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Bob Woodwards new book

Bob Woodward's new book is making a lot of news with the report that President Bush directed Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld to began planning for war with Iraq on November 21, 2001 -- little more than two months after the 9/11 attacks.

I hear it was much sooner than two months -- more like two weeks. That is to say, in September 2001.

In mid-September 2001, at the same time Don Rumsfeld tasked Centcom with drawing up plans for attacking the Taliban, they were also tasked with putting together a plan to seize Iraq's southern oil fields.

(British officers, who were embedded in the planning process and actually on location in Tampa, Florida from mid-September 2001 onwards, reacted with something close to disbelief that this was what the Secretary of Defense had ordered.)

This plan -- pushed by Wolfowitz -- is referred to obliquely in the Saturday article on Woodward's book in the Post. But this wasn't just some idea Wolfowitz proposed prior to 9/11, as the author implies. Centcom planners began putting together the plan for it right as they were putting together the war plan for Afghanistan.

What happened in November was still important, and qualitatively different, because this earlier tasking was not explicitly aimed at regime change, simply seizing the southern oil fields. But whether it was formally aimed at regime change or no, within less than two weeks after 9/11, Centcom planners were at work putting in place a plan to make war on Iraq.

Tune in late this

Tune in late this evening for some more news on just how early Centcom was tasked with drawing up plans to attack Iraq.

From my friend in

From my friend in Iraq, late in the afternoon of April 16th, local time<$NoAd$> ...

Dear Josh, I would like you to share with your readers that the four abducted Italian bodyguards worked for me. They were people I had brought in to provide close protection for my former company's contractors. Fabrizio, who was executed, was a great guy and it appears he died with honor, knowing what was about to happen. If the rumors are true that he stated "Cosi Morare Un Italiano - Here is how an Italian man dies" well it would be just like him ... all of the others Incusori, Bersagalieri, Alpini and other Italians have such honor filled sayings tattooed on their arms and chests ...

The guys were returning home to Italy from Baghdad via route 10 to Amman. I don't know why they thought they could make it and I am racked with guilt for not having been there to weigh in on such a simple decision ... it would have been NO! Fly royal Jordanian! Everyone would have gone home happy and safe. They and the other Italians who worked for us were/are consummate professionals and our staff loved them. I can only hope the others make it home in safety and this madness of abduction ends. I am headed back to Baghdad now and my family is terrified. If I am not there things will swiftly fall apart as our Iraqi staff are loyal and have offered to protect us with their families and their lives. However I need to give them much more training. So for now I am too grief stricken to assess whether this was worth the adventure that is Fallujah but all I ask is ... how can we assault a city of 300,000 and not have the largest east-west highway secure for logistics and commerce by Military Police?? Allah only knows how many people were killed by ignoring a basic military principle ... secure your lines of communications and supply!


More soon.

Beyond belief How about

Beyond belief? How about way, way beyond <$NoAd$>belief.

This from the Associated Press ...

Some Iraqi nuclear facilities appear to be unguarded, and radioactive materials are being taken out of the country, the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog agency reported after reviewing satellite images and equipment that has turned up in European scrapyards.

...

According to ElBaradei's letter, satellite imagery shows ``extensive removal of equipment and in some instances, removal of entire buildings,'' in Iraq.

In addition, ``large quanitities of scrap, some of it contaminated, have been transfered out of Iraq from sites'' previously monitored by the IAEA.


I was wondering why this spoon I bought at the flea market in Ankara always has that funny orange glow.

Even with everything thats

Even with everything that's going on today -- the release of the <$Ad$>Japanese hostages, the bin Laden truce psuedo-story, continuing 9/11 Commission fireworks -- the biggest story of the day, the one that will have the greatest impact, happened in South Korea.

That is the stunning victory by the liberal Uri party in today's elections in South Korea. The Post rightly calls it the "sharpest shift to the political left [in South Korea] in four decades."

What constitutes 'left' across national and cultural borders can often be difficult to define. But in this case one thing it definitely means is a disengagement from the continuing Cold War on the Korean Peninsula.

There are at least a couple points of interest here. One is an uncanny parallel to recent events in the United States. An out-of-touch conservative opposition party impeaches a liberal president on the basis of essentially trumped up charges against the overwhelming wishes of the public. Conservative party then faces a fierce backlash at the polls as the electorate punishes them for an attempted constitutional coup and ignoring the popular will.

In the case of South Korea, the corruption charges seemed not to be false, per se. It was more of a rather extreme pot calling the kettle black situation. The Post sums it up nicely in these three grafs ...

The Grand National Party had impeached Roh for committing an electoral infraction and allegedly being unfit to rule following a series of corruption scandals that brought down his top aides. But prosecutors have actually implicated the GNP in far broader cases of corruption, which have severely undermined the party's reputation.

