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7/10/2004

Israeli Intelligence

Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul allegedly told Seymour Hersh on May 27 that the Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad, was working with Kurds in Iraq. Kurds and the Israeli government have denied the links. As usual, Hersh's piece is still the best reporting on the issue.

In a series of interviews in Europe, the Middle East, and the United States, officials told me that by the end of last year Israel had concluded that the Bush Administration would not be able to bring stability or democracy to Iraq, and that Israel needed other options. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s government decided, I was told, to minimize the damage that the war was causing to Israel’s strategic position by expanding its long-standing relationship with Iraq’s Kurds and establishing a significant presence on the ground in the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan. Several officials depicted Sharon’s decision, which involves a heavy financial commitment, as a potentially reckless move that could create even more chaos and violence as the insurgency in Iraq continues to grow.
Not the centrality of Flynt Leverett, a former administration official, to Hersh's article.

General Karpinski recently claimed Israelis were operating in Abu Ghraib on the BBC, though there have again been denials from the US and both "no comments" and denials from Israel. From Juan Cole, Janes is corroborating. From PBD, Blog Left has more.

Curveball: Bad Intelligence, Gullible Officials

"Curveball" was an INC informant that gave us mucho bad intelligence. Most notably, he was the source of the "mobile biological weapons laboratories" intel. The Senate Intelligence Committee report has some details on him.

The only American who met a now-discredited Iraqi defector codenamed "Curveball" repeatedly warned the CIA before the war that the Baghdad engineer appeared to be an alcoholic and that his dramatic claims that Saddam Hussein had built a secret fleet of mobile germ weapons factories were not reliable.

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

"As I said last night, let's keep in mind the fact that this war's going to happen regardless of what Curveball said or didn't say, and the powers that be probably aren't terribly interested in whether Curveball knows what he's talking about," the CIA official wrote, according to information released Friday by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) to support the Senate Intelligence Committee's blistering, 511-page critique of America's prewar intelligence. [LA Times]
For example, speculation that the presence of one specialized truck could mean an effort to transfer chemical weapons was puffed up into a conclusion that Iraq was actively making chemical weapons, the report said.

Analysts concluded that Iraq had a mobile biological weapons program based mainly on the since-discredited claims of one Iraqi defector code-named ``Curveball.'' The report said American agents did not have direct access to Curveball or his debriefers, but the source's information was expanded into the conclusion that Iraq had an advanced and active biological weapons program. [Guardian]
The Los Angeles Times broke the Curveball story back in March. Curveball was a false intelligence plant provided by the INC. The CIA and the DIA have accused each other of promoting Curveball. Both agencies ignored warnings from German intelligence. War and Piece provides a Fox News excerpt where Chalabi denied knowledge of Curveball's identity. Billmon put together a list of administration references to Curveball's intelligence back in April. It is really necessary to read the declassified text of the report, available here. The Curveball section begins on page 152 (162 of the PDF) and goes to page 157 (167). FAS has the report broken down by section. It is hard to make sense of it given the blackouts.

More Bush Negativism: Attacks on Edwards

It's not often that a President attacks the vp on the opposing ticket straight out of the gate. I smell fear.

"You cannot be pro-small business and pro-trial lawyer at the same time," Bush said. "You have to choose. My opponent has made his choice, and he put him on the ticket." [LA Times]
Bush told the crowd of more than 10,000 that the U.S. economy was "moving into high gear" but he said Kerry and Edwards were ignoring the good news while insisting that "the sky is falling."

He alluded to Edwards' sunny demeanor as he criticized his and Kerry's emphasis on difficulties facing workers such as rising health-care costs and the outsourcing of jobs overseas.

"Whether the message is delivered with a frown or a smile, it's the same old pessimism," Bush said. [Reuters]
Full Transcript of Bush remarks available at Whitehouse.gov.

New Milbank Article on Senate Intelligence Committee Report

Again, Milbank doesn't let us down. His fearlessness is admirable. As Rationales for War Erode, Issue of Blame Looms Large:

On the issue of Iraq's relationship with al Qaeda, however, the committee's findings imply that the White House, not the CIA, is to blame for making dubious claims that there were working ties between Osama bin Laden's organization and Hussein's Iraq. 'The Central Intelligence Agency reasonably assessed that there were likely several instances of contacts between Iraq and al-Qaeda throughout the 1990s, but that these contacts did not add up to an established formal relationship,' the committee found, echoing the Sept. 11 commission staff's finding of no 'collaborative relationship' between the two.

'The Central Intelligence Agency's assessment that to date there was no evidence proving Iraqi complicity or assistance in an al-Qaeda attack was reasonable and objective,' the committee found. 'No additional information has emerged to suggest otherwise.' Likewise, the report concluded: 'No information has emerged thus far to suggest that Saddam did try to employ al-Qaeda in conducting terrorist attacks.'

