Monthly Archives: February 2004

Quiet in Iraq?

Sunday, February 29, 2004

Quiet in Iraq?
Iraq bombings and killings seem to have disappeared from the headlines in the last week or so here. It may be because of poor Haiti’s problems and the Democratic Primary election have pushed some of the news off the pages of our newspapers. The only news is of the internal power struggle over the Iraq Interim Constitution. The concern now is that the struggle of the Shia for dominance and that of the Kurds for independence will tear whatever we try to do apart before it has begun. A legitimate solution to a new government in Iraq is going to be difficult indeed, and as usual the Bush Administration is in a huge hurry to get the whole disaster behind them.

I don’t think it’s going to go away. Iraqis have little experience with the compromises that a democratic government requires so there is no agreement on the role of Islam or the status of the Kurds. Sunnis do not even seem to be consulted at all, and Bremer seems to want everyone to work at it until they drop from exhaustion.

There is a vivid description of an Iraqi and Arab frame of mind on A Family in Baghdad for February 21. We all seem to have skewed views of eachother. American Cold War politics certainly set the stage for weakened Arab states, and our support and encouragement of Israel exclusively at the expense of Arabs is certainly at the root of all the current mindless violence among the Palestinians and elsewhere. How easy it is to place blame in hindsight!

Many of us were young and idealistic in the 60’s and early 70’s. Some of us went off to other countries to learn about them and their people, others went to help through the Peace Corps. Many of our dreams were wrapped up in our charismatic President Kennedy. When he was killed, and the war in Vietnam was dragged on by his successors, many of us lost our way, became disillusioned with the power of people to direct their own destinies. We were hurt by the expose of the Ugly American, but knew it was true. In the Philippines and in Africa, I met the kinds of ignorant American official described in the book many times.  We came home from our adventures or from the war and worked to end that particular mistake. But many of us also withdrew into non participation which let our most radical elements take control of events. The vision of a stable, fair world order under an agreed upon rule of law that lighted most efforts after WWII gave way to destructive competitions for power which continue today. The ideal of tolerance and respect for differences and the opinions of others seems to be crumbling against a wall of extremism on all sides.

If the Democrats win the November election, what will happen in Iraq? Do they have ideas and plans? If so, I haven’t seen them. If Bush wins, what then? Either way is a crap shoot, a roll of the dice, since few seem to know how to proceed. We need to rethink our unconditional support of Israel. The brutality of the wall and the assassinations is inexcusable. And we need to find a way to lift Palestinians to something like self-respect to stop their murderous violence. If it’s not already too late, a negotiated settlement must be reached.

Monday, February 16, 2004

Holiday thoughts
Today is a holiday to celebrate the birthdays of two extraordinary men who were our presidents. I recover from self-inflicted indigestion though the cause escapes me. Haiti appears to be self-destructing again. There been more headline grabbing violence in Iraq. Bush’s National Guard “service” in the 1970’s is being questioned (It looks like he skipped out on most of his last year of duty.). Kerry has become the front runner for the Democrats, and his juggernaut seems unbeatable. Not sure he’s the best choice, but almost any change from the stumble-bum Bush would be better.

I’m not particularly angry with Bush. I think he’s not too bright, irresponsible and careless, and may have worked a deal to snatch the last election from Gore. In some ways I think he may well be a victim of his courtiers and managers like many an old-time prince who succeeds a royal father, not strong enough in himself to dominate all forces surrounding him from his father’s past. Much of his Administration is transported whole from the Reagan era and has the same mind set that made for Iran-Contra, the same “voodoo economics”, the same careless disregard for truth in the face of reality. But not a victim. I think he may use it (the influence of the past) to further his own interest – the rich man’s careless, shallow public life – an image rather than a reality.

The image is falling apart. The Texas macho lawman image that made so many cheer after having parked their brains and rational thought, is crumbling in the light of Dr. Kay’s report and the gruesome statistics from Iraq

CIA Reports to Congress on Iraq, Hans Blix, David Kay and the Power of Words, Part 2

Hans Blix and the United Nations inspectors returned to Iraq in November of 2002. Unlike the UN inspections previous experiences, they appeared to be given every cooperation by the Iraqis.

On February 14, 2003, he made a report to the Security Council in which he said in part:

How much, if any, is left of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and related proscribed items and programmes? So far, UNMOVIC has not found any such weapons, only a small number of empty chemical munitions, which should have been declared and destroyed. Another matter – and one of great significance – is that many proscribed weapons and items are not accounted for. To take an example, a document, which Iraq provided, suggested to us that some 1,000 tonnes of chemical agent were “unaccounted for”. One must not jump to the conclusion that they exist. However, that possibility is also not excluded. If they exist, they should be presented for destruction. If they do not exist, credible evidence to that effect should be presented.

