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Thread: The War in Iraq

  1. #1

    Default The War in Iraq

    May 6, 2003

    Missing in Action: Truth


    When I raised the Mystery of the Missing W.M.D. recently, hawks fired barrages of reproachful e-mail at me. The gist was: "You *&#*! Who cares if we never find weapons of mass destruction, because we've liberated the Iraqi people from a murderous tyrant."

    But it does matter, enormously, for American credibility. After all, as Ari Fleischer said on April 10 about W.M.D.: "That is what this war was about."

    I rejoice in the newfound freedoms in Iraq. But there are indications that the U.S. government souped up intelligence, leaned on spooks to change their conclusions and concealed contrary information to deceive people at home and around the world.

    Let's fervently hope that tomorrow we find an Iraqi superdome filled with 500 tons of mustard gas and nerve gas, 25,000 liters of anthrax, 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin, 29,984 prohibited munitions capable of delivering chemical agents, several dozen Scud missiles, gas centrifuges to enrich uranium, 18 mobile biological warfare factories, long-range unmanned aerial vehicles to dispense anthrax, and proof of close ties with Al Qaeda. Those are the things that President Bush or his aides suggested Iraq might have, and I don't want to believe that top administration officials tried to win support for the war with a campaign of wholesale deceit.

    Consider the now-disproved claims by President Bush and Colin Powell that Iraq tried to buy uranium from Niger so it could build nuclear weapons. As Seymour Hersh noted in The New Yorker, the claims were based on documents that had been forged so amateurishly that they should never have been taken seriously.

    I'm told by a person involved in the Niger caper that more than a year ago the vice president's office asked for an investigation of the uranium deal, so a former U.S. ambassador to Africa was dispatched to Niger. In February 2002, according to someone present at the meetings, that envoy reported to the C.I.A. and State Department that the information was unequivocally wrong and that the documents had been forged.

    The envoy reported, for example, that a Niger minister whose signature was on one of the documents had in fact been out of office for more than a decade. In addition, the Niger mining program was structured so that the uranium diversion had been impossible. The envoy's debunking of the forgery was passed around the administration and seemed to be accepted — except that President Bush and the State Department kept citing it anyway.

    "It's disingenuous for the State Department people to say they were bamboozled because they knew about this for a year," one insider said.

    Another example is the abuse of intelligence from Hussein Kamel, a son-in-law of Saddam Hussein and head of Iraq's biological weapons program until his defection in 1995. Top British and American officials kept citing information from Mr. Kamel as evidence of a huge secret Iraqi program, even though Mr. Kamel had actually emphasized that Iraq had mostly given up its W.M.D. program in the early 1990's. Glen Rangwala, a British Iraq expert, says the transcript of Mr. Kamel's debriefing was leaked because insiders resented the way politicians were misleading the public.

    Patrick Lang, a former head of Middle Eastern affairs in the Defense Intelligence Agency, says that he hears from those still in the intelligence world that when experts wrote reports that were skeptical about Iraq's W.M.D., "they were encouraged to think it over again."

    "In this administration, the pressure to get product `right' is coming out of O.S.D. [the Office of the Secretary of Defense]," Mr. Lang said. He added that intelligence experts had cautioned that Iraqis would not necessarily line up to cheer U.S. troops and that the Shiite clergy could be a problem. "The guys who tried to tell them that came to understand that this advice was not welcome," he said.

    "The intelligence that our officials was given regarding W.M.D. was either defective or manipulated," Senator Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico noted. Another senator is even more blunt and, sadly, exactly right: "Intelligence was manipulated."

    The C.I.A. was terribly damaged when William Casey, its director in the Reagan era, manipulated intelligence to exaggerate the Soviet threat in Central America to whip up support for Ronald Reagan's policies. Now something is again rotten in the state of Spookdom. *

    Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

  2. #2

    Default Missing in Action: Truth

    May 6, 2003
    Man on Horseback

    Gen. Georges Boulanger cut a fine figure; he looked splendid in uniform, and magnificent on horseback. So his handlers made sure that he appeared in uniform, astride a horse, as often as possible.

