Drip, drip, drip

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Whose photo op will it be?

Remember when the President landed on the USS Abraham Lincoln for his carefully crafted “top gun” set of photo ops, which commentators immediately swore would sweep the Democrats away in 2004? Well, sometimes you just can’t plan those photo ops too carefully. A piece in the Washington Post mentions in passing that flying above Old Abe’s deck that day was a banner reading “Mission accomplished.” I started to wonder what the president in his flyboy suit with that banner overhead might look like in, say, October 2004, if the drip, drip, drip of Iraq catastrophe doesn’t abate. Whose photo op might it be then?

I wondered as well whether, a year or so from now, the twelve inch action figure “Elite Force Aviator: George W. Bush,” just released by KB Toys might not end up piled on the toy store remainder tables, the fate of the Gen. Schwartzkopf action figure not so long after Gulf War I. “Exacting in detail and fully equipped with authentic gear,” reads KB’s description, “this limited-edition action figure is a meticulous 1:6 scale recreation of the Commander-in-Chief’s appearance during his historic Aircraft Carrier landing This fully poseable figure features a realistic head sculpt, fully detailed cloth flight suit, helmet with oxygen mask, survival vest, g-pants, parachute harness and much more.” My guess is sometime before the next election the President’s going to have to don that “survival vest” for real. As a last touch, one that fits this administration perfectly, KB adds the following line to its description of the toy, “Actual figure may vary slightly from item shown.”

On the hundredth day of our occupation of Iraq, our President, less-than-curious George, launched a new campaign to promote “progress” in Iraq, which included the issuance of a 24-page report called “Results in Iraq: 100 Days Toward Security and Freedom,” a classic title in its own right, which enumerates at least 90 “successes” in that country (including, according to one TV report I saw, the delivery of 3,000 soccer balls). The Washington Post‘s Mike Allen notes wryly, however, that the report ( Bush Cites ‘Progress’ Being Made in Iraq)

“does not mention the almost daily attacks on U.S. forces, or the kidnappings and carjackings that terrify many Baghdad residents. It does not mention Iraq’s high unemployment or widespread lack of electricity. No documentation for the claims is included. Officials said the unsigned report was prepared by the White House Office of Global Communications and the staff of L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator in Iraq.”

If I were Karl Rove, the first thing I might do, with an eye to next year, is ban that word “progress” from the administration’s vocabulary. Wasn’t that one of the “lessons” of Vietnam? Of course, much of what’s happening right now could be played for comedy all the way — except for the fact that we’re the ones who are getting hit in the face and I don’t think those are cream pies either. Certainly, Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of the Nation magazine, catches the black comedy of this moment perfectly in a funny piece included below in which she offers suggestions to parents, patterned on advice passed out during the Clinton sex scandals, on how to talk to your children about the famed sixteen words and other lies of our times. It appeared in the Boston Globe and at her weblog Editor’s Cut which you should check it out.

One sure piece of non-comedy, from Karl Rove’s point of view, is the most recent polling data from the Pew Research Center ( Bush Approval Slips):

If I were Karl Rove, the first thing I might do, with an eye to next year, is ban that word “progress” from the administration’s vocabulary. Wasn’t that one of the “lessons” of Vietnam? Of course, much of what’s happening right now could be played for comedy all the way — except for the fact that we’re the ones who are getting hit in the face and I don’t think those are cream pies either. Certainly, Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of the Nation magazine, catches the black comedy of this moment perfectly in a funny piece included below in which she offers suggestions to parents, patterned on advice passed out during the Clinton sex scandals, on how to talk to your children about the famed sixteen words and other lies of our times. It appeared in the Boston Globe and at her weblog Editor’s Cut which you should check it out.

One sure piece of non-comedy, from Karl Rove’s point of view, is the most recent polling data from the Pew Research Center ( Bush Approval Slips):

“As President Bush shows increasing political vulnerability, the Democratic presidential field is beginning to come into focus. Bush’s overall approval rating has declined to pre-Iraq war levels and his lead in a match-up with a hypothetical Democrat has narrowed to five points (43%-38%). Nearly six-in-ten Americans (57%) now say the economy – not terrorism – is the more important presidential priority As President Bush’s approval rating has inched downward – from 58% last month to 53% in the current survey – there has been a sharp rise in the number of Americans who believe Bush should devote more attention to the economy than to the war on terrorism.”

