President Obama has seized upon North Korea’s missile launch to talk about a new approach to nuclear disarmament. Most people agree with the swell commonplaces associated with Obama’s vague rhetoric. Sure, we shouldn’t blow up the planet. Yes, nuclear weapons are extremely dangerous.
But beyond that, the rules for nuclear armament are very hazy. Who can pursue nuclear weapons changes depending on time, place, and what the United States can gain from allowing (or forbidding) nuclear ambitions.
Certainly, reducing armaments is the pathway to abolishing nuclear weapons. However, the United States has placed itself in the position of favoring/allowing some countries’ nuclear pursuits (United States, United Kingdom, France, Israel, India, China, Russia) ahead of other countries’ sometimes-identical quests (Iran, North Korea, Syria). There was some good in Obama’s Prague speech, but there were also bad pockets. Let’s explore the minefield, shall we?
Good: reducing nukes
Few people adopt qualms for statements like this. It would be nice to live in a safer world where we’re not consumed with the fear that some general somewhere has gone bat shit crazy and sold the nuclear armament codes to Al-Qaeda.
Bad: The complete lack of universality
The United States picks and chooses which countries can, and cannot, pursue nuclear technology. Whilst holding Kim Jong-Il’s missiles just out of his reach, America gives an enthusiastic thumbs-up to Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons in an extremely volatile region of the world.
Soon after North Korea’s missile launch, President Obama gave a speech in Prague during which he declared, “Rules must be binding…Violations must be punished. Words must mean something.” True, but what words? What are these rules, and why do sacred rules only apply to certain people?
Furthermore, “nuclear” describes a range of pursuits from missiles and bombs to energy. Iran claims it wants nuclear energy to power its state, while Israel and the United States claim their true interests lie in nuking Israel off the map. Such a move would be pretty dumb, considering Tehran would be obliterated instantly during the retaliation, but there it is – the strange double standard, combined with vague guidelines: Israel may have nukes, but Iran may not pursue nuclear power because we clairvoyantly believe Iran’s true intentions are to nuke Israel. And yes, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch document all kinds of human rights violations on the part of Israel that should lead us to believe it too is a reactionary government incapable of living humanely with its neighbors, and therefore shouldn’t be trusted with nuclear weapons, but nevermind. Step aside: confusing standards to uphold here.
North Korea’s pursuit of a missile is another illustration of such a variance in priorities. While certainly crazy, Kim Jong-Il is hardly a looming threat to the west. His sputtering rocket is the equivalent of a five-year-old’s tantrum. He got the attention he’s been craving, but he’s unlikely to blast Alaska to smithereens. Call this the flexing-for-attention strategy. Sarah Palin needn’t stakeout the coastline with Todd, and her armed children, just yet.
Bad: Fear-mongering for the sake of geopolitical conquest
I recently interviewed activist and author of several books, Tariq Ali, about the volatility at the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Obama’s rationale behind expanding the covert drone operation within Pakistan is that we can’t let the Taliban get a nuclear weapon. (Pakistan is one of those “nuclear no-no” countries that we curse having the bomb). Mr. Ali very patiently explained to me how absurd this notion is:
I think this is one of the stupidest, fear mongering things. It is true Pakistan is a nuclear state. It is also true that the Pakistani military is half a million strong, that these nuclear facilities are amongst the most heavily guarded facilities in the country, just like they are in the United States, in Israel, in India, in China, in Russia now. So the notion that any armed group of extremists could even get near these facilities is a joke.
But let’s suppose they do. All the nuclear weapons require codes to be fired. These codes are now imbedded in all these weapons. There’s a handful of top military people who know what these codes are. There are also rumors, by the way, that the United States defense intelligence agency has its own personnel in there. This has been denied, but it wouldn’t totally surprise me if it were true.
So there is no problem on that front unless the Pakistani military splits. Were it to split, then all bets are off. And the only reason it would split is if the United States expanded the war into Pakistan, making it extremely difficult for lots of nationalist-minded military officers to go along with this. Because there is that current and they say, “Well, it is our country. Why is the United States using our military bases to bomb our own people?”
What I am saying to you is now news to the administration. There are intelligent people behind Obama, who know all this. And that is why its puzzling as to why they trying to destabilize the country.
Someone explain to Mr. Ali that the United State’s policies don’t have to make sense. The U.S. has nukes, so it gets to make the rules. You don’t have to make sense when you can kill the world with your arsenal of deadly, deadly weapons. Of course, if the U.S. disarms, it may have to shield itself with logic and justice instead of contradictory ideologies, gross favoritism, and the ability to vaporize the world a hundred times over.
If Part 1 of Obama’s Al-Qaeda-with-nukes fear-mongering is Al-Qaeda’s ability to steal a nuke, part 2 is Al-Qaeda’s ability to build a nuclear weapon, a claim impressively more absurd than the one made in part 1.
Building a nuclear weapon isn’t like cooking up some meth in the back of a Chevy Chevette. It takes decades to enrich uranium (ask Iran). With a halfway competent intelligence community (something I would never accuse the U.S. of having, but rather something they should aspire to have,) we’d spot something suspicious in no time. Namely, dodgy, bearded dudes crouching in caves, their faces aglow in an eerie green light from their tubes of uranium.
While Obama’s pursuit (meaning, something beyond pretty words) of nuclear disarmament would be noble, there are other problems with the U.S.’s nuclear philosophy that needs his attention. Double standards, favoritism, and fear-mongering are cancerous elements that rob the U.S. of respect and leverage in the nuclear debate.
