Friday, June 04, 2004

 

Sharon's Disengagement

So it seems that Sharon has actually accomplished some form of disengagement - he has disengaged himself from National Union cabinet members Avigdor Lieberman and Benny Elon (although Elon says he will do everything he can to avoid getting the letter of dismissal - you gotta love Israeli politics). In the meantime, there is a large rift within the Likud party, there are some rumblings from the National Religious Party about ministers resigning and possibly quitting the government, and Shas is trying to build support for a no-confidence motion. It seems that even if Sharon manages to pack the cabinet with his cronies and gets the disengagement plan "passed", it is a far cry from actually happening. Sharon's promise of no settlers in Gaza by 2005 seems about as likely as Bush's promise of a Palestinian state in 2005. In fact, one of the selling points that Netanyahu used to try to sell the NRP on the disengagement plan was that it could be halted at any time. If it's this hard to actually pass a modified disengagement plan that can be stopped at any time, imagine the difficulty of trying to get support for a military evacuation of the settlements. Pretty unlikely (Of course, Bush bought it hook, line, and sinker - I think he said that Sharon was as trustworthy as Ahmed Chalabi... or maybe he looked deep into his eyes and saw Vlad Putin's soul). Also, I'm (not entirely comfortably) finding myself liking Tommy Lapid more and more:
Shinui chairman Justice Minister Yosef Lapid said Friday that Lieberman should have been fired from the government even if there had been no vote on the disengagement plan. Lapid told Israel Radio that Lieberman's plan to deport Israeli Arabs who did not show loyalty to the state "compels his removal from the government."

 

Thoughts on Tenet

I think there are quite a few people out there who think that CIA director George Tenet was fired yesterday. I must say I am one of them - I believe that with things going poorly in Iraq, especially given the whole Chalabi affair, Tenet took the fall. Despite the fact that the CIA had soured on Chalabi, I think Bush & co. can paint a "We're making changes to make sure our intelligence doesn't fail us again" picture with this and a lot of people will buy it. Given that we don't know whether Tenet actually resigned or was canned, Juan Cole gives three reasons why Tenet should have resigned:
(1) Bush has retained counsel to advise him on the outing of Valerie Plame as a CIA agent. "That Bush retained counsel suggests that he intends to continue to cover for the slime who outed Plame, thereby endangering the lives of dozens of key contacts in the Third World who had been seen hanging out with her over the years when she had a cover as an energy consultant."
(2) Bush paid no heed to Tenet's reservations about the existence of an Iraqi nuclear weapons program, and used the threat of Iraqi nuclear weapons to lead the country into war. "The nuclear claim helped convince the country to go to war. It was false. Tenet knew it was false. He told Bush that. Bush either knew it was false and said it anyway, or he disbelieved Tenet. Either thing should have produced Tenet's resignation."
(3) Somebody leaked sensitive intelligence information to Ahmed Chalabi about Iranian codes. "The leaker is probably a neocon with Defense Department links. Bush could also produce this person if he wanted to. He has not."

Cole's conclusion:
Note that Plame's portfolio was fighting the spread of weapons of mass destruction. Someone in Bush's circle set that effort back years by outing her. And note that having broken Iran's code, the US was in a better position to monitor any Iranian efforts to develop WMD. Now that capability has been lost.

With all this brouhaha about fighting weapons of mass destruction proliferation, the Bush administration has actually set back those efforts horribly, for the purposes of petty political gain. It took us to war in Iraq on a WMD pretext. But that turns out to have been a scam on someone's part, and we are much less safe now than before.
Given Cole's assessment of the situation, why is it, then, that polls show Americans as trusting George Bush when it comes to national security more than they trust John Kerry? It's because he says so. As eagerly as he trumpets false claims of Iraq's threat to the US, Bush trumpets his own accomplishments in quashing that threat. Bush speaks as if he is winning. He says things that would lead you to believe that the war on terrorism has been wildly successful, that everything in Afghanistan is under control, that Al Qaeda is on the run. Attacks on the US are evidence that "the enemy is desperate." Despite evidence to the contrary, Bush says what people want to hear - that "we" are winning the war on terror. That feeds into people's genuine fear of terrorism and the results are evident in the polls. Now, of course, Republicans use the polls to point to Bush's success in national security and defense and counter-terrorism and all that, as if polls are an indication of accomplishments. The fact of the matter is that Bush's record is disgraceful - his only real success has been in taking advantage of people's fear and to constantly say good things about himself.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

 

Johnny Cash shot a man in Reno, but never at the...

