Saturday, December 24, 2005

Tom Dschle: The Power we didn't grant

The WaShington PoSt
Power We Didn't Grant
By Tom Daschle
Friday, December 23, 2005

In the face of mounting questions about news stories saying that President Bush approved a program to wiretap American citizens without getting warrants, the White House argues that Congress granted it authority for such surveillance in the 2001 legislation authorizing the use of force against al Qaeda. On Tuesday, Vice President Cheney said the president "was granted authority by the Congress to use all means necessary to take on the terrorists, and that's what we've done."
As Senate majority leader at the time, I helped negotiate that law with the White House counsel's office over two harried days. I can state categorically that the subject of warrantless wiretaps of American citizens never came up. I did not and never would have supported giving authority to the president for such wiretaps. I am also confident that the 98 senators who voted in favor of authorization of force against al Qaeda did not believe that they were also voting for warrantless domestic surveillance.
On the evening of Sept. 12, 2001, the White House proposed that Congress authorize the use of military force to "deter and pre-empt any future acts of terrorism or aggression against the United States." Believing the scope of this language was too broad and ill defined, Congress chose instead, on Sept. 14, to authorize "all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations or persons [the president] determines planned, authorized, committed or aided" the attacks of Sept. 11. With this language, Congress denied the president the more expansive authority he sought and insisted that his authority be used specifically against Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda.
Just before the Senate acted on this compromise resolution, the White House sought one last change. Literally minutes before the Senate cast its vote, the administration sought to add the words "in the United States and" after "appropriate force" in the agreed-upon text. This last-minute change would have given the president broad authority to exercise expansive powers not just overseas -- where we all understood he wanted authority to act -- but right here in the United States, potentially against American citizens. I could see no justification for Congress to accede to this extraordinary request for additional authority. I refused.
The shock and rage we all felt in the hours after the attack were still fresh. America was reeling from the first attack on our soil since Pearl Harbor. We suspected thousands had been killed, and many who worked in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were not yet accounted for. Even so, a strong bipartisan majority could not agree to the administration's request for an unprecedented grant of
The Bush administration now argues those powers were inherently contained in the resolution adopted by Congress -- but at the time, the administration clearly felt they weren't or it wouldn't have tried to insert the additional language.
All Americans agree that keeping our nation safe from terrorists demands aggressive and innovative tactics. This unity was reflected in the near-unanimous support for the original resolution and the Patriot Act in those harrowing days after Sept. 11. But there are right and wrong ways to defeat terrorists, and that is a distinction this administration has never seemed to accept. Instead of employing tactics that preserve Americans' freedoms and inspire the faith and confidence of the American people, the White House seems to have chosen methods that can only breed fear and suspicion.
If the stories in the media over the past week are accurate, the president has exercised authority that I do not believe is granted to him in the Constitution, and that I know is not granted to him in the law that I helped negotiate with his counsel and that Congress approved in the days after Sept. 11. For that reason, the president should explain the specific legal justification for his authorization of these actions, Congress should fully investigate these actions and the president's justification for them, and the administration should cooperate fully with that investigation.
In the meantime, if the president believes the current legal architecture of our country is insufficient for the fight against terrorism, he should propose changes to our laws in the light of day.
That is how a great democracy operates. And that is how this great democracy will defeat
The writer, a former Democratic senator from South Dakota, was Senate majority leader in 2001-02. He is now distinguished senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.
© 2005 The Washington Post Company

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Noble sentiment, nasty speech

Double Take
by Ryan Lizza
Only at TNR Online
Post date: 12.19.05
an a president be both Lincolnesque and Nixonian in the same speech? That's the question I had watching Bush last night. One major headline from the address is the rhetorical olive branch Bush supposedly extended to his critics. Towards the end of his 17-minute speech, he said the following:

I also want to speak to those of you who did not support my decision to send troops to Iraq: I have heard your disagreement, and I know how deeply it is felt. Yet now there are only two options before our country: victory or defeat. And the need for victory is larger than any president or political party because the security of our people is in the balance. I don't expect you to support everything I do, but tonight I have a request: Do not give in to despair and do not give up on this fight for freedom.
That was the Lincoln in the speech, Bush's uncharacteristically high-minded appeal to put the country before partisanship. The passage has already won the president applause from some surprising corners. Unfortunately, this noble sentiment was undermined by the rest of the speech.

I'm not even talking about the casual dishonesties packed into the section where Bush summed up the history of the war in Iraq. "Much of the intelligence turned out to be wrong," Bush said, subordinating his role in the WMD fiasco to that of a passive dupe rather than active exaggerator. Then there was the passage in which he described those we're fighting in Iraq as falling into just two groups: "Saddam loyalists and foreign terrorists." If only that were true. Unfortunately, many Iraqis who do not pine for the return of Saddam have joined the insurgency against the United States.

No big deal. In other statements, campaign appearances, and speeches Bush has shown far less care for detail than he did last night. And certainly there was a thread of modesty woven into this Oval-Office speech that is new for Bush.

Still, Bush and his political strategists can't help themselves. We are on the eve of the third election year since September 11, and the White House knows from the experiences of 2002 and 2004 that there is no point in pursuing a bipartisan foreign policy. So before Bush offered his critics the handshake quoted above, he delivered a familiar rhetorical punch, attributing to opponents a preposterous argument. Addressing what he called the "important" question of whether "we are creating more problems than we're solving" in Iraq, Bush said that "the answer depends on your view of the war on terror." How did the president describe his opponents' views of that war? Well, according to Bush, the debate over how to deal with terrorists is between his steely resolve to crush them everywhere and those who "think the terrorists would become peaceful if only America would stop provoking them."

This is an absurd characterization. Nobody argues that leaving Iraq will make "terrorists" more "peaceful." Certainly, it's not Bush's job to present the strongest case for withdrawal, but it's hard to take seriously his call for national unity when he makes such a bad-faith presentation of his opponents' arguments. The speech was as much about ridicule as it was about rebuttal.

In another passage, Bush declared, "Defeatism may have its partisan uses, but it is not justified by the facts." This is a novel political phenomenon Bush is describing--Democrats gaining an edge through the use of the famously popular American theme of defeatism. Of course, the only partisan use of defeatism is to use the word to describe the ideology of one's opponents.

Politically, Bush's speech is a preview of a new two-front strategy: attacking antiwar critics as weak while simultaneously winning credit for sounding like he's offering them an olive branch. Maybe it will work. But as Bush himself once said, "He can't have it both ways. He can't take the high horse and then claim the low road."

Ryan Lizza is a senior editor at TNR.

Copyright 2005, The New Republic

Cheney's Cheerleading Falls Flat - Yahoo! News

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Cheney's Cheerleading Falls Flat
John Nichols Mon Dec 19, 2:13 PM ET
The Nation -- Even as President Bush was trying, once more on Sunday, to spin the fantasy that the Iraq invasion and occupation are some kind of success, Vice President Dick Cheney's visit to Iraq confirmed the truth of the mess that this military misadventure has created.

The vice president's "surprise" visit to Iraq -- which, coming shortly after voting in the latest of the country's quickie elections had finished, was about as surprising as Cheney's repetition of the administration's "stay-the-course" mantra -- was a public-relations disaster.


Because the vice president actually came into contact with the people his fantasies regarding Iraq -- remember Cheney's pre-war promise that U.S. troops would be "greeted as liberators" -- had put in harm's way.

Cheney's cheerleading during a whirlwind trip through the battlezone was challenged by men who are actually doing the fighting.

The first words Cheney heard during a roundtable discussion with several dozen troops were those of Marine Cpl. Bradley Warren, who said, "From our perspective, we don't see much as far as gains. We're looking at small-picture stuff, not many gains."

Cheney responded with warmed-over rhetoric about how the media is not showing the true picture of what is going on in Iraq. "I think when we look back from 10 years hence, we'll see that the year '05 was in fact a watershed year here in Iraq. We're getting the job done," claimed the vuice president, who was making his first visit to the warzone. "It's hard to tell that from watching the news. But I guess we don't pay that much attention to the news."

The vice president did not seem to recognize the irony of complaining about media coverage presenting the war as something less than a success when he was responding to the concerns of a Marine -- who is actually serving on the ground in Iraq -- about the fact that he and his fellow troops "don't see much as far as gains."

Cheney's attempt to put a positive spin on the occupation does not appear to have found many takers among those who are dodging the bullets and bombs in a war that has killed more than 2,100 of their comrades and maimed tens of thousands more.

According to an Associated Press report, "When (Cheney) delivered the applause line, 'We're in this fight to win. These colors don't run,' the only sound was a lone whistle."

It is no wonder the troops were lacking in enthusiasm.

They know something that Cheney does not know, or at least does not admit.

They know that, at the close of this "watershed year," not nearly enough has changed for the better in Iraq.

They know, as well, that the administration's talk about how the U.S. will stand down as the Iraqis stand up remains an empty promise.

How empty?

Consider a line buied deep in the AP report of the vice president's visit to Taji Air Base in Iraq: "U.S. forces guarded Cheney with weapons at the ready while Iraqi soldiers, who had no weapons, held their arms out as if they were carrying imaginary guns."

For all of Cheney's cheerleading about how well things are going, those carrying the real guns recognize that they will not soon be coming home from a country where their "replacements" are carrying imaginary guns.

The truth is that the president and vice president refuse to level not just with the troops and American people but with themselves. Wiser observers recognize that only when the U.S. leaves Iraq will the Iraqis begin to take responsibility for policing their own country. As U.S. Rep. John Murtha (news, bio, voting record), D-Pennsylvania, wrote last week in a letter to his House colleagues, "It is time that the over 200,000 Iraqis who have received military and police training over the past three years take over the hard job of providing domestic security themselves and stop using American forces as a crutch to lean on. It is time for U. S. forces to redeploy out of the country in an orderly but rapid way..."

Murtha, a decorated Vietnam veteran who has spent far more time than Cheney ever will speaking frankly with troops in Iraq and with honest military strategists, says, "I believe that the policy of the president -- total victory -- is not a policy. I believe that is a flawed policy wrapped in an illusion."It should come as no surprise that the troops Cheney encountered appeared to have been as frustrated with the illusion as Jack Murtha. After all, Murtha, the old soldier who earned a chest full of medals in Vietnam, is one of them. Cheney, the guy who got five deferments to avoid serving in Vietnam, is not.