The mainstream media’s players are incapable of cognitive dissonance.
The editors of our major, failing newspapers, seem perfectly comfortable with printing foreign policy advice from men, who would be arrested in other countries for war crimes.
I expected some kind of disclaimer before former undersecretary of defense, Douglas Feith’s, New York Times op-ed. Maybe Warning: This man has been accused by Spanish human rights lawyers of providing legal cover to Bush policies under which detainees were tortured. TAKE NOTHING HE SAYS SERIOUSLY.
Or Warning: Douglas Feith created the Counter Terrorism Evaluation Group shortly after 9/11. The group was under investigation by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence for whether it exaggerated the threat posed by Iraq to justify the war.
Or Warning: Taking advice from men like Douglas Feith got us into two wars, which — in case you haven’t been watching television — aren’t going very well, so maybe you shouldn’t take what he has to say very seriously.
Alas, I reached the end of the article to find the following benign interpretation of Feith’s career:Douglas J. Feith, a former under secretary of defense, is a senior fellow and Justin Polin is a research associate at the Hudson Institute.
This is like describing Augusto Pinochet as a stern fellow with an unpopular vision of Chile’s future.
The media continues to perpetuate the cycle of bad advice by treating men like Douglas Feith as “serious” foreign policy “experts.” We could replicate (or possibly improve upon) Feith’s world class strategy advice by dressing a chimp in a suit and having him hurl his own feces at a world map. Wherever the shit lands, that’s where we send our troops. And we only have to pay undersecretary Chimp in bananas.
Our national conversation could benefit greatly from banning Douglas Feithian contributors. Feith has nothing new to offer the debate, anyway. In the Times, he recycles the old arguments that we must invade Pakistan for, like, the good of the people! Remember, this was partly the excuse Neo-Conservatives concotted for why we had to invade and occupy Iraq. While it is true Iraqis were suffering greatly, firebombing their villages was hardly a solution to the problem.
But then, helping the indigenous people is never the real reason we send our army overseas. And men like Douglas Feith know this. Though he writes about spreading the message of moderate religion via radio in Pakistan, his true interests have nothing to do with his love of Pakistani culture. He (and his cronies) are only interested in political and military leverage.
The Times is the only player still harboring the debunked notion that the Neo-Conservatives have something of value to offer the planet.
With two missile strikes over the past week, the Obama administration has expanded the covert war run by the Central Intelligence Agency inside Pakistan, attacking a militant network seeking to topple the Pakistani government.
The missile strikes on training camps run by Baitullah Mehsud represent a broadening of the American campaign inside Pakistan, which has been largely carried out by drone aircraft. Under President Bush, the United States frequently attacked militants from Al Qaeda and the Taliban involved in cross-border attacks into Afghanistan, but had stopped short of raids aimed at Mr. Mehsud and his followers, who have played less of a direct role in attacks on American troops.
The strikes are another sign that President Obama is continuing, and in some cases extending, Bush administration policy in using American spy agencies against terrorism suspects in Pakistan, as he had promised to do during his presidential campaign. At the same time, Mr. Obama has begun to scale back some of the Bush policies on the detention and interrogation of terrorism suspects, which he has criticized as counterproductive.
Mr. Mehsud was identified early last year by both American and Pakistani officials as the man who had orchestrated the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister and the wife of Pakistan’s current president, Asif Ali Zardari. Mr. Bush included Mr. Mehsud’s name in a classified list of militant leaders whom the C.I.A. and American commandos were authorized to capture or kill.
It is unclear why the Obama administration decided to carry out the attacks, which American and Pakistani officials said occurred last Saturday and again on Monday, hitting camps run by Mr. Mehsud’s network. The Saturday strike was aimed specifically at Mr. Mehsud, but he was not killed, according to Pakistani and American officials.
The Monday strike, officials say, was aimed at a camp run by Hakeem Ullah Mehsud, a top aide to the militant. By striking at the Mehsud network, the United States may be seeking to demonstrate to Mr. Zardari that the new administration is willing to go after the insurgents of greatest concern to the Pakistani leader.
But American officials may also be prompted by growing concern that the militant attacks are increasingly putting the civilian government of Pakistan, a nation with nuclear weapons, at risk.
For months, Pakistani military and intelligence officials have complained about Washington’s refusal to strike at Baitullah Mehsud, even while C.I.A. drones struck at Qaeda figures and leaders of the network run by Jalaluddin Haqqani, a militant leader believed responsible for a campaign of violence against American troops in Afghanistan.
According to one senior Pakistani official, Pakistan’s intelligence service on two occasions in recent months gave the United States detailed intelligence about Mr. Mehsud’s whereabouts, but said the United States had not acted on the information. Bush administration officials had charged that it was the Pakistanis who were reluctant to take on Mr. Mehsud and his network.
The strikes came after a visit to Islamabad last week by Richard C. Holbrooke, the American envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan.
In a telephone interview on Friday, Mr. Holbrooke declined to talk about the attacks on Mr. Mehsud. The White House also declined to speak about Mr. Mehsud or the decisions that led up to the new strikes. A C.I.A. spokesman also declined to comment.
Senior Pakistani officials are scheduled to arrive in Washington next week at a time of rising tension over a declared truce between the Pakistani government and militants in the Swat region.
While the administration has not publicly criticized the Pakistanis, several American officials said in interviews in recent days that they believe appeasing the militants would only weaken Pakistan’s civilian government. Mr. Holbrooke said in the interview that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and others would make clear in private, and in detail, why they were so concerned about what was happening in Swat, the need to send more Pakistani forces to the west, and why the deteriorating situation in the tribal areas added to instability in Afghanistan and threats to American forces.