Guardians of Freedom Memorial Post Office Building! And I say that to say this: how do I get the Silver Spring Post Office changed to "The Main Repository of Decency on This Earth Memorial Post Office Building?" (I mean, Ben Stein is from Silver Spring yknow.)

 

Unless....

On his blog, Juan Cole writes:
Some observers have speculated that the entire Iraq war may have been an Iranian plot, with the Iranians using Chalabi to feed false information about Iraq's weapons programs to the US. They would then have used one enemy, the US, to get rid of another, Saddam, and would as a result have liberated the Iraqi Shiite community.

I want to intervene on this meme. It is impossible. Chalabi and the other Iraqi expatriates certainly gamed the Bush administration. But it is not credible to me that Iranian intelligence actively sought a US invasion of Iraq.
Unless...there was a Mole in Our Midst! Crazy? Or crazy like a fox!

 

Neocons out of favor?

When on May 13th, 2004, Dr. Hanan Ashrawi said that she thought that if Bush were re-elected the neocons would have less influence in the Bush administration, I thought that she was probably going to be proved wrong. After all, second term presidents have more freedom, right? They don't have to face re-election, they can do things that aren't particularly popular, they have more leeway. Well, it turns out that I may not be as smart as Dr. Ashrawi (shocking, I know). Jim Lobe writes of a Neo-Con Collapse in Washington and Baghdad. Pointing to the formation of the Iraq Stabilization Group by Condoleezza Rice and Robert Blackwill that "gradually wrested control of Iraq policy from the Pentagon," Lobe writes:
It was a process in which Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) chief Paul Bremer, who had come to detest Chalabi and his neo-con backers in Baghdad and Washington, was an enthusiastic participant and which was effectively completed with the announcement late last month that the State Department was taking over the 14 billion dollars in reconstruction money for Iraq that the Pentagon has not yet spent.
Lobe also points to growing disdain for the neocons within the more traditional conservatives of the Republican Party (such as Kansas Senator Pat Roberts) and references a May 1st meeting between Rice, Richard Perle, James Woolsey, and others.
When Perle, Woolsey and several other neo-cons visited Rice at the White House on May 1 to protest the shoddy treatment Chalabi was receiving at the hands of the CIA, Bremer and the State Department, participants said she thanked them for their views and offered nothing more. Neither Rumsfeld nor Cheney nor any of their neo-con aides attended.
One can only hope that this isn't an overeager jump to conclusions that won't prove out. If Bush wins the election in November he may pack more neocons in (although I'm not sure how many more clowns will fit in that car), but unless things look up in Iraq (which seems doubtful - damn us sourpuss whining lefties, why can't we ever be positive?) the neocons might be on the outside looking in, inshallah. Of course the whole thing might just be easier if Kerry won.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

 

