Saturday, April 24, 2004
What Cheney was really up to --
and why he didn't want anyone to know
Josh Marshall has been on the case of how early the Bush administration began plotting the invasion of Iraq, and he's doing a good job of putting the pieces together.
I don't think anyone who has been paying attention for the past year will be surprised to learn that Deputy Defense Secretary and leading neocon Paul Wolfowitz was advocating the military conquest of Iraq even before 9/11.
But Josh links to Jane Mayer's February article in The New Yorker that includes this interesting graph:
For months there has been a debate in Washington about when the Bush Administration decided to go to war against Saddam. In Ron Suskind’s recent book “The Price of Loyalty,” former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill charges that Cheney agitated for U.S. intervention well before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Additional evidence that Cheney played an early planning role is contained in a previously undisclosed National Security Council document, dated February 3, 2001. The top-secret document, written by a high-level N.S.C. official, concerned Cheney’s newly formed Energy Task Force. It directed the N.S.C. staff to coöperate fully with the Energy Task Force as it considered the “melding” of two seemingly unrelated areas of policy: “the review of operational policies towards rogue states,” such as Iraq, and “actions regarding the capture of new and existing oil and gas fields." (emphasis added)Perhaps this explains why Cheney has been fighting tooth and nail to keep the discussions of his Energy Task Force locked away from any and all public exposure.
Wouldn't want the American people to know that they were planning to send American boys and girls to fight and die in a foreign land just for oil, now would we? As Atrios is so fond of saying, "What will we tell the children?"
Friday, April 23, 2004
Pat Tillman: ASU, Cardinals, 2/75 Rangers
KIA in Afghanistan
Though many thought he was too small to play linebacker at a major university, Pat Tillman did -- with his ponytail hanging down from his helmet.
He was one of the few bright spots on a usually horrible Arizona Cardinals football team.
Then following 9/11, Tillman walked away from a lucrative career in the NFL to serve his country.
Reports during the past 24 hours indicate that Tillman was killed in action in Afghanistan.
The All Spin Zone found a story that, in many ways, captures much of what Tillman was about:
The story that comes to mind is one told by Bruce Snyder, Tillman's coach at Arizona State. It seems that Snyder planned to redshirt Tillman as a freshman, extending his eligibility by a season. Of course, that would necessitate Tillman remaining in college for an extra year.Rest in Peace, Pat.
"You can do whatever you want with me," Tillman said, "but in four years I'm gone. I've got things to do with my life."
Thursday, April 22, 2004
I guess it depends on what your
definition of "sovereignty" is
According to the New York Times:
The Bush administration's plans for a new caretaker government in Iraq would place severe limits on its sovereignty, including only partial command over its armed forces and no authority to enact new laws, administration officials said Thursday.
Asked whether the new Iraqi government would have a chance to approve military operations led by American commanders, who would be in charge of both foreign and Iraqi forces, a senior official said Americans would have the final say.
"The arrangement would be, I think as we are doing today, that we would do our very best to consult with that interim government and take their views into account," said Marc Grossman, under secretary of state for political affairs. But he added that American commanders will "have the right, and the power, and the obligation" to decide. (emphasis added)So, how many electoral votes does the new 51st state get?
Violence Begets Violence:
and all violence is local
Rahul Mahajan of Empire Notes, who has become Left Blogistan's man on the street in Iraq, has some doubts about what Juan Cole sees as the connection between Israel's assasination of Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and the uprising in Iraq.
But I haven't talked to a single Iraqi who brought up Yassin unprompted. When I ask, people condemn the killing, but nobody sees fit to mention it otherwise. As I've written before, in Fallujah it is a simple cycle of revenge, initiated by the United States in a massacre last April; the proximate cause of the Blackwater incident was a rampage by Marines the previous week in which at least seven civilians were killed. After Blackwater, it was just the decision of the U.S. military command to exact collective punishment. People under siege, attacked with 2000-pound bombs from F-16's, attacked by AC-130 Spectre gunships, and M-1 Abrams tanks, as well as by the ubiquitous snipers, don't need the assassination of some foreign figure to get themselves worked up to resist. Similarly, the flareup with al-Sadr was precipitated by the closing of his newspaper, followed by the killing of several Sadr supporters in peaceful demonstrations against the closing."Tell me how this ends."
