Friday, March 21, 2003

It looks like Thomas Spencer is even more ticked off at seeing Osama's new recruiting video (filmed in Baghdad, produced by George W. Bush, entitled "Shock and Awe") than I am. Then again, I haven't actually seen the whole thing yet, just a few stills...
More on the support we're getting from those valued members of the coalition, the Turks. Having finally deigned to grant Dubya's crew overflight rights (though not the use of air bases, much less support for ground troops), they are now trying to make even that conditional on the US allowing Turkish troops to enter the Iraqi north, where the Kurds have a well-founded fear of Turkish atrocities.

That is, once again, as opposed to France, which has allowed overflight unconditionally. Even the Moonie Times is now asking why Turkey is a member of the coalition, and France is not...

Thursday, March 20, 2003

I got sick of what was on the local NPR news station, people talking about the war as if it was a football game. So, I switched to all-sports talk radio for a change of pace. They were broadcasting the audio from CNN.

And now it's the regular afternoon guys, doing war coverage. Believe it or not, they're not half bad at this sort of thing; in the wake of Sept. 11, they did pretty decent interviews of faculty from some of the local universities, though they are unabashed about being on the American right. That's as opposed to the morning show on the same station, which lets Boston know on a daily basis what Rush Limbaugh would be like if he wasn't such a warm, cuddly fuzzball...

Among the coalition partners which Colin Powell announced yesterday was Turkey, even though the Turkish parliament has only today voted to allow overflight rights to American planes, and is still denying even use of Turkish air bases.

Well, if allowing overflight is all it takes to be a member of the coalition, then Colin Powell is selling his own diplomacy short. There's at least one more country which is allowing overflights which Powell unaccountably failed to put on his list -- France.

Dubya's message to Congress says:

acting pursuant to the Constitution and Public Law 107-243 is consistent with the United States and other countries continuing to take the necessary actions against international terrorists and terrorist organizations, including those nations, organizations, or persons who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001.

Others beg to differ:

The top National Security Council official in the war on terror resigned this week for what a NSC spokesman said were personal reasons, but intelligence sources say the move reflects concern that the looming war with Iraq is hurting the fight against terrorism.

Rand Beers would not comment for this article, but he and several sources close to him are emphatic that the resignation was not a protest against an invasion of Iraq. But the same sources, and other current and former intelligence officials, described a broad consensus in the anti-terrorism and intelligence community that an invasion of Iraq would divert critical resources from the war on terror.

Beers has served as the NSC's senior director for counter-terrorism only since August. The White House said Wednesday that he officially remains on the job and has yet to set a departure date.

"Hardly a surprise," said one former intelligence official. "We have sacrificed a war on terror for a war with Iraq. I don't blame Randy at all. This just reflects the widespread thought that the war on terror is being set aside for the war with Iraq at the expense of our military and intel resources and the relationships with our allies."

It should be stressed that the "money quote" from that excerpt -- the last bit -- is not from Beers. But it seems to reflect widespread sentiment:

"This is a very intriguing decision (by Beers)," said author and intelligence expert James Bamford. "There is a predominant belief in the intelligence community that an invasion of Iraq will cause more terrorism than it will prevent. There is also a tremendous amount of embarrassment by intelligence professionals that there have been so many lies out of the administration -- by the president, (Vice President Dick) Cheney and (Secretary of State Colin) Powell -- over Iraq."

Bamford cited a recent address by President Bush that cited documents, which allegedly proved Iraq was continuing to pursue a nuclear program, that were later shown to be forgeries.

"It is absurd that the president of the United States mentioned in a speech before the world information from phony documents and no one got fired," Bamford said. "That alone has offended intelligence professionals throughout the services."

Bamford is, among other things, the author of two widely cited books on the NSA.

Wednesday, March 19, 2003

In our current state of heightened alert, there is a no-fly zone over Disneyworld. There is no no-fly zone over downtown Chicago, home of the tallest building in the US. The mayor and governor there seem to think there's something wrong with that.

By the way, in case you were wondering, the FAA's spokesman, discussing the current no-fly zones (which also include New York and Washington DC) says that "there is no specific, credible threat for Disney".

In assessing the damage from their diplomatic train wreck, Dubya's crew seems mostly interested in focusing blame on France. With comic results. Witness New York Times diplomatic correspondant Steven Weisman's post mortem, based on interviews with a dozen or so senior US officials, which features a recap of events which effectively presents the matter as a tale of French perfidy. It only acknowledges towards the end that Russia had also promised to veto the second resolution (they have ties to the current Iraqi regime, and besides, "Pooty-poot" has apparently had enough of American high handedness, like Dubya's unilateral shredding of the ABM treaty). It mentions German opposition in one sentence in passing, never mind that the current German government ran on an explicitly anti-American platform in recent elections. And it barely drops a hint that veto-bearing China was also opposed. And with all that, it describes the problem up front as a disagreement with the "disingenuous" French.

