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Between the Lines

April 30, 2004

One more sign that we should get out of Iraq ASAP

When our troops start acting like the thugs we threw out, it's a sign we've been there too long. No, we're not indulging in summary executions, as Saddam's secret police did routinely, or feeding prisoners to his son's menagerie of half-starved wild animals.

However, reports of mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. troops and contractors have been dribbling out for months. The issue has now come to a head with the publication of a number of photos from Baghdad's notorious Abu Ghraib prison showing clear, and disgusting, mistreatment of prisoners by Americans who seem to be having far too much fun doing it.

Before you click on the links below, a word of warning: these images are disturbing and they aren't appropriate for most workplaces.

One, for example, shows an Iraqi prisoner attached to electrical wires (including to his genitals) balanced on a small box with a mask over his head. He was told that if he stepped off the box he would be electrocuted. Others show nude Iraqis being forced into simulated sex acts (or maybe they're real; I can't be sure). But either way, they constitute personal humiliation, which is forbidden by the much-ignored Geneva Conventions on the treatment of prisoners of war.

The prison photos follow bloody fighting with Iraqi rebels in the Fallujah area, which has left an unknown number of civilians dead and has outraged much of Iraqi public opinion.

"This is the straw that broke the camel's back for America," said Abdel-Bari Atwan, editor of the Arab newspaper Al Quds Al Arabi. "The liberators are worse than the dictators."

"They have not just lost the hearts and minds of Iraqis but all the Third World and the Arab countries," he told Reuters.

John Cole, a blogger who is a strong supporter of the war, is outraged, and expresses it better than I could today:

"This is torture, and the people who did this are no better than Saddam and his fascists or their Nazi rolemodels from a half century ago.

"Several commenters have noted in previous posts that at least it appears the military is taking this seriously and reacting appropriately. That is scant solace.

"Do these soldiers understand how many of their brothers-in-arms they have just executed?

"Do they understand how many Improved Explosive Devices they just built?

"Do the recognize how many random grenade attacks they have just inititated?

"And on a simply human level --Have they no sense of fundamental decency?

"I am so ashamed. That is my uniform they are wearing."

When he says that the military is taking the issue seriously, Cole alludes to reports that six soldiers may be court martialed for abusing and sexually humiliating prisoners and that a general is under investigation.

The Guardian (London) also reports another wrinkle in this story that is particularly disturbing:

"A military report into the Abu Ghraib case -- parts of which were made available to the Guardian --makes it clear that private contractors were supervising interrogations in the prison …

"One civilian contractor was accused of raping a young male prisoner but has not been charged because military law has no jurisdiction over him."

And if the U.S. military has no jurisdiction over these freelance cowboys, you can be sure no one else in Iraq does. So I guess they can do anything they like. This is a prescription for further trouble.

"Col. Jill Morgenthaler, speaking for central command, told the Guardian: 'One contractor was originally included with six soldiers, accused for his treatment of the prisoners, but we had no jurisdiction over him. It was left up to the contractor on how to deal with him.'

"She did not specify the accusation facing the contractor, but according to several sources with detailed knowledge of the case, he raped an Iraqi inmate in his mid-teens.

"Col. Morgenthaler said the charges against the six soldiers included 'indecent acts, for ordering detainees to publicly masturbate; maltreatment, for non-physical abuse, piling inmates into nude pyramids and taking pictures of them nude; battery, for shoving and stepping on detainees; dereliction of duty; and conspiracy to maltreat detainees.' "

This is a disgraceful episode. The longer we overstay our welcome in Iraq, the more we court similar abuses and the more likely that Iraqis will retaliate in kind against our troops.

Posted by tbrown at 11:43 AM


Wilson names his suspects in the Plame outing

The former diplomat's book is out today, and in it he names three people who he believes are the most likely suspects as the "senior administration officials" who told columnist Robert Novak that his wife, Valerie Plame, was a CIA agent.

The three are Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, President Bush's political adviser, Karl Rove, both of whom have been mentioned before as possible leakers, and one newcomer: Elliott Abrams, a player in the Reagan administration's Iran-Contra scandal.

Wilson provides no hard evidence for any of these, so it's still a guessing game as the official investigation continues.

Posted by tbrown at 11:38 AM


Ellen Goodman tears Karen Hughes a new one

Which she indeed deserves.

Political Animal Kevin Drum finds the National Review almost as disgraceful as Hughes.

Posted by tbrown at 11:37 AM


April 29, 2004

A tale of two polls

-- Iraqis who say U.S. troops should leave immediately (defined as the next few months): 57%

-- Iraqis who say U.S. troops are "occupiers" rather than "liberators": 71%

-- Iraqis who say the U.S. invasion is doing more good than harm: 33%

-- Iraqis who say U.S. troops are not trying at all to prevent unnecessary injuries and deaths to ordinary Iraqis during exchanges of gunfire: 67% (81% in Baghdad)

Here's a link to USA Today's story about this poll.

Here is a table of key findings of this USA Today poll.

And here at home:

-- Americans who approve of the way Bush is handling his job: 46% (47% disapprove)

-- Americans who say the country has "gotten off on the wrong track": 55% (36% say it's on the right track)

-- Americans who disapprove of the way Bush is handling foreign policy: 51% (40% approve)

-- Americans who disapprove of his handling of the war in Iraq: 52% (41% approve)

-- Americans who believe the war is making the U.S. image worse in the Arab world: 71%

-- Americans who think the Iraq war was not worth the cost in lives and money: 58%

-- Americans who think U.S. troops should leave as soon as possible: 46% (a tie with those who think they should stay as long as it takes to make sure Iraq is a stable democracy).

The New York Time story on this poll, conducted with CBS, is here. For statistical breakdowns and historical comparisons, click on the "Interactive Feature" link. The CBS story on the poll is here.

The USA Today poll is noteworthy because it is the largest such survey yet conducted of Iraqis (more than 3,400) and drew 98 percent agreement among those who were asked to participate. Because of the large number polled, the survey has a margin of error of about 2%. And it says most Iraqis want us to leave now, a very large majority views us as occupiers rather than liberators and more think we're doing harm than good. Americans' views are shifting toward those of the Iraqis, according to the New York Times/CBS poll.

The Iraqis polled by USA Today did have some good things to say about the U.S. ousting Saddam Hussein. Of those polled, 51% said they and their families were better off, compared with 25% who said they were worse off. And most said the hardships connected with the invasion were worth enduring. But we've worn out our welcome

"I'm not ungrateful that they took away Saddam Hussein," says Salam Ahmed, 30, a Shiite businessman. "But the job is done. Thank you very much. See you later. Bye-bye."

Who would know better than the Iraqis what's best for them? So why doesn't President Bush take advantage of the first anniversary of Mission Accomplished Day this Saturday to say "Mission Accomplished" and actually mean it? The handover of some authority to Iraqis is scheduled for June 30. In addition to seeing that that happens – which Bush has pledged he will – the U.S. should develop a plan for withdrawing and implement it. The longer we stay where we aren't wanted the more damage we do to our interests in the area, to our own military and to the Iraqis, who certainly deserve an opportunity to work out their own problems. We can't be sure they'll succeed, at least as we define it. But that's one of the hazards of freedom. You get to make mistakes.

Posted by tbrown at 02:02 PM


Bush and Cheney appear before the 9/11 commission

And the president says he answered all questions put to him. We'll see how long it takes before what they said starts seeping out. I'm guessing by late this afternoon.

Weirdly, Bush's flack, Scott McClellan, didn't even want to disclose which White House lawyers went with them. Josh Marshall has posted the exchanges from today's press briefing. It's absurd, but funny.

Posted by tbrown at 01:53 PM


Tomorrow we Inch slightly closer to finding out who outed CIA agent Valerie Plame

A new book by her husband, former diplomat Joseph Wilson, points the finger at Vice President Cheney's chief of staff Lewis "Scooter" Libby.

Stay tuned.


Posted by tbrown at 01:51 PM


April 28, 2004

Gasoline isn't the only thing going up

The price for premium, which my porky vehicle swills by the hogshead, hit $2.26 at my local gas station yesterday, leading to a $51.65 fill-up tab – a personal best for me. But at least predictions of $3-a-gallon gas appear to be tapering off a bit.

However, gas isn't the only thing going up. Interest rates are, too. Soon. Alan Greenspan, overseer of short-term interest rates, has indicated as much. The question is how soon they'll go up and by how much. There are some straws in the wind that indicate the increases could begin quite soon (at the Federal Reserve Board's interest committee meeting in June) and that they could eventually move higher than many people seem to expect.

Right now, short-term interest rates are at 1 percent. Anyway you look at it, this is free money. It's lower than the rate of inflation, which has been running at an annual rate of around 2 percent. While there has been no big surge yet in prices at the consumer level, commodity prices have been inching up and it's probably just a matter of time before the prices we pay edge up too. Hence Greenspan's alert, which has given the stock and bond markets the jitters.

When interest rates do turn up, it will affect everything from auto prices (those 0% loans will gradually vanish), to credit-card rates, bank prime-interest rates (which affect a variety of other rates) and adjustable-rate mortgages.

At Bloomberg News, columnist John Berry says market analysts and policy makers forsee rates ranging from 2.5% to as high as 6%. One of the underlying questions in the various calculations is what would be a reasonable "neutral" short-term interest rate, one that neither stimulates nor restrains economic activity.

Berry reports that Robert T. Parry, the retiring president of the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank, offers this bit of noodling: Based on inflation and productivity trends of the last several years, "… the range for the nominal natural rate would be between 3.5 percent (2.5 percent real and 1 percent inflation) and 5.5 percent (3.5 percent real and 2 percent inflation).''

The problem, as Mickey Levy of Banc America Securities told Berry, is that no one really can say for sure what the "neutral" rate is. So the likelihood is that the Fed will begin to jack up rates soon in small increments and see what happens.

It does appear, though, that we're going to be seeing higher rates soon, and when we do they will quickly work their way into the fabric of the economy. The free-money ride is just about over. It is unlikely, though, that anything more than incremental increases will occur before Nov. 2.

Posted by tbrown at 12:20 PM


Spooks may track blogs for intelligence

Who says the feds are out of touch?

" … some analysts say U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials might be starting to track blogs for important bits of information. This interest is a sign of how far Web media such as blogs have come in reshaping the data-collection habits of intelligence professionals and others, even with the knowledge that the accuracy of what's reported in some blogs is questionable."

Posted by tbrown at 12:17 PM


Iraq blog roundup

Jeff Jarvis has done one, so I won't. It's here.

