The Belgravia Dispatch by GREGORY DJEREJIAN


7/21/2003  

The Kelly Affair from France

How are the folks at Le Monde editorializing about Dr. Kelly's tragic suicide and parsing the relative culpability as between the Beeb and various British governmental actors?

"LA GRAVE CRISE politique qu'affronte le premier ministre britannique ne trouve pas son origine dans la mort de David Kelly, l'expert britannique en désarmement, mais dans le mensonge de son gouvernement sur les armes de destruction massive de l'Irak."

Translation: "The grave political crisis confronting the British Prime Minister didn't originate with the death of David Kelly...but in the lie of his government on Iraqi WMD."

What lie we are not told. The Niger/uranium story that British intelligence authorities have stood by and which is said to have come from French sources. Note: Paris is now vehemently denying this.

Or other unspecified lies?

Later, le Monde turns to the U.S. scene:

"Bill Clinton a fait l'objet du harassement des républicains pour avoir menti sur le sexe. Serait-il, aux Etats-Unis, moins important de mentir sur les mobiles d'une guerre ?"

No translation needed, right? The Bill Clinton reference should tip you off, ie. Le Monde is suggesting that, in the U.S., it would be considered less important to lie about the motivations for going to war than lying about sex.

UPDATE: I slightly tweaked my informal translation of the essence of Le Monde's commentary per reader JP's input.

Pretty polemical fare. One wishes Le Monde would try to be more empirical and serious in its editorials on matters of such import.

Listen, this Niger/uranium story should have never been included in the SOTU and has been a major embarrasment. But the Brits still stand by the intelligence.

And, more important in the context of this Le Monde editorial, can't they at least tell us what lies are behind the "grave political crisis" facing Blair? Unlike many of their readers perhaps, I don't just assume some mother-of-all-lies has been engineered in Goebbels-like fashion by Dubya and poodle Tony.

posted by Gregory| 7/21/2003 05:30:00 PM
 

Sadr Watch

Don't get too spooked by the specter of an Iranian style theocracy sprouting up in Iraq courtesy of Moktada al-Sadr.

See this article (previously linked a few weeks back but worth another look) that elaborates on the complex influences vying for attention among Iraq's Shi'a.

Some key grafs:

"Nevertheless, the large majority of Iraqi Shi'ites probably have no desire to mimic the Islamic Republic of Iran. They are aware of the situation there and do not want to move from a secular totalitarian system to an overbearing theocracy. Iraq's political culture and social makeup, moreover, are very different from those of Iran. Quite apart from the existence of Sunnis, Kurds, Chaldeans, and Turkmen in the country, the Iraqi Shi'ite community is itself diverse. There are secularists (including liberals and communists) and various religious groups, urban and rural dwellers, rich and poor, Shi'ites who have never left Iraq and those who have spent decades in exile. There is no single leader who can speak for all Iraqi Shi'ites, let alone oversee the transformation of postwar Iraq into an Iranian-style Islamic republic.

That said, defining the relationship between religion and politics in Iraq will be a major challenge facing Shi'ite religious groups. Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim, head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, who in the past advocated an Islamic government, has more recently adopted a different tone. Hakim returned to Najaf this past May after 23 years in exile, and he is positioning himself as a contender for Shi'ite religious leadership in Iraq. It remains to be seen what course he will choose, given the complex social reality in Iraq and the U.S. presence there. If he adopts a pragmatic course, Hakim will be following in the footsteps of the Lebanese cleric Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah, who acknowledged that the conditions for an Islamic state did not exist in Lebanon."



posted by Gregory| 7/21/2003 09:26:00 AM
 

Beeb Watch

Compare and contrast.

Warren Hoge's NYT piece:

"For the BBC, the publicly financed network that sees itself as the world leader in balanced broadcast reporting and analysis, the highly charged case comes at an awkward time. The corporation was already under attack from critics who said it had not been impartial in its coverage of the war in Iraq and the conflict in the Middle East.

In addition to its continuing fight with the government at home, it is derided by right-wing commentators in the United States as "the Baghdad Broadcasting Corporation," and in Israel its correspondents have been officially shunned by the government of Ariel Sharon.

In an appearance before a committee of Parliament last week to discuss the network's annual report, BBC chiefs faced charges of partiality. One Labor member of the panel, Rosemary McKenna, said the network had ceased to "differentiate between straightforward news and editorial comment."

A Beeb "analysis" on their website:

"And if your source talked to you under conditions of anonymity, would you do everything in your power to protect him - including maintaining silence even after he'd identified himself to his bosses and talked, not entirely frankly, to the foreign affairs select committee?" [my emphasis]

Not entirely frankly? Says who? Andrew Gilligan to Peter Preston? And isn't such a contention, given Kelly's tragic death, rather ill timed? Preston, after all, is basically charging that Kelly had been less than thoroughly honest during his commitee testimony.

As the Beeb at least reports elsewhere, the fundamental question now facing that network is whether:

"the two journalists accurately report what Dr Kelly said - even if Dr Kelly himself later denied saying it to the foreign affairs select committee?" Put differently, who did the "sexing up" in this macabre affair?







posted by Gregory| 7/21/2003 09:09:00 AM


7/20/2003  

The View from Walter Reed Hospital

We often hear about U.S. fatalities in Iraq but less often about the status and number of wounded servicemen and women. The WaPo has a piece here that reminds us of the steep human costs for those, while lucky enough to have not had their lives brought to an early end, are nevertheless facing very challenging times recovering from injuries.

UPDATE: A second installment to above piece here.

posted by Gregory| 7/20/2003 08:28:00 AM


7/19/2003  

Pyongyang: Preempting a Preemptive Strike?

The latest intelligence emerging from NoKo. Key grafs:

"What concerns American, South Korean and Japanese analysts, however, is not simply the presence of the hard-to-detect gas but its source. While American satellites have been focused for years on North Korea's main nuclear plant, at Yongbyon, the computer analyses that track the gases as they are blown across the Korean Peninsula appeared to rule out the Yongbyon reprocessing plant as their origin. Instead, the analysis strongly suggests that the gas originated from a second, secret plant, perhaps buried in the mountains.

American officials have long suspected that North Korea would try to build a second plant to protect itself against a pre-emptive strike by the United States. The United States even demanded an inspection of one underground site five years ago, only to find it empty, but this is the first time evidence has emerged that a second plant may be in operation.

"This takes a very hard problem and makes it infinitely more complicated," said one Asian official who has been briefed on the American intelligence. "How can you verify that they have stopped a program like this if you don't know where everything is?"

Another aspect worth noting with regard to the NoKo story. On Iraq, the story goes, the CIA was being pressured by folks at Defense (and maybe the White House) to aggressively analyze intelligence related to that country's WMD capacity. On NoKo, on the other hand, there appears to be a reversal of sorts. The CIA appears increasingly concerned that NoKo is moving towards production of nukes. But the White House, for a while now, refuses to utter the "C" word, ie. that events on the Korean Peninsula may well constitute a crisis. People at Langley seem more worked up regarding NoKo developments than those at the White House.

If true, there could be several reasons for this. One is that a bit of policy paralysis has set in as between the Foggy Bottom types pushing negotiations and those at Defense looking at more punitive measures. And, by not treating the situation as a full-fledged crisis, the Adminstration avoids have to make any real decisions on which way to go.

Meanwhile Kim Jong II is, of course, looking at events in Iraq and calculating that the U.S. doesn't have the appetite for another significant military action at this juncture. And a more limited punitive strike could be of limited effectiveness if ancillary secret plants exist.

Put simply, I'm beginning to think he's not bluffing merely to corral the U.S. into negotiations. And that therefore the Admin really has to start figuring out where they are going on this issue. A hybrid approach? A multinational naval blockade to stem potential nuke smuggling while pursuing trilateral negotiations with the Chinese?

Another issue in all of this? Intelligence emanating from the CIA right now is going to be scrutinized with particular attention given the raging controversy on Iraq WMD intelligence. The bar will be higher to persuade people, for instance, that a second plant in NoKo were potentially detected going forward. Still, Sanger's article goes too far here:

"American intelligence officials say they are wary about making any final judgments about the new evidence. They are keenly aware that C.I.A. assessments of Iraq's nuclear program have touched off a national debate over whether intelligence was exaggerated, and have made all the agency's findings suspect." [my emphasis]

All CIA findings are suspect right now? That's a breathtakingly broad statement.








posted by Gregory| 7/19/2003 10:16:00 PM
 

Vidal Award

What's on tap for brainy enarque-types who might be perusing the July Monde Diplomatique? Some Gore Vidal-style rampant anti-americanism divorced from any sober, factual analysis.

Some representative grafs:

"The US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, was manipulated and his political future is now at stake. He was reported to have resisted White House and Pentagon pressures to distribute the most dubious briefings. In his UN Security Council speech of 5 February 2003 Powell was obliged to read a draft prepared by Lewis Libby, chief of staff to vice president Dick Cheney. It contained such tenuous information that Powell was said to have become angry, thrown the sheets in the air and refused to read it. Finally Powell asked to have the head of the CIA, George Tenet, sit in view behind him to share responsibility for what was being read.

