Saturday, November 26, 2005


The bamboozling of Tony Blair

The pundits have declared British Prime Minister Tony Blair's political fortunes to be in decline ever since Parliament refused to go along with his latest attempt to deprive British subjects of what few civil liberties they have.

Bush and Blair in happier times.

So what does a weakened PM do if he hopes to have any chance to continue to govern, especially in light of a Parliamentary move to investigate the decision to take Britain into the Iraq war? A smart Prime Minister gets as far away from George Bush as oceans will allow, and that appears to be just what Tony Blair is doing.

But mere distancing would be passive. Blair is trying to paint himself as an antiwar activist without whom there is simply no telling what death and destruction Bush might have wreaked upon the planet. He's hoping the British public can be brought to look upon him as a savior from what could have been a much worse fate.

The al-Jazeera transcript

First, there was the leak of the transcript in which Bush is said to have wanted to bomb the bejesus out of al-Jazeera's TV station in Qatar, an American ally. The Bush-Blair conversation took place on April 16 of last year, and the memo of it was lying around the office of MP Tony Clarke by the following month. So how come it's just surfaced? You're welcome to believe the timing was fortuitous, but I don't. The headline to the story as carried by Agence France-Presse was "Blair talked Bush out of bombing al-Jazeera: report." For Blair it really can't get any better than that.

Of course, Blair must disavow the leak lest Bush do more than cut down the Queen's roses. The evocation of the Official Secrets Act to stifle publication of the transcript is strictly for White House consumption as is the indictment of the men responsible for the leak. One of the men, Leo O'Connor, is being staunchly defended by his boss Tony Clarke, and there is no way on earth the government is going to get a conviction. Personally, I expect the transcript itself to emerge sooner rather than later.

The "double-cross"

Now comes the story in today's Independent headlined "Blair 'double-crossed' by Bush aides." We are treated to a tale of pure Blairian innocence by no less a raconteur than Valerie Plame's husband Joe Wilson—

Tony Blair was "doubled-crossed" by United States President George W. Bush's aides in the run-up to the Iraq war, according to the former diplomat at the centre of the political crisis engulfing the White House.

Former Ambassador Joe Wilson, whose wife Valerie Plame was allegedly "outed" as an undercover CIA agent, says Blair was duped by the White House into supporting action against Iraq to force disarmament on Saddam Hussein when regime change was their key objective.

Wilson said: "I watched the way that the British built their case, and it was a disarmament case as best I could see it.

"Blair came to the US when Bush was talking about regime change, and when he left Bush started talking about disarmament as the objective."

He praised Blair for persuading Bush to go to the UN Security Council for support for action against Iraq. "I think that Blair really thought that he was getting involved in a disarmament campaign, which was all to the good - I fully supported that. I think at the end of the day he was double-crossed by the regime change crowd in Washington."

Wilson is the most senior Bush administration figure to claim Blair was tricked by the White House....

What piffle! To suggest that Blair had no clue that "regime change" was the American goal makes me wonder if Joe Wilson would have recognized yellowcake uranium lying beside a Geiger counter. Blair hoped to legitimize the invasion, and to that end he huffed and puffed about disarmament. But when all was said and done Blair still had to compel his attorney general to write an equivocal prewar justification for his government's attack on Iraq.

And let us recall what we know from the Downing Street memos. James Button was reporting inThe Age this past May—

British Prime Minister Tony Blair supported US President George Bush's plan for "regime change" in Iraq as early as April 2002, despite saying publicly until the eve of war in March 2003 that "no decisions" had been taken over invading Iraq.

This is suggested in a secret Downing Street memo published by The Sunday Times yesterday.

The memo shows Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told the July meeting that the case for war was "thin". Saddam was not threatening his neighbours and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran, Mr Straw said.

The memo also shows that Attorney-General Lord Goldsmith warned Mr Blair eight months before the invasion that finding a legal justification for war would be difficult and "the desire for regime change was not a legal base for military action".

I very much doubt that the motion for a Parliamentary select committee to investigate Britain's pre-invasion activities will pass. Still it has come further than some had expected, and is a point of pressure that Tony Blair cannot afford to ignore. According to the BBC account—

There have been four separate inquiries into different aspects of the Iraq war, including the Butler report into intelligence failings and the Hutton inquiry.

But there has yet to be an an inquiry focusing on the way the government's decision to join a US-led invasion was made.

The MPs' motion calls for the setting-up of a special select committee to carry out this task.

The seven strong committee would be members of the Privy Council and therefore able to look at sensitive intelligence material.

