Just a quick note on the TPM redesign. The redesigned site should be debuting in the near future. The front-end look won’t be very much different from what you see now, with the exception of a wide text window, which has heretofore been a source of some complaint — the same simple, unadorned look. The new site will have an RSS feed for all you tech geeks out there, a printer-friendly function for those who don’t want to print out a particular post without having to waste paper on a whole week’s worth of material. (There won’t be a ‘mail-to-a-friend’ function or an email list, for reasons I’ll explain later.) The real changes will be on the back-end, which will make TPM more smooth-functioning, easier to update, and hopefully make it possible to put more content online. Let me thank everyone who’s continued to contribute to help keep the site up-and-running and to every reader who’s helped keep the site traffic growing month to month. More soon on the new site.
Wow. This new Zogby poll has Howard Dean leading John Kerry by a margin of 38 percent to 17 percent in New Hampshire. Equally striking is the fact that none of the other candidates even show up significantly in the poll. Gephardt and Lieberman both show up with a pallid 6 percent; and the rest of downhill from there. I seldom draw too many judgments from a Zogby poll. I think he has moments of real statistical insight or intuition, but is often wide of the mark. But a 21 point margin can’t be an illusion based on flawed modeling. Dean is clearly way out ahead of everyone else in New Hampshire.
Now it appears that Iran’s rapid progress toward a nuclear weapons capacity came thanks to substantial assistance from Pakistan. Add that to the fact that we now know that North Korea’s progress along the uranium-enrichment track (as opposed to plutonium) was similarly the product of key assistance from Pakistan. If we’re looking for the unstable Islamist-leaning state which has nuclear weapons and is the chief proliferator of nuclear technology to other unstable rogue regimes, we’ve found it: Pakistan. The urgent question to be answered is whether such assistance is continuing. If it’s ended, when did it end?
Following up on whether there’s a rationale for a Wesley Clark campaign, here is another analysis of the question from the new issue of The Washignton Monthly. Amy Sullivan argues that there is a vacuum waiting to be filled and that the structural and timing problems for Clark aren’t nearly as great as many think.
Does it matter whether or not you bait-and-switch a nation into a good cause?
For the purposes of my hypothetical, let’s set aside for the moment whether or not it was a good thing to invade Iraq to topple a bad-acting regime and build a democratic state in its place. In fact, let’s stipulate for the sake of argument that it was not only a good thing but a worthwhile expenditure of national resources.
In the lead-up to the war, I argued repeatedly that it was a mistake to gin up phony or exaggerated reasons for our invasion of Iraq, even if the effort itself was justifiable on other grounds. It was wrong not only because it’s bad practice to bamboozle the public but because such deception has very practical consequences.
Now we’re seeing some of them.
David Warren is a columnist for the Ottawa Citizen and, among other things, a main proponent and perhaps originator of the ‘flypaper‘ hypothesis.
In an article today he asks whether Americans will have the stomach and sticktoitiveness to stick it out in Iraq. And he comes to the conclusion that they probably won’t. This is really a wretched argument, more wretched because it mirrors the communications strategy coming from the White House and many war-hawk circles in Washington.
To the extent that there is war-weariness — and that’s a complicated, fluid reality — it’s not so much because of casualties as the administration’s own pervasive dishonesty in building the case for the war.
(Actually, dishonesty before the fact, mixed with incompetence after the fact, which is a really bad combination.)
Before the war, I had many conversations with war-hawks who said something like this. “If this is a good war, it really doesn’t matter if you hype up the arguments to get the country into it. It’s a good thing. And a little rallying the country is okay, if the goal is a good one and a necessary one.”
The thinking was that once you’ve got the country into Iraq you can rely on American gumption to stick it out till the job is done, even if you weren’t completely honest about what that job really was going in.
But there’s a problem with that kind of thinking. Once it becomes clear what sort of enterprise you’ve gotten the country into, it may turn out they really don’t have the stomach for it. And then what do you do?
Or, actually, that’s an unfair way to put it. Let’s try this instead … Once it becomes clear what the stakes really were and what the costs really are, you may find out that the country doesn’t think it’s a good bargain and doesn’t support it.
The reasoning of many war-hawks on this point was extremely cynical. In essence, it went like this: Once we’re in, we’ll have the wolf by the ears and it really won’t matter what people think. We’ll have created a fait accompli. They’ll have no choice.
Of course, there’s another possibility. The public might start wanting to pull the troops out when the effort has barely even begun.
Today those same war-hawks are arguing that it’s a moral failing for the public not to want to follow through on the enterprise that they bamboozled the public into.
Now, let’s draw back and make a few points …
The war still has a lot of public support. And the situation is far from irretrievable. War-hawks want to portray the situation as something akin to the late stages of Vietnam, with a defeatist press and establishment, a war-weary public, and a few brave souls who’ve read their Churchill and remember the lessons of Munich wanting to stick it out.
But that’s not where we are. What you’ve got is a lot of people who are unhappy about the administration’s dishonesty, an equal number who don’t think the current plan is working, and a pretty broad consensus that we need to make some course corrections if we’re going to be successful.
So let’s make those course corrections and give ourselves a shot at an outcome which is good for us and the Iraqis.
One thing we shouldn’t do is give those liars a chance to question people’s moral fiber for not signing on to their latest fairy-tale, the never-ending-story about why we did all this in the first place. Let’s write those folks out of the conversation entirely.
A few days ago there was a small stir over an article in the Washington Post describing Paul Bremer’s efforts to start recruiting members of Saddam’s intelligence services (particularly his foreign intelligence service, the Mukhabarat) to bolster US intelligence capacities in Iraq in order to stem the rising tide of terrorism.
This development raises any number of very valid concerns. But what strikes me about it is less the immediate issue of whether we should be using Saddam’s ex-secret police to help control the country than another broader issue.
In the run-up to war, in the debate between neoconservatives and what’s left of the foreign policy establishment, the neocons’ primary argument was about the moral and strategic poverty of their opponents’ policy of supporting corrupt authoritarian regimes in the Middle East.
Not only was that policy obnoxious to our values, they argued. But it was also bad news in strategic terms since corrupt, illegitimate regimes like Saudi Arabia and Egypt were simply breeding grounds for al Qaida recruits who attacked us on our own territory.
Now we’re seeing the other side of the coin.
It’s awfully difficult to build a new state and society around the democratic opposition, when the democratic opposition really doesn’t exist. You can say it exists, but once you’re in the country it’s liable to become clear that the democratic opposition is really just a program at AEI. However that may be, it’s very hard not to fall back on at least some of the baddies from the old era because they end up being the people who have a lot of the skills you need. This is one of the reasons, after all, why we ended up working with a lot of Nazis during the occupation of Germany, the broadly successful program of de-Nazification notwithstanding.
My point is not to justify hiring Mukhabarat agents today or ex-SS officers half a century ago. I’m only trying to note how difficult these enterprises are and that it’s usually impossible to avoid making at least some deals with bad-actors from the old regime. The key is not making no deals but making them judiciously so that the structure of the old regime, as opposed to a few individuals, doesn’t return.
The broader point, however, is that this should have been friggin’ obvious from the start. In those earlier debates you can almost imagine (and frankly I’ve heard) grizzled CIA operators saying, “Wow, and all this time we were tossing Mossadeq, keeping Mubarak in power, and making nice with the Saudis, we could have just built western democracies instead. Why didn’t we think of that?”
I don’t want to give too much of a pass to the Agency types. We have seen a lot of boomerang effects (or ‘blowback’ as the term of art has it) from our coddling of dictators and foreign repression. But it’s not like the neos were the first ones to come up with the idea of exporting democracy. The history of US foreign interventions in the last century is filled with stories in which the US first tried to build liberal institutions in this or that country, saw it was going to be either really tough or unsustainable, and then settled for dictators or autocrats who were thought could secure our interests for the time being.