An expanded paperback edition of John Nichols' biography of Vice President Dick Cheney, The Rise and Rise of Richard B. Cheney: Unlocking the Mysteries of the Most Powerful Vice President in American History (The New Press: 2005), is available nationwide at independent bookstores and at The book features an exclusive interview with Joe Wilson and a chapter on the vice president's use and misuse of intelligence. Publisher's Weekly describes the book as "a Fahrenheit 9/11 for Cheney" and Esquire magazine says it "reveals the inner Cheney."

Copyright © 2005 The Nation

Thursday, December 08, 2005

A wishlist for the New Year

From time to time one of the visitors to this site decides to leave a message, or a comment. That interest is much appreciated, and would be even more so if the author did not hide behind the “anonymous” label.
The most recent remarked that posting other people’s editorials hardly qualified as opinion. But the editorials or pieces that I post have been chosen for timeliness and because they express my own opinions better than I could express them myself. After all they are written by professionals of the word, who have access to many more sources than I do. I share them with you because they are good, i.e. well written and to the point, and you might not have had the time to look for them. I would think that judicious selection counts as opinion.
But I take my correspondent’s remark seriously and maybe I should write more; at least so my wife keeps telling me.
Here comes a wish list for the New Year 2006.
I wish for a Democratic Party that clearly and with conviction stands for:
Healthcare for all, defending consumers from big business drug and insurance companies.
Rebuild the wall between religious and civic practices. Both have their place and role but they should not be commingled.
Good jobs at good pay, standing for unions and against job exporters.
Providing good middle class jobs restoring infrastructure, refurbishing parks, developing alternative renewable energy sources as well as energy conservation.
Universal access to good education. The public school system should be more than just a source of worker bees for industry; it is vital to forge a sense of national purpose and community.
Defending democratic practices in the most basic procedures of a working democracy: equal and unrestricted access to the voting booth, assurance of voting integrity, while diminishing the influence of big money on politics by public funding of all campaigns.
Take redistricting out of the hands of politicians.
Is this too much to ask for?

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Guardian | Seized, held, tortured: six tell same tale

Seized, held, tortured: six tell same tale
Ian Cobain
Tuesday December 6, 2005

Mamdouh Habib, 49, an Australian citizen, was caught up in the rendition system after being arrested near the Pakistani-Afghan border shortly after the 9/11 attacks. His lawyers say he was bundled aboard a small jet by men speaking English with American accents and flown to Egypt, the country where he was born. For the next six months, they say, he was held in a Cairo jail, where he was hung from hooks, beaten, given shocks from an electric cattle prod, and told he was to be raped by dogs.
Habib also says that he was shackled and forced into three torture chambers: one filled with water up to his chin, requiring him to stand on tiptoe for hours, a second with a low ceiling and two feet of water, forcing him into a painful stoop, and a third with a few inches of water, and within sight of an electric generator which his captors said would be used to electrocute him. He made statements - which he has since withdrawn - declaring that he had helped train the 9/11 attackers in martial arts. Habib was moved to Afghanistan and then to Guantánamo. Last January he was released without charge and allowed to return to his wife and three children in Sydney.

Maher Arar, 34, a Canadian citizen, was seized in September 2002 while travelling through JFK airport in New York, on his way home after a holiday in Tunisia. After being questioned for 13 days about a terrorism suspect - the brother of a work colleague - he was handcuffed, placed in leg irons, and put aboard an executive jet. Hearing the crew describe themselves as members of the "special removals unit", and discovering he was bound for Syria, the country where he was born, he begged them to return to the US. The crew, he says, ignored his pleas and suggested he watch a spy film that was being shown on board. After landing in Jordan, Arar says he was driven to Syria, where he was held in a small underground cell which he likened to a grave. His hands were repeatedly whipped with cables, he says. He added that he would eventually confess to anything put to him. Arar was released a year later after the Canadian government took up his case. The Syrian ambassador in Washington announced that no terrorist links had been found. Arar is suing the US government.

Amnesty International has highlighted the plight of two Yemeni friends, Salah Nasser Salim 'Ali, 27, and Muhammad Faraj Ahmed Bashmilah, 37, arrested separately in August 2003. Salah was detained in Indonesia, then flown to Jordan, where Muhammad was already under arrest. They say they were hung upside down and beaten for several days, before being flown to an unknown country about four hours' flying distance.

Neither man knew that the other was under arrest, but both described being detained in solitary confinement in an old underground prison, staffed by masked American guards, where western music was played in their cells 24 hours a day. Both men say they were moved after eight months, spending around three hours in a small aircraft, and then a helicopter, before being taken to another underground prison, this time modern, with air conditioning and surveillance cameras in the cells. This too was run by Americans, they say. The two men were returned to Yemen last May, but remain in custody. Amnesty says Yemeni officials have said they are being held at the request of US authorities. "What we have heard from these two men is just one small part of the much broader picture of US secret detentions around the world," said Sharon Critoph, the Amnesty researcher who interviewed them in Yemen.

Ahmed Agiza, 43, a doctor, and Muhammad Zery, 36, were abducted in Stockholm in December 2001, with the connivance of the Swedish government. Both were seeking asylum in Sweden, and had been convicted in absentia of membership of a banned Islamist group in their native Egypt. Agiza admits knowing Ayman Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden's second-in-command, but says he severed all links many years ago and insists he has renounced violence.

According to evidence to a Swedish parliamentary inquiry last year, they were taken to Bromma airport, Stockholm, by uniformed Swedish police and Americans wearing suits. They were stripped, searched, sedated and dressed in boiler suits and hoods. They were shackled and bundled on to a Gulfstream 5 executive jet, before being flown to Cairo. This aircraft has flown in and out of the UK at least 60 times since December 2001, most recently with a new tail number. Senior Swedish police officers told the parliamentary inquiry the aircraft was operated by the CIA.

Both men later told relatives and Swedish diplomats that they were subjected to electric shock torture in Egypt. Zery was released from prison almost two years later. Agiza was jailed for 25 years, reduced to 15 on appeal.

The Hubris of the Humanities - New York Times

Thursday, December 01, 2005

TomDispatch - Tomgram: How (Not) to Withdraw from Iraq

a project of the
Nation Institute compiled and edited
by Tom Engelhardt

Tomgram: How (Not) to Withdraw from Iraq

[Seasonal Note: In a town where the menu of any new corner diner immediately touts "our traditional" corned beef or roast beef sandwich, three years of tradition is no small thing. This year, then, will be the third in which Nick Turse offers Tomdispatch readers a holiday opportunity to feast on gift ideas from the military-corporate complex. (Last year, hot gifts ranged from the "talking Bush in Baghdad doll" and standard-issue women's "assault shoes" to an assortment of missiles.) But while awaiting that priceless, mid-month dispatch, I thought I might suggest a few holiday gift possibilities that really were options for anyone in a bookish and generous mood.

For those of you who would like to offer a little extra support for Tom (of Tomdispatch), you might consider picking up for friends copies of my novel, The Last Days of Publishing, just out in paperback (check the review!), or my history of American triumphalism in the Cold War era, The End of Victory Culture, which -- given our President -- never seems out of date.

The stocking-stuffer of the season is an inexpensive little paperback by the readers of the Nation magazine and its editor Katrina vanden Heuvel (with a small contribution from Tomdispatch). The Dictionary of Republicanisms is guaranteed to give outsized pleasure. If you want to crack up your friends throughout the holiday season and spur everyone, a couple of eggnogs later, to create their own Republican "definitions," then hand this out left and… right. (Here's one of mine from the book: "Homeland Security Department: The new Defense Department known for declaring bridges yellow and the Statue of Liberty orange.") It's the perfect small gift for the holidays!

On the other hand, if you're looking for a big book to sink your readerly teeth into, don't miss Adam Hochschild's monumental and riveting history of the British anti-slavery movement, Bury the Chains. The anti-slavery movement, which pioneered everything from direct mail campaigns to iconic posters, actually succeeded after decades of effort and vast slave uprisings in the Caribbean. His is the rare book that offers hope -- as any holiday season should -- by showing us how something (in this case, slavery) considered part of "human nature," could actually be altered.

The deepest newspaper truths are not always found, by the way, in the news section of your daily rag. Last Tuesday, for instance, the detail that caught my attention in the New York Times appeared in the crossword puzzle. To the clue, "war correspondent in modern lingo," the 5-letter answer… I pause for a moment to give you a chance to guess… was "embed." Doesn't that tell you just where the Bush era has left us in media terms? So much more reason then, to cherish a photo book aptly titled Unembedded and just out from Chelsea Green, an adventurous small press in Vermont. It offers the striking (and deeply saddening) photos of four independent photojournalists -- two Americans, a Canadian, and the Iraqi Ghaith Abdul-Ahad (who also does remarkable pieces for the British Guardian from time to time). The four of them managed to make their way, on their own, into embattled, partially destroyed Najaf in August 2004, among other places. In this book, Iraqi casualties and sorrows are front and center. It's certainly not upbeat, but it is a powerful reminder of the world the Bush administration has created in Iraq and a project to support. Tom]

How (Not) to Withdraw from Iraq
By Tom Engelhardt

On the September 27th Charlie Rose Show, interviewing New Yorker editor David Remnick, Rose brought up the question of what the United States should do in Iraq. Should we "get out" -- or, as Remnick so delicately put it, should we "bolt"? Here was how Remnick ended their discussion, while talking about those who had written on Iraq for his magazine:

"There's Jon Lee Anderson and George Packer and Sy Hersh and Rick [Hertzberg], they all look at it from different angles. But I think all of those people would agree -- I don't know about Sy -- would agree that an immediate American withdrawal just, you know, just pick up your skirts and run, would not lead to a happy situation in the short term or the long."

