Monthly Archives: March 2004
Anger in the USA
Saturday, March 27, 2004
Angry people often say outrageous things. There’s a lot of that going on in the media lately over Richard Clarke and the Prime Minister Elect of Spain, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.
The Bush folks are feeling the anger of what they find an act of betrayal, and hitting out with any bit that looks like it will smear Richard Clarke. A 30 year Washington bureaucrat who served under both Republican and Democratic presidents is suddenly being labeled as hatchet man for the Democrats and a liar before Congress. This is ugly, ugly stuff, and advances our efforts to rebuild Iraq and deal with the Al-Qaeda not at all. No one is probably going to benefit from all the hot air floating around. It just seems like a terrible distraction from the real problems we face. The Administration might do better to let a very frustrated man have his say, learn from it, and do more than the photo op stuff about the realities.
There is an important editorial in the New York Times today (3/27/04) which explains to a large extent why the Administration missed the importance of the Al-Qaeda threat and attacked Iraq believing it to be a state sponsor of terrorism. Peter Neumann makes a great deal of sense. If you start from the premise that only nation states are able to sponsor terrorism, you think that groups such as Al-Qaeda must be sponsored by some state, probably Iraq and perhaps the other members of the “Axis of Evil”. You miss entirely the reality that Ben Laden does not need a nation state to sponsor him; that terrorists can be organized in such a way that a nation’s protection, while convenient (the Taliban, the extremists in Pakistan) is just a luxury. The anonymous can move and transfer funds around the world with great speed. A bomb planted in one place can be succeeded by another far away in the space of days or hours by small groups willing to take the risk. This is what makes the wave of attacks more a matter of careful police work than a takeover and occupation of an entire country.
For there will probably be another attack somewhere in this country sooner or later, and unless we give up everything we have stood for and become some sort of dictatorship ourselves, there probably isn’t a really effective way to prevent it. Even if we were to become some sort of benevolent police state that had the power to snoop on everybody and jail whomever without trial or legal counsel forever, we wouldn’t be “safe” from terrorism. If the borders of Iraq are impossible to close completely, think of our own!
Yes, we need to do what we can to protect ourselves including fully funding the efforts that have already been begun. But we should remember this statement by David Kahn, also in an editorial in today’s New York Times :
“Intelligence will always be incomplete; it will often run counter to what people want it to say. Leaders, however, are paid to overcome these obstacles. They can only lead when they deal with reality and then take steps to help us plan for the worst.
It does the effort no good to wage a campaign of smear and character assassination against a man who came across as sincerely frustrated by an administration which refused to see the real danger facing us. Such a campaign advances Bush’s cause as little as it does real efforts against terrorism. And Senator Frist’s effort to “prove” that Clarke is a liar by declassifying testimony of earlier years will probably go nowhere but attempt to make the smear stick in the public mind.
Kathleen Parker on the Zapatero’s election victory in Spain, an editorial in the Orlando Sentinel. It also appeared in my local newspaper:
“One day the Popular Party of Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, among the staunchest U.S. allies in the war on Iraq, was certain of victory. Boom! Seventy two hours later, Aznar’s gone, and the newly elected Socialist leader Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero vows to carry through his promise to withdraw Spanish troopsfrom Iraq. “Any way you cut it — however one explains the electoral shift — that’s effective terrorism”.
“It’s possible that the Spanish vote was a mandate for truth in government. More likely, it was exactly as it will be interpreted by the terrorists — a massive display of appeasement by a people reeling from the sight of human body parts propelled from exploding train cars. They effectively said that Spain would withdraw support from the imperialist United States if terrorists would just leave them in peace”.
This seems to be the Republican view of the election in Spain and Zapatero’s vow to pull their 1300 troops out of Iraq. I wonder how she knows the terrorist interpretation of the Spanish election. Has she spoken with any of them? Even so, Ms. Parker is more restrained than others in the US Congress have been. Isn’t there a possibility that the new Spanish leader, seeing the error of the Iraq diversion, will pull back its troops in order to concentrate its resources on the real threat of terrorist attacks in Europe – the Al-Qaeda that has nothing to do with Iraq and never did?
One more time, are not the Spanish free to choose their leaders as citizens of a democracy, when about 90% of them opposed the Bush Invasion of Iraq? Isn’t this what democracy is all about?
John Freedland in the Guardian with some illuminating comments on this issue:
In electing the socialists, he says, “surely the Spanish did nothing more on Sunday than exercise their democratic right to change governments They elected the Socialist party; to suggest they voted for al-Qaida is a slur not only on the Spanish nation but on the democratic process itself, implying that when terrorists strike political choice must end.”
