Dirty tricks

Hahaha... Steve Bell on Bush and gay marriage.


No posting for a while

There'll be no posting here for a while, I'm sorry to say, in addition to the no class that you always find here. Other duties require my attention for the moment.

In the meantime, read this article on the breakup of the former Yugoslavia and the role of outside forces in the matter and meditate on any applicable lessons for the current Iraq.


Friedman, it's your move

MEMO TO: Thomas Friedman
FROM: President Bush

Dear Tom:

As you know, I don't read the papers all that much. Hell, I never bother with what I call "the filter" - especially your paper, the New York Times. It's just too liberal for me, always going into "gutter politics" and practicing "revisionist history". But your recent column, "Arabs, It's Your Move", the one where you do your old little shtick and pretend to be me writing a letter to someone, came to my attention. Condi showed it to me. Loved it. I know that there are some people who think that it's old and tired and just not funny or witty and that the Times should get rid of it along with the person who serves it up every once in a while when he can't think of anything else to write - but not me. I just wanted to send you this letter to let you know I'd seen it and remark on a few points.

I thought you did an excellent job obscuring Sharon's underlying goal in his decision to not support Mahmoud Abbas. You made it seem as if he was just being a bad politician, or mean-spirited, when we both know good and well that Sharon didn't do anything to help Abbas because he simply refuses to do anything in support of any Palestinian - except maybe support their expulsion out of Palestine. It was clear to me, and I trust to you too, that Sharon actually wanted to undermine Abbas as quickly as possible, so as to have Arafat as the only Palestinian leader there which, of course, gave him an excuse to keep refusing to negotiate, to keep taking land, and to keep building settlements. The way that you then shifted the blame away from Sharon and onto Arafat for "destroying" Abbas was well done. We both know that Sharon is the same old Sharon - he plans on keeping the West Bank permanently under Israeli control, and this new Gaza stunt, even if he actually goes through with it, is simply a tactical move to further tighten the grip on the real prize.

I loved the way handled the failure of the Arab League peace proposal of 2002, Tom. I was wondering how you would treat this delicate topic, which I knew you couldn't ignore, because you were the person who broke the story. But then you made it seem as if it wasn't a real offer after all, that because the "Arab leaders" didn't present it "directly" to the Israeli prime minister or, I don't know, crawl to Tel Aviv on all fours and tearfully beg Sharon to accept it, it was their fault it failed. You didn't have to talk at all about how Sharon refused to seize this historic opportunity to end the "Arab-Israeli conflict" and, really, used the plan as toilet paper, not to mention the vicious campaign against it in the US by many of Israel's friends.

Your plan to have the "Arab leaders" invite me and Sharon to the upcoming Arab summit, so that they can present the plan again, so that Sharon can ignore it again, so that we can go through this process again and again in the future, instead of doing the logical thing and demanding that Sharon do something for once - you ever read Ralph Ellison's "Invisible Man", Tom? I'm sure you have - it's a classic and you're a brainy, literary kind of guy, even if you do have a problem sometimes keeping all of those metaphors straight. Well, your idea reminded me of the part where the "invisible man" finally finds out what those sealed letters he's been giving to his contacts in New York actually say. Do you remember what those letters said, Tom? "Keep that n----- boy running". I do think this is a good idea, Tom. We will keep those "boys", especially Arafat, running and running and running, and when they're not running, we'll get them dancing.

And the way you ended your column by calling the leaders of the Arab states "boys", that was wonderful - you really have been reading Ellison, haven't you? I'm going to have to try that the next time I talk to King Abdullah or Mubarak, or when that Chalabi fella comes in to the White House, asking for more help in Iraq. How's this: "Boy, you said we'd be welcomed with flowers and rose water, and now you want how many more billions of dollars?" Did that sound okay?

Anyway, Tom, I'd love to chat some more, but I have business to attend to. This whole AWOL thing, business contracts to sort out in Iraq, all of these commissions to deal with, 9-11, Plame, Iraq WMD - and you know how cranky I can get if I'm not in bed by 10. The trials of leadership. It's like driving a car. You start out, and you don't know where you're going, or exactly what's going on, and it gets to a point where you just have to say, "goddamn this steering wheel", and then you rip it off the column and you throw it out of the window, while you're still driving. And then, somehow, you get to where you're going, unless you don't. I believe you wrote a column on this once, which I also really liked.


Bush on post-war security

We will provide security against those who try to spread chaos, or settle scores, or threaten the territorial integrity of Iraq.

- George W. Bush, speech before the AEI, 26 February 2003

Some worry that a change of leadership in Iraq could create instability and make the situation worse. The situation could hardly get worse, for world security and for the people of Iraq. The lives of Iraqi citizens would improve dramatically if Saddam Hussein were no longer in power....

- George W. Bush, speech in Cincinnati, 7 October 2002

The present day, outside of Bush's own little world

Truck bombing kills 50: In one of the deadliest attacks in Iraq in recent months, a giant truck bomb exploded outside an Iraqi police station in a heavily Shi'ite city south of Baghdad, killing about 50 people and wounding another 75, just one day after US officials warned of a possible increase in sectarian violence.