Drip, drip, drip. This administration is already hemorrhaging. You could feel it in George’s distinctly testy comments about Iraq and wrong at the “ranch.” Even with free access to Walter Reed Hospital that’s a hard problem to fix — without, at least, the agreement of the Iraqis (some of whom were rioting yesterday in “peaceable” British-controlled Basra, where shortages of oil and electricity seem no less serious than in Baghdad, and, gee, I thought we were favoring the Shiite south)

On today’s LA Times Sunday Opinion page, Kevin Phillips writes a canny piece, The Anti-Bush, about the sort of damage Howard Dean could do to a hemorrhaging administration, even without getting the nomination for the presidency. He writes in part:

“Dean is correct about the administration’s 9/11 and war-related vulnerabilities. After four decades of Bush ties to the Persian Gulf, the family is so interlocked with the local royal families, banks and big-money crowd that duplicity and conflicts of interest abound. The result is White House secrecy and deceit. Key Saudis seem to have had dealings with some of the 9/11 hijackers, but the White House, pulled both ways, can’t push. One reason for invading Iraq, according to Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz, was to be able to base U.S. forces there to get them out of a shaky Saudi Arabia. Obviously, that wouldn’t have flown with U.S. public opinion, so the weapons-of-mass-destruction line was emphasized instead.

“[I] in the meantime, the chance for Dean to educate a lie-weary electorate and doctor its spirit with candor is clearly at hand. And he can do worse than heed the 1968 achievement of another man [Eugene McCarthy] from a small Northern state who is still remembered for crystallizing national disenchantment with the first Texas president to fib America into a bungled war.”

How long, oh Lord, how long?

Staunching the wound may be a near impossible process, given the time spans being predicted for our occupation. Tom Regan in a Christian Science Monitor update column has this little summary:

“But USA Today reports that Gen. Sanchez says that US forces will be in Iraq for two years “at a minimum.” Christopher Dickey writes in Newsweek that Sanchez knows better, and that the bombing of the Jordanian embassy in Baghdad shows that the US will need to remain in Iraq for a long time. ‘We’re here forever. The simple fact about the New Iraq is that never in our lifetimes will it be able to defend itself from its neighbors. It will always be dependent on the United States to do that job. And because it floats on oil, and because all its neighbors-and all of us-have a vital stake in its future, it’s going to take a lot of defending.’

“National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice on Thursday said the US would make a “generational commitment” to spread democracy and free markets to the Middle East.”

Think of that, a “generational commitment.” I wonder, which generation is that? Certainly, growing numbers of troops in Iraq (and families back here) may have something different in mind as Paul Harris and Jonathan Franklin report in the British Observer ( ‘Bring us home’: GIs flood US with war-weary emails):

“Susan Schuman is angry. Her GI son is serving in the Iraqi town of Samarra, at the heart of the ‘Sunni triangle’, where American troops are killed with grim regularity. Breaking the traditional silence of military families during time of war, Schuman knows what she wants – and who she blames for the danger to her son, Justin. ‘I want them to bring our troops home. I am appalled at Bush’s policies. He has got us into a terrible mess,’ she said.

“Schuman may just be the tip of an iceberg. She lives in Shelburne Falls, a small town in Massachusetts, and says all her neighbours support her view. ‘I don’t know anyone around here who disagrees with me,’ she said. Schuman’s views are part of a growing unease back home at the rising casualty rate in Iraq, a concern coupled with deep anger at President George W. Bush’s plans to cut army benefits for many soldiers.”

I’ve gotten a few such e-letters at my own site. If you want to check out their striking tone, take a look at decorated Vietnam Veteran David Hackworth’s site which receives floods of them daily, or even the European and Pacific Stars & Stripes, the military press itself, which prints milder versions of the same, or for the military temper of the times, Veterans for Common Sense, a site set up by a vet of Gulf War I. Imagine, as a friend said to me recently, what happens when soldiers from units like the Third Infantry Division start rotating home in the fall — perhaps another burst of angry tales out of court by the vets of Iraq who may play a significant role in bringing down this administration.

