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Saturday, October 14, 2006 

Your Think Tank's war

Laura Rozen has a rather remarkable post about the genesis of the Iraq War, which has gotten virtually no attention. That's all the more surprising because she's discussing allegations made in Bob Woodward's new book, which people have been pawing over frantically for inside information about how and why the White House has failed in Iraq.

This particular passage from State of Denial did in fact receive a certain amount of attention about four days ago, after Julie Bosman of the NYT commented on it. Her interest, which has been reflected in virtually everything subsequently written about the passage, was in the ethics of the journalists and pundits who, Woodward says, took part in a secret strategy session organized by the Bush adminstration. Until now all the figures named have kept their participation in the session (indeed, the very existence of the session) secret, though they have been commenting publicly and writing about the events that they helped to shape in this meeting.

The meeting of November 29, 2001 was organized to supply the Bush administration with a plan for what to do with the Middle East. The presumption, evidently, was that the U.S. should do something with, or to, the Middle East after the invasion of Afghanistan. The talkers and the scribblers at the meeting were supposed to identify whom to do something to. Bosman quotes Robert Kaplan (of The Atlantic) saying that he and the other participants wrote up "a forceful summary of some of the best pro-war arguments at the time." This document became an important contribution to the Cheney administration's plan for screwing up the Middle East in subsequent years.

I won't bother to discuss the ethics of 'journalists' who secretly help to formulate government policy, nor the fact that in this case it amounted to framing a case for invading a foreign country. It's enough to note that this group included Reuel Marc Gerecht, of all people. Further commentary is unnecessary.

I'm also not going to discuss the important point raised by Steve Clemons, who wonders whether this secret meeting violated the Federal Advisory Committee Act. That's a proper subject for people who are smarter than me.

I will however highlight something important that has been overlooked, in so far as anybody is paying attention to this story. Here I'll quote Laura Rozen's distillation of Woodward:

At Wolfowitz's request, American Enterprise Institute president Christopher Demuth "recruited a dozen people. [Bernard Lewis, Mark Palmer, Fareed Zakaria, Fouad Ajami, James Q. Wilson, Reuel Marc Gerecht, Steve Herbits among them]. He later said they agreed to serve only 'if I promised it would all be kept secret.' ... On Thursday night, November 29, 2001, Demuth assembled the group at a secure conference center in Virginia for a weekend of discussions ... DeMuth was surprised at the consensus among his group. He stayed up late Sunday night distilling their thoughts into a seven page, single-spaced document, called 'Delta of Terrorism.' ... 'The general analysis was that Egypt and Saudi Arabia ... were the key, but the problems there are intractable. Iran is more important...' But Iran was similarly difficult to envision dealing with... But Saddam Hussein was different, weaker, more vulnerable... 'We concluded that a confrontation with Saddam was inevitable. ... We agreed that Saddam would have to leave the scene before the problem would be addressed.' ... Copies of the memo, straight from the neoconservative playbook, were hand-delivered to the war cabinet members. In at least some cases, it was given a SECRET classification. Cheney was pleased with the memo, and it had a strong impact on President Bush ..."

It's the nature of the report itself, now classified, that strikes me as most outlandish. The American Enterprise all-stars came to an agreement that the Middle Eastern countries that were most problematic for the U.S. were Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

What did they propose to do about Egypt and Saudi Arabia? In perfect neo-con fashion, they changed the subject. Egypt and Saudi Arabia were too hard to figure out. They couldn't identify a plan for Egypt and Saudi Arabia. So they forgot about Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Change the subject: Iran. Iran was dangerous too.

What did they propose to do about Iran? In perfect neo-con fashion, they changed the subject. Iran was too hard to figure out. They couldn't identify a plan for Iran. So they forgot about Iran.

Change the subject: Iraq. Iraq wasn't particularly dangerous. But Iraq was weak and vulnerable. What did they propose to do about Iraq? In perfect neo-con fashion, they decided to invade it.

Ponder this for a moment. The American Enterprise Institute is, in the parlance of our times, a "Think Tank". So this classified plan, a roadmap to hell, was the very best product of neo-con "thinking". In the parlance of our times.

Crossposted at Inconvenient News and Unbossed.

 posted by smintheus  # 1:46 AM   0 comments  

Tuesday, October 10, 2006 

David Blunkett's diary confirms that US/UK planning was chaotic

This week the Guardian has published extracts from the weekly diary kept by the former British Home Secretary, David Blunkett. Tomorrow's extracts concern the planning for the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Blunkett has come across as a sniveling suck-up to Tony Blair, and more interested in the personal politics within the Cabinet and perceived slights to him, than in actual policy. As a diary, it is depressingly poor stuff--especially when compared to Robin Cook's diary on the same period, which I've drawn attention to repeatedly on line.

