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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Saturday, 10 July 2004

Topic: For policy wonks...

Report Card: George Gets Another Gentleman's-C

The Senate Intelligence Committee report on prewar intelligence is out. It hit the streets Friday morning. If you want to read all 511 pages click here - it's in PDF format but it is free. It's not that bad. Whole chunks are blacked out - redacted, as the say. These parts seem to have something to do with African yellow-cake uranium sales - Niger to Iraq, or not. Given the current investigation of who at the White House leaked a CIA agent's name and blew her cover, to punish the fellow who said the whole thing was a hoax - well, best we not see those sections until the special prosecutor has done his job.

What to make of this big, thick pile of paper?

Well, its seems the reasons we said we had to got to war, against the advice of the UN and most of our traditional allies - not to mention most world opinion - were not supported by the facts of the matter. Of course since then we've said the original reason - that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and was an immediate and grave threat to this country - wasn't the REAL reason. It was the ties to al-Qaeda - Iraq was in league with those guys to bring us down. Seems the facts don't support that either. We'll that wasn't the REAL reason. We went to war to liberate the Iraqi people. But they don't seem to like our version of liberation and things are a bit difficult on the ground there. They don't want this kind of liberation? Well, that wasn't the REAL reason we went war. It was set up a representative democracy there, with voting and a free press, and open, utterly deregulated markets - and the nations in the area would then get the idea and toss out their monarchies or theocracies or tribal confederations and jump on the Jeffersonian bandwagon. The Iraq example would transform the region. Well, that doesn't seem to be working out as planned - we're selling this idea and not many folks are buying it, even with our armed troops in their streets and with many, many local folks in prison being treated, to put it mildly, shabbily, and we won't tell them why they are in prison because we don't have to. Guess they just get this democracy thing. They think we're bullies and fools? Doesn't matter. That wasn't the REAL reason we went to war. It was humanitarian - Saddam was a bad man. Yes he was. Did horrible things to his own people. He did. Things are better with him gone. Probably. But that's a mixed bag too.

So this massive Senate Intelligence Committee report is not terribly significant as it is - let me count here - about five rationales behind the times.

Bush did say this -
The danger to our country is grave and it is growing. The Iraqi regime possesses biological and chemical weapons, is rebuilding the facilities to make more and, according to the British government, could launch a biological or chemical attack in as little as 45 minutes after the order is given. The regime has long-standing and continuing ties to terrorist groups, and there are al Qaeda terrorists inside Iraq.

President George W. Bush
Radio Address To The Nation
Ah, did the report this week say he was lying? Many say he was, and many say it is an honest mistake as the facts he had to work with were faulty.

And Bush was careful. Note in the clip from the radio address he didn't say Iraq could hit us in forty-five minutes. He said the British government said that. And there were al Qaeda terrorists inside Iraq - in the Ansar al-Islam camp in northern Iraq outside the control of the Baghdad government. He did not say they were even talking to each other (they weren't). So he wasn't lying. Folks mistook geographical proximity for conspiracy. What fools.

But is this clip an example of Bush actually saying we have to go to war now to protect ourselves?

Well, it seems to be. But it has what you might call "wiggle-room." It seems folks just jump to conclusions. Funny thing.

But some of what he says we know now is just not true - but can Bush be held responsible the CIA getting it all wrong, and for each radio listener's stupidity? Hardly - or at least that what the Bush war supporters are saying now.

Still the Senate Intelligence Committee report does presents a real problem for war supporters.

Why? Try this summary from the New York Times -
The Central Intelligence Agency greatly overestimated the danger presented by deadly unconventional weapons in Iraq because of runaway assumptions that were never sufficiently challenged, the Senate Intelligence Committee said today.

In a long-awaited report that goes to the heart of President Bush's rationale for going to war against Iraq, the committee said that prewar assessments of Saddam Hussein's supposed arsenal of chemical and biological weapons, and his desire to have nuclear weapons, were wildly off the mark.

....On one important point, the committee found the C.I.A.'s conclusions reasonable -- that there had been no significant ties between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda terrorists.
So. The first two reasons to do this deed - the reasons that everyone lapped up, before the others were trotted out, one after the other, as the REAL reason we did the deed - well, the first two went down in flames this week.

Here is the Washington Post summary of what the two co-chairs had to say -
Asked if he believed Congress would have authorized the use of force against Iraq had it known the weakness of the intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, [Republican chairman Pat] Roberts said, "I do not know."...."I think it would have been argued differently," he said. "I think perhaps the battle plan would have been different."

Sen. John D. "Jay" Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va), the committee's vice chairman, said categorically that Congress would have rejected going to war in Iraq if not for the faulty intelligence.
Well, actually the Democrat from West Virginia said more.
"Tragically, the intelligence failures set forth in this report will affect our national security for generations to come. Our credibility is diminished. Our standing in the world has never been lower. We have fostered a deep hatred of Americans in the Muslim world, and that will grow. As a direct consequence, our nation is more vulnerable today than ever before," said Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., the panel's top-ranking Democrat.
But otherwise it went pretty well in Iraq.

