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Between the Lines

October 07, 2004

The 'new' Bush for Debate 2

For Debate 2 tomorrow night, expect President Bush to be more aggressive, more negative, nastier.

We got a preview in his speech in Pennsylvania yesterday, which turned out to be familiar arguments in a new wrapper. As the final props were knocked from under the administration's prime rationale for war by a new 900-plus page report that concludes Saddam Hussein had no meaningful WMD programs after 1991, Bush sought to shift the focus back to John Kerry's supposed inconstancy on national security.

As The New York Times reports (free site registration may be required):

The result, many around Mr. Bush concede, is that the president is taking a considerable risk in the next 27 days that he will appear out of touch with the realities on the ground in Iraq -- and indeed Mr. Kerry's campaign quickly sought to exploit that vulnerability on Wednesday. But one of Mr. Bush's closest aides said that "it's more important that he shows he is going to stick with it, not look back, and make this work."

Will it work? Tune in to the channel of your choice at 6 p.m. Pacific time tomorrow.

Posted by tbrown at 12:49 PM


Saddam: No WMDs, but lots of bribes for friends

The new 918-page report by Charles Duelfer, the Bush administration's chief weapons inspector in Iraq sinks the already torpedoed argument that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

To the contrary,

The 1991 Persian Gulf War and subsequent U.N. inspections destroyed Iraq's illicit weapons capability and, for the most part, Saddam Hussein did not try to rebuild it, according to an extensive report by the chief U.S. weapons inspector in Iraq that contradicts nearly every prewar assertion made by top administration officials about Iraq.

Charles A. Duelfer, whom the Bush administration chose to complete the U.S. investigation of Iraq's weapons programs, said Hussein's ability to produce nuclear weapons had "progressively decayed" since 1991. Inspectors, he said, found no evidence of "concerted efforts to restart the program."

**

"We were almost all wrong" on Iraq, Duelfer told a Senate panel yesterday.

The new report contains some hitherto unknown Machiavellian plot twists. This piece reports that Saddam kept the fact that Iraq had no WMDs secret even from his closest aides:

The accounts contradict many previous U.S. assumptions about relations between Saddam and his senior aides, as well as previous U.S. views on what Saddam was doing and how he saw the outside world before the Iraq war.

Previously, for example, many in the U.S. intelligence community believed Saddam's sycophantic generals kept him in the dark about the true state of Iraq's chemical-, biological- and nuclear-weapons programs that is, that the dictator was misled by associates who told him what he wanted to hear.

Far from being misinformed, the ISG [the U.S. arms inspectors] report says, Saddam had been micromanaging Iraq's WMD policy himself and kept even his most loyal aides from gaining a clear picture of what was going on and, more important, not going on with the program.

The Duelfer report also advances the simmering oil-for-food scandal in which Saddam tendered lucrative oil-trading vouchers to influential people around the world who might do him a favor in return. And this section of the report does provide fodder for an oft-repeated Bush administration post hoc justification for the war: that Saddam had the "intent" to create WMDs and would've if he could've.

From The Washington Post (free site registration may be required):

Saddam Hussein made $11 billion in illegal income and eroded the world's toughest economic embargo during his final years as Iraq's leader through shrewd schemes to secretly buy off dozens of countries, top foreign officials and major international figures, according to a new report by the chief U.S. weapons inspector released yesterday.

Oil "vouchers" that could be resold for large profits were given to officials including Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri, French Interior Minister Charles Pasqua and former Russian presidential candidate Vladimir Zhirinovsky as well as governments, companies and influential individuals in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, the report said.

**

Russia, France and China -- all permanent members of the U.N. Security Council -- were the top three countries in which individuals, companies or entities received the lucrative vouchers. Hussein's goal, the report said, was to provide financial incentives so that these nations would use their influence to help undermine what Duelfer called an "economic stranglehold" imposed after Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

Hussein's effort to thwart the embargo and divide the nations that supported it has long been known, but the Duelfer report reveals the lengths to which he went in attempting to defy the United Nations. The details could buttress Washington's contention that important players were preventing the U.N. program from squeezing Saddam, forcing the United States to launch a war to topple him.

