Category Archives: The GWOT

Bush and WMDs

Memories in America, trained by tv, are remarkably short even when they belong to otherwise intelligent reporters. Two recent articles – one by Sidney Blumenthal in Salon, the other by Fred Kaplan in Slate, both usually reliable – made it clear to me that we need to go back over some fundamental history of the Second Gulf War, key elements of which both seem to have forgotten or lost track of. We’ve covered this ground already but it was several years ago, so it bears repeating.

If you ask, “Why is it important to go through all this again? And why are these picayune details significant anyway?” The answer is, “Because we need to get it into our heads once and for all that conservatives are naive, gullible children, easily led over cliffs by anyone who feeds them what they want to hear.” The real story of the twisted intelligence that led to the SGW and idiotic decisions like de-Ba’athification isn’t just about arrogance, incompetence, and ignorance. It’s also – and crucially – about misplaced trust and a dangerously juvenile credulity that allows conservatives to believe demonstrably false ideas and foist them on the rest of us just because those ideas are appealingly melodramatic.

Continue reading

Lessons Learned Backwards

Mike Luckovich

luckovich-nam.gif

Imperial Democrats: Levin v Maliki

Powerful Democratic Sen Carl Levin, Chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has become the first openly imperial Democrat by assuming that he has the right to tell Iraq what to do with its government.

Declaring the government of Iraq “non-functional,” the influential chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee said yesterday that Iraq’s parliament should oust Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his cabinet if they are unable to forge a political compromise with rival factions in a matter of days.

“I hope the parliament will vote the Maliki government out of office and will have the wisdom to replace it with a less sectarian and more unifying prime minister and government,” Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.) said after a three-day trip to Iraq and Jordan.

Levin’s statement, the most forceful call for leadership change in Iraq from a U.S. elected official, comes as about two dozen lawmakers are traveling to Iraq during Congress’s August break to glean firsthand assessments before receiving a progress report next month from Gen. David H. Petraeus, the U.S. commander there, and Ryan C. Crocker, the U.S. ambassador.

Levin’s comments show just how deeply the Democratic leadership has internalized the foreign policy establishment’s unquestioning acceptance of the fundamental neoconservative belief that the US is and ought to be an imperial power, complete with satraps and client states. It seems not to have occurred to him that Iraq’s internal politics are none of his business.

Continue reading

Authoritarian Democrats 5: The Foreign Policy Establishment

I hinted at the end of AD3 that the fact that Democrats have bought into the absurd right-wing fiction that Islamic fundamentalists are actually in a position to threaten the US is connected to their betrayal of the Constitution on the FISA vote. That needs some explanation, and by a weird co-incidence Glenn Greenwald wrote a post today that helps make it.

Glenn has been criticizing the foreign policy establishment lately for its unwavering determination to make wars legitimate policy options even when supporting them, never mind advocating for them, makes no sense. When Duncan Black (Atrios to you) criticized DLC stalwart and eager Iraq war supporter Will Marshall for calling himself a liberal and asked why Democratic hawks in general shouldn’t be “considered discredited and shunned”, the Brookings Institution’s Michael Cohen – also a putative liberal – leapt to Marshall’s defense.

In the course of defending the credibility of Democratic war proponents, Cohen says this:

Surely, a defensible case for war does not mean that we should have necessarily gone to war. It’s a view that I share. There is a good argument to be made for going to war against Iran and North Korea — that doesn’t mean we should do it.

Just marvel at that. Not only, according to this Democratic foreign policy expert, were there “good arguments” for attacking and invading Iraq (a country which neither attacked nor threatened to attack us), there are also now what Cohen calls “good arguments” for starting wars against two more countries (at least) that have also not attacked us (or anyone else for that matter). And this is not Bill Kristol talking — at least not here. Rather, it is the view of someone who not only works within the Democratic Party foreign policy establishment, but — like the Brookings Institution — is situated on the so-called “liberal” end of the spectrum (Cohen worked for Bill Richardson and Chris Dodd, among others).

(emphasis in the original)

Greenwald’s point concerns the foreign policy establishment in general.

