"What didn’t the President know, and when didn’t he know it?"

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Exchange of the week – between Tim Russert and former General Wesley Clark on NBC’s “Meet the Press” a Sunday ago:

CLARK: “There was a concerted effort during the fall of 2001, starting immediately after 9/11, to pin 9/11 and the terrorism problem on Saddam Hussein.”

RUSSERT: “By who? Who did that?”

CLARK: “Well, it came from the White House, it came from people around the White House. It came from all over. I got a call on 9/11. I was on CNN, and I got a call at my home saying, ‘You got to say this is connected. This is state-sponsored terrorism. This has to be connected to Saddam Hussein.’ I said, ‘But–I’m willing to say it, but what’s your evidence?’ And I never got any evidence.”

(From a FAIR media advisory, which points out that, though “Meet the Press” regularly makes Monday news in our press, this exchange went largely unreported and adds, “Now, nine months later, media are covering damaging revelations about the Bush administration’s intelligence on Iraq, yet still seem strangely reluctant to pursue stories suggesting that the flawed intelligence– and therefore the war– may have been a result of deliberate deception, rather than incompetence. The public deserves a fuller accounting of this story.” )

Quotes of the day (Or, which war is this anyway? Or, don’t count on the military vote in 2004):

“Everyone is blending in with everyone else, so you can’t tell the friendly ones from the hostile.” (Sgt. Nestor Torres, a military policeman with the 3rd Infantry Division in the restive town of Fallujah)

At a checkpoint on the outskirts of Baghdad set up to search for illegal weapons, a soldier sweating in the 110-degree heat told a reporter, “Tell President Bush to bring us home.” On a skylight atop Fallujah’s city hall, a soldier has scrawled in the dust: “I’ll kill for a ticket home.”

“What are we getting into here?” asked a sergeant with the U.S. Army’s 4th Infantry Division who is stationed near Baqubah, a city 30 miles northeast of Baghdad. “The war is supposed to be over, but every day we hear of another soldier getting killed. Is it worth it? Saddam isn’t in power anymore. The locals want us to leave. Why are we still here?”

(All quotes from Daniel Williams and Rajiv Chandrasekaran, U.S. Troops Frustrated With Role in Iraq, Washington Post, )

Predictable Iraq news story of the day (Or return of the “coalition of the billing”): In a dispatch last week, noting that Pentagon officials were proudly claiming that up to 30,000 “coalition” troops and specialists of one sort of another on a ragtag list of nations were “volunteering” to join us in the occupation of Iraq, I noted that I was reminded of a similar strategy in a different era. During the Vietnam War, other “allies” fought beside our troops and, as in the case of Korea, their governments were heavily subsidized to do so. In this case, it only took a few days to confirm that this new coalition of the willing was actually a coalition of the billing. Paul Richter of the Los Angeles Times reports today (U.S. Enlists More Countries in Iraq, at Taxpayers’ Expense):

“When the Pentagon proudly announced last week that more and more countries have been signing up to send peacekeeping troops to Iraq, one fact drew little attention: U.S. taxpayers will be paying a fair chunk of the bill.

“As it has sought to spread the peacekeeping burden, the Bush administration has agreed to help underwrite the participation of such countries as Poland, Ukraine, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras and the Dominican Republic. India, which the United States has asked to provide thousands of troops, has been asking for financial help as well. These deals, which by one estimate could cost $250 million over the next year, will enable the United States to relieve some of its overworked troops and give more of an international face to the American-led undertaking”

Things that can’t be said in the mainstream here (yet): Speaking of oil policy in the same breath with Iraq strategy is still largely taboo here. According to the Guardian (Matthew Tempest, Meacher attacks US motives in Iraq), former British Environmental Minister Michael Meacher, just shuffled out of Tony Blair’s cabinet, told the British Times that the Bush administration is “aggressive and unilateralist.” Of the president himself he said,

“Everyone knows that George Bush is a Texas oil man, his family have long-term connections, nearly all his senior advisers and closest aides have connections to a very, very powerful oil industry. I think that is a very relevant consideration. They believe in the oil business and the traditional way of generating power, and if they gain personally from that is a bonus.

“America is pursuing future oil supplies with extreme vigour, so it is difficult, when you look at Iraq, which has the second biggest oil reserves in the world, not to think it was a factor. My view is that we went to war because America wanted to establish a political and military platform in the Middle East. It saw a need for oil, and of course it wished to support Israel.The biggest political problem in the world today is the overwhelming power of the US.”

