Friday, October 08, 2004

Quotes, without comment:

Chief weapons inspector, Charles Duelfer, has now issued a comprehensive report that confirms the earlier conclusion of David Kay that Iraq did not have the weapons that our intelligence believed were there. ...

Based on all the information we have today, I believe we were right to take action, and America is safer today with Saddam Hussein in prison. He retained the knowledge, the materials, the means, and the intent to produce weapons of mass destruction. And he could have passed that knowledge on to our terrorist enemies. Saddam Hussein was a unique threat, a sworn enemy of our country, a state sponsor of terror, operating in the world's most volatile region. In a world after September the 11th, he was a threat we had to confront. And America and the world are safer for our actions.

It's one thing to be certain, but you can be certain and be wrong.

When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?

-- John Maynard Keynes

Thursday, October 07, 2004

One of the most controversial moves during our occupation of Iraq was Paul Bremer's dissolution of Saddam's old Iraqi army, which instantly filled the streets with hundreds of thousands of unemployed, trained, armed men with a massive grudge against us. The controversy isn't over the wisdom of the move itself -- just about everyone agrees now that it was a bad idea. But there hasn't yet been a clear account of who was responsible.

Until now, as Michael Froomkin finds one in a Newsweek article which, among other things, a meeting between Bremer and his predecessor, Jay Garner, about the wisdom of the move:

According to one official who attended a meeting that Bremer had with his staff upon his arrival in Baghdad in mid-May of 2003, Bremer was warned he would cause chaos by demobilizing the army. The CIA station chief told him, “That’s another 350,000 Iraqis you’re pissing off, and they’ve got guns.” According to one source who was at the meeting, Garner then asked if they could discuss the matter further in a smaller meeting. Garner then said: “Before you announce this thing let’s do all the pros and cons of this, because we are going to have a hell of a lot of problems with it. There are a hell of a lot more cons than there are pros. Let’s line them all up then get on the phone to [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld.” Bremer replied: “I don’t have any choice. I have to do this.” Garner then protested further, but Bremer cut him off. “The president told me that de-Baathification comes before the immediate needs of the Iraqi people.

(Emphasis added).

Predictably, Newsweek buried the lede; this is towards the end of the article. But if you've got a blog, you don't have to.

The New York Times says the verdict is in:

In the 18 months since President Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq, justifying the decision by saying that Saddam Hussein was "a gathering threat" to the United States, Americans have come to realize that Iraq had no chemical, nuclear or biological weapons. But the report issued yesterday goes further. It says that Iraq had no factories to produce illicit weapons and that its ability to resume production was growing more feeble every year. While Mr. Hussein retained dreams of someday getting back into the chemical warfare business, his chosen target was Iran, not the United States.

The report shows that the international sanctions that Mr. Bush dismissed and demeaned before the war - and still does - were astonishingly effective. Mr. Hussein hoped to get out from under the sanctions, and the report's author, Charles Duelfer, loyally told Congress yesterday that he thought that could have happened. But his report said the Iraqis lacked even a formal strategy or a plan to reconstitute their weapons programs if it did.

And the UNPROFOR weapons inspectors could have discovered all of this in another few months, at most, if Bush hadn't preemptively ordered them out of Iraq -- so he could start bombing, secure in the knowledge that he'd only be killing Iraqis.

It's always seemed to me that the best reply to charges of "flip flopping" might be to just quote Keynes: "When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?" If there were ever a time to use that line, this is it.

A little news from Boston:

The Red Sox are in the playoffs again. And Red Sox nation is once again disclaiming any belief at all in the supposed Curse of the Bambino.

Incidentally, the illuminated "Citgo" sign which is visible from inside Fenway Park is undergoing maintenance. But the people doing the work have been quick to reassure baseball fans that the side of the sign facing the ballpark will be untouched and lit throughout the playoffs. When it was out of order last year at about this time, it seems some took that as a jinx.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Faisal Jawdat finds the key to interpreting the modern Republican party in the stories of the master of horror writing, H.P. Lovecraft:

That is not dead which may eternal lie
and with strange aeons death itself may die.