Past efforts to cut deals with the insurgents failed, and many administration officials believe that they ultimately weakened the Pakistani government.
But Obama administration officials face the same intractable problems that the Bush administration did in trying to prod Pakistan toward a different course. Pakistan still deploys the overwhelming majority of its troops along the Indian border, not the border with Afghanistan, and its intelligence agencies maintain shadowy links to the Taliban even as they take American funds to fight them.
Under standard policy for covert operations, the C.I.A. strikes inside Pakistan have not been publicly acknowledged either by the Obama administration or the Bush administration. Using Predators and the more heavily armed Reaper drones, the C.I.A. has carried out more than 30 strikes since last September, according to American and Pakistani officials.
The attacks have killed a number of senior Qaeda figures, including Abu Jihad al-Masri and Usama al-Kini, who is believed to have helped plan the 1998 American Embassy bombings in East Africa and last year’s bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad.
American Special Operations troops based in Afghanistan have also carried out a number of operations into Pakistan’s tribal areas since early September, when a commando raid that killed a number of militants was publicly condemned by Pakistani officials. According to a senior American military official, the commando missions since September have been primarily to gather intelligence.
The meetings hosted by the Obama administration next week will include senior officials from both Pakistan and Afghanistan; Mrs. Clinton is to hold a rare joint meeting on Thursday with foreign ministers from the two countries. Also, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the Pakistani Army chief, will meet with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Lt. Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha, the head of Pakistan’s military spy service, will accompany General Kayani.
Bomber Kills More Than 30
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The police on Friday blamed a suicide bomber for a powerful explosion that killed more than 30 people and wounded at least 50 in the Pakistani city of Dera Ismail Khan, according to residents and Pakistani television reports.
The bombing, aimed at the funeral of a Shiite man who had been shot, set off chaos in the city of a million people on the edge of Pakistan’s tribal areas. Mobs attacked security forces, ransacked shops and surrounded hospitals said the mayor, Abdur Rauf.
Eric Schmitt contributed reporting from Islamabad, Pakistan.
By all accounts, the U.S. is suffering extreme economic woes. We continue to borrow trillions of dollars simply to prevent financial collapse. Our military resources are spread so thin that the establishment consensus view blames the failure of our seven-year (and counting) occupation of Afghanistan, at least in part, on the lack of necessary resources devoted to that occupation. And a significant (though not the only) reason why we are unable to extricate ourselves from the endless resource-draining and liberty-degrading involvement in Middle East conflicts is because our one-sided support for Israel ensures that we remain involved and makes ourselves the target of hatred around the world and, especially, in the Muslim world.
Despite all of that, the Bush administration, just days before it left office,entered into yet another new agreement with Israel pursuant to which the U.S. committed to use its resources to prevent guns and other weapons from entering Gaza. That agreement cites “the steadfast commitment of the United States to Israel’s security” and “and to preserve and strengthen Israel’s capability to deter and defend itself,” and vows that the U.S. will “address the problem of the supply of arms and related materiel and weapons transfers and shipments to Hamas and other terrorist organizations in Gaza.”
Speaking about that new U.S./Israeli agreement on her show late last week, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow (in the course of aggressively questioning an absurdly evasive Sen. Claire McCaskill on the wisdom of Obama’s plans to escalate the war in Afghanistan and noting the cadre of Bush defense officials on whom Obama is relying — video below) observed that the Obama administration has enthusiastically expressed its full support for the new Israeli agreement entered into in the last days of Bush’s presidency. Maddow said (h/t Antiwar.com):
Also, not particularly change-like, then-President Bush made a deal in his final day in office with Israel about the terms of Israel’s relationship with Gaza. I’m sorry – it wasn’t his last day in office. It was within his last few days in office — my mistake.
The U.S. under President Obama is bound by that last-minute agreement between the U.S. and Israel. And a statement from Press Secretary Robert Gibbs today says that President Obama supports the agreement fully.
That new agreement has already led the U.S. Navy last week to take risky and potential illegal actions in intercepting Iranian ships that were transporting arms. As The Jerusalem Post reported:
The interception of an Iranian arms ship by the US Navy in the Red Sea last week likely was conducted as a covert operation and is being played down by the US military due to the lack of a clear legal framework for such operations, an American expert on Iran told The Jerusalem Post on Saturday evening.
International media reported that an Iranian-owned merchant vessel flying a Cypriot flag was boarded early last week by US Navy personnel who discovered artillery shells on board.
The ship was initially suspected of being en route to delivering its cargo to smugglers in Sinai who would transfer the ammunition to Hamas in Gaza, but the US Navy became uncertain over the identity of the intended recipient since “Hamas is not known to use artillery,” The Associated Press cited a defense official as saying. . . .
Prof. Raymond Tanter, president of the Washington-based Iran Policy Committee, said, “It is not surprising that the US Navy is reluctant to acknowledge the operation, which may have been covert,” adding that maritime law posed challenges when it came to intercepting ships that fly the flag of a sovereign country. . . .
For the time being, the interceptions and searches are being carried out on the basis of the memorandum of understanding signed between Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and then-US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on January 16, which is “aimed at halting arms smuggling into Gaza as part of efforts to clinch the cease-fire,” Tanter said.
The article quoted Emily Landau, director of the Arms Control and Regional Security Program at the Institute of National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, as arguing that the risk of provoking a confrontation with Iran from such interceptions is low — but not non-existent — because “Iran is not looking for an armed confrontation [with the US Navy] at this point.”
