Tuesday, 30 September 2003
The Spy Who Blogged Me:
This week on the Blog Movie Channel, the left-wing blogs are playing a The Valerie Plame Affair marathon, while the right-wing blogs are showing a double feature of The Scandal That Wasn't There and It's a Wonderful Occupation. For those not following the Plame story, the accusation on the table is that someone inside the Bush Administration deliberately blew a CIA agent's cover—a felony offense punishable by up to ten years in prison—in order to wreak vengeance on the agent's husband (who was a critic of Bush's pre-war WMD claims) and silence any other whistle-blowers who disputed Bush's case for invading Iraq.
From the available evidence it's hard to avoid the conclusion that someone committed a felony, but a number of Bush's hardcore fans are gamely blowing smoke: It was common knowledge that Plame was an undercover agent, they say. Plame was just an analyst, not a covert operative. This is a manufactured scandal created by pathological Bush-hating fanatics. It's all too complicated to follow. The fact that the CIA has turned its findings over to the Justice Department puts all these objections in a rather harsh light, though: If Plame wasn't a covert operative, and her status with the CIA was common knowledge, then what exactly is the CIA asking the Attorney General to investigate? It's like trying to prove O.J. Simpson's innocence by insinuating that Nicole isn't really dead.
No, I'm afraid that partisan smoke-blowing can't really obscure the ugly fact: Somebody blew Valerie Plame's cover. Whether it was done carelessly or maliciously is beside the point; whether it was done by a Republican or a Democrat is beside the point; whether "everyone knew" Plame was an agent (I sure didn't, and I suspect the Nigerans might not have either) is beside the point. I'm not a big fan of government secrecy, but I do appreciate that intelligence gathering is a legitimate reason for it—and that someone betrayed one of those secrets.
(Links via Just One Minute and Instapundit.)
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 9:55 am. comments.
Sunday, 28 September 2003
One Hand Clapping's Donald Sensing has challenged his readers to an essay contest:
I invite you to write up a guest post for me actually demonstrating how the Bush administration actively led Americans to believe that Saddam and the 9/11 attacks were directly linked. I'll post your essay on this site. Yes, I am serious.
There are certain points, and certain people, that I'm not willing to debate. It's not because I concede the points, or fear the people: It's because I don't like wasting my breath. I don't debate members of the Flat Earth Society, for example: I could prove to any reasonable person that the earth is an oblate spheroid, but I couldn't prove it to them. No one can. They're not "reasonable people," in the literal sense; their axioms are so far removed from mine that there's nothing we can do but agree to disagree.
By accepting Donald Sensing's challenge, I'm implicitly granting that Donald is open to reason. Some of my peers may not be willing to grant that—some of my peers may suspect his contest is rigged in Bush's favor from the get-go, since it only allows active liars and direct lies—but in the spirit of public debate I'll give the benefit of the doubt, and assume that Donald is willing to truly consider the facts I put before him.
(Besides, even if I don't win over Donald himself, I may still win some of his audience. One Hand Clapping is in the "Playful Primates" section of the blogosphere ecosystem, whereas my blog is somewhere near the fiddler crab level. If nothing else, I may gain a few readers.)
One last point before I get down to business: With the possible exception of Richard Perle (which we'll discuss), no senior member of the Bush Administration explicitly claimed to have proof of a link betwen Saddam Hussein and the 9/11 attacks. If Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell or Rice had issued that statement, we'd all remember it; the pressure to share that proof with then-Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, if not with the United Nations Security Council, would have been overwhelming.
But, if your yardstick for integrity only measures whether Bush explicitly lied about Saddam and 9/11, then I'll assume you had no problem with Bill Clinton's "I didn't inhale" remark: After all, Clinton implied that he'd never taken drugs, but he never explicitly lied about it.
"You can't distinguish between Al Qaeda and Saddam when you talk about the war on terror."
