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"The good news: I thought Our Kampf was consistently hilarious. The bad news: I’m the guy who wrote Monkeybone."—Sam Hamm, screenwriter, Batman, Batman Returns, and Homecoming
May 12, 2013
We Are So Disappointed With the Corrupt Afghan Government
I'm sure it's tough for many reasons to work for the Sulzbergers and Carlos Slim at the New York Times. But I'd have an especially hard time coming into the office every day and being forced to write paragraphs like this in today's story about Afghanistan:
American and NATO officials in Kabul…said that [development] aid would continue, although the amounts given were likely to be reduced over time. And the Afghan government would have to live up to its commitments to battle corruption and run a more open government for the aid to keep flowing.
It's not just that the New York Times itself uncovered the story of the CIA giving the Karzai government millions in bags of cash one week ago. It's that the bags of cash article was written by the same reporter, Matthew Rosenberg.
Yet here he is today, faithfully passing along the news about how anonymous American officials sincerely want Karzai to be less corrupt. It's like breaking the Eliot Spitzer prostitution story, and then quoting him a week later explaining how he's going to continue paying Ashley Dupré as long as she lives up to his longstanding demand that she be less of a prostitute.
(I have much more sympathy for the payee in both situations. In Karzai's case, he likely remembers that after the Soviets left, their last puppet was castrated, dragged through the streets of Kabul behind a jeep, and then publicly hanged. So you can understand if he wants to keep some cash on hand.)
P.S. Last October Glenn Greenwald and Kade Ellis has a long exchange on twitter with Rosenberg in which he finally acknowledged that the U.S. government may not be 100% trustworthy. Read it to see how resistant Rosenberg was to answering basic, straightforward questions.
P.P.S. It's also hard to be a reporter at the Washington Post.
Several years ago, think tank couple Fred and Kimberly Kagan worked for David Petraeus in Afghanistan. Then they came back and told the world about how we had to stay in Afghanistan indefinitely.
It turns out that, according to great reporting by Rajiv Chandrasekaran, the Kagans were paid nothing by the Defense Department. Instead, they continued to get their salaries from their think tanks, which in turn are largely funded by defense contractors that profit from indefinite war.
Yet Chandrasekaran had to write this without acknowledging that it was funny in any way at all:
Petraeus called them his “directed telescopes” and urged them to focus on the challenge of tackling corruption and building an effective government in Afghanistan, a task they addressed with gusto.
I guess in this case it would be like Spitzer seeing a second prostitute and paying her extra to look into the issue of why Ashley Dupré was such a prostitute.
But the best part is that after having the Kagans look into the issue of how the Afghan government could get less corrupt, David Petraeus went on to become director of the CIA. Maybe he flipped through their report whenever he needed a break from stuffing cash into the plastic bags.
May 06, 2013
Reminder: The U.S. Government Lies About the Use of Chemical Weapons in the Mideast
Obviously I have no idea whether any chemical weapons have been used in Syria, and if they have who's responsible. But this is a good time to remember that, even beyond the bogus case for the invasion of Iraq, the U.S. government has a long history of lying about this subject.
This is from last week:
In a letter to key lawmakers, the White House said U.S. intelligence agencies "assess with varying degrees of confidence that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria, specifically the chemical agent sarin."
Now Carla Del Ponte, a member of the UN Commission on Syria, says they have "strong, concrete suspicions" that chemical weapons were used in Syria, but that they were deployed not by the Assad regime but by Syrian rebels. (Del Ponte was the lead prosecutor of Slobodan Milošević; earlier she barely escaped assassination when Sicilian organized crime attempted to blow up her house with 1000 pounds of explosives.)
And this is from March 1988, about Saddam Hussein's notorious gassing of the Iraqi city of Halabja back when Saddam was our ally:
The U.S. State Department said both Iran and Iraq had used poison gas in the fighting around Halabja and called on both nations to desist immediately.
"This incident appears to be a particularly grave violation of the 1925 Geneva Protocol banning chemical weapons. There are indications that Iran may also have used chemical artillery shells in this fighting," department spokesman Charles Redman said in Washington.
He declined, however, to say what evidence the United States had to implicate the Iranians.
Seventeen years later, investigative reporter Joost Hiltermann wrote about declassified State Department cables instructing U.S. diplomats to muddy the water by claiming that both Iraq and Iran had used chemical weapons around Halabja and "to dodge the 'What’s the evidence' question with the stock 'Sorry, but that’s classified information' response...In the final analysis, the only evidence for the convenient claim that Iran used chemical weapons during the war is that the US government said so."
