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Between the Lines

March 31, 2004

A grim and brutal day in the Sunni Triangle

“In one of the bloodiest and most horrifying days since the end of the U.S.-led war in Iraq, five U.S. troops and four civilian contractors — at least three of them Americans — were killed in separate attacks in the Sunni Triangle west of Baghdad. After ambushing the vehicle carrying the civilian contractors in Fallujah, jubilant Iraqis burned and mutilated the dead, then dragged two corpses through the streets and hung them from a bridge spanning the Euphrates River.”

NBC decided not to air tapes of the contractors’ killings. Correspondent Richard Engel told Katie Couric:

“Katie, for the sake of decorum and respect for those people who were killed, we can’t show you everything that happened in Fallujah today. But I can tell you that the crowds dragged the charred bodies through street then tore them apart and hung them up for public display.”

No relief in sight: Our head man in Iraq, Paul Bremmer, says it will be at least a year before Iraq’s internal security problems can be addressed.

“ ‘There is no way to speed it up; it simply can't be done,'' he said. “We just have to be honest about that.’

“Bremer's comments -- coming just three months before the American-led coalition is scheduled to return power to an Iraqi government -- made it clear that U.S. troops will continue to play the key role in maintaining security in Iraq even after the hand-over of power, scheduled for July 1.

“At least 100,000 American soldiers will remain in the country after Iraqis take over.”

U.S. war dead now 599: All told, 700 coalition troops have died.

Posted by tbrown at 12:17 PM


Iran’s ‘hide-and-seek’ nuclear bomb program

While we’re tied down trying to pacify Iraq, the ruling mullah’s in neighboring Iran still seem bent on developing nuclear weapons.

“New intelligence on Iran has fueled suspicions the Islamic Republic has a secret uranium- enrichment program, possibly aimed at producing fuel for an atom bomb program, Western diplomats say.”

Posted by tbrown at 12:15 PM


Clinton and the Rwanda genocide

Recently declassified documents show the Clinton administration was aware that genocide was underway in Rawanda shortly after it began in April 1994, but buried the information because the president had already decided not to intervene. More than a half-million people were slaughtered in the ethnic violence.

The information comes from intelligence and diplomatic briefings prepared for Clinton, Secretary of State Warren Christopher and other senior officials and obtained by the National Security Archive under the Freedom of Information Act.

Posted by tbrown at 12:13 PM


Pump watch

Our friends in OPEC are going ahead with their plan to cut oil output by 4 percent. Which means we’ll be paying still more at the pump.

Posted by tbrown at 12:11 PM


March 30, 2004

Rice accepts the inevitable

So National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice is going to testify in public and under oath before the 9/11 commission after all. That can only be a good thing. The attacks of 9/11 were a singular disaster, and responsible officials should explain what they knew about the threat and, more important, what they were doing about it beforehand.

We’ve heard Richard Clarke’s version of events. Now let’s hear Rice’s. And let’s hope the commissioners question her account with the same forthrightness they questioned Clarke.

Part of this package deal was an agreement by the 9/11 commission to send the White House a letter saying Rice’s agreement to appear sets no precedent. This is just a fig leaf to cover White House embarrassment. The so-called “executive privilege” argument posited by the White House against Rice testifying was a red herring from day one because the 9/11 commission is not, itself, a legislative body. Oh, well.

However, the most interesting nugget of news was buried at the end of this story:

“U.S. officials told NBC News that the full record of Clarke’s testimony two years ago would not be declassified. They said that at the request of the White House, however, the CIA was going through the transcript to see what could be declassified, with an eye toward pointing out contradictions.”

Ah, the plot illuminated! Clarke has suggested declassifying everything he said and wrote in that period. No! Hell no! Instead, we’ll have the CIA, under guise of the “national interest,” comb the voluminous material for bits and pieces that, ripped out of context, will show Clarke told two different stories. None of this is surprising, of course.

At yesterday’s press briefing, White House spokesman Scott McClellan was somewhat more obtuse.

Q: Where do things stand with Porter Goss's request to declassify the Clarke testimony from 2002?

McCLELLAN: Well, I don't know if there's any update beyond what we've already told you all over the weekend. Obviously this is a request by congressional leaders. Our role would be simply to review the documents, along with other appropriate agencies, to determine what could be declassified. This is a decision that some congressional leaders have made.

Q: But it's up to you to decide if it can be.

McCLELLAN: Well, I think ultimately it's up to the members of Congress to decide what they would choose to release, regarding the joint inquiry. It's their congressional report.

Q: How long would a decision take?

McCLELLAN: A decision take -- you'd have to ask members of Congress. You mean, how long would a review take? I don't know that I could put a timeline on it at this point. It will be reviewed, just like any other documents would be reviewed at the request of members of Congress.

Q: This Clarke request goes beyond just congressional testimony. He's also asking for all of his emails and all correspondence to be released. Is that something that the White House would have to review? Is there anything you'd give consideration to?

McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, those are decisions that would be made in discussion with the September 11th Commission. Those are issues that we would work to address with the commission, in order to make sure that they can provide the American people with a full and complete report.

Footnote: President Bush and Vice President Cheney, by the way, will testify privately and not under oath.

Posted by tbrown at 11:06 AM


Memo to John Kerry

Senator: I agree with your question about Bush: “Where’s the compassion?” But you’ve got to remember this Golden Rule of politics: Only Republicans can quote scripture. Ignore that truism at your peril.

Meanwhile, of course, there’s nothing whatever wrong with this guy invoking the Bible on the stump, not to mention claiming he can read God’s mind.

Posted by tbrown at 11:02 AM


Can we lay poor old Vince Foster to rest, finally? Please.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously today that the federal government did not have to release autopsy photos of Foster, friend and attorney of Bill and Hillary Clinton, who committed suicide in 1993. I can’t say I much like the decision from a news perspective. Fuller disclosure in the long run benefits the nation. On the other hand, as Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote, "Family members have a personal stake in honoring and mourning their dead and objecting to unwarranted public exploitation that, by intruding upon their own grief, tends to degrade the rites and respect they seek to accord to the deceased person who was once their own."

Posted by tbrown at 10:55 AM


March 29, 2004

More bushwa

Well, let’s see. Last week, there was “no evidence” that President Bush asked his former counterterrorism chief, Richard Clarke, to find out if Iraq played a role in 9/11. This week, the White House agrees it happened (free New York Times site registration may be required). I wonder what changed?

Last week, members of the bipartisan 9/11 commission were angry that Bush’s national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, had so far refused to appear under oath and in public before them. This week, they’re foaming. Rice "has appeared everywhere except my local Starbucks," Richard Ben-Veniste, a Democratic member of the commission, said in an interview. "For the White House to continue to refuse to make her available simply does not make sense."

John Lehman, a Republican who was Ronald Reagan’s secretary of the Navy, said it was serious miscalculation for Rice to refuse to testify because she “has nothing to hide” but is creating the impression she does. “… There are no smoking guns. That’s what makes this so absurd. It’s a political blunder of the first order.”

Last week, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist was raging about how Clarke told “entirely different stories” under oath – one in public last week to the 9/11 commission, and one before a congressional joint enquiry.

This week, Clarke is saying, by all means declassify and release my testimony – but all six hours of it, and all the e-mails I sent, not just the bits the administration might want to cherry-pick.

"The White House is selectively now finding my e-mails, which I would have assumed were covered by some privacy regulations, and selectively leaking them to the press,” Clarke said. "Let's take all of my e-mails and all of the memos that I sent to the national security adviser and her deputy from January 20th to September 11th, and let's declassify all of it."

And maybe they will. But if they do, won’t they be breaking the same “principle” that supposedly keeps Rice from testifying?

Oh, yeah. Then the veep weighs in.

“I don't know the guy [Clarke] that well. I have had some dealings with him over the years, but judging based on what I've seen, I don't hold him in high regard.”
-- Vice President Dick Cheney in Time

It’s mutual, I’m sure.

Posted by tbrown at 12:04 PM


‘Success’ in Pakistan

Ten days ago Pakistani forces supposedly had the No. 2 al-Qaida, Ayman al-Zawahiri, “surrounded” near Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan. This week, they’re withdrawing from parts of the region after a “successful mission.”

No, they didn’t capture him.

I guess I shouldn’t gripe. Pervez Musharraf, our nominal ally, is at least still president rather than the Islamic nuts who want to replace him (and become a nuclear-empowered jihadist sect). Musharraf says Zawahiri is taunting him and that now he “wants to eliminate them all.”

Posted by tbrown at 11:59 AM


March 26, 2004

The national repression syndrome

Let's take a brief break from news today to explore some of the psychology at work behind the news. Specifically, these two themes:

-- Our eerie disinterest in finding out too much about the events leading up to 9/11 – until now, when a career bureaucrat has made it unavoidable.

-- Our great good fortune – so far – in avoiding some potentially very serious terror attacks by our own home-grown nuts.

I’m wrapping these two threads together in a single post because I think they’re related in what we want to think of as threats.

Billmon got me thinking about this today with a post that wonders why it took this long for people to begin really exploring what happened before 9/11 that may have contributed to that disaster.

“One of the things I found most remarkable about 9/11 -- at least when compared to past national traumas like the Kennedy assassination or Pearl Harbor -- was how willing the American public was to put questions of responsibility and accountability out of mind, seemingly indefinitely,” he writes.

“This seemed -- and still seems -- like a dramatic break with the past. After Kennedy was killed, the pressure to find out who did it was overwhelming, forcing the quick creation of the Warren Commission. After the Pearl Harbor fiasco, the internal military and congressional inquistions began almost immediately, and soon, probably too soon, identified Adm. Husband Kimmel and Gen. Walter Short as the sacrificial scapegoats.

“Needless to say, the verdicts of both the Warren Commission and the Pearl Harbor inquiries have been, and probably always will be, second guessed. But if those debacles produced a psychological rush to judgment, 9/11 initially seemed to produce a rush to forget -- not the attacks, but the hidden events and decisions that led up to the attacks. … [My emphasis.]

"But, thanks to [Richard] Clarke, and to the attention he focused on this week's public hearings, it seems like the collective mental block has been broken. Suddenly, people want to know the story. … "

The question, of course, is how patient Americans will be in taking the time that will be necessary to connect all the dots in what is a large and very complex picture. Clarke’s testimony, while illuminating, is only part of that picture, which has been emerging in bits and chunks for a couple of years now. Clarke’s detailed knowledge of what was or wasn’t done during the years since the recognition of al-Qaida as a potential major threat in the Clinton years certainly helps fill out our perspective. But it is by no means the last word.

Our home-grown wackos

Another phenomenon that we’ve essentially set aside since the Oklahoma City bombing and the capture of the Unabomber is serious attention to domestic terrorism. This, too, is unwise because, as Seattle blogger David Neiwert points out, "domestic terrorism is largely indistinguishable from international terrorism in terms of the damage that it can inflict -- and that focusing on one at the expense of the other leaves a nation truly vulnerable to lethal violence."

