader of a center-left party--making his support of the U.S. all the more impressive.

What does Blair get that the Socialists in Spain don't?

This:

Were these the true goals of Al Qaeda....simply struggling to get Spain out of Iraq, or were they also battling to regain the lost colonies of Islam? In other words, were these terrorists who might respond to negotiation or appeasement, or were they soldiers in a religious fight to the finish that had merely been paused for five hundred years?

They are the latter, in my view, and I think Blair gets that (does Kerry?).

Although many Spanish historians have painted Moorish Spain as something other than paradise for Jews and Christians, for Muslims it remains not only a symbol of vanished greatness but a kind of alternative vision of Islam—one in which all the ills of present-day Islamic societies are reversed. Muslim tourists, including many heads of state, come to Spain to imagine a time when Islam was at the center of art and learning, not on the fringes. “The Alhambra is the No. 1 Islamic monument,” Malik A. Ruíz Callejas, the emir of the Islamic community in Spain and the president of Granada’s new mosque, told me recently. “Back when in Paris and London people were being eaten alive by rats, in Córdoba everyone could read and write. The civilization of Al Andalus was probably the most just, most unified, and most tolerant in history, providing the greatest level of security and the highest standard of living.”

Many Islamic radicals that are either bonafide al-Q, affiliates thereof, or copycats have as their goal restoration of such a perceived Islamic paradise--even if there weren't a single Christian soldier in Afghanistan or Iraq. Recall, after all, that Western civilian targets have been attacked in Saudi Arabia after the U.S. withdrew all its troops from the country.

Regardless, back to al-Q and affiliates going forward strategy. My best guess is that they are very keen to hit Rome and London next--so as to put more pressure on the U.S. in Iraq--and punish Blair and Berloscuni. Others, much better informed than me, agree:

On a splendid April day in Paris, I went to lunch with Gilles Kepel, the Arabist scholar, and Jean-Louis BruguiŹre, the doughty French counter-terrorism judge. Despite the beautiful weather, the men were in a gloomy frame of mind. “I am seriously concerned about the future,” BruguiŹre said, as we sat at a corner table under an arbor of lilacs that shed blossoms onto his jacket. His armor-plated Peugeot was parked on the street and his bodyguards were discreetly arrayed in the restaurant. “I began work on this in 1991, against the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Armed Islamic Group of Algeria. These groups were well known and each had an understandable structure. The majority were sponsored by states—Syria, Libya, Iraq. Now we have to face a new and largely unknown organization, with a loose system and hidden connections, so it is not easy to understand its internal functioning. It appears to be composed of cells and networks that are scattered all over the world and changing shape constantly.”

BruguiŹre pointed to the Istanbul bombings in November, 2003, and the March 11th bombings in Madrid as being the opening salvos in a new attack on Europe. “They have struck in the east and in the south,” he said. “I think the next stop will be in the north.”

“London or Paris,” Kepel suggested.

“The principal target is London,” BruguiŹre declared.

A couple final points.

We need to get beyond the 'axis of evil' with its emphasis on rogue states and state sponsors of terrorism.

Don't get me wrong. It will remain critical to oppose states that support terror. But our successes against al-Qaeda in Afghanistan (no safe state haven to serve as home base) and Iraq (states will be more reticent to be too openly affiliated with transnational terror groups) points to a trend of increasing atomization of terror movements.

Call it the proliferation of terror groups--all following al-Qs lead--but not asking for permission slips to mount operations from the Sheikh hunkered down in southeast Wazirstan. Incidentally, these varied groups are now increasingly using the Internet as a key tool to mount operations and train terrorists:

Gabriel Weimann, a senior fellow at the United States Institute of Peace, has been monitoring terrorist Web sites for seven years. “When we started, there were only twelve sites,” he told me. “Now there are more than four thousand.” Every known terrorist group maintains more than one Web site, and often the sites are in different languages. “You can download music, videos, donate money, receive training,” Weimann said. “It’s a virtual training camp.”

This conflict is just getting started, sadly--and it's likely going to get much more complex and perilous. We need leaders who not only get the stakes (Bush does; I'm not as sure about Kerry) but also have the requisite capabilities to pursue sophisticated and adept geopolitical strategies that marshall the full spectrum of American power--both hard and soft (not sure either Bush or Kerry have such a strategy at this juncture--think, for instance, of real public diplomacy throughout the Islamic world rather than piped in J-Lo and such).

More on what needs to be done from the B.D. archives last January.

Posted by Gregory at 09:33 PM | Comments (25)

The Intel Tsar Won't Prove a Panacea

Amidst all the histrionics and mega-maelstrom surrounding the quality of the intelligence related to Iraq's WMD programs many tough questions remain unanswered (indeed, scarcely discussed).

Increasingly, you will doubtless instead hear a lot of chest-beating about who, as between Bush and Kerry, would appoint an intelligence czar more quickly.

Doubtless said Czar-in-Waiting will often be depicted as an individual who would bestride the Beltway like some omniscient behemoth--a panacea who will valiantly save the day and cure all the limitations related to our intel gathering/analysis capabilities and processes.

Don't believe all the hype. Bureaucratic reorgs and such can accomplish a lot--but there are other fundamental issues that need to be addressed too. Here are some of them.

Where should the burden of proof lie when confronting possible but uncertain proliferation of weapons of mass destruction -- should the suspect state be required to prove its innocence, or should the outside world be required to prove its guilt? Should a state obstructing inspections -- something that can be easily observed -- be assumed to be harboring banned materials -- a much more uncertain conclusion? Should that distinction even matter for purposes of policymaking? Should we regard dual-use materials -- ones whose ultimate purpose is inherently uncertain -- as illicit until proven innocuous, or the reverse? The flagship example here is the now-notorious aluminum tubes delivered to Iraq that some once argued could be used in a nuclear weapons program, but which turned out to be part of a rocket program instead. Should the standards of proof and suspicion under uncertainty be applied evenly, or should they vary with the nature of the state under investigation?

This post isn't meant to rehash the Iraq intel but, rather, to flag going forward issues. That said, Levi's questions all but beg such a discussion.

So a few very quick points.

His last Q, to me at least, is a no-brainer.

Standards of proof, particularly post 9/11, must vary with the "nature of the state under investigation."

And, at the end of the day, I have to say that I viewed Saddam's Iraq as a more unstable and unpredictable state actor than Iran and even North Korea. We can debate NoKo--it's admitedly a close call. But for all Kim Jong Il's eccentricities--he hasn't started two land wars with his neighbors (Iran, Kuwait) and/or fired missiles at other neighbors besides (Saudi Arabia, Israel).

P.S. A final point on the old aluminum tubes debacle. Lest we forget--the ballistic missiles program that the aluminum tubes were being used for (rather than a nuclear program) was also violative of Resolution 1441.

Posted by Gregory at 12:38 PM | Comments (38)

July 22, 2004

In-House News

I'm on the road until late Sunday night.

Little to no blogging until then.

Posted by Gregory at 02:40 PM

The Berger Follies: The NYT Has No Shame

Rarely have I seen a major newspaper play a story in such brazenly partisan fashion.

It truly beggars belief.

Check out today's lead NYT story on the unfolding Sandy Berger scandal by Eric Lichtblau and Dave Sanger.

Boy, is it a whopper...

Let's take a closer look, graf by graf, because it is well worth the time.

Here's the lede:

The White House said Wednesday that senior officials in its counsel's office were told by the Justice Department months ago that a criminal investigation was under way to determine if Samuel R. Berger, the national security adviser under President Bill Clinton, removed classified documents about Al Qaeda from the National Archives.

Talk about a disingenuous lede!

You see, the main story here isn't mostly about whether/why Berger surrepetitiously stole away with classified documents from 9/11 committee chambers.

No, it's about whether the Justice Department should have clued in the White House regarding the investigation.

The White House declined to say who beyond the counsel's office knew about the investigation, but some administration officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said they believed that several top aides to Mr. Bush were informed of the investigation. President Bush himself declined to answer a question Wednesday about whether he had been told, saying: "I'm not going to comment on this matter. This is a serious matter, and it will be fully investigated by the Justice Department."

Bush, not Berger, is not answering Qs right now!

I mean, you couldn't make this stuff up folks.

Howell Raines himself would blush.

Next:

The disclosure of the investigation forced Mr. Berger to step down as an informal, unpaid adviser to Senator John Kerry's campaign on Tuesday, and on Wednesday the campaign accused the White House of deliberately leaking news of the investigation and said that Vice President Dick Cheney was involved in strategies to divert attention from the Sept. 11 report to be issued Thursday.

"Informal." "Unpaid."

Certainly not one of three finalists for the job of chief diplomat in a prospective Kerry administration!

Just some random campaign flak...

Sandy, er, who???

And, of course, evil Dick Cheney might be trying to divert attention away from the 9/11 inquiry--the NYT helpfully showcases as well.

It wouldn't fit the W. 43rd St. narrative, of course, if Cheney didn't have some hand in the Washington scandal du jour (energy, Halliburton, 'Kenny Boy,' Iraq intel, and so on)...

More:

"The timing of this leak suggests that the White House is more concerned about protecting its political hide than hearing what the commission has to say about strengthening our security," a statement issued by Mr. Kerry's campaign said.

Scott McClellan, the president's press secretary, denied Wednesday that the White House had anything to do with the leak, or was seeking a diversion from the report.

Your baffled NYT readers might be excused, at this juncture, for thinking George Bush himself was stuffing docs down his socks and trousers....

The report is expected to criticize the Bush administration's handling of intelligence about terrorism, but it will also contain significant criticisms of the Clinton administration and the National Security Council that Mr. Berger ran, in the pursuit of Osama bin Laden.

Gee, ya think?

More:

The chief mystery surrounding the mishandling of the documents is the motive. Republican leaders and the Bush-Cheney campaign have suggested that Mr. Berger sought to pass classified information to Mr. Kerry. Ken Mehlman, the president's campaign manager, called on the Kerry campaign to provide "clear assurance to the American people that the Kerry campaign did not benefit from classified documents that were removed from the National Archives by one of their advisers, Sandy Berger, now subject to a criminal investigation."

But that's just a red herring.

The White House hasn't been going heavy on the theme that Berger did this to help Kerry.

Here's Scott McClellan yesterday:

Q The other partisan charges being leveled is that Berger, as an informal advisor to Senator Kerry, may have been using documents that would ultimately inform Senator Kerry's thinking on developing policy. That view has been expressed by the reelection campaign. Does the White House share that concern?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sure that all those matters will be looked into by the people overseeing the investigation.

Q As part of the investigation?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sure that they will look into all those issues that would be related to this investigation.

Q You just don't want to have a piece of this story, do you?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I think it's -- Bill, you've asked me about other criminal investigations, and I've always said that, because it's an ongoing investigation, it's best that we let the investigation proceed, and that those questions be directed to the Department of Justice. I understand your desire for information, but this is a serious -- this is serious matter.

This is hardly mega-cheerleading that Berger did this on Kerry's behalf, no?

It's simply the standard, when someone is self-destructing, step aside and let the meltdown occur as the "investigations proceed(s)"...

But by making it look like the Republicans are going all helter-skelter on that front (Berger did it for Kerry!), the NYT adeptly defines the scandal up--allowing this next:

But Mr. Kerry himself, as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, would probably have access to any such documents, and the clearances to read them. On Wednesday evening, Mr. Berger's spokesman, Joe Lockhart, said: "Mr. Berger never passed any classified information to the Kerry campaign. Any suggestion to the contrary cannot be supported by any facts."

At the Kerry campaign, officials say they were taken by surprise by the accusation. It appears that Mr. Berger did not disclose the investigation to Mr. Kerry's aides. Mr. Lockhart said that was because "we were dealing in good faith with the Department of Justice on this matter for many months, and part of our agreement was that this was not to be discussed beyond Sandy's legal team."

"Taken by surprise"!

Is it just me, or are you more "surprised" that a former NSC Advisor stands accused, at least by some, of stuffing hugely sensitive documents down his socks?

That, at least, is what's got me all curious over here in London.

But the Times relentlessly churns on regarding, not what Berger did or didn't do, but the ginned up "who in the White House knew?!?" meme:

On Tuesday, after the information about Mr. Berger emerged, Mr. McClellan referred questions to the Justice Department and said, "What we know is what has been reported in the news media." That seemed to suggest no early knowledge of the investigation inside the White House.

On Wednesday, however, Mr. McClellan corrected himself, saying that the office of Alberto Gonzalez Jr., the White House counsel, had been informed about the case.

"The counsel's office is the one that is coordinating with the Sept. 11 commission the production of documents," Mr. McClellan said. "And since this relates to some documents, the counsel's office was contacted as part of that investigation."

Mr. McClellan did not specifically cite the Justice Department as the source of the information, but administration officials said it was the department that had informed the White House of the investigation.

The Justice Department declined to comment.

Ominous, huh?

Ashcroft is stone-walling again....

Finally, towards the end of the article, we come to this:

The department is investigating whether Mr. Berger broke federal law on the handling of classified material by removing from a secure government reading room a handful of documents related to an after-action report on the 1999 millennium plots, as well as notes he took during his review.

In preparing for testimony before the Sept. 11 commission, Mr. Berger viewed thousands of pages of intelligence documents. He said he removed the documents by mistake, but Republicans accused him of stashing the material in his clothes on purpose. They have offered theories about what that purpose may have been, like an effort to withhold information that reflected badly on the Clinton administration.

Note the vivid language re: "stashing the material in his clothes on purpose."

That's, er, not a judicious portrayal of what Berger stands accused of by many.

There's the treatment of his notes, for instance, rather than the documents themselves.

Or he might have stashed them in his clothes, er, not on purpose (that credulity-straining careless thang).

What's my point?

That the NYT wants to make the Republican accusations look as dramatic as possible--so, in case Berger was merely careless, the GOP looks bad for all that slanderous talk about Berger doing it on "on purpose", "stashing" the docs, etc. etc.

The larger point?

The big issue in all of this, what did Berger do or not do, is just worth this slight, passing mention.

And this in the lead (at least on the web) NYT article on the matter today.

Moving on, we swiftly return to the Bushies role in all this, and end the article, thus:

Traditionally, law enforcement officials have sought to maintain a firewall of sorts between criminal investigators and political appointees on politically sensitive cases.

Several legal analysts said it would not be unusual or necessarily improper for the political appointees at the Justice Department to have let the White House know of the investigation's existence. But they emphasized that such communications should be closely held at the White House, should not involve criminal investigators and should not be allowed to influence the outcome.

"There may be a legitimate explanation here because the White House counsel had responsibility for handling these documents," said Beth Nolan, White House counsel under President Clinton.

"But the better path might have been not to provide the information to the White House at all,'' she said, "because of this exact situation - if you have information that was shared and was then leaked, it creates a whole set of political problems."

Talk about diverting attention away from the main show.

Breathtaking, really.

But, of course, not suprising is it?

Compare all this with the Washington Post's handling of the story.

The contrasts are, shall we say, vivid.

It's like they are covering two different scandals--which, in a way, they are--one real, one fictive.

Posted by Gregory at 10:50 AM | Comments (111)

July 21, 2004

More on Iran

More Iran-related teasers from the 9/11 Commission report to be released tomorrow:

The report also concludes that al Qaeda's relationship with Iran and its client, the Hezbollah militant group, was far deeper and more long-standing than its links with Iraq, which never established operational ties with the terrorist group, said officials familiar with the document.

Among the newest findings is evidence, disclosed in media reports this week, that as many as 10 of the Sept. 11 hijackers transited through Iran before the hijackings...

...Commission and government officials stress there is no evidence indicating that Tehran knowingly aided in the Sept. 11 plot. But Iran's apparent willingness to allow al Qaeda members to roam across its borders underscores the complicated relationship that emerged between them despite historic animosity between Sunni and Shiite Muslims. There is compelling evidence that Shiite Iran continued to give al Qaeda leaders haven even after the Sept. 11 attacks, according to the commission report and other intelligence sources.

There's nothing really new in all of this.