And it somehow avoids explicitly mentioning the reason that the US ultimately withdrew the second resolution -- that the war party couldn't even scare up the nine security council votes which would have allowed Tony Blair to claim in Parliament that the vetoes (at least two) were "frivolous", a point that was not lost on the authors of this scathing editorial in Le Monde. It wasn't the failure of French support which doomed the second vote; it was that the United States could not even obtain the support of even Chile and Mexico. (Weisman does mention the Chile and Mexico votes, which makes it even stranger that he doesn't say why we still cared, with two vetoes assured).

Why beat up on the French? Because Chirac said he would not endorse war under any circumstances? But Chirac never said that. In fact, in the March 10 interview which caused all the fuss, he said:

[If the inspectors] come and tell the Security Council: "we are sorry but Iraq isn't cooperating, the progress isn't sufficient, we aren't in a position to achieve our goal, we won't be able to guarantee Iraq's disarmament". In that case it will be for the Security Council and it alone to decide the right thing to do. But in that case, of course, regrettably, the war would become inevitable.

... adding that because the inspectors were saying at that point that they anticipated being able to do their job within a few months, it wasn't inevitable at that point. (I'm quoting the official translation, with emphasis added).

So, what about the veto "regardless of the circumstances"? Did Chirac reverse himself within the interview? Not quite. What he actually said, at the end of a long discussion of Security Council vote counting, was (again, quoting the official translation with added emphasis):

My position is that, regardless of the circumstances, France will vote "no" because she considers this evening that there are no grounds for waging war in order to achieve the goal we have set ourselves, i.e. to disarm Iraq

Note again, that the French veto is conditioned on current conditions on the ground -- literally "this evening" -- and there is no inconsistency with the early statement that changed circumstances would justify war. In context, the reference is clearly to diplomatic circumstances surrounding the current resolution; it's just a declaration that France would veto an immediate war regardless of diplomatic circumstances, so long as the inspectors said they were still able to do their jobs.

You'll note that the French say they were trusting the inspectors' account of their activities and findings -- as opposed to, say, Colin Powell's. Chirac is too kind to point out that the administration's evidence had proven, to put it charitably, less than totally convincing, featuring, among numerous other problems, questionable technical evidence (El Baradei's last statement on the notorious aluminum tubes was that Iraq probably couldn't have made a centrifuge out of them if they wanted to), and at least one forged document. Chirac is too kind to mention this, even now. But he's surely aware of it.

So who was being disingenous? Here's a telling bit from Weisman:

If there was a turning point in this period, the French say, it occurred when Blix, the co-chief UN weapons inspector, began circulating a timetable for how he would proceed with his job in mid-January.

Because Resolution 1441, as passed by the Security Council, did not have a timetable, Blix and his team reverted to one from the 1990s calling for introducing inspectors step by step, setting up their infrastructure and then establishing "tasks" for Iraq to carry out by March 27, 2003.

Once the United States had a look at the plan, there were objections. Rice and others, including John Negroponte, the American ambassador to the UN, issued statements saying the United States could not wait until that date for the "tasks" to be listed.

Having voted for an inspection process, why exactly was the United States unwilling to give the inspectors even a couple of months to set up a credible inspection regime?

A troubling question. And not the only one -- Weisman mentions, for instance, that one reason we couldn't get many votes from even the "small powers" in the Security Council was that we were asking them to vote against the wishes of their populations -- populations so firmly opposed that, by Weisman's account, it made even dictators uncomfortable. What does that say about our commitment to democratic values? Another tough issue.

Moreover, it seems that unilateralism, lack of concern for world opinion, all these things that Dubya's boosters have pooh-poohed since he entered office, actually mattered here. Perhaps all that needs to be reconsidered? Surely not. Better, perhaps, to ignore it -- and to ignore as well the positions of Russia (peeved at American unilateralism), Germany (whose current government, once again, ran on an explicitly anti-American platform), our inability to gain support from even Latin America, for crying out loud, and blame it all on the perfidious French.

Note added in proof: I know that at this point, this seems like Monday morning quarterbacking; the way things have played out, I can only hope now, like everyone else, that the hawks are right about prospects for the war, that I'm wrong, and that our troops will have quick and unquestionable success in establishing a better regime in Baghdad. But I've seen the, shall we say, selective quotation of Chirac enough -- I've noted the fuller quotes in the comments section of at least two blogs -- to want to get it down in one place. Besides, it's annoying the hell out of me, and this blog is, first and foremost, a vehicle for my annoyance...

Update: last graf also reworked a bit in proof.

Tuesday, March 18, 2003

Well, it's looking a bit better for my speculation over the weekend that Dubya's Friday "mid-east peace roadmap" announcement was in part a sop to the Brits. Not only does it seem to be helping Blair to keep Clare Short in the cabinet; it's also turning up in his speech to Parliament on the war resolution as one of the benefits of partnership with the US in Dubya's war...
So, we need to defy what everyone knows to be the will of the Security Council... in order to preserve the authority of the Security Council. Thus destroying the authority of the Security Council in order to save it.

It's not the first time the country has tried to use that kind of logic...