In an interview in the June issue of Vanity Fair, Wolfowitz admitted that governmental lies had been told. He said that the decision to put forward the threat of WMD to justify a preventive war against Iraq had been adopted "for reasons that have a lot to do with US government bureaucracy . . . We settled on the one issue which everyone could agree on, which was weapons of mass destruction"

So Bush had lied. Searching for a casus belli to appeal to the United Nations and recruit a few accomplices (United Kingdom and Spain) to his project for conquering Iraq, Bush did not hesitate to fabricate a massive governmental lie."

Powell's "future at stake"? With whom? Says who? An absurd contention--and not even the slightest corroboration of such a wild claim attempted.

And how did Wolfowitz's interview with Sam Tannenhaus in Vanity Fair constitute an admission that "governmental lies had been told"? See here an earlier analysis I had up on that interview with the relevant language. And take a look how the French press was spinning the interview earlier.

But in no way can one conclude, from a judicious examination of the interview, that Wolfowitz admitted "government lies." He simply stated that--among four factors he lists for going to war in Iraq--Administration cohesion was most easily achieved on the WMD factor.

And notice the word used to describe countries like the U.K. and Spain--"accomplices." I guess "vassal", trotted out so often in the past, had become a bit worn and hackneyed. And it doesn't quite evoke a sense of state criminality per the title of Ramet's intemperate essay.

Another whopper, of course, is the contention that Bush "did not hesitate to fabricate a massive governmental lie." Intelligence may have been hyped, politicized, interpreted aggressively with an aim towards more forcefully establishing a casus belli.

But there were genuine, honest debates about much of the intelligence with people, as with the aluminum tubes and whether they could be used for uranium enrichment, simply coming to different conclusions. A fabrication of a "massive governmental lie" is an egregiously hyperbolic statement that shouldn't pass muster in an ostensibly top-flight French foreign policy journal.

But it gets worse. A last quote from Ramet's quasi-hysterical piece:

"To justify a preventive war that the United Nations and global public opinion did not want, a machine for propaganda and mystification (organised by the doctrinaire sect around George Bush) produced state-sponsored lies for more than six months, with a determination characteristic of the worst regimes of the 20th century." [my emphasis]

Dubya--as determined a liar as Hitler or Stalin. For more Dubya as Hitler analogies check this out.



posted by Gregory| 7/19/2003 01:35:00 PM
 

The State of Syrian-U.S. Relations

Sy Hersh writing in the New Yorker. His basic thesis: U.S.-Syrian relations were improving post 9/11 as Syria provided Washington with high quality intelligence related to al-Qaeda. Such intelligence, in some cases, helped scuttle terrorist operations that would have cost American lives. Then, the story goes, Iraq loomed and Washington shifted gears viewing Damascus through a prism more focused on Syria's relative lack of cooperation regarding Iraq rather than her collaboration on al-Qaeda. Heavy-handedness from Rumsfeld helped sour the mood. The bilateral relationship was significantly wounded.

And remember the border incursion where some Syrian military personnel were detained by U.S. forces in Iraq before being repatriated to Syria? Hersh claims as follows in an account that I haven't seen before:

"In fact, according to current and former American military and diplomatic officials, the operation was a fiasco in which as many as eighty people—occupants of the cars and trucks as well as civilians living nearby—were killed. The vehicles, it turned out, were being used to smuggle gasoline. The Syrian government said little publicly about the violation of its sovereignty, even when the Pentagon delayed the repatriation of the injured Syrian border guards—reporters were told that the guards had not been fully interrogated—for ten days.

Weeks later, questions about the raid remained: Why had American forces crossed the border? And why had the Syrian response been so muted? An American consultant who recently returned from Iraq said, “I don’t mind so much what we did, but it’s the incompetence with which we did it.” A senior adviser to the Pentagon noted that the people who were killed had “put themselves into the gray area” by smuggling fuel across the border. “The troops were trying to work with actionable intelligence,” the official said. “You might make the same mistake.” This month, two retired veterans of the C.I.A.’s clandestine service, Vincent Cannistraro and Philip Giraldi, who now consult on intelligence issues, noted in a newsletter for their private clients that the attacks had been based on “fragmentary and ambiguous” information and had led to increased tension between Rumsfeld and the C.I.A. director, George Tenet."

If true, obviously a military miscalculation of significant proportions. As for why the Syrian response was "muted," doubtless Bashar may well have calculated that publically broaching the incident would have led to significant anger on the Syrian street and forced a more dramatic detioriation in U.S.-Syrian ties. .

I think Hersh is, to some extent, exagerrating the extent to which Washington, in the advent of war in Iraq and thereafter, completely changed its focus regarding Syria purely to how Damascus was handling the Iraq issue to the detriment of continued cooperation between the nation's two intelligence services on matters like al-Qaeda. Here's a recent example of how U.S.-Syrian relations are more complex than Hersh paints.

Meanwhile, it is also of interest to note some comments from long time Israeli Syria-watcher Itamar Rabinovich:

"Itamar Rabinovich, a former Israeli Ambassador to Washington, who headed the Israeli delegation during the ill-fated peace talks with Hafez Assad in the mid-nineties, acknowledged that he was aware of the key Syrian intelligence role in the war against Al Qaeda, but he made it clear that Israel’s distrust of Syria remains acute. Rabinovich wondered aloud whether, given the quality of their sources, the Syrians had had advance information about the September 11th plot—and failed to warn the United States. He said that under the elder Assad the Syrians had been “masters of straddling the line.” He added, “Hafez negotiated with us, and he supported Hezbollah. The son is not as adept as the father, who could keep five balls in the air at the same time. Bashar can only handle three—if that. He has good intentions, but he’s not in control. He can’t deliver.” For that reason, Rabinovich believed, Israel has urged Washington not to open the back channel to Assad. For the Syrians, he added, “the best channel is a back channel—it’s ideal. They are then not embarrassed in public and they buy themselves some time.”

I wonder if Sy Hersh is playing up any Rabinovich comments on whether Syria had some foreknowledge of 9/11. That's quite a charge indeed and Rabinovich is a professional diplomat and chooses his words carefully. Meanwhile, Rabinovich's comments about Bashar barely being able to keep three balls in the air are not too surprising. Few Middle East watchers doubt that if Bashar's father were still in power the Syrian role through much of the events sweeping the region in the past year or so would have been handled with greater skill better buttressing Syria's regional role and relationships with key actors like the U.S.




posted by Gregory| 7/19/2003 11:26:00 AM


7/18/2003  

The WMD Maelstrom from London: Now, A Body

This is spooky. MPs react. More soon.

UPDATE: Here we go. The conspiracy-mongering begins:

"Tory MP Richard Ottaway, a member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee which took evidence from Dr David Kelly, the missing MoD adviser, said "This brings now into question this whole regime of spin and manipulation ... by the Government and its advisers.

"This really does bring it home. For this to happen is a ghastly, ghastly tragedy.

He said that if the body found was that of Dr Kelly, "then it is a tragedy, a personal tragedy and I have nothing but the utmost sympathy for his family and friends."

Mr Ottaway said it would be a "tragedy of ghastly proportions" if "political machinations" had resulted in the death of Dr Kelly."

UPDATE: Hyperventilation at the Guardian:

"The government, however, cannot be let off the hook. It has demonstrated a profound contempt for the most basic conventions governing relationships between press and politicians. It is possible that, as a result, a man has died."

Come again? Dr. Kelly's death is a tragedy--but can't be fairly pinned on the Blair government in any manner. If he committed suicide because of pressures related to his testimony, we can all deeply regret that, but not blame Labour MPs who weren't even questioning him that aggressively. Here's likely what amounted to the most contentious exchange. Hardly brutal stuff, no?

Meanwhile BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan is entering hyperbolic whine stage:

"Mr Gilligan accused the committee of carrying out "a planned ambush by a hanging jury". He said: "The committee was absolutely determined to find fault with my story. They did not do so. I defended my journalism with vigour. I am very shocked at the way this inquiry has now been turned and perverted into part of the Alastair Campbell witch-hunt against me."

ANOTHER UPDATE: Warren's Hoge's NYT version on Kelly's death. More sober than the Independent's or Guardian's coverage but still ends thus:

"The campaign to discredit Mr. Gilligan — and by extension the BBC's reporting of the war in Iraq and the accusations that intelligence might have been doctored — drew a characteristically combative performance by Mr. Campbell, a man with a bullying reputation and a fierce loyalty to Mr. Blair.

Attention will now focus on whether his handling of Dr. Kelly played a role in the scientist's fate."

C'mon folks. Alistair Campbell isn't responsible for this tragic death.

READER FEEDBACK: Some readers have written in suggesting my take on the Kelly suicide is a bit on the callous side. Let me say this. Like all reasonable observers--I'm deeply saddened by the suicide of this public servant and my thoughts are with his wife and his daughters.

But I'm disturbed by the media's knee-jerk reaction that seems to pin responsibility on Blair, the Ministry of Defense, or Alistair Campbell. We need to hit the pause button and await the results of Hutton's inquiry. But there is no reason to use this unfortunate suicide as a reason to have a full-blown inquiry per IDS's request.

Meanwhile, while I await the results of the inquiry, my take on this is close to what Stephen Pollard has written. Which is why I'm disturbed that the media is mostly beating up on the government while less often talking about the Beeb's role in this tragic affair.








posted by Gregory| 7/18/2003 12:42:00 PM
 

History Will Forgive Us, Says Blair

That subject header is the banner headline in today's Times (UK). Here's the article.

