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Wednesday, October 10, 2007 

A forgotten anniversary

Five years ago today the House passed J. H. Res. 114, which authorized the President (presumably in perpetuity) to use any force “necessary” against the “continuing” threat to the nation posed by Iraq…just in case Iraq did in fact pose a threat. The vote was 296-133. On Oct. 11, 2002 the Senate followed suit, by a vote of 77-23. So began the quagmire.

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The lop-sided Congressional votes smoothed the way for the rush to war that was sure to follow. It was accompanied by applause and back-slapping all around.

It occurred to me to wonder how this terrible child’s fifth birthday was being celebrated now in Washington, among those who brought it into the world.

It was the apple of George Bush’s eye back in 2002, a legacy that he wished and prayed for. In fact, Bush had enlisted the help and advice of friends around the globe in his eagerness to give birth to a big, spanking war.

So I visited the White House news page to see how the President was celebrating the festive occasion. A fifth anniversary of an authorization to use force comes only once, and I was certain that Bush the sentimentalist would mark it in style.

Imagine my surprise to find no mention of it there at all. Prominence is given to a proclamation celebrating a Revolutionary war general, which conveys some pleasant thoughts about the 18th century. But no word about the Congressional war authorization that the President so desperately wanted and has so often paraded in front of the public.

My thoughts then turned to the Pentagon. They’re surely going to want to record that on this very day five years ago began the march down into the abyss of Mesopotamia. Yet, curiously, here again there’s nothing. But heck, I thought, the Pentagon is so busy these days that it hasn’t even updated its own publications page for a full month. So busy is the Pentagon that it still hasn’t had a free moment to add a link there to the September quarterly report on Iraq, which presents such a grim contrast to General Petraeus’ upbeat report.

But the Vice President doesn’t appear to be up to much these days. Maybe the commemoration was being left to him, I thought. He was the real dynamo during the whole period of gestation. Surely he would not forget this glorious anniversary? Hmmm….it must have slipped Cheney’s mind as well. Maybe he didn’t feel he was quite the right person to take credit for the war authorization.

But who is stepping forward to commemorate this great event? A difficult question. Made me stop and pause for several moments. Then it struck me: This is a Congressional anniversary, as much as anything. There were 137 sponsors of the Authorization to use force against Iraq--people like John Boehner,
Tom Tancredo, and David Vitter.

As I visited the webpages of each of these members of Congress in turn, it slowly became clear that none of them had thought to mention this anniversary. Not even one of the Bill’s sponsors chose to commemorate its momentous passage. It was all the more odd because they’d all had so very much to say on the 5th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, which had claimed far fewer lives than the Iraq war they had actually sponsored. Even the chief war-mongers in the Senate, John McCain and Joseph Lieberman have neglected to celebrate the birth of the war that they embrace so fervently.

Republicans I suppose might claim that the war is now the Democrats’ responsibility. Be that as it may, I went searching for any tokens of the forgotten anniversary at the websites of the leading Democrats who’d voted for the damnable resolution. Would Sen. Harry Reid mention it? Nope. Sen. Jay Rockefeller? Nope. Sen. Chuck Schumer? Nope. Sen. Chris Dodd? Nope. Sen. Hillary Clinton? Nope again.

Rep. Steny Hoyer then. No, him neither. Rep. Jane Harman? Rep. Ike Skelton? Rep. Henry Waxman? Rep. John Murtha? No, no, no, and no.

Maybe this war is now an orphan. Will the next one be, as well?

crossposted from

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 posted by : smintheus ::  # 9:02 PM   0 comments  

Thursday, September 27, 2007 

"Coalition of the bribed, the coerced, the bought, and the extorted"

During the 2004 presidential campaign, Republicans expressed shock, shock, when John Kerry disparaged George Bush's pretense that a "Coalition of the willing" had joined the invasion of Iraq. Kerry described it as "trumped-up, so-called coalition of the bribed, the coerced, the bought, and the extorted."

