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daily link  Sunday, October 30, 2005


Ending the Fraudulence: Krugman hits it again. "this administration's political triumphs have never been based on its real-world achievements, which are few and far between. The administration has, instead, built its power on myths: the myth of presidential leadership, the ugly myth that the administration is patriotic while its critics are not. Take away those myths, and the administration has nothing left.

Well, Katrina ended the leadership myth.. Meanwhile, the Plame inquiry, however it winds up, has ended the myth of the administration's monopoly on patriotism, which was also fading in the face of the war. .. The fact remains that officials close to both Mr. Cheney and Mr. Bush leaked the identity of an undercover operative for political reasons. Whether or not that act was illegal, it was clearly unpatriotic. .. By a three-to-one margin, according to a Washington Post poll, the public now believes that the level of ethics and honesty in the government has declined rather than risen under Mr. Bush.

So the Bush administration has lost the myths that sustained its mojo, and with them much of its power to do harm. But the nightmare won't be fully over until two things happen.

First, politicians will have to admit that they were misled... even now, with Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell's former chief of staff, telling us how policy was "hijacked" by the Cheney-Rumsfeld "cabal," it's hard to get leading figures to admit that they were misled into supporting the Iraq war. Kudos to John Kerry for finally saying just that last week. ..

Second, the news media will have to face up to their role in allowing incompetents to pose as leaders and political apparatchiks to pose as patriots. .. journalists [should] ask themselves: what did we know, when did we know it, and why didn't we tell the public? "

  11:57:25 PM  permalink  


daily link  Wednesday, October 26, 2005


U.K. Poll: Iraqis Oppose Foreign Troops: "Four out of five Iraqis oppose the presence of U.S. and British troops in their country, and two out of five believe insurgent attacks on those troops are justified, according to a "secret" poll conducted by the British Ministry of Defense. The findings were reported in the Sunday Telegraph, a conservative newspaper that strongly supported the invasion of Iraq in 2003."  More details on opposition to coalition forces, and the implications for the "hearts and minds" campaign.  10:18:05 AM  permalink  

"Artists and Bureaucrats"   A paper from Pat Lang,  diagnosing the problems with US intelligence, principally the tendency for management to be risk averse and antagonistic towards the intelligence professionals, and the pressure from political leaders to support their predefined policies.  He also offers ideas from other countries.  "This problem exists across the world in every country where serious foreign policy and military issues must be considered and decisions on policy and strategy made on the basis of a systematic consideration of available data. .. In some places external “think tanks” are used to “test” the result of internal analysis. In others countries, reliance is placed on the competitive analysis of two or more intelligence agencies, often one military and the other civilian. In Israel, within the Directorate of Military Intelligence there exists something called the “Devil’s Advocate” [whose members] have the job of opposing the analysis accepted by the government and of preventing the acceptance of institutional “group think” as the basis for decisions. For the senior Israeli officers who serve in the “Devil’s Advocate” section it is understood that opposition to the judgments of the rest of the intelligence community will have a career price and that the officers who do this work should look forward to a fruitful life in retirement from the army soon after their service in this job. Nevertheless, they perform a vital; perhaps “priceless” is not too strong a word, service for their country. None of these devices seem altogether suitable for the United States as a “safeguard” against overwhelming pressure to bring their analysis into conformity with policy. The sheer scale of the institutions involved in American life dictate modification of the methods used in smaller governments. Some approach that combines the better features of these institutional “fixes” would probably be appropriate."

This reminds me of the moves toward growing a system of open source intelligence as a counter-balance to conventional secret intelligence.

  10:00:38 AM  permalink  

Next steps in Iraq: A few notes I wrote this morning.  Update: John Kerry released a speech he'll give tonight with the same points.  9:54:42 AM  permalink  

Zbigniew Brzezinski: A sorry foreign policy own goal:  "About 60 years ago Arnold Toynbee concluded, in his monumental Study of History, that the ultimate cause of imperial collapse was "suicidal statecraft". Sadly for President George W. Bush's place in history and, much more important, ominously for America's future, that adroit phrase increasingly seems applicable to the policies pursued by the US since the cataclysm of September 11. ..

[The Iraq] war, advocated by a narrow circle of decision-makers for motives still not fully exposed, propagated publicly by rhetoric reliant on false assertions, has turned out to be much more costly in blood and money than anticipated. .. In the Middle East it has stamped the US as the imperialistic successor to Britain and as a partner of Israel in the military repression of the Arabs.  Fair or not, that perception has become widespread throughout the world of Islam. .. It is a self-delusion for Americans to be told that the terrorists are motivated mainly by an abstract "hatred of freedom" and that their acts are a reflection of a profound cultural hostility. If that were so, Stockholm or Rio de Janeiro would be as much at risk as New York City. Yet, in addition to New Yorkers, the principal victims of serious terrorist attacks have been Australians in Bali, Spaniards in Madrid, Israelis in Tel Aviv, Egyptians in the Sinai and Britons in London. There is an obvious political thread connecting these events: the targets are America's allies and client states in its deepening military intervention in the Middle East. ..