The motion is headed: "Conduct of Government policy in relation to the war against Iraq."

It reads: "This House believes there should be a select committee of seven Members, being Members of Her Majesty's Privy Council, to review the way in which the responsibilities of government were discharged in relation to Iraq and all matters relevant thereto in the period leading up to military action in that country in March, 2003 and in its aftermath."

I've thought for some time that the greatest risk to the Bush administration is Tony Blair. Like the Germans, the British have been creating documents where memory would have served, and they seem strangely incapable of keeping them from the press.

Related post
A slight shudder and a pulling-away (5/16/05)
David Manning's memo to Blair of 14 March 2002 (6/17/05)

Tuesday, November 22, 2005


All quiet on the Western Front

So close to Veterans Day the death of Scotsman Alfred Anderson should not go unnoticed. Mr. Anderson, 109, was Scotland's last veteran of World War I as well as the country's oldest man. Frank Urquhart reports that—

Alfred Anderson was the last of the "Old Contemptibles" - the British expeditionary force which went to war in 1914....

Mr Anderson was also a witness to the remarkable truce on the Western Front on Christmas Day 1914, when British and German troops left their trenches to exchange cigarettes, sing carols and celebrate a brief armistice.

At the time of the truce, Mr Anderson's platoon had been briefly sent back a short distance from the front line. He later recalled: "There was not a sound to be heard for a while - nothing. And then we heard some cheering. This had been the two sides fraternising, I think. Some of the boys came back from the front line and told us in the billets what was happening. Then it became the usual thing. The silence ended early in the afternoon and the killing started again. It was a short peace in a terrible war."


Symptom of Republican Malaise of the Day

We cannot do democracy without a heavy dose of civility. —Rep. Mike Pence, Republican from Indiana, as quoted in "Iraq War Debate Eclipses All Other Issues"


The Democrats: Clueless in Seattle

The Republicans of Washington State have not gotten over the loss of the governorship by a mere 129 votes in an election that seesawed in the vote count and was finally settled only in the state supreme court. In the recent election of November 8 final results have yet to be announced, and the Republicans are once again challenging some 200 votes.

Gregory Roberts writes of the to-do

It's an early skirmish in what the GOP promises will be a long and bitter war, a conflict that breaks sharply along the political divide, with both Republicans and Democrats claiming the moral high ground.

"It's perfectly logical to see that we're tying to prevent vote fraud," state GOP Chairman Chris Vance said.

His Democratic counterpart, Paul Berendt, countered, "The Republicans have been fighting to take away the right of people to vote."

That perfectly limns the positions—

The Republican effort

This past summer, when Republican precinct captains in King County looked over their neighborhood voter lists for the upcoming city and county elections, they discovered numerous errors, Vance said. Thus was born the Voter Registration Integrity Project, headed by county GOP Vice Chairwoman Lori Sotelo, a strictly homegrown affair that's the first of its kind in Washington state, Vance said.

Sotelo applied computer technology to county voter data bases, and in mid-October the GOP announced the discovery of thousands of duplicate registrations (double registrations are not cause for challenges of voter eligibility).1

Republican researchers also looked up mailbox services and storage units in the Yellow Pages and compared the addresses with their databases to ferret out phony residences, Vance said. On Oct. 26, Sotelo formally challenged 1,944 registrations on the grounds that the voters had not provided valid residence addresses, as required by state law.

And that's just the beginning, Vance has said.

But the GOP has not claimed any deliberate fraud by voters.

The Democratic position

Indeed, Democratic politicians quickly accused the Republicans of attempting to scare voters away from the polls. And Democratic lawyers claim the GOP challenges are invalid because they do not specify the true residences of the voters in question, as required by state law. The county Canvassing Board is holding hearings to decide the issue.

"We're not going to let this slide," Berendt said. "If we don't nip this in the bud, they are going to be harassing innocent voters for years to come."

His party is called "democratic" for a reason, Berendt said, and defending the rights of all legitimate voters is one of its core values.

"What they are aiming for is partisan advantage, and not voter integrity."

Berendt acknowledged he's got a partisan dog in the fight as well.

"Do Republican efforts to depress voter turnout hurt the Democratic Party? You bet."

Does joining the Democratic Party lower IQ?

The specifics of the Republican challenges will be heard by the King County Canvassing Board and their legitimacy decided. But however the Board rules, the Democrats will be losers.

While there is no question that Republicans will disenfranchise Democratic-leaning minorities at every turn, supporting the inaccuracy of voter roles should not be a position of either party.

