Political MoJo

Chalabi: Debacle in Iraq? Don't Blame Me. Blame Wolfowitz

| Sun Nov. 5, 2006 3:27 AM EST

Dexter Filkins' New York Times magazine piece on Ahmed Chalabi is one of those stories that won't tell you much you may not already have had a hunch about; there are no Woodward-style deep-background revelations here, no radical reinterpretations, no smoking guns. What there is the kind of profile that only someone who has put in a lot of time--a good old-fashioned beat reporter--can write, with an arc that spans more than three years of actual observation of the man. (Filkins was stationed in Bagdad until recently and a couple of months ago wrote a searing assessment of what Western reporters can, and mostly can't, get in Iraq). This is not the be-all-and-end-all story on who used whom in the prewar intel manipulation game (did Chalabi push the nation to war, or did he just provide a convenient assist for the Cheney/Rumsfeld crowd that was determined to march to Bagdad no matter what?). But it's a terrific tale of a great gambler and a big loss that leaves you sympathizing with Chalabi even as you recoil from what he was allowed to do. Just a couple of highlights:

"The real culprit in all this is Wolfowitz," Chalabi says, referring to his erstwhile backer, the former deputy secretary of defense, Paul Wolfowitz. "They chickened out. The Pentagon guys chickened out."

Chalabi still considers Wolfowitz a friend, so he proceeds carefully. America's big mistake, Chalabi maintains, was in failing to step out of the way after Hussein's downfall and let the Iraqis take charge. The Iraqis, not the Americans, should have been allowed to take over immediately — the people who knew the country, who spoke the language and, most important, who could take responsibility for the chaos that was unfolding in the streets. An Iraqi government could have acted harshly, even brutally, to regain control of the place, and the Iraqis would have been without a foreigner to blame....They could have done this, presumably, without an army (which most wanted to dissolve) and without a police force (which was riddled with Baathists).

[...]

W. Patrick Lang, a senior official at the Defense Intelligence Agency... visited the office of Senator Trent Lott, then the Senate majority leader. After introducing an Arab businessman to Lott, Lang sat in Lott's anteroom with a number of Capitol Hill staff members who helped draft the Iraq Liberation Act, which provided millions of dollars to Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress. They were praising Chalabi: "They were talking about him, that Chalabi fits into this plan as a very worthwhile, virtuous exemplar of modernization, somebody who could help reform first Iraq and then the Middle East. They were very pleased with themselves." Lang, an old Middle East hand who had worked in Iraq in the 1980's, said he was stunned. "You guys need to get out more," Lang recalls saying at the time. "It's a fantasy."

[...]

One of the people whom the I.N.C. made available to American intelligence was Adnan Ihsan al-Haideri... [Chalabi] didn't think much of Haideri or his information, he says, and was astonished to learn later that the information he provided became a pillar of the Americans' charges against Hussein.

"We told them, 'We don't know who this guy is,'" Chalabi said. "Then the Americans spoke to him and said, 'This guy is the mother lode.' Can you believe that on such a basis the United States would go to war? The intelligence community regarded the I.N.C. as useless. Why would the government believe us?"

And then, of course, there's the ever-popular (and not unlikely, according to Filkins' piece) theory that Chalabi has been an Iranian asset all along.

When we arrived at the [Iranian] border, Chalabi ducked into a bathroom and changed out of his camouflage T-shirt and slacks and into a well-tailored blue suit. Then we drove to Ilam, where an 11-seat Fokker jet was idling on the runway of the local airport... We landed in Iran's smoggy capital, and within a couple of hours, Chalabi was meeting with the highest officials of the Iranian government.

When the election came, Chalabi was wiped out.... One of his associates said of the Shiite alliance: "We know they cheated. You know how we know? Because in one area we had 5,000 forged ballots, and when they were counted, we didn't even get that many." He shrugged.

