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Tilting at Windmills

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May 31, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

CHALABI GETS THE BOOT....Yesterday I briefly mentioned that there had been yet another raid on one of Ahmed Chalabi's offices in Baghdad. Today, the reader who emailed me about this in the first place points out that the AP story I linked to has been updated with an explanation:

Police arrived at the Ramadi offices of his Iraqi National Congress movement and ordered everyone to leave the building, according to INC official Haider al-Musawi. He said the evacuation order came from the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior.

....Police Capt. Ahmed Saleh Mohammed said the order to vacate the building was issued by the Interior Ministry in Baghdad, which said the offices belonged to the provincial water and sewerage department.

This actually makes sense. I gather that Chalabi and the INC routinely sieze control of property that isn't theirs Chief Wiggles provides an eyewitness account here of their appropriation of a boat club and it looks like Chalabi's fall from grace may have prompted the Interior Ministry to work up the courage to boot him out of one of them.

This is, undoubtedly, merely the surface manifestation of massive political maneuverings between various parties in Iraq. Stay tuned.

Kevin Drum 2:54 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

BLOGS AND JOURNALISM....Magazine articles about blogs are hot these days. Rachel Smolkin of the American Journalism Review weighs in with the latest addition to the genre today, naturally focusing on the intersection of blogs with mainstream journalism.

So do reporters read blogs? Here's a typical sampling:

"I must confess I don't track a whole lot of them," says Washington Post national political reporter Jim VandeHei....Ron Brownstein, a Los Angeles Times national political correspondent and CNN political analyst, reads campaign blogs, but that's about it....New York Times national political reporter Adam Nagourney...does keep on eye on The New Republic's campaign blog and sometimes looks at Talking Points Memo or InstaPundit, but not regularly.

This claim I don't read very many blogs, really I don't is apparently common, even among many bloggers. A reporter working on a blog article talked to me last week and asked how many blogs I read. I told him there were 30-40 that I read daily and probably another 30-40 that I read less frequently. He was surprised: the other bloggers he had talked to had all virtuously claimed to read only two or three blogs a day.

My blog reading habits may be extreme, but I have a funny feeling that mainstream reporters (and apparently some bloggers too) tell little white lies when asked how many blogs they read. After all, it only takes a couple of minutes to read the latest posts on a blog, less if you're skimming via an RSS feed. My guess is that many national political reporters read more blogs than they're fessing up to not one of them admits to reading Atrios, for example but are embarrassed to admit it, sort of like a serious novelist not wanting to confess that he likes reality TV shows.

So add this to the great lies of our time: how many blogs do you read? Only two or three? Sure, sure.....

UPDATE: Dan Drezner has some survey data related to this. It's obviously not definitive since it's a self-selecting poll, but it does seem to indicate that media professionals may be reading more blogs than they admit to in public.

Kevin Drum 2:06 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE MILLER CHRONICLES....Since Judith Miller and her prewar WMD "reporting" are Topic A at the moment, I suppose I'm obligated to link to Franklin Foer's long article about Miller in New York magazine. So consider it linked.

The reason I didn't link to it earlier is that I found it profoundly unsatisfying. It is, basically, a long gossip piece in which we learn that Miller is a fanatically hardworking reporter who lets nothing get in the way of a story, and that she's also a superstar bitch who is roundly detested by practically everyone she's ever worked with.

Which is all fine as far as it goes, but it doesn't really shed any light on how she got the WMD story so wrong. The Cliff Notes version is that she was too close to her neocon sources, especially Ahmed Chalabi, and regurgitated their agitprop too uncritically. But we already knew that, and the New York article doesn't go very much further in explaining how it all happened. (Although there is a bit of interesting reporting about NYT editor Howell Raines' role: he was soft on Miller because he was determined to run pro-Bush stories as a way of proving to his detractors "that he could cover a story straight.")

If you want to learn more about Miller's various temper tantrums and who doesn't? click the link and read. But if you want to learn what really went wrong with the Times' reporting, I think the story is still waiting to be told.

POSTSCRIPT: If you aren't already up to speed on l'affaire Miller, John Emerson has a complete set of links to other stories about Miller and the Times' prewar reporting over at Seeing the Forest.

Kevin Drum 1:27 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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"SCARE" QUOTES....This being Memorial Day weekend, not many people are posting over at The Corner. Andrew Stuttaford is, however, and after seeing so many Stuttaford posts in a row I have a question: what's with all the scare quotes? Some examples:

  • 11:43 AM: ....good piece in the Guardian on the security failures in Saudi Arabia....public debate over the future of Prince Nayef....

  • 4:22 PM: The war against the obesity epidemic continues in all its absurdity....

  • 4:21 PM: Interesting story in the Sunday Telegraph on the curriculum of the Saudi-funded King Fahd....

  • 12:36 PM: One of the reasons that the EU has so little credibility with its citizens....Romano Prodi, the EUs shrill, sleazy and incompetent president....

I get the point of citizens in the last example, but why president? Like him or not, Prodi really is the EU president, right? Ditto for King Fahd and Prince Nayef. And is Saudi Arabia some kind of conservative in joke? That's really the name of the country, after all.

And I could understand obesity epidemic as a way of snarkily indicating that it's not a real epidemic, but why obesity epidemic? Agree or not, they really are talking about the problem of too many people being fat.

I'm not really kvetching about Stuttaford's use of scare quotes it's a perfectly standard device in polemical writing I'm just curious about their rather idiosyncratic use in these cases. Is there some kind of code involved? If there is, I want to know what it is.

Kevin Drum 12:49 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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CAMPAIGN UPDATE....The candidates engage in civil discourse about the issues important to all Americans:

  • John Kerry on taxes: "We will fight to repeal the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans so that we can invest in education and health care."

  • Dick Cheney on John Kerry: "Senator Kerry has promised to repeal most of the Bush tax cuts within his first 100 days in office."

Hmmm, so "the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans" = "most of the Bush tax cuts." I'm glad to see that Cheney is finally fessing up.

Elsewhere, the redoubtable Dana Milbank has some statistics about campaign advertising:

Three-quarters of the ads aired by Bush's campaign have been attacks on Kerry. Bush so far has aired 49,050 negative ads in the top 100 markets, or 75 percent of his advertising. Kerry has run 13,336 negative ads -- or 27 percent of his total. The figures were compiled by The Washington Post using data from the Campaign Media Analysis Group of the top 100 U.S. markets. Both campaigns said the figures are accurate.

So Bush is three times more negative than Kerry. Just the kind of leader America needs.

Kevin Drum 12:44 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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May 30, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

CLIMATE CHANGE....From the annals of political movie criticism:

If that's the kiss of death, sign me up! I'll be bigger than Drudge!

Kevin Drum 9:42 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SUVs AND TRUCKS....By now it's a cliche to note that very few owners of four-wheel-drive SUVs ever take them off road. However, the other day I read that nine out of ten pickup truck owners never put anything in the bed of their truck.

I don't remember where I saw this, but can it really be true? It's pretty easy to see the attraction of an SUV even if you're just driving around town, but what's the attraction of a cramped, crowded pickup truck if you never put anything in the back?

Has anyone else ever heard this statistic? Any ideas if it's really true?

Kevin Drum 4:39 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

PREEMPTION....A couple of months ago a conservative acquaintance suggested to me that the best thing that ever happened to America was Watergate. After all, he said, Watergate led to the election of Jimmy Carter, and it was only Carter's uniquely horrible presidency that allowed Ronald Reagan to be elected in 1980. Without Watergate and Carter, there would have been no Reagan.

Likewise, I wonder if George Bush will end up being the best thing ever to happen to American liberalism. Bushian excess has energized liberals, of course, but more important may be that in the same way that liberals dejectedly gave up on Carter toward the end of his presidency, conservatives seem to be losing heart over Bush in his final year too. Increasingly, even the most hawkish conservatives are unwilling to drain their credibility further by dredging up pretzel twisting defenses for Bush's obvious incompetence and cluelessness.

We've already heard moaning and groaning from such conservative stalwarts as George Will, Bill Kristol, David Brooks, Robert Kagan, and many others (helpfully collected here by Matt Yglesias just search for "Disgruntlement Watch"), and the latest example comes from Gary Schmitt, executive director of PNAC, ground zero for hawkish neoconism. What makes his piece remarkable is that it's billed as a defense of George Bush's policy of preemption but still says the following:

For the foreseeable future, the Iraq war and its aftermath cannot help but put a hitch in the step of any president contemplating similar action....When the director of the Central Intelligence Agency next tells a president that the case regarding a country's suspected weapons programs is a "slam-dunk," one can assume that that assessment will be greeted with far more skepticism....The reality is that continuing troubles in Iraq will have an effect on presidential decision-making for years, especially when it comes to preemption and wars of prevention.

This is followed by a halfhearted explanation that preemption was never really a linchpin of Bush's policies anyway and that plenty of other presidents have considered preemptive wars even if they didn't actually follow through. So, you know, it's not as big a deal as people think it is, and preemption is still part of the big picture.

It's a far cry from the hawkish exhuberance of only a couple of years ago, especially for the head of a group like PNAC, but it's either the best he could do or else the best he was willing to do. When even guys like Schmitt are too embarrassed to provide a full-throated defense of preemption, it gives you hope. Maybe in a few months we'll be back to having a sane foreign policy after all.

Kevin Drum 3:06 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

CHALABI WATCH....Another Chalabi raid? What's going on?

Kevin Drum 1:46 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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May 29, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

CHALABI WATCH....Ahmed Chalabi's supporters are pissed, and they're letting the Bush administration know it:

Last Saturday, several of these Chalabi supporters said, a small delegation of them marched into the West Wing office of Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, to complain about the administration's abrupt change of heart about Mr. Chalabi and to register their concerns about the course of the war in Iraq. The group included Richard N. Perle, the former chairman of a Pentagon advisory group, and R. James Woolsey, director of central intelligence under President Bill Clinton.

....Last Saturday, participants in the meeting with Ms. Rice and her deputy, Stephen Hadley, said Ms. Rice told them she appreciated that they had made their views known. But she gave no hint of her own opinion, participants said, and made no concessions to their point of view.

Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House of Representatives, also attended the meeting.

Now that sounds like a charming scene, doesn't it? The story goes on to say that although Chalabi's supporters outside the administration have been vocal in supporting him, "there has been relative silence so far from Mr. Chalabi's supporters within the administration."

In other words, the people who actually know what's going on are keeping their mouths shut, and the people who don't are too dumb to follow their lead.

I guess there's no way of knowing for sure who's right here although my money is very definitely on the folks keeping their mouths shut but when this has all played itself out there's sure going to be someone whose credibility is forever flushed down the toilet.

POSTSCRIPT: It's worth noting, though, that the source of this story is the Chalabi supporters. But if Chalabi turns out to be guilty as charged, having this meeting publicized to the world in the New York Times will make them look like complete idiots. So apparently, after a week of snooping around and trying to figure out what's going on, they're sure enough of being right that they decided to leak word of this meeting anyway. Very odd.

Kevin Drum 9:21 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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COSTCO....I was over at CostCo yesterday and they were selling gasoline (regular unleaded) for $2.27 a gallon. Cars were lined up ten deep at each service bay, waiting about 20 minutes each to get to the pump.

On my way home I passed four gas stations. The posted price for regular unleaded at each one was $2.33, $2.34, $2.35, and $2.39. So that's an average of $2.35, or eight cents higher than CostCo.

The CostCo lines had the usual mix of big cars and little cars. Figure the average tank size was about 15 gallons. At eight cents a gallon, that's a savings of $1.20 compared to other gas stations.

That means these folks were all willing to idle away in line at CostCo for 20 minutes in order to save about a dollar. It's amazing, isn't it? It's almost like CostCo has them hypnotized or something.

Kevin Drum 8:33 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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BROADCAST NEWS....Via Mickey Kaus, ABC News has revamped and improved a web feature no one's ever heard of: a quick rundown of the three evening network news broadcasts. I wonder how long they've been doing this?

In any case, it's genuinely useful, especially for the pathologically webcentric blogosphere. Now if they could just add a bit more detail about, say, the top three stories of the day for each broadcast, and then put in some permalinks so that we can see more than just the previous day's summary, it would be really useful.

Kevin Drum 7:22 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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PICKING A WINNER....Tom Schaller says that a "bellwether state" is one that always votes for the winner in a presidential election. By this definition, Missouri, which has picked the winner in the past 11 straight elections, is the bellwether-iest state of them all.

Likewise, there have been six counties with a perfect record since 1960 but only one of them is in Missouri. Therefore, Tom crowns Lincoln, MO, as the bellwether-iest county in the nation. "Somebody ought to commission a focus group in Lincoln to see how they feel about Bush and Kerry," he says.

Good idea. Are you listening, assignment desks?

Kevin Drum 6:09 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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OIL POLITICS....Here are two questions for everyone to ponder over the Memorial Day weekend:

  1. Who do you think legally owns Iraq's oil presently, and who do you think gets the largest share of revenues from selling Iraqi crude oil to the world's refiners since the invasion?

  2. Who do you think should legally own, control and benefit from the sale of the Iraqi crude oil after Iraq is stabilized and Iraqi debts are restructured?

Serious answers only, please.

Kevin Drum 2:18 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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IYAD ALLAWI....Seemingly out of nowhere, Iyad Allawi is the new interim prime minister of Iraq. Was he the UN's choice? The IGC's choice? America's choice? Sistani's choice?

There are as many answers as there are media reports about his selection. However, the dust is beginning to settle and the answer appears to be:

  • He is the IGC's compromise choice.

  • The United States and Britain are delighted with it.

  • The UN's Lakhdar Brahimi isn't all the delighted, but willing to go along.

Spencer Ackerman seems to have a pretty good roundup of how the whole deal went down. Here's his not-very-enthusiastic conclusion:

CBS News cited an Iraqi analyst describing Allawi's bent for "military politics." He's not exactly known for his commitment to democracy. His cousin Ali is defense minister. Governing Council member Mahmoud Othman explained that Allawi's nomination "has a great deal to do with security." It may be that the U.S. has decided to bet on a compliant strongman. Right now, though, it's not clear how strong he really is. Then again, that's typically been the way Iyad Allawi has preferred it.

But we'll have real elections next January anyway. Right?

Kevin Drum 2:09 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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PROOF THAT ATKINS WORKS!....My mother has passed along the following joke and insists that I publish it. As a dutiful son, I have no choice but to comply.

Kevin Drum 1:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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TORT REFORM MEETS BUDGET REFORM....Governor Arnold has proposed a 75% tax on punitive damages in civil lawsuits in California. This probably isn't a bad idea, and it's been tried successfully in other states, but Arnold's proposal has a twist: he's touting it as a way to help us out of our budget mess. He thinks it might raise $450 million a year.

Now, a lot of this depends on details: does it apply to all suits, or only some? All damages or only "excessive" damages? Before the lawyers get their cut or after? Etc.

However, Dwight Meredith, an attorney in Georgia, reports that Georgia has had a similar law on its books for several years and has raised slightly less than you might expect. They've raised exactly nothing. And although Georgia's law is different and more restricted than Arnold's proposal, Dwight still has some pretty compelling arguments that the amount of money raised would be pretty paltry. Taxing punitive damages might be a good idea on other grounds, but as far as the deficit goes it's just smoke and mirrors.

POSTSCRIPT: And speaking of the Governator, the LA Times has an entertaining story today suggesting that the honeymoon is over. Arnold has kept his popularity high by being deliberately vague on a lot of contentious issues, but legislation season is upon us and pretty soon he's going to be forced to show his hand and either sign or veto a lot of very specific bills. Is he in favor of raising the minimum wage? Importing drugs from Canada? Forbidding candidates from, ahem, loaning themselves more than $100,000 in a statewide campaign? Banning sales of cruelly produced foie gras?

Decisions, decisions. On the other hand, Arnold has proven himself a very adroit politician, and it's possible that a few carefully selected vetoes could actually help his cause. He's a clever guy.

Kevin Drum 1:12 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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30-30-30 NATION....Can you guess what this map represents? Cick the graphic for the answer if you give up.

Hint: it's got nothing to do with politics.

(Via AtlanticBlog.)

Kevin Drum 12:53 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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May 28, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

THAT LIBERAL, LIBERAL MEDIA....After reading the latest Pew poll about the political views of journalists, Fred Barnes thinks the case for liberal media bias is open and shut:

Does this affect coverage? Is there really liberal bias? The answers are, of course, yes and yes. It couldn't be any other way. Think for a moment if the numbers were reversed and conservatives had outnumbered liberals in the media for the past four decades. Would President Bush be getting kinder coverage? For sure, and I'll bet any liberal would agree with that. Would President Reagan have been treated with less hostility if the national press was conservative-dominated? Yes, again. And I could go on.

He could go on? So why doesn't he? After all, he only has to go as far back as the immediately preceding presidency. I have this dim recollection of massively unfavorable coverage of Bill Clinton during the eight years of his presidency, and I'm pretty sure Clinton was a liberal. Perhaps there's more to this media bias thing than meets the eye, eh?

It's such a tiresome trope, and it misses the point of how the media works anyway. The press bashes whoever's in power, Democrat or Republican, and they cover drama, whether it's in Baghdad or Burbank. For better or worse, that's the main bias of the news industry, not ideology.

At any rate, I wonder what critics like Barnes think the media ought to do. Should news executives give tests or ask cub reporters who they voted for in the last election? And how does he feel about conservative domination of the officer corps in the military or the executive ranks of corporate America? Should we institute some litmus tests there too in order to give liberals a fairer shake?

Sheesh.

Kevin Drum 8:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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MORE CHALABI....More from Laura Rozen: was it Britain that uncovered the incriminating evidence about Chalabi?

Her sources say "maybe." It's interesting speculation, but I do think it's worth a warning or three. After all, if British and American intelligence screwed up so badly before the war, they might be screwing up over this as well. From what I've read I suspect there's something pretty solid here, but it's worth a few grains of salt. After all, if our evidence is so "rock solid," why don't we have him in custody already?

Kevin Drum 7:19 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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CHALABI WATCH....Laura Rozen:

The key divide between current and former Chalabi supporters I'm told remains between those who've seen what Chalabi is alleged to have done, and those who haven't.

There's more discussion of Michael Ledeen, one of those in the "haven't" category, here. Ledeen's piece in NRO today (here) is a real mishmash, plainly desperate to avoid the one thing that makes Chalabi different from other Iraqis who are also close to the Iranians: he is alleged to have passed highly damaging classified intel to them. That's a big difference.

Then again, as Laura points out, Ledeen still doesn't believe this for reasons that continue not to make sense to me. (Although at least he calls them "tacit" this time around, which I take to mean he doesn't really know what he's talking about.) One of his friends really needs to clue him in quick before he embarrasses himself further.

Kevin Drum 4:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW....Julian Sanchez has a review today of The Day After Tomorrow, "the movie George Bush doesn't want you to see." It's very short but seems to hit the high points pretty well.

Now, it so happens that I reviewed the film last November based solely on its title (no really, it's right here), so there's no need to do it again. However, on the issue of potential White House concern with what is, after all, just a summer disaster flick, I've been waiting for opening day to provide some fascinating (yes, fascinating!) historical context for this. It turns out that the Bush administration is hardly the first to concern itself with the political impact of Hollywood extravaganzas.

A few weeks ago, reader Steven McCollum sent me a copy of the minutes for an Eisenhower cabinet meeting held on December 11, 1959. Sandwiched in between discussions of policy toward India and an ongoing steel strike, there's this:

"On the Beach" Mr. [Karl] Harr stated that this matter was being raised in Cabinet because of the unprecedented publicity given to this movie....He went over the paper summarizing the nature of the film and some of its shortcomings.

Gov. [Leo] Hoegh said that the film was regarded in OCDM [Office of Civil Defense Mobilization] as something very harmful because it produced a feeling of utter hopelessness, thus undermining OCDM's efforts to encourage preparedness on the part of all citizens.

There was also a 3-page "infoguide" to the movie, complete with talking points about scientific innacuracies in the film regarding the dangers of fallout (not as bad as you think!). There's also a 4-page Q&A from the Atomic Energy Commission and a 3-page discussion of the effect of nuclear war that ends with the cryptic phrase, "Simply to understand that 'unprecedented destruction' is not the same as 'unlimited destruction'...is crucial to intelligent discussion of the issues."

So there you have it: George Bush has his main global warming talking point already created for him, courtesy of Ike's spinmeisters half a century ago. All he has to explain is that while global warming might result in "unprecedented destruction," that's not the same thing as "unlimited destruction." Do you feel better now?

Kevin Drum 1:54 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE OSAMA FACTOR....I'm guessing pretty much everyone has seen this already, but here's a slightly longer excerpt from last night's repugnant CNN segment which apparently has been replayed several times this morning as well. The vital question at hand is: which candidate is al-Qaeda endorsing in the November election?

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Miles, it's something that we've heard a lot about, a possible al Qaeda plot to influence elections. But there hasn't been a lot of discussion about what the objectives might be. So we checked in with some terror experts to find out.

....M.J. GOHEL, ASIA-PACIFIC FOUNDATION: If, for instance, say, George Bush was in the lead in the opinion polls right now and an attack took place and that changes the equation as it did, for instance in Spain, then al Qaeda would feel that it has scored a major success.

....ASHCROFT: We believe, for example, the attack in Spain [which led to the defeat of the incumbent party] is one that is viewed by al Qaeda as particularly effective in advancing al Qaeda objectives.

....BEN VENZKE, INTELCENTER: Al Qaeda feels that Bush is, even despite casualties, right or wrong for staying there is going to stay much longer than possibly what they might hope a Democratic administration would.

Hey, all three terror experts agree! Osama wants Kerry to win!

This goes beyond unbelievable. Are these guys on the White House payroll, or what?

Atrios has the right idea about this: express your opinion directly to Eason Jordan, CNN's chief news executive, at Eason.Jordan@turner.com. Polite emails usually work better, but I'll understand just this once if you find that difficult.

Kevin Drum 12:51 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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ASHCROFT ON AL-QAEDA....Gallimaufry catches this contemptible quote from John Ashcroft yesterday when he announced the possibility of an al-Qaeda attack in the United States this summer:

The Madrid railway bombings were perceived by Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda to have advanced their cause. Al Qaeda may perceive that a large-scale attack in the United States this summer or fall would lead to similar consequences.

The supposed "consequence" of the Madrid attack, of course, was a victory by the opposition party. So Ashcroft is rather unsubtly saying that al-Qaeda would consider a John Kerry victory to have "advanced their cause."

What a despicable worm. What a revolting, loathsome, toad.

Kevin Drum 12:28 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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LAKERS....This is your open thread to discuss tonight's Laker game. Go ahead and take your best shots.

Kevin Drum 12:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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May 27, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

BLACK GOLD....Here's the latest news on the crude oil front:

Non-OPEC Mexico this week proposed to pump an extra 70,000 barrels per day (bpd) in the second half of this year, raising output to a targeted 1.95 million bpd.

....Saudi Arabia said at the weekend it would lift production by 10 percent to 9.1 million bpd in June, and was ready to pump its maximum 10.5 million bpd if demand warranted.

....Most other members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries are already pumping at full throttle, while non-cartel producers typically do not restrain output, meaning little extra oil is available in the short-term.

....Non-OPEC Russia, the world's second largest exporter, has raised oil production sharply in recent years but is running into export constraints due to pipeline bottlenecks, the head of state pipeline company Transneft Semyon Vainshtok said recently.

Confused about what this means? Let me spell it out:

  • Current demand for crude oil is about 80 million barrels per day.

  • There is practically no spare producing capacity anywhere in the world except Saudi Arabia. They have spare capacity of about 1.5 million barrels per day.

  • Demand for oil increases by about 2 million barrels each year.

When people talk about oil, the most common question is "How much do we have left?" The answer is "quite a bit," but unfortunately it's the wrong question. The right question is, "How much can we pump out of the ground per day?" And the answer is, "Not very much more than we're pumping now."

Twenty years ago the world had about 15 million barrels/day of spare pumping capacity. Ten years ago we had about 5 million barrels of spare capacity. Today we have close to none. There are ways of increasing this capacity, of course, but it takes time to build additional pumping, pipeline, and refinery capacity, and time is something we've run out of. What's more, although we can increase pumping capacity in the medium term, we will eventually run into an absolute limit on global pumping capacity, which is something on the order of 100 million barrels/day. We are probably within about ten years of reaching this absolute production peak.

In other words, even though there's a lot of oil in the ground, oil supplies are going to become permanently tight within the next couple of years and will become disastrously tight within the next decade or so. In the meantime, demand will continue to grow inexorably at about 2% per year, which means that over the next few years the price of oil is going to skyrocket and not everyone is going to get all the oil they want.

There's a lot more to the oil story than this, of course, but in its broadest outline this is what we're up against. I'll let you noodle on this for a few days and then I'll have more to say about it.

Kevin Drum 9:08 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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TORTURE....The Washington Post conducted a poll recently about torture and asked if it was acceptable in the case of "people who are suspected of involvement in recent attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq or Afghanistan." 64% of the respondents believed that torture was unacceptable in these cases vs. 34% who believed it was OK.

Sigh. I don't know whether to be relieved that two-thirds of the country accepts that torture is wrong or to be infuriated that a third of the country still doesn't. For that one-third, including the 17% who think that electric shocks are OK, the 19% who think threatening family members is OK, and the 29% who approve of punching and kicking suspects, I have two questions:

  • Is this OK for other countries as well, or only for the United States?

  • Would you have had any moral objections if the Iraqis or the Taliban had done these things to American soldiers during our wars against them?

That's the simple moral test. We accept that our enemies in war have the moral right to try to kill us because we're doing the same thing to them. Likewise, they also have the moral right to torture information out of our soldiers if we're doing the same to them.

You can't have it both ways.

Kevin Drum 6:38 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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NAJAF....Apparently we've decided to cut a deal with Muqtada al-Sadr in the holy city of Najaf. From the New York Times:

The agreement, hammered out between Mr. Sadr and Iraqi leaders and approved by the Americans, calls for the Mahdi Army, whose fighters have held the city since April 5, to put away their guns and go home, and for the American forces to pull most of their forces out of the city. Under the agreement, the Americans can maintain a handful of posts inside the city and may still run patrols through the city center.

....In a major concession to Mr. Sadr, the Americans and Iraqi officials promised to suspend the arrest warrant issued against him for his suspected involvement in the murder of a rival cleric in April 2003.

....The agreement fell into place after the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the country's most powerful Shiite leader, delivered a stern message to the Americans urging them to get behind the deal.

According to two Iraqi Shiite leaders, American officials signed onto the agreement with Mr. Sadr only after they received a forceful note from Ayatollah Sistani and other senior clerics, passed to them by Iraq's national security adviser, Mowaffak al-Rubaie.

Hmmm, this sounds an awful lot like what happened in Fallujah, and apparently the Army thinks so too. From the Washington Post:

Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, deputy commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, compared the development Thursday to the agreement earlier this month that brought relative quiet to the Sunni city of Fallujah, where U.S. Marines had engaged in ferocious combat with insurgents through March and April.

The Fallujah cease-fire "has held since May 3," Kimmitt said. "We're hoping to see the same thing in Najaf."

Since the only alternative as at Fallujah was full scale assault, this is probably the right decision. However, the fact that Sistani was apparently ready to side with Sadr if we didn't agree to his terms is not good news, nor is the fact that Sadr's militia is effectively left in charge of the city. Plus his militia is still in charge of the Sadr City section of Baghdad, I think.

All in all, it's pretty messy, and the best you can say for it is that the alternatives were probably all worse. Unfortunately, that seems to be about the best you can say for nearly everything in Iraq these days.

Kevin Drum 5:26 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

DEMOCRACY IN IRAQ....Dan Drezner with attaboys from Matt Yglesias and Von asks today, "Was the very idea of bringing democracy to Iraq ill-conceived, or did the problem lie in our implementation?" He thinks the idea itself is still sound and it was only our implementation that was faulty:

As I argued repeatedly last year, the social science evidence suggests that democracy was not an unreasonable goal in Iraq. A necessary condition underlying that argument was that there was sufficient security; as James Dobbins and his co-authors pointed out in their RAND study last year on democracy-building in postwar situations: "What principally distinguishes [successes from failures] are not their levels of Western culture, economic development, or cultural homogeneity. Rather, it is the level of effort the United States and the international community have put into their democratic transformations."

According to Dobbins's calculations for peacekeeping in multiethnic states, 450,000 troops were needed in Iraq--a number that was, and is, anathema to the Pentagon's civilian leadership. Our failure to deploy sufficient numbers of troops probably goes a long way towards explaining the current situation.

I am very sympathetic to this idea, but unfortunately my sympathies have run smack into reality over the past year, and I'm just not sure the facts back up Dan's optimism. There are two big problems with this view one practical and one systemic that I think Dan (and I) simply haven't taken seriously enough:

  • The practical problem is that we don't have 450,000 troops. I don't mean this in the trivial sense that Donald Rumsfeld decided not to use that many troops, I mean that we don't have them. If we used every single active combat division of the Army and Marines denuding our forces everywhere in the world to do it and then filled up every possible National Guard and reserve division, we might scrape up a bit more than 500,000 troops. Furthermore, if the war had stronger support around the globe, we might reasonably manage to attract another 100,000 multinational troops. That's a total of 600,000 troops, and since we have to rotate them annually that means we could put a maximum of 300,000 troops in Iraq on a continuing basis.

    But that's it. Unless we're willing to make a World War II style commitment to doubling or tripling the size of the Army, we flatly can't provide 450,000 troops in Iraq (or anywhere else) over a period of several years. So even if our planning and implementation had been flawless, it still would have been a very dicey operation unless we were willing to treat it as a national emergency, reinstate the draft, and commit to building a 20 or 30-division Army.

  • The systemic problem might be even worse. Even if we had a 30-division Army, western public opinion requires us to portray our invasion of Iraq as a "liberation," which in turn means that our occupation has to be undertaken with a light hand. As I wrote previously regarding the siege of Fallujah, "In a war of liberation, you are expected to liberate. You are emphatically not expected to raze entire cities at the cost of thousands of civilian lives." The problem is fundamental:

    In a war like the one we're in, the tactics of conquest are the only ones that will work, but conquest itself is both unacceptable to us and conterproductive to our long-term goal of engaging moderate Muslims a goal accepted by both liberals and conservatives alike as key to long term victory.

    This is the paradox we are faced with in Iraq: as a Christian superpower occupying a Muslim country, there is inevitably going to be a substantial chunk of the population that views us as religious invaders and is willing to fight to the death to make us leave. Against such a force, the only tactics that will provide the level of security needed to make democracy possible are so brutal that they will turn the Iraqis against us and eventually force us out thus bringing an end to our experiment in forced democratization.

The conditions surrounding postwar Germany and Japan they were the losers of a long, all-out war; they had strong, advanced economies; and there was no serious postwar ethnic tension in either country make them useless as analogies to Iraq. And Dan's other examples of "successful" democratization via military occupation, namely the tiny regions of Bosnia and Kosovo, are hanging on by a thread despite lots of troops, lots of international support, and proximity to liberal democratic Europe.

I've come to this conclusion reluctantly too reluctantly, perhaps but I suspect that "adequate security," which everyone agrees is essential to democratization, is simply not possible for us to attain in Iraq for both practical and systemic reasons. It might be possible if we were willing to conduct a mass mobilization of American troops, but that's not in the cards and everyone knows it.

So if security is impossible, and democratization via military occupation depends on security, it means

Well, it means that democratization via military occupation is impossible in Iraq. I'd like to be talked out of this gloomy view, but it's going to take some mighty good arguments. Any takers?

Kevin Drum 2:31 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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WORLD WAR II MEMORIAL....The new World War II memorial in Washington has come in for a fair amount of criticism based on the idea that it's too neoclassical and too militaristic, a "banal, bombastic 'Soviet-style pomposity.'" In the Prospect today, historian Nicolaus Mills explains why this criticism is off base:

You were able to look through all of the designs that were submitted for this memorial. Do you think the right one was chosen?

It was the strongest and the most accessible of the submissions. It not only adapts a neoclassical style (and so is in symmetry with the two memorials that bracket it); it is also a memorial that the troops coming back in 1945 would have recognized as something that spoke in an architectural vocabulary that they knew all their lives.

That's exactly right. Maya Lin's famous Vietnam memorial is built in a style that appeals to its generation and the WWII memorial is built in a style that appeals to its generation and that's exactly how it should be. Good for Mills for making this obvious, but often overlooked, point.

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CASUALTIES....I am really tired of rockjawed war supporters telling us in sober tones that we need to get a little perspective on the level of casualties in Iraq. Heck, the number of combat deaths in Iraq is just a pinprick compared to earlier wars! Real men shouldn't let it get them down.

Max Boot is the latest to make this argument, and he even goes so far as to create a tidy little table for us outlining the casualty rate in various American wars: 22% in the Mexican War, 6.6% in WWII, and only 2% (so far although he doesn't say that) in the Iraq War. What's to worry about?