That’s not great. But it’s even worse to blunder into a situation blinded by an arrogance you mistook for idealism and then end up falling back on the same old bad-guy-empowering tactics anyway.
Of course, a lot of these guys never believed their own mumbo-jumbo to start with. But that’s another story for another post.
From a story today on the Reuters newswire …
Operating in growing numbers, the Taliban and their allies have succeeded in destabilizing large parts of Afghanistan and creating conditions that could undermine the U.S. military and central government. Aid and reconstruction is suspended across swathes of territory in the center, south and southeast, giving Afghans the impression the international community has abandoned them now the Taliban has been formally ousted.
Speaks for itself. Read the whole piece.
A few grafs from Michael Wolff’s piece about a recent conference/political powwow in Aspen …
There was a party on the second day for Clinton at the Aspen version of Nobu, and then, later that evening, a discussion between Clinton and President Kagame, hosted by the William Morris Agency, at Whiskey Rocks Bar in the St. Regis Hotel (Michael Eisner, the Disney CEO, while not a conference attendee, slipped into the room).
This turned out to be the pivotal moment of the conferenceâeven the primal one. When Clinton took questions, a young man from a technology company who identified himself as chairman of Bush-Cheney 2004 in California said he was offended by Clintonâs partisanship. To which Clinton, without hesitation, and with some kind of predatory gleam in his eye, said, âGood!â From there, Clinton went on, with emotion and anger, at a level seemingly foreign to most everyone here, to rip to shreds the motives, values, and legitimacy of the Republicans.
It was all anyone could talk about the next day. People seemed genuinely taken aback (some people kept offering that since it was late at night, in a bar, it didnât quite count) that one of their own might have violated the accepted codes of lofty liberal behavior. There was a little current of fear at the sudden recognition that testosterone could fuel politics. It was a shock, apparently, that we might be this close to real feelings. That politics could actually be personal.
Find the whole article here.
That should go over well.
Back during the British mandate period, there was a pipeline that shipped oil from Kirkuk to the Israeli port city of Haifa. The pipeline is still there. But, for what are probably obvious reasons, it’s sat unused since 1948. As we reported in late April, the possibility of reopening the pipeline was being actively discussed in Israel, by members of Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress, and by certain persons in the US government.
Now Ha’aretz has reported that the Israeli Prime Minister’s office has asked for and received from a “senior Pentagon official” a telegram asking the Israelis to investigate financial and technical questions relating to refitting and restarting the pipeline. According to Ha’aretz, the Prime Minister’s office “views the pipeline to Haifa as a “bonus” the U.S. could give to Israel in return for its unequivocal support for the American-led campaign in Iraq.”
Now, given that one of the Iraqis’ big suspicions is that we’re after their oil, you might think that rerouting almost half of the country’s oil through Israel, and using a pipeline last used when Palestine was ruled by the British, might at least create some perception problems.
But that doesn’t seem to be all of it. That oil from the Kirkuk oil fields is now transhipped through Turkey. And folks in government circles in Jerusalem seem to think that these American hints about the Kirkuk to Haifa pipeline are, as Ha’aretz says, part of an “attempt to apply pressure on Turkey.”
This deserves more attention. Why are we even remotely considering this scheme to send half of Iraq’s oil through Israel? And why do we seem to be trying to sow discord between two of our most important allies in the region?
A few nights ago, over drinks, a friend asked me what the rationale for a Clark candidacy would be. Not the substantive rationale, mind you, but the political one. How could he win? What point would his entry into the race have at this point, and so forth?
Here’s how I’d describe it.
Howard Dean is now by many measures the front-runner in the Democratic primary campaign. Though he lags in the national polls, he’s at least in the hunt in both Iowa and New Hampshire. He’s raising money at a faster clip than any of the other candidates. And he’s clearly generated the most excitement.
But Dean is an insurgent candidate, often campaigning explicitly against Washington and the party establishment. By many measures he’s campaigning to various left-leaning elements in the Democratic party base — notwithstanding his previous record as a fairly centrist governor of Vermont. I say this all not with any judgment attached, just as a description of the developments in the race, as nearly I can ascertain them.
Now, by the normal laws of political gravitation, Dean’s sustained surge should have forced a coalescence around one of the several more-centrist-minded establishment candidates — Kerry, Gephardt, Edwards, Lieberman. With Dean catching fire, those who aren’t comfortable with his candidacy should be getting behind one candidate in order to beat him. But that clearly has not happened.
In some ways this is a more striking development than Dean’s rise itself.
Now, why hasn’t that coalescence taken place? I think the answer is elementary. None of the current candidates has passed the audition for the job. Lieberman’s campaign is generally believed to be moribund (and I like the guy). Edwards has gone absolutely nowhere. Gephardt has bet everything on getting the support of organized labor. But if he gets it, it’ll basically be a mercy … well, I don’t want to be off-color. But, you know what I mean. Kerry is basically the establishment front-runner at the moment. But it’s an extremely anemic frontrunnerdom. He’s basically the front-runner by default because all the other potential frontrunners who haven’t caught fire are doing even worse than he is.
What this all tells me is that there is a vacuum with a lot of political forces pushing to fill it. And yet none of the current candidates has been capable of becoming the vehicle for those forces. I know these are some convoluted metaphors. But I trust my meaning is relatively clear.
Now, there are all sorts of reasons why late-entering, draft-so-and-so type candidacies never end up winning. But the vacuum I’ve just described is one Clark could potentially fill. At least he could get in the game and give it his best shot.
Clark’s other potential strength is that he combines outsider status and a thorough critique of the president, with impeccable national security credentials and domestic policy positions with a seemingly broad appeal.
Words matter. Often, that’s just a conceit of people in the word business. But it’s also true.
A few moments ago I was in a cab heading toward the DC train station. On the radio, the president was commenting on the recent troubles in Iraq and the broader war on terrorism.
He said something to this effect: We’re in a war on terrorism. When the civilized world expands democracy it’s a challenge to the terrorists’ totalitarian vision. And so they strike back with increasing terror. They’re hoping the civilized world will flinch. But we’re not going to flinch, and so forth.
I understand what the president’s saying. I recognize a general truth in it.
But the generality, vagueness and abstraction is the problem. They are becoming the engines of policy incoherence and the cover for domestic bad-actors who want to get this country into fights few Americans signed up for.
We’ve heard critiques of this phrase, the ‘war on terror,’ ever since 9/11. But only now, I think, are we seeing the full effects of its mystification. We’re at war with al Qaida and any and all radical Islamist groups who threaten mass casualty terrorism against America or her vital interests abroad. We are at war, even if it’s a war fought by non-conventional means against non-conventional, non-state entities. That’s who we’re at war with: a loose-knit network of radical Islamist groups who practice mass-casualty terrorism against us.
Radical Islamist revisionism is a primary foreign policy challenge for the US and probably will remain so for a very long time. That understanding should (and already has) decisively shape our policies toward the various states in the Middle East. But we’re not at war with it any more than we were or could be ‘at war’ with right-wing or left-wing extremism in the second half of the 20th century.
Just as vague and abstract language makes for bad prose, it is also the handmaiden of bad policy and the abettor of buck-passing.
All this talk about civilization, totalitarianism, fascism and terror is just preventing us from looking at what’s happening and recognizing what our own interests are. They also make it possible for some people to convince themselves that it’s not a screw-up that we’ve turned Iraq into a terrorist magnet. After all we’re at war with ‘the terrorists’ and it makes sense that ‘the terrorists’ would attack us anyway, if only in a new venue. And we always knew it would be a long fight, a long twilight struggle, and yada, yada, yada and the rest of it. Same with the mumbo-jumbo about totalitarianism.
Look at the difference thus far between Afghanistan and Iraq. In the first place, we drained the swamp. In the second, we’ve made the swamp.
It’s really that simple.
Admittedly, that’s an odd development from an administration so generally inimical to wetlands. But, you know, ironies abound.