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A Second Thought on Conservative Sex Scandals

| Sun Nov. 5, 2006 12:40 AM EST

Far be it from me to spoil everyone's enjoyment of the seemingly endless parade of busted Republican moral hypocrites. As if boy-chasing Rep. Mark Foley and mistress-keeping and allegedly mistress-beating Rep. Don Sherwood and allegedly cocktail-waitress groping Nevada state Rep. Jim Gibbons weren't enough, now we've got the meth-huffing, gay-prostitute-hiring Rev. Ted Haggard! Honestly, I haven't felt such satisfying schadenfreude since Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart were caught with their respective pants down.

But it's worth pointing out that, all things being relative, Haggard was apparently not such a terrible guy. As the LA Times reports, "Though Haggard has spoken out on abortion and same-sex marriage from time to time, he is less fiery on those topics than many of his colleagues are. He has pushed, instead, for a broader concept of biblical values: He wants evangelicals to be more involved in protecting the environment and helping the poor. Haggard has not joined other evangelicals in campaigning against a Colorado initiative to provide domestic partnership benefits to same-sex couples. He also stood out among conservative preachers for publicly praising a 2003 Supreme Court decision that struck down a Texas anti-sodomy law."

In other words, it seems the guy had a heart, and perhaps even some principles. Who knows? Maybe now that he's been outed as a man who like to have sex with other men, he can use what are evidently some impressive talents as a preacher and leader to help convince his fellow evangelicals that that's not such a terrible thing. Hey, a blogger can dream, can't he?

The Menendez-Kean Seesaw

| Sat Nov. 4, 2006 7:00 PM EST

The well respected WNBC-Marist poll of New Jersey has Menendez comfortably ahead in the New Jersey Senate race. The pros have been all over the map on this one. Here's what Marist says:

"As campaign 2006 heads into the homestretch, Robert Menendez receives the support of 50% of likely voters, including those who are undecided yet leaning toward a candidate, compared with 42% who support Tom Kean, Jr. Eight percent remain undecided. There is an enormous partisan divide. 82% of Democrats support Menendez, and 81% of Republicans support Kean. The majority of independent voters back Menendez. He receives the support of 51% of independents likely to vote on Election Day compared with 39% for Kean."

Rats Fleeing a Sinking Ship

| Sat Nov. 4, 2006 12:12 PM EST

Vanity Fair's website is running interviews with leading neoconservatives who are trying to jump ship by attacking Bush as a nincompoop.

A few excerpts from the article by David Rose:

Richard Perle: "The levels of brutality that we've seen are truly horrifying, and I have to say, I underestimated the depravity." Perle holds the President responsible.

Kenneth Adelman, another leading neocon, once said taking Iraq would be a cakewalk. But now: "I just presumed that what I considered to be the most competent national-security team since Truman was indeed going to be competent. They turned out to be among the most incompetent teams in the post-war era."

Michael Ledeen, currently at the America Enterprise Insitute: "Ask yourself who the
most powerful people in the White House are. They are women who are in love with the president: Laura [Bush], Condi, Harriet Miers, and Karen Hughes."

Army Times: Sack Rumsfeld

| Sat Nov. 4, 2006 12:10 PM EST

On Monday Army Times (and Navy Times, Air Force Times, Marine Corps Times) published by Gannett, and sold to people in the services, will call for Rumsfeld's removal from office:
"Rumsfeld has lost credibility with the uniformed leadership, with the troops, with Congress and with the public at large. His strategy has failed, and his ability to lead is compromised. And although the blame for our failures in Iraq rests with the secretary, it will be the troops who bear its brunt. This is not about the midterm elections. Regardless of which party wins Nov. 7, the time has come, Mr. President, to face the hard bruising truth: Donald Rumsfeld must go."