While the Uri Party has been targeted in corruption probes, Roh has also been seen by many analysts to be stepping out of the way of prosecutors, granting them a new measure of autonomy to pursue political transparency and break the traditional ties between politicians and large South Korean business conglomerates.

Many South Koreans saw Roh's impeachment as political hypocrisy, and it generated a sharp backlash, which favored the Uri party . Almost 3 in every 4 South Koreans opposed Roh's removal from office.


Setting aside these uncanny parallels, there's a more immediate significance to this result. It is the continuance of a global trend in which elections in countries allied to the United States are being won by parties advocating loosening ties with America. Running against America -- or really against George W. Bush makes for great politics almost everywhere in the world.

We saw it in South Korea two years ago. Then later that year in Germany. Recently in Spain. And now again in Korea -- with many other examples along the way.

Each election had its own internal dynamics. But in each case opposition to the policies of the Bush administration became a salient, even defining issue.

Bin Laden offers Europe

Bin Laden offers Europe separate truce in war against America and Freedom!

Europe rejects separate peace! No negotiations will be held!

Watching CNN's website headlines, this seems to be the breaking news of the day.

Why are we giving this al Qaida PR stunt so much credence?

Why does CNN report the news like the public is made up of a bunch of circus idiots?

And will Emmanuel Goldstein also be in on the negotiations?

A quick question. In

A quick question. In the last six weeks, how many documents has the Bush administration declassified for the exclusive and explicit purpose of attacking a political enemy?

Fred Kaplan has a

Fred Kaplan has a really excellent piece up in Slate on the president's monthlong August 2001 vacation. Fred even has the temerity to point out that the new story that the president requested the August 6th 2001 is almost certainly false. What is Fred thinking? He's truly off the reservation. Doesn't he know the president's line about not wanting to swat flies? What's his problem? Does Fred "hate freedom"?

Hmmm. In for a

Hmmm. In for a dime, in for a dollar, I guess.

President Bush today overturned two generations of bipartisan American policy by endorsing the annexation of large parts of the West Bank by Israel. He also ruled out a right of return for Palestinians (or their descendents) who lived in what is now Israel proper before 1948.

Some of this is important merely at the level of symbolism or rather how it affects America's role as something remotely like a fair arbiter in the conflict. Israel will never -- really, could never -- accept a true right of return. It would mean the end of Israel as a majority Jewish state -- its raison d'être.

But earlier plans have called for some symbolic right of return -- some compensation or a return for some limited number of individuals. (I believe some earlier plan pegged a number at around 50,000. But I may remember that wrong.) The more important point, however, is that it is a point of negotiation between the two parties. And while I think it's clear that Israel will never allow a right of return for the descendents of anyone who lived within Israel's current border before 1948, having the US rule it out altogether simply makes us the enforcer of the policies not just of Israel but of this particular Israeli government.

And that brings us one step closer to the complete identity of viewpoints, interests and policies between the United States and Israel, which is really not a good thing for either Israel or the United States -- particularly not when this Israeli government is in power.

The White House is dressing this up as some way to break the logjam in the peace process. But that's clearly a joke. The Post notes how it could make for a good politics for a desperate president. But I'll let others decide whether that was really the key motivating factor.

According to the Post, a few White House officials said -- and here the Post is paraphrasing -- that "a desire to avoid further alienating Arab opinion helped keep the White House from backing all of Sharon's plan." But when you read the various articles you can see that, for all practical purposes, Sharon got everything he wanted -- really, almost more than he could have hoped for, even from this president.

The AP puts the matter a bit more clearly when it writes: "A senior Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Sharon thought that no American president had ever made concessions so important to Israel as Bush did on Wednesday."

It's really sort of odd, when you think about it, since we have a few irons in the fire across the desert in Iraq, and this might not be the best time to unilaterally endorse a policy of dictation by Israel toward the Palestinians.

But what the hell? Like I said, in for a dime, in for a dollar.

And after all, Sharon doesn't "hate freedom" so what could be the problem?

In a column out

In a column out today, entitled "We Will Win", Steve Forbes writes ...

We must prepare ourselves for a bloody year. Terrorists will make every effort to pull off Madrid-like atrocities in the U.S. as our elections near. The forces of good, however, when combined with consistency and determination have always triumphed. This war will be no exception.


This is precisely the sort of inane mumbojumbo that will -- perhaps literally -- get us all killed. Certainly many of our young people fighting on our behalf all over the world, and perhaps more<$Ad$> than a few at home as well.

The importance of words is a conceit of wordsmiths, certainly. But they are important -- especially when they bleed through into thought and action, which happens more often than you'd think.