Things that are just starting to be said by mainstream figures here: In an interview with Ed Vulliamy in the British Observer today (US general condemns Iraq failures), retired General William Nash, who served in Vietnam and Operation Desert Storm “before becoming commander of US forces in Bosnia and then an acclaimed UN Civil Affairs administrator in Kosovo,” and is “one of the most experienced and respected figures in a generation of American warfare and peacekeeping,” claimed that the US had already lost its “window of opportunity” in Iraq:

“‘ [T]he window of opportunity which occurred with the fall of Saddam was not seized in terms of establishing stability. In the entire region – and Iraq is typical – there is a sense that America can do whatever it wants. So that if America decides to protect the oilfields and oil ministry, it can.

“‘And if America doesn’t provide electricity and water or fails to protect medical supplies, it is because they don’t want to or they don’t care.’

“Nash is reluctant to make comparisons with Vietnam: ‘There are far more things that were different about Vietnam than there are similarities. Except perhaps the word “quagmire”. Maybe that is the only thing that is the same.‘”

Other signs of our increasingly unnerved times: the first significant mainstream cartoons I’ve noted in a long time that make Bush look foolish. (Just check out the main graphic in today’s New York Times Week in Review section – a mock up of George B, his head too large for his cardboard body, spouting exaggerations or was it lies in cartoon balloons? Or the Tom Toles cartoon reprinted on p. 4 of that section mocking the way the president fell off his motor-scooter while on vacation (so reminiscent of Gerald Ford goofs, or of Jimmy Carter chased by that famed angry rabbit, and so unlike the imperial president who since 9/11 has graced the front page of that paper so repetitively). Or check out recent columns by older-line conservatives like William F. Buckley and George Will criticizing the Bush administration for its prewar wmd statements. (“And overshadowing the military achievement is the failure — so far — to find, or explain the absence of, weapons of mass destruction that were the necessary and sufficient justification for preemptive war. The doctrine of preemption — the core of the president’s foreign policy — is in jeopardy.Until WMD are found, or their absence accounted for, there is urgent explaining to be done.” The Bush Doctrine at Risk)

In the meantime, our young, increasingly upset volunteer army of occupation – brought up on video games and recruited through ad campaigns that implicitly promise they’ll be anything but casualties, having rushed through to victory in a nearly casualty-free campaign (as wars go) in a speedy three weeks, suddenly find themselves two months later in another country in another kind of war with no end, or trip home, yet in sight.

At the same time, a president, raised in a no-casualties atmosphere himself, who raced to victory in three weeks in Washington, now, almost two months after landing triumphantly on that carrier deck finds himself forced to address problems the people around him never told him could occur. On the day when a number of newspapers are reporting that there is an actual resistance group calling itself The Return forming in Iraq (perhaps based in Saddam Hussein’s old intelligence services, though no one knows for sure) and “foreign fighters” are possibly being recruited for it (Afghanistan anyone?), the president, or his handlers, felt forced to acknowledge the continuing American casualties. In the president’s weekly radio address, Bush spoke of “dangerous pockets of the old regime,” and implicitly acknowledged the failure to find weapons of mass destruction (“Mr Bush vowed to pursue evidence of those weapons, which has been scant, ‘no matter how long it takes'”). And one unidentified White House official acknowledged to the New York Times as well that a small set of question marks had now settled over the president. “he felt he had to address what one official called ‘the growing questions about why we went in, and what we are doing there.'”)

This question naturally brings to mind another question, the Watergate classic: What did the president know and when did he know it? But Robert Dreyfus in the single best piece I’ve seen on the widening dust-up over intelligence and weapons of mass destruction, proposes in the Nation a third question, far more appropriate to this administration’s antics. He points out that a massive failure of intelligence within the Pentagon in particular about postwar Iraq “has led to an emerging disaster a true crisis that could determine the fate of Bush’s presidency,” and he suggests cleverly that the following question is the most germane: “What didn’t the President know, and when didn’t he know it?”