I recalled that feigned Republican outrage the other day while perusing the so-called Spanish Downing Street memo.

These are the minutes of a Feb. 22, 2003 meeting between Bush and Spanish Prime Minister Aznar, which El Pais has just published. In this meeting, Bush declares that he would try to get a second UN vote condemning Hussein in order to satisfy his allies, but he doesn't really care what the resolution says and in any case with or without it he intends to invade Iraq shortly after March 15 (as soon as US forces were ready to invade). Bush also shows that he has no interest in what the UN weapons inspectors are finding, and indeed he treats the UN as a cat's paw.

There's plenty of the bully-boy President on display, too. It's particularly evident when juxtaposed to Aznar's patient attempts to get Bush to understand that he needed to appear to be making a good faith effort to work with the rest of the world.

If this were the first such document to appear, it might have provoked great public indignation. But after the publication of the much more damning British documents dating from 2002, in particular the Downing Street memo from July 2002, as well as the revelations about the bizarre January 31, 2003 meeting between Bush and Blair, it will come as little surprise to find Bush war-mongering up a storm in his February meeting with Aznar.

I was struck, in any event, also by Bush's frank admission that he was building his coalition at the UN based upon threats and bribes.

Countries like Mexico, Chile, Angola and Cameroon must know that what is at stake is the security of the U.S. and act in a friendly manner toward us.

[President Ricardo] Lagos must know that the Free Trade agreement with Chile is pending confirmation in the Senate and that a negative attitude could endanger its ratification. Angola is receiving funds from the Millennium Account which could be compromised if they don’t behave positively. And Putin must know that his attitude is endangering relations between Russia and the United States.

Sounds to me as if Bush was content to coerce, bribe, or extort other countries in order to gain their backing for an invasion. Of course that phony coalition long ago began to evaporate, and ere now Bush's apologists have moved on to the agreeable task of denouncing the treachery of formerly "willing" allies who've had enough of the Iraq quagmire.

Everyone will find something to be outraged about in this new document, so I'll reproduce a translation of the entire text. It is lightly adapted from this translation by Ruben Remus.

* *

Minutes of the conversation between George W. Bush and Jose Maria Aznar - Crawford, Texas February 22, 2003

President Bush: We are in favor of obtaining a second resolution at the Security Council and would like to do it quickly. We would like to announce it on Monday or Tuesday.

President Aznar: Better on Tuesday, after the European Union General Affairs Council. It is important to maintain the momentum accomplished by the European Union summit resolution. We would prefer to wait until Tuesday.

PB: It could be Monday afternoon, taking into account the time difference. In any case, next week. We see the resolution written in a way not including compulsory elements, not mentioning use of force, and affirming that Saddam Hussein has been incapable of fulfilling his obligations. This type of resolution can be approved by many people. It would be similar to the one obtained for the Kosovo affair.

PA: Would it be presented before the Security Council before and independently of a parallel declaration?

Condoleezza Rice: There really would not be a parallel declaration. We are considering a resolution as simple as possible, with no detailed elements that could be used by Saddam Hussein as stages which he would subsequently fail to fulfill. We are talking to Blix and others of his team to get ideas that could serve us to introduce the resolution.

PB: Saddam Hussein won’t change and will continue playing. The time has come to get rid of him. That’s it. I, for one, will attempt from now on to use as subtle a rhetoric as possible while seeking approval of the resolution. If anyone vetoes, we will go. Saddam Hussein is not disarming. We have to catch him right now. We have shown incredible patience up until now. There are two weeks left. In two weeks we will be militarily ready. I believe we will get the second resolution. We have three Africans in the Security Council, the Chileans, and the Mexicans. I will speak with all of them, also Putin, naturally. We’ll be in Baghdad by the end of March. There is a 15% chance that by then Saddam Hussein will be dead or will have left. But that possibility will not exist unless we show our resolve. The Egyptians are talking to Saddam Hussein. He appears to have signaled his willingness to go into exile if he is allowed to take 1 billion dollars and all the information he desires concerning weapons of mass destruction. Khadaffi has told Berlusconi that Saddam wants to leave. Mubarak tells us that under these circumstances there is a high likelihood he could be assassinated.