These guys, he points out, are always lying. That's from the mailbag of the Medium Lobster, which chimes in itself with further explorations of the deep, hidden connections between the administration and ancient eldritch terrors such as Grover Norquist.

Nothing on Cheney's "secure, undisclosed location" though. For the sake of us all, some things are best not even discussed.

Just heard on Boston's new Air America affiliate radio stations: ads for apocalypse pornographer Tim LaHaye's latest processed book product: "Babylon Rising: The Secret on Ararat".

Perhaps whoever bought the ads wasn't aware they were going to be switching their programming from Sinatra-style golden oldies...

In Slate, Fred Kaplan dings John Edwards for not countering all Cheney's lies in yesterday's debate. But he hasn't got room to list all the major ones himself, though the ones he does reel off are whoppers.

For instance, I'm still looking around for a fact-check comprehensive enough to call Cheney on the carpet for his remarks on Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian-born terrorist who has lately been on the news chopping American heads off. Cheney said Zarqawi was in making ricin in Baghdad before the war, and used that as evidence for Saddam's support for terrorism. Zarqawi was indeed making ricin in Iraq before the war -- in a camp in the northern "no-fly zone", which Saddam did not control, and which we could have bombed into oblivion at any time. The Pentagon had plans to do exactly that, and according to an NBC news report which has stood unchallenged for months, the Bush administration wouldn't let them execute because it "feared destroying the terrorist camp in Iraq could undercut its case for war against Saddam."

Predictably, the debate didn't get anyone who was already committed to a candidate to change their minds about anything. Kevin Drum notes that an ABC News poll of registered voters pretty much reflected their party affiliations, which were biased Republican because more Republicans stayed home to watch the debate. But a CBS poll of uncommitted voters showed a decisive victory for Edwards.

One last comment. Like Josh Marshall, I thought it looked like Cheney's heart wasn't really in it towards the end of the debate. But it looked to me like there was a definite moment when his heart went out of it -- when Edwards praised Cheney's relationship with his gay daughter. At long last, that may have, however briefly, rekindled some basic sense of decency.

More: Here's a half decent fact check from, the site that Cheney was trying to refer you to on Edwards's remarks on Halliburton -- except that they actually say Edwards was pretty much right. And they strain awfully hard to find stuff to pin on Edwards. On the Halliburton business, they say he erred by talking about fines paid when Cheney was CEO -- rather than for fines paid later for gross misconduct that occurred while Cheney was CEO. They also ding Edwards for reporting Congressional appropriations for Iraq as "the cost of the war" -- including tens of billions of dollars that have been appropriated but not yet spent. The best rejoinder to that is at Pandagon: "By that standard, my car cost $622." And of course, nothing about Zarqawi...

Yet more: Josh Marshall relays a reader's comment that Edwards may have been deliberately leaving some of Cheney's lies for post-debate spin. It's apparently sometimes good courtroom tactics, when you have a witness caught in a lie, to wait to point it out until they're off the witness stand, and less able to do damage control.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Your one-liner for the day: Bush keeps saying that we can't change course in Iraq. That's what the captain was saying on the bridge of the Exxon Valdez.
Hugh Hewitt says you're missing a big story about the debates. No, not the story about Kerry's orange face that the old media were irresponsibly failing to cover until Kerry shocked the right-wing blogsphere by showing up at the debate without an orange face. (Though Hewitt's writing on this topic of national concern was distinguished enough to win the coveted "I Am The Back End Of A Horse" Award from Michael Bérubé). And not Kerry's scandalous flouting of debate rules, civic virtue and simple fair play by bringing a pen to the podium. (The wingers yield to no one in their dogged determination to nail down every aspect of that story: for instance, using multiple screenshots to investigate the burning question, what color was the pen?)