Richard Perle on Iraq:
It's time to change his medication
I was going to suggest you take a look at testimony Juan Cole gave before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on Tuesday. Here's a sample:
The biggest US failure in Iraq to date lay in American inability to understand the workings of Iraqi society. Many US administrators and military commanders appeared to believe that once the Baathist state of Saddam Hussein was overthrown, they would be dealing with an Iraqi society that was docile, grateful and virtually a blank slate on which US goals could be imprinted.Cole knows the region and has a good handle on the current situation. So I hope our esteemed Senators were paying attention.
What I didn't realize until I read Cole's posting this morning was that neocon guru Richard Perle also testified as part of the same panel. It's really hard to tell with this guy whether he's off his medication or has been dipping liberally into some serious alkaloids.
Cole puts it into perspective:
Perle, of course, is no Iraq expert. He doesn't know a word of Arabic, and has never lived anywhere in the Arab world.
Perle's entire testimony was a camouflaged piece of flakking for Ahmad Chalabi. He complained that the State Department and the CIA had not created a private army for Chalabi and had not cooperated with him. Perle did not mention Chalabi's name, but it was clear that was who he was talking about (State and CIA famously dropped Chalabi in the mid-1990s when they asked him to account for the millions they had given him, and he could not).
But here's an interesting contradiction. I said at one point that I thought Bremer should have acquiesced in Grand Ayatollah Sistani's request for open elections to be held this spring, and that if they had been, it might have forestalled the recent blow-up. I had in mind that Muqtada al-Sadr in particular would have been kept busy acting as a ward boss, trying to get his guys returned from East Baghdad & Kufa, etc.
Perle became alarmed and said that scheduling early elections would not have prevented the "flare-up" because the people who mounted it were enemies of freedom and uninterested in elections. Perle has this bizarre black and white view of the world and demonizes people right and left. A lot of the Mahdi Army young men who fought for Muqtada are just neighborhood youth, unemployed and despairing. Some are fanatics, but most of them don't hate freedom-- most of them have no idea what it is, having never experienced democracy.
But anyway, what struck me was the contradiction between Perle's insistence that the US should have handed power over to Iraqis months ago, and his simultaneous opposition to free and fair elections. The only conclusion I can draw is that he wants power handed to Chalabi, who would then be a kind of dictator and would not go to the polls any time soon.
Perle also at one point said he didn't think the events of the first two weeks of April were a "mass uprising" and said he thought Fallujah was quiet now. (Nope).
It is indicative of the Alice in Wonderland world in which these Washington Think Tank operators live that Perle could make such an obviously false observation with a straight face. Even a child who has been watching CNN for the past three weeks would know that there was a mass uprising. (Even ten percent of the American-trained police switched sides and joined the opposition, and 40% of Iraqi security men refused to show up to fight the insurgents.)Yes indeed. Go ask Alice.
Wednesday, April 21, 2004
Cheap Drugs -- Safe Drugs:
drug money in an election year fight
In a challenge to George Bush, the Republican leadership in Congress, and the big pharmaceutical companies, a bi-partisan effort in Congress is pushing for a drug import bill. According to an AP article in the WaPo:
Support for legalizing lower-cost prescription drugs from Canada is growing in Congress amid an election-year clamor from states, lawmakers and the elderly.
The White House and Republican congressional leaders remain opposed, saying there is no way to ensure safety. Nonetheless, proponents contend that public frustration with rising drug prices and growing defiance of a federal ban on prescription imports will force action before the November elections.Well of course the White House is opposed. You didn't think those millions of dollars of campaign contributions came from Joe Bob Lunchbucket, did you?
The White House, Bill Frist, and Tom DeLey will, of course, say that what they are really concerned about is the safety of the American consumer. The subtext of this xenophobic little ploy is that there is no way to be sure that drugs produced outside the U.S. are safe. This is such a transparent croc-o-caca. Consider last winter when the U.S. was running low on flu vaccine:
The Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said yesterday that they were exploring ways to import influenza vaccine from Europe and redistribute supplies to meet any shortages in this country.So it isn't safe for consumers to buy brand name pharmaceuticals from Canada, but the CDC was out shopping for flu vaccine all over Europe.
According to a this article in USA Today,
The pharmaceutical industry fears that the growing cross-border business is a back-door approach to U.S. price controls.Follow the money.
Bush, Bombs, the Bible, and The Blues
Thanks to Mark Kleiman for his recent post The First Suicide Bomber.
I've had a fondness for The Blues most of my life. And I've known the Rev. Gary Davis' If I Had My Way since I was a teenager. But not being much of an Old Testament scholar, I didn't really know the story of how Samson knocked the central pillars out of the Philistine's house, killing thousands of people as well as himself.