But not only is this the most inane, technocratic, McNamara-esque argument possible, it also completely misses the point. As countless of his fellow conservatives have pointed out, Americans are willing to accept high casualties in wartime, but only if the goal is worth it and it looks like we're going to win. Increasingly, Americans are not sure we even have a goal in Iraq, or if we do that the current gang in the White House has the remotest clue how to get there. That's the problem, and Max's time would be better spent finding different ways of saying that on a weekly basis until his pals in the White House get the message.

In the meantime, STFU about how we're taking combat deaths too seriously. And another thing, Max: if you make one more analogy to Germany and Japan after WWII, your op-ed license goes into the shredder. As a historian, you should know better.

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HOUSING BUBBLE....Yes, Virginia, there really is a housing bubble. Or at least, there used to be:

Sales of new homes tumbled 11.8 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.093 million units from an upwardly revised record high of 1.239 million in March, the Commerce Department said.

....April's rate was the lowest level of new home sales since November in what is normally the peak season for real estate sales. The decline the largest monthly drop since January 1994 could signal the end of a housing boom fueled by the lowest mortgage interest rates since the early 1960s.

Regular readers know that I've drifted back and forth on the question of whether there's been a housing bubble, though usually landing on the pro-bubble side. These numbers seem to indicate that there really has been a bubble for the past few years and that it's finally begun to burst. Hang on to your wallets.

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May 26, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

LOSING THE BASE....Reagan Democrats. Soccer moms. NASCAR dads. You've heard of all of these legendary voting blocs.

But now there's a new one: Tom Clancy conservatives. Alan Wirzbicki says Bush is losing them.

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HOW TO LIE WITH EXCERPTS....I guess this isn't really worth my time or yours, but it will take me a only few minutes to write and you fewer to read got that? so here's the latest example from our friends at The Corner in How To Lie With Excerpts:

CLASSIC HOLLYWOOD [KJL]
From Cathy Seipp today on A&E's Ike, a reporter's exchange with director Lionel Chetwynd:

Question: "You did contribute to [Bush's] campaign?"

Chetwynd: "Yeah, the limit was $1,000... Would it make a better film if I'd given $1,000 to Gore?"

Question: "Yes."

Chetwynd: "Why?"

Question: "Because it would show less potential bias."

Goodness! Some Hollywood hack apparently thinks you can't make a good movie about Eisenhower if you've contributed to the Bush campaign. That's lefty nutballism for you!

Except for one little detail: in the original column Cathy specifically noted that this exchange had nothing to do with the movie Ike. It took place last year and referred to Chetwynd's widely ridiculed soap opera version of George Bush's handling of 9/11. You remember: it's the one with dialog like "If some tinhorn terrorist wants me, tell him to come and get me! I'll be at home! Waiting for the bastard!"

Now, Cathy doesn't get entirely off the hook either. She correctly notes that this conversation concerned a movie about Bush, but still insists that this demonstrates some kind of nefarious lefty bias. But surely the reporter's point is that contributing money to anyone except Bush would demonstrate less "potential bias" when you're making a valentine of a movie about Bush.

Still, at least you can make up your own mind. The Corner's version, conversely, is just a lie.

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AIR BIN LADEN....Remember those flights shortly after 9/11 that gathered up members of the bin Laden family and spirited them quickly out of the country? Who authorized those flights, anyway?

A few weeks ago, Richard Clarke testified to Congress about this:

The request came to me, and I refused to approve it. I suggested that it be routed to the FBI and that the FBI look at the names of the individuals who were going to be on the passenger manifest and that they approve it or not. I spoke with the at the time No. 2 person in the FBI, Dale Watson, and asked him to deal with this issue. The FBI then approved...the flight.

Today, Alexander Bolton reports in The Hill that Clarke has, um, clarified his previous statement:

It didn't get any higher than me. On 9-11, 9-12 and 9-13, many things didn't get any higher than me. I decided it in consultation with the FBI....I take responsibility for it. I don't think it was a mistake, and I'd do it again.

This still doesn't tell us whose idea it was in the first place, though. Clarke's original testimony says only that "the request came to me," and he later testified that things were chaotic during those first few days after the attack and he couldn't remember where the request came from.

Does this close the case on this question? Maybe. Clarke has now taken responsibility for approving the flight and says the whole thing is a "tempest in a teapot." But we still don't know who started the ball rolling on this.

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CLANCY-PERLE CAGE MATCH....I'm disappointed to learn that famed military novelist Tom Clancy "almost came to blows" with neocon hawk Richard Perle over Clancy's lack of support for the Iraq war. I've always respected Clancy as a guy who sticks up for what he believes in, but that's inexcusable behavior and I think Clancy has some explaining to do.

Why "almost"?

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DRUG COSTS....Now here's some shocking news: the cost of prescription drugs is really high. And getting higher:

The Public Policy Institute at AARP, the seniors' advocacy group, found that wholesale prices for drugs most often prescribed for Americans age 50 and over increased an average of 27.6 percent from 2000 through 2003. In the same period, inflation increased only 10.4 percent. The study included the top 197 drugs.

....A separate study by Families USA...found that the top-selling drug among seniors, Lipitor, which lowers cholesterol, increased in price by 27 percent from January 2001 to January 2004. The second most-prescribed drug for seniors, Plavix, which prevents blood clots, rose by 34.8 percent over the same period.

....[But] the reports should have looked at the entire health care spectrum rather than just drug prices, [drug industry flack Jeff] Trewhitt added. For the last three years, inflation in the health care industry has averaged about 4.6 percent a year, while the rate of prescription drug inflation has been about 4.4 percent. "So we're in line with overall medical inflation," Trewhitt said.

Idiot. Medical inflation is higher than overall inflation because of new technologies and different treatment patterns, not because of price increases for existing treatments. Why should the price of Lipitor, which was developed years ago, increase 27% in three years?

And here are a couple of other soothing thoughts. First, those drug discount cards rushed into production in time for the election are "mass confusion." So don't expect much help there. Second, the same Medicare bill that gave us the discount cards also specifically prevents Medicare from negotiating lower drug prices with pharmaceutical companies. Can't let the free market get out of hand, after all.

Nice, eh? And just think: it probably only cost the drug companies a few million dollars in bribes campaign contributions. Just another public service from your Republican Congress.

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HOSTAGES....Newsday reports that "the U.S. military is holding dozens of Iraqis as bargaining chips to put pressure on their wanted relatives to surrender."

BeatBushBlog, written by a Chicago lawyer, cites chapter and verse to show that this violates the Geneva Conventions.

It's time for the Bush administration to make up its mind: do the conventions apply to Iraq or not? We could stand to see a little leadership on this issue from the Oval Office.

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May 25, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

LAKERS UPDATE....I promised an emailer this morning that I'd have a Lakers post tonight, win or lose. So this is it. If anyone foolishly wants to go on record as predicting that the Wolves are going to come back from their dismal first half performance, this is your chance.

Your last chance....

UPDATE: Justice is done. All is right with the universe.

UPDATE 2: Kind of a bummer ending on 24, though. Chase got his hand cut off, the president has pulled out of the race, and Tony's under arrest. But hey at least Chloe the IT person survived the whole season! I think she's the first one to do so.

And one more thing: are they really pretending that surgeons are trying to reattach Chase's hand? I mean, it's not like it was cut off with a surgical saw, folks, it was hacked off with a fire axe. It's pulp. Sheesh.

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PHASE 4....A few weeks ago I half-jokingly noted that mainstream conservative reaction to Abu Ghraib had shifted over time. Phase 1: horrible, just horrible. Phase 2: yes, it's bad, but keep in mind that it's not as bad as Saddam. Phase 3: give it a rest, OK?

And then I guessed that there might still be a phase 4 to come:

Maybe torturers as heroes, thanks to testimony from someone or other that one of the scraps of information they extracted saved a convoy somewhere? Hey, war is hell.

I am truly disgusted to report today that Phase 4 has now been reached. Here are the words of the Republican chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, Trent Lott:

"Frankly, to save some American troops' lives or a unit that could be in danger, I think you should get really rough with them," Lott said. "Some of those people should probably not be in prisons in the first place."

When asked about the photo showing a prisoner being threatened with a dog, Lott was unmoved. "Nothing wrong with holding a dog up there unless it ate him," Lott said. "(They just) scared him with the dog."

Lott was reminded that at least one prisoner had died at the hands of his captors after a beating. "This is not Sunday school," he said. "This is interrogation. This is rough stuff."

He's a real credit to his party, isn't he?

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THE JUDY CHRONICLES....An apology from the New York Times for credulously hyping Iraq's WMD threat for 18 months before the war? Jack Shafer says we might see it as soon as Wednesday.

UPDATE: And here it is. They don't name names, though: "The problematic articles varied in authorship and subject matter," say the editors. Oh well.

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WAL-MART....The National Trust for Historic Preservation has announced that the entire state of Vermont is in danger of invasion from Wal-Mart. Dan Drezner thinks they'll be singing a different tune in 2104:

The grand irony, of course, is that a century from now -- when Wal-Marts and other big box stores are threatened from whatever the new new thing in retail turns out to be -- I have no doubt that the National Trust will start landmarking the big box stores and decrying our lost retail heritage.

Now there's a comforting image: a century hence we'll all be misting up when the North American regional planning arm of the United Nations Global Protectorate gives the order to vaporize the world's last remaining Wal-Mart. Old timers, whiling away their golden years in their cyborg bodies in condominums on the moon, will bore their grandchildren with memories of how they spent their childhoods at the local Wal-Mart exchanging money for trinkets and candy bars. Their grandchildren will roll their "eyes" silently, not understanding the meaning of "childhood," "local," "Wal-Mart," "money," "trinket," or "candy bar."

Ah, memories....

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POOR REPUBLICANS....Charles Kuffner reports that Republicans are having trouble setting up their own 527 groups to compete with the Democrats, and quotes this particularly laughable reason for their lack of success:

Republican fundraiser Matt Keelen suggests that most Republican donors are businessmen who are inherently more conservative with their money.

Yes, I've noticed over the years how reluctant business interests are to contribute money to the Republican party.

But here's another suggestion: the reason new Republican 527s aren't that successful is because there are plenty of old ones already hoovering up conservative cash. The tricky thing, though, is that the Republican versions aren't called 527s. They're called 501(c)s. Nick Confessore tells you all about it in "Bush's Secret Stash."

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CHALABI UPDATE....What information did Ahmed Chalabi hand over to the Iranians? Here is theory #2 courtesy of the Guardian:

An intelligence source in Washington said the CIA confirmed its long-held suspicions when it discovered that a piece of information from an electronic communications intercept by the National Security Agency had ended up in Iranian hands. The information was so sensitive that its circulation had been restricted to a handful of officials.

"This was 'sensitive compartmented information' - SCI - and it was tracked right back to the Iranians through Aras Habib," the intelligence source said.

In other words:

  • The NSA intercepted some information.

  • This information was known to very few people in the U.S. government.

  • It ended up in Iranian hands.

  • The CIA figured out how the Iranians got hold of it, and the answer turned out to be Aras Habib, Chalabi's intelligence chief.

This is definitely different from Michael Ledeen's theory that Chalabi informed the Iranians that we had broken their codes. But it's possible that both theories are correct: Chalabi told the Iranians about the code breaking, while Habib passed on some other information. It appears there are at least two distinct breaches that the CIA is investigating.

As usual, Laura Rozen is your one-stop-shop for Chalabi speculation. In addition to the stuff about Habib, she also asks "Who did Ahmad Chalabi piss off?" (Answer: lots of people, but most disastrously White House envoy Robert Blackwill and, eventually, George W. Bush) and also has a bit more speculation about "the real line that Chalabi is believed to have crossed." Go read.

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TAX REDUCTION....Noam Scheiber is enthusiastic about a tax proposal from Ted Halstead and Maya MacGuineas outlined in the Washington Post on Monday. The proposal itself is simple: eliminate the payroll tax for Social Security and Medicare and replace it with a consumption tax. The most common kind of consumption tax is a sales tax, but that's not what they're proposing:

A better alternative would be a progressive consumption tax, levied not on individual purchases but rather on total spending. Each year, taxpayers would calculate their total income, subtract their total savings and pay taxes on the difference. The first, say, $25,000 of consumption would be tax-free, and from there the tax rates would be progressive rather than flat. The more you spent and the less you saved, the higher your tax rate would be.

Noam describes this as "that rare proposal that's sound in economic terms and politically." To which I can only wonder if Noam has temporarily taken up residence on Mars.

Is this proposal economically sound? Sure. Would it raise enough money? Sure. Are conservatives traditionally in favor of consumption taxes? Sure. Are conservatives traditionally opposed to business taxes (half of all payroll taxes are paid by the employer)? Sure.

But now let's return to planet Earth and ask: are conservatives traditionally in favor of proposals that reduce taxes on the poor and middle class and increase them on the rich which is exactly what this would do? Um, no, not exactly. Which means that this proposal is dead on arrival. It's laughable to think it would get any support at all from the Republican party (and, sadly, it would probably also get less support than it deserves from the Democratic party).

The payroll tax is perhaps the worst tax in America. It's bad for business, it's savagely regressive, it discourages job creation, and at the moment it's being used to subsidize George Bush's massive deficits in the general fund. But it does have one saving grace: it's barely noticable to the rich. Someone who makes a million dollars a year pays only about 2% of their income in payroll taxes.

There are hundreds of ways of funding Social Security and Medicare that would be superior to our current payroll tax. It's not lack of ideas that prevents Congress from choosing one of them and eradicating the payroll tax once and for all, it's the 11th commandment of modern Republicanism: thou shalt not raise taxes on the rich.

Ted Halstead, Maya MacGuineas, and Noam Scheiber surely all know this perfectly well. Why do they pretend not to?

POSTSCRIPT: On the other hand, I should make clear that I heartily endorse the idea of John Kerry making something like this a cornerstone of his campaign. He should take the high ground on tax relief for the poor and middle class and let Republicans run around in circles explaining why this would be a bad idea. That would be a show worth watching.

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GRASSO'S GOES TO 13....New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer has decided to sue Richard Grasso, the former CEO of the New York Stock Exchange, for using various forms of chicanery to overpay himself. Spitzer listed several main bullet points to support his contention, but this is my favorite:

  • On a 1-to-10 performance scale used to determine compensation, Grasso at one point assigned himself a 13, Spitzer said.

Quick, someone tell Spinal Tap!

UPDATE: On a more serious note, I should point out that Spitzer's case is built on the fact that the NYSE is a not-for-profit corporation and therefore is not legally allowed to pay its executives exorbitant sums. His suit also lists some instances of alleged deception and fraud on Grasso's part.

I can't judge whether Spitzer's case holds water legally, but I wanted to point out that there really is a case here. It's not just a matter of Spitzer casually deciding that he gets to tell public companies how much they are allowed to pay their employees.

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ONE DOWN, FOUR MORE TO GO....I didn't catch Bush's speech last night, but the LA Times headline for their main coverage pretty much tells the non-story:

Bush Offers Plan to End Chaos in Iraq

A more accurate headline, I think, would be "Bush Expresses Sincere Wish for Chaos in Iraq to End," since his "plan" appears to be no such thing. Rather, his intent is to keep doing the exact same thing he's been doing all along and hope that he gets lucky or at the least, that things don't blow up completely until November 3.

The "news" in his speech, if I can be allowed to abuse the English language a bit, is that Bush reiterated what Colin Powell and several others have already said: after June 30, the Iraqis will have "full sovereignty." This is obviously nonsense since we intend to keep 150,000 troops on their soil and maintain full control of the Iraqi security forces as well. Matt Yglesisas is puzzled:

I'm not even sure why the president is dissembling about this; Iraqis aren't going to be fooled, and I don't know that Americans are particularly going to care, but raising Iraqi expectations of sovereign control and then failing to deliver sounds like a recipe for a lot of very disappointed Iraqis, all for the sake of a somewhat tidier speech.

My guess is that this is semi-backwards. It's true that Iraqis won't be fooled by this, but for that reason they aren't going to be disappointed either. Americans, however, are going to be fooled by it, and that's all Bush cares about. A hundred million people are going to hear that we're handing over "full sovereignty," and maybe 1% of them will read or hear an explanation of why that's not true. So it's a win for Bush.

The real danger is that it sets up Americans for disappointment, not Iraqis. The Iraqis will shrug their shoulders and continue to agitate for American withdrawl, and Americans will be left wondering why the Iraqis continue to be so ungrateful even though we've turned over full sovereignty to them just like we said we would. Of such things is American self-delusion born.

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SANCHEZ OUSTED....Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez is being replaced as the top general in Iraq. It's not clear whether this is an ordinary rotation, a previously planned move to upgrade the position to 4-star level, or a reflection of displeasure about the job he's done. Or perhaps all three. The New York Times and the Washington Post have slightly different takes, so read them both.

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PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT....I have been asked to make a public service announcement for the blogosphere, and I aim to please in the public service department. So here it is.

Blogspot blogs periodically fail to work if you include "www" in the URL. For example:

Sometimes, of course, both of these work equally well. But sometimes they don't. So to be completely blogspot safe, always be sure to "Eschew The Triple W."

End of announcement. Thank you for your attention.

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May 24, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

CHALABI AND THE IRANIANS, PART 2....My previous post was about Michael Ledeen's article today at NRO telling us what it was that Ahmed Chalabi supposedly leaked to the Iranians that got everyone so pissed off at him. In order to unpack this a bit further, here's the entire section of his column that discusses this. (The conceit of the piece is that Ledeen is talking to the late James Jesus Angleton, longtime chief of CIA counterintelligence, via a ouija board.)

ML: It's fascinating to watch the anti-Chalabi campaign in Washington. You probably can't keep up with it, but some intel officials in town are saying two things to the journalists: 1) We broke the Iranians' communication codes, so we were reading their mail. Chalabi found out about this, and told the Iranian intelligence chief in Baghdad. 2) The Iranian immediately contacted Tehran to tell them that we had broken the code. Then they said to journalists, "you can't write about this because it would jeopardize our people."

JJA: So they're saying that the Iranians' chief operative in Baghdad told Tehran that their codes had been broken...and his message was sent in the same code?

ML: Seems so.

JJA: Hahahahahahaha. Impossible! If the Iranians knew that we were reading their mail, they would never let us know that they knew. They would continue to use the codes, but instead of sending accurate messages they would use those channels for disinformation against us.

ML: Yes, they're smart enough for that. I've often said that they may be crazy, but they are certainly not stupid.

JJA: Furthermore, using the same logic, if we knew that Chalabi had told the Iranians, we would never go public with the accusations. We would use Chalabi to disinform them. And the information that we had broken the Iranian code doesn't compromise human sources, because most codebreaking is done by supercomputers, and isn't obtained from spies.

Naturally, I don't know if Ledeen is right about this, but let's suppose he is. Here are his objections:

  • "...they're saying that the Iranians' chief operative in Baghdad told Tehran that their codes had been broken...and his message was sent in the same code?"

    That's pretty stupid, all right, but nowhere in his piece does he say that this is what actually happened. All he says is that the Iranian intel guy "immediately contacted Tehran." The imaginary Angleton character just infers (for some reason) that he used the busted code to do it.

  • "...if we knew that Chalabi had told the Iranians, we would never go public with the accusations."

    No, of course not. Unless this all happened some time ago and it no longer matters. Or unless someone foolishly leaked it anyway just out of spite. Or unless some enterprising reporters have known about this for a while through other sources and are only now spilling the beans. It seems like there are plenty of reasonable ways this could have happened.

  • "We would use Chalabi to disinform them."

    Perhaps, but only if we trusted Chalabi. Which we obviously don't.

  • "...the information that we had broken the Iranian code doesn't compromise human sources, because most codebreaking is done by supercomputers."

    Perhaps "most" codebreaking is indeed done with supercomputers, but that doesn't mean there might not be human sources involved in this case. Who knows?

The main thing missing here is the timeframe. Did this happen years ago and we only now found about it? Or was it ongoing, and we only found out the Iranians were on to us when the Jordanians told us about it a couple of weeks ago?

So many details. And we'll probably never learn any of them, super sensitive intel being what it is. Regardless, though, I still don't understand Ledeen's arguments. Maybe he'll clear it up tomorrow.

Kevin Drum 7:31 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

WHAT DID AHMED CHALABI TELL THE IRANIANS?....Ahmed Chalabi is supposedly on the outs with official Washington because he leaked some super sensitive intel to the Iranians. But what was it? Michael Ledeen, in the middle of a very peculiar column, tells us what happened:

....some intel officials in town are saying two things to the journalists: 1) We broke the Iranians' communication codes, so we were reading their mail. Chalabi found out about this, and told the Iranian intelligence chief in Baghdad. 2) The Iranian immediately contacted Tehran to tell them that we had broken the code.

Ledeen then goes on to say that this is ridiculous and couldn't have happened, although I don't really understand his argument. (It's based on the idea that the Iranian intelligence chief used the broken code to tell Tehran that their code had been broken which does indeed seem rather careless but it's not clear to me why he thinks this. There's some other stuff I can't make sense of either, but I'll let it pass for now.)

But even though I don't really understand Ledeen's point, this was the first time I've seen an explanation of what Chalabi is alleged to have done, so I thought I'd pass it along.

Kevin Drum 6:54 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

TOP TEN IRAQ MISTAKES....General Anthony Zinni lists the ten biggest mistakes we made in Iraq:

  1. The first mistake [was] the belief that containment as a policy doesn't work....

  2. The second mistake I think history will record is that the strategy was flawed....

  3. The third mistake, I think was one we repeated from Vietnam, we had to create a false rationale for going in to get public support....

  4. We failed in number four, to internationalize the effort....

  5. I think the fifth mistake was that we underestimated the task....

  6. The sixth mistake, and maybe the biggest one, was propping up and trusting the exiles....

  7. The seventh problem has been the lack of planning....

  8. The eighth problem was the insufficiency of military forces on the ground....

  9. The ninth problem has been the ad hoc organization we threw in there....

  10. The tenth mistake [has been] a series of bad decisions on the ground....

He talks about each one of these in greater detail in the text of his speech and also presents some ideas for how to move forward from here. Click the link for more.

Kevin Drum 6:14 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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URL UPDATE....Phil Carter has moved his invaluable military affairs blog, Intel Dump, to a new address:

http://www.intel-dump.com

Update your bookmarks.

Kevin Drum 3:24 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE MEDIA AND THE WAR....Via Instapundit, Michael Barone lashes out at war criticism today and sets up the usual tiresome anti-media strawman:

But for the most part, Roosevelt did not have to deal with one problem Bush faces today. And that is that today's press works to put the worst possible face on the war.

It's true that there wasn't much public criticism of World War II, and I think the same can be said of World War I as well. But it hasn't been true of any other war in America's history.

Kosovo, Gulf War I, Vietnam, Korea, the Philippines, the Spanish-American War, the Civil War I could go on and on. Every single one of them faced a barrage of criticism from opponents who thought they were foolish, immoral, poorly prosecuted, or all of the above. To suggest that press criticism of a war is somehow unprecedented is to turn history upside down.

These guys need to get their heads out of the sand. The press isn't reporting bad news from Iraq because they hate America, they're reporting bad news from Iraq because there's lots of bad news in Iraq. If war supporters really want to win this war, they should stop whining that the press is reporting the news and instead try to figure out how to actually make the news better.

As near as I can tell, though, a lot of them have basically given up and are already setting the stage for Phase 2: figuring out a way to blame liberals and the press for the fiasco in Iraq even though George Bush and his team have been in charge of every single detail of it and have gotten every single dollar they've asked for. I can't wait.

Kevin Drum 1:24 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE WEDDING....This business with the "wedding" near the Syrian border that we bombed a few days ago gets stranger every day. Was it really a wedding? Was it a terrorist camp? Did we kill women and children or didn't we?

You can view a video of the wedding here. It's about four minutes long, edited down from hours of videotape, and clearly shows a wedding on one day followed by devastation the next day. Purportedly, the devastation is at the same site as the wedding, although it's not easy to tell based on the camera angles and overall poor quality of the video. However, there's this:

Video that APTN shot a day after the attack shows fragments of musical instruments, pots and pans and brightly colored beddings used for celebrations, scattered around the bombed out tent.

An AP reporter and photographer, who interviewed more than a dozen survivors a day after the bombing, were able to identify many of them on the wedding party video which runs for several hours.

There's definitely one person in the wedding video who also appears in the second half of the footage that was shot after the attack (as shown in this BBC story), and apparently there are more if the AP reporter quoted above is correct.

And yet the Army continues to strongly deny making a mistake:

At a briefing Saturday, [Brig. Gen. Mark] Kimmitt showed photographs of the interior of the targeted building that showed stacks of bedding -- more than 300 sets -- a table used for medical examinations, and medical supplies, including syringes with residue suspected of being cocaine. There were assorted firearms and a large number of pre-packed sets of clothing.

"The building seemed to be somewhat of a dormitory," Kimmitt said. He said the setup appeared to be a way station where foreign fighters slipping through the border could get bogus identification documents and clothes that would help them blend in with the Iraqi population.

Some of the dead had in their pockets foreign telephone numbers, including some from Afghanistan and Sudan, Kimmitt said.

About 35 men and six women were killed in the pre-dawn strike. There were no children among the dead, Kimmitt said. None of the bodies had any identification, he said.

"No ID cards. No wallets. No pictures. They had watches, and that was about the only way you could identify one person from another," he said. "We feel that was an indication that this was a high-risk meeting of high-level anti-coalition forces," Kimmitt said.

"There was no evidence of a wedding," Kimmitt said. "There was no decorations, no music instruments found, no large quantities of food or leftover servings one would expect from a wedding celebration. No gifts."

I can't figure out where the truth lies here. If the video is a fake, it's a remarkably sophisticated fake produced in only a few days. But if the Army is lying, they're doing it in the stupidest way possible. Neither explanation seems entirely plausible.

And one more thing. The APTN video was shot at "what the survivors said was the wedding site." Has the Army allowed any U.S. reporters to view the area that they say was the site of the attack? Why not?

Who knows maybe both sides are telling the truth. Maybe it was a terrorist waystation and a terrorist was getting married that day. Stranger things have happened. Stay tuned for more.

Kevin Drum 12:47 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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AHMED CHALABI TIMELINE....Why exactly is Ahmed Chalabi hated by so many people? And exactly who is he hated by? Here's an Ahmed Chalabi timeline to help sort it out for you:

  • 1969: Chalabi earns a PhD in mathematics from the University of Chicago. While there, he hits it off with Albert Wohlstetter, a military theorist who was one of the founders of the neocon movement.

  • 1985: Wohlstetter introduces Chalabi to ber-neocon Richard Perle. He later hooks up with Paul Wolfowitz and other neocon leading lights.

  • 1989: Petra Bank of Jordan, run by Chalabi, collapses under mysterious circumstances. Chalabi flees the country and is tried and convicted in absentia on 31 charges of embezzlement, theft, misuse of depositor funds and currency speculation, and sentenced by a Jordanian court to 22 years in jail.

    As with all things related to Chalabi, his supporters and detractors have diametrically opposite stories about what happened. He and his supporters say the Jordanian government (backed by Saddam Hussein) executed a politically motivated coup against him. The Jordanians backed up by an Arthur Andersen audit scoff at this. Chalabi, they say, was a common swindler who fraudulently funneled money to his own accounts and left the bank with over $200 million in debts, which the Jordanian government eventually paid off.

    Whichever side you believe, the end result is that the Jordanians and their friends became mortal enemies of Chalabi.

  • 1992: Chalabi makes his first contact with the CIA and forms the Iraqi National Congress, an umbrella group of Iraqi exiles opposed to Saddam Hussein.

  • 1995: Chalabi convinces the CIA that Saddam's hold on power is tenuous and that a rebellion led by the Kurds and the INC could topple him. The American NSC discovers at the last minute that Saddam has penetrated part of the plan and withdraws its support. Chalabi and the Kurds go ahead anyway and the plot fails miserably. It is referred to by the CIA as the "Bay of Goats."

    Result: the CIA decides Chalabi is a blowhard with little actual support or knowledge of what's happening in Iraq.

  • 1996: More prime grade murkiness, this time about a CIA coup attempt against Saddam. The fact that the coup actually was attempted is about the only thing everyone agrees about.

    Chalabi side of the story (sort of): The CIA cooked up one of its "fatuous little coup plots," and when Chalabi found out about it he informed them that Saddam had already infiltrated their plot. The CIA stupidly ignored him, and in June, after stringing them along for a few months, Saddam arrested hundreds of conspirators and completely demolished the coup attempt.

    CIA side of the story (maybe): It was Chalabi himself who compromised the plan. He was angry because the CIA was working with the INA, a different group of Iraqi exiles, and Chalabi was not involved.

    Result: now the CIA really hates Chalabi's guts.

  • 1998: With Chalabi's help, Congress passes the Iraq Liberation Act and the INC subsequently starts getting large sums of money from the United States government amounting to tens of millions of dollars over the years from various government sources. Much of this money has never been accounted for, and the State Department eventually concludes that Chalabi has been raking off a percentage.

    Result: the State Department, which had never been too enamored of Chalabi anyway, decides that Chalabi is a fraud and a con man who can't be trusted.

  • April 2003: Against the wishes of virtually everyone except his friends in the Pentagon, Chalabi and 700 of his troops are airlifted into northern Iraq. He will later be installed as one of the 25 members of Iraq's Interim Governing Council.

  • 2003-2004: The shit hits the fan. It turns out that Chalabi actually has very little support within Iraq. Paul Bremer grows increasingly disgusted with Chalabi as Chalabi's public statements become more stridently anti-American. UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi comes in for abuse from Chalabi and turns against him. The White House is annoyed that Chalabi refuses to hand over documents related to the UN's oil-for-food scandal. The CIA learns that Chalabi was responsible for providing phony WMD intelligence before the war. In April the NSC decides to cut its losses and severs its ties with Chalabi. And finally, the Defense Intelligence Agency has apparently also turned against Chalabi based on evidence that he has been passing ultrasensitive intelligence information to Iran.

    Result: Bremer hates Chalabi, Brahimi hates Chalabi, the UN hates Chalabi, a large swathe of Iraqis hate Chalabi, and the NSC and DIA hate Chalabi.

Bottom line: practically every group that has ever worked with Chalabi has eventually felt betrayed by him. This includes, at a minimum: (1) the Jordanian government, (2) the CIA, (3) the State Department, (4) Paul Bremer and the CPA, (5) the United Nations, (6) the NSC, and (7) the DIA. Oh and quite possibly, (8) George W. Bush.

But at least the cuddly ayatollahs in Iran still seem to like him. It's good to have at least a few friends who stay loyal through thick and thin.

Kevin Drum 12:31 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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May 23, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

YELLOWCAKE....Remember those forged documents showing that Saddam Hussein had tried to buy uranium yellowcake from Niger? They were originally given to an Italian journalist, who eventually decided not to use them and handed them over to the U.S. embassy in Rome.

But who forged the documents in the first place? And who passed them along? Nobody knows. However, over at Kautilyan, Lerxst has some speculation about who the forgers might be. It's an intriguing possiblity.

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MORE CHALABI SPIES....A couple of months ago Bob Drogin of the LA Times broke the story of "Curveball," a key Iraqi informant who showed up in a German refugee camp and claimed that he had built biological warfare trucks for the Iraqi army. Only later did the CIA learn that he was actually the brother of one of Ahmed Chalabi's top aides and had probably been coached to provide false information.

Today, Drogin carries the story a step further:

Ahmad Chalabi, the onetime White House favorite who has been implicated in an alleged Iranian spy operation, sent Iraqi defectors to at least eight Western spy services before the war in an apparent effort to dupe them about Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's illicit weapons programs, current and former U.S. intelligence officials said.

....Because even friendly spy services rarely share the identities of their informants or let outsiders meet or debrief their sources, it has only in recent months become clear that Chalabi's group sent defectors with inaccurate or misleading information to Denmark, England, Italy, France, Germany, Spain and Sweden, as well as to the United States, the officials said.

...."We had a lot of sources, but it was all coming from the same pot," said a former senior U.S. intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "They were all INC guys. And none of them panned out."

A U.S. official confirmed that defectors from Chalabi's organization had provided suspect information to numerous Western intelligence agencies. "It's safe to say he tried to game the system," the official said.

Those toughminded, hardnosed, not-afraid-to-face-the-real-world neocons sure picked the wrong guy to place their faith in, didn't they? But hey at least Chalabi and the Iranians got exactly what they wanted: the downfall of Saddam Hussein. And Osama bin Laden got exactly what he wanted too: a Western occupying force in the heart of the Arab world to act as a recruiting device for al-Qaeda. The neocons played their assigned role in this drama to perfection.

Unfortunately, the phrase "useful idiots" is already taken, so we'll have to come up with a new one for these guys. Any ideas?

Kevin Drum 2:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE PRAETORIAN PRESIDENCY....So how's the war going? Doyle McManus of the LA Times says the mood in Washington is grimmer than it's been in decades:

Leslie H. Gelb, a former president of the private Council on Foreign Relations and a top Pentagon strategist during the Vietnam War said he had never seen confidence sink as quickly in Washington as it has in recent weeks.