Posted by tbrown at 12:16 PM


Soldiers who would have died in previous wars are living

That brings its own hope and despair.

"At the door to the busiest hospital in Iraq, a wiry doctor bent over the worst-looking case, an Army gunner with coarse stitches holding his scalp together and a bolt protruding from the top of his head. Lt. Col. Jeff Poffenbarger checked a number on the blue screen, announced it dangerously high and quickly pushed a clear liquid through a syringe into the gunner's bloodstream. The number fell like a rock.

" 'We're just preparing for something a brain-injured person should not do two days out, which is travel to Germany,' the neurologist said. He smiled grimly and started toward the UH-60 Black Hawk thwump-thwumping out on the helipad, waiting to spirit out of Iraq one more of the hundreds of Americans wounded here this month.

"While attention remains riveted on the rising count of Americans killed in action — more than 100 so far in April — doctors at the main combat support hospital in Iraq are reeling from a stream of young soldiers with wounds so devastating that they probably would have been fatal in any previous war.

"More and more in Iraq, combat surgeons say, the wounds involve severe damage to the head and eyes — injuries that leave soldiers brain-damaged or blind, or both, and the doctors who see them first struggling against despair."

Read it all here.

Posted by tbrown at 12:15 PM


April 26, 2004

Could Iraq be Kerry's quagmire

"Well," writes G. Pascal Zachary of Berkeley, "as the war gets worse, Bush's popularity remains steady and even nudges up a bit, and at least his bedrock supporters seem prepared to stick with him no matter what happens in Iraq.

"Democrats and independents may not be as understanding of John Kerry. And so the war threatens to become his albatross, not George Bush's."

I think he's exactly right. Bush's small resurgence in the polls, and Kerry's contemporaneous small slump, clearly are linked. And I think the link is Iraq, a thesis I plan to explore in more detail later this week.

Kerry's Iraq problem is that he has proposed no serious alternative to Bush's "Saddam was bad, we're good, we'll prevail and everyone will be better off" conflation. Somehow Kerry has to go beyond sounding like a waffling Bush. If we're going to fight this war – any war – we need someone in charge who has conviction about what we're up to. Bush has convinced people that he does. Kerry hasn't.

As Pascal points out, Kerry is toying with the pieces of what could become a plausible plan that, if fleshed out, might help reframe the debate about Iraq. But Kerry would rely on internationalizing the Iraq solution to a degree not contemplated by Bush. The president certainly was right that doing it yourself is easier than lining up a bunch of major allies and keeping them on board – at least for the short run. Kerry's approach is far more difficult to pull off, especially now, and more important it's going to take a lot of work to convince a lot of middle-ground voters that it would work better than being the lone Global Cop. Kerry's got some work to do on that front.

Posted by tbrown at 12:30 PM


'Helping' the troops

They'll get whatever they need, right? Well, they haven't so far. Newsweek reports that, "In continuing adherence to the Army's 'light is better' doctrine, even units recently rotated to Iraq have left most of their armor behind. These include the I Marine Expeditionary Force, which has paid dearly for that decision with an astonishing 30 percent-plus casualties (45 killed, more than 300 wounded) in Fallujah and Ar Ramadi."

Unit casualties of 30 percent are more commonly associated with conflicts such as Vietnam, Korea and World War II, rather than encounters with a few "deadenders," who don't like our presence in Iraq.

Worse, by Newsweek's analysis, at least, many of these casualties could have been avoided.

"A breakdown of the casualty figures suggests that many U.S. deaths and wounds in Iraq simply did not need to occur," the magazine reports. "According to an unofficial study by a defense consultant that is now circulating through the Army, of a total of 789 Coalition deaths as of April 15 (686 of them Americans), 142 were killed by land mines or improvised explosive devices, while 48 others died in rocket-propelled-grenade attacks. Almost all those soldiers were killed while in unprotected vehicles, which means that perhaps one in four of those killed in combat in Iraq might be alive if they had had stronger armor around them, the study suggested. Thousands more who were unprotected have suffered grievous wounds, such as the loss of limbs.

"The military is 1,800 armored Humvees short of its own stated requirement for Iraq. Despite desperate attempts to supply bolt-on armor, many soldiers still ride around in light-skinned Humvees. This is a latter-day jeep that, as Brig. Gen. Mark P. Hertling, assistant division commander of the 1st Armored Division, conceded in an interview, 'was never designed to do this ... It was never anticipated that we would have things like roadside bombs in the vast number that we've had here.' One newly arrived officer, Lt. Col. Timothy Meredith, says his battalion had just undergone months of training to rid itself of 'tank habits' and get used to the Humvees. 'We arrived here expecting to do a lot of civil works,' says Meredith."

You'd think that as deeply mired in Iraq as we are now the Pentagon's civilian leadership would quit worrying about trying to further justify a theory of military "transformation" that has been shown to work only in limited circumstances and focus instead on getting as many of our men and women as possible back in one piece -- which requires giving them the equipment they need.

Posted by tbrown at 12:28 PM


So what's the future of 'white journalism?'

Leonard Pitts, a Pulitzer Prize winner for commentary this year, has a funny and sarcastic take on the meaning of the journalistic lies told by Jack Kelley of USA Today, a white guy, versus those told by Jason Blair of the New York Times, a black guy.

"When a white person screws up, it ignites a debate on the screw up," Pitts says. "When a black person screws up, it ignites a debate on race."

Yep. Pathetic, but true.

" … you, my colleagues, have not asked the most important question:
What does this mean for the future of white journalism?" Pitts says.

"Granted, you've pontificated about our damaged credibility. You've felled forests with your weighty ruminations about what this portends for the future of our profession. But, evidently cowed by political correctness, you've ignored the most vital issues."

"Did USA Today advance a moderately capable journalist because he was white? Did some white editor mentor him out of racial solidarity even though Kelley was unqualified? In light of this fiasco, should we re- examine the de facto affirmative action that gives white men preferential treatment in our newsrooms?"

And so forth. Read it all.

Posted by tbrown at 12:23 PM


Richard Clarke has some modest proposals for the war on terror

Clarke, the former terrorism czar and 9/11 commission witness, fears that if we attempt big-picture cures for the the bureaucratic quagmire that led to so much bad pre-war intelligence we will be once again taking our eye off the real problem of how to effectively combat the threat of Muslim extremists. Some major points:

-- Clarke rejects the notion of creating a new intelligence agency to deal with the threat of attacks within our borders. "We do not need another new agency right now. We do, however, need to create within the FBI a strong organization that is vastly different from the federal police agency that was unable to notice the Al Qaeda presence in America before 9/11. …"

-- Our existing intelligence agencies, which have huge budgets and substantial resources, need a few good leaders: "Rather than creating new organizations, we need to give the CIA and FBI makeovers. They cannot continue to be dominated by careerists who have carefully managed their promotions and ensured their retirement benefits by avoiding risk and innovation for decades. The agencies need regular infusions throughout their supervisory ranks of managers and thinkers from other, more creative organizational cultures."

-- "Finally, we must try to achieve a level of public discourse on these issues that is simultaneously energetic and mutually respectful. … We need public debate if we are to succeed. We should not dismiss critics through character assassination, nor should we besmirch advocates of the Patriot Act as fascists."

"We all want to defeat the jihadists," Clarke concludes. "To do that, we need to encourage an active, critical and analytical debate in America about how that will best be done. And if there is another major terrorist attack in this country, we must not panic or stifle debate as we did for too long after 9/11."

Posted by tbrown at 12:21 PM


April 23, 2004

Juan Cole answers the real questions about Afghanistan and Iraq

For Cole, a historian and Middle East expert, there are just two:

"The first is, would you yourself be willing to die fighting for this cause you have espoused?

"The second is, would you be willing to see your 18-year-old son or daughter killed for this cause? (I do not ask if you would be glad or satisfied; I ask if you would be willing)."

There are also two answers.

Posted by tbrown at 01:52 PM


A Saudi blogger speaks up

Today we're going to spend a little time with Alhamedi, a Saudi, and his blog, The Religious Policeman. Tthe reference is to the Muttawa, the country's religious police, who enforce an austere form of Islam and, as our blogger puts it, "ensure that everything remains as it was in the Middle Ages.") I'm not sure if Alhamedi is the only Saudi blogger, but he's the only one I've run across so far (thanks to a link from Healing Iraq). He doesn't provide personal information about himself, and I'm not certain that he's blogging from within the "Magic Kingdom," but if not he certainly has a grip on what's happening there. Either way, you'll find out more here about Saudi Arabia than anywhere in the mainstream press.

And let's recall that there are a number of reasons we should be concerned about what happens in Saudi Arabia, among them:

-- Its oil reserves, which remain the world's largest, at about 25 percent of the total (though there's some dispute about this) and are vital to the survival of our gas-guzzler culture.

-- President Bush's "deep personal ties" to the Saudi royal family.

-- The close links of some prominent Saudis to terrorist organizations, particularly Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida.

-- Bin Laden and his allies' terrorist campaign to destabilize the Saudi royal family.

I haven't been able to read all the posts at The Religious Policeman yet, but they're written with sardonic humor and an eye for detail that make a truly foreign culture comprehensible.

Here are a couple that caught my eye:

The phone revolution

"When the Saudi people finally rise up in revolt and throw out the House of Saud, it won't be for democratic reform, and it won't be for an islamic republic. It'll be about mobile phones."

Specifically camera phones, which are illegal in the kingdom but are quickly becoming the standard everywhere.

Two more get the chop

Dark humor about about public beheadings:

"The thing we should face up to as Saudis is that Public Executions are 'showbiz.' So we should do them properly. If we were the USA, with their “by invitation only” executions, we could afford to be low-key about the whole thing. But we’re not ashamed of having ours in public, so let’s do it with style."

The calm before the storm?

A short post anticipating the most recent al-Qaida bombings in Riyadh.

There are some very interesting insights here about a country in whose fate, for better or worse, we have a vested interest.

Posted by tbrown at 12:38 PM


April 22, 2004

Corruption watch

Saddam's bagman: the UN

It looks like the Iraq oil-for-food program may turn out to be (I hesitate to type it), the mother of all United Nations corruption scandals.

Here's what Claude Hankes-Drielsma, a British adviser to the US-backed Iraqi Governing Council, told the BBC about how he felt after digging into Iraqi records:

"I was shocked to the core. I was so shocked that I left the room. It took me about 15 minutes to recover."