The undermining of the administration's case for war is potentially a grave threat to Bush, whose reelection prospects are closely tied to Americans' view of the merits of the Iraq war and whether it advances the fight against terrorism. For that reason, Bush has delayed a final reckoning on Iraq's forbidden weapons by naming a commission that will not report its findings until after the election. In the meantime, he continues to assert ties between al Qaeda and Iraq, and to place blame for any weapons miscalculation squarely on the CIA.

US News Acquires Classified Annexes to Taguba Report

US News and World Report has copies of the classified annexes to the Taguba report. When I first read the article, I thought it was a joke - a Jesus' General type spoof. The claims are so bad, so outrageous.

Taguba focused mostly on the MPs assigned to guard inmates at Abu Ghraib, but the 5,000 pages of classified files in the annexes to his report show that military intelligence officers-?-dispatched to Abu Ghraib by the top commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez-?-were intimately involved in some of the interrogation tactics widely viewed as abusive.

Col. Henry Nelson, an Air Force psychiatrist who prepared a report for Taguba on Abu Ghraib, described it as a "new psychological battlefield," and detailed the nature of the challenge faced by the Americans working in the overcrowded prison. "These detainees are male and female, young and old," Nelson wrote; "they may be innocent, may have high intelligence value, or may be terrorists or criminals. No matter who they are, if they are at Abu Ghraib, they are remanded in deplorable, dangerous living conditions, as are soldiers."
In her secret testimony, Karpinski, who was criticized for leadership failures in the Taguba report, said Sanchez refused to provide her with the necessary resources to run Abu Ghraib and other prisons. She said that he didn't "give a flip" about soldiers, and she added this biting criticism: "I think that his ego will not allow him to accept a Reserve Brigade, a Reserve General Officer and certainly not a female succeeding in a combat environment. And I think he looked at the 800th Brigade as the opportunity to find a scapegoat..."

Another classified annex reported that the prison complex was seriously overcrowded, with detainees often held for months without ever being interrogated. Detainees walked around in knee-deep mud, "defecating and urinating all over the compounds," said Capt. James Jones, commander of the 229th MP Battalion. "I don't know how there's not rioting every day," he testified.

Among the more shocking exchanges revealed in the Taguba classified annexes are a series of E-mails sent by Major David Dinenna of the 320th MP Battalion. The E-mails, sent in October and November to Major William Green of the 800th MP Brigade, and copied to the higher chain of command, show a quixotic attempt to simply get the detainees at Abu Graib edible food. Dinenna pressed repeatedly for food that wouldn't make prisoners vomit. He criticized the private food contractor for shorting the facility on hundreds of meals a day, and for providing food containing bugs, rats, and dirt.

"As each day goes by tension within the prison population increases," Dinenna wrote. "...Simple fixes, food, would help tremendously." Instead of getting help, Major Green scolded him. "Who is making the charges that there is dirt, bugs or what ever in the food?," Major Green replied in an E-mail. "If it is the prisoners I would take it with a grain of salt." Dinenna shot back: "Our MPs, Medics and field surgeon can easily identify bugs, rats, and dirt, and they did." Ultimately, the food contract was not renewed, an Army spokeswoman says, although the contractor holds other contracts with the military.

Some officers told Taguba's staff that they believed the Abu Ghraib mess had its roots in an earlier case at the Camp Bucca detention center in southern Iraq last summer. The Army developed evidence that MPs viciously attacked prisoners there, including one who had his face smashed in. Four soldiers were given less than honorable discharges, but were not prosecuted. Said one major who worked at Abu Ghraib: "I'm convinced that what happened [at Abu Ghraib] would never have happened if" the Camp Bucca case had been prosecuted.
I'm speechless.

7/09/2004

George Will and Stupid Editorials

When I read op-eds like yesterday's Washington Post offering from George Will: The Left, At a Loss in Kansas, the wretched state of conservative political discourse hits home. At least it gives me an opportunity to "Fisk" (a ridiculous name for the practice of hostilely dissecting articles).

It has come to this: The crux of the political left's complaint about Americans is that they are insufficiently materialistic.
Will is taking advantage of ambiguity in the word "materialistic." From dictionary.com:
  • The theory that physical matter is the only reality and that everything, including thought, feeling, mind, and will, can be explained in terms of matter and physical phenomena.
  • The theory or attitude that physical well-being and worldly possessions constitute the greatest good and highest value in life.
  • A great or excessive regard for worldly concerns.
It is no great revelation that liberals tend to disagree with the second meaning and to agree with the third. Especially in contrast to the quasi-religious idealism of modern social-conservatism, which reserves all of its moral condemnation for ephemeral "threats" presented by benign choices of random people, completely ignoring the values underlying, for instance, an effort to ensure universal health coverage.
For a century, the left has largely failed to enact its agenda for redistributing wealth. What the left has achieved is a rich literature of disappointment, explaining the mystery, as the left sees it, of why most Americans are impervious to the left's appeal.
This paragraph is meaningless. Social Security is a fairly successful liberal program, as are environmental protections, protections for worker's rights, civil rights, and women's rights. Not to mention that "redistribution" has little to do with the left agenda. The real question is how fair the initial distribution is - making sure people have the power to get their fair share from the economy.