Texas Launches Virtual Border Patrol

| Sat Nov. 4, 2006 11:19 AM EST

President Bush's Operation TIPS, which would have created a million citizen spies, may have failed, but lay surveillance is alive and well. This week Texas debuted its "Texas Border Watch Website," a $5 million program meant to create armchair border patrollers who will notify authorities when they surveil illegals. The site currently has black and white cameras stationed at eight different outposts (there are supposedly 15 cameras but only 8 are on the site) along the 1,254 miles of the state's border with Mexico. Users, who need to sign up with their email and home city and state, can "Report Suspicious Activity" via email.

The state is working out glitches, like the grainy quality of the images that make it hard to distinguish say, between a person and a coyote, and the fact that some of the cameras are now obstructed so that all you see are bushes or passing cars. And there will eventually be 70 cameras total.

"I'm sure that as you start a big program like this that you will have some glitches," said Republican Governor Rick Perry, who is up for re-election Tuesday. "My wife's computer is not working this morning." Yet, more than technical problems the program has civil rights groups concerned that the site will encourage racial profiling and fradulent reports.

Hopefully the folks over at Boeing, who got a $67 million contract in September to create a "virtual fence" along the entire border, part of Congress' $1.2 billion border fence plan, are paying attention, and taking notes.

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First Lady Calls Pombo the Environment's "Enthusiastic Steward"

| Fri Nov. 3, 2006 8:29 PM EST

As promised, Laura Bush stumped for Richard Pombo today and instead of touting his strengths, as, say, a force to be reckoned with for private property rights, she chose to focus on his environmental track record, calling him "an enthusiastic steward of our country's natural resources."

Uh, that's a bit like calling Mel Gibson a steward for religious harmony. "Because of his leadership," she went on, "wildlife, property and people will be protected from dangerous flooding." It's as if he were the captain of Noah's Ark!

Richard Pombo has used his position as chair of the House Resources Committee to try to overhaul the Endangered Species Act to eliminate habitat protection, and to weaken laws protecting the oceans.

The first lady, who's on a first name basis with the 14-year California state representative (her husband calls him The Marlboro Man) insists that Pombo "is committed to safeguarding local ecosystems. Richard promotes responsible conservation initiatives, programs that protect wildlife while also improving the lives of his constituents."

Read this week's interview with Pombo's opponent, wind-energy engineer Jerry McNerney, who currently holds a 2-point lead, here.

Stem Cell Research: Fact and Fiction

| Fri Nov. 3, 2006 6:30 PM EST

Stem cells have become the superstars of this election season, with their profiles raised by celebrities and ad campaigns. But this has led to the propagation of certain myths surrounding the issue. An interview with Jesse Reynolds, spokesman for the Center for Genetics and Society, shed some light on the realities of the issue. The center conducts policy research and advocacy on issues surrounding genetics.

Fiction: Embryonic stem cell research is illegal in the United States.

Fact: All forms of embryonic stem cell research are legal at the federal level, but President Bush has cut funding for such initiatives. South Dakota is the only state bans embryonic stem cell research in all its forms, and about a half dozen states ban research cloning. For more information on the specific legalities, visit the website of National Conference of State Legislators.

Fiction: Embryonic stem cell research destroys embryos.

Fact: "Almost all embryonic stem cell research uses embryos left over from [in vitro fertilization] clinics that would effectively be destroyed anyway," Reynolds told Mother Jones. However, if more labs were to develop cloning of embryos for their stem cells, eggs would be required. Unlike embryos, eggs cannot be frozen – although researchers have been working on the technology. Some opponents of stem cell research like Patricia Heaton are worried that women may be exploited for their eggs. While many pro-life groups are also opposed to stem cell research for the reason that it is destroying embryos, other groups that are pro-choice have expressed concerned over the collecting of women's eggs. These include the Center for Genetics and Society, the California Nurses Association, and Planned Parenthood Affiliates of CaliforniaEconomic incentives might be offered to have women take hormones to produce eggs that can be extracted for research purposes.

Fiction: All scientists interested in this type of research want to clone embryos.