It appears that Saddam used the program, which was intended to assure that his regime could buy essential supplies for the Iraqi people while preventing him from purchasing military and other goods forbidden under United Nations sanctions, to dole out billions of dollars in bribes to individuals and corporations in more than 40 countries. Saddam wound up getting what he wanted (as, it seems, did the recipients of his ill-gotten largesse) and the Iraqi people got table scraps.

The Independent (London) says investigators are looking into allegations that three high UN officials took millions in bribes and kickbacks. "Benon Sevan, the Cypriot-born UN undersecretary general who ran the programme for six years, is one of those accused of taking kickbacks," the paper says. "Mr Sevan, who has denied any wrongdoing, has submitted his retirement papers and is on holiday in Australia." Yes, well, he would be wouldn't he?

The Christian Science Monitor rounds up links to a variety of sources here.

The Seattle Times reported last Saturday that $5,000 of dirty money made its way to the campaign of U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott, the Seattle Democrat, who has returned it.

Following the McDermott story, Seattle blogger Stefan Sharkansky browsed campaign contribution records and found a number of politicians from both parties had received similar contributions.

And in the New Iraq –- surprise! -- more corruption, and we're paying for it

You'd think some of the geniuses in charge of the reconstruction of Iraq might have suspected that if you pour billions of dollars in reconstruction money into a fundamentally corrupt society you'd get … corruption. But if this occurred to them, it's one more thing they didn't plan for.

"Marketplace," the business program that airs on National Public Radio, is in the middle of an excellent four-part series, "Spoils of War," on where U.S. reconstruction dollars are really going. And the answer ain't pretty.

Reporter Adam Davidson documents how huge chunks of each project the U.S. funds are being lost to bribes, kickbacks, profiteering and other forms of corruption. The recipients? Members of the Iraqi Governing Council, (our puppet regime at least until June 30, when they may get real power) to the tune of millions of dollars for some individuals; high-level bureaucrats in Iraqi government ministries; even translators(!), who are in such high demand that they seem able to name their own graft as key middlemen in getting deals put together. The series hasn't gotten to the big U.S. contractors yet, but it looks like it will today and tomorrow.

One international corruption watchdog group estimates that at least 20 percent of the cost of every project is lost to corruption. So, of the $22 billion we're dumping in there, we can expect about $4.5 billion to go astray. Oh, well. It's only our money.

The first two segments of the series are available here.

In the Seattle area, you can catch parts three and four today and tomorrow after the 6 p.m.news on KPLU at 88.5, or at 6:30 p.m. on KUOW, 94.9.

Posted by tbrown at 01:53 PM


April 20, 2004

Postponing the presidential election – could it happen?

Probably not. But there sure seems to be a lot of chit-chat about the possibility.

I noted late last year that retired Gen. Tommy Franks, who led our troops into Iraq, was speculating that a really big terrorist attack – a "dirty" bomb or the like – might cause "our population to question our own Constitution and begin to militarize our country."

Then, while browsing Billmon's blog earlier this month, I encountered his pointer to a BuzzFlash piece that he called the "scariest thing I've read in a good long while." And he's right – it is scary if you're inclined to believe in conspiracy theories. I'm not so inclined … at least most of the time.

But here are a couple of paragraphs from the long, and link-filled BuzzFlash piece, which you should take the time to read yourself:

"In an article entitled, 'When the War Hits Home: U.S. Plans for Martial Law, Tele-Governance and the Suspension of Elections,' [Wayne] Madsen and [John] Stanton delved into the more frightening aspects of what might be in store. 'One incident, one aircraft hijacked, a "dirty nuke" set off in a small town, may well prompt the Bush regime, let's say during the election campaign of 2003-2004, to suspend national elections for a year while his government ensures stability,' they wrote. 'Many closed door meetings have been held on these subjects and the notices for these meetings have been closely monitored by the definitive www.cryptome.org.'

"To make matters worse, if martial law is imposed, Air Force General Ralph E. Eberhart will be able to blast through Posse Comitatus and deploy troops to America’s streets. Gen. Eberhart, you might recall, is the former Commander of NORAD, which was in charge of protecting America’s skies on Sept. 11. But instead of being scrutinized for NORAD’s massive failures, he was promoted and now heads the Pentagon's Northern Command. And, as military analyst William M. Arkin explained, 'It is only in the case of "extraordinary" domestic operations that would enable Gen. Eberhart to bring in 'intelligence collectors, special operators and even full combat troops' to bear. What kind of situation would have to occur to grant Eberhart 'the far-reaching authority that goes with 'extraordinary operations’? Nothing. He already has that authority.' [Los Angeles Times]

"Which brings us to the inevitable (and most important) question. How primed is the American public to accept suspended elections, martial law, or whatever else the White House decides to 'market'?"

Yeah, it's somewhat overwrought. After all, it's about a conspiracy, or rather the suspicion of one. But …

I also ran across a creepy piece in Atlantic Monthly, an excerpt from former L.A. Times Reporter Jim Mann on Bush's war Cabinet. Titled, "The Armageddon Plan," it details a highly classified "shadow government" plan developed by the Reagan administration in which Dick Cheney, now vice president, and Donald Rumsfeld, now secretary of defense, planned for "government continuity" in case of a nuclear attack by the Soviet Union. Here's Mann:

"After leaving their day jobs Cheney and Rumsfeld usually made their way to Andrews Air Force Base, outside Washington. From there, in the middle of the night, each man—joined by a team of forty to sixty federal officials and one member of Ronald Reagan's Cabinet—slipped away to some remote location in the United States, such as a disused military base or an underground bunker. A convoy of lead-lined trucks carrying sophisticated communications equipment and other gear would head to each of the locations.

"Rumsfeld and Cheney were principal actors in one of the most highly classified programs of the Reagan Administration. Under it U.S. officials furtively carried out detailed planning exercises for keeping the federal government running during and after a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. The program called for setting aside the legal rules for presidential succession in some circumstances, in favor of a secret procedure for putting in place a new "President" and his staff. The idea was to concentrate on speed, to preserve "continuity of government," and to avoid cumbersome procedures; the speaker of the House, the president pro tempore of the Senate, and the rest of Congress would play a greatly diminished role."

This might seem like ancient history, except that, " … The program is of particular interest today because it helps to explain the thinking and behavior of the second Bush Administration in the hours, days, and months after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Vice President Cheney urged President Bush to stay out of Washington for the rest of that day; Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld ordered his deputy Paul Wolfowitz to get out of town; Cheney himself began to move from Washington to a series of "undisclosed locations"; and other federal officials were later sent to work outside the capital, to ensure the continuity of government in case of further attacks. All these actions had their roots in the Reagan Administration's clandestine planning exercises."

Clearly, it is the duty of any government to have contingency plans for a wide variety of worst-case situations, and in recent history this country has never faced anything as potentially devastating as a nuclear attack would have been. But the Soviets are now occupying that "dustbin of history" they promised to relegate us to. Thus, Mann notes, ” After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet collapse, the rationale for the exercises changed. A Soviet nuclear attack was obviously no longer plausible—but what if terrorists carrying nuclear weapons attacked the United States and killed the President and the Vice President?" The Clinton administration found such an eventuality unlikely and eventually shelved the program.

"There things stood until September 11, 2001, when Cheney and Rumsfeld suddenly began to act out parts of a script they had rehearsed years before," Mann writes. "Operating from the underground shelter beneath the White House, called the Presidential Emergency Operations Center, Cheney told Bush to delay a planned flight back from Florida to Washington. At the Pentagon, Rumsfeld instructed a reluctant Wolfowitz to get out of town to the safety of one of the underground bunkers, which had been built to survive nuclear attack. Cheney also ordered House Speaker Dennis Hastert, other congressional leaders, and several Cabinet members (including Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman and Interior Secretary Gale Norton) evacuated to one of these secure facilities away from the capital. Explaining these actions a few days later, Cheney vaguely told NBC's Tim Russert, 'We did a lot of planning during the Cold War with respect to the possibility of a nuclear incident.' He did not mention the Reagan Administration program or the secret drills in which he and Rumsfeld had regularly practiced running the country.

"Their participation in the extra-constitutional continuity-of-government exercises, remarkable in its own right, also demonstrates a broad, underlying truth about these two men. For three decades, from the Ford Administration onward, even when they were out of the executive branch of government, they were never far away. They stayed in touch with defense, military, and intelligence officials, who regularly called upon them. They were, in a sense, a part of the permanent hidden national-security apparatus of the United States—inhabitants of a world in which Presidents come and go, but America keeps on fighting."

Then, I open today's paper and see what Condoleezza Rice and Tom Ridge are saying about the likelihood of terror attacks inside the U.S. before Election Day:

"Al-Qaida's new game plan, officials said, is to show its clout by disrupting the U.S. elections in November or one of the other large events scheduled in coming months."

Well, such attacks may, indeed occur. And based on what we saw 9/11, they could be bloody. But absolutely the worst thing we could do in the face of such a threat is postpone a presidential and congressional election.

Here's some of what Abraham Lincoln had to say about the presidential election of 1864, held during the Civil War:

"We can not have free government without elections; and if the rebellion could force us to forego, or postpone a national election it might fairly claim to have already conquered and ruined us. … the election, along with its incidental, and undesirable strife, has done good too. It has demonstrated that a people's government can sustain a national election, in the midst of a great civil war. Until now it has not been known to the world that this was a possibility."

The Civil War was by far the most devastating and destabilizing event this nation has faced. Nothing al-Qaida could do could even begin to rival it. So let's pay attention to what old Abe had to say. We don't need to postpone elections. We need to make sure we conduct them. No matter what.

Posted by tbrown at 02:55 PM


April 19, 2004

'Are you with me on this?'

"He [Saddam Hussein] has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction. He is unable to project conventional power against his neighbors."
-- Colin Powell, in Cairo, March 2001

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell used electronic intercepts, satellite photographs and other intelligence sources Wednesday in an effort to convince skeptical members of the U.N. Security Council that Iraq is actively working to deceive U.N. weapons inspectors.
-- CNN on Powell's speech to the UN Security Council, February 2003

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has admitted that evidence he submitted to the United Nations to justify war on Iraq may have been wrong.
-- BBC on Powell's concession that some U.S. intelligence might have been defective

The current Bush Book of the Week, newsman Bob Woodward's "Plan of Attack," reports some new tidbits about this president's Iraq fixation and his administration's sometimes unusual ways of doing things. But some of the most interesting insights involve our enigmatic secretary of state, Colin Powell, whose stated views on Iraq appear to have gone through a 360-degree rotation in the last three years.