More recently, a senior U.S. official explained the general principle about this kind of thing: "The countries that cooperate with us get at least a free pass. Whereas other countries that don't cooperate, we ream them as best we can."
P.S. Charles Redman, the Reagan State Department spokesman who lied about Iran using chemical weapons in 1988, was later rewarded by Bill Clinton with the Ambassadorship to Germany. He then cashed in by becoming a senior vice presidential at Bechtel. Thanks to Bradley Manning and WikiLeaks you can read here about Redman flying to Tripoli to try to get Bechtel into business with the Qadhafi family.
April 16, 2013
We Ream Them As Best We Can
It's almost always bogus when newspapers like the Washington Post give government officials anonymity, but this is certainly a legitimate use of it:
The Pentagon is deepening its military involvement across Africa as it confronts an expanding array of terrorist movements and guerrilla groups. In doing so, the U.S. government has become dependent on several countries with checkered democratic records. That in turn has lessened Washington’s leverage to push those countries to practice free elections and the rule of law...
“The countries that cooperate with us get at least a free pass,” acknowledged a senior U.S. official who specializes in Africa but spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid retribution. “Whereas other countries that don’t cooperate, we ream them as best we can.”
The official said the administration of former president George W. Bush took the same approach in Africa. Many U.S. diplomats and human-rights groups had hoped Obama would shift his emphasis in Africa from security to democracy, but that has not happened, the official added.
“There’s pretty much been no change at all,” the official said. “In the end, it was an almost seamless transition from Bush to Obama.”
April 14, 2013
Bill Clinton to Condoleezza Rice in 2003: Invading Iraq Would Be Morally Right Thing to Do
Last week Glenn Greenwald interviewed Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett, who both were National Security Council staffers during the Bush administration. At one point Hillary Leverett describes how "the entire American political apparatus," including Bill Clinton, supported the invasion of Iraq:
LEVERETT: It wasn't just ideologically-driven people, individual actors within the Bush administration, that were driving us to war. It was the entire American political apparatus. In a lot of ways, we thought, it was essentially tough to have checks and balances, to ask hard questions, when the United States was pursuing policies that could end up killing a lot of people and really do serious harm to our interests.
We saw the Bush administration, of course, make very bad decisions, but even more disheartening for us, even more disturbing to us as professional political analysts and policy-makers, was the opposition, the Democrats. We remember when Condi Rice came back from going to meet with – she was my boss at the time – going to meet with Bill Clinton, and she recounting how he put his arm around her, and told her that what the Bush administration was doing in gearing up for this invasion of Iraq, was not just the correct thing to do strategically but it was the morally right thing to do.
This was from the leader of the Democratic opposition, in a sense. The leading Democratic senators in Congress, the media, they were all not just supporting it, but hyping information that we didn't see – to read in the New York Times that there was this case of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, that we didn't see with our top secret security clearances in the White House, was a really jarring experience on the negative side.
This isn't the first time Leverett has said this about Clinton and Iraq. In 2007, when Bill Clinton was campaigning for Hillary, he claimed he had "opposed Iraq from the beginning," which irritated Leverett so much she spoke to the Washington Post about it:
Hillary Mann Leverett, at the time the White House director of Persian Gulf affairs, said that Rice and Elliott Abrams, then National Security Council senior director for Near East and North African affairs, met with Clinton several times in the months before the March 2003 invasion to answer any questions he might have. She said she was "shocked" and "astonished" by Clinton's remarks this week, made to voters in Iowa, because she has distinct memories of Abrams "coming back from those meetings literally glowing and boasting that 'we have Clinton's support.' "...
She recalled being told that Clinton made it clear to Rice and Abrams that they could count on his public support for the war if it was necessary.
And Clinton didn't just support the invasion of Iraq privately; as Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting pointed out in 2007, he supported it publicly too. The day before the war started he wrote an op-ed for the Guardian headlined "Trust Tony's Judgement." And in 2004 he told Time Magazine "I supported the Iraq thing."
P.S. In a recent slam of Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick's book and TV series The Untold History of the United States, Princeton historian Sean Wilentz sneered at them for portraying "liberal anticommunism [after World War II] as virtually indistinguishable from – indeed, as complicit with – the anticommunism of the right." After all, if Untold History convinced viewers that was true, they might also begin to believe something even nuttier, like that liberal foreign policy today is virtually indistinguishable from conservative foreign policy. Wilentz is good friends with Bill Clinton, and they probably spend lots of time together shaking their heads sadly about people crazy enough to think that.