Pick up your skirts and run. Forget the Republicans, that more or less sums up the state of mainstream liberal opinion on Iraq just two months ago. Only that recently "withdrawal" was still synonymous with cowardice, or, in a classic phrase of the Vietnam era (that like so many others has taken an extra bow in our own moment), "cutting and running." Withdrawal from Iraq was a subject for the margins and the political Internet (as well as secret Pentagon planning); certainly not something to be bandied about in Congress or taken seriously by the mainstream media. What a difference a few weeks can make -- a few weeks and one hawkish congressman with heart (channeling the views of a panicky military facing an increasingly unwinnable war). When Congressman John Murtha stood up -- and there wasn't a "skirt" in sight (not, at least, until Republican Congresswoman Jean Schmidt accused him, briefly, of cowardice on the floor of the House of Representatives) -- and suggested a withdrawal of American ground troops from Iraq on a six-month timetable, you could hear the administration's angry heart thumping.

Then, Chicken Little, the sky began to fall and withdrawal proposals, withdrawal trial balloons, withdrawal op-eds, withdrawal hints, clues, and suggestions of every sort suddenly rained down on us like those cats and dogs of children's books. It turns out that there was hardly a major mainstream figure anywhere who didn't have some kind of "withdrawal" proposal in his or her hip pocket; or put another way, when Senators Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden come out with positions that fit, however faintly, under the ever-widening label of "withdrawal" and only good ol' Joe Lieberman is left twisting, twisting in the Presidential hot air of "progress" and "victory," something is certainly afoot.

It gives one heart, really, to think about the strange processes that sometimes suddenly unclog the arteries of American discussion and debate, turning the previously impermissible into a topic quite suitable for the mainstream to take possession of. Give us another two months and who knows, maybe Judge Alito will actually go down to a filibuster; give us a year and maybe impeachment, just now creeping out from the margins, will find itself a topic in Congress and on the editorial pages of our papers. Like Charlie Rose, everybody knows what the proper limits of conversation are… until, of course, they unpredictably change.

Watch the Words

That said, this new withdrawal season of ours will undoubtedly prove a difficult one to sort out. With the President's speech at Annapolis, after a huge hint from Condoleezza Rice earlier in the week ("I do not think that American forces need to be there in the numbers that they are now because -- for very much longer -- because Iraqis are stepping up"), "withdrawal" or "pullout" or "draw-down" is everybody's property. In some ways, it was the Iraqis, meeting in Cairo, who helped get the withdrawal ball rolling by calling for a withdrawal "timetable" -- promptly rejected by the Bush administration. Now, Bush officials and military men are jumping on board in a thoroughly confusing way. No surprise there, since a lot of yesterday's non-withdrawal people have a fair amount at stake in muddying the waters today.

We've just entered a period where you won't be able tell the players without a scorecard and, unfortunately, nobody in the know is going to be selling scorecards. In fact, as the public withdrawal debate began, and the administration first "lashed out" in anger at its suddenly voluble opponents and then rushed to put forward its own "plans," the news in our papers and on TV promptly shifted into full-frontal anonymity mode. Even Congressman Murtha spoke with, it might be said, more than one tongue. After all, as a key figure on the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, he is known for his closeness to the military brass; and, in laying out his proposal, he offered some startling figures (on soaring attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq and on the 50,000 soldiers who are likely to suffer from "battle fatigue") that clearly came directly from the military. Here's how the New Yorker's Seymour Hersh explained the Murtha proposal in a recent interview with Democracy Now's Amy Goodman:

"He's known for his closeness to the four-stars. They come and they bleed on him… So Murtha's message is a message… from a lot of generals on active duty today. This is what they think, at least a significant percentage of them, I assure you. This is, I'm not over-dramatizing this. It's a shot across the bow. They don't think [the Iraq war is] doable. You can't tell that to this President. He doesn't want to hear it. But you can say it to Murtha."

So when, for instance, you read in the press about some general officially worrying that we may "draw-down" too quickly, you have no way of knowing whether at this point his real position is the one Murtha articulated. Get the hell out fast!

In a typical recent front-page piece on "withdrawal," for instance (As Calls for an Iraq Pullout Rise, 2 Political Calendars Loom Large), David E. Sanger and Thom Shanker of the New York Times start with the "mounting calls to set a deadline to begin a withdrawal from Iraq." By paragraph two, however, that "withdrawal" has somehow been pluralized: "But in private conversations American officials are beginning to acknowledge that a judgment about when withdrawals can begin…" ("withdrawals" being, of course, something less than "withdrawal"). By the fifth paragraph (just after the jump to an inside page), anonymous "White House aides" are saying that the President "will begin examining the timing of a draw-down after he sees the outcome of the Dec. 15 election in Iraq."

So in five paragraphs and a headline, you have pullout, withdrawal, withdrawals, draw-down… and by then you've already met a plethora of pluralized sources as well -- not just those "White House officials," but even vaguer "American officials," and lest even that give away too much, "several officials." They're soon joined by a roiling mass of other obscurely less-then-identified beings ("current and former White House officials," "one former aide with close ties to the National Security Council," "senior officers," plain old "officers," and "senior Pentagon civilians and officers"). And if that isn't murky enough for you, just throw in the "ifs" that go with any story of this sort and tend to negate even the best proposed plan:

"[O]fficials in the Bush White House were already actively reviewing possible plans under which 40,000 to 50,000 troops or more could be recalled next year if ‘a plausible case could be made' that a significant number of Iraqi battalions could hold their own."

Here, for instance, are typical phrases from correspondent Rosiland Jordan's withdrawal story on NBC national news last Sunday: "The debate is focusing on how many and when… that depends on how quiet the situation is… if conditions on the ground allow it… provided the situation on the ground improves." Or consider the following quote from a Los Angeles Times piece: "'It looks like things are headed in the right direction to enable [a large drawdown of forces] to happen in 2006,' said the official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity. But he said those hopes could be derailed if there were setbacks." Or take this bit from the latest report on Hillary Clinton's ponderously shifting position: "…troops could be redeployed next year if coming elections in Iraq go well." So our news is now filled with posses of unidentifiable officials offering limited "withdrawal plans," which are actually draw-down plans, which are so provisionally linked to matters unlikely to unfold as expected that they may, in a sense, simply be meaningless.

The Return of Vietnamization

What then are the "plans" of those in power, as best we can tell?

The realities of the moment are, in a sense, simple and strange all at once. The grandiose preparations for planetary military and energy domination hatched by a group of utopian (or, if you prefer, dystopian) thinkers in Washington, aided and abetted by "native" dreamers and schemers in exile, and meant to begin but hardly end in Iraq, have by now run aground on the shoals of reality. A modest-sized but fierce and well-stocked insurgency, conducting a low-level guerrilla war -- Americans are basically killed on roads on their way somewhere, seldom in regular battles or on their bases -- fueled by our President's hubris, by an unquenchable urge for national sovereignty, and by religious fundamentalism as well as fanaticism, has driven this administration from its emplacements.

Now, a second force has joined the fray, turning this into one of the stranger two-front "wars" in memory. Unlike in the Vietnam era, the second front at home remains something of a specter. Perhaps it's not so surprising though that a President ever in fantasy-land and his utopian followers (many now set out to pasture) are being driven by publics that, at the moment, exist largely as sets of poll-driven numbers. The streets are seldom filled with demonstrators; the universities are not up in arms; and yet it's quite clear that some ghostly form of popular pressure is indeed at work -- in combination with growing pressures from Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald (think Watergate) and a military command that, as in the Vietnam era, fears, if something doesn't happen soon, the wheels might truly start coming off the American military machine. Still, it is fascinating that, without a significant political opposition yet in sight, we're witnessing what looks ever more like an administration and Republican meltdown. (For those of you who believe that the Republicans have put all election victories beyond anyone's grasp, rising Republican fears about the 2006 congressional elections should indicate that this is not yet so.)

In the eye of its own strange storm, the administration is finally starting to put policy back into the hands of those who pass for "realists," as journalist Jim Lobe of Inter Press Service has been pointing out recently. For instance, the astute and Machiavellian neocon Zalmay Khalilzad, our former ambassador to Afghanistan and present-day ambassador to the Green Zone of Iraq, has just been given permission to negotiate with the Iranians for help in Iraq and is, according to Newsweek, beginning to put American funds where they might actually matter -- into bribes to Sunni officials. In the meantime -- just a little straw in the gale -- Secretary of State Rice recently met for the first time in who knows how long for a chat with her former mentor, the elder Bush's National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft. (If Daddy's men are ever actually called back in, then you'll know for sure that the White House is in humiliating "withdrawal" mode.)

In the meantime, we are once again seeing the return of the repressed (that is, the Vietnam era) to American consciousness. It's not just the language of that moment -- White House aides "circling the wagons" and going into "bunker mode," or Democratic Senator Jack Reed insisting that the President has a growing "credibility gap" -- but the way the White House is digging itself ever deeper into the Big Muddy of that era's playbook.

As if on cue this month -- in fact, it's hard to believe it could have been happenstance -- Nixon's Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird, the man who claims he invented the term "Vietnamization," has returned as if from the dead (in an article in Foreign Affairs magazine) to argue that his policy actually worked, and so would "Iraqification." Maybe Laird was simply called back into existence when Dick Cheney denounced those intent on "rewriting history," but now we know from the horse's mouth that we coulda, woulda, shoulda won -- except for a pusillanimous Congress! ("The truth about Vietnam that revisionist historians conveniently forget is that the United States had not lost when we withdrew in 1973... I believed then and still believe today that given enough outside resources, South Vietnam was capable of defending itself, just as I believe Iraq can do the same now.")

The essence of Laird's Vietnamization policy was a realization that, on the draft-era home front, the Vietnam War was being driven by American casualties and that the Army itself was in a state of incipient revolt and disintegration. So Nixon abolished the draft, began the all-volunteer military, put an emphasis on building up the South Vietnamese army, and withdrew 500,000 American ground troops over a three-year period. What he replaced them with was a fiercely intensified air war over South Vietnam (and neighboring countries). And this policy was indeed successful in tamping down protest at home, though (despite Laird's claims) it created insuperable problems in South Vietnam (as Iraqification will in Iraq). These led, after much further bloodshed, to the collapse of our allies in the south.

