January 31, 2013

Chuck Hagel Told a Really Funny Lie Today About Tables

It's the law, everybody in the U.S. government has to tell this funny lie:

SEN. CLAIRE MACASKILL: Do you believe that all options should be on the table when we confront Iran?

HAGEL: Absolutely.

Now, of course Hagel does not "absolutely" believe this. For instance, one obvious option for dealing with any Iranian ambitions to build nuclear weapons would be for the U.S. to push for a zone free of all nuclear weapons throughout the mideast. Short of the extermination of every Iranian, that's certainly the only possible stable resolution of this issue. But it will never happen because it would require that the U.S. pressure Israel to give up its nuclear weapons. (While everyone has forgotten this, Iraq wasn't just required to give up its WMD by itself. According to the relevant 1991 UN resolution, that was supposed to "represent steps towards the goal of establishing in the Middle East a zone free from weapons of mass destruction." Saddam used to plaintively mention this in speeches.) Likewise, Hagel also doesn't believe that the U.S. should consider giving up its thousands of nuclear weapons if that turned out to be the most likely path to a positive resolution of the Iranian nuclear issue.

The reason this is important is that it shows what the true priorities of the U.S. are. If the U.S. had to rank various possibilities in order of desirability, they'd go like this:

FIRST CHOICE: Render Iran incapable of building nukes without war.

SECOND CHOICE: Render Iran incapable of building nukes via a devastating war that would likely kill hundreds of thousands of people and destroy the world economy.

THIRD CHOICE: Render Iran incapable of building nukes via the peaceful disarmament of the entire Mideast.

I also just love the idea that "all options" are on the table. There are lots of options on earth. What if, in order to confront Iran, it becomes necessary for Hagel to run naked around the Washington Monument three times while singing "I'm bringing sexy back"? It could happen, and then we'd find out just how committed Hagel is to the whole table thing.

P.S. I believe that under this law Hagel could definitely be prosecuted for lying to Congress.

—Jon Schwarz

Posted at 04:43 PM | Comments (28)

January 29, 2013

Insights Into Human Nature From Humans Who're Going to Kill You

It would be nice to think that you can trust powerful people who are aware that power corrupts. But this turns out not to be the case.

For instance, this is from the FBI's account of its interrogation of Saddam Hussein:

Around this time [1973], Hussein seriously considered leaving the government but remaining in the Party...Hussein did not like the "power" and his position in the government. When he joined the revolution of 1968, his intention was not to stay in government. Hussein had planned to stay involved only within the cells of the Party at the lower levels. At that time, he believed it would be a "shame" to serve in the government. Until this day, Hussein still does not like government. He likes the people and the Party, but believes it is difficult for the government to judge fairly. Hussein observed individuals described as "kind and gentle" before serving in the government who subsequently became the opposite after their appointments to government positions.

I imagine Saddam would muse about this while taking a breather from dumping nerve gas on six-year-olds.

Then there's what Harry Truman wrote in his diary in 1947:

The Jews, I find are very, very selfish...when they have power, physical, financial or political neither Hitler nor Stalin has anything on them for cruelty or mistreatment to the underdog. Put an underdog on top and it makes no difference whether his name is Russian, Jewish, Negro, Management, Labor, Mormon, Baptist he goes haywire. I've found very, very few who remember their past condition when prosperity comes.

Yes, those Jews, so selfish. And people in general! They're just awful. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go nuke Nagasaki.

Che Guevara also got into the action:

Cruel leaders are replaced only to have new leaders turn cruel!

This is from a book about Guevara by Jon Lee Anderson:

In his memoirs, Guevara Lynch avoided the issue of Che's leading role in the tribunals, but did allude to his shock at discovering his son's transformation into a hard man…His father's befuddlement was shared by some of Che's old friends and acquaintances. Initially thrilled by his guerrilla war exploits, their delight had turned to horror with the news of his role in the summary executions, and they could not fathom what had happened to their friend to make him merciless.

I'm just glad that Abigail Adams, who wrote this to John Adams in 1775, never got her hands on the levers of power. It sounds like she would have been the greatest monster in human history:

I am more and more convinced that man is a dangerous creature; and that power, whether vested in many or a few, is ever grasping, and, like the grave, cries, “Give, give!” The great fish swallow up the small; and he who is most strenuous for the rights of the people, when vested with power, is as eager after the prerogatives of government.

