|Ken Novak's Weblog
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Tuesday, October 25, 2005
The forged Niger-Iraq documents:
The latest on the Italian sources of the faked documents. "Yet if anyone knew who was actually responsible for the White House's trumpeting of the Niger claims, it would seem from the Repubblica
report that Hadley did. He also knew that the CIA, which had initially rejected the Italian claims, was not to blame. Hadley's meeting with Pollari, at precisely the time when the Niger forgeries came into the possession of the U.S. government, may explain the seemingly hysterical White House overreaction to Wilson's article almost a year later." 11:27:43 PM
Going It Alone
: While Miller and the NYT take deserved heat for parroting Bush administration sources in the run-up to Iraq, it's worth remembering how and why the Knight Ridder team, especially Washington reporters Warren Strobel and Jonathan Landay, got it right. "I think the failure of the media in general in covering this story," Landay says, "is as egregious as the intelligence failure." 10:58:29 PM
Craig Venter update:
Nice summary of Venter's latest work by Steve Jurvetson
. "Craig Venter set sail around the world to shotgun sequence the millions of viruses and bacteria in every spoonful of sea water. From the first five ocean samples, this team grew the number of known genes on the planet by 10x and the number of genes involved in solar energy conversion by 100x. The ocean microorganisms have evolved over a longer period of time and have pathways that are more efficient than photosynthesis.
Another discovery: every 200 miles across the open ocean, the microbial genes are up to 85% different. The oceans are not homogenous masses. They consist of myriad uncharted regions of ecological diversity… and the world’s largest digital database.
From the collection of digital genomes, we are learning to decode and reprogram the information systems of biology. Like computer hackers, we can leverage a prior library of evolved code, assemblers and subsystems. Many of the radical applications lie outside of medicine.
At the Venter Institute, Craig Venter and Hamilton Smith are leading the Minimal Genome Project. They take the Mycoplasma genitalium from the human urogenital tract, and strip out 200 unnecessary genes, thereby creating the simplest synthetic organism that can self-replicate (at about 300 genes). They plan to layer new functionality on to this artificial genome – to make a solar cell or to generate hydrogen from water using the sun’s energy for photonic hydrolysis – by splicing cassettes of novel genes discovered in the oceans for energy conversion from sunlight. ..
The limiting factor is our understanding of these complex systems, but our pace of learning has been compounding exponentially. We will learn more about genetics and the origins of disease in the next 10 years than we have in all of human history. " Also see Venter's latest company, Synthetic Genomics
. 7:47:25 PM
Revisions name Syrian names: Mark LeVine, professor of modern Middle Eastern history, culture, and Islamic studies at the University of California, Irvine. "The just released Mehlis Report investigating who was behind the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri contains two surprises.. A colleague emailed me the report explained, "Go to the top of p. 29, parag. 96. .. turn on… track changes …"
So I clicked on track changes and, voila, right at the second sentence of parag. 96, where the text reads "senior Lebanese and Syrian officials decided to assassinate Rafik Hariri…" an edit box popped up in the right margin that revealed that the phrase "Senior Lebanese officials" had in fact replaced the actual names of these officials, which were deleted before publication of the final draft. Fortunately for the world, however, they were deleted using Microsoft Word's "track changes" tool, because of which they remained visible to anyone who happened to have it turned on when he or she opened the file.
Who are the men whose identities were so sensitive the Report's authors thought better of publishing them? Quite literally, the "capiregime," or crewbosses, of the Syrian-Lebanese mafia (more commonly known as the Syrian and Lebanese governments). The first is Maher Asad, Bashar al-Asad's brother and the head of the Republican Guard and intelligence services. The second is Assef Shawkat, Asad's brother-in-law and the Deputy Chief of Military Intelligence. The third, Hassan Khalil, was the head of military intelligence before being replaced by Shawkat. The fourth is Bahjat Suleyman, a friend of Shawkat and one of the three members (along with Asad's brother and Shawkat) of the President's "National Security Committee." The final conspirator is Jamal al-Sayyed, the former Lebanese Security Chief. Together, in the words of one diplomat close to the investigation, they were a Levantine version of "Murder, Inc."
