What the President Knew
The context is new, but the questions are familiar. What did Bush know, and when did he know it?
Sure, NGOs have their problems. But to land on the neocons’ hit list, they must be doing something right.
Hatch Walks the Plank
Software-stealing Senator Orrin Hatch wants to destroy pirates’ computers, but not his own.
A New Offshore Oil Grab?
Senate Republicans are pushing to drill, er, ‘inventory’ the nation’s offshore oil and gas resources.
What the President Knew
Things that can’t be said in the mainstream here (yet): Speaking of oil policy in the same breath with Iraq strategy is still largely taboo in the US. Not so in the UK. According to The Guardian, former British Environmental Minister Michael Meacher, just shuffled out of Tony Blair’s cabinet, told the London Times that the Bush administration is “aggressive and unilateralist.” Of the president himself he said:
“‘Everyone knows that George Bush is a Texas oil man, his family have long-term connections, nearly all his senior advisers and closest aides have connections to a very, very powerful oil industry. I think that is a very relevant consideration. They believe in the oil business and the traditional way of generating power, and if they gain personally from that is a bonus.’
‘America is pursuing future oil supplies with extreme vigour, so it is difficult, when you look at Iraq, which has the second biggest oil reserves in the world, not to think it was a factor. My view is that we went to war because America wanted to establish a political and military platform in the Middle East. It saw a need for oil, and of course it wished to support Israel.
The biggest political problem in the world today is the overwhelming power of the US.'”
Things that are just starting to be said in the mainstream here: In an interview with Ed Vulliamy in the British Observer, retired General William Nash, who served in Vietnam and Operation Desert Storm “before becoming commander of US forces in Bosnia and then an acclaimed UN Civil Affairs administrator in Kosovo,” and is “one of the most experienced and respected figures in a generation of American warfare and peacekeeping,” claimed that the US had already lost its “window of opportunity” in Iraq:
“‘[T]he window of opportunity which occurred with the fall of Saddam was not seized in terms of establishing stability. In the entire region — and Iraq is typical — there is a sense that America can do whatever it wants. So that if America decides to protect the oilfields and oil ministry, it can.’
‘And if America doesn’t provide electricity and water or fails to protect medical supplies, it is because they don’t want to or they don’t care.’ Nash is reluctant to make comparisons with Vietnam: ‘There are far more things that were different about Vietnam than there are similarities. Except perhaps the word ‘quagmire’. Maybe that is the only thing that is the same.'”
Other signs of our increasingly unnerved times: the first significant mainstream cartoons I’ve noted in a long time that make Bush look foolish. (Just check out the main graphic in today’s New York Times Week in Review section — a mock up of George B, his head too large for his cardboard body, spouting exaggerations — or was it lies — in cartoon balloons. Or the Tom Toles cartoon reprinted on page 4 of that section mocking the way the president fell off his motor-scooter while on vacation (so reminiscent of Gerald Ford goofs, or of Jimmy Carter chased by that famed angry rabbit, and so unlike the imperial president who since 9/11 has graced the front page of that paper so repetitively). Or check out recent columns by older-line conservatives like William F. Buckley and George Will criticizing the Bush administration for its prewar wmd statements.
In the meantime, our young, increasingly upset volunteer army of occupation — brought up on video games and recruited through ad campaigns that implicitly promise they’ll be anything but casualties, having rushed through to victory in a nearly casualty-free campaign (as wars go) in a speedy three weeks, suddenly find themselves two months later in another country in another kind of war with no end, or trip home, yet in sight.
At the same time, a president, raised in a no-casualties atmosphere himself, who raced to victory in three weeks in Washington, now, almost two months after landing triumphantly on that carrier deck finds himself forced to address problems the people around him never told him could occur. On the day when a number of newspapers are reporting that there is an actual resistance group calling itself The Return forming in Iraq (perhaps based in Saddam Hussein’s old intelligence services, though no one knows for sure) and “foreign fighters” are possibly being recruited for it (Afghanistan anyone?), the president, or his handlers, felt forced to acknowledge the continuing American casualties. In the president’s weekly radio address, Bush spoke of “dangerous pockets of the old regime,” and implicitly acknowledged the failure to find weapons of mass destruction. And one unidentified White House official acknowledged to The New York Times as well that a small set of question marks had now settled over the president. “…he felt he had to address what one official called ‘the growing questions about why we went in, and what we are doing there.'”