When the Republicans initiated their "Voter Registration Integrity Project," the Democrats should have immediately countered with a "Registration Verification and Assistance Project." The purpose of the Democratic effort would be "to verify (and help correct when necessary) the registrations of all those wishing to vote to ensure that the registrant's vote will count." This would have taken the wind out of Republican sails. But it would also have made clear that Democrats also support accurate voter roles while trying to assure that everyone has the right to vote. To behave in any other way is simply a turn-off for independent voters.

Likewise, to cast the matter as oppression of the minority vote is a turn-off for majority voters. If the Democrats truly want to help minority voters, they should be checking registrations before the Republicans can even get there. They should not allow them to lead on the issue.

Excuses, excuses

At the end of his article Roberts offers a dose of cynicism from "an academic expert"—

... New York University law professor Richard Pildes, said ballot security programs are invariably influenced by partisan considerations.

"No one does this for good-government reasons in the abstract," he said. "It's the political parties that usually take the lead in that process, and it's no surprise that they focus on ways that they think will enhance their partisan self-interest."

This may be true of the political parties themselves, but I doubt it's true of the American electorate. But reporters have taken to injecting this sort of cynicism into their reporting quite regularly (which is material for another post). It is a way of excusing the politicians.

Related post
The Left continues gains in Europe: Labor victory in Norway (9/13/05)


1 It certainly says nothing good about those responsible for the King County voter roles that thousands of duplicates could exist. A computer program to check for duplicates is easy to write (how else could the Republicans have done it?), and it really is inexcusable that this check wasn't done internally. [back]

The shame of former Senator Bob Graham

Howard Fineman writes in Newsweek,

To answer the charges that Bush "deliberately misled" the country on WMD, the White House is arguing that most Democrats—and most U.N. officials and European intelligence agencies—thought Saddam had WMD, too. Bush aides argue that Democrats saw the same intel and came to the same conclusions Bush did (an assertion Democrats hotly dispute).

One Democrat who is hotly disputing that assertion is ex-Senator Bob Graham, formerly a big name on the Senate Intelligence Committee. Writing in high dudgeon, he penned his own response in the Washington Post

The president's attacks are outrageous. Yes, more than 100 Democrats voted to authorize him to take the nation to war. Most of them, though, like their Republican colleagues, did so in the legitimate belief that the president and his administration were truthful in their statements that Saddam Hussein was a gathering menace -- that if Hussein was not disarmed, the smoking gun would become a mushroom cloud.

The president has undermined trust. No longer will the members of Congress be entitled to accept his veracity. Caveat emptor has become the word. Every member of Congress is on his or her own to determine the truth.

Graham then sets to explaining his role leading up to the vote to authorize the invasion of Iraq. He begins—

As chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence during the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, and the run-up to the Iraq war, I probably had as much access to the intelligence on which the war was predicated as any other member of Congress.

As chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, you would hope so. But that's an odd way of describing the situation. Graham in fact had more access to intelligence than most other members of Congress.

At a meeting of the Senate intelligence committee on Sept. 5, 2002, CIA Director George Tenet was asked what the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) provided as the rationale for a preemptive war in Iraq. An NIE is the product of the entire intelligence community, and its most comprehensive assessment. I was stunned when Tenet said that no NIE had been requested by the White House and none had been prepared. Invoking our rarely used senatorial authority, I directed the completion of an NIE.

Tenet objected, saying that his people were too committed to other assignments to analyze Saddam Hussein's capabilities and will to use chemical, biological and possibly nuclear weapons.1 We insisted, and three weeks later the community produced a classified NIE.

There were troubling aspects to this 90-page document. While slanted toward the conclusion that Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction stored or produced at 550 sites, it contained vigorous dissents on key parts of the information, especially by the departments of State and Energy. Particular skepticism was raised about aluminum tubes that were offered as evidence Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear program. As to Hussein's will to use whatever weapons he might have, the estimate indicated he would not do so unless he was first attacked.

Graham also learned that the CIA information had not been independently verified by a disinterested party.

Now what follows is a terrible indictment, first, of the process. And then it must be said that Senator Graham was at best a wimp who obviously placed career over country—

The American people needed to know these reservations,2 and I requested that an unclassified, public version of the NIE be prepared. On Oct. 4, Tenet presented a 25-page document titled "Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction Programs." It represented an unqualified case that Hussein possessed them, avoided a discussion of whether he had the will to use them and omitted the dissenting opinions contained in the classified version. Its conclusions, such as "If Baghdad acquired sufficient weapons-grade fissile material from abroad, it could make a nuclear weapon within a year," underscored the White House's claim that exactly such material was being provided from Africa to Iraq.