Maybe we should give up on the idea of finding "nice" people and putting them in power.

—Jon Schwarz

Posted at 12:24 PM | Comments (16)

January 28, 2013

Bush's Greatest Lie Ten Years Ago Today

wink.jpgJust like the greatest actors are never the biggest movie stars, the greatest lie in George W. Bush's 2003 State of the Union address has never gotten the recognition it deserves. Everyone got all excited about the "uranium from Africa" and "aluminum tubes" lies, but when award season came around, the lie with the most craft, emotional scope and attention to detail wasn't even nominated:

Sending Americans into battle is the most profound decision a President can make. The technologies of war have changed; the risks and suffering of war have not. For the brave Americans who bear the risk, no victory is free from sorrow. This nation fights reluctantly, because we know the cost and we dread the days of mourning that always come.

This is how reluctant Bush was:

Two years before the September 11 attacks, presidential candidate George W. Bush was already talking privately about the political benefits of attacking Iraq, according to his former ghost writer, who held many conversations with then-Texas Governor Bush in preparation for a planned autobiography.

"He was thinking about invading Iraq in 1999," said author and journalist Mickey Herskowitz. "It was on his mind. He said to me: 'One of the keys to being seen as a great leader is to be seen as a commander-in-chief.' And he said, 'My father had all this political capital built up when he drove the Iraqis out of Kuwait and he wasted it.' He said, 'If I have a chance to invade, if I had that much capital, I'm not going to waste it. I'm going to get everything passed that I want to get passed and I'm going to have a successful presidency." Herskowitz said that Bush expressed frustration at a lifetime as an underachiever in the shadow of an accomplished father. In aggressive military action, he saw the opportunity to emerge from his father's shadow.

Of course, like all great performances, Bush's State of the Union lie wasn't just about the specifics, it was about a larger truth – which is that the U.S. has essentially never been at peace for the past 237 years.

–Jon Schwarz

Posted at 11:51 AM | Comments (22)

January 27, 2013


This is from the new Time cover story about Zero Dark Thirty (not online):

Virtually everything about Zero Dark Thirty is debatable, according to [Mark] Boal. "Even simple factual questions are being debated and litigated at the highest levels of government…even among those agencies. I've spoken to two people in the CIA who worked with the same prisoner, who had two totally different views of what got him to talk and of the value of a particular piece of intelligence in the overall puzzle."

This is the famous National Security Council Directive 11, issued in 1950:

The departments and agencies of the Government engaged in intelligence activities shall take steps to prevent unauthorized disclosure of information on United States intelligence sources and methods.

This is George W. Bush on September 14, 2001:

...let me condition the press this way: Any sources and methods of intelligence will remain guarded in secret. My administration will not talk about how we gather intelligence, if we gather intelligence and what the intelligence says. That's for the protection of the American people. It is important, as we battle this enemy, to conduct ourselves that way.

And this is Barack Obama last June:

The notion that my White House would purposely release classified national security information is offensive. It's wrong. And people I think need to have a better sense of how I approach this office and how the people around me here approach this office.

Could there be any clearer disclosure of "sources and methods" than people at the CIA telling the screenwriter for a $40 million movie about who they interrogated, what they were told, and why? Obviously the U.S. government has always used classification to cover up embarrassing facts, while simultaneously leaking like the Titanic whenever it's to their advantage. But man, they're getting even more in your face than usual these days. Hopefully they'll have this issue of Time at whatever jail where they're sticking John Kiriakou so he can read all about it.

—Jon Schwarz

Posted at 01:45 PM | Comments (13)

January 22, 2013

This Is the Enemy

By: John Caruso


John Caruso

Posted at 11:49 PM | Comments (54)

January 20, 2013

Violent Idiots the Same All Around the World

Steven Metz is a professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Army War College Strategic Studies Institute. He's a big supporter of U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan – not because he likes them, but because we just have no alternative:

I'd pay closer attention to critics of drone strikes if they explained their recommended alternative.

Faisal Shazad is the Pakistani man who planned to set off a car bomb in Times Square in retaliation for U.S. drone strikes. He didn't want to, but he just had no alternative:

Friends with peaceful protest! Can you tell me a way to save the oppressed? And a way to fight back when rockets are fired at us and Muslim blood flows?