The Bush administration's new "plan," such as it is, to draw-down our troops (while pressing our shrinking set of allies not to do the same) is clearly modeled on Laird's Vietnamization experience -- a failed strategy being re-imagined as a successful one. By a shift of tactical priorities, it is meant to create the look of withdrawal before the 2006 congressional elections, and it, too, will emphasize the mayhem of air power. On the ground, American forces are to be slowly withdrawn from Iraq's cities to their bases, cutting down on both casualties and, for Iraqis, that oppressive sense of being occupied by foreigners.

In draw-down terms, the plan seems to go something like this: While withdrawal was making onto the public agenda, our actual force in Iraq has risen in recent months from approximately 138,000 to about 160,000. So the first "withdrawals" (plural) the administration will be able to announce after the December 15 election -- about 20,000 troops -- will simply get us back to the levels that Donald Rumsfeld and his planners always meant us to be at.

General George Casey, U.S. commander in Iraq, and others have been letting the news ooze out for a while (despite rumors of presidential slap-downs for doing so) that, if all goes half-well, we will perhaps withdraw another 40,000 troops (the figures vary depending upon the leak) in 2006, leaving us with just under 100,000 troops there. In 2007… well, who knows, but the process, it's clear, is meant to be more or less unending, and, mind you, that's according to the Pentagon's "moderately optimistic" scenario. (Seymour Hersh claims that the administration's "most ambitious" plans call for all troops designated "combat," which is not all troops, to be withdrawn by the summer of 2008.)

Nothing in the last two-and-a-half-plus years, of course, should lead anyone to be "moderately optimistic." If you want a little dose of realism, just consider the latest report on the new Iraqi army from the Atlantic Monthly's James Fallows; or visit the rare Iraqi unit that has been more or less "stood up" with Knight Ridder's Tom Lasseter and consider what it's been stood up for (a Shiite revenge war in Sunni neighborhoods); or check in with "two senior Army analysts who in 2003 accurately foretold the turmoil that would be unleashed by the U.S. invasion of Iraq" and now claim it is "no longer clear that the United States will be able to create (Iraqi) military and police forces that can secure the entire country no matter how long U.S. forces remain"; or visit with "the only non-American author on the U.S. Army's list of required reading for officers," Hebrew University military historian Martin Van Crevald, who recently called George Bush's little Iraqi adventure "the most foolish war since Emperor Augustus in 9 BC sent his legions into Germany and lost them."

In perhaps the most important piece of reportage of the year, Up in the Air, the New Yorker's Seymour Hersh dissects the sinews of the administration's Iraqification strategy. Unsurprisingly, while drawing-down troops (in hopes of lessening American casualties), the Pentagon is to intensify the air war, which means, of course, loosing the U.S. Air Force on Iraq's urban areas where the insurgency thrives and undoubtedly increasing Iraqi casualties. Or as Hersh puts it:

"A key element of the drawdown plans, not mentioned in the President's public statements, is that the departing American troops will be replaced by American airpower. Quick, deadly strikes by U.S. warplanes are seen as a way to improve dramatically the combat capability of even the weakest Iraqi combat units. The danger, military experts have told me, is that, while the number of American casualties would decrease as ground troops are withdrawn, the over-all level of violence and the number of Iraqi fatalities would increase unless there are stringent controls over who bombs what."

As Hersh essentially points out, what this is likely to mean in practice -- if combat is significantly turned over to the new Iraqi Army -- is sending our Air Force against targets of that army's choosing; that is, putting American air power in service to a Shiite and Kurdish revenge war against the Sunnis -- not exactly a recipe for a pacified Iraq.

The thinking behind such strategies is, in fact, as recognizable to those of us who lived through the Vietnam era as "Vietnamization." Here's what I wrote about such "withdrawal" plans during the Vietnam era in my book, The End of Victory Culture, published a distant decade ago. See if it doesn't have a familiar ring to it:

"The idea of ‘withdrawing' from Vietnam was there from the beginning, though never as an actual plan. All real options for ending the war were invariably linked to ‘cutting and running,' or ‘dishonor,' or ‘surrender,' or ‘humiliation,' and so dismissed within the councils of government more or less before being raised. The attempt to prosecute the war and to withdraw from it were never separable, no less opposites. If anything, withdrawal became a way to maintain or intensify the war, while pacifying the American public.

"'Withdrawal' involved not departure but all sorts of departure-like maneuvers – from bombing pauses that led to fiercer bombing campaigns to negotiation offers never meant to be taken up to a ‘Vietnamization' plan in which ground troops would be pulled out as the air war was intensified. Each gesture of withdrawal allowed the war planners to fight a little longer; but if withdrawal did not withdraw the country from the war, the war's prosecution never brought it close to a victorious conclusion."

Clash of Languages

So now, having passed through much of the Vietnam era's strategy and language in a mere couple of years, we find ourselves in the Vietnamization/Iraqification period. Forgetting for a minute that, among other differences with Vietnam, this seems increasingly to be a war not for national unification but for national disunification, we seem finally, as in those distant years, to be on the downhill slope of language and imagery.

To give but one example: Proud neocon neocolonials like Paul Wolfowitz, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and the President himself, regularly talked about bringing "democracy" to Iraq in patronizingly parental terms. They liked to say that they were trying to figure out the moment to take the "training wheels" off the Iraqi bike and let the toddler wheel around the nearest corner on his own. Now we find one of our many anonymous generals quoted in a Washington Post piece using that very image no less patronizingly but far more fearfully in military terms. "Another senior general likened an accelerated withdrawal to ‘taking the training wheels off of a bike too early.'"

Or here's another example: American "senior officials" in the glory days of our Iraq adventure spoke regularly and without shame about the need to "put an Iraqi face" on Iraq. This was a wonderfully grim phrase which, in a strange way, expressed their deeper meaning exactly; they wanted to put a comforting Iraqi mask over the American face of the occupation. Now, we find a military version of the same, whose bluntness makes a certain sense of our moment, as quoted in a mid-November piece from Anton La Guardia, Diplomatic Editor of the British Telegraph:

"Senior US military commanders have long argued that the way to defeat the insurgency is to reduce substantially the number of foreign troops in order to ‘reduce the perception of occupation' and draw Sunnis into the political process."

To "reduce the perception of occupation," that's a phrase to savor for its truth-telling essence. It catches something of the administration's policy now that it's actually on the run at home.

In the meantime, our President, in the first of several speeches he is to give on Iraq before the December 15th elections, took a roller-coaster ride through Iraqi Disneyland. As Dan Froomkin of the Washington Post commented, "President Bush's safety zone these days doesn't appear to extend very far beyond military bases, other federal installations and Republican fundraisers."

Not exactly surprising, then, that his speech should have been so la-la-(out)landish. For instance, as Paul Woodward of the War in Context website pointed out, he promoted his "strategy for victory in Iraq" by referring to "progress" a mere 28 times before the assembled cadets of the Naval Academy. And then there was "victory," once quite hard to find in administration documents that emphasized how we were in an endless multi-generational struggle against terrorism. Yet, at this desperate moment, the President managed to mention "victory" 15 times (and add another for the title of the speech) -- and not just victory but the fact that we would not "accept anything less than complete victory."

That had a ring not heard since Americans called for total victory and unconditional surrender in World War II, but then the President remains in a World War II dream world, that thrilling place he experienced in the movies of his childhood where the Marines always advance; our grinning native sidekicks are friendly and remarkably willing to die in our place; the enemy is destined to fall by their hundreds before our fire; and total victory is an American birthright. In fact, the President, who mentioned no post-1945 war (except the Cold one) -- and there were so many to chose from -- spoke of World War II twice. You know, that war so like the present one in which "free nations came together to fight the ideology of fascism, and freedom prevailed." (Just in case you've forgotten, that was the war in which the other side had the Guantánamos…)

Perhaps there's poetic justice in seeing a President trapped in his fantasy world being driven from pillar to post by a fantasy public, while his generals and top officials do their best to ignore him as they search desperately for ways out, and his advisers (and political supporters) hire lawyers.

How to Tell Withdrawal from Its Doppelgangers

If you pay attention not to the war of words or the storm of confusing withdrawal proposals, but to four bedrock matters, you'll have a far better sense of where we're really heading. These are air power, permanent bases, an "American" Kurdistan, and oil; and, not surprisingly, they coincide with the great uncovered, or barely covered, stories of the war. In the present flurry of withdrawal discussions, only air power, thanks to Hersh, is getting any attention. The others have so far gone largely or totally unmentioned -- and yet, without them, none of this makes any sense at all.

Air Power: It remains amazing to me that Hersh's report is the first serious mainstream piece since the invasion of Iraq to take up the uses of air power in that country. It's a subject I've written about for the last two years. After all, we've loosed our Air Force on heavily populated urban Iraq, regularly bombing (and sometimes destroying significant sections of) Sunni cities and towns (and in 2004 Shiite ones as well). There have been hundreds and hundreds of reporters in Iraq, many embedded with the military -- and yet it's as if they simply never look up. Figures on the use of air power are almost impossible to come by, though Hersh tells us in his Democracy Now interview that the bombing has "gone up exponentially, certainly in the last four or five months in the Sunni Triangle." He adds, however, that "we don't have reporters at the air bases. We don't know what's going on with the air war." Here's just one passage that gives a modest sense of some of what the Bush administration has been doing from the air: "Naval efforts in Iraq include not only the Marine Corps but also virtually every type of deployable Naval asset in our inventory. Navy and Marine carrier-based aircraft flew over 21,000 hours, dropped over 54,000 pounds of ordnance and played a vital role in the fight for Fallujah."

Add in another reality of America's Iraq: L. Paul Bremer's Coalition Provisional Authority, in a burst of blind pride in 2003, disbanded the Iraqi military. For well over a year or more, Pentagon plans for rebuilding it called for a future Iraqi military force (lite) of only 40,000 men with minimal armaments and essentially no air force at all! This is the Middle East, mind you. What that meant, simply enough, was that the Bush administration intended the American Army and Air Force to be the Iraqi military for eons to come. Under the pressure of the insurgency, the army part of that plan was thrown out the window. But "standing up" the Iraqi military has meant just that. Standing on the ground. There is still no real Iraqi air force. Iraq was never to "fly," but to stay on that "bike" and under the tutelage of Washington.