But we need to very carefully assess this last underlined portion. Just how wide-spread and long in duration (rather than episodic and highly transient) was the provision of safe harbors to al-Q terrorists?

Regardless, given the political climate right now, with even some on the Left beating the Iran war drums--the 9/11 Commission findings will doubtless raise the temperature on Iran within the Beltway.

Me, I'm waiting to read the fine print.

Especially with hyper-opaque Iran (the situation there is much more complicated than a bunch of mad Mullah's blowing things up, sorry to say)--the devil is in the details.

Also worth noting, just for the record.

I supported the war in Iraq not because of potential contacts with al-Q.

Or even a possible nuclear program--which I thought was not very close to development (though yes, their reported attempt(s) to secure uranium alarmed me).

I supported intervention there based on Saddam's historic recklessness (two regional wars, SCUD's launched hither dither, assassination attempt of Bush 41, grotesque human rights violations) AND (critically) because I believed he possessed material stockpiles and/or easily re-startable programs in the biological and chemical sphere (this last prong not wholly disproven).

Given the post 9/11 risk environment, given his long history of contravention of U.N. resolutions, given the material violations of 1441--I felt, enough is enough.

And, not least, we sent a powerful signal to the international community that we would be proactive in this new post 9/11 world--before getting punched in the face--especially with rogue actors who had run afoul of the international community for years and actually used WMD.

All this to say, I'm not sure the Iranian leadership is as irrational and dangerous as Saddam was. They haven't, for instance, used WMD on their own people. That's part of the reason why I blogged the case for limited engagement yesterday.

More soon.

Posted by Gregory at 01:41 PM | Comments (29)

Straight Shooting on the 16 Words...

...in this WaPo masthead:

Money quotes:

But over the past 10 days two major official reports, by the Senate intelligence committee and a special British commission, have concluded that the claim in the "sixteen words" may, after all, have been justified. Britain's Butler report called it "well-founded"; the bipartisan Senate investigation said the conclusion was a reasonable one at least until October 2002 -- and that Mr. Wilson's report to the CIA had not changed its analysts' assessment...

What is to be learned from these findings? Not necessarily that Mr. Bush and his top aides are innocent of distorting the facts on Iraq. As we have said, we believe the record shows that they sometimes exaggerated intelligence reports that were themselves flawed. A case against Saddam Hussein could have been made without such hyperbole; by indulging in it, the Bush administration damaged its credibility and undermined support for the Iraq mission. But, as both the new reports underlined, no evidence has been presented that intelligence on Iraq was deliberately falsified for political purposes. In the intelligence community, analysts struggled to make sense of fragmentary and inconclusive reports, sometimes drawing varied and shifting conclusions. In the case of Niger, some chose to emphasize the evidence that Iraq explored the possibility of purchasing uranium. Others focused on the seemingly low probability that such a deal had been concluded or could have been carried out without detection...

Some of those who now fairly condemn the administration's "slam-dunk" approach to judging the intelligence about Iraq risk making the same error themselves. The failure to find significant stockpiles of chemical or biological weapons or an active nuclear program in Iraq has caused some war opponents to claim that Iraq was never much to worry about. The Niger story indicates otherwise. Like the reporting of postwar weapons investigator David Kay, it suggests that Saddam Hussein never gave up his intention to develop weapons of mass destruction and continued clandestine programs he would have accelerated when U.N. sanctions were lifted. No, the evidence is not conclusive. But neither did President Bush invent it.

So easy, isn't it?

Why can't the NYT or The Propaganda Machine handle this story with such judiciousness and integrity?

Yes, that's another rhetorical Q.

P.S.

I respect Josh Marshall and read his blog daily (obviously).

I'm not trying to be cute or mean-spirited with my jestful new moniker for his excellent blog.

But, like everyone's favorite centrist Dan Drezner (here reacting to Josh's too eager Berger spin rather than the 16 words)--I get the sense Josh has lost some real street cred in the blogosphere of late touting the party line with such myopic alacrity.

Follow the facts, Josh, wherever they may lead!

Posted by Gregory at 12:30 PM | Comments (9)

Leaks, Leaks, Leaks

Kevin Drum puts some distance between himself and TPM (lately less Talking Points Memo; more The Propaganda Machine) re: who might have leaked the Berger story...

A Dem, sayeth Kevin!

P.S. Perusing Drum's site, I see this.

Gee, is it really that bad over here?

Posted by Gregory at 02:03 AM | Comments (16)

Berger Fallout

It's Dick Holbrooke's to lose (unless Kerry made this dumb mistake)....that's good.

P.S. What is it about senior Democrat national security figures and such confi issues?

Pas serieux....

Posted by Gregory at 12:49 AM | Comments (6)

July 20, 2004

Iran Watch

The CFR has issued a task force report on Iran (warning: PDF--albeit not a mega one).

Note Laura Rozen has some thoughts on the report worth checking out too.

The major take-ways from the Task Force report:

1) the Task Force found that "despite considerable political flux and popular dissatisfaction, Iran is not on the verge of another revolution" (correctly, in my humble opinion);

2) from that finding flows the conclusion that engagement is likelier a better policy option than military action right now (especially given how we are not, er, particularly well positioned right now to mount a regime change operation in Iran);

3) an ambitious "grand bargain" or, even, a more modest "roadmap" style delineation of the going forward relationship is not likely to be achieved at this juncture ("A quarter-century of enmity and estrangement are not easily overcome, the issues at stake are too numerous and complex, and the domestic political contexts of both countries are too difficult to allow the current breach to be settled comprehensively overnight.")

so therefore;

4) better for Washington to propose to Teheran a "compartmentalized process of dialogue, confidence building, and incremental engagement. The U.S. should identify the discrete set of issues where critical U.S. and Iranian interests converge, and must be prepared to make progress along separate tracks, even while considerable differences remain in other areas."

Let me tell you what "tracks" matter most for me: 1) Iran's role in Iraq and 2) Iran's nuclear weapons capability.

Of less immediate urgency, in my view, (though still obviously of significant import) are 3) Iran's support for terror groups like Hezbollah and 4) democratic reforms within Iran.

On "1", I think (like Les Gelb has proposed elsewhere) that we need to call for, at the appropriate juncture, a regional conference comprising all of Iraq's immediate neighbors (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan, Syria, Turkey, and Iran).

The main goal would be to achieve pledges of non-interference (particularly territorial) with Iraq from each of its neighbors.

Skeptics will argue that the pledges wouldn't be worth the paper they were written on. And that having diplomatic contacts between Iranian and U.S. officials, at this level, would be giving Teheran one carrot too many.

But, given the critical import of the Iraq project to U.S. foreign policy objectives--and given the immense trouble-making so many of Iraq's neighbors could cause there--I think it behooves us to start moving this "non-interference" idea along in a more institutional framework.

Especially as, when U.S. troop levels begin to diminish in Iraq, the temptation of Iraq's neighbors to fill the vacuum will be even greater.

Not least, of course, Iran's.

We need to start this "track" to see if Teheran, acting rationally in its national interest (rather than purely through ideological lens), will make real compromises here (recall they were helpful to us during the Bonn 'loya jirga' process re: Afghanistan).

Now, unlike the Task Force members, I'm not so sure that it is in Iran's interest to necessarily have Iraq remain unitary (might they not simply wish to carve out some Shi'a lebensraum instead?).

But chaos isn't in their interests either.

And given that many Iraqi Shi'a feel a sense of residual Iraqi nationalism--even among some of the more religious, pro-Iran crowd--carving out parts of Iraq is not necessarily in Iran's best interest given that real conflict could result between and among some Shi'a factions.

On the nuclear issue, recall, as the CFR report points out, that a nuclear Iran enjoys wide support across the Iranian political spectrum--including many of the reformists.

An Osirak style operation in Iraq, even if feasible (the facilities are better concealed), would inevitably have the impact of re-invigorating nationalist sentiment through the Iranian body politic.

And, to be sure, any Israeli action will be seen to have taken place with tacit American approval (whether true or not). So Iran would be more apt to trouble-make in Afghanistan or Iraq--negatively impacting U.S. interests in both countries.

So while a military option (whoever undertakes it) can't be taken off the table all-together--it's certainly not an easy option that, willy-nilly, we or the Israelis should feel free to pursue whenever we think the planets are aligned just so.

A few final points.

Some will be angry with me that I downplay the importance of reform within Iran. Here is why--I'm concerned we simply can't back up all the rosy talk.

Put simply, I'm worried that students might die in large number while the U.S. stands pretty helpless on the sidelines.

On Hezbollah, as Richard Armitage has said, we do owe them a "blood debt."

But, compared to the nuclear issue and Iraq, and given that they haven't been attacking U.S. targets of late, I have to think we need to prioritize the other two "tracks" (Iraq, nukes) right now.

Last, there has been a lot of talk of late, pending the 9/11 Commission's report, that the real links between al-Q and a state were, not with Iraq--but with Iran.

A lot on the left, quite stupidly in my view, are now saying: "So, show us you are now going to go after the real culprits."

Look, I think it's quite likely that some al-Q terrorists were given 'safe passage' through Iran at various junctures.

But I would be astounded if Iran had foreknowledge of the 9/11 plot.

If they did, that changes everything.

But, in my view and until proven otherwise, they didn't.

And that's pretty important to keep in mind when figuring out next moves re: Iran policy.

Note that, in some ways at least, an alliance between al-Qaeda and Iran is even more unlikely than one between al-Qaeda and Baathist, secular Iraq. After all, Saddam was a Sunni.

Many radical Sunni movements, like al-Q, view the Shi'a as nefarious heretics to be viewed as, it's true, even worse than the Jews:

Radical Sunni Islamists hate Shi`ites more than any other group, including Jews and Christians. Al-Qaeda's basic credo minces no words on the subject: "We believe that the Shi`ite heretics are a sect of idolatry and apostasy, and that they are the most evil creatures under the heavens." For its part, the Saudi Wahhabi religious establishment expresses similar views. The fatwas, sermons, and statements of established Saudi clerics uniformly denounce Shi`ite belief and practice. A recent fatwa by Abd al-Rahman al-Barrak, a respected professor at the Imam Muhammad bin Saud Islamic University (which trains official clerics), is a case in point. Asked whether it was permissible for Sunnis to launch a jihad against Shi`ites, al-Barrak answered that if the Shi`ites in a Sunni-dominated country insisted on practicing their religion openly, then yes, the Sunni state had no choice but to wage war on them. Al-Barrak's answer, it is worth noting, assumes that the Shi`ites are not Muslims at all.

Still, especially in this region, 'the enemy of my enemy' can often be a friend--if just one of short-standing.

Or, as the CFR report puts it: "Nonetheless, both al-Qaeda's operational leadership and the radical hard-liners who dominate the senior ranks of Iran's security bureaucracy have demonstrated in the past a certain degree of doctrinal flexibility that has facilitated functional alliances, irrespective of apparent ideological incompatibility."

Well have to wait to see how "functional" (or "collaborative", to use an in vogue term for such things) that alliance was.

As I said, Iranian governmental foreknowledge of 9/11 would change everything--but I believe it highly unlikely.

But until that's conclusively disproven, I'll have to reserve the right to go all Mike Ledeen on you...

...until then, jaw jaw!

UPDATE: The view from Andrew "Bombs Away!" Sullivan....

MORE:

Thanks for the "always-worth reading" kudos, Andrew. I wish that were the case on a daily basis, but I fear it often isn't (especially given a day job that keeps me way too busy to write as much as I'd like)!

Posted by Gregory at 12:00 PM | Comments (22)

July 19, 2004

Bush's Record on Terror: As Gloomy as Drum Portrays?

Kevin Drum's point about "silly rhetorical jousting" is fair enough.

So let's turn straight to the substance of his post.

Here's Kevin's synopsis of Bush's record (his language in italics):

"By dedicating too few troops to Afghanistan in 2002, he [Bush] allowed Osama bin Laden and much of al-Qaeda to escape. They are still on the run, and al-Qaeda is by all accounts larger and more dangerous now than they were on 9/11."

That's one way to look at it--but I fear it's not a judicious view.

Put differently, it is at least debatable whether al-Qaeda's operational capabilities are stronger today than they were on 9/11.

Here's one take from Jason Burke, author of Al-Qaeda: Casting a Shadow of Terror:

The military component of the war on terrorism has had some significant success. A high proportion of those who associated with bin Laden between 1996 and 2001 are now either dead or in prison. Bin Laden's own ability to commission and instigate terror attacks has been severely curtailed. Enhanced cooperation between intelligence organizations around the world and increased security budgets have made it much harder for terrorists to move their funds across borders or to successfully organize and execute attacks.

And, of course, al-Q has been denied their state-sanctioned home-base in Afghanistan.

Now, of course, there was the IISS report that indicated Iraq had contributed to al-Q potentially being able to recruit more easily.

Until American-backed forces toppled the government in Afghanistan, a few months after the September 11th attacks, the country’s Islamist regime, the Taliban, had played host to al-Qaeda and its terrorist training camps. The regime change in Afghanistan, and the capture or killing of around half of al-Qaeda’s 30 most senior figures, severely constrained the group’s operations. However, the IISS’s annual Strategic Survey reckons that al-Qaeda still has more than 18,000 “graduates” of the terror camps it can call on—and its recruitment has accelerated as a result of the invasion of Iraq. Al-Qaeda’s leader, Osama bin Laden, has apparently continued to evade America’s attempts to catch him. He and his henchmen are currently believed to be hiding on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border or in Pakistani cities.

But really, what empirical evidence do we have that legions of the previously uncommitted have joined the al-Qaeda network specifically as a result of our intervention in Iraq?

Little, finally.

Regardless, the number of such persons has probably already peaked. And, especially now with the sovereignty handover accomplished, is now likely diminishing.

And how can we be so sure, say, that a Gore administration would have nabbed and/or killed half of al-Qs senior figures by now?

Smart money, I'd wager, would have the Bush Adminstration likely more successful on this front (fewer limitations on military and other covert actions based on relative perceptions of the legal constraints and/or concerns of allies).

All told, here is probably one of the fairest appraisals I've seen to date re: whether al-Q is stronger or weaker of late:

Ultimately, the debate about Al Qaeda’s current status centers on the important question of whether it is growing or declining in strength. In the wake of the Afghanistan and Iraq military campaigns, when the predicted terrorist attacks on the United States and its interests did not materialize, what is the current level of threat to the United States? Most believe that the denial of safe havens and arrests of senior leaders have seriously crippled the organization when judged by its earlier form. However, it may be evolving into something new.

For terrorist groups, periods of evolution can be particularly dangerous. Organizations in transition can be especially vulnerable to disruption and destruction, but they can also be less predictable and prone to lash out in order to cause additional damage, rally flagging supporters, and/or prove their continuing viability. With respect to Al Qaeda, evidence of new sophisticated operations, a possible succession plan in action, central coordination of attacks, and growing international ties, all increasingly converging on a common international agenda hostile to the United States and its allies, may give U.S. officials new reason for concern. In the short term at least, even successes in counterterrorist operations against a more decentralized organization can lead to greater difficulty in collecting reliable intelligence, as the paths of communication are increasingly unfamiliar, the personalities are changing,and the locations of operatives are more diffuse. While the long term trajectory is very difficult to assess, for the time being it seems that Al Qaeda (or its successors) has emerged from a period of inactivity and remains a very serious threat, requiring concentrated attention and vigorous countermeasures on the part of its prospective targets.

So yes, with much of its senior leadership decapitated--al-Q is, much like a cornered animal--likelier to lash out in more unpredictable fashion.

And, of course, without their relatively safe homebase --al-Qaeda will become increasingly decentralized--so harder to detect sometimes.

New leaders, heretofore unknown, are emerging.

But can one fairly hold this against Bush?

It was, of course, a no-brainer to go into Afghanistan--despite the very real risk that some al-Qaeda fighters would escape and scatter. And that al-Qaeda would, post any Afghanistan campaign, begin to morph into something more decentralized and 'affiliate' like.

It should be noted too, Kevin exaggerates that "much of al-Qaeda" (I presume he means the leaders) have escaped.