The Number One Rule of the bi-partisan Foreign Policy Community is that America has the right to invade and attack other countries at will because American power is inherently good and our role in the world is to rule it though the use of superior military force. Paying homage to that imperialistic orthodoxy is a non-negotiable pre-requisite to maintaining Good Standing and Seriousness Credentials within the Foreign Policy Community.

Conversely, one who denies that premise reveals oneself to be deeply unserious and unworthy of meaningful discourse. While differences on the “when” and “how” are permitted, there is virtually no debate within the foreign policy establishment about whether the U.S. has the right to continue to intervene and attack and invade and occupy other countries in the absence of those countries attacking us.

But in the process, he notes that the Democratic party establishment, through the DLC, is just as blindly tied into the neocon world view espoused by the FPE as the Republicans are. This makes sense for the Pubs since they are, after all, the ones who created the imperial bias which is the FPE’s foundational belief – that on which all else is built. It only makes sense for the Dems, though, if they’ve accepted – as an institution – the Pub vision of the US as an empire with the unquestioned and unquestionable right “to invade and attack other countries at will”. Evidence suggests that’s precisely what they’ve done.

Continue reading

Authoritarian Democrats 3: Questions and Excuses

Evidence of Democratic skullduggery continues to pile up. In Category 1 is a raft of folks wondering why their safe-seat Dem Rep voted for the FISA bill, and in Category 2 is a different raft unimpressed by Democratic explanations of how they were conned by McConnell.

Two quick examples of the former:

New Rep Tim Walz, D-MN, just elected, disappointed some of his staunchest supporters by voting for FISA. Mark Gisleson, Minneapolis blogger of Norwegianity, isn’t happy.

Walz’s vote hurt, and hurt a lot. For the life of me I don’t know how a high school teacher can forget the Constitution so quickly. I think his former students should form a posse and kick his ass the next time he comes home to remind him why they sent him to D.C. The FISA renewal was a huge mistake and without a doubt the most dickheaded vote Walz has cast since going to Washington.

Maryland Democratic activist Stephanie Dray is baffled and “appalled” by Rep Barbara Mikulski’s vote.

I’ve come to this conclusion because she didn’t have to vote this way. Maryand is in no danger of turning into a Red State any time soon. We just came off an election and there’s plenty of time before the next one, even if this would have been a controversial vote. Senator Barb is an institution in this state–there’s really no chance that she’s going to lose her job. So one can only conclude that she voted this way because she believed it was the right thing to do.

And as a Democrat who cares more about civil liberties than welfare checks, this has me appalled.

If Mikulski felt comfortable throwing the Constitution aside in the genuine belief “it was the right thing to do”, we’ve already got a problem. But let’s take it at face value. The next question is: What on earth would make her think that? The answer to that question brings us to the second raft.

Continue reading

Maybe the Dems Want Authoritarian Powers

Digby is befuddled by the Democrats’ race to authorize more wiretapping power to a patently untrustworthy administration.

Let’s set aside the idea that “trusting” the Bush administration with warrantless wiretaps is like trusting your four year old with a zippo lighter, what kind of bucket-of-lukewarm-spit kind of politics is this? What are they afraid of, that the Bush administration will blame them if a terrorist attack occurs and they didn’t approve another blank check? Guess what? It wouldn’t matter if the Democrats named Bush king with the power to draw and quarter hippies and Muslims on the white house lawn, they will still blame the Democrats if there is another terrorist attack.

I do not know what this latest program is, but whatever it is, it needs to be approved by somebody other than the White House. I’m sorry, but that should be non-negotiable. Dick Cheney has delegated to himself virtually limitless power and he is borderline insane. The executive branch cannot be trusted with additional power of any kind. They have quite enough, thank you.

(emphasis in the original)

Avedon Carol writes at Eschaton (where she was sitting in for Atrios) wondering about lambert’s question at corrente: why aren’t the Dems explicitly condemning the Bush Admin’s anti-Constitutionality and promising to restore the rights Bushies have stolen from us?