Bear in mind that the author of these words is a fairly convinced Wilsonian, a strong supporter of our interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo, someone who’s convinced that our values cannot be divorced from our national security interests, a believer in the power for good of American military might, and someone who thinks progressives who recoil at this administration’s excesses should avoid the safe-harbor of foreign policy Realism (creeping Scowcroftism).
But the White House is being run by men and women who’ve already made a lot of really stupid mistakes that are going to cost a lot of American lives, money and credibility. And now they’re trying to hide from accountability in their own idiot abstractions.
A not-so-subtle message, picked up on in this article on the Reuters wire.
Deputy Secretary of State Dick Armitage went on Al Jazeera yesterday and warned states bordering on Iraq about allowing militants and jihadists to make their way into the country. What stands out is the list of countries and how Armitage seemed to equate them.
Thus Armitage …
“The borders are quite porous, as you’d imagine, and the fact that we’ve captured a certain number of foreign fighters in Baghdad and around Iraq indicates that the ways that these people are getting into the country is from Iran and from Syria and from Saudi Arabia … I’m not in any position to assert that the governments of Iran or Syria or Saudi Arabia are in any way responsible. But, as a minimum, I can state that they’re not — these fighters — are not being stopped at the borders, and this is something that causes us a great deal of concern.”
First, this was an interview for a Gulf Arab audience. Second, Iran and Syria are hostile states which the US now frequently (explicitly or not) threatens with military force.
Armitage seemed to go out of his way to place Saudi Arabia on a par with these other two as neighboring, trouble-making states.
I’m not sure precisely what this means. But it means something.
“Time to Unite” is a typical — or, in other words, excellent — column by The Washington Post’s David Ignatius. Pique, anger, resentment, schadenfreude, hidebound ideology — everyone must set aside everything in order to cooperate on finding a practical solution to solving the crisis in Iraq and stablizing the situaiton. As Lincoln said, we must all disenthrall ourselves. Ignatius seems more optimistic than I am that the administration has seen the light on this one. But, in this case, I’d be very happy to be proven wrong.
As promised, here is part two of our interview with al Qaida expert Peter Bergen.
Bergen is the author of Holy War, Inc.: Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden, and interviewed bin Laden in person in 1997. He is currently a fellow at the New America Foundation in Washington, DC.
(You can read part one of the interview, here. The complete interview will be posted in the TPM Document Collection.)
The interview was conducted early Wednesday afternoon …
TPM: One thing you said recently–it’s a bitter irony, but you know–that there seems to be little evidence that al Qaida was in Iraq (or at least the part of Iraq that Saddam controlled) before this April. But it seems quite possible that there might be now. Or if not al Qaida, people who are jihadists.
BERGEN: Yeah, jihadists and I think al Qaida. Bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri and other top leaders of the group have made repeated statements since the beginning of the year to go fight jihad in Iraq. [And] for the people who sign on to this sort of thing it’s sort of akin to a religious order. It’s in the middle of the Middle East. Saad al Fagih, who has a good understanding of all this says–
TPM: And who is that?
BERGEN: Saad al Fagih is the leading Saudi dissident, he’s based in London. And he–
TPM: Dissident from which, just for the–in which direction?
BERGEN: He’s opposed to the royal family. In fact, six weeks ago someone tried to mount an assassination attempt on him, very possibly the Saudis.
TPM: Right, but in a Western direction, as opposed to a ?
BERGEN: No, I think kind of an Islamist, a moderate Islamist direction.
BERGEN: And the way he explained it to me is the following, and this makes a huge amount of sense. This is not about killing civilians in New York. This is about attacking an army that is occupying the heart of the Muslim world. After all back — for people like bin Laden, the capture of Baghdad by the Mongols in 1258 is as recent as for us, the OJ trial. It’s part of the mental furniture. And so, to have quote ‘infidel’ troops in the holy land, Saudi Arabia, that used to be their principal gripe, now Iraq is going to become their principal gripe … On October 7th, 2001 bin Laden came out and he said a very interesting thing. He talked about the humiliation of the past 80 years and of course what he was referring to–
TPM: The end of the caliphate?
BERGEN: Was the end of the caliphate, then you know the British and French basically carved up the Middle East, the British got Iraq, the French got Syria — this is all very recent history for people like bin Laden. We did a very smart thing in Afghanistan. Bin Laden and Mullah Omar made a calculation that we would be drawn into a Soviet-style invasion. They would respond with guerilla warfare. They would have some tactical successes in that warfare, and a strategic success that the United States would be reviled around the Muslim world for its brutal occupation of Afghanistan.
That didn’t happen, obviously, and there are only 300 Americans in the whole, on the ground. That was very smart. Obviously, the US and British occupation of Iraq is different from the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in many many ways — not least of which is that Soviets killed a million Afghans and made five million of them refugees. Obviously that hasn’t happened in Iraq. But there are some similarities in the following way: We are occupying in large numbers in thick spaces and we are doing that in the middle of the Middle East. And it seems that we’re going to be there indefinitely. It seems that way, according to the Iraqis and to everybody else. Obviously we’re in a period of guerilla warfare, these kind of high-profile terrorist attacks. You know, that’s the future. I mean al Qaida is not going to get off this little exercise. Obviously the United States is not about to change its policy in Iraq. So I think, given those two facts, we’re going to see more of what we saw at the United Nations Headquarters in the future. I mean this is just the beginning, I think.
TPM: I think I saw an interview you did on CNN in which you discussed the the question of who, if there are foreign fighters in Iraq now, who are they? And I think you had said that a lot of them seemed to be Saudis who’d actually come in through Syria. Whatever details you have — who are these people? Where are they coming from? Are governments assisting in bringing these people in?
BERGEN: I don’t think governments are assisting in bringing these people in at all. Because if you think about, Syria has been quite cooperative in the war on terrorism, Jordan has fallen all over itself. That’s one of the reasons the Jordanian embassy was attacked. Kuwait, don’t have to explain that. But judging from what US counter-terrorism officials say and what Saad al Fagih says they’re predominantly Saudi, which makes sense. Saudis were predominantly the people in Afghanistan, and the major group of people at Guantanamo Bay are Saudis. So that all kind of coheres. Some Kuwatis, and I would imagine a sprinkling of other nationalities, although I haven’t heard any other than the Saudis and Kuwatis–that’s all I’ve heard about. Now you know, if Zarqawi is in Iraq–although apparently he might be in Iran. So maybe there are some Jordanians, I don’t know. But it doesn’t sound like people from the Philippines are coming to Iraq, as it were, and coming to Afghanistan.
TPM: They would stand out?
BERGEN: They’d stand out. And also maybe it’s just a matter of time. After all, this whole thing is a relatively recent phenomenon. I mean it seems to me that these volunteers, as it were, jihadist volunteers, either came directly before the war, during the war, or even more so after the war. The Saudi volunteers especially have come in the last few months. But I think this is all totally predictable. I don’t see this as being a surprise.
TPM: Well you know before the war, and in the arguments that were made on either side before the war, there was an argument made–at least by certain neoconservative voices in the pro-war camp — that getting rid of Saddam had its own immediate advantages (non-conventional weapons, threat to his neighbors, and so forth) but that changing the government in Baghdad could basically trigger a kind of domino effect in the region.
BERGEN: I just saw that as a sort of theological position.
TPM: Yeah, there was that position and then the contrary position, saying it’s going to domino the other direction.
BERGEN: I’m going to firmly sit on the fence, because I think all we can say about the events of the Iraq war is the following: We speeded up history, right? Because we volunteered for this, we really didn’t have to do it. There wasn’t an imminent threat, you know there was no link to 9/11. Saddam’s a horrible human being, but there are plenty of those around. So we volunteered essentially, and we basically sped history up. I know that you’re a professional historian. When you speed history up, to say [with] rose-tinted spectacles, it’s all going to be great, there’s going to be democracy around the Middle East and everyone’s going to love us, I mean that is as wrong as saying this will be the biggest disaster of all time. We just don’t know.