Dreyfus lays out the way Ahmed Chalabi, the exile wheeler-dealer and the Pentagon’s favorite future ruler of Iraq passed on to Rumsfeld’s team endless reams of misinformation both about weapons of mass destruction and about what a post-war Iraq would be like. (He was, of course, doing the same with New York Times bioterror reporter Judith Miller, evidently more or less coordinating news and views in New York and Washington.) Dreyfus has also uncovered a secret Sharonista intelligence outfit producing Iraqi “intelligence” (in English, not Hebrew) that was being shuffled directly to the Pentagon. Amazing. Don’t miss the piece (below).

(If you’re interested in more, you might also check out an extremely detailed, quite devastating piece in the New Republic by John B. Judis and Spencer Ackerman, The Selling of the Iraq War, the First Casualty. It recounts the way this administration pressured the intelligence “community,” Congress, and the UN inspectors for the results it desired. It has an especially fascinating account of the campaign launched against the CIA “to pressure the agency to toe the line.” They conclude: “Had the administration accurately depicted the consensus within the intelligence community in 2002–that Iraq’s ties with Al Qaeda were inconsequential; that its nuclear weapons program was minimal at best; and that its chemical and biological weapons programs, which had yielded significant stocks of dangerous weapons in the past, may or may not have been ongoing–it would have had a very difficult time convincing Congress and the American public to support a war to disarm Saddam.”)

So Ahmed Chalabi was a busy man. And he had his own reasons for all this, but there’s no point in blaming him. What he did after all, whatever his reasoning, was pander to the dreams of a group of powerful men, centered in the Pentagon, the Defense Policy Board, the vice-president’s office, and various think-tanks scattered around Washington. The thing that needs to be grasped here is that since 1991 these men have been dreaming up a storm about reconfiguring the Middle East, while scaling the heavens (via various Star Wars programs for the militarization of space), and so nailing down an American earth for eternity. Their dreams were utopian and so, by definition, unrealizable. They were hatched close to power (or at least to those convinced they would soon return to power) even in the Clinton interregnum. Theirs were lava dreams and they were dreamt, like all such burning dreams, without much reference to the world out there. They were perfect pickings for a Chalabi.

Every now and then, some friend says to me something like, “I had a weird dream last night in which you” And I always stop whoever it is right there. “It may have looked like me,” I say, “but make no mistake, it was really you.” Nobody bothered to say this to the neocons of this administration and they had no urge to listen anyway. In their perfervid dreams, Iraq, the land where Saddam Hussein, former American ally with wmd turned Great Satan with wmd, had mocked them by not falling from power after the Gulf War, was always but the opening wedge, the soft underbelly, for a great plan.

As it happened, despite unprecedented levels of world opposition, they managed to finesse the first part of their grand scheme and then, with only a moment of doubt — when opposition in Iraq briefly increased and they got the first hint that one of their dreams was a fantasy (that the Shiites in the south would strew flowers in their path and make like Paris 1944) — Saddam’s overmatched army crumbled and (possibly after many dollars and dinars were passed around) what was left of the Republican Guard went home to bed. So they found themselves triumphant and they began to do their victory jig a tad too soon for comfort. They promptly mocked the critics in the military and elsewhere – Vietnam analogies, quagmire, urban warfare, guerrilla war, heavy casualties – all of it was so much hooey (though much of this actually reflected their own secret fears). Then the president landed on the USS Abraham Lincoln and it was all over. Victory, victory, at last — over the critics, the Democrats, Saddam, the Palestinians, resistant American generals, the Iranians, Madame Anthrax, the State Department, the Syrians, the French, the CIA, the Germans, and the Turks. (It was a little like Dick Nixon’s famed hit list or one of Judy Chicago’s dinner parties – you never knew who would be sitting next to whom.)

But here was the twist, there were a few parties they didn’t bother to tell and, as it happened, they, or their hapless representatives, arrived in Baghdad on little more than a dream and a prayer. And now, of course, they find themselves once again facing their own fears. You know, that Q word, stuck as it is deep in their brains somewhere. (If, by the way, you want to read a fairly high-level on-the-ground account of this, check out a piece in the Washington Post Sunday Outlook section by one of Iraq’s American “reconstructors,” former ambassador Timothy Carney [We’re Getting in Our Own Way ]. He describes a hideous comedy of errors through which “flawed policy and incompetent administration have marred the follow-up to the brilliant military campaign For a group devoted to getting Iraq up and running again, we had surprising difficulty getting ourselves up and running. There were no lights. We used Port-a-Johns for toilets. No one had thought about laundry for our civilian teametc.”)