We would like to act under a United Nations mandate. If we act militarily, we will do so with great precision and focusing on our objectives. We will quickly decimate the loyalists and the regular military will quickly know what this is about. We have delivered a clear message to Saddam Hussein’s generals: we will treat them as war criminals. We know they have stockpiled enormous quantities of dynamite to demolish bridges and other infrastructure and blow up the oil wells. We have planned for a quick takeover of these wells. Also, the Saudis will help us put whatever oil is necessary on the market. We are developing a strong humanitarian aid package. We can win without destruction. We are already proposing the post-Saddam Iraq, and I believe there are good grounds to suggest a better future. Iraq has a strong bureaucracy and a relatively strong civil society. It could be organized into a federation. Meanwhile, we are doing everything in our power to fulfill the political needs of our friends and allies.

PA: It is very important to be backed by a resolution. It is not the same acting with it as without it. It would be very convenient to count on a Security Council majority support for the resolution. In fact, it is more important to have majority support than whether somebody vetoes the resolution. We believe the content of the
resolution should state, among other things, that Saddam Hussein has lost his opportunity.

PB: Yes, of course. That might be better than referring to “necessary means”.

PA: Saddam Hussein has not cooperated, has not disarmed, we should summarize his defaults and launch a more elaborate message. This would allow, for example, Mexico to move.

PB: The resolution will be tailored to your needs. Its content makes little difference to me.

PA: We will have some text sent to you.

PB: We don’t have any text. Only one criterion: that Saddam Hussein disarm. We can’t permit Saddam Hussein to string us along until the summer. In the end, he has had four months in this last stage and that is more than enough time for disarmament.

PA: That text would enhance our ability to sponsor, co-author and obtain wide support for it.

PB: Perfect.

PA: Next Wednesday I’m meeting Chirac. The resolution will have started to get around by then.

PB: That’s fine with me. Chirac is well aware of reality. His intelligence services have explained this to him. The Arabs are sending Chirac a very clear message: Saddam Hussein must go. The problem is that Chirac considers himself “Mister Arab”, while in reality he’s making life impossible for them. But I don’t want any quarrel with Chirac. We have different points of view, but I wish that were all. Greet him on my behalf. Really! The less animosity he feels there is between us the better off we will all be.

PA: How do we combine the resolution and the inspectors report?

Condoleezza Rice: In reality there will not be a February 28 report, rather the inspectors will present a written report on March 1, and their appearance before the Security Council will not take place until March 6 or 7 of 2003. We don’t expect much out of that report. As with the others, they will state on the one hand this but on the other hand that. I have the impression that Blix will now be more negative than before about the Iraqis’ will. After the appearance of the inspectors before the Council we must prepare to vote on the resolution a week later. The Iraqis, meanwhile, will try to explain they are complying with their obligations. It is neither true
nor sufficient, even if they announce the destruction of some missiles.

PB: It is like Chinese water torture. We must put an end to it.

PA: I agree, but it would be good to have as many people on our side as possible. Be a little patient.

PB: My patience is exhausted. I don’t intend to wait beyond mid-March.

PA: I’m not asking you for infinite patience. Just that you do what’s possible to make it all work.

PB: Countries like Mexico, Chile, Angola and Cameroon must know that what is at stake is the security of the U.S. and act in a friendly manner toward us.

[President Ricardo] Lagos must know that the Free Trade agreement with Chile is pending confirmation in the Senate and that a negative attitude could endanger its ratification. Angola is receiving funds from the Millennium Account which could be compromised if they don’t behave positively. And Putin must know that his attitude is endangering relations between Russia and the United States.

PA: Tony would like to hold out until March 14.

PB: I prefer the 10th. This is like a good cop, bad cop routine. I don’t mind being the bad cop to Tony’s good cop.