America's ability to cope with nuclear nonproliferation has also suffered. The contrast between the attack on the militarily weak Iraq and America's forbearance of a nuclear-armed North Korea has strengthened the conviction of the Iranians that their security can only be enhanced by nuclear weapons...

In a very real sense, during the past four years the Bush team has dangerously undercut America's seemingly secure perch on top of the global totem pole by transforming a manageable, though serious, challenge largely of regional origin into an international debacle. Because the US is extraordinarily powerful and rich, it can afford, for a while longer, a policy articulated with rhetorical excess and pursued with historical blindness. ..  Flailing away with a stick at a hornets' nest while loudly proclaiming "I will stay the course" is an exercise in catastrophic leadership. ..

But it need not be so. A real course correction is still possible.. In a bipartisan setting, it would be easier not only to scale down the definition of success in Iraq but actually to get out, perhaps even as early as next year. And the sooner the US leaves, the sooner the Shias, Kurds and Sunnis will either reach a political arrangement on their own or some combination of them will forcibly prevail. "

  9:25:53 AM  permalink  


daily link  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  permalink  

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  permalink  

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  permalink  

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  permalink  

'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  permalink  

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  permalink  


daily link  Monday, October 24, 2005


FBI Papers Indicate Intelligence Violations: "The FBI has conducted clandestine surveillance on some U.S. residents for as long as 18 months at a time without proper paperwork or oversight, according to previously classified documents to be released today.  Records turned over as part of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit also indicate that the FBI has investigated hundreds of potential violations related to its use of secret surveillance operations, which have been stepped up dramatically since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks but are largely hidden from public view. ..

Case numbers on the documents indicate that a minimum of 287 potential violations were identified by the FBI [referred to the Intelligence Oversight Board] during those three years [2002-4], but the actual number is certainly higher because the records are incomplete. .. More than 1,700 new cases were opened by the court last year, according to an administration report to Congress. ..

[Potential violations] included a violation of bank privacy statutes and an improper physical search, though the details of the transgressions are edited out. At least two others involve e-mails that were improperly collected after the authority to do so had expired."

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daily link  Sunday, October 23, 2005


The Year of Rewards: Penestanan 2:  When I travelled in Africa and Asia in the 80s, I shot a lot of slides.  I dreamed then of a digital future where my camera would record sound as well as pictures, and where I could annotate the recordings and beam them out to my friends at home in real time.  Even in 1983 you could see it would come, eventually.  Now, here's a fine example from my friend David Lincoln.  Today he's in Bali, taking a walk with villagers in their rice paddies.  11:44:11 PM  permalink  


daily link  Friday, October 21, 2005


Ex-Powell aide assails Bush's foreign policy: "Lawrence Wilkerson, who worked for Powell at the State Department from 2002 to early 2005 [as chief of staff] ..  has offered a remarkably blunt criticism of the administration he served, saying that foreign policy had been usurped by a "Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal" and that President George W. Bush had left the country more vulnerable, not less, to future crises.  ..  "I would say that we have courted disaster, in Iraq, in North Korea, in Iran, generally with regard to domestic crises like Katrina, Rita .."  He suggested that dysfunction within the administration was so grave that "if something comes along that is truly serious, truly serious, something like a nuclear weapon going off in a major American city, or something like a major pandemic, you are going to see the ineptitude of this government in a way that will take you back to the Declaration of Independence." ..

The retired colonel referred to Bush as someone who "is not versed in international relations - and not too much interested in them, either." He was far more admiring of the president's father, whom he called "one of the finest presidents we've ever had."" 

Here's the transcript of the speech, worth reading.  "Decisions that send men and women to die, ..  decisions that confront situations like natural disasters .. should not be made in a secret way.  That’s a very, very provocative statement, I think.  All my life I’ve been taught to guard the nation’s secrets.  All my life I have followed the rules. .. I understand that the nation’s secrets need guarding, but fundamental decisions about foreign policy should not be made in secret. ..

Dr. Rice .. made a decision that she would side with the president to build her intimacy with the president. .. What we had was a situation where the national security advisor, seen in the evolution over some half-century since the act as the balancer or the person who would make sure all opinions got to the president, the person who would make sure that every dissent got to the president that made .. actually was a part of the problem, and probably on many issues sided with the president and the vice president and the secretary of Defense."

