Browsing the blog archivesfor the day Sunday, October 1st, 2006.


Bush Administration

Henry Porter writes for The Observer about Patrick Cockburn’s new book, The Occupation.

Cockburn describes a visit to Dhuluaya, a fruit-growing region 50 miles north of Baghdad, where, early on in the occupation, the American military cut down ancient date palms and orange and lemon trees as part of a collective punishment for farmers who had failed to inform them about guerrilla attacks. This vandalism will be remembered for generations because it was senseless and to the Iraqi mind powerfully symbolises the malice of the occupiers.

‘At times,’ Cockburn says of the period just after the invasion, ‘it seemed as if the American military was determined to provoke an uprising.’ Well, now they’ve got it, a ferocious war that in the last three months alone has cost 10,000 lives, most of them Iraqi. There seems no end to it and as Cockburn writes in his conclusion, instead of asserting America’s position as the sole superpower, the occupation has amply demonstrated the limits of US power.

The precise opposite of the desired effect was also achieved in the idiotically named ‘War on Terror’. By the admission of intelligence services on both sides of the Atlantic, Iraq has galvanised terrorism. Sections of a US National Intelligence estimate that were declassified last week say the war has become the ’cause celebre for jihadist’ and that ‘jihadists regard Europe as an important venue for attacking Western interests’. This is not the view of a few CIA desk officers, but the shared verdict of 16 branches of US intelligence.

That’s so disappointing. I expect that kind of arrogance from the righties, but I thought the professional military knew better. I’m so naive sometimes.

In his radio address yesterday, President Bush refuted the NIE: “We do not create terrorism by fighting terrorism.” Any minute how we’ll all be ordered to write that on a blackboard 500 times. But, of course, Bush doesn’t have a real counterargument. He has misdirection and straw men. He also has A Lot of Capital Letters.

Evan Thomas and Richard Wolffe write for Newsweek:

When “State of Denial” arrived at the White House Friday morning, a team of aides went to work deconstructing the 576-page volume. Some of Woodward’s revelations, like the scenes of Bush rejecting pleas for more troops in Iraq, the White House tried to dismiss as old news. Woodward’s depictions of tensions within Bush’s inner circle were played down or denied. It was not true, White House aides told reporters, that First Lady Laura Bush wanted to see Rumsfeld fired. Harder to slough off was Woodward’s account of the role played by former chief of staff Andy Card. The White House made no serious attempt to refute Card’s campaign to unseat Rummy. (Card himself quibbled over the word “campaign,” telling reporters that the discussions about Rumsfeld’s future needed to be seen in a “broader context.”) Instead, White House spokesman Tony Snow took a dismissive, this-too-will-pass tone. Woodward’s book is like “cotton candy,” Snow said. “It kind of melts on contact.”

They needn’t have bothered; the White House could issue a banana cream pie recipe labeled “The Truth About Woodward” and the rightie base would embrace it as proof of Bush’s innocence — “Place egg yolks in mixing bowl and beat on medium speed of electric mixer, gradually adding sugar. So true. Eat that, leftie scum.”

Frank Rich:

Having ignored the facts through each avoidable disaster, the White House won’t change its game plan now. Quite the contrary. Its main ambition seems to be to prop up its artificial reality no matter what the evidence to the contrary. Nowhere could this be better seen than in Ms. Rice’s bizarre behavior after the Bill Clinton-Chris Wallace slapdown on Fox News. Stung by the former president’s charge that the Bush administration did nothing about Al Qaeda in the eight months before 9/11, she couldn’t resist telling The New York Post that his statement was “flatly false.”

But proof of Ms. Rice’s assertion is as nonexistent as Saddam’s W.M.D. As 9/11 approached, both she and Mr. Bush blew off harbingers of the attacks (including a panicked C.I.A. briefer in Crawford, according to Ron Suskind’s “One Percent Doctrine”). The 9/11 commission report, which Ms. Rice cited as a corroborating source for her claims to The Post, in reality “found no indication of any further discussion” about the Qaeda threat among the president and his top aides between the arrival of that fateful Aug. 6 brief (“Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.”) and Sept. 10.