One of the many problems with the Bush administration’s “war on terror,” Neiwert asserts, is its deliberately narrow focus on military operations abroad. Such operations are part of the picture, certainly, in retaliating against Afghanistan for its refusal to hand over Osama bin Laden, but they’re only a part.

The reality, Neiwert says, is that, “Terrorism is a global phenomenon. It takes the shape not of a singular or even related ideology, but the idiosyncratic form of whatever extremism gives it birth. It is amorphous, and highly corpuscular, sometimes effectively emanating from extremely small groups or even individuals. And it is every bit as alive and well in America as it is in the Middle East.”

Unfortunately, our focus on terrorism as an external threat has blinded us to the very real dangers posed by various wingnuts here at home. Neiwert notes, in particular, the cases of the Texas cyanide bomb, the Florida nut who planned a string of abortion-clinic bombings and a guy in Tennessee, who apparently planned to shoot up a Jewish daycare center.

Plus, of course, we still have the unresolved case of the anthrax letters, which was almost certainly domestic terrorism.

The message here, I think, is that we need to a) get over our reluctance to look at hard facts about government screwups – on Clinton’s watch as well as Bush’s – and view terrorism as a broad-based phenomenon that requires a broad and coherent defense.

Posted by tbrown at 01:08 PM


Desperation

This attemtped smear of Richard Clarke is truly farcial. Europeans liked this testimony! Oh, the horror!

Of course, the author, Denis Boyles, can’t help lying about what Clarke actually told the 9/11 commission. But, hey, it’s the National Review. Why confuse readers with truth at this late date?

For the record, though, here’s what Clarke actually said, under oath, about lying – and it wasn’t that he engaged in it:

THOMPSON: Mr. Clarke, in this background briefing, as Senator Kerrey has now described it, for the press in August of 2002, you intended to mislead the press, did you not?

CLARKE: No. I think there is a very fine line that anyone who's been in the White House, in any administration, can tell you about. And that is when you are special assistant to the president and you're asked to explain something that is potentially embarrassing to the administration, because the administration didn't do enough or didn't do it in a timely manner and is taking political heat for it, as was the case there, you have a choice. Actually, I think you have three choices. You can resign rather than do it. I chose not to do that. Second choice is...

THOMPSON: Why was that, Mr. Clarke? You finally resigned because you were frustrated.

CLARKE: I was, at that time, at the request of the president, preparing a national strategy to defend America's cyberspace, something which I thought then and think now is vitally important. I thought that completing that strategy was a lot more important than whether or not I had to provide emphasis in one place or other while discussing the facts on this particular news story. The second choice one has, Governor, is whether or not to say things that are untruthful. And no one in the Bush White House asked me to say things that were untruthful, and I would not have said them. [My emphasis.] In any event, the third choice that one has is to put the best face you can for the administration on the facts as they were, and that is what I did. I think that is what most people in the White House in any administration do when they're asked to explain something that is embarrassing to the administration.

THOMPSON: But you will admit that what you said in August of 2002 is inconsistent with what you say in your book?

CLARKE: No, I don't think it's inconsistent at all. I think, as I said in your last round of questioning, Governor, that it's really a matter here of emphasis and tone. I mean, what you're suggesting, perhaps, is that as special assistant to the president of the United States when asked to give a press backgrounder I should spend my time in that press backgrounder criticizing him. I think that's somewhat of an unrealistic thing to expect.

THOMPSON: Well, what it suggests to me is that there is one standard of candor and morality for White House special assistants and another standard of candor and morality for the rest of America. I don't get that.

CLARKE: I don't think it's a question of morality at all. I think it's a question of politics.

THOMPSON: Well, I... (APPLAUSE)

THOMPSON: I'm not a Washington insider. I've never been a special assistant in the White House. I'm from the Midwest. So I think I'll leave it there.

Posted by tbrown at 12:58 PM


March 25, 2004

Fallout from the 9/11 hearings

Everyone has an opinion. Here are a few:

Newsweek: Could 9/11 have been prevented? Maybe. And in any event, ”Thanks to Clarke's testimony, the second guessing is certain to get louder.”

The bungled search for Osama bin Laden: Both the Clinton and Bush administrations fumbled the search for the terror master, the New York Times reports. During the five years between formation of a special unit assigned to track Bin Laden and the 9/11 disaster “ … is the story of bureaucratic miscommunication, diplomatic dead ends, military hesitation, intelligence failures, political rivalries and policy miscalculations at the highest levels of two presidential administrations — a trail of fumbles presented in sweeping new detail in two days of commission hearings and four staff reports made public this week.” (Free site registration may be required.)

Clarke hits Bush’s one strong suit, the war on terror: " … two days of public testimony before the independent commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks — along with the release this week of a critical book by the president's former top counterterrorism advisor — have offered the most forceful challenge yet to Bush's record in combating the terrorist threat,” says the Los Angeles Times (free site registration may be required).

Clarke’s changing views: Blogger Gregory Djerejian says Richard Clarke’s critique of U.S. government efforts to combat terrorism changed both in tone and substance in his P.B. (pre-book) and B. (book) phases. He also has some pointed comments about liberal bias in some media coverage.

Clarke is stacking the deck: Blogger Daniel Drezner restacks it to make his point.

It’s the ‘fair and balanced’ hacks of Fox News who have a credibility problem: So says Joshua Marshall, who has chapter and verse.

How the families of victims helped shape the 9/11 hearings: "They were a driving force behind the creation of the 9/11 commission and the joint congressional investigation that preceded it. They describe themselves as the commission's best friends - and ‘worst nightmare.’

Happy reading.

Posted by tbrown at 12:21 PM


Not home this Christmas, nor next

It looks like our men and women will be in Iraq for a long time. Plans are advancing for the construction of no fewer than 14 “enduring bases” in Iraq.

“The number of U.S. military personnel in Iraq, between 105,000 and 110,000, is expected to remain unchanged through 2006, according to military planners.”

Posted by tbrown at 11:59 AM


The legality of the ‘Mother of All Bombs’

Steven Aftergood’s indispensable Secrecy News e-mail letter has an enlightening item on the 11-ton bomb we developed for possible use in Iraq (none were dropped) and the vetting process that is supposed to ensure that such weapons meet the requirements of international law.

The Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb is now the largest conventional explosive in the U.S. arsenal. It’s official designation is the GBU-43/B, but it was quickly nicknamed the Mother of All Bombs. Here are photos of the bomb and video and stills of a test conducted at Eglin AFB in Florida.

Here’s a three-page Pentagon memo on MOAB, which lists three criteria weapons must meet to be legal: a.) whether it causes unnecessary suffering, b.) whether it is controllable in order to minimize collateral damage and c.) whether there is a specific law prohibiting its use. The answers, in the case of MOAB are, unsurprisingly, no, yes and no. So it’s legal

Posted by tbrown at 11:58 AM


Privacy? Forget it

The federal government and private industry are swiftly moving ahead with projects that virtually guarantee an end to personal privacy as we know it. It looks like Wal-Mart may soon need to add, “Smile – you’re on camera” to its cheery greetings.

The nation’s biggest retailer teamed with Procter & Gamble recently to embed tiny electronic chips in products Then they filmed Wal-Mart customers who picked them up. Were customers advised of this? Why would they do that?

“In the study, uncovered by the Chicago Sun-Times, shelves in a Wal-Mart in Broken Arrow, Okla., were equipped with hidden electronics to track the Max Factor Lipfinity lipstick containers stacked on them. The shelves and Webcam images were viewed 750 miles away by Procter & Gamble researchers in Cincinnati who could tell when lipsticks were removed from the shelves and could even watch consumers in action.

“The study involved a new technology, known as Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), that enables retailers to use radio signals to electronically track products in warehouses and on store shelves, a technology critics fear ultimately could be used to track people once they leave the store.

“Manufacturers and retailers are looking at ultimately putting the tiny chips into everything from soda cans and cereal boxes to shoes, clothing and car tires.”

The Oklahoma test went on for four months.

It’s their world. We just live in it.

(If you want to keep track of government efforts, Noah Schactman’s excellent defensetech.org is a good starting place. Wired magazine also keeps an eye on both government and private efforts in this area.)

Posted by tbrown at 11:56 AM


The demise of Bob Edwards

I missed this yesterday, but the NPR host of “Morning Edition” – which under his stewardship has become the most popular morning radio show in the nation – has been removed by his genius bosses.

Posted by tbrown at 11:53 AM


March 24, 2004

Richard Clarke, one more time

No, this is not Richard Clarke’s blog. But the guy has been saying so much in recent days about the Clinton and Bush administration’s antiterrorism efforts that I just can’t move on to other things yet.

I’ve been watching his public testimony today before the bipartisan 9/11 commission, where Clarke said:

-- President Bush “greatly undermined” the war on terrorism by invading Iraq. He’s hardly alone on this. Other analysts have complained that Iraq a) drained resources from the campaign to find Osama bin Laden and destroy al-Qaida and its sibling networks and b) fed al-Qaida propaganda that the real U.S. goal was the occupation of oil-right Muslim countries in the Middle East.

-- In 15 hours(!) of closed testimony before the commission no one had asked his opinion of the Iraq war. Well, they are tasked with investigating 9/11, but you would think the little matter of the war might have come up at some point.

-- “No, it is not,” when asked if National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice’s characterization of the Bush administration’s antiterrorism efforts – which she claimed included the option of military action and “taking the fight to the enemy where he lives” before 9/11 -- was accurate.

We also learned that one week before the disastrous attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Clarke sent Rice a letter urging administration officials to imagine how they would feel if hundreds of Americans were killed in a terrorist strike.

That letter certainly was prescient, and it underscores Clarke’s contention that he was doing everything he could to spur the Bush administration into faster action against the threat posed by al-Qaida.

The administration and its supporters clearly are livid over Clarke’s appearance on “60 Minutes,” about his new book, and about his testimony before the 9/11 commission. Republicans on the commission, in particular former Illinois Gov. Jim Thompson, John Lehman, who was Ronald Reagan’s secretary of the Navy, and Fred Fielding, who was Reagan's counsel, attacked Clarke for what they said was inconsistency and partisanship. IMHO, they didn’t make much of a dent in Clarke’s credibility.

When questioned, harshly, about his stinging criticisms of the Bush administration, Clarke denied he was doing any work for the campaign of Sen. John Kerry and said he would not accept any position in a Kerry administration if one was offered.

“The reason I am strident in my criticism of the president of the United States is because ... by invading Iraq, the president of the United States has greatly undermined the war on terrorism,” he said.

Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, who followed Clarke before the commission, conceded that:

-- “In retrospect, you can say we weren’t going fast enough” in developing a policy to respond to the al-Qaida threat – one of Clarke’s key assertions.

-- Rice was not accurate in claiming that an invasion of Afghanistan was being considered before 9/11.

-- The administration “didn’t have the imagination” to envison an attack as horrific as 9/11.

Clarke did. No one knows if a quicker, more determined attempt to deal with al-Qaida would have prevented 9/11. But it’s tragic that it didn’t happen.

