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Not so deep background

Not so deep background <$NoAd$> (from a piece in tomorrow's Post) ...

Bush raised the possibility of increasing the number of U.S. troops in Iraq. When a reporter mentioned the United States' announced plans to reduce troop levels, the president responded: "We could have less troops in Iraq, we could have the same number of troops in Iraq, we could have more troops in Iraq -- whatever is necessary to secure Iraq."

A top aide to Bush, who briefed reporters after the news conference on condition that she not be identified, said that Bush was not announcing a change in policy and that expectations remained that troop levels would be reduced. "There is simply nothing to suggest that the number of American forces would need to increase," the official said. "In fact, the conversations with the commanders have gone the other way."


Who could that possibly be?

Marvelous marvelous piece on

Marvelous, marvelous piece on Dick Cheney by Frank Foer and Spencer Ackerman in the new issue of The New Republic.

I can't say enough good things about this piece. It not only goes into fascinating detail about the back-and-forth between Cheney's Office of the Vice President and the CIA over the last two years, it also gives an insightful reading of the evolution of Cheney's own foreign policy views going back into the mid-1980s, placing that development in a sometimes rightly sympathetic light.

I think I have some quibbles with Foer's and Ackerman's judgment about the role of 9/11 as a transformative event for Cheney. But that's a small difference of opinion, and one I'm going to need to give some more thought to, before I make a final judgment.

But for now this is the piece on Cheney, the intel wars, and Iraq. It convinces me even more of something I've thought for some time: that Cheney's office is a rogue operation in this administration and one with the defining influence.

Money talks and AARP

Money talks, and AARP walks.

To find out more about the ugly truth and what you can do to make your voice heard, go to this page at the Campaign for America's Future website.

Interesting update. In late

Interesting update.

In late May, the UN's senior humanitarian relief official in Iraq, Ramiro Lopes da Silva, warned that the US reconstruction effort was too driven by "ideology" and said, in the paraphrased words of the British paper The Guardian, that "the sudden decision last week to demobilise 400,000 Iraqi soldiers without any re-employment programme could generate a 'low-intensity conflict' in the countryside."

This comment gets at another point. To disband or not to disband was not an either/or or a black and white question. At a minimum it would have been necessary at some point to purge the army of unreconstructed Baathists and those responsible for the worst sorts of human-rights offenses.

The question was whether it made sense to disband the institution and give these guys nothing else to do at a point when none of the infrastructure -- either physical or political -- of a stable post-war settlement had been created. Perhaps a year on, if things were proceeding in a good direction, it could have been done then.

As it happened, the decision didn't so much solve the problem of Iraq's almost half a million soldiers. It just left them unsupervised and jobless.

Heres an interesting question

Here's an interesting question: whose idea was it to disband the Iraqi army? Formally, the decision was Paul Bremer's. But that only means that he executed the plan, not that he originated the idea or even necessarily agreed with it. He's taking the rap for it in a lot of corners. But I doubt very much the idea originated with him.

Here's what today's Washington Post article on the subject says ...

The demobilization decision appears to have originated largely with Walter B. Slocombe, a former undersecretary of defense appointed to oversee Iraqi security forces. He believed strongly in the need to disband the army and felt that vanquished soldiers should not expect to be paid a continuing salary. He said he developed the policy in discussions with Bremer, Feith and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz.

"This is not something that was dreamed up by somebody at the last minute and done at the insistence of the people in Baghdad. It was discussed," Slocombe said. "The critical point was that nobody argued that we shouldn't do this."

Slocombe recalled discussing the issue with Wolfowitz on May 8 and with Feith several times, including on May 22, the night before Bremer issued the formal order. Trying to put the army back together at that point, he said, "would've been a practical disaster."


Slocombe's an interesting possible author of the decision since he's a highly respected former official from the Clinton Pentagon and a Democrat, if one with a fairly non-partisan hue.

I have heard, reliably, that Cheney was the key force in the decision. And that he was convinced by Chalabi and others in his circle.

On the other hand, an article in the new Newsweek says this ...

When Bremer arrived in Baghdad in mid-May, the insurgency was just getting started, and clots of former Iraqi troops were reappearing, asking to be remobilized. Bremer, who has been widely blamed for reversing the decision of his predecessor, Jay Garner, to hire such men and pay them, was warned he would cause chaos by demobilizing the Army instead. The CIA station chief told him, “That’s another 350,000 Iraqis you’re pissing off, and they’ve got guns.” According to one official who attended the meeting, Bremer replied: “I don’t have any choice ... Those are my instructions.” Then Bremer added: “The president told me that de-Baathification is more important.”