The tone of the article is quite anti-Blair starting right with the banner headline.

The headline pretty much blares (no pun intended): We were wrong about the WMD; but in the long march of history we will be vindicated because we liberated Iraq by freeing its people from a ruthless tyrant.

Here's the full transcript of Blair's speech.

The crucial grafs:

"The risk is that terrorism and states developing weapons of mass destruction come together. And when people say, "That risk is fanciful," I say we know the Taliban supported Al Qaida. We know Iraq under Saddam gave haven to and supported terrorists. We know there are states in the Middle East now actively funding and helping people, who regard it as God's will in the act of suicide to take as many innocent lives with them on their way to God's judgment.

Some of these states are desperately trying to acquire nuclear weapons. We know that companies and individuals with expertise sell it to the highest bidder, and we know that at least one state, North Korea, lets its people starve while spending billions of dollars on developing nuclear weapons and exporting the technology abroad.

This isn't fantasy, it is 21st-century reality, and it confronts us now.

Can we be sure that terrorism and weapons of mass destruction will join together? Let us say one thing: If we are wrong, we will have destroyed a threat that at its least is responsible for inhuman carnage and suffering. That is something I am confident history will forgive.

But if our critics are wrong, if we are right, as I believe with every fiber of instinct and conviction I have that we are, and we do not act, then we will have hesitated in the face of this menace when we should have given leadership. That is something history will not forgive." [my emphasis].

True, Blair subtly attempts to shift the debate from "where's-the-WMD" to, in his words, asking: "(c)an we be sure that terrorism and weapons of mass destruction will join together?"

But that's really the critical question, isn't it? Whether significant WMD is turned up or not--a message has been issued throughout the world because of the decision to unseat Saddam. States that pose a high risk of transferring WMD to terrorists will be brought to task, and if necessary, confronted with their leaders deposed.

Who decides what states pose such a risk, doubters will ask? No, not just Sherrif Bush and his poodle Tony.

The international community per U.N. resolutions like 1441 decides. All the states who voted for that resolution believed that Saddam was in material breach of preexisting agreements related to his weapons programs. But only some states, in the face of more obfuscation from Baghdad, had the courage of their convictions and fully grasped the implications of the post 9/11 global security environment. And so acted.

So Blair wasn't asking to be forgiven by history in his eloquent speech to the U.S. Congress yesterday. He was clearly outlining the critical nature of the threats we face in the 21st Century and the urgency and steadfastness required in effectively combatting these perils. Perils he believes exists with "every fiber of instinct and conviction" he has.

So why does the Times portray the speech as a Blairite mea culpa--a request for forgiveness? You will have to ask them--but they might take a peek at the FT's treatment of the story--which really gets and better highlights the real message Blair was intent on delivering to his U.S. audience.



posted by Gregory| 7/18/2003 12:19:00 PM
 

Coalition of the Rational

Katrina vanden Heuvel wants to set up a "Coalition of the Rational" to "take back our country from this radical rightwing Administration."

Some suggested charter members? Our good friends at Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity. For more on these estimable folks go here or here.

Ms. vanden Heuvel must have been hard-pressed to find charter members of the "Coalition of the Rational" as she lists VIPS and then, separately, one of its founding members the (aptly named) Ray McGovern.

McGovern is steamed about the Niger/uranium story. Fair enough. But is it fair for him to write as follows:

"But where was the evidence? It is now clear that the only thing available at that time was the so-called argument about aluminum tubes. There had been reports of Iraq's trying to procure them from abroad, and those eager to please the White House offered instant analysis that the tubes were for Iraqs nuclear program. Thus, Rice on Sept. 8, 2002, told CNN's Wolf Blitzer that "Saddam Hussein is actively pursuing a nuclear weapon. We do know that there have been shipments into Iraq of aluminum tubes that really are only suited to nuclear weapons programs."

But when the engineers and scientists at U.S. nuclear labs were consulted, their conclusion was that the tubes were not suitable for a nuclear application. So that line of argument turned out to be as weak as the chemical and biological weapons evidence about which DIA analysts were so suspicious."

O.K, Condi Rice should have phrased her sentence differently on Wolf Blitzer's show. The aluminum rods, per various Administration analyses, were certainly not judged to be solely for nuclear weapons program use. But McGovern merely compounds the error from the other side of the fence by stating that the "conclusion was that the tubes were not suitable for a nuclear application."

Let's look at that old Spence Ackerman article (from TNR) that is favorable to McGovern's view on this matter:

"These judgments were tested in the spring of 2002, when intelligence reports began to indicate that Iraq was trying to procure a kind of high-strength aluminum tube. Some analysts from the CIA and DIA quickly came to the conclusion that the tubes were intended to enrich uranium for a nuclear weapon through the kind of gas-centrifuge project Iraq had built before the first Gulf war. This interpretation seemed plausible enough at first, but over time analysts at the State Department's INR and the Department of Energy (DOE) grew troubled. The tubes' thick walls and particular diameter made them a poor fit for uranium enrichment, even after modification.That determination, according to the INR's Thielmann, came from weeks of interviews with "the nation's experts on the subject, ... they're the ones that have the labs, like Oak Ridge National Laboratory, where people really know the science and technology of enriching uranium." Such careful study led the INR and the DOE to an alternative analysis: that the specifications of the tubes made them far better suited for artillery rockets. British intelligence experts studying the issue concurred, as did some CIA analysts. But top officials at the CIA and DIA did not." [my emphasis]

As I've blogged about before, there were differing analyses in the government about the prospects that these tubes could be used for centrifuges. Ackerman writes that the particular diameter of the tubes, even after modification, made them a "poor fit for uranium enrichment." But some folks at Defense and CIA believed, for reasons that no one has definitively shown to be injudicious or purposefully deceptive, that the tubes might be "cut down" or "reamed out" in a manner that would allow them to be used as centrifuges. The CIA, the lead agency on these matters, ultimately judged that the rods could be used to enrich uranium.

McGovern and VIPS might not like this assessment, they might feel the intel was politicized, they might be pissed off about it--but they are not in a position to definitively state that the rods could not be used for uranium enrichment full stop. Relatedly, as Andrew Sullivan has repeatedly pointed out, most recently here, the burden of proof on such matters:

"must be on those who counsel inaction rather than on those who urge an offensive, proactive battle. Does it matter one iota, for example, if we find merely an apparatus and extensive program for building WMDs in Iraq rather than actual weapons? Or rather: given the uncertain nature of even the best intelligence, should we castigate our leaders for over-reacting to a threat or minimizing it? Since 9/11, my answer is pretty categorical. Blair and Bush passed the test. They still do."

Indeed.

Ms. vanden Heuvel also writes as follows:

"And there are scores of others inside and outside the Administration; in Establishment circles; in military and business organizations, who are alarmed by the White House's radical extremism. At off-the-record meetings at the Council on Foreign Relations, for example, prominent figures regularly express shock (and no awe) at how this Administration is undermining America's security--and reputation in the world."

Hmmm. Surely she wasn't talking about this CFR meeting. But this one was on the record. Shock at this Administration's woeful irrationality is doubtless being aired regularly and vociferously at the Harold Pratt House off-the-record.

Doubtful. Look, our reputation has taken a hit in large swaths of the globe. But why? For reasons, ultimately, that are mostly related simply to the unparallelled hard and soft power America wields. A massive hyperpower is often destined to be resented, feared and distrusted in various locales around the globe. A passing acquaintance with great power politics over the centuries goes a long way towards showcasing this reality.

Of course, we should and can do better in terms of our reputational stock by doing our best to show humility and a "listening" posture with other nations as best we can. We need to show less disdain for certain international treaties like Kyoto by at least anteing up alternatives when we appear to dismiss treaties out of hand.

Nor should we gallivant about issuing diktats to a Turkey or Germany on having them support our policy goals just because we judge them to be in our interests. We need to persuade people on the merits. But we often do just that. Thus Bush's September 12, 2002 speech to the U.N or the later unanimous UNSC council resolution on Iraq that Powell achieved.

So don't believe that assorted CFR heavies are regularly expressing shock at how the Bushies are "undermining America's security--and reputation in the world."

Regarding U.S. security, vanden Heuvel's dig is even more unfair. 9/11 was just shy of two full years ago. No subsequent attack has occurred on U.S. soil to date. Al-Qaeda's operational capacity has taken some major blows. The mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, KSM, has been apprehended.

Sure al-Qaeda remains a pressing threat. But note they haven't pulled off a mega-terror attack on the scale of a 9/11 since that horrible day. This is surely partly a result of aggressive prosecution by the Bush Adminisration of the war on terror.

So John Kerry might try to pull a Reaganesque turn of phrase and substitute "are you better off than you were four years ago" with are you "safer than you were three years ago."

But voters aren't dumb. They see the transparent politiking behind such a comment. And, unlike Reagan's interrogatory, most Americans answer the question with a stolid yes. And most CFR members, for what it's worth, I wager, answer the interrogatory in the affirmative as well.






posted by Gregory| 7/18/2003 09:45:00 AM


7/17/2003  

Poll Watch

Dave Adesnik calls the WaPo to task on its use of polling data in an excellent post--meanwhile check out this quite interesting poll (suprisingly being reported in the Guardian).

posted by Gregory| 7/17/2003 02:01:00 PM


7/16/2003  

The Independent: Cheney Under Pressure to Quit!