Footnote: For a conservative take on Clarke's testimony, here's a link to Gregory Djerijian's blog, Belgravia Dispatch.

Update: The 9/11 commission also issued a report that said efforts to kill or capture Bin Laden were hamstrung by reliance on Afghan rebels for intelligence and confusion over whether Bill Clinton had given the OK to kill the terrorist if necessary.

Posted by tbrown at 01:49 PM


9/11 moms wonder what Rumsfeld was doing?

"He needs to answer to his actions on Sept. 11," said Mindy Kleinberg, mother and widow whose husband was killed in the World Trade Center. "When was he aware that we were under attack? What did he do about it?"

Good question. And she and three other women, who were instrumental in getting a broad public investigation of what happened on 9/11, weren’t real happy with the defense secretary’s testimony before the investigatory commission.

Gail Sheehy has the story.

Posted by tbrown at 01:48 PM


March 23, 2004

Richard Clarke is a registered Republican

And not only is he a registered Republican (though he says he thinks of himself as an independent), but one who clearly seems to have been as hawkish as anyone on the Dick Cheney-Donald Rumsfeld-Paul Wolfowitz axis. Keep that in mind as the White House spinball machine tries to reinvent him as a) a Clinton partisan, b) a disgruntled former employee or c) someone who “wasn’t in the loop.”

That last comes from Cheney. This absurd notion is debunked below, but before we get to that, let’s pretend Cheney moved his lips and the truth came out. If Clarke, who was the head of counterterrorism for National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, wasn’t in the loop on that subject, then this administration’s problems were even worse than Clarke says.

And furthermore …

Responding to my post yesterday, blogger Rod McCarvel writes:

Good post about Richard Clarke (and especially the summary of the WSJ article), but a couple of points demand a response:

"First Clarke. He has a book coming out today, so take that into account." This would be a salient point *if* Clarke had anything to do with timing of the release of his book. However, he submitted his manuscript to the White House three months ago (apparently, all former White House employees need to have their manuscripts vetted to assure the secrecy of classified information). Thus, the timing of its release was more a matter of White House control than of Clarke's control. Certainly, the “60 Minutes” interview was timed to coincide with the publication of "Against All Enemies," and it appears to be the case that his publisher *did* move up the publication date by a few weeks to coincide with his testimony before the 911 Commission, but any complaints from the White House about the publication date being chosen to maximize political impact during the campaign season ring false. They could have allowed it to be released much earlier, or assured that it was released later.

"He also was demoted by the Bushies (he had been Clinton’s anti-terror czar) and he gives off distinct vibes of being the kind of guy who really, really wouldn’t like being undercut. Take that into account, too." True, but it is perhaps not quite fair to infer an ulterior motive here. First, bear in mind that Clarke was not a Clinton protege -- he served under Reagan and Bush I, he claims to be a Republican, and he did serve for a substantial time under Bush II (if he was such a worthless hack, why did they retain him?). Also, despite Dick Cheney's whining on the Rush "Hillbilly Heroin" Limbaugh show about how Clarke had been reassigned to cyberterrorism duty, and so was "out of the loop," that reassignment occurred well *after* 911. During all relevant times, he was The Man with respect to counterterrorism.

Another point which deserves some attention -- Scott McClellan claims that the conversation between Clarke and the "president," which Clarke maintains occurred in the Situation Room on 9/12/01, could not have happened because Bush was never *in* the Situation Room on 9/12. Never mind that there are independent witnesses to the conversation (between 2 and 4 witnesses, according to different versions of the story); let's take McClellan at his word and assume that the "president" wasn't there on that day. Okay, then -- where was he? I mean after all, there was a "situation" underway, was there not? …

All good points.

At Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall takes note of the administration’s attempt to demonstrate Clarke’s supposed Clintonista partisanship by pointing to his friendship with Rand Beers, another career bureaucrat (though a Democrat), who also worked for both Clinton and Bush and who also resigned a year or so ago.

“When you look at it, Beers' and Clarke's stories sound quite similar,” Marshall says.

“And the pattern suggests two possible theories.

“The first is that President Bush has the odd misfortune of repeatedly hiring Democratic party stooges for key counter-terrorism assignments who stab him in the back as soon as they leave his employ.

“The second is that anyone the president hires in a key counter-terrorism role who is not either a hidebound ideologue or a Bush loyalist gets so disgusted with the mismanagement and/or dishonesty that they eventually quit and then devote themselves to driving the president from office.

“Which sounds more likely?”

Read it all here.

Posted by tbrown at 01:04 PM


Pump watch

OK, gasoline prices have hit an all-time high – and they’re headed nowhere but up. According to a new AAA survey of 60,000 gasoline stations, unleaded regular now sells for an average of $1.738, a bit above the previous high hit last year just before the invasion of Iraq. (Note, however, that in inflation-adjusted terms we’re still nowhere near the 1981 peak, when gasoline cost $2.94 in today’s dollars.)

Everyone likes to blame OPEC for this – especially since they’re planning a one million barrel per day cut in output beginning next month. But there are plenty of other culprits. Me for instance; my car gets about 17 mpg. And let’s not forget our dear friends in the refining business. They have been merging like crazy so there are ever fewer of them and they’re closing older refineries and not building new ones. Further proof that the “invisible hand” of the market doesn’t always have the interests of us commoners at heart.

The outlook this summer is for prices in the $2.50 to $3 per gallon range.

Posted by tbrown at 12:59 PM


March 22, 2004

Fighting terrorism: Who did what and when?

Looks like that’ll be the topic of the week. Richard Clarke, a career bureaucrat who served in high-level positions under Presidents Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Clinton and George W. Bush, fired the opening gun last night on the CBS show “60 Minutes.” Clarke and other Clinton administration officials also are to testify tomorrow and Wednesday before the special commission investigating the 9/11 attacks.

First Clarke. He has a book coming out today, so take that into account. He also was demoted by the Bushies (he had been Clinton’s anti-terror czar) and he gives off distinct vibes of being the kind of guy who really, really wouldn’t like being undercut. Take that into account, too.

Nonetheless, what he had to say is extraordinarily blunt criticism of a sitting president, coming as it does from someone who has spent much of his career serving them (though Clarke was no longer a cabinet-level official under Bush, he was head of counter-terrorism). He makes two big points:

-- The Bush administration ignored the al-Qaida threat before 9/11 because it was fixated on Iraq.

-- After 9/11, high administration officials were more interested in bombing Iraq than Afghanistan, where Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida forces were sequestered. [Even the British government felted compelled to nudge the Bush administration back on course, as this blog reminds us.]

Clarke on Bush and terrorism: “Frankly, I find it outrageous that the president is running for re-election on the grounds that he’s done such great things about terrorism. He ignored it. He ignored terrorism for months, when maybe we could have done something to stop 9/11. Maybe. We’ll never know. …

“I think he’s done a terrible job on the war against terrorism.”

And since Bush has made the war on terrorism the centerpiece of his re-election campaign, this is, well, not good news for him.

Clarke on the administration after 9/11: “The president dragged me into a room with a couple of other people, shut the door, and said, ‘I want you to find whether Iraq did this.’ Now he never said, ‘Make it up.’ But the entire conversation left me in absolutely no doubt that George Bush wanted me to come back with a report that said Iraq did this.

“I said, ‘Mr. President. We’ve done this before. We have been looking at this. We looked at it with an open mind. There’s no connection.’

“He came back at me and said, “Iraq! Saddam! Find out if there’s a connection.’ And in a very intimidating way. I mean that we should come back with that answer. We wrote a report.”

Whoa.

The Pentagon gets similar treatment.

“[Secretary of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld was saying that we needed to bomb Iraq,” Clarke said to Leslie Stahl on “60 Minutes.” “And we all said ... no, no. Al-Qaeda is in Afghanistan. We need to bomb Afghanistan. And Rumsfeld said there aren’t any good targets in Afghanistan. And there are lots of good targets in Iraq. I said, ‘Well, there are lots of good targets in lots of places, but Iraq had nothing to do with it.

“Initially, I thought when he said, ‘There aren’t enough targets in—in Afghanistan,’ I thought he was joking.”

A “60 Minutes” transcript is here.

And a CBS segment summarizing what Clarke said and the administration’s reaction is here.

These are serious allegations, so naturally the administration is doing everything it can to knock them down.

For example, the White House issued this three-page statement. It portrays Bush as on top of the terrorism problem since day one in a way that the Clinton administration never was:

Myth: The President didn't treat al-Qaida as a serious threat before September 11.

“The Facts:

“-- The President recognized the threat posed by al-Qaida, and immediately after taking office the White House began work on a comprehensive new strategy to eliminate al-Qaida.

“-- The President specifically told Dr. Rice that he was ‘tired of swatting flies’ and wanted to go on the offense against al-Qaida, rather than simply waiting to respond.

“--The President's national security team worked aggressively and rapidly to develop a new strategy that would employ all elements of our national power: military, intelligence, diplomatic actions, and financial pressure. The new strategy called for military options to attack al-Qaida and Taliban leadership, command-and-control, ground forces, and other targets. It focused on the crucial link between al-Qaida and the Taliban, recognizing that the two were ultimately inseparable. We would attempt to compel the Taliban to stop giving al-Qaida sanctuary, and if it refused, we would have sufficient military options to remove the Taliban regime. Our strategy focused on the crucial role of Pakistan in this effort and the need to get Pakistan to stop its support to the Taliban, understanding the implications for the stability of Pakistan and its relations with India. …”

And so forth. There are also some point-by-point refutations of Clark’s allegations. It’s all worth a read.

Here’s an AP story that wraps up the official reaction to Clarke, which White House spokesman Scott McClellan dismisses this way: "When you compare Dick Clarke's current rhetoric with his past comments and actions, the bedrock of his assertions comes crumbling down." (Sort of a nonrebutt rebuttal if you ask me.)

However, the administration clearly is on the defensive, in part because Clarke’s charges are just the opening round. He and other Clinton administration officials go before the 9/11 commission this week, where they no doubt will be asked, under oath, to describe their own efforts to defend against terrorism and what sorts of advice and plans they passed on to the incoming Bush administration.

Scot J. Paltrow of the Wall Street Journal helps set the testimony up today with an extensive piece reconstructing what Bush and other administration officials did on 9/11. The 9/11 commission, he notes, has made such a reconstruction one of its chief aims in the hope that any missteps can be identified and made avoidable in future crises.

The Journal generally doesn’t make its stories available online, so let me briefly summarize some of Paltrow’s key points:

-- “Scores of interviews with those who played key roles that day or directly witnessed events suggest that some offical accounts of Sept. 11 are incorrect, incomplete or in dispute.” On one level, I find this unsurprising: it was a chaotic and confusing day. However, the adminstration has displayed a vivid taste for revisionism and it’s the commission’s duty to sort out what actually happened for its final report, which is expected in July.

-- One question is the exact sequence of events while Bush was visiting a grammar-school class in Florida as word of the attacks on the World Trade Center came in. This might be important in answering the question of whether there was anything that could have been done to prevent the attack on the Pentagon.

