August 30, 2007

More Funniness

If you haven't already, be sure to read Dennis P.'s script about Tucker Carlson's superhero alterego, Straight Man. "Thanks, Straight Man! You made it safe to poop again!"

And here's some good stuff from Mike about Bush in New Orleans:

August 29, 2007

Les Tealeaves

This is from Bush's you-bet-we'll-bomb-Iran speech yesterday:

Iran's active pursuit of technology that could lead to nuclear weapons threatens to put a region already known for instability and violence under the shadow of a nuclear holocaust.

For quite a long time the CIA has supposedly been just about to finish a new NIE on Iran. The suspicion has been that they haven't because they're unwilling to say conclusively that Iran has a nuclear program, but also unwilling to anger the Bush administration. The way Bush phrased things here suggests they're not budging.

August 28, 2007

Gonzales Jokes

From Mike:

August 27, 2007

Matt Taibbi Interview

A while back I spoke to Matt Taibbi by phone. Technical difficulties prevented me from getting to it immediately, but here it finally is. I can't claim it's timely now, but Taibbi was just as entertaining as you'd expect.

Taibbi's latest piece for Rolling Stone, "The Great Iraq Swindle," is here. His new book Smells Like Dead Elephants: Dispatches from a Rotting Empire, is coming out in October.

COMING UP: An interview with Norman Solomon

• • •

How did you start wanting to write?

Well, I was a real nerd growing up and moved around all the time, so I read a lot. I went through some really bad times. Books were my only friends.

Then sometime in high school teachers made me aware I had some ability writing-wise. And since I didn't really have anything else going for me personally, especially after high school, I basically locked myself up in my room in my late teens, doing nothing but writing fiction, plays, all kinds of crap, and all of it sucked. I was always really into funny writers. My heroes were mostly all Russian, although I was a big fan of guys like H.L. Mencken and Saki and Evelyn Waugh, too. But eventually I went to Russia to study Russian. That's how I ended up staying there.

I've pretty much wanted to be a writer since I was thirteen or fourteen, but mostly by default, since I was clearly not qualified to do much else.

What Russian writers in particular and what other funny writers did you like?

The books I read when I was really young were things like Catch-22, some Waugh books like Decline and Fall, then Fear and Loathing, all the Hunter Thompson stuff, Woody Allen, etc.

And then somebody turned me onto Nicholai Gogol when I was about seventeen -- the first thing I read was his story "The Nose," and then I read "Dead Souls" about forty times before I was twenty. He was my hero. For the longest time I just wanted to... well, not to be Nicholai Gogol, because he was an insane and miserable boot fetishist who ended up becoming an overbearing religious bore before starving and bleeding himself to death with leeches, but to write like that anyway. But you should see how pathetic it is when a modern American tries his style.

From then I started reading all the other Russians, guys like Bulgakov, Tolstoy, Leskov, Babel, Zoshenko, etc. Among the modern guys I liked Trofimov and Dovlatov, both of whom were really funny. The Russians have so many funny writers, a lot of people that don't really get read here in the states -- people have this image of Russian writers being these guys who write these huge, baggy, pretentious novels that you need 300-page Cliff's notes for, but it's not like that.

How did you get to Russia in the first place?

I left after my junior year at Bard. I basically finished my studies at the University of Leningrad. I went over there and I just didn't come home.

So you're now fluent in Russian?

Yes. I'm also trying, unsuccessfully, to learn Thai.

I don't know what Thai sounds like, but it's a real cool-looking language.

I can't pick it up at all. Their alphabet looks like noodles to me.

There's something about Russia that captures a certain kind of person from elsewhere. What is it?

It's really hard to put your finger on it. There's definitely a certain kind of person it agrees with. The Russian way of looking at life—there's a real what-the-fuck element to living there. Everything in America is so strict, the rules are ironclad, you know. There are always forms to fill out. If your credit card is overdue it won't work. Your life is regulated by these ironclad structures that are part of being part of a rule-based society where everything works.

Whereas Russia... Russia is completely dysfunctional. Everyone's sort of equally miserable at all times. There's a real carefree, completely chaotic atmosphere there that's appealing. They have this expression there, na avos, or avos prenesyet, which means "avos brings"; to do something na avos means to do it and just basically leave the matter of whether it will work out or not in the hands of fate. Roll the dice, avos brings the answer. Like once, for instance, I quit my job and moved to Mongolia na avos. Just didn't really think about it beforehand at all. The whole country is run na avos.

In the States, there's so much pressure on a person to succeed, to not fall behind, to not be a loser. Whereas in Russia, except for the very few super-rich, everybody's a loser. So you don't feel so bad.

Solzhenitsin said something about that after he came to America. He said that here, a person who has horrible dandruff or picks their nose constantly would be immediately sanctioned by society...but in the Soviet Union, he'd be part of the group. Everybody got to be part of the ongoing Russian enterprise.

Yeah, though that's changing now, especially in Moscow. But in the old days it was like: who has a cool car? Nobody has a cool car. Who has nice clothes? Nobody. Everyone is... the Russian expression is "v govne," which means "in shit."

There's an expression in Russian, "sovok" which roughly means a Soviet mentality. The literal translation of the word refers to a tiny shovel you use in a sandbox. There is a legend about a Soviet film director who was getting drunk in a sandbox with some friends of his in the seventies; completely wasted on vodka, he picked up the little shovel and said, "But all the same, gentlemen, we all of us live v sovke [in the shovel]." The story, of course, is total bullshit, means nothing, and certainly has nothing to do with the origin of the expression sovok. But placing so much stock in this long-winded, idiotic, totally fictional story is very sovok in itself. I'm not explaining myself very well, but whatever. Anyway, Putin is draining the life out of sovok a little, which is too bad.

That sounds like a relief, compared to America. I think of somebody like John McCain, who does the most incredible groveling at the feet of Bush. My friend Mike thinks the Bush people are blackmailing him with something, but I think what they have on him is just ambition. He wants to be president. If you have a certain kind of ambition it just destroys you. People will do humiliating, grotesque things for ambition.

They'll drink their own pee.


If you know everything's hopeless, you won't bother. Then you can just get on with enjoying being alive.

Do you know that thing Hunter Thompson wrote about the bull elk? He wrote this thing bout how it's normally the craftiest animal in the forest, and normally you can't get within 2,000 yards of it without it bolting. But when it's in heat, the town drunk can walk right up next to the fucking thing. It's just so horny that its judgment is completely clouded. That's how he described politicians. I always liked that.

How did you end up playing basketball in Mongolia?

I played basketball in Mongolia in 96. I'd been working in Moscow and I played a lot of street basketball and I ran into this Mongolian kid who told me there was a Mongolian basketball league called the MBA -- the Mongolian Basketball League.

So I just packed up my shit, na avos like I said, and got on a train and moved to Mongolia. I got a tryout and I ended up this team called Altain Burgid, which means "Mountain Eagles." I played there for a season.

The only reason I left is because I got sick. Otherwise I'd probably still be there. I got pneumonia and had to leave the country to be treated. Mongolia was great, but its health care system nearly killed me. At first their doctors thought I had bronchitis, and their idea of treatment was a sort of Buddhist acupressure thing. That didn't work. I started coughing up blood a few weeks later and ended up being airlifted out of the country.

Actually that wasn't the whole story. In the latter stages of my illness I continued to play in the basketball league, despite the fact that I was losing ten pounds a week or so. At one point I caught an elbow in the mouth and had three of my teeth shattered. Then in another game I got scratched in the eyeball, which left my left eye completely blood red. Meanwhile I had long before shaved my head and grown a goattee as part of this Dennis Rodman look I was trying for on the court. So by the time I left I had pointed fangs, a bald head, a bloody eyeball, and I weighed about 50 pounds below my usual weight. When I finally got off the plane at JFK I looked like Nosferatu. Incidentally the one tooth the Mongolians did fix, they fixed using cement, like industrial cement. So I had a cement top front tooth. It was a dark, almost pencil-gray color. It ended up exploding in my mouth on a chicken bone. I went for a long time without a date after Mongolia.

Have you ever read Roald Dahl's memoirs? I bring it up as an example of horribly mistaken medical treatment. One of his grandfathers fell off the roof of his house when he (his grandfather) was a kid and broke his arm. The town doctor showed up drunk, and was convinced that he had a separated shoulder, and his arm had to be put back in the socket. So he kept twisting the grandfather's arm...until it had to be amputated. He was Dahl's one-armed grandpa. It's a, uh, funny story.

I never read Roald Dahl, his books scared me, but I guess that makes sense. What is it about English writers -- they all seem to have mutliated aunts and uncles. Wasn't Saki's mother trampled to death by a cow or something?

Did you play basketball as a kid?

Yes, I grew up around sports. My father was a much better athlete than I was. I played everything when I was a kid.

Me too. I'm jealous of anyone who's ever able to get paid for paying sports.

I got paid once in a half-goat. That was one of our bonuses in Mongolia. And they split the goat literally right down the middle of its body with a saw.

And so it was then your responsibility to transform the half-goat into...?

Well, food or whatever. I was also working as the head of the English-language department of Montsame, which is the state news agency. So I just threw my half-goat out on the balcony at work. And since it never gets above minus twenty during the winter, the goat was fine. Then around the holiday season one of my co-workers got drunk in the morning and came up to me and asked me if he could have it, so he got the goat.

Well, getting paid in goats would be good enough for me. Just as long as I got something. For playing sports, I wouldn't mind getting paid in tadpoles.

What were the other people on the other team like?

Basketball is a really big deal in Mongolia. So even though I wasn't making a ton of money and it wasn't a real high level of the game, we had the lifestyle of pro athletes. Everywhere we went people would fawn over us. I also had my own radio show.

In English?

In English and in Russian. Almost everybody spoke Russian in Mongolia back then.

It was a call-in show. Our slogan was "Bringing the new steps to the steppes." It was the gayest thing of all time. I had no I idea how funny I wasn't.

But when we would go into a club...there was a guy on my team named Batzaya, the national slam-dunk champ, he was like the Michael Jordan of Mongolia. If you were rolling with Batzaya, you weren't going home alone. I remember once he and his girlfriend crashed at my girlfriend's place and he came in to our room in the morning and asked us both if we had been listening to him and his girl have sex the night before. It was very important to him that we tell him how long he'd lasted. I told him tav minute, five minutes. That bothered him for days. During the next game, in a timeout, he pulled me aside and said, "No tav minute! Arav [ten] minute!" But I held fast and said, "Tav minute." He yells back: "No Tav minute! Arav minute!" There are only like 600 people in the stadium, everyone could hear what we were saying. That was some seriously funny shit.

You know, I don't think I've ever met a Mongolian. There also aren't many Mongolians in movies. What do you look like if you're Mongolian?

Like a really muscular Korean. There's some Russian blood in there somewhere, but mostly it went the other way. That's why the Russians are sometimes down on Mongolia. They spent 800 years being raped by Mongolians. It's kind of funny actually. A lot of Russian women have these beautiful, big, exotic, almond-shaped eyes, and to most foreigners that makes them seem mysterious and alluring, but I look at them and I just imagine their great-great-great-great grandmothers being set upon on piles of oats by crowds of grunting Batzayas.

Anyway, the Mongolians are fantastic people. Drunken, but very charming. They have an advantage, which is it's so far away from everything else no one wants to travel the distance you have to go to get there. And there are no resources there that anybody really wants. There isn't too much interference by the outside world.

Yeah, the paradox is that being a country with lots of natural resources sucks. You get invaded every six minutes.

I remember there was great dread in Mongolia when it was thought that oil had been discovered there.

What do you eat in Mongolia?

Flour and meat, basically. I think the high point of my masculine existence was one night when I was sick and my girlfriend there cooked me an antelope steak. She was like, "Here you are, honey." I thought: it doesn't get any better than this.

She was Mongolian?

