Saturday, 27 March 2004
When National Security Advisor Condi Rice first refused to testify under oath before the 9/11 commission, I called her on it then and there: The only motive for avoiding that oath is to avoid the penalty for perjury. Even under oath, Rice could still refuse to answer questions that would jeopardize national security — and if avoiding embarrassment for the Bush Administration was her concern, she could easily take the oath in private.
Three months (and a week of Richard Clarke's devastating testimony) later, other people are starting to question whether Rice's separation-of-powers argument is a smokescreen to cover her real concerns. Separation of powers didn't stop Clinton's National Security Adivsor, Sandy Berger, from testifying before Congress in 1997; it didn't stop Reagan's National Security Advisor, John Poindexter, from testifying before Congress in 1986.
Of course, Poindexter was convicted of a felony on the basis of his testimony, since he lied about the Iran-Contra affair. Perhaps Condi Rice lies awake at night thinking about her predecessor's fate, and doesn't want to rely on a presidential pardon to protect her from doing time; or, perhaps, she dreads what Bush and Rove will do to her if she gives honest testimony. After watching (and participating) in the scorched-earth attacks on Clarke, Paul O'Neill, Joe Wilson, and other whistleblowers, breaking the code of silence on Bush's pre-9/11 lapses may be too much for Rice to handle.
So, I think it's time to offer Rice a choice: The 9/11 commission should offer Rice immunity from prosecution if she testifies under oath.
If that doesn't do it, then the gloves should come off and the commission should issue a subpoena. I don't think separation of powers can be used to thwart public accountability of senior administration officials — and when the Nixon Administration tried it the last time around, the courts didn't think so either.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 5:25 am. comments.
Saturday, 20 March 2004
Pants on fire.
Donald Rumsfeld, caught in the act.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 11:32 am. comments.
Saturday, 20 March 2004
You'll be tested on this later.
Last month my server logs recorded a spike of traffic from a California high school to my Killing Fields of Cambodia photos (viewer discretion advised); apparently a history teacher in the Valley put my vacation snapshots on the curriculum, so for a week or two a gaggle of teenagers passed through and browsed the not-at-all-pretty pictures.
This month I'm getting hits from a college in Maine, where a 200-level course on terrorism has made my photo essay a reading assignment. (I'm due by Friday.)
I realize this is an insignificant blip in the grand scheme of things, but I'll take what I can get: If I've achieved nothing else, at least college professors are assigning something I've done as homework now. (Okay, one college professor. And a high school history teacher. You've got to start somewhere, right?)
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 11:13 am. comments.
Friday, 19 March 2004
The late Nobel laureate Richard Feynman warned about the dangers of cargo-cult science: Of theories that don't work, and results we ignore, because we think the theories ought to work — and because we'd rather deceive ourselves than examine beliefs or admit mistakes.
"In the South Seas there is a cargo cult of people. During the war they saw airplanes land with lots of good materials, and they want the same thing to happen now. So they've arranged to imitate things like runways, to put fires along the sides of the runways, to make a wooden hut for a man to sit in, with two wooden pieces on his head like headphones and bars of bamboo sticking out like antennas—he's the controller—and they wait for the airplanes to land. They're doing everything right. The form is perfect. It looks exactly the way it looked before. But it doesn't work. No airplanes land. So I call these things cargo cult science, because they follow all the apparent precepts and forms of scientific investigation, but they're missing something essential, because the planes don't land."
At the moment, the Bush Administration is setting up Iraq with all the trappings of democracy: They've had a signing ceremony for their founding parchment, and soon they'll have an executive, a parliament, and some people in robes who look like judges. They'll even have ballot boxes and put on a fine show of an election: The New York Times will run a light-hearted story about the novelty of campaign posters in Iraq, and a TV news crew will embed itself with some local Basra candidate for a week. It'll all be very pretty and inspiring, and carefully timed to boost George W. Bush's re-election hopes.
But the rule of law has not been established.