Any blog that can connect Iraq, the Bible, The Blues and the intellectual and moral laziness of George W. Bush is well worth the read.
Searching for Weapons of Mass Destruction
on the Internet
This week's blog humor:
Weapons of Mass Destruction:
Try this real quick, before someone forces Google to fix its site!
1. Go to www.google.com.au
2. Type "weapons of mass destruction" (do not hit enter)
3. Hit the I'm Feeling lucky button, not the Google Search.
4. Read the entire "error message" carefully. Someone at Google Autralia has a great sense of humor!
Thanks to DD
The Cost of War
Atrios points to a WaPo article that says even Republicans in Congress say the president is playing politics by not bringing up a supplemental spending bill for Iraq until after the November election.
The military already has identified unmet funding needs, including initiatives aimed at providing equipment and weapons for troops in Iraq. The Army has publicly identified nearly $6 billion in funding requests that did not make Bush's $402 billion defense budget for 2005, including $132 million for bolt-on vehicle armor; $879 million for combat helmets, silk-weight underwear, boots and other clothing; $21.5 million for M249 squad automatic weapons; and $27 million for ammunition magazines, night sights and ammo packs. Also unfunded: $956 million for repairing desert-damaged equipment and $102 million to replace equipment lost in combat.
The Marine Corps' unfunded budget requests include $40 million for body armor, lightweight helmets and other equipment for "Marines engaged in the global war on terrorism," Marine Corps documents state. The Marines are also seeking 1,800 squad automatic weapons and 5,400 M4 carbine rifles.
Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.), vice chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, charged that the president is playing political games by postponing further funding requests until after the election, to try to avoid reopening debate on the war's cost and future.Software
Then there is the toll the war is taking on military families. Digby picked up on a comment posted to catch.com. It's from the wife of a soldier whose unit was at the airfield about to fly out of Iraq when they got word that they would be staying another 4 months.
I am the wife of a soldier who was just officially extended yesterday. He has been in Iraq for nearly one year. He has proudly served his tour, and we were planning for his arrival home next week. Here's a true story. A group of soldiers from his unit went to BIAP to wait for their return flight to Germany, where we are based. They were turned away and told that they were being kept in Iraq indefinitely. On the way back to their base in Baghdad proper, they were ambushed. The unit had their first casualty that night. My husband should have been with them, as he is one of their medics, but he was supposed to drive the ambulance to Kuwait the next day, so they told him to stay back and get some rest. I am sickened by this whole betrayal of trust and abuse of our volunteers. If Bush and Co. get reelected, start moving your military age men to Canada, because the draft will be reinstated. Nobody deserves this kind of a back stabbing. Least of all the men and women who have signed up to protect our country. This extension was a death sentence for that poor soldier. This extension cost three children their father. And it will cost much more. And now, to touchstone: My husband signed up so that he could go to college. If we would have foreseen this, there is no way that he would have put his name on that dotted line. He has missed the birth of his third child.....he could die out there. He's supposed to be sitting safe in Kuwait right now, but instead, he's in a tent because their barracks were taken over by 1st Cavalry soldiers who went in to replace them. They haven't got enough food right now, because there are too many soldiers on that base, and DoD was too short sighted to think that they might end up needing more troops. All their stuff is out to sea at the time being, so they are just sitting ducks waiting for their equipment to come back. This is a fiasco and a logistical nightmare. DoD and Rummy have been denying that there is a troop shortage for MONTHS! General Shinseki predicted this and was forced to retire. In November, Senator McCain called for at least 15,000 more troops. Well, shucks, seems they were right after all. I pray that John Kerry wins this election. It's so important to vote this year.I'll second that. Lest anyone think this military wife is just an isolated case, here's more from catch.com:
Thanks, Secretary Rumsfeld
I'd like to extend a hearty thank you to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for the pending 120-day extension of our troops in Iraq. After all, what's 120 days, really? For our family, it's four birthdays (again), Mother's Day and Father's Day (again), our wedding anniversary (again), and the Fourth of July, which is what service is all about for a lot of military families.
I thank Secretary Rumsfeld for all of his talk about not overburdening families and soldiers. One year of their lives on the line, worrying daily about their safety, couldn't possibly be enough to "overburden" us.
Thanks from our children, who apparently don't need a father present, who cry when Mommy's time is not enough for the four of them, who were counting the days until Daddy could hold them on his lap.
Thanks for betraying our trust by telling us one year "boots on the ground" and changing it at your discretion. Thanks for making the small percentage who agree with this sound like the majority. Thanks for not sending help in the form of more troops last spring when soldiers were dying, but keeping our soldiers there for extra time this spring.