"I've never heard the kind of dark defeatism I'm hearing now, both in and out of government, including the worst days of the Vietnam War," said Gelb, a Democrat. "Support for this war is plummeting. In Vietnam, that happened much more slowly, and only after much higher casualties."

....To counter that spreading sense of disorder and shore up public support, [President] Bush plans to give six major speeches on Iraq in the six weeks remaining before the transfer of sovereignty to the transitional government.

....Officials said there was no immediate sign that Bush was planning to announce any major new initiatives or shifts in policy in Monday's speech. The main theme, one aide said, will be a familiar one: "Stay the course." But it may be delivered in a more sober tone than before.

I've read several stories about Bush's planned series of speeches, and they all say pretty much the same thing: they're just speeches. There will be no policy changes announced.

For some reason, this reminds me of this passage from Jim Fallows' Atlantic article "Blind Into Baghdad" from a few months ago:

This is the place to note that in several months of interviews I never once heard someone say "We took this step because the President indicated ..." or "The President really wanted ..." Instead I heard "Rumsfeld wanted," "Powell thought," "The Vice President pushed," "Bremer asked," and so on. One need only compare this with any discussion of foreign policy in Reagan's or Clinton's Administrationor Nixon's, or Kennedy's, or Johnson's, or most othersto sense how unusual is the absence of the President as prime mover....It is possible that the President's confidants are so discreet that they have kept all his decisions and instructions secret. But that would run counter to the fundamental nature of bureaucratic Washington, where people cite a President's authority whenever they possibly can ("The President feels strongly about this, so ...").

Giving pretty speeches seems to be about Bush's only job these days aside from fundraising, of course. In the background of almost everything you read and hear is the unspoken assumption that he's barely even involved in any of the important decisions related to Iraq. Where once we used to worry about an Imperial Presidency, today we have a Praetorian Presidency.

Scary days.

Kevin Drum 1:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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BABES IN TOYLAND....It's pretty obvious that Ariana Eunjung Cha of the Washington Post was doing her best to write a fairly neutral story about the young people who were recruited to work in Iraq for the CPA last year, but it's really pretty appalling:

By the fall, when [Simone] Ledeen and peers arrived, the CPA had a serious staffing problem. Initial plans called for 3,700 people, but for most of the year it had been operating with 1,300. Moreover, many of those who did come stayed the minimum 90 days. Mark St. Laurent, 36, a D.C. paramedic who was assigned to the economics team, said the short commitments made getting work done difficult: "One month learning the ropes. One month doing actual work. One month lame duck -- you don't want to do anything because you don't want to piss off the guy coming next."

....[Lt. Col. Joseph] Yoswa said the recruiting office had to hire quickly for the Madrid donors conference that fall and "turned to the Heritage Foundation, an educational facility, albeit a conservative one, but primarily a place where you can get good, solid people." He said this was a one-time event and that there was no organized effort to hire Republicans.

....Brad Jackson, a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve who worked with the CPA, said the budget team regularly asked other ministries at the last minute to produce information that would take hundreds of people half a year to gather.

"There were a lot of people who, being political science majors, didn't know what an income statement was, who were asking the impossible. . . . That was giving us ulcers, quite frankly," he said.

The young budget advisers are the first to admit that they weren't the most qualified to be managing Iraq's finances. "We knew we were overwhelmed. We wanted help," Ledeen said. "We were doing maintenance, trying to make sure there were no riots, that no one went hungry."

All kudos to the kids who went to Iraq and put in 100-hour weeks on this stuff, but you just have to shake your head at the supposed adults who allowed this to happen. Instead of going the extra mile to seriously work with NGOs and other experienced reconstruction experts, they preferred to hire inexperienced college grads who happened to be ideologically pure. Unfortunately, it's sort of a metaphor for this entire operation.

Kevin Drum 1:37 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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AHMED CHALABI....Lots of mysterious stuff to try to figure out these days. Did we bomb a wedding or a terrorist camp near the Syrian border? What's the real story with the UN oil-for-food scandal? Is the Nick Berg video on the up and up? And what the hell are the Israelis doing in Rafah?

These are all things I need to spend more time trying to understand. By far the most interesting mystery, though, is the strange saga of Ahmed Chalabi which is also, seemingly, the hardest of the bunch to get a handle on. As near as I can tell, no one knows what's really happening here, even though half the reporters in Washington are shaking their sources like piatas in an effort to find out.

I need to catch up on everything before I say much about this, but I will take a guess on one thing: I suspect that Josh Marshall is wrong when he suggests that Chalabi's reversal of fortune is not really the result of new information, but rather just the visible result of "deep tectonic shifts within the US government" as different (anti-Chalabi) groups gain power at the expense of other (pro-Chalabi) groups. Instead, I think something new really has happened, and that something, as reported in the New York Post, was probably convincing evidence from the Jordanian government that Chalabi has passed critical U.S. intelligence information to the Iranians. This makes sense when you put the known facts on the table:

  • Chalabi has long had ties to the Iranian government.

  • The Jordanian government has been tracking Chalabi for over a decade, ever since his bank failed and he fled the country. So it makes sense that they might have some dirt on him.

  • Newsday reports that Chalabi's intelligence chief is an Iranian spy.

  • CBS reports the same thing, adding that (a) Chalabi personally handed the information to the Iranians, (b) the information could "get Americans killed," and (c) the evidence against Chalabi is "rock solid."

  • The timing fits, since King Abdullah II of Jordan visited the White House just a few weeks ago and could have personally put a bug in Bush's ear that got the ball rolling on this.

Finally, as Laura Rozen astutely points out, while Chalabi still has some very vocal supporters among his neocon friends, the ones who are actually in a position to know about the Jordanian charges have rather conspicuously not been defending him lately. And no matter how much slack they've cut the guy in the past, a serious intelligence breach would put him beyond the pale for good.

More to come on this, of course. In the meantime, go read Josh, who's covering this pretty thoroughly, and especially go read Laura Rozen, who's been blogging up a storm on Chalabi, complete with roundups, speculation, and original reporting. She's got the go-to site at the moment for dedicated Chalabi watchers.

Kevin Drum 12:03 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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May 22, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

ALL ABOUT NURSES....From the annals of crime prevention:

Controlled studies show that it results in 54% fewer juvenile arrests and 69% fewer juvenile convictions and probation violations. And for every dollar it costs, four dollars are saved in future costs. Why aren't tough-on-crime conservatives all over it?

What is "it"? Rivka at Respectful of Otters has the skinny.

Yeah, yeah, I know, it's just more crackpot liberal social engineering. Got no money for that bleeding heart kind of stuff anymore. There's a war to fight, after all.

Kevin Drum 6:06 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

1984....I mentioned yesterday that I was rereading 1984. There was no special reason for this; I just noticed it on my bookshelf the other day and realized that I hadn't read it since high school. And it's a pretty short book, after all.

I'm on to other things at the moment, but I figure I ought to make some use of this literary excursion. So here's a salutary passage:

Those whose attitude toward the war is most nearly rational are the subject peoples of the disputed territories. To these people the war is simply a continuous calamity which sweeps to and fro over their bodies like a tidal wave. Which side is winning is a matter of complete indifference to them. They are aware that a change of overlordship means simply that they will be doing the same work as before for new masters who treat them in the same manner as the old ones.

The slightly more favored workers whom we call "the proles" are only intermittently conscious of the war. When it is necessary they can be prodded into frenzies of fear and hatred, but when left to themselves they are capable of forgetting for long periods that the war is happening.

It is in the ranks of the Party, and above all of the Inner Party, that the true war enthusiasm is found. World-conquest is believed in most firmly by those who know it to be impossible. This peculiar linking-together of opposites knowledge with ignorance, cynicism with fanaticism is one of the chief distinguishing marks of ________.

In the book, of course, the blank is filled in with "Oceanic society." You, however, can fill it in with anything that comes to mind.

Kevin Drum 5:44 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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LAKERS UPDATE....I didn't realize until last night that sunken-eyed former Celtic enforcer Kevin McHale now works for the Minnesota Timberwolves. Just another reason to cheer the pounding the Lakers gave the Wolves last night. If we let a Kevin McHale team into the championships, the terrorists have won.

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GAY MARRIAGE....Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is stridently opposed to same-sex marriage, and on Friday he asked his attorney general to invoke a 1913 law that bars couples from marrying in Massachusetts if their unions would not be legal in their home states.

And why does Massachusetts have such a law in the first place? In order to prevent marriages of mixed race couples from out of state.

That's a perfect symbol, isn't it? Gay marriage opponents are now invoking laws originally designed to make it more difficult for blacks and whites to marry each other. I hope they're proud of being the modern day heirs of Jim Crow.

Kevin Drum 12:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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May 21, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

SARIN SHELL....Was that sarin shell we discovered a few days ago part of a secret WMD stash, or was it just a miscellaneous dud that was fired years ago and then left to rust in the desert? Scott Ritter says it's pretty easy to find out:

If the 155-mm shell was a "dud" fired long ago which is highly likely then it would not be evidence of the secret stockpile of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) that the Bush administration used as justification to invade Iraq.

[Detailed technical explanation follows of how sarin shells work and how to tell if one has been previously fired.]

Given what's known about sarin shells, the US could be expected to offer a careful recital of the data with news of the shell. But facts that should have accompanied the story the type of shell, its condition, whether it had been fired previously, and the age and viability of the sarin and precursor chemicals were absent. And that's opened the door to irresponsible speculation that the shell was part of a live WMD stockpile. The data available to the ISG would put this development in proper perspective allowing responsible discussion of the event and its possible ramifications.

Note that there's nothing here that depends on whether you consider Ritter a reliable source. If you read the whole piece, all he's saying is that there's some simple objective data that could determine the nature of the sarin shell, but the Army hasn't provided any of it. Until they do, there's no way to guess whether this discovery is meaningful or not.

Kevin Drum 9:19 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE VIEW FROM CENTCOM....So what do former CENTCOM commanders think about the neocons and their war planning? Let's listen in:

  • General Joseph Hoar, 1991-1994: "Paul Wolfowitz is a very bright guy, but he doesn't know anything about war-fighting, and I suspect he knows less about counterinsurgency operations....I think that the neo-conservatives had their day, by selling to the President the need for invasion of Iraq. I think it's now time for a clean sweepand it has been for some time, in my judgmentto get rid of these people."

  • General Anthony Zinni, 1997-2000: He believes the neocons, including Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith, the undersecretary of defense, have hijacked U.S. foreign policy: "In the lead-up to the Iraq war and its later conduct, I saw, at minimum, true dereliction, negligence and irresponsibility; at worst, lying, incompetence and corruption."

  • General Tommy Franks, 2000-2003: Doug Feith is "the fucking stupidest guy on the face of the earth."

General Binford Peay III, CENTCOM commander from 1994-1997, seems to have maintained a studious silence about the conduct of the war, perhaps understandable since he's now the chairman of the board of a defense contractor that, among other things, provides ammunition for the Army's Stryker brigades.

Still, that's a pretty remarkable record, isn't it? Three of the past four CENTCOM commanders, the guys who probably understand the military requirements of a war in the Middle East better than any other humans on the planet, think the people who planned this war are completely incompetent. Quite an accomplishment.

Kevin Drum 7:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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BAD MOOD....Haven't posted much today. Sorry. Here's the longwinded explanation.

I slept badly last night and woke up tired this morning. In some people this induces crankiness, in me it makes me feel depressed. Reading the morning paper and scanning the blogosphere obviously didn't help my mood much, so after a couple of short posts I figured maybe I'd try to get some more sleep.

Hopeless, of course. I've never been able to sleep in the middle of the day. So I tried reading instead. Unfortunately, a couple of days ago I decided to reread 1984, and I'm just at the part where we're being lectured about how continuous war is necessary in order to keep the masses under control. That obviously hit a bit too close to the bone, and sure didn't do anything to cheer me up.

So I took a shower, then came back downstairs and ran across this entry over at &c about torture:

....it does complicate the practical and moral calculus considerably if the only way we could have caught Saddam was through these means [i.e., torture]--or at least some milder variant of them. Again, I'm not saying it would have been justified--or even forgiveable--even in that case. But the question does seem highly relevant to the analysis of the situation--if for no other reason than it forces people think through precisely what their opposition to torture is.

Now, I don't blame Noam Scheiber for a second for writing this. Public musings of this nature are exactly what blogs are for. But dammit can it really be that in the year 2004 my fellow countrymen are seriously debating whether or not torture is OK as long as it extracts useful information? Have we really sunk to that level of barbarism?

So I gave up. I'm just not meant to face the world today. But I will say that there's one ray of sunshine in the unremitting stream of bad news that's assaulting us daily in this, the fourth year of George Bush's regency: Instapundit. He's been posting like a madman, as though he's decided to take on the task of bucking up the flagging morale of his fellow war supporters singlehandedly. 35 posts yesterday and 17 so far today! And this is one happy world he lives in: things in Iraq are going splendidly, all the problems you hear about are mere inventions of the liberal media, Nick Berg is still topping Google searches, the press is paying way too much attention to all that Abu Ghraib stuff, and the insurgency in Fallujah is well under control.

It's a virtuoso display. But what I wonder is this: has he actually convinced himself that Oceania has always been at war with Eurasia, or does he know better and is just pretending otherwise? And which would be the more impressive performance?

Kevin Drum 5:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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DOG BITES MAN....New York Times headline today:

Wall Street to Toast Its G.O.P. Overseers During Convention

Funny, I thought it was the other way around....

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ABU GHRAIB....More pictures and testimony about Abu Ghraib. I don't really have the heart to write about this today, though. Just click if you're interested.

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May 20, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

WAR AND DEMOCRACY....Via Stuart Benjamin of the Volokh Conspiracy comes a link to an interesting paper by William Niskanen and Peter Van Doren of the Cato Institute in which they claim that contrary to the "starve the beast" hypothesis federal spending doesn't get squeezed when tax revenues are cut. In fact, the opposite happens: spending actually goes up when tax revenues go down.

As it happens, Jacob Levy asks an obvious question about this finding: does it take into account the fact that "in a recession, spending rises and taxes fall automatically"? Unfortunately, I can't tell: Niskanen and Van Doren's equation doesn't explicitly account for countercyclical effects but it does include unemployment as a variable, which might amount to the same thing. It also includes an "autoregressive term" that, mysteriously, accounts for "all of the explanatory power of this equation." I don't know what that means either, so we'll have to leave this for smarter people to sort out.

That's a bit of a bust, isn't it? But it's still an interesting paper because of this paragraph:

American participation in every war in which the ground combat lasted more than a few days from the War of 1812 to the current war in Iraq was initiated by a unified government. One general reason is that each party in a divided government has the opportunity to block the most divisive measures proposed by the other party.

Now that's genuinely interesting, and doesn't require any mathematical background to understand. (It's worth noting that Gulf War I only barely fits this hypothesis, but even if there's one semi-exception it's still a worthwhile observation.)

There's an interesting corollary here to the idea that liberal democracies almost never attack other liberal democracies. The reason for that, I think, is that it's genuinely hard to whip a country into a war frenzy, and when two democracies face off it's pretty likely that public opinion in one country or the other will eventually calm things down. A single person, no matter how rabid, can't force either country into war.

The divided-government observation carries that a bit further: even if one side is an unmistakably evil dictatorship with no pressure to back down, it's still hard to get a war going if the other side is a democracy. In fact, even then the proper war frenzy can usually be created only if a democratic government is unified and therefore able to substantially control public opinion. You might say there's a sliding scale of likelihood to go to war, with absolute dictatorships at the top, followed by authoritarian governments, unified democracies, and finally divided democracies.

There are undoubtedly some very interesting conclusions to be drawn from all this. Feel free to start in comments.

Kevin Drum 7:24 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

CLOWNS REVISITED....A couple of days ago I took a swipe at Newsweek's Jonathan Alter for not being willing to say in print what he's willing to say on the radio, and today he responds in a piece by Brian Montopoli at The Campaign Desk:

Alter disputes the notion that he's too restrained in print. "If I just attacked Bush with a sledgehammer every week in Newsweek it would get pretty predictable, so I vary my pitches," he says. "But lately I've been whacking him pretty good. I haven't done it that explicitly, but I've certainly done it and expect to do it some more." He acknowledges, however, that different mediums force journalists to play different roles -- and that he takes a different approach in Newsweek than he does on a liberal radio show.

I don't have anything against Alter, whose writing I generally like, and as I mentioned in comments, "I accept that you don't persuade the readers of a national magazine by sounding like a derelict at Speaker's Corner in Hyde Park."

Still, I can't help but think that while your tone might change, you still ought to provide readers with your real, unvarnished opinion and if your real opinion is that the Bush administration is populated by "clowns," you have an obligation to figure out a way to say that regardless of medium. Not only do you owe it to your readers to say what you really feel, but you also owe it to your critics to let them know the point of view that informs your writing.

But hey maybe Alter will start doing that now. And if he does, you know who you have to thank!

Kevin Drum 6:26 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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FRENCH HEALTHCARE....The Economist provides a capsule summary of healthcare in France:

Its hospitals gleam. Waiting-lists are non-existent. Doctors still make home visits. Life expectancy is two years longer than average for the western world.

....For the patient, the French health system is still a joy. Same-day appointments can be made easily; if one doctor's advice displeases, you can consult another, a habit known as nomadisme mdical. Individual hospital rooms are the norm. Specialists can be consulted without referral. And while the patient pays up front, almost all the money is reimbursed, either through the public insurance system or a top-up private policy.

For family doctors too, liberty prevails. They are self-employed, can set up a practice where they like, prescribe what they like, and are paid per consultation. As the health ministry's own diagnosis put it recently: The French system offers more freedom than any other in the world.

And despite the Economist's scary headline, which proclaims that "crisis looms," the French system provides this service to everyone in the country and does it for less than half the cost per person of the U.S. Even if they decide to raise taxes to cover a growing deficit in their healthcare fund (the subject of the Economist's article) their costs will still be less than half ours per person.

Now, there are undoubtedly drawbacks to the French system. They probably have fewer high-tech machines than we do, and the comparative cost figures may be skewed by the American love of elective procedures. Still, there would have to be a lot of drawbacks to make their system less attractive than ours.

So why not adopt it? Well, that would be socialized medicine. Can't have that, can we? After all, everyone knows that when you socialize something it automatically declines slowly into anarchy and uselessness. Right?

Kevin Drum 3:27 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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CHALABI WATCH....What's going to happen to all those neocon supporters of Ahmed Chalabi now that the Bush administration seems to have broken with him once and for all? Will they stick with Bush, or stick with Chalabi?

Dan Drezner, riffing off a piece in TNR by Reihan Salam, lays down some conservative taxonomy and then makes a prediction: "My money is on Chalabi." I guess mine is too and it should make for a good show. Expect fireworks.

Kevin Drum 2:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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HOUSING BUBBLE?....Is there a housing bubble? The latest "State of the Nation's Housing" report from the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies says no. Nicolas Retsinas writes in the LA Times today that although housing prices have skyrocketed, they aren't likely to go down anytime soon:

Three fundamental conditions have undergirded this sector, and they have not changed....First, demand remains high....Second, no-growth and slow-growth restrictions continue to constrain supply....Third, the consolidated financial services industry, with access to global capital markets, is flexible.

He does, however, suggest that higher interest rates will reduce the rate of refinancing, which in turn will result in lower consumer spending.

UPDATE: A rebuttal to the Harvard study is here.

Kevin Drum 1:27 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE END OF CHALABI?....I think we can safely say that the love affair between the United States and Ahmed Chalabi is finally over:

U.S. soldiers and Iraqi police on Thursday raided the home of Ahmad Chalabi, a Governing Council member who was once the Pentagon's pick to run post-war Iraq, and two office buildings used by his Iraqi National Congress.

....Hours after the morning raids, a U.S. official and an Iraqi judge disclosed to reporters that arrest warrants had been issued for 15 people on charges of kidnapping, fraud, and "associated matters."

....For several months, U.S. officials have been investigating people affiliated with Chalabi's INC and possible ties to a scheme to defraud the Iraqi government during the currency exchange that took place from Oct. 15 to Jan. 15, according to three U.S. officials who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter.

When auditors early this year began counting the old Iraqi dinars brought in and the new Iraqi dinars given out, they discovered that there was a $22 million-plus difference.

They raided his home, kicked down his doors, smashed his portrait (!), and hauled away a dozen computers. I guess it goes without saying that Chalabi was none too happy about this.

The odd thing is that Chalabi is claiming that this is all because the United States is unhappy with his investigations into the UN's oil-for-food program. I'm not up to speed on all the details of this, but here's the nickel version:

  • For some reason, the U.S. allowed Chalabi to take over the old Iraqi intelligence ministry after the war. So Chalabi has in his possession rooms full of Saddam-era intel documents.

  • Chalabi's people have been combing through these papers and claim to have evidence that the oil-for-food program was corrupt. Among other things, Saddam sold the oil to favored partners who agreed to kick back money directly to him.

  • Chalabi has declined to allow anyone else to see these documents, and the accused naturally deny any wrongdoing. Unsurprisingly, the investigation has not made swift progress under these conditions.

  • Chalabi now says the raid is in retaliation for his investigation. It is not entirely clear why the Bush administration is supposedly so eager to halt an investigation into the UN bureaucracy and one that implicates the hated French at that but that's the story. Chalabi is apparently claiming that we are in thrall to UN negotiator Lakhdar Brahimi, who is in charge of figuring out the mechanics of the June 30 handover, and the UN has threatened to leave us hanging unless we shut down Chalabi.

Well, maybe. Who knows in a situation like this? But I wouldn't be willing to risk even a nickel on the possibility that Ahmed Chalabi is telling the truth about anything, so we'll just have to wait and see. It would be nice if the raiding party managed to confiscate some of those oil-for-food documents so we can see for ourselves whether they're for real.

More later, I'm sure. In the meantime (and I really shouldn't have to tell you this), Juan Cole has more background on the whole mess.

Kevin Drum 12:28 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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IRAQI POLL RESULTS....A new poll has just been completed in Iraq and the results are not good:

The poll was conducted by the one-year-old Iraq Center for Research and Strategic Studies, which is considered reliable enough for the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority to have submitted questions to be included in the study.

....Saadoun Duleimi, head of the centre, said more than half of a representative sample - comprising 1,600 Shia, Sunni Arabs and Kurds polled in all Iraq's main regions - wanted coalition troops to leave Iraq. This compares with about 20 per cent in an October survey. Some 88 per cent of respondents said they now regarded coalition forces in Iraq as occupiers.

....Respondents saw [Muqtada al] Sadr as Iraq's second most influential figure after Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the country's most senior Shia cleric. Some 32 per cent of respondents said they strongly supported Mr Sadr and another 36 per cent somewhat supported him.

68% of the country supports Sadr? Crikey. And this was before any of the Abu Ghraib pictures were released. Double crikey.

(Via Dan Drezner, who also has some comments.)

Kevin Drum 1:36 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SARIN....By an odd chance I ran into talk show host Hugh Hewitt a few days ago at a local restaurant. I told him to be nicer to Matt Yglesias the next time he was on his show, but I gather that my attempt to bring a thin ray of sunshine into the hell pit of conservative talk radio didn't work. You can read Hugh's take on Matt's latest appearance here; Matt's take is here.

(Still no permalinks on Hugh's site. Come on, Hugh, it's not rocket science....)

Anyway, apparently Hugh's obsession du jour (or de la semaine, more likely) is the sarin-filled rocket that blew up in Iraq a few days ago. I have to confess I haven't yet paid any attention to this. After all, I got suckered by the "mobile weapons lab" (turned out to be for manufacturing hydrogen), and by the mortar shells found by the Danes (no blister agent after all), and by the plans for a nuclear bomb (turned out to have been buried in a rose garden for over a decade), so I figured I'd let the sarin story age for a week or two before I jumped on board. Hell, even Donald Rumsfeld is keeping a low profile on this ("We can't say something that's inaccurate," he told reporters, apparently with a straight face).

In any case, one lone shell of dubious vintage hardly seems like much of a vindication for George Bush's claims that we were in mortal danger from Saddam's WMD, but I guess the war apologists have to grasp at any straws they can these days. After all, there's not much else left to grasp at when even former CENTCOM commanders are telling Congress, "I believe we are absolutely on the brink of failure. We are looking into the abyss."

Dark days indeed....

Kevin Drum 1:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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PROPAGANDA NOT ALLOWED....Have you seen those ads on TV extolling the virtues of the new Medicare enhancements that were passed last year? They're such thinly disguised campaign commercials that they piss me off every time I see one.

Unfortunately, they're still running, but at least we're getting some vindication over those fake "Karen Ryan reporting" news videos that ran a while back:

The General Accounting Office, an investigative arm of Congress, said on Wednesday that the Bush administration had violated federal law by producing and disseminating television news segments that portray the new Medicare law as a boon to the elderly.

....The General Accounting Office said that a specific part of the videos, a made-for-television "story package," violated the prohibition on using taxpayer money for propaganda.

Sadly, it's only a moral victory: "Medicare officials are unlikely to face any penalties," sayeth the Times. Sigh.

Kevin Drum 12:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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"THIS SYSTEM IS BROKEN"....So how did the Army respond to the Red Cross report in November about abuses at Abu Ghraib prison? Here are two accounts:

  • "Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, commander of the 800th Military Police Brigade, whose soldiers guarded the prisoners, said that despite the serious allegations in the Red Cross report, senior officers in Baghdad had treated it in 'a light-hearted manner.'

    "She said that she signed the Army's response on Dec. 24, but that it had been drafted primarily by Army lawyers who reported to Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, the top American commander in Iraq."

  • "Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, the ground commander in Iraq, said in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee that it was two months before he learned of a report the International Committee of the Red Cross submitted to his command on Nov. 6. That report was the earliest formal evidence of extreme abuses at Abu Ghraib known to have been presented to the military before January, when the military started a broad inquiry."

Let me get this straight: Sanchez says he didn't even learn about the existence of the Red Cross report until January. But his lawyers had already drafted and completed a "light-hearted" response by December 24.

In other words, this wasn't just a matter of Sanchez getting behind in his mail. Rather, it was deliberate policy to ignore those annoying Red Cross reports and fob them off on the legal staff for their amusement.

"This system is broken," said Sanchez's boss. That's one way of putting it.

Kevin Drum 12:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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May 19, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

HOOPS UPDATE....I was rooting for Sacramento in tonight's game since, you know, the Lakers always manage to beat them in the playoffs, but I guess beating Minnesota will have to do.

Which reminds me: after we win do we still have to play one of those Eastern Conference teams? Or have they gotten rid of that formality yet?

Kevin Drum 11:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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MISTAKE?...OR RECRUITING HOAX?....Yesterday I reported that members of the Individual Ready Reserve colloquially referred to as "inactive" reservists had received a memo saying that about 30,000 of them would be involuntarily transferred to active reserve units for future deployment to Iraq. Today, via James Joyner, I see that the Army is now saying it was all just a mistake:

The consequence of the error appears to be a sharp increase in enlistments in Oregon and elsewhere by reservists who feared being assigned a unit without their consent. They face possible deployment to the Middle East.

Army Reserve officials said the order issued in early May prompted a flood of calls from confused veterans, who are among the estimated 118,000 reservists on inactive status. The Pentagon is not yet forcing re-enlistments but is "screening" inactive reservists for possible call-up, a spokeswoman said.

....Lt. Gen. James R. Helmly, commander of the Army Reserve, declined comment on how the mistake was made, a spokesman said. How the mistaken order was issued is a mystery, said Steve Stromvall, the civilian public affairs director for the U.S. Army Reserve Command in Atlanta.

"God only knows at this point where the miscommunication started," he said.

A mistake? This memo was sent out a week ago ostensibly after a May 7th "teleconference with OCAR RTD" and contains specific dates, plans, and numbers. That's a helluva mistake.

I'm really not sure what the story is here, but I'll let you judge for yourself. I've reproduced the entire memo below; you can click to see the whole thing and decide whether or not it looks like a "mistake."

Kevin Drum 10:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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MAYBE NOT JUST EUROPE....Juan Cole links to an item suggesting that Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi may be looking for a way to withdraw from Iraq. This prompts the following speculation:

Bush may be pushing Europe to the Left. He may have already helped elect Gerhard Schroeder, who ran against the war before the fact, and PM Zapatero in Spain. Berlusconi could well fall victim to the same trend. There may yet be a Labor Party revolt against Tony Blair, similar to the one mounted by John Major against Maggie Thatcher among the Tories over a decade ago.

There may be something to this, and it might not be limited to Europe. In fact, if things don't turn around in Iraq fairly soon, it's quite possible that Americans will become increasingly skeptical of foreign military adventures as well. Not quite the legacy George Bush planned on, is it?

Kevin Drum 6:08 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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NEWSPEAK...."Camp Redemption"? Have they completely lost their marbles?

And no, I don't care whose idea it was.

Kevin Drum 4:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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RELIGION IN TEXAS....Patrick Nielsen Hayden: "To the State of Texas in 2004, a money-making racket founded by a third-rate science fiction writer qualifies as a 'religion' and the faith of Ethan Allen and Daniel Webster doesn't. This is what barbarism looks like."

Click to find out what he's talking about.

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BUSH AND IRAQ....Ah yes, our rock jawed president in the fight against terror. Willing to bear any burden, pay any price:

Some military officers are also concerned that Washington is now cutting back on its original goal of eliminating major flash points in Iraq before June 30. They say the United States has basically retreated in Fallujah, handing over control of the Sunni city to a former Iraqi general who is now commanding some of the very insurgents U.S. forces were fighting -- again, in the name of expediency.

"What we're trying to do is extricate ourselves from Fallujah," said a senior U.S. official familiar with U.S. strategy who would speak only on the condition of anonymity. "There's overwhelming pressure with the Coalition Provisional Authority and the White House to deliver a successful Iraq transition, and Iraq is proving uncooperative."

This is via Andrew Sullivan, who asks, "is the president telling the truth or is the anonymous 'senior administration official'?"

I wonder how much more of this it takes before people like Sullivan stop asking this question and see the obvious answer. Sure, other things equal, Bush would like to win the war, but his every action for the past year has shown that he's not willing to risk reelection to do it. He got talked into the neocon dreamland in which Iraq would be a quick and easy war, and now he just wants a face-saving and job saving way of getting out.

Aside from lots of pretty speeches, I can't think of a single action he's taken in the past 12 months that indicates any real seriousness about winning in Iraq. Anybody out there care to suggest anything?

Kevin Drum 2:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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REPUBLICANS AND THE JEWISH VOTE....The Los Angeles Times has a peculiar story today about President Bush's attempt to court the Jewish vote:

On Tuesday, [Stuart] Weil and thousands of other AIPAC members welcomed Bush to their annual meeting with 21 standing ovations a thunderous display of affection from an audience that, while always hawkish on Israel, had long been a home to more Democrats than Republicans.

The Republican president's reelection strategists have long hoped that White House policies that focus on fighting terror and spreading democracy through the Mideast would make longtime Jewish Democrats like Weil into Republican voters.

Jews account for 4% of voters nationwide. But in some of this year's battleground states particularly Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Nevada and Missouri a few Jewish votes could make a big difference.

This is absurd. Gaining 10% of 4% of the vote isn't something that Karl Rove is spending any time worrying about, and the authors of this piece surely know that perfectly well. What they decline to mention in over a thousand words of pure electoral strategy analysis is that the real reason Republicans are interested in Jewish voters is simple: money. Swinging a tiny number of voters is extremely unlikely to make a difference even in battleground states, but taking 10-20% of Jewish contributions away from the Democratic party and putting it in Republican coffers could make a huge difference.

This is common knowledge, but apparently the subject is so taboo that it doesn't even rate a mention here. Instead we're treated to nonsense about how Jews are "an important target in [Republicans'] long-term plan to 'realign' the electorate and give the Republican Party majority status." They are an important target, but for their money and their influence, not their votes.

I'm well aware that stereotypes of greedy, moneygrubbing Jews make this a touchy subject, but writing about politics without writing about money is basically telling a lie. And refusing to mention money simply because the topic at hand is Jewish voters is the worst kind of journalistic lie: a cowardly one.

Kevin Drum 2:08 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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ABU GHRAIB ROUNDUP....This is getting worse and worse, and it doesn't look like it's going to let up anytime soon. Here's the latest:

  • An ABC News source claims that the Army is still covering up abuse at Abu Ghraib:

    Dozens of soldiers other than the seven military police reservists who have been charged were involved in the abuse at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison, and there is an effort under way in the Army to hide it, a key witness in the investigation told ABCNEWS.

    "There's definitely a cover-up," the witness, Sgt. Samuel Provance, said. "People are either telling themselves or being told to be quiet."

  • The Denver Post reports that "brutal interrogation techniques" are being investigated in connection with five POW deaths in Iraq:

    The deaths include the killing in November of a high-level Iraqi general who was shoved into a sleeping bag and suffocated, according to the Pentagon report. The documents contradict an earlier Defense Department statement that said the general died "of natural causes" during an interrogation. Pentagon officials declined to comment on the new disclosure.