Needless to say, the word coming directly <$Ad$>from the president is not at all inconsistent with Chalabi convincing senior officials, including Cheney, that this was the way to go.

A few other thoughts on this.

First, I sat down for an interview with a well-known defense policy expert at the very end of June. And the first thing out of his mouth was how bad an idea this was, and that no one could understand what they were thinking.

So I really don't think that it's correct to say that this is one of those ideas that seemed good at the time but has produced unintended results. Most people seem to have seen this as a pretty bad idea from word 'go'.

Second, the issue here, I think, isn't so much whose idea this was, as in a particular person, as just how it originated. Was it just bad decision-making by the people in charge -- not every call can be made correctly? Or was it another example of ideologues or those under the influence of Chalabi getting it into their heads that this was a great idea and then pushing it through over the objections of region experts, the CIA, the military, folks at State, etc.?

The Post on Thursday

The Post on Thursday has an <$NoAd$>article on the growing consensus that disbanding the Iraqi army was a fundamental error and how the CPA is now racing to build a new Iraqi army in its place to help bolster security now and defend a new Iraqi government in the not-too-distant future.

In the course of the piece there's this section with views from different players.

"This was a mistake, to dissolve the army and the police," said Ayad Alawi, head of the security committee of the Iraqi Governing Council. "We absolutely not only lost time. The vacuum allowed our enemies to regroup and to infiltrate the country."

Retired Marine Gen. Anthony C. Zinni, a vocal opponent of the war, calls the move the Bush administration's "worst mistake" in postwar Iraq.

Supporters of the decision counter that the army posed a potential threat to a fledgling Iraqi governing authority and U.S. forces -- and that it was so second-rate and so infiltrated with Baath Party figures that it could not be salvaged.

"The Iraqi army was a pretty sick organization in a lot of respects," said Douglas J. Feith, undersecretary of defense for policy, who played a role in the demobilization decision. "There was quite a bit of cruelty -- abuse by the senior officers of the junior people -- and there was quite a bit of corruption."


Imagine that. Doug Feith thought (and still thinks) it was a good idea. And his judgment is usually so on the mark.

On the other hand, Chalabi convinced Cheney that disbanding the army was a dynamite plan. So he probably convinced Feith too.

Newsweek in an article

Newsweek, in an article by Mike Isikoff and Mark Hosenball, has come in to bat clean up on the Feith Memo and the whole purported Saddam-al Qaida link. They even note the same sputtering performance by Fred Barnes praising the thing on Fox over the weekend that TPM mentioned Sunday morning. (Hmmmm...) It's good stuff. Definitely take a look.

The first, admittedly lengthy and multistoried, sentence sums it up:

A leaked Defense Department memo claiming new evidence of an “operational relationship” between Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein’s former regime is mostly based on unverified claims that were first advanced by some top Bush administration officials more than a year ago—and were largely discounted at the time by the U.S. intelligence community, according to current and former U.S. intelligence officials.


Meanwhile, some are expressing the thought that what’s happening here is that interested parties in the <$Ad$>Intelligence Community and national security bureaucracy are scheming to keep the truth from us about the existence of the Saddam-al Qaida link.

Now, anything’s possible in this fallen world of ours. One never knows what the future holds. And certainly every possibility deserves to be looked into.

But sometimes simple logic can help give us a preview of what we might find.

The White House and various administration appointees bullied, pummeled and cajoled various members of the Intelligence Community into signing off on all manner of shaky, disputed, unsubstantiated and downright bogus intel because it suited the White House storyline. Now the same White House can’t get the Intelligence Community to come clean about rock-solid intelligence demonstrating a Saddam-al Qaida link --- information which, if revealed, would greatly bolster the White House?

That make sense to you?

In an article today

In an article today in Slate, Jack Shafer wonders why almost no media outlets outside the Murdoch media empire have picked up on Steve Hayes’ story in the Weekly Standard. That’s the story --- ‘Case Closed’ --- about the Feith Memo and the alleged Saddam-al Qaida connection.

Among the possible explanations Shafer puts forward is the notion that the mainstream press is too invested in the idea that there were no connections at all between Saddam and al Qaida.

But, to me, that explanation doesn’t even come close to passing muster. The big papers and cable networks have grabbed on to so many weak but sensationalistic Intel related stories about WMD and Iraq-al Qaida connections --- even since the revelations about the Niger-uranium story --- that I don’t find that remotely credible.

A more probable answer --- which I set forth in greater depth today in my column in The Hill --- is that this information is not at all new.

If you’ve been following the intel wars you know that the group that put together this dossier started working in Doug Feith’s office shortly after 9/11 and that they presented these findings --- absent a few details subsequently culled from detainee interviews --- at Langley in August 2002. The methods used by Feith’s Pentagon analysis shop were widely panned and the consensus within the intel community was that the findings didn’t pass the laugh test.