...And Getting Greasier By The Minute

On the American Prospect Online, Christy Harvey takes the Bush administration to task for their handling of defense contracts (The Big Greasy). Harvey wonders how the White House could award CACI International a brand-new $88 million contract to supply computer support for the Navy after it's role in the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal. Harvey writes:
CACI International initially was paid $66 million for its work in Iraq, which included supplying the military with interrogators. (No one seemed especially concerned that the company had no actual experience in professional interrogations.) In return for this contract, the U.S. government received interrogators like Steven Stefanowicz, the CACI employee considered by Major General Antonio Taguba to be "directly or indirectly responsible" for encouraging the horrific abuse and torture at Abu Ghraib. Today, the company is ensnared in five separate probes into misconduct, including an investigation by the General Services Administration, which would ban the company from receiving future government contracts.
And yet CACI received the $88 million contract. By contracting out defense, the US has absolutely lost control of its security. Supposedly, contracting out services makes everything more efficient - the market polices itself, allowing efficient and effective contractors to flourish and letting the rest fall to the side. Instead, there seems to be no competition (one could fairly state that CACI has done an unsatisfactory job of fulfilling its previous contract), contracts are given to companies that do not exhibit any particular capabilities (see CACI's experience with supplying interrogators as mentioned in Harvey's article), and the military has become increasingly dependent on contractors (not only because of how thin the military is spread - thanks a lot W, but also because skilled and experienced military or defense specialists know that they can earn more money working for a contractor than they could by working for the government). So the military becomes increasingly dependent on contractors who are accountable only to their CEOs it seems. What a disaster! Harvey's article doesn't stop with CACI (and neither does the Bush administration's poor history of giving contracts to delinquent firms): Titan, Northrop Grumman, Halliburton (you didn't think we could have this discussion without bringing up Halliburton did you?). It seems like Bush & co. may have started thinking about fighting for democracy in the Middle East, but then got sidetracked, like "What's better than democracy? Well... wealth" and "Who's more important than the Middle East? Umm... large companies with funny names (and funny connections to the veep)." Victory is just on the horizon.

 

Bueller... Bueller?

Ben Stein is at it again with the crazy comedy of his. This time, Stein says that "Something is terribly wrong with media coverage of the war in Iraq." Apparently, Stein doesn't think that Americans abusing Iraqis prisoners is worth the outrage. And why not? Well, it doesn't play up the fact that the US is better than Saddam. This seems to be a common chorus from war supporters these days (well... at least we're better than Saddam). I'm sorry, but as an American I think we should hold ourselves up to a little bit of a higher standard than that. But wait, Saddam is not just worse than us, according to Ben Stein he was "a billion times worse." I mean, I'm no mathematician, but that sounds like a lot to me. Stein also wants more attention on what he calls the "big picture" - meaning the bad things that other people are doing, too. This "big picture" method of news is similarly spouted by those who don't want the news to focus only on the bad things in Iraq but show some of the positive things, too. They want "balance." So if things are going bad, they want to hear about the good things, and if things are going well, they certainly don't want to hear about the bad things. Ah, the balance of pro-war propaganda. To sum it up, Stein says:
Media, Congress, get it straight: The U.S. is the main repository of decency on this Earth. The al-Qaida can never defeat us if we are united. But we can defeat ourselves if we begin to think we are the enemy and lose our confidence in our cause. There is no moral equivalency between us and the terrorists. We're the good guys, and if we lose because we didn't play hard enough, it's the end of everything good in our world.
How sick and deluded is this guy? At least we get some true comedy when he calls Al Qaida "the al-Qaida". It's scary to think that people take Ben Stein seriously. The logic of his view is that the US is allowed to do bad things because we are the good guys.

For a more nuanced approach, Ze'ev Schiff (hardly a lefty by anybody's standards) writes that "The occupation will corrupt the occupiers" in today's Haaretz. I think that Schiff is a bit too lenient on Israel's occupation, but it's good to find a voice on the right who doesn't resort to the simple-minded, black and white, good vs. evil spouted by too many. Schiff writes:
The abuse of prisoners detained at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq proves that it matters not if the occupier declares its aim to enforce democracy or uphold human rights, or if it calls itself an "enlightened occupation" - the degradation of prisoners is an almost unavoidable consequence of an occupation regime. In the end, the occupation will corrupt the occupiers.
And while Schiff lauds the "professional disparity in Israel's favor" when it comes to prisoner abuse, he cannot fully excuse the abuses. "[T]here is no doubt that over the years, the occupation has also corrupted Israeli society." And the corruption is not hard to find: Nine more Border Policemen arrested for alleged abuse of Palestinian teenagers is just the latest.

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