Update: Josh Marshall has more about who did, and who didn't, respect the intentions behind UN resolution 1441... it turns out that at the time that resolution was passed, our own UN ambassador said it specified a "two-stage process" , which didn't authorize anyone to take "automatic" action without further Security Council consideration.

Monday, March 17, 2003

Tunes for our times: The Compassionate Conservatives, giving Dubya all the love they think he deserves. They're left wing, they're shrill, and they're obviously, flamingly pseudonymous ("Bruce Wayne", "Clark Kent"). What's not to like?

I particularly recommend "Midnight Confessions"...

via Ruminate This

Signs of the times: the bus stop at the MIT campus, on Mass. Ave., across the street from the entrance to the Infinite Corridor.

On the bus stop itself, there is a large poster, emblazoned "Not In Our Name", which has had other messages added throughout the day -- "Give diplomacy a chance"; "Support the troops; bring them home", "Bu**sh**".

Near the crosswalk, there's one of those traffic signs on wheels that displays directions in lights -- this one is warning drivers that the road is cut to one lane a block or two further up for construction work. At least that's what it was doing this morning. This evening, it alternates with another message: "Nerd Crossing".

Today's text: "The War Prayer", by Mark Twain:

It was a time of great and exalting excitement. The country was up in arms, the war was on, in every breast burned the holy fire of patriotism; the drums were beating, the bands playing, the toy pistols popping, the bunched firecrackers hissing and sputtering; on every hand and far down the receding and fading spreads of roofs and balconies a fluttering wilderness of flags flashed in the sun; daily the young volunteers marched down the wide avenue gay and fine in their new uniforms, the proud fathers and mothers and sisters and sweethearts cheering them with voices choked with happy emotion as they swung by; nightly the packed mass meetings listened, panting, to patriot oratory which stirred the deepest deeps of their hearts and which they interrupted at briefest intervals with cyclones of applause, the tears running down their cheeks the while; in the churches the pastors preached devotion to flag and country and invoked the God of Battles, beseeching His aid in our good cause in outpouring of fervid eloquence which moved every listener.

It was indeed a glad and gracious time, and the half dozen rash spirits that ventured to disapprove of the war and cast a doubt upon its righteousness straightway got such a stern and angry warning that for their personal safety's sake they quickly shrank out of sight and offended no more in that way.

Sunday morning came-next day the battalions would leave for the front; the church was filled; the volunteers were there, their faces alight with material dreams-visions of a stern advance, the gathering momentum, the rushing charge, the flashing sabers, the flight of the foe, the tumult, the enveloping smoke, the fierce pursuit, the surrender!-then home from the war, bronzed heros, welcomed, adored, submerged in golden seas of glory! With the volunteers sat their dear ones, proud, happy, and envied by the neighbors and friends who had no sons and brothers to send forth to the field of honor, there to win for the flag or, failing, die the noblest of noble deaths.

And so forth... in a fervent, patriotic manner. For a little bit, at least, after which it starts making less sense...

Sunday, March 16, 2003

The timing of Dubya's announcement of "the roadmap to peace" in the Middle East remains odd; it was out of character for his administration (which has treated the Palestinian issue as something to be dealt with after Iraq, and never likes to go off message). So, it's as if he was pushed into it by someone. But who?

Well, consider the situation of Tony Blair, who has already had a cabinet secretary, Clare Short, threaten to resign on him if he goes to war without further UN authorization. Consider also that she may take other ministers with her, and you see that if Blair goes to war without doing something to improve matters, he runs the risk that his government will disintegrate out from under him. It is difficult to imagine him going to war under those circumstances, so he has to do something to improve things.

Now consider that Friday afternoon, after Dubya's press conference, Ms. Short got a private progress report from Blair, after which she expressed delight at the shiny bauble the world had just received from Britain's special friend, and hinted that depending on how matters went further with Iraq, she might not resign from the government after all.

And so to the Azores, and the meeting which the White House was going out of its way this morning to characterize as anything other than a "war council", lest someone be tempted to resign on principle from a government which had already decided on war. I imagine we'll know what Ms. Short thinks of the result of that soon enough.

But then again, this is all speculation, and not particularly well informed at that. Heck, my first thought on hearing Dubya's announcement was that he'd gotten some last-minute pressure from the Saudis. Not a terribly productive exercise, but it beats lighting your hair on fire. At least I like to think so...

I've seen a lot of comment on David Gelernter's plan to replace the UN with a "big 3" group containing the three powers that last carved the world up at Yalta. Most of it negative.

But oddly, some haven't noted that it wouldn't even achieve Gelernter's goal of finding an international organization which would go along with Dubya's war. One of Gelernter's big three -- Russia, included for the avowed reason that he thinks they'd be a pushover for American schemes like this -- has a veto on the current security council, and has promised to use it on any war resolution under current conditions, despite heavy American pressure.

Why can't these conservatives figure out that the problem isn't the UN -- it's a foreign policy so ill-conceived that third-rate powers like Turkey are turning down billions of dollars in naked bribes to avoid getting dragged into our mess?