Also note that Al Gore received more votes than George W. Bush.
An interesting addition to this canon is "What's the Matter With Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America." Its author, Thomas Frank, argues that his native Kansas -- like the nation, only more so -- votes self-destructively, meaning conservatively, because social issues such as abortion distract it from economic self-interest, as the left understands that.
I haven't read Frank's book, though I did read the preview article in Harpers, and I have his One Market Under God. Frank's argument isn't an argument per se, it is a simple fact. The conservative electoral coalition has significant tension, primarily between social conservatives and economic conservatives. They are certainly not natural partners, and most conservative strategists recognize this.
Frank is a formidable controversialist -- imagine Michael Moore with a trained brain and an intellectual conscience. Frank has a coherent theory of contemporary politics and expresses it with a verve born of indignation. His carelessness about facts is mild by contemporary standards, or lack thereof, concerning the ethics of controversy.
I actually think One Market Under God, despite the importance of its argument and my agreement with it, was poorly argued and poorly organized. Conservatives imbue market transactions with moral significance, assuming that market valuations in some sense represent democratic validation. Frank criticizes the argument, especially as it reached its heydey in the tech-driven hysteria of the 90s, but he could have used a more powerful editor.
He says "the pre-eminent question of our times" is why people misunderstand "their fundamental interests." But Frank ignores this question: Why does the left disparage what everyday people consider their fundamental interests?
This is a radical "democratic" argument that asumes revealed preferences are equivalent to actual preferences. The whole question is how people arrive at their electoral preferences: what are the contours of the American sociodicy? "Max Weber said that dominant groups always need a 'theodicy of their own privilege,' or more precisely, a sociodicy, in other words a theoretical justification of the fact that they are privileged. Competence is nowadays at the heart of that sociodicy, which is accepted, naturally, by the dominant - it is in their interest - but also by the others." Pierre Bourdieu, Acts of Resistance: Against the Tyranny of the Market 43. Yeah, so I just quoted a French theorist. The divergent sociodocies embraced by the Republicans and Democrats is one of the most fascinating question of our time.
He says the left has been battered by "the Great Backlash" of people of modest means against their obvious benefactor and wise definer of their interests, the Democratic Party. The cultural backlash has been, he believes, craftily manufactured by rich people with the only motives the left understands -- money motives. The aim of the rich is to manipulate people of modest means, making them angry about abortion and other social issues so that they will vote for Republicans who will cut taxes on the rich.
The Backlash has been one against community and shared values, against the realization that we are all in this together. Conservatives have denigrated the idea of common good or public interest so successfully that they unquestioningly mock those who invoke it. The turn to a personal, rather than a collective (bad word) morality is a difficult question, because everybody is hurt by our betrayal of cooperation and our unquestioning elevation of individualism.