But let me mention one ray of hope for our men in Washington. This week the Serbian government offered to send 1,000 troops to Iraq (even as the Japanese government put the sending of its thousand off for yet more months). Colin Powell greeted the news thusly, according to Agence France Press: “I think it shows a responsible attitude on the part of the Serbian leadership that they want to be involved in stabilization and peacekeeping operations in the world It shows a new maturity that was welcomed.”

Three cheers for maturity, I say.

And by the way, guerrilla warfare is on the rise in neocon-occupied Washington:

Right now, every story — every neocon explanation for and dream about an Iraqi war and its aftermath — is being dismantled inside the Beltway, thanks in part to a remarkable burst of good reporting in recent weeks by the Washington Post. (On the other hand, I could almost start growing nostalgic for the Howell Raines era of the New York Times. With an “under new management” shingle out and Bill Keller in charge, the paper seems to have gone dead in the water. On important stories, like the outing of Joseph Wilson’s wife as a CIA agent, it’s been days behind the opposition.) The flood of articles in the Post and elsewhere rely on some combination of the supporters of former regimes and State Department, Pentagon, or intelligence guerrillas, most unnamed, many, as far as I can tell in or connected to the CIA.

Take a look at Barton Gellman’s and Walter Pincus’s long piece, Depiction of Threat Outgrew Supporting Evidence, in today’s Washington Post, which manages to dismantle many of the administration’s prewar claims like those about the “aluminum tubing” for Saddam’s non-existent nuclear program. They summarize their report thusly:

“This article is based on interviews with analysts and policymakers inside and outside the U.S. government, and access to internal documents and technical evidence not previously made public.

“The new information indicates a pattern in which President Bush, Vice President Cheney and their subordinates — in public and behind the scenes — made allegations depicting Iraq’s nuclear weapons program as more active, more certain and more imminent in its threat than the data they had would support. On occasion administration advocates withheld evidence that did not conform to their views. The White House seldom corrected misstatements or acknowledged loss of confidence in information upon which it had previously relied.”

Or consider a piece in the Boston Globe today (Bryan Bender, CIA warned administration of postwar guerrilla peril) on ignored prewar intelligence warnings that the postwar era would be about as bad as it’s actually been:

“In February, the CIA gave a formal briefing to the National Security Council, including Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Vice President Dick Cheney, and President Bush himself: ”A quick military victory in Iraq will likely be followed by armed resistance from remnants of the Ba’ath Party and Fedayeen Saddam irregulars.’ According to US intelligence officials who compiled or contributed to the reports, and provided excerpts to the Globe, on multiple occasions in the months before the war the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency warned that fighting would probably continue after the formal war. The assessments went so far as to suggest that guerrilla tactics could frustrate reconstruction efforts.”

Fred Kaplan of Slate in a piece (“Bush Should Have Known that Iraq Would Be a Mess”) excerpted at the always interesting History News Network had this to say:

“Among the many remarks that Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz no doubt wishes he hadn’t made, the following, from prewar congressional testimony last February, stands out: ‘It’s hard to conceive that it would take more forces to provide stability in post-Saddam Iraq than it would take to conduct the war itself and secure the surrender of Saddam’s security forces and his army. Hard to imagine.’

“It’s one thing to be wrong. It’s another to be incapable of imagining yourself wrong. To see just how wrong Wolfowitz was, look at [analyst James]Dobbins’ account of how many troops have been needed to create stability in previous postwar occupations. Kosovo is widely considered the most successful exercise in recent nation-building. Dobbins calculates that establishing a Kosovo-level occupation-force in Iraq (in terms of troops per capita) would require 526,000 troops through the year 2005.”

Drip, drip, drip. All of this — guerrilla warfare from inside the bureaucracy, the military, and the “intelligence community” — will sooner or later add up to trouble for this administration. So many misplaced explanations, so many half-baked denials, so many damaging tales heading in so many directions, so many gaps. It should be a field day for somebody sooner or later.