—George W. Bush, September 25, 2002
If you're looking for the Bush Administration official who made the strongest allegation linking Saddam to Osama, look no further than Richard Perle. In September 2002, Perle made this remark to the Italian business daily Il Sole 24 Ore:
"Mohammed Atta met Saddam Hussein in Baghdad prior to September 11. We have proof of that, and we are sure he wasn't just there for a holiday."
Perle was presumably in a position to know: As chairman of the Defense Policy Board (a title he held until March 2003), he certainly had more access to classified intelligence than you or I did. Perle's claim was forceful and direct, and he was a leading public figure in the Administration at the time; it's hard to argue that his remark doesn't meet the contest criteria.
At the same time, the circumstances here are puzzling. Perle chose an obscure forum to make such a sensational charge, and the claim was never repeated—it was never retracted, either, but Perle apparently chose never to raise it again. Nor, for that matter, did anyone else in the media or government pursue Perle demanding a public explanation. If Perle had evidence that a September 11 hijacker met with Saddam Hussein in Baghdad, then he (and, by extension, the entire Administration) invested way too much in protecting that source; they should have risked at least a closed-door U.N. Security Council meeting, if not burning the source outright.
One explanation would be a misquote or translation error: Perle may have been repeating earlier rumors that Atta had met with an Iraqi intelligence agent in Prague, and his words were somehow translated to "Saddam" and "Baghdad" in Italian. But if Perle was misquoted, he had ample opportunity to correct the public record—and he did not.
In any case, Perle's aggressive linking of Saddam and 9/11 was not a one-time event. Perle contributed this blurb to Laurie Mylroie's book Study of Revenge: The First World Trade Center Attack and Saddam Hussein's War Against America:
"Laurie Myroie has amassed convincing evidence of Saddam Hussein's involvement in the first attempt to blow up the World Trade Center. If she is right - and there are simple ways to test her hypothesis - we would be justified in concluding that Saddam was probably involved in the September 11, 2001, attacks as well."
History doesn't record whether Perle ever performed the "simple tests" required to prove Saddam's involvement in 9/11—but his comments speak for themselves. Perle actively led people to believe in a direct link between Saddam and the 9/11 attacks.
And Perle wasn't the only one. Here's an excerpt from the September 8, 2002 edition of Meet the Press:
Mr. RUSSERT: One year ago when you were on MEET THE PRESS just five days after September 11, I asked you a specific question about Iraq and Saddam Hussein. Let's watch:
(Videotape, September 16, 2001):
Mr. RUSSERT: Do we have any evidence linking Saddam Hussein or Iraqis to this operation?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: No.
Mr. RUSSERT: Has anything changed, in your mind?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: Well, I want to be very careful about how I say this. I'm not here today to make a specific allegation that Iraq was somehow responsible for 9/11. I can't say that. On the other hand, since we did that interview, new information has come to light. And we spent time looking at that relationship between Iraq, on the one hand, and the al-Qaeda organization on the other. And there has been reporting that suggests that there have been a number of contacts over the years. We've seen in connection with the hijackers, of course, Mohamed Atta, who was the lead hijacker, did apparently travel to Prague on a number of occasions. And on at least one occasion, we have reporting that places him in Prague with a senior Iraqi intelligence official a few months before the attack on the World Trade Center. The debates about, you know, was he there or wasn't he there, again, it's the intelligence business.
Cheney's 2001 response was the whole truth: "No." We don't have any evidence linking Saddam Hussein to 9/11. Bush's statement earlier this month was an echo of that response: We have no evidence. But the statement in between, the one Cheney made in 2002, dances so close to the edge that Cheney has to issue a disclaimer: New information has come to light. A number of contacts over the years. Atta met in Prague with a senior Iraqi intelligence official.
Let's talk about Prague for a moment. Cheney knew the FBI had found no evidence to support this claim, which the Czechs would fully debunk the following month; it turned out the spy had met with a local used-car dealer who looked a lot like Atta, while the real Atta had remained in Virginia Beach. The Iraqi spy has been in U.S. custody since July 2003, and Bush's "no evidence" statement earlier this month can only confirm that the alleged meeting never really happened.