The Democrats are under tremendous pressure from the right-wing spinnners on The Hill and their media handmaidens to ignore these important issues. They’re going to ask them about haircuts and cleavage.
So, when we have a chance to get them to talk about important questions, we’d damn well better take it.
We have to push back. That’s what democracy is all about: We have to tell them what we want – and when they are running for office, we have to ask them how they plan to give us what we want.

eRobin at Fact-esque, who was, as usual, ahead of everybody, wrote last week:

I want all the presidential candidates  to, at every opportunity, condemn specific steps this president has taken to undermine the Constitution and to pledge to reverse them ALL on his/her first day in office. I am vastly more concerned with their reluctance to do that than I am even with BushCo’s persistence on his unconstitutional path. (from BushCo I worry that we’ll get another 9/11) The damage he’s done can be contained not only by impeachment (which would be my first choice in a reasonable world but is not in this one) but also by immediate repudiation of what he’s done over the last two terms by whoever gets elected to succeed him.

Putting these two concerns together raises a disturbing question, and since it seems to be my function to think the unthinkable and verbalize the thoughts no one else wants to admit having, I will do my duty and turn over the rock.

The Democrats, like everyone else in the known world, are assuming that the White House will belong to them in ’09. Given the Pubs’ apparent determination to self-destruct by strenuously opposing a withdrawal from Iraq and obstructing legislation everybody wants, like the SCHIP expansion, even as they demand more debt-borrowing to finance energy companies, it’s entirely possible that for once they’re right. So:

Is it conceivable that Democrats are reluctant to explicitly condemn the unConstitutional powers assumed by our imperial president because at some level they themselves wants access to at least some of those powers when they gain control again?

The answer, I’m afraid, is Yes.

Continue reading

DNI McConnell Wants Expansion of Overseas Eavesdropping Program

Some days one wonders if these people have any sense at all – if they ever did.

Despite serious questions about the Bush Administration’s routine violations of FISA and the legality of their wiretapping programs in general, Adm Mike McConnell, who took over as Bush’s Director of National Intelligence just this past February, has, incredibly, sent a letter to Democratic Bush-Buddy Sylvester Reyes, Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee asking for permission to intercept overseas messages between “terrorists”.

Citing a “period of heightened threat” to the U.S. homeland, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell asked Congress to “act immediately” to make changes in current law to permit the interception of messages between terrorist targets overseas, which he said now requires burdensome court orders.

In a July 25 letter made public yesterday, McConnell told the chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Tex.), that he hopes Congress “will be able to act immediately . . . to provide the legislative changes needed to protect the nation in this period of heightened threat.”

At issue is a package of changes that the Bush administration wants in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to facilitate the continuation of its terrorist surveillance program. Congress has delayed amending the program pending further study.

Stepping up the pressure on lawmakers after the recently released terrorist threat assessment, McConnell said that “clarifications are urgently needed” in the law to enable the use of “our capabilities to collect foreign intelligence about foreign targets overseas without requirements imposed by an out-of-date FISA statute.”

He added, “As the head of our nation’s intelligence community, I am obligated to provide warning of threats of terrorist activity, and I have deep concern about the current threat situation.”

The underlying question hinges on modern technology: When communications between one foreign-located source and another foreign-located source travel through a U.S.-located terminal or switch, can they be intercepted without a warrant?

For those of you not intelligence experts, a little background:

Continue reading

Combat Soldiers Being Billed for War-Damaged Equipment

When Bush and Cheney said they were going to run the govt like a business, they apparently included ripping off their consumers and employees in their prescription. What with Halliburton, KBR, Blackstone, Custer Battles, et al, up to their ears in fraud, theft, and over-charging for everything, it should perhaps come as no surprise that the Cheney-inspired, Bush-built military is now actually – I feel I have to assure you I’m not making this up – billing combat soldiers who served in Iraq for lost or damaged equipment. From CBS-TV in New York:

A 2006 government report found more than 1,000 soldiers being billed a total of $1.5 million. And while fighting overseas put their lives on the line, this battle on paper could cost them their future by ruining their credit. Rodriguez will be reported to credit agencies next month.

“It makes a terrible point about the nature of military service today,” citizen soldier Tod Ensign said.

Ensign is a veteran’s advocate. He says this is all part of the military’s push to be run more like a business.