Bush has said, “I was sitting outside the classroom, waiting to go in and I saw an airplane hit the tower – the TV was obviously on. And I used to fly myself, and I said, ‘Well, there’s one terrible pilot.’” In this reference, Bush is talking about the first plane to strike the tower. However, as Paltrow points out, there were no images of the first plane hitting the Trade Center until that night. Bush’s chief spokesman, Dan Bartlett, writes this off as “just a mistaken recollection.”

Bush entered the classroom just after 9 a.m. Shortly thereafter, his chief of staff, Andrew Card, entered and whispered to the president that a second jet had hit the Trade Center. Card subsequently said that “not that many seconds later, the president excused himself from the classroom …”

However, Paltrow reports, “uncut videotape of the classroom visit … and interviews with the teacher and principal, show that Mr. Bush remained in the classroom not for mere seconds, but for at least seven additional minutes,” a point Bartlett does not dispute. While this was going on, the jet that slammed into the Pentagon at 9:37 was hurtling along its route.

Paltrow’s account of the confusion of the day makes it seem unlikely that those seven minutes would ultimately have made any difference in preventing the Pentagon attack. But it could have been a near thing; hence the commission’s interest in obtaining whatever detail it can.

The administration is continuing to stonewall the 9/11 committee, basically on the ground of “executive privilege” – i.e., the executive branch need not answer questions from the legislative branch. Condoleezza Rice, who was Richard Clarke’s ultimate boss during his tenure under Bush, is the latest to deploy this excuse. Thus, the administration’s side of this story will come not primarily in sworn testimony before the bipartisan commission appointed to determine what happened on 9/11, but in ad hoc statements.

Reader beware.

Posted by tbrown at 01:23 PM


March 19, 2004

Zawahiri no longer surrounded

We knew Japanese cars were tough, but doesn’t this seem just a bit absurd? Ayman al-Zawahiri, the No. 2 al-Qaida, appears to have escaped the Pakistani army by breaking out in a bullet-proof Toyota. Yesterday, the Pakistanis were said to have had helicopter gunships in the area. I wonder what happened to them.

Across the border in Afghanistan, a spokesman for the Taliban claims both Zawahiri and his boss, Osama bin Laden are safe on the Afghan side of the border.

In another tidbit, about 100 British special forces, apparently from the Secret Air Service, have been dispatched to the Afghan hinterlands to help U.S. forces that are sweeping mountainous redoubts in search of Bin Laden.

Posted by tbrown at 01:41 PM


Don’t get mad …

Just get John McCain to get even for you.

McCain was thoroughly slimed by the Bush campaign in 2000, when the senator from Arizona was, for a time, a candidate for the GOP presidential nomination. He must still be pretty steamed about it.

Last week, he said he’d entertain the idea of being Democrat John Kerry’s vice-presidential candidate if asked.

"John Kerry is a close friend of mine," McCain said in an ABC interview. "We have been friends for years."

McCain quickly said he was joking, but it was a poke in the eye anyway for an administration that already has a plate full of problems.

Then yesterday McCain defended Kerry’s record on national defense, in response to a harsh attack on the Democrat by Vice President Dick Cheney. "I don't think that. I think that John Kerry is a good and decent man. . . . I think he has different points of view on different issues, and he will have to explain his voting record. But this kind of rhetoric, I think, is not helpful in educating and helping the American people make a choice.''

Ouch.

Democrats can only hope this continues.

Posted by tbrown at 01:39 PM


Flashback – 1: Expectations and reality

The war with Iraq began a year ago today.

The Washington Post takes us back to those stirring days of March 2003, when the war was going to be quick and inexpensive, leading promptly to the spread of peace and democracy in the Middle East.

Things have not worked out that way, for the most part,” the Washington Post reports (free site regisration may be required). “There is evidence that the economic lives of Iraqis are improving, thanks to an infusion of U.S. and foreign capital. But the administration badly underestimated the financial cost of the occupation and seriously overstated the ease of pacifying Iraq and the warmth of the reception Iraqis would give the U.S. invaders. And while peace and democracy may yet spread through the region, some early signs are that the U.S. action has had the opposite effect.”

Posted by tbrown at 10:54 AM


Flashback – II: Bush’s speech on why war was necessary

Here’s the text of President Bush’s speech last March 19 as the assault on Iraq began.

My fellow citizens, the dangers to our country and the world will be overcome. We will pass through this time of peril and carry on the work of peace. We will defend our freedom. We will bring freedom to others and we will prevail.”

Posted by tbrown at 10:48 AM


Flashback III: Here’s what I wrote then

My first blog, Battle Lines, which later morphed into this one, began the week before the war, on March 10. From my first post:

“The waiting is about over. President Bush says Saddam Hussein has missed his final opportunity to disarm. So perhaps as early as next week we can expect Bush to act on his pledge to disarm Iraq by force.

“That makes me nervous. Not about the military outcome -- that's preordained.

“No, I'm nervous about how our pre-war diplomatic failures will affect our standing in the world. About the new wave of terrorism this war could unleash. About the reconstruction of Iraq and the stabilizing of whatever government winds up running it. And about what will happen when the administration gets around to focusing on the far greater potential menace of North Korea. That one makes the back of my neck prickle. …”

Posted by tbrown at 10:47 AM


March 18, 2004

The man in the beautiful coat

That would be Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Egyptian physician who is Osama bin Laden’s right-hand man. He has been linked to a decade of deadly attacks on Americans, including the assault on U.S. troops in Somalia in 1993, the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000 and the attacks of 9/11.

According to AP and CNN, Pakistani troops have surrounded Zawahiri in the mountains along the border with Afghanistan – good news indeed if true.

AP reports that, “One intelligence official said captured fighters said al-Zawahri had been wounded.” Better yet, if true.

Pakistani troops began a major operation Tuesday in South Waziristan with hundreds of troops and paramilitary rangers, who fired artillery and used helicopter gunships to attack dug-in al-Qaida fighters. Dozens of fighters were killed and 18 were captured, an intelligence official said. U.S. forces are on a similar mission on the Afghan side of the border.

Al-Zawahiri and Bin Laden met in Afghanistan in the 1980s while fighting the Soviet army there. Al-Zawahiri went on to found a terror group called Egyptian Islamic Jihad, which merged with Bin Laden’s operation to form Al-Qaida. This New Yorker article provides a full, and creepy, portrait of the doctor who became a mass murderer. It’s long, but quite interesting.

Posted by tbrown at 03:01 PM


How Clinton and maybe Bush missed nailing Bin Laden

Someone passed NBC Nightly News a copy of secret, and quite remarkable, CIA camera footage of a man thought to be Osama bin Laden, taken over Afghanistan by a Predator drone in the fall of 2000.

The tape shows a tall man (Bin Laden is 6-foot-5) in white robes surrounded by aides at a known al-Qaida training camp in Afghanistan where Bin Laden was thought to be living at the time.

When the footage was shot, Predators were used only for reconnaissance and had not yet been armed with the Hellfire missiles they commonly carry today. Nor did the Clinton administration strike with cruise missiles or manned aircraft. That clearly was a missed opportunity.

After George Bush won the presidency, the outgoing Clinton team made sure the new administration was aware of the Bin Laden tape and the plan, not yet implemented, to arm the Predator to take advantage of any such future opportunities. Getting armed Predators into the sky over Afghanistan proved time-consuming, however, in part due to infighting between the Pentagon and the CIA over who should pay for the missions – and who would take the blame if something went wrong. The result: armed Predators weren’t deployed until after 9/11, just about a year after the original tapes were shot. It’s unknowable, of course, whether a second opportunity to get Bin Laden would have presented itself before 9/11 if we’d had our equipment in place. But the nature of the tape obtained by NBC sure makes it seem possible.

The NBC segments are viewable at the MSNBC Web site:

Part I: Clinton

Part II: Bush

A third segment is scheduled to air tonight.

Posted by tbrown at 02:56 PM


March 17, 2004

A bleak night in Baghdad

There’s been another horrific terror bombing in Baghdad. At least 27 dead – and from the look of things, probably many more than that. Scores injured. Frantic scenes of people rooting through the heaped rubble in search of loved ones. The Mount Lebanon Hotel, which was destroyed, apparently was used by visiting Americans, Britons and Egyptians, but most of the victims appear to have been Iraqis. The area is a mix of commercial and residential structures, and many of the casualties appear to have been among Iraqis who live in the neighborhood.

No doubt, this atrocity is part of the continuing jihadi campaign to disrupt the planned U.S. handover of government power to Iraqis on June 30.

The long, hard slog isn’t going to get easier.

Posted by tbrown at 12:51 PM


Blame Spain? Or emulate it?

The newspapers, opinion journals and web logs today are full of fallout from last week’s bombings in Madrid and the subsequent ousting of the government of Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, a close ally of the Bush administration. There’s a clear thread now among pundits on the right to accuse the Spanish electorate of, at best, a dreadful mistake and, at worst, “appeasement.” Commentators from the center and left are asserting that the Spanish took the sensible path of evicting a government responsible for committing the country to a hugely unpopular conflict.

One of the best pieces I’ve seen comes from James Pinkerton of Newsday, who writes that “ … the Madrid bombings demonstrated yet again that the real danger to the West was never inside Iraq. Instead, the danger was always to ‘soft targets’ in the West, such as train stations or the World Trade Center. And the bad guys weren't Iraqi agents, but rather supranational networks using low-tech weapons of medium destruction. These networks may not consist of Iraqis, but they draw strength from the perception - justified, in the case of Iraq - that America and its allies have launched their own jihad against the Arab world.”

Thus, rather than criticizing Spain for a lack of steadfastness, “ … Americans might wish to study Spain's alternative approach to national defense. Voters here might wonder why it's a good idea to have 130,000 American troops in Iraq -- while our own borders are sparsely monitored and our own rail system is wide open to terror bombing. And why does the Bush administration wish to spend $200 billion to ‘liberate’ Iraq, but just $40 billion for the Department of Homeland Security this year?

Finally, Americans might ask themselves the most basic question of all: Has the invasion of Iraq really made the United States safer?

The latter is, or should be, the question of this election year.

For an opposing view, we turn to Edward Luttwak of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, who writes in the New York Times (free site registration may be required) that,

“The Spanish political community has failed the test of terrorism — it has bowed to the violence of the few. Weakness tends to invite further attack. In this regard, Spain is vulnerable. It still rules the enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla on the North African coast, which Islamists view as Christian colonies on Muslim soil. Having seen what bombs can do, they might be tempted to see if a few more explosions can induce the Spanish to withdraw. Similarly, ETA may well decide that another massacre or two will persuade the Spanish government to accept its demands.”

And here are links to other varied opinions:

Robert Kagan of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in the Washington Post (free site registration may be required):

“To murder and terrorize people is one thing, but to unseat a pro-U.S. government in a nation that was a linchpin of America's alliance with the so-called New Europe -- that is al Qaeda's most significant geopolitical success since Sept. 11, 2001.”