This question naturally brings to mind another question, the Watergate classic: What did the president know and when did he know it? But Robert Dreyfuss, in the single best piece I’ve seen on the widening dust-up over intelligence and weapons of mass destruction, proposes a third question, far more appropriate to this administration’s antics. Writing in The Nation, he points out that a massive failure of intelligence within the Pentagon in particular about postwar Iraq “has led to an emerging disaster… a true crisis… that could determine the fate of Bush’s presidency,” and he suggests cleverly that the following question is the most germane: “What didn’t the President know, and when didn’t he know it?”
Dreyfuss lays out the way Ahmed Chalabi, the exile wheeler-dealer and the Pentagon’s favorite future ruler of Iraq, passed endless reams of misinformation to Rumsfeld’s team about both weapons of mass destruction and what a post-war Iraq would be like. (He was, of course, doing the same with New York Times bioterror reporter Judith Miller, evidently more or less coordinating news and views in New York and Washington.) Dreyfuss has also uncovered a secret Sharonista intelligence outfit producing Iraqi “intelligence” (in English, not Hebrew) that was being shuffled directly to the Pentagon. Amazing. Don’t miss the piece.
So Ahmed Chalabi was a busy man. And he had his own reasons for all this, but there’s no point in blaming him. What he did after all, whatever his reasoning, was pander to the dreams of a group of powerful men, centered in the Pentagon, the Defense Policy Board, the vice-president’s office, and various think-tanks scattered around Washington. The thing that needs to be grasped here is that since 1991 these men have been dreaming up a storm about reconfiguring the Middle East, while scaling the heavens (via various Star Wars programs for the militarization of space), and so nailing down an American earth for eternity. Their dreams were utopian and so, by definition, unrealizable. They were hatched close to power (or at least to those convinced they would soon return to power) even in the Clinton interregnum. Theirs were lava dreams and they were dreamt, like all such burning dreams, without much reference to the world out there. They were perfect pickings for a Chalabi.
Every now and then, some friend says to me something like, “I had a weird dream last night in which you…” And I always stop whoever it is right there. “It may have looked like me,” I say, “but make no mistake, it was really you.” Nobody bothered to say this to the neocons of this administration and they had no urge to listen anyway. In their perfervid dreams, Iraq, the land where Saddam Hussein, former American ally with wmd turned Great Satan with wmd, had mocked them by not falling from power after the Gulf War, was always but the opening wedge, the soft underbelly, for a great plan.
As it happened, despite unprecedented levels of world opposition, they managed to finesse the first part of their grand scheme… and then, with only a moment of doubt — when opposition in Iraq briefly increased and they got the first hint that one of their dreams was a fantasy (that the Shiites in the south would strew flowers in their path and make like Paris 1944) — Saddam’s overmatched army crumbled and (possibly after many dollars and dinars were passed around) what was left of the Republican Guard went home to bed. So they found themselves triumphant and they began to do their victory jig a tad too soon for comfort. They promptly mocked the critics in the military and elsewhere — Vietnam analogies, quagmire, urban warfare, guerrilla war, heavy casualties — all of it was so much hooey (though much of this actually reflected their own secret fears). Then the president landed on the USS Abraham Lincoln and it was all over. Victory, victory, at last — over the critics, the Democrats, Saddam, the Palestinians, resistant American generals, the Iranians, Madame Anthrax, the State Department, the Syrians, the French, the CIA, the Germans, and the Turks. (It was a little like Dick Nixon’s famed hit list or one of Judy Chicago’s dinner parties — you never knew who would be sitting next to whom.)
