Friday, April 16, 2004

The Intelligence Community Failed Massively

Especially under Clinton. Hence 9/11. That's the present narrative, right?

Well, hold on a moment:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. intelligence report in 1995 raised the possibility of a foreign terrorist attack inside the United States and a 1997 update named Osama bin Laden, U.S. intelligence officials said on Friday in trying to offset a highly critical report from the Sept. 11 commission.

A National Intelligence Estimate in 1995 said "there probably would be a foreign terrorist attack on the U.S. homeland and it highlighted civil aviation as a particular vulnerability," an intelligence official said.

It also warned about possible attacks by Islamic extremists against national symbols such as the White House, the Capitol, and centers of commerce such as Wall Street, officials said.

NIE reports are a compilation of material from multiple intelligence agencies, The 1995 report, "The Foreign Terrorist Threat in the United States," which is still classified, did not mention bin Laden.

A 1997 update to that report referred to bin Laden in the key points on page one and said his threats overseas could be a prelude to an attack by the al Qaeda leader and his followers inside the United States, intelligence officials said.


American Strength

The demonstration of American dominance is among the key motivations for the invasion of Iraq. That being the case, the invasion was a massive miscalculation. The whole world is now hearing this:

WASHINGTON, April 16 (Xinhuanet) -- The US Defense Department has approved the extension of duty in Iraq for some 20,000 American soldiers when the military has seen a drop in the retention rate among soldiers whose enlistments were ending or who were eligible to retire.

Through March 17, nearly halfway through the fiscal year, the Army fell about 1,000 short of meeting its goal of keeping 25,786 soldiers, a USA Today report said Friday.

The use of reservists for a massive, prolonged occupation was simply an insane and inhuman idea from the start. And we will be feeling the repercussions of this decision for a long, long time.


And a Safer World Means...Evacuations!

We cannot even be safe amongst our good friends, the Saudis? I thought that our imposition of democracy on Iraq would create a new, magical Middle East, safe for us Westerners to traipse around in.

Not yet.

WASHINGTON, April 16 (Xinhuanet) -- The United States has ordered the evacuation of most US diplomats and all US family dependents from Saudi Arabia and "strongly urged" all American citizens to leave because of "credible and specific" intelligence about terrorist attacks planned against US and other Western targets, The Washington Post reported Friday.

The evacuation, ordered on Thursday, confirmed earlier reports that the United State would recall nonessential US diplomats and the family members of all employees of the US diplomatic missions in Saudi Arabia due to potential terrorist threats.

Once again, from the top. American actions are exactly in line with what Usama bin Laden had hoped for. And the consequences are very much in his interests, not in ours.


Rove's Regrets

In the end, it is a trivial thing, but it is nice to see Rove at least come close to eating crow for one of his many blatant propaganda efforts:

WASHINGTON - President Bush (news - web sites)'s top political adviser said this week he regretted the use of a "Mission Accomplished" banner as a backdrop for the president's landing on an aircraft carrier last May to mark the end of major combat operations in Iraq (news - web sites).

"I wish the banner was not up there," said White House political strategist Karl Rove. "I'll acknowledge the fact that it has become one of those convenient symbols."

Of course, he does not admit that he screwed up. Note the use of the passive voice, so central to this White House's repeated endeavors to avoid any blame. He regrets "the use," he wishes the banner "was not up there." Careful avoidance of agency...

Who's in charge, again?


Another Imminent Departure?

Now, Portugal may be heading on home due to the mess that Iraq is becoming. Or rather, because the mess that it has long been is getting worse.

Portugal may withdraw its national guard contingent from Iraq if the security situation in the country continues to deteriorate, Interior Minister Antonio Figueiredo Lopes said today.

"If the conflict were to deteriorate and the GNR [national guard] did not have what it required to carry out its mission, the only solution would be to withdraw," he told public radio.

However, his spokesman later sought to clarify the comments, saying a Portuguese withdrawal was only "an academic hypothesis".

The withdrawal could only be envisaged if the servicemen "no longer had the means to carry out their mission. That's the central question," Sampaio Mello said.

Actually, the central question in my mind is: What is the mission exactly? What precisely would constitute that mission being successfully carried out? And that goes for the whole adventure.