As the passages quoted above showcase--UBL and his No. 2 notwithstanding--at least half of these high value al-Q terrorists are dead or in custody (including KSM, the mastermind of 9/11).

Drum and his readers will cry--Tora Bora! How did buffoonish Bush let him get away!

But, deep down, I wonder if they believe an Al Gore military operation in Afghanistan would have been more robust in terms of boots on the ground and chasing the enemy through the hinterlands of southeastern Afghanistan.

The answer, very probably, is no.

Bottom line: Bush's record on al-Q is significantly better than Kevin portrays.

Kevin: "In the past three years he has done nothing to reform an intelligence community that is widely agreed to be fatally broken."

Mostly true.

But better late than never?

Realize too, amidst all the heated talk about "intelligence reform" (as if one just waves a wand and, voila, it's done)--that it's a pretty complicated affair to systematically reform the way we conduct our intelligence.

Here's more worth reading if you're curious.

All told however, given our dismal intel failures, some serious heavy lifting has to be accomplished in this area.

And soon.

But Kevin, what would Kerry, very specifically, do in this area that you are so excited about?

Appoint a 'czar' or such?

Kevin: "Postwar planning for Iraq was criminally negligent. The result has been chaos, troop overstretch, a violent and growing insurgency, and an increasingly safe haven for terrorist camps."

This is where I agree the most with Kevin--the postwar planning and assumptions were disgracefully poor and/or overly optimistic.

And it wasn't just a case of hindsight being 20-20.

Drawing down the entire Iraqi Army was real dumb. Jacobin style calls for total de-Baathification were too fervent. Too few troops. Abu Ghraib. And so on.

But we have made significant headway of late containing the Sadr insurgency and the insurgency in the Sunni Triangle.

So I'm not as sure as Kevin is that the insurgency is "growing".

And is Iraq really an "increasingly safe haven for terrorist camps"?

Ask Zarqawi his views....I bet he feels like he's under some pretty significant pressure right now. Certainly he doesn't feel like he dwells in a "safe haven", no?

Regardless, the jury is still out on that Q.

Kevin: "He has refused to negotiate with North Korea, despite their clear desire to do a deal. As a result, North Korea is close to being able to mass produce atomic weapons".

Their "clear desire to do a deal"!?!

Heh.

Pray tell more about all this 'let's make a deal' bonhomie emanating from Pyongyang?

This is a classic example of why I fear a Democratic foreign policy team in power.

Like Drum, they are often too generous about our adversaries real intentions.

And so are more likely to get bamboozled.

Remember, it's the Clinton administration that got snookered on the whole NoKo issue with the 1994 Agreed Framework deal.

There was much excitement, recall, about the Agreed Framework.

But there was a little problem with all the relief in the air--the North Koreans most likely never intended to honor the Agreement--as former Ambassador to South Korea James Laney argues here.

It was classically feckless Clintonian (Kerryesque?) foreign policy making.

Kick the problem down the road some.

Someone else will pick up the pieces.

Bonus: Poll numbers will go up because it looks like you solved a foreign policy crisis.

Note too that Washington's policy towards NoKo has often been more conciliatory than many like Drum claim...

Kevin: "Domestic security is a joke. Bush has shown little interest in funding serious port security, hardening of chemical and nuclear plants, or improving local police and fire response."

Hmmm. There is, to be sure, still much to do.

But if domestic security is such an out and out "joke"--why has there been not a single attack on the American homeland for almost three years now?

Just plain good luck? Of course not.

Many attacks have been averted due to this Administration's hard work.

Here's more.

More broadly, it is clear that America has become better at combating terror since September 11th. Intelligence agencies are communicating better with policymakers; new checks have been put in place at borders; and the country now has an almost single-minded focus on stopping attacks. So far it has worked: since September 11th, no large-scale terror attack has occurred on American soil. Many diplomatic dealings these days also revolve around terror. This week, America and Britain introduced a draft United Nations resolution that would compel member states to disrupt efforts by any group to transfer weapons of mass destruction to terrorists. And on Thursday March 25th, Tony Blair, the British prime minister, flew to Tripoli for a brief meeting with Muammar Qaddafi, in recognition of the Libyan dictator’s apparent renunciation of banned weapons and terrorism.

To be sure, I'll be picking up (like everyone else) my copy of Steve Flynn's America the Vulnerable...

There is much to do yet. But calling domestic security an out and out "joke" is just not fair.

So Bush's record is a bit better, isn't it, than Drum portrays?

More on the specific shortcomings of a prospective Kerry foreign policy soon.

UPDATE: Drezner has two excellent posts up well worth reading that are each somewhat related to the above post.

Posted by Gregory at 06:55 PM | Comments (29)

Postcard from Basra

B.D.'s Baghdad correspondent headed south to Basra over the past few days.

We don't hear too much about Basra--there isn't much of a press corp down there and it appears relatively quiet compared to the Fallujahs and Ramadis.

But it's Iraq's second largest city and provides a window into what direction a more Shi'a-centric part of the country is heading.

The view from Basra, frankly, doesn't make for particularly cheery reading.

Put differently--in terms of constructing a viable democracy in Iraq--the phrase "generational committment" again comes to mind reading the below.

And also how Iran, on so many levels, is shaping up to be such a major factor on the American foreign policy radar in the coming months and years.

It will take more time to lay my finger on what precisely it is that is remarkable about Arabian evenings—the sunset, the tranquility before and after prayer and the variously-charged stirrings on the just-cooled and now darkened street illuminated here and there by red-covered lanterns—but until that moment arrives, suffice it to say that remarkable they are.
This is true in Basra, along the bank of the Shatt-al-Arab, where rusted steamers are tied at rest diagonally, gunwhale-to-gunwhale, and children play soccer in dusty lots along the shore. One can smell the Persian Gulf, though it lies at least one hundred kilometers to the south along this wide and oft-contested canal. After two months in Baghdad, here there is a sense, deceptive though it may be, of calm.
Landing at Basra airport, set back in the desert, things seemed downright sleepy and after shaking off the disjointed neck cramps that result from a spiral descent, blown off course at points by the wind, one feels as though one’s been dropped onto the set of a genre Western movie. The same wind that knocked the tiny plane of its corkscrew course rattles the halyards against the steel of barren flagpoles, save the one which flies the Iraqi colors.
Absent only the tumbleweed, one walks through the almost empty terminal, by British soldiers made listless by the damp heat. No traffic for miles, one’s forced to hike down the road a fur piece until a bus, or half-empty lorry of sympathetic British troops, comes along to take one to the main gate checkpoint. There one meets one’s escort, who shrugs with amusement at the body armor lugged down the burning road, and it is thrown with everything else into the trunk. “How can you tell the difference between the face of Khomenei and that of Al Sadr?” I naively asked a companion in Sadr City on my first visit to Iraq four months ago. Khomenei looks mean, my companion answered without so much as a thought. Those mean, black, piercing eyes shot out menacingly today from lamp-posts in the city, and noticing my noticing them, my escort sighed and muttered something about dogs. We rip them down, but they keep getting put back up, he said.
Imagine a New York City precinct station on any number of the TV series that dominated the airwaves through the seventies and eighties but seem to have gone out of fashion after “Law & Order,” and you begin to get the feel of Basra City Hall. You just have to substitute the crew of extras with bearded men shouldering or otherwise fondling Kalshnikovs, through in a touch on 19th Century Tammany Hall and adapt wardrobe accordingly and quadruple the cast to get the full picture. City Hall is the center of action here, because this is where business is done, and all types come to be heard. On a city map laid over the council chairman’s conference table, there are a series of busy dots and lines indicating the aerial view of Iraq’s second largest city. On the other side of the river, though, the view is blank because it is Iran.
“Focus on the Islamic parties,” the chairman counseled, after giving me a few minutes after I duly waited my turn in a room full of petitioners, “because if you don’t, and spend all your time focusing on the non-existent parties in the middle, you’ll just make the radicals that much stronger.” And so, with two exceptions—one being a circumspect and wise university dean I called on next and the other being the Iraqi Communist Party—I did just that. Unfortunately, the dean may be ahead of his time and the communists, well…
Bearing a letter of introduction from the Baghdad headquarters, I managed to cause a small degree of confusion in the local office of a party whose name espoused the virtue of Islamic revolution—a poorly kept frat house of militia-men on the mend (?) located in a quarter of the city where the sewage systems didn’t seem to be functioning. With a wrinkled forehead belying real consternation, the door guard led me to a side-room for vetting. The deputy who then arrived for debriefing sported a well-worn polo short with the word “Meksiko” mis-spelled over his left breast. A classic radical, he was earnest and shared my irritation when a man with a machine gun kept coming into the room to make sure everything was in order and, on seeing us hunched over a laptop in mid-sentence, grinning sinisterly before exiting. On the wall over his head was a poster of Khomenei which I’d not yet seen, looking a little more benevolent than the others plastered about town, and advising, in Arabic as opposed to Farsi, “America: the Cause of All That is Wrong with the World.”
One bizarre sight (and we are speaking in relative terms here) that caught my eye on a ride through downtown Basra was a two-story dragon perched on the roof of a small house, behind it what appeared to be a miniature golf course. At one point, this actually had been an amusement park for children, my bodyguard confirmed, but it had since been taken over by something called the “Muslim Foundation Association,” a small, new party that just crossed the river and seized the place. Better not to stop in un-announced, he suggested. Better not to stop in at all.
There had to be some little island of sanity here, I hoped. During a final visit to the interim Prime Minister’s party, I began to feel relieved. A secular party made up of returned expatriates who had fled—like many of the Islamicists—because of their opposition to Saddam Hussein. Now in the unenviable position of governing Iraq, the party boss struck me as actually getting it. Parties build support among regular people, try and make life better, occasionally hand out a few spoils. But they work on uniting, on governing—or aiming to do so—and on un-ending outreach to people of all kinds brought together by a common belief.
On my way out, this ephemeral feeling of elation paused as I heard a young boy crying in downstairs reception room. What on God’s green earth is going on in there?! I asked my host, who shrugged, non-chalantly. On investigation, it turned out a circumcision had just occurred. In a party headquarters?!? There is a clear benefit in doing some things early, but occasionally circumstances don’t allow that luxury. You do the best with what you’ve got, and I suppose, odd though it may seem, this fell into the rubric of community service.
You can’t leave Basra without thinking about the river that makes the map so intriguing. Saddam and the Ayatollah fought a bloody, eight year war over who should control it. In the desert, water takes on a new, powerful significance. Travelers and nomads buy excessive quantities of it when they have the chance, much as they do petrol here in one of the most prospective, untapped oil reserves in the world. Tomorrow’s riches have little bearing on today, when you’re thirsty or out of gas. Surrounded here, on the southern tip of Iraq, by three fine states—Iran, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia—you can only hope that things will get better. When you think about this in terms of potential alone, perhaps—just maybe—it will. Concluding the opposite, by default, doesn’t leave us much room to maneuver.
Posted by Gregory at 09:44 AM | Comments (0)

July 18, 2004

TPM's Continued Distortions

But the key point is that the authors of the earlier report felt free to be candid about what the Butler Report chose to keep hidden -- namely, that most of the British judgment about 'uranium from Africa' was based on the phony documents the Butler Report claims had nothing to do with their judgment. [emphasis added]

No, the key point is that Josh Marshall finally conceded that not all the intelligence related to the Niger/uranium saga was 'fruit of the poisonous tree' ("FOPT") tainted.

He did it reluctantly, to be sure.

He had to be dragged; kicking and screaming.

But the force of the evidence, as embodied in the Butler and SSCI reports, all but forced his hand.

Predictably, TPM's continued spinnin' would make Paul Begala blush.

For instance, how can Josh say "most of the British judgement about uranium from Africa was based on the phony documents"?

Take the September '03 UK Parliamentary Report Marshall is so enthused about.

TPM likes it so because it ostensibly makes plainer, as compared to the Butler report, that one of the British intel sources (assorted documentary evidence) was based on the forgeries.

But that very same report states unequivocally:

The SIS stated that the documents did not affect its judgement of its second source and consequently the SIS continues to believe that the Iraqis were attempting to negotiate the purchase of uranium from Niger. We have questioned the SIS about the basis of its judgement and conclude that it is reasonable.

So that's two sources; one ostensibly FOPT tainted and the other not.

From this, how does one divine that "most" of the British judgement was based on forgeries?

Depends on what the definition of "most" is, I guess.

But wait, there's more.

Josh neglects to remind us of the Congo finding in the Butler report:

Quoting, at section 499 :

There was further and separate intelligence that in 1999 the Iraqi regime had also made inquiries about the purchase of uranium ore in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In this case, there was some evidence that by 2002 an agreement for a sale had been reached.

Recall, Bush's SOTU referenced Iraqi efforts to procure uranium from Africa generally--not just Niger.

So that's three separate sources of intel the Brits had regarding Iraqi attempts to obtain uranium in Africa.

One would appear to be FOPT tainted. Two weren't.

But, in TPM-land, where the spin is served up fast and furious, the take-away for this Sunday is that the Butler report was just another Hutton-like whitewash and rank cover-up.

Of course, the real take-away (well, aside from the fact that much of the Iraq intel was group-think FUBAR-fare but, relatedly, that POTUS didn't purposefully lie) is that Josh was forced to concede his FOPT thesis hasn't carried the day.

It has, instead, reached a pretty inglorious end.

Not all the Niger/uranium (let alone Africa/uranium) intel was FOPT-tainted.

To quote Josh again, from just a few days back on July 13th:

In other words, the British claim that there was other evidence beside the documents is given further weight....This is at best a very sloppy reading of the report.

This "sloppy reading" sin was allegedly being committed by FT journalists.

But, all told, who is really doing the sloppy reading here folks?

I'm sure Josh isn't being purposefully disingenuous, doubtless.

So it must be sloppiness....

Now, would I have been happier if Bush and Blair had occasionally caveated the intel rather than using the often weak intel as if they were compiling a lawyer's brief to make a more robust case for intervention?

Yep, sure.

But have I seen anything to date (some statement by Bush or Blair) that convinces me they were baldly lying to their publics?

Nope.

The 'literary flair' in this affair came from Joe Wilson--not Dubya.

More soon.

Oh, don't miss the WaPo ombudsman reining in TPM too:

Marshall takes issue with The Post's reporting that "contrary to Wilson's assertions . . . the CIA did not tell the White House it had qualms about the reliability of the African intelligence that made its way into the 16 fateful words in President Bush's January 2003 State of the Union address." Actually, the CIA fought hard, and successfully, to keep the material about Africa, aspects of which were a matter of dispute, out of a major speech Bush gave in October 2002. But the Senate study points out that in January 2003, the CIA, which still believed Iraq was probably seeking uranium from Africa, did not tell the White House to take out those 16 words from the State of the Union address and that then-CIA Director George Tenet had not even read the speech beforehand.

MORE: Bill Safire, writing about "16 Truthful Words"

Posted by Gregory at 07:48 PM | Comments (47)

July 16, 2004

Kerry: An Effective Steward of the War on Terror?

You know, Kevin Drum asks the wrong questions:

War supporters insist that John Kerry can't be trusted with our post-9/11 foreign policy. But I'm a little puzzled about exactly what it is that they're afraid he won't do.

It's true that Kerry would not have gone to war with Iraq, and that's certainly a big difference between him and Bush. But does anyone think there are any more wars coming up in the near future?

If not, what are the hawks afraid of? What do they think Kerry will be too wimpy to do? Or is it that they do have a war in mind that they're afraid Kerry might not start? If so, I think we'd all like to hear about it. [emphasis added]

It's not about marching into Iran, Syria or NoKo Kevin.

It's more about myriad threats ranging from al-Qaeda attempting to establish beachheads in 'failed states' in Africa to al-Q affiliates trying to blow up the Strait of Malacca.

Most ships travel in isolation or small convoys, over long distances and sometimes far away from coastlines. They also carry valuable cargo or highly inflammable material such as oil or liquefied natural gas. More importantly, the key shipping routes pass through important 'choke points', such as the Strait of Malacca, which is both long and extremely narrow. An attack on a ship would not only result in extensive damage but would also cause long-term disruption to trade patterns. An oil-laden ship exploding in the approaches to a harbour would cause a humanitarian catastrophe.