This is what Jose Luis Rodriquez Zapatero actually said on March 14 as reported in La Nacion Line :
“Mi prioridad más inmediata es combatir toda forma de terrorismo. Y mi primera iniciativa mañana mismo será buscar la unión de las fuerzas políticas para concentrarnos en su lucha” .
The statement can be translated, “My most immediate priority is to combat terrorism in all its forms. And my first initiative tomorrow even will be to strengthen the union of political forces in order to concentrate on the struggle against it ” (literally, it’s struggle).
Those are hardly the words of a leader giving in to terrorists.
We in the United States are stuck with the consequences of our President’s blunder and must try to right the wrongs we have done in Iraq, but that does not mean that Spain must divert its resources in the same way. In fact, they may be far more useful to us and the world in the combined efforts against terror if they concentrate on the areas they know best, North Africa and their own Basque region.
The European governments who were so against the policy of the Bush Administration in attacking Iraq may well turn out to be the ones who will actually roll up the sleeper cells of terrorists in their midst and keep some sort of peace in Afghanistan leaving us to squander our resources and create more terrorists in Iraq. But more on that issue on another day.
Sunday, March 21, 2004
Bush (Wolfowitz) is wrong in his fantasy of establishing a full fledged, but docile democracy in Iraq. I would not be surprised if once the transfer of power actually occurs, Chalabi and the Shiites grab control of the country in a new kind of dictatorship to benefit their own selfish interests, even if they do so under the guise of supposedly free elections. And what is to prevent the Shia factions from fighting among themselves? Chalabi and Sistani seem to be viewed by Iraqis as foreigners and not trusted because of that.
Somebody or group of somebodys, experienced and capable must continue to provide security so that Iraq can recover from the wave of lawlessnes and violence that now seem pretty widespread. Since we loosed the lawlessness and violence, we are obligated to do what we can to put it down. Then, if some form of near democracy is to emerge, the Iraqis themselves must learn to invent a form of it that suits their culture. And for that they may have to learn the fine art of compromise. How they do all this in the middle of lawlessness and bombings is an open question.
It is the kind of atmosphere that the jihad Islam can take advantage of, playing all sides against the middle in the effort to put themselves in control. This is the plan contained in the Zarqawi communication. With the borders uncontrolled, or thinly controlled, the fighters from other countries could well gain enough access to Iraq to start a new kind of Taliban.
People don’t always do what they “must”. Iraqis have a long history of inter-group and inter-tribal rivalries and violence, so on the eve of my 68th birthday, I’m not very optimistic about the long term prospects for Iraq, and find the possibility of George W. Bush’s reelection to 4 more years positively depressing.
I think I don’t understand my own country very well these days. I’d like a new TV that I can connect a DVD player to, but most of what I find are huge sets that won’t fit in my house with equally huge prices that hardly fit a modest budget. Why do we always think that bigger is better? The huge ugly TV sets go with the huge ugly piles of bricks the well off among us want to call home these days. Who needs all that, really? No wonder we’re out of sync with the rest of the world!
I know I could get a much smaller set than the one I have now, but what I wanted was a replacement for what I have, and there’s no such thing any more.
Cheney & Co.
Thursday, March 18, 2004
Yesterday, Cheney gave a speech in which he said that if John Kerry were president, Saddam Hussein would still be in power. (Because he voted against the $87 billion) So? And if Saddam were still in power, Mr. Vice President, what would it mean? It would mean that we were still in a policy of containment, not bleeding men and money in a war that can’t be won by force alone, in a country neither we nor our leadership understand, that does not want us there. It would mean that all those who have died violently in the past year would still be alive. It would mean that common sense might have prevailed over the policy of regime change. And maybe it would mean that America would take its rightful place as one among many nations who believe in the rule of law and democratic government and not some fantasy of an imperial world domination that appears to motivate the Bush people.
Hans von Sponeck in the Guardian of today :
As for the argument that war was the only way to remove Saddam Hussein, no human being lasts for ever. Saddam was very weakened. I have spoken to officials from his former regime who said at the end other senior officials, including Tariq Aziz (Saddam’s foreign minister) and General Ali Hassan al-Majid (Chemical Ali), were running the country in the last 12 months. Saddam Hussein was not the Saddam Hussein described to us as a danger to the US and Europe. That was absolute nonsense.
Yes Iraqis suffered under this man, but people in Iraq are not suffering any less in their daily life now, what order there was – even under a dictator – is gone. Whatever we see now is no fundamental improvement. “
Hans von Sponeck is the former UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq. He was responsible for administering the distribution of goods in Iraq under the Oil-For-Food program. He resigned his post in 2000 in protest against the effects of the Sanctions against Iraq.