More tabloid-style journalism devoid of any serious fact-based reporting at supposed quality newspapers. Check out this absurd headline from the Independent.

What is this mega-hyped story based on?

A group of allegedly "senior former intelligence officials" sent "an open letter to President George Bush" asking that Bush demand Cheney's resignation over the various WMD flaps.

Well folks, here it is via Counterpunch. A group calling itself the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity penned the letter (proudly noting it was published on Bastille Day!) and it is signed by three individuals who don't even bother to state their affiliations or any relevant professional experience:

Ray Close, Princeton, NJ
David MacMichael, Linden, VA
Raymond McGovern, Arlington, VA

For a representative sampler of what might one typically find over at Counterpunch check this story out.

Cheney must be very worried right now, feeling very Spiro Agnewish.

Can you believe the Independent is headlining this story at this hour at their Internet site? (See more on how this might have gotten to the Independent via the NYT at the second "update" below)

UPDATE: MacMichael and McGovern have teamed up before on WMD-related musings over at Counterpunch. But I guess they had never gotten around to sending a letter to the President before--thus ostensibly making this letter newsworthy over at Robert Fisk/Independent land. Here's how the duo state their bona fides at the end of this piece:

"Ray McGovern worked as a CIA analyst for 27 years. He co-authored this article with David MacMichael. Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) is a coast-to-coast enterprise; mostly intelligence officers from analysis side of CIA."

A "coast-to-coast enterprise"? From Cambridge to Berkeley doubtless. Sounds like a serious entity, huh? I think even the Guardian would steer clear of this story...

FURTHER UPDATE: Yesterday, Atlantic Blog blogged about VIPS in relation to a Nick Kristof column that mentioned the outfit. Sjostrom has more info on the group well worth reading.

I have to wager that Nick Kristof didn't realize how fringe these retired spooks were. He should have done more research on the matter before prominently mentioning their letter to Bush in the op-ed pages of the NYT.

The result? Outlets like the Independent pick it up, headline it, and tens of thousands of Brits will likely think Cheney might be on his way out (which, in turn, heightens pressure on Blair in the already highly contested climate). Talk about poor, politically-motivated journalism.

HERE'S ANOTHER UPDATE: The Independent no longer headlines this story (though hasn't retracted or modified it im any way and it's still available at the original link above) but now leads with this anti-american screed:

The opening graf sets the tone:

"Only three months ago, they were the smiling masters of the universe, liberators who had watched their armies roll up a supposedly formidable Middle Eastern foe as easily as a child swats away a fly. How different it will be when George Bush and Tony Blair meet in Washington today."

Later in the article we have a whole range of modifiers thrown at the reader: 1) "meekly" (describing Tony Blair, of course, playing poodle); 2) "oh-so-reasonable" (Powell); 3) "willing fall-guy" (DCI Tenet, but only "so far" we are ominously clued in); 4) bullying (Rummy); 5) "tenacious" (Condi Rice fighting off all the critics circling the White House!); and, the kicker, 6) a "limp and stumbling" President Bush.

Wow, and this is the Indepenent's Washington Bureau Chief writing in. His Beltway ouevre must be judicious indeed! Check out too how he shamelessly lifts a Groucho Marx quote at the end of his piece: "Who are you going to believe - me, or your own two eyes?"

How witty--except that Mike Kinsley used it in an oped just yesterday in the WaPo--that the Independent Washington bureau chief surely read, no?

Meanwhile, the risible Cheney under pressure to resign story is alive and well on the Independent's site.

AND ANOTHER UPDATE:

Far from resigning, Cheney, according to Matt Drudge, is getting ready to hit back at Administration critics:

"Vice President Cheney telling House GOP leaders: Bush admin getting ready to go on a public relations offensive, attempt to recast debate on Niger, WMDs, including bringing back Mary Matalin for spin control... Developing... "

















posted by Gregory| 7/16/2003 09:41:00 PM
 

WaPo Tries to Expand Yellowcake-Gate

The WaPo is going at the whole yellowcake maelstrom pretty heavy today. You've got Hoagland versus Kinsley. And then a piece on the Democrats increasingly on the offensive with normally sober Bob Graham sounding like John (or Howard?) Dean.

And this Walter Pincus piece trying to move beyond the yellowcake frenzy to make the case that the Bushies needed yellowcake in the SOTU because most of the other intel had been discredited.

Pincus puts it this way:

"But a review of speeches and reports, plus interviews with present and former administration officials and intelligence analysts, suggests that between Oct. 7, when President Bush made a speech laying out the case for military action against Hussein, and Jan. 28, when he gave his State of the Union address, almost all the other evidence had either been undercut or disproved by U.N. inspectors in Iraq.

By Jan. 28, in fact, the intelligence report concerning Iraqi attempts to buy uranium from Africa -- although now almost entirely disproved -- was the only publicly unchallenged element of the administration's case that Iraq had restarted its nuclear program. That may explain why the administration strived to keep the information in the speech and attribute it to the British, even though the CIA had challenged it earlier."

But wait a second. Has the yellowcake angle really now been "almost entirely disproved"? Not according to the Brits. Or the Aussies for that matter.

Pincus then details three examples of evidence that Saddam was attempting to reconstitute his nuclear program that were allegedly undercut and/or disproved pre-SOTU:

"For example, in his Oct. 7 speech, Bush said that "satellite photographs reveal that Iraq is rebuilding facilities at [past nuclear] sites." He also cited Hussein's "numerous meetings with Iraqi nuclear scientists" as further evidence that the program was being reconstituted, along with Iraq's attempts to buy high-strength aluminum tubes "needed" for centrifuges used to enrich uranium."

Let's take each of these in turn. On the satellite images, Pincus refutes the Bush contention by merely relying on IAEA reports that two months of inspections had not turned up prohibited activity at former nuclear sites.

This is the same IAEA that failed to turn up evidence of Saddam's active nuclear program pre-Desert Storm. Hardly builds major confidence in their investigative verve or abilities, does it?

How about the contention that Saddam was meeting with his nuclear scientists? Pincus, again:

"As for Iraqi nuclear scientists, Mohamed ElBaradei told the Security Council, U.N. inspectors had "useful" interviews with some of them, though not in private."

Well, hot damn! Some "useful," albeit monitored by Saddam's thuggish handlers, IAEA meetings with Iraqi nuclear scientists.

Is that the best Pincus can provide WaPo readers to evidence his claim that U.N. inspectors "disproved" or "undercut" Bush administration claims that Saddam had had numerous meetings with Iraqi nuclear scientists? Pincus hasn't done that at all here.

Then there are those famous aluminum tubes and whether they could be used for furtherance of a nuclear program.

Bottom line: There was a dispute between the Departments of Energy and State, on the one hand, and the CIA and Defense, on the other, about whether the rods could be used as centrifuges. Langley and the Pentagon thought the rods could be "cut down and reamed out" in a manner allowing them to be used as centrifuges.

Well that's certainly a credible possibility. And so not definitively "disproved" (this is why Pincus left in the "undercut" verbiage, ie. State and Energy "undercut" the aluminum rod intel somewhat) pace Pincus.

And keep in mind too that the entire Pincus piece solely concentrates on Iraq's nuclear capability without even touching at all on chemical or biological stockpiles--the key reason many of us supported the war--as such arms could have been easily transferred to operatives or terror groups looking to pull off an unconventional mega-terror attack in a major metropolis.

Sure we haven't turned up any bio or chem WMD stockpiles yet. But it's still relatively early going. And a cautious (and credible, to my mind) Colin Powell is backing up the Administration on aspects of the pre-war intelligence including bio-weapon labs.

So don't believe the hype. We haven't all been grotesquely hoodwinked by pathological liars at 1600 Pennsylvania. We do need to examine our intelligence gathering going forward as I've said before. This is crucial as some of the intelligence in the advent of war in Iraq was perhaps politicized and aggressively interpreted at times. But not, to my mind (at least at the present juncture), purposefully deceptive. And that's a crucial distinction.


posted by Gregory| 7/16/2003 10:55:00 AM


7/15/2003  

From State Policy Planning Bureau to 68th and Park

Richard Haas, incoming President of the CFR, in a wide-ranging interview worth reading in its entirety.

On the Sunni fear stemming from the perceived possibility of a "crude majoritarianism":

Q: "When the British took control of Mesopotamia after World War I, which later became Iraq, a popular uprising killed thousands of Iraqis and British troops. Does that kind of Iraqi nationalism persist?"

RH: "For all the divisions within Iraqi society, it is a mistake to underestimate Iraqi nationalism. We are also seeing strong signs of Sunni resistance. It is understandable why. Sunnis have enjoyed a special place in Iraqi society that is far greater than a narrow calculation of their numbers would suggest. So when Sunnis see all this political activity involving the Shiites, and look up north and see the Kurds, we get a lot of Sunni resistance. This suggests the need politically to think about an Iraqi society that doesn't degenerate into almost a crude majoritarianism. There have got to be checks and balances to safeguard individual as well as group minority rights."

On the Iranian student protests:

Q: "The regime change theory is based on a supposition that protesting students and others will overthrow the government?"