The available evidence suggests that terrorists have already considered striking at maritime targets, particularly in the Strait of Malacca. Video tapes seized from Jemaah Islamiyya included footage of Malaysian maritime police patrols, an indication that this extremist organisation was observing safety procedures operating in the strait. Meanwhile, other terrorist groups - including Al-Qaeda - have already engaged in maritime terrorism against the US Navy warship USS Cole in October 2000 and against the French oil tanker Limburg, off the coast of Yemen in October 2002, which was carrying crude oil for Malaysia's Petronas company.

Or:

Western intelligence services believe that Islamic extremists are making a determined effort to penetrate West Africa, an emerging world-class oil giant, amid signs that Osama bin Laden has singled out Nigeria for jihad....

...The USA is already deploying small groups of special forces throughout the impoverished Sahel region states of Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger to counter infiltration by Islamic militants moving south from Algeria. With West Africa in danger of becoming the new battleground between the USA and Al-Qaeda, heavier oil-driven US intervention may become unavoidable - a path fraught with pitfalls and one that could have a dramatic impact on US policy in Africa.

Put differently, to Kevin's query: "(b)ut does anyone think there are any more wars coming up in the near future?"--I'd answer--we're in the middle of a war right now....

There's, er, a lot going on--and I'm not confident that Kerry a) fully gets the stakes and b) will field a national security team that will be up to the challenge.

I'm willing to hear why Kerry's the man--but I haven't heard anything persuasive to date.

In fact, I've espied pretty risible attempts to repackage himself as a wise, mature, and tough, "realist" and a lot of mushy-headed prevarication regarding what exactly should be the major strategic thrust of American foreign policy (and the manner by which U.S. power would be exerted) in a prospective Kerry administration. (Contra this, we've got--despite all the hyperbole about a 'rigid, militaristic doctrine' of preemption--a pretty solid document in the NSS from 2002. And estimable commentators like John Lewis Gaddis are pretty impressed too).

And what about, deep down, Kerry's so important gut world-view?

Robert Kagan, senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said he senses that Kerry in recent years has been refashioning his foreign-policy persona, making it appear tougher, in preparation for a run for the presidency. "The question, setting aside the campaign, is: Where is John Kerry's heart?" said Kagan, who has advocated a muscular U.S. approach to world affairs. "My sense is his heart is in the anti-Vietnam, '70s-'80s left."

Yeah, that's about right.

More Saigon '75 (and, later, chit chat with the Sandinistas) than, say, strategically coherent confrontation of the Soviet Union in muscular Reaganite fashion.

And this is sure weak:

In 1995, Kerry was one of 29 senators who voted against lifting an arms embargo on Bosnia. He argued the congressional action was unacceptably unilateral and had not been coordinated with European allies. Kerry, in this instance, supported the view of the Clinton administration, but he did not automatically provide his support, according to a White House official involved in legislative strategy on the vote.

Not enough coordination with the European allies?

Well, except for coordination related to abetting the mass slaughter of Bosniaks in genocidal like actions on the European continent just a half century after the Holocaust.

But hell, the 'contact group' wasn't quite ready--and regular meetings at Davos were still going on....what's the big fuss?

Pretty underwhelming fare--n'est ce pas--fellow old Yugoslavia hand Laura Rozen (who, incidentally, runs an excellent gauchiste blog well worth reading)?

Er, more on all this soon, as the saying goes.

UPDATE:

Laura responds. And so does Kevin (more on his thoughts likely tomorrow).

P.S.

It should be noted, Bush 41 never campaigned repping that the the cavalry was rushing into Sarajevo to save lives (ie., pursuing the 'lift and strike' option).

Clinton did (ie. lied); while people died--amidst artificially raised expectations in Sarajevo that the cavalry was coming to the rescue

Please be sure to throw that into the post-mortem analysis too.

Posted by Gregory at 11:38 AM | Comments (70)

Israeli Interrogators in Iraq?

There have been some reports along these lines, here and there, appearing over the past few months.

Here's the most recent mention I've seen over at Jane's:

The USA needed help conducting mass interrogations of Arabic-speaking detainees. Foreign Report can now reveal that, to make up for this shortfall, the USA employed Israeli security service (Shin Bet) experts to help their US counterparts 'break' their captives.

The USA could have approached other friendly regimes in the Middle East, such as Egypt or Jordan, which have vast experience interrogating Muslim fundamentalists. The Israelis may be brilliant linguists, but they cannot match Arabs speaking their own language. But there is a significant difference between the Egyptian and Jordanian interrogation techniques and those of the Israelis. For the Egyptian and Jordanian secret services, physical torture is an essential part of interrogation and a key element in breaking the prisoner's will and making them co-operative.

In the past, Shin Bet would use torture when it interrogated prisoners. But 20 years ago, an Israeli government committee investigated the security service's practices and the use of torture was subsequently banned, forcing Shin Bet to adopt a variety of techniques that did not cause physical damage. These new methods are much more palatable to US sensibilities. They also brought faster and more convincing results.

Foreign Report has learnt that top Shin Bet interrogation experts were sent to Iraq to help with the most difficult interrogations, such as the captured heads of the Iraqi intelligence - and perhaps with former president Saddam Hussein. US sources say that in spite of the incidences of abuse in Abu Ghraib prison, such events are not representative of the sophisticated methods that Shin Bet used in Iraq.

Now I really don't have a clue how credible this report is.

As far as I know, it could be flat out false from top to bottom.

But let's assume it's true--at least to the extent some Israelis schlepped over to Iraq to assist in the interrogation of high-value detainees.

Let's further assume that the Israeli interrogation tactics are all on the up and up--as opposed to the tortures (sorry, abuses...) that took place at Abu Ghraib.

Also, for the sake of argument, let's say too that Shin Bet interrogations, on several occasions, helped lead to obtaining some highly valuable intel that materially assisted the counterinsurgency effort.

Assuming all this (and yeah, there are a lot of assumptions here), I'd still ask--would the benefit of any prospective Israeli assistance in such interrogations be outweighed by the public relations knock-on effects such a move would have in the Arab world?

Yes, vastly?

No, not at all?

Yes, a bit?

A wash?

Not the right questions being asked?

I'm open to hearing all sides on this issue--though I lean towards, all told, thinking it's a pretty dumb move (if indeed the reports are true).

Particularly as (any interrogation experts out there please chime in if I'm being breathtakingly clueless) couldn't we simply have the Egyptians and Jordanians assist mostly in terms of translation duties--while ensuring they didn't resort to their typical M.O. (at least at detention facilities that hadn't gone FUBAR like Abu Ghraib)?

Speaking of Abu Ghraib, the investigatory process is inching along at a snail's pace.

All told, I'm probably in agreement with Lindsey Graham:

Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, said he agreed with Mr. Warner on putting off more hearings, but said investigators must search for culpability among higher-ranking officers and officials. "The idea that only five or six privates and sergeants are legally exposed is unacceptable," Mr. Graham said in a telephone interview.

Damn straight.

Especially given this:

At the briefing on Thursday, the Pentagon also provided senators with updated figures on investigations of the death or abuse of Iraqi prisoners. The military has opened 41 death investigations; 15 are still pending. Of the 135 inquiries into other abuses, 54 are still pending.

That's a lot of deaths, folks.

It's, er, deeply un-American; as the saying goes.

Which makes this deeply galling:

Interest in the issue among senators may be waning. About 10 senators from both parties attended the briefing held on Thursday to update lawmakers on the status of the seven pending inquiries and on the Red Cross reports.

That's simply disgraceful, in my view.

Still, the NYT report contrasts somewhat sharply with this one from the Washington Times:

More hearings will be held involving high-level officials from the former U.S. administration in Iraq regarding prisoner abuses at Abu Ghraib, the head of the Senate Armed Services Committee said yesterday.

Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican, said he hoped to open a hearing as early as next week — before the Senate goes on recess — with testimony from L. Paul Bremer, the former head of the U.S. occupation in Iraq.

I'm sure our august Senators' attendance % at the hearings will ramp up should Jerry Bremer (as yet not confirmed) be testifying....for one, there will doubtless be more television cameras in the committee chamber...

Posted by Gregory at 10:45 AM | Comments (11)

July 15, 2004

He's More Invisible than Negroponte!

Today is Day 13 of the Joe Wilson abduction. A quick Nexis search shows that the last time he was on television was July 2. This is like a diabetic going two weeks without his insulin. Clearly, he must be handcuffed to a radiator somewhere. Why else would he not explain himself publicly?

-- Jonah Goldberg, writing over at the Corner

Heh.

Or, per Taranto, Joe Wilson shying away from the cameras is like "Homer Simpson turning down a cheeseburger."

Anyway, we know he's not on the cruise just yet....

Gosh, stuck on a boat with Joe Wilson and Sid Blumenthal?!?

I'd rather be hunched over killing cockroaches in a land-locked, AC-less Lower East Side tenement during a vicious heat wave (don't ask) than sailing the open seas with this crowd...

P.S. Salon is going to need to update this, er, false advertising, no? (click on the "Speakers" section)

Joe Wilson: "Former Ambassador who debunked President's Bush's 16 words."

Oh my....

Gloat out.

MORE:

The cruise schedule, whilst 'at sea', for September 6th:

Sept. 6th - Monday - At Sea

8:30-9:00am
Salon.com Help Desk

9:00-11:30am
Salon.com Panel Session - Queens Lounge
The secret history of Salon. David Talbot, founder and editor-in-chief of Salon, leads a special panel discussion on the Web site's untold story, and how it has weathered the wild ups and downs of the Internet storms to become an influential and independent media player.

1:30-2:00pm
Salon.com Help Desk

2:00-4:30pm
Salon.com Panel Session - Queens Lounge
The intelligence wars. Ambassador Joe Wilson, author of the bestselling book "The Politics of Truth," leads a special panel discussion on the Bush administration's dangerous assault on the U.S. intelligence community, and the growing civil war between the White House and the CIA.

7:30pm
Join other Salon.com guests at the Crow's Nest Lounge for cocktails and dancing before dinner! (Optional)

8:15pm
Late Seating dinner is served, all Salon.com guests to dine together
.

Note the pre-dinner dancing is optional!

And so, it would seem, are the 'Politics of Truth'!

Posted by Gregory at 06:05 PM | Comments (26)

Truth in Reporting

First, Lord Butler, formerly Britain's top civil servant, said Britain had received information from "several different sources" to substantiate reports that Iraq sought to purchase uranium from Niger. The Senate report found that similar claims by American intelligence, which found their way into President Bush's State of the Union address last year, were based on a single set of forged documents.

-- Alan Cowell in the NYT

But the report defended as "well founded" the dossier's claim that Iraq had sought to obtain enriched uranium from African countries. The CIA has questioned the claim, saying it was based on forged papers, but the Butler panel said there were other sources for the assertion.

--Glenn Frankel in the WaPo

Guess whose reporting is more accurate?

Frankel's over at the WaPo.

The NYT has, writ large, "American intelligence" concluding the uranium story was based on "a single set of forged documents."

But this represents an erroneous reading of the SSCI report.

Here are the key passages:

On November 25, 2002, The Naval [redacted] issued a very brief report (Alleged Storage of Uranium Destined for Iraq [redacted] that a large quantity of uranium from Niger was being stored in a warehouse in Cotonou, Benin. The uranium was reportedly sold to Iraq by Niger's President.
(p. 59)

Now, just shy of a month later after publication of the Navy report, on December 17th 2002, the warehouses were finally visited:

On February 10, 2003, the U.S. Defense Attache in Abidjan...reported that its reports officer examined two warehouses in Benin suspected of storing uranium on route to Iraq on December 17, 2002. The visit was conducted almost a month after a Navy report indicated uranium destined for Iraq was transiting through the warehouses. The report indicated that the warehouses appeared to contain only bales of cotton. A CIA operations cable on the inspection noted, however, it was not possible to determine if the cotton bales concealed the uranium shipment and that no radiation detection equipment had been used during the inspection.
(p. 68)

Note too that the SSCI report states, at p. 71:

On June 12, 2003, the DIA sent an information memorandum to Deputy Secretary of State Paul Wolfowitz...The memo said, "while the Intelligence Committee agrees that documents the IAEA reviewed were likely 'fake,' other unconfirmed reporting suggested that Iraq attempted to obtain uranium and yellowcake from African nations after 1998"(the SSCI report says that said other reporting in question was the Benin warehouse story).

The SSCI report goes on to say:

On June 17, 2003, nearly five months after the President delivered the State of the Union Address, the CIA produced a memorandum for the DCI which said "since learning that the Iraq-Niger uranium deal was based on false documents earlier this spring, we no longer believe that there is sufficient other reporting to conclude that Iraq pursued uranium from abroad."

But keep in mind--this is merely the C.I.A.'s opinion.

The New York Times piece says that "American intelligence" writ large had concluded the Niger/uranium story was false because the information was based solely on the forgeries.

But, last I checked, the DIA is part of "American intelligence."

And, keep in mind too, the DIA is separate and apart from Doug Feith's controversial, stand-alone intel shop.

True, the Benin cotton warehouse angle didn't turn up uranium.

But the Navy report explicitly states that no radiation detection was used (how dumb, no!) during the inspection and that it remains possible the uranium was concealed within the cotton shipments.

Note too, the inspection of the warehouse occurred after the President's SOTU (look for investigative reporters on the left, fairly all told, to query why it took so long to get this inspection concluded--though there is no evidence revealed to date that the inspection was purposefully delayed post-SOTU for political reasons--as contrasted with, say, bureaucratic delays and such...)

So, now we not only know Bush didn't purposefully lie.

We also know, it would appear, that his statement was not solely based on "fruit of the poisonous" tree material tainted by the forgeries--and this solely per a reading of the American intelligence gathering effort (see more on the British angle below--which further bolsters Bush's SOTU statement).

So the New York Times is wrong to report, as it does today, simply: "The Senate report found that similar claims by American intelligence, which found their way into President Bush's State of the Union address last year, were based on a single set of forged documents."

That's just not true, is it?

Two final points.

Note the DIA report's language (quoted above) about unconfirmed reports that Iraq might have sought uranium and/or yellowcake after 1998 from African nations (plural).

In this vein, don't miss, via the Butler report, section 499:

There was further and separate intelligence that in 1999 the Iraqi regime had also made inquiries about the purchase of uranium ore in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In this case, there was some evidence that by 2002 an agreement for a sale had been reached.

That's more intel that isn't FOPT tainted, isn't it? (Note too this Congo intel perhaps calls into question the SSCI report's finding that the only non-forgery related intel meant to be referenced in the DIA report was the Benin story).

So Bush's SOTU statement is further bolstered.

And even the IAEA leaves the door open a bit!

Responding to queries from the Butler inquiry, they wrote:

Notwithstanding the information summarized above, and in view of the fact that the IAEA so far has not obtained any other related information than the forged documents, the IAEA is not in the position to demonstrate that Iraq never sought to import uranium in the past. This is the reason why the IAEA only concluded that it had "no indication that Iraq attempted to import uranium since 1990" but it would "follow up any additional evidence, if it emerges, relevant to efforts by Iraq to illicitly import nuclear materials." So far no such additional information has been obtained by the Agency.

Folks, the intelligence was often weak, to be sure.

But Bush and Blair didn't purposefully lie to their publics, in my view.

Here's the best comment I've seen on all this yet:

No one lied. No one made up the intelligence. No one inserted things into the dossier against the advice of the intelligence services. Everyone genuinely tried to do their best in good faith for the country in circumstances of acute difficulty. That issue of good faith should now be at an end ... But I have to accept, as the months have passed, it seems increasingly clear that at the time of invasion, Saddam did not have stockpiles of chemical or biological weapons ready to deploy ... I have searched my conscience, not in the spirit of obstinacy, but in genuine reconsideration in the light of what we now know, in answer to that question. And my answer would be that the evidence of Saddam's WMD was indeed less certain, less well-founded than was stated at the time. But I cannot go from there to the opposite extreme. On any basis he retained complete strategic intent on WMD and significant capability. The only reason he ever let the inspectors back into Iraq was that he had 180,000 US and British troops on his doorstep ... Had we backed down in respect of Saddam, we would never have taken the stand we needed to take on WMD, never have got progress on Libya ... and we would have left Saddam in charge of Iraq, with every malign intent and capability still in place and every dictator with the same intent everywhere immeasurably emboldened. For any mistakes made, as the report finds, in good faith, I of course take full responsibility. But I cannot honestly say I believe getting rid of Saddam was a mistake at all.