If the American-backed Iraqi government can't secure the rights that its constitution loftily promises — if bombs and bullets continue to be the tools of choice for settling Iraqi political disputes — then all the ribbon-cutting ceremonies in the world won't make Iraq a democracy. Iraq's old constitution, the one in effect when Saddam was in charge, guaranteed freedom of speech and the right to a fair trial. Saddam's Iraq had parliaments and elections. Heck, the Soviet Union had parliaments and elections, and their consitution guaranteed freedom of religion. Haiti's constitution imposed term limits. On paper, China's had freedom of speech since long before Tiananmen Square.
The Constitution of the United States is often revered as the cornerstone of our democracy. We cherish the Bill of Rights, and we believe sincerely that our system of government should be the model for all others. But the Constitution would be empty words if not for the will of the American people to enforce it. Our Bill of Rights guarantees that "In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial"; but if we lack the courage to enforce that right, and permit the Attorney General to suspend it at will, then the Bill of Rights is a promise to ourselves that we've broken.
In Iraq we've created some of the conditions in which a democracy might thrive, first and foremost by removing Saddam Hussein. Some might argue that that step alone redeems our entire effort: That regardless of whatever else we achieve, we're leaving Iraq's government in better shape than we found it. One of the best arguments for rushing in where Bush's father feared to tread was that we've learned more about Saddam since then, and that everything we've learned tells us that removing Saddam was a moral necessity. Saddam Hussein and his monstrous sons were an affront to every ideal that we hold to be self-evident, and we'll never need to apologize for putting a stop to his murderous regime.
But Bush promised much, much more than that. Iraq was to be our showcase for creating democracy in the Mideast: It was a dangerous house in a blighted neighborhood, to be torn down and rebuilt with modern plumbing and all the latest advances. We were going to do in Iraq what we did in Germany and Japan and South Korea, where we planted the seeds of democracy and they flourished.
And, apparently, some members of the Bush Administration believed that democracy is the natural state of human existence. All we needed to do in Iraq was to remove the obstacles that prevented democracy (i.e., Saddam Hussein); once that was done, a democracy would spontaneously form. Extensive planning for the post-war was largely a waste of effort: In a matter of months the Iraqi people would be cheering for hand-picked President Ahmed Chalabi, and then throwing flowers in our wake as our tanks rumbled off into the sunset.
I'm sure that when June 30 comes around, when Bush pulls out his "mission accomplished" banner and lords it over the Iraqi government, the transition will be well stage-managed and it'll provide another excellent photo opportunity. But I fear that we've sacrificed hundreds of lives, and spent hundreds of billions of dollars, to raise the Iraqi government to the level of an Egypt: A sham democracy with paper freedoms and mock elections, that stands as our ally only because we pay them billions in foreign aid.
Ridding the world of Saddam Hussein and his WMD shell game was a worthy cause for its own sake — but that part is done now, and we need a leader who can get us the rest of the way there. We need someone who can turn Iraq from America's pet project into a civilization-wide effort — someone who understands that in Germany and Japan and South Korea we had a mandate, and support and goodwill from the rest of the free world. Today in Iraq we don't have that luxury, and we're approaching the point where it's not a luxury anymore: Our success in Iraq depends on the goodwill of the Iraqi people; and, in turn, it depends on the goodwill of people in other countries.
Cargo-cult democracy won't stabilize Iraq. Unless we want to spend the rest of our lives on Code Orange, it's time to make peace with our estranged allies, it's time to use the tools of diplomacy to restore our stature abroad, and it's time to analyze what we've done so far and to learn from our successes and mistakes. John Kerry is prepared to take those next steps in the War on Terror; George Bush either can't or won't, and that makes him the wrong man for the job.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 12:20 pm. comments.
Monday, 15 March 2004
Our sincere condolences, you filthy appeasing bastards:
Right-wing crocodile tears for Spain appear to have dried up suddenly now that the election results are in and the Bushistas are on the way out. In less than 72 hours Glenn Reynolds went from sending flowers to the Spanish Embassy to the hyperbolic "Terrorists have succeeded in toppling the Spanish government." Never mind that outgoing PM Jose Maria Aznar and his right-wing Popular Party failed to prevent the March 11 terrorist attacks, played politics with the investigation, and attempted to deliberately mislead the Spanish people: The right wing's moral for this story is that Spain Has Cried Uncle and they're now part of Old Europe again.