PA: Is it true there is a chance Saddam Hussein will go into exile?

PB: Yes, the is a chance. Even that he will be assassinated.

PA: Exile with some guarantee?

PB: No guarantee. He is a thief, a terrorist, a war criminal. Compared to Saddam, Milosevic would be a Mother Teresa. When we go in we will discover many more crimes and we will take him to the International Tribunal in The Hague. Saddam Hussein believes he has escaped. He believes that France and Germany have abandoned their responsibilities. He also believes that last week’s declarations protect him. And believes I’m very weakened. But the people around him know otherwise. They know his future is in exile or in a casket. That is why it is so important to maintain pressure on him. Khadaffi tells us indirectly that is the only thing that can finish him. Saddam’s only strategy is to delay, delay and delay.

PA: Actually the greatest victory would be to win the match without firing a single shot and entering Baghdad.

PB: For me that would be the perfect solution. I do not want war. I know what wars are. I know the destruction and death they bring. I am the one that has to console the mothers and widows of the dead. Of course, for us this would be the best solution. Also, it would save us 50 billion dollars.

PA: We need you to help us with our public relations.

PB: We’ll speak all we can. On Wednesday I will speak about the situation in the Middle East, proposing a new scheme of peace, which you’re familiar with, and about weapons of mass destruction, about the benefits of a free society, and I will place the history of Iraq in a wider context. Maybe that will help you.

PA: What we are doing is a very profound change for Spain and the Spanish people. We are changing the politics our country had followed in the last 200 years.

PB: I am guided historical sense of responsibility equal to yours. When some years later history passes judgment on us I don’t want people to ask why Bush, or Aznar, or Blair did not confront their responsibilities. In the end, what people want is to enjoy freedom. A short while ago, in Romania, I remembered Ceausescu’s example: all it took was for a woman to call him a liar to bring down the whole edifice. It’s the irrepressible power of freedom. I’m convinced I will get the resolution.

PA: Let’s hope so.

PB: I made the decision to go to the Security Council. In spite of divergent opinions in my administration, I told my people we had to work with our friends. It will be wonderful to be obtain a second resolution.

PA: The only thing that worries me is your optimism.

PB: I’m optimistic because I believe I am right. I’m at peace with myself. It has fallen upon us to confront a serious menace to peace. It irritates me no end to contemplate the insensitivity of the Europeans to the suffering Saddam Hussein inflicts on the Iraqi people. Perhaps because he is dark (skinned), distant and Muslim, many Europeans believe he is all right. I will not forget what Solana once told me: that why do we Americans believe Europeans are anti-semitic and incapable of facing their responsibilities? This defensive attitude is terrible. I must recognize I have a magnificent relationship with Kofi Annan.

PA: He shares your ethical concerns.

PB: The more the Europeans attack me, the stronger I become in the United States.

PA: We would have to make your strength compatible with European appreciation.

crossposted from

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 posted by : smintheus ::  # 6:13 PM   0 comments  

Sunday, June 17, 2007 

Tony Blair knew full well that Bush was failing to plan for Iraq occupation

Next Saturday the respected British Channel 4 will air a television documentary on the pre-war planning for Iraq that will present a "devastating account of the chaotic preparations for the war", according to a preview in today's Observer. Blair told many colleagues (including, we now learn, the former Labour leader Neil Kinnock) that all was well with the planning before the invasion.

According to many officials interviewed for the documentary, however, Blair actually was extremely worried that the US was failing to prepare for the occupation. Blair also thought there was nothing he could do to make Bush & Co. take the problem seriously.

Few observers of the Iraq fiasco any longer dispute that the Bush administration had done little planning, much less done it well; in fact the only competent planning, by the State Department, was tossed aside by the Pentagon. The lack of preparation was apparent within months of the invasion. The record of the administration's failures in the first year of the occupation speaks volumes.

The newsworthy thing, for an American audience, is that the failures were stunningly obvious in advance to our closest ally.