-- Tony Blair (Hat Tip: Sully)

Yes, it would be nice for Bush to step up to bat and say something like this too.

But it would also, wouldn't it, be nice for the New York Times and assorted obstinate commentators on the left (they know who they are) to grapple with the complexities of this story more honestly (rather than play cheap gotcha month after month after month)?

We're all adults here--we know it's an election year.

People are going to be partisan, tough, aggressive.

But if you are going to call people liars--or say the entire Niger story was based solely on the forgeries--well, at least where things stand today, you're simply not playing it straight.

You're, in a word, lying--or, at best, simply not fully analyzing information that is available, on both side of the Atlantic, to the public.

At least as and where the weight of the evidence sits today.

Posted by Gregory at 10:00 AM | Comments (42)

July 14, 2004

A Revisionistic First Draft of History

You can be pretty sure that TPM is going to approvingly link to this James Risen piece in the NYT today.

You know, people often say that journalism is the first draft of history.

But, unfortunately, people sometimes fail to note that it's often a pretty revisionistic dose of history that's being proffered up.

As Risen points out, and as we are all painfully aware, there were of course major shortcomings on the Niger intel (hell, all the Iraq intel).

Yep, we overstated Iraq's WMD capabilities by a long shot. And as the Butler report shows today, so did U.K. intelligence services.

And, it should be noted, if France and Germany had taken part in this war, and they were now also going through similar inquiries re: the efficacy of their intelligence gathering on Iraq--you can be sure they would determine their Iraq intel was flawed too.

Put simply, there was a wide-spread belief--through a variety of different nation-state's intelligence communities--that Saddam possessed material stockpiles of WMD.

And, of course, such major stockpiles simply haven't shown up.

They might still (though don't count me in with those who think tons of anthrax are now hidden under Bashar's residence in Damascus or in massive underground vaults in the environs of Tikrit...)

So what's my point?

These were largely intelligence failures--not purposeful lies emanating down from POTUS.

But James Risen, in his NYT piece, uses these real shortcomings in the intel to gloss over the entire Bush lied meme.

So if you aren't following the Niger story closely--you are left thinking that the Adminstration lied (from the top-down) on the Niger story--because of all the attendant problems with the intel.

Problem is, that's simply not true.

And that's obviously a critical point. Honesty counts in presidential politics.

And Bush has, pretty much, been tarred a liar.

But Bush didn't lie in his SOTU on this whole Niger business--knowingly or otherwise.

Of course, that won't stop Kerry supporters from saying he did.

Last night, on John Gibson's Big Show over at Fox--former Howard Dean campaign manager Joe Trippi rolled out the uranium/Niger/Bush lied canard--even with Gibson admonishing him that the story had faced some FT-induced roll-back.

But no, the distortions easily rolled off Trippi's tongue.

It's now all part of the '04 electoral folklore.

16 words. Niger. Uranium. Forgery. Bush lied. Plame outed. Wilson's nakedly partisan musings (so helpfully widely aired) in the opinion pages of the New York Times...)

And so on.

To be sure, Risen mentions the free-fall in Wilson credibility, as Glenn has pointed out.

But note Risen's mention of Bush's SOTU:

"His address suddenly gave the uranium issue high visiblity, but it could not withstand global scrutiny."

For Risen, "global scrutiny" means the IAEA.

But there's a problem with that.

Check out the just released Butler report.

It explicitly puts aside the IAEA's analysis (see bottom of p. 123 to top of 124) and then opines thus.

Money quotes:

"We conclude that, on the basis of intelligence estimates at the time, covering both Niger and the Democratic Republic of Congo, the statements on Iraqi attempts to buy uranium from Africa in the Government's dossier, and by the Prime Minister in the House of Commons, were well founded. By extension, we conclude also that the statement in President Bush's State of the Union address of January 28, 2003 that [insert 16 words here] was well founded."

AND:

45. From our examination of the intelligence and other material on Iraqi attempts to buy uranium from Africa, we have concluded that:

a. It is accepted by all parties that Iraqi officials visited Niger in 1999.
b. The British Government had intelligence from several different sources indicating that this visit was for the purpose of acquiring uranium. Since uranium constitutes almost three-quarters of Niger’s exports, the intelligence was credible.
c. The evidence was not conclusive that Iraq actually purchased, as opposed to having sought, uranium and the British Government [ed. note: and neither did Bush in the SOTU] did not claim this.
d. The forged documents were not available to the British Government at the time its assessment was made, and so the fact of the forgery does not undermine it. (Paragraph 503)

Pity Risen can't simply, er, "update" his piece--because Bush's SOTU speech has withstood global scrutiny--contra a central contention in his article.

Daniel Okrent, have you a comment?

UPDATE:

Okrent doesn't have a comment; but Tom Maguire is taking me to task in my own comments section!

Here's, btw, how the NYT is handling Butler/Niger to date....pretty de minimis fare, no?

Posted by Gregory at 10:50 AM | Comments (22)

The $64,000 Question

Dan Drezner is asking the Big Question:

Would a spectacular terrorist attack that took place close to Election day help President Bush or Senator Kerry?

It's a critical question, particularly as I believe that al-Qaeda's leadership is fearful that people will begin to question their operational capabilities if they are unable to mount another attack on the U.S. homeland pre-November elections.

So, be assured, they are gonna try very hard to pull one off.

My answer to Dan's question is that an al-Q spectacular on the U.S. will have the predictable rally around the flag effect--except if it would not have occurred but for gross negligence by the Bushies.

BTW, gross negligence is not divining that the Towers were going to be felled pursuant to the August 6th, 2001 PDB or such.

Now if Maureen Dowd had the run of the August '01 PDB she doubtless would have immediately, amidst myriad ellipses and truncated passages, espied: Bin Ladin wanted to hijack...US aircraft to...attack...World Trade Center...with explosives..

But it's not that easy for the rest of us to connect the dots...

Back to Drezner's Q.

Why won't American voters react a la Madrid?

For one, note that part of the reason Aznar's party fell is that they were too quick out of the gates to categorically blame ETA. This angered the Spanish electorate that believed that the Spanish conservatives were trying to get a pass on the perils of their Iraq policy.

That won't be a factor stateside.

For another, we know it's not about Iraq.

When I was strolling around Union Square on 9/11--there were no troops in Iraq. Lotsa other people remember that too...

Also, and this is likely more controversial, I believe Americans have been less infected by the in vogue relativism prevalent over here in Euro-land (UBL and Bush two sides of the same, hyper-religious messianic coin).

To be sure, we have been deeply shamed by Abu Ghraib.

And we have doubtless killed many innocents through 'collateral damage' in places like southeastern Afghanistan and the Sunni Triangle in Iraq.

But, on the other hand, we haven't purposefully set out to slaughter as many innocents as possible in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And, if al-Qaeda kills, say, many hundreds of civilians in a big suburban mall in the coming months in the Heartland--Americans will be revolted and reminded of this elemental difference.

(Nor, in my view, have we engaged in military actions and collective punishment so severe, in aggregate effect, that the distinction between terror and so-called 'state' terror might have been persuasively hurled at us--though places like Fallujah are very close calls...)

Note too, incidentally, given such prospective large-scale carnage, the Bush administration's negligence would have to be gross. There would be too much anger at the mass killings for mere negligence to hurt Bush.

Kerry and Edwards would likely be making a strategic mistake to attack the Administration if it were merely negligent (I'm thinking about containerized cargo getting in with radioactive material, for instance, as opposed to a FUBAR intel failure where we missed myriad clues about an imminent attack--especially if inter-agency turf battles were found to have contributed to the sorry dropping of the ball).

Put differently, probably too much human trauma in the air to get into the partisan blame game on the basis of a mere negligence scenario alone.

So, all told, I think the majority view will be that the war on terror remains a noble, good fight--particularly in the aftermath of another spectacular.

We've fought it stupidly here and there--and I won't revisit all the errors here today.

But that aside, expect a terror attack in the U.S. (absence gross negligence), to benefit Bush vis-a-vis electoral politics.

What's the deeper paradox in all of this?

Al-Q wants Bush to stay in power.

Which is yet another reason they are very keen to attack before the election, in my view.

Bush, in UBL-think--given his more robust foreign policy and concrete purposeful view that al-Qaeda's catastrophic terrorism is an existential peril--is more likely to set off the civilizational clash that bin Laden is hoping for.

Does this mean the smarter ones among us should be voting Kerry to deny UBL this ostensible tactical victory?

No, not by a long shot.

More on why later.

UPDATE:

Why, as someone who supports the broad goals of the war on terror, would I therefore potentially advocate Bush in the face of my contention that UBL would want him in for another four years?

Two reasons:

1) The worst excesses of the Bush Administration (Rummy playing Secretary of State and Defense; Abu Ghraib; troop-lite 'shock and awe' 'transformationalist' crapola; hubris-ridden denigrations of allies (we don't need the Brits!) and the Turtle Bay crowd; etc etc are over; and

2) I'm far from convinced, at least at this stage, that Kerry will be a serious player on the global stage in terms of a vigorous, stolid, strategically sound and ambitious pursuit of vital American interests abroad.

So (stick with me here!) given 1 above--I think the 'civilizational clash' UBL wants will be staved off as Bush gets smarter (no more canines threatening Arab males please...or mock electrocutions with Klan-like head-gear prominently showcased for dramatic effect...)

At the same time, I believe Bush will be more relentless than Kerry in his pursuit of al-Qaeda and other terror actors globally. While also pursuing the war on terror, in a second term, in a manner that also notes that the color gray exists--not just black and white.

Does this make any sense?

That UBL probably wants Bush in again for four but, in my view, a Bush victory would be worse news for UBL than a Kerry victory?

I'm willing to be swayed.

Please comment away.

Posted by Gregory at 12:42 AM | Comments (35)

Self-Parody Alert

Sub Joe for Ahmad; TPM for Columbia Journalism Review...

Posted by Gregory at 12:10 AM

July 13, 2004

Truth and Consequences

Then last week in The New Republic, the unidentified former ambassador to Niger confirmed to authors Spencer Ackerman and John Judis that the CIA had in fact sent his report to the vice president’s office. “They knew the Niger story was a flat-out lie,” he [Joe Wilson] told the magazine.

--Josh Marshall, in an old piece from the Hill.

The Central Intelligence Agency should have told the Vice President and other senior policymakers that it had someone to Niger to look into the alleged Iraq-Niger uranium deal and should have briefed the Vice President on the former Ambassador's findings.

--Conclusion 14, p. 74 of the SSCI report.

You know, Josh Marshall is very much in moving the goal-posts mode these days.

He's lost the battle that Bush knowingly lied in the SOTU (the 16 words).

It turns out the Veep wasn't aware of Wilson's mission contemporaneously.

And Marshall was, pretty much, flat out lied to by Wilson about whether his wife put him up for the Niger mission or not.

Listen, like Dan Drezner, I think it's damn serious to out a covert agent. Heads, pending resolution of some legal issues, should likely roll for it.

But Wilson is getting pretty radioactive right now with his credibility in a tailspin.

And journalists like Marshall swallowed his lies with alacrity.

If Josh and his ilk are going to poke fun at the Judith Millers--shouldn't they come clean on similar issues related to swallowing a load of bull?

A belated mea culpa, of sorts?

Josh is now going heavy on the 'fruit of the poisonous tree' theme (the argument that the forgery taints all the Niger intel).

Relatedly, he's likely still looking into questions like: Who was that forgery-wielding Italian security consultant? Who did he consult for? etc etc?

But I'm pretty confident that the FOPT argument won't get Josh and ilk where they want to get on this story (more on that soon). So's Johnnie Red-tippling Hitchens, by the way.

And, remember, that is after some mega-goal-post-moving.

Call it defining gotcha-journalism down.

It ends with a whimper; not a bang.

Bottom line: Marshall (and Spence Ackerman) approvingly quoted Wilson to the effect that Cheney (or at least his office) knew the Niger/uranium story was a flat-out lie pre-SOTU.

But the SSCI report explicitly states that the Veep wasn't even briefed on Wilson's mission during that time-frame.

It's just that simple.

Unless someone is going to start arguing the bipartisan SSCI report itself is a cover-up.

...Calling Michael Moore...

Posted by Gregory at 11:21 PM | Comments (65)

Iraq: Slight Improvements Afoot?

If the Tagorda-thesis is right (namely, that the Administration's conflating of the war on terror with the war in Iraq means that, if Iraq is going poorly, Bush's war on terror poll numbers sag); what might this latest poll mean for how it all goes in Iraq?

The poll results show that Bush's war on terror approval numbers have jumped by 5% in the past three weeks. What happened (it wasn't UBL's capture, of course, as we are waiting until circa. July 27th-28th for that to occur....)?

Well, perhaps things in Iraq have gotten just a wee bit better since the successful handing over of power on June 28th.

Iraq is sovereign again--and not under the brutish rule of a neo-Stalinist genocidaire. Iraqi faces are now leading the country. Ministries, run by Iraqis, are trundling along and slowly coming to life.

And Negroponte is playing the Invisible Man, doubtless.

Been reading too much Juan Cole lately and think I'm full of it?

Well, don't just take my word for it!

Dave Ignatius, writing from Baghdad, issues a few cautiously optimistic notes too.

Importantly, Ignatius mentions the amnesty plan being offered up to former insurgents (including, controversially, extending amnesty to fighters who have killed U.S soldiers).

All told, this is likely a good move.

By giving amnesty to such insurgents--Allawi signals he isn't a puppet of Negroponte's.

The better to try to capitalize on rifts within the insurgency:

Tension appears to be rising between the homegrown Iraqi resistance and the foreign Islamic fighters who have entered the country to destroy the U.S. military here. This is one reason, experts speculate, that Iraq has not had the kind of spectacular attack meant to spread terror and defy the U.S. agenda for a long two weeks, even during the transfer of formal sovereignty back to the Iraqis....All speak of rising friction between nationalistic fighters and foreign-led Islamists over goals and tactics, with some Iraqi insurgents indicating a revulsion over the car bombs and suicide attacks in cities that have caused hundreds of civilian deaths...

...The split would seem to be welcome news to the government of Prime Minister Iyad Allawi. His strategy for combating violence is to divide the insurgency by appealing to the patriotism of Iraqi fighters to reject the presence of foreigners who he claims do not care about Iraq itself. He is promising amnesty for some Iraqis, but threatening to crack down on those who do not accept it. To that end, Allawi and other government officials say, he has been meeting with former Baath Party members in the resistance and tribal leaders to convince them that their interests and those of foreign fighters are not the same.

Now, appealing to the patriotism of Iraqi fighters to "reject the presence of foreign fighters" can, er, swing both ways.

For every Iraqi angry that a Jordanian thug like Zarqawi is felling innocent Iraqis in brutish car bombings in crowded city streets--you can be sure there are as many Iraqis who lost someone dear to them under an American bomb or offensive action (especially in the Sunni Triangle, of course).

And, truth be told, such people likely don't care much that, unlike Zarqawi, the violence was meant not to be indiscriminate in effect (ask people that Q in Gaza too...).

Still, however, I think Allawi's strategy has a fighting chance--especially if all hell doesn't break loose (say the Gelbian specter of civil war; exagerrated somewhat, in my view) before we've trained a serious, professional, non-half-assed Iraqi security force.

And the proposed amnesty arrangements do go some way towards showing there's a new sherriff in town. This, in turn, helps counter insurgency propaganda that Alawi and Co. are simply the Iraqi quisling face of an American neo-colonialist junket.

