Never Mind the Torture
These must be proud days for Islam Karimov, dictator of Uzbekistan and newly-anointed defender of freedom and democracy in Central Asia.
Indeed, in the eyes of some on the right wing, Karimov appears to have joined the pantheon of distinguished international freedom fighters. In his commitment to the war on terror, the central Asian tyrant has proved himself the equal of right-wing heroes like Angolan warlord and conflict diamond smuggler Jonas Savimbi, who -- with CIA backing and apartheid South Africa's help -- prolonged his country's civil war for decades. Or perhaps he's more like Nicaragua's thuggish Contras, whom Ronald Reagan compared to America's Founding Fathers. Back then, of course, our unsavory allies abroad were fighting communism. Now they're battling Islamic terrorists -- or in Karimov's case, any political opposition at all, Islamic or not.
Karimov, an ex-Communist party boss, has worked tirelessly to crush all domestic dissent in Uzbekistan. He imprisons entire families to punish one member. He boils opponents to death. Yes, that's as in immersing victims in boiling water. His elections, the State Department itself declared, are "neither free nor fair." Even the Secretary General of NATO criticized Karimov's habit of indiscriminately locking people up.
But there stands Karimov, a cornerstone in the White House's war on terror, palling around with Donald Rumsfeld and collecting more than $500 million in US aid last year.
All of this is as it should be, says Stephen Schwartz, a member of the right-wing Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (which counts among its advisors such neoconservative luminaries as accused war-profiteer Richard Perle, disgraced House leader Newt Gingrich, and former CIA director James Woolsey). Writing in the Weekly Standard, Schwartz assures us that Karimov's sins are nothing to worry about -- just the growing pains that all "aspiring democracies" go through. Furthermore, Schwartz declares, human rights groups that dare to criticize Karimov's overly broad definition of "terrorist" are modern-day Neville Chamberlains.
"The campaign against terrorism is undermined by weakness, irresolution, and apologetics, not by identifying the enemy.
The United States, which has entered into a military alliance with Uzbekistan, must support the Uzbeks in their internal as well as their external combat, and must repudiate the blandishments of the human rights industry."
America's central mission, Schwartz opines, should be "[p]rotecting Uzbekistan's young democracy from radical Islamists and the human rights groups who defend them," not hemming and hawing over a few (undoubtedly deserving) dissidents who were boiled to death in defense of democracy.
Karimov couldn't have said it better himself. Oh wait, he did, in 1998, in a warning to his parliament about the dangers of Islamic extremists.
"'Such people must be shot in the forehead! If necessary, I'll shoot them myself ... !'"
Abizaid Calls It Like He Sees It
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's words may be coming back to haunt him. Amidst plummeting troop morale, General John Abizaid -- in his first Pentagon briefing since he took charge of the US central command last week -- directly contradicted his boss by calling the current situation in Iraq a "guerrilla war." The sophistication of the attacks against US soldiers has been generated "at a regional level in a cellular structure," said Abizaid. "I would describe [it] as a classical guerrilla-type campaign against us. It's low-intensity conflict, in our doctrinal terms, but it's war, however you describe it." Sorry, Rummy.
Abizaid's comments couldn't have come at a worse time for Bush and Rummy who, just last week, assured us that we were not, in fact, engaged in a guerrilla war with Iraq -- and wasn't it just a little over two months ago that Bush stood in front of an aircraft carrier heralding a banner reading, "Mission Accomplished"?
In a press conference last week, Bush minimized the conflict situation in Iraq, calling it merely a "security issue," and taunted the insurgents there saying "Bring 'em on" (much to the dismay of some soldiers, who felt that was easy for the president to say, far from the action). And according to The Age's Vernon Loeb, Rumsfeld said on Sunday that the fighting in Iraq did not fit the definition of a guerrilla war.
But now, for the first time, a senior US commander has acknowledged that, given the usual definitions, in "doctrinal terms," there really isn't another way to describe what's developping in Iraq. The Advertiser's Tom Lasseter and Jonathan S. Landay report:
"It was the first time a senior US commander had acknowledged that daily attacks on US troops nearly three months after President Bush declared an end to major combat operations were more than uncoordinated strikes by separate groups of former regime members, criminals or foreigners."
Roy Eccleston, writing for The Australian, argues that Abizaid's comments are a more pragmatic evaluation of what the US troops are dealing with in Iraq:
"The comments appeared to be a more clinical and realistic assessment of the serious problems now facing US forces in post-Hussein Iraq than the Pentagon has been willing to make to date."