How much more careful he is than the CIA report! By this time, Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Powell had already made those speeches in Cincinnati, the UN and elsewhere in which statements are made about what was “known” about Iraq’s weapons that really wasn’t known, emotions in the US had been whipped to boiling, and war was imminent.


Cheney, August 26, 2002 :

Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us. And there is no doubt that his aggressive regional ambitions will lead him into future confrontations with his neighbors — confrontations that will involve both the weapons he has today, and the ones he will continue to develop with his oil wealth.


Bush’s Speech before the United Nations September 13, 2002 :

As we meet today, it’s been almost four years since the last UN inspector set foot in Iraq – four years for the Iraqi regime to plan and to build and to test behind the cloak of secrecy.

We know that Saddam Hussein pursued weapons of mass murder even when inspectors were in his country. Are we to assume that he stopped when they left?

The history, the logic and the facts lead to one conclusion: Saddam Hussein regime is a grave and gathering danger.

To suggest otherwise is to hope against the evidence. To assume this regime’s good faith is to bet the lives of millions and the peace of the world in a reckless gamble, and this is a risk we must not take.

The “evidence”? What evidence?


Rumsfeld Testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, September 18, 2002 on Saddam Hussein :

“He’s amassed large, clandestine stockpiles of biological weapons, including Anthrax, botulism, toxins and possibly Smallpox.

“He’s amassed large, clandestine stockpiles of chemical weapons, including VX, Sarin and mustard gas.

“His regime has an active program to acquire nuclear weapons.

“His regime has dozens of ballistic missiles and is working to extend their ranges in violation of UN restrictions.”

and further:

We do know that Saddam Hussein has been actively and persistently pursuing nuclear weapons for more than 20 years. But we should be just as concerned about the immediate threat from biological weapons. Iraq has these weapons. They’re much simpler to deliver than nuclear weapons and even more readily transferred to terrorist networks, who could allow Iraq to deliver them without Iraq’s fingerprints on the attack.


Bush in Cincinnati, October 7, 2002 :

“The danger is already significant, and it only grows worse with time. If we know Saddam Hussein has dangerous weapons today — and we do — does it make any sense for the world to wait to confront him as he grows even stronger and develops even more dangerous weapons? ”

And again:

“We know that the regime has produced thousands of tons of chemical agents, including mustard gas, sarin nerve gas, VX nerve gas.”


What a tragedy that the following warning fell on deaf ears! Hans Blix’s team was airlifted out of Iraq on March 18, 2003, the day before the “war” began, it’s work abruptly interrupted by those who could no longer be convinced by any evidence as they had already decided what was true and what wasn’t and convinced themselves that only they held the right answers.

We are fully aware that many governmental intelligence organizations are convinced and assert that proscribed weapons, items and programmes continue to exist. The US Secretary of State presented material in support of this conclusion. Governments have many sources of information that are not available to inspectors. Inspectors, for their part, must base their reports only on evidence, which they can, themselves, examine and present publicly. Without evidence, confidence cannot arise.

There’s that word evidence again. Only this time it really means something. Governments would do well in future to follow that advice about verifiable evidence.

In his report to Congress on October 2, 2003, David Kay makes the following statements:

We need to recall that in the 1991-2003 period the intelligence community and the UN/IAEA inspectors had to draw conclusions as to the status of Iraq’s WMD program in the face of incomplete, and often false, data supplied by Iraq or data collected either by UN/IAEA inspectors operating within the severe constraints that Iraqi security and deception actions imposed or by national intelligence collection systems with their own inherent limitations.

The result was that our understanding of the status of Iraq’s WMD program was always bounded by large uncertainties and had to be heavily caveated.

It is an open denial of what the Bush Administration kept endlessly repeating about what they KNEW about Iraq’s intentions and capabilities.

Dr. Kay’s testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee is even more of a flat statement:

“Senator Kennedy knows very directly. Senator Kennedy and I talked on several occasions prior to the war that my view was that the best evidence that I had seen was that Iraq, indeed, had weapons of mass destruction.

I would also point out that many governments that chose not to support this war — certainly, the French president, Chirac, as I recall in April of last year, referred to Iraq’s possession of WMD. The German certainly — the intelligence service believed that there were WMD.

It turns out that we were all wrong, probably in my judgment, and that is most disturbing. ….

Disturbing, indeed.

CIA Reports to Congress on Iraq, Hans Blix and the Power of Words

The unclassified CIA “Report to Congress on the Acquisition of Technology Relating to Weapons of Mass Destruction” of January to June 1999 contains the following paragraph:

We do not have any direct evidence that Iraq has used the period since Desert Fox to reconstitute its WMD programs, although given its past behavior, this type of activity must be regarded as likely. The United Nations assesses that Baghdad has the capability to reinitiate both its CW and BW programs within a few weeks to months, but without an inspection monitoring program, it is difficult to determine if Iraq has done so.