From my advantaged position, I had earlier concluded that a war with Iraq would be a distraction from the successful and expeditious completion of our aims in Afghanistan. Now I had come to question whether the White House was telling the truth -- or even had an interest in knowing the truth.

On Oct. 11, I voted no on the resolution to give the president authority to go to war against Iraq. I was able to apply caveat emptor. Most of my colleagues could not.

Something is terribly wrong here. Bob Graham was a chief intelligence watchdog not only for the American people but for the Senate itself. I realize that by law he was not permitted to reveal the classified sections of the report. But he should have insisted that the contrary views presented by the Departments of State and Energy be made public. (They were not based upon information provided by operatives. They were based upon technical assessments.) Failing that, he should have gone public with the information.

Graham, as a Senator, could not even have been indicted for revealing classified information so long as he presented the information on the Senate floor. The worst that could have ensued is that he would have been stripped of his assignment on the Intelligence Committee. But if an open debate followed after he made the information public, that is unlikely.3

But let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that the public may not reasonably expect from a U.S. Senator the same level of integrity that one might find in, say, a Chinese translator or a State Department analyst. Then the Senators themselves, and most especially those of the same party, should make clear to their appointees on the Intelligence Committee that they wish to be informed of any and all nefarious schemes to draw the country into war—and let the classification be damned.

Is that really too much for the public to ask?

Senator Graham does not succeed in exonerating his fellow Senators, Democrat or Republican, from their oversight responsibilities, but in the effort he presents a terrible indictment of himself.


1This is a mind-boggling allegation against both the administration and the CIA—first, that the administration did not even ask for a formal intelligence assessment of Iraq's WMD, and second, that the CIA found itself too busy to want to provide one. [back]

2Not only did the American people need to know these "reservations" but so did his fellow Congressmen who had no access to classified material. [back]

3Recall Katharine Gun, the low-level whistleblower of British intelligence. The legal fall-out of her leaking classified material is described in Wikipedia this way—

The case came to court on February 25, 2004. Within half an hour the case was dropped because the prosecution declined to offer evidence. The reasons for the prosecution dropping the case are unclear. The day before the trial Gun's defence team had asked the Government for any records of advice about the legality of the war that it had received during the run-up to the war. A full trial may have exposed any such documents to public scrutiny as the defence were expected to argue that trying to stop an illegal act (that of going to war) trumped Gun's obligations under the Official Secrets Act.


Sunday, November 20, 2005


Where many of your thoughts on foreign events come from

On Friday I put up a brief post concerning a graphic that had appeared in the Times of London. The graphic and another article in the Times appearing the same day were based on publications of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). Intrigued by the findings, I decided to look them up. Glad I did. You can't visit their website without getting the impression that they are the above-ground wing of the defense establishment—and believe me, we're not talking about a bevy of liberals.

Former Senator Sam Nunn is Chairman of the Board and the president is John J. Hamre. I knew the group was serious when I noted that Mr. Hamre had attended Harvard Divinity School. For some reason that I have not yet fathomed, people who make their living in military think-tanks not infrequently have degrees in theology.

Members of CSIS appear to be called upon whenever the House Armed Services Committee or the Senate Foreign Relations Committee need to be told what is going on—or at least whenever they need some testimony in the record. But that's just the way the Congress and the defense establishment scratch each other's back.

What stunned me was their presence in the media. Here's a list of their recent inputs into the national media, as their website proclaimed it today—

CSIS Senior Fellow Sarah E. Mendelson was interviewed by the Washington Post, "Bush to Query Putin on Kremlin Controls."

CSIS Senior Fellow Daniel Benjamin published an Op-Ed, "A breeding ground in Iraq," in the Boston Globe.

Anthony Cordesman was interviewed by the Washington Post, "Among Insurgents in Iraq, Few Foreigners Are Found."

Inside The Pentagon featured CSIS in "CSIS Team Aims to Define National Guard’s Role in Disaster Relief Work."

Derek Mitchell was interviewed by the Financial Times, "Bush eager to talk up health of US-Japan links."

Devin Stewart published an Op-Ed in the Asia Times, "China-Japan oil rivalry spills into Africa."

Derek Mitchell was interviewed by CNN regarding President Bush's trip to Asia.

CSIS Senior Vice President Kurt Campbell was interviewed by the Boston Globe, "Tensions stir ahead of Bush's China visit."

CSIS Senior Adviser Ambassador Richard McCormack was interviewed by the Financial Times regarding President Bush's trip to Asia.