RH: "Maybe those who believe that are right. At some point, Iran will have, I believe, a very dramatic regime change. I'm just not willing to base all of our policy upon that. It seems to me more of a wish than a strategy. I think, though, that we could have very hard-headed conversations with [senior Iranian leaders], in which we could get on the table [Iran's] nuclear ambitions and support for terrorism. And we could potentially enter into a deal with them, particularly if we had the Russians and the Europeans with us. I am encouraged by signs that Russia and the Europeans now are interested in such a structured conversation.

There are [other] things we could continue doing that would promote the so-called winds of change within Iranian society. That's, in a sense, what we did during the Cold War. We engaged the Soviets on [matters] like arms control where it was in our interest to do so. At the same time, we did things through broadcasts and Helsinki Accords [on East-West cooperation in the 1970s] and so forth to try to foment internal change. The two need not be mutually exclusive."

On NoKo:

Q: "Should the United States talk to North Korea?"

RH: "Again, I'd say yes. If one goes back to the last meaningful conversation, which was held this past autumn when Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly went there, the North Koreans clearly put a lot on the table. Now what they put on the table was flawed, unacceptable, inadequate--choose your adjective. But again, the message I took from that is that at least certain things were potentially in play. My view is to test them. It is a long shot. It is just possible we could negotiate a deal with them that would meet our requirements in the nuclear area and the missile area. If not, the mere fact that we gave that a good-faith effort helps us manage the multilateral politics with China, the South Koreans, the Japanese, and others about ratcheting up the pressure on the North. I think the diplomatic exploration is a no-cost undertaking."

I disagree that diplomacy w/ NoKo is a no-cost undertaking if done in a bilateral setting. Washington has refused such a negotiating format for so long now that it will appear a concession to Pyongyang even before any discussion occurs. And we have been massaging the Chinese, South Koreans, Japanese, and Russians on helping us apply pressure on NoKo so that I don't think we really need to do much cleanup in terms of the multilateral politics in the neighborhood.

I've got a feeling the sweet-spot is going to be more productive trilateral negotiations among China, NoKo and the U.S. For one, the Chinese appear to be finally waking up to the gravity of the situation. Another possibility supposedly on offer from Beijing and being mulled over in D.C. and Pyongyang? A multilateral format with "sideline" bilaterals. If the sidelines are de minimis but can be pitched in amorphous fashion to Pyongyang so they bite I've got no beef with that.

For more on NoKo (particularly some interesting comments from Bill Perry), scroll down a few entries.

UDPATE: As predicted above, it appears the trilateral framework may indeed prove the compromise solution. The U.S., while still preferring the S. Koreans, Japanese and (perhaps) Russians to take part--might well accept this formula. Such a trilateral compromise might well have occurred a while ago if the Chinese had pursued the option with more alacrity earlier. It appears that have finally woken up to the gravity of the situation w/r/t NoKo's nuclear capabilities.

This isn't an ideal solution for the U.S. as we are not around the table with "friends" like Japan, S. Korea and Russia. But, all things considered, I think we might go with this with, potentially, a request for S. Korean and/ or Japanese "observers" to join the talks. Developing.















posted by Gregory| 7/15/2003 11:08:00 PM
 

That Overstretch Thing

Paul Kennedy (sorry Niall Ferguson) in the FT.

posted by Gregory| 7/15/2003 10:47:00 PM
 

Anatol Lieven: Iraq Isn't Afghanistan

The let's compare Afghanistan and Iraq meme grows:

David Rhode in the Times detailing occupation lite (Afghanistan) and occupation heavy (Iraq). He thinks a hybrid approach is where policymakers may well end up.

Anatol Lieven digs deeper in the LRB:

"Even if most Americans and a majority of the Administration want to move to indirect control over Iraq, the US may well find that it has no choice but to exercise direct rule. Indeed, even those who hated the war may find themselves morally trapped into supporting direct rule if the alternative appears to be a collapse into anarchy, immiseration and ethnic conflict. There is a tremendous difference in this regard between Iraq and Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, the mass of the population has been accustomed to fend for itself with very little help from the state, very little modern infrastructure and for that matter very little formal employment. In these circumstances, it was possible for the US to install a ramshackle pretence of a coalition government in Kabul, with a tenuous truce between its elements held in place by an international peacekeeping force backed by US firepower. The rest of the country could be left in the hands of warlords, clans and ethnic militias, as long as they made their territories open hunting ranges for US troops in their search for al-Qaida. The US forces launch these raids from airbases and heavily fortified, isolated camps in which most soldiers are kept rigidly separated from Afghans.

Doubtless many US planners would be delighted to dominate Iraq in the same semi-detached way, but Iraq is a far more modern society than Afghanistan, and much more heavily urbanised: without elements of modern infrastructure and services and a state to guarantee them, living standards there will not recover. Iraq needs a state; but for a whole set of reasons, it will find the creation of a workable democratic state extremely difficult. The destruction of the Baath regime has involved the destruction of the Sunni Arab military dominance on which the Iraqi state has depended since its creation by the British."


posted by Gregory| 7/15/2003 10:19:00 PM
 

The State of U.S. Military Efforts in Iraq

One of the most judicious assessments I've seen to date from Tom Donnelly of AEI.

posted by Gregory| 7/15/2003 09:59:00 PM
 

Marxist Muslims of the World Unite!

Check out this weird Beeb story. And what the hell is "private terrorism" (and why does the Beeb cite a comment disavowing said "private" terrorism as constituting a "disapproval of terror"?

posted by Gregory| 7/15/2003 09:38:00 PM
 

Beeb Watch--Sack Gilligan!

MPs are turning up the heat on the BBC.

Money quote: "Just as you sacked Rod Liddle [the Guardian columnist and former editor of BBC Radio 4's Today] you ought to give Mr Gilligan a choice between writing controversial polemical articles and continuing to work for the BBC. There's no doubt he should have been told long ago to stop writing these articles," said Mr Kaufman."

Indeed. Maybe Bill Keller will send the same message to his troops?

Meanwhile, are the Beeb's finances as bad off as Enron's were?

Well, not really. But this is humorous.

posted by Gregory| 7/15/2003 02:28:00 PM
 

The "Vanishing" WMD

TNR (subscription required) details why (maybe) we won't find WMD in Iraq:

"The idea that Saddam did not secretly continue building chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons directly contradicts White House claims. But the Iraqi scientists I met insist that the combination of U.S. bombing, U.N. inspections, disarmament efforts, unilateral destruction by Iraqi officials, and stiff U.N. sanctions had indeed eliminated Saddam's illicit weapons by the mid-'90s. At the same time, however, Saddam's efforts to hide or destroy documents hindered efforts to ultimately resolve scores of questions about the disposition of missing materials and equipment. In addition, fear of Saddam kept many scientists from telling the dictator the truth about their WMD programs. Ultimately, the scientists and others say, Saddam may have feared that admitting his WMD were gone would have shown a weakness that could have threatened his hold on power. These overlapping theories may not fully explain why American forces have not found WMD in Iraq. But, for now, they're the best we have."

More:

"But, if the WMD were gone, why didn't Saddam cooperate in the '90s, if only to get the United Nations off his back so he could resume building his weapons? Why didn't he cooperate last year in order to appease the White House and avoid a war that would topple his regime? The prevailing theory among former U.N. inspectors and current American, British, and Australian weapons-hunters interviewed for this story is that Saddam was too proud to concede that he no longer possessed WMD. To admit this point would have meant bowing to the West. He would have appeared weak, and weakness would have threatened his hold on power at home and his vainglorious self-image as a leader of the Arab world. Instead, Saddam thought he could bully his way through this crisis, as he had in previous standoffs with the United States and its allies. The inspectors say Saddam believed that uncertainty about WMD could again serve as a deterrent to American forces. After all, in the wake of the 1991 war, U.N. inspectors learned Saddam had told aides that coalition ground forces had not pressed on to Baghdad because they were afraid of his chemical and biological weapons."

But note:

"Of course, the possibility that Saddam no longer possessed WMD does not mean that he no longer wanted to possess them. The former senior intelligence officer, a barrel-chested brigadier general who still wears a large watch with Saddam's portrait etched in gold on the face, insists that no chemical or biological weapons were produced in Iraq after the mid-'90s. But he does not pretend Saddam suddenly went legit. Indeed, the officer says he helped manage a maze of overseas trading companies run by Iraqi intelligence operatives and designed to support Iraq's sanctions-busting procurement schemes. He made seven overseas trips after the mid-'90s to help buy and ship spare parts, raw materials, and other supplies for Saddam's conventional weapons programs. On his last trip, in April 2001, he went to Jordan, Cyprus, Morocco, South Africa, and Argentina, using phony passports from neighboring Arab nations, to help arrange the secret purchase of $57 million worth of cannons, artillery fuses, calibrating instruments, and other weapons parts. As on previous trips, he also helped buy and smuggle "dual-use" items, such as medical laboratory equipment, which might someday be used to build chemical and biological weapons if the United Nations declared Iraq WMD-free and lifted sanctions. Indeed, he says that, in 1996, Saddam ordered his intelligence services to create a series of secret cells of Iraqi scientists and technicians. The groups--each with about four or five members--met regularly in Baghdad basements and did small experiments in underground laboratories. Their goal was not to build weapons. It was to formulate plans on how to build them when the United Nations lifted sanctions. "We could start again anytime," the intelligence officer says. "It's very easy. Especially biological."





posted by Gregory| 7/15/2003 12:53:00 PM
 

U.S. and NoKo Drifting Towards War?