    Another Iraqi military officer, records show, was asphyxiated after being gagged, his hands tied to the top of his cell door. Another detainee died "while undergoing stress technique interrogation," involving smothering and "chest compressions," according to the documents.

  • Three journalists say they were abused in custody:

    Two of the three Reuters staff said they had been forced to insert a finger into their anuses and then lick it, and were forced to put shoes in their mouths, particularly humiliating in Arab culture.

    All three said they were forced to make demeaning gestures as soldiers laughed, taunted them and took photographs. They said they did not want to give details publicly earlier because of the degrading nature of the abuse.

  • The Wall Street Journal reports that the Army has known about the abuses at Abu Ghraib since at least last November but did nothing about them:

    Senior U.S. military officials in Iraq, including two advisers to the top commander there, reviewed a strongly worded Red Cross report detailing the abuse of prisoners at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison last November -- but the Army did not launch an investigation into the abuses until two months later.

    ....The late November events show that top military commanders were alerted to the abuses by the Red Cross earlier than they so far have publicly acknowledged. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld testified before the Senate recently that officials at the Pentagon learned of the abuses after a soldier alerted them in mid-January. The Defense Department then launched an internal investigation.

    ....Gen. Karpinski and another officer who attended some meetings in Iraq about the report also said that instead of focusing on the abuses being reported, some military intelligence officers argued that they needed to limit the Red Cross's future access to cell blocks where interrogations were taking place. The officers worried that agency officials didn't have appropriate security clearances and that their presence could disrupt efforts to put pressure on prisoners by placing them in complete isolation.

  • The Los Angeles Times reports that at least one senior officer refused to testify at an Abu Ghraib hearing because of fears that his testimony could leave him open to criminal charges:

    Three key witnesses, including a senior officer in charge of interrogations, refused to testify during a secret hearing against an alleged ringleader of the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal on the grounds that they might incriminate themselves.

    ....Eugene R. Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice, said no soldier is allowed to invoke his 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination unless he knows his testimony would leave him open to criminal charges.

    "You can't assert it unless you have a belief that there is some criminal exposure," he said. "That's why people do it."

To summarize: the Army knew about this back in November and didn't try to stop it; there are many more than just seven people involved; some of them are at a senior level; and the abuses may have caused at least five deaths.

Oh, and there are more pictures.

I'm sure I've missed a few things. I'll try to catch up later.

Kevin Drum 12:19 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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May 18, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

POPUP SUIT....As most of you probably know, there are slimy folks out there who install spyware on your computer, track your browsing habits, and then display popup ads when you visit certain sites. L.L. Bean is tired of it and is suing one of the companies that does this:

These advertisers are illegally poaching on L.L. Bean's trademark," [Mary Lou Kelley, vice president for E-commerce at L.L. Bean] said. "Using our trademarked name as a trigger to which you want to serve your ads causes customer confusion and crosses the line into trademark infringement."

The retailers named in the lawsuits contracted with software company Claria Corp., which creates programs to track online habits, Kelley said. These programs then create windows to display specific advertisements when a Web browser visits certain sites.

Offhand, it doesn't sound like L.L. Bean has a very compelling legal case, but I wish them luck anyway. Outside the box thinking when it comes to popups, spammers, and virus purveyors is to be applauded.

Kevin Drum 7:53 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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"THEY'RE CLOWNS"....Atrios has some excerpts from Jonathan Alter's appearance on the O'Franken Factor this morning:

"The level of incompetence is so staggering here, and yet there's this gap between how astonishingly incompetent and we can go over particulars in the last year if you want to how astonishingly incompetent they've been and the perception is still of them as solid citizens..."

...

"The only way you can sort of start to let the public know is to say, no, they don't know what they're doing. They're clowns."

...

"I was among those people who was deceived. When I was told by administration officials that [Iraq was] working on a nuclear weapons program Paul Wolfowitz told that to me directly. It did cause me some alarm and cause me some sense that it was not worth the risk to not take Saddam out."

Now, Alter is a columnist, not a news reporter, so no one can gripe about the fact that he's expressing a strong personal opinion here. In fact, my gripe would be exactly the opposite.

To see what I mean, take a look at Alter's latest Newsweek column. Go ahead and read it. I'll wait.

My problem is that Alter presumably sees the Bush administration up close on a daily basis and is paid to express his opinion about them, but he's not really doing it. His column is typical column stuff: thoughtful, nuanced, critical of the administration but still optimistic that Iraq will be peaceful someday, and with a conclusion that has just the barest hint of partisan preference ("...restoring America's prestige is a means to an end, and the presidential election, a referendum on which man can best change the picture that the whole world sees").

But guess what? It turns out that's not what he really thinks. What he really thinks is that the Bushies are "astonishingly incompetent," they are "clowns," and they are accomplished liars. He is gobsmacked that in so many parts of America "the perception is still of them as solid citizens."

Why should he be so surprised? His advice on the radio was that "The only way you can sort of start to let the public know is to say, no, they don't know what they're doing. They're clowns." But if that's the case, why doesn't he write that in Newsweek? After all, he's the guy with both inside access and a big megaphone, and if he doesn't say it, who will?

Kevin Drum 7:29 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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WOULD BARRY GOLDWATER BE PROUD?....Since today is his birthday, it's only appropriate for me to agree with something Matt Yglesias writes this afternoon. Despite the rise of movement conservatism since 1964, the eventual victory of Ronald Reagan in 1980, and the conservative hegemony of recent years, what have conservatives actually accomplished in that time?

The largest Johnson-era anti-poverty program, Medicaid, is still with us, as is Medicare for senior citizens, which has only grown more generous (most recently, via a bill passed almost exclusively with Republican votes) since it's creation. Social Security, the centerpiece of the New Deal welfare state, is likewise more generous than it was in 1964. The federal government plays a larger role in funding education than it did in 1964 (and, again, it's role has gotten even larger under the Bush-DeLay regime). Abortion, illegal in 1964, is now legal, anti-sodomy laws were eliminated in the recent past, and today we have gay and lesbian couples getting married in Massacusetts, while civil unions, surely a proposal more liberal than anything Johnson dreamed of, have become the moderate plan.

I don't mean to belittle the danger of the modern conservative agenda, but at the same time Matt is right: it bears asking just what the rising tide of conservatism over the past quarter century has actually accomplished for their cause. Sure, there was welfare reform in 1996 signed into law by a Democrat. But aside from some nibbling around at the fringes, what else?

Have they eliminated any departments of the federal government? No. Cut back entitlement programs? No. Increased the size of the military? No. Reduced the size of government? No. Outlawed abortion? Restricted gay rights? Brought back prayer in schools? No, no, and no. In fact, just the opposite for most of these things.

Among major conservative causes, then, the only thing left is tax cuts which, serendipitously, have become to modern conservatives what the New Deal was to FDR: an ingenious way of bringing together an otherwise unlikely coalition of political bedfellows. The three main pillars of today's Republican party may not agree on much else, but they can all find common ground on taxes:

  • Big corporations like tax cuts because it improves their bottom line.

  • Rich people like tax cuts because they pay lots of taxes.

  • "Middle America" likes tax cuts even though they don't pay much in income taxes and no one ever suggests cutting payroll taxes because they're convinced their taxes are shipped directly to inner city welfare queens and they want it stopped.

However, this poses an enormous danger to modern conservatives. After all, they've taken tax cuts about as far as they can, and there's not much of anything else holding them all together especially now that Iraq is causing cracks in their normally solid dedication to building up the military. What will they do for an encore?

UPDATE: Nathan Newman says conservatives have done more harm than I'm giving them credit for. Point taken: there's no question that they've done some damage in the areas of (for example) labor rights and environmental protections. However, although they've certainly managed to pass some laws that hurt liberal causes, I'll stand by my point that conservatives have made very little progress in their major agenda areas since 1980.

Kevin Drum 6:17 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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TROOP STRENGTH....Is the Army big enough to handle both Afghanistan and Iraq? Consider:

These are desperation moves. It's obvious that unless we pull out of Iraq we need more troops there, but the only action Don Rumsfeld is willing to take is to pinch a few troops here and a few troops there to plug some small holes in the dike. It's like looking under the cushions for spare change when you're having trouble making your car payment.

What I'm curious about is why Rumsfeld and Bush are so obviously reluctant to call for a permanent increase in the size of the Army. It's not a short-term solution, of course, but they claim to be dedicated to staying in Iraq for several years if that's what it takes. They also appear to believe that we will be on a war footing for years or decades to come, and by now they've surely learned the lesson that while technology might win a war, only boots on the ground can make an occupation work.

But despite all that, they still refuse to abandon their increasingly desperate string of band-aid fixes and consider a permanent solution: increasing the size of the Army by a few divisions. It's easy to understand why war opponents would oppose this, but surely war supporters would just as eagerly embrace it. So why not go ahead and propose it, especially since there's a broad consensus that in addition to jeopardizing the mission in Iraq, our overextension also leaves us dangerously exposed in the event of an emergency elsewhere in the world?

Hard to say. Arrogance? Incompetence? Perhaps, but to me it looks more like just another case of Bush being unwilling to back up his tough talk. He wants credit for being rock solid on national security, but he's not willing to do anything politically risky to achieve his goals. He is, in the end, a political coward.

Kevin Drum 4:38 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

CALLING UP THE RESERVES....From Nick Confessore at Tapped:

A friend of mine who is currently an inactive Army reservist forwarded me some memos he received regarding future mobilizations -- memos that indicate that we are not far from some kind of conscription in the next few years. According to my friend, recruiters are telling inactive reservists that they're going to be called up one way or another eventually, so they might as well sign up now and get into non-Iraq-deploying units while they still can. There's also a "warning order" -- i.e., a heads-up -- from the Army's personnel command that talks about the involuntary transfer of inactive reservists to the active reserves, and thus into units that are on deck for the next few Iraq rotations.

We're all about graphic evidence here at Political Animal, so here's the memo Nick is talking about. Bottom line: starting today, 23,000 inactive reservists (IRR) will be called up into active units (TPUs) destined for the third rotation of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF3). On June 1st, another 5,400 will be called up.

Does this mean a draft is imminent? I'm still skeptical, but it's easy to see how the inactive reservists who draw the short straw in this involuntarily callup might think it's a step in that direction. Stay tuned.

Kevin Drum 1:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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BIRTHDAY/ANNIVERSARY....Apparently, Marian and I got married on Matt Yglesias' 10th birthday. Small world. So: happy 23rd birthday to Matt, and happy 13th anniversary to us!

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NO MORE CHALABI....Better late than never, I suppose:

The United States government has decided to halt monthly $335,000 payments to the Iraqi National Congress, the group headed by Ahmad Chalabi, an official with the group said on Monday.

....Mr. Chalabi's group has received at least $27 million in United States financing in the past four years, the Iraqi National Congress official said. This includes $335,000 a month as part of a classified program through the Defense Intelligence Agency, since the summer of 2002, to help gather intelligence in Iraq.

....The official said he did not know why the government decided not to extend the program again.

Gee, maybe I can help out here. Is it possible the program wasn't extended because Ahmed Chalabi is a scheming opportunist, a fair weather friend, and provided demonstrably false and manufactured "intelligence" to the United States over the past decade? Could that be the reason?

Actually, come to think of it, that's probably not the reason. After all, we're talking about the Bush administration here. Must have been something else....

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AS BIG AS WATERGATE?....In Slate, Fred Kaplan says Abu Ghraib may be the biggest scandal to hit Washington since Watergate:

Bush knew about it. Rumsfeld ordered it. His undersecretary of defense for intelligence, Steven Cambone, administered it. Cambone's deputy, Lt. Gen. William Boykin, instructed Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, who had been executing the program involving al-Qaida suspects at Guantanamo, to go do the same at Abu Ghraib. Miller told Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, who was in charge of the 800th Military Brigade, that the prison would now be dedicated to gathering intelligence. Douglas Feith, the undersecretary of defense for policy, also seems to have had a hand in this sequence, as did William Haynes, the Pentagon's general counsel. Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, learned about the improper interrogationsfrom the International Committee of the Red Cross, if not from anyone elsebut said or did nothing about it for two months, until it was clear that photographs were coming out. Meanwhile, those involved in the interrogations included officers from military intelligence, the CIA, and private contractors, as well as the mysterious figures from the Pentagon's secret operation.

That's a lot more people than the seven low-grade soldiers and reservists currently facing courts-martial.

And of course the investigation of the Valerie Plame affair may be winding up soon too. Sounds like it's going to be a hot summer in DC this year....

Kevin Drum 12:50 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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DEMOCRACY....Wes Clark believes that the Bush administration has a lesson to learn from the Cold War. But they have to learn the whole lesson, not just the fairy tale version in which Ronald Reagan won it singlehandedly:

Rising Soviet defense spending aimed at competing with the United States may have hastened the economic decline in the Soviet Union, helped convince the Russian generals that they couldn't compete with U.S. military technology, and strengthened Gorbachev's hand as he pushed for glasnost. But this end-game challenge of Reagan's would have been ineffective had 40 years of patient Western containment and engagement not helped undermine the legitimacy of the Communist regime in the eyes of its subjects. It was popular discontent with economic, social, and political progress, and people's recognition of an appealing alternative system, that finished off the repressive regimes of Eastern Europe, and eventually the whole Soviet Union. No Western threat of force or military occupation forced their collapse.

....The neoconservatives persist in seeing a vast difference between Reagan's policy of confronting the Soviets and previous American administrations' tack of containing it. In fact, it was precisely those decades of containment and cultural engagement that made Reagan's challenge effective.

Clark's point is a simple one: Neither Reagan nor any of the seven Cold War presidents before him ever attacked either the Soviet Union or one of its satellites directly. This wasn't because of insufficient dedication to anticommunism, but because it wouldn't have worked. In the end, they knew that democracy couldn't come at the point of a gun; it had to come from within, from the citizens of the countries themselves.

Is this right? To argue otherwise is to suggest that our Cold War strategy was also wrong. Perhaps we should have rolled our tanks across the Iron Curtain after World War II, when the Soviet Union was exhausted and weary. Or attacked China instead of accepting a truce in the Korean War. Or sent NATO troops into Hungary in 1956.

Of course not. Even if we had "won," we wouldn't have won. In the end, the patient strategy of military containment and cultural engagement was the right call, and it's the right call for the war on terror as well. Too bad George Bush doesn't seem to get this.

Kevin Drum 12:17 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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May 17, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

CELEBRATING BROWN....Publius at Legal Fiction is unhappy with the hagiography attending the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education:

In the popular mind, Brown is one of Americas triumphs a long overdue recognition of equality by the nations highest judicial body. In my opinion, its not only the most overrated decision in the Courts history, its actually become an impediment to integration. I have three fundamental problems with Brown: (1) its effect is overrated; (2) it gives the wrong people credit for desegregating American schools; and (3) it is now an obstacle to integration.

I can't really say if he's right, but he makes an interesting argument. Click the link to find out why he feels this way.

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JOSEPH DARBY....Over the weekend I was thinking about Abu Ghraib and it occurred to me that while I've heard quite a bit about Lynndie England, Charles Graner, and Jeremy Sivits, I haven't really heard anything about the hero of the story: Spec. Joseph Darby, the guy who blew the whistle on the abuse by turning over a CD full of pictures to the Army's Criminal Investigation Division.

Sadly, it turns out that Darby isn't talking to the press and neither is his family. Hanna Rosin's story in the Washington Post today makes it pretty clear why:

At the bar in the community center just down the road from Darby's house, near the trailer where his mother and younger brother live, none of the handful of patrons is in a parade kind of mood.

"If I were [Darby], I'd be sneaking in through the back door at midnight," says Janette Jones, who lives just across the border in Pennsylvania and stopped here at midday with her daughter for a Pepsi and a smoke.

...."That boy's got a lot of courage," says Alan St. Clair, who lives down the road from Darby's high school home. "But when you go against your fellow man like that, I don't know. Some people won't like it."

The feeling is starting to bubble up elsewhere, too, among people who feel that what Darby did was unpatriotic, un-American, even faintly treasonous. "Hero A Two-Timing Rat," reads a headline from last week's New York Post. The story is about his personal life, but the metaphor lingers.

Ratting out friends and coworkers, no matter how egregious their behavior, requires a kind of moral courage few of us have, and this story makes it graphically clear why: even when you're revealing the kind of abuse and torture that Darby did, doing so runs the risk of being shunned for life by the entire community of people you respect.

Darby will probably never get that back. Instead, like a mafia don in a witness protection program, he will have to leave his current life and construct a brand new one. How many of are willing to do that, especially for a bunch of strangers we don't really care about at all?

Not many. So spare a thought for Spec. Joseph Darby. We need more men like him.

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THE GENEVA CONVENTIONS AND THE WAR ON TERROR....I mentioned something in passing on Sunday that I think deserves a full airing today. Four months after 9/11, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales wrote a memo to President Bush recommending that we not abide by the Geneva Conventions in the war on terror:

"As you have said, the war against terrorism is a new kind of war," Gonzales wrote to Bush. "The nature of the new war places a high premium on other factors, such as the ability to quickly obtain information from captured terrorists and their sponsors in order to avoid further atrocities against American civilians." Gonzales concluded in stark terms: "In my judgment, this new paradigm renders obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions."

This strikes me as an issue that everyone pro-war and anti-war alike ought to take a firm stand on: should the Geneva Conventions apply to prisoners captured in the war on terror or not?

Gonzales' reasoning is appealing but misguided, I think. After all, every generation believes at one time or another that the enemies they face are so savage, so fundamentally different from any that have come before that old rules of conduct no longer apply. Every generation also turns out to be wrong. The reality is that the Taliban is not more dangerous than the Cold War Soviets, who in turn were not more dangerous than the Nazis. If we were willing to treat prisoners decently in those conflicts, why not now?

The ability to "quickly obtain information" from captured prisoners has been a critical part of every war, but we nonetheless agreed half a century ago to place this under strict limits. This was not because we felt the wars of that era were unimportant, or because we deluded ourselves into believing that our enemies would always follow suit, but because we wanted to set a standard of simple human decency for ourselves and others.

So: should the Geneva Conventions apply to captured Taliban fighters? And if you think they shouldn't, why not? One warning, though: if you want to argue that it's because war on terrorism is somehow more critical or more deadly than either the Cold War (potential global Armageddon, Europe/world saved from communism) or World War II (60 million dead, Europe/world saved from fascism), you'd better make a mighty good case.

And while you're at it, you should also plainly state whether you think suspending the Conventions applies only to the U.S., or if it's OK for everyone else as well. Might as well get all our cards out on the table at once.

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KERRY-McCAIN YET AGAIN....In an effort to annoy my readers on this subject as much as possible, here's another installment of the "Kerry-McCain 2004" soap opera, prompted by this post from Mark Kleiman.

As it happens, I'm not really quite the fan of a Kerry-McCain ticket that Mark supposes (McCain may have a cuddly public image these days, but the reality is that he's a pretty hard-ass conservative), but I do think it's an intriguing idea to bat around. Mark points out the most appealing reason:

The messages would be "National unity to face a dangerous world" and "Healing partisan division." There's precedent, of course: Lincoln/Johnson in 1864. That didn't work out so well in the long run, of course (if McCain were Vice-President, I'd vote for a big increase in the Secret Service budget), but it was still better than electing McClellan.

That's one way of looking at it, and it's a way that I like. However, there's another way of looking at it, which is that it's a tacit admission that (a) Kerry can't win unless he teams up with a Republican, and (b) the only way to get credibility on national security is to co-opt McCain.

So the question is: which of these messages would get sent? Would Kerry look like a "national unity" candidate ready to put partisan squabbling behind, or would he look like a weakling who doesn't trust the policies of his own party? Hard to say.

Kevin Drum 1:22 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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IS THE SKY BLUE?.....WELL, IS IT?....Matt Yglesias sums up my feelings about Donald Rumsfeld pretty well this morning....

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BLOG SURVEY....The folks who manage the ads over in the right hand column are conducting a survey about the habits of blog readers. If you'd like to participate, click here and answer away. Hint: the answer to question #22 is "Political Animal."

Have fun!

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GUEST POST....Are you having a hard time keeping your sense of humor intact these days? I am. But that's why we have comedians, don't we?

With that in mind, today's guest blogger is Jay Jaroch, one of the comedy writers for HBO's "Real
Time with Bill Maher." Jay used to write the weekly "Monday Morning Monologue" for the Washington Monthly website back before it got blog-ified, and if things go as planned he'll be doing this every once in a while for Political Animal as well.

And with that, ladies and gentlemen, I give you Jay Jaroch....

Kevin Drum 6:01 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Jay Jaroch

MONDAY MORNING MONOLOGUE....I have to be honest I was hoping a little girl would fall down a well or thered be something to blog on other than Iraq, Abu Ghraib, and John Kerry. Sadly, it seems Americas children are all accounted for. So here goes:


IXNAY ON THE AINMCCAY!....Hey, what do I know? Blogging isnt even my temp job. But it seems to me that the Kerry campaign is making a big mistake by allowing John McCains name be bandied about as a potential running mate. Its almost certainly not going to happen, so why tease voters with the possibility of excitement? Youre only going to let them down.

Hey, Im all for injecting some life into Kerrys candidacy. As it stands now I think their campaign slogan is: John Kerry: Well ...oh, alright. But if George Bush has taught us anything about campaigning its that its a lot easier to beat low expectations. As long as George Bush doesnt drool on himself during a debate, he wins.

All this McCain talk sets too high a standard for a running mate. If I were the Kerry people Id be out floating names like The Rock or Gary Condit. Then when you pick Evan Bayh Americans will be saying, Oh, thank Christ its Evan Bayh! and not Whos Evan Bayh? and How much time did he spend in the Hanoi Hilton? In that sense I think it was wise for Kerry to steer the conversation to McCain for Secretary of Defense, which is an infinitely greater possibility. But how long did that last? A day?

Heres one more suggestion a dark horse veep candidate whos got name recognition and a long history in Democratic politics: Willie Horton. Thats right Willie Horton! Think about it. For one thing, it gets Kerry off the diversity hook. Secondly, hes available. Lastly, sometimes elections are about scaring people to the polls. You Republicans think Dick Cheney is scary? Get a load of this guy!

Kerry-Horton: Dont stop thinking about tomorrow, America, because you never know when you might get stabbed.

PS I wonder if Lee Atwater ever worried about the effect his work was going to have on the other Willie Horton. Probably not.

Imagine the panic this guy must cause when he gets paged at the airport?


THE FROWNS LET YOU KNOW THEYRE SERIOUS!....Really, at this point why bother asking Paul Wolfowitz what the war is going to cost? Its like bringing back Cardinal Law for some advice on crisis management. We did this the first time, when Wolfowitz explained to us how we were dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction, and relatively soon not so much a Marshall Plan as a Ron Popeil Set it and forget it! approach to nation building. Then we did it again when Wolfowitz came to ask for the $87 billion. And now, sadly, were still seated for the third act of our tragedy.

But what really irritated me was the scolding Wolfowitz got from the Senate panel not that he didnt deserve it, mind you, but because the panels threats are about as empty as the soul food line at the Republican National Convention. At one point, Hillary Clinton was essentially reminding Wolfowitz that Congress was a very important branch of government. And lets face it when youve got to remind people youre important, youre really not that important. Wolfowitz knows all he has to do is put up with some stern finger-wagging and hell get his billions. And other than some hollow threats about needing to see some specificity, nobody on the panel seemed to suggest he wouldnt get them either.

I watched some of the hearings. Heres a transcript:

INDIGNANT SENATOR #1: Mr. Wolfowitz, we appreciate you coming down to testify for us today. Ive got just one question, and I want you to answer it honestly: Do these pants make my ass look fat?

WOLFOWITZ: Of course not. They do not make your ass look fat.

INDIGNANT SENATOR #1: Are you sure? Are you sure they dont make my ass look fat?

WOLFOWITZ: Believe me. Id tell you. Your ass looks great in those pants.

INDIGNANT SENATOR #2: Last time you came before this committee you told us our asses would not look fat in these pants, and that these pants were on sale. Now, I do believe weve had numerous comments regarding the size of our asses and how it related to the pants you sold to this very committee.

INDIGNANT SENATOR #1: And now you want us to buy more!

WOLFOWITZ: Seriously, stand up for me. Turn around.

Indignant Congressman #2 stands and turns, looking back over his shoulder at his own ass.

WOLFOWITZ: Your ass looks fantastic in those pants. I cant believe youre even worried about it.

INDIGNANT SENATOR #1: Well, I tell you why were worried about it. I look in the mirror and I just dont see the same me anymore.

WOLFOWITZ: It must be your mirror, because you look fantastic.

INDIGNANT SENATOR #2: Fantastic, huh? Well, well take it under advisement. But were going to hold you to that this time, you know? We mean it.

WOLFOWITZ: Okay, now youre just fishing for a compliment....Youve got the ass of a 20-year-old, okay? There, I said it.

INDIGNANT SENATOR #1: Oh, Paul. Then its settled. We will buy more pants.

Man, if Congress were a parent, the Pentagon would be a bunch of rudderless teenage meth addicts.


ITS COURAGE UNDER FIRE MEETS PORKYS....Wheres my Abu Ghraib TV movie? I say if Jessica Lynch got one, Lynndie England gets one too. No, theyre not the same brand of soldier, but all movies dont have to have a Hollywood ending....Okay, maybe TV movies do. But Im talking about art, man. Its the tragic story of what happens when the chain of command breaks down and by chain of command, of course I mean those seven soldiers who were pinning this on.

One thing is for sure Donald Rumsfeld will be played by Christopher Plummer, who seems to have cornered the market on old, ornery white guys. I just cant quite figure out who is going to play Lynndie England. Its not an easy casting job. I suppose Hillary Swank could reprise her whole Boys Dont Cry look, but who wants to see that again? ....Does anyone know if that woman from Amelie can do West Virginia? ....Would Haley Joel Osment be willing to die his hair? Work with me here, people!

....Any ideas?


LYNCH TO LYNNDIE?....Dan Kennedy has an interesting take on the nations transformation from Lynchian triumphalism to Lynndish exasperation, though if you really want to read something funny get to the part where he interviews Lloyd deMause, editor of the Journal of Psychohistory, about the nations mommy issues:

War can often be explained, he says, as a way of appeasing a neglectful or abusive mother....In psychological terms, deMause says, Jessica Lynch was "Mommy in danger: she was under attack, and wed better go save her." By contrast, the symbolism of Lynndie England is that "Mommy is still bad. Shes still torturing us." The degree to which the England images have resonated, he adds, suggests there remains a pent-up need among many Americans for still more war in order to please the "Killer Mommy."

....Huh? Maybe Lloyd would like to explain to us how Abu Musab al-Zarqawis rage really just stems from how he was such a late bloomer when the puberty train pulled into town....Sorry if that sounded a little too dismissive and Dennis Miller, but come on, Lloyd get in the game. And take down all those stuffed birds in your office!!

Anyway, give it a read. I think Kennedy may be on to something. All I know is one more misadventure involving a female soldier from West Virginia and weve got ourselves a very special episode of Celebrity Jeopardy.


AND FINALLY, I WANT TO PARTY WITH RUSH!....Except Im not sure Im a big enough freak. I know Im late on this, but between the pill-popping and Rushs admission that he looks at the pictures from Abu Ghraib and sees people having a good time and blowing off steam, I cant tell if Rush is the administrations staunchest and most mindless defender or the biggest 24-hour circuit party animal the right wing has to offer. Im beginning to think it may be the latter. And I say good for him. What a release it must be for a man so bound to conservative convention to eat a fistful of pills, throw on a leash, put something in his ass, and just party.

Look for Rushs new book coming out this fall, The Way Things Ought to Be Lubed.


....Thats it for me. Thanks to Kevin Drum. And Kevin sorry about the whole sullying your reputation thing.

Jay Jaroch 6:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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May 16, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

WAR ON THE CHEAP....Writing in the Telegraph, Stephen Robinson is gloomy about the war:

Let us accept the arguments of the anti-war lobby. Planning for the post-war rebuilding effort was ill-conceived where it existed at all; it was idiotic of the White House to reject the demands of US generals for higher troop levels on the ground. And if, as now seems likely, troop numbers were kept to a minimum so as not to compromise Mr Bush's re-election in November, that is shameful.

This is a complaint that's common to a remarkably large swathe of the ideological spectrum: if George Bush wanted to invade Iraq, he should at least have been committed to doing it right. Ignoring Army chief-of-staff Eric Shinseki, who estimated we needed "several hundred thousand" troops, was both foolhardy and hubristic.

But it's not that simple, is it? After all, we don't have several hundred thousand troops. I've heard some reasonable sounding suggestions that by mobilizing more reserves and doing a few other things we could dredge up another 50-60,000 troops or so, but nothing that would get us up to the 300,000 that Shinseki wanted. They just aren't there.

So it wasn't really a matter only of Bush and Rumsfeld wanting to wage war on the cheap. Rather, if they had accepted Shinseki's advice, they wouldn't have been able to wage their war at all at least, not in the timeframe they wanted.

That's right, isn't it? Or am I missing something?

Kevin Drum 11:52 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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POWELL ON MEET THE PRESS....Jeez, doesn't anyone watch Meet the Press anymore? Why do I have to go to Drudge to find out what happened during the taping of his interview with Colin Powell?

Powell was on a remote feed from Jordan and apparently the interview went over the agreed 10-minute limit. At about the 13-minute mark Emily Miller, one of Powell's aides, got pissed off and moved the camera off Powell and onto some palm trees. Here's the transcript:

Russert: Finally, Mr. Secretary, in February of 2003, you placed your enormous personal credibility before the United Nations and laid out a case against Saddam Hussein citing...

Emily: You're off.

Powell: I am not off.

Emily: No. They can't use it. They're editing it. They (unintelligible).

Powell: He's still asking me questions.

Emily: He was not...

Powell: Tim, I'm sorry, I lost you.

Russert: I'm right here, Mr. Secretary. I would hope they would put you back on camera. I don't know who did that.

Powell: We've really scre...

Russert: I think that was one of your staff, Mr. Secretary. I don't think that's appropriate.

Powell: Emily, get out of the way.

Emily: OK.

Powell: Bring the camera back, please. I think we're back on, Tim. Go ahead with your last question.

(I'm reproducing Drudge's transcript here, which is slightly different than the one at the Meet the Press site. Drudge's version sounds a little more accurate to me.)

Anyone want to take bets on just how long Emily Miller continues to have a job? Especially after this clip has been aired for the 100th time on CNN?

Kevin Drum 7:27 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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GAY MARRIAGE AND THE CHRISTIAN RIGHT....The New York Times reports that the Christian Right isn't having much luck mobilizing its base to support a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage:

Opponents of gay marriage say they are puzzling over why such a volatile cultural issue is not spurring more rank-and-file conservative Christians to rise up in support of the amendment. They are especially frustrated, they say, because opinion polls show that a large majority of voters oppose gay marriage.

"Our side is basically asleep right now," Matt Daniels, founder of the Alliance for Marriage, which helped draft the proposed amendment, said in an interview last week.

The Rev. Louis P. Sheldon, chairman of the Traditional Values Coalition, said: "I don't see any traction. The calls aren't coming in and I am not sure why."

I'd like to throw out a possible explanation for this: San Francisco.

The Christian Right storyline has always been that gay marriage is a sign of moral depravity and therefore to be fought tooth and nail. But then San Francisco started performing gay marriages by the thousands. And what did everyone see?

Answer: no depravity. No Village People. Instead, what they saw on their TV screens was a bunch of ordinary people displaying a disarmingly normal exhuberance about getting married and an obviously sincere delight about holding a marriage certificate in their hands. How could you help but feel happy for them?

That's not the whole story, of course, but I think it's part of it. The apocalypse that the leaders of the Christian Right had been foaming at the mouth about finally happened, and it didn't seem so bad after all. Just a bunch of ordinary newlyweds squealing in delight at finally being married, just like everyone else. There was nothing to be afraid of after all.

What do you do when people who are supposed to be the devil's spawn turn out to be as ordinary as your next door neighbor? Maybe you decide they really are as ordinary as your next door neighbor.

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GUANTANAMO TAPES....Five British prisoners from Guantanamo were released a few months ago and have complained repeatedly about their treatment there. The Abu Ghraib revelations have given new life to their allegations:

It is the case of [Tarek] Dergoul...that is likely to be the most damaging. The 26-year-old, from Mile End in east London, spent 22 months at Guantanamo Bay from May 2002. Today he tells The Observer of repeated assaults by Camp Delta's punishment squad, known as the Extreme Reaction Force or ERF.

Their attacks, he says, would be prompted by minor disciplinary infractions, such as refusing to agree to the third cell search in a day - which he describes as an act of deliberate provocation.

Dergoul tells of one assault by a five-man ERF in shocking terms: 'They pepper-sprayed me in the face, and I started vomiting. They pinned me down and attacked me, poking their fingers in my eyes, and forced my head into the toilet pan and flushed.

....Dergoul...reveals that every time the ERFs were deployed, a sixth team member recorded on digital video everything that happened.