But no, it's not that. Nor the controversy over Kerry's "global test" -- controversial because Bush and his proxies keep lying about what Kerry actually said. What you're most assuredly missing -- unless you're reading Hugh Hewitt!!!! -- is "the most astonishing part of Kerry's presentation". Which would be this:

Right now the president is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to research bunker-busting nuclear weapons. The United States is pursuing a new set of nuclear weapons. It doesn't make sense.

You talk about mixed messages. We're telling other people, "You can't have nuclear weapons," but we're pursuing a new nuclear weapon that we might even contemplate using.

Not this president. I'm going to shut that program down, and we're going to make it clear to the world we're serious about containing nuclear proliferation."

Hewitt is deeply concerned:

I sense Kerry's outrage at the very idea of America developing and possessing such weapons was both authentic on his part and potentially disturbing to millions of voters who instinctively understand that the armory of America is different from the armory of every other country in the world, that our nation can be trusted with all sorts of weaponry that the world cannot be trusted with, and that our electorate will not reward a candidate who, as Kerry did on Thursday night, proclaims our weapons program to be part of the proliferation problem.

I'm sure that the various third-world dictators that we're trying to lure into non-proliferation agreements will be happy to yield to the unquestionable logical force of this argument. But if that's not enough, keep reading; he continues with a "virtual symposium" which links to dozens of posts from (almost entirely) like-minded bloggers who are prepared to rhetorically beat them into sub demonstrate the force of the argument.

As long as I'm on the subject of things that go boom, it seems that the Air Force is now researching antimatter weapons, with potential explosive yields well in excess of nukes. Which is a bit of a surprise, considering that current technology for making things go boom has already reached a point that even Edward Teller, a man not noted for his shyness about making things go boom, thought that it was just pointless to go further. Past a certain point, about 100 megatons in explosive yield, he explained to author Richard Rhodes,

it would simply lift a chunk of atmosphere -- ten miles in diameter, something of that kind -- lift it into space. Then you make it a thousand times bigger still. You know what would happen? You lift the same chunk into space with thirty times the velocity.

But hey, antimatter might make it possible for a bomb with the yield of a "suitcase nuke", or even perhaps a city-buster nuke, to fit in your wallet. And if we develop a bomb like that, won't you feel safer?

Teller quote from Dark Sun, by Richard Rhodes, footnote in ch. 20, p. 402 of my edition. Antimatter article via King of Zembla.

I'm seeing two very different takes on our recent attack on Samarra in the blogsphere. Here's an American perspective, from Phil Carter, who is cautiously optimistic:

I wouldn't necessarily have steaks and beer on the objective just yet. There remains a lot of work to be done in Iraq. And while certain people -- particularly in the Pentagon and the pro-war parts of Washington -- will seize on this victory as a sign of future success, I would exercise a bit more caution. Fallujah and Ramadi will be tougher nuts to crack, and it's unclear whether this approach will work there as well.

However, there may be a more important trend to discern from this victory -- something which transcends the tactical or operational importance of any individual city. This is the first time the Iraqi forces have participated in a major engagement and done reasonably well. They didn't run away from the sound of the guns, as they did earlier as they were loading up to go to Fallujah. They didn't break under fire. And while I have been told they fought for fairly limited objectives in fairly limited circumstances, they still did well. Granted, we're only talking about two battalions here -- roughly 1,000 - 2,000 soldiers. But this little victory could be what turns the tide for Iraqification, because it will show the capabilities of the Iraqis when they're well-trained, well-led, and employed correctly.

Little victories like this can have a major psychological impact on the force. I'm not sure I would compare this to the Battle of Midway, for the strategic import of the Samarra battle pales in comparison. But it may work in much the same way, by conferring some much-needed momentum on the effort to train Iraqi security forces. According to this report, that effort is still languishing. (Thanks to ML for the link.) But this engagement shows that such forces can do the job, and that's a small step in the right direction.

And now, for an Iraqi perspective, here's Riverbend:

Watching the military attacks on Samarra and hearing the stories from displaced families or people from around the area is like reliving the frustration and anger of the war. It's like a nightmare within a nightmare, seeing the corpses pile up and watching people drag their loved ones from under the bricks and steel of what was once a home.