If Only the Adults Were in Charge

But they aren't. And unfortunately, this is exactly the sort of thing that Rumsfeld and his ilk interpret as a "triple dog dare."

As the US Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, acknowledged he had underestimated the level of violence in Iraq, the US was yesterday confronted by a new line in the sand in the labyrinthine religious politics of the country - a warning that its forces dare not enter the holy city of Najaf.

More than 2500 US troops surround the city, primed for an attack to capture the renegade imam Moqtada al-Sadr. But the spiritual leader of all Iraq's Shiites, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has told them he has "drawn a red line" around Najaf.


More Inevitable Bad News

It had to (or has to) happen eventually, but CNN just announced preliminary reports of a video purporting to show an American soldier being held hostage in Iraq. Hopefully it is not real, but honestly, American soldiers will eventually be captured.

And I feel somehow certain that the US reaction to such an eventuality will be less than effective in the long run (even if successful in the short).



Pfc. Keith Maupin, 20, was the first U.S. serviceman and second American confirmed kidnapped in a recent wave of abductions in Iraq (news - web sites). Wearing a floppy desert hat, he sat on the floor and appeared unharmed in the footage aired on the Arab TV station Al-Jazeera.

"My name is Keith Matthew Maupin. I am a soldier from the 1st Division," he said, looking into the camera. "I am married with a 10-month-old son. I came to liberate Iraq, but I did not come willingly because I wanted to stay with my child."


Wednesday, April 14, 2004

More and More Surreal

In a stroke of sheer geopolitical genius, the Bush administration moves to turn the Axis of Evil against itself!

TEHRAN, April 14 (Xinhuanet) -- The United States has made a formal request to Iran to help ease the ongoing armed conflicts in Iraq, Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi said Wednesday.

Kharazi revealed the news to reporters after a cabinet meeting when asked of the current state of relations with the United States, Qatar-based al-Jazeera satellite channel reported.

"Regarding Iraq, there has also been a lot of exchanges of correspondence," Kharazi told reporters, adding "Naturally, there was a request for our help in improving the situation in Iraq and solving the crisis, and we are making efforts in this regard."

The Iranian minister noted that Tehran would continue its exchanges of communications with Washington through the Swiss embassy which takes care of the US interests in Iran.


Great Quote from Saletan

Which is somewhat related to my point about the epistemological crisis we are all in:

[Bush is] too preoccupied with self-consistency to notice whether he's consistent with anything else.


Epistemological Break

That is the only way that I can describe the sensation of watching the Bush press conference last night and then tuning in to the post-conference press coverage. Yes, I subjected myself to it, for the good of the nation.

Bush was petty, pissy, evasive, and empty. My jaw dropped with every other sentence that that man uttered. And the way he kept swinging his foot around behind the podium was like a bored schoolboy (so much about this president is like a bored schoolboy).

And then, after an hour of rhetoric utterly devoid of sense or sanity, the journalists took over. And they must have seen something utterly other than what I saw.

It is not that they had a different interpretation of events; I am used to that. It was a radically different reality that they were describing. I have no idea how we got to this point--well I do have some ideas, but don't have the energy now to get into all that--but this seems to me to be a crisis point. If we don't even live in the same universe, how can we be one nation?


Tuesday, April 13, 2004

A Bit of a Contradiction Developing

On the one hand:

Ashcroft 'indifferent to terror warnings'

Counter-terrorism chief Watson said to have 'fallen off his chair' when Ashcroft failed to list fighting terrorists among the FBI's priorities

WASHINGTON - Draft reports by the independent commission into the 9/11 attacks on America portray Attorney-General John Ashcroft as largely uninterested in counter-terrorism issues.

On the other:

Ashcroft Says He Backed Anti-Terror Efforts

Attorney General John D. Ashcroft today denied telling the FBI's acting director in the summer of 2001 that he did not want to hear about terrorist threats, disputing testimony before a bipartisan commission that portrayed him as inattentive to the menace posed inside the United States by the al Qaeda terrorist network before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Whom shall we believe? Oh, and for bonus points, guess which story is from an American news source, and which one is from overseas...