Looking at the world through black-and-white glasses does save the Right a lot of time and effort: They can quickly divide the world into two opposing camps labelled "With Us" and "With The Terrorists," and categorize everyone with ease. Pakistan is With Us. France is With The Terrorists. Democrats, if not actual card-carrying Al Qaeda members, are clearly With The Terrorists. And Spain, by virtue of holding a free and fair election which the right-wing party did not win, has just switched sides and joined the League of Chickens.
An entire Spanish election reduces to a straight-up referendum on whether to fight terrorism or appease it, and the only possible way to decide your vote is to ask "What Would Osama Do?" and then pull the other lever.
(Meanwhile, Pakistan is supplying nuclear do-it-yourself kits to Iran and North Korea, and Saudi Arabia is pumping money into the terrorist support network — but the Right's either-or framework doesn't know how to handle those problems, so under the rug they go.)
The problem with the Right is that they like the sound of democracy, but they don't actually want to participate in one. There's too much risk that the people might make the wrong decision, and it's way too hard to win debates and build coalitions and make compromises and put a convincing case to the people. It's much easier to cut a few corners, and blame a terrorist attack on a politically convenient scapegoat — or to spice up the case for a pre-emptive war in Iraq by throwing in a few groundless 9/11 allegations.
Spain's elections may be grim foreshadowing for the Bush Administration, but they're a victory for the concept of honest, accountable government. Spanish voters might have been willing to forgive and forget that Aznar sent troops to a war they opposed — but when he tried to hide the facts about the March 11 bombings, they turned his party out of office. Bush and his supporters would do well to learn that moral, instead of blindly lamenting that Spain has departed from the path of the righteous.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 12:51 pm. comments.
Tuesday, 09 March 2004
A conservative group called "Citizens United" unveiled its first set of ads attacking John Kerry today. According to their web site, Citizens United stands for "complete U.S. withdrawal from the United Nations, defeat of the treaty to establish a permanent U.N.-controlled International Criminal Court, and rejection of one-world government," among other tinfoil-hat causes. (Watch out for those black helicopters, guys.)
Among the illustrious citizens who make up this civic organization are its Chairman of the Board, Floyd Brown. For those who don't recall the name, here's a refresher:
"When we're through, people are going to think that Willie Horton is Michael Dukakis' nephew." —Floyd Brown, September 1988
Brown was the producer of the GOP's most infamous attack ad, the spot that gave violent crime an African-American face and then used it to dump slime on Dukakis. He was one of the hit men who helped put Bush I in the White House, and spent most of the Nineties — along with Citizens United's president, David Bossie — cooking up lies about a real estate investment called Whitewater. Without the (ahem) "help" of men like Brown and Bossie, the Clinton years would have been a lot less interesting, and the government would have wasted a lot less money on politically motivated witch hunts.
So, if you get a chance to see those shiny new Kerry attack ads, just remember these three words: Consider the source.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 10:01 am. comments.
Saturday, 06 March 2004
Why words matter.
In a remarkable speech, Tony Blair shows why I'd vote for him in a heartbeat if I could — and, once again, puts George Bush to shame. Blair's speech is so good that I can't do it justice with an excerpt: Read the whole thing and then come back here.
Blair puts his case for war against Saddam on very solid ground: He acknowledges that some of the intelligence reports he received before the war have turned out not to be true, in particular the claim that Iraq could have WMDs ready for launch on 45 minutes' notice. He refutes the accusation that he'd portrayed Iraq as an "imminent threat:" Her Majesty's Government responds to imminent threats with swift action, not diplomatic lobbying in the Security Council. He can cite his own words from January 2003 to support his position.