Lieutenant Colonel Leon Sumpter, the Guantanamo Joint Task Force spokesman, confirmed this last night, saying all ERF actions were filmed so they could be 'reviewed' by senior officers. All the tapes are kept in an archive there, he said.

Tapes of beatings at Guantanamo? That has the potential to be very bad indeed....

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WHO WAS RESPONSIBLE FOR ABU GHRAIB?....Seymour Hersh's New Yorker story yesterday made the following case: when the insurgency heated up in Iraq last year, Donald Rumsfeld decided the only way to beat it back was to get better intel about the insurgents. As a result, he approved a plan from his deputy, Stephen Cambone, to greatly expand the use of interrogation techniques previously restricted to a small number of "high-value" al-Qaeda prisoners. The result was Abu Ghraib.

Today brings a few more details and some different takes on the story. In Hersh's telling, military intelligence ran the program and the CIA backed off when it saw what was going on. His CIA source put it this way: "They said, 'No way. We signed up for the core program in Afghanistanpre-approved for operations against high-value terrorist targetsand now you want to use it for cabdrivers, brothers-in-law, and people pulled off the streets.'"

Newsweek has a different version. They say that the Pentagon actually resisted tough interrogation techniques when the CIA first recommended them at Guantanamo, but eventually gave in. By the time Gitmo techniques were transferred to Abu Ghraib, the CIA was fully on board. The real opposition had come much earlier from Colin Powell, who "hit the roof" when he first saw a post-9/11 White House memo suggesting that the nature of the war on terror "renders obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions."

Newsweek and several other news outlets also report that the JAG corps has been complaining about abusive interrogation techniques for two years but was systematically ignored. Who ignored them? The Pentagon's Doug Feith.

Meanwhile, Time says that congressmen are upset too. House Democrats "asked the Pentagon last January about an internal Army report on dangerous conditions and poor management at the Abu Ghraib prison. The sources said Pentagon aides told the panel that no such report existedthough it had been finished for months."

So here's the summary:

  • The Pentagon, of course, says it was just a few bad apples. They are the only ones who seem to believe this.

  • Hersh says abusive interrogation was the Pentagon's idea and CIA resisted.

  • Newsweek says the Pentagon and the CIA were on board, but the State Department resisted.

  • A variety of sources say it was the Pentagon's idea and the JAG corps resisted.

  • Time says the Pentagon ran the program and Congress was kept out of the loop even when they asked about it.

The bottom line seems to be that everyone is claiming they either didn't know what was going on or else did their best to fight the harsh interrogation program at Abu Ghraib, but lost out in the end to Pentagon zealots and the White House. Either this is true or else the entire city of Washington DC is in full-blown CYA mode. At this point it's hard to tell which.

Still, one thing at least seems to be clear: this was clearly the Pentagon's baby. How far other agencies either resisted or cooperated with them remains to be seen.

Kevin Drum 2:41 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

LAKERS....I'll admit that for about 0.4 seconds on Thursday night I was afraid that the famous Laker luck had finally run out, but obviously it hasn't. It looks like #15 is just a few weeks away.

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May 15, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

CURBING TEEN PREGNANCY....The most popular online story in the Guardian this week by a huge margin was this one:

Encouraging schoolchildren to experiment with oral sex could prove the most effective way of curbing teenage pregnancy rates, a government study has found.

Tony Blair no poodle he keeps saying there are loads of things that he disagrees with George Bush about. This must be one of them, don't you think?

And while we're on the topic of Europe, Ukraine has snagged first place in the 49th annual Eurovision song contest. Britain came in 16th. The United States, for the 49th consecutive year, was not allowed to compete for some reason.

Kevin Drum 8:03 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

NEEDED: A GOOD STORY....Over at Mother Jones, Joshua Wolf Shenk writes that conservatives have a pretty compelling story to tell:

The right wing has an elemental and appealing narrative--the ideological equivalent of a Jerry Bruckheimer film or a Tom Clancy novel, the sort thats hard to turn away from, even if you suspect youre being suckered. Stories operate on our primitive, reptilian brains. We tell ourselves stories in order to live, Joan Didion wrote. This isnt just a pretty line but an artful statement of neuropsychological reality.

....Its plain why this story works as well as it does. It presents a classic hero and a journey that reaches down through the brain into the gut. And Republicans can translate it into simple, clear lines of action: Wage war and dont stop. Cut taxes. Put bad guys in jail, or to death.

I've had the same thought many a time. Unfortunately, although he correctly identifies the strength of the current Republican storyline and the weakness of the current Democratic one ("liberals have a lame story--and they dont even believe it"), Shenk's stab at a better narrative didn't sound very convincing to me. Anybody else want to give it a try?

Kevin Drum 7:36 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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UNDERSTANDING OUR ENEMIES....Brad DeLong, who admits to extreme crankiness today, had this to say earlier this morning:

There is a certain kind of Berkeley professor who I am losing my tolerance for...

You know (or maybe you don't): the kind who believes that your first duty is to sympathetically understand where people are coming from. Unless they're Republicans. You have a duty to enter into the thought processes and sympathetically entertain the understanding of the world of a guy in Nigeria who has a picture of Osama bin Laden in his car, or a bureaucratic functionary working for Fidel Castro, or somebody who thinks that Bangladeshis should not be allowed to work in the textile industry. But Republicans? They are Blue Meanies. They are one dimensional. They are baaaaad.

And, of course, they appear to have no ironic consciousness of the huge disconnect in their intellectual stance at all. To say in one breath that we must not succumb to the temptation to turn those who express sympathy for Osama bin Laden into alien, hated, one-dimensional OTHERS; and then say in the next that those who express sympathy for Paul Wolfowitz are alien, hated, one-dimensional OTHERS...

Brad's post prompted a response from Mark Kleiman, who is none too taken with the "MultiCulti/PoMo/Diversity" crowd himself, which in turn prompted this question from Matt Yglesias:

Is it okay if I'm universally intolerant of people who don't share my point-of-view, or am I supposed to be nice to everyone? I agree that the stance he (and Brad Delong) target is untenable, but what's the preferred solution here?

Mark has an answer of his own (see link above), but I'd propose a different (and simpler) one:

  • Moderation

The fact is that pretty much any intellectual principle becomes absurd and unusable when taken to extremes as the academic left seems to have done with the initially useful ideas of postmodernism. Academic lefties are hardly alone in this, of course: history is littered with the corpses of movements that had a single overarching vision that metastasized over time and eventually led them to their doom.

The reason for this is simple: ideas have to reflect reality to have any power, and the actual human world doesn't run according to a single overarching principle. At a certain point, even if an idea continues to make some kind of logical sense, it no longer makes human sense as it starts coming into conflict with other human principles and desires that are equally strong. If you insist on taking your ideas past that point, you have essentially become a fanatic.

If you want to get things done in the real world, you have to understand how humans react to things and how far an idea can go before it becomes mere looniness and loses its power to persuade. So the answer to Matt's question, I think, is that you should seek to understand alternative views up to a point and you should also be intolerant of alternative views up to a point. What point? Good judgment and trial and error are about the only ways to figure it out.

This isn't a very satisfactory answer, but I think it's the correct one.

POSTSCRIPT: And just to add a political tint to this post, I'd argue that modern conservatism is an example of an idea that has been taken to unreasonable extremes and thereby lost touch with reality. In the same way that liberalism arguably overreached in the 60s and 70s and suffered the backlash of Reaganism, I think that Reaganism has overreached under Bush and is due for a liberal backlash sometime soon.

How soon? I wish I knew....

POSTSCRIPT THE SECOND: Taken generally, this also demonstrates one of the primary strengths of liberal democracy as a political system: it's very hard for extremism to take hold. Various viewpoints ebb and flow, but they very rarely get to the catastrophic point that is sadly common under authoritarian systems. This institutional moderation allows societies to grow steadily over long periods, rather than crashing and burning periodically and having to start over nearly from scratch.

Kevin Drum 6:44 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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KERRY-McCAIN AGAIN....More speculation about a Kerry-McCain ticket, this time on the front page of the New York Times.

There's not much more to say about this except that it's notable that the article quotes only Democrats (aside from McCain himself and his campaign manager). But surely the only way McCain could be talked into this would be by hearing some encouragement from fellow Republicans, right? And so far there doesn't seem to be any.

But who knows? This could be a chance for that near-extinct species, the moderate Republican, to make one last stand. There aren't many around these days, but I wonder how McCain would feel if even a few of them privately told him that it would be good for the country if he joined a fusion ticket with Kerry?

Kevin Drum 2:49 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE IRAQ PARADOX....I think it's worth highlighting one quote from the Seymour Hersh article I talked about in the previous post. Here's what one of Hersh's sources said about the interrogation program put into place at Abu Ghraib last year:

So [Cambone] pulls the switch, and the electricity begins flowing last summer. And its working. Were getting a picture of the insurgency in Iraq and the intelligence is flowing into the white [i.e., non-covert] world. Were getting good stuff.

Before Cambone "pulled the switch" we weren't getting any good information. After he did, we were. In other words, the program worked.

This is the circle that seems impossible to square in Iraq: the only way to keep control is to use a level of brutality that (a) Americans are unwilling to tolerate and (b) merely fuels further resentment from Iraqis when they learn about it, which they inevitably will since, after all, it's being used against Iraqis.

The neocons who were so eager to prove that war could bring democracy to Iraq seem unwilling to address this paradox. It's about time they started.

Kevin Drum 1:52 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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GITMO-IZING....It's Saturday, which means we get our weekly Seymour Hersh article about Abu Ghraib today. His latest installment is about the war between the CIA and the Pentagon, with Hersh claiming that the stuff going on at Abu Ghraib was an extension of a "Special Access Program" the blackest of black ops that was approved at the highest levels of the Pentagon:

According to interviews with several past and present American intelligence officials, the Pentagons operation, known inside the intelligence community by several code words, including Copper Green, encouraged physical coercion and sexual humiliation of Iraqi prisoners in an effort to generate more intelligence about the growing insurgency in Iraq. A senior C.I.A. official, in confirming the details of this account last week, said that the operation stemmed from Rumsfelds long-standing desire to wrest control of Americas clandestine and paramilitary operations from the C.I.A.

....They werent getting anything substantive from the detainees in Iraq, the former intelligence official told me. No names. Nothing that they could hang their hat on. [Stephen] Cambone says, Ive got to crack this thing and Im tired of working through the normal chain of command. Ive got this apparatus set upthe black special-access programand Im going in hot. So he pulls the switch, and the electricity begins flowing last summer. And its working. Were getting a picture of the insurgency in Iraq and the intelligence is flowing into the white world. Were getting good stuff. But weve got more targetsprisoners in Iraqi jailsthan people who can handle them.

The result, Hersh says, was that the program spun out of control and the CIA backed away:

By fall, according to the former intelligence official, the senior leadership of the C.I.A. had had enough. They said, No way. We signed up for the core program in Afghanistanpre-approved for operations against high-value terrorist targetsand now you want to use it for cabdrivers, brothers-in-law, and people pulled off the streetsthe sort of prisoners who populate the Iraqi jails. The C.I.A.s legal people objected, and the agency ended its SAP involvement in Abu Ghraib, the former official said.

....In a separate interview, a Pentagon consultant, who spent much of his career directly involved with special-access programs, spread the blame. The White House subcontracted this to the Pentagon, and the Pentagon subcontracted it to Cambone, he said. This is Cambones deal, but Rumsfeld and Myers approved the program. When it came to the interrogation operation at Abu Ghraib, he said, Rumsfeld left the details to Cambone. Rumsfeld may not be personally culpable, the consultant added, but hes responsible for the checks and balances. The issue is that, since 9/11, weve changed the rules on how we deal with terrorism, and created conditions where the ends justify the means.

Hersh's CIA sources obviously have a huge axe to grind, so take all this with at least a grain of bureaucratic turf protection salt.

That said, the basic contention here is that the stuff going on Abu Ghraib had been previously used on "high value" al-Qaeda detainees under expert supervision, and that Cambone and Rumsfeld should have known it would get out of control when the program was expanded. As one of Hersh's sources put it, When you go after Mullah Omar, thats one thing. But when you give the authority to kids who dont know the rules, thats another.

And when it did go bad, Hersh says, nobody really cared:

The Pentagons attitude last January, he said, was Somebody got caught with some photos. Whats the big deal? Take care of it. Rumsfelds explanation to the White House, the official added, was reassuring: Weve got a glitch in the program. Well prosecute it. The cover story was that some kids got out of control.

As usual, there's a lot more here, including some interesting stuff about the difficulty of prosecuting the abuse at Abu Ghraib without losing the original Special Access Program that spawned it, a program that everyone apparently thinks is highly worthwhile. Read it all.

Kevin Drum 1:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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BUSH (DIS)APPROVAL....I thought I'd put this up to give everyone something cheery to start their weekend with: the latest composite approval ratings for George Bush, updated through mid-May, courtesy of Steven Ruggles.

Question: W looks doomed unless he manages to gin up a fourth crowd pleaser to spike his numbers back up. What do you think it will be? And when?

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May 14, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

TROY REVIEW....I saw Troy this afternoon, and, really, it wasn't bad although, sadly, the Trojans lost once again even in this modern retelling. Brad Pitt was fine aside from some odd facial tics during his meeting with Priam that I couldn't quite make sense of.

And there are lessons to be learned from it, too. That whole Iliad story which I understand the movie to be "based on" sure goes to show the value of a well-targeted special ops team doesn't it?

Oh yeah, and don't mock the gods. Bad news, that.

FOOTNOTE: There was one odd thing about the movie aside from the inevitable garbling of story details, of course. They pronounced the name of Mr. Helen of Troy as Me-nu-lauw-us. I've always heard it pronounced Me-nu-lay-us. But who knows? Perhaps that's how ancient Greeks really said it. I imagine it's hard to say for sure at a remove of several millennia.

FOOTNOTE ANSWER: Astonishingly erudite discussion is here.

Kevin Drum 9:49 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SOVEREIGNTY UPDATE....On Wednesday I mentioned that the UK foreign secretary had told a talk show host that if the Iraqis wanted us to leave after June 30, then we'd leave. I was....surprised.

Then, on Thursday, a State Department lackey said that was our policy too. However he was contradicted shortly afterward by Lt. Gen. Walter Sharp, the policy and plans director for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

On Friday, Paul Bremer contradicted Sharp's contradiction: we'll leave if the Iraqis ask us to, he said. Finally, later on Friday, Colin Powell, echoed by the foreign ministers of Britain, Italy and Japan, confirmed that this was everyone's policy: the Iraqis are in charge after June 30. If they want us to leave, we'll leave.

Like me, Spencer Ackerman wonders what the hell is going on here:

The real question here is if Powell's trial balloon--or Bremer's--comes with Bush's approval, tacit or otherwise. Granted, Powell isn't the most plugged-in member of the administration. But Bush and Karl Rove can read the polls. They can see that public support for the war is collapsing, and taking Bush's prospects for reelection with it.

....Bush needs to say whether he agrees with Powell and Bremer. (And if he says he doesn't think Iraqis would tell us to leave, that's playing with fire, as the post below argues.) The consequences of pulling out of Iraq will be catastrophic, not only for the future of U.S. foreign policy, but for the bloodbath that Iraq will become as it falls into failed statehood--and 9/11 should have taught us what failed states mean for our national security. But last year on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln, Bush proved how willing he is to declare victory prematurely. Is Colin Powell preparing us for a moment when Bush does so again?

If this is a trial balloon, it's the damnedest trial balloon I've ever seen: the Secretary of State plus the foreign ministers of three of our principal allies, going out of their way to clarify a policy that didn't really have to be clarified and doing it in an unusually direct way. Even in George Bush's kindergarten administration, a statement like that couldn't have been made without his approval, could it?

Like everyone else in the world, I have no idea what Bush really thinks about this. Trying to figure him out is like trying to analyze Soviet-era May Day photographs or Mao-era Peking wall posters. But it wouldn't really surprise me if he's trying to find some way to get the hell out of Dodge before the elections. Like a late-90s CEO who discovered that announcing an internet taco didn't drive up his taco company's stock price the way he'd hoped, Bush is discovering that his war-as-campaign-commercial isn't working out quite the way he planned either. After all the tough talk, is he looking for a cut-and-run fig leaf in order to save his job?

Stay tuned.

Kevin Drum 9:34 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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ABU MUSAB AL-ZARQAWI....U.S. intelligence believes that it was indeed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi who beheaded Nick Berg on the video discovered last Tuesday.

Zarqawi is an infamous terrorist who's been wanted for years. So why haven't we captured him yet? This post written two months ago explains:


TOUGH ON TERROR?....A year ago Dan Drezner asked a question: since we knew at the time that (a) Abu Musab Zarqawi and the terrorist group Ansar al-Islam was connected to al-Qaeda, (b) they had camps in the Halabja Valley in northern Iraq, and (c) the area in question was in the American-patrolled no-fly zone and not under Saddam Hussein's control, why not mount an attack on it?

Given the obvious link between achieving this objective and the war on terror, and given the assertions by France and others that credible evidence of a link between Iraq and Al Qaeda would justify use of force, would the Security Council be willing to approve U.S. military action in this area?....This would be an excellent test of where exactly the French and Germans stand. Is their opposition to Iraq based on a blind determination to counter U.S. power, or is there some nuance to their stance?

Unfortunately, it turns out it wasn't France and Germany we had to worry about. It was George Bush:

In June 2002...the Pentagon quickly drafted plans to attack the camp [but]....the plan was debated to death in the National Security Council....The Pentagon drew up a second strike plan, and the White House again killed it....The Pentagon drew up still another attack plan, and for the third time, the National Security Council killed it.

Military officials insist their case for attacking Zarqawis operation was airtight, but the administration feared destroying the terrorist camp in Iraq could undercut its case for war against Saddam.

Unlike Saddam, Zarqawi really was developing poisons such as ricin and cyanide for use in terrorist attacks in the West and elsewhere. But we hesitated to take action because destroying the Ansar al-Islam camps might have been inconvenient for George Bush's speechwriters.

Zarqawi has reportedly killed at least 700 people since then. But it might be many more. We will probably never know for sure how many people died at his hands because of George Bush's uncertainty in the face of danger.

Kevin Drum 2:26 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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MIRROR UPDATE....The Daily Mirror officially admitted today that the "abuse" photos they printed a couple of weeks ago were fake. Their editor has been sacked:

A statement from the Mirror said it had fallen victim to a "calculated and malicious hoax". The Mirror board said it would be "inappropriate" for [editor Piers] Morgan to continue.

It's a sad day for tabloid journalism.

Kevin Drum 2:14 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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RUMSFELD....Abu Ghraib aside, has Don Rumsfeld been a good Secretary of Defense? Has he been "the best secretary of defense the United States has ever had"?

The positive side of Rumsfeld's reputation seems to rest on two main pillars: (a) his "transformation" program and (b) our quick initial victory in Iraq. I'm not knowledgable enough about military affairs to comment at length on this, but I wonder how how solid these achievements really are?

Take transformation. Ralph Peters is hardly the final word on this subject, but here's what he wrote about it today:

What of that much-touted transformation so beloved of the neocons? In fact, it's just a plain old con, with nothing neo about it. The Office of the Secretary of Defense hasn't canceled one of the real budget-buster weapons systems designed for the Cold War and kept alive by lobbyists. Only the low-end Crusader artillery piece went to the chopping block as a token (the Army itself decided to cancel the Comanche helicopter).

Rumsfeld's "vision" was to lavish money on the defense industry and administration-friendly contractors, while sending too few troops to war, with too little battlefield equipment, inadequate supplies and no long-range plan. As one Army colonel put it in the heat of battle, "We're winning this despite OSD."

The fact that Rumsfeld rather famously doesn't get along with the top brass is hardly proof that he's wrong in fact, it could be just the opposite but I suspect Peters is basically correct here. The real giveaway is that 9/11 doesn't seem to have changed Rumsfeld's thinking one whit. His vision of transformation stayed exactly the same despite the fact that after 9/11 we were clearly fighting a brand new kind of war.

As for the quick victory in Iraq, I think Rumsfeld may be getting too much credit there as well. Dan Drezner, for example, who is rightly critical of his postwar management, nevertheless says that "Rumsfeld has been proven correct in his warfighting strategies."

Is this really true? There's no question that we won the initial war quickly, but that's primarily because we so vastly overestimated Saddam Hussein's strength. Far from being a brilliant vindication of Rumsfeld's warfighting views, it seems more like a complete breakdown of our intelligence capabilities. If Saddam's army hadn't turned out to be 90% hollow, I wonder how we would have done? And if we mistakenly take this as a lesson for the future, how will we do against an opponent that turns out to actually have a capable military?

On a broad level, it's striking how little impact 9/11 has had on either Rumsfeld or the Bush administration as a whole. Rumsfeld is still obsessed with the idea of technology instead of troops. Cheney and Bush are still pushing missile defense. Nation building and democracy promotion get lip service but nothing else. Proposals for radically transforming the military to focus on nonstate terrorism seem to be nonexistent. And if there's been a change in our intelligence gathering capabilities, it's about the only secret we've managed to keep.

I don't fault John Kerry for not having a brilliant plan for winning or exiting from Iraq. It's just a messy problem. But a far reaching proposal to genuinely transform the military and the intelligence community to fight a new kind of war is something the country desperately needs. It's time to take on the Republicans on their own turf.

Kevin Drum 1:43 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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GUEST POST....Today's guest post is from Amy Sullivan. Amy is a doctoral candidate in sociology at Princeton University, a frequent contributer to the Washington Monthly, and the author of Political Aims. This is her first contribution to Political Animal and, unless I miss my guess, is likely to raise some hackles. Try not to let the comments section explode, OK?

Kevin Drum 12:11 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Amy Sullivan

ABORTION AND THE DEMOCRATS....A few days ago, I received an email from a reader who had attended a John Kerry rally over the weekend in Erie, Pennsylvania. He and his wife took their two children to the event, and they also brought along a homemade sign to cheer on their candidate and to demonstrate the breadth of Kerry's support. The sign bobbed along in the crowd until it was spotted by some Kerry workers, who hurried over and asked them to put it down, claiming that only "sanctioned" signs were allowed. What was the unsanctioned message on the sign? "Democrats for Life".

The point of the sign, the reader wanted me to know, was not to spark confrontation but to indicate that Kerry has pro-life supporters. He won't have many, though, if his campaign continues to make the same mistakes the national party has been making for the past few decades, refusing to make any room in their otherwise "Big Tent" for those who oppose abortion.

Talk to a group of moderate pro-life voters and you will find that many of them trace their discomfort with the Democratic Party to 1992, when then-Pennsylvania Governor Bob Casey was denied a chance to address the Democratic Convention, a decision he claimed was based on his pro-life views. Convention planners disputed this explanation, but it hardly mattered -- the perception that the Democratic Party will not tolerate pro-life views was set in stone. And it's hardly unfounded. "We don't need their support," is one of the claims I hear most often within the party. Oh, really? The last time I checked, Democrats didn't control the White House, Senate, or House of Representatives. They need every darn vote they can get. What's more, it wouldn't cost them much, if anything.

Because these voters aren't expecting the party to change its platform, to suddenly oppose abortion rights, or toss the choice groups to the curb. These are people who are willing to support Democratic candidates despite differing views on abortion. All they're looking for is some acknowledgement that it's possible to be a good person and a good Democrat and have questions about abortion. That individuals can be sincerely troubled by abortion.

This is not a popular position. Since the mid-1970s, the number of pro-life Democrats in the House has dropped from over 100 to less than 30. The recently retired Democratic Whip David Bonior was pro-life and half of the Senate Democratic Leadership flirts with pro-life votes, yet the party not only refuses to respect the belief that there can be ambiguity on this issue, but insists that there is none. And that to believe otherwise is to be a heartless, right-wing reactionary.

Why the hard-line rhetoric in the Democratic Party? The power and influence of the choice groups within the party is the biggest factor. A friend of mine who works for a state attorney general told me about a telling incident a little while ago. His boss was prosecuting a case against some pro-life activists and had to appoint a lawyer to represent the other side. Soon after, my friend received a call from someone he knew at one of the choice groups, expressing their displeasure because the attorney general had appointed a good lawyer to represent the pro-lifers. This was a very serious problem, the choice activist told him, and they probably wouldn't be able to support his boss in the next election. Why? Not because the attorney general took the side of the pro-lifers, not because he had altered his own position one bit, but because he had the gall to appoint a decent lawyer to serve as his opposition in the case.

Look, I'm pro-choice. I believe the choice groups need to be out there yelling and screaming and holding the line. But Democratic politicians don't have to be cowed by them. If Kerry acknowledged the tension many voters feel about the issue of abortion, sure, the choice groups would howl. But so what? He wouldn't be altering his policy positions. He wouldn't be forcing changes to the party platform. He would, however, be sending a signal that people with differing views on a very difficult, controversial issue are welcome in the ranks of his supporters. What are pro-choicers going to do, withdraw funding from Democratic candidates? And support exactly who instead? Let them howl. It's their job. But Kerry and others shouldn't buckle at the first sign of a yelp.

Amy Sullivan 12:06 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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MILITARY INTELLIGENCE AT ABU GHRAIB....The Los Angeles Times has obtained investigative records of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal that include statements from Spc. Jeremy Sivits:

He described an atmosphere in which a group of military policemen repeatedly laughed, joked and mocked Iraqi detainees as they stripped them naked, struck and kicked them and, in the crudest of humiliations, even forced them to hit each other.

....And he said all of this was done without the knowledge of their superiors in the Army chain of command. "Our command would have slammed us," he said. "They believe in doing the right thing. If they saw what was going on, there would be hell to pay."

Sivits said that Spc. Charles Graner was the "ringleader" of the abuses, and Graner's lawyer provided the picture below to NBC News. He identified the soldiers labeled 4, 5, 7, and 8 as military intelligence.

Is it possible that military intelligence was involved but somehow kept all this secret from the chain of command? Maybe. So far, though, no one seems to have put any names to the military intelligence folks who supposedly organized all this. I don't imagine that can last too much longer.

Kevin Drum 1:14 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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$200 OR A COUPLE OF SHEEP....Abuse and torture weren't the only problems at Abu Ghraib. Apparently there was good old fashioned corruption there too:

The prison also became the site of an extortion racket in which an Iraqi translator collected hundreds of dollars from families begging for visits with loved ones inside, family members told Knight Ridder.

To desperate families who spent days camped outside Abu Ghraib, the man they call "Abdu" was an expensive link to their loved ones. For $200 or a couple of sheep, Abdu arranged unauthorized meetings between families and detainees, according to prisoner-rights advocates, detainees' relatives and Abdu's neighbors.

....Abdu apparently had access to a computer with a list of detainee numbers and scheduled visiting times. Families said he would scan the list of detainees already released from jail and give their appointments to the people who paid him instead of canceling the slots.

This is hardly the biggest problem at Abu Ghraib, of course, but it's hard not to wonder if Abdu might have been sharing those bribes with anyone else in there.

The story, reported by Knight Ridder's Hannah Allam, is interesting both for the facts of the corruption itself and for the reaction to it from Iraqis which might not be quite what you'd expect. It's also unusually well written. Click the link and read the whole thing.

Kevin Drum 12:43 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SOVEREIGNTY....The UK foreign ministry says Britain will pack up and leave if the Iraqis ask them to after June 30. Now the State Department says that's our position too.

Both say they don't expect this to happen, of course. However, given our track record of being right in Iraq so far, I wouldn't rest too easy on this....

Kevin Drum 12:29 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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May 13, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

LAKERS 74, SPURS 73....Now that's a basketball game.

Kevin Drum 10:57 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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TORTURE....April 28, in front of the Supreme Court:

JUSTICE RUTH BADER GINSBURG: Suppose the executive says, "Mild torture, we think, will help get this information?" It's not a soldier who does something against the code of military justice, but it's an executive command. Some systems do that to get information.

PAUL CLEMENT, DEPUTY SOLICITOR GENERAL: Well, our executive doesn't....

May 13, in the New York Times:

In the case of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, a high-level detainee who is believed to have helped plan the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, C.I.A. interrogators used graduated levels of force, including a technique known as "water boarding," in which a prisoner is strapped down, forcibly pushed under water and made to believe he might drown.

These techniques were authorized by a set of secret rules for the interrogation of high-level Qaeda prisoners, none known to be housed in Iraq, that were endorsed by the Justice Department and the C.I.A.

Surely this qualifies as at least "mild" torture?

I stole this juxtaposition from Eric Muller, who has some legal analysis here. Bottom line: did Clement knowingly lie to the court? And if so, who else knew about it?

Kevin Drum 10:21 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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FAKE PHOTOS....The British defense minister said today that photos of Iraqi prisoner abuse published in the Daily Mirror a couple of weeks ago are fakes. Imagine my surprise. Mirror editor Piers Morgan, leaning on the thin reed that the evidence of fakery was not quite "incontrovertible," explained further that

the pictures accurately illustrated the reality about the appalling conduct of some British troops.

Right. "Illustrated the reality." Is that anything like a "reenactment"?

The only surprising thing about this whole affair is that it's taken so long for the British government to go public, since both the pictures themselves and the circumstances of their publication screamed "FAKE!" from the very beginning. The BBC has a complete rundown of the evidence here.

Kevin Drum 5:58 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

COUNTERTERRORISM....When I was reading Richard Clarke's Against All Enemies, one of the things that struck me was that everyone who takes the chief counterterrorism job in George Bush's White House gets disgusted pretty quickly and leaves. Over at TNR's Campaign Journal, Ryan Lizza notes that the latest counterterrorism chief, Frances Fragos Townsend, has recently resigned and summarizes the revolving door like this:

First there was Richard Clarke. We all know what happened to him. He left his post in disgust and wrote a book arguing that Bush paid no attention to terrorism before 9/11 and that the war in Iraq was a monumental diversion from the fight against al Qaeda and a gift to jihadist recruiters across the Muslim world. Clarke was replaced by General Wayne Downing, a pro-Iraq war hawk. Nonetheless, he had a similar experience, lasting a total of 10 months before abruptly resigning in frustration at how the White House bureaucracy was responding to the terrorist threat. Downing was replaced by two men, General [John] Gordon, who lasted ten months before moving on to his homeland security job, and Rand Beers, who resigned in disgust over the Iraq war after seven months in his post. His experience was searing enough that he immediately joined the Kerry campaign. Beers was replaced by Townsend, who has now been tapped to replace Gordon, who is apparently resigning under circumstances similar to Clarke and Beers. (Got all that?)

In a followup post Ryan notes that there's actually a sixth person to add to this list.

There doesn't seem to be a single person who knows anything about counterterrorism who can stand to be in Bush's White House for more than a few months. What does this tell you about both their competence and their dedication to building a counterterrorism program that actually works?

Kevin Drum 3:26 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

RUSH LIMBAUGH....David Brock's new organization, Media Matters, has decided to air an ad denouncing Rush Limbaugh's recent comments about the Abu Ghraib scandal:

This is no different than what happens at the Skull & Bones initiation....I'm talking about people having a good time. These people you ever heard of emotional release? You ever heard of needing to blow some steam off?

You can view the ad here.

This is a terrific use of Brock's $2 million. Whenever Limbaugh goes outside the little cocoon of his radio show the vast majority of Americans are disgusted by his antics it's happened on Letterman, on ESPN, even on his own TV show. Just exposing his words to a wider audience without any real comment at all is probably the best possible way of undermining his influence.

Media Matters also has transcripts of Limbaugh's shows on its website. That's another good use of their money, although it would be even better if it were done in ordinary, linkable HTML....

Kevin Drum 2:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE PICTURES....Jonah Goldberg is tired of all this talk about torture and abuse:

Please let's not indulge another round of "the public didn't know" about top Qaeda members being roughed up. I remember countless articles from one to two years ago addressing this possibility. The Atlantic even did a giant article on the subject. It was always clear, to me at least, that the option of "smacky face" -- as one source described it to the Wall Street Journal -- was always on the table.

But the public didn't know, and that was the point of publishing the Abu Ghraib pictures. The Atlantic has a tiny circulation compared to network news, words don't have the same impact as images, and all the reporting before now was speculative. It's only the Abu Ghraib pictures that have convinced people that everything The Atlantic and others have been saying for a while really is true.

This is the best reason and, really, the only one we need that the Abu Ghraib pictures should indeed have been published: because they're true. Having seen them, we can then choose to insist that torture and abuse stop; we can choose to decide that perhaps they are unfortunate but necessary methods to win the war; or we can decide that the war isn't worth it if this is what it takes to win.

But we do get to choose. And those pictures are an important part of that choice.

UPDATE: Sorry, I need to clear something up for those who didn't click the link: Jonah's post was about the CIA interrogation of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, an al-Qaeda leader. Jonah has also argued that the Abu Ghraib pictures shouldn't have been published, but I'm the one making the connection here, not him. Fundamentally, the pictures lend credibility to the interrogation story, and I think that's fine. Americans can decide for themselves whether or not they approve of this, but only if they truly understand in their guts that it's really happening.