And Haaretz reports that preventing Palestinians in Gaza from re-arming itself is now — for some reason — an ongoing military operation of the United States:
A United States naval taskforce has been ordered to hunt down weapons ships sent by Iran to rearm its Islamist ally Hamas in Gaza, The Sunday Times reported.
Quoting U.S. diplomatic sources, the British daily said that Combined Task Force 151, which is countering pirates in the Gulf of Aden, has been instructed to track Iranian arms shipments.
There were several aspects of the Israeli attack on Gaza that made it even more horrifying than the standard atrocities of war: (1) the civilian population was trapped — imprisoned — in a tiny densely-populated strip and were unable to escape the brutal attacks; and (2) it was a completely one-sided war, because one side (Israel) is armed to teeth with the world’s most sophisticated and deadly weapons, while the other side (the Palestinians) is virtually defenseless, possessing only the most primitive and (against a force like the IDF) impotent weapons.
What possible justification is there for the U.S. (as opposed to Israel) to use its military and the money of its taxpayers to ensure that the Palestinians remain defenseless? In exactly the way that the U.S. felt free to invade Iraq (with its decayed, sanctions-destroyed “military”) but not North Korea or Iran (with its much more formidable forces), it’s precisely because the conflict is so one-sided that Israel feels no real pressure to cease the activities that, in part, feed this conflict (beginning with still-expanding West Bank settlements and the truly inhumane blockade of Gaza).
Obviously, where one side has its foot on the throat of the other, the side with the far more dominant position has less incentive to resolve the dispute than the side being choked. And it’s perfectly natural — not just for Israel but in general — for a party to want to maintain dominance over its adversaries and to want to prevent its enemies from obtaining weapons that can be used against it. It’s entirely rational for Israel to desire a continuation of that particular state of affairs — i.e., for only Israel, but not the enemies with whom it has intractable territorial and religious conflicts, to have a real military force.
But what does any of that have to do with the U.S. Navy and the American taxpayer? What possible justification is there for using American resources — the American military — to patrol the Red Sea in order to ensure that Gazans remain defenseless? That question is particularly pronounced given that the U.S. is already shoveling, and will continue to shovel, billions and billions of dollars to Israel in military and other aid. Why, on top of all of that, are increasingly scarce American resources, rather than Israeli resources, being used to bar Palestinians from obtaining weapons? And why — as it is more vital than ever that we extricate ourselves from Middle Eastern conflicts — are we making ourselves still more of a partisan and combatant in this most entrenched and religiously-driven territorial dispute over the West Bank and Gaza Strip?
Israel is hardly the only country which the U.S. expends vast resources — including military resources — to defend and protect, and all of those commitments ought to be seriously re-examined. But none of those other commitments entail anywhere near the costs — on every level — of our seemingly limitless willingness, eagerness, to involve ourselves so directly and self-destructively in every last conflict that Israel has. Given what we are constantly being told is the grave economic peril the U.S. faces, shouldn’t we be moving in exactly the opposite direction than the imperial expansion which we continue to pursue?
* * * * *
The day after George H.W. Bush invaded Panama in one of the most absurd (though quite lethal) military operations of the last several decades (“Operation Just Cause”), The New York Times published an article by R.W. Apple on its front page celebrating Bush for having “shown his steel,” proving he was “a man capable of bold action” who “carried a big stick.” The article proclaimed:
For George Bush, the United States invasion of Panama early this morning constituted a Presidential initiation rite as well as an attempt to achieve specific goals. . . . For better or for worse, most American leaders since World War II have felt a need to demonstrate their willingness to shed blood to protect or advance what they construe as the national interest. . . . – all of them acted in the belief that the American political culture required them to show the world promptly that they carried big sticks.
With only a week in office, Barack Obama has already fulfilled this Presidential initiation rite, as his body count — of civilians — already easily exceeds the number of days he’s been President. Last week, two Drone missile attacks struck Pakistani villages, killing numerous civilians (including children) and maybe — though maybe not — a couple of “Al Qaeda operatives.” And as Obama prepares to escalate the war in Afghanistan, a U.S. attack on Saturday killed 16 Afghan civilians (according to the Afghan government), and it was reported that more than 4,000 Afghan civilians were killed in the last year alone. And read this harrowing account of what happened in an Afghan village several weeks ago during a U.S. raid and the effect this is all having on the attitudes of Afghan civilians towards the U.S. occupation (as is typically the case, the U.S. military denies the claims of the villagers).
Despite all of that, Joe Biden yesterday told us all to expect a rise in casualties. Questions of justifiability to the side for the moment, there is almost no discussion of what possible good will be achieved by escalating the seven-year war in Afghanistan (though the New York Times did run a thorough story on some of these questions over the weekend). As part of the above-referenced MSNBC segment, Rachel Maddow highlighted all of the right questions, pointed to a number of vital parallels between our occupation of that country and the Soviet Union’s self-destructive attempt to control it, and tried — with total futility — to induce key Obama ally Sen. Claire McCaskill to address any of these questions in a meaningful way:
We like our failed presidents to be Shakespearean, or at least large enough to inspire Oscar-worthy performances from magnificent tragedians like Frank Langella. So here, too, George W. Bush has let us down. Even the banality of evil is too grandiose a concept for 43. He is not a memorable villain so much as a sometimes affable second banana whom Josh Brolin and Will Ferrell can nail without breaking a sweat. He’s the reckless Yalie Tom Buchanan, not Gatsby. He is smaller than life.
