You can learn a lot about what’s on someone’s mind by looking at his priorities. For example, during the famous “military phase” of the Iraq invasion (March 20-May 1 2003), U.S. troops moved quickly to secure oil fields, rip up the floor mosaic depicting George H.W. Bush in the lobby of the Rashid Hotel (visitors had stepped on Poppy’s face), and haul down the statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad’s Firdos Square (staged so that in photos it would appear Iraqis were doing the hauling). They did these things, of course, because these were priorities for the Commander in Chief.
What were the troops not ordered to do? They were not ordered to secure: stockpiles of conventional weapons and explosives; the old nuclear research facilities at Tuwaitha; the offices of the Military Industrialization Commission, where any records of WMDs would likely have been kept; the Iraq National Museum; and many other facilities that were looted and destroyed while U.S. troops looked on. (And note that I do not blame the troops for this. I blame whoever issued the orders.)
What does this tell us about the Bush Administration’s priorities? It tells us that oil and personal revenge were priorities; WMDs and conventional weapons that might have — hell, probably did — fall into the hands of terrorists were not priorities. Finding those pesky WMDs didn’t become a priority until later, when their absence was becoming a political liability for the Bushies.
And what does it tell us about priorities that, before the invasion, the White House was gung ho about handing out contracts to their good buddies in the defense industry, but forgot to plan for an occupation at all? I’m sure I don’t have to explain what this says about priorities.
For that matter, when President Bush finally began to focus on the post-Katrina Gulf Coast, one of his first acts was to suspend the Davis Bacon Act, so that his contractor buddies wouldn’t have to bother about paying prevailing wages to workers. After he was persuaded to reverse the suspension he seems to have lost interest in the Gulf Coast entirely except as an occasional photo op backdrop. If he couldn’t exploit Katrina to devalue labor, the Gulf just wasn’t a priority.
The priority thing came to mind when I read this editorial in today’s Washington Post:
THE BUSH administration has pushed aggressively for expanded surveillance powers, military commissions and rough interrogation techniques. When it comes to fighting the war on terrorism, just about anything goes. Except, that is, those routine steps with no civil liberties implications at all that might significantly interrupt terrorism — such as, say, reading the mail of convicted terrorists housed in American prisons. The federal Bureau of Prisons, Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine wrote, “does not read all the mail for terrorist and other high-risk inmates on its mail monitoring lists.” It is also “unable to effectively monitor high-risk inmates’ verbal communications,” including phone calls. So while the administration won’t reveal the circumstances under which it spies on innocent Americans, the communications of imprisoned terrorists, at least, appear sadly secure.
This is not a hypothetical problem. Jailed terrorists and organized-crime figures try to communicate with confederates outside of prison walls. Three inmates involved in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, while housed at the federal government’s highest-security prison, managed to exchange around 90 letters with Islamist extremists between 2002 and 2004, including with terrorists in Spain who were planning attacks there. Just last month, federal prosecutors accused a drug lord at the same facility of running a huge distribution network in Los Angeles using coded conversations and messages. Imprisoned people can direct major crimes from behind bars.
The mail isn’t scrutinized, the editorial continues, because there aren’t enough translators available to read it, and those officers who do take a look at the mail are not trained to recognize suspicious content.
This doesn’t seem to be an insurmountable problem. It requires only the allocation of resources to do the job. Somehow, it fell way down the White House priority list, which suggests to me that gathering intelligence on terrorism is not a high priority. Expanding executive power is the priority.
Here’s another one: What does it tell us that Congress has set aside $20 million for an Iraq victory party? This $20 million is in the 2007 budget. The 2007 budget cuts medical and prosthetic research — including research to improve treatment of post traumatic stress disorder, blast-related injuries and Gulf War related illness — by $13 million.