“They’ll just pound him and call him, call his employers, and make his life as miserable as they can until he pays up,” Ensign said.

Testimony before Congress detailed in a report found that “although unit commanders and finance offices are authorized to write off debts for lost and damaged equipment … they have not always done so.”

“It happens too often and it’s just disgraceful,” Sen. Charles Schumer said. “Here are people who are risking their lives for us and they come home and they’re being treated as if they’re criminals instead of heroes.”

And because they’re the military rather than an actual business, which could never get away with it, they don’t even bother to tell the soldiers they’re billing what the equipment is that they’re supposed to pay for, much less explain how it’s connected to them.

The Rodriquez mention in the above quote is combat engineer Brian Rodriquez, whose job was finding and defusing land mines and IEDs. The Army has been sending him bills for $700 all summer.

Although he was discharged some four years ago, bills recently arrived demanding payment, but giving no details on what or why — nor do they offer a way to dispute the charges.

“For doing my job you’re going to bill me?” Rodriguez said.

(all emphasis added)

Yeah. War is a business, pal. Troops that don’t pay with their lives or limbs have to pay some other way. Get used to it. This is govt-as-business, it’s what we said we wanted. Well, we got it. Like it?

What, you think corporations pay their own expenses? Hell, no. Corporate tradition: Pass It On. Customer pays, and if the customers won’t, the employees do. That’s life in Bush America. Hope you enjoy it.

(Via Crooks and Liars)

Bush Uses Executive Order to Legalize Torture

Busy, busy, busy.

George Bush has been moving toward empire in the open with the occupation of Iraq and in secret with directives and signing statements enlarging his power at the expense of the Constitution for most of his 6-year reign, but in the last two busy days he has taken not one but two significant steps to openly declare his unchallengeable imperial authority.

The first you probably already know about. Everybody has been appalled by it and an awful lot of people have said so.

Bush administration officials unveiled a bold new assertion of executive authority yesterday in the dispute over the firing of nine U.S. attorneys, saying that the Justice Department will never be allowed to pursue contempt charges initiated by Congress against White House officials once the president has invoked executive privilege.

A lot of people have raked this brazen power grab over the coals. Constitutional lawyer Glenn Greenwald calls it a frontal assault on the judiciary.

What the Bush administration is doing here is not merely defying (another) Congressional statute, but — as usual — also denying the power of the judiciary to interpret the law and compel adherence to the mandates of law. The great unanswered question of the Bush administration has been, and continues to be, whether, upon losing a judicial battle, they would explicitly claim the right to defy the judicial order on the ground that the order exceeds proper judicial authority.

In the typical Bush signing statement, the President emphasizes that he will execute laws not only consistent with his claimed executive power (meaning he will ignore the parts of the law which he thinks unduly restrains him), but will also execute the law “consistent with the constitutional limitations on the judicial power.” Always lurking at the core of these radical assertions of executive power is the belief that they can defy court orders due to the claimed “constitutional limitations on the judicial power.”

Limitations, he points out, that Ted Olson, working with Dick Cheney, simply made up out of whole cloth. Scott Horton, another Constitutional lawyer, is looking a little further ahead, arguing that it isn’t simply that the judiciary under attack, Bush – like the Monarchs of old – is arguing that he is the law because he controls the law.

Continue reading

Iraq Vets Talk (Updated)

Three years ago I predicted, based on my experience with Viet Nam vets, that the day was going to come when we read of atrocities committed by our troops in Iraq.

I thought it would come as My Lai came or the depredations of Tiger Force–in gonzo attacks on Iraqis in the field. I expected Fallujah might very likely be that moment. Marines storming into a beleagured city where you can’t tell the enemy from the friendlies and mowing down everything in sight without fear or favor. It’s still possible, don’t kid yourself. The troops are exhausted, angry, betrayed by their own commanders (anybody remember “fragging”?) and by the President who lied to get them there and then put them in the position of jail-keepers, only the jail they have to watch over is an entire country. It is hard enough to control an army when it believes in its mission; it is almost impossible when it doesn’t.