And, he anchors his case for war on the premise that Britain was enforcing United Nations resolutions, that the treaty of Westphalia is not the last word in the creation of international law, and that the most effective counter to the spread of WMDs is to spread justice, freedom, democracy, and the rule of law even further.
Blair even acknowledges that there is a rational, arguable case against the war, on the grounds that Saddam's threat truly was not imminent — that he had been contained in his box for twelve years (albeit at great cost to the Iraqi people), and that the smokescreen of defiance around his WMD program was exactly that: A smokescreen to keep his enemies guessing, and hold both internal and external foes at bay. In the post-9/11 world, Blair was unwilling to risk the security of his nation on a question of whether Saddam could be trusted. Others may have weighed the risks of war, and chosen differently; Blair respects that point of view, but he does not share it.
Meanwhile, Bush's case for war continues to rest on false premises, and makes little effort to separate fact from fiction. Compare Bush's State of the Union Address:
After the chaos and carnage of September the 11th, it is not enough to serve our enemies with legal papers. The terrorists and their supporters declared war on the United States, and war is what they got. (Applause.)
Some in this chamber, and in our country, did not support the liberation of Iraq. Objections to war often come from principled motives. But let us be candid about the consequences of leaving Saddam Hussein in power. We're seeking all the facts.
…to Blair's speech:
The threat we face is not conventional. It is a challenge of a different nature from anything the world has faced before. It is to the world's security, what globalisation is to the world's economy.
It was defined not by Iraq but by September 11th. September 11th did not create the threat Saddam posed.
But it altered crucially the balance of risk as to whether to deal with it or simply carry on, however imperfectly, trying to contain it.
Let me attempt an explanation of how my own thinking, as a political leader, has evolved during these past few years.
Blair's statement is clear: September 11th didn't create Saddam, but it changed the way we perceived him. Bush's statement is fuzzy: Osama bin Laden wanted a war, so we gave one to Saddam Hussein.
If you're sympathetic to Bush, you can try to fit Blair's speech between the lines of Bush's sketchy comments… but the leader of the free world shouldn't need an interpreter. Blair builds his case on the rock that September 11th changed our worldview; Bush builds on the quicksand premise that Saddam was behind 9/11.
Compare Bush's interview with Diane Sawyer:
DIANE SAWYER: Again, I'm just trying to ask, these are supporters, people who believed in the war who have asked the question.
PRESIDENT BUSH: Well, you can keep asking the question and my answer's gonna be the same. Saddam was a danger and the world is better off cause we got rid of him.
DIANE SAWYER: But stated as a hard fact, that there were weapons of mass destruction as opposed to the possibility that he could move to acquire those weapons still -
PRESIDENT BUSH: So what's the difference?
DIANE SAWYER: Well -
PRESIDENT BUSH: The possibility that he could acquire weapons. If he were to acquire weapons, he would be the danger. That's, that's what I'm trying to explain to you. A gathering threat, after 9/11, is a threat that needed to be de - dealt with, and it was done after 12 long years of the world saying the man's a danger. And so we got rid of him and there's no doubt the world is a safer, freer place as a result of Saddam being gone.
DIANE SAWYER: But, but, again, some, some of the critics have said this combined with the failure to establish proof of, of elaborate terrorism contacts, has indicated that there's just not precision, at best, and misleading, at worst.
PRESIDENT BUSH: Yeah. Look - what - what we based our evidence on was a very sound National Intelligence Estimate. ...
DIANE SAWYER: Nothing should have been more precise?
PRESIDENT BUSH: What - I, I - I made my decision based upon enough intelligence to tell me that this country was threatened with Saddam Hussein in power.
…with Blair on the same subject:
Of course the opponents are boosted by the fact that though we know Saddam had WMD; we haven't found the physical evidence of them in the 11 months since the war. But in fact, everyone thought he had them. That was the basis of UN Resolution 1441.
It's just worth pointing out that the search is being conducted in a country twice the land mass of the UK, which David Kay's interim report in October 2003 noted, contains 130 ammunition storage areas, some covering an area of 50 square miles, including some 600,000 tons of artillery shells, rockets and other ordnance, of which only a small proportion have as yet been searched in the difficult security environment that exists.