So says former Clinton Secretary of Defense Bill Perry. Meanwhile Dave Sanger has the latest from Pyongyang:

"Some see last week's declaration as a negotiating ploy. They believe that North Korea has been frustrated by Mr. Bush's refusal to engage in one-on-one negotiations, insisting instead that China, Japan and South Korea act as partners in finding a regional solution. Mr. Bush's real motivation for resisting bilateral talks, his aides say, is that he fears that Asian nations will press the United States to reach some kind of deal similar to the one the Clinton administration signed — a "freeze" on nuclear activity in return for aid.

Other officials believe that Mr. Kim's government has simply decided that it can make both Washington and its Asian neighbors accept North Korea as a new nuclear power."

Perry wants the U.S. to start negotiating, apparently even in a bilateral framework, per his recommendation to employ "coervice diplomacy." But bilateral negotiations are a format that practically beg U.S. concessions--rewarding NoKo for its nuclear brinksmanship. That's the major reason bilateral negotiations, I think, aren't being pursued and are considered a bad idea contra Perry's contention that:

"From his discussions, Perry has concluded the president simply won't enter into genuine talks with Pyongyang's Stalinist government. "My theory is the reason we don't have a policy on this, and we aren't negotiating, is the president himself," Perry said. "I think he has come to the conclusion that Kim Jong Il is evil and loathsome and it is immoral to negotiate with him."

And to what extent has North Korean policy been hobbled by divisions between differing approaches at State and Defense?

"There is an ongoing search for consensus within the administration itself," said Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute. "The lack of a consensus to a significant extent has prevented U.S. policy from unfolding."

But why did the very same Nicholas Eberstadt say the policy was working to Larry Kaplan a short while ago in TNR?

Meanwhile the blockade idea is poo-pooed by Perry too: "Perry argued that an interdiction strategy "would be provocative, but it would not be effective" in preventing the sale of nuclear material. "You don't need a ship to transport a core of plutonium that is smaller than a basketball," he said."

Developing.




posted by Gregory| 7/15/2003 12:46:00 PM
 

Syria Watch

A pretty gloomy Dexter Filikins dispatch from the Syrian-Iraq border. Villagers showing videos of an alleged U.S. G.I. beheaded in Iraq, calls for jihad, hatred of America running amok.

But aside from unfortunate apparent violations of Syrian airspace I suspect Syrian grievances in this border area are more often typically centered on the fact that individuals can't smuggle across the Syrian-Iraqi frontier as easily as they used to. Such revenue typically provides a significant portion of income for villagers in border areas in the region.

Like many journalists (remember Nick Kristof admitting he was off to find someone brutally tortured by Saddam who still hated the Americans?) I think Filkins focused on the most aggrieved individuals (those with relatives killed by U.S. forces) in his piece and thus paints a picture materially worse than the reality.

Speaking of Nick Kristof, his op-ed today has some Syria related material as well:

"Intelligence isn't just being dumbed down, but is also being manipulated — and it's continuing. Experts say the recent firefight on the Syrian-Iraq border involved not Saddam Hussein or a family member, as we were led to believe, but just some Iraqi petroleum smugglers. Moreover, Patrick Lang, a former senior D.I.A. official, says that many in the government believe that incursion was an effort by ideologues to disrupt cooperation between the U.S. and Syria."

"Many in the government." Who exactly? Folks at State's INR or NEA bureaus? Or elsewhere? We aren't told.

"Ideologues"? Code for Doug Feith and Paul Wolfowitz? Straussians writ large? Who exactly? Left unsaid.

What's clear is some individuals in the Beltway are leaking to Nick Kristof and they probably believe we are being too aggressive with the Syrians and need to cool it regarding firefights near (or just over?) the border and with regard to potential violations of Syrian airspace.

But from such concerns to charge that there is a purposeful "effort" by some in the government to disrupt U.S.-Syrian cooperation is quite a leap. And it's pretty much just hanging there with no corroboration whatsoever in our most prestigious paper's opinion pages. I'll be poking around on Pat Lang's statement shortly to find out, if possible, if there is any substance there.

UDPATE: Langley to John Bolton-- chill out dude--or something like that. TPM's got more on this too.

posted by Gregory| 7/15/2003 07:48:00 AM


7/14/2003  

Like Father Like Son?

There will doubtless be many Dubya doomsayers, during the coming presidential election season, drawing an analogy to Bush pere's inglorious '92 defeat. Interestingly enough, former Reagan aide Clyde Prestowitz provides an early example of this genre in the conservative Spectator:

"The first signs of Bush’s potential vulnerability are becoming apparent. If the situation in Iraq continues, with a steady stream of US casualties, no apparent end in sight and no good explanation of why we are there, and if the US economy remains sluggish with rising unemployment, Bush could be in deep trouble. Indeed, the parallels with his father’s situation in 1992 are striking. Then the senior Bush appeared unbeatable, so much so that the major Democratic candidates stayed out of the race. But a little known Arkansas governor sensed the feet of clay and went for the gold. This time a little-known Vermont governor, Howard Dean, also sees possible feet of clay and is running for the gold. He has charisma on the stump and a powerful fundraising machine. More importantly, unlike the other Democratic candidates who have supported Bush on the war or kept silent, he has clearly defined himself as the anti-unilateralist and the anti-pre-emptive war candidate. Few give him a chance at the moment. But then, no one thought Bill Clinton could win either."

Missing in this analysis is the 800-pound guerrilla of 9/11. What matters most to voters, barring some economic calamity, is stemming attacks on the American homeland and continuing to aggressively prosecute the war on terror. Bush is earning high marks on both despite the yellowcake imbroglio.

UPDATE: David Broder gives the economy bigger billing as a detrimental factor to Dubya's reelection prospects.

posted by Gregory| 7/14/2003 11:05:00 PM
 

How Dumb is Colonel Gaddafi?

Real, real dumb.

UPDATE: Link fixed.

posted by Gregory| 7/14/2003 05:34:00 PM
 

Bloggers Storming the House of Commons!

Read about it here.

posted by Gregory| 7/14/2003 05:14:00 PM
 

Iraq Troop Contribution Watch

Bad news from New Delhi--but ultimately not overly surprising.

UPDATE: Note the significantly more negative NYT treatment of the story.

posted by Gregory| 7/14/2003 05:11:00 PM
 

Embryonic Eurocorp March?

Mais oui:

"In a gesture of European unity, a German general headed France's Bastille Day military parade Monday for the first time...Gen. Holger Kammerhoff opened the march by leading 120 troops from the five-nation Eurocorps down the famed avenue to the Place de la Concorde, underscoring the close ties between France and Germany and the goal of closer European unity. Germany fought two wars with France in the last century."

posted by Gregory| 7/14/2003 05:06:00 PM
 

Lelyveld Interregnum Ends

And so begins the Keller watch.

posted by Gregory| 7/14/2003 03:55:00 PM
 

Uranium Intelligence

Check out this piece on the provenance of the information regarding potential uranium procurement efforts by Baghdad. Elsewhere in the FT Douglas Hurd has some thoughts on Iraq.

Meanwhile, Blair and Straw continue to defend British intelligence reports on the uranium/Africa information.

posted by Gregory| 7/14/2003 03:38:00 PM


7/13/2003  

Don't Kill Saddam!

The Week in Review section of the Sunday Times is opened up for such moronic musings:

"But the final argument against assassination, often noted by American intelligence officers, was the most practical--you might get rid of public enemy No. 1, but who would take his place? Mr. Bremer has cited the survival of Mr. Hussein as a kind of psychological barrier, scaring off some Iraqis who might be willing to work with the Americans, and inspiring others to go on fighting.

But how can Washington be sure that killing Mr. Hussein will be a change for the better? Success might only clear the path for another Iraqi leader, just as intransigent but free of Mr. Hussein's terrible burden of decades of crime against his own people."

Note too the offensive title of the piece: "When Frontier Justice Becomes Foreign Policy." We really do have an amazingly idiotic cowboy simpleton at the helm, don't we?

There are other goodies on offer from the Times today, bien sur.

Here's some good old fashioned MaDo:

"Their [the Bush crowd's] defensive crouch and obsession with secrecy are positively Nixonian. (But instead of John Dean and an aggressive media, they have Howard Dean and a cowed media.)"

The Watergate comparisons are really an outrage. Here's one guy who should know not taking the bait. For the record, lest we forget, British intelligence still stands by the report on the Niger/uranium story. I think it's bogus, and it shouldn't have been in the speech, but inclusion of the one sentence in the SOTU simply is so far removed from Nixon's actions during Watergate that comparisons are absurd.

A Commander in Chief needs to rely on his intelligence agencies for procurement of information related to furtherance of national security interests. Intelligence gathering is an imperfect art. Taken in its totality, the Niger/uranium story relied on pretty shaky intelligence and should not have been included in a Presidential speech. But Watergate this ain't. Not by a long shot.

And I say this even after reading TPM's voluminous wall-to-wall coverage on the issue!