I have chosen this particular paragraph because it appears in all the Reports in one form or another. There is no reason for feeling threatened and going to war contained in those words, although it points to problems well worth keeping an eye on. It talks about a possibility but admits to no verifiable fact without an inspection monitoring program. Almost the same paragraph is repeated in the report to Congress of January to June 2000:

We do not have any direct evidence that Iraq has used the period since Desert Fox to reconstitute its WMD programs, although given its past behavior, this type of activity must be regarded as likely. We assess that since the suspension of UN inspections in December of 1998, Baghdad has had the capability to reinitiate both its CW and BW programs within a few weeks to months. Without an inspection monitoring program, however, it is more difficult to determine if Iraq has done so.

The Report for July to December 2000 begins to change, but not greatly. The “direct evidence” statement is gone, and Iraq’s past behavior has moved to the beginning:

Given Iraq’s past behavior, it is likely that Iraq has used the period since Desert Fox to reconstitute prohibited programs. We assess that since the suspension of UN inspections in December of 1998, Baghdad has had the capability to reinitiate both its CW and BW programs within a few weeks to months. Without an inspection-monitoring program, however, it is more difficult to determine if Iraq has done so.

The authors judge that Iraq has the capability to reinitiate programs, but acknowledge that without the inspections, they do not know if Iraq has actually done so.

Then in 2001, after Bush takes office, words change. For the period of January to June 2001, the sentence in the Report about not having direct evidence is still absent, and the linkage to Iraq’s past behavior is again emphasized by becoming the first statement:

Given Iraq’s past behavior, it is likely that Baghdad has used the intervening period to reconstitute prohibited programs. We assess that since the suspension of UN inspections in December of 1998, Baghdad has had the capability to reinitiate its CW programs within a few weeks to months. Iraq’s failure to submit an accurate Full, Final, and Complete Disclosure (FFCD) in either 1995 or 1997, coupled with its extensive concealment efforts, suggest that the BW program has continued. Without an inspection-monitoring program, however, it is more difficult to determine the current status of these programs.

In the space of one year, the situation seems to seems have become more threatening, even though there are still no ascertainable facts to justify the assessment given. “We assess…” has again taken the place of “no direct evidence”. No new information is claimed, but a new speculation has been added based on the lack of accurate reports from Iraq and its secretive efforts that the BW program has continued. However, the final sentence about monitoring remains. Simply because Iraq might have the capability to reconstitute its programs doesn’t necessarily mean that it has. Much was unknown.

By the end of 2001, after 9/11, the wording of the reports changes totally. They are much longer and more detailed, and the language of doubt has just about disappeared. This paragraph becomes part of another on economic sanctions and missile development where it doesn’t seem to quite belong except that linking them leads to the idea of missiles equipped with chemical and biological agents:

If economic sanctions against Iraq were lifted, Baghdad probably would increase its attempts to acquire missile-related items from foreign sources, regardless of any future UN monitoring and continuing restrictions on long-range ballistic missile programs. With substantial foreign assistance and an accommodating political environment, Baghdad could flight-test an MRBM by mid-decade. In addition, Iraq probably retains a small, covert force of Scud ballistic missiles, launchers, and conventional, chemical, and biological warheads. We assess that, since December 1998, Iraq has increased its capability to pursue chemical warfare (CW) programs. After both the Gulf war and Operation Desert Fox in December 1998, Iraq rebuilt key portions of its chemical production infrastructure for industrial and commercial use, as well as former dual-use CW production facilities and missile production facilities. Iraq has attempted to purchase numerous dual-use items for, or under the guise of, legitimate civilian use. Since the suspension of UN inspections in December 1998, the risk of diversion of such equipment has increased. In addition, Iraq appears to be installing or repairing dual-use equipment at CW-related facilities. Some of these facilities could be converted fairly quickly for production of CW agents.

All of a sudden the report is guessing about Iraq’s intentions to acquire missiles. It talks about dual-use facilities and purchases, but the caveat in the last sentence about inspections is gone altogether. Iraq’s “likely” rebuilding has become “rebuilt”, but no new information is cited except “attempts” (successful?; unsuccessful?) to purchase dual use equipment. That Iraq appeared to be installing or repairing such equipment is unsupported by any factual reference, though that might have been contained in the classified report. There is obviously much that is still unknown, though the wording makes the situation seem to be more threatening. It begins to look a bit as though the writers were finding the answers they believed were there.