Thanks for the lies you spew about how things are not so bad and we don't need more troops, all the while keeping 1st Armored Division troops there. You're obviously saying one thing and doing another. Thanks for using the excuse of these troops' experience to do so. When they kept control last year, they went in with the same experience as the new units have now. Thanks for not bothering to come to Germany, face the family members, answer our questions and put faces with your numbers.
The next thank you should come from President Bush this November, when John Kerry is elected president because of the lies Secretary Rumsfeld told. The final thanks will be from whoever has to rebuild our Army's strength when my husband and many others refuse to re-enlist.
I support our troops. I love my husband. We should not have to choose the Army or family. We should be able to trust that we can have Army and family.And this, of course, only represents the toll on American families. Families in Iraq are a whole other story.
Nobody really knows to what extent the discontent expressed above is wide-spread within the military. Nobody really knows how these types of experiences and sentiments will impact the election in November. But in 2000, Bush was able to count on the military community as a key constituency on election day. There is mounting evidence that members of the military and their families will not vote for George W. Bush again.
Tuesday, April 20, 2004
What Victory Gets You:
Mark Schmitt at The Decembrist has a very thoughtful post about what likely is in store for a Kerry presidency come January 21st.
The Democratic Party is currently experiencing a level of unanimity and cooperation that is without precedent this side of World War II. The collective focus on removing George W. Bush and his associates from government should hold together until about the middle of the second week of November. Once the election is over, the factions will emerge and the infighting will begin. Rush Limbaugh will have something besides his back pain to talk about, and the radical right will start planning their next coup.
It may very well resemble the first several months of the Clinton administration, as the Kerry team tries to learn the ropes of running the federal government. They will stumble and fall and make embarrassing mistakes.
As Schmitt points out, Kerry will inherit two huge problems: a crushing federal deficit and an ugly situation in Iraq. Neither were his creation, but he will be expected to fix them. And with (at best) a slim majority in the Senate and the Republicans controlling the House, Kerry will need to reach out to moderate Republicans, often at the risk of alienating members of his own party.
In short, the Kerry administration will be in a jam from the get. The harmonious Democratic Party will go back to looking like the Keystone Cops, and the right-wing media will be there to jump on every single faux pas. Every attempt to govern this divided nation will be met with cheap shots, back-stabbing, and beltway betrayal.
Given that scenario, it could make you wonder why on earth we would go to so much trouble to get John Kerry elected. There are of course many reasons, from education to the environment. But lest we lose focus, allow me to remind us all of one more. Three words: Supreme Court Appointments.
Intelligence and Movies:
Lessons Learned and Lessons Lost
One of the positions an intelligence officer will hold in the course of an army career is that of the "2." The designation changes by echelon: S2 at battalion and brigade, G2 at division and corps, J2 at a joint command like CENTCOM. I even knew a colonel who was a U2, the senior intelligence officer at a United Nations command.
Besides being the commander's primary advisor on matters of intelligence, the job of the 2 is to know the other side, the enemy, the adverse party, inside and out.
During the Wargaming portion of mission planning, the 2 plays the role of the enemy commander. In this capacity the 2 is expected to think, plan, act and react the way the enemy commander would. This is the key to the friendly commander carefully examining every possible friendly and enemy course of action, and making decisions based on those scenarios.
I'm certain that the command staff at CENTCOM did this exercise in preparation for the invasion of Iraq. I'm also pretty sure that they only played the game out so far. They got to the fall of Baghdad and Tikrit (Saddam's hometown in the Sunni Triangle), the defeat of the Iraqi Army, and the collapse of the Iraqi government.
The logic at the time was that a nominal force would remain in-country to provide security and stability for the CPA, the NGOs, the UN, and whoever else was going to come in and put Iraq back together again. That's what the think-tank weenies like Feith and Wolfowitz told the military. Nobody ever said anything about having to put down a major insurgency.
Back in August, when things were starting to get bad for the U.S. forces in Iraq, but were still months away full-blown chaos, the Special Ops folks in the Pentagon showed a "training film." It was called The Battle of Algiers.
From an intel perspective, one could view this as an effort to get inside the enemy's head, always a useful exercise. It's also interesting to note that it was the leadership of the Special Operations part of the Pentagon, not the senior civilian leadership, who thought a film about a major insurgency in an Islamic country might be instructive.