But here was the twist, there were a few parties they didn’t bother to tell and, as it happened, they, or their hapless representatives, arrived in Baghdad on little more than a dream and a prayer. And now, of course, they find themselves once again facing their own fears. You know, that Q word, stuck as it is deep in their brains somewhere. (If, by the way, you want to read a fairly high-level on-the-ground account of this, check out a piece in the Washington Post Sunday Outlook section by one of Iraq’s American “reconstructors,” former ambassador Timothy Carney. He describes a hideous comedy of errors through which “flawed policy and incompetent administration have marred the follow-up to the brilliant military campaign… For a group devoted to getting Iraq up and running again, we had surprising difficulty getting ourselves up and running. There were no lights. We used Port-a-Johns for toilets. No one had thought about laundry for our civilian team…etc.”)
Tom Lewis, a novelist who was once a speechwriter for Governors Carey and Cuomo of New York, and was also the New York State Director of Veterans’ Affairs, sometimes e-mails his sharp reactions to ongoing events to a list of friends and acquaintances. I thought the following, from a recent email about developments in Iraq might (with his kind permission) be of interest to all of you:
“You have to believe there is, in fact, a coordinating central command at work [in Iraq], notwithstanding the denials by American commanders. And you have to believe there is considerable work being done by Iraqi resistance commanders to build a presence in Baghdad and the other major cities. If they are lying low, which is what they should be doing, it is because they are planning, recruiting, and stockpiling.
We certainly understand now that the extended turmoil in Iraq following the military victory over Saddam Hussein and the Baath Party caused unnecessary ill-will by ordinary Iraqis who were otherwise happy to be rid of the brutal Saddam. To the extent there was an American civil affairs plan, it was ineffective, unbudgeted, and non-staffed. That much is clear. Why there was no plan is unclear but it doesn’t matter now, other than as raw material for sniping by Democrats, who are a day late to the entire matter anyway. What the political opposition to Bush says about Iraq is irrelevant.
Bush won his wars against al-Qaeda and Saddam. [New York] Governor Pataki is orchestrating the laying of the cornerstone for the construction of the memorial site at Ground Zero for August, 2004. There will be a triumphal march by the Republicans through the ashes of New York City when they meet here to nominate GWB for his second term. One thinks of Hollywood epics like Quo Vadis or, perhaps silently, of Spartacus.
However, one thinks also of the terrible, bloody Soviet occupation of Afghanistan after the lightning decapitation of the Kabul government by Soviet spetsnaz and other special forces, and the resistance of the mujahedeen, begun almost immediately by men fighting with WW II weapons and captured Kalashnikovs, and later fought in part with Stingers and other weapons paid for by the CIA under direction of the Reagan-Bush group. Some of the survivors of that war are our enemies, some are now our allies, none are friends. The Islamic resistance to foreign/Western invaders has a history of 1300 years. (Were the KGB and Red Army ‘Western?’-I believe so.)
The tone of comments in a story in tomorrow’s Sunday New York Times from U.S. military commanders in Iraq and from SecDef Donald Rumsfeld is not triumphal. They are worried. Rumsfeld may be an ideologue but he is far from unconscious and the military people may be conservative but they are not ideologues. They know enough of the history to know the risks. Military people take risks as part of their life of war; therefore, when they sound worried, they really are worried.
What we’re hearing, I believe, is the sound of commanders who are realizing they are not in control of a developing situation and are not sure they know how to acquire control. The American intelligence and military operation in aftermath Iraq is quickly assuming an importance Rumsfeld and, by extension, Bush-Cheney-Rove, did not plan for. They will have to get the developing Baath/Islamic resistance under control before it becomes embedded the way the Afghani resistance did in the late ‘seventies and early ‘eighties or the Chechen resistance in the early ‘nineties. Chechnya is still a bloodbath and Afghanistan is far from pacified-other than Kabul, it is not even occupied.