I mean, we are playing the tape now. Maybe this is an easy way out of your question. The tape is being played. We just have no idea how it’s going to turn out. Yeah, you could imagine a situation–you could easily say ten years from now, Iraq will have split up into a series of — essentially a civil war between various Sunni jihadists and Shiia whatever. Or you could say, you know, Chalabi is running it and everything is fine and we’re all happy. Or you could say — I don’t know. I think making predictions about this is impossible. But to say that it’s all going to come out fine, that always struck me as being wishful thinking of the first order. We just don’t know.
TPM: Regardless of where a particular commentator comes down on these basic questions of the big picture, the relationship between what happens in Iraq and what happens in Saudi Arabia is a key one for everyone. As near as you can tell, what is happening in Saudi Arabia? Because there’s clearly been — they’re having these fire fights breaking out.
BERGEN: Actually, one interesting point: May 11th was the 9/11–May 11th, the Riyadh attacks in Saudi was like the wake-up call, the 9/11 for the Saudis. You know, up to that point, I’ve heard from several different US counter terrorism officials, the Saudis, even post-9/11, were not being cooperative.
TPM: Now what exactly does — in the US press, we hear that all the time. You know, they’re dragging their feet. Can you tell us what does that mean in practice?
BERGEN: We’re talking about a very secretive society, and we’re talking about a very secretive investigation anyway. So it’s hard to tell, but I think you can make some commonsense observations. Fifteen of the hijackers were Saudi. Isn’t it kind of curious that none of their mentors or buddies or facilitators or people that booked their tickets or whatever — we haven’t heard a single thing about them? There’s an absence of the kind of things that you would expect to hear given the fact that this was an entirely Saudi operation.
Now, maybe in fact the Saudis have got all these people in jail and they haven’t told us about it. I kind of don’t believe that. But now May 11th comes along and that changes everything. Because al Qaida and its affiliates are really an existential threat to the House of Saud; they want to overthrow the House of Saud. And the HOS for a long time chose to kind of play both sides of the street, I think. But now this crackdown is very severe apparently. So part of the reason you’re seeing these people show up in Iraq is, A) there’s a very attractive group of Americans to go out and attack, but B) you know, the Saudis are really cracking down.
TPM: So there could be a push and a pull.
BERGEN: So I think that’s also a factor. But you know they got this al Ghamdi guy that they just got in custody and some of his information led to that alert about hijackings. So you know, the Saudis are cooperating. And interestingly enough they’re probably the last — you know, I mean other countries around the Middle East have understood that al Qaida represents an existential threat, that it really makes sense to get on board whether with Jordan or Syria or whatever.
The Saudis I think have finally — they’ve got a problem, which is — they’ve got a lot of their own problems. They didn’t want to grasp this nettle. But it seems they are doing quite a good job now. Apparently there’s quite a lot of cooperation on this Riyadh attack in terms of law enforcement with the US.
TPM: Now there was–Crown Prince Abdullah gave a speech a week or so ago, a very seemingly muscular, aggressive speech in which he said that there was everything that happened before the attack [on May 11th] and everything after. So your sense, on balance, is that this has really qualitatively changed, with the seriousness of the crackdown?
BERGEN: Yeah, I think that’s true. The biggest challenge to them is the Islamist challenge. I think that they have cracked down on that. Long-term — you know, will that save their bacon as it were? I don’t know. It seems to me that they’ve got so many multiple problems beyond that.
TPM: Going back to Iraq, as you say, we’re playing the tape now, maybe playing it at fast forward. In the US there’s a debate between basically proceeding as we are right now or moving toward some form of internationalization of the occupation. In practice, we can’t really get up and leave. So what is there we can do to combat this kind of stuff?
BERGEN: Well I don’t know. I mean I don’t know what the answer is. I mean it seems to me that they’re are — one possible way of combating it would be to say, you know, “Let’s produce some very low benchmarks of what constitutes success and then just walk away.” I mean, I don’t think that’s going to happen. But you could imagine a situation saying, “Well OK, so the electricity’s back on, we’ve got this Iraqi council. You know we’re not in the business of totally rebuilding this country. It’s too expensive, and it’s too much whatever. It’s proving too costly in terms of blood and treasure.” And you produce these relatively low benchmarks and you leave. Now, but I don’t think the Administration is going to do that, do you?
TPM: No, I certainly don’t.
BERGEN: Because you’re asking, what can be done about it? I don’t think anything can really be done about it. Given the policy, and given that al Qaida’s modus operandi and motives and that it’s right in their backyard, etc., etc. You know I just think we’re going to see more of the same. All you can do is just sort of say like “OK, we’ll just make security better.” [Unintelligible] Other than that, I don’t see. This may be a question sort of outside my expertise — I think it is — because I just don’t know what you can do.
TPM: We’ll there’s — from what the president said yesterday — there seemed to be some sense on the part of the Administration that we’re in a kind of a hearts and minds battle over the Iraqi people with the terrorists. And maybe the masses of Iraqis will see this now and say, “This isn’t just against the US, it’s against us.”
BERGEN: I think right now, I’m not sure if that’s true. I get the impression that a lot of Iraqis don’t want us to be there also. So, I just don’t know what the answer is — obviously it’s a hearts and minds question. So I don’t know. I don’t really have an answer for that.
We’re all going to be kind of reassessing the situation as the result of this. Look at the size of the headlines in the New York Times and the Washington Post — this is a huge story and represents I think an entirely new phase in the whole deal. And how you adjust for that? It’s going to be complicated.
TPM: Last question. Over the last month or so, in various publications there’s been this — what’s called the flypaper theory. I don’t know if you’ve heard this. This is basically the idea that even if there are attacks inside Iraq that this is actually good because we’re sort of bringing everybody out of the woodwork and fighting them on our terms–
BERGEN: I think that’s — that’s kind of, that’s a post-facto rationalization. Don’t you think?
TPM: Well I think– [crosstalk] there’s not a finite number of terrorists, at least in practice … [crosstalk]
BERGEN: You can attract them all to Iraq–
TPM: And kill them and then you’re done.
BERGEN: At what cost? If that is the idea, no one in the Administration is standing up to articulate that. Plus that seems like a very high-risk strategy. And also it doesn’t make sense anyway. Because Afghanistan was a sort of an anti-flypaper thing where we went in and we bombed them and they all left.
So I don’t think the Administration is thinking like that. I think that they really believe their own theories, I guess. There’s really no other explanation for what they did. And going back to this whole al Qaida-Iraq connection, the reason ultimately I think that it’s important — forget about whatever people in the Administration said — something that swayed the American people was that this connection existed. To me, the only justification for the war was you know, getting rid of Saddam’s tyranny. But that’s a sort of Gladstonian, liberal position.
I don’t think that would have been easy to sell to the American people — saying, “Hey, we’re just going to liberate this place because this guy’s a total you know, whatever.” They sold it on the basis of this kind of putative connection, I think. I think that was the background. Sixty percent of Americans surveyed before the war thought Iraq was involved in 9/11. So I think this question of whether there was a link between al Qaida and Iraq is not a trivial one, because certainly people believed it.
TPM: One quick last question. To the extent that you’re in touch with the guy in London, the Saudi dissident–and people in the countries around the periphery around Iraq, is there a consensus among people in these countries about the situation we’re in? You certainly hear the Administration saying “You know, it’s tough going but we’re moving in the right direction.” What do people in the region, outside Iraq, think we have on our hands?
BERGEN: I don’t know the answer to that question. But there’s a very interesting survey by–was it Pew? I think it was Pew. You know in countries as diverse as Turkey, Indonesia, Morocco, and Jordan, when asked “Who do you have more confidence in, Osama bin Laden or President Bush?” A substantial majority said Osama bin Laden in those countries. These are all countries that are closely allied to the United States. I think those figures speak for themselves about the faith they have in what we’re doing.