Note: That said, we are getting months into having concluded conventional, major hostilities in Iraq and have yet to unearth any WMD. It is time to investigate, perhaps internally or via a blue-ribbon commission rather than full-blown public hearings (that will inexorably become a circus as we approach the election year) what intelligence was good and what intelligence was bunk. Findings should be shared with the public.

U.S. credibility on such matters, going forward, must be maintained and such an exercise would be helpful towards achieving continued credibility. Given the need for possible preemptive action(s) in the future--intelligence we provide to the court of international public opinion going forward must not be discounted out of hand (even if unfairly) because of some possible failures related to Iraq intelligence.





posted by Gregory| 7/13/2003 07:39:00 PM


7/11/2003  

The Howard Dean School of Foreign Policy

First, check out this must read from Charles Krauthammer.

Money grafs:

"They all had a claim on the American conscience. What then was the real difference between, say, Haiti and Gulf War I, and between Liberia and Gulf War II? The Persian Gulf has deep strategic significance for the United States; Haiti and Liberia do not. In both gulf wars, critical American national interests were being defended and advanced. Yet it is precisely these interventions that liberals opposed.

The only conclusion one can draw is that for liberal Democrats, America's strategic interests are not just an irrelevance, but also a deterrent to intervention. This is a perversity born of moral vanity. For liberals, foreign policy is social work. National interest -- i.e., national selfishness -- is a taint. The only justified interventions, therefore, are those that are morally pristine, namely, those that are uncorrupted by any suggestion of national interest."

Speaking of liberal democrats, you will likely be hearing much from them in the coming months about how Dubya has taken the wrecking ball to the multilateral order with his gruff, Crawford-style unilateralism.

Yet the reality as prominent, non-neo-cons like Richard Haas point out is much more complex.

"The unilateral critique of American foreign policy is overstated. The most interesting debates are not the debates between unilateralism and multilateralism, but what kind of multilateralism? Is it multilateralism that is formal, in the sense of the United Nations? Is it multilateralism that is still formal, but regional? For example, using NATO, as we did in Kosovo? When do you have to turn to coalitions of the willing? When you do turn to a coalition of the willing, how do you give it a dimension of legitimacy? How do you make it acceptable? Those are the real foreign policy questions, not whether there is a unilateral option, because, quite honestly, there isn't one."

For some recommendations on 'what kind of multilateralism' the U.S. should strive for post 9/11 check out this roundtable study I helped author. This report ultimately sides less with an overly formalistic multilateralism (which Dean appears to unfortunately espouse, see below).

And be careful accepting the proposition that Howard Dean would prove a "credible alternative" on national security issues:

"All, including Dean, support some variant of liberal institutionalism--i.e., working closely with democratic allies, strengthening multilateral institutions, opposing preventive wars, and investing more in homeland defense. And Dean, like the rest of the candidates, extols Harry S Truman and John F. Kennedy as his guiding stars on foreign policy matters. In his speeches, he emphasizes the combination of their hawkishness in the face of illiberal threats and multilateralism as the preferred method for combating such threats. Dean's emphasis on Kennedy's prudence during the Cuban missile crisis was a constant refrain of leading Democrats in late 2002.

Furthermore, Dean's opposition on Iraq does not mean he is opposed to the overseas deployment of U.S. forces. He has been refreshingly candid in advocating a more active nation-building role for the United States, and has advocated sending more troops to Iraq and Afghanistan for that purpose. This week he strongly supported the deployment of U.S. peacekeeping forces to Liberia as part of a multilateral intervention."

First, it's easy to pile on regarding how we should be sending more troops into Iraq and Afghanistan for nation-building. But Dean has yet to provide us with credible, serious details on what he would be doing differently in Iraq today.

Perhaps he would throw more money at it? But given Dean's significant ambitions in the domestic sphere--he will have to explain how a greater than $3.9 billion/month price tag will fit into his expansive domestic programs. And Krauthammer well explains the limitations of Dean's worldview that has him cheerleading a Liberia troop deployment but hyper-reticent with regard to a Persian Gulf operation.

As for the Truman and Kennedy analogies--I disagree with Drezner that Dean mentions them in his speeches to emphasize their "combination of hawkishness in the face of illiberal threats and multilateralism as the preferred method for combating such threats."

This is really more about Democrat iconography. Of course Truman and Kennedy will be trotted out as models--would Dean instead point to a Carter or Clinton? He wouldn't not only because of said prospective predecessors often bungled handling of national security but also because mentioning a Carter or Clinton would also serve to remind voters about the perils of promoting former Democrat statehouse dwellers, largely devoid of foreign policy experience, to the White House.

Am I taking unfair potshots? Let's take a closer look at Dean's CFR speech and what it reveals about his foreign policy views:

"He [Harry Truman] believed that if America reached out to others in friendship and with respect, our strength would be multiplied and that more and more countries would support our policies not because we told them to, but because they wanted to.

Harry Truman believed that a world in which even the poorest and most desperate had grounds for hope would be a world in which our own children could grow up in security and peace not because evil would then be absent from the globe, but because the forces of right would be united and strong.

Harry Truman had faith as I have faith, and as I believe the American people have faith, that if we are wise enough and determined enough in our opposition to hate and our promotion of tolerance; in our opposition to aggression and our fidelity to law; we will have allies not only among governments but among people everywhere."

This is largely prattle devoid of any real meaning and could just as easily have been written by someone in the Bush Administration. What candidate will not pontificate from the stump about wanting to reach out to other nations in "in friendship"? Or the importance of our children growing up in "security and peace." And what exactly are the "forces of right"? Those forces arrayed against the "axis of evil"?

What here evokes a sense that Dean extols Truman because of his "combination of hawkishness in the face of illiberal threats and multilateralism as the preferred method for combating such threats"? Really, nothing.

But what about this portion of Dean's speech?

"Presidents such as Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy built and strengthened international institutions, rather than dismissing and disparaging the concerns of allies. They inspired and mobilized other countries because they believed there was no more powerful force on earth than that of free people working together.

They helped build global platforms such as the UN, NATO, and the World Bank on which free people everywhere could stand. Our greatest leaders built America's reputation as the world's leading democracy by never resting until they had given life to American ideals."

More boiler-plate campaign rhetoric and Truman/Kennedy hagiography. Dean needs to explain how Bush has disparaged or dismissed the international fora that Truman constructed. But he can't do so convincingly regarding major security issues that Bush has dealt with during his term (in fairness, Dean does rightly suggest that, with treaties like Kyoto, we should at least propose alternatives rather than just dismiss them out of hand).

Again, however, we have an ultimately ineffective critique as Dubya has pursued multilateral avenues in places like Iraq. Iraq was representative of a form of multilateralism, a "coalition of the willing," that comprised nations like the U.K., Australia and Poland. And Iraq didn't destroy the U.N.

More importantly, Dean never delineates how his proposed strengthening of various international institutions would be specifically pursued and how that would improve America's position in the world or the U.S. national interest. They are merely goals we are to assume are good in and of themselves. But his overly formalistic approach to multilateralism is contra the alleged hawkish tendencies a Truman would take in the face of "illiberal threats." (see more on this below)

Here's the real state of play on Dean's likely foreign policy-related critiques of Dubya. Dean, who is prematurely calling for Bush administration resignations in melodramatic tones ("they know who they are") on hyped-up uranium gate--will hammer on two foreign policy themes as the election draws nearer and the campaigining gets nastier.

One, that he was the only Democrat (with a real shot at the nomination who is not an overly pre-packaged Beltway insider like Kerry or Lieberman) to have had the courage to oppose going to war in Iraq because there was no real, immediate WMD threat. And hey, looks like I was right, he hopes to be able to claim, assuming no WMD programs, products or other capability found in Iraq between now and the election.

Second, Bush has, through a combination of arrogance, recklessness and ineptitude split organizations like the U.N. and NATO showing he cares little for international organizations. He will argue that the U.S. is therefore loathed in many parts of the world because it is seen as an arrogant hegemon. Vote for me, and I'll put these various multilateral fora back into working order, make sure no one breathes the words "empire" and "America" in the same sentence, and generally make us loved again from Jakarta to Paris. This is the supposed Kennedy/Truman multilateral good-guy angle.

There are two main problems with all this (leaving aside the WMD and resignations angle). First, as already mentioned, it is not accurate to portray Bush as having pursued a predominately unilateral policy. Related to this contention, and in terms of allegedly splitting NATO or the UN, recall that, regarding the former, it was solely the French who held out on voting for NATO support to Turkey per the U.S. request. On the U.N., Bush delivered a widely applauded speech on September 12, 2002 spelling out U.S. demands to a somewhat receptive international community in measured, methodical fashion. His Secretary of State followed the speech up with securing an unanimous UNSC vote demanding that Iraq provide unfettered access and full disclosure on its WMD programs.

Neither were forthcoming. No reason to revisit all the Quai D'Orsay perfidy or the recycled Iraqi document drop on their WMD programs here now--but the diplomacy at the U.N. and Bush Administration conduct generally was not about Dubya trying to destroy Acheson's "Present at the Creation" postwar system (as Dean would have you believe).

A second problem is Dean's overly formal approach to multilateralism alluded to above which renders his attempted linkage to Truman's foreign policy disingenuous. What would allegedly hawkish, humanitarian-minded (and fervent international law stalwart too) Howard Dean do in the face of a Kosovo, for instance? Kosovars are being massacred by Milosevic's forces. Population transfers are underway. The Russians and Chinese are going to veto any credible UNSC resolution calling Milosevic to task.