The decision to show Algiers, David Ignatius wrote in the WaPo, is "one hopeful sign that the military is thinking creatively and unconventionally about Iraq." He even quotes from a Pentagon flier about the movie:
How to win a battle against terrorism and lose the war of ideas. ... Children shoot soldiers at point blank range. Women plant bombs in cafes. Soon the entire Arab population builds to a mad fervor. Sound familiar? The French have a plan. It succeeds tactically, but fails strategically. To understand why, come to a rare showing of this film.Charles Paul Freund writing in Slate provides a pretty good critique of the film, especially in terms of its applicablility to the U.S. situation in Iraq. It may be even more relevant now that events in Iraq have escelated far beyond where they were last summer.
It's welcome news that the military is thinking creatively about the American role in Iraq, but the lessons and pleasures of The Battle of Algiers are a lot more ambiguous than this Pentagon blurb implies. To praise the film for its strategic insights is to buy into the 1960s revolutionary mystique that it celebrates; it is the collapse of that very mystique that has contributed to the film's current obscurity and made screenings "rare."One of the key lessons of the French experience of trying to maintain control of Algeria, if not well-articulated in the film, was that neither side could wage its fight without losing its morality. Both the French and the Algerian insurgents started with high-minded ideals. For the French it was to provide stablility and western values to a fractous North African population. For the Algerians it was to be free of their French colonial masters. In the end, both sides lost much of their humanity in a sea of blood, terror and torture. If there are lessons to be learned by the U.S. commanders in watching The Battle of Algiers, they are murky and ambiguous.
Perhaps if we're going to watch movies to help us understand how the other side thinks, we need a film that really puts us in the shoes of a country that has been invaded and occupied.
Note to the smart guys in the Pentagon: If you really want to get inside the head of an Iraqi insurgent, instead of The Battle of Algiers you should rent Red Dawn.
Monday, April 19, 2004
We were Pundits Once and Wrong:
Some bloggers have the courage to
admit they made a bad call on Iraq
A couple of Atrios posts Sunday here and here formed an interesting juxtaposition of thoughts about Iraq for me. The first was about Matt Yglesias acknowledging that he was wrong about supporting the U.S. invasion of Iraq. In his own words:
In the interests of full candor, let it be said that I did something very similar. The difference here being that, as I will now admit, I was wrong. Neither the policies being advocated by Bush nor the policies being advocated by the anti-war movement (even at its most mainstream) were the correct ones. What I wanted to see happen wasn't going to happen. I had to throw in with one side or another. I threw in with the wrong side. The bad consequences of the bad policy I got behind are significantly worse than the consequences of the bad policy advocated by the other side would have been. I blame, frankly, vanity. "Bush is right to say we should invade Iraq, but he's going about it the wrong way, here is my nuanced wonderfullness" sounds much more intelligent than some kind of chant at an anti-war rally. In fact, however, it was less intelligent. I got off the bandwagon right before the shooting started, but by then it was far too late -- this was more a case of CYA than a case of efficacious political dissent.
Now I am not an important person, and at the time I was even less important. Nevertheless, the block of opinion of which I was a part included some very influential people. In the aggregate, we were never a very large block of public opinion. We were, however, the all-important swing group. Some of us (represented in the blogosphere by me, Kevin, Josh, etc.) swung too late. Some of us never swung at all. If we had swung earlier (not just the bloggers and the journalists and hawkish Clinton administration veterans, but also the regular folks who had similar opinions) there probably would have been no war. We should have swung earlier.Personally, I admire Matt for having the courage to admit that he made a mistake. That's a level of candor we rarely see in the media, and certainly never get from the Bush administration. Mark Kleiman has weighed in on this issue too, and I think his thoughts are worth reading.
The second Atrios link was to an article out of the UK about Dr. Khidir Hamza, an Iraqi nuclear scientist who convinced a lot of people, including me, that Iraq had a viable, hidden cache of weapons of mass destruction. I remember hearing this guy on NPR during the build-up to the war, and I thought he was credible.
Now it appears that Dr. Hamza has fallen from grace:
Once he was a prize witness before congressional committees, arguing that the US must invade Iraq immediately because Saddam Hussein possessed a fearsome arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. Given a top job in Baghdad after the war, he has now been quietly sacked by the US authorities.
Khidir Hamza was the dissident Iraqi nuclear scientist who played an important role persuading Americans to go to war in Iraq. His credentials appeared impeccable because he claimed to have headed Saddam's nuclear programme before defecting in 1994.