Kevin Drum over at the Washington Monthly comments on how this falls out. He says the committee report lays the blame for bad intelligence squarely on the CIA. Points for the war supporters - they love it. Bush is off the hook and they always thought the CIA was foolishly picky about things.

But Drum a also points out - "they've been saying the CIA is too cautious, not too aggressive. What's more, the report also says there was no WMD and no ties to al-Qaeda, which basically knocks the props out from under the entire case for war. The only rationales for war they're left with are either humanitarian grounds or else the neoconnish grounds that a free Iraq will promote a wave of democracy in the Middle East. But even Paul Wolfowitz doesn't pretend that the former was sufficient reason, and the American public has shown no inclination to accept the latter."

Ah, yep. A problem.

His summary - The CIA screwed up, Bush was duped, there were no WMD, no ties to al-Qaeda, and a good chance that Congress wouldn't have authorized the war if they had known all this at the time.

That'll do. No need to read the report.

Oh yeah, here's key part of the New York Times editorial on the report -
The report was heavily censored by the administration and is too narrowly focused on the bungling of just the Central Intelligence Agency. But what comes through is thoroughly damning. Put simply, the Bush administration's intelligence analysts cooked the books to give Congress and the public the impression that Saddam Hussein had chemical and biological weapons and was developing nuclear arms, that he was plotting to give such weapons to terrorists, and that he was an imminent threat.

These assertions formed the basis of Mr. Bush's justifications for war. But the report said that they were wrong and were not a true picture of the intelligence, and that the intelligence itself was not worth much.
Yeah, but that's the New York Times - eastern latte-drinking liberals, all of them.

Out here on the west coast (La-La Land or the Left Coast to some) our own Los Angeles Times this weekend gives us real detail of how this all got so screwed up.

See CIA Was Warned About Defector's Unreliability
Bob Drogin, Los Angeles Times July 10, 2004, Page A1 (below the fold)
The only American who met a now-discredited Iraqi defector codenamed "Curveball" repeatedly warned the CIA before the war that the Baghdad engineer appeared to be an alcoholic and that his dramatic claims that Saddam Hussein had built a secret fleet of mobile germ weapons factories were not reliable.

In response, the deputy director of the CIA's Iraqi weapons of mass destruction task force -- part of the agency's counter-proliferation unit -- suggested in a Feb. 4, 2003, e-mail that such doubts were not welcome at the intelligence agency.

"As I said last night, let's keep in mind the fact that this war's going to happen regardless of what Curveball said or didn't say, and the powers that be probably aren't terribly interested in whether Curveball knows what he's talking about," the CIA official wrote, according to information released Friday by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) to support the Senate Intelligence Committee's blistering, 511-page critique of America's prewar intelligence.

"However, in the interest of truth," the e-mail continued, "we owe somebody a sentence or two of warning, if you honestly have reservations."
And the long item goes into great detail. Yes, Curveball, the Iraqi exile who claimed that he had built biological warfare trucks for the Iraqi army later turned out to be the brother of one of Ahmed Chalabi's top aides.

And Colin Powell pounded the UN with the "facts" about this secret fleet of mobile germ weapons factories - with diagrams of just how these Winnebago's of Death were precisely configured, or so we knew. Geez. And we paid Chalabi and his group 340,000 dollars a month for many years for such information.

It seems we wanted this war bad.

What is the administration's defense for all this? Read our words exactly - what you thought, what you assumed, is YOUR problem, not ours? We never said....

That might work. You see it here and there in the conservative opinion pages.

Or this - Reasons one and two for why we went to war are so 2003 - and it's time to move on. Reasons three and four aren't working out. So let's move one. Reason five may still be a good reason. The world is a better place without Saddam Hussein. We're safer with him gone. Don't worry. Be happy. Americans are a forward-looking optimistic people. Optimism!

And that's what the president has been saying this weekend on the stump in Pennsylvania. And folks cheer, but maybe that's just a reflex - or cognitive dissonance.

There's a lot of that going around.

The war should have been... something else.

Here's a war supporter, Michael Ignatieff, agonizing about it all -
...the administration's arrogance. Gen. George C. Marshall began planning the postwar occupation of Germany two years before D-Day. This administration was fumbling for a plan two months before the invasion. Who can read Bob Woodward's ''Plan of Attack'' and not find his jaw dropping at the fact that from the very beginning, in late 2001, none of the civilian leadership, not Rice, not Powell, not Tenet, not the president, asked where the plan for the occupation phase was? Who can't feel that U.S. captains, majors and lieutenants were betrayed by the Beltway wars between State and Defense? Who can't feel rage that victorious armies stood by and watched for a month while Iraq was looted bare?

Someone like me who supported the war on human rights grounds has nowhere to hide: we didn't suppose the administration was particularly nice, but we did assume it would be competent. There isn't much excuse for its incompetence, but equally, there isn't much excuse for our naivet? either....
So sad.