No, she was ethnically Indonesian. She worked in a Canadian aid program, teaching. Half the people in Ulan Bator were working for some kind of international organization like US-AID.

Do you have a list of the weirdest foods you've consumed while traveling?

Definitely. I've eaten horse penis.

I was in Kazakhstan. I honestly do not remember what the circumstances were. I was at dinner at somebody's house, in a situation where it would have been rude to say no.

Was it presented as a delicacy? You were the guest so you got the horse penis?

I was made to understand it was considered a really good food.

What did it taste like?

...please say, "Like chicken penis."

I don't think it had a distinctive flavor. But then there's kmuiss, both in Mongolia and Russia. It's mare's milk. It has a really foul smell, but you get used to it. It's also almost as alcoholic as beer.

I've also had dog soup, in Uzbekistan. I lived there for a while in my early twenties. Stalin moved a lot of Koreans there after World War II, so there's a huge Korean population in Taskent. I had a lot of Korean friends, and one night they made soup with dog meat.

I've always wondered about that. Which are the delicious dogs, and which are the dogs you should steer clear of?

I don't know. I'm sure I was eating low-grade dog. But I do know there are natural steroids in dog meat. So if you eat dog you'll bulk up like you're taking steroids.

So it's possible Mark McGwire has never taken steroids, but just eats a lot of dog.

I think Korean athletes actually have been bounced from the Olympics for that.

So after Mongolia you went back to Russia. How did you start the Exile? Were you ever scared of having people blow up the office? Were you scared of your advertisers being threatened?

Originally I was supposed to do this paper called Living Here, which was a competitor to the Exile. Basically I showed up in Moscow and found out it was a mess and bolted to the Exile instead. Ames was there already, he was there from day one.

I wouldn't say it was enormously scary. There was a situation once where I was working in a partnership with this Russian paper called Stringer. And the Stringer editor and I arranged to wiretap the phone of the Kremlin Chief of Staff. We bought off this ex-KGB operative to do that. And then we published transcripts of his telephone calls. That was a pretty dangerous thing to do. I was pretty nervous about that. I was actually out of the country when we first ran that. When I flew back into the country, I was detained on the way in, and I didn't know what for, and nearly shit my pants. It turned out the lamination on my passport was messed up.

There were some tight moments, though. The thing about Russia is you really never know. You never know when you're safe, and you never know when you're in danger either. Anything can happen.

Early on I had this situation with this pimp named Michael Bass, who made a fairly serious threat to my life. So I had to split town and negotiate safe passage back with some other gangsters.

My life has never been threatened. How is a death threat carried out?

In Russia they have this thing called a krysha, which means "roof." It's your mafia protection. I published this thing on this pimp, and he called me up on the phone and he said, "Matt, I don't know what to do. My roof wants to have you wacked, but I don't feel good about that. You know what I'm saying?" He didn't say "I'm going to kill you." He just let me know there was this discussion going on. And he's not sure how he's going to come down on the issue.

I went to the FBI after that happened, because this guy happened to be an American citizen. And I complained to them, saying that these guys were threatening me. Their advice was, "Observe normal safety precautions." I was like, thanks a lot! I remember the FBI guy like it was yesterday. I was telling him this story in the basement of the embassy, and he wasn't listening to me because he was enjoying a cold Diet Coke so much. It was like he'd never had a Diet Coke before.

What made you decide it was serious enough you wanted to leave town?

This guy Bass was in a lot of trouble generally. He was constantly borrowing money from people and getting in scrapes. He was always on the verge of getting killed himself—he was actually kidnapped a couple of times. He was a real doubledealing swindler-scumbag. And when he was in trouble he would often get so desperate... not having much experience with this sort of thing, I thought maybe that if he needed to prove himself to some other underworld figure, I could easily see how someone like me could become expendable.

So I left town and ended up talking to the people who were the real gangsters in the situation, and worked it out.

What was the case that you made to them?

To be honest, I don't even remember. It was something along the lines of, Michael's making threats and invoking your name. Again, that was a dangerous thing for Michael to be doing if that wasn't true. But they pretty much let me know that they didn't have any problem with me. Within a year I was having dinner with Bass. Hilariously, he stuck me with the bill.

Violence often has a self-limiting aspect to it. Your smarter gangster will only resort to violence when absolutely necessary. It's the real morons for whom violence is a first resort. For instance: the Bush administration.

Yes, well, that is why America is a doomed empire. You can see it so clearly in the Putin-Bush relationship. On the one side you have Putin, a self-made criminal genius, a guy who's had to learn to see every angle before they even happen in order to keep from getting shot on his way to the top. On the other side you have Bush, a total zero who fucked up everything he ever tried and ended up in the White House anyway. These other foreign leaders in the third world, the Putins and Musharrafs and the like, they're playing every hand with their own money. They understand the immediate physical consequences of failure. It has been a long time -- not since World War II, anyway -- since America has needed to be smart enough to protect itself from real harm. It has forgotten how to save its bullets for the real fights. And so it stumbles into this place and that, shooting out windows and randomly wrecking shit like teenagers playing mailbox baseball. Sooner or later that is going to come back and really bite us.

Don't Owe! Won't Pay!

So China loans the US government money, which it gives to Iraqi contractors, which they give partially to insurgent groups, which they use to attack Americans:

Iraq's deadly insurgent groups have financed their war against U.S. troops in part with hundreds of thousands of dollars in U.S. rebuilding funds that they've extorted from Iraqi contractors in Anbar province.

The payments, in return for the insurgents' allowing supplies to move and construction work to begin, have taken place since the earliest projects in 2003, Iraqi contractors, politicians and interpreters involved with reconstruction efforts said.

So in the end, American taxpayers end up with everything: the death, the crippling injuries, and the foreign debt!

All we need is for the Bush administration to borrow still more money to put down internal US rebellions, and Americans will truly come to understand the exciting third world experience of odious debt.

SEE ALSO: Matt Taibbi on "The Great Iraqi Swindle"

Don't owe! Won't pay!

(McClatchy story via)

Always And Everywhere


The owner of a fast food joint in Montana's booming oil patch found himself outsourcing the drive-thru window to a Texas telemarketing firm, not because it's cheaper but because he can't find workers.

Record low unemployment across parts of the West has created tough working conditions for business owners, who in places are being forced to boost wages or be creative to fill their jobs.

John Francis, who owns the McDonald's in Sidney, Mont., said he tried advertising in the local newspaper and even offered up to $10 an hour to compete with higher-paying oil field jobs. Yet the only calls were from other business owners upset they would have to raise wages, too.

Wait...hasn't some economic philosopher written about this phenomenon? I think it was Karl Marx:

We rarely hear, it has been said, of the combinations of masters, though frequently of those of workmen. But whoever imagines, upon this account, that masters rarely combine, is as ignorant of the world as of the subject. Masters are always and everywhere in a sort of tacit, but constant and uniform, combination, not to raise the wages of labor above their actual rate. To violate this combination is everywhere a most unpopular action, and a sort of reproach to a master among his neighbors and equals.


August 26, 2007


With no warning, Max Sawicky is closing down his blork. Apparently he has a new job that makes it no longer tenable.

This distresses me. It was the high quality blugging there that was the main inspiration for this bligg. In any case, it sounds like you have one last week to go visit and say your goodbyes.

I Apply This Branding Iron To Your Brain Because I Love You

Let's say you were IDF Chief of Staff from 2002 to 2005, a period when Israel killed thousands of Palestinians. And let's say you'd stated it was critical to "sear deep into the consciousness of Palestinians that they are a defeated people."

What would this make American news outlets—for instance, the Los Angeles Times op-ed page—believe about your motivation? If you're Moshe Ya'alon, it would apparently make the LA Times believe you're motivated by love and concern for Palestinians, and that they should give you space to express this:

Under no circumstances should emissaries attempt to open a dialogue with Hamas. For the sake of Palestinian society, Hamas and its ideology must be defeated.

I say, thank god Moshe cares so much about Palestinian society. Imagine what he'd do if he DIDN'T.


August 25, 2007

Like Feckless and Cruel Father, Like Feckless and Cruel Son

I just saw a recent interview with Thomas Pickering, US Ambassador to the UN from 1989-92, in which he says this:

PICKERING: We had wonderfully prepared combat activities, and we had no absolutely idea about what to do in a post-combat phase.

Q: You mean there was no policy.

PICKERING: No policy, no real settled interests. No examination of what we should do, no examination of how we should deal with the future...

Q: Deploying hundreds of thousands of troops without any idea of what you're going to do?

PICKERING: Yep, yep. Fairly convincingly so.

The funny thing is, he's actually talking about the aftermath of the Gulf War, when George H.W. Bush called for an Iraqi uprising against Saddam and then stood by and let them all get slaughtered. Apparently planning for the future is not a real strength of the Bush family's.

Below is the Pickering interview, which I've snipped from the excellent documentary Saddam Hussein: The Trial You Will Never See. You can see it in its entirety on youtube here.

August 23, 2007

Bryson, Fields, & Anderson

From Dirk Voetberg & co., this is quite genuinely funny. Be sure to vote for it after watching:

Bryson, Fields, & Anderson

August 22, 2007

Advancing The Debate On My Faith In Saddam Hussein

Last week Michael Cohen, former speechwriter to the US Ambassador to the UN during the Clinton administration, wrote unhappily about progressive bloggers engaging in name-calling toward people like himself:

[I]nstead of demonizing those we disagree with, we should debate them on the merits...Why [Atrios] feels the need to wrap his criticism in childish and tasteless attacks is beyond me. If you don't agree with me or any other blogger, explain why. Calling me stupid might make you feel good, but it does nothing to advance the debate.

This led to a lengthy back and forth between Cohen and me, in particular regarding the Clinton administration's policies toward Iraq during the late nineties. Sadly, it consisted of exactly what you'd expect: childish, tasteless name-calling on my part, while Cohen patiently attempted to debate me on the merits.

If you want to read it all, it's here, here, and here. But all you really need to know about it can be found in this exchange:

1. Cohen wrote: "Saddam never acknowledged that he didn’t publicly have WMD."

2. Childishly and tastelessly, I pointed out that (a) the Iraqi government passed a law banning WMD in February, 2003; (b) Saddam Hussein stated Iraq no longer had WMD in a February 26, 2003 interview with Dan Rather; and (c) Saddam then said the same thing in Arabic on Iraqi national television.

3. In comments, Cohen understandably responded: "Why you put so much faith in the words and deeds of Saddam Hussein is beyond me."

Thus in the end, we find ourselves where we began, with the same unanswered questions. Why do bloggers like myself persist in our childish name-calling toward serious, sober foreign policy professionals? And why do we refuse to advance the debate on our faith in Saddam Hussein?

AND: Remember this problem predates blogs—serious foreign policy professionals have long had to deal with this unseemly behavior by the public. For instance, here's Madeleine Albright at a "national town hall meeting" on Iraq at Ohio State on February 18, 1998. As you see, she attempted to advance the debate, only to be met with childish, tasteless name-calling:

QUESTIONER: What do you have to say about dictators of countries like Indonesia, who we sell weapons to, yet they are slaughtering people in East Timor? What do you have to say about Israel, who are slaughtering Palestinians, who imposed martial law? What do you have to say about that? Those are our allies. Why do we sell weapons to these countries? Why do we support them? Why do we bomb Iraq when it commits similar problems?

ALBRIGHT: I really am surprised that people feel that it is necessary to defend the rights of Saddam Hussein.

ALSO: Thanks to SteveB for pointing out how Cohen, when confronted elsewhere with childish name-calling, wrote this in another patient attempt to advance the debate:

[Y]ou have as much right to hate America as I do to love it

Nir Rosen: "Iraq Does Not Exist Anymore"

If you haven't already read Democracy Now's interview with Nir Rosen, perhaps the best American journalist covering Iraq, you should read it now.

It's all interesting, and all hideous. Did you know Sweden's taken in 40-50,000 Iraqi refugees? And America's only allowed in 700? To be fair, of course, America is just 1% of the size of Sweden.