As we noted several months ago, orotund, abstract language can obfuscate accountability, truth-telling, and as we're now seeing most clearly, the simple facing of reality. And, boy, are we there today -- with the repeated incantations of vague phrases which can mean anything and thus also nothing.

Why are things spinning out of control in Iraq? Why are we losing the struggle for hearts and minds in the country? Because we stand for freedom. And the terrorists hate freedom. And they're attacking us because we're bringing freedom to Iraq. And terrorists hate freedom. Therefore they hate us. And since they hate us so much of course they fight us.

That was the substance of the president's message last night. And the blurb from Forbes is more of the same -- words that can mean anything or nothing and which are being strung together before our eyes to avert our gaze from the fact that the decisions of our policy-makers have not had the effect that they said they would.

Quite evidently, the "forces of good" have had their heads handed to them any number of times when they had no clue what they were doing. That's obvious. Only a fool doesn't realize that. Falling back on such meaningless statements is precisely what people do when they find themselves unable to reconcile their expectations with what their eyes are showing them.

And this is the point: What we're grappling with here is whether we can be both resolute and sure we're pursuing a sound strategy. But neither is possible unless we remain willing to see what our eyes are showing us. Otherwise, there's no basis to evaluate whether our strategy is sound or whether we need to correct it.

You'll remember a few days ago I made some ungenerous remarks about the David Brooks column in which Brooks argued that though we're going through a difficult time in Iraq we're on the right track and that what's needed is perservance and toughness to see the job through.

Brooks, Forbes and the president last night all seem to be saying the same thing in different ways. We're right, so what we need to do is keep pushing and everything will be great.

I've thought about this and thought about this and what keeps coming back to me is an experience I had a few months ago in New Hampshire -- perhaps it's one you'll relate to.

Since I'd used one in New Hampshire back in 2000, I made a point of getting a rental car that has one of those GPS direction-giving machines -- the kind that has a little computer screen and a computer voice so if you give the machine the destination you want to go to it will literally guide you, turn by turn, until you arrive.

New Hampshire's a pretty rural state and worrying about directions is usually the last thing I want to do when I'm trying to report on some campaign event. So I just love these little gizmos.

In any case, I find them amazingly effective. And I developed a lot of confidence in the directions the computerized voice regaled me with as I drove down these various country roads. I developed so much confidence, in fact, that sometimes when the road and landmarks I was seeing in front of me didn't at all seem like what the computer was telling me, I'd go with the computer's advice. And most times -- after a moment or two of befuddlement and confusion -- I saw that the computer gizmo was right.

Yet, for everyone, there's a point when the dissonance becomes too great. Occasionally, I'd be going along and the computer told me to turn right but there was no right turn. Or the computer showed the highway arching right but I was clearly banking left.

You can imagine countless analogous examples. But at a certain point you realize it's more than a moment of confusion. It's not just that the facts or, in this case, the lay of the road, hasn't yet revealed itself. Nothing looks like it's supposed to look. And you say to yourself, "Wait a second, I'm not where I think I am. I'm off the map."

And you know what? We're off the map. Recognizing that isn't a moral deficiency. It doesn't signal a lack of grit. It's just sanity.

Fareed Zakaria makes a related point -- though in very different language -- in the piece I quoted yesterday evening:

It is conventional wisdom that the United States should stay engaged with Iraq for years. Of course it should, but for this to work Iraqis must welcome the help. In the face of escalating anti-Americanism, U.S. involvement in Iraq will be unsustainable ... Washington has a final window of opportunity to end the myriad errors that have marked its occupation and adopt a new strategy.


We may be for freedom. But if the people we're trying to 'free' don't think that's true, then it scarcely matters. If we could step down from words like 'free' and 'freedom' which have use in speeches and as broad concepts, but only a limited value for analyzing what's actually going on here, then maybe we'd be a little more effective.

Are we fighting some people who 'hate freedom'? Well, yes, if, as I assume we do, we mean by this people who want to build a closed, theocratic society and hate the secularism and liberalism of the West. But maybe we're also now fighting people who are just nationalists, or people who've been affected in some fashion adversely by the occupation. And maybe we've maneuvered ourselves so badly that now we've got the nationalists and the people who 'hate freedom' fighting together. And, even worse, maybe that's helping the people who 'hate freedom' convince the nationalists and the aggreived that they should 'hate freedom' too. And maybe there are folks there who sorta 'hate freedom' but don't necessarily hate us -- maybe Sistani, for instance, or the folks behind SCIRI, who probably more fairly fit that description than Sistani. And maybe we can drive a wedge between those two groups. Who knows if these points of analysis hold true? But we'd better start digging into the particulars of what's really happening over there or we'll become the primary victims of our whirl of empty, bamboozling phrases. And the infantile belief that everyone who doesn't follow our dictation 'hates freedom' will end up leaving a lot of people really hating us.

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