The last NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll on Bush’s presidency found that 79 percent of Americans will not miss him after he leaves the White House. He is being forgotten already, even if he’s not yet gone. You start to pity him until you remember how vast the wreckage is. It stretches from the Middle East to Wall Street to Main Street and even into the heavens, which have been a safe haven for toxins under his passive stewardship. The discrepancy between the grandeur of the failure and the stature of the man is a puzzlement. We are still trying to compute it.
The one indisputable talent of his White House was its ability to create and sell propaganda both to the public and the press. Now that bag of tricks is empty as well. Bush’s first and last photo-ops in Iraq could serve as bookends to his entire tenure. On Thanksgiving weekend 2003, even as the Iraqi insurgency was spiraling, his secret trip to the war zone was a P.R. slam-dunk. The photo of the beaming commander in chief bearing a supersized decorative turkey for the troops was designed to make every front page and newscast in the country, and it did. Five years later, in what was intended as a farewell victory lap to show off Iraq’s improved post-surge security, Bush was reduced to ducking shoes.
He tried to spin the ruckus as another victory for his administration’s program of democracy promotion. “That’s what people do in a free society,” he said. He had made the same claim three years ago after the Palestinian elections, championed by his “freedom agenda” (and almost $500 million of American aid), led to a landslide victory for Hamas. “There is something healthy about a system that does that,” Bush observed at the time, as he congratulated Palestinian voters for rejecting “the old guard.”
The ruins of his administration’s top policy priority can be found not only in Gaza but in the new “democratic” Iraq, where the local journalist who tossed the shoes was jailed without formal charges and may have been tortured. Almost simultaneously, opponents of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki accused him of making politically motivated arrests of rival-party government officials in anticipation of this month’s much-postponed provincial elections.
Condi Rice blamed the press for the image that sullied Bush’s Iraq swan song: “That someone chose to throw a shoe at the president is what gets reported over and over.” We are back where we came in. This was the same line Donald Rumsfeld used to deny the significance of the looting in Baghdad during his famous “Stuff happens!” press conference of April 2003. “Images you are seeing on television you are seeing over, and over, and over,” he said then, referring to the much-recycled video of a man stealing a vase from the Baghdad museum. “Is it possible that there were that many vases in the whole country?” he asked, playing for laughs.
The joke was on us. Iraq burned, New Orleans flooded, and Bush remained oblivious to each and every pratfall on his watch. Americans essentially stopped listening to him after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, but he still doesn’t grasp the finality of their defection. Lately he’s promised not to steal the spotlight from Barack Obama once he’s in retirement — as if he could do so by any act short of running naked through downtown Dallas. The latest CNN poll finds that only one-third of his fellow citizens want him to play a post-presidency role in public life.
Bush is equally blind to the collapse of his propaganda machinery. Almost poignantly, he keeps trying to hawk his goods in these final days, like a salesman who hasn’t been told by the home office that his product has been discontinued. Though no one is listening, he has given more exit interviews than either Clinton or Reagan did. Along with old cronies like Karl Rove and Karen Hughes, he has also embarked on a Bush “legacy project,” as Stephen Hayes of The Weekly Standard described it on CNN.
To this end, Rove has repeated a stunt he first fed to the press two years ago: he is once again claiming that he and Bush have an annual book-reading contest, with Bush chalking up as many as 95 books a year, by authors as hifalutin as Camus. This hagiographic portrait of Bush the Egghead might be easier to buy were the former national security official Richard Clarke not quoted in the new Vanity Fair saying that both Rice and her deputy, Stephen Hadley, had instructed him early on to keep his memos short because the president is “not a big reader.”
Another, far more elaborate example of legacy spin can be downloaded from the White House Web site: a booklet recounting “highlights” of the administration’s “accomplishments and results.” With big type, much white space, children’s-book-like trivia boxes titled “Did You Know?” and lots of color photos of the Bushes posing with blacks and troops, its 52 pages require a reading level closer to “My Pet Goat” than “The Stranger.”
This document is the literary correlative to “Mission Accomplished.” Bush kept America safe (provided his presidency began Sept. 12, 2001). He gave America record economic growth (provided his presidency ended December 2007). He vanquished all the leading Qaeda terrorists (if you don’t count the leaders bin Laden and al-Zawahri). He gave Afghanistan a thriving “market economy” (if you count its skyrocketing opium trade) and a “democratically elected president” (presiding over one of the world’s most corrupt governments). He supported elections in Pakistan (after propping up Pervez Musharraf past the point of no return). He “led the world in providing food aid and natural disaster relief” (if you leave out Brownie and Katrina).
If this is the best case that even Bush and his handlers can make for his achievements, you wonder why they bothered. Desperate for padding, they devote four risible pages to portraying our dear leader as a zealous environmentalist.
But the brazenness of Bush’s alternative-reality history is itself revelatory. The audacity of its hype helps clear up the mystery of how someone so slight could inflict so much damage. So do his many print and television exit interviews.
The man who emerges is a narcissist with no self-awareness whatsoever. It’s that arrogance that allowed him to tune out even the most calamitous of realities, freeing him to compound them without missing a step. The president who famously couldn’t name a single mistake of his presidency at a press conference in 2004 still can’t.
He can, however, blame everyone else. Asked (by Charles Gibson) if he feels any responsibility for the economic meltdown, Bush says, “People will realize a lot of the decisions that were made on Wall Street took place over a decade or so, before I arrived.” Asked if the 2008 election was a repudiation of his administration, he says “it was a repudiation of Republicans.”