One cannot help but think of the anti-colonial wars of the ‘fifties and ‘sixties and ‘seventies, particularly the Algerian War against the French and the Vietnamese War against the French and the U.S. One can only pray that the Bush Administration has the wit to keep us out of such a war in the Middle East. The anesthetized Republican Congress is unhappily reminiscent of the anesthetized Democratic Congress during the Johnson Administration. Where will the opposition come from?”
Additional contributions from Tom Engelhardt can be found throughout the week at TomDispatch.com, a weblog of The Nation Institute.
During the Watergate investigations more than 30 years ago, word leaked out that Richard Nixon kept a top-secret “ enemies list.” It was a frequently updated, highly meticulous accounting of everyone that most paranoid of presidents despised, and it ran the gamut: from Bill Cosby to Ted Kennedy to the New York Times.
Today’s neoconservatives also seem to have a very long enemies list, even if it’s not kept in a central database somewhere. There’s Saddam Hussein, of course, and Iran and North Korea; people who insist on “evidence” before going to war; Democrats; the French. You get the idea.
Earlier this month, though, the neocons added some new opponents to their list: non-governmental organizations like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the American Civil Liberties Union.
Why? According to that cradle of neocon thought, the American Enterprise Institute, “liberal” NGOs have grown too powerful, and in pushing their “leftist” beliefs, they have become a danger to capitalism and the American way. To that end, AEI launched NGO Watch, a web site dedicated to smearing the reputations of NGOs it deems a threat. While the site is still under construction, its agenda is apparent. A profile of Human Rights Watch, for instance, implies that the rights group supports NAMBLA, the North American Man Boy Love Association. As further proof of the group’s irredeemable immorality, the profile offers AEI’s hard-right take on various HRW reports:
“Human Rights Watch denounces abstinence programs.” [AEI’s summary of a report criticizing the Bush administration’s dishonest campaign to discredit condom use and push abstinence-only programs for high schoolers.]
“Human Rights Watch demands release of some detainees at Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo Bay.” [AEI’s view of a report insisting that the White House observe due process at Gitmo.]
In tandem with the site’s launch, AEI hosted a conference titled “Nongovernmental Organizations: The Growing Power of an Unelected Few.” As Jim Lobe notes in Foreign Policy in Focus, conference attendees devoted their time to railing against human rights workers, environmentalists, and the evils of socially responsible investing.
“According to George Washington University political science professor Jarol Manheim, international NGOs are pursuing ‘a new and pervasive form of conflict’ against multinational corporations, which he calls ‘Biz-War,’ the title of his forthcoming book. NGOs, for example, work with like-minded institutional investors, such as union- and church-based pension funds, to sponsor shareholder resolutions demanding that corporations adopt more environment–or human rights–friendly policies. Such efforts, he said, should be seen as ‘part of a larger, anti-corporate campaign,’ which includes consumer boycotts and other efforts to influence corporate behavior.
This was echoed by John Entine, an AEI adjunct fellow, who called the ‘social investing’ movement, a ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’ and argued that ‘anti-free market NGOs under the guise of corporate reform are extending their reach into the boardrooms of corporations.’
On the political front, international NGOs, which in recent years led the fight for the global ban on anti-personnel mines, the Kyoto Protocol to fight global warming, and the treaty establishing the International Criminal Court, are pursuing a ‘liberal internationalist’ vision that ‘wants to constrain the United States,’ said American University law professor Kenneth Anderson.”
Absurd stuff, you might say. But no one should dismiss this latest AEI campaign as the rantings of a lunatic fringe. As Lobe notes, these are the people making policy in Washington these days.
“Both the website launch and Wednesday’s conference might normally be dismissed as a pep rally of a far right obsessed with left-wing and European conspiracies to impose world government on the United States and destroy capitalism. But the fact that no less than 42 senior administration foreign policy and justice officials have been recruited from AEI and the Federalists and that AEI ‘fellows’ include such prominent figures as Lynne Cheney (the vice president’s spouse), former UN Ambassador Jeanne Kirkpatrick, and the influential Iraq hawk and former chairman of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board, Richard Perle, suggests that Wednesday’s events may herald a much more antagonistic attitude toward NGOs on the part of the government.”