Mixed in the grief and fury of Iskandariyah's residents were angry accusations against US forces, who many claimed were behind the blast. Several residents insisted the bombing had been a coalition attack against innocent Iraqis. Residents converged on the rubble within hours, after rumors whipped through the town claiming that the attack had come from an American rocket. The crowd chanted: "No, no to America! The police are traitors!"

Car bomb kills 47 in Baghdad: A suicide car bomb exploded at an Iraqi army recruitment center in Baghdad on Wednesday, killing 47 people and taking the 24-hour death toll in attacks against Iraqis working with the U.S. occupation up to 100.

Myers "optimistic" after bombings

...Air Force General Richard Myers, chairman of the military's Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he was optimistic about security despite the attack.

"We continue to be optimistic about the situation on the ground in Iraq," Myers said, adding there had been "a lot of success" in bringing stability and security to Iraq ahead of the June 30 target date for handing power to an Iraqi government.

Rumsfeld: Hey, humans are humans... it happens everywhere

"It's impossible to defend in every location against every conceivable kind of attack at every time of the day or night," Defense Secretary Ronald Rumsfeld told reporters in Washington after Tuesday's blast.

"In every... major city on the face of the earth, homicides occur every week. Hundreds occur every year in every city.

"Now, why if we have all those policemen, why if we have everyone against homicides, do they still occur? The answer is because human beings are human beings."

No word on whether Rumsfeld engaged in his increasingly characteristic insane/senile act of karate-chopping the air with his hands and shouting at the top of his voice with veins bulging out everywhere.

But who in their right mind could say any of this? Really - is there anyone who still takes these people seriously?

The Bush dynasty: an Ibn Khaldoun view

Author Kevin Phillips on the Bush family dynasty:
... an unusual and unflattering portrait of a great family (great in power, not morality) that has built a base over the course of the twentieth century in the back corridors of the new military-industrial complex and in close association with the growing intelligence and national security establishments.

The advent of a Machiavelli-inclined dynasty in what may be a Machiavellian Moment for the American Republic is not a happy coincidence.... National governance has, at least temporarily, moved away from the proven tradition of a leader chosen democratically, by a majority or plurality of the electorate, to the succession of a dynastic heir whose unfortunate inheritance is privileged, covert, and globally embroiling.
Ibn Khaldoun, early critical historian and sociologist, writing on the nature and evolution of dynasties in 1377*:
When the natural tendencies of royal authority to claim all glory for itself and acquire luxury and tranquility have been firmly established, the dynasty approaches senility.

... royal authority by its very nature requires luxury. People get accustomed to a great number of things. Their expenses are higher than their allowances and their income is not sufficient to pay for their expenditure. Those who are poor perish. Spendthrifts squander their income on luxuries. This (condition) becomes aggravated in the later generations. Eventually, all their income cannot pay for the luxuries and other things they have become used to. They grow needy. When their rulers urge them to defray the costs of raids and wars, they cannot get around it. Therefore, (the rulers) impose penalties on the (people) and deprive many of them of their property, either by appropriating it for themselves or by handing it over to their own children and supporters in the dynasty. In that way, they make the people too weak to keep their own affairs going, and their weakness then recoils upon the ruler and weakens him.

Dynasties have a natural life span like individuals.

... [the members of the first generation] (are used to) sharing their glory (with each other); they are brave and rapacious. Therefore, the strength of the group feeling [`asabiyah] continues to be preserved among them. They are sharp and greatly feared. ..

Under the influence of royal authority and a life of ease, the second generation changes from... privation to luxury and plenty... But many of the old virtues remain in them, because they had direct personal contact with the first generation and its conditions, and had observed with their own eyes its prowess and striving for glory...

The third generation, then, has (completely) forgotten the period of... toughness, as if it had never existed. They have lost (the taste for) the sweetness of fame and for group feeling, because they are dominated by force. Luxury reaches its peak among them, because they are so much given to a life of prosperity and ease. They become dependant on the dynasty and are like women and children who need to be defended... With their emblems, apparel, horseback-riding, and (fighting) skill, they deceive people and give them the wrong impression.. The ruler, then, has need of other, brave people to support him. He takes many clients and followers. They help the dynasty to some degree, until God permits it to be destroyed, and it goes with everything it stands for.

As one can see here, we have there three generations. In the course of these three generations, the dynasty grows senile and is worn out. Therefore, it is in the fourth generation that (ancestral) prestige is destroyed. ...

The stages of dynasties...

... the fifth stage is one of waste and squandering... Also, he [the ruler] acquires bad, low-class followers to whom he entrusts the most important matters (of state), which they are not qualified to handle by themselves, not knowing which of them they should tackle and which they should leave alone. The ruler seeks to destroy the great clients of his people and followers of his predecessors. Thus they come to hate him and conspire to refuse support to him. He loses a number of soldiers by spending their allowances on his pleasures (instead of paying them) and by refusing them access to his person and not supervising them (properly). Thus, he ruins the foundations his ancestors had laid and tears down what they had built up. In this stage, the dynasty is seized by senility and the chronic disease from which it can hardly ever rid itself, for which it can find no cure, and, eventually, it is destroyed.