The best interpretation of this transcript, then, is that Cheney recklessly and willingly took the unconfirmed report of a lone Czech informant as solid information worth disclosing to a national audience. Individually, each of Cheney's statements can be considered factual—"we spent time looking," "we have reporting," etc.—but if Cheney had been telling the whole truth, he would have disclosed that the FBI had found no evidence to confirm the informant's report (and, in fact, had found a lot of evidence that debunked it). Cheney's selective comments deliberately created a false impression, and led the viewer to think the Administration had good reason to suspect Iraqi involvement in 9/11—even as Cheney declined to made a specific allegation.
Changing the channel, we find National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice on NewsHour with Jim Lehrer (September 25, 2002):
MARGARET WARNER: Secretary Rumsfeld in Europe today said - and it was a rather cryptic and brief remark - but when asked if there was evidence tying Iraq to al-Qaida - said, yes. He did not elaborate. Are you prepared to elaborate?
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: We clearly know that there were in the past and have been contacts between senior Iraqi officials and members of al-Qaida going back for actually quite a long time.
We know too that several of the detainees, in particular some high ranking detainees, have said that Iraq provided some training to al-Qaida in chemical weapons development.
So, yes, there are contacts between Iraq and al-Qaida. We know that Saddam Hussein has a long history with terrorism in general. And there are some al-Qaida personnel who found refuge in Baghdad.
No one is trying to make an argument at this point that Saddam Hussein somehow had operational control of what happened on September 11, so we don't want to push this too far, but this is a story that is unfolding, and it is getting clear, and we're learning more.
We're learning more because we have a lot of detainees who are able to fill in pieces of the puzzle. And when the picture is clear, we'll make full disclosure about it.
But, yes, there clearly are contacts between al-Qaida and Iraq that can be documented. There clearly is testimony that some of these contacts have been important contacts and there's a relationship here.
Here we have Rumsfeld connecting Iraq to Al Qaeda, and Rice's disclaimer is even weaker than Cheney's. No one is arguing at this point that Saddam was involved with September 11. The story is still unfolding; we'll disclose it later, after we finish interviewing detainees. Rice's message is unambiguous: The Administration isn't ready to claim that Saddam was involved in 9/11 yet, but there is a story to tell here—we're gathering the evidence, filling in the details, and we'll make the arrest shortly.
Meanwhile, Rumsfeld and his deputies were linking Saddam to Al Qaeda at every turn. Consider, as a brief sample, Rumsfeld's press briefing from September 26, 2002, his press release from September 27, Paul Wolfowitz's San Francisco Chronicle interview from earlier in the year… as Rumsfeld puts it, the evidence piles up. The Secretary of Defense was engaged in a very active effort to blur the distinction between Saddam and Osama, and to build a direct association between Saddam and the September 11 attacks, in the minds of the American public; it was an effort that created a burst of public support for the Administration and the Iraq war—a burst that, as we've seen, lasted only until the shooting stopped and the rest of the facts came out.
All of these officials made deliberate efforts to connect Saddam Hussein to 9/11 in the minds of the American public: They actively led us to reach a conclusion not supported by evidence—and to believe the Administration had, or soon would have, the evidence to back it up. But the evidence never came.
President Bush himself frequently associated Saddam with 9/11. In a Cincinnati speech on October 7, 2002:
"We know that Iraq and the al Qaeda terrorist network share a common enemy -- the United States of America. We know that Iraq and al Qaeda have had high-level contacts that go back a decade. Some al Qaeda leaders who fled Afghanistan went to Iraq. These include one very senior al Qaeda leader who received medical treatment in Baghdad this year, and who has been associated with planning for chemical and biological attacks. We've learned that Iraq has trained al Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases. And we know that after September the 11th, Saddam Hussein's regime gleefully celebrated the terrorist attacks on America."