But the key point is that it is the threat that is the issue.
Blair concedes, as he must, that we have not found evidence that Saddam actually had WMDs at the time of the invasion — and then proceeds to make the point that not knowing whether Saddam had WMDs or not was an unacceptable risk.
Bush's argument is that, if the Administration said Saddam had WMDs and he didn't, so what? Saddam is gone and the world's better off. The ends justify the means.
Bush's case for war reduces to the premise that Bush is a good guy and you should trust him to do what's right, without actually worrying yourself about little details — such as the idea that America's government should be accountable to the people.
This is why Blair will be re-elected, and Bush will not. Tony Blair offers a case for war that even the most ardent pacifist must consider: He makes his case on sound principles that conservatives and liberals identify with. George W. Bush's case for war is centered on George W. Bush, which isn't compelling to those who distrust him — and there's no guarantee that Bush's gut is an infinite source of wisdom.
Custer had good instincts too, up to a certain point.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 6:50 am. comments.
Thursday, 04 March 2004
America the Bad Cop?
A comment from one of Instapundit's readers confirms the view from abroad: In four short years, America's image has gone from "the world's policeman" to Dirty Harry.
Further, whether they intended it or not, I think Colin Powell and Donald Rumsfeld make an effective good cop/bad cop pairing. Same for Tony Blair and George Bush. I love'em all, and I feel blessed that these people were in these positions at this time.
American society has always had a deep and abiding respect for the individual. Our heroes stand out from the crowd, and stand up for what's right even if it means standing alone; sometimes we even have a grudging admiration for someone who "takes the law into his own hands," and applies his own moral code to a situation where our legal systems have failed to provide justice. We may condemn the vigilante for stepping outside the law, but if the result pleases us then we've been known to let it slide.
At the same time, we realize (at least in the abstract) that power corrupts. The authority figure who steps over the line, the man with the badge who abuses his powers, is not a hero in our culture: He's a villain. In our escapist fantasies, where justice comes from the barrel of a gun, the star of the show is always the little guy: Rambo wasn't a general, Dirty Harry wasn't the chief of police — and if they were, we'd have been horrified by their actions.
So the idea that the President of the United States is playing the bad cop on the world stage is not something I'd take as a blessing, even if I had supported the war in Iraq. The idea that the President saw fit to exaggerate the threat Saddam Hussein posed, and misinform the people in order to achieve his ends, is deeply disturbing: Instead of doing the hard yards to make his case for a pre-emptive war, Bush sold the general public a bill of goods that included mushroom clouds, nerve gas, Al Qaeda ties, and a wealth of other claims that all turned out (ahem) not to be true.
That doesn't make Bush a hero in my book. I think America was better served by playing the good cop, like Clinton and Bush Sr. and Reagan did; we haven't had a President who played "bad cop" since Nixon, when he tried to convince North Vietnam that he was a madman. Clinton managed to fight a war in Europe without doing this much damage to our alliances and our image; Bush Sr. worked within the international system to expel Saddam from Kuwait (and recognized the limits of what he could achieve); Reagan charmed the Europeans into accepting short-range nuclear missiles on their soil.
All these achievements required that America play the good cop, and all these achievements are beyond the capabilities of George W. Bush — who rejects the very idea that international law can be made to serve American interests. By running roughshod over would-be allies, Bush has weakened America's global leadership: Even among nations that joined our "coalition of the willing," America's credibility and goodwill have been eroded. We may appreciate that Tony Blair has done a better job than our own leaders (!) of stating our case for war, but we all know Great Britain is not our military equal: If Britain's the good cop and America's the bad cop, then Dirty Harry is running the station.
I think America would be better off if we were perceived as the good cop, and just because Bush couldn't walk and chew gum doesn't mean it can't be done: A capable leader should be able to fight the terrorist threat and maintain America's image as one of the good guys. We shouldn't be forced to choose one or the other just because Bush lacked the skills to do both.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 8:47 am. comments.