In previous violent idiot news, the 2004 Bush-Cheney campaign and Saddam Hussein joined forces to warn of the constant threat of wolves, while William Kristol and Saddam explained why the first step on the road to peace is being heavily armed.

—Jon Schwarz

Posted at 11:30 AM | Comments (27)

January 15, 2013

An Almost Word-for-Word Endorsement of al Qaeda's Worldview

Earlier today Glenn Greenwald wrote about the French intervention in Mali. This made Joshua Foust, a writer for the Atlantic and fellow at the American Security Project, very angry:

Back in 2007, an Egyptian Islamist named Sayid Imam Sharif wrote "Rationalizing Jihadist Action in Egypt and the World," which strongly criticized al Qaeda. Al Qaeda's second-in-command and chief propagandist Ayman al-Zawahiri then wrote a long screed in response. It turned out "Rationalizing Jihadist Action in Egypt and the World" was an almost word-for-word endorsement of the worldview of the crusaders and Jews (and their puppets the Egyptian Interior Ministry and security services):
A document called "Rationalizing Jihadist Action in Egypt and the World" became public and was accompanied by much attention and furor. When I carefully examined it, I found--regrettably as I had expected--that it served, in the best possible way, the interests of the alliance that the crusaders and Jews have with our rulers, who act in contradiction of Shari'ah. This document is an attempt to sedate their mujahidin enemies, make them doubt their methods, and drive them from the battlefield...It sounds like a [Egyptian] security services' pamphlet...This document was written in the spirit of the Interior Ministry…

Meanwhile back in America, there's something else wrong with Greenwald:

According to Zawahiri, this was very similar to what was wrong with Sayid Imam Sharif and "Rationalizing Jihadist Action in Egypt and the World":

[Sharif] neglected the crimes of the crusaders and their agents, abandoned the need to exhort the nation to fight and resist them, and occupied itself with what it alleged were the mujahidin's errors…

This is a question that we address to the brothers who use the term "terrorism" to describe what happened in America...

When the United States fired missiles on the medicine factory in Sudan, destroying it over the heads of the employees and workers who were inside, what do you call this?...Why did they condemn what happened in America but we heard no one condemn what America did to the Sudanese factory?...

What about starving the Libyan people? What about the almost daily starving of the Iraqi people and the attacks on them? What about the sieges and attacks on the Muslim state of Afghanistan?

I don't want to say Foust is exactly like Zawahiri; for instance, Zawahiri jabbers on for 268 pages, while Foust is thankfully using twitter. But there are a limited number of ways to be a hateful, tribalistic knob, so all the knobs all over the world eventually end up sounding pretty much the same. Everything they say is a kind of violent moron mad libs.

BONUS: This entire phenomenon is available in diagram form here.

—Jon Schwarz

Posted at 04:58 PM | Comments (6)

January 04, 2013

Karl Kraus, Right Again

Almost everyone now has forgotten the story about how Iraq, after invading Kuwait in 1990, went to hospitals and threw premature babies out of incubators to die on the cold hospital floor. (Supposedly they wanted to steal the incubators and ship them back to Iraq.)

This was pretty crude, Huns-raping-Belgian-nuns level propaganda that almost certainly originated with the Kuwaiti royal family. But it worked extremely well: Bush Sr. cited it constantly, as did many U.S. politicians when voting for war that fall. And after Hill & Knowlton was hired by the Kuwaiti government, they discovered via focus groups that the incubators story really motivated Americans to back Bush's hardline.

After the war, of course, it turned out there was no evidence this ever happened.

What's interesting to me, though, is the evidence that many of the politicians involved genuinely believed the incubators story. I was just reading the declassified transcript of a meeting Bush Sr. had on October 9th, 1990 with the Saudi Foreign Minister in the Oval Office, and found this:


As you see, they weren't gloating about how they'd pulled the wool over the eyes of America's innocent citizens. Instead, Prince Saud al-Faisal seems to think lots of Kuwaiti babies had died in this way.

That's much more frightening than if these people were supervillains coolly plotting world domination. Instead, even in their top secret meetings, they generally spout the same crap they do in public. This suggests they can't even make decisions based on simple self-preservation, and could easily destroy the whole world by accident.

As the early 20th century Austrian writer Karl Kraus put it: "How is the world ruled and how do wars start? Diplomats tell lies to journalists and then believe what they read."

—Jon Schwarz

Posted at 08:25 AM | Comments (13)