Seclusion of, and control over, the ruler (by others) may occur in dynasties.

When royal authority is firmly established in one particular family... and when that family claims all royal authority for itself.. and when the children of that family succeed to royal authority in turn, by appointment, then it often happens that their wazirs [ministers or advisors] and entourage gain power over the throne. This occurs most often when a little child or weak member of the family is appointed successor by his father or made ruler by his creatures and servants. It becomes clear that he is unable to fulfil the functions of ruler. Therefore, they are fulfilled by his guardian, one of his father's wazirs, someone from his entourage, one of his clients... [This person] keeps the child away from his people.. He causes him to forget to look at government affairs... He accustoms the (child ruler) to believe that the ruler's share in royal authority consists merely in sitting on the throne, shaking hands, being addressed as Sire, and sitting with the women in the seclusion of the harem. ...
Sometimes it pays to turn to the classics because, like they say, there isn't really anything new under the sun. Almost like Ibn Khladoun was looking 627 years into the future when he wrote that.

But let's apply some of this theory on dynasties to the real world. Let's see how the would-be dynasts of the fourth generation of the Bush family dynasty are doing:

Marvin Bush

Neil Bush

George W. Bush

Pretty senile, in my opinion. I'd say that about does it for the Bush family dynasty.

(Annotation may or may not come later; *Passages taken from The Muqaddimah, translated by Franz Rosenthal)


"Polemic in Spain over the Iraq war"

Spanish PM Jose Maria Aznar has reportedly decided to break ranks with his fellow "coalition" war officers, Bush and Blair, and not hold an inquiry into the embarrassing lack of WMD in Iraq.

The following is a partial translation (of the most incriminating parts, naturally) of a report in the Neue Zuercher Zeitung (Zurich, Switzerland) over the controversy in Spain concerning the Iraq WMD fiasco.

"In Spain, the polemic over the Iraq war has become inflamed anew in the middle of the election fight. The opposition and the media accuse the government of disregarding the analyses of its own secret services and of obstructing an investigation commission.

"The unsuccessful search for WMD in Iraq is now also plaguing again the Spanish government chief Aznar, the third member of the alliance with President Bush and PM Blair which sounded the bell for the Iraq war at the Azores summit in March of last year. While Bush and Blair have come under suspicion of having manipulated the information of their secret services, Aznar sees himself exposed to the accusation of not having taken seriously his own secret service, the Centro Nacional de Inteligencia (CNI).

"The CNI had questioned the American information several times, in particular also that from Secretary of State Powell in February 2003, which Aznar had borrowed practically word-for-word. In its reports, it had two important reservations against repeated statements of its own government. It disputed the alleged ties between the regime of Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda, and it declared that the American information could not dispel doubts about the existence of WMD in Iraq. On this point, the CNI referred, among other things, to its own findings in Iraq.

"In his farewell address as government leader before the American Congress last Wednesday, Aznar stressed warningly that a debate over the problem of WMD would be a 'great irresponsibility'. That sounded almost like a criticism of the fact that the American and British heads of government had found themselves compelled to allow investigation commissions into just this question...".

So Aznar, like Blair, was at least sent warnings by his own intelligence service (which reportedly based its estimates partially on its own findings) that public government statements on Iraq's alleged WMD did not match up with the known data. And, again like Blair, Aznar for some reason simply ignored these warnings, including doubts by Spanish intelligence over the very existence of Iraq's supposed WMD.

Another blow against the "no one knew better/everyone was wrong" argument. Sorry, but ignorance of the fact that there were quite a few people and groups raising serious doubts about the Bush-Blair-Aznar line doesn't justify saying "we were all wrong".


"In the absence of adequate intelligence we allowed political mendacity to fill a vacuum"

Yesterday's news today, just in case you missed it: various reports on issues relating to pre-war US-UK intelligence on Iraq's frightful WMD cache.

Scott Ritter counters the "everyone was wrong on Iraq's WMD" line.

The Independent looks at what Blair knew and when he knew it:
How has Tony Blair got himself into a position where 54 per cent of those sampled in a poll in yesterday's Independent believe he is a liar? The answer is that after 11 September 2001 he put his fate in the hands of an administration in Washington which was determined to go to war in Iraq and which now seems heedless of the collateral damage to him as it distances itself from many of its past assertions.

Each side steered clear of certain allegations made by its partner, however. After one mention by Mr Bush on the day the British dossier was published, the Americans never picked up on the notorious 45-minute claim. Britain, meanwhile, was silent on attempts in the US to link Saddam Hussein with al-Qa'ida, though that did not prevent vaguer warnings about the danger of Iraqi WMD falling into the hands of terrorists.