Powell was the one senior official in the Bush administration who questioned the wisdom of attacking Iraq. But in the end, he went along. And though he failed to convince the UN that war was necessary to contain whatever meager threat Saddam Hussein posed at the time, his speech certainly was influential in the U.S. In fact, it was the most detailed rationale for the war the American public heard before the fireworks began.

So why'd he do it?

And why is he now, in Woodward's book at least, making a point of his opposition to the war?

Based on the evidence in hand so far, I have to conclude that Powell wants to have it both ways. He wants to be perceived as the good soldier, who reluctantly agreed to support his boss because it was his duty. And he wants to be remembered as the lone voice in an otherwise single-minded wilderness.

Woodward reports that by Jan. 11, 2003, Bush had irrevocably decided on war with Iraq. In the first of five excerpts from his book, he gives this account of the president's conversation with Powell two days later:

" 'You understand the consequences,' Powell said in a half question. For nearly six months, he had been hammering on this theme -- that the United States would be taking down a regime, would have to govern Iraq, and the ripple effect in the Middle East and the world could not be predicted. The run-up to war had sucked nearly all the oxygen from every other issue in foreign relations. War would surely get all the air and attention.

"Yeah, I do, the president answered.

" 'You know that you're going to be owning this place?' Powell said, reminding Bush of what he had told him at a dinner the previous August in which Powell had made the case against military action in Iraq. An invasion would mean assuming the hopes, aspirations and all the troubles of Iraq. Powell wasn't sure whether Bush had fully understood the meaning and consequences of total ownership.

"But I think I have to do this, the president said.

"Right, Powell said.

"I just want to let you know that, Bush said, making it clear this was not a discussion, but the president informing one of his Cabinet members of his decision. The fork in the road had been reached and Bush had chosen war.

"As the only person in Bush's inner circle who was seriously and actively pressing the diplomatic track, Powell figured the president wanted to make sure he would support the war. It was in some way a gut check, but Powell didn't feel the president was making a loyalty check. No way on God's earth could he walk away at that point. It would have been an unthinkable act of disloyalty to the president, to Powell's own soldier's code, to the United States military, and mostly to the several hundred thousand who would be going to war.

" 'Are you with me on this?' the president asked him now. 'I think I have to do this. I want you with me.'

" 'I'll do the best I can,' Powell answered. 'Yes, sir, I will support you. I'm with you, Mr. President.'

" 'Time to put your war uniform on,' the president said to the retired general."

I quote this section at length because it seems important on a couple of levels. It is remarkable, but given what we know now scarcely surprising, that at this point, just a couple of short steps before war, Powell would feel he had to make sure Bush understood war might produce unanticipated problems, that he "understood the meaning and consequences of total ownership." And it also illustrates the good soldier stepping up to do the job, even though he didn't agree with it.

On both counts, Powell comes off seeming more than slightly self-serving (though also clearly smarter than his cabinet contemporaries).

As Steven Weisman reported in The New York Times (free site registration may be required) today, Powell's decision to be so explicit about his policy differences with his commander-in-chief "has jolted the White House and aggravated long-festering tensions in the Bush cabinet. Moreover, some officials said, the book has created problems for the secretary inside the administration just as the situation in Iraq is deteriorating and President Bush is plunging into his re-election drive. . . .

"Critics of Mr. Powell in the hawkish wing of the administration said they were startled by what they saw as his self-serving decision to help fill out a portrait that enhances his reputation as a farsighted analyst, perhaps at the expense of Mr. Bush. Several said the book guaranteed what they expected anyway, that Mr. Powell will not stay as secretary if Mr. Bush is re-elected."

When Woodward asked Bush how he thought history would judge his decision to go to war, the president said in essence that it was irrelevant to him because "we'll all be dead anyway." Powell pretty clearly takes a different view of his legacy.

It's also possible that he may have felt it was time for some payback. According to Woodward's book, Vice President Dick Cheney told the Saudi ambassador of the specifics of the war plan – including a briefing with a classified map that was not supposed to be seen by any foreigner – two days before Bush got around to informing Powell that he'd already crossed the Rubicon on the lead elephant. (The White House says Powell was in the loop.)

Well, it's way too early to write history. It's still possible that our excellent little adventure in Iraq will turn out to have the transformative power that Bush still promises. Seems less likely every day, though.

Posted by tbrown at 04:53 PM


April 15, 2004

Bin Laden's 'truce' offer

OK, so Osama bin Laden (at least that's who the CIA thinks it is) has sent along an audio tape offering Europeans a "truce" if they clear out of Muslim countries. It appears that he's offering them a) a 90-day window to agree to pull troops out and b) a "truce" that would be effective after the last soldiers leave Muslim lands. The initial reactions I've seen are writing it off as an attempt to further divide the U.S. and Europe over Iraq.

A senior analyst for Jane's Defence Weekly, for example, says, “It is a not very subtle attempt to break whatever coalition there is and to destabilise the situation in Iraq … When you start to think about it there are a number of countries that would rather not be in the coalition and some of them are European countries.”

I expect that, indeed, Bin Laden is trying to sow further dissension between the U.S. and Europe (so far, our important allies and the European Union have all rejected the Bin Laden feeler as a sham).

But it seems just as likely to me that OBL is feeling some heat from continued attempts to track him down in the mountainous wastes along the Afganistan-Pakistan border. Thus, his motivation for a "truce" may be more than just trying to create new angularities between us and our allies.

U.S. agents have been grilling members of Bin Laden's huge family, seeking tidbits of information that might shed further light on his location.

Our half-hearted allies, the Pakistanis, have launched a number of sizeable missions into tribal strongholds on their side of the border. In return, Bin Laden called in a previous taped missive for the overthrow of the government of President Pervez Musharraf.

On the Afghan side of the border, U.S. Task Force 121, whose members brought in Saddam Hussein after being tipped to his location, has been deployed to help in the hunt for Osama.

There are now about 6,500 troops from 35 countries in the NATO-based International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, along with about 10,000 American troops. Bin Laden clearly has a vested interest – i.e., in his own worthless hide – in getting those NATO forces out. The vast bulk of them are from European countries that presumably would be covered by his "truce" offer.

I presume our European friends will stick to the positions they took today and will not "negotiate" with Bin Laden (what would they to, anyway? Mail him a tape?) Meanwhile, the sooner we get this piece of unfinished business tied up the better.

Posted by tbrown at 12:30 PM


April 14, 2004

Bush report card

Political effectiveness: B

In his opening statement, Bush did a good job of rehashing the usual platitudes in effective ways. We're going to "stay the course." If our generals want more troops, they'll get them. We're changing the world; we've gotten rid of Saddam and we're bringing democracy to Iraq, which will be good for everyone. We'll turn the government over to Iraqis on schedule June 30. He's determined to defeat terror. "The consequences of failure in Iraq would be unthinkable." Sounded calm and collected. His presentation will resonate well with people who like him. So will fielding all those nasty questions from self-serving reporters, even though he actually answered very few of them.

Content: F

Same stuff we've been hearing for the last two years about how "dangerous" Iraq was and how Saddam wouldn't "disarm" (difficult when you don't have the arms in question). Nothing new about the real situation in Iraq, which has turned quite menacing in the last 10 days. No concession that we might have done just a wee bit better job with the occupation, which has been one screwup after another. We're going to win, but no explanation of how that's going to be achieved. No specifics about anything, really. He has "a plan," but what? He didn't say.

Credibility: D

As noted, the president's opening statement was pretty effective politically. Nonetheless, much of the combination of what he said there and later in answer to questions was not very believable. I'll just mention two things that in particular struck me as problematic:

First, Bush said that "there was nobody in our government, at least, and I don't think the prior government, that could envision flying airplanes into buildings." In fact, as the Wall Street Journal recently reported, the Clinton administration "had on several earlier occasions taken elaborate, secret measures to protect special events from just such an attack" because of intelligence warnings.

A few minutes later, in response to a question, Bush said one reason he requested intelligence briefings before 9/11 "had to do with the Genoa G-8 conference I was going to attend." There had been explicit intelligence warnings that terrorists might try to kill him and other leaders by crashing a plane into the conference site. At the time, photos were widely published showlng mobile anti-aircraft missile launchers positioned at the Genoa airport.

So it's just not true that nobody had dreamed something like 9/11 could happen (though, of course, it's also true, as Bush and administration officials remind us, that there was no explicit threat of such an action against any particular structures on a date certain).

Second, Bush seemed dumbstruck when asked what his worst mistake was. He fumbled around for a while, then said he couldn't come up with anything. Now, either he's truly disconnected from reality or he's determined to continue his papal infallibility imitation.

William Saletan at Slate goes into much greater detail about the world as it exists inside Bush's head and the world outside his head that others perceive.

Gregory Djerejian at Belgravia Dispatch is tired of newsies keying on Bush's religious references as though they were something new in U.S. political life. "The intent of such portrayals is pretty clear. It's based on a gross relativism that attempts to portray George Bush as a theocratic barbarian on par with Osama bin Laden--ie., they're both zealots, they both need reining in, when will secularist, rational actors (read: John Kerry) please come onto the stage and save the world from apocalypse?"

Anyway, as always people will take from Bush's performance what they want.

Footnotes:

Blogger and UCLA prof Mark A.R. Kleiman helpfully marks up Bush's remarks, adding a few of the things the president should have included.

The Christian Science Monitor has rounded up links to reaction from across the political spectrum.

Posted by tbrown at 02:34 PM


April 13, 2004

Back to you, Rummy

"They are the ones whose advice we follow on these things. They will decide what they need, and they will get what they need.''
-- Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld

The commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East said yesterday that he'd requested two more brigades of troops, perhaps up to 14,000 soldiers, to help quell the worst outbreak of fighting in Iraq since the American-led occupation began more than a year ago.
-- The Seattle Times

Where these troops are going to come from is a big question. It appears the Centcom commander, Gen. John Abizaid, may resort to a patchwork solution, delaying the departure of some 1st Armored Division troops who were scheduled to rotate out and recalling ahead of schedule some elements of the 3rd Infantry Divison.

The Bush administration was warned at the outset by outgoing Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki that the war and subsequent occupation of Iraq would require “several hundred thousand” troops – an estimate that Rumsfeld’s chief deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, called “wildly off the mark.” Abizaid hasn’t asked for reinforcements at that level. Yet.

The fact is, though, that regardless of what Abizaid requests, the U.S. military is stretched way too thin by the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. If we really are going to “stay the course,” as Bush asserts, this shortfall in military manpower is going to have to be addressed in some serious way before much longer.