Doug Bandow, senior fellow at the Cato Institute, writing at reasononline:

“Allowing a terrorist attack to influence a democratic election is awful. However, it is hard to begrudge foreign electorates the right to toss out governments that have sacrificed their nations's interests to win favor in Washington.”

David Warren, Ottawa Citizen:

We do not retreat because our allies are cowards. We continue to fight, for ourselves, for our children, and for the cowards' children.”

Billmon, in his blog:

“ … I'm amazed, and more than a little impressed, by the ability of so many conservative pundits to evade the inescapable conclusion: That the Bush administration's decision to go to war in Iraq has been a complete disaster for the United States -- a disaster enormously magnified by Bush's willfully destructive attitude towards our former European allies.”

Mark Steyn, in The Daily Telegraph, London (free site registration may be required):

“ … if it works in Spain, why not in Australia, Britain, Italy, Poland? … To the jihadis' way of thinking, on Thursday, the Spaniards were disgraced by Allah; on Sunday, they withdrew. The extent of their impotence and weaknesses is very clear.”

Thomas Oliphant, in the Boston Globe:

Governments that lie and cover up on matters not only central to national security but also to the commitment of armed forces abroad are inviting rejection.”

There’s a lot to chew on here.

Posted by tbrown at 12:49 PM


March 16, 2004

The Madrid bombings: Mulims and Basques?

It seems increasingly likely that that the Madrid bombers were Islamic jihadis from North Africa who were members of groups aligned with – but apparently not part of – al-Qaida. More speculatively, the bombers may have been working in tandem with the Basque separatist movement, ETA.

Spanish authorities have arrested one Algerian and three Moroccans and are looking for at least five more Moroccans, one of whom is linked to the group blamed for a bombing in Casablanca last May that killed 43.

“From the nature of the bombings and the known ties of some of the initial suspects arrested by Spanish authorities, American officials said they believed that the attack might fit a new model in which local Islamic radical groups, perhaps only loosely affiliated with Al Qaeda, might carry out attacks without the direct coordination of Qaeda leaders,” the New York Times reports (free site registration may be required).

Terror by disparate Islamic groups with similar objectives could help explain the seeming total lack of warning by intelligence agencies that a major attack might be imminent.

Newsday, the Long Island newspaper, reports that, “CIA officials believe some hard-liners in the Basque separatist group ETA may have teamed up with Islamic extremists -- not necessarily al-Qaida -- in carrying out Thursday's devastating explosions on Spanish trains …

The surprise election result Sunday in Spain, in which the Socialists party upset the ruling Popular Party of Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, is being attributed in part to public perception that the government was trying to pin the bombings on ETA in order to mask the likely involvement of Islamists who may have been retaliating against Spain for sending troops to join the U.S. coalition in Iraq. Now it appears the government may have had it half-right, though it does indeed seem to have been trying to downplay any Muslim involvement.

It’s worth noting that ETA is known to have had contacts with Muslim terrorist organizations.

Posted by tbrown at 01:20 PM


Terrorist numerology

Is it just a coincidence that there were 911 days between 9/11/01 and 3/11/04?

Posted by tbrown at 01:16 PM


Kerry’s ‘foreign leaders’

Geez, is this stupid or what? First, John Kerry shoots himself in the foot by claiming that “foreign leaders” favor him over President Bush, then saying he can’t name them. This is a wholly indefensible position. And now his campaign – picking up on a correction from the Boston Globe reporter who filed the original report that triggered this teapot tempest – is claiming he never said “foreign leaders” in the first place, but “other leaders.”

This kind of weaseling around will do nothing but undermine Kerry’s credibility – something you’d think he’d want to avoid while running against a president who has done so much to destroy his own believability.

Posted by tbrown at 01:16 PM


One-stop presidential shopping

This site presents the campaign blogs of George Bush and John Kerry on the same page for side-by-side comparison. Handy.

While we’re at it, here are links to the two campaign home pages:

Bush

Kerry

And here are direct links to the campaign blogs:

Bush

Kerry

Posted by tbrown at 01:14 PM


Will they paint it black?

DARPA, the Pentagon’s blue-sky research agency, wants to develop a blimp three times the size of Goodyear’s to provide a "dynamic, detailed, real-time picture of all movement on or above the battlefield: friendly, neutral or enemy." Let’s see. “Friendly.” Would that include us?

Posted by tbrown at 01:12 PM


March 15, 2004

The terrorists win

It’s still not certain whether al-Qaida bombed those trains in Madrid, but on one level it doesn’t matter. Regardless of who did it, al-Qaida – or, perhaps more accurately, the increasingly widespread and amorphous Islamic jihadi movement – won.

-- The conservative Popular Party of Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, a key ally of the Bush administration's "coalition of the willing" in Iraq, lost in Sunday’s elections, three days after the horrific slaughter.

-- The incoming prime minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, a Socialist, pledged again today to pull Spain’s 1,500 troops out of Iraq by June 30 unless the United Nations assumes responsibility for military affairs there.

So the Bush administration appears to be losing one of its key European allies on Iraq and it looks like our troops may lose the support of 1,500 Spaniards in a situation where every pair of boots on the ground counts. The administration promptly stepped up with what is being viewed abroad as a warning that to stand back would be an invitation to catastrophe.

Indeed, supporters of the administration no doubt will consider the Spanish response to the bombings as appeasement or something similar. But I think this misses the point.

The fact is that very few Europeans ever bought into the notion that Iraq was the main front in the struggle against terrorism. They understood why we went into Afghanistan. But not Iraq. In Spain, large majorities have opposed military intervention in Iraq since day one. So it’s scarcely surprising that voters took it out on the Aznar government when it began to appear likely that al-Qaida, or some ally of it, was responsible for the train bombings.

Blogger Tacitus makes an impassioned argument here that, “the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, initially connected only on an arguable conceptual level, are now inseparable parts of the same campaign. The inability to recognize this -- and the concurrent inability to grasp that defeat in one arena heartens and directly aids the enemy in the other -- is a surefire sign of one's politics overriding one's sense.” Europeans, however, are unlikely to be much moved by the argument that since, to follow Tacitus’ logic, we connected these particular Islamic dots they should be willing to pay the price. In short, they don’t see the threat of terrorism in the same globally apocalyptic way. At least not yet.

That could change.

Richard Evans of Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Centre in London says that, “Terrorism is a means of communication.” And ever greater destruction is needed to get these people’s “message” across.

Richard A. Clarke, author of a new book on terrorism, makes the same point at Time, where he writes that “security officials are concerned that the calculations of these often unknown groups have changed. They may think they must create mass casualties or risk being ignored by the media.”

Worse, it’s much easier to launch such attacks than it is to defend against them, Clarke says. ”The attacker has the advantage. In such circumstances, security officials cannot just play defense. They must not wait to pick the terrorist out of the crowd at Grand Central Terminal in the minutes before he sets the timer. Terrorist cells must be infiltrated overseas. Terrorists have to be picked up at the border or found among the hundreds of millions of people on our streets.”

Unfortuately, that doesn’t work very well either. His conclusion: “If we do not focus on the reasons for terrorism as well as the terrorists, the body searches we accept at airports may be only the beginning of life in the new fortress America.”

Posted by tbrown at 12:41 PM


The return of the draft

Really. The Pentagon apparently plans to start with linguists and computer experts. However, even limited conscription is said to be “far off.” Especially since it would take an act of Congress.

Posted by tbrown at 12:35 PM


March 11, 2004

Our alleged Iraqi agent

Today’s posts are all conspiracies all the time. First up:

Susan Lindauer, who once worked for our crosstown rival, the Seattle Post-Intelligender, the Everett Herald and U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon while he was a member of the U.S. House, was arrested at her home in a Maryland suburb of Washington, D.C., today on charges of acting as an agent for Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi Intelligence Service and plotting to aid Iraqi resistance groups after Saddam’s overthrow.

The Associated Press has a story here and the
Washington Post has the basics here (free site registration may be required).

It’s too early to be certain of Lindauer’s motivation, but her next-door neighbor in Takoma Park, Md., said, “She lives in a fantasy world.” A scan of the readily available information on Lindauer available on the Web indicates Lacey may be dead on.

In 1998 Lindauer filed a deposition with Scottish authorities contending that the Libyan government was not responsible for the bombing of Pan American Flight 103 over Lockerbie, which killed 259 people on the airplane, most of them Americans, and 11 on the ground – and for which Libyan leader Moammar Khadafi eventually accepted responsibility.

Lindauer said her deposition was based on information from Richard Fuisz (that’s pronounced “fuse”), a colorful and successful American biotech entrepreneur who is supposed to have once been a CIA agent in Damascus. Fuisz, according to the deposition, told Lindauer that he had personal knowledge of who the Pan Am saboteurs were – and that they were based in Syria.

The U.S. government forbade Fuisz from testifying in the Lockerbie case, which created a minor furor in the UK.

The reputed motive for the U.S. gagging Fuisz was that it didn’t want him to say anything that would damage relations with Syria, which had been helpful to the U.S. during the 1991 Gulf War. However, U.S. policy is to never let intelligence agents testify about anything except under the rarest circumstances.

The U.S. government’s case against Lindauer, according to the idictment, amounts to this:

-- Lindauer accepted payments from the Iraqis for her services and expenses amounting to a total of $10,000, including $5,000 she received during a trip to Baghdad in February and March 2002, where she met with Iraqi intelligence officers.

-- On Jan. 8, 2003, Lindauer tried to influence U.S. foreign policy by delivering to the home of an unidentified U.S. government official a letter in which she conveyed her access to and contacts with members of the Saddam Hussein regime.

-- She met on two occasions in Baltimore in June and July 2003 with an undercover FBI agent who posed as a Libyan intelligence representative who was seeking to support resistance groups in postwar Iraq. It said she discussed the need for plans and foreign resources to support these groups.

-- She continued to correspond with the undercover agent until last month and followed the agent's instructions to leave packages on two occasions in August 2003 in "dead drop" operations.

Lindauer faces a maximum prison sentence of 10 years in prison on the most serious charge and five years in prison on the lesser charge if she is convicted, prosecutors said.

Update: We've now got a statement from Lindauer via WBAL-TV in Baltimore: "I'm an anti-war activist and I'm innocent," Lindauer told WBAL-TV as she was led to a car outside the Baltimore FBI office. "I did more to stop terrorism in this country than anybody else. I have done good things for this country. I worked to get weapons inspectors back to Iraq when everyone else said it was impossible. I'm very proud and I'll stand by my achievements."

Posted by tbrown at 01:03 PM


The Spain bombings: who did it?

Update: The evidence is accumulating that the blasts that killed more than 180 people in Madrid may have been an Al Qaida operation.

Earlier:

The Spanish government says it was ETA, the separatist movement that has been trying for decades to create a Basque homeland free of Spanish domination in the mountainous north.

The other major suspect is Al Qaida, which has been fingered for major terrorist bombings in Turkey and Iraq and has pledged to attack countries allied with the U.S. in the Iraq invasion. Spain has been one of the most prominent European allies of the U.S. on Iraq.