Robert David Steele, a former CIA operative, said: "Yes, I think there was an intelligence failure, but I don't think there can be an intelligence failure without a preceding policy failure. In the absence of adequate intelligence we allowed political mendacity to fill a vacuum."
The Iraqi exile who passed along the "45-minute" claim couldn't verify it at first hand:
The Iraqi exile who passed on the controversial "45-minute" claim about Iraqi chemical and biological weapons to British intelligence has insisted he did so in good faith, but had no means of checking it himself, The Independent on Sunday has learnt.

The difficulty with the material was that although the intermediary had a long track record of reliability with MI6, he was not in Iraq, and was passing on information from a previously unknown officer in the military who, he believed, was in a position to know what he was talking about.
We find out more about the source:
The "reliable source" who provided MI6 with the information that Iraq could deploy chemical and biological weapons within 45 minutes was an Iraqi exile who had left the country several years previously, The Independent on Sunday can reveal. That fact alone should have prevented the intelligence being used in the Government's September 2002 dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

The Iraqi exile was in Iraq during the first Gulf War in 1991, but later fled, possibly to Scandinavia.
A British intelligence agency sent Blair memos on three separate occasions warning him about certain WMD claims:
Tony Blair was sent three intelligence reports in the six months during the run up to the Iraq war, including one that warned him that information on whether Saddam Hussein still held any chemical or biological weapons was "inconsistent" and "sparse".

The revelation adds to the mystery of how the Prime Minister could tell Parliament last week that, when war began, he still believed that Iraq held weapons of mass destruction capable of being deployed in just 45 minutes.
The UK is reported to have helped the US spy on fellow UN Security Council members before the aborted vote on military action against Iraq:
Britain helped America to conduct a secret and potentially illegal spying operation at the United Nations in the run-up to the Iraq war, The Observer can reveal.

The operation, which targeted at least one permanent member of the UN Security Council, was almost certainly in breach of the Vienna conventions on diplomatic relations, which strictly outlaw espionage at the UN missions in New York.

Translators and analysts at the Government's top-secret surveillance centre GCHQ were ordered to co-operate with an American espionage 'surge' on Security Council delegations after a request from the US National Security Agency at the end of January 2003. This was designed to help smooth the way for a second UN resolution authorising war in Iraq.
Ends justifying means... and so forth.


On Bush's Iraq WMD commission and the need for eternal damnation

There are times when I wish that I believed in god and the afterlife. Not, like many people, for the chance of spending eternity in heaven or paradise or whatever else you want to call it. No, I would much rather have the comfort of knowing that there was a big, giant lake of fire and horned gentlemen with big pitchforks waiting for people like George W. Bush, president of the United States.

Sure, other figures in history, dictators and mass murderers, might deserve an eternal brimstone bath more than Bush does. But if hell did exist, it would certainly be a big-tent kind of organization. The architectonics of eternity ensure there would be more than enough space; thus, we need not limit consideration of would-be damned to the worst of the worst. Dante was not without reason when he invented a multi-level hell that also had enough space for liars, equivocators, frauds and scoundrels in general.

Which brings us back to Bush. Why do I wish to see Bush swimming around in a flaming cesspool for about the next billion years?

There are many reasons, but let us look at the most recent one for now: the new Bush commission set up to look into the egregious US failure to accurately estimate Iraq's WMD. As I previously guessed, this new panel can rightly be described as a real "sin of commission". If there were a god, looking down from on high on the affairs of humanity, he/she would surely be crying right now over the fact that one of his/her children could go so astray.

What are the faults of the commission (set up by this executive order) that should earn Bush a place among the flames after god stops crying and becomes vengeful?

- Membership: Largely a travesty. This is what happens when you let people who should be the focus of investigations set them up. The commission is led by extreme rightist judge Laurence Silberman, who played a role in overturning Oliver North's conviction, and former Virginia senator and governor Chuck Robb, who is apparently tight with the Bush family.

Commission member John McCain (R-Arizona) has a reputation for honesty and "plain dealing" - and, indeed, he has already dealt a hand that plainly doesn't include Bush at all (from the Globe article):
McCain has reached a conclusion on one point some Democrats might question. "The president of the United States, I believe, did not manipulate any kind of information for political gain or otherwise," the senator said.
Three other panel members - former Carter and Clinton counsel Lloyd Cutler, Yale President Richard Levin, and Judge Patricia Wald - look to be more neutral. They, however, apparently have no experience with intelligence issues.

The one member of the panel with unquestionable intelligence experience is Adm. William Studeman. Some details of his record, though, make one wonder:
A 78-page briefing document recently obtained by the media titled "Summer Study on Special Operations and Joint Forces in Support of Countering Terrorism" and produced by a 10-member panel of military experts [only AFIO member Admiral William O. Studeman, former DIRNSA, former Deputy DCI and former Acting DCI was identified as a member] under the auspices of the Defense Science Board advocates a greatly expanded and more assertive role for covert military actions, intelligence collection and operations to "stimulate reactions" among terrorists and states possessing weapons of mass destruction. In discussing the report, not yet forwarded to the President, the DSB chairman, William Schneider, Jr., rejected concerns that the proposal would usurp CIA's covert operations role, erode congressional oversight, or change long-standing policies such as prohibition of assassinations. Expansion of existing covert units and the addition of new covert units in all of the Services as well as the new expenditure of billions of dollars was called for. The panel recommended a number of new or morphed organizations in the design to bring together CIA and military covert action, information warfare, psychological warfare, intelligence, cover and deception.
- Remit: Here is where we really start getting into the problems. The commission's mandate is simultaneously too wide and not wide enough.