    It worked: Boulanger became immensely popular. If he hadn't lost his nerve on the night of the attempted putsch, French democracy might have ended in 1889.

    We do things differently here — or we used to. Has "man on horseback" politics come to America?

    Some background: the Constitution declares the president commander in chief of the armed forces to make it clear that civilians, not the military, hold ultimate authority. That's why American presidents traditionally make a point of avoiding military affectations. Dwight Eisenhower was a victorious general and John Kennedy a genuine war hero, but while in office neither wore anything that resembled military garb.

    Given that history, George Bush's "Top Gun" act aboard the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln — c'mon, guys, it wasn't about honoring the troops, it was about showing the president in a flight suit — was as scary as it was funny.

    Mind you, it was funny. At first the White House claimed the dramatic tail-hook landing was necessary because the carrier was too far out to use a helicopter. In fact, the ship was so close to shore that, according to The Associated Press, administration officials "acknowledged positioning the massive ship to provide the best TV angle for Bush's speech, with the sea as his background instead of the San Diego coastline."

    A U.S.-based British journalist told me that he and his colleagues had laughed through the whole scene. If Tony Blair had tried such a stunt, he said, the press would have demanded to know how many hospital beds could have been provided for the cost of the jet fuel.

    But U.S. television coverage ranged from respectful to gushing. Nobody pointed out that Mr. Bush was breaking an important tradition. And nobody seemed bothered that Mr. Bush, who appears to have skipped more than a year of the National Guard service that kept him out of Vietnam, is now emphasizing his flying experience. (Spare me the hate mail. An exhaustive study by The Boston Globe found no evidence that Mr. Bush fulfilled any of his duties during that missing year. And since Mr. Bush has chosen to play up his National Guard career, this can't be shrugged off as old news.)

    Anyway, it was quite a show. Luckily for Mr. Bush, the frustrating search for Osama bin Laden somehow morphed into a good old-fashioned war, the kind where you seize the enemy's capital and get to declare victory after a cheering crowd pulls down the tyrant's statue. (It wasn't much of a crowd, and American soldiers actually brought down the statue, but it looked great on TV.)

    Let me be frank. Why is the failure to find any evidence of an active Iraqi nuclear weapons program, or vast quantities of chemical and biological weapons (a few drums don't qualify — though we haven't found even that) a big deal? Mainly because it feeds suspicions that the war wasn't waged to eliminate real threats. This suspicion is further fed by the administration's lackadaisical attitude toward those supposed threats once Baghdad fell. For example, Iraq's main nuclear waste dump wasn't secured until a few days ago, by which time it had been thoroughly looted. So was it all about the photo ops?

    Well, Mr. Bush got to pose in his flight suit. And given the absence of awkward questions, his handlers surely feel empowered to make even more brazen use of the national security issue in future.

    Next year — in early September — the Republican Party will hold its nominating convention in New York. The party will exploit the time and location to the fullest. How many people will dare question the propriety of the proceedings?

    And who will ask why, if the administration is so proud of its response to Sept. 11, it has gone to such lengths to prevent a thorough, independent inquiry into what actually happened? (An independent study commission wasn't created until after the 2002 election, and it has been given little time and a ludicrously tiny budget.)

    There was a time when patriotic Americans from both parties would have denounced any president who tried to take political advantage of his role as commander in chief. But that, it seems, was another country. *

    Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

  3. #3

    Default Missing in Action: Truth

    May 13, 2003

    The China Syndrome


    A funny thing happened during the Iraq war: many Americans turned to the BBC for their TV news. They were looking for an alternative point of view — something they couldn't find on domestic networks, which, in the words of the BBC's director general, "wrapped themselves in the American flag and substituted patriotism for impartiality."