American Voters, Please Don't Throw Me In The Briar Patch

Is this an old story? Somehow I missed it before it showed up in the LA Times a few days ago:

In the run-up to the 2004 Democratic National Convention, when it was not yet clear who Bush's opponent would be that November, Rove and his aides had begun to fear that their most dangerous foe would be then-Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina...

But instead of attacking Edwards, Rove's team opened fire at Kerry.

Their thinking went like this, [Rove lieutenant Matthew] Dowd explained [after the election]: Democrats, in a knee-jerk reaction to GOP attacks, would rally around Kerry, whom Rove considered a comparatively weak opponent, and make him the party's nominee. Thus Bush would be spared from confronting Edwards, the candidate Republican strategists actually feared most...

"Whomever we attacked was going to be emboldened in Democratic primary voters' minds...So we started attacking John Kerry a lot in the end of January because we were very worried about John Edwards," Dowd said. "And we knew that if we focused on John Kerry, Democratic primary voters would sort of coalesce" around Kerry.

"It wasn't like we could tag [eliminate] somebody. Whomever we attacked was going to be helped," he said.

I assume many people read that and immediately thought of this:

[T]he president says he was helped by bin Laden, who put out a videotaped diatribe against Bush the Friday before the 2004 election.

Bush said there were “enormous amounts of discussion” inside his campaign about the 15-minute tape, which he called “an interesting entry by our enemy” into the presidential race....

“I thought it was going to help,” he decided. “I thought it would help remind people that if bin Laden doesn’t want Bush to be the president, something must be right with Bush.”

August 21, 2007

A Look Back At Colin Powell, The Most Trusted Man In Lies

Here's a speech Powell gave at Davos in Switzerland on January 26, 2003, one week before his presentation at the UN:

I am especially pleased that the theme of this year's gathering is "Building Trust," because trust is a crucial commodity, not only in this but in all eras.

I've been here for just over a day, long enough to speak and meet with a number of you; long enough to hear directly and from others much of what has been said about the United States over the last two or three days; about whether America can be trusted to use its enormous political, economic and, above all, military power wisely and fairly.

I believe -- no, I know, with all of my heart, that the United States can. I believe no less strongly that the United States has earned the trust of men, women and children around the world.

For an examination of the difference between Powell's UN presentation and what he was told by his intelligence staff, see here.

Michael Cohen Responds Further

Below are further thoughts from Michael Cohen, following on this (from me) and this (from him). He sent it to me after posting it as a comment at L'Homme de Poor.

As an exciting bonus, I've responded myself at the end. It's worth reading if you're interested in this subject, but I would encourage you not to be. Look what happened to me.

• • •

From Michael Cohen:

It pains me to have to enter this debate again, but after reading the back and forth here (and as the man ultimately responsible for this entire debate) I feel the need to weigh in one last time.

Let me, as quickly as possible, try to clarify a few points. First and foremost, we must remember one salient fact about Iraq 's WMD programs after 1991 - the country had an affirmative responsibility to reveal to the UN the extent and history of their WMD programs. This is a crucial point. Iraq had to not only destroy what they had, but they were required to come clean about the programs they had developed in the past.

Again, this was an affirmative responsibility - well it was more than a responsibility, it was international law as signed through UN resolutions. Saddam HAD to comply and just to make sure he did, the Security Council authorized the use of force to ensure their enforcement.

And why did he have to comply – because he had invaded a sovereign nation, was defeated and was then forced to comply with said resolutions in order to achieve a cessation of hostilities. These are not minor points and it’s important to remember them. This entire crisis, from 1990 to the present day was indeed set in motion by Iraq ’s invasion of Kuwait in the Summer of 1990.

Now back to 1998. People can talk all they want about Saddam's motivation for not complying with inspectors. But it's largely irrelevant to the underlying issue. His responsibility was clear and as UN report after UN report makes clear, he evaded that responsibility.

Now, in my post I argued that UNSCOM reports, "make clear that the United Nations believed Iraq was not being honest about its WMD programs."

I can't even imagine why this is under debate. Read the reports. They lay out in great detail what UNSCOM believed. Jonathon Schwartz doesn't agree and uses a quote from Scott Ritter, another from a Canadian inspector and another from Rolf Ekeus, two years after the period in question. Astoundingly, he uses these quotes to attack my argument and in turn calls me misleading. This is breathtaking and I'm a little stunned that the folks at this site let him get away with it.

Let's be clear the basis for my argument is an OFFICIAL UN report. It has the imprimateur of the United Nations. Scott Ritter can say whatever he wants, but these reports make clear the OFFICIAL position of the United Nations regarding Saddam's WMD programs. To say that my evidence is a bit stronger than Jonathon’s is quite the understatement.

I agree with the folks here that the debate between kicked out and withdrawn is a distinction without a difference. But facts are facts and the reality is that Saddam prevented the inspectors from doing their job. Amazingly, this is point confirmed by none other than Mr. Schwartz who in his initial response to me concedes that Saddam was "blocking the inspections."

That is the crux of the issue. In the summer/fall of 1998 Saddam stopped complying with UN inspectors. I don’t think anyone disagrees with this point. Still don’t believe me, here’s the NYT from November 1998:

"In its most serious challenge to the United Nations in more than a year of intermittent crises, Iraq said today that it was ending all cooperation with international arms inspectors and would close their long-term monitoring operations immediately.

The action, announced in Baghdad after a meeting of President Saddam Hussein and his top advisers, goes beyond even the Iraqi ban on spot inspections imposed since August and in effect bars almost all surveillance of Iraq 's weapons programs."

It was from that act by Saddam that the crisis with the UN ensued and inspectors were eventually forced to leave. Now we can argue over why Saddam stopped complying. Jonathon’s notion that Saddam did so out of concern for his safety is, I believe, patently absurd. Was he concerned for his safety when he made every effort to prevent inspectors from doing their job in the previous seven years? Let us also remember that in 1998 Saddam didn’t plead that his life was at risk if he complied with UN inspections – he complained that inspections of his presidential palaces was an affront to Iraqi sovereignty. Since inspectors were allowed, under UN resolutions, to go wherever they wanted, whenever they wanted this was an absurd claim.

But really the motivation is meaningless. Saddam refused to comply. Under the resolutions he signed, he had no right to do so. He could have gone back to the Security Council, presented evidence that UNSCOM was infiltrated by US spies or claimed that his safety was at risk. I believe he did neither. Instead he stopped complying with inspectors, in effect forcing their withdrawal.

The entire crisis of 1998 was precipitated by Saddam’s actions.

For me to argue that Saddam prevented UN inspectors from doing their job is not misleading – it’s a fact.

Finally, the notion that the United Nations agreed “there was a “defensible case” for war in Iraq ” is dismissed as misleading – it is anything but.

Before I get into this point, let’s do a little but of history. In the Fall of 2002, the US went to the Security Council and demanded that Iraq comply with the UN resolutions they had been ignoring for the previous four years (I mistakenly wrote five in my initial post). The Security Council responded by passing Resolution 1441, which warned of “serious consequences” for Iraq if they failed to comply with the resolutions they had already signed.

Now some will argue that Security Council resolutions are rarely enforced, citing resolutions related to Israel as an example. Please find me a resolution that warns Israel of “serious consequences” if it fails to comply. Moreover, many of the harshest resolutions related to Israel are General Assembly resolutions, not Security Council resolutions.

However, whatever the case of earlier resolutions, “serious consequences” in the lexicon of UN verbiage is pretty tough language. In fact, it’s tougher than the language put forth in the cease fire resolution of 1991, which states rather tepidly that the Security Council, “Decides to remain seized of the matter and to take such further steps as may be required for the implementation of the present resolution and to secure peace and security in the area.” Let us not forget, it was these words, in part, that the US , backed by the UN, used to enforce compliance in the months and years after the end of the Gulf War.

It was not simply the Bush Administration, but there were others who believed that if Saddam had refused to comply, the US would have been under legal right to use military force to ensure compliance. Now, Jonathon cities the words of UN ambassadors from other nations saying that the resolution was not an automatic trigger to force – but those are political statements. From a legal standpoint, I would imagine that the US could have legally claimed that the “serious consequences” referenced in 1441 was enough legal cover to go to war – IF SADDAM REFUSED TO COMPLY.

Here’s the rub: the gambit worked. Saddam let the inspectors back in, which from my perspective invalidates the entire US basis for war. But to say that Security Council did not provide a defensible basis for war – well it’s a matter of conjecture, not “wetter than a drowned fish” and not misleading.

This gets me to the most frustrating element of this debate. I, for one, agree with Jonathon and other who argue that the war in Iraq was wrong. My only point of disagreement is whether there was a justifiable/defensible case for war.

On this point, the facts speak for themselves: Saddam was refusing to comply with UN inspectors, he had a track record of aggressive behavior against his neighbors; he had used WMD twice, once against Iran and once against the Kurds and most important, by the Fall of 2002, nearly everyone agreed – on both sides of the Atlantic and the political aisle – that Saddam had stockpiles of WMD. Here’s another crazy fact: his own generals thought he had them!

Congrats to Jonathon for being a correct skeptic, but the evidence was overwhelming that Saddam had something to hide and he hadn’t come clean. Moreover, as I said earlier, it was not the responsibility of the US and others to prove that Saddam had WMD – it was his responsibility to prove that he didn’t. Only after the UN Security Council voted 15-0 and threatened force did Saddam kind of, sort of come clean – yet even then he never acknowledged that he didn’t publicly have WMD. Why, is a question that only he could have answered. Maybe someday he’ll let Satan know.

In the end, the defensible case for war did not measure up to scrutiny. While the United States may have been justified in threatening war, I don’t believe for a second that war with Iraq made any rational sense. On this point, I think we all agree – and hopefully we can leave it at that.

I appreciate that Michael Cohen took the time to write this. However, as it stands, I think this is pretty much the end of the road for any useful discussion.

That's because of Cohen's focus here on international law. That would be fine, except...the United States has absolutely no interest in international law, beyond its usefulness in legitimizing what we want to do anyway. If the UN does what we tell it to, great. If they don't, but we can try to claim they did (as with Cohen's no-fly zone and 1441 examples), that's fine too. But if not, we're certainly not going to let something as preposterous as words on paper stop us.

That's not surprising, given our power and the fact our government is made up of human beings. But it is what it is. I'd guess Cohen is well aware of this, but perhaps he's not. I remember having an exchange on Iraq with Lee Feinstein sometime in 2002-3. He was making exactly the appeal to international law that Cohen is, how it must be obeyed at all times in every way to the exact letter and it's the only thing that ever matters, etc. I sent him a long list of gigantic violations of international law by the US and our allies and asked if he felt the same concern in those cases. He said something like: "Huh. I never thought of it that way." (Feinstein apparently just joined Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign as her director for foreign policy and national security.)

Now, if Cohen will acknowledge this—that the US consistently, including when Cohen was at the UN, uses international law to wipe its international ass*—and thus our actions re Iraq obviously had nothing to do with law and everything to do with power, then we could move forward. Short of that, it's like having a long discussion about Phil Spector's horrible behavior toward women with O.J. Simpson.

Finally, here are a few specific objections—not everything by any means, but just what I had time to get to.

1. Jonathon’s notion that Saddam did so [blocked inspections] out of concern for his safety is, I believe, patently absurd.

(a) It's not my notion. It's the conclusion of the CIA.

Cohen writes as though what happened is some kind of unfathomable mystery. It's the exact opposite. We actually invaded Iraq, took it over, and captured its government documents and top officials. If people want to know what happened, the best evidence we have is in the CIA's report. It will tell you that—particularly after Hussein Kamel's defection—Iraq's actions were motivated by exactly what they claimed they were motivated by at the time. That was predominantly concerns over Saddam's safety, Iraqi national security, and a belief that there was no point to cooperation with UNSCOM because (as the Clinton administration itself said repeatedly) we would never allow sanctions to be lifted whether Iraq was disarmed or not. In addition to what I previously quoted, here's more:

The IIS [Iraqi Intelligence Service], responsible for counterintelligence, was the lead organization charged with monitoring UN inspection activities and personnel...The IIS believed that all foreigners were spying on the security of Saddam Husayn or were seeking military or security information...