In a letter to Congress on March 21, 2003:
"I have also determined that the use of armed force against Iraq is consistent with the United States and other countries continuing to take the necessary actions against international terrorists and terrorist organizations, including those nations, organizations, or persons who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001. "
And in his remarks from the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln, on May 1, 2003:
"The liberation of Iraq is a crucial advance in the campaign against terror. We've removed an ally of al Qaeda, and cut off a source of terrorist funding. And this much is certain: No terrorist network will gain weapons of mass destruction from the Iraqi regime, because the regime is no more.
"In these 19 months that changed the world, our actions have been focused and deliberate and proportionate to the offense. We have not forgotten the victims of September the 11th -- the last phone calls, the cold murder of children, the searches in the rubble. With those attacks, the terrorists and their supporters declared war on the United States. And war is what they got."
Throughout all these statements, Bush and his administration (except for Perle) were careful never to step over the line: They never lied the explicit lie, and claimed they had evidence tying Saddam to September 11. But if Bush wasn't lying in 2002, then he was lying in 2000—in his campaign promises to hold his White House to higher standards of honesty, integrity and accountability. Even Bush's strongest supporters can't be pleased with this outcome: An administration whose public statements can't be taken at face value, and that uses their access to classified information to selectively hide any inconvenient facts.
It's disingenuous to claim that Bush and his team didn't actively mislead the public on Saddam and 9/11. At best this is a contest of semantics, which holds President Bush to the same hair-splitting standard that let Clinton proclaim he never had sex with that woman. Bush's campaign promise was that we wouldn't need to have this debate—a debate where the question is whether the President lied, and the answer is "it depends on what your definition of 'deliberately misled' is."
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 7:00 am. comments.
Thursday, 25 September 2003
Back in Oz.
There's nothing quite like the red-eye flight from Tokyo to Sydney (a nine-hour flight that crosses one time zone) to give you that undead zombie feeling when you finally step off the plane. I'm not jet-lagged, but I feel like I should be.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 8:52 pm. comments.
Tuesday, 23 September 2003
Tokyo on Six Words a Day:
I don't have a lot of juicy details to report from my week in
Tokyo's Roppongi district (if you want The Gweilo Diaries,
you know where to find it)—and, alas, I've spent almost
all my time here working round the clock, and have no pictures
either. On the other
hand, my Japanese vocabulary has almost doubled: There are now
two Japanese words that I can speak, and perhaps five
that I can understand. (Reading is still out of the question,
- "Thank you." Domo arigato means "Thank you
very much." I learned this from the Styx song Mr. Roboto
sometime in the mid-Eighties. This is the only word I can use
successfully with native Japanese speakers, and may be
the only one I know that translates directly into English without
pages of explanation to follow.
- This word is often translated as "yes," but really means
something closer to "acknowledged" or "understood." It does
not mean "agreed," which (I'm told) is a source of
frustration to all of us Romance-language speakers, whose
yes and si and oui all mean essentially the same
thing. I've managed to use this correctly on occasion (okay, once)
when trying to tell a taxi driver to take me back to the hotel.
- (pronounced koh-NEE-SHE-wa) When I arrived I thought
this meant "hello," but apparently it's closer to "good afternoon"
or "good day." I've never actually heard it used in practice. I
think I picked up this phrase many years ago from a documentary
about Victor Kiam, owner of the Remington shaver company, who did
his own commercials ("I liked it so much, I bought the company")
and even did a commercial in Japanese which started out with this
phrase. Don't ask me why this stuck in my memory, but it did.
- Moshi moshi
- The version of "hello" used to answer a telephone. I've
never tried to answer the phone with this, because it would almost
certainly invite the caller to begin speaking to me in Japanese,
which would be a disaster for both of us.
- Suffix equivalent to "Mr." or "Mrs.", used with the person's
last name. Last names are the preferred from of address in Japan
for everyone except intimate family members, I think.