That the secretary of state would rush to defend the indefensible shows where this administration’s priorities are: it’s now every man and woman in the White House for himself and herself in defending the fictions, even four-year-old fictions, that took us into the war and botched its execution. When they talk about staying the course, what they are really talking about is protecting their spin and their reputations. They’ll leave it to the 140,000-plus American troops staying the course in a quagmire to face the facts.

Speaking of which, a New York Times editorial says,

Even if there were a case for staying the current course in Iraq, America’s badly overstretched Army cannot sustain present force levels much longer without long-term damage. And that could undermine the credibility of American foreign policy for years to come.

The Army has been kept on short rations of troops and equipment for years by a Pentagon more intent on stockpiling futuristic weapons than fighting today’s wars. Now it is pushing up against the limits of hard arithmetic. Senior generals are warning that the Bush administration may have to break its word and again use National Guard units to plug the gap, but no one in Washington is paying serious attention. That was clear last week when Congress recklessly decided to funnel extra money to the Air Force’s irrelevant F-22 stealth fighter.

As early as the fall of 2003, the Congressional Budget Office warned that maintaining substantial force levels in Iraq for more than another six months would be difficult without resorting to damaging short-term expedients. The Pentagon then had about 150,000 troops in Iraq. Three years later, those numbers have not fallen appreciably. For much of that time, the Pentagon has plugged the gap by extending tours of duty, recycling soldiers back more quickly into combat, diverting National Guard units from homeland security and misusing the Marine Corps as a long-term occupation force.

Yet the Pentagon and Congress remain in an advanced state of denial. While the overall Defense Department budget keeps rising, pushed along by unneeded gadgetry, next year’s spending plan fails to adequately address the Army’s pressing personnel needs. Things have gotten so badly out of line that in August the Army chief of staff held up a required 2008 budget document, protesting that the Army simply could not keep doing its job without a sizable increase in spending.

A bigger army does not fit into Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s version of a technologically transformed military. And Congress prefers lavishing billions on Lockheed Martin to build stealth fighters, which are great for fighting Russian MIG’s and Chinese F-8’s but not for securing Baghdad. Army grunts are not as glamorous as fighter pilots and are a lot less profitable to equip. …

… America’s credibility in that fight depends on the quality, quantity and readiness of our ground forces. If we go on demanding more and more from them while denying the resources they so desperately need, we could end up paying a terrible price.

In today’s Los Angeles Times, Philip Gold and Erin Solaro predict that one of these days we’ll be talking about reinstating the draft.

There is a process in American political life by which the unthinkable becomes the inevitable. Ideas and proposals float around for decades, going nowhere. Then events demand, or seem to demand, quick action. We act. And then we wonder how it ever came to this.

Today, the issue of conscription is deader than last week’s roadkill. But it will not stay dead much longer. Iraq will continue to fester. Our armed forces are imploding when they should be expanding — the Army and the National Guard, especially. The world is not getting less dangerous. A year or two from now, a disaster or two from now, expect the issue to re-emerge.

I’d be very surprised if the issue re-emerges while George W. Bush is president, however. Admitting the army is being destroyed and conscription, however, unpopular, might be necessary would require the President to face reality and take responsibility. As they say … when pigs fly.

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American History, blogging

I dearly love a good Victor Davis Hanson smackdown.

VDH also has the chutzpah to call Carter “historically ignorant”, a fascinating charge coming from a man whose grasp even on his specialty is tenuous, and the bulk of whose professional career has been an (often successful) effort to make Americans MORE ignorant of the history of military affairs.

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More Psychopathology and Denial

Bush Administration, Condi Rice, September 11

From Woodwards’s new book, in today’s Washington Post:

For months, Tenet had been pressing Rice to set a clear counterterrorism policy, including specific presidential orders called “findings” that would give the CIA stronger authority to conduct covert action against bin Laden. Perhaps a dramatic appearance — Black called it an “out of cycle” session, beyond Tenet’s regular weekly meeting with Rice — would get her attention. …

Tenet and Black felt they were not getting through to Rice. She was polite, but they felt the brush-off. President Bush had said he didn’t want to swat at flies.