After the war, Dr Hamza was rewarded, to the distress of many Iraqi scientists, with a well-paid job as the senior advisor to the Ministry of Science and Technology. Appointed by the Coalition Provisional Authority, he had partial control of Iraq's nuclear and military industries.
It was not a successful appointment, according to sources within the ministry. Dr Hamza seldom turned up for work. He obstructed others from doing their jobs. On 4 March, his contract was not renewed by the CPA. It is now trying to evict him from his house in the heavily guarded "Green Zone" where the CPA has its headquarters. He could not be contacted by The Independent but is believed to have taken up a job with a US company.As we used to say a long time ago, I guess his karma caught up with him.
For my personal story, Dr. Hamza is significant only in the sense that I got sucked in by his story, too. I remember discussing his statements while talking with a friend about whether or not war was justified.
I wasn't blogging then, so I don't have a public record causing me to face scrutiny for public opinion I may have tried to sway one way or the other. But Matt's statement caused me to undergo some introspection.
When the war started, I had been out of the military for a few years. But like all army officers who leave the service, I was subject to being called up. I had old friends in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Thus, while generally being opposed to most everything the Bush administration had done to that point, I still had some strong emotional ties to the military.
For the sake of my own clarity, I have gone back and reviewed some of my email communications. They help me see how my own position on the Iraq war was evolving a year ago. I have posted some excerpts below:
Everyday I go to the mailbox, wondering if there will be a yellow mail gram, telling me that the Army has decided that they just can't do without me during this time of cowboy militarism. So far, so good.
One additional thought. A woman who works a couple of cubicles down from me made an interesting comment the other day. "Remember when the worst thing in the news was Monica Lewinsky?" ... or as one another friend said over a year ago, "I'll take a little unauthorized falating in the oval office over a president who's dumber than dog shit any day."
3/22/04In retrospect, I guess it didn't take me very long to see the situation in Iraq pretty much the was I see it today. Only problem is, now the damage is done. Even those who, a year ago, could see how bad it might get, still don't have a clear picture of how to put it back together again.
On to the war -- it is the reason I need diversions right now. I have such mixed feelings that, if I were to dwell on them, give them much air time in my head, they would just immobilize me.
I have old friends and associates still in uniform. One is in Delta. Some are flying helicopters. Some are doing intel. I could be glued to the TV screen for hours, just watching, seeing, reading between the lines. But what we get on TV is mostly Rumsfeld Hyperbole and reporters trying to make out anything at all they can talk about through the smoke and dust.
But all this is combined with a sense that my government has screwed up international relations beyond repair, and has created a policy of pre-emptive strikes without an international consensus that will come back to haunt us in the worst ways when other counties grant themselves the same prerogative.
And we will soon discover that making peace is a whole lot harder than making war. I know the people who make war. They study it. They practice it. They live it.
I don't believe we have much of a clue about how to put Iraq back together again, other than signing big contracts with companies like Haliburton to make sure the oil starts flowing as soon as possible. There it is.
The Selling of the Iraqi War:
Bush had already decided --
Wanted the intel to sell it to Joe Public
The interesting scenario painted by Bob Woodward in his new book and detailed in the WaPo, makes it clear that Bush and Cheney had already decided to topple Saddam following 9/11. The president's only concern was having enough intelligence to sell the war to the American public. As it turned out, two key players in the intelligence community gave him what he wanted, and in the process made mistakes that are still costing lives in Iraq today.
Bush got the wheels moving early (Josh Marshall is tracking the push to get CENTCOM working on plans for Iraq at the same time it was planning for Afghanistan).
The CIA's pointman on Iraq, known as Saul, had briefed the White House that covert operations alone couldn't topple Saddam.
The one thing the dictator's regime was organized for was to stop a coup, he said. Hussein had taken power in a coup. He has put down coups. The son of a bitch knows what a coup is, Saul said. If you are an Iraqi military unit and you have the bullets to launch a coup, you don't have the gas to move your tanks. If you have gas, you don't have bullets. Nobody stays in power long enough to launch a coup.
Only a U.S. military operation and invasion that the CIA could support had a chance of ousting Hussein, Saul told Cheney.So Bush authorized the CIA to begin planning offensive operations to be conducted in concert with a military invasion.
With Tenet's approval, Saul, Deputy Director John E. McLaughlin and James L. Pavitt, the deputy director for operations, worked on a new Top Secret intelligence order for regime change in Iraq that Bush signed on Feb. 16, 2002. It directed the CIA to support the U.S. military in overthrowing Hussein and granted authority to support opposition groups and conduct sabotage operations inside Iraq.CIA Director George Tenet was concerned about the agency's credibility, especially after the U.S. failed to follow through with support for uprisings of the Shia and Kurd populations at the end of the Gulf War I.