The actual use of American air power will undoubtedly prove tricky indeed (without many American ground troops around) and probably no more successful in the long run than it was in Iraq -- except, of course, in terms of devastating the country. But watch the Iraqi skies as best you can. They will tell you something.

Permanent Bases: We were to control military-less Iraq and perhaps the region from a small series of permanent bases, already imagined and on the drawing boards as the invasion began. At the height of our base-building mania, we had about 106 bases there, ranging from multibillion-dollar Vietnam-era-sized mega-structures like Camp Victory North (renamed Camp Liberty) just outside of Baghdad to tiny base camps in outlying parts of the country. We now claim to be turning these over to the Iraqis. Part of our draw-down plan, according to Hersh, includes "heavily scripted change-of-command ceremonies, complete with the lowering of American flags at bases and the raising of Iraqi ones" -- one of these occurred, conveniently enough, near the Syrian border the day the President spoke.

We have so many of these bases that we can hand them back one by one with appropriate special ceremonies almost in perpetuity without ever getting to the small core of 4-5 bases that the Pentagon planned on permanently garrisoning as American troops first crossed the Iraqi border. So here's what to watch for: If any of these key bases are handed back, with flags lowered and troops removed, then you can begin to believe that an actual withdrawal may be in the offing.

Kurdistan: You would largely not know that the Kurdish parts of Iraq existed from most daily news reports on the war. But one major change from the Vietnam era is that we have potential "sanctuaries" in the area to withdraw to. Murtha suggested one of them, Kuwait, and it is the focus of attention at the moment. But Kurdistan, at present the quietest part of Iraq (despite fierce tensions between the two main Kurdish political parties and non-Kurdish residents of the as-yet somewhat undefined area), is also likely to be the most welcoming to American forces "withdrawing" from "Iraq." Present-day Kurdistan was created under the American and British no-fly zones in the 1990s and its future autonomy, no less independence, would be at least temporarily guaranteed by the presence of American troops there. Even the Turks might prefer American forces in Kurdistan, if they restrained local forces from any kind of cross-border shenanigans in Kurdish regions of Turkey. The sole reference I've seen to this possibility was in a recent piece by veteran reporter Martin Walker who wrote: "There are other ideas circulating in the Pentagon, including the establishment of a major and possibly permanent base in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq, where U.S. troops are less controversial, and would be welcomed by the neighboring Turks, always worried at the prospect of an independent Kurdistan becoming a magnet for their own disaffected Kurdish minority."

Were the rest of Iraq to fall completely out of our hands, it's easy to imagine an "American" Kurdistan (conveniently near the Iranian border), possibly expanded to include the oil lands around the tinderbox city of Kirkuk, with its own set of bases. Interestingly, the Los Angeles Times has just revealed that one of the Kurdish political parties signed a private oil exploration deal with a Norwegian company. Of course, the Kurdish areas would have their own set of explosive problems, but over the next year watch for Kurdistan to surface as part of any American draw-down which isn't actually a withdrawal.

Oil: So here we are at another of the great, hardly covered stories of the Iraq war. As Mark LeVine has recently made so clear, the Bush administration, with its former energy industry execs and consultants, was thinking oil -- and Iraqi oil in particular -- from literally the first moments of its existence. "[T]he few documents that have been made public from [Vice President Cheney's] Energy Task Force… reveal not only that industry executives met with Cheney's staff [in February 2001] but that a map of Iraq and an accompanying list of ‘Iraq oil foreign suitors' were the center of discussion." Hmmm… These were people who already had "peak oil" on their minds. They entered Iraq, a nation sitting on untold amounts of oil, thinking about the global control of future energy resources. They sent soldiers to guard the Oil Ministry and the oil fields, while allowing pretty much everything else to be looted as the country fell to them. They have no desire to abandon either their permanent bases or that reservoir of "black gold" to others. But beyond pious statements about preserving the Iraqi "patrimony" (i.e. oil) in the early days of the war, they never broached the subject publicly and the media followed their lead. It's rare today -- though a perfectly obvious point to make -- for someone to say, as Ambassador Khalilzad did recently, "You could have a regional war that could go on for a very long time, and affect the security of oil supplies." Keep your eyes on this issue. It's what separates Vietnam, which itself contained nothing special for a foreign power, from Iraq.

In the end, ignore (if you can) the whirlwind of withdrawal language that will turn all sorts of non- or semi-withdrawal schemes into something other than what they are, and try to keep your eyes on those shoals of reality. This is not Vietnam, which happened in slow-time. This war, as the historian Marilyn Young claimed in its first weeks so few years ago, is "Vietnam on crack cocaine" and, whatever anyone is saying now, it's a fair bet that events will outpace all administration plans and fantasies in the explosive year to come.

Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The End of Victory Culture, a history of American triumphalism in the Cold War. His novel, The Last Days of Publishing, has just come out in paperback.

Copyright 2005 Tom Engelhardt

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posted December 1, 2005 at 7:02 pm is researched, written and edited by Tom Engelhardt (bio), a fellow at the Nation Institute, for anyone in despair over post-September 11th US mainstream media coverage of our world and ourselves. The service is intended to introduce you to voices from elsewhere (even when the elsewhere is here) who might offer a clearer sense of how this imperial globe of ours actually works.

An editor in publishing for the last 25 years, Tom is the author of The End of Victory Culture, a history of American triumphalism in the Cold War era. He is at present consulting editor for Metropolitan Books, a fellow of the Nation Institute, and a teaching fellow at the journalism school of the University of California, Berkeley.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The Autumn of the Patriarchy - New York Times

November 30, 2005
Op-Ed Columnist
The Autumn of the Patriarchy

In the vice president's new, more fortified bunker, inside his old undisclosed secure location within the larger bunker that used to be called the West Wing of the White House, Dick Cheney was muttering and sputtering.

He wasn't talking to the pictures on the wall, as Nixon did when he finally cracked. Vice doesn't trust those portraits anyway. The walls have ears. He was talking to the only reliable man in a city of dimwits, cowards, traitors and fools: himself.

He hurled a sheaf of news reports with such force it knocked over the picture of Ahmad Chalabi that he keeps next to the picture of Churchill. Winston Chalabi, he likes to call him.

Vice is fed up with all the whining and carping - and that's just inside the White House. The only negativity in Washington is supposed to be his own. He's the only one allowed to scowl and grumble and conspire.

The impertinent Tom DeFrank reported in New York's Daily News that embattled White House aides felt "President Bush must take the reins personally" to save his presidency.

Let him try, Cheney said with a sneer. Things are nowhere near dire enough for that. Even if Junior somehow managed to grab the reins to his presidency, Vice holds Junior's reins. So he just needs to get all these sniveling, poll-driven wimps and losers back on board with the master plan.

Things had been going so smoothly. The global torture franchise was up and running. Halliburton contracts were flowing. Tax cuts were sailing through. Oil companies were raking it in. Alaska drilling was thrillingly close. The courts were defending his executive privilege on energy policy, and people were still buying all that smoke about Saddam's being responsible for 9/11, and that drivel about how we're fighting them there so we don't have to fight them here. Everything was groovy.

But not anymore. Cheney could not believe that Karl had made him go out and call that loudmouth Jack Murtha a patriot. He was sure the Pentagon generals had put the congressman up to calling for a withdrawal from Iraq. Is the military brass getting in touch with its pacifist side? In Wyoming, Vice shoots doves.

How dare Murtha suggest that Cheney dodged and dodged and dodged and dodged and dodged the draft? Murtha thinks he knows about war just because he served in one and was a marine for 37 years? Vice started his own war. Now that's a credential!

It always goes this way with the cut-and-run crowd. First they start nitpicking the war, complaining about little things like the lack of armor for the troops. Then they complain that there aren't enough troops. Well, that would just require more armor that we don't have. Then they kvetch about using incendiary weapons in a city like Falluja. Vice likes the smell of white phosphorus in the morning.

What really enrages him is all the Republicans in the Senate making noises about timetables. Before you know it, it's going to be helicopters on the rooftop at the Baghdad embassy.

Just because Junior's approval ratings are in the 30's, people around here are going all wobbly. Vice was 10 points lower and he wasn't worried. Numbers are for sissies.

Why do Harry Reid and his Democratic turncoats think they can call the White House on the carpet? Do they think Vice would fear to lie about lying about the rationale for going to war? A real liar never stops lying.

He didn't want to have to tell the rest of the senators to go do to themselves what he had told Patrick Leahy to go do to himself.

Now all these idiots are getting caught, even Scooter. DeLay's on the ropes and the Dukester is a total embarrassment, spending bribes on antique commodes and a Rolls-Royce. Vice should never have let an amateur get involved with defense contracts.

Republican moderates are running scared in the House, worried about re-election. Even senators seem to have forgotten which side their bread is oiled on. Ted Stevens let oil company executives get caught lying about the energy task force meeting, while Vice can't even get a little thing like torture chambers through the Senate. What's so wrong with a little torture?

And now John Warner wants Junior to use fireside chats to explain his plan for Iraq. When did everybody get the un-American idea that the president is answerable to America?

Vice is fed up with the whining of squirrelly surrogates like Brent Scowcroft and Lawrence Wilkerson on behalf of peaceniks like George Senior and Colin Powell. If Poppy's upset about his kid's mentor, he should be man enough to come slug it out.

Poppy isn't getting Junior back, Vice vowed, muttering: "He's my son. It's my war. It's my country."

(And the bad news is: this man is our vice president.)

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Cut Our Losses - New York Times

Cut Our Losses - New York Times
November 28, 2005
Op-Ed Columnist
Cut Our Losses

Washington — Jack Murtha is as tough as they come, but he's seen enough of the misguided, mismanaged, mission impossible war in Iraq to know that it's not sustainable, not worth the continued killing and butchering and psychological maiming of thousands of American G.I.'s.

"I mean, this was a war done on the cheap and we're paying a heavy price for it," he said in an interview just before Thanksgiving.

Mr. Murtha is the Pennsylvania congressman, former marine and traditional war hawk whose call for a quick withdrawal of American troops from Iraq has intensified the national debate over the war. He makes weekly visits to wounded troops in military hospitals, and when he talks about their suffering it sometimes seems as if his own heart is breaking.