As soon as the UNSCOM mission began focusing on presidential sites, the SSO [Special Security Organization] became actively involved in the inspection process...

The SSO was primarily responsible for the security of the President and other key members of the Regime, security of Presidential palaces and facilities, and ensuring the loyalty of key military units, principally the RG and SRG...

[SSO officers] were also to hide any contingency war plans, anything dealing with Saddam’s family, SSO personnel rosters, or financial data which could have posed a risk to Iraq national security...The SSO officer on-site had authority to use whatever means was necessary to keep the team from entering the site before it was fully sanitized...

Saddam, Tariq ‘Aziz, and other senior Regime officials realized by August 1998 that Iraq would not be able to satisfy UNSCOM and the UN Security Council and have sanctions lifted.This led Saddam to suspend cooperation with UNSCOM...

Etc., etc., etc.

(b) Even if we knew nothing at all about the underlying reality, I'd find it weird for Cohen to characterize as "patently absurd" the idea that Saddam Hussein was motivated by his personal safety. Paranoid dictators as a class often are. Beyond that, two seconds after the UN resolutions on WMD were passed in 1991, the George H.W. Bush administration said it wanted to see Saddam overthrown whether Iraq disarmed or not. The Clinton administration repeatedly said it wanted Saddam overthrown. In 1998 Congress passed a law saying the policy of the US regarding Iraq was regime change. If Iran declared its policy toward the US was regime change, would Cohen find it absurd if the U.S. Secret Service sometimes blocked Iranian spies from wandering around the White House?

(c) Cohen also found it patently absurd to think Iraq didn't have any banned weapons. I think he might usefully consider whether he could learn something from that about his judgment on Iraq generally.

2. Let us also remember that in 1998 Saddam didn’t plead that his life was at risk if he complied with UN inspections

Here are some examples of what Iraqi officials said about the conflict between Iraq and UNSCOM. Note that Michael Cohen was chief speechwriter to Bill Richardson when Richardson was US Ambassador to the UN from 1997-98.

Lehrer Newshour
January 14, 1998

JIM LEHRER: The U.N. Security Council resolution passed today unanimously says Iraq's behavior is unacceptable. What's your reaction to that, sir?

NIZAR HAMDOON [Iraqi ambassador to the UN]: ...We are not saying that Iraq should dictate the composition of the team, but in the same time we cannot accept this unprecedented composition of this particular team, which has never happened before, to see a team that is heavily dominated by the Americans and the Brits.

JIM LEHRER: What's the problem with that?

NIZAR HAMDOON: Well, given the--policy of the United States, of the United Kingdom, Iraq thinks that such teams are only going to create more suspicions, going to create tensions, and problems...we all know about the plans the U.S. Government has for Iraq to overthrow the regime...For that reason we cannot accept.


November 11, 1997

The United States pressed other powers Monday to slap a travel ban on Iraq as Baghdad dug in its heels, refusing to allow US experts to take part in enforcing UN sanctions...

In talks earlier, Aziz reiterated Baghdad's position that the UN special commission on disarmament was dominated by Americans carrying out a plot by Washington to overthrow Saddam.

November 10, 1997

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan on Sunday debriefed three envoys returning from a fruitless mission to Baghdad, and described the 10-day UN-Iraq crisis as "serious"...

But Saddam also signalled he was still open to compromise, and explained the actions against the US inspectors were "defensive." Iraq accuses them of spying for the US administration in hopes of ensuring Saddam's overthrow.


November 7, 1997

TARIQ AZIZ, IRAQI DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: This is not U.N. conduct. This is a confusion between United Nations objectives and the United States objectives against Iraq, and UNSCOM is being used as a means and a cover.

CNN: The Iraqis accuse American inspectors of behaving in a provocative way, spying on presidential security units and seeking to weaken and topple President Saddam Hussein.

Here's a little more on Iraq's stated concerns regarding UNSCOM. The other guest on Larry King Live that night was Cohen's boss Bill Richardson.

November 13, 1997
Larry King Live

AZIZ: Well, in the present circumstances, as you know very well, the American administration is planning a military attack on Iraq...When another country is planning a military attack on you and sends a spy plane, a spying plane under the cover of the United Nations, what does that mean? They want to update their information about our air defenses, about our military units, about our sensitive sites...and then use this updated information to have a precise -- precise targets.

Here's an US Air Force history of Desert Fox:

In response to Saddam’s intransigent behavior President Bill Clinton declared on December 16 that Hussein had “abused his last chance” and that he had directed US forces to strike military and regime security targets in Iraq...the President only hinted at a broader political goal, one beyond the immediate aims of crippling Iraq’s WMD programs. The best way to eliminate the threat Saddam posed to the security of the Middle East and the world, the President claimed, was “with a new Iraqi government"...

President Clinton’s reference to a “new Iraqi government” could certainly be seen as an implied objective of DESERT FOX...

[F]rom the large list of WMD-related targets, US and British aircraft would eventually strike only eleven during DESERT FOX and these were nearly all missile-related...

The final DESERT FOX target list contained roughly 100 sites or facilities, including the eleven noted above...American and British planners benefited from the wealth of information on Iraq’s WMD and security apparatus gathered over several years by UNSCOM.

3. Only after the UN Security Council voted 15-0 and threatened force did Saddam kind of, sort of come clean – yet even then he never acknowledged that he didn’t publicly have WMD.

Iraq's National Assembly passed a law banning WMD in early February, 2003.

Saddam Hussein said this in an interview with Dan Rather broadcast on February 26, 2003:

SADDAM: I think America and the world also knows that Iraq no longer has the weapons. And I believe the mobilization that's been done was, in fact, done partly to cover the huge lie that was being waged against Iraq about chemical, biological and nuclear weapons...

RATHER: Will the new proposed United Nations resolution, the one that's just out this week--will this make any difference at all in your position?

SADDAM: The basic position, there is no change. We have not pursued any weapons of mass destruction.

Saddam also delivered a speech in Arabic on Iraqi national TV, described in Hans Blix's book:

Saddam did make a speech on his son's television channel...In it, he noted that Iraq had had weapons of mass destruction in the past, but that it had none now.

• • •

In conclusion: I am very, very tired.

* International ass joke borrowed from here and then modified under fair use conventions.

August 20, 2007

Thank God Our Elites Are Completely Different From Those Of Saddam Hussein's Iraq

Here's a Washington Post story from December 27, 2001:

Bush administration officials opposed to an attack on Iraq have stressed the differences with Afghanistan. "They're two different countries with different regimes, two different military capabilities," Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said recently. "They are so significantly different that you can't take the Afghan model and immediately apply it to Iraq"...

According to a State Department source, Armitage has lined up behind Powell as a skeptic of the Iraqi National Congress plan.

And here's the 2004 WMD report by the CIA:

According to former Vice President Ramadan, when Saddam announced to the RCC in 1990 that he was going to invade Kuwait, only he and Tariq Aziz expressed doubts about the plan, but they felt they could only do so on preparedness grounds. Nevertheless, the invasion resolution passed unanimously and whatever dissent Ramadan and Tariq Aziz registered was insufficiently robust to have stayed in the memories of other participants in the meeting.

• Yet Saddam's lieutenants in the RCC and other upper echelons were seen by lower levels of the Regime and the public as powerful and influential.

More Things I Didn't Know

I was strolling through the New York Times op-ed page this morning and tripped across this by Anthony Cordesman:

Those pressuring Congress to kill the Bush administration’s proposed $20 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf states need to step back into the real world...

Washington cannot — and should not — try to bring security to the gulf without allies, and Saudi Arabia is the only meaningful military power there that can help deter and contain a steadily more aggressive Iran. (Disclosure: the nonprofit organization I work for receives financing from many sources, including the United States government, Saudi Arabia and Israel. No one from any of those sources has asked me to write this article.)

I knew that the wonderful world of think tank "experts" on our TVs is sometimes directly funded by the US government. But I admit I wasn't sophisticated enough to understand they're also funded directly by foreign governments...though in retrospect that was incredibly naive on my part.

(Cordesman's home, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, gets 16.1% of its operating revenue from various governments. If you dig into the Brookings website, you'll see they get money from the British government, plus—for some reason—Denmark, Norway, and Switzerland.)

Thank goodness, though, that no one literally asked Cordesman to write this. The integrity of the U.S. political system remains intact!

Thank God Our Leaders Are Completely Different From Saddam Hussein

Here's an NPR story from February, 2003:

The Bush administration has been decidedly vague about how much a war with Iraq might cost. When pressed, officials have said less than $50 billion. Last year, White House economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey caused a stir when he put the price tag at between 100 and 200 billion at best. The administration dismissed the figure, and Lindsey was soon fired.

Here's the 2004 WMD report by the CIA:

Advisory groups [Saddam] established generally assumed Saddam already had a preferred position [on issues] and commonly spent time trying to guess what it was and tailor their advice to it. More conscientious members of the Regime sought to work around sycophantic or timid superiors...

The growth of a culture of lying to superiors hurt policymaking...Lack of structural checks and balances allowed false information to affect Iraqi decision making with disastrous effects...

Saddam ignored his economic advisors in the Ministries of Finance and Planning with respect to strategic planning. For example, Saddam entered the Iran-Iraq war heedless of Ministry warnings about the economic consequences. He had no plan or strategy for how the war was to be financed.

August 19, 2007

How To Deal With An Outbreak Of Noonanism

Chris Kelly is beautifully unkind to Peggy Noonan, who really really deserves it, here.

Fight! Fight! Fight!

Over at The Poorman, the Editors have written an interesting long evaluation of my long evaluation of Michael Cohen. Inexcusably, however, the Editors do not agree with me on every detail. I've responded over there with my own long evaluation of his long evaluation of my long evaluation offfffzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

UPDATE: The evaluations continue, here and then here.

August 18, 2007

The Bush Administration Actually Is Trying To Do The Right Thing

A wee piece I did for Mother Jones on the complex and bizarre American system of providing international food aid is now online. It turned out to be a far more interesting subject than I'd anticipated, and I wish I'd had more space to describe how everything works. The weirdest part of all is the Bush administration is actually trying to change U.S. policy for the better.


The Washington Post's reporting on how the Cheney "invading Iraq would be a quagmire" video surfaced is interesting. There was a lot of providence involved.

Today In Human Degradation

From CNN:

The women are too afraid and ashamed to show their faces or have their real names used. They have been driven to sell their bodies to put food on the table for their children -- for as little as $8 a day...

A mother of three, she wears light makeup, a gold pendant of Iraq around her neck, and an unexpected air of elegance about her.

"I don't have money to take my kid to the doctor. I have to do anything that I can to preserve my child, because I am a mother," she says, explaining why she prostitutes herself.

This isn't the human degradation part, though. In fact, anyone who'd see these women as somehow shamed really should be punched in the face. Here's the human degradation part, from Cunning Realist:

Wondering about those on the other side of this situation? Here's something called the "International Sex Guide." It features reports from men who have visited prostitutes in various countries. Yes, there's an "Iraq" section. The most recent post, from today, links to the above report and asks "Can someone give us a trip report? thanks!"

Cunning Realist then cites some past posts about Iraq from this site, which are, horrifyingly enough, exactly what you'd expect.

But even that isn't the deepest human degradation involved here. The deepest human degradation is that the State Department briefings from before the war, using Iraqi women as pawns in our propaganda in the most vile way imaginable, are still online. And so's this:

LAURA BUSH: I want the women of Iraq to know how much American women stand with them.