Conservative columnist Robert Novak says that much of the top military brass is “outraged” at the Pentagon’s low-balling of the number of troops necessary to get the job done in Iraq – so outraged that, “Many confide that they will not cast their normal Republican votes on Nov. 2. They cannot bring themselves to vote for John Kerry, who has been a consistent Senate vote against the military. But they say they are unable to vote for Don Rumsfeld's boss, and so will not vote at all.”

Kevin Drum at Political Animal has some other anecdotal evidence of “Republicans Against Bush.”

Bush has scheduled a press conference for 5:30 p.m. Pacific time and is expected to address the situation in Iraq and the continuing 9/11 hearings.

Kerry, meanwhile, has chimed in with a “me too” op-ed piece in The Washington Post that is unlikely to allay the concerns of those who think we’re headed down a blind alley overseas. He basically promises more of the same policies if he is elected, just better managed. A small taste:

“The extremists attacking our forces should know they will not succeed in dividing America, or in sapping American resolve, or in forcing the premature withdrawal of U.S. troops. Our country is committed to help the Iraqis build a stable, peaceful and pluralistic society. No matter who is elected president in November, we will persevere in that mission.

“But to maximize our chances for success, and to minimize the risk of failure, we must make full use of the assets we have. If our military commanders request more troops, we should deploy them.”

An echo, not a choice?

Posted by tbrown at 12:31 PM


April 12, 2004

Chernobyl revisited

Shortly after 1:00 AM on April 26 [1986], the flow of coolant water dropped and the power began to increase. At 1:23 AM, the operator moved to shut down the reactor in its low power mode and a domino effect of previous errors caused an sharp power surge, triggering a tremendous steam explosion which blew the 1000 ton cap on the nuclear containment vessel to smithereens.”
-- Elena in “Ghost Town”

As the 18th anniversary of the worst civilian nuclear disaster in history approaches, a young Ukranian woman on a 147-horsepower motorcycle takes us on an astonishing photographic tour of the “dead zone” around around the town of Chernobyl.

Like nothing I’ve seen, Elena’s site drives home the enormity of an event that has been all but forgotten in most of the West. “How many people died of radiation? No one knows -- not even approximately. The official casualty reports range from 300 to 300,000 and many unofficial sources put the toll over 400,000. The final toll will not be known in our lifetime, and maybe not our childrens either.”

Elena, whose last name I haven’t been able to determine yet, has become an overnight Internet celebrity. She put her pages up after a trip in March, and Terra Lycos, which hosts her site on its Angelfire network, says “Ghost Town” has become its most-visited site in the last four years, with “tens of millions” of hits.

It’s easy to understand why. The power of “Ghost Town” lies in its combination of Elena’s ironic, matter-of-fact commentary combined with the cumulative effect of the photos, which are just snapshots, really – but snapshots of unique eeriness in their utter desolation.

Elena’s story is informed both by her own sensibility – she’s clearly well-educated and smart, and describes herself as the daughter of a nuclear physicist who has been studying the Chernobyl disaster since it occurred – and by her apparent native understanding of the appalling incompetence and inhumanity of the Soviet bureaucrats who ran everything. No one, from the top on down, seems to have had the slightest clue what to do in the event of a problem at the Chernobyl nuclear plant.

Consider these snips from Elena’s narrative:

“In keeping with a long tradition of Soviet justice, they imprisoned all the people who worked on that shift [at the reactor] -- regardless of their guilt. The man who tried to stop the chain reaction in a last desperate attempt to avoid the meltdown was sentenced to 14 years in prison. He died 3 weeks later.”

“As a totalitarian government the Soviet Union forced many young soldiers to assist in the cleanup of the Chernobyl accident, apparently without sufficient protective clothing and insufficient explanation of the danger involved. Over 650,000 liquidators helped in the cleanup of the Chernobyl disaster in the first year. Many of those who worked as liquidators became ill and according to some estimates about 8,000 to 10,000 have died from the radioactive dose they received at the Chernobyl Power Plant.”

At the ghost town, located about 2½ miles from the power plant, she writes, “This is the highest building in town. On the day of disaster, many people gathered on this roof to see the beautiful shining cloud above the Atomic Power Plant. It was the last thing many of them ever saw.” And,

“The day after the accident, this place on the bridge provided a good view of the gaping crack in the nuclear containment vessel that was ruptured by the explosion. Many curious people came here to have a look and were bathed in a flood of deadly x-rays emanating directly from the glowing nuclear core.”

“Perhaps future archeologists will compare this Ghost Town to Pompeii. The Soviet era is forever preserved here -- in the deadly radiation that will last for many centuries.”

Elena says that when she tells people she’s leaving on one of her apparently frequent trips to the Chernobyl area – the deserted roads are a great place to open up her excessively fast bike – “the best case response is, ‘Are you nuts?’ “ She may be (although she discusses in considerable detail why roads through the area and some other locations are relatively safe), but if so there’s a kind of divine dementia at work here. This is a document that everyone should spend some time with. It is a starkly real reminder of the of how abruptly our delusions that we “control” nature can lead to disaster.

Posted by tbrown at 03:16 PM


April 09, 2004

The ‘silver bullet’ diversion

Both Condoleezza Rice and her boss, the president, have asserted that if they’d only known where, when and how the 9/11 attackers were going to strike they would have “moved heaven and earth,” to use the national security adviser’s formulation, to prevent it.

Well, duh! Anyone would have “moved heaven and earth” had a little bird dropped down and whispered in their ear the specifics of an impending attack. Unfortunately, intelligence is rarely complete. It is indicative. It is the job of U.S. administrations to parse that intelligence and come to appropriate conclusions about it, and it’s the job of the national security adviser to see that this happens.

This administration had no trouble at all taking scraps of information about Iraq, pasting them together, filling in holes with items of their own invention, and taking us to war. What was so tough about figuring out that, maybe, we ought to be paying some serious attention to this Bin Laden guy?

Rice is no doubt correct that there was no specific time/place/method information about al-Qaida’s plans. And she may be right that there was no “silver bullet” that the administration could have employed to prevent the attacks. However, as she testified, during the spring and summer of 2001, there were numerous intelligence intercepts provided such clues as, “Unbelievable news in coming weeks” and, “There will be a very, very, very, very big uproar.” Then there was the Aug. 6 President’s Daily Briefing paper titled “Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States” (which she claims was not a "warning"). Plus Clarke, the Clinton administration holdover, was agitating constantly for action against al-Qaida, and CIA Director George Tenet “was running around town with his hair on fire” trying to get attention to the problem.

As Slate’s Fred Kaplan sarcastically notes, “Putting together the facts may not have been as simple as adding 2 + 2, but it couldn't have been more complicated than 2 + 2 + 2.” Failing to have done this elementary math underscores that Rice “has been a bad national security adviser—passive, sluggish, and either unable or unwilling to tie the loose strands of the bureaucracy into a sensible vision or policy. In short, she has not done what national security advisers are supposed to do.” This is by no means a new observation about Rice, but Kaplan refreshes it with observations from her appearance before the commission.

In a political sense, though, Rice’s appearance before the commission was at least as much about the theater as it was about the substance (which, itself, is of course open to wide interpretation). Gregory Djerijian at Belgravia Dispatch argues that “Condeleeza Rice hit at least a clean triple yesterday in her testimony before the 9/11 Commission. This is true both in terms of her style--her poised, controlled delivery--as well as the substance of her remarks.” He has a long and interesting post on why her testimony should be a plus for the Bush administration.

The American Prospect rounds up discrepancies between what Rice said in her sworn testimony and what is demonstrable fact. A couple of these points are very fine hair-splitting, but others are on point.

The Christian Science Monitor rounds up press reaction to Rice’s appearance which, on balance, cuts Rice plenty of slack – just the reaction the administration wanted.

Posted by tbrown at 10:59 AM


April 08, 2004

Yes, the wheels are coming off

Don’t take my word for it. Listen to some Iraqis. Their blogs are full of closeup snapshots of chaos and outbursts of fear, outrage and scorn. These are educated people who for the most part supported our overthrow of Saddam Hussein. When they begin to lose faith we are indeed in deep trouble. I have added names and religious affiliations where possible and have done only very minimal editing for clarity in these excerpts:

Healing Iraq (by Zeyad, a Sunni, who lives in Baghdad): “No one knows where it is all heading. If this uprising is not crushed immediately and those militia not captured then there is no hope at all. If you even consider negotiations or appeasement, then we are all doomed.”

Riverbend (by an Iraqi woman who lives in Baghdad): “This is crazy. This is supposed to be punishment for violence but it's only going to result in more bloodshed on both sides… people are outraged everywhere- Sunnis and Shi'a alike. This constant bombing is only going to make things worse for everyone. Why do Americans think that people in Baghdad or the south or north aren’t going care what happens in Falloojeh or Ramadi or Nassriyah or Najaf? Would Americans in New York disregard bombing and killing in California?

“Muqtada Al-Sadr is no better and no worse than several extremists we have sitting on the Governing Council. He's just as willing to ingratiate himself to [Paul] Bremer as Al-Hakeem and Bahr Ul Iloom. The only difference is that he wasn't given the opportunity, so now he's a revolutionary. Apparently, someone didn't give Bremer the memo about how when you pander to one extremist, you have to pander to them all. Hearing Abdul Aziz Al-Hakeem and Bahr Ul Iloom claim that Al-Sadr is a threat to security and stability brings about visions of the teapot and the kettle…

“Our foreign minister Hoshyar Zibari was being interviewed by some British journalist yesterday, making excuses for Tony Blair and commending him on the war. At one point someone asked him about the current situation in Iraq. He mumbled something about how there were 'problems' but it wasn't a big deal because Iraq was 'stable'… what Iraq is he living in?

“And as I blog this, all the mosques, Sunni and Shi’a alike, are calling for Jihad...”

Where Is Raed? (by Salam Pax, the original Baghdad blogger): “Every body, even the GC [Governing Council] is very careful how they formulate their sentences and how they describe Sadir's Militias. They are thugs, thugs thugs. There you have it.”

Iraq the Model (the joint blog of Mohammed and Omar, who are dentists, and Ali, a doctor, from Samawa in southwestern Irag and Baghdad): "My friend and neighbor Ahmed rushed to me, I knew from the look on his face that something wrong has happened, he said, ‘come quickly, my grandfather has passed away.’