So Much for That Cease-Fire

Fierce Fighting Renewed in Fallujah
One Marine Killed, Seven Others Wounded

FALLUJAH, Iraq, April 13 -- Fierce fighting erupted here Tuesday between U.S. Marines and anti-American guerrillas. A group of Marines was ambushed at dawn in a marsh where they were guarding a downed helicopter, and U.S. fighter jets and gunships attacked another area at dusk after a Marine patrol came under attack.


Sadr undaunted by massed US troops

· Insurgency leader 'ready to die'
· 2,500 US troops deployed in Najaf

Radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr today remained defiant in the face of US threats to "capture or kill" him, saying he was willing to die for the campaign to end the American-led occupation of Iraq.

As a large force of US marines massed on the outskirts of the holy city of Najaf, where Mr Sadr has been holed up for the last week with hundreds of his Mahdi Army fighters, the Shia leader said: "I am ready to sacrifice (myself) and I call on the people not to allow my death to cause the collapse of the fight for freedom and an end to the occupation."


Sure, We Republicans Now Control the Entire Government, But...

It's still someone else's fault!


Ashcroft Faults Clinton Era for Lapses That Preceded 9/11

WASHINGTON, April 13 - Attorney General John Ashcroft strongly defended the Bush administration and himself today before the 9/11 commission, laying the blame for intelligence failures prior to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks squarely on the presidency of Bill Clinton.


Monday, April 12, 2004

Critique Jon Stewart at Your Own Risk

Especially if you do a very bad job of it. Digby skewers the pompous and annoying Lee Siegel over at Hullaballoo. Choice bits of nonsense from Siegel:

To be honest, I was never a huge fan of Stewart's humor, which he custom-crafts for a mostly college-age audience.

That's right, because to find the present state of the world and of the media to be worthy of ridicule, you must just be some college kid.

According to the newspapers, a substantial number of younger viewers actually get their news from "The Daily Show." So for some time now, Stewart doesn't just want to skewer the conventional news and the mendacious politicians. He wants to clarify the news, and to educate his audience.

Heaven forfend!!


The Arrogance of Power

This man is charged with interpreting and protecting the Constitution? We are in trouble:

Justice Scalia, the big shot, does not like reporters to turn tape recorders on when he's talking, whether that action is protected by the Constitution of the United States or not. He doesn't like it. And he doesn't permit it.

"Thirty-five minutes into the speech we were approached by a woman who identified herself as a deputy U.S. marshal," Ms. Konz told me in a telephone conversation on Friday. "She said that we should not be recording and that she needed to have our tapes."

In the U.S., this is a no-no. Justice Scalia and his colleagues on the court are responsible for guaranteeing such safeguards against tyranny as freedom of the press. In fact, the speech Mr. Scalia was giving at the very moment the marshal moved against the two reporters was about the importance of the Constitution.
Not only was it an affront to the Constitution to seize and erase the recordings, Ms. Kirtley believes it was also a violation of the Privacy Protection Act, a law passed by Congress in 1980.

"It protects journalists not just from newsroom searches," she said, "but from the seizure of their work product material, things like notes and drafts, and also what's called documentary materials, which are things like these tapes, or digital recordings."


These Are Just Four of the Americans Lost

There are 670 more. These are real people with real lives that have ended.


Misery Index

The name strikes me as unfortunate (not sure why), but I am very glad to see the domestic economic realities finally getting some mainstream media attention. For that alone I am grateful to Kerry. I just hope people pay attention and realize this is about our own real lives:

Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry is set to release a study Monday that his campaign says will show President Bush's economic record as one that increased "middle class misery."

Kerry's study will cite data on rising college and health care costs, together with sluggish incomes, arguing they have squeezed America's working families since Bush took office and eliminated any financial gain from the president's tax cuts.

The core of Kerry's economic argument has been job losses during Bush's tenure, but the report says the economy has been a problem even for many of those who have kept their jobs during the president's term.

Between 2000 and 2003, according to the "Middle Class Misery Index," compiled with data from government and independent sources, wages dropped 0.2 percent while the cost of tuition at public colleges and universities increased a record 13 percent.

At the same time, health insurance premiums rose by 11 percent and gasoline prices were up 15 percent, according to the Kerry campaign study.