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daily link  Tuesday, October 18, 2005


Interview: Juan Cole on George Bush's Iraq: A good rundown on the situation inside Iraq, plus comments on the origins of the war.  "When we as historians get access to all the documents and can figure out how this thing was planned and who supported it, I think we'll find that the Bush administration was a coalition of various forces and each part of the coalition had its own reasons for wanting to fight this war. The group most explored has been the neoconservatives, but I suspect they will bulk less large in our final estimation of the promotion of the war. .. They may also have been fall guys. When things started going bad, more stuff got leaked about what they had been saying than about others.

I suspect it will come out that George W. Bush had wanted an Iraq War since he was governor of Texas .. The degree to which Bush himself has been a central, policy-making player somehow gets elided in American discourse. It's not as if he's a leaf blown by the wind. When the Bush presidency is finally examined from the primary documents, a lot of the things that are attributed to the number three man at the Pentagon may actually turn out to have been Bush's idea from the beginning, and something he pushed hard for. His personal style is to play it by ear. .. The world is a much more complex and vicious place [than Texas], and there are often incommensurate issues for which there is no acceptable compromise. Trying to run the world the way you run Texas is a big mistake. "

  9:05:45 AM  permalink  


daily link  Monday, October 17, 2005


Recipe for Destruction:  So Kurzweil and Joy agree on this; they disagree on other advanced tech issues. "To shed light on how the virus evolved, the United States Department of Health and Human Services published the full genome of the 1918 influenza virus on the Internet in the GenBank database.
 
This is extremely foolish. The genome is essentially the design of a weapon of mass destruction. No responsible scientist would advocate publishing precise designs for an atomic bomb, and in two ways revealing the sequence for the flu virus is even more dangerous. ..

We urgently need international agreements by scientific organizations to limit such publications and an international dialogue on the best approach to preventing recipes for weapons of mass destruction from falling into the wrong hands. Part of that discussion should concern the appropriate role of governments, scientists and their scientific societies, and industry.

We also need a new Manhattan Project to develop specific defenses against new biological viral threats, natural or human made. There are promising new technologies, like RNA interference, that could be harnessed. We need to put more stones on the defensive side of the scale."  I'd like to learn more about RNA interference and other biodefense technologies.

  10:00:02 AM  permalink  


daily link  Friday, October 14, 2005


Questions of Character:  A must-read article by Krugman.  "Right now, with the Bush administration in meltdown on multiple issues, we're hearing a lot about President Bush's personal failings. But what happened to the commanding figure of yore, the heroic leader in the war on terror? The answer, of course, is that the commanding figure never existed: Mr. Bush is the same man he always was. All the character flaws that are now fodder for late-night humor were fully visible, for those willing to see them, during the 2000 campaign.

And President Bush the great leader is far from the only fictional character, bearing no resemblance to the real man, created by media images.  Read the speeches Howard Dean gave before the Iraq war, and compare them with Colin Powell's pro-war presentation to the U.N. Knowing what we know now, it's clear that one man was judicious and realistic, while the other was spinning crazy conspiracy theories. But somehow their labels got switched in the way they were presented to the public by the news media. ..

[Why? It is] all too easy for coverage to be shaped by what reporters feel they can safely say, rather than what they actually think or know. .. Let's be frank: the Bush administration has made brilliant use of journalistic careerism. ..

What we really need is political journalism based less on perceptions of personalities and more on actual facts. Schadenfreude aside, we should not be happy that stories about Mr. Bush's boldness have given way to stories analyzing his facial tics. Think, instead, about how different the world would be today if, during the 2000 campaign, reporting had focused on the candidates' fiscal policies instead of their wardrobes. "

  11:48:57 AM  permalink  


daily link  Wednesday, October 05, 2005


News of Pandemonium May Have Slowed Aid: Inventory of stories of violence after the flood in New Orleans, and how nearly all of them were false.  5:31:04 PM  permalink  


daily link  Tuesday, October 04, 2005


HOWL:  "When Allen Ginsberg hurled his shattering poem at a San Francisco audience in 1955, it proved to be the depth charge that started the Beat movement."  Oct 7 is the fiftieth anniversary. Also, an appreciation from the UK, Howls to mark the birth of Beat.

  2:20:03 PM  permalink  


daily link  Monday, October 03, 2005


Saddam's Revenge: Excellent summary article in Time by Joe Klein. "The history of U.S. mistakes, misjudgments and intelligence failures that let the Iraqi dictator and his allies launch an insurgency now ripping Iraq apart."  5:43:35 PM  permalink  

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