To top it off, we have to watch American military spokespersons and our new Iraqi politicians justify the attacks and talk about 'insurgents' and 'terrorists' like they actually believe what they are saying... like hundreds of civilians aren't being massacred on a daily basis by the worlds most advanced military technology.

As if Allawi's gloating and Bush's inane debates aren't enough, we have to listen to people like Powell and Rumsfeld talk about "precision attacks". What exactly are precision attacks?! How can you be precise in a city like Samarra or in the slums of Sadir City on the outskirts of Baghdad? Many of the areas under attack are small, heavily populated, with shabby homes several decades old. In Sadir City, many of the houses are close together and the streets are narrow. Just how precise can you be with missiles and tanks? We got a first-hand view of America's "smart weapons". They were smart enough to kill over 10,000 Iraqis in the first few months of the occupation.

Of course, if you'd prefer to hear about the human consequences of our little victory here from an American source -- the morgue overflowing, bodies lying uncollected in the street, delivery of humanitarian supplies interdicted except to the hospital -- there's always the L.A. Times. And while civilian deaths are part of every war, the Iraqis are obviously wondering whether we're doing nearly as much as we should to minimize them. Which has a lot more to do with the outcome in this war than most.

Clausewitz famously said that "War is the continuation of politics by other means". Well, except that he actually said it in German, in which the word "politik" apparently can be translated as "policy" at least as well as "politics" in the ordinary English sense. Slice that however you like, though, Clausewitz's dictum applies to our current adventure in Iraq in the most direct way possible: it is literally the case that our near-term strategic objective in Iraq is to have parties which are generally friendly to us win a credible election, because that, and the establishment of a widely-recognized government with some kind of a credible mandate, is the currently imagined precondition for our own troops at least starting to get out.

So to win the battle, according to our publicly announced strategy, we have to win the vote. We have to get Iraqis to vote for candidates we like, or who at least are willing to tolerate policies we can live with. And we aren't likely to win anybody's vote by dropping bombs on a house up the street...

Monday, October 04, 2004

A little news from around Boston:

There's a controversy about John Liming, one of the selectmen of the town of Marblehead, who won his seat by a single vote on the strength of a resumé which was, shall we say, irrationally exuberant about his educational credentials. However, the town's bylaws have no recall provisions, so it's up to him to resign, if he's going to. So far, there's been a petition drive, all of his fellow selectmen have begged him to leave, and a local lawyer has sued him under an obscure law about making false statements in the course of a political campaign. But Liming won't go. The lurkers, it seems, support him in email. Or something like that:

Liming said he has a ''heartfelt desire" to continue as a selectman, a job that pays $1,000 a year. Liming has since repeated his intention to remain on the board, saying supporters have encouraged him to stay on.

The final comment on this affair? I give you the words of Charles Singer, who ran the petition drive until it became clear that Liming was unmoved:

If we get to a point where we're so cynical about our elected officials, democracy doesn't work, and that's extremely dangerous.

It's hard to disagree.

A lot of Bush supporters didn't recognize the man on stage at the first debate. Here are a few points (which I'll be revising and extending as time allows) intended to help Bush supporters realize that the man they saw on stage last Thursday -- the one whose understanding of the world is limited to a few slogans, the one who tries to avoid critics of his policies because he is utterly at a loss for words for them when he can't, the one who hides from bad news and because of that is completely unable to change course in response to it -- is the real George W. Bush.