Consider, for instance, school vouchers. My main problem with school vouchers is that, like most privatization schemes, they are merely a euphemism for abdication of a collective responsibility. As a society, we have an obligation and a responsibility to make sure that everybody gets a good education. Vouchers, cloaked under an argument that they are a method to achieving that end, shift the responsibility for ensuring a high quality education to parents and private schools.
Such fevered thinking is a staple of what historian Richard Hofstadter called "the paranoid style in American politics," a style practiced, even pioneered, a century ago by prairie populists. You will hear its echo in John Edwards's lament about the "two Americas" -- the few rich victimizing the powerless many.
Hofstadter is rolling in his grave. This administration embodies his paranoid style down to the footnotes. It is characterized by threat inflation (are we still on yellow today?), the meticulous documentation of unrelated connections (Stephen Hayes), and bigotry (homosexual agenda?). Hofstadter wrote the Paranoid Style as a description of Goldwater and his minions, people that blamed Communists, Masons and Catholics for all that ailed the world. The paranoid style has been the ascendant style of American conservatism since at least 1994.
Frank frequently lapses into the cartoon politics of today's enraged left, as when he says Kansas is a place of "implacable bitterness" and America resembles "a panorama of madness and delusion worthy of Hieronymus Bosch." Yet he wonders why a majority of Kansans and Americans are put off by people like him who depict their society like that.
Why aren't people put off by hellfire and brimstone conservatism?
He says, delusionally, that conservatives have "smashed the welfare state." Actually, it was waxing even before George W. Bush's prescription drug entitlement. He says, falsely, that the inheritance tax has been "abolished." He includes the required -- by the left's current catechism -- blame of Wal-Mart for destroying the sweetness of Main Street shopping. "Capitalism" is his succinct, if uninformative, explanation of a worldwide phenomenon of the past century -- the declining portion of people in agricultural employment -- which he seems to regret.
They have destroyed - explicitly - our obligation to work together. The prescription drug entitlement is a farce, and welfare is undoubtedly now a punitive program, an expansion of the right hand of the state. The inheritance tax, one of the clearest symbols of the belief that we get what we have in part because we come from such a great society, has been turned into an illegitimate tax on family farmers. The elevation of the consumer over the producer and the family businessman further sacrifices our collective repsonsibilities for the gain of some individuals.
If you believe, as Frank does, that opposing abortion is inexplicably silly, and if you make no more attempt than Frank does to empathize with people who care deeply about it, then of course you, like Frank, will consider scores of millions of your fellow citizens lunatics. Because conservatives have, as Frank says, achieved little cultural change in recent decades, he considers their persistence either absurd or part of a sinister plot to create "cultural turmoil" to continue "the erasure of the economic" from politics.
Voting for one party because it claims to oppose abortion, while the same party is promoting your exploitation, is "inexplicably silly."
Frank regrets that Bill Clinton's "triangulation" strategy -- minimizing Democrats' economic differences with Republicans -- contributed to the erasure. Politics would indeed be simpler, and more to the liking of liberals, if each citizen were homo economicus, relentlessly calculating his or her economic advantage, and concluding that liberalism serves it. But politics has never been like that, and it is becoming even less so.
This is the opposite of Frank's argument. Liberals are more than happy with homo sapiens. Conservatives want homo productivus.
When the Cold War ended, Pat Moynihan warned, with characteristic prescience, that it would be, like all blessings, a mixed one, because passions -- ethnic and religious -- that were long frozen would come to a boil. There has been an analogous development in America's domestic politics.
I suppose that our ethnic and religious passions are hotter now than they were in 1968. Someone inform Mark Kurlansky.
The economic problem, as understood during two centuries of industrialization, has been solved. We can reliably produce economic growth and have moderated business cycles. Hence many people, emancipated from material concerns, can pour political passions into other -- some would say higher -- concerns. These include the condition of the culture, as measured by such indexes as the content of popular culture, the agendas of public education and the prevalence of abortion.
Mr. Will should someday bother to descend from elite Washington culture and Baltimore sky boxes. His pollyannish, end of history, interpretation of the American economy would be news to many. This is the sort of slip up that gives the lie to the conservative argument that they represent the common person.
So, what's the matter with Kansas? Not much, other than it is has not measured up -- down, actually -- to the left's hope for a more materialistic politics.

7/08/2004

Knowing Where Your Bread is Buttered

Big corporations are pissed off at the Edwards selection and are increasing their support for Bush-Cheney. The poorly titled Edsall article in the Washington Post reports:

Business contributors provoked by the choice of Edwards are likely to turn to the Republican National Committee. Both national party committees can help their presidential candidates during the general election.

Greg Casey, president and chief executive of the Business Industry Political Action Committee, said the formation of a Kerry-Edwards ticket "allows us to make a stark contrast. . . . This is a statement to the business community that 'you don't count.' "

Dirk Van Dongen, president of the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors, said, "There aren't many things today that cause an immediate emotional reaction, but the nerves of the business community really ping when you hear the phrase 'trial lawyer.' Trial lawyers are really viewed as just being predators."

Before Edwards was picked, Thomas J. Donohue, president of the Chamber of Commerce, unsuccessfully sought to nip the choice of Edwards in the bud by threatening in an interview with Alan Murray of the Wall Street Journal to end his group's neutrality in the presidential contest to work against Kerry.

The chamber's fight with the trial law bar "is so fundamental to what we do . . . that we can't walk away from it," Donohue said.
Yesterday Weisman in the Post reported that
Business associations in Washington were uniformly hostile yesterday to John Kerry's choice of Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) as his running mate, promising that a trial lawyer on the ticket will energize them and their members to defeat the Democrats in November.
Hopkins and Jones in USA Today have a good article, as does The Hill:
“Whenever you mention the term trial attorney to the business community, you cause an apoplectic reaction, a visceral reaction,” said Dirk Van Dongen, president of the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributers. “If this ticket succeeds, it will be the death knell for legal reform for so long as they occupy the White House.”

The Senate is scheduled to debate the class-action reform measure this week.

“John Edwards is a trial attorney,” Casey said. “One of our most important issues is tort reform. Now they are showing that they’ve made a decision on where they stand on that.”

Casey also expressed concerns that a Kerry administration could appoint judges sympathetic to the plaintiffs’ bar, which could thwart business groups’ efforts to rein in the number of lawsuits filed against companies.
Last week Donohue of the Chamber of Commerce told workers who lost their jobs to outsourcing to "stop whining."
Donohue acknowledged the pain for people who have lost jobs to offshoring - an estimated 250,000 a year, according to government estimates. But pockets of unemployment shouldn't lead to "anecdotal politics and policies," he said, and people affected by offshoring should "stop whining."