Tony Blair has demonstrated over and over again his magnificent capacity for self-delusion, especially as regards to his relationship with George Bush. Blair has seemed to believe whatever it was necessary for him to believe in order to maintain his fawning relationship with Bush. Therefore, that even a man such as this was painfully aware of Bush's inadequate planning implies that nobody in the upper levels of the US government can have had any excuse for not recognizing the same.

From The Observer:

Tony Blair agreed to commit British troops to battle in Iraq in the full knowledge that Washington had failed to make adequate preparations for the postwar reconstruction of the country.

In a devastating account of the chaotic preparations for the war, which comes as Blair enters his final full week in Downing Street, key No 10 aides and friends of Blair have revealed the Prime Minister repeatedly and unsuccessfully raised his concerns with the White House...

In one of the most significant interviews in the programme, Peter Mandelson says that the Prime Minister knew the preparations were inadequate but said he was powerless to do more...'I remember him saying at the time: "Look, you know, I can't do everything. That's chiefly America's responsibility, not ours."

Another interviewee is Blair's senior foreign affairs advisor, David Manning. He essentially confirms what many of us have believed since the Downing Street Memo was published two years ago, but which Blair and his circle have always denied: That Tony Blair and his advisors were continuously worried during the year before the invasion that the Bush administration was bungling the post-war planning. Manning describes a Prime Minister so fearful in March of 2002 that Bush & Co. were not doing the necessary post-war planning that he sent Manning to DC specifically to assess that problem. On Manning's return he wrote a memo that later become famous when it was leaked to reporter Michael Smith.

Though Blair and his pals denied the clear significance of this memo when it was made public, there has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that it portrays both Manning and Blair as deeply concerned about the obvious gaps in planning. As Manning remarked in the memo, Condoleezza Rice gave him the impression that Bush still hadn't figured out "what happens on the morning after" the invasion is completed. He also wrote...

I think there is a real risk that the [Bush] Administration underestimates the difficulties. They may agree that failure isn’t an option, but this does not mean that they will avoid it.

The very same fear was apparent in the war council minutes from July 23, 2002, the Downing Street Memo:

C reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable...There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.

The Briefing Paper for that meeting was still more explicit about the absence of even the most basic post-war planning:

A post-war occupation of Iraq could lead to a protracted and costly nation-building exercise. As already made clear, the US military plans are virtually silent on this point. Washington could look to us to share a disproportionate share of the burden. Further work is required to define more precisely the means by which the desired endstate would be created, in particular what form of Government might replace Saddam Hussein's regime and the timescale within which it would be possible to identify a successor.

Thus the best evidence in the public domain has strongly suggested that any British and American officials who were paying attention were of course deeply concerned that Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld were giving precious little attention to the monumental task of preparing to occupy Iraq. The Channel 4 documentary will demonstrate that those inferences were exactly right all along.

And as many insiders expected, after the invasion things fell apart quickly along predictable lines. The Observer:

Sir Jeremy Greenstock, Britain's envoy to the postwar administration in Baghdad, confirms that Blair was in despair. 'There were moments of throwing his hands in the air: "What can we do?" He was tearing his hair over some of the deficiencies.' The failure to prepare meant that Iraq quickly fell apart. Greenstock adds: 'I just felt it was slipping away from us really, from the beginning. There was no security force controlling the streets. There was no police force to speak of.'

The documentary's presenter, Andrew Rawnsley, also has a commentary about what he learned from interviewing so many British and American officials:

As General Charles Guthrie, former head of the armed forces, puts it: 'Everybody knew that the coalition were going to win the initial battle. But then what?'