“The attacks of September the 11th came out of nowhere,” he said in another interview, as if he hadn’t ignored frantic intelligence warnings that summer of a Qaeda attack. But it was an “intelligence failure,” not his relentless invocation of patently fictitious “mushroom clouds,” that sped us into Iraq. Did he take too long to change course in Iraq? “What seems like an eternity today,” he says, “may seem like a moment tomorrow.” Try telling that to the families of the thousands killed and maimed during that multiyear “moment” as Bush stubbornly stayed his disastrous course.
The crowning personality tic revealed by Bush’s final propaganda push is his bottomless capacity for self-pity. “I was a wartime president, and war is very exhausting,” he told C-Span. “The president ends up carrying a lot of people’s grief in his soul,” he told Gibson. And so when he visits military hospitals, “it’s always been a healing experience,” he told The Wall Street Journal. But, incredibly enough, it’s his own healing he is concerned about, not that of the grievously wounded men and women he sent to war on false pretenses. It’s “the comforter in chief” who “gets comforted,” he explained, by “the character of the American people.” The American people are surely relieved to hear it.
With this level of self-regard, it’s no wonder that Bush could remain undeterred as he drove the country off a cliff. The smugness is reinforced not just by his history as the entitled scion of one of America’s aristocratic dynasties but also by his conviction that his every action is blessed from on high. Asked last month by an interviewer what he has learned from his time in office, he replied: “I’ve learned that God is good. All the time.”
Once again he is shifting the blame. This presidency was not about Him. Bush failed because in the end it was all about him.
Maureen Dowd and Thomas L. Friedman are off today. (Thank God.)
The public editor’s column will return next week. (Booooo.)
Massive forced civilian displacements, violence, and unmet medical needs in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Iraq,Sudan, and Pakistan, along with neglected medical emergencies in Myanmar and Zimbabwe, are some of the worst humanitarian and medical emergencies in the world, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) reports in its annual list of the “Top Ten” humanitarian crises.
The report underscores major difficulties in bringing assistance to people affected by conflict. The lack of global attention to the growing prevalence of HIV-tuberculosis co-infection and the critical need for increased global efforts to prevent and treat childhood malnutrition—the underlying cause of death for up to five million children per year—are also included in the list.
WASHINGTON — The United States military since 2004 has used broad, secret authority to carry out nearly a dozen previously undisclosed attacks against Al Qaeda and other militants in Syria, Pakistan and elsewhere, according to senior American officials.
These military raids, typically carried out by Special Operations forces, were authorized by a classified order that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld signed in the spring of 2004 with the approval of President Bush, the officials said. The secret order gave the military new authority to attack the Qaeda terrorist network anywhere in the world, and a more sweeping mandate to conduct operations in countries not at war with the United States.
In 2006, for example, a Navy Seal team raided a suspected militants’ compound in the Bajaur region of Pakistan, according to a former top official of the Central Intelligence Agency. Officials watched the entire mission — captured by the video camera of a remotely piloted Predator aircraft — in real time in the C.I.A.’s Counterterrorist Center at the agency’s headquarters in Virginia 7,000 miles away.
Some of the military missions have been conducted in close coordination with the C.I.A., according to senior American officials, who said that in others, like the Special Operations raid in Syria on Oct. 26 of this year, the military commandos acted in support of C.I.A.-directed operations.
But as many as a dozen additional operations have been canceled in the past four years, often to the dismay of military commanders, senior military officials said. They said senior administration officials had decided in these cases that the missions were too risky, were too diplomatically explosive or relied on insufficient evidence.
More than a half-dozen officials, including current and former military and intelligence officials as well as senior Bush administration policy makers, described details of the 2004 military order on the condition of anonymity because of its politically delicate nature. Spokesmen for the White House, the Defense Department and the military declined to comment.
Apart from the 2006 raid into Pakistan, the American officials refused to describe in detail what they said had been nearly a dozen previously undisclosed attacks, except to say they had been carried out in Syria, Pakistan and other countries. They made clear that there had been no raids into Iran using that authority, but they suggested that American forces had carried out reconnaissance missions in Iran using other classified directives.
According to a senior administration official, the new authority was spelled out in a classified document called “Al Qaeda Network Exord,” or execute order, that streamlined the approval process for the military to act outside officially declared war zones. Where in the past the Pentagon needed to get approval for missions on a case-by-case basis, which could take days when there were only hours to act, the new order specified a way for Pentagon planners to get the green light for a mission far more quickly, the official said.
It also allowed senior officials to think through how the United States would respond if a mission went badly. “If that helicopter goes down in Syria en route to a target,” a former senior military official said, “the American response would not have to be worked out on the fly.”
The 2004 order was a step in the evolution of how the American government sought to kill or capture Qaeda terrorists around the world. It was issued after the Bush administration had already granted America’s intelligence agencies sweeping power to secretly detain and interrogate terrorism suspects in overseas prisons and to conduct warrantless eavesdropping on telephone and electronic communications.
Shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks, Mr. Bush issued a classified order authorizing the C.I.A. to kill or capture Qaeda militants around the globe. By 2003, American intelligence agencies and the military had developed a much deeper understanding of Al Qaeda’s extensive global network, and Mr. Rumsfeld pressed hard to unleash the military’s vast firepower against militants outside the combat zones of Iraq and Afghanistan.
The 2004 order identifies 15 to 20 countries, including Syria, Pakistan, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and several other Persian Gulf states, where Qaeda militants were believed to be operating or to have sought sanctuary, a senior administration official said.