Plenty Going on Today

in the world. But scanning the headlines, I have grown demoralized. Always new, always the same. Hostages taken and released or not released. Fighting around Fallujah. We are going to kill or capture or negotiate with Sadr. US soldiers and "contractors" being killed or going missing. Bush and Sharon are going to talk. Bush and Mubarak are going to talk. Gas up another couple of cents on the gallon.

My outrage breakers have blown for the moment. Should have them replaced shortly...


Sunday, April 11, 2004

Nearby Nations Weighing in Against U.S. Military Actions

RIYADH, April 11 (Xinhuanet) -- Officials from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) called Sunday for "an immediate cease-fire and the lifting of the siege imposed on some Iraqi towns, said reports from Bahraini capital Manama.

Speakers of the national assemblies and the shura (consultative)councils from the six-nation organization said in a statement issued after a two-day meeting in Manama that they were closely watching the development of the situation in Iraq, especially the constant and furious exchanges of fire and the killings in some Iraqi towns.

Somehow, the golden light of the new Iraqi democracy is failing to illuminate the hearts and minds of the Arab world.


And Two Headlines from Xinhua

Declassified memo shows Bush warned ahead of 9/11 attack


White House insists memo did not warn of 9/11 attacks

American prestige continues to sink, and sink, and sink. America has been quote/unquote hated for a long time; now, the Bushes have added open mockery to the mix.


Negotiations, Combat, Hostages

This seems to be the new status quo in Iraq (and has anyone else heard word of proposed tactics to deal with these new realities?):

BAGHDAD, Iraq, April 11 — American troops withheld their firepower on Sunday outside three Iraqi cities where insurgents have seized control, allowing Iraqi intermediaries time to seek negotiated solutions to the most serious challenge yet to the year-old occupation. But United States officials warned that the resistance in all three centers would be crushed if the insurgents maneuvered for long.

The insurgents inflicted a new blow when they shot down an Apache attack helicopter about three miles west of Baghdad airport, killing both crewmen. An American military spokesman said the wreckage indicated that the helicopter was felled by a Soviet-made SAM-7 ground-to-air missile, but called the incident isolated.

The downed Apache lies close to the battle zone west of the capital, at Falluja, where the fiercest fighting has raged in the uprising that has surged across Iraq since a week ago. Not far from the burning wreckage, and other attack helicopters that circled the site to protect recovery crews, American troops engaged in a daylong battle to re-establish control of an important supply route that runs from Abu Ghraib, on Baghdad's outskirts, to Falluja.

A rash of foreign hostage-taking by Iraqi gunmen expanded to include seven Chinese abducted near Falluja on Sunday. The abductions, reported by the official New China News Agency, came as Vice President Dick Cheney was preparing to visit China on Tuesday after his stopover in Japan, where anxiety has risen over the unknown fate of three Japanese civilians kidnapped in Iraq last week. Armed groups in Iraq are holding an unspecified number of foreigners, including at least one American, in a new bargaining tactic to pressure the American-led occupation.


The View from Across the Pond

Whatever American media are and are not doing with the newly released PDB, which proves that Bush is incompetent and Rice is guilty of perjury, The Guardian is not pulling punches. One atop the other, its Web page has these stories:

Bush given hijack alert before 9/11

The Bush administration was yesterday striving to play down the political impact of a secret document it was forced to release warning the president, weeks before the September 11 attacks, about "patterns of suspicious activity" in the US "consistent with preparations for hijackings".

The document, a daily intelligence briefing provided to President George Bush on August 6 2001, also mentioned "recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York" and a CIA-FBI investigation into a tip-off to the US embassy in the United Arab Emirates alleging an al-Qaida cell was in the US "planning attacks with explosives".

And then this:

President spends 40% of time out of the office

President George Bush has spent more than 40% of his presidency at one of his three retreats, sparking criticism from Democrats that he is not taking his job seriously at a crucial time in US history.

Mr Bush was on his 33rd visit to his ranch in Crawford, Texas, at the Easter weekend, where he has spent 233 days or almost eight months since his inauguration, according to a tally by CBS news. Add his 78 visits to Camp David and five to Kennebunkport, Maine, and he has spent all or part of 500 days out of the office while in office.

Mr Bush was at his ranch on August 6 2001 as part of a month-long holiday when he received the briefing warning of Osama bin Laden's determination to attack the US, which has become a focal point of the 9/11 commission of inquiry.