First, it's nothing new that he's confused about things. Let's look at a few of his public statements:

  • On May 1, 2003, he told the American people that "major combat operations in Iraq have ended." At the time, 138 American soldiers had died there; since then, the death toll has risen to over 1000.
  • More recently, in late September, he claimed that "as a result of the United States military, the Taliban is no longer in existence." Meanwhile, squads of them by the hundreds are attacking government outposts.
  • In the debate, he said that the new Iraqi state has "100,000 troops trained" in its armed forces. It has 100,000 recruits, but Pentagon documents obtained by Reuters show that 90,000 of those are police, not troops, and only about 8,000 of those have been through a full eight-week training course. If you total the numbers up, less than 23,000 have any training at all, and the true loyalties of even those are very much in doubt.
  • Iyad Allawi, the head of the Iraqi interim government, had a joint appearance with Bush on Sep. 23, at which Allawi gave remarks which were prepared in part by Bush campaign staff. Unfortunately, they didn't do much better for him than their usual boss. Among many dubious claims from Allawi, a particular standout was that there are "no problems" in Samarra. A week later, the U.S. mounted a massive assault on that city, involving thousands of troops, to root out entrenched resistance.

And while the situation in Iraq gets worse -- more dead in August than July, as Kerry noted, and more in September than August -- and Bush ignores the downward spiral, he's also ignoring real problems in our direct fight against the actual terrorists who attacked us:

  • Bush claimed at the debate that "Seventy-five percent of known al Qaeda leaders have been brought to justice." Unfortunately, most of the people he's talking about are replaceable underlings who have, in fact, been replaced. Results with al Qaeda's senior leadership are dramatically worse; the State Department produced a list of 22 "most wanted terrorists" in October, 2001, and as of last August, Bush's efforts had secured the arrest of only three.
  • While al Qaeda regroups, adapts, and finds new allies, the CIA can't be bothered to fully staff its al Qaeda unit.
  • The FBI's overworked translators are running behind. So far behind that they've deleted al Qaeda intercepts untranslated because they're out of disk space.

The same goes for even the most basic security strategy, where the Bush administration just does not sweat the details; there's show to their efforts, but not much substance.

  • When Democrats originally proposed the Homeland Security Department, Bush fought it for months. Then when it became inevitable, he flip-flopped (and somehow convinced a lot of people that it had been his idea all along). But he appointed a director, Tom Ridge, whose main qualification for this new and very demanding job is being Bush's good friend from the Governor's Conference; his official bio lists his tax cuts, education and health care programs as governor of Pennsylvania, but no experience related to security.
  • Anyone who has been through an airport over the past few years is all too familiar with the new screening procedures which have been added for passengers. That looks like a really impressive security program -- but it's only on the passenger entrances. As of this summer, a GAO investigation found that thousands of airport workers with fake credentials were still not being screened before entering secure areas, where, as airport workers warn, they could easily sneak a bomb on a plane.
  • The situation at seaports is even worse; security efforts there are chronically underfunded.
  • And, as Sen. Kerry pointed out in the debate, first responders, police and firemen, are also being starved for funds by this administration. Bush's response was to wonder where the money would come from. That's a question he never seemed to ask about his hundreds of billions in tax cuts.

But, Bush might say, the real response to terrorists is in Iraq. In fact, on Sept. 11th, hours after the attacks, when no one knew who was responsible, Donald Rumsfeld was already asking his generals for plans for an Iraq attack. But that was a very peculiar response, for a whole bunch of reasons.

  • There was no persuasive evidence connecting Iraq or Saddam Hussein with the attack. A state department map from November, 2001 shows Iraq as one of a very few countries in the Middle East where al Qaeda did not have substantial operations. And according to the report of the 9/11 commission, there still isn't any evidence now.
  • The same, regrettably, cannot be said of the allies that Bush has chosen. Most of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudi nationals, and at least two received Saudi government assistance to relocate to the U.S. -- a matter that the Bush administration has refused to investigate, and tried to cover up. In fact, Prince Bandar, the Saudi Arabian ambassador -- a man with such close ties to the Bush family that they sometimes affectionately call him "Bandar Bush" -- has himself been caught wiring money to charities with suspicious terrorist links.
  • Our other major ally, Pakistan, is the one whose intelligence services largely created the Taliban, and according to some reports, still has elements which are sympathetic to it (which may be one of the reasons why, as noted above, it's making a comeback). They say they're cooperating with us to reduce terrorism, but that's what they say about nuclear proliferation as well, and on that score too, as I'll get to in a bit, there are very grave doubts.