Even with the order, each specific mission requires high-level government approval. Targets in Somalia, for instance, need at least the approval of the defense secretary, the administration official said, while targets in a handful of countries, including Pakistan and Syria, require presidential approval.
The Pentagon has exercised its authority frequently, dispatching commandos to countries including Pakistan and Somalia. Details of a few of these strikes have previously been reported.
For example, shortly after Ethiopian troops crossed into Somalia in late 2006 to dislodge an Islamist regime in Mogadishu, the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Commandquietly sent operatives and AC-130 gunships to an airstrip near the Ethiopian town of Dire Dawa. From there, members of a classified unit called Task Force 88 crossed repeatedly into Somalia to hunt senior members of a Qaeda cell believed to be responsible for the 1998 American Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.
At the time, American officials said Special Operations troops were operating under a classified directive authorizing the military to kill or capture Qaeda operatives if failure to act quickly would mean the United States had lost a “fleeting opportunity” to neutralize the enemy.
Occasionally, the officials said, Special Operations troops would land in Somalia to assess the strikes’ results. On Jan. 7, 2007, an AC-130 struck an isolated fishing village near the Kenyan border, and within hours, American commandos and Ethiopian troops were examining the rubble to determine whether any Qaeda operatives had been killed.
But even with the new authority, proposed Pentagon missions were sometimes scrubbed because of bad intelligence or bureaucratic entanglements, senior administration officials said.
The details of one of those aborted operations, in early 2005, were reported by The New York Times last June. In that case, an operation to send a team of the Navy Seals and the Army Rangers into Pakistan to capture Ayman al-Zawahri, Osama bin Laden’s top deputy, was aborted at the last minute.
Mr. Zawahri was believed by intelligence officials to be attending a meeting in Bajaur, in Pakistan’s tribal areas, and the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Command hastily put together a plan to capture him. There were strong disagreements inside the Pentagon and the C.I.A. about the quality of the intelligence, however, and some in the military expressed concern that the mission was unnecessarily risky.
Porter J. Goss, the C.I.A. director at the time, urged the military to carry out the mission, and some in the C.I.A. even wanted to execute it without informing Ryan C. Crocker, then the American ambassador to Pakistan. Mr. Rumsfeld ultimately refused to authorize the mission.
Former military and intelligence officials said that Lt. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who recently completed his tour as head of the Joint Special Operations Command, had pressed for years to win approval for commando missions into Pakistan. But the missions were frequently rejected because officials in Washington determined that the risks to American troops and the alliance with Pakistan were too great.
Capt. John Kirby, a spokesman for General McChrystal, who is now director of the military’s Joint Staff, declined to comment.
The recent raid into Syria was not the first time that Special Operations forces had operated in that country, according to a senior military official and an outside adviser to the Pentagon.
Since the Iraq war began, the official and the outside adviser said, Special Operations forces have several times made cross-border raids aimed at militants and infrastructure aiding the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq.
The raid in late October, however, was much more noticeable than the previous raids, military officials said, which helps explain why it drew a sharp protest from the Syrian government.
Negotiations to hammer out the 2004 order took place over nearly a year and involved wrangling between the Pentagon and the C.I.A. and the State Department about the military’s proper role around the world, several administration officials said.
American officials said there had been debate over whether to include Iran in the 2004 order, but ultimately Iran was set aside, possibly to be dealt with under a separate authorization.
Senior officials of the State Department and the C.I.A. voiced fears that military commandos would encroach on their turf, conducting operations that historically the C.I.A. had carried out, and running missions without an ambassador’s knowledge or approval.
Mr. Rumsfeld had pushed in the years after the Sept. 11 attacks to expand the mission of Special Operations troops to include intelligence gathering and counterterrorism operations in countries where American commandos had not operated before.
Bush administration officials have shown a determination to operate under an expansive definition of self-defense that provides a legal rationale for strikes on militant targets in sovereign nations without those countries’ consent.
Several officials said the negotiations over the 2004 order resulted in closer coordination among the Pentagon, the State Department and the C.I.A., and set a very high standard for the quality of intelligence necessary to gain approval for an attack.
The 2004 order also provided a foundation for the orders that Mr. Bush approved in July allowing the military to conduct raids into the Pakistani tribal areas, including the Sept. 3 operation by Special Operations forces that killed about 20 militants, American officials said.
Administration officials said that Mr. Bush’s approval had paved the way for Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to sign an order — separate from the 2004 order — that specifically directed the military to plan a series of operations, in cooperation with the C.I.A., on the Qaeda network and other militant groups linked to it in Pakistan.
Unlike the 2004 order, in which Special Operations commanders nominated targets for approval by senior government officials, the order in July was more of a top-down approach, directing the military to work with the C.I.A. to find targets in the tribal areas, administration officials said. They said each target still needed to be approved by the group of Mr. Bush’s top national security and foreign policy advisers, called the Principals Committee.
On Sunday, the War on Terror spilled into Syria, and the only people more surprised than the Syrians are Americans. See, the war has already spilled into Pakistan. It’s unclear where the United States will be heading next, but I hear Kazakhstan is hunkered down and braced for an attack at any moment. Sure, they’re a member of NATO and the UN, and have nothing to do with any of this, but their funny-sounding name and population of foreigners is working against their innocence. All it will take to gain popular support for an air assault is the presence of American ignorance regarding Kazakhstan’s people, policies, and culture. Bad news Kazakhstan: we have no idea who you are. Head for the hills!