Thanks to Track Changes the Lebanese people and the world community have to confront the fact that the President of Syria likely ordered the hit on their former Prime Minister. But this is not the biggest surprise in the Report. More important is what the Report reveals about the condition of the Syrian economy and political system, which are evidently so desperate Asad and his lieutenants risked everything to whack an increasingly powerful associate who had the temerity to stand up to the Syrian Don...
The comparison with the mafia is more than just a useful heuristic device. For upwards of two centuries the politics and economies of both countries have been run in a manner not dissimilar to Sicily's, with local leaders, or "Za'ims" dispensing patronage, justice and punishment for more powerful lords via a complex matrix of familial and economic relationships whose reach extended beyond the village and into the regional and even world economy. Most important, whether in Palermo or Damascus (or Saddam's Baghdad for that matter), the criminalization of political life allowed those in power to skim the cream off most every economically viable enterprise, private or public, within their territory. And this is ultimately what the assassination of Hariri was about." 5:58:24 PM
Last Chance for Iraq
: Former ambassador Peter Galbraith favors separation or loose federation for Iraq, and sees the current constitution as a useful first step in that direction. He's also pessimistic about the new Iraqi armed forces. "President Bush's military strategy for Iraq can be summed up by a phrase in his June 28 speech to the nation: "As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down." According to the Iraqis who run the Ministry of Defense, there is little hope that this will happen soon—or ever.
The Iraqi army nominally has 115 battalions, or 80,000 troops. This figure, often cited by those who see the Iraq occupation as a success, corresponds only to the number of troops listed on the military payroll. However, when the Ministry of Defense decided to supervise the payment of salaries, a third of the payroll was returned. (In Iraq's all-cash economy, commanders receive a lump sum for the troops under their command; this acts as an incentive for them to maintain ghost soldiers on the payroll.) One senior official estimated that barely half the nominal army actually exists.
Claims about weapons provided by the US to the Iraqi army are even more doubtful. Iraqi Ministry of Defense officials say the Americans have not provided them with records of who has been receiving weapons. Without such controls, soldiers sell their weapons on the open market where some are bought by insurgents. Most weapons captured in recent months come, I am told, from stocks supplied to the Iraqi army and police. Craig Smith reported on August 28 in The New York Times that the US military is now unwilling to provide more sophisticated weapons to the Iraqi military for fear they will be used in a civil war—or against the US.
The problems with the Iraqi army go beyond the many opportunities for corruption. In this deeply divided country, people are loyal to their community but not to Iraq, and the army reflects these divisions. Of the 115 army battalions, sixty are made up of Shiites and located in southern Iraq, forty-five are Sunni Arab and stationed in the Sunni governorates, and nine are Kurdish peshmerga, although they are officially described as the part of the Iraqi army stationed in Kurdistan. There is exactly one mixed battalion (with troops contributed from the armed forces of the main political parties) and it is in Baghdad. While the officer corps is a little more heterogeneous, very few Kurds or Shiites are willing to serve as officers of Sunni Arab units fighting Sunni Arab insurgents. There are no Arab officers in the Kurdish battalions, and Kurdistan law prohibits the deployment of the Iraqi army within Kurdistan without permission of the Kurdistan National Assembly.
Even by paying soldiers salaries that are ten times the military salaries under Saddam Hussein, the United States cannot build an Iraqi army when there is no Iraqi nation. The effort should be abandoned in favor of supporting regional security forces. Thanks to their regional armies, Kurdistan and the Shiite south are stable and reasonably secure. A Sunni Arab military force—responsible not to a Shiite-dominated federal government or an American occupation army but to Sunni officers and a Sunni Arab political authority—is the best hope of combating the Sunni Arab insurgency and its jihadist allies. " 3:01:20 PM
'The System Worked': Interesting response from Holbrooke, suggesting an earlier departure by moderates would have helped. "[Wilkerson's] the speech should remind journalists that they failed to dig enough; the outlines of the high-stakes struggle were widely known but vastly underreported..