“My father, Ali, and I went to Ahmed’s house to see that the old man has died an hour ago; he was over 90 years old. Yesterday we visited them in their house when the old man’s health deteriorated and I remembered his son telling him ‘Saddam is gone,’ the man smiled in his bed and I don’t know whether he got the idea or not but I know that he always dreamed to see Saddam gone.

“We were confused, how to deal with the situation? How to get to their family cemetery in Najaf? It’s impossible and most of the roads are blocked. So we decided to bury him in Baratha cemetery here in Baghdad near the river. Ali and my father went with Ahmed to the hospital to deal with the paper work and when he came back he told me about the situation in the cemetery. It was a tragedy.

"The funeral was held in Ahmed’s house in the garden, in an atmosphere of explosions, bombing and exchanged fire.”

Raed in the Middle (Raed Jarrar in Baghdad): “I really want to understand from [Defense Secretry Donald] Rumsfeld where are his “majority”?? The “majority” of Iraqis that are against the current uprising, the majority that he wants to help them in reaching to their freedom… where are they?

“If the millions in the ‘Sunni Triangle’ are the minority, and the other millions of As-Sadr [Al-Sadr] are the minority… where are the majority? In Washington?
And if the minority can do all of this! And kick the coalition forces from cities like Kut… what can the majority do? Occupy the United States?

“The uprising in Iraq is still expanding…

“But I still feel that Bush and Bremer are totally out of the picture…

“Let me declare some points:

“As-Sadr is NOT reflecting a minority of Iraqis, this is a stupid big lie.
Whether we liked him or not, he is the political and religious leader for MILLIONS of Iraqis in the southern region…There are 15 million Iraqis living in the south, and another 5 million in Baghdad, I can say that 5 to 7 millions of them can be considered as As-Sadr followers.

“As-Sadr is NOT a mere twenty-something year old guy, that is playing games.
Whether we liked him or not, he is a phenomenon. …

“As-Sadr is NOT a small follower of the Iranian Government; he has very bad relations with the official government of Iran, unlike [clerics] Sistani and Hakim.

“As-Sadr is THE GOVERNMENT in most of the cities of the south: Amara, Kut, Nasryya and Diwanyya and Simawa partially, and Najaf partially (Kufa is a small city in Najaf that is the center of As-Sadr).

“I mean… from my secular point of view… it is a disaster to have all of these extremist religious right-winged militias… but this is the direct result of the lost policy of the Bush administration, which are exactly what the expected problem of imported ‘democracy’ would be. I used to call this cul-de-sac that we are stuck in: The Algerian Dead End. Algeria went through the exact scenario some years ago… do you want elections and democracy? The powerful extremist religion people are going to win …

“You don’t want democracy and elections? Don’t start the mess.”

Secrets in Baghdad (by Khalid Jarrar, Raed's brother): “One event that dragged my attention...the American soldiers who hided in a mosque in Sadir city [in Baghdad] for the whole night … seeking protection. The imam (sheikh) of mosque...refused to turn them on to people waiting outside…he told them that ‘they seeked protection…and our Islamic morals prevents us from hurting them…as long as they are inside..they are under my protection…if they were outside…i would have killed them with you’ …

“This incident reminded me of what happened yesterday in Falluja....40 men were killed when the American army destroyed a mosque…cause some ‘enemies’ were hiding inside…”

Kurdo’s World (by an Iraqi Kurd): “So Muqtada Sadder [al-Sadr] has called to terrorise his enemies which include ‘Coalition forces and the Kurds,’ yeah ? This young kid who acts as a teenager does not know nothing apart from terror. He is the most hated person in Kurdistan after Saddam Hussein. …

“Now Muqtada wants to be the president of Iraq, which was liberated by the Coalition Forces. Just yesterday, his troops killed 7 US soldiers and injuried 24...

“Mr. Bremer; why Muqtada is still allowed to have his own government inside your Iraq ??? He has a completely Islamic government right under your nose, yet you fail to do anything about it. …

“A couple of Israeli tips would help here....They are great in dealing with these kinda people.. If Bremer gives a green light to his termination, it will be the right decision … there might be some unrest for a few days but there will be a great positive effect for long-term…”

You can see here the religious and ethnic divisions that trouble Iraq, the wildly varying opinions on what should be done, the fear and the anger. All the while, more Iraqis and Americans are dying.

Posted by tbrown at 12:40 PM


One small omission

I didn’t have the opportunity to watch Condoleezza Rice’s testimony at the 9/11 commission this morning, but a sharp-eared colleague noted one little omission in her recitation of major terrorist events of the last couple of decades.

Here’s what Rice said in her opening statement:

“The attack on the Marine barracks in Lebanon in 1983, the hijacking of the Achille Lauro in 1985, the rise of al-Qaida and the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993, the attacks on American installations in Saudi Arabia in 1995 and 1996, the East Africa embassy bombings of 1998, the attack on the USS Cole in 2000, these and other atrocities were part of a sustained, systematic campaign to spread devastation and chaos and to murder innocent Americans.”

Notice what she didn’t mention? The bombing of Pan-Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, on Dec. 21, 1988. This was surely the most notorious terrorist attack before 9/11, but for some reason she seems to have lumped it into that phrase “these and other atrocities.”

I’m certainly pleased that Libyan dictator Moammar Khadafi has renounced his nuclear and biological weapons programs. But, really, is he such a good friend of ours now that we can’t recall this atrocity?

Posted by tbrown at 12:25 PM


Questions about Rice’s testimony answered

Walter Pincus of the Washington Post took a flurry of questions from readers after Rice concluded her testimony and answered them online. Several good questions here and some good answers in reply.

Posted by tbrown at 12:22 PM


April 07, 2004

Questions for Condi

President Bush’s national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice testifies tomorrow before the commission investigating the 9/11 attacks, and it’s fair to say she has a lot to explain.

To what degree that will happen is, however, very much an open question. Beginning with former terror czar Richard Clarke’s bombshell testimony, which finally smoked Rice out of the White House, the nominally nonpartisan commission (comprised of five Republicans and five Democrats) has taken on a sharper political edge. It would be easy for commissioners to divert questioning down partisan pathways. Easy, but unfortunate. We can only hope that commissioners will set aside their political differences and use this opportunity to attempt to elicit at least some information from Rice about the Bush administration’s approach to terrorism before 9/11.

It’s predictable, but disappointing nonetheless, that the White House still seems intent on being as unhelpful as possible to the commission. Bush opposed formation of the commission from the start, opposed funding it properly, has only agreed to appear before it in closed session if accompanied by Vice President Dick Cheney and, as a final distraction, is refusing to release the speech that Rice was to have given on 9/11. The Washington Post reported last week that the speech dealt with Bush’s proposed anti-missile system as a cornerstone of U.S. defense in the new century and made no mention of Osama bin Laden, al-Qaida or other terrorist threats to the nation. It seems absurd to withhold what can only be viewed as a public document, but on the other hand let’s hope that few minutes of the 2½ hours Rice is scheduled to testify are wasted on this side issue.

There are far more substantive questions to address:

-- What, exactly, was the Bush administration’s anti-terrorism policy before 9/11 and what actions did it specify? Clarke says the Clinton administration passed on its recommendations, but that terrorism never seemed to be an urgent concern of the Bush White House. Rice has said that the Clinton proposals didn’t add up to a “strategy” that was good enough for Bush and that the administration set out to devise its own.

-- Rice says that “we quickly began crafting a comprehensive new strategy to ‘eliminate’ the al-Qaida network.” Clarke asserts that progress on fighting terrorism was glacial during this period.

-- It has been widely reported, as far back as 2002, that the Bush administration was warned that hijackers could use hijacked airplanes as weapons. What action, if any, did the administration take as a result?

-- Rice claims that the new anti-terror strategy “became the first major foreign-policy strategy document of the Bush administration -- not Iraq, not the ABM Treaty, but eliminating al Qaeda.” However, as Joseph Cirincione notes in an analysis for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, “In the two months before September 11, five cabinet members, including National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, traveled to Moscow. They were not there to coordinate counter-terrorism operations or share threat assessments. They were fixated on one mission: convince the Russian leadership to scuttle the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty” so Bush could get on with his ballistic-missile shield. A Wall Street Journal column argues that a focus on missile defense was entirely justsified.

A piece in the current Vanity Fair, “The Road to War,” makes the point that at Bush’s first National Security Council meeting on Jan. 30, 2001, “a decision was made to formulate a coherent Iraq strategy.” Iraq and the missile shield seem to have been the prime preoccupations of the administration from its inception until shortly after 9/11 when, after a month-long campaign drove the Taliban from power in Afghanistan, the focus became all Iraq all the time.

It may be that, as Rice contends, there was more to the administration’s anti-terror policy than we’ve learned to date. If so, she should be encouraged to explain it in detail.

Rice’s appearance – the only public appearance under oath by any official of this administration regarding the events leading up to 9/11 – should be neither a partisan bickerfest nor a cakewalk for Condi. Cross your fingers.

-- This story rounds up questions that are on the minds of commissioners on the eve of Rice’s appearance (free site registration may be required).

Other questions for Rice: Blogger (and former Clinton administration official) Brad DeLong http://www.j-bradford-delong.net/movable_type/2004_archives/000551.html has a long list.

Still polishing the approach: The New York Times (free site registration may be required) reports that the White House is still fretting over what “tone” Rice should strike during her appearance. “Ms. Rice's presentation is considered critical to the White House's election-year effort to put questions about the Sept. 11 attacks behind it. But it may be just as critical for Ms. Rice herself,” the Times says.

On the tube and Web: Rice’s testimony will run from 6 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. Pacific time. All the major broadcast and cable networks are expected to carry it live. Seattletimes.com also will carry a live stream (go to our home page for the link).

Finally, Gary Hart has a question for the 9/11 commission: Why haven’t he, and another former senator, Warren Rudman, as co-chairs of the U.S. Commission on National Security/21st Century, been called to testify?

Hart writes at Salon that, the panel “reported to President George W. Bush and his new administration in January 2001 that terrorists were surely going to attack the United States and that our country was woefully unprepared. We documented the lack of intelligence coordination against this threat and the lack of preparation of up to two dozen federal agencies, as well as state and local governments, to prevent such attacks or respond to them when they did occur.

“Though we had no ability to forecast specific times, places and methods for such attacks, we were united in our certainty that they were bound to occur. In our first report we said: ‘America will become increasingly vulnerable to hostile attack on our homeland [and] Americans will likely die on American soil, possibly in large numbers.’ In our final report we urged the new Bush administration to create a national homeland security agency to prevent terrorist attacks.