Mandate too wide: In addition to Iraq, the commission is also charged with looking at WMD issues relating to Libya and Afghanistan. Neither of these tasks make any sense unless, as the NYT argued, the point is to "deflect attention until after the election". Since UN inspectors are currently at work in Libya, and since the country has signaled a desire to eliminate whatever WMD stocks it has and come in from the cold, and especially since the US did not wage a war against Libya on grounds that have turned out to be false, there is no need for a presidential panel to examine the issue at present. Other channels (internal CIA and Congressional intelligence commottee reviews) should suffice at this point. As for Afghanistan, I am not aware of any serious reports that suggested that the Taliban had any kind of actual WMD, plans, or even "WMD-related program activities".

Mandate too narrow: This is the main problem with the commission's set-up: it will not be doing anything that actually relates to how intelligence was used. According to the terms of the executive order (condensed for readability),
The Commission is established for the purpose of advising the President .. The Commission shall assess whether the Intelligence Community is .. [able].. to identify and warn in a timely manner of.. Weapons of Mass Destruction.. In doing so, the Commission shall examine the capabilities and challenges of the Intelligence Community to collect, process, analyze, produce, and disseminate information concerning the capabilities, intentions, and activities of such foreign powers relating to the design, development, manufacture, acquisition, possession, proliferation, transfer, testing, potential or threatened use, or use of Weapons of Mass Destruction..

With respect to that portion of its examination.. that relates to Iraq, the Commission shall specifically examine the Intelligence Community's intelligence prior to the initiation of Operation Iraqi Freedom and compare it with the findings of the Iraq Survey Group and other relevant agencies or organizations concerning the capabilities, intentions, and activities of Iraq relating to the design, development, manufacture, acquisition, possession, proliferation, transfer, testing, potential or threatened use, or use of Weapons of Mass Destruction..
(emphasis added)
To sum up, the main tasks of the panel are to:

a) advise the president on defending the US;
b) assess the capabilities of the "intelligence community" (see below) with regards to foreign WMD;
c) compare US intelligence before the war with what the US has found out since it invaded.

A relevant question may be asked: what exactly is the point of having a presidential commission with this mandate? Sorry, but we already know that what Kay found does not match up with pre-war CIA or other intelligence estimates. There is little value in such an exercise of "we said x, we found y", which will not answer the important questions (among many others) of "how was intelligence received employed?" and "on what exact basis did the president take the United States to war?".

Now we come to the question of what the term "intelligence community" refers to. Josh Marshall speculates the executive order's brief effectively excludes scrutiny of the "Office of Special Plans", the Rumsfeld-Feith-Luti operation in the Pentagon.

On the face of it, this would seem to be incorrect. According to 50 USC 401a(4), the term "intelligence community" refers, in addition to the CIA, office of the DCI, the DIA, the NSA and other regular organizations, to "other offices within the Department of Defense for the collection of specialized national intelligence through reconnaissance programs". The OSP is certainly an office that is within the DoD and that was involved with the collection of "specialized national intelligence" (of a sort, at any rate).

However, as we have repeatedly seen, there is usually a very big gap between what should be the case and what is the case with the Bush administration. Whether or not the OSP and its "intelligence" output are investigated will come down to how the OSP is defined: does it even legally exist or, if so, could it be described as an office "for the collection of specialized national intelligence through reconnaisance programs"?

We get what could be a likely defense to shield the OSP from too much attention from this Forward article:
A senior Pentagon official told the Forward that the office is "a pure policy-planning shop" and was not engaged in reviewing ? much less distorting ? intelligence.

"The Office of Special Plans is a pure policy planning shop and it is not dealing with intelligence," the official told the Forward, stressing that the office was not pushing a hard line on Iran, nor was it conducting any covert operations.
Thus, if any curious members of the commission get to sniffing around the OSP and Dougie Feith, the OSP may be defined as a "policy planning", and not a "specialized national intelligence", office. This, of course, would eliminate scrutiny of perhaps the main source of "intelligence" that formed the Bush administration's case for war (and, incidentally, would also prevent potentially embarrassing details of the parallel operation in Ariel Sharon's office from coming to light).

- Powers of the Commission: Josh Marshall also points out that whether or not the documents requested by the commission are "relevant" may be decided by the heads of the various executive government agencies. In any event, it does seem to be the case that the commission will have no subpoena power - i.e., a means of effectively determining for itself what is "relevant" or not:
Sec. 7. Judicial Review. This order is intended only to improve the internal management of the executive branch, and is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity, against the United States, its departments, agencies, or other entities, its officers or employees, or any other person.
I'm not a lawyer, but my guess is that this provision shuts the door to the procedural benefit of subpoena power.