It is almost certain that the dossier --- or rather the memo summarizing it --- was leaked now because Feith and his ideological soul-mates at the Pentagon are profoundly on the defensive because of the WMD debacle and poor planning for post-war Iraq.

Indeed, even within his group, Feith’s stock is close to its nadir --- partly because of these sorts of mad-scientist shenanigans, but for other reasons too. The Senate intel investigation, of course, looms. And perhaps Sen. Roberts (R-Kans) won’t be able to force all the blame on the CIA.

For all these reasons, they are trying to push back anywhere and everywhere they can.

So that’s the main reason, I think, that people haven’t picked up the story. No liberal media conspiracy. Sorry. Rather, the people who are following the intel story know that this is raw intelligence which the people in a position to know, and with access to all the information, say is either unreliable or doesn’t amount to anything.

Part of the difficulty in reporting it out, I suspect, is that the memo includes, say, allegation X. On background people at the CIA might tell a reporter that the report is unreliable. But, because it’s all classified, the reporter can’t get the actual details which are that the report that Saddam and bin Laden were brothers separated at birth actually came from Ahmed Chalabi’s aunt’s maid’s doorman who offered the scoop in exchange for getting bailed out of prison in Cairo where he’d gotten arrested for fencing gold crenellated TV sets smuggled in from Yemen.

In any case, presumably a different sets of facts, but you get the idea.

Also, having gotten burned so bad on the WMD mumbo-jumbo and earlier al Qaida Saddam stories, reporters are wary of these guys, especially since the hawkers of this stuff are just much better, much more effectively political than their opponents.

Having said all this, let’s get it all out there. I agree with Andrew Sullivan when he says that it would be worthwhile to get out on the record which of the Feith-based claims are utterly without merit (most), which are shaky (some) and which may turn out to be true (a few).

(While we're at it, let's also do some decent reporting into the administration's strenuous and comical warping of the intel process and some decent investigations into the now-well-covered-up Valerie Plame story. Note to Mike Allen: get your source on the phone again. What happened to him?)

It seems clear that there were contacts between Iraq and al Qaida during the 1990s. Yet, in the shadowy world of intel and global nogoodnikism all sorts of people meet up now and then. Meetings, contacts in themselves don't necessarily amount to much. And all that we have been able to verify has been extremely limited --- nothing to merit the claims of active collaboration the Iraq hawks made.

And when you consider that we now essentially own Iraq --- the regime leaders, most all the government records that survive, and so forth --- we shouldn’t need to go on hints and allegations. We should know something close to the whole story. And from what we know now, there's not much of a story.

For years -- literally

For years -- literally years -- I've been writing about Astroturf organizing and that trendsetting operation in the trade, DCI -- home of that Johny Appleseed of the plastic and the green, Tom Synhorst.

Simply put, Astroturf organizers are in the business of creating phony grassroots support, or rather the appearance of grassroots support, for this or that cause.

You got the money and the cause? They'll bring the front groups, the push-polls, the oped payola, you name it.

(For more details, see this post from last year.)

The secret of 'turf is a simple one.

Advertisements and paid spokesman may influence us to some degree. We hear their opinions, see them on TV and such. But because they're paid, because they're essentially advertisements, we also tend to tune them out, or at least bracket them off in our minds.

If you're someone who wants to press an opinion, or get support for your company, what you'd really want is to have community groups coming forward to support your company line. Because if you or I see the Associated People of Podunk demanding this or that piece of legislation, then we'll probably think, 'Hey, there must be something to this.' Or if some respected scholar supports it, same thing.

For years, the trendsetter in Astroturf has been DCI. And a couple days ago, if you were watching really closely, a tiny sentence changed on an out-of-the-way page on the TechCentralStation website.

The sentence that read ...

"Tech Central Station is published by Tech Central Station, L.L.C."


now reads ...

"Tech Central Station is published by DCI Group, L.L.C."


It wasn't an accident. It was because this article -- 'Meet the Press' by Nick Confessore -- was about to be published by The Washington Monthly.

Imagine that. The wildly

Imagine that. The wildly anti-Semitic article about George Soros ("Satan lives in George Soros") authored by James Hall and published at GOPUSA.com has been taken down off the site. (For the grisly details, see the prior post.) No explanation of why, no apology, just gone --- poof!

I should have known to make a copy before they snatched it from the site.

But that turns out not to be necessary since the author, James Hall, has the piece up on his own website, with the helpful addition of a caricature drawing of Soros sprawling out on a mountain of US currency.

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