"One job sent overseas, if it happens to be my job, is one too many," Donohue said. "But the benefits of offshoring jobs outweighs the cost."
If Kerry-Edwards lost his support (this press release criticizing him probably didn't help), it must mean they are doing something right. Good riddance to the Babbits that don't realize good jobs make good business.

Civil Discourse/Optimism

The best thing thus far about the Edwards selection is how crisply it has flipped the "optimism" meme. Milbank first hinted at this, counterposing Bush's civil welcome to Edwards with the egregious RNC talking points. Bush's civility didn't last long, though. He tartly accused Edwards of being unfit for the presidency. Kerry-Edwards responded with a nice press release and some aggressive remarks from the stump.

Bush also attacked Kerry-Edwards on judicial nominations. The KE campaign responded well. Meanwhile, the positive Johns keep on chugging, and Grieve of Salon likes the contrast between Edwards and Cheney.

Even Maureen Dowd was distracted from her fashion commentary to notice:

It's hilarious that the Republicans are trying to paint their ticket as the more optimistic one.

Mr. Cheney and Mr. Bush radiate negativity, even as Mr. Edwards and his photogenic blond kids glow for the cameras. Dick Cheney glowers for the camera, a Dr. No with a dark vision that has resulted in a gigantic global mess. (When he was stopped by applause at a campaign stop in Altoona, Pa., on Sunday, he asked, "You guys want to hear this speech or not?")

Unfortunately for this White House, it is Mr. Edwards's great talent to talk about the class warfare of "two Americas" in a sunny way. The Breck Girl is already getting under the Boy King's thin skin.

President Bush should have easily knocked a question about Mr. Edwards — nicknamed the Breck Girl by Bush officials — out of the park. But he whiffed. Steve Holland of Reuters noted that Senator Edwards was being described "as charming, engaging, a nimble campaigner, a populist and even sexy. How does he stack up against Dick Cheney?"

W. should have given a sly smile and drawled, "You mean you don't find Vice sexy?" Instead, he looked irritated and spit out his answer: "Dick Cheney can be president." Indeed, he already is.
Also notable is this exchange from the 7/6 gaggle:
Q Scott, on that point, the President has talked about changing the tone in Washington, to making the debate more civil. But the Republican National Committee put out this statement on Edwards, calling him "disingenuous and unaccomplished." The Bush-Cheney campaign put out talking points saying that Senator Edwards "delivers his pessimism with a southern drawl and a smile." Is that helpful?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I mean, is there something in there you're disputing? (Laughter.) I think it's perfectly reasonable to talk about the differences on the issues and to talk about the record. And I think that's what you're seeing being discussed here by the campaign and by the RNC. The President believes that we should focus on the policy differences and focus on the leadership styles, and that's what he will continue to do as we move forward on this campaign.

Q So you're agreeing with those statements then, that he is disingenuous and unaccomplished?

MR. McCLELLAN: Like I said, it's perfectly legitimate to talk about the issues and the differences on those issues, as well as to discuss the record. There are individuals in this race who have records, and those records are a reflection of how they would lead in office.

Q You don't seen this as personal attacks, you see this as policy --

MR. McCLELLAN: Suzanne, there are clear choices in this election, and the President wants the discussion to focus on the issues and the differences on those issues. There are clear choices and there are clear philosophical differences for the voters, come November. And the President will keep this focused on the issues and talking about his positive vision for the way forward for our country.

Q So you don't have a problem with the language and the tone?

MR. McCLELLAN: Like I said, it's perfectly legitimate to talk about the issues and the differences and to talk about the record.

Q Can I follow in that vein? Has the President ever had a word with the Vice President about his use of profanity in the United States Senate?

MR. McCLELLAN: Ed, I've previously discussed this issue. This issue came up while we were, I believe, in Ireland, and I addressed it at that point. And that's where it stands.

Q So the answer is, no, the President has not --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President has regular conversations with the Vice President.

Q But about that issue?

Q Scott, why is the President going to Edwards' home state tomorrow?

MR. McCLELLAN: He is going there to -- two things. One, he will be going there to meet with some of his judicial nominees in North Carolina. And then he will go to Michigan later in the day to meet with some of his judicial nominees whose confirmation hearings and votes have been blocked by a small number of Democrats in the United States Senate.
UPDATE: I found this Salon article after I wrote all this. I might as well have cut and pasted.

Kerry-Edwards 2004

The Democrats failed in one of their first major "rapid-reaction" tests of the 2004 presidential campaign. John Kerry stealthily picked his running mate, John Edwards, Tuesday morning, but the entire first news cycle was dominated by republican oppo-research, published within minutes of the announcement [it was posted on US Newswire at 8:31 am]. The Kerry campaign release wasn't even posted until over an hour later [9:43], and his speech not for another 15 minutes [9:58]. The factsheet on Edwards wasn't posted for another hour [11:04] Edwards' statement was posted at 11:51. A Kerry-Edwards response to the Bush-Cheney "First Choice" ad (claiming Kerry prefeerred McCain) was posted at 12:22, and their solid fact-check of the "First Choice" ad was posted at 1:10.