Look, I'm certainly not saying all is going swimmingly in Iraq.

We've, of course, still got the 800-pound gorilla of security, security, security to grapple with.

But, at least from where we stand today, I think it's fair to say that there are some tangible whisps of improvement in the air of late.

So, returning to the Tagorda-thesis.

Let's ask: is this why Bush's numbers are up on the war on terror generally?

Perhaps because Iraq has been doing a wee bit better over the past two to three odd weeks?

Posted by Gregory at 08:28 PM | Comments (1)

July 11, 2004

The TPM Defense: "Splainin" or Spinning?

Josh Marshall: "I'll dispense with the literary prologue and get right to the point."

The point?

Don't like the story? Well, trash the journalist who wrote it.

Here's Marshall:

Susan Schmidt is known, happily among DC Republicans and not so happily among DC Democrats, as what you might call the "Mikey" (a la Life Cereal fame) of the DC press corps, especially when the cereal is coming from Republican staffers.

Wow, that's pretty inside baseball and I'm just a lawyer over here in far-away London.

But I will say one thing.

TPM's trash the messenger approach sounds straight out of "Big Time" Dick Cheney's playbook, huh?

Classy. (Btw, don't miss Josh's, er, slightly different tone about a prior WaPo story dealing with l'affaire Plame...)

And, let's remember--it's the Washington Times that's the conservative paper in town, folks.

Note too, of course, this whole Plame/Wilson story is pretty sensitive given all the legal going-ons and such.

You think WaPo Exec Editor Leonard Downie Jr. might have vetted Schmidt's piece for accuracy?

Of course he did.

But he's doubtless noshing on all the G.O.P. 'cereal' too....probably just "run(ning) with what [he] got from the majority committee staffer who gave [him] the spin."

But let's get to the substance of Marshall's post, shall we?

First, Josh writes:

The claim with regards to the back-and-forth was always that the CIA struggled to get the uranium references out of the October 2002 Cincinnati speech and then failed to do so -- though why presicely is less clear -- when the same folks at the White House tried again to get it into the 2003 State of the Union address.

Josh quotes some language from the SSCI report on Niger to try to support his claim; but he doesn't quote this part on p. 49 (warning: PDF)

In a written response to questions from Committee Staff, the White House said that on September 11, 2002, National Security Council Staff (NSC) contacted the CIA to clear language for possible use by the President. The language cleared by the CIA said: "Iraq has made several to buy high strength aluminum tubes used in centrifuges to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons. And we also know this: within the past few years, Iraq has resumed efforts to obtain large quantities of a type of uranium oxide known as yellowcake, which is an essential ingredient of this process. The regime was caught trying to buy 500 metric tons of this material. It takes about 10 tons to produce enough enriched uranium for a single nuclear weapon.

So what, you say. No mention of Africa, right?

Wrong.

P. 51, another statement cleared by the C.I.A., and I quote:

"...we also have intelligence that Iraq has sought large amounts of uranium and uranium oxide, known as yellowcake, from Africa."

Josh, why didn't you point us to this language in the report too?

After all, the crux of the issue is simply whether Bush's infamous 16 words in the SOTU were a purposeful lie or not (aside, of course, from whether Iraq was actually trying to get uranium from Niger or not--an issue Marshall doesn't appear to care too much about--so consumed is he on trying to land a 'gotcha' scoop on the forgery story):

Here they are again: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."

Hell, Bush didn't even have to say it was the British govt.

He could have said it was his own (courtesy of Langley).

P.66:

On January 28th, 2003 the President noted in his State of the Union that "...the British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." At the time the President delivered the State of the Union address, no one in the IC [intelligence community] had asked anyone in the White House to remove the sentence from the speech. CIA nuclear analysts and the Director of WINPAC told committee staff that at the time of the State of the Union, they still believed that Iraq was probably seeking uranium from Africa, and they continued to hold that belief until the IAEA reported that the documents were forgeries.

Now the forgeries are a whole other issue, and I'll have more on that another time (including the 'fruit of the poisonous tree' ("FOPT") argument Marshall is, er, marshalling for going forward use...).

But, for today, I think you'll agree, the bipartisan SSCI report flat out debunks the Bush lied meme.

I mean, doesn't it?

Now, on the whole matter of whether Plame recommended hubbie for the Niger mission.

Let's visit the TPM archives for a golden oldie with Joe Wilson.

Joe Wilson:

For those who would assert that somehow she was involved in this, it just defies logic. At the time, she was the mother of two-year-old twins. Therefore, sort of sending her husband off on an eight-day trip leaves her with full responsbility for taking care of two screaming two-year-olds without help, and anybody who is parent would understand what that means. Anybody who is a mother would understand it even far better. Secondly, I mean, the notion somehow that this was some nepotism, that I was being sent on an eight-day, all-expense-paid--no salary, mind you--trip to the Sahara desert. This is not Nassau we were talking about. This is not the Bahamas. It wasn't Maui. This was the Sahara desert. And then, the only other thing I can think of is the assertion that she wanted me out of the way for eight days because she, you know, had a lover or something, which is, you don't take lovers when you have two year old kids at home. So there's no logic in it.

I won't embarrass Joe Wilson by dissecting how hugely lame the above is.

It's very, very obvious just how breathtakingly pas a la hauteur it all is.

It would be risible, if it weren't so sad, really.

Note too, of course, that Wilson never quite gets around to flat-out categorically saying "no"--my wife wasn't involved in putting me up for the Niger mission (at least in this TPM interview).

Note instead all the obfuscatory bolded language--"no logic in it", "it just defies logic" etc.

A good investigative reporter, therefore, might have pressed him harder on this point --especially given all the diversionary absurdities about the kiddies, lack of extra-marital high-jinks, and that we're talking the Sahara and not Harbor Island.

But regardless, how do all of Wilson's protestations square with the SSCI report?

Not well.

Not well at all, I'm afraid.

The CPD reports that officer told Committee staff that the former Ambassador's wife "offered up his name" and a memorandum to the Deputy Chief of the CPD on February 12, 2002, from the former Ambassador's wife says: "my husband has good relations with both the PM and the former Minister of Mines (not to mention lots of French contacts), both of whom could shed light on this kind of activity.

Don't miss this part either:

The former Ambassador's wife told Commitee Staff that when CPD decided it would like to send the former Ambassdor to Niger, she approached her husband on behalf of the CIA and told him "there's this crazy report" on a purported deal for Niger to sell uranium to Iraq.

You know, defending Joe Wilson's credibility right now is kinda like defending Ahmad Chalabi's.

It's a losing hand.

It's not just that the odds are stacked in favor of the dealer--it's that one can't even put together a full hand because Wilson's credibility is eroding at such lightning speed.

Put differently (all together now): you gotta know when to hold 'em; know when to fold 'em; know when to walk away....know when to run....

Note: Josh addresses the whole legal 'outing' issue too (see Jonah Goldberg and Pej on that.)

I'll have more on all this soon; ie. the FOTP issue...

UPDATE: Don't miss this veritable Plameapolooza over at Tom Maguire's space.

Posted by Gregory at 11:48 PM | Comments (40)

July 09, 2004

The Condi Chronicles

More SecState auditioning going on.

But does she merit promotion to the 7th Floor after her stewardship at the NSC?

Speaking of, who would replace her at the NSC?

And please tell me there aren't another four years of Rummy in store?

P.S. Condi as Veep smarter?

She sure knows more than Edwards about foreign policy; and she has better hair...

...then Lugar at State and McCain at Defense? Just thoughts--not, er, formal endorsements!

Comments welcome.

UPDATE: In haste (in transit through Sunday night), but let's throw Chuck Hagel into the ring for consideration re: SecState too....

Posted by Gregory at 12:06 PM | Comments (21)

The Holy Trinity

Guinness?

Coffee?

And, now, prayer?

Who knew...

Posted by Gregory at 11:13 AM | Comments (0)

July 08, 2004

Memories of Fyodor

No, no, no Laura.

Matt Y's right--Dostoevsky trumps Tolstoy!

The Tolstoy versus Dostoevsky debates brings me back to my freshman year in college (14, gasp, years ago!)

My core English "Short story/Novel" class was taught by a kind, but uber-lefty, MLA-entrenched politically correct obsessed prof.

I noticed that she had chosen the authors we were to read, not by the quality of their writing, but via blatant quota requirements. So we had, pretty much, an African-American writer, an American Indian writer, an Asian-American writer, a Hispanic and, er, instead of some fussy representative of ye olde oppressive white canon--someone a little on the funky side of the fence.

Soon into the course, I went up to the prof at the end of class.

Why, I innocently queried (hard to believe, I was all of 17!) a) have we seemingly chosen writers mostly based on ethnic background rather than talent and b) why don't we include a great novelist like Fyodor Dostoevsky (then and, still now, my favorite author) on the syllabus?

Point blank, she told me she had never been able to get through a Dostoevsky novel in its entirety.

Why?

She couldn't abide his portrayal of female characters--so simply chose not to read him.

I was incredulous. What would Hilton Kramer make of this, I wondered even back then?

And I thought, how many woman in the world have the intoxicating power, enduring mystery, and complexity of this Dostoevsky creation?

But, then again, I was doubtless just objectifying her in crude fashion like a boorishly male, adolescent hot-head.

More oppression! More victims!

To the bonfires with the offending texts!

Absurd, isn't it?

And yet:

From the beginning of Part One, Nastasya Filippovna appears to be a fascinating, wild creature who is rebelling against the "natural" role of woman for her time. The shock and scandal that seems to surround her exploits suggests that her actions are not within the confines of her "role". However, the more we come to know her the more we see that she has been exploited by society of the time and the men that surround her and desire to possess her. Unable to stand up under the destructive forces that surrounded her, the strongest, most promising character was reduced to insanity by Dostoyevsky. It seems that he may sympathize with her situation, given the use of word choice we have seen, and even some of the ironic, yet sad depiction of a young girl violated. She has been refused her own identity and "renounc[es] the world...[she] has almost ceased to exist and [she] know[s] it" (480). Nastasya Filippovna must die to escape the tragic and unjust plight of a woman scorned.

Maybe my old prof had a point...but she could have at least read Dosto's books, no?

Posted by Gregory at 11:21 PM | Comments (1)

Brainy Bronson v. Unctuous Unger!

Rachel Bronson, Middle East analyst at the Council (by coincidence, I was just on the phone with her today--actually in the middle of her cyber-debate with Craig Unger at Slate [ed. note: Sorry Rachel!]) gets some much merited kudos from an admirer in Chicago.

Congrats, Rachel. Be sure to go read Drezner's spot on take on the debate.

Here are a few sample grafs where Bronson engages in some much needed de-Mooreification (Unger plays Moore this Thurs.):

As we conclude this debate, I think it's worth returning to the original question: Has the money that has flowed and the history that has passed between the House of Bush and the House of Saud affected the course of American politics to the detriment of the American people? I think we both agree that the administration has made some major missteps. But I don't think the evidence stacks up that it's because of a personal relationship between the families.

Had Saudi terrorists been able to leave the United States because Bush liked Bandar, that would be something. But there's no evidence that that's what happened. They were probably given preferential treatment and allowed to begin organizing themselves to leave when the airspace fully opened, but they didn't leave until it was opened, and their names did not match suspicious ones in the database when they were checked. More to the point, I don't believe any administration would have acted differently in such circumstances. They were given preferential treatment to start organizing themselves because Saudi Arabia is a long-standing close partner of the United States and had an ambassador with strong personal ties to each and every president since he became ambassador under Ronald Reagan.

Had Bush attacked Iraq because the Saudis wanted it or to divert attention from the Saudis, that would have been something, too. But we know that folks in this administration wanted to attack Saddam well before 9/11 for reasons having little to do with terrorism. Terrorism was something they added to their list after 9/11, but again with very little reference to Saudi Arabia. After 9/11, the administration was rightly or wrongly concerned that Saddam might pass WMD to terrorists. The Bush/Saud relationship has little if anything to do with this.

Indeed.

Posted by Gregory at 10:32 PM

Buried Lede Watch

The unanimous report by the panel will say there is no evidence that intelligence officials were subjected to pressure to reach particular conclusions about Iraq.That issue had been an early focus of Democrats, but none of the more than 200 intelligence officials interviewed by the panel made such a claim, and the Democrats have recently focused criticism on the question of whether the intelligence was misused. [emphasis added]

This, er, little piece of news is buried in Graf 5 of this Douglas Jehl NYT piece.

Imagine, God forbid, if it had gone the other way!

Say, for kicks, just one of the two hundred plus analysts said Doug Feith bullied him to death on his analysis of the intel.

What would the lede be then?

And where would the Times place the story?

Yeah, those are rhetorical Qs.

(Hat Tip: Tom Maguire).

UPDATE: Well, there's buried, and then there's buried (French language, see last graf).

Posted by Gregory at 07:36 PM | Comments (2)

This is TNR-Worthy?

Is Marty Peretz minding the store?

My BS detector is going off--big time.

Actually, it's flat out booming.

"The last ten days of July deadline has been given repeatedly by visitors to Islamabad and during [ul-Haq's] meetings in Washington." Says McCormack: "I'm aware of no such comment." But according to this ISI official, a White House aide told ul-Haq last spring that "it would be best if the arrest or killing of [any] HVT were announced on twenty-six, twenty-seven, or twenty-eight July"--the first three days of the Democratic National Convention in Boston.

Come again?

Can anyone seriously, without blushing, buy this stuff?

I mean, why wait until the Convention?

I'm surprised they didn't instruct Musharraf and Co. to spring UBL the day Kerry picked Edwards!

Then this:

But Powell conspicuously did not commit the United States to selling F-16s to Pakistan, which it desperately wants in order to tilt the regional balance of power against India. And the Pakistanis fear that, if they don't produce an HVT, they won't get the planes.

"Conspicuously"? What a laugh!

Pakistan (Musharraf aside) has been hankering for F-16s for years.

Check this story out:

In December of 1988, Pakistan ordered 11 additional F-16A/B Block 15 OCU (Operational Capability Upgrade) aircraft, and in September of 1989, plans were announced for Pakistan to acquire 60 more F-16A/Bs. A down payment of $685 M was received, and work on the planes began.

The F-16 deal got unwound because Pakistan got itself involved in a controversy with the United States over its suspected nuclear weapons capability.

It's been a major item on the bilateral agenda between Washington and Islamabad for decades now.

And, apart from the now moot nuclear capability issue, India, you know, has had some thoughts on all this too.

Check out this PakNews story from 9/11/02 for more background.

So that's just a year after 9/11.

Was the reason we weren't approving the F-16 sales then simply because UBL hadn't been handed-over in cuffs to CIA agents by the ISI?

Of course not.

Here's about a year later when Belgium was hankering to do a third country sale of F-16s to Pakistan and we were telling Brussels to cool it?

Hey, they were just holding this carrot in reserve again!

Dastardly UBL hadn't yet been handed over.

Then this:

Equally, they fear that, if they don't deliver, either Bush or a prospective Kerry administration would turn its attention to the apparent role of Pakistan's security establishment in facilitating Khan's illicit proliferation network. One Pakistani general recently in Washington confided in a journalist, "If we don't find these guys by the election, they are going to stick this whole nuclear mess up our asshole."

Ah, this wouldn't be such a whopper without some recycled Sy Hersh.

Who is this unnamed ISI official who works under ISI director, Lieutenant General Ehsan ul-Haq--Mssrs. Judis, Ackerman and Ansari? (All three sources, of course, are anonymous. TNR, perhaps a bit insecure on this point, clues us in as to why: "Under Pakistan's Official Secrets Act, an official leaking information to the press can be imprisoned for up to ten years") [ed. note: Heh, you think?]

Anyway, this ISI official (ostensibly a General, Colonel--we aren't told?), he of the so colorful language, kind of sounds like Robert Duvall in the Great Santini.

I suspect his credibility is, at very best, highly debatable.

You know, these are such damning charges, when you really stop and think about it.

It's despicable to insinuate POTUS would purposefully calibrate the ideal dates by which to haul UBL to justice--a man responsible for the deaths of thousands of Americans-- simply to fit electoral demands.