Still, Blunkett manages to confirm in a general way the much sharper picture drawn by Cook of several important episodes. In particular, here is Blunkett's description of the first important cabinet meeting on Iraq policy.

March 7 2002

At cabinet we had a very good discussion about Iraq. I talked about where the real message was: Why aren't you doing something about the Middle East and the Palestine-Israeli conflict? Why are you just backing the Americans? I also drew on the steel industry problems and how this had changed the climate of our automatically backing the Americans.

It struck me that a bit of reciprocity wouldn't come amiss.

Apart from Jack Straw and Geoff Hoon who had clearly got the message to be gung-ho, everyone else was drawing the conclusion that we needed to go into depth with this. In the end Tony said: "Look, the management hasn't lost its marbles. We do know these things. We are not going to rush in." But we all fear that they will.

Here is what Robin Cook had to say about the same meeting, in his diary:

Thursday March 7: A real discussion at cabinet. Tony permitted us to have the debate on Iraq which David and I had asked for. For the first time I can recall in five years, Tony was out on a limb.

David was first over the top. Being now home secretary he cunningly camped on the need for a proper legal authority for any action: "What has changed that suddenly gives us the legal right to take military action that we didn't have a few months ago? Has anybody asked the legal opinion of the attorney-general, and what is he saying?"

Pat Hewitt lamented that we were expected to listen to US worries about Iraq when we could not get them to listen to us before slapping higher tariffs on our steel exports. "We are in danger of being seen as close to President Bush, but without any influence over President Bush."

I am told that in the old days prime ministers would sum up the balance of view in the discussion. This would be simple in the present case as all contributions pointed in one direction. However, Tony does not regard the cabinet as a place for decisions. Normally he avoids having discussions in cabinet until decisions are taken and announced to it.

Tony appeared totally unfazed at the fact that on this occasion the balance of discussion pointed strongly in the reverse direction of his intentions. Rather than attempt to sum up the discussion of this supreme body of collective government, he responded as if he was replying to a question-and-answer session from a party branch.

He was patient with us, but he was firm where he saw Britain's national interests lie: "I tell you that we must steer close to America. If we don't we will lose our influence to shape what they do."

This was the last cabinet meeting at which a large number of ministers spoke up against the war. I have little sympathy with the criticism of Tony that he sidelined the cabinet over Iraq. On the contrary, over the next six months we were to discuss Iraq more than any other topic, but only Clare Short and I ever expressed frank doubts about the trajectory in which we were being driven.

Oddly, Blunkett's memoir omits any discussion of the legal issue, which Cook rightly held to be an extremely strong point against invading Iraq. This demonstrates the depressing sloppiness of Blunkett's (edited) diary. In this case, his March 7 entry confirms little more than the simple fact that most of the Cabinet was against an attack on Iraq.

That said, what do we learn from this new diary?

That in the fall and winter of 2001, coordination between the US and UK regarding Afghanistan was virtually non-existent, and that British planning was so chaotic that Blair could not get the Ministry of Defense to follow basic instructions.

That already by January 2002, the Brits were accusing the U.S. of ignoring the need for reconstruction in Afghanistan.

That by September 2002, in the British Cabinet only Cook and Clare Short were actively opposing the invasion of Iraq, all the others having fallen in line with Blair's wishes. Blunkett and others were talking about pushing Cook out of the Cabinet for his obstinence on Iraq.

That Blunkett paid little attention to the government dossiers on alleged Iraqi WMD, since, he claims, he didn't think they would matter much.

That the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, decided only shortly before the invasion began to fully back Blair's position on war. Blunkett thinks that Blair would have sacked Brown after the invasion if he had not backed it strongly.

That the British army had no interest in nor plan for policing the areas of Iraq they'd over-run, and thought it wasn't their job to stop the looting that broke out.

What is most surprising to learn from Blunkett's diary, I suppose, is that such a feckless ninny could occupy an important position in the British government, as it conspired with an equally incompetent Bush administration to drag our countries to war.

 posted by smintheus  # 10:03 PM   0 comments  

Sunday, October 01, 2006 

A year in advance, Jack Abramoff knew Bush would invade Iraq

Blogger jorndorff makes an important observation today based upon one of the emails of corrupt Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, whose texts were released recently. In this message, dated March 18, 2002, Abramoff mentions in an off-hand manner "the upcoming war on Iraq". Here is Abramoff's email (from page 26 of this PDF):

From: Jack Abramoff
To: 'octagon1'
Monday, March 18, 2002 8:31 AM
Subject: RE: Sunday

I was sitting yesterday with Karl Rove, Bush's top advisor, at the NCAA basketball game, discussing Israel when this email came in. I showed it to him. It seems that the President was very sad to have to come out negatively regarding Israel, but that they needed to mollify the Arabs for the upcoming war on Iraq. That did not seem to work anyway. Bush seems to love Sharon and Israel, and thinks Arabfat, is nothing but a liar. I thought I'd pass that on.