Gaps and dots:

Julian Borger in a remarkable piece in the Guardian, “Axis of Junkies” (included below) discusses the latest “gap” in Washington:

“Now a new gap has opened up in the capital’s collective consciousness, becoming just as great a source of fascination. It is the 28 pages blanked out in the Congress report on September 11. Whoever had the bright idea of classifying it should have known that, just like Nixon’s missing minutes, those pages would attract more attention than the other 800-plus put together. Consequently, attention has been focused on a subject that the Bush administration would prefer to be ignored: the strange, dysfunctional and incestuous relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia.”

He offers the best examination I’ve seen of that co-dependent relationship, which lies at the heart of a half-century-plus of carnage and chaos in the Middle East, and he suggests that of the two junkie-nations, the U.S., injecting ever more oil in its veins, is likely to prove the hardest to rehabilitate. Without that relationship, of course, Osama bin Laden is inconceivable.

Oh, and then there’s the issue of connecting the dots (or is the gaps). On yesterday’s front-page of the New York Times, Douglas Jehl reported on those Iraqi mobile weapons labs — you remember them, don’t you? — the ones that were supposedly zipping around the country’s highways concocting Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction on the fly. Well, it turns out officially, and months late (you could have learned this at Tomdispatch soon after the war ended) they weren’t really for making wmd:

“Engineering experts from the Defense Intelligence Agency have come to believe that the most likely use for two mysterious trailers found in Iraq was to produce hydrogen for weather balloons rather than to make biological weapons, government officials say.” (Iraqi Trailers Said to Make Hydrogen, Not Biological Arms)

But here’s where those dots go unconnected. Now that the Iraqi units are out of the picture, there’s only one country we know of who has such a unit, possibly operational. That’s us — and it was a front-page story in the Times on July 2, one of the more bizarre stories I’ve seen, in fact, on which there has been, as far as I know, no follow up anywhere. Written by the infamous Judith Miller as well as William Broad and David Johnson, it began (Subject of Anthrax Inquiry Tied to Anti-Germ Training):

“Three years ago, the United States began a secret project to train Special Operations units to detect and disarm mobile germ factories of the sort that Iraq and some other countries were suspected of building, according to administration officials and experts in germ weaponry.

“The heart of the effort, these officials said, was a covert plan to construct a mobile germ plant, real in all its parts but never actually “plugged in” to make weapons The trainer’s equipment includes a fermenter, a centrifuge and a mill for grinding clumps of anthrax into the best size for penetrating human lungs, these experts said.”

This wasn’t some plywood reproduction for training, it was so real, so functional that the FBI checked it for anthrax spores. Don’t ask why the Delta Force needed a completely functional mobile lab to “train” in. Or rather someone should ask the question, just not of me. But why, you might ask, would the FBI be checking it for traces of wmd? Because (and this gets “curiouser and curiouser”) “[o]fficials familiar with the secret project say that to design an American version of a mobile germ unit, the government turned to Dr. Steven J. Hatfill, then a rising star in the world of biological defense but more recently publicly identified by the Justice Department as ‘a person of interest’ in the anthrax investigation.” A genuine mobile lab run by a suspect in the Anthrax killings — I’d put my team of reporters on it tomorrow, but they’re all on extended leave of absence constructing weather balloons for this site.

And talking about gaps, did anyone looking at the Fab Five — George, Dick, Condi, Don, and Dick (Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Richard Meyers) — out on that Texas lawn notice who was missing? The man who is not leaving a second term Bush administration, the man who has the president’s confidence and support all the way to next week, the Secretary of State. Drip, drip, drip.

Iran-Contra back on board the ship of state:

As the Iraq war began, Vietnam leapt to the American mind (with its quagmires and body counts and lights at the ends of tunnels) and, to the frustration of this administration, it’s never gone away. Then, early in the postwar “era,” Watergate with its own set of lies, crimes, and 18-minute gaps reared its ugly head, and it hasn’t exactly departed town either. Now, to complete the trifecta, we have the return of Iran-Contra — not so surprising actually since most of the crew running the show today, right down to Poindexter and Powell, were already in place then. Just the other day, in this administration’s continuing postwar comedy of errors, Knut Royce and Timothy M. Phelps of Newsday reported (Secret Talks With Iranian) that the Pentagon’s did an end run around the State Department and the CIA on Iran and found itself not in the end zone but in the warm embrace of a man completely discredited in the 1980s:

“Pentagon hardliners pressing for regime change in Iran have held secret and unauthorized meetings in Paris with a controversial arms dealer who was a major figure in the Iran-contra scandal, according to administration officials. The officials said at least two Pentagon officials working for Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith have held “several” meetings with Manucher Ghorbanifar, the Iranian middleman in U.S. arms-for-hostage shipments to Iran in the mid-1980s.