- Not surprisingly, this is the Japanese word for "receipt." It
comes in handy when you're on a business trip.
Next month I'm supposed to be here on vacation, at which point I'll have
more time to explore and take pictures. At the moment I'm here because of
my highly prized written English skills (ha!) and my technical background,
both of which are being put to use.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 8:42 am. comments.
Sunday, 14 September 2003
A Yank in Tokyo:
Blogging will be light (if not downright impossible) for the next week or so, while I'm on a business trip to the Land of the Rising Sun. Let me know if you need anything from Japan while I'm out.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 3:33 am. comments.
Thursday, 11 September 2003
It was late in the evening on September 11, 2001, and the day had passed uneventfully: No major news stories, a typical day at work, and nothing that would mark the date as a turning point in history. The sun had long since set over Wellington, New Zealand; we watched a few hours of television before turning in, and then slept the peaceful sleep of the just.
Sixteen time zones behind us, the sun rose over Manhattan. There the day was still young.
In New Zealand it was September 12th, 12:45 a.m., when the first plane hit the tower. It would be another seven hours before I learned we'd been attacked: Driving into work in the morning, turning on the radio, finding the usual morning deejay banter replaced by shocked and somber tones. Hijacked planes. Pentagon attacked. World Trade Center destroyed. Thousands murdered. One of the aircraft (United flight 175, the second plane to hit the Trade Center) was a "code share" with Air New Zealand; thousands of Kiwis were frantically trying to contact hundreds of relatives, but the phone lines from everywhere to New York were jammed. Later we would learn that the body count included two New Zealanders, and ten Australians.
I made it to work and was immediately sent home. Our offices were in a tall building (or what passes for one in Wellington, at least) with an American name on the side, and for the moment that raised a safety issue. New Zealand was almost literally the last place in Western Civilization for a terrorist attack… but on that terrible day all bets were off. Besides, there wasn't much work we could do on the project: The shutdown of air travel from the United States had grounded critical people and equipment. (Some of our people and gear were diverted to Ground Zero, for the desperate and ultimately futile effort to locate survivors by triangulating cell phone signals; others were sent to repair the battered telephone switching machines at 170 West Street, damaged by the collapse of Building Seven.)
I went back to our apartment and spent the rest of the day bearing witness to history… or, as it were, catching up on the dark new pages that terrorists had burned into the book overnight. I was stunned, and angry, and felt strangely guilty that I was not in America: My country had been attacked while I sat safely on the—well, not quite the sidelines, but someplace far away from the danger. I'd seen America wage "war" in Grenada and Kuwait and Somalia and other places, but I knew this wasn't the same thing: This was what it meant to be at war, to be in wartime. It wasn't something I had ever expected to feel.
Somewhere in the boxes I'd unpacked from Australia (and would re-pack and ship back to Oz, the year following) I found the American flag I'd bought at the Sydney Olympics. It was a cheap little flag on a stick, the kind you wave at sporting events, and it would only last only a few weeks before the strong Wellington winds carried it away. My lady-love thought I was being foolish, and the State Department advised a low profile, but I was having none of it: I flew our flag. If that made me a target, then it made me a target.
(It didn't, as it turned out. By the next day half the flagpoles in New Zealand were flying Old Glory at half mast, in a touching and much appreciated gesture.)
It was probably another 18 months, until I took that sabbatical last March, before I recovered from that day. In some ways I still haven't. I've been to Ground Zero and paid my respects: It reminded me in a way of another place I'd been, where I felt like I if I listened hard enough, I'd be able to hear
that was echoing just beyond the natural range of my senses. It seems like mass murder ought to leave some indelible psychic scar, some aura of malice that would make dogs cringe and sensitive people shudder&hellip but the sad truth is that, if murder left even the faintest echo, the world would drown in horror.