I’m not making excuses for those involved, only trying to put what’s happened into the context of the reality they are now facing, a reality most of us–lucky us!–will never have to face. If you ask young men and women to die for you in the name of some great humanitarian cause and it turns out to be a crock, it turns out that you’ve asked them to die for some cock-eyed dream of empire or the piling up of your personal wealth or the fortunes of yourself and your family–and in this case, your contributors–you have turned those young men and women into mercenaries, Hessians. You have made them not a force of liberation but a force of occupation, not liberators but oppressors, and don’t think they don’t know it. Their rage, depression, and growing sense that everything they’ve just done was pointless, worthless, a sham, has to go somewhere.

Unfortunately, though we haven’t yet seen fragging*, we’ve seen massacres of civilians in Haditha and elsewhere, and a slaughter of probable innocents in Baghdad. I warned in a different post (that I can’t find at the moment) that the effect of a dirty war on the men and women who had to fight it wasn’t going to be pretty, especially when they came home and had to somehow learn to live with what they’d done.

The Nation has just published a major report (via Sadly, No) that proves it’s happening.

Over the past several months The Nation has interviewed fifty combat veterans of the Iraq War from around the United States in an effort to investigate the effects of the four-year-old occupation on average Iraqi civilians. These combat veterans, some of whom bear deep emotional and physical scars, and many of whom have come to oppose the occupation, gave vivid, on-the-record accounts. They described a brutal side of the war rarely seen on television screens or chronicled in newspaper accounts.

Their stories, recorded and typed into thousands of pages of transcripts, reveal disturbing patterns of behavior by American troops in Iraq. Dozens of those interviewed witnessed Iraqi civilians, including children, dying from American firepower. Some participated in such killings; others treated or investigated civilian casualties after the fact. Many also heard such stories, in detail, from members of their unit. The soldiers, sailors and marines emphasized that not all troops took part in indiscriminate killings. Many said that these acts were perpetrated by a minority. But they nevertheless described such acts as common and said they often go unreported–and almost always go unpunished.

The effect on the troops who do such things or see them done is devastating.

Continue reading

Courageous Reporter Busts Self

New York Times reporter Michael Gordon, their Man in Baghdad, wrote a courageous article in yesterday’s paper condemning his own reporting. Gordon, who was the first to accept Karl Rove’s latest rhetorical trick wherein the confusing host of insurgent groups in Iraq is re-labeled “Al Qaeda” for clarity, and then authored a series of reports based on the assumption that the trick was an actual description, criticized the very trick he had been using without once mentioning it was him who’d been using it.

[Bush’s] references to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, and his assertions that it is the same group that attacked the United States in 2001, have greatly oversimplified the nature of the insurgency in Iraq and its relationship with the Qaeda leadership.

There is no question that the group is one of the most dangerous in Iraq. But Mr. Bush’s critics argue that he has overstated the Qaeda connection in an attempt to exploit the same kinds of post-Sept. 11 emotions that helped him win support for the invasion in the first place.

Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia did not exist before the Sept. 11 attacks. The Sunni group thrived as a magnet for recruiting and a force for violence largely because of the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, which brought an American occupying force of more than 100,000 troops to the heart of the Middle East, and led to a Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad.

Gordon, who is famous for re-writing Rove’s press releases without any sort of independent investigation or evaluation as to their veracity or accuracy, adopted Rove’s term-change from “the insurgents” to “Al Qaeda” the same day it was announced by Bush and has been pushing it in his reporting ever since. Yesterday’s article makes it clear that, as a conscientious newsman, he is no longer going to accept such shoddy journalism from himself.

“Michael Gordon”, Gordon said in an interview today with this site’s editor, “has been shamelessly shilling for an Administration with a penchant for telling lies, and I, for one, am not going to put up with it any more.”

Speaking from Baghdad via AIM (his avatar is a cartoon of Pinocchio whose nose grows as Gordon types), Mr Gordon explained that Gordon’s slack, sloppy approach was an insult to the whole concept of professional journalism.