“The administration officials who disclosed the secret meetings to Newsday said the talks with Ghorbanifar were not authorized by the White House and appeared to be aimed at undercutting current sensitive back channel negotiations with the Iranian regime.”

The man who linked Feith’s office with Ghorbanifar, the reporters claim (according to unnamed CIA sources), was none other than Michael Ledeen, now of the American Enterprise Institute, but back in the 1980s the person who evidently first introduced Ghorbanifar to a colonel then working in the White House, one Oliver North.

It’s like watching the criminals returning to the scene of a crime or history biting its own tail. Our rulers are a kind of rolling self-fulfilling prophesy.

If you want a little background on where that tail’s been when it comes to Axis of Evil member Iran, you couldn’t do better than to check our Tariq Ali’s review of Stephen Kinzer’s new book on the American coup that first brought the Shah to power in 1953 ( Operation Iraqi Freedom) in the most recent issue of the Nation magazine, which concludes:

“Experience, the best of teachers, has educated the people of Iran. Not even all-powerful ayatollahs can override the laws of biology. If left alone the Iranians will get rid of their bearded oppressors in their own way and in their own time. It might even be the dawn of an Islamic Reformation. Certainly the vibrancy of the country’s filmmakers and the clandestine poems and texts that are being circulated are an indication of the change that lies ahead. If the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld team decides to speed up the process, it’s all but certain to create a giant mess that will only strengthen the most backward elements in the country. The interests of the empire rarely coincide with those of the people it is intending to “liberate,” especially when the people know that one reason they are in a mess is because of what the empire did in its own interests fifty years ago.”

And for present policy — or, as he suggests, “paralysis” — re: Iran, which seems to be holding some major al Qaeda figures as possible bargaining chips, see Jim Lobe’s most recent piece in Asia Times, included below, another version of the ongoing, ever more bitter guerrilla warfare in Washington. Drip, drip, drip. Tom

Tips for 2003
By Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editor’s Cut
August 10, 2003

On the eve of the Clinton Impeachment hearings in 1998, The Sexuality Information and Education Council (SEICUS) sent out “Ten Tips for Talking about the Starr Report with your Children.”

“The upcoming impeachment hearing,” SEICUS president Debra Haffner advised, “provides parents with a special opportunity to talk to their children about sexuality issues…The question parents need to ask is ‘Who do I want to tell my children about this sad situation?’ Another child on the playground? An acquaintance on the school bus? They are unlikely to tell your children the facts in a clear way. And only YOU can give YOUR children YOUR values.”

It’s now 2003 and if the events of these last weeks don’t provide parents with that special opportunity to talk to their children about the president and values like truth, lies and consequences, then I don’t know what does.

A version of this weblog was published on the op-ed page of yesterday’ Boston Globe as “Kids, Lies, and President Bush.p>

To read more vanden Heuvel click here

An axis of junkies
By Julian Borger
The Guardian
August 6, 2003

Washington abhors a vacuum, and loves a mystery. Plenty of aficionados here are still obsessed with the 18 and a half minutes missing from the 6,000 hours of tapes of Richard Nixon’s White House. Likewise, many are devoted to guessing exactly who Deep Throat was.

To read more Borger click here

Bush administration paralyzed over Iran
By Jim Lobe
Asia Times
August 8, 2003

WASHINGTON – Does the administration of US President George W Bush still consider al-Qaeda and its associates the main target in its almost three-year-old “war on terrorism”, or has its military victory in Iraq whetted its appetite for bigger game?

That is in effect the question that the powers-that-be in Iran appear to be posing to Washington at a critical moment in the war’s evolution. The administration appears deadlocked over an answer.

According to a series of leaks by US officials, Iran has offered to hand over, if not directly to Washington then to friendly allies, three senior al-Qaeda leaders and might provide another three top terrorist suspects that Washington believes are being held by Tehran.

To read more Lobe click here