Would he go in regardless to protect civilian lives? Of course he would, his defenders would argue. Look at his stance in Liberia. Folks, don't be fooled.

Going into Liberia is a no-brainer for any Democrat on the campaign trail for electoral reasons (among other factors, because it helps with the African-American vote) and it presents no real controversy on the international stage. Virtually everyone wants Americans in Monrovia. I mean, the French are urging us to go into Liberia.

Back to the Kosovo hypothetical. All told, I would predict that the likely amateurish foreign policy team he would assemble would back away from the brink. It would be a Clinton (pre-Holbrooke) redux. Lot's of hang-wringing. Lot's of late-night Yale Law style bull sessions with Dominos deliveries keeping the pow-wow going into the wee hours. And little action. Partly because of concerns the integrity of UNSC decision-making would be violated if Moscow wouldn't grant us an abstention, for instance.

Check out this PBS Gwen Ifill interview of Dean for a sampler of the likely impotence a Dean would bring to U.S. foreign policy related to this point:

GWEN IFILL: Governor, by my count, you just used some version of the word "unilateral" six times in that response. If... the president would argue he is not favoring a unilateral attack, that he has support from Britain and other nations and is now going to the United Nations for a second resolution. Under what circumstances could you imagine a multilateral attack?

FMR. GOV. HOWARD DEAN: Well, I think that the United Nations makes it clear that Saddam has to disarm, and if he doesn't, then they will disarm him militarily. I have no problem with supporting a United Nations attack on Iraq, but I want it to be supported by the United Nations. That's a well-constituted body. The problem with the so-called multilateral attack that the president is talking about is an awful lot of countries, for example, like Turkey-- we gave them $20 billion in loan guarantees and outright grants in order to secure their permission to attack. I don't think that's the right way to put together a coalition. I think this really has to be a world matter. Saddam must be disarmed. He is as evil as everybody says he is. But we need to respect the legal rights that are involved here. Unless they are an imminent threat, we do not have a legal right, in my view, to attack them. [my emphasis]

Hostile planes might well have to be in Manhattan airspace before a Dean Administration judged a threat sufficiently "imminent." And respecting the "legal rights that are involved here" means, in practice, kowtowing to a Moscow, Beijing or Paris to the detriment of vital American interests or in the face of gross violations of human rights.

Of course it's always better to act with UNSC cohesion on war and peace issues. But we cannot become entrapped by a UNSC unwilling to assume its responsibilities in the face of genocidal horrors and/or where vital American interests are at stake. We need to pursue more flexible multilateral strategies, for example, occasionally employing ad hoc coalitions of the willing and the like.

Bottom line: if you want to vote Democrat and care about national security--look perhaps to a Bob Graham or Joe Lieberman. But not to Howard Dean. You won't get a top-flight foreign policy in a Dean Administration. And U.S. national interests will therefore suffer on the global stage.

UPDATE: Joe Klein in Time has Dean supporting the interventions in Kosovo and Bosnia. That would evidently weaken some of my arguments above. I'm going to have to do some digging around on this. Part of me thinks he's gotten a pass by stating he supports NATO-style peacekeeping efforts like Bosnia/Kosovo rather than having confronted directly the question of how he would have intervened without an UNSC resolution. More soon when time allows.

















posted by Gregory| 7/11/2003 11:51:00 AM


7/10/2003  

Hudna Watch

The specter of irredentist splinter groups:

"In effect, most of the rejectionist groups, including the Islamic organizations, were established because of disappointment and dissatisfaction with a parent organization. Hamas split from the Muslim Brotherhood because the Palestinian issue was not at the top of the
brotherhood's agenda. The Islamic Jihad quit Hamas over ideology and particularly military tactics, while Hezbollah broke away from Amal because of Amal's moderation vis-a-vis Israel. Secular rejectionist groups also broke away from parent organizations."

Skeptics will state these musings are being aired to provide deniability by the leadership of Hamas or Islamic Jihad if operatives carry out terror attacks. I think these groups exert pretty central control but nevertheless can't discount the occasional rogue operative or, perhaps, some splintering per the above. Regardless, should such splinter movements actually start a terror campaign, the PA will need to prove its stripes and crack down on them with real alacrity.

Meanwhile, Dahlan is requesting urgent action on prisoner releases and further IDF withdrawals. Likely because Dahlan needs deliverables to garner greater street cred given Arafat's machinations.

posted by Gregory| 7/10/2003 03:23:00 PM
 

The Poodle Angle

An IHT editorial that gets it all wrong on Tony Blair and Dubya:

"Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain is perhaps too popular to be felled by the relentless questioning about the flawed intelligence he cited to justify joining the United States in the war on Iraq. But it is one of several sad sequels to Operation Iraqi Freedom that America's closest political ally, and one of the most dynamic and popular leaders in Europe, is being dragged down by a war he embraced at Washington's behest." [my emphasis]

Behest typically means an authoritative command. Does the IHT really wish to opine that Dubya commanded Blair to join the Iraq war effort? How drearily simplistic and cliched.

Here is how Blair had handled such "MP from Texas" or "poodle" charges earlier during the advent to the war. Elsewhere, I recall too that Blair had said that if Dubya wasn't urging his government towards action on Iraq he would have been calling Washington to take a more vigorous role on the issue himself. So much for acting at "Washington's behest."

Meanwhile, the row between 10 Downing and the Beeb looks set to get worse. Far from a retraction--the Beeb is now pushing the WMD story more claiming senior Whitehall officials have told them they expect no WMD to turn up. Developing.

posted by Gregory| 7/10/2003 02:59:00 PM
 

The Northern Sector

Amidst the continuing loss of coalition forces mostly in majority Sunni areas of Iraq, as well as much speculation regarding whether the U.S. can find moderate Shi'as to cooperate with in the southern regions--less attention has been paid to the predominately Kurdish areas in northern Iraq.

Recently, however, there has been more activity than usual on this front. Most dramatically, there was the U.S. detention of some eleven Turkish special forces troops. The reaction in Turkey, as seen here and here, has been far from positive. Meanwhile, Tom Oliphant in today's IHT enunciates what might well be considered the current U.S. conventional wisdom surrounding the incident and its potential ramifications.

Elsewhere, Kurdish rivals Barzani and Talabani cooperate on a NYT/IHT op-ed that seeks to raise the Kurdish issue in the Beltway to a higher degree of attention. Parts of it looks like it was written by Washington PR types assisting the Kurds with some good Beltway spin:

"One simple way to improve the economy in our part of Iraq, Kurdistan, is to ensure that the Kurds receive the money allocated to them by the United Nations oil-for-food program. It is a scandal that $4 billion destined for the Kurds sits, unused, in a UN-controlled French bank account because of past obstruction by Saddam and the present incompetence of the UN bureaucracy."

Will those nefarious Frogs (conveniently so very unpopular these days in the Beltway) release our oil-for-food funds already?

Meanwhile, Talabani is commenting on the Turkish/U.S. dispute in what might charitably be described as a disingenuous manner.

The detention of a NATO member's forces by another NATO army is certainly not a routine event. And, as my links above show, the Turks are fuming over the incident. They are wondering if the decision to detain the soldiers was vetted at high levels in Washington or whether it was an action taken on the ground at lower levels. Either way, this is still very much a developing story as further details emerge and tempers cool.

But this much is clear. One of the Turk's major concerns is that, no longer forced to defend themselves against Saddam, Kurds are moving men (or at least materiel) across the border to their fellow Kurds in Turkey. There is, of course, concern that Kurdish guerrilla-style actions in majority Kurd areas of Turkey will now be on an uptick. Reports of heightened Kurdish militia activity are beginning to seep out.

Put differently, there is a feeling in Ankara that the Kurds are feeling pretty empowered these days. This view is supported by U.S. gratitude to the Kurds stemming from common Kurdish and U.S. interests during the Iraq campaign. This factor must be viewed alongside the significant residual animus towards Ankara that exists in Washington given the lack of significant support from Turkey during the Iraq war.

Throw in feelings of wounded national pride (likely somewhat exagerrated for dramatic effect) over the detention of the Turkish soldiers, deep-seated fears about the preservation of the territorial integrity of Turkey, and the attendant national security concerns given potential Kurdish troublemaking in Turkey proper--you have a pretty toxic brew as seen from Ankara.

But the U.S. has very important interests at play as well. As Oliphant puts it:

"In the current environment, the United States can hardly insist that Iran keep its political and subversive hands out of the delicate situation in the Shiite south. It can hardly insist that Syria not become a haven for cross-border guerrilla and terrorist activities and still tolerate Turkish misbehavior in the north simply because it has status as a NATO member. NATO membership is a responsibility, not a license."

The question is whether Turkish and American diplomats and senior military leaders can smooth over and foster some form of awkward cohabitation given significantly different national interests at work in the northern Iraq sector. I think it's a close call going forward. On the negative side of the ledger it's quite alarming to see Turkish establishment generals--a bulwark of stability buttressing the secular orientation of Turkey--issuing quite acrimonious rhetoric towards Washington. On the other hand, the Cheney-Erdogan chat may well have improved the situation somewhat. More on this soon.

posted by Gregory| 7/10/2003 10:44:00 AM
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