“This business of Gordon’s simply copying press releases and and military PR handouts and then printing them without asking a single question or verifying a single fact,” Gordon grunted in disgust, “has to stop. It brings our whole profession into disrepute, and I can no longer just sit by and watch Michael Gordon destroy our credibility and the trust our readers put in us. It’s a disgrace and I’m calling him on it.”

Asked if he expected Gordon to defend himself in the light of these revelations, Gordon replied, “I doubt he has the guts.”

Cindy Sheehan Threatens Run Against Pelosi

Cindy Sheehan, gawd bless her, didn’t retire for long. The Libby pardon commutation and the Democrats’ refusal to play hardball to shut down the Iraq war have between them goaded her into rejoining the fray, and at a higher level than before: she’s threatening to run against Nancy Pelosi if Pelosi continues to keep impeachment off the Congressional table.

Antiwar activist Cindy Sheehan said Sunday that she plans to run against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) unless Pelosi introduces articles of impeachment against President Bush in the next two weeks.

Sheehan’s deadline, July 23, is the same day she and her supporters are to arrive in Washington after a 13-day caravan and walking tour departing from the group’s war protest site near Bush’s Crawford ranch.

Sheehan said she lives in a suburb of Sacramento but declined to disclose the city, citing safety reasons. She added that she would run against Pelosi in 2008 as an independent and “would give her a run for her money.”

“Democrats and Americans feel betrayed by the Democratic leadership,” Sheehan said. “We hired them to bring an end to the war.”

As times get on, it becomes increasingly harder to find rational excuses for the Democrats’ lack of spine here, especially as the on-going desertion of Republican rodents from the capsizing ocean liner of Iraq and Lamar Alexander’s recent proposal threaten to seize the initiative on our war strategy right out from under the Dems’ chicken beaks. Sheehan, who lost a son to the neocons’ fantasies of quick oil profits, has had enough and one can certainly understand her position.

Pelosi, who came into power like a lion, seems in the eight months since the election to have morphed into a timid lamb with a big mouth for bleating but not too much in the way of political courage. She talks a good game but does…nothing.

Maybe she’s too busy having secret White House meetings to sell out the environment and workers in a new Trade Deal that hands the Bush Administration the power to write it all by themselves on behalf of K Street and a slew of global corporations without interference from the rank-and-file of Congressional Democrats.

Or maybe her hands were full killing the bill to control lobbyist activities and the ability of Congressional players to join K Street the day after they lose an election.

From a certain standpoint, Cindy couldn’t possibly be any worse.

County Poet Rejected for Writing Anti-War Poems

From the Boston Globe:

MAXWELL CORYDON Wheat Jr. was on his way to becoming the first poet laureate of New York’s Nassau County when county legislators realized he wrote not just about marshes and natural beauty, but also about war. The first verse of his poem “Iraq” reads:

“Males and one woman
sip coffee mornings in the White House,
talk of desires about Iraq.
For ten years
Less-than-Elected-Vice-President Cheney
evolves The Plan,
the Empire of the United States of America.”

The hearing on Wheat’s appointment erupted into an argument about supporting the troops. Nuance was lost. Tossing out this unruly poet, the unanimous choice of the nominating panel, came to seem like an act of valor.

Voted down by county legislators 6 to 1, Wheat nonetheless stands in the proud tradition of poets who write about war, an unflinching group who dip their pens into the worst of battle.

***

[C]ommunities in search of laureates should stop fooling themselves: Poets are largely not to be trusted with the work of comforting the comfortable.

Perhaps what some towns want instead is a publicist laureate or a cheerleader-in-chief, someone who puts out good news that rhymes or lights up a metaphor.

Poets won’t do for that job. Because poets, like Langston Hughes, won’t just let rivers be rivers; they freight them with sorrow and hope. Poets may hunt beauty, speculating as Walt Whitman does that maybe grass “is the handkerchief of the Lord,” or writing as Mary Oliver does that lilies are “like pale poles / with their wrapped beaks of lace,” but they almost never stop there. Poets also turn readers’ eyes to the rest of life, to jealousy, frustration, fear, loneliness, despair, and death.

It’s their job.

Message for Memorial Day

iraq.jpg

Bring them home.

Because It Feels So Good When I Stop

Walt Handlesman

handlesman.gif