August 17, 2007


Today's jokes from Mike, now with a Stutts theme:

August 16, 2007

More Jokes

From Mike:

Crappy Little Countries, In Theory And Practice

You probably remember Jonah Goldberg's endorsement of Michael Ledeen's worldview:

I've long been an admirer of, if not a full-fledged subscriber to, what I call the "Ledeen Doctrine"..."Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business."

But you may not be aware of Richard Nixon explanation of how he was going to put this theory into practice. (There are barely any references to it online.) This is from Nixon's oval office tapes, on May 4, 1972:

NIXON: Here's what we're gonna do. We're gonna get through it. We're going to cream them. This is not anger. This is all business. This is not "petulance." That's all bullshit. I should have done it long ago. I just didn't follow my instincts.

South Vietnam may lose. But the United States cannot lose...Whatever happens to South Vietnam, we are going to cream North Vietnam...For once, we've got to use the maximum power of this country...against this shit-ass little country."

ALSO: In the same tape, Nixon refers to Vietnamese as "those little cocksuckers." Manly!

Karl Rove Jokes

Good stuff on Rove from Mike. Sure, I could have posted this back on Monday when Rove resigned and Mike wrote it, but I felt that would be bowing to society's conformist demands.

August 15, 2007

Response From Michael Cohen

Michael Cohen has been nice enough to respond to my post from yesterday. I'll respond in turn soon, probably tomorrow. (I assume this goes without saying, but given that this is blurvosphere: please keep comments polite.)

Jonathan, I appreciate your comments and the opportunity to respond. You have done an excellent job here. No one has seemingly ever spent so much time telling me I was wrong before! However, I must admit I'm not sure I get the point. Why are we are arguing over events that happened 5 years ago when we should be talking about how we end this terrible war and prevent this Administration from launching another ill-fated conflict against Iran? On these points you and I are in complete agreement.

In your posting, you claim that my point about "defensible war" is the "heart of my argument." It is anything but. It is simply a recognition that there was an argument in support of war against Iraq -- one that once again I vehemently disagree with.

I am new to blogging, but what I find most infuriating is that individuals pick up on the most minute points in my posts to dismiss my arguments, as opposed to looking at the big picture of what I am trying to say. We agree on 99% of points about the war - yet a simple statement that there was a defensible case for war (one that we all seemingly agree did not justify war) elicits this type of reaction.

For example, there is a defensible argument for privatizing social security. I wholeheartedly reject it. Simply because I say there is an argument doesn't mean I am endorsing it. I would rather spend my time explaining why I think privatizing social security is wrong than simply calling someone a "sack of shit" and leaving it at that. Maybe it's the policy wonk in me, but that to me is an interesting debate.

Moreover, if those who have been calling me names would go and read my posts or the articles that I have written you would find that we are largely in agreement, particularly about the war in Iraq. Why so many people feel the need to attack someone who largely agrees with them and who feels the same sense of anger about this terrible war is beyond me. I prefer to save my venom for the people I really disagree with. As I have said ad nauseum, I was opposed to the war. While I believe that a justifiable case for war could be made, I did not find it persuasive, nor did I believe that it was worthy of US invasion and occupation. On this point I agree with you and almost all of your commentors. I listened to the arguments of those who endorsed war; I considered them and I rejected them thoroughly. As I said before I take no solace in being proven correct.

The basic point that I made in my post was that Saddam had refused to comply with UN resolutions re: his WMD programs. Under the cease fire agreements he signed after the war, Saddam had an affirmative responsibility to provide information to UN inspectors about his WMD programs. He failed to do this.

We can argue over the semantics of whether he kicked out inspectors or whether they left on their own, but the simple truth is that he actively prevented them from doing their job. Don't believe me, that's fine. I believe these documents lay out in exhaustive detail the extent to which Saddam tried to prevent UN inspectors from doing their

This describes UNSCOM's mandate, here. More here on Iraq's deception is here.

Again, this is not US intelligence. They are UN reports. I think they are rather exhaustive in their detail and I invite everyone who has attacked and maligned me to read them.

I also invite everyone to go the New York Times website and read the coverage from between October and December 1998. It lays out in great detail the obfuscation of Saddam and his regime. Some will argue Saddam didn't have WMD. They're right. But why didn't he come clean about that fact before 2002? Why did he continue to mislead the UN? I don't know the answer. As the reports I submitted above demonstrate the UN was unable to fully account for Saddam's WMD programs (not nuclear, which was largely accounted for, which makes the Bush Admin's mushroom cloud analogy that much more misleading).

Jonathon has his perspective on why Saddam refused to comply and that's fine. I think he is giving Saddam too much of the benefit of the doubt. But that's his perogative. I'm not going to get into a back and forth about Saddam's motivation. Suffice to say, from my perspective, he is not a man in whom I placed a great deal of trust. Whatever we think about the war, we can all agree that Saddam was a very bad man and not someone in whom anyone should have placed a great deal of trust.

Many of you may find it surprising that from my perspective the strongest case for war was the humanitarian argument. By enforcing sanctions we were basically allowing Saddam to kill his own people. Of course, not having sanctions would have allowed Saddam to act with impunity and possibly rebuild his military, his WMD program and threaten other countries in the region. It was a terrible choice and when I worked at State in 1998 I began to think that maybe getting rid of Saddam and freeing the Iraqi people from his rule was the only proper thing for the US to do. Of course, that was not the rationale for the war - the rationale of the Bush Administration was built on lies and fear-mongering.

This last few grafs aside, I have tried to avoid a point-by-point discussion of these issues. Jonathon and I have different interpretations of the facts. I dont imagine that anything I say will change his mind. While I find his arguments persuasive, they don't change my mind about the very basic point that I was making. But again, I appreciate his effort. Moreover, I have to hand a book into my publisher in a month and I really need to be spending some time on that! I am quite sure that this missive will engender even more criticisms of me and attacks on my personal character. If people feel the need to attack me that's fine. It's certainly their right. I would only hope that before attacking me you would take a moment to look at the totality of my argument; read my blog postings at Democracy Arsenal and recognize that I am indeed on your side in this debate.

Thanks for the opportunity to respond!

What Every American Needs To Know About Jihad

Rick Perlstein reports that he just got this email from David Horowitz:

One strong measurement of the effect we're having (and the need for what we do) came in the form of request from the head the FBI-California Highway Patrol Joint Counter-terrorism Task Force who called this week to ask if their group could use our flash video "What Every American Needs to Know About Jihad" as a training film.

I hope you'll take the time to watch this important video, here. It's a great piece of work, although I'm concerned it may be a bit too intellectually and aesthetically sophisticated for the target audience.

August 14, 2007

Understanding And Misunderstanding Iraq

UPDATE: Michael Cohen has responded to this here.

Yesterday Atrios got into a blog dust-up with Michael Cohen, who posts at Democracy Arsenal. (Democracy Arsenal is a Democratic foreign policy group blog founded by Suzanne Nossel, who worked for Richard Holbrooke when he was US Ambassador to the UN. Michael Cohen was chief speechwriter for Chris Dodd as well as Bill Richardson when he was US Ambassador to the UN.)

The basic point of contention (see Atrios, Cohen, and Atrios again) is Cohen's view that "Like it or not, there was a defensible case for war in Iraq." Thus, Cohen feels that even though he personally opposed the war, liberal hawk war supporters like his friend Will Marshall shouldn't be mocked. And Atrios doing so is "exactly what is wrong with some elements of the anti-war left -- an inability and unwillingness to even consider the arguments of their opponents." Cohen went on to ask bloggers to refrain from name-calling and instead "advance the debate."

So, I'm going to take Cohen at his word and attempt to do that here. I'll focus on this statement by Cohen, which is the heart of his argument:

I'm not really interested in re-debating the rationale for the war in Iraq, although I will make a few important points, which have seemingly been forgotten:

• Saddam kicked out UN inspectors in 1997 and prevented them from doing their job for more than 5 years.
• It wasn't just the US that believed Saddam had WMD. Read the UNSCOM reports, they make clear that the United Nations believed Iraq was not being honest about its WMD programs.
• The UN Security Council voted 15-0 in 2002 that Iraq was in "material breach" of UN resolutions regarding their WMD program. Moreover, the Council warned of "serious consequences" for continued Iraqi recalcitrance. (Read the UN resolution here).

So the UN Security Council did in fact determine that there was a "defensible case" for war in Iraq -- it wasn't just Will Marshall.

Each of these statements is either factually inaccurate or technically correct but highly misleading. However, I emphasize I'm not claiming Cohen is lying or arguing in bad faith; I'm simply pointing out he's mistaken. Here are the details:

Saddam kicked out UN inspectors in 1997


In fact, the UN inspectors were withdrawn at the request of the US on December 16, 1998 (not 1997) after a report by UNSCOM stating that it still "did not enjoy full cooperation from Iraq." The request was made so inspectors would not be endangered by Operation Desert Fox (named, weirdly enough, after Nazi general Erwin Rommel), a four day US/UK bombing campaign conducted December 16-19. The authoritative sources for this are the official UNSCOM chronology (see the December 16, 1998 entry), and The Greatest Threat by Richard Butler, then head of UNSCOM (Butler recounts his conversation with America's acting UN Secretary Peter Burleigh on p. 210).

It was only after Desert Fox—which was undertaken with no UN authorization, and harshly criticized by France, Russia and China—that Iraq announced that it would not permit inspectors to return.

[Saddam] prevented them from doing their job for more than 5 years

Highly misleading.

First of all, it was known before the current war that UNSCOM accomplished a great deal, despite the very real obstructionism of Iraq. (For details of extensive Iraqi non-compliance with inspections, see the UNSCOM chronology.) Rolf Ekeus, Butler's predecessor as head of UNSCOM from 1991-97, said in 2000 that "we felt that in all areas we have eliminated Iraq's capabilities fundamentally." More recently, Ekeus has stated he "was getting close to certifying that Iraq was in compliance with Resolution 687 [the original UN resolution requiring Iraqi disarmament]."

Secondly, and even more importantly, Iraq provided an explanation for its frequent non-compliance: it claimed the US and UK had infiltrated UNSCOM with spies who were attempting to overthrow the regime. For instance, this was the rationale given for Iraq's October, 1997 demand that UNSCOM no longer include American personnel.

There are three critical points to be made about this:

(a) While the US called Iraq's accusations "unfathomable," Iraq was, in fact, correct. The Washington Post's Barton Gellman reported extensively on the subject in March, 1999. (Gellman quotes Butler as telling a friend, "If all this stuff turns out to be true, then Rolf Ekeus and I have been played for suckers, haven't we?") Scott Ritter discusses details of US attempts to use UNSCOM for the purposes of a coup in chapter 13 of his book Iraq Confidential.

(b) We now know Iraq was telling the truth about its motivations for blocking inspections. For instance, one of the main instances of Iraqi non-compliance mentioned in the December 16, 1998 UNSCOM report was Iraq's refusal to allow UNSCOM to inspect a Baath party headquarters. Indeed, Bill Clinton specifically mentioned the headquarters incident in his address to the nation on Desert Fox. Here is the Iraqi perspective, as reported in the CIA's postwar WMD report:

Iraq engaged in denial and deception activities to safeguard national security and Saddam's position in the Regime...Saddam was convinced that the UN inspectors could pinpoint his exact location, allowing US warplanes to bomb him, according to a former high-level Iraqi Government official. As a result, in late 1998 when inspectors visited a Baath Party Headquarters, Saddam issued orders not to give them access. Saddam did this to prevent the inspectors from knowing his whereabouts, not because he had something to hide...

(c) The US infiltration of UNSCOM, which of course was well known to the US government, was never mentioned by the Bush administration in the lead up to war. Instead, Iraqi obstructionism in the nineties was presented as completely illogical unless Iraq were hiding WMD. Moreover, it's still being presented that way. Here's Michael O'Hanlon in his recent interview with Glenn Greenwald:

[T]he circumstantial case that Saddam, who was one of the great users of chemical weapons in history as you know, would have voluntarily given these things up, when he refused to let inspectors verify the fact and therefore deprived himself and his country of tens of billions of dollars in oil revenue. It was just a very hard concept to believe.