Even as the war expands, the definition of victory remains opaque. Though the Bush administration has no long-term vision of what a stable Middle East looks like (Bush has said something about an Iraqi ‘Mickey D’s being a ‘sweet idea’)several senior American officials simply expressed hope that the unwise war policies of preemption and perpetual, borderless war would “be embraced by the next president as well.” And these policies will be embraced unless the American people demand something different from their leaders.
At home, people are losing their jobs and their homes, while their tax dollars go to bailing out corporate crooks who base their livelihoods on speculative lending, shady mortgages, and outsourcing American jobs overseas. The policies of corporate socialism (where tax dollars go to bailing out huge corporations) will also continue unless the American people stand up and say no more.
In desperate times, the American people have a history of embracing the least worst politician, but it’s time they demand more from the next president of the United States. It’s time to transcend pretty rhetoric and empty promises. The new president must aggressively embrace a Progressive agenda or it will be impossible to reverse the damage committed over the past few decades.
Ralph Nader, Independent Party presidential candidate, has been pleading with the American people to demand more from their leaders. Unsurprisingly, the corporately sponsored Commission on Presidential Debates did not permit Nader into the debates, even though a majority of the American people supported opening the debates to other party candidates.
Regardless of how one feels about his presence in the 2008 election, Ralph Nader is undeniably the leader of the last real Progressive wave in this country. It was because of his uncompromising vision that Congress passed the 1966 National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act. Just during the 5-year period between 2002 and 2006, seat belts have saved over 75,000 lives (PDF). His list of Progressive accomplishments includes the Clean Air and Water Acts, the Occupational Health and Safety Act, and the Freedom of Information Act.
Ralph Nader and his army of conscientious citizens were the last organized, serious movement that demanded accountability from Washington.
The so-called Progressives today are allowing Barack Obama to compromise on everything from FISA to the anti-war movement. But even as he votes for telecom immunity and talks about Afghanistan as the good war, Obama has never lied about being a Progressive. In fact, he seems rather confused that any of his followers think he’ll be anything but a centrist in the White House. Progressive groups that score Obama with a 50% approval rating seem confused by this as well.
The Progressives have pinned their hopes and dreams to a man they have asked nothing of, and they’re going to be sorely disappointed when he, in turn, does nothing for them.
When I interviewed Ralph Nader, he explained what will happen if Barack Obama is elected president:
You take the 20 leading groups supporting him in the liberal-progressive pantheon: labor, anti-poverty, civil rights, women’s rights, gay-lesbian rights, environment, consumer – you name it – not one of them is putting any demands on him. Unconditional voting for the least worst of the two parties means that your vote has no political leverage whatsoever. It allows Obama to take it for granted, and not give the anti-war people anything because he knows he has the anti-war vote. Then they go to the right wing and slice off a few votes there by going more corporate and flip-flopping on offshore drilling. This is the same merry-go-round every four years. The liberal intelligentsia is doomed unless they solve this problem of unconditional voting for the least worst candidate.
Closed debates and apathetic, naïve voters will result in a continuation of Bush’s policies, and Americans will be told to wait another four years for single payer health care, a living wage, the end of the Iraq war, cutting the bloated military budget, ending the death penalty, ending the wasteful War on Drugs, investing in solar power, and the end of nuclear power.
When neither party is talking about any of the above issues, the American people are screwed because they’re at the mercy of a winner-take-all system. Nader explains:
The people are in a two party prison. There can be something like a Green Party in Germany because if you win 5% of the vote you get 5% of the parliament. Here, you’ve got to win 51% or a plurality, which is why people don’t support small starts to make them build into larger movements because they think: well, they’re only 4 or 5% in the polls and I don’t want to waste my vote. It’s time to break out of the prison.
A 4-5% Progressive voice won’t be enough to create real change. And Americans are ready for real change. They don’t want to triangulate and compromise. Compromise results in, as Nader puts it, “a macho competition” between Democrats and Republicans, who disagree on if abortion is a matter of killing babies, but agree on bombing foreign babies every chance they get. The 2008 US military cash-burning extravaganza is currently hovering around the $623 billion mark. That’s more than the rest of the world’s military budgets, combined.
It’s time Progressives stop playing defense and start setting the agenda. They can do that by putting real pressure on Barack Obama if he is elected president. They must organize and demand a stop to the wars, and not settle for, as Obama is suggesting, the continued presence of U.S. bases and private mercenaries. They also must demand publicly funded elections, and an open system that allows the American myth that anyone can run for president to become reality.
Currently, the Military-Industrial Complex, which feeds on war and suffering, controls America. Progressives claim to be the blockade between greedy politicians and federal tax dollars, and yet they are continuing to let Obama get away with catering to the middle.
They make this unforgivable compromise because they’re certain Obama is a radical Progressive simply spouting some centrist rhetoric until he can get into the White House. And then it’s free health care and peace for everybody!
I’m paraphrasing what a California lawyer told me at the Nader-Gonzalez Wall Street bailout rally a few weeks ago. Michelle, the lawyer, and a minority Obama supporter (she came to the rally because she was curious,) said she was absolutely 100% certain that Barack Obama was a Progressive, and he is only saying he’s pro-death penalty and for the bailout because he needs to get elected.
I asked her what evidence she had of this claim. She had none. She just felt it in her heart.
Progressives need to stop acting on what they feel in their hearts and look at what is happening to their leadership. If they don’t collectively demand real, sweeping reform from the next president, then the president will bow to the only real pressure he feels – the pressure from corporations and war hawks.
For more information on Ralph Nader, visit: Votenader.org.