Clearly, we are dealing with a feckless press, an institution that either couldn't bother to invest the resources to prep its own stories or didn't want to be "scooped" by some other entity running bullshit RNC slander, so went with the virtually unrebutted RNC talking points on day one. The New York Times reported on the talking points. The Boston Globe reported on the talking points. The Washington Post's Dana Milbank and Mike Allen do the best job of reporting on the talking points. The Dallas Morning News reported on the Talking Points. The Los Angeles Times reported, but only marginally, on the talking points. Of course, had any press group refused to run the talking points until day two, they would have gotten the "liberal media" brand.

Most of the media coverage of the talking points was not favorable, not endorsing the allegations - much of it was reporting on the phenomenon of the RNC quick response. The problem with that, though, is that it lets the media treat the RNC talking points as more of a story than the VP selection itself. It changes the focus of the conversation and lets the GOP gain the upper hand on one of the few days we deserve to be on top. When a rapid response team's silly little shenanigans can rival the second biggest event in an election cycle, you know they are doing something right.

The NYT is still reporting on the talking points, particularly on the claim that Edwards is inexperienced.

The most obnoxious aspect of this little misadventure is that the oppo talking points were so bad. There was nothing in there that would a. stick, b. not blowback, or c. sway voters. The "arguments" were:

  • John McCain was the first choice [blowback];
  • Edwards isn't experienced [blowback];
  • John Edwards is a trial lawyer [no cost at polls];
  • John Edwards is liberal [won't stick].
We got punk'd by a half assed operation because they were quick.

So today, the media is saying nice things about Edwards. Wilgoren of the NYT may have a crush, and other NYT reporting is decent. Atrios definitely does. The LA Times has a nice piece, as does the Washington Post, the Guardian, the BBC, and so on. These stories should have come out on Wednesday.

MSNBC reports on a poll showing that Edwards helps the ticket [Princeton Survey]; Reuters reports on a different poll showing the same thing [CNN].

Here's what we should have done: when Kerry sent out his e-mailed announcement, he should have included a link to talking points, rebuttal points, and polls, all showing how Edwards would help the ticket. The talking points should be aggressive but positive, and should pre-empt conservative arguments. Things like: Edwards brings intelligence (intelligent?) experience to the ticket; Edwards increases voice for powerless; Campaign realizes it will upset business, but Edwards is best man for job; etc.

7/07/2004

Mylroie and Interpretation

I don't fancy myself a gullible guy. I "know" that I heard Bush alleging collaboration between bin Laden and Hussein, but I will concede that my memories of those statements are stronger than most of the transcripts reflect. Part of this is simply a tribute to the quality of Bush's speechwriters. Bush probably didn't understand the nuances between the collaborative relationship he was implying and the insignificant relationship for which he was claiming there was evidence. To keep him on message, to keep him from overstating the ties as well as they did, is a testament to their skill.

It wasn't just skilled rhetorical craftmanship that led me to strengthen the administration's relatively equivocal statements on OBL-SH ties. Part of it was mere cognitive dissonance: I didn't (and still don't) understand the case for war absent stronger ties. It's not even that I don't understand it: I don't believe it can be, or would be, made in good faith without a belief in collaborative ties.

Another reason for my credulousness is that there were people outside the administration, but with close ideological and personal ties to it, that were pushing the stronger version of ties. Outside parties, many closely allied with the administration, strongly supported the administration's perceived contention that there was collaboration between Iraq and al-Qaeda. Against this fusillade of implication and innuendo, the administration offered either no defense, or tacit endorsement. When there is only one advocate claiming meaningful OBL-SH ties, and that argument is publicly acknowledged within the administration, and the administration confronts it only with silence or rhetorical mimicry, it is fair to conclude that they mean something similar to that outside source.

Suppose Richard Perle accused Saddam Hussein of employing Dracula. If the administration later claimed "Hussein had ties to vampirism," should we interpret this to mean Saddam liked Tom Cruise in Interview with the Vampire?

The best example of this is Laurie Mylroie. Peter Bergen has a new, must-read article in the Guardian on Mylroie. Mylroie is a source of infinite depth on the OBL-SH connection. She testified about her theories before the 9-11 Commission. She is most famous for her insistence that Iraq was behind the WTC bombing in '93. Much of Mylroie's writing is posted on the web page of the consulting group she works for, Benador Associates.

Mylroie has no credibility among normal humans. She was demolished by Peter Bergen in Armchair Provocateur, an earlier article he wrote for the Washington Monthly. Her irrational hostility to the CIA (presaging recent events, perhaps) was detailed by David Corn in the LA Weekly. Juan Cole calls her Rasputin, noting the low standards typical of her work.