Especially as, while he's still at large (assuming he's a) still alive and b) exerts some command and control over al-Q), he can contribute to the killing of more U.S. citizens.

As we all recall, of course, the Democratic Georgetown drawing-rooms are all atitter with such talk (think Madeline Albright and Co.) of an October (sorry, late July!) surprise.

I expect such chit-chat after Gin & Tonic No. 3 chez Madeline.

But it's still a canard that's deeply offensive.

So one should be very careful peddling it around outside of the cocktail parlors, in print, especially in top-tier publications.

And, I've got to say, I think three excellent journalists have let their partisan nature, in the heat of an election year, get the better of them on this story.

Not TNR's proudest day, in my view. Not by a long shot.

I mean, at the very least, even if they think their sources are of the utmost reliability--couldn't Ackerman and Judis mention the long history of the U.S. having real issues allowing the Pakistanis to get F--16s?

You know, just to put things in some perspective?

But why should they?

Painting the Bushies in sinister, cynical Mooreian colors might tilt a few more votes to the good guys, right?

Such pieces, heavy on speculation and anonymous sources; light on facts--well, they're really just for the good of the country!

Chill out, already!

UPDATE: I gotta say, it's nice to have commenters watching your back like this and this.

Thanks guys.

Posted by Gregory at 02:56 PM | Comments (34)

More Lies

Or, er, not.

Certainly not some full-blown, purposeful, Big Lie mega-hoodwink of the great and gullible American public.

Who will be the first prominent commentator on the left to finally step up to bat and say that the Niger/uranium story may have had real legs?

I know it won't be Paul Krugman or Maureen Dowd, Atrios or Daily Kos, of course.

And TPM is still, it appears, working on a Big Story.

But can't someone with integrity on the Left at least entertain the fact that there is more to this story than Joe Wilson's all clear?

Some reasonable center-left guy like a Kevin Drum (from mondo-blogs) or Nick Kristof (from Big Media)?

Anyone?

UPDATE: "...don't mess with my kids or that Mama Bear comes to life..."

MORE:

Kevin Drum:

On the Plame thing, he (Josh Marshall) agrees that it's probably irrelevant legally. However, he doesn't mention whether he thinks it hurts Wilson's overall credibility. Seems like it does to me. [emphasis added]

Yeah, I'd say.

Posted by Gregory at 01:57 PM

We Get Mail!

The Seattle Times did not suggest that one should bookmark your blog. Rather it was someone who works for the Times’ on line edition only. I doubt ten people read it. I didn’t even know the blog existed. In any case, an honest man wouldn’t have used this “endorsement,” a smart one would know better than to look for praise from a second-rate paper like the Times, and no one worth their salt would want to be associated in any way with the Washington Times.

Sincerely,

Jeff Huffman

Seattle

Dear Jeff:

Gee, things must be a tad dull in Seattle these days, eh?

But hey, click through my banner blurbs anytime!

And, by all means, cogitate long and hard on whether I've met your 'fairness in advertising' smell test.

But please don't call into question my honesty. It means a lot to me!

For the record, please note that I had sent an E-mail to Tom Brown who runs the "Between the Lines" blog over at the Seattle Times.

When he wrote up his original post that turned into my blurb--I specifically asked him whether I could rep this as coming from the Seattle Times.

Brown had no issue with it. Since Brown has been with that paper for over twenty years, I thought it was O.K.--but I'm very sorry you feel differently.

I might add, judging from the traffic I get when Brown links me, you should note that significantly more than "ten people read it".

Sadly, it appears, Mr. Huffman isn't a reader of Brown's informative blog. And, I gather, he's not a big fan of the Seattle (or Washington) Times.

Quelle dommage!

But at any rate, given the rather depressing vibes he gives off--that's probably not a bad thing...

Now, do the vast majority of my readers care a whit about what I've just written above?

No, doubtless not. And for that I sincerely apologize.

But one of the advantages of running a blog is, every now and again, when you feel some (perhaps) inexplicable urge to sophomorically emote a bit--you can do so with relative impunity.

And, yes I do feel better having done it today!

I guess I get agitated when people call my honesty into question.

Once thing I try to do over here at B.D. is follow my head and heart--whatever conclusions they lead me to (ed. note: you're sounding tiresomely self-important and pompous, you realize? Yeah, I know, but cut me some slack this once, O.K?).

When something that really pisses me off happens (like Abu Ghraib)--I don't just tout the party line (plug "Abu Ghraib" in as a search term over to the right; you'll see what I mean).

I trust some of my regular readers, while sometimes angry at me, give me some kudos for this intellectual honesty.

So I guess I get pretty peeved when E-mails like this come through the hopper.

OK, end of rant.

Oh, while we are on the subject of odd E-mails--this one came through the wires overnight too (from E-mail address "debaathification@gov.iq"):

Dear Sir,

We have read your comments concerning the DeBa’athification and your dialog with Daniel Drezner. Here for many thanks for your interest in our future.

Now the Supreme National Commission for the DeBa’athification is organizing a congress at 18th of July 2004 in order to discuss the process in an honest and open way and we would like to invite you to this congress to explain your ideas.

Of course you will be our guest in every matter.

It would be a pleasure for us to welcome you in Baghdad.

Looking forward to hear from you soon.

Gee, that's pretty short notice.

And the 18th finds me in Geneva--probably about as far as one can get from Baghdad.

Professor Drezner, are you Baghdad-bound?

MORE IN-HOUSE GOING-ONS: We're featured over at Salon today (subscription or 'free ad' sit through required).

Posted by Gregory at 11:47 AM

July 07, 2004

TPM Pile-On Watch

Josh Marshall has a long post up today which I fear contains certain inaccuracies.

TPM approvingly and uncritically links to this Dave Ignatius op-ed.

Marshall:

The column describes a conversation Ignatius had with new Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, in which the president describes his guidelines for peaceful overthrows of autocratic regimes.

That, though, is not what I want to discuss, not specifically at least.

What interests me is the last line of the column: "The Bush administration talks about democratic change. But it's the Saakashvilis, armed with their homegrown how-to manuals, who actually make it happen."

First Ignatius got fooled; and then Marshall swallowed Saakashvili's spin hook, line and sinker.

Of course Saakashvili is going to make the Velvet Revolution sound all 'home-grown'.

He doesn't want to be painted as some U.S. stooge by Russian interests active in Georgia.

And revolutionaries (if we can call a former Manhattan attorney that) are often romantic, larger-than-life characters.

So why debunk the myth of the noble world-historical figure--acting solo to save the Nation?

But as anyone who follows the Caucasus is aware, the U.S. had a major role in helping Saakashvili obtain power.

Why would we care?

This brings us to another problem with Marshall's piece (indulge me a brief digression, to address another beef I've got with Marshall, and then back to Georgia!).

In Josh's world, there is a neat dichotomy between the dreamy, dangerous neo-Wilsonians (read: neo-cons) who have hijacked the apparatus of statecraft from a cretinous Crawfordian, on the one hand, and now the "Realist" camp led by newly re-packaged uber-Realist John Kerry.

What claptrap.

Kerry the sober-headed, cynical realist?

Sorry Mr. Kerry, but, er, I know Henry Kissinger, and you're no Henry Kissinger (well, not really, but you get my point).

Recall Kerry's vote against Gulf War I--a prime example helping showcase that he occupies more of an isolationist, 'war as last resort', 'don't be too speedy', Vietnam-syndrome, 'we've got lotsa problems at home', etc etc. world view that is more Jimmy Carter/Ted Kennedy than Mearsheimer/Kissinger.

But back to all the Tblisi intrigues.

Recall Georgia was deemed near critical to the U.S. on (mostly) realist grounds. Washington increasingly viewed Georgia as, you know, a 'big deal' because a) the Pankisi Gorge was viewed as an al-Qaeda sanctuary, b) Georgia, as a result of former President Eduard Shevardnadze's impotence, was on the cusp of becoming a failed state as separatist enclaves became increasingly emboldened to increasingly ignore central authority (Adjaria, Abkhazia, Ossetia etc), and c) the Russians were getting too influential carving out a Muscovite sphere of influence and the U.S. wanted to start laying more of a NATO footprint in country.

So, believe me when I tell you the U.S., as one of Dan Drezner's commenter's points out, was very much interested and supportive vis-a-vis moving Shevardnadze out.

Don't believe me?

Go check this out (er, check out the opening quote while you're at it):

In support of the U.S. strategy, U.S. officials regularly highlight publicly the need for improvements in human rights conditions. The Ambassador and other embassy officers work privately with Georgian officials, NGOs and other domestic and international organizations to identify and highlight areas of particular concern and encourage reform. Secretary of State Powell, former Secretary of State James Baker, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Beth Jones, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Lynn Pascoe, Members of Congress and Congressional staff reinforced support for U.S. objectives in Georgia in 2003 and early 2004.

To promote democracy and increase participation and transparency in the November parliamentary elections, the United States provided funding for campaign and coalition-building training for political parties, training for election commission members, training and deployment of domestic election monitors; computerization of the voters list, voter marking; and a parallel vote tabulation (PVT). At the request of the United States, former Secretary of State Baker brokered a deal between the Government and the opposition on election commission composition to increase opposition representation. The Ambassador maintained public and private pressure on the Government to meet democratic standards throughout the election process, to include protesting against violence and the incarceration of NGO election activists. U.S. assistance, especially the PVT, was instrumental in proving that the official results had been manipulated and did not reflect the will of the people. During the subsequent peaceful popular demonstrations, the Ambassador publicly and privately urged the Government and the opposition to avoid violence and to guarantee citizens' rights of assembly and expression. The demonstrations remained peaceful and eventually led to President Shevardnadze's resignation. Following the election, the Embassy secured the release of a domestic election observer arrested on Election Day for allegedly interfering in the voting process – an arrest that many NGOs considered to be politically motivated.

Christ, State all but wants to tell you they helped pull off the Revolution of the Roses! But they can't, of course.

Allow me a personal vignette. A couple years back I checked into the Marriot in Tblisi. The first person I bumped into in the lobby was an African-American female G.I. in Army uniform.

My point?

Look, we had U.S. GI's helping train and equip Georgian forces to go into the Pakinsi Gorge. U.S. military personnel were crawling around Tblisi.

We had an Embassy that was getting pretty big for that part of the world. The U.S. Ambassador was likely one of the five most powerful people in the country--a John Negroponte of the Transcaucasus!

James Baker was flying in. Other envoys were arriving hither dither.

You know, something was up. Let's just say a certain U.S. assisted libertine whiff was in the Tblisi air.

Put simply, the 'Revolution of the Roses' wasn't just a 'homegrown' thang.

So, pace Marshall, do you really believe the Georgia example provides fair fodder for critics "of the Bush administration's role as an advocate and force for democratization on the international stage"?

Methinks not.

And, of course, Marshall swallowed this analysis of the Georgia going-ons and it served as the premise for his entire post.

So you then get wildly hyperbolic statements like this from Marshall:

And I cannot think of a single case whether in Egypt or Saudi Arabia or Pakistan or Russia or China or Uzbekistan or anywhere where that has happened.
[emphasis added]

C'mon, folks, let's get serious here.

Dan Drezner puts the lie to Marshall's contention regarding Egypt.

And Tagorda blogs Tunisia.

And I could show you Russia and China 'counter-factuals' (or a "single" example from "anywhere") up the wazoo.

All this said, of course, the Bush Administration is gauging its relationship with nation-states, in good measure, by the cooperation they do or don't provide with regard to the war on terror.

That's called a realist foreign policy.

Of course we can't beat up Putin re: Chechnya as we might like to.

Is there a little wink wink going on re: 'you've got your Islamic radicals, I got mine..."?

Well, sure.

(Incidentally, that's a real shame because the conduct of the Chechnya war is a profound stain on Russia--just as the U.S. and other major powers mostly ignoring the carnage, over the years, has become a stain on the 'international community.')

Would we be more robust in our discussions with Karimov of Uzbekistan on, say, his track record on torture (Abu Ghraib aside) if we didn't need U.S. bases there?

Doubtless, yeah.

And so on.

But here's the dirty little secret Josh doesn't clue you into.

A Kerry-Edwards administration would not really change any of this.

In states vital to U.S. national interest like Uzbekistan and Pakistan (especially the latter), there will be some talk of improving human rights records and such. But no real action, much like the Bushies.

These issues will likely barely be on a Kerry Secretary of State's to-do agenda (though Richard Holbrooke might find a way to pull off staunch human right advocacy with simultaneous hard-headed realist pursuit of our national interest) [ed. note: Yes, I'm a big Holbrooke fan].

So what's the difference between a Kerry team and the Bushies?

Kerry/Edwards are more likely to drop the ball on the 'realist' end of all this too.

For instance, since Josh raises it, take the Pakistan chronicles.

It bears mentioning, it wasn't a no-brainer that Musharraf was going to stake his career and life to side with the U.S. to facilitate the Afghanistan war effort.

Recall, Powell had his famous 'general to general' talk with him.

That, to a fashion, is realism too.

Is Joe Biden gonna be the go-to guy on that for Kerry?

Please.

UPDATE: Yes, I know this begs the question of how I'd feel if Kerry fielded Holbrooke as his Secretary of State. I'll have more on that another day--perhaps including direct feedback from the man himself!

MORE: A blog specializing in Central Asia and the Caucasus jumps into the fray.

Posted by Gregory at 11:52 PM | Comments (18)

July 06, 2004

Edwards for Veep


This was, all told, probably Kerry's best pick.

Still, I'm thinking Kerry won't get a 15% bounce from his Veep selection and the impending Democratic convention in Boston.

I think that figure will trend more towards 8-10% because a) many expected the Edwards pick so the novelty will fizzle quickly; and b) the Democratic Convention being held in Boston will provide rich fodder for Republican attack ads re: the uber-lefty going-ons in Ted Kennedy-land.

For more on Edwards see TNR's lively discussion re: Kerry's pick.

In particular, don't miss Jonathan Chait's take:

It's obvious he's not Kerry's idea of a great pick. Reports held that Kerry was mystified and somewhat resentful that Edwards would run for president without even having completed a single Senate term. Kerry thinks like a senator, and senators respect people who have been in office a really long time and mastered an issue. If Kerry could have somehow been absolutely certain that he'd be elected, I bet he'd have chosen somebody like Joe Biden [ed. note. read: Dick Gephardt]. The Edwards pick suggests Kerry is willing to accede to the judgment of the political professionals.

Later:

So he really needs John Edwards, who has remarkably strong instincts both politically and substantively. Of all the primary candidates, I think Edwards most cogently identified what's wrong with George W. Bush's presidency. (Edwards's message was called "populist," but I merely think it was a realistic assessment of a plutocratic president.) And, unlike Kerry, he can communicate. This suggests a logical, if somewhat new, division of labor: Edwards could be the one who pulls the party message into a coherent theme, thickens it out with policy proposals(along with his staff), articulates it before the public, and lacerates the opponent. Kerry would continue to star in the television commercials as the Vietnam veteran/prosecutor/gun nut/fiscal hawk. Between his schedule of filming such commercials, he'd raise money and rest up for the debates. Too much campaigning would only alienate the public and make him even more gaunt.

In fact, here's my ideal plan for the Kerry campaign. At an upcoming rally, an anti-Kerry protestor starts to burn an American flag. Kerry leaps down from the podium and starts strangling the protestor with his bare hands, then hurls him to the ground and rescues the flag. In the course of putting out the fire, he suffers minor burns that, the campaign announces, will force him to be hospitalized and inaccessible to the media and the public until mid-October. In the meantime, Edwards is dispatched to present the Democratic message for the next three and half months.

Heh.

Worth checking out too are Andrew Sullivan's comments:

He's the anti-bitterness candidate. And his presence will change the dynamic. The trouble with Bush's and Cheney's fundamental position - you cannot trust anyone else to wage this war - is that it must inevitably conjure fear and danger. Americans also like broad grins and happy futures. Edwards will give them plenty.