The agency had done a lessons-learned study of past Iraq covert operations, he said, and frankly the CIA was tainted.
"We've got a serious credibility problem," he said. The Kurds, the Shiites, former Iraqi military officers and probably most attuned people in Iraq knew the history of the CIA's cutting and running. To reestablish credibility, potential anti-Hussein forces would have to see a determined seriousness on the part of the United States. Preparations for a massive military invasion might send that signal, nothing else.Since Tenet was investing in assets in Iraq, it was important for him that the U.S. follow through militarily.
In March, Tenet met secretly with two individuals who would be critical to covert action inside Iraq: Massoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani, the leaders of the two main Kurdish groups in northern Iraq. The two controlled separate areas of a Kurdish region roughly the size of Maine. The areas were effectively autonomous from Hussein's Baghdad regime, but Iraqi military units were stationed just miles from the Kurdish strongholds and Hussein could easily send them to fight and slaughter the Kurds as he had done after the 1991 Persian Gulf War when they had risen up expecting U.S. protection, which was not provided.
Tenet had one message for Barzani and Talabani: The United States was serious, the military and the CIA were coming. It was different this time. The CIA was not going to be alone. The military would attack. Bush meant what he said. It was a new era. Hussein was going down.With the CIA's reputation on the line, Tenet had cause to make a stronger case for war than the intelligence could actually support. This was the intelligence community's first fatal mistake.
The second involved changing the rules on how intelligence assessments are presented.
Stuart A. Cohen, an intelligence professional for 30 years, was acting chairman of the National Intelligence Council when the Iraq assessment of WMD was being prepared. He confided to a colleague that he wanted to avoid equivocation, if possible. If the Key Judgments used words such as "maybe" or "probably" or "likely," the NIE would be "pablum," he said. Ironclad evidence in the intelligence business is scarce and analysts need to be able to make judgments beyond the ironclad, Cohen felt. The evidence was substantial but nonetheless circumstantial; no one had proof of a vial of biological agents or weapons, or a smoking vat of chemical warfare agents. Yet coupled with the incontrovertible proof that Saddam Hussein had had WMD in the past -- U.N. weapons inspectors in the 1990s had found them, tested them and destroyed them -- the conclusion seemed obvious.
The alternative view was that Hussein no longer had such weapons. No one wanted to say that because so much intelligence would have to be discounted. The real and best answer was that he probably had WMD, but that there was no proof and the case was circumstantial. Given the leeway to make a "judgment," which in the dictionary definition is merely an "opinion," the council was heading toward a strong declaration. No pablum.
Analysts at the CIA had long discussed the issue of avoiding equivocation. At times, many, including John McLaughlin, felt that they had to dare to be wrong to be clearer in their judgments. That summer McLaughlin had told the National Security Council principals that the CIA thought it had a pretty good case that Hussein had WMD, but that others would demand more direct proof. The CIA did not have an anthrax sample, and didn't have a chemical weapons sample in hand.What transpired next was a combination of political farce followed by tragic outcomes. Despite the NIE, Bush could see that, on its surface, the case that Iraq had WMD was weak -- too weak to sell to the American public. But Tenet, at this point heavily invested in the U.S. following through on the assurances he had made, convinced the president, using his now-famous "slam dunk" statement.
On Dec. 19, 2002, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice asked Tenet and McLaughlin how strong the case was on weapons of mass destruction and what could be said publicly. The agency's October national estimate that had concluded that Saddam Hussein has chemical and biological weapons had been out for more than two months; the congressional resolutions supporting war had passed by nearly 3 to 1; and the U.N. Security Council, where a weapons inspection resolution had passed 15 to 0, was actively engaged in inspections inside Iraq. Still something was missing. Even Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz had commented recently on the inconclusive nature of judgments about Hussein's WMD.
Two days later, Tenet and McLaughlin went to the Oval Office. The meeting was for presenting "The Case" on WMD as it might be presented to a jury with Top Secret security clearances. There was great expectation. In addition to the president, Cheney, Rice and White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. attended.
With some fanfare, McLaughlin stepped up to brief with a series of flip charts. This was the rough cut, he indicated, still highly classified and not cleared for public release. The CIA wanted to reserve on what would be revealed to protect sources and detection methods if there was no military conflict.
When McLaughlin concluded, there was a look on the president's face of, What's this? And then a brief moment of silence.