Based on these observations, I see real difficulties for the members of the panel who may be more independent in their appraisal of the data, Cutler, Wald and Levin. There may be such difficulties that a resignation down the line for one or both of these commission members is possible. In any event, it is difficult to expect any kind of real investigation or answers from this commission.

In the meantime, I will be hoping that there is a least a little puddle of hell somewhere for "the setters-up of false commissions".

Australian inspector told soldiers no regional threat from WMD

Australian troops fighting in Iraq were told in an official briefing days before entering the country that Saddam Hussein did not have the capability to launch weapons of mass destruction against its neighbours.

Roger Hill, Australia's most experienced weapons inspector, yesterday told The Age that Iraq had possessed the remnants of weapons of mass destruction but its ability to use them on the battlefield was "almost zero".

"There is no question Iraq possessed materials, documents and possibly products," Mr Hill said. "But it did not have the ability to conduct attacks on its near or regional neighbours," he said. "I told our troops that. I also told people in the other coalition forces. But I was a lone voice."

Asked if the Australian Government was aware at the time of his assessment of Iraq's capabilities, Mr Hill said: "If they had asked me, I would have told them."

Mr Hill, who is widely acknowledged as Australia's top expert on Saddam's weapons programs, said that during the eight years he spent travelling to Iraq as a senior UN weapons inspector he was asked only once to brief officials in Canberra about the threat posed by Saddam.
They didn't know... and they didn't want to know.

Maybe that's one reason why intelligence screwed things up: they spent more time listening to Iraqi fraudsters than their own experts.

(Link via Hesiod)

Sharon seeks to transfer Gaza colonists to West Bank

Here's an indication of why I did not get too excited about Sharon's announcement to evacuate the settlers from the Gaza Strip:
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon wants U.S. approval to expand large West Bank settlement blocs that are intended to be annexed once a permanent peace agreement is reached in exchange for evacuation of most settlements in the Gaza Strip and a few others in the West Bank.

Sharon will justify the request due to the need to move some of the settlers from the evacuated areas to Ma'aleh Adumim, Ariel and Gush Etzion. The prime minister is to present his plan to the Americans during an upcoming visit to Washington.

The road map, to which the U.S. and international community remain committed, calls for a freeze in the construction of all settlements regardless of whether they are isolated or part of a larger bloc.

Government sources in Jerusalem said receiving U.S. permission to strengthen the settlement blocs is one alternative being examined by National Security Council (NSC) Chairman Giora Eiland. Another option is formally annexing the settlement blocs, which would lead to Israeli law being imposed on them.

The sources said the previous U.S. administration had agreed that Ma'ale Adumim, Ariel and Gush Etzion would be included within Israel as part of the Clinton framework for a permanent agreement.
Hmm... what happened to "negotiations" with the Palestinians? The last time I checked, the Clinton administration was not "the Palestinians".

Sharon's announcement is simply a tactical retreat: giving up on most (not even all) of the Gaza Strip in exchange for strengthening Israel's hold on the West Bank. A true "man of peace". Sharon will never change, and anyone who is waiting for some kind of rejection on his part of the project around which he has built is life is just not so bright.


Bush's sin of commission: the Iraq WMD panel

It looks as if Bush is going to set up a panel to look at how and why this fearful pile of Iraq WMD never turned up. Is this a good thing? Well, there are a few, shall we say, "sins of commission" with the proposed inquiry.

Normally, no one would ever consider allowing a person suspected of involvement in wrongdoing, unethical behavior or gross incompetence to choose the people who are to investigate the matter. Normally, this would be seen as a huge conflict of interest. In the case of the Bush commission, however, this is exactly what is happening:
By setting up the investigation himself, Bush, who had resisted a probe, will have greater control over its membership and mandate.
Some of the names floated so far do not inspire confidence, including former CIA director James Woolsey, who was one of the great pro-war cheerleaders in the run-up to the invasion and who also sits on the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board.

This conflict of interest, however, is just the most apparent problem of the proposed panel. There are other built-in devices to prevent, or at least water down, any negative findings that the members of the commission sympathetic to Bush might feel compelled to put out.

First, the proposed mandate of the inquiry is so wide as to be meaningless:
Bush said Monday he would name an independent bipartisan commission to review intelligence failures in Iraq. It would also look at what is known about efforts by Iran, North Korea and terrorist groups to obtain nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.
If we are going to have a commission examining intelligence on Iraq's WMD, for which there is a real need, then this is what the commission should do. Are there other concerns with intelligence on Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, etc. - that is, the CIA's performance in general? Fine - set up a separate panel to investigate that. But the fact that the US launched a war of aggression on grounds that have turned out to be completely false is an error of such magnitude that it must be looked at on its own.