    Leave aside the rights and wrongs of the war itself, and consider the paradox. The BBC is owned by the British government, and one might have expected it to support that government's policies. In fact, however, it tried hard — too hard, its critics say — to stay impartial. America's TV networks are privately owned, yet they behaved like state-run media.

    What explains this paradox? It may have something to do with the China syndrome. No, not the one involving nuclear reactors — the one exhibited by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation when dealing with the government of the People's Republic.

    In the United States, Mr. Murdoch's media empire — which includes Fox News and The New York Post — is known for its flag-waving patriotism. But all that patriotism didn't stop him from, as a Fortune article put it, "pandering to China's repressive regime to get his programming into that vast market." The pandering included dropping the BBC's World Service — which reports news China's government doesn't want disseminated — from his satellite programming, and having his publishing company cancel the publication of a book critical of the Chinese regime.

    Can something like that happen in this country? Of course it can. Through its policy decisions — especially, though not only, decisions involving media regulation — the U.S. government can reward media companies that please it, punish those that don't. This gives private networks an incentive to curry favor with those in power. Yet because the networks aren't government-owned, they aren't subject to the kind of scrutiny faced by the BBC, which must take care not to seem like a tool of the ruling party. So we shouldn't be surprised if America's "independent" television is far more deferential to those in power than the state-run systems in Britain or — for another example — Israel.

    A recent report by Stephen Labaton of The Times contained a nice illustration of the U.S. government's ability to reward media companies that do what it wants. The issue was a proposal by Michael Powell, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, to relax regulations on media ownership. The proposal, formally presented yesterday, may be summarized as a plan to let the bigger fish eat more of the smaller fish. Big media companies will be allowed to have a larger share of the national market and own more TV stations in any given local market, and many restrictions on "cross-ownership" — owning radio stations, TV stations and newspapers in the same local market — will be lifted.

    The plan's defects aside — it will further reduce the diversity of news available to most people — what struck me was the horse-trading involved. One media group wrote to Mr. Powell, dropping its opposition to part of his plan "in return for favorable commission action" on another matter. That was indiscreet, but you'd have to be very naοve not to imagine that there are a lot of implicit quid pro quos out there.

    And the implicit trading surely extends to news content. Imagine a TV news executive considering whether to run a major story that might damage the Bush administration — say, a follow-up on Senator Bob Graham's charge that a Congressional report on Sept. 11 has been kept classified because it would raise embarrassing questions about the administration's performance. Surely it would occur to that executive that the administration could punish any network running that story.

    Meanwhile, both the formal rules and the codes of ethics that formerly prevented blatant partisanship are gone or ignored. Neil Cavuto of Fox News is an anchor, not a commentator. Yet after Baghdad's fall he told "those who opposed the liberation of Iraq" — a large minority — that "you were sickening then; you are sickening now." Fair and balanced.

    We don't have censorship in this country; it's still possible to find different points of view. But we do have a system in which the major media companies have strong incentives to present the news in a way that pleases the party in power, and no incentive not to. *

    Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

  4. #4

    Default Missing in Action: Truth

    May 13, 2003

    Europe Won't Be Fooled Again



    After months of cold war with the United Nations, the United States put forth a draft resolution last week to give the international body oversight of efforts to rebuild Iraq. Although this might help the United Nations gain back some credibility, Washington's effort was clearly intended as a peace offering to its former "Old Europe" allies. While the offer is certainly genuine, it is unlikely to thaw relations with Russia, France, Germany and Turkey. The problem is that the Bush administration, while ostensibly trying to get its traditional friends on board, continues to dissemble about where the train is headed.

    To understand the problem, one has to consider what the Europeans were presented with in the build-up to war. Beyond polemics and misgivings, the basic problem was that Washington's stated war goals were not logically coherent, and its more intellectually compelling arguments were usually played down or denied.