Nonetheless, she still holds considerable sway in the administration. Richard Clarke had this to say:

"Mylroie's thesis was that there was an elaborate plot by Saddam to attack the United States and that Yousef/Basit was his instrument, beginning with the first World trade Center bombing. Her writing gathered a small cult following, including the recently relieved CIA Director Jim Woolsey and Wolfowitz."
Richard Clarke, AGAINST ALL ENEMIES: INSIDE AMERICA'S WAR ON TERROR 95 (2004). Clarke refers to Jason Vest's November 2001 Village Voice article on the "intelligence" attitudes of the Department of Defense. Later, Clarke claims, with disbelief, that
"Wolfowitz was actually spouting the totally discredited Laurie Mylroie theory that Iraq was behind the 1993 truck bomb at the World Trade Center, a theory that had been investigated for years and found to be totally untrue."
Richard Clarke, AGAINST ALL ENEMIES: INSIDE AMERICA'S WAR ON TERROR 232 (2004).

She was spouting this nonsense. Significant figures in the administration believed it. The official line paralleled it closely. Was I naive to assume that her ideas had influence? Perhaps. Regardless, the administration profited from her conspiracy theories, and certainly never undertook any effort to deny or repudiate them.

I can take being duped. I can't help but wonder, however, if I would rather the recent bout of wordsmithing had not taken place, that I could continue to believe that the administration actually believed in collaborative OBL-SH ties. Would I rather be governed by a scylla of a cynically manipulative, yet precise, group that wages war without justification, or a charybdis of a misguided group of dolts? I think I'll just vote for John Kerry.

CIA Can Take Care of Itself

Allies of the Bush administration walk a fine line when they accuse the CIA of misleading us into war in Iraq. Normally, this sort of self-serving blame shifting would be just more depressing evidence of the administration's refusal to accept responsibility for anything. Dealing with the CIA, though, I am fully confident that there will be no acquiescence by the Agency: these charges will be answered, either formally, or through leaks. In fact, the more the administration blames the CIA, the more hope I have that the truth will come out.

The Senate Committee on Intelligence is expected to release a long delayed report on Friday, blaming the CIA for intelligence failures concerning Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction related program activities.

The blogosphere has already mocked the charges. James Risen, the NYT reporter that broke the story, should have remembered some of his earlier "context."

My favorite story line is that the CIA was duped by defectors despite the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency warnings:

Defectors also duped the CIA, which continued to believe one Iraqi claiming knowledge of Saddam's biological weapons, even after it had been warned by the Defence Intelligence Agency at the Pentagon that he was almost certainly peddling false information.
That one should produce some fine rebuttals from the CIA. Chalabi and his band of dog-wagging defectors were creatures of the DoD.

The ridiculousness of the Senate Report is highlighted by the White House floating John Lehman, of the 9-11 Commission, as a replacement for George Tenet as DCI. Lehman is the strongest defender on the Commission of the exact claims now being blamed on the CIA.

7/06/2004

Ansar al-Islam and pan-Islamic Fundamentalism

Kurdish politics are so Byzantine, both literally and figuratively, that I can not organize my thoughts on the Ansar al-Islam. I can't seem to nail down anything about the nature of the group, its leaders, its allies, or its connections. In lieu of putting together a conclusive post on Ansar, I am going to post a series of open-ended arguments.

Preface: Middle East Scholarship and an Introduction to Ansar al-Islam

There is a lot of information about Ansar available on the web. Unfortunately, much of it is contradictory, and most of it comes not from policy analysts but policy entrepreneurs [I stole that phrase from Krugman, but a quick google shows that it has been used in the context of ME policy]. M.A. Muqtedar Khan, writing in Middle East Policy, describes policy entrepreneurs:

The policy community has seen the gradual development of a third dimension, composed of non-academic and even some academic experts, former government employees, journalists and lobbyists. Unlike the academics, the policy entrepreneurs' interest in the issue is not intellectual, nor is their objective the advancement of knowledge. They are primarily driven by a policy preference, which they seek to impose on the policy-making process. They bring a composite of concern, professionalism and ideological activism to bear on this task.

The most articulate and outspoken policy entrepreneur is Daniel Pipes, director of the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia. Others are Judith Miller, a senior New York Times reporter; Steve Emerson, a free-lance reporter and documentary film maker; professors Barry Rubin, Patrick Clawson and Bernard Lewis (the quintessential Orientalist); Martin Kramer, an Israeli academic; and think-tank analysts like Peter Rodman of the Nixon Institute. These individuals stand out for their consistent policy preferences regarding Islamic resurgence. I am not suggesting that the group acts in cohesion to advance a particular objective. But in their similar policy preferences and their radical departure from the policy recommendations of the practitioners and academics, they constitute a distinct group.
Many policy entrepreneurs are characterized only by the ability to google and a reluctance to "do nuance."

Much of the public information on Ansar originates with conservative think tanks. Two in particular, the Jamestown foundation and the Washington Institute, are widely cited. The Jamestown Foundation accepts money from right-wing foundations, as does the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Obviously, these people are pushing an agenda, and their information should be received very skeptically. Unfortunately, it's what we have to work with.