As for the need for more troops, according to the Guardian, Abizaid sees no need right now to deploy more ground troops -- that is, if the situation doesn't worsen:
"The US has about 148,000 troops in Iraq, up from the 115,000 in position at the beginning of the conflict. Gen Abizaid said he thought that was the right number for the next few weeks but added that if the situation got worse he would not hesitate to ask for more."
Should Abizaid request more troops, The Guardian notes, he would be, again, directly contradicting Rumsfeld's previous statements. Rumsfeld attempted to use the Iraq war to show the world that Washington didn't need massive manpower to win conflicts.
And although Abizaid sees no need for further ground troops right now, he did say -- in direct opposition, yet again, to the recent pronouncements of the Bush camp -- that the Iraqi attacks are becoming more organized:
"[T]he level of resistance -- I'm not so sure that I would characterize it as escalating in terms of number of incidents. But it is getting more organized, and it is learning. It is adapting."
Tenet's Hari Kari
CIA Director George Tenet is soaking up the blame for President Bush's erroneous sixteen words in January's State of the Union like he's sunbathing. But according to the right, it's not really Tenet's fault. In fact, Bob Novak writes in Townhall, the CIA director never knew a thing about that insidious study by former ambassador Joseph Wilson, the report that rejected claims of Niger's sale of uranium to Iraq and plunged the White House into full damage-control mode.
In a four-and-a-half hour grilling Wednesday, Tenet told the Senate that it was a senior White House official that insisted the State of the Union address include unsubstantiated information. That, of course, doesn't square with the official White House version of the story -- or at least the most recent version (it's so hard to keep them straight). And the White House line, at the moment, runs something like this: "We heard it all from the British -- and since we've always been such good pals with the Brits, we overlooked the funny accents and took their word for it. How were we to know the uranium claims came from forged documents?"
Wilson's study, based on his CIA-initiated mission to Niger, determined that there was no evidence that Niger tried to sell uranium to Iraq. But even though Wilson says the CIA requested he make the trip (some sources say at the behest of Vice President Dick Cheney), the White House is now trying to wash its hands of Wilson's report entirely. In defiance of all the available evidence, the administration now claims that Wilson was merely recruited by low-level CIA officials and that his findings were inconclusive. Novak spells it out:
"Wilson's report that an Iraqi purchase of uranium yellowcake from Niger was highly unlikely was regarded by the CIA as less than definitive, and it is doubtful Tenet ever saw it. Certainly, President Bush did not, prior to his 2003 State of the Union address, when he attributed reports of attempted uranium purchases to the British government."
So the administration and its doberman-pincer pundits are not only downplaying the significance of Wilson's findings, they're also alleging that Wilson really just wanted an excuse to visit Niger, and his wife arranged for it. Wilson's wife, according to Novak, is a CIA official:
"Wilson never worked for the CIA, but his wife, Valerie Plame, is an Agency operative on weapons of mass destruction. Two senior administration officials told me Wilson's wife suggested sending him to Niger to investigate the Italian report."
It's an interesting theory, and a tidy smear against both Wilson and his wife, but it ignores Wilson's record of distinguished service. He served as an ambassador to Gabon and as a senior American diplomat in Baghdad, and later took charge of African affairs at the National Security Council until he retired in 1998. Anyway, whoever thought that boy George's supporters would be slinging accusations of nepotism?
Adamant that his wife be left alone, Wilson stands firm by his version of the story. He says he was asked to meet with CIA officials and told them he was ready to make the trip if they needed him. Apparently, they needed him then. But in the aftermath of his going public with accusations of "twisted intelligence," the administration hit Wilson with a sucker punch. By outing Plame's top-secret position, the Nation's David Corn writes, Novak's secret sources have threatened national security, jeopardizing her career and -- given the terrorist climate the administration can't seem to quit yelling about -- maybe even her life.
What's more, if the "senior officials" that leaked the story to Novak are telling the truth, they're also breaking the law -- committing a crime that calls for a $50,000 fine and/or up to 10 years in prison if convicted:
"This is not only a possible breach of national security; it is a potential violation of law. Under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982, it is a crime for anyone who has access to classified information to disclose intentionally information identifying a covert agent."
Leave it to the White House. It's not acceptable for the public to know who served on Cheney's energy commission, but the names and spouses of CIA operatives may as well be written in lights.
Clark Beats Around the Bush
The question for many Democratic voters, as they begin the process of choosing their favorite of nine presidential wanna-bes, is who will actually be able to defeat the incumbent commander-in-chief? Some are placing their bets on Howard Dean, others John Kerry, but some pundits are worried that none of the candidates will be able to de-throne Bush. And then there's a dark horse, fresh from the battlefield, who has gotten more than a few Democrats feeling hopeful.