    The official war objectives given to the allies were these: destruction of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction; fighting terrorism; getting rid of a tyrant. The Europeans responded that there were no operational weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and that the inspections could have maintained the status quo at a lesser cost than a military campaign; Saddam Hussein was in no way integral to Al Qaeda, which had shifted to Pakistan (as shown by all the recent arrests); and, yes, Saddam Hussein was a bloody tyrant, but who decided not to finish him off in 1991?

    For Old Europe, the poverty of the official American arguments gave rise to suspicion that there was a hidden agenda. European public opinion endorsed the idea that the war was about oil, a claim that fed into the good old anti-imperialist reflex from Cairo to Paris.

    That oil argument was of course wrong. But that is not to say these Europeans were mistaken about the United States having a broader agenda. And, in fact, there had always been a not-so-hidden agenda, one explicitly expressed by many professional thinkers at the American Enterprise Institute, for example. The idea is that the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate is America's most worrisome foreign entanglement, and can be broken only if the overall existing order in the Middle East is shaken up first.

    In this sense, the rationale for the military campaign in Iraq was not that Iraq was the biggest threat but, on the contrary, that it was the weakest and hence the easiest to take care of. The invasion was largely aimed at demonstrating America's political will and commitment to go to war. Reshaping the Middle East does not mean changing borders, but rather threatening existing regimes through military pressure and destabilizing them with calls for democratization.

    After Baghdad's fall, Tehran, Damascus and Riyadh should understand that America is back. The Israelis, for their part, are now insisting that the Iranian nuclear program be dealt with immediately. Pentagon officials hint that Syria is the next target. The idea is to force Damascus and Tehran to cut off terrorist groups like Hezbollah, which means depriving both regimes of their ideological legitimacy, which in turn would weaken their grips on their populations. Is it simply a coincidence that the draft resolution on Iraq went to the Security Council just as Secretary of State Colin Powell was heading to Jerusalem?

    This American agenda is very risky and full of pitfalls, but it is logical, perhaps laudable, and should have been put on the table. At least then the real issues could have been debated.

    The problem is that no American official ever bothered to express the real motivation to the usual allies. One reason for this partial disclosure may have been that the consensus in Washington was built only on the lesser aspect — removing Saddam Hussein. But the broader, regional plan could at least have been privately conveyed by President Bush to his European counterparts. It was not. Mr. Bush does not like to travel and meet his peers, in contrast to his father and Ronald Reagan. No private contacts were maintained where ideas could be put forward without being couched in official statements.

    The State Department consistently referred only to the restricted agenda (terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and tyranny) and systematically dismissed any idea of a broader agenda. Any European diplomat or expert who addressed American officials about the broader goals being discussed in the many think tanks close to the Pentagon — democratization, reshaping the Middle East, getting to Iran and Syria after Baghdad — were told that such debates did not reflect official views.

    Would Europe have accepted the real agenda? Certainly not. But at least the debate would have been based on the relevant issue: does it make sense to reshape the Middle East through military pressure?

    Thus there is no reason for Old Europe to repent today. To join a coalition means, at the very least, being told about the whole strategy and not just being enlisted blindly in battle. Europe has its own concerns: pacifist public opinion, proximity to the Middle East, a large population of Muslim citizens far more vocal than that of the United States.

    The fact is, the Bush administration's long-term agenda will be very difficult without real allies and an international umbrella. The situation in Iraq will soon remind the American public that United States troops are, in legal terms, an army of occupation. Hence last week's United Nations olive branch. Unless the traditional allies and the United Nations are given a real role, America will be obliged to rule Iraq for years and to keep tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of troops there.

    Washington has claimed that it can create a friendly, democratic and stable Iraq within two years. Forget it: achieve two of those adjectives and consider yourselves lucky. There is no democracy without nationalism, and the Iraqis will sooner or later challenge the American presence. The United States cannot stand alone when dealing with the driving force in the Middle East. This is neither Islamism nor the appetite for democracy, but simply nationalism — whether it comes in the guise of democracy, secular totalitarianism or Islamic fervor.

    Olivier Roy is a specialist on the Islamic world at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique.

    Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

  5. #5

    Default Missing in Action: Truth

    "There is no democracy without nationalism, [...]

    Who sayed that ? A french Hitler ? Most of nationalist governments on this planet are far from democracy !

    [...] and the Iraqis will sooner or later challenge the American presence. "

    Well, boys, I think we're getting quite used to ingratitude, aren't we ?

    "The United States cannot stand alone when dealing with the driving force in the Middle East."

    If nobody else cares, America won't have another choice than stand alone. Thanks to God, we have Great Britain and Poland on our side !

    "This is neither Islamism nor the appetite for democracy, but simply nationalism — whether it comes in the guise of democracy, secular totalitarianism or Islamic fervor."

    In his country (France), nationalism has a name : Jean-Marie Le Pen. That's what that guy calls democracy ?

    "Olivier Roy is a specialist on the Islamic world at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique."

    No wonder. And he's also a sucker...

    (Edited by Lightning Homer at 1:43 pm on June 5, 2003)

  6. #6

    Default Missing in Action: Truth

    There is no democracy without nationalism

    That certainly wasn't the case in this country. The sense of America the Nation did not develop until after the Civil War.

    Democracy in a diverse place like Iraq won't happen unless their is separation of religion and government.

    I agree with the author's assessment of Administration diplomacy.

  7. #7

    Default Missing in Action: Truth

    "Democracy in a diverse place like Iraq won't happen unless their is separation of religion and government."

    Separation of religion and state isn't a warranty of democracy. Saddam Husseοn wasn't religious afterall.

    If the majority want a religious state, it would be thoroughly antidemocratic not to let them get what they want.

    Some religions are not uncompatible with democracy and freedom (thanks be to God).

    (Edited by Lightning Homer at 3:39 pm on May 14, 2003)

  8. #8

    Default Missing in Action: Truth

    Quote: from Lightning Homer on 7:14 am on May 14, 2003
    Separation of religion and state isn't a warranty of democracy. Saddam Husseοn wasn't religious afterall.
    I didn't say democracy would evolve from the separation. I said it would be impossible without it.

    There are non religious dictatorships in the world, but there is not one theocracy-democracy.

  9. #9
    Forum Veteran
    Join Date
    Nov 2002
    New York City

    Default Missing in Action: Truth

    Errr...what about Iran, Zippy?

  10. #10

    Default Missing in Action: Truth

    Iran is a good example of what I am saying. It is described as an Islamic Republic. The two key figures are the elected
    President, Mohammad Khatami, and the Islamic Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The Iranian constitution states that the president is the head of the government, but also that the ayatollah, appointed by a council of clerics, derives his authority from Allah which gives him rule over the government.

    This contradiction is the Iranian attempt to form a theocratic democracy, and is the source of conflict between the president and the ayatollah. Democratic reforms can only happen at the expense of religious power.

    Iran may be closer to a true democracy than any other Middle East country. Bush sure helped them along with the "Axis of Evil" label.

  11. #11

    Default Missing in Action: Truth

    There are non religious dictatorships in the world, but there is not one theocracy-democracy.

    Ha-haaaaaaaa, there's at least one or two, buddy !
    And it's no Iran...

    TLOZ, did you smoke crack ? :biggrin:

  12. #12

    Default Missing in Action: Truth

    Dammit Homer. Not fair. I've got other things to do today.

    I hope it's bigger than Brooklyn.

    I guess technically, there are no democracies, only republics.

  13. #13
    Forum Veteran
    Join Date
    Nov 2002
    New York City

    Default Missing in Action: Truth

    Quote: from Lightning Homer on 3:19 am on May 15, 2003

    TLOZ, did you smoke crack ? :biggrin:
    Not to my knowledge. *:biggrin:

  14. #14

    Default Missing in Action: Truth

    So are you going to tell us the one or two?

  15. #15

    Default Missing in Action: Truth

    Nope ! 'till you guess one of those, then I'll give ya the second one... :biggrin:

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