This brings me to the other half of Bush's case for war on Iraq -- that Saddam Hussein was trying to get weapons of mass destruction. As are a lot of tinpot dictators, all over the planet. But Bush's case that Saddam was close to actually getting them was based on very shaky evidence:

  • The case for "mobile biological labs" was based on reports from a single defector, with very shaky credentials.
  • Administration officials repeatedly cited Saddam's purchase of aluminum tubes. They said in public these tubes were for enriching uranium to weapons grade, ignoring reports from the government's own nuclear technology experts said that they would have made an absolutely dreadful centrifuge -- inferior material, improperly prepared, and Saddam already knew how to make a better one had he ever wanted to.
  • They also cited memos supposedly showing that Saddam was trying to get uranium ore from Africa. Those were crude forgeries which didn't pass a laugh test -- at one point referring to a government official who had been out of office ten years.

This is just a brief survey of the flaws in the case, many more of which were apparent to careful observers before the war.

Bush said in the debates, by the way, that Kerry looked at the same intelligence as Bush, and came to the same conclusions. Kerry, perhaps not wanting to look as if he was played for a chump, has not publicly demurred. But the fact is that Senators outside of the intelligence committee -- on which Kerry does not serve -- do not have access to sensitive intelligence, and like most of the public, have to take the integrity of the analyses of the evidence on faith. And like us, he was betrayed.

This case looks particularly shaky when you examine other WMD proliferation threats in the world today.

  • Let's first, once again, consider our friends in Pakistan. In the debate, Bush said that Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan had been "brought to justice" for proliferating nuclear technology. In fact, Khan has received a full pardon from the Pakistani government, and has refused to discuss his collaborators within the government (he absurdly claims he was flying solo). And Pakistan is refusing to allow international investigators to talk to him.
  • Meanwhile, as Bush was ramping up to war in Iraq, the North Korea (one of the A.Q. Khan network's clients) was taking the seals off their nuclear reactor, and resuming plutonium production. While Bush was taking out Saddam Hussein -- who didn't have nukes, and couldn't get them -- North Korea's Kim Jong Il was building nukes right under our noses. They now say they have six.

Some Bush supporters see this all and they say it doesn't bother them. That a lot of American wars were initially a muddle, and we fixed the problems and muddled through. But that was with leadership that acknowledged the problems and worked to fix them. Washington adapted, invented new tactics -- and didn't scorn help from the French. Lincoln fired the generals that wouldn't fight. Bush, by contrast, won't hear any talk about problems in the war, and when he has fired people -- like General Shinseki, who tried to tell him and the country before the war that tens of thousands of troops would not be enough -- it's for telling unpleasant truths that he doesn't want to hear. And as a result, he hears unpleasant truths so little that he doesn't seem to even be aware of them. At his last formal press conference, he was asked what mistakes he had made with the war -- and he was unable to identify a single one.

How is it that Bush can make these kinds of mistakes? It isn't necessarily that he's a bad guy, but he just doesn't seem to take the job seriously. In his first campaign for the presidency, he promised to bring a new seriousness to the job, as opposed to Clinton's casual attitude. But as president dealing with what he describes as an unprecedented threat to the republic, he had already taken 250 days off -- between the family compound in Maine, the private dude ranch in Crawford, and Camp David -- as of last summer, which is about a hundred more days off than Clinton took in two full presidential terms. He promised to bring a new seriousness to the White House -- but what he actually meant was that unlike Clinton, whose administration was sometimes business casual, he'd wear a suit.

Bush seems to be trying to fake his way through his presidency the way he faked his way through Yale. And his efforts to keep American citizens safe show it -- they're C-student work, with parts designed to look flashy and impressive, but his administration just doesn't sweat the details that actually matter. And the country is suffering because of it.

The points here have been compiled from posts by Mark Kleiman, Laura Rozen, Kevin Drum, and many others...