After 9/11 I was a zombie for months, my life drained of purpose and meaning—in the post-9/11 world I longed to change the world, to put it back to rights, and nothing I did was important or relevant enough. The sabbatical gave me time to deal with that anger: Not to heal it, perhaps, but to learn to live with it. I'll be angry about 9/11 to the end of my days, and there are still a few things in this brave new world that I want to fix right away—but I can do other things again. My obsession isn't burning me out anymore.
Two years after 9/11, I'm starting to think we're past the worst of it. I know Iraq will trouble us for years to come, the federal government is trending toward insolvency again, the economy is still coughing and sneezing, and Osama remains at large—but I think a year from now we'll be the same or better off, and two years from now we'll be fine. I didn't feel that way on the first anniversary of 9/11; back then the future looked grim and foreboding.
But today I think Iraq just might make it, in spite of our amateurish efforts at nation-building. (Or, if you prefer the glass half full, because of our amateurish efforts. It's not like nation-building is an exact science.) I think the politicians will balance the budget again someday, the SEC will eventually drive out the scam artists and get the economy booming again, and that of Osama and his like-minded brethren are in their final days.
I think the lasting legacy of September 11 will be that it woke all of America to a world without freedom, and led us to realize that the very existence of tyranny is intolerable—that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness were rights we could not afford to see denied to anyone. That in order to secure those rights for ourselves, we now have to secure them for Iraq and Afghanistan, North Korea and Liberia, Burma and Iran and Ivory Coast, and everyone else: The world is too small now, the borders too open, to deny justice and freedom to all those who yearn for it.
It's a legacy worth hoping for. And a cause worth fighting for.
And I think we're going to win.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 1:47 pm. comments.
Wednesday, 10 September 2003
Brother, can you spare a billion?
There are some political issues where I don't have strong feelings. There are other issues where I've formed an opinion, but could vote for someone who disagreed.
And then there's the deficit, on which I am an absolute hawk. Deficit spending is worse than taxes: It's a tax on our children, and an act of political cowardice. It postpones hard decisions on government spending, bequeaths a fiscal crisis to the next generation, and is the closest I'll ever come to being a single-issue voter. I'll forgive a lot of sins for the candidate who balances the budget, and Howard Dean is pushing my button.
I would stand up and cheer right now if anyone in Congress demanded fiscal accountability in response to Bush's request for another $87 billion in Iraq reconstruction money. If any member of either party insists that Bush either raise taxes or cut spending by $87 billion, I'll be a fan for life.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 12:02 pm. comments.
Monday, 08 September 2003
Take me to your leader:
President Bush will visit Australia in late October, dropping by to pat Australian PM John Howard on the head and see a game or two of the Rugby World Cup. Bush's visit is only the fourth time an American President has graced Australia's shores.
I'm tempted to walk down the block to the printers, order up a few hundred of these and hand them out to the inevitable crowd of protesters—but, alas, I'll be out of town the week Bush arrives.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 9:24 am. comments.
Thursday, 04 September 2003
The more I think about it, the more I realize that demobilizing the Iraqi army was a big, big, big mistake. Huge. We're talking about a "lose the 2004 election"-sized blunder here. Everything was going reasonably well up to that point; everything since has been the clock striking twelve, ballgowns becoming rags, and the neocon carriage turning back to a pumpkin. Demobilizing Iraq's army was the kind of mistake that only a True Believer could make, someone who accepted without question the belief that Iraq would magically transform into an oasis of democracy: All we needed to do was throw out Saddam, hold another one of those loya jirga thingies, put our good buddy Ahmed Chalabi's name in the hat, and voila! Instant democracy. No need to keep 375,000 uniformed Iraqis loitering around in our post-war Garden of Freedom.