For more on Peter Bergen, visit his website.
Even George Will.
From today’s column …
Perhaps the administration should recognize that something other than its intelligence reports concerning weapons of mass destruction was wrong. Paul Wolfowitz, deputy secretary of defense, was wrong in congressional testimony before the war. Although he said “we have no idea what we will need until we get there on the ground,” he insisted that Gen. Eric Shinseki, a veteran of peacekeeping in the Balkans, was “wildly off the mark” in estimating that several hundred thousand troops would be needed in occupied Iraq.
Even Geroge Will …
Enough talk already. Enough excuses and mumbo-jumbo. Our situation in Iraq is bad. But our situation in Washington is worse.
Despite what some people are saying, I really don’t think the situation in Iraq is irretrievable. Frankly, we can’t allow it to be irretrievable because the consequences of failure are too dark to imagine. But it’s only retrievable if the people in the driver’s seat can shake themselves free of wishful thinking and ideologically-rooted assumptions and have the courage to reevaluate the situation and make some course corrections.
I hesitate to throw wisdom after foolishness. But Lincoln captured some of what’s necessary when he said: “The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present … As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.”
But look what we’re getting.
In an article about the recent reverses in the Middle East, Ken Adelman told the Post: “We should not try to convince people that things are getting better. Rather, we should convince people that ours is the age of terrorism.” Richard Perle said: “It may be a very long time before we’ve so substantially eliminated the source of terror that we can pronounce that we are safe.”
The logic of these comments and others from administration-connected hawks is that the president should stop telling the public that things are getting better. Things really are as bad as they look in Iraq. But that’s because we’re in an all-out global war against the terrorists.
Rather than these guys disenthralling themselves, they’re yet again trying to bend logic and chronology into a metaphysical pretzel in which the failure of the policy becomes the justification for the policy.
I was briefly heartened when it seemed that we were — or rather Colin Powell was — trying to use the bombing as an opportunity to revisit the issue of the UN’s involvement. I was a lot less heartened when I heard this exchange Thursday evening between Paula Zahn and Dick Holbrooke …
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: I’m now also joined by Richard Holbrooke, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations to help us better understand what took place at the U.N. today.
Not a very good day for Colin Powell, was it?
RICHARD HOLBROOKE, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UNITED NATIONS: Not a good day for the United States.
I think Bill Cohen, my former Cabinet colleague, put it exactly right when he said that we need to try to bring the international community in. And that means a little flexibility for the U.N. What Colin Powell did today at the U.N. was come to New York and offer the same resolution, essentially, that we’d offered two weeks ago and portray it as a tribute to the fallen and great and brave Sergio Vieira de Mello and the other U.N. people.
This created a very, very unfortunate attitude at the U.N. among other nation states.
ZAHN: How so?
HOLBROOKE: Including many countries that want to help us.
Well, they were offended by it. Now, what is the answer to this? As Bill Cohen just said to you, we need to internationalize the effort. We have to. We are not going to defend the U.N. people. The U.N. was playing an indispensable role in support of American foreign policy. Sergio Vieira de Mello was a Brazilian working for the U.N., but everything he did, working closely with Jerry Bremer in Baghdad, was in support of the U.S.
And the attack on the U.N. was an attack on the U.S., because they only went after that building because it was a softer target. Those people are now going to be targets again. They can’t be left unprotected. The U.S. cannot add the additional burden of protecting them. So, as Bill Cohen just told you, we need international force.
In order to get that, the U.S. is going to have to make a deal, an easy deal, a deal that any diplomat can make with some of the other countries. We should encourage Kofi Annan and his colleagues to create a resolution in the Security Council which creates a U.N. protective force for itself that operates as a separate command within the overall American umbrella.
Secretary Powell said today at the U.N. that this would violate the unity-of-command principle. With all due respect to a great American hero who was a soldier, I don’t understand that. We have violated that principle in Afghanistan already, with NATO on one side and the U.S. on the other. We can do it in Iraq. And we need to do something fast. And I hope, by next week, we will have a better resolution.
In Iraq yesterday, John McCain also spoke about the need to take a fresh, unvarnished view of the situation: “After an event like this [the U.N. bombing], we have to evaluate whether we have enough people, whether we have the right kind of people and whether we are spending enough money, and I think it’s appropriate to make that evaluation.”
This is truly remarkable. As I noted on Wednesday, Moveon.org has started a drive to raise money to support the eleven Democratic state senators from Texas who are now holed up in Albuquerque, New Mexico to block the DeLay-driven Republican redistricting plan.
(You can read my thoughts on DeLay’s gerrymandering jihad in this new piece in The Forward.)
The money will go to defray the hotel and other expenses the pols are racking up during their sojourn in New Mexico (they’re conducting state business there, essentially on their own dime) and mount a media campaign to help in their fight. Moveon.org set a goal of raising $1 million. And as of this evening they’ve already raised more than 60% of that goal. And the campaign only began this week.
(If you’d like to add your two cents, or five dollars, or five thousand dollars, visit the drive site here.)
On the one hand, this is a lot of support both moral and financial for a cause that I obviously think is quite worthy.
More broadly, though, it shows that Internet-based, progressive, small-donor fundraising and political organizing has really come of age. The Dean campaign has blazed the trail. But the phenomenon transcends any single candidate or issue.
This evening we’re very pleased to run the first half of our interview with al Qaida expert Peter Bergen. Part two will run Friday afternoon.
Bergen is the author of Holy War, Inc.: Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden, and interviewed bin Laden in person in 1997. He is currently a fellow at the New America Foundation in Washington, DC.
The interview was conducted early Wednesday afternoon …
TPM: There’ve been a series of [recent] attacks –the attack on the Jordanian embassy, the attack yesterday. And no one has claimed responsibility. There’s the big debate about who’s doing this. So what is your sense on the narrow question of who did it, and more broadly, what’s happening in Iraq right now, this escalation?
BERGEN: Well, what’s happening is utterly predictable, unfortunately. Which is that Iraq is acting as a sort of super-magnet for … al Qaida or the jihadists in general. And they’re coming to Iraq. Were they behind the Jordanian embassy attack? Very possibly. It happened on August 7th, which is a date that al Qaida is fairly preoccupied by, because that was the day that President Bush [Sr.] announced Operation Desert Shield and [began] posting American troops in Saudi Arabia. And then 8 years later [al Qaida] blew up two US embassies simultaneously on that day.
TPM: Huh, I’d never heard [that it was on the same date.]
BERGEN: They don’t operate on anniversaries, but this is one that they have operated on. And they would definitely — you don’t spend five years [planning for] blowing up two US embassies without actually deciding, “We’re going to do it on a day that really makes sense for us.” And their principle political beef has been the US presence in Saudi Arabia. So the fact that the Jordanian embassy was attacked on August 7th, it’s an interesting coincidence at least.
Then, attacking embassies, doing it in a professional manner. This is something that al Qaida has — al Qaida or its affiliates — among their specialties. Whether it was in Africa in ’98, the Egyptian embassy in Pakistan in ’95, attempting to blow up a series of Western embassies in Singapore post-9/11, which didn’t happen.
So that’s point one. Then point two: The United Nations is definitely — attacking the United Nations is definitely something that for starters was a suicide attack, probably extremely well-organized. I don’t think there’s a huge group of people willing to martyr themselves to bring Saddam Hussein back to power. I mean it just doesn’t make sense on the face of it. You know, there might be people who are nostalgic, but not nostalgic enough to want to kill themselves â¦ Secular socialism posits heaven here on earth, rather than in eternity.
Now, there’s information just now that the FBI is saying that the explosive materials involved indicate some sort of military Iraqi [connection], which is interesting. So maybe there is some alliance between these former military people and the jihadists. But I think that — I’ve never heard of a suicide operation mounted by people who don’t believe in heaven.
TPM: Right, right. Does it tell you anything that no one has claimed responsibility for either of these attacks?