“When told that the 9/11 commission has not asked for any public testimony from us, most people are incredulous. If the 9/11 commission is really trying to find out what was known and when it was known, they ask, why would your national security commission's warnings and recommendations not be of direct relevance and urgent interest? Didn't you publicly and privately warn the new Bush administration of your concerns about terrorism? Didn't you specifically recommend a new national homeland security agency? Why wouldn't all this be of central importance to the work of the 9/11 commission? The simple answer to all these questions is: I don't know why we have not been asked to testify.”

You can read the whole thing here, though to do it you'll need to get a "day pass" and click through three or four frames of ads. I recommend it, though, because Hart does raise what seems like a pretty pertinent question.

Posted by tbrown at 01:42 PM


April 06, 2004

The Post’s man in Baghdad


"The longer I'm here the less I feel I understand the story"
-- Anthony Shadid of the Washington Post, Pulitzer Prize winner for foreign reporting

Most reporters have felt the same way at some point during their careers. But Shadid’s coverage of Iraq has raised the bar for everyone and his stories have brought home to a wide audience the complexity of the dilemma there.

In a lecture at Harvard last month, Shadid recalled three stories that that were particularly memorable to him – a harrowing account of an Iraqi father who shot his son for cooperating with the American occupation, an interview with a sergeant who complained that, “All we are here is potential people to be killed and sitting ducks,” and a British official who complained that U.S. bureaucracy slowed the restoration of essential services in the southern city of Basra. He brought up these stories because they all had consequences: the U.S. began a manhunt for the father, who is still in hiding; the sergeant was disciplined; the British official was fired.

Shadid’s discussion of his reaction to those events and, more significantly, to the actions of U.S. officials and military, and to the ever-increasing violence to which news people and their sources are exposed is detailed, subtle and important to understanding the role of the press in the war. It’s a rewarding read.

In this interview with PBS, Shadid talks about everyday life in Baghdad and about Iraqis’ evolving views of the war and occupation.

Posted by tbrown at 03:16 PM


April 05, 2004

Iraq isn’t Vietnam … so this isn’t Tet

But it sure is a mess.

It’s looking more and more like a two-front insurgency, which means more pressure on our troops and more casualties. To the north and west of Baghdad, and particularly in Fallujah, the restless Sunnis; in Baghdad and to the south, an uprising by the followers of Muqtada al-Sadr, the most radical of the major country’s Shiite leaders.

Ten more dead U.S. troops (total deaths among our forces stand at 616). Air strikes in Sadr City, the Shiite slum on the outskirts of Baghdad, tanks in the streets. Three police stations in Basra captured by followers of al-Sadr. Rioting in Nasiriyah and Amarah. Spanish detachment under fire in Najaf; 22 Iraqis dead, one Salvadoran soldier killed; nine coalition troops wounded.

U.S. Marines, backed by a couple of battalions of the new Iraqi army, have surrounded Fallujah, where everyone in the chain of command, right up to top, is talking about occupying the city and “avenging” the deaths of four U.S. security contractors, whose bodies were mutilated last week after they burned to death in their SUVs. The Marines are expected to enter the city soon.

" 'The city is surrounded,’ said Lt. James Vanzant if the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. 'It's an extended operation. We want to make a very precise approach to this. ... We are looking for the bad guys in town.’

“Marine 1st Lt. Eric Knapp said the troops will target the killers of the four Americans as well as rebels who have attacked U.S. forces and Iraqi police in the past month. ‘Those people are specially targeted to be captured or killed,’ he said.

“A Marine officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, said U.S. forces had a list of targets for raids. He would not give details.”

But the more serious – and potentially deadly and disruptive – confrontation is developing between the U.S. coalition and al-Sadr, the Shiite cleric.

An Iraqi judge has issued a murder arrest warrant for a radical Shiite Muslim cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, for the slaying of another Shiite leader shortly after the U.S.-led invasion of the country, coalition officials said Monday.

“Coalition spokesman Dan Senor announced the warrant but would not say when al-Sadr would be detained. ‘There'll be no advance warning,’ he said.”

President Bush attacked al-Sadr with what very much sounded like fighting words:

"This is one person that is deciding that rather than allowing democracy to flourish, he's going to exercise force," Bush said. "We just can't let it stand." That's the same formulation he used after the 9/11 attacks.

For his part, al-Sadr left a message to, in effect, “bring it on.”

An al-Sadr aide, Sheikh Qais al-Khazaalie, mocked the U.S. Iraq coordinator, Paul Bremer, saying that if “Muqtada is an outlaw according to the US laws, then I'm proud of it. … We reject all kinds of occupation and hegemony. Everything is going to be changed."

Before entering his mosque for a “retreat,” the holy man himself left a message to followers that Middle East authority Juan Cole found apocalyptic:

"Make your enemy afraid, for it is impossible to remain quiet about their moral offenses; otherwise we have arrived at consequences that will not be praiseworthy. I am with you, and shall not forsake you to face hardships alone. I fear for you, for no benefit will come from demonstrations. Your enemy loves terrorism, and despises peoples, and all Arabs, and muzzles opinions. I beg you not to resort to demonstrations, for they have become nothing but burned paper. It is necessary to resort to other measures, which you take in your own provinces. As for me, I am with you, and I hope I will be able to join you and then we shall ascend into exalted heavens [my emphasis]. I will go into an inviolable retreat in Kufa. Help me by whatever you are pleased to do in your provinces. "

Cole says that, “The bit about going into a retreat … and hoping to join his followers later so that they could ascend to the heavens shows an apocalyptic imagination at work. The US is facing another Waco, and what we know is that military sorts of force are the worst way to deal with apocalyptic groups like the Branch Dravidians and the Sadrists. That approach only confirms their conviction that the forces of this world are attempting to prevent them from attaining paradise.”

The one bright spot in all this is that Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the single most influential cleric among the Shiite majority in Iraq, is advising his followers to remain calm – even in the face of what they may see as aggression by coalition forces.

Mike Bowden, author of “Black Hawk Down,” argues that in the case of the Fallujah atrocity, “The response should not be to back away from the task, but to redouble our efforts.

“Which means recognizing that the gory carnival on the streets of Fallujah is not evidence of the mission's futility, nor is it something to chalk up to foreign barbarity. It was deliberate and it must be answered deliberately. … Somalia would be a vastly different place today if the U.S. and U.N. had not backed away in horror from the shocking display in Mogadishu.

“The rebels in Iraq who ambushed those American security workers in Fallujah ought to be hunted down and brought to justice, but they are not the only ones responsible. The public celebration that followed was licensed and encouraged by whatever leadership exists in Fallujah. Whether religious or secular, its insult, warning, and challenge has been broadcast around the world. It must be answered. The photographic evidence should be used to help round up those who committed these atrocities, and those who tacitly or overtly encouraged it. A suitable punishment might be some weeks of unearthing the victims of Saddam Hussein's mass graves. “

In a piece for the Christian Science Monitor, Mark LeVine, a history prof at California State University, Irvine, sheds some light on Arab emotions surrounding the Iraq invasion and the unending grief between Israel and the Palestinians. He argues that from an Arab perspective, the actions of the U.S. and Israel appear to be a “globalization that they can not resist or control, one that is causing the disintegration of the very fabric of their cultures and economies even as it offers prosperity and freedom to a fortunate few.”

“It may be hard for Americans to understand the occupation of Iraq in the context of globalization,” says LeVine. “But Iraq today is clearly the epicenter of that trend. Here, military force was used to seize control of the world's most important commodity -- oil. And corporations allied with the occupying power literally scrounge the country for profits, privatizing everything from health care to prisons, while Iraqi engineers, contractors, doctors, and educators are shunted aside.

“Like economic globalization in so many other countries of the developing world, this model in Iraq is an unmitigated disaster. My visits to hospitals, schools, think tanks, political party headquarters, art galleries, and refugee camps reveal conditions clearly as bad, and often worse, than on the eve of the US invasion. So outside the Kurdish north, there is almost universal antipathy for the occupation, for what Iraqis refer to derisively as the "Governed Council" (whose members are dismissed as paid employees of the occupiers), and for a draft constitution that analysts here feel has enough holes to ensure continued repression and corruption, however appealing the veneer of democracy.
But most Iraqis aren't even interested in high politics; they're worried about the same things as Americans - jobs, healthcare, and education. And the story is grim.”

Not to worry, though. AP reports that more than one-third of the members of the PR corps of the U.S. mission to Iraq (21 of 58 people) are Republican party activists whose avowed mission “is to ensure Americans see the positive side of the Bush administration's invasion, occupation and reconstruction of Iraq, where 600 U.S. soldiers have died and a deadly insurgency thrives.”

" ‘Beautification Plan for Baghdad Ready to Begin,’ one press release in late March said in its headline. Another statement last month cautioned, ‘The Reality is Nothing Like What You See on Television.’ "

So slip on those rose-colored glasses and tune in a soap. It’s all going to be OK.

Posted by tbrown at 01:01 PM


April 02, 2004

Iraqis explain the Fallujah atrocity

If you're looking for some common-sense commentary on Iraqi life from an Iraqi, the blog Healing Iraq, by Zeyad, is a good place to start. His post today deals with the slaying of the four Americans in Fallujah and what it says about Iraqi society:

"All the images of a long history of violence above have become deeply ingrained in Iraqi society, and I'm afraid we have become desensitized to such scenes a long time ago. As disgusting and horrible the Fallujah images were, you could see bystanders children there watching casually, if not cheering, without blinking an eye. I would not call those children evil, because sadly they do not realise what they have become. The people that defiled the dead bodies were not technically terrorists, Ba'athists, or insurgents, they were common folk which makes it even more depressing. All respect for humanity has long been lost in a large section of Iraqis. I admit this concept is difficult, if not impossible, to explain to a western audience."

Read it all here.

Here's another good post from Iraq the Model, where Mohammed writes:

"You can now comprehend the extent of the crime that took place in Iraq for the past 35 years. We were ruled by people like those who committed the crime in Fallujah. Every day we were shocked by scenes like these for our beloved ones our children our thinkers and artists; our bodies were mutilated for 35 years."

He recounts what Saddam's rule meant to ordinary Iraqi families in grim and graphic detail.


Posted by tbrown at 01:43 PM


Good news on the jobs front

U.S. businesses added 308,000 jobs during March, the Labor Department said today – good news for workers and for President Bush, who has been under fire during this campaign year for not doing enough to stimulate the economy.