Fact: According to the Center for Genetics and Society, only about a half a dozen labs in the United States are working on developing stem cells from cloned embryos. "The cloning is a small part of [embryonic] stem cell research and it's at a very early stage. There are no therapies from it or from any other form of stem cell research," said Reyolds. But Reynolds also pointed out that cloned embryos could be created to isolate more specific genes.

Fiction: By using stem cells, scientists could develop cures for diseases within the next few years.

Fact: Any type of clinical trial is actually about 15 years away, with another five year waiting period before medications would be prescribed. "We're not talking about the next political cycle," said Reynolds.

Fiction: Stem cell research offers a guaranteed cure for everything from cancer to Alzheimer's.

Fact: As a relatively common disease with very grave effects, Alzheimer's has a high media profile in the stem cell debate. But, despite Ron Reagan's appeals for stem cell research on behalf of people who suffer from the same disease as his late father, a cure is not assured through the controversial technology.

According to Reynolds, researchers are much closer to cures for diabetes than they are to cures for Alzheimer's through stem cell therapy. "I'm yet to see researcher as opposed to a research advocate assert that it's on a short list," said Reynolds.

Fiction: Certain opponents of stem cell research point out that further advances have been made in adult stem cell therapy than embryonic or other forms.

Fact: "It's tricky because opponents of [embryonic] stem cell research like to point out that alternatives exist and the therapies are much further along," said Reyolds. "That is something along the lines of what is called a red herring." Adult stem cells are used in procedures such as bone marrow transplants which have been done since 1968. The first stem cell line was created and patented in 1998 by James Thompson, a professor at the University of Wisconsin. "All born humans have stem cells in them that are less ethically problematic but are also less powerful," said Reyolds.

--Caroline Dobuzinskis


After Next Tuesday, Should Dems Be Feeling Impeach-y?

| Fri Nov. 3, 2006 6:02 PM EST
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With the Democrats poised to retake the House next week, it's only a matter of time before a freshly emboldened blue-state rep (besides John Conyers) dares to utter the i-word. Outside of D.C., there's been no such reticence to suggest that George W. Bush has committeed high crimes and misdemeanors. Which isn't to say that the idea of impeachment has any chance of going anywhere soon. Even if it does gain political traction, would forcing Bush into early retirement be worth the trouble? In our latest issue, Tim Dickinson wades into the slew of pro-impeachment books out there and considers these questions. I won't give away the ending, but he's not real excited by the (far-fetched) prospect of President Cheney or (gasp!) President Pelosi. Check it out.

Love and Marriage Shouldn't Be This Complicated

| Fri Nov. 3, 2006 5:18 PM EST

The marriage amendment is expected to pass in five states but in three states victory for its socially conservative supporters is not a sure thing, reports the Washington Times.

These include Arizona, Wisconsin and South Dakota, where the amendment has been widely criticized for its limitations to both heterosexual and homosexual unions. Groups such as Arizona Together, Fair Wisconsin and South Dakotans Against Discrimination are waging campaigns against the amendment. In Arizona, polls show that voters are concerned about its effects on health benefits to families (which could be the result of an ad paid for by Arizona Together).

Fair Wisconsin's website lays out 20 possible effects of the ban, including limiting access to protection for victims of domestic abuse. While in South Dakota, the amendment has been called poorly worded.

The words on the ballot will vary widely: from simplest definition in Idaho of "a marriage between a man and a woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this state," to South Carolina's complex description which includes the phrase "This State and its political subdivisions shall not recognize or give effect to a legal status, right, or claim created by another jurisdiction regarding any other domestic union."

One woman in Wisconsin wrote in to the Sheboygan Press to express her opposition to the wording of the amendment: "Most confusing of all, the amendment bans two separate things — gay marriage and 'anything substantially similar to marriage,': wrote Barbara Hill. "Many voters may want to preclude the possibility of gay marriage but allow adults to commit to one another in a legal way."

--Caroline Dobuzinskis