Blair himself had repeatedly asked that question during the build-up to the war and with mounting anxiety. A significant witness is Sir David Manning who was his most senior adviser on foreign affairs in No 10 and then became, as he still is, British ambassador in Washington. According to Manning, who speaks on camera for the first time for this series, Blair was extremely exercised that the Americans did not have a clue what they would do after the removal of Saddam. Twelve months before the invasion, he sent Manning to Washington to press his concerns on the White House. On Manning's important account: 'The difficulties the Prime Minister had in mind were, "How do you do it, what would be the reaction if you did it, what would happen on the morning after?"' Blair was deeply concerned that the American plans had not been 'thoroughly rehearsed and thoroughly thought through'.

This tells us that it was very early on that Blair was preparing to send British forces into Iraq. Whatever he was saying in public at this time, he was working on the basis that there would be a war a full year before the invasion. It also tells us that he was prescient enough to identify the danger that the Americans would make a catastrophic mess of the aftermath. And it highlights his own failure to translate that anxiety into effective action to ensure that there was a plan for post-Saddam Iraq.

Again, that's pretty much what we argued two years ago on the basis of the Downing Street Memo. But it's good to have people who were involved acknowledge the truth, finally.

This episode from before the invasion is revealing in a number of ways.

Having committed himself to war, Blair did not like to hear prophecies that echoed his own secret fears. Very shortly before the war, in early 2003, there was an Anglo-French summit. Over lunch, Jacques Chirac warned the Prime Minister that he knew what to expect because the French President had been a young soldier in Algeria. Sir Stephen Wall, a former ambassador and one of Blair's senior advisers, was privy to this conversation. He recalls Chirac telling Blair that there would be a civil war in Iraq. 'We came out and Tony Blair rolled his eyes and said, "Poor old Jacques, he doesn't get it, does he?"' Wall remarks: 'We now know Jacques "got it" rather better than we did.'

One of my first reactions to reading the just-published Downing Street Memo was that it clarified much about the European governments' attitudes toward the American/British warmongering in 2002-2003:

This leaked minute confirms that many world leaders knew well in advance what the Bush administration kept secret from the American public until spring of 2003, that the US intended to invade Iraq. This of course makes even more understandable the consistent opposition and mistrust the Bush administration encountered in the buildup to war, especially in Europe; many leaders in Europe were in a position to know that the war already had the green light, and therefore the posturing before the UN by the Bush administration must have been deeply galling for them.

Blair, the smart-aleck assistant to George Bush, never seems to have wised up to the fact that Bush & Co.'s "plans" for Iraq were all about posturing and nothing more. Rawnsley adds that Blair was stunned when the reality of the Iraq fiasco began to hit him in the face:

Blair's despair became so profound that, according to Mandelson, he was ready 'to walk away from it all'. In the spring of 2004, he came extremely close to resigning as Prime Minister.

Blair invested a huge amount of his faith in his capacity to influence the President. He discovered too late that Bush was only nominally the Commander-in-Chief of the Iraq enterprise. A stark picture emerges of Bush making promises and giving assurances to Blair which were not delivered because Iraq was being run by Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, neither of whom was very interested in listening to their junior British ally.

But is there any conceivable alternate world in which things might have turned out for the better, if only Blair had gotten the influence he so craved? The foolishness of the Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld triumvirate is so great that one is always in danger of underestimating Blair's nearly infinite capacity to learn nothing from experience. Here is Blair's perspective from only seven months ago:

Tony Blair conceded last night that western intervention in Iraq had been a disaster. In an interview with Al-Jazeera, the Arabic TV station, the prime minister agreed with the veteran broadcaster Sir David Frost when he suggested that intervention had "so far been pretty much of a disaster".

Mr Blair said: "It has, but you see, what I say to people is, 'why is it difficult in Iraq?' It's not difficult because of some accident in planning,
it's difficult because there's a deliberate strategy - al-Qaida with Sunni insurgents on one hand, Iranian-backed elements with Shia militias on the other - to create a situation in which the will of the majority for peace is displaced by the will of the minority for war."

Shorter Blair:

The planning we did was perfectly fine, you see.

Sure it was. The real problem was the planning you didn't do.

crossposted from Unbossed and Inconvenient News

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 posted by : smintheus ::  # 1:35 AM   0 comments  

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