Citations

Michael Rubin, The Islamist Threat in Iraqi Kurdistan, Middle East Intelligence Bulletin December 2001. "Michael Rubin is an adjunct fellow of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, currently resident at Hebrew University's Leonard Davis Institute for International Relations. He spent nine months in the 2000-2001 academic year as a visiting lecturer in northern Iraqi universities." He discusses the rise of Jund al-Islam, the predecessor of Ansar, from various Kurdish fundamentalist groups.

Mahan Abedin, Analyzing Ansar al-Islam, 6/12/04. Abedin provides a nice, credulous summary of some of the Rubin and Schanzer's claims about Ansar. Abedin is a "financial consultant and Middle East analyst" for the Jamestown Foundation.

Jonathan Schanzer, Ansar al-Islam: Back in Iraq, Middle East Quarterly, Winter 2004. "Jonathan Schanzer is a Soref Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. This article draws upon his forthcoming monograph, Al-Qaeda's Affiliates: Exploiting Weak Central Authority in the Arab World (The Washington Institute)."

Matthew Levitt, Placing Iraq and Zarqawi in the Terror Web, PolicyWatch #710. Matthew Levitt is "a senior fellow in terrorism studies at The Washington Institute [for Near East Policy]." He provides a run-down of the claims alleged to support Colin Powell's Feb. 03 speech citing Ansar as a reason for invading Iraq.

Human Rights Watch has a backgrounder on Ansar. It has no by-line and is unsourced.

IISS, Al Qaeda in Northern Iraq, Strategic Comments 8:7 9/02

Media:

Michael Howard, Militant Kurds Training al-Qaida Fighters, The Guardian 8/23/02

The Christian Science Monitor has two pieces, one from
March 2002
and one from October 2003.

C.J. Chivers, “Kurds Face a Second Enemy: Islamic Fighters on Iraq Flank”, The New York Times, 1/13/03 reprinted here.

7/05/2004

No Surprise Here

There has been no follow through on John Ashcroft's ominous May terrorism warnings.

More than a month ago, the FBI announced it would launch a wave of interviews across the country as part of an urgent effort to root out a suspected terrorist attack planned for the U.S. this summer.

Preparations for the attack were 90% complete, U.S. Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft said at the time. Preparations for the interviews are another story. It's already July, and the FBI is still weeks away from launching the initiative, law enforcement officials confirm.

The interviews were included in a series of measures that the Justice Department and FBI announced at a May 26 news conference, calling attention to what Ashcroft said was "credible intelligence from multiple sources" that terrorists planned to hit the U.S. "hard" this summer.

An FBI official, speaking on condition of anonymity, says the delay shows that FBI officials are being meticulous in deciding whom they want to interview. A similar effort that focused on Muslim neighborhoods before the war in Iraq last year drew complaints of racial profiling.

But the delay also is bolstering a perception that Ashcroft's warning — which included poster-size photos of suspects, most of whom had been previously identified — was a public relations exercise that sent mixed signals to citizens, including Arab Americans.
The warnings reflected little new threat information, and the new info. was easily discredited; in fact, the Boston Globe discredited it months before the announcement. Two of the identified suspects may have already been apprehended (here and here). The warnings contradicted Tom Ridge's comments from earlier in the same day. The Department of Homeland Security and other Republicans criticized Ashcroft for his grandstanding. Major cities, including New York and Los Angeles, were given no information about the threats.

Ashcroft has a well deserved reputation for using terrorism threats to change the news cycle. Just one more piece of evidence.

Jack Reed on DoD Secrecy

Sen. Jack Reed D-RI interviewed by The Hill's "Bisnow:"

Available at Bisnow:

Q: Who's turning you down, exactly?
A: Well, I think it goes all the way from Secretary Rumsfeld all the way through, it is the civilian leadership...my sense is it's Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and the other civilians.

Q: What for example are you asking for that you're turned down on?
A: Well, I've been asking for months for a report that was prepared on Iraq security forces by General Carl Eichenberry...I think it would have been very useful for the Congress to look at this documentation...and that stonewalling has not only prevented us from doing our job but hurt them too, because they've been in denial for months now about the Iraqi security forces and finally they're admitting that they don't have the right equipment or the right leadership or the right numbers.

Q: Why do you think they're turning you down?
A: Well, I believe there's this overall sense of secrecy and of making decisions closely held, and, you know, when it comes to national security matters that's usually done by the process of classifying information, which we respect. Here it's a much more sort of political angle. They just don't want anything getting out. They don't want to share information, they don't want to encourage a constructive dialogue between the the Congress and the Defense Department.

Q: Are you suggesting the Bush administration is unique?
A: I think the Bush Administration has taken a natural reluctance to talk about these tough issues to a new height...I think this bespeaks not a Republican-Democrat but just a mindset in the Pentagon that, you know, you people have no role in what we're doing, you don't need to know anything, and just butt out.

 

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