I'm not one of those who think that Edwards will look like a cool as a cucumber Kennedy figure to a sweaty, Nixonian Cheney. Cheney will do just fine thank you--while pointing out Edward's obvious weaknesses in the national security/foreign policy realm.

But, bursts of profanity aside, Cheney may want to spend a few days on the beach before the debates, you know, hanging out --the better so as to project a chiller vibe.

All well and good to exude macho-gravitas and national security street cred--but an avuncular (full-blown) smile here and there won't hurt either.

Americans do like a winning smile--a certain breezy optimism has always been part and parcel of the American national character.

Put differently, Bush/Cheney can't just run on fear. To be sure, 9/11 and the subsequent war on terror remain, along with the economy, the pivotal issues in this election.

But Bush must approach the war on terror not merely by scaring voters that Kerry and Edwards aren't up to the job of steering the ship of state during perilous times--he must also be sure to place Afghanistan and Iraq into the framework of a larger, optimistic narrative of America attempting to make repressive societies freer.

In this vein, it is critical that Iraq and Afghanistan become more rather than less stable in the coming months. Instability and quasi-anarchy would give the lie to the positive narrative Bush needs to develop.

UPDATE:

Here are links to some recent (are there any other?) Edward's foreign policy speeches (courtesy of the Council).

Here's an Edwards policy statement where he sounds like, er, Paul Wolfowitz!

Establishing new international institutions committed to promoting democracy. Edwards will establish a new "Organization for Security and Cooperation in the Middle East" bringing together the world's leading democracies together with countries in the region moving toward democratic reform. The new organization could assist with civil society and political party development, monitor elections, and manage crises. In the 1970s, the "Helsinki Process" played a similar role in advancing freedom in Eastern Europe. Edwards would also create a new Middle East Partnership Program at NATO that would help establish civilian control over militaries in democratizing states, as well as a "democracy caucus" within the United Nations that would work to prevent states like Libya from getting improper roles, like heading the U.N.'s human rights committee. [ed. note: The date of this policy statement is, gasp, after Libya came out from the cold. Quick, add this to the oppo checklist!]

Creating a New "Freedom List." Edwards will direct the State Department to create a new "Freedom List" of imprisoned dissidents to name and shame nations that incarcerate political prisoners. Like the FBI's "most wanted" list, the "Freedom List" will draw attention to terrible international violations of human rights.

Increasing support for democracy programs. Edwards will double funding for the National Endowment for Democracy, which supports grassroots civil society programs around the world.

Curbing U.S. assistance to nondemocratic states. Edwards will reward nations that move along the path toward democracy with increased aid and debt relief. But where governments are nondemocratic and show no interest in developing democracy, he will curb aid or shift it toward nongovernmental bodies.

Hey, looks to be a bumper crop for NGOs in Uzbekistan and Pakistan if Kerry/Edwards prevail!

As for Edward's "Organization for Security and Cooperation in the Middle East"--I'm reminded of the old quip about the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe--aka "Office of Seriously Confused Europeans."

Imagine the Middle East version!

Oh, and get ready for lots of these kinds of folksy, common-sensical Carolinean apercus:

There are a lot of grand theories about how best to conduct our foreign policy. But it seems to me that much of foreign policy--like much of life--boils down to good judgment, common sense, and common decency. We use them in our daily lives and we should use them in America's common defense as well.

Is Ahmad Chalabi listening?

Posted by Gregory at 11:01 PM | Comments (6)

July 05, 2004

How Back in Vogue is Realism?

So much so that John Kerry uses the word (or variations) no fewer than nine times in a short Iraq policy op-ed in yesterday's WaPo.

Excerpts:

Title of piece: A Realistic Path in Iraq.

--To give democracy, pluralism and regional peace a chance, we need a policy that is effective -- a policy that finally includes a heavy dose of realism.

--Our foreign policy has achieved greatness only when it has combined realism and idealism, our sense of practicality and our deep commitment to values such as freedom and democracy.

--But we are a practical people, and we know that all the rhetoric we've heard hasn't been accompanied by a realistic plan to win the peace and bring our troops home.

--We can still succeed in promoting stability, democracy, protection of minority and women's rights, and peace in the region, even at this late hour, if we construct and follow a realistic path.

--That is the only way to forge real cooperation, and it is long past time for this to be done.

--Then, having taken these dramatic steps, we could realistically call on NATO to step up to its responsibilities.

--Helping Iraq come together this way, by peaceful negotiations and not by civil warfare, is the realistic way to secure the loyalty of Iraqis to their new state, and the best way to give them a future to defend.

--It is only by pursuing a realistic path to democracy in Iraq that we can connect our ideals with American common sense.

Got it?

Of course, if things had gone swimmingly in Iraq, Kerry would be trying to out-"neo" the neo-cons by calling for regime change in Damascus and Teheran and the air-dropping of translated copies of the Federalist Papers in Cairo, Riyadh and Peshawar.

Query:

Is there anything new (read: materially different than the current Bush approach) in this empty paean to realism?

No, not really.

When you cut through all the dense verbiage ("realism", "realistic", "we are a practical people", "only way to forge real cooperation" etc etc) and cut to the chase, here's what Kerry proposes:

We should also give them a leadership role in pursuing our wider strategic goals in the region. As partners, we should convene a regional conference with Iraq's neighbors. Such a conference would have two goals. First, it should secure a pledge from Iraq's neighbors to respect Iraq's borders and not to interfere in its internal affairs. And second, it should commit Iraq's leaders to provide clear protection for minorities, thus removing a major justification for possible outside intervention. Together, we should jump-start large-scale involvement with an international high commissioner to coordinate economic assistance and organize and implement these diplomatic initiatives.

Then, having taken these dramatic steps, we could realistically call on NATO to step up to its responsibilities. Our goal should be an alliance commitment to deploy a major portion of the peacekeeping force that will be needed in Iraq for a long time to come. Just as NATO came together to contain the Soviet Union and bring peace to Bosnia and Kosovo, with the right kind of leadership from us NATO can be mobilized to help stabilize Iraq and the region. And if NATO comes, others will too.

Look, we all know that a major focus of U.S. foreign policy has been, is and will remain the protection of minorities in Iraq. It's blindingly obvious to all that the worse case scenario in Iraq would be large scale sectarian violence with assorted neighbors joining the fray.

So the U.S., you can be sure, is already working overtime to make sure "Iraq's leaders...provide clear protection for minorities."

So, where's the beef in this op-ed? Is there anything new?

Kerry calls for: a) a "regional conference" (but leaves unanswered questions that leap to mind, ie. should Iran be invited? if so, should Powell engage in discussions/negotiations with his Iranian counterpart?) and b) an "international high commissioner" (bring back Yashusi Akashi!).

Then, voila, we could all then "realistically call on NATO to step up to its responsibilities."

Does anyone seriously believe the French and Germans will send in, under NATO flag, thousand plus-strong 'peacekeeping' contingents simply because an "international high comissioner" was appointed and a regional conference held?

If you do, read this.

Money graf:

Yet, even if the Europeans were more enthusiastic, they might have little to contribute. Germany, the largest country in the European Union, has 270,000 soldiers in its army -- yet its commanders maintain that no more than about 10,000 can be deployed at any one time. No matter the politics, the German Parliament is unlikely to authorize an increase in the current ceiling of 2,300 troops for Afghanistan. And Germany is the largest contributor to the NATO operation -- France, which has never liked the idea of NATO operations outside of Europe, has only 800 soldiers there.

And this is non-controversial Afghanistan--a war that enjoyed near-universal support among serious people the world over.

So c'mon folks. Let's get serious.

Or, er, "realistic."

MORE: Don't miss this Elaine Sciolino piece either.

The new NATO Secretary General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, sounds a depressed note:

"I have felt like a beggar sometimes, and if the secretary-general of NATO feels like a beggar, the system is wrong."

It is in no-one's (except the Atlantic community's enemies) interests having the NATO Secretary-General feel like a beggar, no?

You know, there is one thing Washington should do.

We shouldn't, in triumphalist/nationalist vein, scream on about how the "mission defines the coalition" and disparagingly make NATO appear unimportant to us (everyone knows the U.S. can win wars solo--no need to engage in chest-beating Rumsfeldian hubris and proclaim it loudly).

Let's, by all means, make all the right noises that NATO is dear to us. Let's not just turn to them when the going gets a little messy. Let's make clear that the Europeans aren't just brought in to clean up the mess after we fight the wars (as we see fit).

But, in return, the Europeans need to do some soul-searching too.

America lost 3,000 people in its principal city on 9/11 and had to go into Afghanistan with utmost speed and flexibility.

We weren't about to sit around and hammer out battle plans amidst conference tables in Brussels. Our allies should understand this.

Given this reality, but given also the critical nature of post-war reconstruction in Afghanistan, is it too much to ask that France send more than 800 troops there?

Put differently, what is leading commentators to bemoan the possible obsolesence of NATO?

Solely Rumsfeld's arrogant pronouncements (like his memorable utterance that we didn't even need the Brits to prosecute the Iraq war. True, of course, but not the nicest thing to say given the massive political risks Tony Blair had taken to get to that stage)?

Or is NATO more imperiled because of a lack of real resolve and alliance cooperation by countries like France in places like Afghanistan?

Paris (and, to a lesser extent, Berlin) must realize, post 9/11, that NATO must more often adapt to 'out-of-area' operations.

The world has changed. The Soviet Union is dead. Failed states, in places like Central Asia, the Caucasus and the Middle East, imperil America and Western Europe's security.

Such out of area operations needn't be pursued in high-handed fashion--so that some Christian neo-imperialist alliance (NATO) is seen to be oppressing Muslims and Arabs willy-nilly in some tragic replay of the Crusades.

We can and should finesse our operations (especially post-active combat) in consultation with our allies to avoid projecting such an image.

But just as the U.S. made NATO relevant in the post-cold war era by helping Muslims in Bosnia (and thus also supporting European stability); the Europeans must now assist us a bit further afield in the Middle East and Central Asia where (even worse) threats to the Atlantic community's existence exist.

And, realistically, that's going to mean more than 800 troops in Afghanistan.

But perhaps I've got this all wrong.

Perhaps, pace John Kerry, we simply need to hold a regional conference and appoint a High Commissioner for matters Iraq.

The next day, doubtless, Paris and Berlin will be clamoring to send--not 800, but 80,000 peacekeepers--to the environs of Fallujah and Kandahar!

Posted by Gregory at 11:39 AM | Comments (3)

July 02, 2004

In the Dock

Bags beneath his eyes, beard greying, finger-jabbing with anger, Saddam was still the same fox, alert, cynical, defiant, abusive, proud. Yet history must record that the new "independent" government in Baghdad yesterday gave Saddam Hussein an initial trial hearing that was worthy of the brutal old dictator.

--Robert Fisk in today's Independent.

Funny, I didn't know Saddam informed defendants of their right to counsel back in the day.

Note the above quoted text represented the full front cover of the Independent (along with an accompanying picture of Saddam).

Don't miss this beaut later on:

But then, watching that face with its expressive mouth and bright crooked teeth, the eyes glimmering, a dreadful thought occurred. Could it be this awful man--albeit given less chance to be heard than the Nazis at the first Nuremberg hearings--actually knew less than we thought? Could it be that his apparatchiks and grovelling generals, even his own sons, kept from this man the iniquities of his regime? Might it just be possible the price of power was ignorance, the cost of guilt a mere suggestion here and there that the laws of Iraq--so immutable according to Saddam--were not adhered to as fairly as they might have been?

You couldn't make this stuff up, could you?

NB: Fisk allows, after all this tortured prose: "No, I think Saddam knew."

Gee, you think? He hadn't just heard about Halabja in the papers?

UPDATE: Tim Blair has more (well worth reading) on Robert Fisk's article.

Posted by Gregory at 11:35 PM

Weekend Reading

Don't miss Eliot Cohen's excellent and thought-provoking essay over at Foreign Affairs entitled "History and the Hyperpower."

I hope to comment on this article soon.

That said, I'm traveling this weekend without Internet access (for the most part). So limited to no blogging until Monday evening.

Posted by Gregory at 04:53 PM

In-House News

Apologies that the site was down for the past 18 or so hours. I'm not really sure what happened (except that people arriving via permalinks still appeared to get to the site but those accessing the main page couldn't).

We are working to make sure this doesn't happen again. I'll also look into making the old 'blogspot' page a back-up site as I've seen a few people do.

Thanks for your patience.

Posted by Gregory at 11:50 AM

July 01, 2004

Justice Delayed; Justice Denied?

Aren't such moves, oh I don't know, just shy of a decade late in coming?

Meanwhile, good on Powell for having gone to Darfur.

That's already more than some of his predecessors did in places like Rwanda and Bosnia.

Posted by Gregory at 11:56 AM | Comments (2)

The State of Chirac

A rather intriguing little masthead over at Le Monde.

C'est un combat d'arriŹre-garde qui illustre le dilemme de Jacques Chirac : ne pas s'opposer ą la reconstruction d'un Irak "souverain" sans pour autant se renier. C'est aussi une position d'attente qui est censée permettre de coopérer avec John Kerry, s'il gagne l'élection présidentielle, mais n'empźchera pas de vivre avec George W. Bush, s'il est réélu.
Translation: It's a rear-guard action that illustrates Jacques Chirac's dilemma: to not oppose the reconstruction of a sovereign Iraq while not disavowing [his previously held positions on Iraq]. It's also a 'wait and see' position that is meant to allow him to cooperate with John Kerry, if he wins the presidential election, but wouldn't prevent him from living with George W. Bush, if he is re-elected.

Well, no big surprises there.

But there's more from Le Monde.

Per their narrative, the U.S. has wanted two things of late: 1) international legitimacy for the Iraq project and, relatedly 2) more NATO involvement there.

Chirac gave Bush "1" via the recently passed U.N. resolution on Iraq.

But, on "2", he's treading very carefully--giving Bush just enough (likely training Iraqi gendarmes in Paris suburbs or such) to not totally piss Bush off--but not so much as to cut into his street cred with the anti-war crowd in France.

Chirac's current popularity levels are depressingly low (depressingly for him, at least)--so he likely hopes his neo-Gaullist bluster (don't tell me whether I need to let the Turks into the E.U.; no NATO "flag" in Iraq etc) will play well to the crowds.

There is a problem with all this calculus, however.

Chirac is increasingly isolated within NATO (the masthead is, ironically doubtless, entitled "Splendid Isolation").

In fact, the French are looking more isolated than the Americans (don't expect Paul Krugman or MaDo to clue you in re: this, however).

As I argued in a post yesterday, it's crunch-time for serious players to now forge a trans-atlantic rapprochment.

Even Le Monde, if reluctantly, is coming around to this view. And, more important, I suspect, influential political/business elites in France (think Sarkozy, guys at places like Lazard, Paribas, SocGen etc).

I suspect there is not insignificant frustration in these quarters (senior French bankers/lawyers and rightist, Atlanticist-oriented politicians) that Chirac is proving to engage in such thinly veiled obstructionism now well over a year out from the end of major combat in Iraq.

It looks like, to help Chirac from continuing to make such crude miscalculations, we're going to need to push him along a bit more forcefully.

How?

Not by boycotting French wines (contrary to what you hear, they are better than their Aussie and Chilean counterparts...) or taking the French out of Fries.

Rather, U.S. diplomats should now, as much as possible (and whilst holding their noses) curry favor with Schroder so as to peel him away from Chirac.

Let's get German committments for quite substantial training of Iraqi officers in places like the UAE, Turkey and Jordan (dangle a couple carrots to Berlin if need be, fewer bases and such to be relocated to Eastern Europe, for instance).

Then various actors need to go to Chirac and tell him to step up to bat and keep up with the Germans.

After all, the state of the Franco-German union is strong! Shouldn't these two close friends be operating in lock-step? Committing a similar degree of resources in, respectively, Afghanistan and Iraq?

More than any of this, bien sur, Chirac is looking at Bush's poll numbers. If they start to trend up Chirac will likely start playing ball more readily.

He's used to awkward co-habitations--but doesn't want to make another four years with Dubya too awkward!

Developing.

Posted by Gregory at 12:57 AM | Comments (17)
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