"These kids are magnificent," he said. "They've done their duty."

He talked about the former Notre Dame basketball player Danielle Green, a left-handed guard ("heck of a player") who lost her left hand in a rocket attack in Baghdad. And he recalled a young marine who was trying to defuse a bomb when it exploded. "It blinded him and took his hands off," said Mr. Murtha. "It killed the guy behind him."

In Congressman Murtha's view, the troops who have displayed so much valor and made so many sacrifices in Iraq deserved better from their leadership here at home. "We went in with insufficient forces," he said. "We had people in the wrong [specialties], people driving trucks who couldn't back trucks up. We had security forces without radios. I found 40,000 troops without body armor."

He has no faith in President Bush's repeated calls to stay the course. "The number of incidents have gone from 150 a week to 772 a couple of weeks ago," he said. As additional U.S. forces have been deployed, casualty rates have increased, not decreased. And his many conversations with G.I.'s have convinced him that American fighting men and women don't have much confidence in their Iraqi allies.

"They don't trust them - that's all there is to it," said Mr. Murtha. The disparagement of Iraqi security forces by American troops was so widespread that Mr. Murtha was surprised when one soldier "started talking about how good they are, how much they've improved, and so forth."

It was a miscommunication. The congressman soon realized that the soldier was talking about how much the insurgents had improved; how they had become more sophisticated, and thus "more deadly."

Mr. Murtha, 73, is a Democrat who has maintained good ties over the years with Republicans and has extraordinary contacts within the Defense Department and the military. He's a decorated Vietnam War veteran (Bronze Star, two Purple Hearts) who retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps Reserves after 37 years of service.

He said he's convinced that there is nothing more the military can accomplish in Iraq. It's the presence of the American troops themselves, inevitably seen by the Iraqis as occupiers, that continues to fuel the insurgency.

"Our military captured Saddam Hussein and captured or killed his closest associates," he said. "But the war continues to intensify."

When he went public with his proposal to pull American troops out of Iraq (he would establish a "quick reaction" force elsewhere in the region, perhaps in Kuwait), he said:

"Our military and their families are stretched thin. Many say that the Army is broken. Some of our troops are on their third deployment. Recruitment is down, even as our military has lowered its standards. Defense budgets are being cut. Personnel costs are skyrocketing, particularly in health care."

Equipment shortages at premier military bases in the U.S., including Fort Hood in Texas and Fort Bragg in North Carolina, are so severe, Mr. Murtha told me, "that the troops don't have the equipment they need to train on."

We need to cut our losses in Iraq. The folly of the Bush crowd and its apologists is now plain for all to see. Congressman Murtha is right, the war is not sustainable. Even Republicans in Congress are starting to bail out on this impossible mission. They're worried - not about the welfare of the troops, but about their chances in the 2006 elections.

To continue sending people to their deaths under these circumstances is worse than pointless, worse than irresponsible. It's a crime of the most grievous kind.

Age of Anxiety - New York Times

Age of Anxiety

Many eulogies were published following the recent death of Peter Drucker, the great management theorist. I was surprised, however, that few of these eulogies mentioned his book "The Age of Discontinuity," a prophetic work that speaks directly to today's business headlines and economic anxieties.

Mr. Drucker wrote "The Age of Discontinuity" in the late 1960's, a time when most people assumed that the big corporations of the day, companies like General Motors and U.S. Steel, would dominate the economy for the foreseeable future. He argued that this assumption was all wrong.

It was true, he acknowledged, that the dominant industries and corporations of 1968 were pretty much the same as the dominant industries and corporations of 1945, and for that matter of decades earlier. "The economic growth of the last twenty years," he wrote, "has been very fast. But it has been carried largely by industries that were already 'big business' before World War I. ... Every one of the great nineteenth-century innovations gave birth, almost overnight, to a major new industry and to new big businesses. These are still the major industries and big businesses of today."

But all of that, said Mr. Drucker, was about to change. New technologies would usher in an era of "turbulence" like that of the half-century before World War I, and the dominance of the major industries and big businesses of 1968 would soon come to an end.

He was right. Consider, for example, what happened to America's steel industry. In the 1960's, steel production was virtually synonymous with economic might, as it had been for almost a century. But although the U.S. economy as a whole created lots of wealth and tens of millions of jobs between 1968 and 2000, employment in the U.S. steel industry fell 60 percent.

And as industries went, so did corporations. Many of the corporate giants of the 1960's, companies whose pre-eminence seemed permanent, have fallen on hard times, their places in the business hierarchy taken by new players. General Motors is only the most famous example.

So what? Meet the new boss, same as the old boss: why does it matter if the list of leading corporations turns over every couple of decades, as long as the total number of jobs continues to grow?

The answer is the reason Mr. Drucker's old book is so relevant to today's headlines: corporations can't provide their workers with economic security if the companies' own future is highly insecure.

American workers at big companies used to think they had made a deal. They would be loyal to their employers, and the companies in turn would be loyal to them, guaranteeing job security, health care and a dignified retirement.

Such deals were, in a real sense, the basis of America's postwar social order. We like to think of ourselves as rugged individualists, not like those coddled Europeans with their oversized welfare states. But as Jacob Hacker of Yale points out in his book "The Divided Welfare State," if you add in corporate spending on health care and pensions - spending that is both regulated by the government and subsidized by tax breaks - we actually have a welfare state that's about as large relative to our economy as those of other advanced countries.

The resulting system is imperfect: those who don't work for companies with good benefits are, in effect, second-class citizens. Still, the system more or less worked for several decades after World War II.

Now, however, deals are being broken and the system is failing. Remember, Delphi was once part of General Motors, and its workers thought they were totally secure.

What went wrong? An important part of the answer is that America's semi-privatized welfare state worked in the first place only because we had a stable corporate order. And that stability - along with any semblance of economic security for many workers - is now gone.

Regular readers of this column know what I think we should do: instead of trying to provide economic security through the back door, via tax breaks designed to encourage corporations to provide health care and pensions, we should provide it through the front door, starting with national health insurance. You may disagree. But one thing is clear: Mr. Drucker's age of discontinuity is also an age of anxiety, in which workers can no longer count on loyalty from their employers.

The New Yorker: Fact

Where is the Iraq war headed next?
Issue of 2005-12-05
Posted 2005-11-28

In recent weeks, there has been widespread speculation that President George W. Bush, confronted by diminishing approval ratings and dissent within his own party, will begin pulling American troops out of Iraq next year. The Administration’s best-case scenario is that the parliamentary election scheduled for December 15th will produce a coalition government that will join the Administration in calling for a withdrawal to begin in the spring. By then, the White House hopes, the new government will be capable of handling the insurgency. In a speech on November 19th, Bush repeated the latest Administration catchphrase: “As Iraqis stand up, we will stand down.” He added, “When our commanders on the ground tell me that Iraqi forces can defend their freedom, our troops will come home with the honor they have earned.” One sign of the political pressure on the Administration to prepare for a withdrawal came last week, when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Fox News that the current level of American troops would not have to be maintained “for very much longer,” because the Iraqis were getting better at fighting the insurgency.
A high-level Pentagon war planner told me, however, that he has seen scant indication that the President would authorize a significant pullout of American troops if he believed that it would impede the war against the insurgency. There are several proposals currently under review by the White House and the Pentagon; the most ambitious calls for American combat forces to be reduced from a hundred and fifty-five thousand troops to fewer than eighty thousand by next fall, with all American forces officially designated “combat” to be pulled out of the area by the summer of 2008. In terms of implementation, the planner said, “the drawdown plans that I’m familiar with are condition-based, event-driven, and not in a specific time frame”—that is, they depend on the ability of a new Iraqi government to defeat the insurgency. (A Pentagon spokesman said that the Administration had not made any decisions and had “no plan to leave, only a plan to complete the mission.”)
A key element of the drawdown plans, not mentioned in the President’s public statements, is that the departing American troops will be replaced by American airpower. Quick, deadly strikes by U.S. warplanes are seen as a way to improve dramatically the combat capability of even the weakest Iraqi combat units. The danger, military experts have told me, is that, while the number of American casualties would decrease as ground troops are withdrawn, the over-all level of violence and the number of Iraqi fatalities would increase unless there are stringent controls over who bombs what.
“We’re not planning to diminish the war,” Patrick Clawson, the deputy director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told me. Clawson’s views often mirror the thinking of the men and women around Vice-President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. “We just want to change the mix of the forces doing the fighting—Iraqi infantry with American support and greater use of airpower. The rule now is to commit Iraqi forces into combat only in places where they are sure to win. The pace of commitment, and withdrawal, depends on their success in the battlefield.”
He continued, “We want to draw down our forces, but the President is prepared to tough this one out. There is a very deep feeling on his part that the issue of Iraq was settled by the American people at the polling places in 2004.” The war against the insurgency “may end up being a nasty and murderous civil war in Iraq, but we and our allies would still win,” he said. “As long as the Kurds and the Shiites stay on our side, we’re set to go. There’s no sense that the world is caving in. We’re in the middle of a seven-year slog in Iraq, and eighty per cent of the Iraqis are receptive to our message.”
One Pentagon adviser told me, “There are always contingency plans, but why withdraw and take a chance? I don’t think the President will go for it”—until the insurgency is broken. “He’s not going to back off. This is bigger than domestic politics.”