But, now that we've belatedly realized our armed forces are overstretched and were ill-prepared to be an occupying army (as opposed to being a liberating army, which we're very good at), and that we could use an extra quarter-million troops to help maintain law and order… the decision to demobilize is looking worse by the day. For those of us who supported the war to topple Saddam, but reserved judgement on Team Dubya's grandiose post-war visions (and who thought the neocons completely botched the pre-war diplomatic effort), these are trying times: Nobody wants to see America fail (well, nobody here, anyhow), but our current course of action is starting to face long odds. Unless we quickly devise and execute a real plan to transform the Middle East into a model of peace and prosperity, the neocon pipe dream will turn into ash.
First, we need to select or elect Iraq's interim chief executive. So far Iraq's new rulers have all the authority of a high school student council, and Principal Bremer is doing little to change that; the council is stacked with exiles, and so utterly adrift that it can't even choose a leader. A nine-person rotation is not a leader: It's a recipe for having no leadership at all. Frankly it would have been better if the neocons had installed their pet Iraqi, if State had gotten to pick their favorite, or if Bremer had simply insisted the council elect a single leader for at least six months. Hamid Karzai didn't have the private army that normally accompanies an Afghan ruler, but his selection was absolutely necessary to the formation of a new Afghan government; until the Iraqi people have a similar interim leader, their voice in the reconstruction effort will be muddled and dispersed.
Second, we need boots on the ground. Ideally these would be Iraqi boots, from the rank and file of Saddam's ex-army; we went out of our way to keep them alive, which makes it doubly inexplicable that we aren't engaging them to guard buildings, rebuild schools, free up our troops to do what they were trained for—fighting and killing—and maybe even rotate a few people home. Iraqi troops are far less likely to be targets for terrorist bombs and bullets; if the terrorists have to target "collaborators," instead of killing Americans, they'll be turned in by Iraqis that much more often.
The next-best option is to get help from our NATO allies, Pakistan, India, or other nations whose armed forces are better configured for peacekeeping missions than ours; armies stacked with military police, civil affairs teams, and translators will be put to better use in post-war Baghdad than our point-of-the-spear combat troops. (This may require that Bush eat crow in front of the United Nations, and admit that he was in the wrong on several points in the pre-war debate—not least among them that Iraq did not pose an imminent threat to the established order, and that the "doctrine of preemption" is a dead letter now.)
Third, we need to declare our intentions. Bush's defenders have a schizophrenic view of his declarations on the international stage, claiming that his "Axis of Evil" speech calling out North Korea was visionary and inspiring—and, simultaneously, that Bush's failure to press Saudi Arabia is a sign of his cleverness and pragmatism. You can't have this argument both ways, though: Either Bush should have let Korean dogs lie while we were taking care of Iraq, or he should have put the Saudis on notice months ago. Kicking one hornet's nest and tiptoeing around the other suggests that Bush is driven by personal relationships with foreign leaders, not by the application of a consistent policy principle.
If our goal is truly to remake the Middle East in our democratic image, then it's well past time Bush made that argument and let the chips fly, instead of trying to justify the invasion with bogus WMD claims and iffy Al Qaeda links. Saddam Hussein was an evil despot, and it's good that we're rid of him—but that doesn't explain why we're still in Iraq. Mullah Omar is still crouching somewhere in Afghanistan, and that didn't stop us from calling the bulk of our troops home. Bush needs to articulate a plan for Iraq that has tangible, visible steps toward democracy, ones that any independent observer can verify, and deliver a realistic timetable for implementing it. "Democracy in Iraq by 2005" is a decent campaign slogan, really; "Vietnam II: This Time We Stay" is not, no matter how much the neocons want to rewrite that ending.
I don't think our Iraq situation is unrecoverable just yet, but I'm increasingly skeptical of Team Dubya's ability to see it through: We're still talking trash in diplomatic circles and playing chicken with France at the United Nations, as The Washington Post's David Ignatius artfully puts it. Bush is scheduled to speak at the U.N. later this month, when the General Assembly opens on September 16th; let's hope that he says (and then does) the right things.
Update: Adam Sullivan comments.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 7:00 am. comments.