As they all knew, a coherent plan for covert action against bin Laden was in the pipeline, but it would take some time. In recent closed-door meetings the entire National Security Council apparatus had been considering action against bin Laden, including using a new secret weapon: the Predator unmanned aerial vehicle, or drone, that could fire Hellfire missiles to kill him or his lieutenants. It looked like a possible solution, but there was a raging debate between the CIA and the Pentagon about who would pay for it and who would have authority to shoot.

Besides, Rice seemed focused on other administration priorities, especially the ballistic missile defense system that Bush had campaigned on. She was in a different place.

Tenet left the meeting feeling frustrated. Though Rice had given them a fair hearing, no immediate action meant great risk. Black felt the decision to just keep planning was a sustained policy failure. Rice and the Bush team had been in hibernation too long. “Adults should not have a system like this,” he said later. …

… Afterward, Tenet looked back on the meeting with Rice as a tremendous lost opportunity to prevent or disrupt the Sept. 11 attacks. Rice could have gotten through to Bush on the threat, but she just didn’t get it in time, Tenet thought. He felt that he had done his job and had been very direct about the threat, but that Rice had not moved quickly. He felt she was not organized and did not push people, as he tried to do at the CIA.

Black later said, “The only thing we didn’t do was pull the trigger to the gun we were holding to her head.”

Editor’s Note: How much effort the Bush administration made in going after Osama bin Laden before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, became an issue last week after former president Bill Clinton accused President Bush’s “neocons” and other Republicans of ignoring bin Laden until the attacks. Rice responded in an interview that “what we did in the eight months was at least as aggressive as what the Clinton administration did in the preceding years.”

Right now I need to take a time out and, I don’t know, throw some plates at the wall, or smash pumpkins, or something.

This morning the fine point under discussion is what did the 9/11 Commission and other investigators know about this meeting, and when did they know it? Another paragraph from Woodward:

The July 10 meeting between Tenet, Black and Rice went unmentioned in the various reports of investigations into the Sept. 11 attacks, but it stood out in the minds of Tenet and Black as the starkest warning they had given the White House on bin Laden and al-Qaeda. Though the investigators had access to all the paperwork on the meeting, Black felt there were things the commissions wanted to know about and things they didn’t want to know about.

In yesterday’s WaPo, Peter Baker wrote,

The July 10 meeting of Rice, Tenet and Black went unmentioned in various investigations into the Sept. 11 attacks, and Woodward wrote that Black “felt there were things the commissions wanted to know about and things they didn’t want to know about.”

Jamie S. Gorelick, a member of the Sept. 11 commission, said she checked with commission staff members who told her investigators were never told about a July 10 meeting. “We didn’t know about the meeting itself,” she said. “I can assure you it would have been in our report if we had known to ask about it.”

White House and State Department officials yesterday confirmed that the July 10 meeting took place, although they took issue with Woodward’s portrayal of its results. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack, responding on behalf of Rice, said Tenet and Black had never publicly expressed any frustration with her response.

“This is the first time these thoughts and feelings associated with that meeting have been expressed,” McCormack said. “People are free to revise and extend their remarks, but that is certainly not the story that was told to the 9/11 commission.”

Tenet and Black did not respond to messages yesterday.

Yesterday Greg Mitchell at Editor & Publisher reported on Peter Baker’s story. This rightie blogger accuses Mitchell of a cover up because he left out the part about “Though the investigators had access to all the paperwork on the meeting, Black felt there were things the commissions wanted to know about and things they didn’t want to know about.”

Reading the excerpt and the Peter Baker story together, my impression is that because no one spoke of the July 10 meeting in testimony before the commission, the commissioners overlooked it. There may be nothing remarkable in the paperwork, nothing that calls out Tenet and Black’s concerns, and such paperwork would have been part of several truckloads of paperwork the commissioners were given.

Or, maybe Tenet and Black are exaggerating the significance of the meeting now because they’re trying to cover their own butts for the record.

Or, maybe the commissioners were doing their best to be “fair” to the White House, meaning they didn’t follow up information that made Bush and his team look bad unless it got into public record.

Many things are possible. Certainly there are a lot of questions that remain unanswered about 9/11. I strongly suspect that if we were to wade through all the little details in all the documentation given the 9/11 commission, we would find lots more interesting stuff.

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