Here’s how the evidence stacks up so far:

It was the ETA:

-- ETA was attempting to disrupt Spanish elections set for next Sunday. The group, which is considered a terrorist organization, has killed an estimated 3,500 people in a 35-year campaign for independence.

-- Spanish authorities said the arrest of two suspected ETA members driving an 1,100-pound bomb to Madrid at the end of last month and a thwarted bomb attack on Chamartín station, another main rail terminal in the city, on Christmas Eve was evidence of ETA’s intentions.

-- The 10 bombs, which killed about 180 people in trains and stations in Madrid, employed a type of dynamite commonly used by ETA.

It was Al Qaida:

-- The ETA has never launched an attack on this scale. Its deadliest previous attack, on a Barcelona supermarket in 1987, killed 21 people and drew an apology from the group,

-- ETA usually gives warning of impending bombings. None was received before these catastrophic attacks.

-- A political ally of the ETA, Arnold Otegi of the banned Batasuna party, said, "The modus operandi, the high number of victims and the way it was carried out make me think, and I have a hypothesis in mind, that yes it may have been an operative cell from the Arab resistance."

-- If the dynamite in question was readily available to ETA, presumably it would have been available to Al Qaida operatives in Spain as well.

-- The ETA has been vigorously pursued by Spanish authorities and has had difficulty mounting serious operations recently.

And we can’t discount the political aspect here. It’s much more convenient for the Spanish government to blame its domestic terrorist group – especially just before an election – than admit that the attacks might have been Al Qaida retaliation for the government’s widely unpopular participation in the U.S. coalition against Iraq.

Presumably, all will become clearer in the days ahead.

Posted by tbrown at 12:59 PM


Remember those mercenaries seized in Zimbabwe?

They supposedly were going to participate in a coup attempt 2,000 miles away in Equatorial Guinea. Never heard of it? That wouldn’t be surprising. Equatorial Guinea, a former Spanish colony, is a little speck on the west coast of a great big continent. Only a little over 500,000 people live there, under a grim dictatorship.

However, in recent years international oil companies have found vast pools of petroleum and fields of gas in offshore areas belonging to Equatorial Guinea. By one estimate, the country’s tiny economy mushroomed 65 percent last year under the impact of newfound oil wealth. Controlling that wealth could, no doubt, provide the motivation for a coup.

Update: The supposed leader of the coup plot, one Nick du Toit, said the goal had been to kidnap President Teodoro Obiang Nguema and install an exile, Severo Moto Nsa, in his place.

Posted by tbrown at 12:56 PM


And then we have our mercenaries

They’re from Chile, and they’ve been hired to defend Iraq’s oil infrastructure against sabotage. This is supposed to free up some U.S. troops for other duties.

Blackwater USA, a Pentagon contractor, is paying the Chileans about $4,000 per month each.

"We scour the ends of the earth to find professionals - the Chilean commandos are very, very professional and they fit within the Blackwater system," says Blackwater president Gary Jackson.

Makes me warm all over. Our very own Hessians. Such a fitting accoutrement for the New Empire.

Posted by tbrown at 12:54 PM


March 09, 2004

It’s Kerry on the economy and Bush on the war

There are a couple of major new polls out today that, coupled with a survey I mentioned last week, provide a pretty clear view of where things stand as this long campaign season begins.

All three put Sen. John Kerry ahead of President Bush by slim margins, and for similar reasons: many Americans are pessimistic about the state of the economy, dissatisfied with the way Bush has handled it and believe Kerry could do a better job. The economy is almost always the central question in most presidential campaigns, and the present “jobless recovery” has done little to assuage concerns. This is true not only among Democrats, but among independent and undecided voters, whose decisions will determine the outcome in November.

However, Bush still gets majority support for his handling of the “war on terrorism.” (I put that phrase in quotes because I believe that, unlike the attack on Afghanistan, the war in Iraq had more to do with an unrealistic desire to redraw the political map of the Middle East than it did with terrorism.) Though it’s too painful to dwell on, another major terrorist attack on U.S. soil is probably inevitable at some unknowable time. If that time is before November, it could give Bush a big lead overnight.

In addition, Bush’s supporters appear to back their man more emphatically than do Kerry’s. As the Washington Post’s story today about the new Post/ABC News poll puts it: "Nearly nine in 10 Bush supporters say they ‘strongly’ support him, compared with two in three Kerry voters. In addition, six in 10 Kerry supporters say they are voting for the Democrat more as a protest against Bush and his policies, and not because they are attracted to Kerry. By contrast, nearly nine in 10 Bush voters say their support is based on their feelings toward the president, not disapproval of Kerry.“

It’s worth noting, though, that today’s USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll says 45 percent of those it surveyed said they were “certain” to vote for Kerry, compared with 38 percent for Bush.

Perhaps significantly – a single poll is never very persuasive, and I haven’t seen this reflected in other results – the USA Today poll also found that Bush and Kerry were tied for support among men, who normally favor Republicans. Kerry has a huge lead among women.

One last point: Bush’s ads using images of 9/11 to help make the point that he’s a strong leader for difficult times seem to have backfired. Of those surveyed, 54 percent said use of 9/11 images was inappropriate. If this is really how Americans at large feel (and again, this is one poll), the ads could prove a serious miscalculation by Bush’s strategists. The polls I’m covering here – and, no doubt, the Bush campaign’s own surveys – show that the war is Bush’s one big advantage against Kerry. If the 9/11 ads offended voters, the Bushies are going to find it difficult to step back from them and yet find effective ways of making the same point.

The deeper this administration gets into problems that are either of its own making (the Iraq war) or that it is perceived as mishandling (the economy), the more unsure its judgment seems. I wouldn’t say Bush is floundering in the deep end of the pool yet, but that cocky crawl stroke of his looks like it’s breaking down.

Poll links:

Washington Post (free site registration may be required)

USA Today/CNN/Gallup

Pew Center for People and the Press

Update: Billmon noticed something in the Washington Post poll that I overlooked: It, too, has Bush and Kerry essentially tied for male votes. He also makes some additional interesting points about the numbers.

Posted by tbrown at 02:09 PM


Jobs? Unfortunately, no

Economic forecasting isn't an exact science, but wishful thinking on this scale is unprecedented.”
-- Paul Krugman in the New York Times (free site registration may be required)

Krugman makes his point with a chart that compares reality with the Bush administration’s last three annual employment forecasts.

With the economy expanding and corporate profits rising, why aren’t there more jobs?

David Ignatius of the Washington Post offers this speculation:

My sense is that investors and managers are still traumatized by the shocks to the system of the past three years -- a chain of events including the collapse of the high-tech bubble; the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001; a global war against Islamic terrorism; and the fallout from the Enron scandal.

“These shocks, taken together, have made investors more risk-averse and cautious. …”

He also thinks regulations adopted in the fallout from Enron and other corporate scandals has made it harder for startup companies – a traditional engine of job growth – to go public.

Then there’s a new report from the National Federation of Independent Business, a trade association, that says small businesses are scaling back their already meager hiring plans.

Posted by tbrown at 02:04 PM


Shorter David Brooks

Mel Gibson's religion may be dangerous, but yours is probably worse. He actually gets paid for writing this pablum.

Posted by tbrown at 02:01 PM


March 08, 2004

The battle for Hanging Chadland

Florida determined the last presidential election, and this year could well see a replay. Florida has 10 percent of the electoral votes needed to become president. It’s probably impossible for Bush to win without Florida and next to impossible for Kerry to prevail without it.

So what’s happening down there? Plenty, as it turns out.

A new Miami Herald/St. Petersburg Times poll shows that as of last week Kerry “holds a 49 to 43 percent lead over a president who just four months ago led every potential Democratic challenger by as many as 18 percentage points.” Ralph Nader drew 3 percent support in the poll.

Among the findings of the survey, which had a 3.5 percent margin of error:

-- More Florida voters disapprove of Bush’s job performance than approve.

-- A majority of voters believe that the United States is ''moving in the wrong direction'' under Bush -- a marked reversal from two years ago, when 7 in 10 voters, including half of Democrats, approved of Bush's job performance.

"Florida is on the knife edge of partisan balance," Lance M. deHaven-Smith, a professor at Florida State University who has studied voting patterns tells the New York Times (free site registration may be required). "It's a place where little things can alter the turnout just enough to tip the scales."

Unsurprisingly, both campaigns are working feverishly to organize their voters, get their ads on the tube and get their candidates on the ground. Bush has visited Florida 19 times since he took office and Kerry is campaigning there now.

Posted by tbrown at 12:18 PM


The veepstakes

John Kerry still needs a running mate. DailyKOS briefly characterizes 10 who could show up on the ticket.

Posted by tbrown at 12:16 PM


More about those Bush TV ads

First, Newsweek says everybody but the firemen in what appeared to be scenes from 9/11 were actually actors.

Then, at Slate, Jacob Weisberg and Will Saletan “debate” the content of the ads (it’s actually an exchange of memos). They provide a link to the ads themselves so you can check out their conclusions for yourself.

Posted by tbrown at 12:15 PM


Class warfare revisted

If class warfare is being waged in America, my class is clearly winning."
-- Warren Buffett, billionaire CEO of Berkshire Hathaway

Somehow we’ve moved from the sensible notion that the people with the most money should pay the most taxes to the point where even suggesting it is “class warfare” against the mistreated, unappreciated, deserving rich.

Well, Warren Buffett, the grandfatherly financial genius who turned a bankrupt textile company into one of the most successful holding companies in history, still holds to the now quaint notion that wealthy individuals and profitable businesses ought to be paying their share. Buffett pointed out in his company’s annual report, which is must reading for many investors, that with the single exception of 1983, the percentage of government receipts from corporate income taxes in 2003 was the lowest of any time since record-keeping began in 1934. Buffett’s letter to shareholders is here.

Buffett also opposed President Bush’s individual tax cuts on the ground that most of the benefit went to people like him. Here are some tables from Citizens for Tax Justice that include estimates of the cost of the tax cuts and who got the money. The benefits flowed disproportionately to the top 1 percent of earners. Are you expecting a $51,627 cut in taxes for last year? Me either.

Posted by tbrown at 12:13 PM


Zimbabwe detains a plane full of mercenaries

It’s hard to know what to make of this one. The thuggish government of President Robert Mugabe says it has detained an American-owned Boeing 727 with 64 suspected mercenaries, and military equipment, aboard. No indication yet who these guys might be working for, though they were said to be of numerous nationalities.

The FAA’s web site says the plane is registered to Dodson Aviation of Ottawa, Kan.

Posted by tbrown at 12:10 PM


March 05, 2004

Plame investigation reaches top levels of the White House

It’s the scandal that just won’t die. The federal grand jury investigating who leaked the name of undercover CIA agent Valerie Plame has now subpoenaed the telephone records of Air Force One, the presidential jet, for the week before Robert Novak outed Plame in his column.

“The subpoenas underscore indications that the initial stages of the investigation have focused largely on the White House staff members most involved in shaping the administration's message on Iraq, and appear to be based in part on specific information already gathered by investigators, attorneys said Thursday,” reports Tom Brune of Newsday.