Tom Lewis, a novelist who was once a speechwriter for Governors Carey and Cuomo of New York, and was also the New York State Director of Veterans’ Affairs, sometimes e-mails his sharp reactions to ongoing events to a list of friends and acquaintances. I thought the following, from a recent email about developments in Iraq might (with his kind permission) be of interest to all of you:

“You have to believe there is, in fact, a coordinating central command at work [in Iraq], notwithstanding the denials by American commanders. And you have to believe there is considerable work being done by Iraqi resistance commanders to build a presence in Baghdad and the other major cities. If they are lying low, which is what they should be doing, it is because they are planning, recruiting, and stockpiling.

“We certainly understand now that the extended turmoil in Iraq following the military victory over Saddam Hussein and the Baath Party caused unnecessary ill-will by ordinary Iraqis who were otherwise happy to be rid of the brutal Saddam. To the extent there was an American civil affairs plan, it was ineffective, unbudgeted, and non-staffed. That much is clear. Why there was no plan is unclear but it doesn’t matter now, other than as raw material for sniping by Democrats, who are a day late to the entire matter anyway. What the political opposition to Bush says about Iraq is irrelevant.

“Bush won his wars against al-Qaeda and Saddam. [New York] Governor Pataki is orchestrating the laying of the cornerstone for the construction of the memorial site at Ground Zero for August, 2004. There will be a triumphal march by the Republicans through the ashes of New York City when they meet here to nominate GWB for his second term. One thinks of Hollywood epics like Quo Vadis or, perhaps silently, of Spartacus.

“However, one thinks also of the terrible, bloody Soviet occupation of Afghanistan after the lightning decapitation of the Kabul government by Soviet spetsnaz and other special forces, and the resistance of the mujahedeen, begun almost immediately by men fighting with WW II weapons and captured Kalashnikovs, and later fought in part with Stingers and other weapons paid for by the CIA under direction of the Reagan-Bush group. Some of the survivors of that war are our enemies, some are now our allies, none are friends. The Islamic resistance to foreign/Western invaders has a history of 1300 years. (Were the KGB and Red Army ‘Western?’-I believe so.)

“The tone of comments in a story in tomorrow’s Sunday New York Times from U.S. military commanders in Iraq and from SecDef Donald Rumsfeld is not triumphal. They are worried. Rumsfeld may be an ideologue but he is far from unconscious and the military people may be conservative but they are not ideologues. They know enough of the history to know the risks. Military people take risks as part of their life of war; therefore, when they sound worried, they really are worried.

“What we’re hearing, I believe, is the sound of commanders who are realizing they are not in control of a developing situation and are not sure they know how to acquire control. The American intelligence and military operation in aftermath Iraq is quickly assuming an importance Rumsfeld and, by extension, Bush-Cheney-Rove, did not plan for. They will have to get the developing Baath/Islamic resistance under control before it becomes embedded the way the Afghani resistance did in the late ‘seventies and early ‘eighties or the Chechen resistance in the early ‘nineties. Chechnya is still a bloodbath and Afghanistan is far from pacified-other than Kabul, it is not even occupied.

“One cannot help but think of the anti-colonial wars of the ‘fifties and ‘sixties and ‘seventies, particularly the Algerian War against the French and the Vietnamese War against the French and the U.S. One can only pray that the Bush Administration has the wit to keep us out of such a war in the Middle East. The anesthetized Republican Congress is unhappily reminiscent of the anesthetized Democratic Congress during the Johnson Administration. Where will the opposition come from?”


More Missing Intelligence
By Robert Dreyfuss
The Nation
July 7, 2003

As the Pentagon scours Iraq for weapons of mass destruction and Iraqi links to Al Qaeda, it’s increasingly obvious that the Bush Administration either distortedA or deliberately exaggerated the intelligence used to justify the war against Iraq. But an even bigger intelligence scandal is waiting in the wings: the fact that members of the Administration failed to produce an intelligence evaluation of what Iraq might look like after the fall of Saddam Hussein. Instead, they ignored fears expressed by analysts at the Central Intelligence Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency and the State Department who predicted that postwar Iraq would be chaotic, violent and ungovernable, and that Iraqis would greet the occupying armies with firearms, not flowers.

To read more Dreyfuss click here