Kevin Drum 1:49 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SEEING THE REAL BUSH....Add Tom Friedman to the list of people who have finally figured out what George Bush is all about. He kept hoping that Bush really wanted to do what was right for the country, but:

I was wrong. There is something even more important to the Bush crowd than getting Iraq right, and that's getting re-elected and staying loyal to the conservative base to do so.

....Why didn't the administration ever use 9/11 as a spur to launch a Manhattan project for energy independence and conservation, so we could break out of our addiction to crude oil, slowly disengage from this region and speak truth to fundamentalist regimes, such as Saudi Arabia? (Addicts never tell the truth to their pushers.) Because that might have required a gas tax or a confrontation with the administration's oil moneymen. Why did the administration always rightly bash Yasir Arafat, but never lift a finger or utter a word to stop Ariel Sharon's massive building of illegal settlements in the West Bank? Because while that might have earned America credibility in the Middle East, it might have cost the Bush campaign Jewish votes in Florida.

And, of course, why did the president praise Mr. Rumsfeld rather than fire him? Because Karl Rove says to hold the conservative base, you must always appear to be strong, decisive and loyal. It is more important that the president appear to be true to his team than that America appear to be true to its principles.

For all I that I occasionally make fun of Friedman for his yo-yo mood swings and bizarre metaphor-challenged prose, I have to say that I sympathize with him here. As much as I've always despised Bush for his party-ber-alles approach to the presidency, I too spent most of 2002 figuring that even he would put politics on hold and put the country first when it came to war.

But he didn't. It was basically just an election gimmick to him, a club to whack Democrats with, and it's so hard to conceive of an American president treating a war this cynically that I can understand why Friedman took so long to admit it to himself. Hell, even I still have moments where I just shake my head and think that I must be wrong. No one could be that callow, that vindictive, that shortsighted.

But George Bush is. After 9/11 he had a chance to make the war on terror into a bipartisan cause but he didn't take it. What's worse, it's not that he tried and did a bad job of it, but that he deliberately decided to make terrorism as divisive an wedge issue as he possibly could. By doing that he has set the anti-terrorist cause back by years.

He truly is a disgrace to the Republican party.

Kevin Drum 12:56 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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May 12, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

DIPLOMACY IN THE INTERNET ERA....Talking Point is a "global interactive phone-in programme" from the BBC. Today they interviewed UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and the show included this exchange:

Jack Straw:
....I may just say, by the way, that Secretary Powell turns out to be an avid fan of the BBC's programmes and he noticed that he could e-mail me with a question...

Bridget Kendall:
On this programme?

Jack Straw:
For this programme and sent me an e-mail to say he'd been thinking about this but he decided otherwise.

Bridget Kendall:
Perhaps we should say to Mr Powell we would have been delighted to have your question.

That's an out-of-the-box approach to foreign relations, isn't it? I wonder if the idea of submitting questions to your overseas counterparts on radio chat shows will catch on?

On a more substantive note, Straw was asked if the June 30 handover in Iraq was merely symbolic. He said emphatically that it wasn't and then added this about the disposition of troops:

The precise arrangements have yet to be worked out but everybody is clear that from the 30th June you then have an Iraqi sovereign government and it's a matter for a sovereign government, wherever it is, including in Iraq, to decide whether or not, amongst many other things, foreign forces should be on its soil it's their sovereign decision.

....If you're asking me, as you are, at what point in this arrangement an Iraqi general will fit in with the US or the UK or other multinational force general I can't give you that answer because final decisions have not been made.

Is this really the party line? That if the caretaker government proposed by Lakhdar Brahimi decides it wants an Iraqi general in charge, we'll go along with it? Or if they decide we're no longer welcome at all then we'll just pack up and leave?

I wonder who they think they're fooling with this?

Kevin Drum 9:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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FICTION....Was Al Gore wise to speak out about global warming in reaction to the movie The Day After Tomorrow? After seeing how Gore handled it, Chris Mooney says yes.

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TALKING TOUGH....The New York Post says it's time to kick some ass:

This war cannot be waged with half-measures. It can end only with the total annihilation of those who practice butchery and barbarism. Those who have set as their goal the destruction of America.

....Let's face it: This is a job that's going to take overwhelming - yes, brutal - force. There is simply no "nice" or painless way to accomplish this.

Meanwhile, here in Los Angeles, just to prove that we can be as tough as any New Yorker, ber-conservative hawk Bruce Herschensohn derides political correctness about hearts and minds and whatnot and calls for the return of World War II:

We bombed our enemies to submission with all the power and weaponry we had available. After our costly invasion of Europe, with immense U.S. casualties, the atomic bomb was ready and to prevent another invasion we used it on Japan.

.....The only subject worthy of our national attention and the only pursuit that should be acceptable is total victory no matter if others are offended or even destroyed. I know this kind of thinking is not considered acceptable in 2004. But we better accept it and quickly.

It's hard to know which of the two is worse. The Post, for all its tough talk, is delusional about what "overwhelming force" really means, suggesting that it's OK if this means "another division or so of combat troops." That's laughable even for Iraq alone, and if they're talking about the entire Middle East then resumption of the draft and several million soldiers is more like it.

Herschensohn, by contrast, grasps the nettle firmly and seems (perhaps) to understand that a conventional military solution would require occupying a territory stretching from Egypt to Pakistan. Unfortunately, he also seems to imply that if we need to nuke a couple of cities to soften things up first, that might be OK.

So again: which is worse? Huffing and puffing about getting tough without the slightest idea what that really means, or huffing and puffing about getting tough even though you understand exactly what that means?

This is not a war that can be won with conventional massed forces. I wonder why that simple truth is so threatening to so many hawks?

Kevin Drum 7:02 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

LEGISLATING MORALITY....Cigarette smoking is down in New York City:

In the wake of huge tobacco tax increases and a ban on smoking in bars, the number of adult smokers in New York City fell 11 percent from 2002 to 2003, one of the steepest short-term declines ever measured, according to surveys commissioned by the city.

...."New York did the perfect trifecta that no one has attempted before raising taxes very steeply, making it harder to smoke indoors, and promoting cessation, so you would expect a dramatic result," said Dr. Steven A. Schroeder, a professor of health and health care at the University of California at San Francisco.

You can argue all day long about whether the government ought to discourage unhealthy and offensive behavior, but it sure looks like they can do it if they put their minds to it.

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By: Kevin Drum

FOLLOWING THE MONEY....You've heard of ACT, right? It's one of those evil 527s (groups organized under Section 527 of the tax code) funded by the evil George Soros for the evil purpose of evicting George Bush from the White House. Republicans, as you may also know, have petitioned the Federal Election Commission to shut down 527s, suggesting that they are nothing more than giant loopholes in campaign finance laws that prohibit candidates from raising "soft money."

The FEC will rule on this later this year. But have you heard of 501(c)s? In the past, these were normal advocacy groups, like the NRA or the Sierra Club, that also happened to spend some money on issue ads around election time. Today, though, there's a brand new kind of 501(c):

Like many of its neighbors, [Americans for Job Security] is organized as a 501(c)(6), which is to say a not-for-profit "business league" or trade organization. But as trade organizations go, it is rather unusual. Not only is the group's membership--several hundred individuals, corporations, and other trade organizations--secret, but by all appearances, the members don't share a particular line of business. Despite a budget of millions of dollars a year, AJS doesn't have the kind of public relations or policy staff that, say, the Chamber of Commerce does....About the only thing that AJS does is buy television, radio, and newspaper advertisements--lots of them.

....The Democratic 527s admit up front that electioneering is their primary purpose; indeed, that fact is built into the legal definition of a 527. But to merit 501(c) status, the GOP groups must--and do--insist that electioneering is not their primary purpose. Indeed, like most of the GOP shadow groups, AJS reports on its 2000 returns spending zero dollars on political activity.

It turns out that while Republicans are eager to shut down 527s, which are largely liberal organizations, they are strangely reticent to regulate 501(c)s. Can you guess why?

Nick Confessore has the whole story in this month's issue of the Washington Monthly. It's must reading.

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NAJAF UPDATE....Via Atrios, Polly Toynbee in the Guardian suggests that UN negotiator Lakhdar Brahimi is about to throw in the towel:

Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN special representative, was sent to Iraq to ease the passage to democracy much against his will. With his arm twisted by Kofi Annan and George Bush, he reluctantly agreed but warned of the risk of ensnaring the UN in this ill-fated US/UK adventure....Now, according to Tony Blair's close advisers, he is about to walk away from Iraq, leaving Britain and America alone to stew after June 30.

On the other hand, Juan Cole links to a Radio Free Europe piece reporting that Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani is happy with Brahimi's transition proposals:

[UN spokesman Fred] Eckhard said al-Hakim told Brahimi that al-Sistani was "pleased and found the proposals balanced and positive." Eckhard said Brahimi and Iraqi officials spoke about "various aspects of the transition."

It appears to be mostly in our hands now. Brahimi needs agreement from us, of course, but it also appears that his plans can succeed only if we resolve the violence in Najaf and put an end to Muqtada al-Sadr's insurgency. Cole indicates that this depends on whether we're willing to negotiate with Muqtada. From az-Zaman:

The Coalition and Muqtada al-Sadr exchanged letters via mediators during the past thirty-six hours, which may be fateful. Signs of flexibility were apparent in Muqtada's response to ending the crisis, assuming that the American side would accept negotiations on the basis of his spokesman, Qais al-Khazali. At the same time, the new American-appointed governor of Najaf intimated that there is a possibility that any criminal proceedings against Muqtada al-Sadr may be suspended if his militia stood down, disarmed, and left Najaf.

As always, Prof. Cole has more, and you should read his entire post. It appears there may be room for some cautious optimism at this point.

Kevin Drum 1:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

MEDIA BIAS....Yesterday, after seeing the news of Nick Berg's beheading, Glenn Reynolds' first thought was to use it to bash the press. "No doubt this will lead the news tonight," he snarked.

Can we cut the crap? What happened to Berg was an act of savagery and of course it led the evening news. What's more, it's also become a staple of cable news and, as you can see at PressDisplay (just click on USA and ignore the Sunday papers), pictures of either the al-Qaeda video or the Berg family led above the fold on practically every American newspaper as well. It was front and center on my copy of the Los Angeles Times this morning.

This is all part of the game of trying to pretend that the media systematically reports only bad news from Iraq, a game that's getting way old. Face it: they report lots of bad news because there's lots of bad news. Clapping your hands won't make it go away, and neither will the modern equivalent of claiming that it's nothing more than media bias.

Crikey.

Kevin Drum 12:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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A QUESTION....Mark Kleiman and John McCain ask: "What is "Gitmo-izing?"

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WEDNESDAY MORNING ABUSE ROUNDUP....60 Minutes II plans to air a home video on Wednesday about possible prisoner abuse at another prison in Iraq, Camp Bucca.

The New York Times has a story suggesting that the same kinds of abuses uncovered at Abu Ghraib have been happening in Afghanistan for quite a while too. American officials say this is the first they've heard of it.

CNN reports that "all 100 senators will have a three-hour window Wednesday to view additional photographs and video showing abuse of Iraqi prisoners." Let's face it: once that happens, how much longer can they be kept from public view? And wouldn't it be better to release them now anyway instead of letting them slowly dribble out and keeping the story alive for weeks or months?

Kevin Drum 1:59 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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MORE EXCUSES....A Republican says the killing of Nick Berg on Tuesday shows that the administration was right to try to withhold the Abu Ghraib pictures:

Rep. Duncan Hunter of California, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said the beheading of an American captive in Iraq has House Republican leaders concerned that the release of more photos to the public could lead to more Americans being harmed.

"We've got to make a decision on precisely how we handle it, especially in light of what's occurred today," Hunter said.

"From my own perspective, it validates Secretary [of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld and General [Richard] Myers' attempt to keep these initial photos from being published," Hunter said. Myers is chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

"I think it shows they were trying to save American lives when they did that. Unfortunately, those pictures were released."

I thought it was only us soft-headed liberals who were supposed to believe fairy tales like this. Is Hunter really so gullible that he takes the terrorists at their word when they pretend that the Abu Ghraib pictures are the reason they executed Berg?

Or is he just playing the latest conservative game of spouting ridiculous excuses for keeping American wrongdoing under wraps?

Kevin Drum 1:37 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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May 11, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

HIDING THE TRUTH....Here are three reasons why (a) the Abu Ghraib pictures should not have been shown to the public and (b) new ones should also not be shown to the public:

  1. Jonah Goldberg pretends to be concerned for the Iraqis: "If the media is even remotely correct in how they're reporting the impact of these stories and of these pictures, then the damage being done in terms in lives of American soldier, in terms of the future prospects of 26 million Iraqis far outweighs the ratings points or the Sturm und Drang and moral righteousness we're hearing from Capitol Hill and from the media."

  2. Fred Barnes pretends to be concerned that showing pictures of POWs violates the Geneva Conventions.

  3. Dick Cheney pretends to be concerned it might endanger prosecutions of the guilty and falsely malign the innocent: "We wouldn't want, as a result of the release of pictures, ... to allow guilty parties off the hook. By the same token, you don't want to see innocent people inappropriately maligned by virtue of the release of photographs. I'd say there are a lot of equities involved here besides just satisfying the desires of the press that want to have more pictures to print."

What's next? It gives digital cameras a bad rep? It's bad for the S&M industry?

This is the most pathetic set of bogus excuses I've seen in a long time. Is this really the best they can do?

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AL-QAEDA VIDEO....The latest from al-Qaeda:

A video posted Tuesday on an al-Qaida-linked Web site showed the beheading of an American civilian in Iraq in what was said to be revenge for abuse of Iraqi prisoners.

The video showed five men wearing headscarves and black ski masks, standing over a bound man in an orange jumpsuit similar to a prisoner's uniform. The man identified himself as Nick Berg, a U.S. civilian whose body was found Saturday near a highway overpass in Baghdad.

"My name is Nick Berg, my father's name is Michael, my mother's name is Suzanne," the man said on the video. "I have a brother and sister, David and Sarah. I live in ... Philadelphia."

After reading a statement, the men were seen pulling the man to his side and putting a large knife to his neck. A scream sounded as the men cut his head off, shouting "Allahu akbar!" "God is great!" They then held the head up to the camera.

This barbaric behavior will have the same effect barbarism usually has: it will make civilized people around the world more determined than ever to exterminate al-Qaeda and its likeminded brethren.

Barbaric behavior doesn't win wars, it just makes your enemies more dedicated to their cause. This is why it's so important to eliminate the kind of barbarism exhibited by our own side at Abu Ghraib: because it just makes our enemies stronger. If we don't purge it root and branch, we've as good as lost the war. In more ways than one.

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AMERICAN VALUES....Not content with claiming that global warming is "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people," Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe has decided to try to prove once and for all that the modern Republican party is unfit for civilized company:

"I'm probably not the only one up at this table that is more outraged by the outrage than we are by the treatment," the Oklahoma Republican said at a U.S. Senate hearing probing the scandal.

"These prisoners, you know they're not there for traffic violations," Inhofe said. "If they're in cellblock 1-A or 1-B, these prisoners, they're murderers, they're terrorists, they're insurgents. Many of them probably have American blood on their hands and here we're so concerned about the treatment of those individuals."

...."I am also outraged that we have so many humanitarian do-gooders right now crawling all over these prisons looking for human rights violations, while our troops, our heroes are fighting and dying," he said.

As near as I can tell, Inhofe's only regret is that we went too easy on the guys at Abu Ghraib. And the Geneva Convention is for pussies.

I know for a fact that most Republicans find this kind of sentiment abhorrent, so how is it that they're willing to put up with guys like Inhofe as their public faces? When is enough enough?

Kevin Drum 4:52 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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McCAIN FOR VEEP?....One of the thoughts that's passed through my head in the last few days has been that the Abu Ghraib scandal could bring new life to an old chestnut: John McCain as Kerry's VP.

There are all sorts of reasons this could never happen, but let's face it: there's a powerful case to be made that a "fusion" ticket of a liberal Democrat paired with a Republican known for his integrity is the only chance America has to truly change course in Iraq and regain the trust of the world. I'm not even sure whether I'd personally be for or against this, but the bipartisan symbolism of such a pairing is hard to ignore.

Andrew Sullivan makes the case in The New Republic today. Check it out.

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BLOG NAVEL GAZING....The Connection, one of NPR's morning shows, did a segment today with George Packer, who wrote about his love/hate relationship with blogs in Mother Jones earlier this month. David Adesnik of OxBlog was also a guest, and Packer mentioned that he had been taken aback a few months ago when he met David and chatted with him about his dissertation, only to find that within a few hours their conversation had been blogged for the entire world to see.

So what does David do? Within 30 minutes of being on the air with Packer he's already blogged about it! That's showing him!

I was on for a few minutes after David, but as usual with radio there wasn't really time to say much of anything, although I did manage to get in a plug for Phil Carter's expert coverage of the Abu Ghraib scandal.

I have to admit that I was laughing as I listened to the lead-in, with Packer talking about how he finds himself getting sucked into blogs for hours at a time and is now trying to wean himself off his addiction. He sounded like a three-time loser promising that he was going to kick the habit and this time he really means it!

Well, there's not much question that a steady diet of blogs is no better for you than a steady diet of pizza, but I think that misses the point. Of course you should ingest a wide variety of news sources, but in the same way that newspapers excel at broad coverage of breaking news, TV excels at images, magazines excel at long analytic pieces, and talk radio excels at ranting screeds, blogs also excel at certain things. Trying to compare them to "journalism" is a mug's game at best, like trying to figure out if a beanbag is really a chair. Who cares? Beanbags are great for certain forms of sitting down and lousy at others.

So what are blogs good at? I've been promising to write something about this ever since I first blogged about Packer's blog article, but I don't feel like writing a long essay about it here. (Long essays are for magazines, remember?) But I really do think blogs have certain merits that other mediums don't, so instead of an essay, here's a very bloglike bullet list of some of the virtues that I think blogs bring to the public discourse party:

  • The first person style of blog posts often allows bloggers to do a better job of explaining complex subjects than the odd, almost Victorian style of newspaper and TV writing. Blogs can simply say, straight out, "here are the three main points and here's how they affect the argument at hand." Newspaper articles, by contrast, are often so laden down by superflous quotes and faux objectivity that by the time you're finished you're still confused about what's really going on.

  • Blogs can aggregrate information from a lot of different sources. The conventions of mainstream journalism don't really allow this. A Washington Post story, for example, might mention a single outside news source that's broken a story or has a unique fact, but that's about it. Blogs, by contrast, can collect half a dozen points from half a dozen different sources and quote them directly. There's no institutional loyalty to defend.

  • Blog posts can be any length. If a thought only deserves a couple of sentences, that's what it gets. If it deserves a thousand words, it can get that too. When was the last time you saw a 200-word op-ed or a 20-minute segment on the evening news?

  • Bloggers don't have sources. That means there's very little original reporting in blogs, but it also means bloggers don't have to worry about either protecting sources or protecting access to sources. That makes a difference in how openly they can criticize newsmakers.

  • Blogs don't have to maintain the same standards as mainstream journalists. They can toss out ideas and rumors in a way that's genuinely valuable but hard to do in the mainstream media. I think this quality is essential to blogs, and it's one of the reasons I suspect that mainstream journalists will never truly become bloggers. Newspapers legitimately have high standards for what they're willing to report, and these high standards simply don't fit in with the anything-goes atmosphere of the blogosphere.

  • Blogs allow unapologetic passion. Even on the op-ed page, convention dictates a sober, clinical style that makes it hard for writers to really say what they mean and for readers to figure out what axe the author has to grind. With blogs you're never in doubt about the author's point of view.

  • Blogs can obsess over a single topic in a way that's hard for newspapers. This is sometimes a great weakness, of course, but it can also be a great strength at times.

  • I happen to dislike the typographical constraints of newspapers. Blogs, by contrast, can use bullets, blockquotes, and hyperlinks in ways that genuinely aid in making complex information more accessible.

  • Finally, blogging is a two-way street. Blogs respond to each other and commenters respond to blogs. Blogs are a great way to get a quick read on what topics are really raising the blood pressure of that small group of people who care passionately about politics.

You might notice something missing from my list: fact checking their asses. Bloggers tend to think that one of their greatest contributions is keeping an eye on the mainstream press, but color me unconvinced. With only occasional exceptions, I've found that press criticism on blogs is little more than hyperpartisan nitpicking. If that were truly our crowning glory, I'd pitch the whole blogosphere into the rubbish bin.

Needless to say, blogs have plenty of weaknesses as well as strengths, but that's true of all mediums and I'll leave that for another time (or another person). Bottom line: blogs are different, not better or worse than radio, TV, or print, and the best blogs are the ones that truly take advantage of the unique strengths of the medium. Those that do, regardless of whether or not they're really "journalism," are genuinely new and powerful contributions to the political reporting scene.

Kevin Drum 1:56 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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POWER....Governor Arnold announced a budget deal with California higher education leaders on Monday. Basically, the universities accepted a spending cut this year in return for guaranteed growth rates in future years plus restoration of a few things Schwarzenegger had proposed cutting in the first draft of his budget last January.

It's probably a lousy deal for the universities, but that's not what caught my eye. Check out this reaction from Democrats in the legislature:

"We were taken aback" by the university officials' agreement, said Assemblyman Dario Frommer (D-Los Feliz). "I'm surprised they would go along with such a deal. I think the university officials need to take a class in civics. This is a government where the Legislature proposes a budget and the governor ratifies it. They may have made a deal with the governor, but they haven't made it with us."

...."This is a severe blow to both UC and CSU. The only cut I am ready to make is in the salaries of the administrators who agreed to this," said Jackie Goldberg (D-Los Angeles), chairwoman of the Assembly Education Committee. "If we agree to these cuts and then 3% growth in the future, it will take these institutions 10 years to get back to where they are now."

Said Assemblyman Joseph Simitian (D-Palo Alto): "The administration's January budget does irreparable harm to the UC and CSU system. Suggesting that somehow that will be remedied by modest guarantees for growth and cost of living is quite wide of the mark."

Here's the real civics lesson: apparently the Democrats who control the legislature and ought to have plenty of clout didn't even know these negotiations were taking place. University officials clearly decided that the Democrats were so weak that they couldn't count on getting a better deal by working with them instead of with Schwarzenegger.

They might be wrong about that, but Democrats in the legislature might want to think long and hard about why they're so out of the loop on this. In politics, perception of power really is power, and at least one group of bureaucrats has decided that the Democrats don't have any. Time for some soul searching, folks.

Kevin Drum 11:52 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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GEORGE BUSH FOR PRESIDENT!....Here's a trivia question: when was the first speculation in the mainstream media that George W. Bush might be a candidate for president in 2000?

Answer: as near as I can tell, it was in a Robert Novak column from May 27, 1996. At that point, the grand total of Bush's political experience was 16 months as governor of Texas. Here's what Novak said:

Close political advisers of former President George Bush are quietly pushing their choice as the Republican presidential candidate of the future, as early as 2000: Texas Gov. George W. Bush.

Since his election as governor in 1994, the ex-president's oldest son has kept out of the national spotlight -- declining network television interviews. He has so far proved to be the most effective and popular Texas governor since John B. Connally 30 years ago. While winning Democratic applause, Gov. Bush has clashed with conservatives such as GOP State Chairman Tom Pauken.

I don't know who Novak's "close political advisers" were, but the best guess is probably either one of the members of the "Iron Triangle" (Karen Hughes, Karl Rove, Joe Allbaugh) or else Jim Francis, founder of the Bush Pioneers, one of his main fundraising vehicles.

Does anyone know of any earlier speculation in the national press? I'm curious to know how early people (a) inside Texas and (b) outside Texas first publicly mentioned him as a possible candidate in 2000.

Kevin Drum 12:22 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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May 10, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

ISLAM AND THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION....Compare and contrast:

Paul Wolfowitz before the war: "Mr. Wolfowitz ticked off several reasons why he believed a much smaller coalition peacekeeping force than General Shinseki envisioned would be sufficient to police and rebuild postwar Iraq. He said there was no history of ethnic strife in Iraq, as there was in Bosnia or Kosovo...."

George Bush before the war: "Well into his plans for invading Iraq, Bush still couldn't get down the distinction between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, the key religious divide in a country he was about to occupy."

It's one thing if the guys down at the local bar don't understanding the two main strands of Islam and how they affect Iraqi politics, but the president and the #2 guy in the Pentagon? I mean, it's not that hard a concept. Is it any wonder we're in the mess we're in?

Kevin Drum 11:54 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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RED CROSS REPORT ON ABU GHRAIB....From the Wall Street Journal:

Even before the war in Iraq ended a year ago, and well before U.S. officials have generally acknowledged it, the [International Committee of the] Red Cross began periodically lodging complaints about the treatment of Iraqi prisoners in allied custody, according to a confidential report by the organization.

....A meeting with the [ICRC] political adviser to the senior British commander in Qatar appears to have brought quick results. It "had the immediate effect [of stopping] the systematic use of hoods and flexi-cuffs in the interrogation section of Umm Qasr," according to the ICRC report, which details the results of its inspections in Iraq.

But during the next year, the ICRC encountered far more resistance when it raised concerns about the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners, especially those in the custody of military intelligence, the report says. The U.S. military was sometimes slow to respond to Red Cross complaints and ignored them in a few cases.

The full Red Cross report is here (warning: large PDF file), and I've snipped out a few excerpts below. This does not look like merely a few rogue soldiers acting on their own, does it?





Kevin Drum 10:44 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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46% AND FALLING....Ryan Lizza:

Bush is looking less like Reagan and Clinton and more like Carter and Bush 41 every day.

He's talking about poll numbers. Click for more.

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BUSH BASHING....It's not as if any of these guys are likely to vote for John Kerry, but there sure are an awful lot of war supporters who are having second thoughts about George Bush these days:

David Brooks: "We've got to acknowledge first that the old debates are obsolete. I wish the U.S could still go off, after Iraq, at the head of "coalitions of the willing" to spread democracy around the world. But the brutal fact is that the events of the past year have discredited that approach. Nor is the U.N. a viable alternative. A body dominated by dictatorships is never going to promote democratic values. For decades, the U.N. has failed as an effective world power."

George Will: "This administration cannot be trusted to govern if it cannot be counted on to think and, having thought, to have second thoughts....Being steadfast in defense of carefully considered convictions is a virtue. Being blankly incapable of distinguishing cherished hopes from disappointing facts, or of reassessing comforting doctrines in face of contrary evidence, is a crippling political vice."

Andrew Sullivan: "The one anti-war argument that, in retrospect, I did not take seriously enough was a simple one. It was that this war was noble and defensible but that this administration was simply too incompetent and arrogant to carry it out effectively. I dismissed this as facile Bush-bashing at the time. I was wrong. I sensed the hubris of this administration after the fall of Baghdad, but I didn't sense how they would grotesquely under-man the post-war occupation, bungle the maintenance of security, short-change an absolutely vital mission, dismiss constructive criticism, ignore even their allies (like the Brits), and fail to shift swiftly enough when events span out of control."

Fareed Zakaria: "On almost every issue involving postwar Iraqtroop strength, international support, the credibility of exiles, de-Baathification, handling Ayatollah Ali SistaniWashington's assumptions and policies have been wrong. By now most have been reversed, often too late to have much effect. This strange combination of arrogance and incompetence has not only destroyed the hopes for a new Iraq. It has had the much broader effect of turning the United States into an international outlaw in the eyes of much of the world."

Robert Kagan and William Kristol: "The Bush administration seems not to recognize how widespread, and how bipartisan, is the view that Iraq is already lost or on the verge of being lost. The administration therefore may not appreciate how close the whole nation is to tipping decisively against the war."

As Mark Kleiman says in comparison, an awful lot of liberal Democrats decided they couldn't vote for Jimmy Carter in 1980 no matter how good his intentions were. He just wasn't up to the job.

I was one of them, and I ended up voting for John Anderson that year. I wonder how many honest Republicans there are out there who will come to the same conclusion this year and decide, no matter how much they like his principles, that George Bush is just not up to the job? It is past time for serious conservatives to decide that enough is enough and to wrest control of the Republican party away from the clap-your-hands pie-for-everyone Texas-style ideologues who are currently in charge. I wish them luck.

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GEORGE BUSH, DECISIONMAKER....At today's White House press briefing, reporters were asking whether the Pentagon plans to release all the Abu Ghraib pictures that it has in its possession. Via Josh Marshall, here are the answers:

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we are in close contact with the Pentagon on those issues....

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the Pentagon is looking at all those issues....

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, I think that those are issues the Pentagon is working to address...

MR. McCLELLAN: ....But, again, I think the Pentagon is the one who is working to address these matters. We're going to continue to stay in close contact with them on these issues....

MR. McCLELLAN: These are issues the Pentagon is working to address, and they have to take into account other considerations....

Why is George Bush shoving this completely off onto the Pentagon? McClellan acts, as usual, as if Bush is just a befuddled bystander whenever something goes wrong, rather than a commander-in-chief who could actually make a decision about something like this. He's had all weekend to think about it, after all.

A couple of years ago, when Army Secretary Thomas White was engulfed in scandal, Bush told him, "As long as they're hitting you on Enron, they're not hitting me. That's your job. You're the lightning rod for this administration." This is typical of Bush's CEO-style MO: take credit for everything that goes right, but head for the hills and let your subordinates take the rap whenever something goes wrong.

We've all had bosses like that before, right?

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INCOMPETENCE....Speaking of circling the wagons, Andrew Sullivan wants none of it. Would he have supported the war knowing what he knows now?

My tentative answer - and this is a blog, written day by day and hour by hour, not a carefully collected summary of my views - is yes, I still would have supported the war. But only just.

....The narrative of liberation was critical to the success of the mission politically and militarily. This was never going to be easy, but it was worth trying. It was vital to reverse the Islamist narrative that pitted American values against Muslim dignity. The reason Abu Ghraib is such a catastrophe is that it has destroyed this narrative. It has turned the image of this war into the war that the America-hating left always said it was: a brutal, imperialist, racist occupation, designed to humiliate another culture. Abu Ghraib is Noam Chomsky's narrative turned into images more stunning, more damaging, more powerful than a million polemics from Ted Rall or Susan Sontag. It is Osama's dream propaganda coup. It is Chirac's fantasy of vindication. It is Tony Blair's nightmare. And, whether they are directly responsible or not, the people who ran this war are answerable to America, to America's allies, to Iraq, for the astonishing setback we have now encountered on their watch.

The one anti-war argument that, in retrospect, I did not take seriously enough was a simple one. It was that this war was noble and defensible but that this administration was simply too incompetent and arrogant to carry it out effectively. I dismissed this as facile Bush-bashing at the time. I was wrong.

Well, that's not going to go over well with his readers. The followup should be interesting, no?

Kevin Drum 1:41 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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PHASE FOUR....A few days ago, while noting that mainstream conservative reaction to Abu Ghraib had already morphed through three phases as war supporters began circling the wagons, I suggested that before long someone would suggest not just that the torture stories were overblown, but that it was actually OK under the circumstances. Today, Barbara Amiel in the Telegraph takes a step in that direction:

In this contest against such an enemy is it possible to employ investigative methods to get vital intelligence that are no stronger than those police departments use for ordinary crimes? I don't know the answer but it seems to me an issue that can't totally be dismissed by reference to the need to uphold the values for which we are fighting....

Just in case her circumlocutions aren't quite clear, she's saying that methods "stronger than those police departments use for ordinary crimes" i.e., abuse, humiliation, and torture are quite posssibly justified in Iraq given the value of the "vital intelligence" that it shakes loose. And spare her any arguments about how reforming the Middle East is impossible if we ourselves don't uphold the values we preach to others.

How far will this argument be pushed in the days to come? Stay tuned.

(Thanks to Crooked Timber for the link.)

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RUMSFELD....On Thursday George Bush thought that Donald Rumsfeld was a "really good" Secretary of Defense. Today he's a "superb" Secretary of Defense. I guess he got promoted over the weekend.

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May 9, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

"LIFE, LIBERTY, AND PROPERTY"....This is nothing new, but the Brandon Mayfield case has me thinking about due process again. By holding Mayfield as a "material witness," the government is allowed to hold him as long as they want without ever charging him with a crime:

Under Attorney General John Ashcroft, prosecutors have often used the category as one way to hold terror suspects indefinitely when they don't have enough evidence to charge them with a crime. Justice officials insist that more than half of the detained material witnesses have ended up in criminal prosecutions. "Typically, they lie to you after you detain them so you can always get them on false statements," says one former Justice official.

Gee, more than half, eh? That's comforting.

Like civil asset forfeiture, which allows the government to deprive people of property even if they're found innocent of any wrongdoing, material witness detention allows the government to deprive people of liberty without even going as far as bringing charges at all. It may be that the Fifth Amendment says that no person shall be "deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law," but these days "life" sems to be the only part of the clause still standing.

This isn't a partisan issue, and it predates John Ashcroft. It just seems like something worth bringing up every once in a while.

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BUSH AND THE WAR....NATO countries even those who support the Iraq war are apparently losing hope that George Bush has any clue how to win it:

The Western military alliance had expected to announce at a June summit that it would accept a role in the country, perhaps by leading the international division now patrolling south-central Iraq. But amid continuing bloodshed and strong public opposition to the occupation in many nations, allies want to delay any major commitment until after the U.S. presidential election in November, officials say.