BERGEN: Well, al Qaida tends not ever to claim direct responsibility. I mean, there was a bogus thing, where they did claim responsibility for the blackout, but I doubt that was al Qaida. I mean claims of responsibility are — you know, there are two claims of responsibility in the attack in Jerusalem: Hamas and Islamic Jihdad. So, I don’t know. Claims of responsibility are sort of curious. Al Qaida as a general proposition has tended not to make claims of responsibility, so make of that what you will.
I don’t think there are any claims so far. You know on Monday of this week, just before the attack on the United Nations, an audio tape came out from an al Qaida spokesman, calling for attacks on Iraq and making sort of a — deriding US efforts to bring more people into the coalition. Obviously an attack on the United Nations’ headquarters, it sends a very strong signal: If you’re contemplating sending troops, you know, “Don’t do it.”
TPM: As you mentioned, there was this report today that these were Soviet-era munitions that the former regime had around. And that at least raises the question of whether there’s some sort of coordination. Now obviously before the war this was one nominal casus belli. So, what is your sense on that big question: Was there a link between Iraq and al Qaida, was there coordination before the war — and might there be now?
BERGEN: You know, the best evidence linking al Qaida to Iraq was what Colin Powell said with George Tenet sitting behind him at the United Nations. And it’s this guy Zarqawi who went for medical treatment in Baghdad. Now I’ve talked to US officials and European intelligence officials and Zarqawi had his own organization that’s not part of al Qaida. And even if you put the best possible spin on everything, A) he has a separate organization, and B) the way US intelligence officials look at it, they say that he would say, “Yeah, sometimes I do work for Osama.”
But the fact is that this guy spent more time in Iran and Lebanon than he spent in Iraq.
I mean, he went to Iraq for medical treatment. He also traveled under an alias, by the way. This is a guy with many aliases. It’s quite possible that he was getting medical treatment without the regime knowing it. After all, he’s Jordanian.
So Zarqawi’s their best [evidence] –and it’s a pretty thin reed. You know, Iraq actually has quite good medical treatment compared to most other countries in the Arab world, from my understanding. So the fact that he went there — and just by the law of averages, by the way, if we accept the fact that, as President Bush said in the State of the Union, that there are sixty countries where al Qaida exists, just by the law of averages, some of them are going to show up in Iraq.
But, you know, I spent years researching my book on al Qaida, and one of the striking things is how few Iraqis there are in the organization. I mean, everybody has an alias in al Qaida. They’re called al Misri, which means you’re from Egypt, or you’re called al Jazeera, which means you’re from Algeria. Very few are al Iraqi. The only one who is significant is a guy called Mahmud Salim who’s actually in prison, and has been in prison since ’98, who was a significant player in the leadership of al Qaida.
But obviously bin Laden is a Saudi, most of the top leadership is Egyptian, rather than Iraqi. And if you do a breakdown of who went through the training camps, the overwhelming numbers, from the Arab world at least, would be Saudis, Yemenis, and Algerians. Those would be in the top three. Iraqis really would have come down [the list]. And also, no one from Iran. There were no al Iranis in the groups.
TPM: Now that would be at least a sectarian divide?
BERGEN: Actually there’s more evidence for al Qaida playing footsie with Hezbollah in the early ’90s. You know, if you look at the model, the al Qaida model is the Hezbollah model. And this goes back to the question du jour–which is, what’s happening in Iraq?
If you accept the fact — and it is a fact — that bin Laden modeled al Qaida’s tactics on Hezbollah in Beirut in the mid ’80s, when the bomb went off and we withdrew, and also on Mogadishu, where 18 Americans were killed and then we also withdrew … If you accept that as their model, then that’s the model they’re going to apply in Iraq. That would explain the Jordanian embassy, the UN Headquarters, and the future attacks there are undoubtedly going to be against US soldiers there.
Some people trained with Hezbollah in Lebanon who were members of al Qaida and [bin Laden] met with Imad Mugniyah, who was sort of the operational commander of Hezbollah. But that’s in the early ’90s. On the Iraq question, he also met with Iraqis when they were living in Sudan. But you know, we all have meetings that don’t mean anything. Look at the UN sometimes. So the fact that these guys were having meetings doesn’t really mean, I think, very much.
TPM: How about Ansar al Islam, which is the other player in this debate?
BERGEN: Ansar al Islam A) is a small group of people, and B) was in the part of Iraq not controlled by [Saddam]. In fact, the only reason Ansar al Islam existed as a group, if you think about it, was because we were enforcing a no-fly zone. Totalitarian regimes don’t tolerate opposition of any form, whether it’s religious, political, whatever. Saddam Hussein would have executed people in Ansar al Islam.
So that’s — I think to say ex post facto that these attacks can be laid at Ansar al Islam might be convenient for the administration. And may or may not be true — I don’t know. There is the fact that Ansar al Islam mounted a suicide attack on a group of Western journalists during the war and killed an Australian. So they have managed to assign operations against Western targets. But to me they seem a rather trivial [group] when you’re looking at numbers of 3,000 Saudis, as Saad al Fagih, the leading Saudi dissident told me yesterday.
I think the maximum number of people in Ansar al Islam were in the several hundred. And they seem much more preoccupied with attacking the Kurdish leaders. Other than this attack that I mentioned on the Australian journalist there doesn’t seem to be a lot of indication that they’re involved in anti-Western terrorism.
TPM: Now one of the accusations, at least before the war, was that the Saddam Hussein regime was aiding Ansar basically because they had a mutual enemy in Kurdish leaders. And to the extent that there was any argument about cooperation, that’s how people built it up.
BERGEN: You know, maybe it’s true. What does this all mean? The bottom line is, was [Iraq] involved in 9/11? Obviously not. Were Saddam and al Qaida in cahoots? No.
If you actually talk to the people who investigate this stuff — the people in the US government [for whom] this is their daily bread, this is what they get up and think about every day — they will say, well, one of them will say, “Don’t get me started. My blood pressure was fine before you mentioned it. They came to me for a casus belli before the war and I said, ‘I’m not the guy, there’s nothing here.'”
And these are people who have investigated al Qaida arguably since 1993.
TPM: People in the US intelligence community, law enforcement, etc.?
BERGEN: Yeah. One of the key pieces of evidence is this guy Farouk Hijazi, who was the Iraqi ambassador to Turkey and a fairly senior Iraqi intelligence officer, that he might have met with bin Laden in December of ’98. And [the US intelligence officials] say, “We really don’t know if that’s even true.”
So I think going back to Colin Powell’s presentation is the most useful exercise, because Powell didn’t want to get out in front of what basically they felt they could nail down. Yes, Zarqawi went to Baghdad for medical treatment. Yes, there were meetings in Khartoum between al Qaida and Iraqi officials. But other people I’ve talked to in the US government say, “Those meetings happened. What to make of them, who knows?”
Also, another official would say, “Actually, bin Laden was just doing that to be polite, because Sudan and Iraq were closely allied at that time.”
And I can speak from my own personal experience. Because when we met with bin Laden in ’97, at the end of the interview (when this was a question of no political import at the time) Peter Arnett, the correspondent (I was the producer of the interview) asked bin Laden, “What do you think of Saddam?”
And he said, immediately, “He’s a bad Muslim”–and no argument there, I mean that’s a statement of fact–“and he took Kuwait for his own self-aggrandizement”–again, no argument there. These are both truthful statements that represent bin Laden’s unmediated [views]–that’s his response.
You know, proving negatives, of course, is difficult. But I think the case that al Qaida and Iraq had any kind of relationship, even of the most trivial kind, has not been proven at all. And look, if we find a warehouse of documents that proves the Iraq-al Qaida link in Baghdad, I’ll be the first person to say, basically, I’ve got this one wrong. Because I don’t have a dog in the fight — I really don’t care. I mean, obviously it’s interesting. But it’s not like something that I’ve got an ideological thing of wanting to separate these things out. It’s just if it’s not there, it’s not there.