Second, it appears as if the commission will not have a mandate to examine how the Bush administration made use of the intelligence (or, more properly, data) at its disposal. But the intelligence issue cannot be separated from the political use of intelligence. The CIA was not the group responsible for launching the war. That was decided in the White House and ultimately by Bush (even though conducting war is supposed to be a power reserved to Congress - maybe we can set up another panel while we're at it to investigate why the people's "representatives" decided not to do their jobs). There are important questions that cannot be answered if the focus is entirely on the CIA. Did the president and the administration make proper use of the intelligence they were provided? Specifically, were there any less wild-eyed estimates or evidence that were in the CIA's possession that the administration decided not to take into consideration? If so, why not? Were, for example, Ritter's judgements and the fact that the UNMOVIC inspectors found nothing at US-identified "WMD sites" before the war seen as potential red flags?

Third, there are indications that the Bush administration will attempt to focus entirely in the CIA. But the CIA was not the only "intelligence" group involved here (from the Knight-Ridder article):
The officials said they feared that Bush, gearing up his fight for re-election, would try to limit the inquiry's scope to the CIA and other agencies, and ignore the key role the administration's own internal intelligence efforts played in making the case for war.

.. they said that the intelligence efforts led by Cheney magnified the errors through exaggeration, oversights and mistaken deductions.

Those efforts bypassed normal channels, used Iraqi exiles and defectors of questionable reliability, and produced findings on former dictator Saddam Hussein's links to al-Qaida and his illicit arms programs that were disputed by analysts at the CIA, the State Department and other agencies, the officials said.

"There were more agencies than CIA providing intelligence ... that are worth scrutiny, including the (Pentagon's now-disbanded) Office of Special Plans and the office of the vice president," said a former senior military official who was involved in planning the Iraq invasion.

Reviewing what the CIA did "is half the picture," said Melvin Goodman, a former senior CIA analyst who teaches at the National Defense University. "What you want is an open-ended, blue-ribbon inquiry of the whole picture, which is what (intelligence) the White House got and how the White House used what it got."
Kenneth Pollack, in his not entirely adequate mea culpa in the Guardian, gives us a glimpse of the workings of the administration's fly-by-night intelligence operation and its relationship with the CIA:
On many occasions administration officials' requests for additional information struck the analysts as being made merely to distract them. Some asked for extensive historical analyses and requests were constantly made for detailed analyses of newspaper articles that conformed to the views of administration officials - pieces by conservative newspaper columnists, who had no claim to superior insight into the workings of Iraq.
The fact that the "intelligence" staff of Rumsfeld and Cheney were taking jackasses like Krauthammer and Safire seriously really should be looked at in detail.

The only chance for a reasonably honest and transparent investigation is a Congressionally appointed panel - but with the current crop of scheming, orthodox party-line Republicans and spineless Democrats, I wouldn't hold much hope there, either. But it would be better than having a suspect choose the people who are to investigate something that very clearly implicates him.

One final thing: these hearings should be open. Evidence and testimony should as a rule be made public unless a clear and demonstrable security-related reason prevents this. Even if a full report has to come after the election, the proceedings should be available to citizens immediately. The whining about "partisan politics" just doesn't work. What would really be "partisan politics" would be to have a panel full of members with conflicts of interest conducting their work in secret with a pre-ordained conclusion at the end of the process. The fact that we are in an election year is not a reason to hold off on the inquiry - in fact, it is the exact reason why the hearings must be open to the public. In theory, an election should be a judgement on the part of voters as to how well their elected official is serving them. Fine - let us put theory into practice. Give the voters information and let them decide how well their "servant" (snort) served the US with his war.


Report: US officials knew in May of lack of Iraqi WMD

This is news, but hardly surprising at this point:
Senior American officials concluded at the beginning of last May that there were no weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq, The Observer has learnt.

Intelligence sources, policy makers and weapons inspectors familiar with the details of the hunt for WMD told The Observer it was widely known that Iraq had no WMD within three weeks of Baghdad falling, despite the assertions of senior Bush administration figures and the Prime Minister, Tony Blair.

Among those interviewed by The Observer was a very senior US intelligence official serving during the war against Iraq with an intimate knowledge of the search for Iraq's WMD.

'We had enough evidence at the beginning of May to start asking, "where did we go wrong?",' he said last week. 'We had already made the judgment that something very wrong had happened [in May] and our confidence was shaken to its foundations.'

The source, a career intelligence official who spoke on condition of anonymity, was also scathing about the massive scale of the failure of intelligence over Iraq both in the US and among its foreign allies - alleging that the intelligence community had effectively suppressed dissenting views and intelligence.
It is clear that certain people knew much more about Iraq's WMD than they are letting on. The fact that the US army did nothing to secure suspected WMD sites in Iraq and allowed them to be stripped bare by looters says something - but exactly what is the question. This issue is just one reason why we need an independent commission with far-reaching powers to investigate all aspects of the Iraq war.