Gee, I wonder what they think might change after the elections in November?

Meanwhile, our own generals aren't too happy either. Say it quietly, but they seem to think Iraq is looking more and more like Vietnam:

I lost my brother in Vietnam," [said Colonel Paul] Hughes, a veteran Army strategist who is involved in formulating Iraq policy. "I promised myself, when I came on active duty, that I would do everything in my power to prevent that [sort of strategic loss] from happening again. Here I am, 30 years later, thinking we will win every fight and lose the war, because we don't understand the war we're in."

....A senior general at the Pentagon said he believes the United States is already on the road to defeat. "It is doubtful we can go on much longer like this," he said. "The American people may not stand for it -- and they should not."

Asked who was to blame, this general pointed directly at Rumsfeld and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz. "I do not believe we had a clearly defined war strategy, end state and exit strategy before we commenced our invasion," he said.

And of course, serious criticism has been brewing for quite a while in the ranks of influential neocons, originally the most enthusiastic supporters of the "democracy at gunpoint" school of international relations.

So: support for Bush's vapid, gentleman's-C approach to war is now rapidly declining among our allies, among the uniformed military, and among hawkish neocons. Liberals were mostly against the war to begin with, and moderates increasingly think it was a mistake too.

So who's left? There's National Review, which still clings to the Bush-as-rockjawed-leader storyline, but that seems to be about it.

Bottom line: if you were against the idea of transforming the Middle East via war, you should be against Bush because he had the wrong idea. Conversely, if you were in favor of transformation you should be against Bush for making such a total hash of the idea.

However, if the reality is that you don't seriously care about the war at all, but instead harbor only a fuming, obsessive desire to keep Democrats out of office at all costs, Bush is your man. I wonder how many of those people there are?

Kevin Drum 5:27 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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BASEBALL....This may not last long, but as of this morning the Dodgers and the Angels had the two best records in baseball.

It's not much, but I'll take my good news where I can find it these days.

UPDATE: On the other hand, this might be a wee bit too optimistic. But on the plus side, it does involve a cat wearing a baseball cap....

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MORE ABU GHRAIB....Sometimes events just become too much and words fail me. I'm afraid all I can do today is recommend that you go somewhere else for the news. Here are some recommendations.

Go read the Los Angeles Times on Major General Geoffrey Miller, former head of the Guantanamo prison, who is inexplicably being assigned to take over Abu Ghraib. It doesn't really matter whether Miller is or isn't responsible for the recommendations that led to some of the abuses. Even if he isn't, this is yet another tone deaf PR disaster. Think about it: we're sending the head of Gitmo to clean up a prison accused of abusing and torturing prisoners. Does the Pentagon think this is a Monty Python sketch, or what?

Go read Lindsey Graham, who says this story is about a lot more than abuse and torture. "We're talking about rape and murder here. We're not just talking about giving people a humiliating experience."

Go read Dick Cheney, who decided that this was the right time to say, "I think Don Rumsfeld is the best secretary of Defense the United States has ever had."

Go read Mark Kleiman, who wonders why, if the abuses at Abu Ghraib were supposedly taken seriously, the Procedure 15 inquiries recommended by the Taguba report didn't start up until after the Pentagon knew that incriminating photos were about to become public. And then wonders further why the "immediate" disciplinary action recommended in the same report still hasn't taken place.

Go read Republican representative and reserve colonel Steve Buyer of Indiana, who wants to know why the Pentagon rejected the Army's plan to send him to Iraq to provide legal oversight for prisoner interrogations. Buyer was the Judge Advocate General officer monitoring compliance with international law at one of the two main prisoner-of-war camps during the first Gulf War. "If there ever is an area that is susceptible to abuse and maltreatment of prisoners, it would be during the interrogation process," he said. And this:

Bloomington attorney and Army Reserve Col. Michael Carmin was Buyer's counterpart at the other main prisoner-of-war camp in Desert Storm.

Carmin said that when he learned Buyer's call-up had been aborted, he simply assumed the Army had found someone else with similar credentials.

"Somebody made the assessment," he said, "that there wasn't the need to fill the slot."

That's right: the Pentagon actively decided it didn't want legal oversight at Abu Ghraib. Why would they do that unless they knew perfectly well what was going on there and approved of it? Now can we stop this charade of pretending that this was all just the unfortunate actions of a few rogue noncoms?

Go read Fareed Zakaria: "On almost every issue involving postwar Iraqtroop strength, international support, the credibility of exiles, de-Baathification, handling Ayatollah Ali SistaniWashington's assumptions and policies have been wrong. By now most have been reversed, often too late to have much effect. This strange combination of arrogance and incompetence has not only destroyed the hopes for a new Iraq. It has had the much broader effect of turning the United States into an international outlaw in the eyes of much of the world."

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ABU GHRAIB....Seymour Hersh has more pictures and more details:

Another image shows that the man, an Iraqi prisoner, is naked. His hands are clasped behind his neck and he is leaning against the door to a cell, contorted with terror, as the dogs bark a few feet away. Other photographs show the dogs straining at their leashes and snarling at the prisoner. In another, taken a few minutes later, the Iraqi is lying on the ground, writhing in pain, with a soldier sitting on top of him, knee pressed to his back. Blood is streaming from the inmates leg. Another photograph is a closeup of the naked prisoner, from his waist to his ankles, lying on the floor. On his right thigh is what appears to be a bite or a deep scratch. There is another, larger wound on his left leg, covered in blood.

Needless to say, you should read Hersh's entire article, but this paragraph at the end is especially chilling on a variety of levels:

The photographing of prisoners, both in Afghanistan and in Iraq, seems to have been not random but, rather, part of the dehumanizing interrogation process. The Times published an interview last week with Hayder Sabbar Abd, who claimed, convincingly, to be one of the mistreated Iraqi prisoners in the Abu Ghraib photographs. Abd told Ian Fisher, the Times reporter, that his ordeal had been recorded, almost constantly, by cameras, which added to his humiliation. He remembered how the camera flashed repeatedly as soldiers told to him to masturbate and beat him when he refused.

In other words, there might very well be a nearly complete documentary record of what happened at Abu Ghraib. What happens when the pressure to make it public becomes irresistible?

Kevin Drum 1:07 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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May 8, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

TROY....When I first saw the ads for Troy, I was appalled: pretty boy Brad Pitt as Achilles? Give me a break. It seemed like just another sign of the impending breakdown of Western civilization.

Then last night I saw the ad again and started thinking about Achilles a bit more. And suddenly it made sense. As Charles McGrath puts it:

Achilles, sulking in his tent, is less an angry warrior than an insulted star waiting out a contract dispute.

That's right, isn't it? I mean, that's really right. That's who Achilles was. So Brad Pitt is actually the perfect matinee idol to play him.

My fingers really didn't want to type that sentence, though. Has Achilles at last been cast perfectly? Or have I drunk a little too much Hollywood Kool-Aid?

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THE ABRIDGED GEORGE BUSH....Jacob Weisberg writes in Slate that, yes, George Bush really is dumb. Here's the abridged version:

The most obvious expression of Bush's choice of ignorance is that, at the age of 57, he knows nothing about policy or history....A second, more damning aspect of Bush's mind-set is that he doesn't want to know anything in detail, however important....Closely related to this aggressive ignorance is a third feature of Bush's mentality: laziness....A fourth and final quality of Bush's mind is that it does not think. The president can't tolerate debate about issues. Offered an option, he makes up his mind quickly and never reconsiders.

Matt Yglesias responds by wondering how Bush ever got nominated in the first place. As he says, you can argue about whether John Kerry is the best Democratic candidate for president or maybe only the third or fourth best, but he's inarguably somewhere in the top half dozen. But Bush? If you were handicapping Republican candidates after the 1996 election he wouldn't have been in the top 20. Hell, he might not have been in the top 100. There were literally dozens of Republicans who were plainly more qualified for the job than George Bush.

This became obvious after he had been in office only a few months. Remember the summer of 2001? All the talk was about how his presidency was floundering, Rumsfeld was about to be fired, it was a rudderless ship, etc. etc. Then came 9/11.

And suddenly, as with so many war presidents before him, Bush became a hero. We didn't need someone bright, we just needed someone who would fight back. It was as if a blogger had become president, except for real.

But it turned out not to be enough. War presidents like Lincoln, Wilson, and Roosevelt were every bit as steadfast as George Bush, but they backed it up with both intelligence and tactical sense. Bush has the steadfastness, but is unable to think beyond what's for breakfast tomorrow morning.

So what's my point? I don't know. I'm rambling, and the question of how George Bush ever managed to become president is one that's gnawed on me for a long time. I still can't figure it out, though. He's such an obvious airhead, so plainly unqualified, that I can't figure out why the Republican party nominated him or why so much of the American public still supports him. I suspect that in the future, when histories of this era are written, historians won't even try. Rather, George Bush's presidency will just be considered some kind of weird, unexplainable aberration.

At least I hope so.

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THE ABU GHRAIB PHOTOS....Who gave the Taguba report to Seymour Hersh? As I noted yesterday, the most likely suspect seems to be Gary Myers, the civilian defense attorney for Chip Frederick. Frederick is one of the six soldiers currently facing prosecution for the events at Abu Ghraib.

But what about the photos? Who gave the photos to 60 Minutes II? Answer: apparently Chip Frederick's father felt that Chip was being made a scapegoat and asked his brother-in-law, William Lawson, for help:

He knew whom to turn to: David Hackworth, a retired colonel and a muckraker who was always willing to take on the military establishment. Mr. Lawson sent an e-mail message in March to Mr. Hackworth's Web site and got a call back from an associate there in minutes, he said.

That e-mail message would put Mr. Lawson in touch with the CBS News program "60 Minutes II" and help set in motion events that led to the public disclosure of the graphic photographs and an international crisis for the Bush administration.

The rest of the details are still unclear, but apparently that's how it all started.

On the other hand, I have to say that this part of the story could use a little more attention too:

The irony, Mr. Lawson said, is that the public spectacle might have been avoided if the military and the federal government had been responsive to his claims that his nephew was simply following orders. Mr. Lawson said he sent letters to 17 members of Congress about the case earlier this year, with virtually no response, and that he ultimately contacted Mr. Hackworth's Web site out of frustration, leading him to cooperate with a consultant for "60 Minutes II."

"The Army had the opportunity for this not to come out, not to be on 60 Minutes," he said. "But the Army decided to prosecute those six G.I.'s because they thought me and my family were a bunch of poor, dirt people who could not do anything about it. But unfortunately, that was not the case."

If that means what it sounds like it means, Lawson basically tried to blackmail the Army into dropping charges against the six. Or am I missing something?

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May 7, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

SHIELDS vs. BROOKS....I caught a few minutes of the NewsHour tonight and saw Mark Shields about as emotional as I've ever seen him over the Abu Ghraib scandal. His voice practically cracked as he called it "a permanent stain on America that will never go away."

Poor David Brooks tried desperately to put the best possible spin on the whole thing, but he just couldn't do it. You could tell his heart wasn't in it.

The most remarkable part of Brooks' performance, though, was his insistence that this was all the work of a few rogue privates and corporals or maybe just a bit higher. But that's it. Nothing systemic.

Shields swatted this delusion away with the contempt it deserved, noting that the stuff we saw in the pictures was obviously carefully designed to inflict the greatest possible humiliation on the prisoners. It wasn't the kind of thing a bunch of noncoms dreamed up on their own, it was part of a carefully designed effort to soften up the prisoners and get information from them. The plan was put together by Army officers and intelligence officials and was pretty clearly encouraged and condoned by their superiors.

How high does it go? And how explicit was the policy? I don't know, but based on what we've seen so far I'd guess (a) pretty high and (b) pretty explicit. The only question is whether the investigation itself will go that high, or content itself with a few low ranking scapegoats.

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LOAN SHARKS....I don't care what libertarians say, the payday loan industry is a blight on a supposedly civilized nation. Today, Slacktivist tells us there's a promising new argument to persuade legislatures to put these moral cretins out of business: they're unpatriotic scumbags who prey on our enlisted men and women in wartime.

Sounds good to me. And it helps that it's true too.

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DOUGHNUTS: BAD FOR YOUR DIET?....I can't help but laugh at this:

Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, the hot new stock offering of 2000 that stayed hot even as other new offerings plunged, has suddenly chilled. It blames the Atkins diet.

...."I hope it's a fad," [CEO Scott] Livengood said of the Atkins low carbohydrate diet. But if the trend toward the diet accelerates, company officials said, they might have to further reduce profit forecasts.

That's the spirit! As soon as this low-carb silliness fades away dieters can go back to eating all the doughnuts they want!

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VOTING IN AMERICA....Should electronic voting machines provide paper receipts that show you who you voted for? Nick Confessore quotes a reader who says:

One other thing: I don't believe anyone is advocating a system which allows the voter to take home a copy of her ballot. That leads directly to vote-buying. Some systems do issue an encrypted receipt which can be used to verify a ballot, but which cannot itself reproduce the contents of that ballot.

Well, OK. But if that's the case, aren't absentee ballots just as dangerous? It's one of the reasons I'm a little nervous about the skyrocketing use of absentee ballots.

Overall, I'm still a fan of fill-in-the-bubble ballots, which are paper based, highly reliable, easy to count, and leave an automatic audit trail. However, I note that here in California the disabled lobby is suing to prevent exactly that:

Peter Benavidez, a partially blind voter who is among the plaintiffs, told the Los Angeles Times for Friday's editions that to use a paper ballot he must tell a poll worker his selection. With electronic voting, he slips on headphones, listens to the options and selects a candidate by pressing a button.

Sigh. Democracy is hard.

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VIDEOS....We already knew this, but now Rumsfeld has made it official:

"Beyond abuse of prisoners, there are other photos that depict incidents of physical violence towards prisoners, acts that can only be described as blatantly sadistic, cruel and inhuman...

"There are many more photographs and indeed some videos. Congress and the American people and the rest of the world need to know this."

How long before the videos surface?

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MISCELLANY....Some miscellaneous Abu Ghraib notes:

  • Brad DeLong wants to know who leaked the Taguba report to Seymour Hersh in the first place. I didn't blog this at the time and then forgot all about it, but it's a good question and I think Mark Kleiman provided the answer a week ago: it was probably Gary Myers, the defense attorney for one of the accused soldiers. Myers was one of the military defense attorneys in the My Lai prosecutions 30 years ago, and of course My Lai is the story that first made Hersh famous 30 years ago. Myers is also quoted in Hersh's recent New Yorker story, so they're obviously still in touch with each other.

    This is not a very interesting answer, since it means it wasn't leaked as the result of any kind of bureaucratic infighting, but it sounds like the correct answer to me.

  • The conservative response to Abu Ghraib has been fascinating, hasn't it? First reaction: this is horrible and the soldiers involved should have the book thrown at them.

    Second reaction: yeah, it's bad, it really is, but it's worth remembering that it's nowhere near as bad as what Saddam did.

    Third reaction: enough, enough! Jeez, it's been a whole week. This issue has been hijacked by militant Bush-haters who just want to use it for craven partisan reasons.

    Fourth reaction: still to come. Maybe torturers as heroes, thanks to testimony from someone or other that one of the scraps of information they extracted saved a convoy somewhere? Hey, war is hell.

  • Should Rumsfeld be fired over what happened at Abu Ghraib? I find myself in sort of a funny position over this.

    Yes, I'd like to see Rumsfeld fired, but I'd like to see him fired because I think he's done an incompetent job of running the Iraq war and shows no signs of improving. On the other hand, I'm not really sure he deserves being fired if it's just a symbolic "buck stops here" kind of thing over a scandal he didn't have direct control over.

    But that's the rub, isn't it? As this Washington Post editorial argues, Rumsfeld is pretty clearly responsible for encouraging and condoning harsh treatment of prisoners in general, and was quite possibly well aware of exactly what was going on at Abu Ghraib too. I imagine that goes for several other high ranking officials as well.

    So yes: fire Rumsfeld. And don't stop there.

UPDATE: The Squirrel Cage says that Midge Decter has a fine example of conservative reaction #3 edging fitfully toward reaction #4 in the LA Times today.

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BROKEN PROCESS OR OFFICIAL POLICY?....Apparently everyone's been trying to warn Bush and Rumsfeld about possible abuse of prisoners in Iraq for months now. And not just the usual bleeding hearts:

  • David Kay: "I was there and I kept saying the interrogation process is broken. The prison process is broken. And no one wanted to deal with it. It was too, too distasteful. This is a known problem, and the military refuses to deal with it."

  • Paul Bremer: "Bremer repeatedly raised the issue of prison conditions as early as last fall both in one-on-one meetings with Rumsfeld and other administration leaders, and in group meetings with the president's inner circle on national security. Officials described Bremer as 'kicking and screaming' about the need to release thousands of uncharged prisoners and improve conditions for those who remained."

  • Colin Powell: "According to eye witnesses to debate at the highest levels of the Administration...whenever Powell or [Richard] Armitage sought to question prisoner treatment issues, they were forced to endure what our source characterizes as 'around the table, coarse, vulgar, frat-boy bully remarks about what these tough guys would do if THEY ever got their hands on prisoners....'"

Well, maybe these folks really did try to get everyone to pay attention to this issue or maybe they're just covering their own asses after the fact. Who knows?

But I think it misses the point anyway. Everyone is desperately trying to dismiss Abu Ghraib as an "aberration," nothing more than a "broken process" and a few rogue soldiers who are now being taken care of by the military justice system. But it just ain't so.

This kind of thing doesn't just happen. It happens because people order it to happen. So who gave the orders?

CIA or military intelligence, apparently. And probably someone pretty high up the chain of command. Is anyone trying to find out who?

Josh Marshall has a guess here. But shouldn't we knock off the charade of court martialing a few noncoms and reprimanding a couple of colonels and thinking this is over? This wasn't just a few bad apples, it was official policy. Who knew about it?

Kevin Drum 12:39 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

ABORTION POLITICS....Safe, legal, and rare? As Eszter Hargittai points out today at Crooked Timber, the FDA could have at least made abortion a bit rarer by approving over-the-counter availability of Plan B, a "morning after" contraceptive. They didn't.

And as Eszter further points out, it was quite clearly a political decision, not a medical one.

Kevin Drum 11:46 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

OIL PRODUCTION....Paul Krugman has an interesting column today. You can ignore the war-related stuff if you want, but his overall point about oil is right on target. This is something I've been meaning to blog about in more detail one of these days, but so far the day hasn't come. Read Krugman in the meantime to get a quick introduction to an important and underreported topic.

Kevin Drum 1:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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May 6, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

WHAT IS THE CPA?....You know that CPA thingie we have running Iraq at the moment? That, um, entity that Paul Bremer is in charge of? Yeah, that's the one. Apparently no one really knows what it is:

The uncertainty goes back to the CPA's birth, which seems to have happened via immaculate conception. The White House doesn't appear to have announced it. References to the CPA just started showing up in government documents. [A Congressional Research Service report says], "[N]o explicit, unambiguous, and authoritative statement has been provided that declares how the authority was established, under what authority, and by whom."

The report posits "two alternative explanations for how the CPA was established." One is that Bush may have created the CPA via a presidential directive. The researchers caution, "This document, if it exists, has not been made available to the public." The other explanation, suggested by the Army and others, is that the CPA was created by a U.N. Security Council resolution.

This is actually pretty common for practically everything associated with the war on terror. Gitmo? It's not U.S., it's not foreign, it's not really anything. So the courts can't touch it. The Iraq "war"? Not really a war. And we didn't declare victory, either. That would have touched off Geneva Convention issues regarding prisoners of war major combat operations.

Everyone agrees that the conduct of war is primarily the responsibility of the executive, but shouldn't Congress at least know what the rules are and how the game is being played? The Abu Ghraib scandal might be a good excuse for Congress to start insisting on a little more accountability and a little more transparency in how this war is being fought like insisting that the CPA be subject to normal audit and disclosure rules, for example. That $25 billion spending bill that's headed their way might be a good place to start.

Kevin Drum 10:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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A BOLD NEW POLICY ON CUBA....The president took some strong action today to halt his downward slide in the polls in key battleground states:

The Bush administration pledged today to further limit travel to Cuba while spending millions to promote democracy on the communist island, moving to mollify Cuban American critics who said the president risked losing the support of exiles if he did not fulfill promises to get tougher on Castro.

....The money $59 million over the next two years to help families of dissidents and to evade Cuban jamming of U.S.-sponsored radio and television transmissions directed at island inhabitants does not require congressional action, officials said.

It's good to know that even as his administration is crumbling around him, Bush is keeping his eye on what really matters: pandering to the Cuban exile community so that he can win Florida in November. Hell, it's such a transparent vote-buying ploy that the FEC should count that $59 million against his campaign spending limits if any of it is spent in September or October.

Kevin Drum 9:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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TIME FOR RUMSFELD TO GO?....Sure, it's a nice cover and all, but it's pretty much the same one they ran in 1998 and Bill Clinton didn't resign then, did he? In fact, I'm almost tempted to say that the Economist has a sort of reverse Sports Illustrated jinx: if they demand someone's resignation Clinton, Berlusconi, Rumsfeld it's a sure sign that their career is in good shape.

In any case, since Rumsfeld doesn't have an awful lot of defenders either on the left or the right anymore, I guess his career prospects depend on whether Bush is really pissed at him or just pretending to be. In an effort to figure that out, here's a timeline from last Friday when the Abu Ghraib story first heated up:

George Bush, morning of April 30: "And there will be an investigation. I think -- they'll be taken care of."

At this point, Bush doesn't seem aware that there's already been an investigation and it was finished two months before. Could it be that as late as Friday Rumsfeld still hadn't briefed him on this?

Scott McClellan, afternoon of April 30: "Well, there were allegations that go back quite some time here, Terry. And that's why you already have the military pursuing some criminal charges against some individuals....I don't know the exact time when [Bush] saw the photographs. I mean, they've certainly been in the media the last couple of days."

Well, McClellan seems to have been briefed....

From the New York Times about the evening of April 30: "[Friday] evening, he went to a party at Mr. Rumsfeld's house in the Kalorama section of Washington, where it is not known whether he and his defense secretary talked about the pictures."

Five days later five days! Bush calls Rumsfeld to the Oval Office and chews him out.

So what's going on? Did Rumsfeld brief Bush on this weeks ago and now they're just playing a game for public consumption? Or did he fail to brief Bush? And if so, was it because he was afraid to or because his political antennae are so calcified that he thought this would all just blow over?

Something doesn't quite add up here, but I can't put my finger on it. There are several obvious possibilities, of course, but it somehow seems as if there's a puzzle piece missing. But what?

Kevin Drum 4:06 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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LUCKY LAKERS....I'm forced to acknowledge that things look bleak for the Lakers. In fact, the LA Times ran a handy chart this morning showing that the Lakers haven't come back from an 0-2 deficit in a playoff series for over 30 years.

But before all you Lakers skeptics get too pleased with yourselves, I'd like to remind you that of their three recent championships, they really only deserved to win one of them. The other two especially 2002 resulted from the kind of luck that has traditionally required a pact with the devil.

So which would you rather be, lucky or good? Me, I'll take lucky.

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ZELL AND CHALABI....This is bizarre. Today Marc Zell writes to Salon about this article and says, "None of the quotations ascribed to me was made by me and I categorically disavow each of them."

Each of them! Every single one!

John Dizard, the author of the article, responds, "I kept careful notes on my series of long conversations with Mr. Zell and quoted him accurately."

One of the quotes in question is this: "Ahmed Chalabi is a treacherous, spineless turncoat."

That doesn't really seem like a case of missing a nuance or garbling a word during an interview, does it? I gotta say, if someone attributed a quote like that to me and it was just made up out of thin air, I'd do more than just write a letter to the editor....

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MORE ABU GHRAIB PICTURES....I really don't want to blog about this anymore, but it just keeps getting worse and worse.

The Washington Post has more Abu Ghraib pictures, including this one, which by my count shows either eight or nine soldiers walking around while Iraqi prisoners are being forced into simulated sex acts. Considering how casually they're all taking this, it's hard not to believe that there's at least two or three times that many who were involved in this, and maybe a lot more.

Seymour Hersh, for one, thinks a lot more. On O'Reilly's show Monday he said this:

I can tell you just from the phone calls I've had in the last 24 hours, even more, there are other photos out there. There are many more photos even inside that unit. There are videotapes of stuff that you wouldn't want to mention on national television that was done. There was a lot of problems.

There was a special women's section. There were young boys in there. There were things done to young boys that were videotaped. It's much worse. And the Maj. Gen. Taguba was very tough about it. He said this place was riddled with violent, awful actions against prisoners.

And this:

O'REILLY: All right. Well, the damage to the country obviously is just immeasurable. But reading your article in "The New Yorker." I just get the feeling that the Army, when they heard about it, started action almost immediately. It wasn't a cover-up situation. Or did I read your article wrong?

HERSH: This guy Taguba is brilliant. He could have made a living doing -- it's a credit to the Army that somebody with that kind of integrity would write this kind of -- it's 53-page report.

O'REILLY: OK, but Sanchez the commander put him in charge fairly quickly. They mobilized fairly quickly.

HERSH: No, look, I don't want to ruin your evening, but the fact of the matter is it was the third investigation. There had been two other investigations.

One of them was done by a major general who was involved in Guantanamo, General Miller. And it's very classified, but I can tell you that he was recommending exactly doing the kind of things that happened in that prison, basically. He wanted to cut the lines. He wanted to put the military intelligence in control of the prison.

Oh man, oh man, oh man.....

Kevin Drum 1:04 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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WHEN DID BUSH FIRST SEE THE ABU GHRAIB PICTURES?....CNN tells us that President Bush was not happy that he saw the Abu Ghraib pictures for the first time in the media:

At a private Oval Office meeting, Bush complained about learning of the existence of photographs showing Iraqi prisoners being humiliated and degraded from media accounts, the official said.

"He was not happy, and he let Secretary Rumsfeld know about it," the official said.

Now, this is hardly the most important aspect of this story, but there's an interesting question here: when was Bush first told about the existence of the Abu Ghraib pictures?

Here's why I ask. We know that the problems at Abu Ghraib were first discovered late last year and that the Army's internal investigation was completed in late February. Donald Rumsfeld and (presumably) Richard Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had been briefed on the investigation in January and apparently decided that the military justice system and the CENTCOM chief could handle it. In fairness to them, it probably wasn't unreasonable to believe that it didn't demand presidential level attention at that time.

But here's where that changes: CBS said in its original story that Myers had asked them "two weeks ago" to delay airing the story because the situation in Iraq at the time was so explosive. That means that by mid-April, when CBS was originally planning to run the story, Myers knew the photos had been leaked.

Now, Myers reports directly to both the president and the Secretary of Defense. And once CBS had gotten hold of the photos he had to know that (a) they were sure to become public fairly soon and (b) they were incredibly explosive. Unless Myers is a monumental political dullard unlikely in his position he had to to have known that.

So: did Myers keep this looming PR disaster to himself? Did he tell Rumsfeld that the pictures were about to become public? Did either of them tell Bush? Did he/they keep it to themselves because they thought it wasn't that important? Or because they were afraid to tell the president?

And whatever the case, what does all this say about the Bush management style?

Kevin Drum 12:03 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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May 5, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

WAR FUNDING....One more comment on Bush's additional war funding request. Here's the official spin:

Bush included no war funding in his fiscal 2005 budget, and he had hoped to avoid such a request until after the November election, fearing a divisive, campaign-year debate over the war's conduct and future....

You shouldn't believe this for a second. Here's how the voting factions will break down:

  • Republicans will support the additional funding nearly unanimously.

  • A small number of Democrats will vote with the Republicans.

  • Anti-war Democrats will vote against it. Bring the troops home!

  • Moderate Democrats will dither, not wanting to hurt the war effort but not wanting to give Bush a blank check when it's so plainly obvious he has no credible plan for moving forward in Iraq. Result: public indecision, amendments asking for this and that, and demands for tax increases to pay for the whole thing.

Bush and his advisors know perfectly well how this script plays out: in the short term Bush has to put up with a public debate about how things are going in Iraq, but once the dust settles the impression left in everyone's mind is that Bush and the Republicans are resolute while Democrats are squabbly and indecisive when it comes to national security. Far from "fearing a divisive, campaign-year debate," this is exactly what Bush wants. Keeping the war front and center is pretty much his entire campaign strategy.

We've seen this Kabuki show before. Don't fall for it.

POSTSCRIPT: Of course, there's another question lurking here too: which group of Democrats will John Kerry find himself in? Or will he be able to turn this to his advantage somehow?

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NATIONAL SECURITY GAMES....It looks like George Bush has changed his mind and now plans to ask for additional war funding right away. Here's how it went down:

[Administration officials] presented the proposal today to top congressional Republicans, including House Speaker Dennis Hastert (Ill.) and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (Tenn.), at a meeting at the Capitol. Also attending were Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and Rep. C. W. Bill Young, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

That would be fine for a normal domestic appropriations bill. But if Iraq is really the crucial threat to national security that Bush says it is, wouldn't a bipartisan approach be best? Isn't this precisely the kind of thing that the president should try to keep from being a mere partisan football?

Fat chance, I know. Still, wouldn't it would be nice if we had a president who actually took national security seriously, rather than using it for about the hundredth time as just another cheap partisan gimmick?

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APACHE FOOTAGE....Juan Cole:

al-Hayat alleges that a Parisian television channel aired new footage Tuesday night from Iraq of American troops who fire on three men that do not obviously pose any danger to them. The provider, a European who had worked in Iraq, said he had smuggled the cassette out of Iraq.

A reader emails to say that the video, which isn't actually new, is getting big airplay in Canada too. It's about one minute long and you can watch it here.

I honestly can't tell what's really going on. It's night footage from an American Apache helicopter and shows the Apache crew killing three Iraqis who, indeed, "do not obviously pose any danger to them." However, this doesn't mean these people didn't pose any danger to them. There's no way to tell just from this footage

However, at the end of the video one man crawls out from under a truck and someone on the Apache crew says, "Roger, he's wounded, hit him," and the wounded man is then killed in a blaze of gunfire. Are helicopter crews supposed to kill obviously wounded targets, or are they supposed to attempt to capture them? Or does it depend?

Anyone with military experience care to watch the video and chime in on this?

Kevin Drum 1:24 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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JOHN KEELER....In the real world, the man challenging the incumbent president is named John Kerry.

In the world of 24, filmed last year, the man challenging the incumbent president is named John Keeler.

Coincidence? Or something more?

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PICTURES vs. WORDS....Want proof that a picture is worth a thousand words? Or in this case, more like a million. Check out this story from CNN:

U.S. soldiers reportedly posed for photographs with partially unclothed Iraqi prisoners, a Pentagon official told CNN on Tuesday.

A second source confirmed that the Army's Criminal Investigation Division has focused on these pictures, which may depict male and female soldiers.

....In addition, a senior Pentagon official said the investigation is focused on Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, which had been notorious for torture of Iraqis during the regime of captured Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

....The official that the Army is deeply concerned about possible problems of "poor discipline, poor leadership, and a need for re-training," in the military police community.

That was written three months ago, on January 21. Nobody picked it up. Nothing on 60 Minutes, nothing in al-Jazeera, nothing in the blogosphere.

But throw in a few pictures.....

Kevin Drum 12:13 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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CAN'T WE AT LEAST SEND THEM HOME?....On Sunday I wrote that one of the civilians named in the Abu Ghraib investigation in February, a private contractor named Steven Stephanowicz, was apparently still working there. On Tuesday, the New York Times confirmed this:

More than two months after a classified Army report found that two contract workers were implicated in the abuse of Iraqis at a prison outside Baghdad, the companies that employ them say that they have heard nothing from the Pentagon, and that they have not removed any employees from Iraq.

For one of the employees, the Army report recommended "termination of employment" and revocation of his security clearance. For the other, it urged an official reprimand and review of his security clearance.

But J. P. London, chief executive of CACI, one of the companies involved, said in an interview on Monday that "we have not received any information or direction from the client regarding our work in country no charges, no communications, no citations, no calls to appear at the Pentagon."

Ralph Williams, vice president for communications for Titan, the other company, also said Monday that the company has heard nothing, and that none of Titan's workers have been recalled.

I guess since neither Richard Myers, Donald Rumsfeld, or George Bush has actually read the Taguba report, even though it was written two months ago, this isn't too surprising. Maybe one of them ought to do so.

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May 4, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

"ON JOHN KERRY'S BOAT"....Over at The Campaign Desk, Thomas Lang has some questions about the Wall Street Journal editorial page and its journalistic ethics. It turns out that today they finally ran their eagerly-awaited hatchet job against John Kerry from Vietnam vet/Republican shill John O'Neill, who, despite his "reluctance to become involved once again in politics," apparently decided his conscience wouldn't let him rest until he told the world the truth: Kerry is unfit to be America's commander in chief. Why? Because he dislikes some of Kerry's testimony about the Vietnam War 30 years ago.