Current and former military and intelligence officials have told me that the President remains convinced that it is his personal mission to bring democracy to Iraq, and that he is impervious to political pressure, even from fellow Republicans. They also say that he disparages any information that conflicts with his view of how the war is proceeding.
Bush’s closest advisers have long been aware of the religious nature of his policy commitments. In recent interviews, one former senior official, who served in Bush’s first term, spoke extensively about the connection between the President’s religious faith and his view of the war in Iraq. After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the former official said, he was told that Bush felt that “God put me here” to deal with the war on terror. The President’s belief was fortified by the Republican sweep in the 2002 congressional elections; Bush saw the victory as a purposeful message from God that “he’s the man,” the former official said. Publicly, Bush depicted his reëlection as a referendum on the war; privately, he spoke of it as another manifestation of divine purpose.
The former senior official said that after the election he made a lengthy inspection visit to Iraq and reported his findings to Bush in the White House: “I said to the President, ‘We’re not winning the war.’ And he asked, ‘Are we losing?’ I said, ‘Not yet.’ ” The President, he said, “appeared displeased” with that answer.
“I tried to tell him,” the former senior official said. “And he couldn’t hear it.”
There are grave concerns within the military about the capability of the U.S. Army to sustain two or three more years of combat in Iraq. Michael O’Hanlon, a specialist on military issues at the Brookings Institution, told me, “The people in the institutional Army feel they don’t have the luxury of deciding troop levels, or even participating in the debate. They’re planning on staying the course until 2009. I can’t believe the Army thinks that it will happen, because there’s no sustained drive to increase the size of the regular Army.” O’Hanlon noted that “if the President decides to stay the present course in Iraq some troops would be compelled to serve fourth and fifth tours of combat by 2007 and 2008, which could have serious consequences for morale and competency levels.”
Many of the military’s most senior generals are deeply frustrated, but they say nothing in public, because they don’t want to jeopardize their careers. The Administration has “so terrified the generals that they know they won’t go public,” a former defense official said. A retired senior C.I.A. officer with knowledge of Iraq told me that one of his colleagues recently participated in a congressional tour there. The legislators were repeatedly told, in meetings with enlisted men, junior officers, and generals that “things were fucked up.” But in a subsequent teleconference with Rumsfeld, he said, the generals kept those criticisms to themselves.
One person with whom the Pentagon’s top commanders have shared their private views for decades is Representative John Murtha, of Pennsylvania, the senior Democrat on the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. The President and his key aides were enraged when, on November 17th, Murtha gave a speech in the House calling for a withdrawal of troops within six months. The speech was filled with devastating information. For example, Murtha reported that the number of attacks in Iraq has increased from a hundred and fifty a week to more than seven hundred a week in the past year. He said that an estimated fifty thousand American soldiers will suffer “from what I call battle fatigue” in the war, and he said that the Americans were seen as “the common enemy” in Iraq. He also took issue with one of the White House’s claims—that foreign fighters were playing the major role in the insurgency. Murtha said that American soldiers “haven’t captured any in this latest activity”—the continuing battle in western Anbar province, near the border with Syria. “So this idea that they’re coming in from outside, we still think there’s only seven per cent.”
Murtha’s call for a speedy American pullout only seemed to strengthen the White House’s resolve. Administration officials “are beyond angry at him, because he is a serious threat to their policy—both on substance and politically,” the former defense official said. Speaking at the Osan Air Force base, in South Korea, two days after Murtha’s speech, Bush said, “The terrorists regard Iraq as the central front in their war against humanity. . . . If they’re not stopped, the terrorists will be able to advance their agenda to develop weapons of mass destruction, to destroy Israel, to intimidate Europe, and to break our will and blackmail our government into isolation. I’m going to make you this commitment: this is not going to happen on my watch.”
“The President is more determined than ever to stay the course,” the former defense official said. “He doesn’t feel any pain. Bush is a believer in the adage ‘People may suffer and die, but the Church advances.’ ” He said that the President had become more detached, leaving more issues to Karl Rove and Vice-President Cheney. “They keep him in the gray world of religious idealism, where he wants to be anyway,” the former defense official said. Bush’s public appearances, for example, are generally scheduled in front of friendly audiences, most often at military bases. Four decades ago, President Lyndon Johnson, who was also confronted with an increasingly unpopular war, was limited to similar public forums. “Johnson knew he was a prisoner in the White House,” the former official said, “but Bush has no idea.”

Within the military, the prospect of using airpower as a substitute for American troops on the ground has caused great unease. For one thing, Air Force commanders, in particular, have deep-seated objections to the possibility that Iraqis eventually will be responsible for target selection. “Will the Iraqis call in air strikes in order to snuff rivals, or other warlords, or to snuff members of your own sect and blame someone else?” another senior military planner now on assignment in the Pentagon asked. “Will some Iraqis be targeting on behalf of Al Qaeda, or the insurgency, or the Iranians?”
“It’s a serious business,” retired Air Force General Charles Horner, who was in charge of allied bombing during the 1991 Gulf War, said. “The Air Force has always had concerns about people ordering air strikes who are not Air Force forward air controllers. We need people on active duty to think it out, and they will. There has to be training to be sure that somebody is not trying to get even with somebody else.” (Asked for a comment, the Pentagon spokesman said there were plans in place for such training. He also noted that Iraq had no offensive airpower of its own, and thus would have to rely on the United States for some time.)
The American air war inside Iraq today is perhaps the most significant—and underreported—aspect of the fight against the insurgency. The military authorities in Baghdad and Washington do not provide the press with a daily accounting of missions that Air Force, Navy, and Marine units fly or of the tonnage they drop, as was routinely done during the Vietnam War. One insight into the scope of the bombing in Iraq was supplied by the Marine Corps during the height of the siege of Falluja in the fall of 2004. “With a massive Marine air and ground offensive under way,” a Marine press release said, “Marine close air support continues to put high-tech steel on target. . . . Flying missions day and night for weeks, the fixed wing aircraft of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing are ensuring battlefield success on the front line.” Since the beginning of the war, the press release said, the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing alone had dropped more than five hundred thousand tons of ordnance. “This number is likely to be much higher by the end of operations,” Major Mike Sexton said. In the battle for the city, more than seven hundred Americans were killed or wounded; U.S. officials did not release estimates of civilian dead, but press reports at the time told of women and children killed in the bombardments.
In recent months, the tempo of American bombing seems to have increased. Most of the targets appear to be in the hostile, predominantly Sunni provinces that surround Baghdad and along the Syrian border. As yet, neither Congress nor the public has engaged in a significant discussion or debate about the air war.
The insurgency operates mainly in crowded urban areas, and Air Force warplanes rely on sophisticated, laser-guided bombs to avoid civilian casualties. These bombs home in on targets that must be “painted,” or illuminated, by laser beams directed by ground units. “The pilot doesn’t identify the target as seen in the pre-brief”—the instructions provided before takeoff—a former high-level intelligence official told me. “The guy with the laser is the targeteer. Not the pilot. Often you get a ‘hot-read’ ”—from a military unit on the ground—“and you drop your bombs with no communication with the guys on the ground. You don’t want to break radio silence. The people on the ground are calling in targets that the pilots can’t verify.” He added, “And we’re going to turn this process over to the Iraqis?”
The second senior military planner told me that there are essentially two types of targeting now being used in Iraq: a deliberate site-selection process that works out of air-operations centers in the region, and “adaptive targeting”—supportive bombing by prepositioned or loitering warplanes that are suddenly alerted to firefights or targets of opportunity by military units on the ground. “The bulk of what we do today is adaptive,” the officer said, “and it’s divorced from any operational air planning. Airpower can be used as a tool of internal political coercion, and my attitude is that I can’t imagine that we will give that power to the Iraqis.”
This military planner added that even today, with Americans doing the targeting, “there is no sense of an air campaign, or a strategic vision. We are just whacking targets—it’s a reversion to the Stone Age. There’s no operational art. That’s what happens when you give targeting to the Army—they hit what the local commander wants to hit.”
One senior Pentagon consultant I spoke to said he was optimistic that “American air will immediately make the Iraqi Army that much better.” But he acknowledged that he, too, had concerns about Iraqi targeting. “We have the most expensive eyes in the sky right now,” the consultant said. “But a lot of Iraqis want to settle old scores. Who is going to have authority to call in air strikes? There’s got to be a behavior-based rule.”
General John Jumper, who retired last month after serving four years as the Air Force chief of staff, was “in favor of certification of those Iraqis who will be allowed to call in strikes,” the Pentagon consultant told me. “I don’t know if it will be approved. The regular Army generals were resisting it to the last breath, despite the fact that they would benefit the most from it.”
A Pentagon consultant with close ties to the officials in the Vice-President’s office and the Pentagon who advocated the war said that the Iraqi penchant for targeting tribal and personal enemies with artillery and mortar fire had created “impatience and resentment” inside the military. He believed that the Air Force’s problems with Iraqi targeting might be addressed by the formation of U.S.-Iraqi transition teams, whose American members would be drawn largely from Special Forces troops. This consultant said that there were plans to integrate between two hundred and three hundred Special Forces members into Iraqi units, which was seen as a compromise aimed at meeting the Air Force’s demand to vet Iraqis who were involved in targeting. But in practice, the consultant added, it meant that “the Special Ops people will soon allow Iraqis to begin calling in the targets.”
Robert Pape, a political-science professor at the University of Chicago, who has written widely on American airpower, and who taught for three years at the Air Force’s School of Advanced Airpower Studies, in Alabama, predicted that the air war “will get very ugly” if targeting is turned over to the Iraqis. This would be especially true, he said, if the Iraqis continued to operate as the U.S. Army and Marines have done—plowing through Sunni strongholds on search-and-destroy missions. “If we encourage the Iraqis to clear and hold their own areas, and use airpower to stop the insurgents from penetrating the cleared areas, it could be useful,” Pape said. “The risk is that we will encourage the Iraqis to do search-and-destroy, and they would be less judicious about using airpower—and the violence would go up. More civilians will be killed, which means more insurgents will be created.”
Even American bombing on behalf of an improved, well-trained Iraqi Army would not necessarily be any more successful against the insurgency. “It’s not going to work,” said Andrew Brookes, the former director of airpower studies at the Royal Air Force’s advanced staff college, who is now at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, in London. “Can you put a lid on the insurgency with bombing?” Brookes said. “No. You can concentrate in one area, but the guys will spring up in another town.” The inevitable reliance on Iraqi ground troops’ targeting would also create conflicts. “I don’t see your guys dancing to the tune of someone else,” Brookes said. He added that he and many other experts “don’t believe that airpower is a solution to the problems inside Iraq at all. Replacing boots on the ground with airpower didn’t work in Vietnam, did it?”