A foreign policy based on willful ignorance?
A lot of very foolish things are being said by both sides in our American debate.
That electing Zapatero in Spain is appeasing the terrorists. (Neocons) How idiotic! Do not Spaniards have the right to oust a government that has lied to them and tried to control the news for its own political purposes? Are they not that messy democracy that Rumsfeld is always talking about and therefore free to choose as they wish? Besides, Spain has a longer experience with terror and terrorists than the USA, and much closer knowledge of countries and cultures on the other side of the Mediterranean.
That there is a conspiracy and a grand design to make the US into the one ruling imperial grand power with the rest of the world at the mercy of its military and economic might. (Peaceniks, Far Left) Even America may run out of money at the rate Bush is spending it! The theory of a vast extent of US bases in the Middle East starting with Iraq, seems economically undoable. We can’t support the military efforts that are already out there.
Tuesday, March 16, 2004
Hans Blix is always interesting, and always so completely sane and rational. He is one voice of reason in the roar of partisan controversy over the war in Iraq. Here are some key points from his interview with Bob Edwards.
“No weapons were found after 1994.” He also states that this fact has been pretty much ignored, and that by asking Iraq to prove that they no longer had weapons of mass destruction, we were asking them to prove a negative which is an extremely difficult if not impossible thing to do. When the UN inspectors returned to Iraq in November 2002, they inspected sites whose locations had been given them by the intelligence services, and found nothing. Although not completely convinced that it was wrong at this stage, Blix was definitely suspicious about the accuracy of the intelligence.
He talks about the buildup of arms in Kuwait and seeing it as pressure on the Iraqis to disarm, stating that if the allies had stopped about 50,000 troops, it could have been just enough pressure to make the Iraqis come forward and accept the renewal of inspections. That is what happened in reality. Saddam did indeed accept the inspectors. However, Blix also says that once the buildup had reached 300,000, the allies could not have withdrawn the troops without impossible-to-face embarrassment, so they were caught in having to go to war regardless of what the inspectors might find or the truth. They painted themselves into a corner with the size of the buildup, and from then on war was inevitable.
“The leadership did not exercise sufficient critical judgment.” This is pretty much what I’ve been talking about lately. Blix points out that intelligence is always guesswork, and I’ve already said somewhere in here how poor our past record is at such guesswork because we so seldom have our own qualified skeptics to check the accuracy of information brought to us by defectors and others with their own axes to grind. But the iffiness of intelligence is not the point. What is absolutely critical is the hard look at the guesswork that separates what is rumor and hearsay from verifiable, backed up sources that can be used as evidence to formulate policy. For some reason, this was where there was an abysmal failure on both sides of the Atlantic. It will be interesting to see what future investigations into the conduct of the war bring to light about motives for jumping to such wrong conclusions.
It is unbelievable to me that Chalabi is still being paid for his so-called intelligence, and that otherwise intelligent people would accept the words of this convicted criminal and power seeking person.
“They were 100% convinced there were weapons of mass destruction, and they had zero knowledge of where they were.” Just being convinced that something is true does not make it actually true. “if you sentence someone to war, you better have some evidence.” Conviction must be based on something more verifiable that simple belief or doubtful “intelligence”. Hans Blix illustrated this back in September when he compared Britain and the US to medieval witch hunters. “In the Middle Ages, when people were convinced there were witches, they certainly found them. This is a bit risky.”
And it is certain, in view of recent events in Spain and Iraq, that the world is not a safer place because Saddam Hussein is no longer the latter country’s brutal ruler.
Ironies and fantasies
Sunday, March 14, 2004
Curiously, no one brings up the subject of the rush to war. No one asks, What was the hurry?! Why not wait for actual facts on the ground rather than accept the unprovable? It is the rush to battle that makes people question the Administration’s motives and agenda. What did they have to lose by giving the inspectors time to finish their investigations of 2003? Why summarily throw them out in February after only 2 months? Fear that the war would lose what they’d been selling the public as its rationale? Even more important, why were so many swayed by the Administration’s insistence that they knew what reason should have told them they didn’t know at all?
(The above sections corrected, edited, amplified, and reposted on March 16, 2004)
A quote from Michael Ignatieff’s piece in the New York Times Magazine today:
“An administration that cared more genuinely about human rights would have understood that you can’t have human rights without order and that you can’t have order once victory is won if planning for an invasion is divorced from planning for an occupation. The administration failed to grasp that from the first moment an American tank column took a town, there had to be military police and civilian administrators following behind to guard museums, hospitals, water-pumping stations and electricity generators and to stop looting, revenge killings and crime. Securing order would have meant putting 250,000 troops into the invasion as opposed to 130,000. It would have meant immediately retaining and retraining the Iraqi Army and police, instead of disbanding them. The administration, which never tires of telling us that hope is not a plan, had only hope for a plan in Iraq.”