Right. But we were talking about journalistic ethics, weren't we? Lang, it turns out, read the print (!) edition of the WSJ this morning and noted that the editors had added something to O'Neill's contribution to the public discourse: a pull quote designed to break up the masses of gray type. And he had a problem with that pull quote. Unfortunately, he said, "We can't show you the print edition of the Journal." Here at the Washington Monthly, though, thanks to the miracle of affordable personal computer technology, we can. So here it is.

Lang, nitpicker that he is, had two problems:

  • It's not actually a quote from anywhere in the article. Which, really, it ought to be. Since they put it between quote marks and all.

  • It's obviously designed to catch the attention of readers who don't actually read the article and fool them into thinking that O'Neill served alongside John Kerry. Saw him in action. Knew him personally back in the day.

    Nope. "On Mr. Kerry's boat" turns out to mean that after Kerry left Vietnam O'Neill happened to get assigned to the boat that Kerry had previously commanded. See? "On Mr. Kerry's boat." Cute, isn't it?

Anyway, I apologize for using the phrases "Wall Street Journal editorial page" and "journalistic ethics" in the same sentence above. That's clearly an abuse of the English language.

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TAGUBA REPORT FULL TEXT....MSNBC has posted the full text of the Taguba Report on abuses at Abu Ghraib prison. I haven't examined it yet, but wanted to point it out to anyone who's interested in reading the full text. Maybe someone can email a copy to Richard Myers, Don Rumsfeld, and George Bush.

And while we're on the subject, Tacitus has several suggestions for actions the Army could take outside the (necessarily slow) confines of the military justice system. I especially like this one:

The third and final act that is within the Army's power is to disband the 372nd Military Police Company. Dissolve it entirely; never resurrect the unit designation; strip it of its citations; bury the guidon in disgrace in front of all its soldiers and an Iraqi delegation in Iraq; scatter its alumni to the four corners of the Army. Cruel? Yes. Harsh? You bet. Salutary? Absolutely. The Army is a closed society that treasures its hierarchy and its heritage: institutional oblivion is therefore among its most dreaded fates. This ought to be the fate of the 372nd, with all the public humiliation and display that can be mustered. To the soldiers, it will say that there will be little mercy and no mitigation for crimes in America's service; to Iraqis, it will say that we have excised our cancer and are moving decisively forward. To Americans, it will say that we have the courage to be the best, not by comparison, but as an end in itself.

I know that I sure wouldn't want to be assigned to the 372nd knowing its history. Disbanding it sounds like a good idea to me.

Kevin Drum 7:34 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

UN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION....I'm not a UN basher. Sure, it's a huge bureacracy, and sure, it has its share of corruption, but you can say that about any large organization. My problem with the UN bashers is that they aren't truly concerned about either bureaucracy or corruption, both of which could be improved over time if the reformers acted in good faith, but with the simple fact that the United States is not guaranteed of always getting its way in the UN.

Still, having said that, Dan Drezner is right: the UN Human Rights Commission is a travesty. It really deserves to be put out of its misery.

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NOPE, NOT LIKE VIETNAM AT ALL....The Pentagon finally admitted the obvious today: troop levels in Iraq will have to stay at their current levels through at least the end of 2005:

The decision acknowledges Iraq is much more unstable and dangerous than U.S. generals had hoped earlier this year, when they planned to cut the number of troops occupying Iraq to about 115,000.

....The troops coming into Iraq will be more heavily armed than the forces they replace, with more tanks, armored personnel carriers and armored Humvees, said Lt. Gen. Norton Schwartz of the Pentagon's Joint Staff.

"The mission remains essentially the same. It's security and stability," Schwartz told reporters at the Pentagon.

Actually, for those who think a military solution is feasible at all a proposition I'm increasingly skeptical of this still doesn't come to terms with reality. My guess is that we need about twice as many troops and we need them through the end of 2008 or so, but even now no one is officially ready to admit this.

And hey I wonder if they're planning to consult with the new "sovereign" Iraq about these plans? Just wondering....

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COMMON SENSE ON AIR QUALITY....I have to give some props to Arnold Schwarzenegger. It's true that his budget proposal wasn't much different from anything Gray Davis had proposed before him, and it's true that reducing the vehicle license fee has made our budget mess far worse than before he took office, and it's true that his recent workers comp bill was a lot more limited than you'd think based on the victory laps he took when he announced it.....

Wait a second I said props, right? Well, look, he seems to be working pretty well with the legislature, he hasn't been caving in to the wingnut faction of his own party, and the fact that he compromised on workers comp means that at least something got passed.

Today, though, he got even better. This is a genuinely important proposal and a personal hobbyhorse of mine:

The Schwarzenegger administration, working with business groups, legislators and environmentalists, is promoting an ambitious anti-smog initiative to eliminate the largest contributors to dirty air in California heavy-polluting, older model cars, trucks, buses and farm vehicles.

....Roughly 5% of the state's cars and heavy-duty buses and trucks, typically older models, are responsible for half of the air pollution from motor vehicles, the leading cause of the state's chronically dirty air, according to air quality officials. The initiative would seek to remove those vehicles from California's roads by offering their owners financial incentives to junk them.

This is hardly breaking news: the fact that old cars and trucks (and "old" typically means 20-30 years old in this case) are responsible for a third or more of total air pollution has been common knowledge for a long time. But nobody, including Gray Davis back when California was awash in dotcom cash, has managed to get agreement on a common-sense proposal to get rid of these clunkers. In the meantime, we've banned charcoal grills and various types of housepaint.

This should have been done a long time ago. Just ban the damn things and give their owners five years to get them off the road. The few billion dollars it will cost the state to buy them and scrap them is almost certainly tiny compared to the cost of a whole slew of other measures we've adopted that have far less effect on air quality.

So like I said: props to Arnold if he can make this happen. It's about damn time somebody did.

Kevin Drum 5:02 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

GUEST POSTS....We have another guest post today. This one is from Debra Dickerson, a former Air Force intelligence officer turned writer who has been the National Correspondent for Salon, a Beliefnet columnist, a Senior Editor at US News & World Report, and is currently on the editorial advisory board of the Washington Monthly. She writes two blogs of her own, Black Catharsis ("ruminations on the ridiculousness of being black in 2004") and Black Cinderella ("ruminations on the ridiculousness of being black and female in 2004"), and recently published her second book, The End of Blackness, reviewed here.

Today Debra writes about Abu Ghraib and the feminization of the military.

Kevin Drum 2:18 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Debra Dickerson

So much for the feminization of the military, eh?

As surprised as I was to learn that GIs were abusing prisoners, nothing floored me as much as seeing the grinning faces of women gleefully celebrating torture of the helpless (however complicit in terrorism they might be). I take pride in being an unapologetic feminist (why not? The world is unapologetically sexist.) but maybe I shouldnt. Without those photos, not only would I have been difficult to convince that the abuse happened, I would never have believed that women participated. So perhaps the problem isnt the militarys feminization but its lack of it.

In my memoir, An American Story, I spend a fair amount of time recounting how I spent the first few years of my 12 in the Air Force trying my damndest to be one of the boys. I started smoking, drank like an idiot, cursed like a sailor, always wore fatigues and combat boots, didnt carry a purse. Even wore a mans watch. Once, when they took me to a club (in 1981 South Korea) which hosted live sex shows, I refused to punk out and leave until after the first act. Longest half hour of my life but I was too bought into my macho new environment, the environment which was oh so much more empowering than the misogynist ghetto I was fleeing from, to back off from any of it. I told myself that keeping up with the men, whatever they were doing, was feminist.

After a few years, though, I rebelled, if only in my personal comportment, and determined to be both female and a GI. The turning point was at an O Club function filled with pit vipers (civilian women looking for GI husbands and willing to go pretty far to do so). Suddenly, I heard the drunken yelling crescendo behind me. The eyes on the guys I was talking to had grown wide as goose eggs. I turned to look, but one of my non comms stopped me. He said, LT. Dont turn around. Just dont. A few years before, that admonition alone would have made me look so I could appear cool and un-girly. I thought about it for a moment, listened for screams of non compliance. Theyre all volunteers, dont worry, one guy reassured me. He extended his arm, I took it, and three of the guys who worked for me walked me to my billet. They wanted no part of it either.

Having checked for non volunteers in that scenario was key, I believe (which is why Tailhook was such a travesty). My duty as an officer, a woman and a human being would have required nothing less. How any woman could participate in the kind of degradation those prisoners were subjected to, especially when female GIs are at such risk of being raped and sexually humiliated themselves, is beyond me. So I guess Im not as feminist as I thought. As for the GIs involved generally, my mind simply boggles. I can not understand how you can wear the uniform and behave like Saddam Hussein. I once yelled at a GI for walking around the mall with his sunglasses tucked into his collar, I once had a Marine bite my head off for offering him an umbrella in the pouring rain, and these losers are posing in uniform in front of torture victims? Grinning? Id been thinking they should be turned over to the Iraqi courts. Now, I think a court composed of present and former GIs. Id love to have a crack at them. Theyd never see blue sky again.

Ive been out since 1992; has the military changed that much? Once President Clinton was elected, I was appalled by how politicized GIs had become and how disrespectful of our Commander in Chief. I served during both Reagan terms and the first Bushs, and Im a big fat liberal, but Id have torn my tongue out rather than bad mouth them. Respect the rank, not the man, or so we used to be taught. As a civilian, I have sorely missed living in a world where duty, honor, country were concepts invoked nearly daily without irony or fear of belittlement. Is there no place now, in American life, where these things are true? If I sound broken hearted, I am. I dedicated my memoir to my parents and the Air Force. Ive always warned my husband that I intend to propagandize our kids to give their country at least one hitch. Between the rape scandals and now this, Im not so sure anymore. This cuts me to the bone.

Usually, I write about race and often make the tongue-in-cheek argument that people commit the kinds of crimes that are available to them. Whites use computers to steal because they have access to them. Blacks use guns or crowbars for the same reason. So, well know true racial progress has occurred when there are black CEOs facing WorldCom/Enron type indictments. I suppose that female participation in male-associated crimes can be seen as sad evidence of female advancement. However will they live with the shame?

I repeat: the military isnt feminized enough and that includes the females.

Debra Dickerson 2:16 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

ALWAYS CLICK THE LINK....From Instapundit today:

THE VALUE OF AN EXAMPLE:

North Korea, probably the world's most secretive and isolated nation, has offered an olive branch to the US by promising never to sell nuclear materials to terrorists, calling for Washington's friendship and saying it does not want to suffer the fate of Iraq.

Hmm.

Actually, that did sound interesting. It's at least arguable that Libya gave up its WMD partly in response to the American invasion of Iraq, so maybe North Korea wants to get on the bandwagon too. But here's the context:

Mr Kim rejected the notion that North Korea would never give up nuclear weapons. He argued that Pyongyang branded by Mr Bush as part of the "axis of evil" was developing nuclear weapons purely to deter a US attack. "We don't want to suffer the fate of Iraq," he told Mr Harrison.

....Mr Kim told Mr Harrison he thought Mr Bush was delaying resolution of the North Korean issue because of the war in Iraq and the US presidential election later this year. But he said: "Time is not on his side. We are going to use this time 100 per cent effectively to strengthen our nuclear deterrent both quantitatively and qualitatively."

In other words, what North Korea was actually saying was exactly the opposite of what Instapundit's post implies: the invasion of Iraq has made them more determined to keep their nuclear program, not less. Gotta deter those imperialistic warmonger Americans.

Mind you, I don't know that I believe a word they say in any case, but they said what they said. Always click the link.

UPDATE: Glenn agrees that his initial reading of the Financial Times article was probably wrong. He's updated his post.

Kevin Drum 1:33 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

ABU GHRAIB....I didn't see it until just now, but last night I got an email that said this:

Try to catch Charlie Rose when he comes on on the West Coast. The topic was the Iraqi prisoner photographs. Two very intriguing points came out toward the end of the conversation.

  • Seymour Hersh indicated that there was one entire wing in Abu Ghraib devoted to women and another one for juveniles. He left the impression that the story involving these women and children prisoners would really go way beyond the story as we know it right now.

  • Dr. Bernard Haykel revealed that the attack on the prison 10 days ago was triggerred by widespread rumor that women and children were being molested in there and death would be better than the humiliation for these prisoners.

Both gave us the impression that we have only seen the tip of the iceberg and there is much more to come.

Did anybody else catch the show? Were there any details beyond this?

Kevin Drum 12:58 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE FALL OF AHMED CHALABI?....Via (who else?) Josh Marshall, John Dizard has a long article in Salon today about the redoubtable Ahmed Chalabi. The CIA and the State Department gave up on Chalabi nearly a decade ago for excellent reasons, and now it seems that even his neocon supporters are finally starting to see through him:

"Ahmed Chalabi is a treacherous, spineless turncoat," says L. Marc Zell, a former law partner of Douglas Feith, now the undersecretary of defense for policy, and a former friend and supporter of Chalabi and his aspirations to lead Iraq. "He had one set of friends before he was in power, and now he's got another." While Zell's disaffection with Chalabi has been a long time in the making, his remarks to Salon represent his first public break with the would-be Iraqi leader, and are likely to ripple throughout Washington in the days to come.

....Why did the neocons put such enormous faith in Ahmed Chalabi, an exile with a shady past and no standing with Iraqis? One word: Israel. They saw the invasion of Iraq as the precondition for a reorganization of the Middle East that would solve Israel's strategic problems, without the need for an accommodation with either the Palestinians or the existing Arab states. Chalabi assured them that the Iraqi democracy he would build would develop diplomatic and trade ties with Israel, and eschew Arab nationalism.

....Now some influential allies believe those assurances were part of an elaborate con...."Chalabi has no use for Israel. He knew all along that this was a nonstarter," says Robert Baer, a former CIA field officer who led covert U.S. operations inside Iraq in the mid-1990s aimed at toppling Saddam. "Chalabi knows exactly what Israel stands for in Iraq and in Iran, with or without Saddam. The idea of building the pipeline to Haifa, or rapprochement with Iran ... I'm sure he told [the neocons] these things could happen, that he played to their prejudices and said, 'This is the new Middle East,' but he didn't believe any of it. That's the way Chalabi operates."

....Chalabi's Arab admirers say they knew he'd never make good on his promises to ally with Israel. "I was worried that he was going to do business with the Zionists," confesses Moh'd Asad, the managing director of the Amman, Jordan-based International Investment Arabian Group, an industrial and agricultural exporter, who is one of Chalabi's Palestinian friends and business partners. "He told me not to worry, that he just needed the Jews in order to get what he wanted from Washington, and that he would turn on them after that."

Basically, here's the picture Dizard paints:

  1. Chalabi will say and do anything to gain power in Iraq. (No surprises there.)

  2. The neocons attached themselves to Chalabi mainly because he convinced them that he could head up an Israel-friendly Iraq.

  3. There was, needless to say, no chance of this ever happening, as anyone with a passing familiarity with the Middle East knows.

There's a lot more to it than just this, of course, so definitely read the whole article. (Yeah, I know the Salon Daypass is a pain. Do it anyway.) There's no way of really understanding what's gone wrong in Iraq without knowing the role Chalabi has played, and Dizard's piece is an eye opener.

Unfortunately, it's also probably too late to do anything about it. But even if nothing else, it's a potent eulogy to the power of wishful thinking among otherwise intelligent people.

Kevin Drum 12:33 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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May 3, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

MIDDLE AMERICA....Professor Bainbridge today:

Here we see the modern Democratic party - secular elites at the top using the levers of government to effect wealth transfers from Middle America to reliable Democrat constituencies and special interests.

I would be interested to hear any reasonable definition of "Middle America" for which this sentence makes sense. Wealth transfer-wise, surely Middle Americans would almost unanimously do better under Democratic policies than they would under Republican policies designed to endlessly shift tax burdens from the rich to the middle class while simultaneously insisting that middle class programs like Social Security and Medicare need to be slashed to the bone in order to avoid future fiscal catastrophe?

Kevin Drum 6:24 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

TELEPHONE WOES....I got a new phone yesterday that (of course) has Caller ID built in. And like all phones with Caller ID, this one displays the phone number of each person who's called and allows you to call back selected numbers by just pressing a key.

However, what it doesn't do is put a 1 in front of long distance numbers, so when you autodial the number all you get is a helpful phone company recording that says, "We're sorry, you must first dial a 1 when calling this number."

This feature, therefore, is useless for practically every call I get. Somebody in the Motorola marketing/engineering/QA department screwed up very badly here....

Kevin Drum 6:02 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

IS JOHN KERRY A BAD CATHOLIC?....I haven't spent much time actually I haven't spent any time on the idiotic question of whether or not John Kerry is a bad Catholic, but it's becoming a real Twilight Zone kind of issue. The definition of "bad" appears to be:

  • You are pro-choice. It doesn't matter if you are pro-war, pro-death penalty, or pro-child labor. The only church teachings that matter in this regard are those related to abortion.

  • You are a Democrat. Republicans appear to be good Catholics no matter what.

No More Mister Nice Blog has the latest from the Archdiocese of New York. Maybe it's time to take away their tax exempt status?

Kevin Drum 2:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE DRAFT....I've gotten lots of emails over the past few months about signs of activity from the Selective Service System and local draft boards, most of it speculating that it means Bush is preparing to reinstitute the draft. I haven't paid much attention to this since preparing plans is perfectly normal for agencies like this they're supposed to be prepared for possible emergencies and there's not really any indication that anyone either inside or outside the military has any desire to move in this direction.

But this weekend I got an email from one of my old college roommates who says he's been following the issue ("having a 16 year old son has sharpened my attention") and pointing me to this story in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

The chief of the Selective Service System has proposed registering women for the military draft and requiring that young Americans regularly inform the government about whether they have training in niche specialties needed in the armed services.

The proposal, which the agency's acting Director Lewis Brodsky presented to senior Pentagon officials just before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, also seeks to extend the age of draft registration to 34 years old, up from 25.

....Some of the skill areas where the armed forces are facing "critical shortages" include linguists and computer specialists, the agency said. Americans would then be required to regularly update the agency on their skills until they reach age 35.

Granted, this is just contingency planning from the SSS folks, but it's still sort of interesting, isn't it? Men and women. Ages 18-34. Special registration for those with computer or linguistic skills.

Personally, I still doubt this is anything more than normal agency planning. However, you may draw your own conclusions based on your own personal level of paranoia.

Kevin Drum 1:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

SAUDI ARABIA....Islamic militants burst into an oil contractor's office in Saudi Arabia on Saturday and killed five foreign workers, including two Americans. And who was responsible?

Crown Prince Abdullah gave a speech to Saudi dignitaries blaming "Zionists" for the anti-government insurgency. "It became clear to us now that Zionism is behind terrorist attacks in the Kingdom," the state-run Saudi Press Agency quoted him as saying.

Yep, the Saudis sure are getting the message, aren't they?

Kevin Drum 1:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

OUR CEO PRESIDENT....Writing about the deteriorating situation in Iraq, neocon Robert Kagan has this to say at the end of a column in the Washington Post Sunday:

Bush himself is the great mystery in this mounting debacle. His commitment to stay the course in Iraq seems utterly genuine. Yet he continues to tolerate policymakers, military advisers and a dysfunctional policymaking apparatus that are making the achievement of his goals less and less likely. He does not seem to demand better answers, or any answers, from those who serve him. It's not even clear that he understands how bad the situation in Iraq is or how close he is to losing public support for the war, a support that once lost may be impossible to regain.

I'm mystified that Kagan is mystified. Of course Bush's commitment is genuine but so is my commitment to losing 20 pounds. The problem is that I'm not willing to make the sacrifices it would take to do it.

Bush styles himself a "CEO president," but the world is full to bursting with CEOs who have goals they would dearly love to attain but who lack either the skill or the fortitude to make them happen. They assign tasks to subordinates without making sure the subordinates are capable of doing them but then consider the job done anyway because they've "delegated" it. They insist they want a realistic plan, but they're unwilling to do the hard work of creating one all those market research reports are just a bunch of ivory tower nonsense anyway. They work hard but only on subjects in their comfort zone. If they like dealing with people they can't bring themselves to read all those tedious analyst's reports, and if they like numbers they can't bring themselves to spend time chattering with distributors about their latest prospect.

And most important of all, weak CEOs are unwilling to recognize bad news and perform unpleasant tasks to fix it tasks like like confronting poorly performing subordinates or firing people. Good CEOs suck in their guts and do it anyway.

George Bush is, fundamentally, a mediocre CEO, the kind of insulated leader who's convinced that his instincts are all he needs. Unfortunately, like many failed CEOs before him, he's about to learn that being sure you're right isn't the same thing as actually being right.

So sure: George Bush is genuinely committed to winning in Iraq. He just doesn't know how to do it and doesn't have the skills, experience, or personality to look beyond his own instincts in order to figure it out. America is about to pay a heavy price for that.

Kevin Drum 1:13 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

FUBAR IN FALLUJAH?....This is inexplicable. Reasonable people can disagree about whether it was wise to engage an Iraqi force to pacify Fallujah, but can't we at least decide whether or not that's what we're actually doing?

The Washington Post reports that Jassim Mohammed Saleh now has about 600 soldiers under his command, although "it remained unclear exactly where those troops were."

Meanwhile, General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, talked to Fox News about the new Fallujah Brigade and said Saleh "will not be their leader."

So the commanders in Iraq are talking about Saleh as if he's the guy in charge, but in Washington they say he's not. How's that again?

The decision to form the Fallujah Brigade and put Saleh in charge was made from "the bottom up," [a] senior official said. "Now we have to have a policy to catch up with what is happening on the ground."

A Marine spokesman did not have any immediate reaction to Myers's comments, and it was not clear whether Saleh would comply with a U.S. order to relinquish command of the new force.

One U.S. military official said that step could prove tricky. "We've just told him he can form a brigade and take over the city," the official said. "Now we're telling him that he has to step aside? Do we just expect him to go home?"

There's also disagreement about whether the Marine units surrounding Fallujah have actually pulled back or not. Myers says no, the Post reporters in Iraq say yes.

It's hard no, it's impossible, really to believe that a decision as important as withdrawing U.S. troops from Fallujah and replacing them with an Iraqi unit led by Saleh was done at the "bottom" without agreement from the very highest levels, so why is everyone pretending otherwise? This was a dicey but defensible decision when it was first made, but these latest hiccups don't give me an awful lot of confidence that anyone's really in charge here. It's beginning to have the look of a pretty serious FUBAR.

Kevin Drum 12:58 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

POLITICAL POLARIZATION, PART 3....Bill Bishop of the Austin American-Statesman has part 3 of his series about increasing polarization in American politics up today. It focuses on geographical polarization: the fact that individual counties are becoming more heavily partisan over time. These days, it turns out, we mostly choose to live only with likeminded people and are increasingly less likely to socialize with anyone who has different political beliefs.

One of the results of this is that our views have become more and more calcified and extreme, and presidential candidates have less and less middle ground to appeal to. In this environment, crafting a national message that appeals to your core supporters without alienating everyone else becomes nearly impossible:

As a result, there is no national campaign for the presidency. Neither party spent money on national advertising in 2000, says Michael Hagen, director of the Center for Public Interest Polling at Rutgers University. "It was all bought at the local level," Hagen says. "And so it obviously was a more narrowly targeted campaign than any presidential campaign had been before.

That's an interesting factoid, isn't it? Not a single dollar spent on national advertising.

Kevin Drum 12:02 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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May 2, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

CLEANING UP....From the Army's investigation of Abu Ghraib prison, according to Seymour Hersh:

General Taguba saved his harshest words for the military-intelligence officers and private contractors....He further urged that a civilian contractor, Steven Stephanowicz, of CACI International, be fired from his Army job, reprimanded, and denied his security clearances....He clearly knew his instructions equated to physical abuse, Taguba wrote.

Via Billmon, this is the April 25 entry in the online diary of Joe Ryan, a military interrogator at Abu Ghraib:

There were six of us that had to come in early and conduct long interrogations....I got to take the rest of the day off after our long booth time. This gave us a nice evening after dinner to head to the roof and play a round of golf. Scott Norman, Jeff Mouton, Steve Hattabaugh, Steve Stefanowicz, and I all took turns trying to hit balls over the back wall and onto the highway.

Like Billmon, I sort of doubt there are two guys with this same name working at Abu Ghraib. Considering that General Taguba's report was written in February and Stephanowicz was still in Iraq hitting golf balls two months later, the Army doesn't exactly seem to be hopping to implement his recommendations, does it?

Kevin Drum 8:58 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

CONQUEST OR LIBERATION?....Tacitus had a long and agonized post on Friday condemning our retreat from Fallujah and suggesting that it is the latest in a long line of ignominious Western retreats from inferior Islamic forces. It includes this:

Imagine, if you will, a world in which Jimmy Carter stood strong against theocratic barbarism in Iran; a world in which Ronald Reagan displayed the fortitude to not bend to terrorists and Syrians in Lebanon; a world in which the Russians did not bow to Islamist guerrillas....

In the world that Tacitus imagines, main force always works if only you keep applying it long enough. Unfortunately, the real lesson of the past quarter century is not the one he draws. The real lesson is that we are trying to square an impossible circle.

In a war of conquest and occupation, the kind of brute force that many on the right think we should have brought to bear in Fallujah is routine. If you are a conquering and occupying power, therefore, it's perfectly appropriate.

However, wars of conquest and occupation are no longer acceptable in the West, even to conservatives, and so George Bush and Tony Blair have characterized Iraq as a war of liberation. But in a war of liberation, you are expected to liberate. You are emphatically not expected to raze entire cities at the cost of thousands of civilian lives.

Even if this dilemma was not clear before, the events of the past year should have brought it into sharp focus for anyone who thinks seriously about these things. In a war like the one we're in, the tactics of conquest are the only ones that will work, but conquest itself is both unacceptable to us and conterproductive to our long-term goal of engaging moderate Muslims a goal accepted by both liberals and conservatives alike as key to long term victory.

The conclusion is hard to escape: conventional military force is simply not the right weapon for the war on terror. Conquest and occupation in the heart of the Arab world are exactly what Osama bin Laden hoped for from us, and we should never have allowed him to dictate the terms of the fight like that. It's true that various forms of military force will be necessary now and again for us to eradicate terrorism, but a head-on battle with thousands of regular troops is precisely the form of military force that is least likely to produce victory.

Tacitus is right that George Bush has fought this war foolishly, but that's been clear for over a year at least. We need to fight on our terms, not theirs, and we need a president who understands that. George Bush doesn't.

Kevin Drum 3:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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GETTING TO THE TRUTH....Jonah Goldberg seems to be about the only person over at The Corner who's even bothering to post about the Abu Ghraib scandal, so I almost hate to pick on him. Unfortunately, he says this:

Whoever leaked these pictures to the press was not doing anybody any favors. Since the case was already being handled, the release of these pictures did more harm than good. I don't blame 60 Minutes for running them -- though I don't applaud them either. But a person would/could be morally obligated to leak these pictures if the army was covering it up or refusing to investigate. It doesn't sound like that was the case. So releasing the photos isn't prodding the government to do the right thing, it's encouraging millions of Arabs to hate us. That's not whistle-blowing, that's sabotage.

It's true that the Army was already investigating, and Seymour Hersh's summary of their investigation makes it clear that it was fairly exhaustive. But I think Jonah is rather jumping the gun in suggesting that no further prodding was needed because the government was already doing the right thing.

On the contrary, so far the military has been eager to portray this as an "isolated" incident involving only a few enlisted reservists. But even though they've known about these events since January, there's no indication yet of any action taken against the officers involved, the intelligence personnel who apparently condoned it, or the civilian contractors who participated. If we actually want to get to the bottom of this, I suspect a little prodding was just what was needed.

Kevin Drum 2:56 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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MORE CHALABI....The good news never quits when it comes to Ahmed Chalabi. Josh Marshall rounds up the latest.

It's just unblievable that this guy still has defenders on the right.

Kevin Drum 2:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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May 1, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

AN ISOLATED INCIDENT?....James Joyner writes the following about Abu Ghraib:

The idea that these isolated abuses are a systemic problem that reverberate up the chain of command, though, is incredibly dubious. Theres no evidence whatsoever that has been adduced to indicate that it was more than some very young soldiers committing crimes. The ones who committed them will go to jail. Its likely their front line supervisors will be relieved of command and have their careers ended. Absent evidence Im not aware of, I doubt seriously any of them will face criminal sanction. Certainly, though, no one of high rank has any responsibility for this. Clearly, the command climate was such that when others discovered the abuses, they reported them.

I would really like to believe this. But here's the summary paragraph of Seymour Hersh's piece in the New Yorker based on the Army's own investigation:

As the international furor grew, senior military officers, and President Bush, insisted that the actions of a few did not reflect the conduct of the military as a whole. Tagubas report, however, amounts to an unsparing study of collective wrongdoing and the failure of Army leadership at the highest levels. The picture he draws of Abu Ghraib is one in which Army regulations and the Geneva conventions were routinely violated, and in which much of the day-to-day management of the prisoners was abdicated to Army military-intelligence units and civilian contract employees. Interrogating prisoners and getting intelligence, including by intimidation and torture, was the priority.

It's only been a few days since this became public, but so far the evidence incriminates both American and British soldiers; it goes all the way up to the level of colonels and lieutenant colonels; the command climate within the prison was pretty clearly responsible for this becoming a widespread and common practice; it was apparently encouraged by intelligence officials as the best way of breaking Iraqi prisoners; and it was brought to light only because of the actions of an MP who went outside his chain of command.

I have a sick feeling that we are going to be hearing a lot more about Abu Ghraib over the next few weeks. Read Hersh's piece and you'll probably agree.

Kevin Drum 3:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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HYPERSENSITIVITY....I think that my political outrage antennae must not be tuned sensitively enough.

Yesterday I wrote that I didn't really understand why conservatives have been so knee-jerkingly critical of recent press depictions of combat deaths in Iraq. Sure, these words and images can be used by antiwar activists, but they can also be used to demonstrate respect for our war dead, can't they? So why the sidespread and almost unanimous condemnation from conservative elites?

Here on my side of the aisle, Josh Marshall is outraged that President Bush says things like this:

There's a lot of people in the world who don't believe that people whose skin color may not be the same as ours can be free and self-govern. I reject that. I reject that strongly. I believe that people who practice the Muslim faith can self-govern. I believe that people whose skins aren't necessarily -- are a different color than white can self-govern.

But until Josh and a few others mentioned it, it really didn't occur to me that Bush was trying to paint Democrats and/or war opponents as racists. The fact is, there are plenty of perfectly respectable people who have argued that Iraq isn't ready for democracy yet, and Bush is saying in no uncertain terms that he thinks they're wrong. He's phrasing it in the most self-flattering way possible, of course, but that's what politicians do.

There's no need to explain either of these things to me in comments. I understand the critiques perfectly well. All I'm saying is that neither one of them occurred to me until someone else pointed them out.

So: am I an unusual dullard? Or is the world full of people who are hypersensitive to even the subtlest insults? Hmmm.....

Kevin Drum 2:42 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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ABU GHRAIB REACTION....I mentioned yesterday that the story about American abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad is getting considerably more attention in the Arab world than it is here.

This picture tells the story. As MSNBC reports, "Egypts Akhbar el-Yom newspaper splashed photographs of the U.S. soldiers posing by naked, hooded inmates on page one with the banner headline 'The Scandal.' Al-Wafd, an opposition paper, displayed similar photos beneath the headline, 'The Shame!'" The BBC rounds up similar treatment throughout the Arab world. Meanwhile, only a handful of U.S. newspapers gave the story significant play.

Reuters reports that at least one historian thinks that's exactly as it should be:

This shows U.S. newspaper editors understand what kind of war coverage interests American readers, according to David D. Perlmutter, a historian of war and media at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.

"The torture pictures are absolutely irrelevant," Perlmutter said in a telephone interview. "Americans care about American soldiers, and only journalistic and political and academic elites fret about pictures of collateral damage....If you start talking to the public, you'll find people sympathizing with the soldiers," he said.

Is he right? The soldiers' relatives seem to think so:

The Baltimore Sun's Friday editions identified two other soldiers facing court-martial. The newspaper cited unidentified Army officials in naming Sgt. Javal S. Davis, 26. His wife, who also spoke to the newspaper, defended her husband.

"We really don't know how those prisoners are behaving," said Zeenithia Davis, who is in the Navy in Mississippi. "There's a line between heinous war crimes and maintaining discipline."

A Sun reporter on Thursday showed a photo of one of the nude prisoner scenes to Terrie England, who recognized her daughter, reservist Lynndie R. England, 21, standing in the foreground with her boyfriend.

The alleged abuses of prisoners were "stupid, kid things pranks," Terrie England said. "And what the (Iraqis) do to our men and women are just? The rules of the Geneva Convention, does that apply to everybody or just us?"

Remember this the next time someone wonders aloud why Arabs all hate us so "irrationally." We play down incidents like this as "aberrations," merely a few soldiers out of thousands, and run the story on page 27. They see it splashed across the front page and think of it as yet another case of American hypocrisy. It's going to be awfully hard now to convince them they're wrong.

Kevin Drum 1:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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