Justifying war: the "you were stupid" defense

A columnist in the Daily Torygraph writes:
True, Bush and Blair asserted that he had WMD stockpiles which would be found. But this was not the reason for war. Such claims were only made to bolster the case to a public that seemed incapable of grasping that the reason for war was not the presence of WMD but the absence of evidence that it [sic] had been removed.
If we are making "claims" that aren't true - or, at the very least, claims that we know cannot be supported by any evidence but which we nevertheless present as being confirmed beyond all doubt - to "bolster" a case, isn't that the same as saying that we are "sexing-up" our case?

Thought so.

But that's not the reason I am citing this ham-handed apology, though its very clumsiness, and the fact that the author is often forced to admit things that fatally undermine her argument, is a good reflection of the sorry intellectual and moral state these days of the pro-war camp. No, what is striking about this column is the frank admission that Bush and Blair had to exaggerate (or "bolster") because their publics were simply too stupid to understand what was really at issue.

This is yet another lie, of course: Bush and Blair opened up with the claim that Saddam held massive stockpiles of WMD and that he was a serious threat to all of Western civilization. They did not begin by talking about "absences of evidence" or other such nonsense - this came after no WMD turned up. So it was not even a case of these leaders dumbing down their message to reach the "man on the street", but rather an initial decision to tell their citizens that they knew something which they knew they did not know. But, for such columnists, deceit and leader-worship are habits that are apparently hard to break.

We are seeing many ad hoc defenses being erected by people desperate to salvage their credibility, most of which rely on a blatant rewriting of history to some degree: the CIA is to blame, not Dear Leader; "it was never about WMD for me"; "Bush never said imminent", and the war was actually to save the UN from itself; and so forth.

The most telling, though, is the "you were too stupid to really understand the deep strategic thinking of Bush and Blair" line. This defense really lays bare the complete contempt for public opinion and intelligence that was a major component of the case for war as laid out by Bush and Blair and their self-apppointed spokespersons in the media. The underlying sentiment to such a defense, of course, is that a government has the right to tell its citizens whatever it likes with no regard for the truth or consequences and, moreover, that citizens should already understand and appreciate this. People who complain about this type of governance, or expect that government officials should be held accountable for their wild-eyed and preposterous claims, are looked upon as slightly doltish oddities.

For example: did you take everything Bush and Blair said seriously? The huge stockpiles of WMD? Western civilization only 45 minutes away from final doom? Well, according to Christopher "Don't Call Me Chris" Hitchens, you are guilty of indulging in "tiny-minded literalism". The lesson, I suppose, is to take Bush's pronouncements a little more metaphorically: it wasn't that real nuclear (or even "noo-kyoo-lurr") weapons were the threat but, perhaps, Saddam's "inner nuclear weapon"; that awful scenario involving the "mushroom cloud" was just another way of visualizing the (mushroom-shaped) question mark that was America's foreign policy in 2002; or, as Roger Ailes points out, "45 minutes" should have been understood as "some finite amount of time" (and "Chris" - if you really think that "antiwar liberals", led by Maureen Dowd, are preventing Bush from carrying out a "purge" at the CIA, I recommend that you redefine "contrarian" so that it doesn't mean "contrary to logic and reality").

So: Joe Q. Public, you were stupid. The Daily Torygraph and Christopher Hitchens say so, and why would they lie to you? You fucked up - you trusted them. There's nothing wrong with that - the shame is on them. The challenege is not to be fooled again. Holding these scoundrels accountable would also help. If nothing else comes out of this mess, perhaps people will be a little more skeptical about what their governments tell them in the future. Some liberals are upset because the Bush administration's behavior has cuased them to develop a deep mistrust of government in general. Sorry, but that's a good thing. Government isn't something that just runs on its own, like some kind of perpetual motion machine. Citizens have to be involved. And in a representative democracy, the question citizens should ask themselves when considering an official pronouncement is not "Why shouldn't I believe this?", but rather "Why should I believe this?".


A bloodbath: 56 dead, over 200 wounded in Arbil attacks

Two suicide bombers killed 56 people and wounded over 200 at the offices of the PUK and KDP in Arbil.

Can we all agree that things are a little fucked up in Iraq?

"They're...not about Islam, they're not about Muslims, they're about their own fanatical view of the world and they will kill to try to advance it," [U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz] told reporters. "But we are winning and they are losing."
There will never be a time, in the fantasy world that people like Wolfie and Bush live in, where "we" are not "winning". Normally, this isn't such a big deal - people holding beliefs of infallibility, invincibility, etc. are usually locked away for their own good for a while. But when delusional types are running the world's superpower, that's not so good.

Peter Galbraith's analysis in the article is probably correct - the bombings (and all of the other violence) will probably have the effect of promoting Kurdish separatism from the rest of Iraq. Turkey certainly would not like that, and it seems increasingly apparent that the US wouldn't either. Keeping Turkey out of the picture would seem to be a US priority. So there may be a showdown coming between the Kurdish parties and the US occupational force.

Report: BBC faults Hutton report

Some BBC executives are reportedly considering continuing the broadcaster's battle against the Blair government over the issue of reporting on Iraq's "WMD" last year.

All I can say is I hope that they do so and good luck in wiping that shit-eating grin off of Blair's face. Wanker.

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