I’m not sure I follow the reasoning Mr. Ignatieff gives for supporting the effort to remove Saddam except that he appears to have accepted the theory that since Saddam had used chemical weapons before, he could not be trusted not to use them again or try to pass on what he was building to terror groups. The Iran war took place in the 80’s (1980-1988). Chemical weapons were used against the Kurds in 1988. Something must have changed inside Saddam’s military as they were not used against Kuwait or in the 1991 Gulf War in spite of our fears to the contrary.
Now, after a year of ad hoc blunders in Iraq, newspapers report efforts to secure Iraq’s long borders. Why wait for a year? Would Sistani have come back if the border between Iran and Iraq had not been almost totally open? But little or no thought was apparently given to the need to secure against fundamentalists from other countries which could not be done anyway with only 130,000 troops.
I bought a DVD player on sale thinking I could just hook it to my present TV. Ha! The old thing, which still works great just has no inputs other than one for Cable. So I guess I’ll have to invest in a new TV even though I don’t really need one just so I can rent DVD’s and watch the movies I’ve missed. Life in America! How we get trapped into spending our hard-earned dollars on the latest technology. A digital TV is way off my retirement budget. Just too expensive. I could wait until the price comes down in a year or so, but what if it doesn’t? And all the new sets have gotten almost too big for my living room.
Saturday, March 06, 2004
Today I have found on the internet a speech given by former Vice President Al Gore on the Politics of Fear. This speech was given at the New School University in New York and can be found here . It is a webcast of his speech. He is far harsher than I was back in October of 2002, and says passionately that the Bush Administration has used the fear produced by the plane attacks of 9/11 to manipulate and mislead the American people into believing his statements on the complicity of Iraq in the twin tower tragedy, to believe the insistance that he, Bush, knew that Iraq had WMD and Nuclear weapons, to swallow fictitious link between Iraq and Al-Qaeda, and allow the violation of constitutional rights in the arrest and holding without trial of American citizens. He gets at the media appeal to emotion rather than reason as the motivator for action.
Explosions and other events
Wednesday, March 03, 2004
The suicide bombers and users of mortars have been at it again and bloodier than ever. On the Shia festival of Ashura, they attacked crowds gathered at mosques in Karbala and Baghdad, killing more than 140 people. What a monstrous act! The New York Times called it the “…deadliest day of violence since the American-led occupation of Iraq began”. Can anything be retrieved from this situation that will be of help to the Iraqis and not just feed various egos in Washington and Iraq? The immediate reaction is more anti-Americanism among Iraqis that will be hard to erase, and make it even harder for them to come to some sort of compromise on their own future.
The official American version blames a man known as Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, who they say was born in Jordan and is linked to Al-Qaeda. Since every so-called bad guy they blame is always linked to Al-Qaeda, I’m very skeptical of the official version. It just sounds like more official attempts to link Iraq and al-Qaeda which we have seen to be a fantasy of the Bush Administration since nothing was ever proved about the supposed link with Saddam Hussein’s government. After all the lies and exaggerations that convinced so many to support the war, it is now almost impossible to believe much of what officials may say about Iraq.
Christopher Allbrighton has a stunning piece on his Back to Iraq site about Ahmed Chalabi. (See February 23) Chalabi appears to have conned the Administration into believing all the nonsense about WMD, and now says that being in error doesn’t matter because he is now back in Iraq and Saddam is gone. This is the man who was sentenced for bank fraud by Jordan and who is now setting up companies in Iraq to take advantage of American generosity in contracts and is a member of the Iraq Interim Governing Council.
How can any good come from such people? And why is anyone still listening to this man? And why is he on the IGC?
John Kerry will be the candidate for the Democrats. I hope he has the spine to stand up to all the dirty tricks the Republicans will certainly play on him. 8 months is a long time, and they have unseemly amounts of dollars to spend to try to make him into some kind of a dangerous “Liberal” and worse. I wavered between voting for him and voting for John Edwards who really impressed me with his manner and positive message, but in the end I decided that Kerry had the best chance to win being experienced in the ways of political parties and Washington. Lots of other people evidently had the same idea. I hope Kerry chooses Edwards as his Vice President, but it’s much too soon to tell how that will turn out.
Howard Dean won his own state of Vermont even though he is no longer a candidate.