In fact, anyone familiar with the circumstances should not have found it "a very hard concept to believe." I found the idea that Saddam Hussein wouldn't want US spies trying to kill him wandering around his palaces a very easy concept to believe—which is one of the reasons I was willing to bet someone $1000 that Iraq had nothing.

It wasn't just the US that believed Saddam had WMD. Read the UNSCOM reports, they make clear that the United Nations believed Iraq was not being honest about its WMD programs.

Highly misleading.

Obviously the US officially "believed" that Saddam had WMD (although there's never been an honest investigation into the pressure exerted on US analysts). It's also the case that UNSCOM, officially speaking, believed that Iraq had never come completely clean about its WMD programs.

But the UN believing Iraq hadn't come completely clean and the UN believing Iraq actually had WMD are two different things. An extremely important point to understand about UNSCOM and Iraq is that UNSCOM never discovered evidence of continuing Iraqi WMD programs after the Gulf War in 1991. What the UN wasn't able to verify was that they had uncovered every last detail of what Iraq had done before 1991. Once again, here's how Rolf Ekeus put it in 2000: "[W]e felt that in all areas we have eliminated Iraq's capabilities fundamentally. There are some question marks left."

Scott Ritter's perspective is well known, of course. And here's the view of Ron Cleminson, a Canadian member of UNSCOM:

"I used to say: 'You know, we basically know amongst ourselves there are no weapons and we're unlikely to find any'...My take on it is that this information was known, and in spades. But this stuff was being pushed on a political level. They [in Washington] were just absolutely ignoring what was obvious. My guess is that with full American cooperation and without all this politics, [UNSCOM's mission] could have been wrapped up in three to four years."

This by no means is to say that everyone at the UN believed Iraq had disarmed. Richard Butler, Ekeus' successor, clearly did believe Iraq was hiding something substantial. And Hans Blix, Butler's successor, has written that his initial "gut feeling" was Iraq had something (though Blix also says by early 2003 he and his team "became doubtful.")

In any case, the UN simply cannot be enlisted as part of a claim that everyone agreed with the US.

The UN Security Council voted 15-0 in 2002 that Iraq was in "material breach" of UN resolutions regarding their WMD program. Moreover, the Council warned of "serious consequences" for continued Iraqi recalcitrance. (Read the UN resolution here). So the UN Security Council did in fact determine that there was a "defensible case" for war in Iraq.

Partly inaccurate, partly highly misleading.

It is, of course, true that UN resolution 1441 included language about Iraq being in "material breach" of its obligations and warned of "serious consequences." However, it absolutely does not follow that the Security Council determined there was a "defensible case" for war. In fact, such a claim doesn't make any sense. The Security Council is not in the business of declaring that a "defensible case" for war exists. Rather, it either grants authorization for war, or it does not. If the Security Council had wished to grant authorization for war, it would have used very specific language: that member states were permitted to use "all necessary means" to enforce the relevant resolutions. (For example, see paragraph 2 of UN Security Council Resolution 678, which authorized the Gulf War in 1991.)

And indeed, when 1441 was passed, Security Council members explicitly stated that they had voted for it in the belief it did not provide "automaticity" for the use of force. Instead, the resolution says that the Security Council would "remain seized of the matter"—i.e., the Security Council, and no one else, remained in charge of what happened next. Here's John Negroponte, then US Ambassador to the UN:

The resolution “hidden triggers” and no “automaticity” with the use of force.

Jeremy Greenstock, UK Ambassador to the UN:

...there was no “automaticity” in the resolution. If there was a further Iraqi breach of its disarmament obligations, the matter would return to the Council for discussion.


If the inspection authorities reported to the Council Iraq had not complied with its obligations, the Council would meet immediately and decide on a course of action. France welcomed the lack of “automaticity” in the final resolution.


Those who had advocated the automatic recourse to the use of force had agreed to afford Iraq a final chance...The resolution had eliminated “automaticity” in the use of force as a result of material breach. He welcomed the acceptance of the two-stage approach.

Joint statement by France, China and Russia:

Resolution 1441 (2002) adopted today by the Security Council excludes any automaticity in the use of force. In this regard, we register with satisfaction the declarations of the representatives of the United States and the United Kingdom confirming this understanding in their explanations of vote...

In case of failure by Iraq to comply with its obligations...It will be then for the Council to take position on the basis of that report.

So there's really no question how 1441 was understood by the countries voting for it. Furthermore, just two weeks before the US and UK went to war without a second resolution (after Bush lied and claimed he'd demand a vote), the UK attorney general believed such a war would be illegal. Indeed, his assistant Elizabeth Wilmshurst ended up resigning because she believed the invasion would be a "crime of aggression."

Later Kofi Annan said the invasion was illegal, as did even Richard Perle. Essentially the only people who earth who believe the war didn't violate international law are George Bush and Tony Blair.

Finally, it's worth pointing out that the Security Council "defensible case" gambit is not one Will Marshall or anyone else in the US foreign policy establishment is likely to embrace as a general principle. For example, by that standard, given the numerous UN resolutions that Israel has defied, any country on earth could claim authorization to attack them.

• • •

So that's it as far as the basic facts go. I'll send this to Michael Cohen and ask him to respond.

But there's one last important point: if I can speak for Atrios and most progressive bloggers, their perspective is not that they're refusing to "advance the debate." Rather, their point is that as far as US foreign policy goes, there is no debate. We can screw around on blogs for the rest of our lives, we could be proven correct about 100 more wars, and no one with our perspective would ever be allowed on TV. Likewise, Kenneth Pollack could be catastrophically wrong about 100 more wars, and he would still be on Nightline every week. That's because being right has absolutely nothing to do with "the debate." That's the way it is, and unless it changes, all the time I spent writing this was absolutely pointless. I hope Cohen can appreciate that it's a bit frustrating to be asked to "advance the debate" under these circumstances, and to be told we have "seemingly forgotten" things that never happened.

But maybe the system's more open than I think. If Michael wants to give this post to his former bosses now running for president—Richardson and Dodd—and they start talking about everything I examined here, then I'll admit there's a real debate and one the anti-war left should join, with no namecalling. It would be particularly fruitful if Richardson could talk about the US infiltration of UNSCOM, given that he had a front row seat when he was US Ambassador to the UN.

Somebody should let me know if that happens, though, because I won't be waiting up.

General Motors Giving Payola To Radio Talk Shot Hosts

Ralph Nader writes in a recent column that General Motors has a huge payola deal going with talk show hosts across the political spectrum. GM gives the hosts new cars two weeks each month and brings them to Detroit for meetings with company executives. Those signed up for the deal include Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, and Laura Schlessinger, but also Bill Press and Ed Schultz.

Much of Nader's column is based on a story in Automotive News, which has a lot of damning detail which Nader didn't include. It's subscription only, but I've liberated it from the Automotive News website in the public interest, below.


General Motors Payola
GM woos the radio stars
Rush, Whoopi and others plug vehicles on the air

By Mary Connelly

(Detroit) General Motors is recruiting many of America's best known radio personalities - including Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, Laura Schlessinger and Whoopi Goldberg - to talk up its vehicles on the air.

GM says it doesn't pay the stars directly for their endorsements, although it advertises on their shows. It gives them new GM cars and trucks to drive for two weeks each month. The company also invites the celebrities to Detroit for private meetings with top executives and VIP tours of GM facilities.

The attention is paying off. One day last month, for example, Limbaugh - who has the largest audience in talk radio - told his listeners that "GM cars and trucks have never been better.

"GM has a ton of momentum,'' Limbaugh enthused. "They are working hard and they are thinking smart. Believe in General Motors, folks. They're a classic American company doing it all.''

A Dallas disc jockey named Atom Smasher told his listeners: "I am driving around in this Cadillac, and I am not going to want to give it back - the Cadillac SRX. Named best luxury SUV three years in a row. And do they look good blinged-out. To all of the guys at GM: Good job.''

Said another Dallas DJ, Chris Ryan: "Have you seen all the cool things that's going on at GM? I have. If you're thinking about a new car, you got to look to GM.''

'Emotional connection'

Sam Mancuso, GM's director of brand marketing alliances and operations, said the company initiated contacts this spring with 17 national radio hosts, as well as dozens of local personalities in cities such as Dallas and Los Angeles.

Mancuso said he and Betsy Lazar, GM executive director of advertising and media operations, have done much of the wooing.

"Radio personalities have unique relationships with their listeners,'' Mancuso told Automotive News. "They make a real emotional connection. The audience knows they are being genuine.

"We said, 'Let's provide them with information about the vehicles and let them engage and discuss.' And that is what they are doing. When they come out here and get to meet with us, their eyes open wide. They are so excited about the product.''

GM's monitoring confirms that the personalities are talking about the company's vehicles on their programs, Mancuso said. But he insisted that GM does not give any of them a script.

"They are not required to mention GM,'' he said. "Do they mention the product? Yes. Do they mention GM? Some yes, some no.''

Limbaugh and both Dallas radio hosts said in their spiels that GM has "24 models that get an EPA-estimated 30 miles per gallon or more on the highway.'' They used the words "more than any other manufacturer.'' And they all cited E85 flex-fuel vehicles and the Saturn Aura Green Line in discussing GM's environmental initiatives.

Mancuso would not say how much GM spends to advertise on the hosts' radio shows.

Limbaugh visited GM headquarters in early May, Mancuso said. He met with Vice Chairman Bob Lutz and design chief Ed Welburn and toured the company's design center.

Right and left

Mancuso said the radio hosts whom GM works with fall along a broad spectrum of political opinions. The list includes conservative commentators such as Limbaugh, O'Reilly, Schlessinger, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck. But it also includes liberals such as Bill Press and Ed Schultz.

Other personalities, such as Goldberg, Ryan Seacrest and John Tesh, host essentially apolitical entertainment and music-oriented programs. Jim Rome hosts a daily sports talk show. Other local and national personalities host shows aimed at black and Hispanic audiences.

"There is no political agenda here,'' Mancuso said. "We don't associate ourselves with what (the hosts') beliefs are.''

Several of the celebrities appear on TV as well as radio. O'Reilly and Hannity host nightly programs on Fox News Channel. Beck is a host on CNN Headline News and contributes to ABC's "Good Morning America.'' Seacrest hosts Fox's "American Idol'' - which is sponsored by Ford Motor Co.

While the personalities may also discuss their GM experiences on TV, Mancuso said, the company is "not involved in that.''

* * *

Talk talk

GM has enlisted these national radio personalities to talk up its vehicles on their shows.

Michael Baisden, talk show host

Glenn Beck, talk show host

Delilah, song request show

Whoopi Goldberg, talk show host

Sean Hannity, talk show host

Laura Ingraham, talk show host

Rush Limbaugh, talk show host

George Noory, talk show host

Bill O'Reilly, talk show host

Bill Press, talk show host

Jim Rome, sports talk show host

Laura Schlessinger, advice call-in show

Ed Schultz, talk show host

Ryan Seacrest, variety/talk show host

Keith Sweat, music show host

John Tesh, music show host

Big Tigger, music show host

Source: GM

Karl Rove Failed Conservatism By Moving The Republican Party Left

Somehow I've gotten on the email list of Richard Viguerie. He's the king of conservative direct mail, and was one of the main figures in the founding of Moral Majority.

Today he sent out a press release applauding Karl Rove's resignation. Why? Because, you see, Rove failed conservatism:

Karl Rove was a master in the care and feeding of conservative leaders, keeping them mostly silent as the Republican Party moved Left during the Bush presidency...Rove was the architect of George W. Bush’s betrayal of the conservative cause...

[H]e attempted to advance the Republican Party by using raw, naked political power and bribing voters. He copied the Democrats and was more successful than them—for a while.