There's also this disquieting disclosure:

Several American companies on the list, compiled from 13 documents kept by Hussein's vice president and oil minister, were given vouchers to purchase billions of dollars of oil at discounted prices. The U.S. companies are not named in the report because of privacy laws, U.S. officials said.

Gee, I bet they're insignificant little outfits we've never heard of with no ties to anyone we know in Washington and I have full confidence they'll be investigated and, as they love to say back there, prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

But meanwhile, let's beat up the French, who certainly deserve it. From The Scotsman:

Saddam Hussein believed he could avoid the Iraq war with a bribery strategy targeting Jacques Chirac, the President of France, according to devastating documents released last night.

**

Saddam was convinced that the UN sanctions -- which stopped him acquiring weapons -- were on the brink of collapse and he bankrolled several foreign activists who were campaigning for their abolition. He personally approved every one.

To keep America at bay, he focused on Russia, France and China - three of the five UN Security Council members with the power to veto war. Politicians, journalists and diplomats were all given lavish gifts and oil-for-food vouchers.

Tariq Aziz, the former Iraqi deputy prime minister, told the ISG that the "primary motive for French co-operation" was to secure lucrative oil deals when UN sanctions were lifted. Total, the French oil giant, had been promised exploration rights.

Iraqi intelligence officials then "targeted a number of French individuals that Iraq thought had a close relationship to French President Chirac," it said, including two of his "counsellors" and spokesman for his re-election campaign.

They even assessed the chances for "supporting one of the candidates in an upcoming French presidential election." Chirac is not mentioned by name.

A memo sent to Saddam dated in May last year from his intelligence corps said they met with a "French parliamentarian" who "assured Iraq that France would use its veto in the UN Security Council against any American decision to attack Iraq."

As George Bush has discovered, trying to retroactively justify a war is hard work. On the other hand, the sad truth is that the Chirac government most likely would have found a way to oppose military action in Iraq even if there had been concrete proof of WMDs. Fortunately, France is a democracy, and governments there come and go, too.

Posted by tbrown at 12:39 PM


Can you say 'voodoo'?

Another four years of the Bush administration's economic policies will carry us much further down the road toward the banana-republic social structure he seems to so devoutly desire. No More Mr. Nice Blog sums up one thrust of this thrust here: the drive to eliminate all taxation of income from savings and investments (a minor source of income for the vast majority of Americans and a very large one for the wealthy and the superrich).

In this letter, via the blog Max Speak, more than 150 professors of business and economics from major universities all over the country tell the president that his policies are imperiling the nation:

As professors of economics and business, we are concerned that U.S. economic policy has taken a dangerous turn under your stewardship. Nearly every major economic indicator has deteriorated since you took office in January 2001. Real GDP growth during your term is the lowest of any presidential term in recent memory. Total non-farm employment has contracted and the unemployment rate has increased. Bankruptcies are up sharply, as is our dependence on foreign capital to finance an exploding current account deficit. All three major stock indexes are lower now than at the time of your inauguration. The percentage of Americans in poverty has increased, real median income has declined, and income inequality has grown.

The data make clear that your policy of slashing taxes primarily for those at the upper reaches of the income distribution has not worked. The fiscal reversal that has taken place under your leadership is so extreme that it would have been unimaginable just a few years ago. The federal budget surplus of over $200 billion that we enjoyed in the year 2000 has disappeared, and we are now facing a massive annual deficit of over $400 billion. In fact, if transfers from the Social Security trust fund are excluded, the federal deficit is even worse well in excess of a half a trillion dollars this year alone. Although some members of your administration have suggested that the mountain of new debt accumulated on your watch is mainly the consequence of 9-11 and the war on terror, budget experts know that this is simply false. Your economic policies have played a significant role in driving this fiscal collapse. And the economic proposals you have suggested for a potential second term from diverting Social Security contributions into private accounts to making the recent tax cuts permanent only promise to exacerbate the crisis by further narrowing the federal revenue base.

Just one more critical piece of national life slowly being rendered FUBAR by this administration's jihad on common sense.

Posted by tbrown at 12:33 PM




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