But what about the idea of Bush as victim? Does seeing things that way make things better?

See this from Jerry Bowles -
The Doofus Card

There is a new meme developing that must be crushed before it turns into a full-fledged mindstorm and that is the notion of Shrub as victim. Under this formulation, our president is a likeable doofus who has been misserved by those around him, especially Dick Cheney. Maureen Dowd used it in her column last Sunday: By playing on the insecurities of an inexperienced leader, Mr. Cheney has managed to change W. from a sunny, open, bipartisan, uniter-not-a-divider, non-nation-builder into a crabby, secretive, partisan, divider-not-a-uniter, inept imperialist.

Now, Mois?s Na?m has returned to the theme in a piece called Bush's Willing Enablers in the July/August of Foreign Policy: Today, few doubt that the Bush administration's postwar planning was disastrous. Insiders' books, congressional testimony, and recent investigative reporting indicate that the miscalculations resulted from a toxic combination of ideology, terrorism, and an incurious president who allowed Vice President Dick Cheney and his allies to implement their unrealistic policies.

There are a lot of sins we can afford to forgive in our presidents; being a dummy is not one of them.
Yep. And Mark Schmitt - Director of Policy and Research at the Open Society Institute, in New York piles on -
And I also have come to think that there may be some truth to the idea that Cheney is the driving intelligence behind the entire Bush presidency. The insistence on being interviewed together by the 9/11 commission is one huge hint; the many instances in which Cheney seems to speak for the administration but with a tone and argument totally unrelated to Bush's, is another. The fact that Bush sometimes gets his message into line with Cheney's, rather than the other way around, speaks volumes.

... I am beginning to think that behind all the bluster, George W. Bush is a frightened, confused individual, totally unable to understand the magnitude of the decisions he got talked into making, and dealing with it by becoming paralyzed, letting the individuals who represent power centers within his administration, such as Rove, Powell, Wolfowitz, Cheney and Rice run off entirely on their own. Those who are able to manage the president's message, such as Cheney, are at a bureaucratic advantage. But politically, this White House is a sitting duck, and as a matter of psychology, I think the Final Days of this crowd will make for amazing reading.

The question is, when will be these final days? Late this year, or four more years down the road?

So the Senate Intelligence Committee report is out. But the polls won't change. Almost every mind is made up. Bush is our hero - or one really scary guy.



Things seem a bit more dicey in the UK at the moment.

Note this:
Spy Chiefs 'Retract Wmd Intelligence'
James Lyons, The Scotsman - Saturday 10 July 2004 - 10:13pm (UK)
Spy chiefs have retracted the intelligence behind Tony Blair's claim that Iraq posed a "current and serious" threat, it was reported tonight.

The Prime Minister's case for war was supposedly based on evidence that Saddam Hussein had chemical and biological weapons stockpiles and was trying to produce more.

But MI6 has since withdrawn the assessment underpinning that case, a senior intelligence source has told BBC1's Panorama.

The rare step amounts to an admission that it was fundamentally unreliable, according to The Observer which reveals details of the interview.
Oh my!

The full Observer report is online here if you want all the details. Basically, Tony's been hung out to dry, just now, this weekend, by MI6 - is own CIA.

If George Tenet, head our CIA, had had the balls to do THAT ... No. Here we know NO ONE crosses the Bush family, or the Rove-Cheney-Rumsfeld troika. (Somehow the term now seems appropriate, if you know your obscure political history.) Tenet resigned.

Then there is this -
The BBC claimed the PM had been "seriously reviewing his position" in the light of the electoral setbacks, the row over the European constitution and the continuing drama in Iraq, all of which had sapped his personal authority.

Blair has come under pressure from within party ranks in recent months, with some saying the time has come for him to step down. Some say he is no longer Labour's best electoral asset and is a liability because of the unpopularity of the Iraq war. Last month, Blair admitted the war had cost his party votes when it was trounced in local and European Parliament elections.

He will come under the spotlight again this week with the release of a report into British intelligence failings over Iraq's weaponry, and the staging of two closely watched by-elections.
Yep, you read that right. A national leader who, seeing he's lost his credibility, knows he's made some mistakes, or at least political misjudgments, knowing he is again going to be shown to be flat-out wrong about some major things... considers resigning! How odd.

What people like about Bush is he never admits he's wrong, whatever the facts. Steady-leadership. No flip-flopping. Bush still believes he has lost no credibility - in fact, he thinks he's gained credibility - and for us all. We do what we say - no matter how stupid, ill conceived or poorly planned. We do what we say. And Bush doesn't listen to pollsters. He leads. Competently, thoughtfully? Perhaps not. But he makes decisions, even if dim-witted ones, and he sticks to them. That's comforting. And bad news? You can take care of those who generate that bad news. Ask Joe Wilson. As his wife, Valerlie Plame. They'll get the idea.

George needs to ring up Tony and explain how to rule.

Posted by Alan at 21:33 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

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