For months General Wesley Clark -- now retired -- has been dropping subtle hints that he is considering running. He told Newsweek that he is considering candidacy because the American people have asked him to. And in fact, some Washington politicos have even begun a Web campaign to convince Clark he should run . It's not just that people are hoping that Clark is their man, many actually like his ideas. In addition to Clark's liberal stances on abortion rights, taxation, affirmative action, his nuanced approach to foreign policy and his criticism of the Iraq war evidence -- Clark is a man who is interested in ideas. This week he told Newsweek:
"On the other hand, I've always liked the battle of ideas. And to me, competing in the political arena should be first and foremost about the ideas and perspectives that candidates would bring to the tasks, then following through on what's been promised."
His Southern accent and his brave man-in-uniform status paired with the fact that he's a Rhodes Scholar and good public speaker are making the Dems swoon with joy. While generals do not often get the Democratic electorate excited, many are at the point where they will lay certain assumptions aside if it'll help oust Dubya. But those who pay attention to Clark's remarks on the war in Iraq know that he is one of few in the armed service who have gone after Bush's shaky WMD-evidence. In June, Clark was featured on NBC's Meet the Press
, and instead of shooting the breeze with host Tim Russert, Clark described a little-known phone call he received on September 11th
Clark: "There was a concerted effort during the fall of 2001, starting immediately after 9/11, to pin 9/11 and the terrorism problem on Saddam Hussein."
Russert: "By who? Who did that?"
Clark: "Well, it came from the White House, it came from people around the White House. It came from all over. I got a call on 9/11. I was on CNN, and I got a call at my home saying, 'You got to say this is connected. This is state-sponsored terrorism. This has to be connected to Saddam Hussein.' I said, 'But--I'm willing to say it, but what's your evidence?' And I never got any evidence."
Such sure sounding statements have an impact when they come from a man who has been fighting and planning wars for thirty-four years. Clark served as the Commander in Chief for the US in NATO during the war in Kosovo. He came home and wrote a book about his experiences, " Waging Modern War
". Aside from his checklist of career accomplishments, Clark seems to have a personal integrity that helped him earn Defense Distinguished Service Medal, a Silver Star, and a Purple Heart. After being seriously injured in Vietnam Clark taught himself to walk again, managed to lose his limp and now regularly swims and runs. As Tom Junod of Esquire
puts it, Clark is a man with an impressive resume and a rare political freshness
"Wesley Clark is neither scary nor ridiculous, so he's starting with a leg up. He's also smart, handsome, well-spoken, personable, driven, organized, disciplined, passionate, courageous, fair-minded, loyal, and fairly well-known from his job as a commentator on CNN's war beat. He looks good on TV. He weighs his judgments carefully. He speaks four languages and wrote his own book. He was on the debate team at West Point. He has been married to the same woman since 1967. He has a son. He plays golf. He has succeeded in nearly everything he has ever done; he has beaten nearly everyone he has ever competed against. He has never held elective office, which is both a plus and a minus.
He won a war but lost his job because people at the Pentagon, well, hated him. He was considered too political for the military, but in the end he was a military success and a political failure. Right now, he has mystique both as a general and as an outsider, but he loses some of each as soon as he becomes another scrounging candidate. So far, he has outlined his principles but not his platform, and his principles -- shorn of mystique -- are not so different from Howard Dean's"
Clark fought for US intervention in Bosnia and will now tell you that the US did nothing, that he "watched as we stood by as eight hundred thousand people were hacked to death by machete." Although Clark has led many troops into battle he doesn't think the US' current approach to the war on terror is going to last. He told the American Prospect
that our current strategy in the war on terror is doomed to fail
"Terrorism is a multilateral problem [...] You cannot defeat it in one nation. You need international police work, teamwork, international harmonization of laws against terror, a whole series of things. You act unilaterally, you lose the commitment of your allies to make it work. That's the one thing that will kill you in the war on terrorism."
That kind of direct hit at Bush's go-it-alone doctrine has additional power when it comes from a decorated and experienced general, and the Dems who support Clark know it. Clark continues:
"You can't have a democracy when people don't get the facts and when people don't get the chance to agree or disagree. We've got to have a dialogue in this country . . . that is premised on an understanding that asking questions, demanding evidence, and holding people accountable is not unpatriotic, it's the duty of every American."
The question on the tip of every Democrat's tongue: what would Bush do with questions like that from a man like General Clark? More than a few Dems are crossing their fingers and hoping for a Clark/Bush debate on national television to give them the answer. But with no campaign money in the bank and no official candidacy, as of yet, Clark for President is little more than wishful thinking.