One month doesn’t make a trend, but March’s numbers were the biggest monthly increase in four years. That could mean that the job drought that has marked this recovery is nearing an end. The unemployment rate edged up a notch to 5.7 percent from 5.6, as more job-hunters entered the market.

"There's more we need to do," but "the policies are working," said Bush, who was in West Virginia, which has been hit hard by the recession and slow recovery.

Posted by tbrown at 01:22 PM


Are we in a home-price bubble? Will it pop?

Yes to both, says Benjamin Wallace-Wells in an eye-opening piece in Washington Monthly. He makes the case that when the bubble does pop it’ll be ugly indeed, especially in some of the more manic housing markets like … Seattle.

“In a healthy market, driven by demand, rents and sale prices ought to track roughly together,” Wallace-Wells writes. “But while sale prices have soared, rents have stayed flat; and in some of the most overheated markets, like San Francisco and Seattle, they have actually been declining. Such a gap, the economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman has written, suggests ‘that people are now buying houses for speculation rather than merely for shelter,’ evidence that he called a ‘compelling case’ for a housing bubble. ‘Within the next year or so,’ The Economist argued in a May 2003 editorial, these regional ‘bubbles are likely to burst, leading to falls in average real home prices of 15-20 percent’ across America. And, of course, in the most heated markets the drop is likely to be steeper yet.

“When housing bubbles burst, they can hurt more than their sector of the economy. Studies have shown that they exercise twice the effect on consumer spending as comparable declines in stock prices. So, a 20 percent drop in housing prices would have the same, shriveling effect on the economy as a 40 percent crash in the stock market. When investors lose value in their houses, many of them pull money out of other investments, like stocks. Then, too, jobs in construction, real estate, and other fields that depend on new home sales die off.”

So if Wallace-Wells is right, when the bubble goes pop we can expect an economic repeat of the last three years, which were marked by a stock-market crash and a recession that we’re still trying to claw our way out of.

“Given the lateness of the hour, and the near-inevitability of the coming crash, there's really only one thing left for concerned citizens to do,” he says. “Start assigning blame. Fortunately, the bad actors responsible for this manic inflation are pretty easy to recognize. They look remarkably like the ones who puffed up the tech bubble in the late 90s. In both cases, the unfettered optimism of the buying public was fueled by a brokerage industry almost wholly concerned with making a sale, independent analysts with an incentive to hype prices, and major accounting fraud.”

Make you feel better? No? Me either.

Posted by tbrown at 01:19 PM


Plame watch

The investigation into the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame by “senior administration officials” is broadening to include the coverup as well as the initial disclosure of her name (free New York Times site registration may be required). It’s unclear whether this means investigators can’t make a case on the key charge – disclosure of an undercover agent’s identity – or have decided to probe other potential criminal activity. Either way, the New York Times reports that a) chief investigator Patrick Fitzgerald apparently is planning one more round of grand jury testimony and b) appears to be nearing the end of his investigation.

Posted by tbrown at 01:16 PM


No surprise here

The White House has not turned over thousands of pages of documents from the Clinton administration to a commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, even though the records are relevant to the panel's mission, one of Clinton's attorneys said yesterday. ...

"White House spokesman Sean McCormack said documents that have not been turned over are not relevant to the inquiry. 'We're applying the same standards to documents from our administration and from the Clinton administration,' he said."

Pardon me -- but wouldn't the commission be the best judge of what's relevant?

Posted by tbrown at 01:14 PM


April 01, 2004

Iraqis aren’t the only ones with blood lust

There are our own rightwing commentators, who are braying for “revenge” against Fallujah for the appalling slayings of those four U.S. contractors. By which, of course, they mean war crimes.

Here’s taste of what I mean from Fox’s ever “fair and balanced” Bill O’Reilly (via atrios):

O'Reilly: I don't care about the -- colonel, I don't care about the people of Fallujah. You're not going to win their hearts and minds. They're going to kill you to the very end. They've proven that. So let's knock this place down.

Cowan: Let's get out of the way and let Iraqis knock it down, so we don't lose any more American lives.

O'Reilly: I don't believe -- I absolutely don't believe they can do it. General, how do you see it?

Vallely: Well, we've got to do it together. We've go to do it quickly. We've got to sanitize that whole city. And keep in mind, Bill, you set an example when you go in there to do that. And when do you that, you get respect. And that's why you go to be tough.

O'Reilly: All right, general, is there any.

Vallely: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) clean it up.

O'Reilly: You know it, the colonel knows it. The colonel and I are disagreeing on the tactics, but we know what the final solution should be. Why hasn't the U.S. command done this? And why do they continue to absorb the level of terror that is coming out of -- this isn't a big town. We're not talking about Cincinnati here. Right? It's not a big town?

“Sanitize.” “Final solution.” You get the picture. Let’s just go kill a bunch of people and teach whoever’s left a lesson. That will solve everything. Besides, O’Reilly is right: Fallujah only has a population of around 200,000, so it wouldn’t be like cleaning out Cincinnati (pop: 321,000), would it? And it’ll make us feel sooo macho. I can’t help wondering though: Did O’Reilly approve of these tactics when they were used by the Brits against the Irish during The Troubles?

Billmon, meanwhile, has a scorching post that could bubble the polyurethane finish on O’Reilly’s nice, safe, studio set.

Suddenly, our little brown brothers -- last seen throwing imaginary rose petals at American tanks -- don't seem quite as worthy of their glorious liberation. Instead of echoing their war leader's ringing phrases -- of a freedom that is ‘God's gift to every man and woman who lives in this world,’ or an America that stands ‘with the Iraqi people, the brave Iraqi people’ -- our stalwart crusaders for freedom are now consoling themselves with revenge fantasies.”

His illustrated recounting of the way we routinely used to treat our black countrymen should give anyone second thoughts about the advisability of trumpeting our supposed moral superiority.

Also here on planet earth, Juan Cole, who unlike O’Reilly and his ilk actually knows something about the Middle East, has some thoughts about the nature of the Fallujah violence and what it means:

“This degree of hatred for the new order among ordinary people is very bad news. It helps explain why so few of the Sunni Arab guerrillas have been caught, since the locals hide and help them. It also seems a little unlikely that further US military action can do anything practical to put down this insurgency; most actions it could take would simply inflame the public against them all the more.

“It seems likely to me that the guerrilla violence will continue for years, since it has a firm class base in the Sunni Arab rentiers who had benefitted from Sunni dominance in the Baath, and to whom the best jobs, infrastructure and most power had been thrown. They are not going to be quietly reduced to a small powerless and much less wealthy minority. … “

The Americans who were killed, by the way, were employees of Blackwater Security Consulting, a Pentagon contractor that often hires former U.S. military personnel (at salaries far higher than they got in the service) to provide security and other services that the government doesn’t want our already overtaxed troops spending their time on. To put it more directly, they’re a provider of mercenaries, as I noted here last month.

Blackwater has a statement up at its site today that says, in part:

"The graphic images of the unprovoked attack and subsequent heinous mistreatment of our friends exhibits the extraordinary conditions under which we voluntarily work to bring freedom and democracy to the Iraqi people.

"Coalition forces and civilian contractors and administrators work side by side every day with the Iraqi people to provide essential goods and services like food, water, electricity and vital security to the Iraqi citizens and coalition members. Our tasks are dangerous and while we feel sadness for our fallen colleagues, we also feel pride and satisfaction that we are making a difference for the people of Iraq.”

The lesson here is very simple: When you invade other countries you can’t expect everyone to love you. We’d better get used to the idea if we aspire to be the New Romans.

Posted by tbrown at 12:34 PM


Yeah, like Richard Clarke said

The Washington Post reports that on 9/11 National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice was scheduled to deliver a speech on new security challenges facing the U.S. in the new millennium. It focused on the Bush administration’s Star Wars Redux strategic ballistic missile defense system. Nowhere did it mention al-Qaida-style terrorism.

“The speech was postponed in the chaos of the day, part of which Rice spent in a bunker,” the Post reports “It mentioned terrorism, but did so in the context used in other Bush administration speeches in early 2001: as one of the dangers from rogue nations, such as Iraq, that might use weapons of terror, rather than from the cells of extremists now considered the main security threat to the United States.

“The text also implicitly challenged the Clinton administration's policy, saying it did not do enough about the real threat -- long-range missiles.

" ‘We need to worry about the suitcase bomb, the car bomb and the vial of sarin released in the subway,’ " according to excerpts of the speech provided to The Washington Post. " ‘[But] why put deadbolt locks on your doors and stock up on cans of mace and then decide to leave your windows open?’ "

Well, Rice will get her chance to explain all when she appears before the 9/11 commission (not that she’s likely to actually do so, of course). And Mark Goldblatt at National Review can hardly wait:

“The rest of the nation will soon discover what careful observers of the Bush's inner circle already know: Rice is the most poised, articulate, and convincing speaker in the entire administration. She will mop up the floor with Clarke.”

In his dreams.

Posted by tbrown at 12:27 PM


The dogs that didn’t bark

Those would be the senior administration officials who haven’t trashed Richard Clarke: CIA Director George Tenet and Secretary of State Colin Powell. Fred Kaplan writes at Slate that both would be in a position to know if Clarke was wrong, exaggerating or lying. His conclusion: “… their silence speaks loudly.”

“If Clarke is spewing nonsense—if the president and his national security adviser really did consider al-Qaida an urgent matter—Tenet is the man to say so,” Kaplan says. “It's hard to imagine that the White House hasn't tried to recruit him to do so. Yet so far he hasn't.

“Tenet is not the only quiet dog. One of the hounds that the White House did unleash—Secretary of State Powell—not only declined to growl, but practically purred like a kitten. … "

Yep.

The Los Angeles Times has the first poll I’ve seen on what the public thinks of Clarke’s testimony before the 9/11 commission. It says that "most Americans accept Richard Clarke's key criticisms of President Bush's anti-terrorism record, but a majority also thinks that politics influenced the timing of the charges by the former White House aide …

"Nearly three-fifths of those surveyed echoed the contention by Clarke that Bush placed a higher priority on invading Iraq than combating terrorism. And a smaller majority agreed with the charge by the onetime White House counterterrorism chief that Bush did not focus enough on the terrorist threat before the Sept. 11 attacks."

"Yet nearly three-fifths agreed that Clarke's new book on the subject was ‘politically motivated’ and intended to influence the presidential election. And despite the attention Clarke's charges have received, almost three-fifths of Americans said Bush's anti-terrorism and defense policies had made the nation more secure."

Posted by tbrown at 12:25 PM




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One more sign that we should get out of Iraq ASAP
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