As Digby has pointed out:

George W. Bush will not achieve a place in the Republican pantheon. Conservatism cannot fail, it can only be failed. (And a conservative can only fail because he is too liberal.)

Apparently conservatism is much like communism: it may appear to have failed, but only because real conservatism has never truly been tried.

The entire email is below.

Richard Viguerie on Karl Rove’s Resignation:
Good News for Conservatives

(Manassas, Virginia) The following is a statement from Richard A. Viguerie, author of Conservatives Betrayed: How George W. Bush and Other Big Government Republicans Hijacked the Conservative Cause (Bonus Books, 2006), on the resignation of White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove:

“Karl Rove’s departure from the White House is good news for conservatives. We may—may—have a more conservative Bush presidency with Rove back in Texas.

“As President Bush’s chief political advisor, Karl Rove was a master in the care and feeding of conservative leaders, keeping them mostly silent as the Republican Party moved Left during the Bush presidency.

“He used the usual carrot and stick to do this. The carrot was access to the White House—and conservative leaders proved just as vulnerable as others to the lure of a photo op with the President, lunch in the West Wing, or a returned phone call from Karl Rove. The stick was fear—speak out, and not only will you lose any hope of access, you will be branded as an extremist, or someone who’s helping the Democrats by speaking out.

“Using both carrot and stick, Karl Rove was able to silence or get the support of most conservative leaders as President Bush and congressional Republicans greatly expanded the size and reach of the federal government, including (but certainly not limited to)…

No Child Left Behind
Prescription drug benefits
Nation-building on a scale never attempted before
Farm subsidies
Steel tariffs
Massive federal deficits

“Yes, Karl Rove was a political genius—he was, after all, the successful architect of Bush’s election in 2000 and reelection in 2004. But as the President’s chief policy advisor, Rove was the architect of George W. Bush’s betrayal of the conservative cause.

“Karl Rove’s biggest failure was to leave the White House without achieving his stated goal of establishing the Republicans as America’s permanent governing party. To even mention that today—after the 2006 elections, President Bush’s plummeting poll numbers, and the GOP’s bleak prospects for 2008—brings embarrassment or laughter, depending on your political viewpoint. No wonder Karl Rove wants to forget about those boasts.

“Rove failed in that goal primarily because he attempted to advance the Republican Party by using raw, naked political power and bribing voters. He copied the Democrats and was more successful than them—for a while. But then conservatives and independents caught on to his game. We started rebelling, first over Harriet Miers and most recently over the amnesty bill. Meanwhile, the Republican Party had lost its “brand” as the party of small government.

How do we recover from the Rove Era? We have to reject the bribing of voters and instead build on President Reagan’s legacy. We must re-establish the conservative movement (and the Republican Party, if it wishes to survive) as the movement and party of ideas, empowering people instead of government, and with a strong national defense but no more nation-building.

“Bush’s brain” will soon be gone. Let’s hope that wiser counsel prevails in the White House in the future, but let’s not depend on that. We conservatives have work to do.”

August 13, 2007

Karl Rove's False Flag Operations

With Karl Rove leaving the White House, it's a good time to remember this intriguing story from his career: I interviewed people who knew Rove, they brought up examples of unscrupulous tactics—some of them breathtaking—as a matter of course.

A typical instance occurred in the hard-fought 1996 race for a seat on the Alabama Supreme Court between Rove's client, Harold See, then a University of Alabama law professor, and the Democratic incumbent, Kenneth Ingram. According to someone who worked for him, Rove, dissatisfied with the campaign's progress, had flyers printed up—absent any trace of who was behind them—viciously attacking See and his family. "We were trying to craft a message to reach some of the blue-collar, lower-middle-class people," the staffer says. "You'd roll it up, put a rubber band around it, and paperboy it at houses late at night. I was told, 'Do not hand it to anybody, do not tell anybody who you're with, and if you can, borrow a car that doesn't have your tags.' So I borrowed a buddy's car [and drove] down the middle of the street … I had Hefty bags stuffed full of these rolled-up pamphlets, and I'd cruise the designated neighborhoods, throwing these things out with both hands and literally driving with my knees." The ploy left Rove's opponent at a loss. Ingram's staff realized that it would be fruitless to try to persuade the public that the See campaign was attacking its own candidate in order "to create a backlash against the Democrat," as Joe Perkins, who worked for Ingram, put it to me. Presumably the public would believe that Democrats were spreading terrible rumors about See and his family. "They just beat you down to your knees," Ingram said of being on the receiving end of Rove's attacks. See won the race.

In addition to this, there are longstanding suspicions that in the 1986 governor's race in Texas, Rove bugged his own office so it would be blamed on the Democratic candidate.

This illustrates why I'm driven crazy by claims that we shouldn't suspect politicians have done something grimy because they're "honorable men." Nothing's clearer in human history than that politicians will do anything, including murdering millions of their own citizens, to get and hold power.

Thus, it's never crazy merely to consider the possibility that anything anywhere is a false flag operation. Usually it's not the case—usually things are pretty much what they seem.

But what holds politicians back from doing more of this is that it's generally so complicated they'll get caught, not some kind of "moral" consideration. For instance, I do think it's nuts to consider the U.S. government was involved in 9/11, because too many people would have to be involved. But I strongly suspect George Bush, Dick Cheney and Karl Rove would have considered it if they thought they could get away with it. Certainly immediately afterward they were willing to lie to New Yorkers and let them die from breathing the air in lower Manhattan.

August 12, 2007

New Baseball Rules

Mimi Smartypants on her daughter and husband:

Yesterday Nora and LT were playing catch, and in the process of trying to throw the ball precisely into her tiny mitt and thus increase her slim chances of success, he accidentally beaned her right in the nose. Blood gushed. Nora stood there dumbfounded for a split second, then threw down her mitt and ran straight for LT, wailing. I really wish the next baseball player to get hit with a ball would charge the mound in a similar fashion, crying and holding his arms up for a hug. The fistfights are so predictable.

McClatchy on Iran

I was going to write something about this alarming story by McClatchy reporter Matt Stearns about Bush's continuing interest in attacking Iran. But Nell of A Lovely Promise already said everything I had to say:

Stearns vastly overstates Congressional opposition to a U.S. military strike in Iran. This passage made my jaw drop:
It's been the consensus for months among the Democrats who hold the majority that Bush must get congressional authorization before any military strike [on Iran].

Orilly? Then why was a provision requiring such an authorization stripped from the Democratic leadership's version of the Pentagon supplemental spending bill in April before ever coming to a vote? Why did a similar standalone bill go down to defeat in May with 100 Democratic members voting against it? And why does Stearns not even mention either event?

Read the rest.

Chris Rock On Iraq

Here's some great Chris Rock standup about Iraq. I don't know if it's new, but it's new to me. Favorite line: "That train's never late!"

UPDATE: I think this is from 2004. Well...I've had a lot on my plate for the last three years.

Dick Cheney Eloquently Explains Why Invading Iraq Would Be A Horrible Idea

How have I missed this before? I'd heard of it, but never ever seen it. Transcript below, but you really need to watch it to get the full effect.

(via unfogged)

• • •

Q: Do you think the U.S., or U.N. forces, should have moved into Baghdad?


Q: Why not?

CHENEY: Because if we'd gone to Baghdad we would have been all alone. There wouldn't have been anybody else with us. There would have been a U.S. occupation of Iraq. None of the Arab forces that were willing to fight with us in Kuwait were willing to invade Iraq. Once you got to Iraq and took it over, took down Saddam Hussein's government, then what are you going to put in its place? That's a very volatile part of the world, and if you take down the central government of Iraq, you could very easily end up seeing pieces of Iraq fly off -- part of it the Syrians would like to have to the west, part of eastern Iraq the Iranians would like to claim, fought over it for eight years. In the north you've got the Kurds, and if the Kurds spin loose and join with the Kurds in Turkey, then you threaten the territorial integrity of Turkey. It's a quagmire if you go that far and try to take over Iraq.

The other thing was casualties. Everyone was impressed with the fact we were able to do our job with as few casualties as we had. But for the 146 Americans killed in action, and for their families, it wasn't a cheap war. And the question for the president, in terms of whether or not we went on to Baghdad, took additional casualties in an effort to get Saddam Hussein, was how many additional dead Americans is Saddam worth? Our judgment was, not very many, and I think we got it right.

August 11, 2007

Donald Johnson, Contact Headquarters Immediately

By which I mean, please send me email when you have a second.

Support Robert Parry And

Given that Robert Parry is one of America's greatest investigative reporters, today would be a good day to contribute to the Consortium News fundraiser and/or buy his new book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush.

August 10, 2007


After reading Michael Ignatieff's why-I-was-wrong-on-Iraq essay in the NY Times, Hilzoy of Obsidian Wings wonders this about the US media:

I think we really have to ask: why are people who are, by their own account, not just mistaken but completely clueless among the people who are given platforms to express their opinions?

I hate sounding snide about this, but for an adult to be asking this is really like an adult asking "why hasn't Santa Claus come to my house with presents for me?"


Enemies Of The State

Salon has an unsurprising but alarming article about the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and its new working relationship with the NSA. Basically, the NGA looks while the NSA listens—and both are now doing an unknown amount of this domestically. (Even less is known about the NTA, the National Touching & Tasting Agency.)

Little jokes aside, this actually isn't funny. As Frank Church, then-chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, famously said in the mid-seventies:

[The government's] capability at any time could be turned around on the American people and no American would have any privacy left, such [is] the capability to monitor everything: telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn't matter. There would be no place to hide.

If this government ever became a tyranny, if a dictator ever took charge in this country, the technological capacity that the intelligence community has given the government could enable it to impose total tyranny, and there would be no way to fight back, because the most careful effort to combine together in resistance to the government, no matter how privately it was done, is within the reach of the government to know.

ALSO: While Salon calls the NGA "relatively unknown to the public," it's not unknown to me because my father used to work there, back when it was called the Defense Mapping Agency. In fact, before I was born my parents and sister lived across the street from them, and I went to kindergarten right next door. The buildings there didn't have any windows, to prevent the sneaky Russians from seeing in and stealing all our mapping secrets.

I'm pleased to say my father quit when he was assigned to map cities in the Soviet Union so they could be more effectively targeted with nuclear weapons. This made a big impression on me when I was six.

AND: Let's turn the tables on the NGA and look down on them from space:

August 09, 2007

Washington, D.C.: Worst City On Earth?

Growing up outside Washington, D.C., I knew I hated it but I wasn't sure exactly why. Now that I'm older, I understand my feelings more clearly. One reason I hate Washington is because it has the highest density on earth of people who genuinely and sincerely love war.

Here's Randolph Bourne in his famous 1918 essay, "War is the Health of the State":

The classes which are able to play an active and not merely a passive role in the organization for war get a tremendous liberation of activity and energy. Individuals are jolted out of their old routine, many of them are given new positions of responsibility, new techniques must be learned...A vast sense of rejuvenescence pervades the significant classes, a sense of new importance in the world....Every individual citizen who in peacetimes had no function to perform by which he could imagine himself an expression or living fragment of the State becomes an active amateur agent of the Government...

And from three weeks after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990, here's famous New York Times reporter R.W. Apple unconsciously explaining how Bourne was completely right:

August 20, 1990

The obituaries were a bit premature.

There is still one superpower in the world, and it is the United States. More than any other country in the world, its interests, its exposure and its reach are global, as the events of the last two weeks have demonstrated so vividly.

Washington is not the backwater that it seemed to some when the action was all in the streets of Prague or at the Berlin wall....there is a rush of excitement in the air here. In news bureaus and Pentagon offices, dining rooms and lobbyists' hangouts, the fever is back - the heavy speculation, the avid gossip, the gung-ho, here's-where-it's-happening spirit, that marks the city when it grapples with great events.

''These days, conversations are huddled,'' said Stan Bromley, the manager of the Four Seasons Hotel, where King Hussein of Jordan stayed. ''People are leaning closer together. It's serious business.''