The Air Force’s worries have been subordinated, so far, to the political needs of the White House. The Administration’s immediate political goal after the December elections is to show that the day-to-day conduct of the war can be turned over to the newly trained and equipped Iraqi military. It has already planned heavily scripted change-of-command ceremonies, complete with the lowering of American flags at bases and the raising of Iraqi ones.
Some officials in the State Department, the C.I.A., and British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s government have settled on their candidate of choice for the December elections—Iyad Allawi, the secular Shiite who served until this spring as Iraq’s interim Prime Minister. They believe that Allawi can gather enough votes in the election to emerge, after a round of political bargaining, as Prime Minister. A former senior British adviser told me that Blair was convinced that Allawi “is the best hope.” The fear is that a government dominated by religious Shiites, many of whom are close to Iran, would give Iran greater political and military influence inside Iraq. Allawi could counter Iran’s influence; also, he would be far more supportive and coöperative if the Bush Administration began a drawdown of American combat forces in the coming year.
Blair has assigned a small team of operatives to provide political help to Allawi, the former adviser told me. He also said that there was talk late this fall, with American concurrence, of urging Ahmad Chalabi, a secular Shiite, to join forces in a coalition with Allawi during the post-election negotiations to form a government. Chalabi, who is notorious for his role in promoting flawed intelligence on weapons of mass destruction before the war, is now a deputy Prime Minister. He and Allawi were bitter rivals while in exile.
A senior United Nations diplomat told me that he was puzzled by the high American and British hopes for Allawi. “I know a lot of people want Allawi, but I think he’s been a terrific disappointment,” the diplomat said. “He doesn’t seem to be building a strong alliance, and at the moment it doesn’t look like he will do very well in the election.”
The second Pentagon consultant told me, “If Allawi becomes Prime Minister, we can say, ‘There’s a moderate, urban, educated leader now in power who does not want to deprive women of their rights.’ He would ask us to leave, but he would allow us to keep Special Forces operations inside Iraq—to keep an American presence the right way. Mission accomplished. A coup for Bush.”
A former high-level intelligence official cautioned that it was probably “too late” for any American withdrawal plan to work without further bloodshed. The constitution approved by Iraqi voters in October “will be interpreted by the Kurds and the Shiites to proceed with their plans for autonomy,” he said. “The Sunnis will continue to believe that if they can get rid of the Americans they can still win. And there still is no credible way to establish security for American troops.”
The fear is that a precipitous U.S. withdrawal would inevitably trigger a Sunni-Shiite civil war. In many areas, that war has, in a sense, already begun, and the United States military is being drawn into the sectarian violence. An American Army officer who took part in the assault on Tal Afar, in the north of Iraq, earlier this fall, said that an American infantry brigade was placed in the position of providing a cordon of security around the besieged city for Iraqi forces, most of them Shiites, who were “rounding up any Sunnis on the basis of whatever a Shiite said to them.” The officer went on, “They were killing Sunnis on behalf of the Shiites,” with the active participation of a militia unit led by a retired American Special Forces soldier. “People like me have gotten so downhearted,” the officer added.
Meanwhile, as the debate over troop reductions continues, the covert war in Iraq has expanded in recent months to Syria. A composite American Special Forces team, known as an S.M.U., for “special-mission unit,” has been ordered, under stringent cover, to target suspected supporters of the Iraqi insurgency across the border. (The Pentagon had no comment.) “It’s a powder keg,” the Pentagon consultant said of the tactic. “But, if we hit an insurgent network in Iraq without hitting the guys in Syria who are part of it, the guys in Syria would get away. When you’re fighting an insurgency, you have to strike everywhere—and at once.”  

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Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Forging the Case for War

November 21, 2005 Issue
Copyright © 2005 The American Conservative

Forging the Case for War

Who was behind the Niger uranium documents?

by Philip Giraldi

From the beginning, there has been little doubt in the intelligence community that the outing of CIA officer Valerie Plame was part of a bigger story. That she was exposed in an attempt to discredit her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, is clear, but the drive to demonize Wilson cannot reasonably be attributed only to revenge. Rather, her identification likely grew out of an attempt to cover up the forging of documents alleging that Iraq attempted to buy yellowcake uranium from Niger.

What took place and why will not be known with any certainty until the details of the Fitzgerald investigation are revealed. (As we go to press, Fitzgerald has made no public statement.) But recent revelations in the Italian press, most notably in the pages of La Repubblica, along with information already on the public record, suggest a plausible scenario for the evolution of Plamegate.

Information developed by Italian investigators indicates that the documents were produced in Italy with the connivance of the Italian intelligence service. It also reveals that the introduction of the documents into the American intelligence stream was facilitated by Undersecretary of Defense Doug Feith’s Office of Special Plans (OSP), a parallel intelligence center set up in the Pentagon to develop alternative sources of information in support of war against Iraq.

The first suggestion that Iraq was seeking yellowcake uranium to construct a nuclear weapon came on Oct. 15, 2001, shortly after 9/11, when Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and his newly appointed chief of the Servizio per le Informazioni e la Sicurezza Militare (SISMI), Nicolo Pollari, made an official visit to Washington. Berlusconi was eager to make a good impression and signaled his willingness to support the American effort to implicate Saddam Hussein in 9/11. Pollari, in his position for less than three weeks, was likewise keen to establish himself with his American counterparts and was under pressure from Berlusconi to present the U.S. with information that would be vital to the rapidly accelerating War on Terror. Well aware of the Bush administration’s obsession with Iraq, Pollari used his meeting with top CIA officials to provide a SISMI dossier indicating that Iraq had sought to buy uranium in Niger. The same intelligence was passed simultaneously to Britain’s MI-6.

But the Italian information was inconclusive and old, some of it dating from the 1980s. The British, the CIA, and the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research analyzed the intelligence and declared that it was “lacking in detail” and “very limited” in scope.

In February 2002, Pollari and Berlusconi resubmitted their report to Washington with some embellishments, resulting in Joe Wilson’s trip to Niger. Wilson visited Niamey in February 2002 and subsequently reported to the CIA that the information could not be confirmed.

Enter Michael Ledeen, the Office of Special Plans’ man in Rome. Ledeen was paid $30,000 by the Italian Ministry of the Interior in 1978 for a report on terrorism and was well known to senior SISMI officials. Italian sources indicate that Pollari was eager to engage with the Pentagon hardliners, knowing they were at odds with the CIA and the State Department officials who had slighted him. He turned to Ledeen, who quickly established himself as the liaison between SISMI and Feith’s OSP, where he was a consultant. Ledeen, who had personal access to the National Security Council’s Condoleezza Rice and Stephen Hadley and was also a confidant of Vice President Cheney, was well placed to circumvent the obstruction coming from the CIA and State.

The timing, August 2002, was also propitious as the administration was intensifying its efforts to make the case for war. In the same month, the White House Iraq Group (WHIG) was set up to market the war by providing information to friends in the media. It has subsequently been alleged that false information generated by Ahmad Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress was given to Judith Miller and other journalists through WHIG.

On Sept. 9, 2002, Ledeen set up a secret meeting between Pollari and Deputy National Security Adviser Hadley. Two weeks before the meeting, a group of documents had been offered to journalist Elisabetta Burba of the Italian magazine Panorama for $10,000, but the demand for money was soon dropped and the papers were handed over. The man offering the documents was Rocco Martino, a former SISMI officer who delivered the first WMD dossier to London in October 2002. That Martino quickly dropped his request for money suggests that the approach was a set-up primarily intended to surface the documents.

Panorama, perhaps not coincidentally, is owned by Prime Minister Berlusconi. On Oct. 9, the documents were taken from the magazine to the U.S. Embassy, where they were apparently expected. Instead of going to the CIA Station, which would have been the normal procedure, they were sent straight to Washington where they bypassed the agency’s analysts and went directly to the NSC and the Vice President’s Office.

On Jan. 28, 2003, over the objections of the CIA and State, the famous 16 words about Niger’s uranium were used in President Bush’s State of the Union address justifying an attack on Iraq: “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” Both the British and American governments had actually obtained the report from the Italians, who had asked that they not be identified as the source. The UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency also looked at the documents shortly after Bush spoke and pronounced them crude forgeries.

President Bush soon stopped referring to the Niger uranium, but Vice President Cheney continued to insist that Iraq was seeking nuclear weapons.

The question remains: who forged the documents? The available evidence suggests that two candidates had access and motive: SISMI and the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans.

In January 2001, there was a break-in at the Niger Embassy in Rome. Documents were stolen but no valuables. The break-in was subsequently connected to, among others, Rocco Martino, who later provided the dossier to Panorama. Italian investigators now believe that Martino, with SISMI acquiescence, originally created a Niger dossier in an attempt to sell it to the French, who were managing the uranium concession in Niger and were concerned about unauthorized mining. Martino has since admitted to the Financial Times that both the Italian and American governments were behind the eventual forgery of the full Niger dossier as part of a disinformation operation. The authentic documents that were stolen were bunched with the Niger uranium forgeries, using authentic letterhead and Niger Embassy stamps. By mixing the papers, the stolen documents were intended to establish the authenticity of the forgeries.

At this point, any American connection to the actual forgeries remains unsubstantiated, though the OSP at a minimum connived to circumvent established procedures to present the information directly to receptive policy makers in the White House. But if the OSP is more deeply involved, Michael Ledeen, who denies any connection with the Niger documents, would have been a logical intermediary in co-ordinating the falsification of the documents and their surfacing, as he was both a Pentagon contractor and was frequently in Italy. He could have easily been assisted by ex-CIA friends from Iran-Contra days, including a former Chief of Station from Rome, who, like Ledeen, was also a consultant for the Pentagon and the Iraqi National Congress.

It would have been extremely convenient for the administration, struggling to explain why Iraq was a threat, to be able to produce information from an unimpeachable “foreign intelligence source” to confirm the Iraqi worst-case.

The possible forgery of the information by Defense Department employees would explain the viciousness of the attack on Valerie Plame and her husband. Wilson, when he denounced the forgeries in the New York Times in July 2003, turned an issue in which there was little public interest into something much bigger. The investigation continues, but the campaign against this lone detractor suggests that the administration was concerned about something far weightier than his critical op-ed.

Philip Giraldi, a former CIA Officer, is a partner in Cannistraro Associates, an international security consultancy.