"Nice try," Bush said. "I don't think this is quite -- it's not something that Joe Public would understand or would gain a lot of confidence from."
Card was also underwhelmed. The presentation was a flop. In terms of marketing, the examples didn't work, the charts didn't work, the photos were not gripping, the intercepts were less than compelling.
Bush turned to Tenet. "I've been told all this intelligence about having WMD and this is the best we've got?"
Tenet, a basketball fan who attended as many home games of his alma mater Georgetown University as possible, leaned forward and threw his arms up again. "Don't worry, it's a slam dunk!"With that kind assurance from his Director of Central Intelligence, Bush gained confidence that the case could be sold to Joe Public. He decided that what the case need was some sharp prosecuting attorneys to make the case for the American public, just as though the were making it to a jury. Bush wanted a guilty verdict from the American people so he could feel good about the war he was already planning.
"Needs a lot more work," Bush told Card and Rice. "Let's get some people who've actually put together a case for a jury." He wanted some lawyers, prosecutors if need be. They were going to have to go public with something.
The president told Tenet several times, "Make sure no one stretches to make our case."
The president was determined to hand the evidence over to experienced lawyers who could use it to make the best possible case. The document was given to Rice's deputy, Stephen J. Hadley (Yale Law '72) and Cheney's chief aide, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby (Columbia Law '75). They visited the CIA and posed a series of questions that the agency answered in writing.
As far as Libby was concerned, the CIA had made the case that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and significant terrorist ties. The CIA had been collecting intelligence on Iraqi WMD for decades. There was no doubt where the agency stood: The October NIE had said Hussein had chemical and biological weapons, and Tenet had declared the case a slam dunk. Libby believed that the agency, which had the hard job of sifting and evaluating so much information, at times missed or overlooked potentially important material, intelligence that might not be definitive, but could add to the mosaic.
On Saturday, Jan. 25, Libby gave a lengthy presentation in the Situation Room to Rice, Hadley, Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage, Wolfowitz, White House communications director Dan Bartlett and speechwriter Michael Gerson. Though she had formally left the White House staff, Karen Hughes was there. White House political director Karl Rove was in and out of the meeting.
Holding a thick sheaf of paper, Libby outlined the latest version of the case against Hussein. He began with a long section on satellite, intercept and human intelligence showing the efforts at concealment and deception. Things were being dug up, moved and buried. No one knew for sure what it was precisely, but the locations and stealth fit the pattern of WMD concealment. He began each section with blunt conclusions -- Hussein had chemical and biological weapons, was producing and concealing them; his ties to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network were numerous and strong.
Libby said that Mohammed Atta, the leader of the Sept. 11 attacks, was believed to have met in Prague with an Iraqi intelligence officer and cited intelligence of as many as four meetings. The others knew the CIA had evidence of two meetings perhaps, and that there was no certainty about what Atta had been doing in Prague or whether he had met with the Iraqi official. Libby talked for about an hour.
Armitage was appalled at what he considered overreaching and hyperbole. Libby was drawing only the worst conclusions from fragments and silky threads.
On the other hand, Wolfowitz, who had been convinced years ago of Iraq's complicity in anti-American terrorism, thought Libby presented a strong case. He subscribed to Defense Secretary Rumsfeld's notion that lack of evidence did not mean something did not exist.
The most important response came from Karen Hughes. As a communications exercise, she said, it didn't work. The sweeping conclusions at the head of each section were too much. The president, she said, wanted it to be like the old television series "Dragnet": "Just the facts." Let people draw their own conclusions.It is perhaps telling that, because the evidence itself, even after it had been cherry-picked by Scooter Libby, wasn't strong enough to stand on its own. It needed to be presented by someone in the administration who actually had some credibility with the American people. The only person who had that kind of standing was Colin Powell.
So who then should present the public case? Rice and Hadley pondered that. The case would have to be made to the United Nations, so the chief diplomat, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, was the logical choice. Hadley believed there were additional reasons to choose Powell. First, to have maximum credibility, it would be best to go counter to type and everyone knew that Powell was soft on Iraq, that he was the one who didn't want to go. Second, Powell was conscious of his credibility, and his reputation. He would examine the intelligence carefully. Third, when Powell was prepared, he was very persuasive.
"I want you to do it," Bush told the secretary of state. "You have the credibility to do it." Powell was flattered to be asked to do what no one else could.It is one of the true ironies of this whole affair that Powell, who was the only one with enough credibility to make the case based on the faulty evidence, lost his credibility with the American people and the rest of the world by doing so.