There is a definite question here as to why the emphasis has been changed. Was it altered to meet the preconceived ideas and wishes of the Administration, or were they so traumatized by 9/11 that uncertain possibilities are believed to be factual. One has to wonder if the judgment of those at the top was informed by any knowledge of Iraq’s history or culture, an awareness that any real “facts” about the country based on what was observable in the 1980’s when Iraq and the USA were partners in the Iran-Iraq war, or a world view that saw the gray unknown reality rather than the black and white of evil versus good.


Hoagland, writing in the Washington Post, is talking about David Kay’s testimony before Congress last week, and his appearance on NPR’s Nightly News. He says among other things:

Kay correctly cast the huge intelligence failure in Iraq in historic terms: This was on a par with the agency’s misreading of the strength of the Soviet Union’s economy as it stumbled toward collapse. “What had looked like a 10-foot power turned out to be an economy that barely existed. . . . We are particularly bad about understanding societal trends” because intelligence agencies invest in satellites and other technological means and neglect “our human intelligence capability,” Kay added bluntly.

The truth in Machiavellian terms is worse: Bush and Blair accepted and actually believed the flawed intelligence that their spy bosses and senior aides provided, and then inflated it in their public speeches. Credulity, not chicanery, would be the plea, your honor.

This last is what I think is the truth of the matter, Machiavellian or not. The fact that they believed what they were told tends to show the shallowness of both men and their lack of any historical reference for making decisions. Stupid they were; just plain stupid. They reached out for the easy solution to a fearful problem, and came up with the wrong answer. And where were those who should have had the perspective and the common sense to advise them differently? Not that Bush, anyway, would have listened to anything that didn’t match his view of reality.

The quality of our “intelligence services” has been abysmal since WWII, and that has been a public fact for almost as many years. Even the recent misses of the Clinton Administration should have warned the Bushies to be more careful. What would they have lost by waiting for Hans Blix’s team to finish its inspection?

We have dealt Iraq the equivalent of a disastrous earthquake; an 8 on the Richter scale, and now we’re in the process of withdrawing forces and leaving Iraq in chaos. Setting it up for another dictator.

It is probably quite true as Rumsfeld said that events on the ground make it difficult if not impossible to plan, but surely someone should have come up with an historical perspective that would have given some idea to the leaders of what kinds of things to expect. They were, after all, warned of the chaos and looting that would happen, but instead of preparing for it and securing the most important sites, cultural, governmental, and economic, they stood idly by while records, treasures of the past, and key knowledge disappeared forever. Sometimes the smartest people make the most stupid mistakes.

It is highly unlikely in the light of all the multiple stupidities, that Iraq will become a “Democracy” in the near future. We do not know how to make this happen, and can not hope to when we won’t even learn enough about the country’s past to prepare ourselves for the present predicament. Someone should have read The Seven Pillars of Wisdom more carefully than I did and taken its lessons to heart. Lawrence was no fool and had the sense to learn to live the way the arabs did and speak their language even though the establishment of his day thought he was crazy.

Unfortunately, people with minds and intelligence like that are seldom admitted into the upper reaches of our government where the intellectual is looked upon with suspicion. Clinton had the courage to listen to all sides. He used his brain and his common sense where it counted in foreign policy if not in his personal life.Sure he made mistakes, bombed the wrong things, but he didn’t make the major error that Bush will be blamed for: putting our soldiers and our security at risk for all the wrong reasons in a wrong and unjustified preemptive war that we in the west, the Iraqis, and the rest of the Arab world will spend the foreseeable future paying for in lives and treasure.

I don’t believe the spies should get the blame for the naive and stupid irresponsibility of this leadership though that’s what will probably now happen. They have been to do their jobs without sufficient funds, support, and people on the ground for years. So history does indeed repeat itself as we follow the familiar pattern set in Vietnam.

Dowd Nails it Again

“The moral of Vietnam was supposed to be that we would never again go to war without understanding the culture of our antagonists, or exaggerate their threat to us.

“Some of those involved in running the ’91 Iraq war think the U.S. should cut its losses, forget about Iowa-style caucuses (mirroring again), get the U.N. in there and let Kofi Annan and the Iraqi Governing Council negotiate with Ayatollah Sistani, who won’t talk to the U.S. anyway.

“The White House will have a lot of explaining to do if Iraq exchanges one form of dictatorship for another, or if it takes on a fundamentalist Islamic cast that sets Iraqi women’s rights back 40 years.

“‘These guys created the exact can of worms we tried to avoid,'” said a Bush 41 official. “‘Guess what? Baghdad is ours.’ ”

[From Maureen Dowd’s Op Ed piece in the New York Times of Sunday, February 1, 2004]

Will the Bushies now say they were taken in? I don’t see how they can.

To rely on uncorroborated reports from one suspect source is folly whether it matches what you want to believe or not.