March 2002 is precisely the time when, as a series of leaked British documents show, the Blair government was gearing up to coordinate with Bush to engineer an invasion of Iraq. And in April 2002, as we learn from the British Cabinet Briefing Paper dated July 22, 2002, Tony Blair would make a promise to Bush that Britain would take part in an invasion of Iraq as long as a few preconditions were met.

1. The US Government's military planning for action against Iraq is proceeding apace. But, as yet, it lacks a political framework. In particular, little thought has been given to creating the political conditions for military action, or the aftermath and how to shape it.

2. When the Prime Minister discussed Iraq with President Bush at Crawford in April he said that the UK would support military action to bring about regime change, provided that certain conditions were met: efforts had been made to construct a coalition/shape public opinion, the Israel-Palestine Crisis was quiescent, and the options for action to eliminate Iraq's WMD through the UN weapons inspectors had been exhausted.

Abramoff's email shows that in the U.S. this lobbyist with close connections to the White House was also talking about the invasion as if it were a foregone decision.

The politics of the situation, as described cynically by Abramoff, fits neatly with what the Briefing Paper tells us about Blair's precondition for British support--forcing the Israelis to make nice for a while to the Palestinians. When Abramoff refers to negative comments about Israel, he is referring to this statement by Bush on March 13, 2002 at a press conference:

Q Do you agree with Kofi Annan that Israel must end the illegal occupation of Palestinian lands? And how is the Israeli offensive going to complicate General Zinni's mission?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, it is important to create conditions for peace in the Middle East. It's important for both sides to work hard to create the conditions of a potential settlement. Now, our government has provided a security plan that has been agreed to by both the Israelis and the Palestinians called the Tenet plan. And George Mitchell did good work providing a pathway for a political settlement, once conditions warranted.

Frankly, it's not helpful what the Israelis have recently done in order to create conditions for peace. I understand someone trying to defend themselves and to fight terror. But the recent actions aren't helpful. And so Zinni's job is to go over there and work to get conditions such that we can get into Tenet. And he's got a lot of work to do. But I didn't think he could make progress, I wouldn't have asked him to go.

It's interesting to note that later in that press conference Bush was asked, regarding Cheney's mission overseas to build support for invading Iraq, first whether he would act unilaterally if he did not get any support, and second whether the increased violence in Palestine was affecting Bush's case for invading Iraq. Bush dodged the first question, and on the second question he asserted that his peace efforts in Israel/Palestine had nothing specifically to do with his plans for Iraq.

And so while I understand the linkage, for us the policy stands on its own. The need for us to involved in the Middle East is to help save lives.

As always, straight talk from George Bush. Tony Blair? Who's he?

Of course, Abramoff is a notorious crook too, and one has to be careful about swallowing what he has to say. In this case, though, the evidence is pretty credible. First of all, it is a private rather than public statement, and there's no indication that Abramoff would have gained personally by suggesting falsely that the invasion was essentially certain.

And secondly, Abramoff's comment is made in passing. For historians, off-hand statements are generally thought to be pretty reliable reflections of reality, more so than assertions that a dubious source has put some thought into framing. A statement made in passing is akin to one that is blurted out. Abramoff takes it for granted that the recipient of this email, whoever it was, also knew or assumed that the invasion of Iraq was 'upcoming'.

So, yet more evidence that insiders knew what many Americans merely suspected in spring 2002, that George Bush intended to have his war in Iraq no matter what the world wished, and no matter what the intelligence agencies might reveal about Iraq's alleged WMD program.

In the comments on jorndoff's post, AnneElizabeth made a potentially important contribution to our information about the run-up to war.

At a book reading last night I heard former NPR reporter Sarah Chayes, who is promoting her book about her development work in Afganistan. In the course of taking questions for over an hour, she mentioned that as a reporter, she had a deep source in the US military who had been sent to the Mid East by the Bush Administration WAY PRIOR TO 911 to map out invasion routes into Iraq.

That will not come as a surprise to anybody who has perused the Iraq War Timeline assembled at It demonstrates in excruciating detail that Bush and Cheney were obsessively planning an invasion of Iraq years beforehand.

Crossposted at Inconvenient News

 posted by smintheus  # 10:53 AM   0 comments  

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