Hatch Walks the Plank
Orrin Hatch, Utah’s God-fearing, songwriting, software-stealing Republican senator, was in the hot seat this week after pushing to “destroy” the computers of people who pirate files and software.
Nope, none of that “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” garbage for Hatch. Unless, of course, Hatch thinks his computer should be destroyed along with the rest of the software-pirates’ machines.
Last week in the Senate, while debating the Intellectual Property Protection Restoration Act of 2003, a bill advocating stricter restrictions on intellectual property rights, Hatch blurted out that he didn’t “favor extreme remedies–unless no moderate remedies can be found.” And Hatch evidently couldn’t think of any moderate remedies, so he chose to go with the next best thing: vandalism.
“If it’s the only way you can do it [ … ] then I’m all for destroying their machines [ … ] but you’d have to pass legislation permitting that, it seems to me, before someone could really do that with any degree of assurance that they’re doing something that might be proper.”
Trouble is, Wired discovered that Hatch’s Senate website uses computer coding that he doesn’t hold a license for. On Wednesday, Wired‘s Leander Khany got in touch with Andy Woolley of Milonic Solutions, the British company that owns the script, and Woolley confirmed it: Hatch is a software thief. “It’s an unlicensed copy [ … ] It’s very unfortunate for him because of those comments he made,” Woolley said.
In damage control mode, Hatch’s staff got busy buying a license from Milonic Solutions. The very next day, Woolley said, Hatch’s office e-mailed to finally register the pirated script.
So after all Hatch’s screaming about punishing those evil software sharers, it turns out he is just as guilty.
When Hatch isn’t busy playing with unlicensed software, he likes to relax at home writing patriotic and religious songs. Hatch has written a number of songs for the people who inspire his life: his wife, Muhammad Ali, and Vicki and Ted Kennedy. Maybe he should rededicate his song “Everyday Heroes” to Wired reporter Leander Khany. The lyrics remind us of the need to praise your “Everyday Heroes, living in the neighborhood, helping in the way neighbors should … God bless each one of those Everyday heroes.”
Andy Woolley is sure to be glad he wasn’t forced to destroy Hatch’s computer in order to teach him that stealing is wrong. He just doesn’t seem like that kind of a guy. As he puts it: “We don’t want blood [ … ] We just want payment for the hard work we do.”
A New Offshore Oil Grab?
The Senate voted two weeks ago to keep a provision in the Senate energy bill that calls for a comprehensive inventory of offshore oil and gas resources — a study that environmentalists charge could devastate coastal life, and is a stalking horse for the resumption of widescale drilling. The Associated Press reports:
‘Allowing the inventory to go forward puts marine life and America’s coasts at risk,’ said Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club, because it ‘opens the door to destructive offshore drilling.'”
According to the Sacramento Bee’s David Whitney, proponents of the study claim it is essential if the nation is to know how much, if any, gas and oil resources are located off the coast.
“‘This provision does not lift the moratoriums,’ said Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which wrote the energy bill.
‘This simply directs the secretary of the Interior Department to conduct a study,’ he said. “It is a prudent move to take an inventory of our resources and where they are located. Knowledge is better than no knowledge.'”
Taking inventory of the coast merely for “knowledge,” however, seems a little absurd. Where’s the money in that? To California Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, the inventory is not only harmful but nonsensical. The San Diego Union-Tribune‘s Toby Eckert reports:
“‘I deeply believe that this proposed inventory threatens our coast and should not be part of the energy bill,’ Feinstein said. ‘Inventorying these areas doesn’t make sense unless you want to overturn the moratoria.'”
In fact, Environment News Service‘s J.R. Pegg notes, the extent of offshore resources is no big mystery, and an inventory study would be futile:
“The nation already knows what offshore oil and gas resources it has, opponents of the survey say, and this new survey is duplicative, unnecessary and is not as benign as others might believe.”