Translation: they know who did it and are looking for further information to bulk up their case.

It is a felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $50,000 fine, to intentionally or knowingly disclose the identity of an undercover agent. Intent and knowledge are difficult concepts to prove legally, so investigators are most likely looking everywhere they can for evidence of it. The scuttlebutt from the beginning has been that Bush administration officials had called a half-dozen reporters to circulate Plame’s name in an attempt to discredit the criticism of the administration's Iraq policy by her husband, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV. In 2002, Wilson went to Niger at the behest of the CIA to check out reports that Iraq was seeking to buy uranium "yellow cake" to develop nuclear weapons. He reported that Iraq sought commercial ties but that businessmen said the Iraqis didn't try to buy uranium.

Wilson, by the way, has written a book scheduled to be published in May that he says will disclose who leaked his wife’s name.

Besides the Air Force One phone records from July 7-12, when Bush was on a tour of Africa, accompanied by Secretary of State Colin Powell, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and then Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, the grand jury subpoenas sought other information that points to high-level involvement in the Plame matter:

-- The complete transcript of a White House press “gaggle” – an informal briefing – by Fleischer on July 12 in Nigeria. It is missing from the White House web site that normally posts the transcripts. During this session, Fleischer discussed Wilson and his Niger report. (There is a transcript from a day earlier, in which Rice also touches on the Wilson mission.)

-- A list of those who attended a White House reception on July 16 for former President Gerald Ford's 90th birthday.

-- All documents from July 6 to July 30 of the White House Iraq Group, whose existence has only been publicly discussed once, in this Washington Post story. The group met weekly in the Situation Room, the Post said, and its regular participants included senior political adviser Karl Rove; communication strategists Karen Hughes, Mary Matalin and James R. Wilkinson; legislative liaison Nicholas E. Calio; policy advisers led by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and her deputy Stephen J. Hadley; and I. Lewis Libby, chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney.

After this investigation runs its course it will be interesting indeed to get the story behind the story. Even without all the underlying detail, two things seem clear: The administration has tried to minimize this scandal since day one and the CIA has pushed hard to have it pursued to the end. So far, the CIA seems to have the upper hand.

Posted by tbrown at 12:29 PM


Bush’s TV ads

I’m not going to get into the detail of the good taste/badtaste, sensitive/insensitive, acceptable politics/slimy politics arguments about Bush’s new TV ads, which you can watch here. What I wonder is why the Bush campaign decided to make images from 9/11 part of its first TV blitz. Someone – Karl Rove, the president’s chief political adviser, for instance – had to have known that the ads would be controversial. So Bush and his aides must have calculated that a little controversy would on balance be more of a plus than a minus.

Were they right? Or was this a substantial miscalculation?

I think they were right. I’ve watched the ads and they just don’t strike me as the kind of thing most Americans are going to think is outrageous. (I readily admit I might feel differently about this if a family member or friend had been killed in the 9/11 attacks). Some viewers may, perhaps, be aggravated that one of the disasters of our age is being used for blatant politics, but those folks are probably Democrats anyway.

So I expect it’ll be kicked around for a few days and then will slide into the big, public memory hole and vanish. And if Bush gets away with it this time, it will help clear the way for what the Republicans apparently really want to do: use Ground Zero as a backdrop for some really blatant politicking during the GOP National Convention.

Footnote: I will say that Bush’s use of these images is quite hypocritical for two reasons: his stonewalling of the 9/11 investigation and the administration’s ban on photographing flag-draped caskets of dead GI’s as they arrive at Andrews Air Force Base. But, then, campaigning and hypocrisy all too often stroll hand in hand.

Posted by tbrown at 12:23 PM


Jim McDermott on Biblical marriage

I missed this, but last week, after President Bush advocated passage of a constitutional amendment to prevent same-sex marriage, U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott of Seattle had a little to say about marriage as it is outlined in the Bible. Here’s the text of his brief presentation on the House floor:

“Mr. Speaker, the President's presidential prayer team is urging us to ‘pray for the President as he seeks wisdom on how to legally codify the definition of marriage. Pray that it will be according to Biblical principles.’

“With that in mind, I thought I would remind the body of the biblical principles they are talking about.

“Marriage shall consist of a union between one man and one or more women. That is from Genesis 29:17-28.

“Secondly, marriage shall not impede a man's right to take concubines in addition to his wife or wives. That is II Samuel 5:13 and II Chronicles 11:21.

“A marriage shall be considered valid only if the wife is a virgin. If the wife is not a virgin, she shall be executed. That is Deuteronomy 22:13.

“Marriage of a believer and a nonbeliever shall be forbidden. That is Genesis 24:3.

“Finally, it says that since there is no law that can change things, divorce is not possible, and finally, if a married man dies, his brother has to marry his sister-in-law.”

Posted by tbrown at 12:20 PM


March 04, 2004

So, the campaign is on

We’ve still got eight months till election day, so it’s going to be a long – and no doubt dirty – slog. And at the end, it’ll all be aimed at capturing a few more undecided voters than the other guy.

The Pew Research Center for People and the Press has a new poll that provides some good benchmarks for where things stand as the campaign gets underway in earnest.

Here are some key numbers:

In a head-to-head matchup, Sen. John Kerry has a slight lead over President Bush (48% to 44%). The poll’s margin of error is about 3.5%, so statistically they enjoy quite comparable support.

Pew found that 38% of voters strongly support Kerry and wouldn’t switch, while 33% feel that way about Bush.

In the middle are 29% who are “undecided.” I put quotes around “undecided” because of this group 13% are leaning toward Bush and 10% are leaning toward Kerry. Since these people are not fully committed to a candidate, some could change their minds and go the other way. But most probably will follow their current leanings. That leaves just 6% of the electorate truly undecided. This small group of people (and those whose allegiances to one candidate or the other are weak enough to be swayed) will decide the election.

Most of these “swing voters” have positive views of both candidates, Pew found. (You can bet that tens of millions of dollars will be spent by each side trying to lower their opponent's "positives.") Swing voters tend to support Bush on the “war on terrorism” and to be pessimistic about the economy, which they think Bush could be doing more to improve.

A detailed analysis of the results is available here.

Posted by tbrown at 10:00 AM


Bush's problems with his 'war base'

Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit has an excellent post incorporating a number of e-mails from his predominantly conservative readership on their views of President Bush at this point in the campaign.

Some of his readers are unhappy with Bush about things other than the war - deficit spending or the economy - but not unhappy enough to vote for a Democrat. Others fear that Bush is losing his focus on the war and is unable to articulate where things should go from here. It's interesting reading for both Bush and Kerry fans and contains some useful links to other blogs and articles.

Posted by tbrown at 09:50 AM


March 03, 2004

9/11 commission gets feisty – and it's about time

The independent commission appointed to investigate the 9/11 attacks appears to be thoroughly fed up with the Bush administration's lack of cooperation. It is refusing to meet with the president and Vice President Dick Cheney under the severe restrictions requested by the administration. Those include just one hour each of the president's and vice president's time and that only the commission chairman and vice chairman be present. The commission also has renewed its requests that Bush's National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice, testify publicly. If she doesn't agree, she may be subpoeaned.

Bush and Cheney are expected to be asked about how they reacted to intelligence reports before Sept. 11, 2001, that suggested Al Qaeda might be planning a large attack. Panel members want to ask Rice the same questions in public.

" 'We have held firm in saying that the conditions set by the president and vice president and Dr. Rice are not good enough,' said Timothy J. Roemer, a former Indiana congressman who is one of five Democrats on the 10-member commission.

"Mr. Roemer said that former President Bill Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore had agreed to meet privately with the full bipartisan commission, and that Samuel R. Berger, Ms. Rice's predecessor, would testify in public.

" 'It's very important that we treat both the Bush and the Clinton administrations the same,' he said."

So far, the White House has been stonewalling the commission on the absurd ground that the constitutional principle of separation of powers is at issue – i.e., that the prez and the veep don't testify before legislative bodies. This ignores the fact that the commission is not a legislative body, but a special panel appointed by Congress for a single task: to look into one of the critical security lapses of our age. The fact that it includes some members of Congress is, or should be, beside the point.

Clinton and Gore, by the way, have promised the commission as much time as it needs to ask its questions.

My, my. Such a contrast. Clinton, who as any right-thinking American knows, is personally responsible for everything that's gone wrong in this country in the last 10 years, including 9/11, is willing to answer whatever questions come his way, however long it may take. Bush isn't. What’s he so afraid of?

All I can say is that if Bush is going to continue posing as a "war president" he's going to have to start acting like one, instead of like a guy who’s never seen a buck he couldn’t pass.

Posted by tbrown at 02:26 PM


So, is it over now?

Yes. John Kerry is the Democratic nominee, barring very, very large unforeseen events. So now he needs a running mate. There are several obvious possibilities: Sen. John Edwards, who bowed out of the presidential campaign today after Kerry’s super Super Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri and Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico come to mind.

Then there’s this entertaining real, real long shot: Bill Clinton. Stephen Gillers, a New York University law prof, makes the case today on the New York Times op-ed page (free site registration may be required). Gillers quickly disposes of the potential constitutional problems:

“The Constitution does not prevent Mr. Clinton from running for vice president. The 22nd Amendment, which became effective in 1951, begins: ‘No person shall be elected to the office of the president more than twice.’

“No problem. Bill Clinton would be running for vice president, not president. Scholars and judges can debate how loosely constitutional language should be interpreted, but one need not be a strict constructionist to find this language clear beyond dispute. Bill Clinton cannot be elected president, but nothing stops him from being elected vice president.

“True, if Mr. Clinton were vice president he would be in line for the presidency. But Mr. Clinton would succeed Mr. Kerry not by election, which the amendment forbids, but through Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution, which provides that if a president dies, resigns or is removed from office, his powers ‘shall devolve on the vice president.’ The 22nd Amendment would not prevent this succession.”

The political problems, Gillers correctly notes, may be considerably more difficult.

But forget all that. Forget also the strong possibility that Gillers may have his tongue planted firmly in his cheek. The mere suggestion that the Great Satan might return to public life – particularly as a veep candidate who could devour Dick Cheney in a debate in less time than it takes to write this – has prompted near hysteria at one rightwing site.

Footnote: I don’t know anything about Stephen Gillers, but he appears to be one of those experts who is frequently cited in political stories with a legal component. He shows up, for instance, both in connection with investigations of Clinton and in stories about Bush’s shennanigans with Harken Energy stock.

Posted by tbrown at 02:21 PM


Death toll in Iraqi bombings reaches 223; Shiite leaders call for calm

The death toll in yesterday's horrific bombings in Karbala and Baghdad now appear to exceed 220.

In my post yesterday, I noted that one of the likeliest suspects is Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian with ties to Al Qaida, who supposedly penned a letter that identified Shiites as a more serious foe to his eventual, no doubt pleasant, plans for Iraq than are U.S. occupation forces. His goal is thought to be fomenting a civil war through precisely such attacks as those of yesterday.