I am certainly not going to defend Cheney or Rumsfeld. They made mistakes of historic proportions in Iraq and elsewhere, and the damage done to America's world role in the past four years will, I believe, take a decade to undo. But for Wilkerson to describe major policy mistakes as the result of a process that was dysfunctional -- even though it was -- is inaccurate. In the end, presidents get the advice they deserve, from the advisers they pick. .. Bush was surely aware that there were two views in his administration on most critical issues, but the buck stopped on his desk. Apparently, Cheney's voice was often the most influential, but Bush made the final calls. As Les Gelb wrote about Vietnam with deliberate irony, "the system worked," but it produced the wrong outcome. ..
The "evil influence" theory Wilkerson laid out is fun to read and surely reflects Powell's feelings, but it does not explain how a national hero universally respected for his decency and integrity, and whose approval ratings were 30 points higher than those of Bush, could lose so many of the big battles. Powell's supporters often offer the "effective trap" explanation for why he stayed, the same one Robert S. McNamara gave for staying in the Johnson administration for two years after he had concluded that the Vietnam War was unwinnable: Things would have been much worse if he had abandoned ship. But that argument is no more valid today than it was in 1968 (when McNamara's successor, Clark Clifford, helped turn policy around). ..
In recent moves rich with irony, secretary [Rice] has improved many first-term policies, in such places as North Korea, Iran, Bosnia and Kosovo, and in relations with some of our major European allies. (Powell's friends say with bitterness that when he proposed similar policies, he was thwarted, in part, by her.) .. Not everything is better in the second term. [But] the immensely disciplined Rice is seeking to undo damage done in the past four years without ever admitting there was any -- a nifty bit of cognitive dissonance, but one she seems determined to pull off. Events have, of course, pushed her and the president in this direction, and it is easier with Feith and Paul Wolfowitz gone. But -- and this may be the most painful irony of all -- Powell's departure opened the door to somewhat more pragmatic policies, which Bush and the "cabalists" had been opposing."
In a related vein, Matthew Yglesias writes "Richard Clarke, by contrast, offered a study in trying to do the right thing when it mattered." 9:45:28 AM
The White House cabal: Wilkerson gets more specific. "IN PRESIDENT BUSH'S first term, some of the most important decisions about U.S. national security — including vital decisions about postwar Iraq — were made by a secretive, little-known cabal. It was made up of a very small group of people led by Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. .. I believe that the decisions of this cabal were sometimes made with the full and witting support of the president and sometimes with something less. More often than not, then-national security advisor Condoleezza Rice was simply steamrolled by this cabal. Its insular and secret workings were efficient and swift — not unlike the decision-making one would associate more with a dictatorship than a democracy. ..
But the secret process was ultimately a failure. It produced a series of disastrous decisions and virtually ensured that the agencies charged with implementing them would not or could not execute them well. .. Such departures from the process have in the past led us into a host of disasters, including the last years of the Vietnam War, the national embarrassment of Watergate (and the first resignation of a president in our history), the Iran-Contra scandal and now the ruinous foreign policy of George W. Bush. ..
The administration's performance during its first four years would have been even worse without Powell's damage control. At least once a week, it seemed, Powell trooped over to the Oval Office and cleaned all the dog poop off the carpet. He held a youthful, inexperienced president's hand. He told him everything would be all right because he, the secretary of State, would fix it. And he did — everything from a serious crisis with China when a U.S. reconnaissance aircraft was struck by a Chinese F-8 fighter jet in April 2001, to the secretary's constant reassurances to European leaders following the bitter breach in relations over the Iraq war. It wasn't enough, of course, but it helped." 9:14:13 AM