Hersh v. Kaplan

Tomorrow (I assume) we’re going to find out who’s right about Bush’s plans for Iraq–Seymour Hersh or Fred Kaplan.

Yesterday Kaplan posted an article on Slate predicting that Bush’s speech at the Naval Academy tomorrow will set the agenda for withdrawal from Iraq.

Brace yourself for a mind-bog of sheer cynicism. The discombobulation begins Wednesday, when President George W. Bush is expected to proclaim, in a major speech at the U.S. Naval Academy, that the Iraqi security forces—which only a few months ago were said to have just one battalion capable of fighting on its own—have suddenly made uncanny progress in combat readiness. Expect soon after (if not during the speech itself) the thing that Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have, just this month, denounced as near-treason—a timetable for withdrawal of American troops.

Kaplan presents a case — a very strong case — showing that the administration is already planning to begin a withdrawal of troops from Iraq. It does seem to me that politicians from both parties are moving toward a consensus on withdrawal even as they accuse each other of treason and/or misleading. All the signs and portents say it’s time to talk exit strategy.

However, what about Bush himself? Does he see what everyone else sees? And Seymour Hersh says no.

On Hardball this evening, Hersh said Bush is not going to withdraw. Bush is committed to what he’s doing, Hersh said. Is he even listening to advice from others? Hersh said it’s hard to say, but he thinks most of what Bush learns about what’s going on in Iraq comes to him through a big filter named Dick Cheney. Hersh said Bush thinks God is talking to him. He doesn’t care how many body bags come back. He’s not interested in contrary opinions. There is an underlying fear that Bush is a utopian without realistic information or ability to change with shifting circumtances.

Who do you think is right, Kaplan or Hersh?

Today Bush said he rejected plans for a quick withdrawal, and said that the pace of withdrawal will be determined by military commanders. Bloomberg reports:

Americans “don’t want me making decisions based upon politics,” Bush told reporters in El Paso, Texas, where he was inspecting border patrol facilities. “They want me to make decisions based on recommendations from our generals on the ground.” …

… “We will make decisions about troop levels based upon the capacity of the Iraqis to take the fight to the enemy,” the president said in Texas.

He gave no indication he will offer a timetable for a troop pullout and said his speech will outline the progress being made on training Iraqis to take over the defense of their country against insurgents who have been targeting the Iraqi government as well as the U.S. military.

“I know there are a lot of voices in Washington we’ve heard people say pull them out. That’s a huge mistake,” Bush said. “I want the troops to come home, but I don’t want them to come home without achieving victory and we have got a strategy for victory.”

But Hersh says the top generals in the Pentagon — the four-star guys — are afraid to speak the truth to Rumsfeld and Bush. He said this on Hardball and in his recent New Yorker article

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.

Most likely, Hersh says, the military will pull out boots on the ground and substitute air power, which has a whole lot of new risks, as he explains in The New Yorker. But the war will continue, with us in it.

I believe tomorrow’s speech is scheduled for mid-morning. I plan on live-blogging, so drop by if you don’t watch it yourself. I’ll look at the Chimp’s face so you don’t have to.

But what’s it gonna be, do you think? Will he make noises to lay the groundwork for troop withdrawal, or will he want to stay the course?

Moron, Idiot, or Nefarious Bastard?

Is Dick Cheney guilty of war crimes? Today former Colin Powell chief of staff Lawrence Wilkerson participated in a BBC radio program and said that is an “interesting question.”

“It is certainly a domestic crime to advocate terror, and I would suspect that it is, for whatever it’s worth, an international crime as well,” he told the programme.

Wilkerson accused Cheney of ignoring a decision by President Bush on the treatment of prisoners in the war on terror.

He said that there were two sides of the debate within the Bush administration over the treatment of prisoners.

Mr Powell and more dovish members had argued for sticking to the Geneva conventions, which prohibit the torture of detainees.

Meanwhile, the other side “essentially wanted to do away with all restrictions”.

Mr Bush agreed a compromise, that “Geneva would in fact govern all but al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda look-alike detainees”.

“What I’m saying is that, under the vice-president’s protection, the secretary of defence [Donald Rumsfeld] moved out to do what they wanted in the first place, even though the president had made a decision that was clearly a compromise,” Col Wilkerson said.

He said that he laid the blame on the issue of prisoner abuse and post-war planning for Iraq “pretty fairly and squarely” at Mr Cheney’s feet.