You know, we now have in custody, after all, the two people — al Ani, who was the Iraqi intelligence agent who supposedly met with Mohammed Atta in Prague, is in custody. Don’t you think he knows his get-out-of-jail-free card to some degree is saying “Hey I did meet with Mohammed Atta”? He’s obviously not saying that, otherwise we’d know about it.
And then Farouk Hijazi, the guy I just mentioned, is also in custody. He must know that his biggest — you know, I mean, we’re not hearing about it. And what’s very interesting is that we do know that the CIA — the interrogations of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Ramzi Binalshibh are saying, “We specifically rejected Iraq’s help.” And these people by the way, the high ranking al Qaida operatives are giving very useful information for reasons that — it’s kind of puzzling in a sense — ego, wanting to show that they’re in the game, that they’re important, whatever. They are producing useful information. They know that they’re going to be in custody for the rest of their lives and very possibly executed. If there’s any way of making their lives slightly more comfortable, don’t you think they would have said, ‘Hey, we have this relationship with Iraq?’ So, au contraire, they’re not saying that.
The second half of TPM’s interview with Peter Bergen will be published Friday afternoon.
I see from Matthew Yglesias’ site that there is a notion being peddled by certain conservative columnists that the bombing of the UN mission in Baghdad is actually a sign that the bad guys are on the ropes. Now, that strikes me as a rather creative of interpretation of the event. To the extent that the form of attack is different — mass casualty terrorism versus isolated guerilla attacks on soldiers — I suspect it’s because the perpetrators are not the same people. But that’s just a supposition on my part.
However that may be, this new theory from the war-hawks suggests a broader question, a deeper problem.
I’m probably getting certain particulars of this wrong, but there’s a basic principle in scientific theory: an hypothesis, to be a real hypothesis, must be capable of disproof. In other words, for an hypothesis to be a valid basis for research, there must be some data which, if found to be true, would prove the hypothesis was false. Otherwise, there’s no way to test it.
Now, foreign policy is no science. But some looser version of this principle must apply here as well. To be a policy, as opposed to a theological position, there must be some potential results that would show the policy was not working. The proponents of the policy should be able to say ahead of time that if this or that result happens, the policy has failed.
The utility of requiring this would be that if the result of the invasion of Iraq is an Islamic theocracy, governed by Osama bin Laden, and purchasing nuclear weapons from Pakistan at bargain-basement prices, we’d have the hawks on record saying this was in fact not a positive development.
Now, we’ve already had the ‘flypaper‘ theory: that guerilla attacks against American troops are a good thing because we’re pulling ‘the terrorists’ out of the woodwork and attacking them on our own terms. And now we have what I guess we could call the ‘paradoxically positive mass-casualty terrorism event‘ theory: that mass-casualty terrorism events show the success of our policy since they are a sign ‘the terrorists’ are becoming desperate.
For my part, I don’t think either guerrilla attacks or mass-casualty terror attacks in themselves show the administration’s policy is a failure. This is a difficult business. But they also don’t strike me as positive developments.
So I think it’s time for the hawks to give us a few examples of events that would show that our policy was not working or at least facing setbacks. You know, just so we can put down some benchmarks, so we can know what we’re working with …
I just conducted my interview this afternoon with al Qaida expert Peter Bergen, the author of Holy War, Inc.: Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden.
We plan to publish the interview tomorrow evening.
One thing that caught my attention was Bergen’s comments on the identity of the foreign jihadists now operating in Iraq and why they’re there. According to Bergen, the majority of them are Saudi militants — numbering as many as a few thousand — who’ve come into the country not through Saudi Arabia but through Syria.
Now, why these guys would want to go into Iraq to kill Americans might not seem like much of a mystery. But there may be as much of a push as a pull. According to Bergen, the current Saudi crackdown against Islamic militants is actually quite fierce. And he says that many of them are fleeing Saudi Arabia because of it. Ironically, the crackdown on Islamist militants in Saudi Arabia may be leading to an upsurge of their numbers in Iraq.
If you’re wondering whether the Texas redistricting fracas is being orchestrated from Washington, look at this article in today’s Dallas Morning News.
The one Republican who’s broken ranks over redistricting is Bill Ratliff (R-Mount Pleasant). He’s not just any state senator. After President Bush left for Washington in 2001, he was succeeded by then-Lt. Governor Rick Perry. Ratliff’s colleagues then chose him to serve as acting-Lt. Governor, an extremely powerful office in that state.
Today Ratliff revealed that “in the summer of 2001 he was asked by Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land and current U.S. House majority leader, whether he, as acting lieutenant governor, would suspend the Senate’s two-thirds rule so the GOP could push through a favorable congressional redistricting plan during a special session.” Breaking the two-thirds rule is what triggered the exodus of Democratic senators to Albuquerque and prompted Ratliff to come over to their side.
Add that to this from the Houston Chronicle in mid-June …
Rove called state Sen. Bill Ratliff of Mt. Pleasant, the most likely Republican to oppose a GOP-drawn redistricting plan in Texas. Ratliff, who is undecided, said Rove stopped short of saying Bush wanted him to vote for the bill but “indicated that it could be important to the president.”
In any case, now there’s something you can do about this.
Regular readers of TPM have heard plenty from me about this ugly episode and why I believe it matters. Now Moveon.org is organizing efforts to support the eleven Democratic state senators who are now holed up in Albuquerque, New Mexico to block the latest attempt to push through Tom DeLay’s precedent-busting redistricting plan.
Here’s a letter from state Senator Rodney Ellis explaining what’s at stake and what’s happening now.
What these eleven are doing is really important.
Stop by the site. If you think this is important, get involved.
Here’s a comment from retired General George Joulwan, former NATO Supreme Allied Commander in Europe. The quote’s from Larry King Live …
Let me be clear — what I think, and this is my own personal opinion here, what is — we’re in danger. It’s not there yet. But if we’re in the careful here, we’re in danger of losing the initiative in Iraq, and to a degree in Afghanistan. And that concerns me. We had the initiative going into Baghdad. We had a whole groundswell with us. But now that is turning. So it’s extremely important, I think, that we reassess how to bring in the international community. NATO right now is in Afghanistan and Kabul. I think we need to broaden this and really get a secure environment in that country for the agencies to operate from the U.N., NGOs, et cetera. That is what concerns me. I don’t see that happening right now.
I think there are very few retired military leaders who disagree with that proposition. Indeed, there seem to be very, very few people outside the Office of the Secretary of Defense who don’t think we have too few troops in country.
One obvious reason to have more troops is that providing a secure environment is a sine qua non of almost everything else we want to accomplish in Iraq. Another is that it would give the occupation less of a US face, and thus help deflate the charges of neo-colonialism which hover over this whole enterprise.
But there’s another important reason.
One of the medium to long-term challenges we face, I think, is that very few people in other countries have much invested in our success. I don’t think most Europeans want us to fail exactly. But I think that the way this whole operation has gone down has made a lot of people want to see us at least get our nose bloodied or at a minimum fall rather short of a signal success.
One might say, well, if the French think that, they suck. And maybe they do. But as a practical matter, it doesn’t really matter if they suck or if this is a good moral argument against them. One reason is that it’s not just the French. And, more to the point, it’ll be very difficult to pull this off if everyone else around the world is sitting on the sideliness, quietly relishing our stumbles.
By internationalizing this operation — on our own terms, but still internationalizing it — we’ll get other countries invested in its eventual success.
The rejoinder to this argument might be that, well, all those other countries will pervert the enterprise to their own weenieful, relativistic, Brussels-esque ends. But, handled right, I don’t think we have much to worry about. One of the great failings of the right’s hostility to international institutions — most notably, the UN — is the inability or unwillingness to recognize how dominant our voice is in almost every international institution we claim membership in.
What I fear is that the administration is going to wait too long to make a course correction.