Interestingly, the Shiites aren't – yet – taking the bait.

Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the preeminent Shiite leader in Iraq, criticised the U.S.-led occupying forces for failing to provide enough security, but called upon Iraqis to remain united. "We call on all dear Iraqi sons to be more vigilant against the schemes of the enemy, and ask them to work hard to unite and have one voice to speed up regaining the injured country's sovereignty and independence and stability," Sistani said.

On Juan Cole's blog, translations from the Arab press note that hundreds of Sunni youths heeded a call to donate blood to help wounded Shiites. Cole's conclusion: "If az-Zaman is right about the sentiments of national unity generated by the bombing, it may have been the biggest mistake yet of the guerrilla insurgents."

Posted by tbrown at 02:17 PM


Casualty math in Iraq

An item on Josh Marshall's Talking Points Memo today got me thinking about the relative scale of casualty figures. He notes that,

“Iraq has a population of just under 25 million. The United States is home to a tad over 290 million. In other words, there are well over ten times as many Americans as Iraqis.

“So, to get a feel for the impact of these attacks on the country, the number of people who lost loved ones, know others who did, and so forth, multiply that death toll by 11 or 12 times in order to get a feel for the number in American terms

A good ballpark point of comparison is what it would be like to have around 2000 people killed in one day in this country. And, of course, that's not that different from the 3000 who were killed here on September 11th.”

The same point could be made about Iraqi civilians killed during the war and its aftermath.

Iraq Body Count continues to try to estimate deaths from available public information (news reports, surveys of hospitals and so forth). As of today, IBC estimates that between 8,437 and 10,282 Iraqi civilians have died.

Applying Marshall’s math with a multiplier of 11, which seems fair, a similar cataclysm in the U.S. would have killed between 92,807 and 113,102 Americans. It’s true that Iraq had been accustomed to decades of gratuitous violence by Saddam Hussein and his henchmen, who are believed to have killed hundreds of thousands of their countrymen. Still, the price of our liberation can hardly seem minor to Iraqis.

Posted by tbrown at 02:14 PM


March 02, 2004

Bad news … and good … from Iraq

The bad: Six explosions ripped through the Shiite city of Karbala and four more erupted in Baghdad. At leasts 143 Iraqis and Iranian pilgrims were killed, according to U.S. officials.

Witnesses in both cities described horrific scenes of blood and body parts, of suffering and sorrow.” (Free Washington Post site registration may be required.) The attacks came as Iraqis and pilgrims from other Islamic countries gathered for Ashura, the holiest day on the Muslim calendar.

"The terrorists had this well planned out," said Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the chief U.S. military spokesman in Iraq. "They had obviously planned this for an extensive period of time. They wore clothing, more than likely, which would hide the fact that they were wearing explosive vest devices. . . . It certainly ranks among one of the days where the terrorists have decided to send a significant message to the coalition and to the people of Iraq."

Blogger Gregory Djerejian recalls last month's message by a Jordanian-born terrorist that identified Shiites as a threat worse, even, than the U.S. presence:

“They are infiltrating like snakes to reign over the army and police apparatus, which is the strike force and iron fist in our Third World, and to take complete control over the economy like their tutors the Jews. As the days pass, their hopes are growing that they will establish a Shi`i state stretching from Iran through Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon and ending in the Cardboard Kingdom [Saudi Arabia] of the Gulf.”

The U.S. has a $10 million reward on the head of the author, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, whose goal is to sabotage the handover of governing authority to the Iraqis, now scheduled for June 30, and possibly foment an Iraqi civil war with bloody attacks on Shites.

The good: Iraq’s Interim Governing Council has finally approved a “fundamental law,” which will form the basis for government until a constitutional convention can be held next year. There was no resolution of many of the thorniest issues, as Juan Cole notes. But the agreement does keep the timetable for transferring governing authority from the U.S. to the Iraqis.

David Adesnik at Oxblog rounds up some other good news: Oil production in Iraq finally is about to surpass prewar levels and could increase revenue for Iraq to $14 billion this year from $5 billion last year. At the same time, attacks on U.S. troops have been cut in half in the past three months (even as attacks on Iraqis have increased).

Posted by tbrown at 11:10 AM


The eminence gris behind Aristide’s ouster

That would be Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega, a protégé of Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina, this story from Newsday reports.

Also knee-deep in what amounts to another U.S.-inspired “regime change” is Otto Reich, Reich a controversial Cuban-American who was linked to opposition figures who plotted a short-lived coup against Venezuela's leftist president, Hugo Chávez, two years ago. Reich also is linked to the Iran-contra scandal of two decades ago that was part of President Ronald Reagan's policy of defeating Marxists in Central America.

Posted by tbrown at 11:06 AM


Krugman on Greenspan

"Let's raise taxes and cut benefits for working families so we can give big tax cuts to the rich!"

Economist Krugman draws three lessons from the Fed chairman’s shameless congressional testimony last week:

“First, ‘starving the beast’ is no longer a hypothetical scenario — it's happening as we speak. For decades, conservatives have sought tax cuts, not because they're affordable, but because they aren't. Tax cuts lead to budget deficits, and deficits offer an excuse to squeeze government spending.

“Second, squeezing spending doesn't mean cutting back on wasteful programs nobody wants. Social Security and Medicare are the targets because that's where the money is. We might add that ideologues on the right have never given up on their hope of doing away with Social Security altogether. If Mr. Bush wins in November, we can be sure that they will move forward on privatization — the creation of personal retirement accounts. These will be sold as a way to 'save' Social Security (from a nonexistent crisis), but will, in fact, undermine its finances. And that, of course, is the point.

“Finally, the right-wing corruption of our government system — the partisan takeover of institutions that are supposed to be nonpolitical — continues, and even extends to the Federal Reserve.”

Ron Suskind, author of the new book on President Bush’s first Treasury secretary, Paul O’Neill, argues – and supplies the documentation – that from the begging Bush’s plan to “reform” Social Security was based on another accounting sham by these so-called conservatives. It was known as the “free lunch” plan, which was supposed to allow the cost-free transition to privatized individual investment accounts, long a daydream of the right. Only the numbers didn’t work out.

I’m shocked.

Posted by tbrown at 11:03 AM


More evidence that the anti-gay marriage amendment is DOA

This New York Times story says Bush probably won’t push for the proposed constitutional amendment to make same-sex marriages illegal:

White House officials say that Mr. Bush will not speak out about the amendment banning gay marriage in his political trips around the country and will leave his five-minute Roosevelt Room announcement as his major show on the issue.”

The White House has once more been caught dissembling, this time about the reasons for Bush's endorsement of the amendment. The story line so far is that the prez only reached his decision after an out-of-control judge let gay marriages proceed in San Francisco and a county clerk did the same in one New Mexico County.

However, the Rocky Mountain News in Denver reports that Bush promised the amendment's author he'd support it three months ago. Maybe our commander-in-chief is psychic?

In any case, the amendment is going nowhere anyway. The last tally I saw shows at least 42 senators oppose it, which leaves proponents significantly shy of the two-thirds majority needed for passage.

Posted by tbrown at 10:58 AM


March 01, 2004

Haiti: Was it another ‘regime change?’

Effectively, yes, though some of the details are still in dispute. Jean Bertrand Aristede, the former Haitian president, is telling friends in the U.S. that he and family members were forced onto an American plane against his will and flown to the Central African Republic.

"They used the word 'kidnap' and 'coup d'etat' and they said that they were told that if they did not leave he would be killed, a lot of Haitians would be killed and that he had to go and he had to go now," U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, a Democrat from L.A., says.

Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld insisted at a Pentagon briefing that U.S. troops were not involved in removing Aristide from power.

Regardless of whether Aristide was handcuffed and forced onto a plane, as one report had it, there’s no doubt that the U.S. wanted Aristide out, so the end result is the same. But the U.S. is explicitly denying reports that it "kidnapped" the ex-president.

Newsweek has a timely report on the chaotic situation in Port-au-Prince.

The one faintly hopeful sign in this mess is that the U.S. and France are cooperating to try to restore order in Haiti after months of bickering over Iraq. French troops are moving in along side Americans as part of an international force that could reach perhaps 5,000.

Posted by tbrown at 02:18 PM


Oscar revisionism

The Oscars. Sheesh. I mean, eleven Oscars to one too long movie with a too diffuse ending? And a movie about Hobbits at that? (Not that I have anything against Hobbits, you understand; this is a diverse blog).

Let's get real, though. Here are some alternative nominations. You'll note that it was a big night for "Weapons of Mass Destruction." But even it didn't win eleven. Not even close.

Best Movie: "Weapons of Mass Destruction"

Best Director: Donald Rumsfeld, "Shock and Awe"

Best Actor: George Bush, "Mission Accomplished"

Best Actress: Condoleezza Rice, "Weapons of Mass Destruction"

Best Supporting Actor: Colin Powell, "Weapons of Mass Destruction"

Foreign Film: "The Weasels," France and Germany

Best Special Effects: "Shock and Awe"

Adapted Screenplay: Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle, "In Another Country"

Original Screenplay: Kenneth Adelman, "Cakewalk"

Sound Editing: Al-Qaida, “The Bin Laden Tapes”

Sound Mixing: Howard Dean, "Anger Management"

Costume: "Mission Accomplished"

Makeup: Saddam Hussein, "Monster"

Award of Merit (catering): House of Representatives cafeteria, Freedom Fries.

Award of Merit (best diet): The one Charlize Theron was on

If you have others, please send them in.

Update: Wonkette! doesn't give her an Oscar, but says Elisabeth Bumiller of the New York Times turned in the worst performance in a presidential debate "since Nixon sweated through his makeup."

Posted by tbrown at 12:32 PM




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 ARCHIVES
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 RECENT ENTRIES
A grim and brutal day in the Sunni Triangle
Iran’s ‘hide-and-seek’ nuclear bomb program
Clinton and the Rwanda genocide
Pump watch
Rice accepts the inevitable
Memo to John Kerry
Can we lay poor old Vince Foster to rest, finally? Please.
More bushwa
‘Success’ in Pakistan
The national repression syndrome

 LINKS

Blogs to watch

Abu Ardvark
Altercation
Andrew Sullivan
Antiwar.com
Atrios Eschaton
Best of the Web
DailyKOS
Defensetech
Drudge Report
GlobalSecurity.org
Instapundit
Joe Conason (subscription required)
Josh Marshall
Kaus files
No More Mr. Nice Blog
Real Clear Politics
Tapped
The Corner
The Volokh Conspiracy
The Whiskey Bar

Mideast blogs

Salam Pax (Iraq)
G. in Baghdad
L.T. Smash (U.S. military in Iraq)
Lady Sun (Iran)

City blogs

Gawker
L.A. Examiner

Africa blogs

AfricaPundit
Cathy Buckle

Media blogs

Romenesko
Dan Gillmor's eJournal
Media Whores Online

Newspapers

Newspapers online (guide to papers on the web)
International Herald Tribune
The Guardian U.K.
New York Times (free registration required)

Economy blogs

EconoPundit
Brad DeLong

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