But what about Bush?

“I look at the relationship between Mr Cheney and Mr Rumsfeld as being one that produced these two failures in particular, and I see that the president is not holding either of them accountable… so I have to lay some blame at his feet too,” he went on.

I think we’re seeing how much of a weenie Bush truly is. One some level he may realize that Dick and Rummy are screwups, but I think he’s afraid to try to be president without them.

Wilkerson said yesterday that President Bush was “too aloof, too distant from the details” of post-war planning. And much of the muck that we call “U.S. foreign policy” is the result of exploitation of that detatchment by underlings.

Anne Gearan of the Associated Press wrote,

In an Associated Press interview Monday, former Powell chief of staff Lawrence Wilkerson also said that wrongheaded ideas for the handling of foreign detainees after Sept. 11 arose from a coterie of White House and Pentagon aides who argued that “the president of the United States is all-powerful,” and that the Geneva Conventions were irrelevant.

The foundation theory of the Bush Administration is, “Our shit don’t stink.” If you understand that’s where they are coming from, they almost make sense.

You’ll like this quote:

Wilkerson blamed Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and like-minded aides. Wilkerson said that Cheney must have sincerely believed that Iraq could be a spawning ground for new terror assaults, because “otherwise I have to declare him a moron, an idiot or a nefarious bastard.”

I’m seeing hands go up for “nefarious bastard.” But “fool” probably would work as well. I think it’s entirely possible that Cheney and Bush both believed their own hype about the dangers of Saddam and his mighty WMDs. If so, in a strict sense of the word, they didn’t lie. Bush is, I suspect, just too lazy and detatched to have questioned what his staffers put in front of him. And Cheney is just plain delusional.

I stumbled on this paper about delusional thinking —

One common misconception about delusions–reflected in the DSM-IV definition–is that the thinking processes of delusional individuals are defective, or different from those of normal people. In fact, research suggests that delusional people use the same rules of reasoning as everyone else. Indeed, once a normal individual forms a belief, he or she is also reluctant to change it, and will actively seek out confirmatory evidence (“confirmation bias”) and ignore contradictory evidence. Rather than making false inferences, then, some experts now believe that delusional individuals have different experiences from other people, and that their delusional beliefs stem from their attempts to understand these experiences. Thus, it might be more useful to conceptualize delusions as disorders of experience. Delusional individuals also tend to be more alert, and indeed hyperattentive to their environment, and to notice coincidences that other people would likely think of as trivial.

I don’t know about the “different experiences” part, but can’t you just see Cheney obsessively sniffing out anything, corroborated or not, that confirmed his beliefs about Saddam Hussein? Cheney’s are the actions of a delusional man. And he had enablers at the Pentagon Iraq Group who were just too eager to give Cheney what he was looking for. One big dysfunctional family.

Cheney cherry picked intelligence with a certainty born of delusion. Whatever confirmed Cheney’s beliefs were hyped, and whatever contradicted them were ignored.

In his BBC interview, Wilkerson indicated the Secretary of State must’ve had about the same prewar Iraq intelligence that the Senate did. That is to say, some critical parts were left out.

Mr Wilkerson told the BBC he had believed intelligence supported the claim Iraq had a WMD programme, and had then initially accepted the administration’s argument that the major western intelligence agencies had been fooled.

He said he had recently been troubled by disclosures that one key informant was unreliable, while the evidence for claims that Saddam Hussein had contacts with al-Qaida may have been obtained by torture and was the subject of internal dissent prior to the March 2003 US-led invasion.

Mr Wilkerson said a statement from an al-Qaida detainee that allowed Mr Powell to present “some pretty substantive contacts” between Iraq and al-Qaida to the UN security council was “obtained through interrogation techniques other than those authorised by [the] Geneva [convention].”

“More important than that, we know that there was a Defence Intelligence Agency dissent on that testimony even before Colin Powell made his presentation,” he told Today. “We never heard about that.”

Now an increasingly isolated Cheney is still pushing for torture, absolutely certain he is right and everyone else is wrong. No amount of empirical evidence would shake him, I suspect. Bush is isolated in his own bubble, in a “gray world of religious idealism.” And neither one of these guys has the mental clarity to make rational decisions.

Can we survive three more years like this?

See also : David Corn; transcript of BBC interview.