Despite some rough patches we’ve hit so far, I think it would still very much be possible for the president to internationalize the operation and have it appear as a grand gesture on our part rather than something we were forced to do because we were unable to manage the situation on our own. We could even present it as something we had intended to do all along. And though few would likely believe us, most countries would probably be eager enough to participate that they’d be willing not to make too much of it.
Unfortunately, if we wait till things really get out of hand, it really will look like a failure for us to call in other countries and we’ll be far less able to call the shots. If things get bad enough, other countries that are now willing to send in troops might look at us and say, “You broke it, you fix it.”
The key is that there is absolutely no strategic, moral, or diplomatic reason why internationalizing the occupation has to be seen as a failure. Quite the contrary. The problem is that many people in the administration see it as exactly that. And if we wait too long to do what is actually in our own interests, their own flawed vision — that internationalization means a strategic failure for the US — could end up being a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Coming soon, the TPM interview with Peter Bergen, author of Holy War, Inc.: Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden, and one of the very few Western journalists to interview bin Laden himself (in 1997).
We’ll be talking about the war against al Qaida, what’s going on in Iraq, and more.
There’s a shocking — really shocking — and surreal video of the moment of the bombing of the UN compound in Baghdad at the CBSNews website. (The link is near the top of the CBSNews site. The caption reads: “CBS News camera captures explosion, aftermath.”) The feed begins with a garden variety UN briefing. Suddenly, there’s a terrible racket, everything goes black, and the racket is replaced by confused screams and shouts from someone trying to take control of the situation.
Slowly the smoke begins to thin and you see disoriented victims trying to make sense of the situation, an endless number of people shocked, caked in powder, and blood-spattered. And just confusion. The cameraman slowly makes his way out into the open through what seems to be a gaping hole in the building and out into the light which momentarily overwhelms the light sensor on the video camera and makes the entire screen white. Images then slowly come back into view and, again, walking wounded.
Through the feed — which runs about five minutes — there are occasional shouts from bystanders, apparently telling the cameraman to turn off his camera. And such tapes can easily become a sort of grisly pornography of violence. But this struck me as different, as close as you’d ever want to come to seeing what it’s like to be at the center of such a horror, and yet not needlessly gory. Go see for yourself. It’s difficult to watch, but worth watching.
Oh that’s classic. Tom DeLay says those Texas state Senators, who are off in New Mexico to stymie his re-redistricting plan, are guilty of violating the federal constitution.
From Fox News Sunday this morning …
TONY SNOW: All right. Let’s switch to another topic. Texas — there is an imbroglio about redistricting. Republicans want to change the map because their Republican majority is substantial in your home state.
But there’s a question. These same Republicans, a couple of years ago, agreed to a redistricting, or at least, in courts, got involved. Why should Republicans get another bite at the apple?
TOM DELAY: Well, we haven’t had the first bite. We’re supposed to, by Constitution, apportion or redistrict every 10 years. The state legislature in Texas couldn’t do it in the last legislature, and three judges did it and they did a very poor job, as evidenced that the fact that we have a minority of Republicans in our congressional delegation.
What — you know, we in Texas, Tony, have prided ourselves on honor, duty and responsibility. Unfortunately, the Democrats in the state legislature don’t understand honor because they’re violating their oath of office to support the United States Constitution. They don’t understand their duty, which the Constitution calls for in redistricting. And they don’t want to accept responsibility for it, so they ran.
We’re insisting that the Constitution be upheld, and we feel very confident that if the state legislature does its duty and redistricts, then we will end up with a majority of Republicans in the congressional delegation.
Now that’s classic. DeLay is pushing an effort which is entirely unprecedented in the last half century and hasn’t been commonplace in this country for well more than a hundred years. And his opponents, who are resisting his efforts, are guilty of violating the constitution.
Persistent, chronic up-is-downism …
From today’s Wolf Blitzer show, Wesley Clark on Tom DeLay …
BLITZER: General, I want you to listen, during the war, when you were still working for CNN — and just want to alert our viewers, you’re no longer working for CNN as our military analyst.
BLITZER: But during the war, early in April, Tom DeLay, the majority leader in the House, really hammered you directly. I want you to listen to what he told our Judy Woodruff then.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. TOM DELAY (R-TX), MAJORITY LEADER: Frankly, what irritates me the most are these blow-dried Napoleons that come on television and, in some cases, have their own agendas.
General Clark is one of them that is running for president, yet he’s paid to be an expert on your network. And he’s questioning the plan and raising doubts as he becomes this expert.
I think they would serve the nation better if they would just comment on what they see and what they know, rather than putting their own agenda forward as an expert.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Well, pretty strong words from Tom DeLay going after you. What do you say to that criticism?
CLARK: Well, first of all, I’d be happy to compare my hair with Tom DeLay’s. We’ll see who’s got the blow-dried hair.
But beyond that, Wolf, he’s got it exactly backward. It’s upside down. I am saying what I believe. And I’m being drawn into the political process because of what I believe and what I’ve said about it.
So it’s precisely the opposite of a man like Tom DeLay, who is only motivated by politics and says whatever he needs to say to get the political purpose. And so, you know, it couldn’t be more diametrically opposed, and I couldn’t be more opposed than I am to Tom DeLay.
You know, Wolf, when our airmen were flying over Kosovo, Tom DeLay led the House Republicans to vote not to support their activities, when American troops were in combat. To me, that’s a real indicator of a man who is motivated not by patriotism or support for the troops, but for partisan political purposes.
Noted without comment, but nice dig on the hair!
My friend James Sparrow spent a couple years (with grant support from The Sloan Foundation, I think) setting up an archive on the history of the great New York City blackouts of 1965 and 1977. It’s all put together in an amazing website (The Blackout History Project) which covers the social history of these events, what happened, people’s reminiscences in written and recorded formats, and so forth. The site also has a great deal of information about just how blackouts happen, what these ‘grids’ are that folks are talking about, and how various forms of electricity deregulation which have taking place over recent years have made an event like we’ve seen today much more likely. Like, for instance, why did this become so systemic? If you’re interested in knowing more, go check out the site. If you’re a journalist or tv producer who wants to get a hold of someone who can really talk about this stuff, get a hold of Jim Sparrow.
This is a delicate topic. But Christopher Christie — the very political US Attorney for District of New Jersey — seems intent on saying stupid things about his shoulder-launched missile smuggling case against Hemant Lakhani. For me, it’s quite enough that Lakhani was willing to sell terrorists weapons to shoot down civilian airliners. But Christie isn’t quite willing to give up the al Qaida connection.
Christie says Lakhani may well himself have been an al Qaida sympathizer.
How do we know that?. Thus Christie: “There is no question that Mr. Lakhani was someone who was sympathetic to the beliefs of the terrorists who were trying to do damage to our country. He, on many occasions in recorded conversations, referred to Americans as bastards [and] Osama bin Laden as a hero who had done something right and set the Americans straight.”
Now, as I’ve said, if Lakhani was trying to sell plane-downing weapons to terrorists, that’s more than enough for me. He’s a rat. Toss the key, and so forth. Maybe he is an al Qaida sympathizer. But this is pretty feeble evidence.
What exactly do we expect the guy to say when he’s talking to our undercover agents posing as al Qaida? “I’m happy to sell you fellows these shoulder-fired missiles. But I do think that whole September 11th business was a bit much. I’m not telling you your business. It’s a free country. But I’m just sayin’.”
Why can’t they just promote this as an effective sting operation against a certified rat , rather than making foolish statements like these.
This, quite literally, takes the cake. The Pentagon and the White House are pushing to cut the pay of American troops serving in Iraq.
Back in April Congress raised the extra allowances soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines get for being in combat zones and for family separation. The former got bumped to $225 from $150 a month; the latter to $250 from $100. The administration says this increase will cost $300 million per year. And that’s too much. They want to go back to the old rates.
The administration says that amount can’t be balanced with our other priorities.
What are our priorities?