CSIS Senior Adviser and Director of the Transnational Threats Project Arnaud de Borchgrave1 published a commentary in The Washington Times, "Weapons of Mass Attraction."

And that's just 89 days' worth.

11/21/05 - 12:49 am

Recalling where I first noticed CSIS I realized that the list above had to be incomplete. CSIS is far too modest. First, there was the Times article—

A CSIS report was quoted in Times of London in "Bin Laden’s ruthless rival spreads tentacles of jihad across region."

Then a simple Google search of the news turns up this for the same period—

"Twisted Logic and Iraq"
Cornell Daily Sun, NY - Nov 17, 2005

... worst-case scenarios. During a Nov. 7 speech sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Lt. Gen. David Petraeus ...

"Twin suicide bombs kill 77 in Iraqi mosques"
Daily Star - Lebanon, Lebanon - Nov 18, 2005

... They are followed by Syrians, Yemenis, Sudanese, Egyptians and Saudis, said Anthony Cordesman, an expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. ...

"No Steady Hand In Iraq"
Hartford Courant, United States - Nov 17, 2005

... In an appearance last week at Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies, Petraeus defended the rotation policy, saying the military was ...

News Roundup
Monsters and, UK - Nov 17, 2005

... Iraqi resentment in the insurgency,' said Anthony Cordesman, a former Pentagon official now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington ...

"War talk dogs Bush on Asia trip"
Newsday, NY - Nov 17, 2005

... Mr. President, we need a plan,'" said Michele Flournoy, an international security expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. ...

" China's Space Aims Strong Despite Lunar Challenges, Expert Says" - Nov 17, 2005

... Lewis, a senior fellow and director of technology policy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said China’s lack of a sufficient heavy-lift ...

"Slaughter of Sunni foes is inevitable"
Newsday, NY - Nov 16, 2005

... In the words of Edward Luttwak, a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC, "Ironically, Americans troops are now ...

Open Forum - "Iraq's Elections: Prelude to Dissolution or Last ..."
PR Newswire (press release), NY - Nov 14, 2005

... To examine these critical dynamics, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and Open Society Institute (OSI) will convene a roundtable discussion ...

"Congress growing impatient for further rise in yuan value"
MarketWatch - Nov 14, 2005

... that," said Richard McCormack, former undersecretary of state for economic affairs and now an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. ...

"Putin Visits Turkey for Pipeline Ceremony"
Guardian Unlimited, UK - Nov 17, 2005

... and Brussels that Turkey has other options,'' said Bulent Aliriza, an analyst with the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. ...

"An ally, an agenda for Bush in Asia"
Dallas Morning News (subscription), TX - Nov 14, 2005

... agenda to our interests," said Derek Mitchell, a senior fellow in international security at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies ...

"Role of Iraq's foreign insurgents disputed"
Webindia123, India - Nov 17, 2005

... Iraqi resentment in the insurgency, said Anthony Cordesman, a former Pentagon official now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. ...

"Terrorists massacre Shiites in Iraq"
Tehran Times, Iran - Nov 18, 2005

... Cordesman, an expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said US sources have put the number of the foreign fighters under Jordanian ...

"Less of an axis to grind"
Newsday, NY - Nov 17, 2005

... to change their preferences on North Korea," said Jon Wolfsthal, a nuclear security expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington ...
Change the spelling of "Center" to "Centre" and you pick up 8 more.

Related post
Graphic of the Day: Foreign fighters in Iraq (11/18/05)


1 De Borchgrave is an especially fine fellow. This is from his Wikipedia entry—

William Preston and Ellen Ray wrote a history of disinformation in the U.S., and observed:

The greatest assistance in disinformation – especially during the current Administration – is always forthcoming from the Reader's Digest. In 1977 the Times exposed Digest editor John Barron as having worked hand in glove with the CIA on a book about the KGB. Other fraudulent journalists like Robert Moss, Arnaud de Borchgrave, Daniel James, Claire Sterling, and Michael Ledeen, among others, seem to pick up disinformation themes almost automatically. In fact, coordination between the development of propaganda and disinformation themes by the covert media assets, the overt propaganda machine, and the bevy of puppet journalists is quite calculated. A theme which is floated on one level – a feature item on VOA about Cuba for example – will appear within record time as a lead article in Reader's Digest, or a feature in a Heritage Foundation report, or a series of "exposes" by Moss and de Borchgrave or Daniel James in some reactionary tabloid like Human Events or the Washington Times or Inquirer.

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