Washington is full of individuals who are bored by the idea of raising children, or curing diseases, or building bridges that don't collapse. But dealing out death in great quantities—that they find very, very interesting indeed.

(Thanks to Chris E. for reminding me of what Bourne said.)

How Interesting

I'm not surprised at all to hear this, in an article by Uri Avnery, but it's still interesting:

Some days ago, one of our generals revealed on television that under an American-Israeli agreement, the Israeli army is obliged to report to the American military establishment on the effectiveness of all kinds of arms. For example: the accuracy of "smart" bombs and the performance of airplanes, missiles, drones, tanks, and all the other instruments of destruction in our wars.

Every "targeted killing" in Gaza or use of fragmentation bombs in Lebanon serves also as a test. The leveling of a neighborhood in Beirut, the death of women and children as "collateral damage," the ongoing amputation of limbs by fragmentation bombs in south Lebanon – all these are statistical facts that are important for American arms manufacturers to know, so they can improve their merchandise.

I'd really like to know more about the specifics of how this happens, and whether it's unique to arms sales to Israel or whether we have the same agreement with other countries.

Puritan Gravestones

As conceived by Dirk Voetberg, puritan gravestones are very funny:

Here lyes the bodie of Mr. Jonathan Berret, husband of Helen and Father too daughters Credence and Shanikwa. He lead a gloriously joyless and arid life. He had doth builte our great library which houses every typee of Reading, from Bibles to transqripts of sermones...

A man like this bettre hope that this Predestination is for Reals. For the realization that one Sacrificed all pleasure and any joy Whatsoever and did so for naught — waS not, saye, admitted into Heav’n—woulde be significantly more Miserable than having found oneself the Butt of a mere prank or Jolly.

More puritan gravestones here.

August 08, 2007

George Orwell Describes The Right Wing Blurghosphere

The Scott Beauchamp affair is reminding me of this, from 1984:

A Party supposed to live in a continuous frenzy of hatred of foreign enemies and internal traitors, triumph over victories, and self-abasement before the power and wisdom of the Party. The discontents produced by his bare, unsatisfying life are deliberately turned outwards and dissipated by such devices as the Two Minutes Hate, and the speculations which might possibly induce a sceptical or rebellious attitude are killed in advance by his early acquired inner discipline...called, in Newspeak, crimestop. Crimestop means the faculty of stopping short, as though by instinct, at the threshold of any dangerous thought. It includes the power of not grasping analogies, of failing to perceive logical errors, of misunderstanding the simplest arguments if they are inimical to Ingsoc, and of being bored or repelled by any train of thought which is capable of leading in a heretical direction. Crimestop, in short, means protective stupidity.

At first it seems amazing that Orwell could have precisely described today's right-wing blurgh world sixty years ago. But the right-wing blurghs are just an outgrowth of human nature, which never changes. (In particular I'm always been struck by the consistency with which such people are unable to understand analogies.)

August 07, 2007

Bush Administration Official Confirms War On Terror Conceived As Political Ploy

Here's Scott Horton, writing for Harper's:

I attended [a recent conference] in Italy with a group of European and American counterterrorism experts. A large team of U.S. Department of Justice officials, drawn from its uppermost echelons, was there, including three of the principal architects of the legal policies for the war on terror. In not-for-attribution comments, one openly acknowledged that the war on terror was cast in the first instance as a political ploy and that it was a conceptual failure. It was now essential for the Americans to move on to something else, he argued. None of the others challenged that view; indeed, two of them said that they agreed with it. So even inside of the Bush Administration, the war on terror has been written off as a scam that served its limited political purpose and is finished.

As George Bush said on September 19, 2001:

...through my tears, I see opportunity.

The Hazards Of Peace

One strange thing about the people who run America is they often seem to have walked straight out of communist agitprop. This is from a 1947 letter from Robert Gross, the president of Lockheed, to Edward Stettinius, Secretary of State for FDR and Truman:

...while the problems of the war were great and the pressure upon airline manufacturers to produce was incessant, I feel that the hazards experienced then were never comparable to the ones we have had to face up to since. We had one underlying element of comfort and reassurance in the war—we knew we would get paid for whatever we built. Today we are almost completely on our own.

Aircraft manufacturer profits increased 244% from 1939 to 1944. Hopefully they later used some of that to fund American Enterprise Institute seminars on the wonders of the free market and America's commitment to peace.

(The letter and statistics are taken from Harry S Truman and the War Scare of 1948)

August 06, 2007


Dennis Perrin has returned from his panel at YearlyKos with Juan Cole with the exactly the kind of high quality malcontentment you might hope for:

I found the registration area and went to formalize my arrival. The woman at the counter confirmed my place on the afternoon panel, gave me my personal plastic badge, along with a YearlyKos tote bag filled with all kinds of crap. Now I was part of the scene, though I immediately noticed a blue ribbon adorning my badge that read "Speaker." Looking around, I saw different colored ribbons on various badges. Orange was for attendees, bloggers who were not on panels. Green was for the media. And, naturally, blue was for we "experts" who would shed light and wisdom from our various perches.

From the jump, I was pissed off and dismayed. Why the fuck was there color-coded distinctions at a supposedly "democratic" convention? I thought the whole point to blogging was to democratize political expression, to allow people who didn't attend an Ivy League school or had friends in the corporate media to reach a wide audience with their views and concerns.

You may read it all.

U.S. Foreign Policy Elite Celebrates Sixty Years Of Using The Exact Same Damn Playbook

Here's a quote from Eberstadt and Forrestal: A National Security Partnership, 1909-1949. Forrestal is James Forrestal, who after World War II became the first Secretary of Defense. Eberstadt is Ferdinard Eberstadt, who was a Wall Street financier and close friends with Forrestal, and helped create the National Security Council in 1947. This is what an assistant to Eberstadt reported about Eberstadt's views on foreign policy:

"Mr. Eberstadt said that the country was always run by crises...if one was not evident it had to be created to get things done."

Here's Russ Baker's article about Bush family friend and biography Mickey Hershkowitz:

According to Herskowitz, George W. Bush's beliefs on Iraq were based in part on a notion dating back to the Reagan White House—ascribed in part to now-vice president Dick Cheney, Chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee under Reagan. “Start a small war. Pick a country where there is justification you can jump on, go ahead and invade."

And here's George Bush in the 2002 State of the Union address:

...time is not on our side. I will not wait on events, while dangers gather. I will not stand by, as peril draws closer and closer. The United States of America will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons.

(Eberstadt quote lifted from Harry S Truman and the War Scare of 1948)

The Cycle Of Life

From here.


August 05, 2007


A Distant Ocean on the Dick Cheney evolutionary cycle: "In the pupal stage the cheney's floama begins to coagulate, causing decomposition of the human-like carapace."

And Mike on the Duggars and their 17 children:

August 04, 2007

Technology Allows Us To Better Understand How Much The Democrats Suck

The Senate (and soon, House) cave-in on FISA is distressing. But it also makes me optimistic for the future. In the past, essentially no one would be following something like this closely enough to care. And even for those who did care, just finding the basic information—like who voted for what—would have taken lots of time and effort.

Now we can find out it's going to happen, call our representatives, learn the exact results, and get pretty astute analysis, all within twenty-four hours. The reality we learn about is depressing, but the first step in changing reality is understanding it clearly.

AND: Speaking of Democratic suckitude, many thanks to the emailer who sent me this:

The other day I was invited to attend--as a guest, not a donor--a gazillion-dollar per plate fundraiser for Hillary Clinton taking place August 2nd. On hearing that Bill would be there to shake hands and give a speech I thought immediately of your mid-July post documenting the ludicrous Iraq/Bosnia analogy Bill made before the assembled geniuses at the Aspen ideas festival. Would Clinton be so bold, I wondered, as to say such things in public again, mocking openly the intelligence of southern CTs richest Democrats.

Sure enough he did. After a long disquisition on why the '03 war resolution was not, in fact, a war resolution, he brought out the Bosnia comparison and argued for the occupation as life saving--using mostly the same numbers (250,000 bosnian war dead, 300 to 400,000 Iraq war dead, 8 million prospective refugees--of the prospected Iraq dead this time he ventured 1 million). Again it wasn't clear if he was speaking of pre-war Iraq or Iraq post war, sans U.S. occupation.

I did my best to push back, turning to the person next to me and muttering "absurd". But the people's effort failed and Clinton was met with warm applause.

So I'm guessing he makes the comparison all the time--and believes it.

Before the internet, I would never have learned about this or the Aspen "Ideas" Festival, thus badly hampering my understanding of Democratic suckiness. Thanks, technology!

August 03, 2007

Stop The Modification Of FISA

The ACLU is right we should be calling Congress right now (even if you've done so already) to tell them to vote no on a modification of FISA:

The FISA "modernization" bill is actually an administration power grab -- expanding the National Security Agency's access to all of our international telephone and email communications -- regardless of any known connection to terrorists.

The House might even vote this afternoon, so call them now.

Talking To The President

As the Rude Pundit explains, George Bush is quite impressed that he allows regular Americans to talk to him.

Dennis Perrin At YearlyKos

Dennis is going to be on a panel today at YearlyKos called "The Arc of Crisis: U.S. Policy in the Middle East and South Asia." The other participants are Juan Cole, Manan Amed, and John Mearsheimer. It theoretically should be watchable live here from 4:00-5:15 pm CT (I think), so 5:00-6:15 pm ET.

If Dennis stands up at some point and ostentatiously wets his pants, that was my suggestion. I thought it would give the whole proceeding an air of danger.

August 02, 2007

Our Crumbling America

A country that can't keep its bridges from collapsing is not going to be running the world very much longer. That's the interesting thing about the standard historical trajectory of imperial a certain point they either (1) forget the power they can wield outside their country ultimately derives from a healthy society beneath them, or (2) understand that but decide they'd rather be comparatively more powerful within a poorer society and less powerful outside.

To understand choice #2 it's useful to look at an extreme example, like Saudi Arabia. Certainly it has the natural wealth to be able to oppose Israel effectively. And you'd assume their elites want to do that, given that they're always screeching about it. But effective opposition would require Saudi society to be internally far more democratic, educated and egalitarian. So the Saudi princes have decided they'd prefer their country to be a weak, poor backwater if that's what's required for them to each own nine palaces. As William Arkin said about our new $20 billion arms sale to the Saudis:

U.S. officials say the United States will seek assurances from Saudi Arabia that it will not store its new Joint Direct Attack Munitions -- the satellite-guided bombs -- at northern air bases, where they could threaten Israel.

Israel needn't worry. The Saudi military is even less dangerous than the gang who couldn't shoot's not just incompetence when it comes to the Saudi military. The Saudi monarchy has methodically focused its military on pomp and equipment and spiffy uniforms, ensuring that it not acquire any real offensive capacity or the ability to operate as a coherent force. It does not want a competent, independent military contemplating a coup.

The same thing is true in the rest of the Arab world. For instance, at the beginning of the Six Day War in 1967, as Israel was bombing Egyptian airfields, the Egyptian air defense system was actually turned off. The Egyptian government had done this because they were more worried about internal enemies than Israel—they thought some rebel Egyptian military forces might be trying to shoot down the plane of the Defense Minister, and didn't want the rebels to be able to find out where it was.

Egyptian elites could have avoided this kind of internal conflict by having a democratic country with civilian control of the military, but who wants that? Far more enjoyable to be autocrats who turn off their air defense system RIGHT WHEN THEY'RE BEING BOMBED.

America's elites are, at heart, the same way. They'd prefer to be emirs and kings running a shambling catastrophe of a country than moderately rich men in Sweden.

MORE ON THE BRIDGE COLLAPSE: From Rick Perlstein here and here, and from LeanLeft here.

August 01, 2007

Hollywood Pigeons

This Michael Gerber, he is a funny fellow. The subject today is Hollywood pigeons: