Friday, March 31, 2006

Mushroom Clouds, Smoking Guns, and Deja Vu

Reading "Insulating Bush," the latest revelation of cooked intelligence and cover ups by Murray Waas, felt like a walk down Memory Lane.

Last summer, during the height of the media frenzy over the Plamegate scandal, numerous commentators observed that the issue was about much more than who did or didn't out the identity of a CIA agent. It was about the cover up of the administration's hoax to "prove" that Saddam Hussein had an active nuclear weapons program.

As Waas duly notes, there were plenty of folks in the mainstream media at the time who tried to get the hoax story before the public, but they were drowned out by the Rovewellian noise machine that planted images of mushroom clouds in the collective American mind.

Jumping ahead to the present, we see that the administration's new National Security Strategy has identified a new "most wanted" bogey man: "we may face no greater challenge from a single country than from Iran."

Iran has an economy roughly the size of Holland's and a conventional military force that couldn't beat Saddam Hussein's over the course of a drawn out war in the '80s. What the administration fears--or wants to make us fear--is that Iran will use its infant nuclear energy program to produce bombs. Iran has always avowed that it has no desire to develop or acquire nuclear weapons, and the accusations of Condi Rice and others aside, there's no hard evidence that proves they're lying.

The Bush administration is pushing the UN to impose sanctions on Iran if it doesn't allow International Atomic Energy Agency oversight of its nuclear program, but Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the IAEA, thinks sanctions at this time are unnecessary. "Sanctions are a bad idea," he said this week. "We are not facing an imminent threat. We need to lower the pitch."

Lowering the pitch on Iran is the last thing the Bush administration wants to do right now. It needs to generate as much smoke as it can to divert attention from the latest Downing Street memo and Waas's uncovering of the National Intelligence Estimate summary written for Mister Bush that the aluminum tubes referred to in his 2003 State of the Union speech were probably not intended for nuclear weapons.

The administration also needs to draw the public focus away from the ongoing Iraq fiasco, and from its abject failure to prevent North Korea from developing nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them on Taiwan, Japan, and other U.S. friendly countries in the Pacific Rim.

Most of all, the Bush administration wants to keep everyone from reflecting on the aggregate absurdity of its foreign policy. It invaded and occupied a country that didn't have nuclear weapons, it's making scare noise at a country that doesn't have nuclear weapons and says it doesn't want any, and it has promised not to attack a country that not only admits to having nukes, but says that it might use them in a preemptive strike.

And oh yeah; it needs to get everybody's mind off of the NSA domestic spying scandal.

Visions of Mushroom Clouds

The emergence of two recent stories is too timely to be coincidental. One is the hoopla over the Iraqi document dump. House Intelligence Committee chairman Peter Hoekstra (R-Michigan) forced the intelligence agencies, over their objections, to release thousands of raw documents captured into Iraq over the Internet. Senior intelligence officials say the documents contain hearsay, disinformation, and forgery, and Intelligence Director John Negroponte released a disclaimer with the documents stating the U.S. government could not vouch for their authenticity.

The lack of authenticity caution didn't stop the right wing blogosphere from glomming onto the documents, interpreting them with "in house" translators, and producing "expert analyses" that they prove Bush was right about Iraq all along. "Saddam's WMD and terrorist connections all proven in one document!!!" trumpets one of these experts who bills himself in his blog bio as "The smartest man alive!!!"

This kind of transparent maneuver isn't likely to fool anyone except the carnival side show types who populate Free Republic and other fringe web sites, but it will least keep the fringe firmly in the "base."

In concert with the data dump, though, is another piece of Rovewellian Theater that may influence the political center. News of it was released just in time to cover the commencement of the Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing considering censure of Mister Bush for his NSA domestic spying program.

WaPo's Ann Scott Tyson reports:
A huge mushroom cloud of dust is expected to rise over Nevada's desert in June when the Pentagon plans to detonate a gigantic 700-ton explosive -- the biggest open-air chemical blast ever at the Nevada Test Site -- as part of the research into developing weapons that can destroy deeply buried military targets, officials said yesterday.

The test, code-named "Divine Strake," will occur on June 2 about 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas in a high desert valley bounded by mountains, according to Pentagon and Energy Department officials.

June will be about the time the Iran nuclear issue reaches critical mass, and six months before the national elections. The spectacle will be touted as a "strong message to Iran" that we can bust their bunkers if they force us to. But the real target audience will be the U.S. public, who will be treated to an actual visual image of something they've only been led to imagine before: a mushroom cloud rising over a major American city.

Gosh, what won't the Rovewellians think of next?

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Iraq Document Dump and the Smartest Kook Alive!!!

I'm not surprised that on the day after releasing the story on the latest Downing Street Memo, The New York Times ran one on the Iraqi document dump.

Yesterday, NYT's Scott Shane reported:
American intelligence agencies and presidential commissions long ago concluded that Saddam Hussein had no unconventional weapons and no substantive ties to Al Qaeda before the 2003 invasion.

But now, an unusual experiment in public access is giving anyone with a computer a chance to play intelligence analyst and second-guess the government.

Under pressure from Congressional Republicans, the director of national intelligence has begun a yearlong process of posting on the Web 48,000 boxes of Arabic-language Iraqi documents captured by American troops.

Less than two weeks into the project, and with only 600 out of possibly a million documents and video and audio files posted, some conservative bloggers are already asserting that the material undermines the official view.

Shane says that Intelligence officials had objected to releasing raw documents that contain hearsay, disinformation and forgery. Intelligence director John Negroponte's office released a disclaimer with the documents that said the government could not vouch for their authenticity.

The drive to force the documents' release was led by House Intelligence Committee chairman Peter Hoekstra (R-Michigan), who does not believe the documents have received sufficient "scrutiny."

One of the leading conservative bloggers scrutinizing the documents is former Army officer Ray Robison, who told Shane, "No offense, but the mainstream media tells people what they want them to know." Robison also said, "It's not about politics. It's about the truth."

Lord of the Flies

On of Robison's blog headlines boldly declares "Saddam's WMD and terrorist connections all proven in one document!!!."

What follows is Robison's analysis of document IZSP-2003-00003336, which he claims is "proof" of a Hussein plot to attack his own citizens with anthrax and make it look like U.S. forces did it.

Shane's take on Robison's analysis:
But the anthrax document that intrigued Mr. Robison, the Alabama blogger, does not seem to prove much. It is a message from the Quds Army, a regional militia created by Mr. Hussein, to Iraqi military intelligence that passes on reports picked up by troops, possibly from the radio, since the information is labeled "open source" and "impaired broadcast." No anthrax was found in Iraq by American search teams.

Here is a verbatim sample of the text from Robison's blog piece:
Now this letter is from al-Quds, a Jihad organization that supports the Palestinians. Saddam was the patriarch and Iraq officers worked closely with them…

…The al-Quds are covering their own butts by telling the IIS what they have been ordered to do or even trying to get them to stop Saddam since the war is immanent. If Saddam wanted to kill Iraqis with anthrax to make it look like the U.S. did it, it would be wise for him to use Palestinians instead of Iraqis. Therefor, it makes sense that he ordered the al-Quds to do it.

Iraqis might not carry out the order.

How seriously should we take Robison's conclusions?

In his one line bio, Robison describes himself as "The smartest man alive!!!" He repeats this self-appellation in his full biography (copied here verbatim).
Hi folks, I am a military operations research analyst with a defense contractor in aviation and missile research. Before that I was an army officer and member of the Iraq Survey Group.
I set up this site to provide some military expertise in analyzing political events. The main stream media almost always get it wrong, and somebody has to clear up the BS. Guess that leaves it to me, which is okay, because I am the smartest man alive!!! Really folks, I just ask that we keep the comments clean for the kiddies and I will delete the F'bomb and S'bomb (cutesy substitutes are okay), very personal insults, rascist comments, and threats. Now tremble as you prepare to be crushed under my awesome logic and reasoning capacity!!! I will destroy you, AAAARRRRGGGGHHHH!!!! (my threats are okay)

One of my favorite examples of his awesome logic and reasoning power is, "I know this sounds crazy, but it is too much of a coincidence."

I don't know about you, but I always tremble at the logic and reasoning of people who admit that they know they sound crazy.

Robison describes his interests as "The fam, the new Battlestar Galactica, Futurama, movies in general, and Jennifer Love Hewitt."


Robison was not happy with the way he was portrayed in yesterday morning's NYT article. Yesterday afternoon, he posted that he had called someone at the conservative National Review Online who agreed that author Scott Shane had "kooked" him.

Robison then listed his military training, experience, and decorations, which included "Odles (sic) of medals I won't list here." He followed that with "Kook that, Scott."

At the end of that post, he wrote, "UPDATE: just talked with Scott (NYT), he says the Kooking wasn't intentional, due to space issues…"

The only "kooking" Scott Shane did was quote Robison a few times, which was nothing compared to the kooking Robison does to himself on his own web site.

Loonies, Crazies, and Freepers

National Review Online rushed to Robison's defense, calling him "…a far cry from the loony-toony crazy-conservative blogger portrayed in the NYT.

NRO must not have visited Robison's blog yet, or read what his supporters over at Free Republic are saying about Shane's NYT article and the document dump issue.
Mr. Shahda [a translator of the documents] said he was proud he could help make the documents public. "I live in this great country, and it's a time of war," he said. "This is the least I can do."

Don't we wish the liberal trash in this country felt the same way?

What happened that they became so rabidly anti American that I cannot say 'liberal ' without saying 'liberal trash?'


The girly-man CIA as been at war against the administration for some time.

Bush knows that they are dragging thier feet on these documents because they don't want to find anything that might support the administration.

So, you could call this document dump: The Empire Leaks Back.


Before this is over, the NYT will look like the biased fools they are. Those documents are providing a virtual tsunami of information and the leftists will be exposed as liars.

i wonder if our site isn't MORE than a conservative news site, as mentioned in the article....sumptin like this site stands for: "truth, justice and 'the American way'"-we've jus gotta get a consensus on 'the American way'....

I shudder to imagine what the Freepers' consensus on "the American way" might be, or how they might arrive at it. Maybe they'll just leave the judgment on that up to the smartest man alive!!!

Kooky Like a Fox?

You have to hand this much to the smartest man alive!!!--his blog site has more sponsors than a NASCAR team. The front page is plastered with full color ads for Playboy and Fredrick's of Hollywood (yes, the ads feature models). But he also has sponsors like Amazon, iTunes, and a number of military oriented publications.

Draw your own conclusions on what this says about the nature of commercialism and political debate in contemporary America. I can summarize mine in one word:


I can hardly believe I live in an age where the rabid right can draw attention away from the latest Downing Street Memo by unleashing its blog dogs. But that's just what it's doing, and some of America's large corporations are funding the project.

And wittingly or not, mainstream media like the NYT are legitimizing the smoke screen by acting as another wall in the kooky echo chamber.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Only Constant is Change

To make room for other writing projects, I'll be scaling back the Pen and Sword op-ed column volume back to three a week. Tentatively I'll post a full-blown essay on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

Coming tomorrow: an analysis of the "Iraq documents," and the yahoos who are analyzing them.

Thanks for contuing to support Pen and Sword.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Iraq: Smoking Guns and Smoking Crack

NYT's Don Van Natta Jr. reports this morning on yet another Downing Street Memo.
In the weeks before the United States-led invasion of Iraq, as the United States and Britain pressed for a second United Nations resolution condemning Iraq, President Bush's public ultimatum to Saddam Hussein was blunt: Disarm or face war.

But behind closed doors, the president was certain that war was inevitable. During a private two-hour meeting in the Oval Office on Jan. 31, 2003, he made clear to Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain that he was determined to invade Iraq without the second resolution, or even if international arms inspectors failed to find unconventional weapons, said a confidential memo about the meeting written by Mr. Blair's top foreign policy adviser and reviewed by The New York Times.

I'm glad to see continued evidence of the Bush administration's war hoax coming to light, but am not sure how much good it's going to do. We already know what he pulled, and unless the Democrats gain majorities in both the House and Senate come November, Mister Bush will likely never pay a penalty for the disasters he's created, and neither will any of his sidemen.

I've summarized on a number of occasions how the neoconservative think tank Project for a New American Century (PNAC) first proposed what became the Bush II Iraq policy in 1998. The PNAC membership included a number of prominent figures who later played key roles in the Bush administration: Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, John Bolton, and Paul Wolfowitz to name a few. PNAC also attracted a number of high profile conservative commentators like Charles Krauthammer, the WaPo columnist whose signature appeared on the September 20, 2001 urging Mister Bush to remove Saddam Hussein from power whether he turned out to be connected to the 9/11 attacks or not.

Krauthammer's one of the hawks who still drums support for their woebegone war and whom the logically impaired still listen to.

In last Fridays column, Krauthammer says "Of Course it's a Civil War," and what's the big deal? He was calling it a civil war a year and a half ago. Nothing's changed, nothing's new, there's not need to get all "defeatist."

He accuses former interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi--who said last week that Iraq is in a civil war and is nearing the point of no return--of having an "ax to grind." But it's hard to imagine Allawi having an ax anywhere near the size of Krauthammer's. Unlike Krauthammer, Allawi didn't beg Mister Bush to invade his country.

The article contains Krauthammer's standard assortment of glittering generalities, faulty assumptions, straw man stuffing, false analogies, and other cheap rhetoric tricks. This part cries out for serious deconstructing:
The problem is the police forces, which have been infiltrated by some of the Mahdi Army and other freelance Shiite vigilantes…

… But let's put this in perspective. First, this kind of private revenge attack has been going on at a low level since the beginning of the insurgency. Second, it does have the effect of concentrating Sunni minds on the price of their continuing support for the random, large-scale and heretofore unanswered slaughter of Shiites that they either actively or passively support.
And, third, if the private militias are the problem, it is a focused and relatively narrow problem. Creating discipline and central control over the security services is a more manageable issue than all-out Hobbesian conflict.

That "private revenge" attacks have been going on for years doesn't make them okay, especially when it appears that they'll be going on for years to come.

Little in war is certain. To infer that revenge attacks serve a good purpose by "concentrating Sunni minds" is to claim that Krauthammer and those like him "know the enemy" when the overwhelming burden of our experience in Iraq proves that they don't. History is rife with case studies of societies that continued to fight long after rational hindsight shows they should have thrown in the towel. Germany and Japan are two of the most obvious examples.

"Unanswered slaughter" of Shiites by the Sunnis? Hmm. As I recall, the mightiest nation in the history of humanity sent its all time best-trained, best-equipped military half-way across the world to beat the holy hell out of the army that slaughtered all those Shiites, toss the Sunni leader who commanded them in the slammer, and then turn the country over to the Shiite majority. How much more "answer" does Krauthammer need?

The militia problem is anything but focused and narrow. It's a cat rodeo. When your police are infiltrated by militiamen who place loyalty to their militias above loyalty to the government, you're in a Hobbesian war. And the kind of discipline and control it takes to manage a problem like involves a long wall and truckloads of blindfolds and cigarettes, which generally turns a Hobbesian war even more Hobbesian.

Bush and Krauthammer are two key indicators that most of our once mighty nation is sucking on a giant, Orwellian crack pipe. Krauthammer helped shape the Iraq invasion policy and Miser Bush executed it on false pretexts. Yet, incredibly, people still pay attention to what Krauthammer has to say and Bush is still the president of the United States of America.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Sunday Quotations

"We hold these absurdities to be self-evident..."
-- Anonymous, contemporary

"The history of the present King of Great Britain [George III] is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States."
-- Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776

"My most important job… is to protect America."
-- George W. Bush, March 20, 2006

"They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty or security."
-- Benjamin Franklin, 18th century

"…The term 'torture' means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession…"
-- Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, February 4, 1985

"[Interrogation must include] injury such as death, organ failure, or serious impairment of body functions—in order to constitute torture."
-- Alberto Gonzales, August 1, 2002

"Detainees held in Afghanistan by American troops have been routinely tortured and humiliated as part of the interrogation process… Five detainees have died in custody, three of them in suspicious circumstances, and survivors have told stories of beatings, strippings, hoodings and sleep deprivation."
-- Guardian Unlimited, June 23, 2004

"[E]vidence came to light that the U.S. administration had sanctioned interrogation techniques that violated the U.N. Convention against Torture.''
-- Amnesty International Secretary General Irene Khan, May, 2005

"Anything we do to [counter terrorism] is within the law. We do not torture."
-- George W. Bush, November, 2005

"Amnesty International castigated the U.S. prison camp in Guantanamo Bay as a failure Wednesday, calling it 'the gulag of our time' in the human rights group's harshest rebuke yet of American detention policies."
-- Associated Press, May 26,

"…we are committed to building a world where human rights are respected and protected by the rule of law…"
-- George W. Bush, June 26, 2005

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.
-- Voltaire, 18th century

Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon, Rumsfeld dismissed suggestions that 146,000 U.S. troops in Iraq are engaged in a guerrilla war or bogged down in a Vietnam-like "quagmire."
-- The Washington Post, July 1, 2003

"The level of activity that we see today from a military standpoint, I think, will clearly decline. I think they're in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency."
Dick Cheney, June 20, 2005

"It is unfortunate that we are in civil war,"
-- Iyad Allawi, former interim Prime Minister, March, 2006

"Because collecting foreign intelligence information without a warrant does not violate the Fourth Amendment and because the Terrorist Surveillance Program is lawful, there appears to be no legal barrier against introducing this evidence in a criminal prosecution."
-- Department of Justice spokesman, March 24, 2006

"I also appreciate your strong commitment to democracy, itself: rule of law, and freedom to worship, freedom of the press, the ability for governments to be transparent, and governments to have checks and balances so that we deal with the rule of law, not the rule of man."
-- George W. Bush, November 27, 2005, to President Torrijos of Panama

"[T]he Administration has seized the power of Congress to make the laws, they have seized the power of the judiciary to interpret the laws, and they execute them as well. They have consolidated within themselves all of the powers of the government."
-- Glenn Greenwald, Unclaimed Territory, March 25, 2006

"We seek the end of tyranny in our world."
-- George W. Bush, January 31, 2006

"Sometimes I wonder whether the world is being run by smart people who are putting us on, or by imbeciles who really mean it."
-- Mark Twain, 19th century

"'Reality control', they called it: in Newspeak, 'doublethink'…To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again: and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself. That was the ultimate subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word 'doublethink' involved the use of doublethink."
-- George Orwell, 1949

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Allison Barber and the Big Brother Broadcast

In response to this week's articles on the administration's "no good news in the media campaign" and viral propaganda, Oui sent me this link to the White House Website.

Lo and behold! From July of 2005, assistant deputy Secretary of Defense Allison Barber hosting "Ask the White House." If you haven't been tracking the administration's media bashing strategy, this is a good place to start. The basic message at the time was that open criticism of Bush, Cheney, Rummy and the gang was hurting the morale of the troops. I'll run portions of it here. Watch how "cleverly" they sneak into the attack mode.
Meleah, from Joplin Missouri writes: Ms. Barber, Would you please explain exactly what the "America Supports You" program is? Thank you for taking the time to answer my question Meleah

Allison Barber
Thank you for your question, Meleah. America Supports You came about to fill a simple need: to communicate America's support for the military to our men and women in uniform. Several months ago we began to hear disturbing questions from our brave troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. They didn't know if Americans still stood behind them…

William, from Lansing, MI writes: What is the best way an ordinary citizen can show his support for out troops? Also, how is the morale of our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq?

Allison Barber
Great question, William! There are so many ways to show your support. First, we'd love for you to log on and visit and send a message of support directly to our troops…

John, from Charlotte, NC writes: I just watched "our" President give an emotional speech at Fort Bragg and I'm so proud to say I'm an American. You could tell at the end of his speech, he was so proud of the men and women who support and defend our country. He mentioned a website to help support our troops. What was the site and is it up and running yet?

Allison Barber
Thank you John for that great question and for the pride your comment clearly shows you have in our wonderful country. During his speech to the world on Tuesday, President Bush encouraged all Americans to take a moment this 4th of July to thank the troops for our freedom by visiting

You caught the little subliminal thingy about "our" President, right? The one we real Americans support all the way?

This next question is from a citizen who had his doubts about Mister Bush at first, but has finally seen the light…
Doug, from Seaford, DE writes: I didn't originally vote for President Bush but I now realize that he has succeeded in protecting our country from additional terrorist attacks. Our men and women in uniform deserve our praise and thanks for their efforts and sacrifice to protect our freedom -- as well as providing hope and a brighter future for the Iraqi people.

Allison Barber
Doug, you are absolutely right. As I am sure you know, this week marks the one-year anniversary of Iraqi sovereignty. One year ago this week, 25 million Iraqis were liberated from one of the 20th Centuries most brutal regimes. The freedom they enjoy today, and the security we have at home, has been bought with the courage and sacrifice of our military men and women…

And here comes the napalm…
Joshua, from Miami, FL writes: _Secretary Barber, How has all of the negative media about Iraq and Guantanamo effected (sic) the morale of our troops? Does the viceral nature of those opposed to the war have a negative effect on our troops?

Allison Barber
Great question Joshua. You are absolutely right to ask about the morale of our troops around the world. Having traveled to Iraq personally, and being the spouse of an army reservist that just returned home from a yearlong deployment to Iraq, I can tell you wholeheartedly that our troops get their strength and their determination from the knowledge that they have the full support and backing of the folks backs home. The negative images on TV and unfortunate comments by some trying to make a political point can all effect (sic) the morale of our troops. But as we here back home know first hand, the vast majority of Americans stand steadfast with our troops. Making sure they know they have that support is the #1 goal of America Supports You…

In any other place, at any other time, with any other organization than the Bush administration, this transparently crafted "Ask the White House" session would have come off like a conscious self-parody. But the Bushlanders and their supporters take this kind of stuff dead seriously.

Previous "Ask the White House" sessions conducted by Harriet Miers indicated that the "hosts" don't write the answers themselves. That Barber's answers in this may well have been ghosted or plagiarized is somewhat disturbing. But it's even more disturbing to consider that they may well have been answers to real questions asked by real people. Well, real Stepford people.

Heck, that whole Fourth of July America Supports You weekend production was disturbing. The administration, deflecting blame for its woebegone Iraq fiasco by demonizing the press and hiding behind the troops. The big propaganda production staged in Washington D.C. disguised as a pep rally.

Taxpayers funded the rally, but apparently didn't have to shoulder the whole cost. America Supports You has a slew of Corporate Team Members that includes outfits like Anheuser Bush, McDonalds, and MARVEL Enterprises.

It's a sad commentary on American culture when big companies can use human suffering and our troops to sell beer, hamburgers, and comic books and nobody bats an eye about it.


Along with her involvement with America Supports You, Allison Barber is in charge of the Defense Department's internal communications, which include American Forces Radio and Television Service (AFRTS), the Pentagon Channel, Stars and Stripes, and other DoD controlled media. In summer of 2004, Barber admitted that AFRTS selects programs based on content rather than popularity (Rush Limbaugh is HUGE with AFRTS). In October of 2005, Barber was caught on tape coaching soldiers prior to a live question and answer teleconference with Mister Bush. Shortly afterward, she cancelled the planned debut of liberal talk show host Ed Shultz's radio program from the Armed Forces Radio schedule.

If you've ever been stationed overseas with the military, you know that these outlets are often the only English language media available. That goes a long way in explaining why a Zogby poll conducted in February of this year indicated that 85 percent of U.S. troops in Iraq think their mission is to "retaliate for Saddam’s role in the 9/11 attacks."

Which just goes to show how you can shape young minds when you can hold them captive to the Big Brother Broadcast.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Rove World Viral Propaganda

This morning I got an e-mail from an old Navy buddy that he and I both think is a piece of Rovewellian monkey business.

The subject is "Too Graphic for the 'Main' Stream Media."

The opening paragraph says "Here is an important message you are not likely to get anywhere else, particularly from U.S. News sources--Pictures From Iraq That Are Too Shocking & Graphic for The Mainstream Media."

Below that is a series of digital photographs depicting "positive images" from Iraq. Several show U.S. soldiers visiting Iraqi kids at their schools and playing with them on the street. In one, an Iraqi woman holds up two handwritten signs that read "Iraqi people happy today. Thank You Thank You U.S.A." In another, an Iraqi boy in a car holds out a sign that says, "Thank You Very much Mr. BUSH."

The last image--one that I found genuinely touching--was of an armed soldier in full combat gear bending over to pet someone's cat.

Beneath the cat picture comes text that I've intentionally pasted here verbatim:
Sometimes in our everyday lives we tend to forget what's going on elsewhere in the world and that the brave men and women of the service are just like you and I. They have family and friends back home who love them very much and are praying for their safe return.

When you receive this, please stop for a moment and say a prayer for our troops (land, air, and sea) in Afghanistan, Kuwait, Iraq, and around the world. There is nothing attached....... This can be very powerful....... Just send this to people in your address book. Do not stop the wheel, please....


I wouldn't have a problem with people passing this sort of chain letter around if I thought for a moment it was on the up and up. But this looks entirely too much like government manufactured viral propaganda. It has all the earmarks.

For starters, the e-mail contains no trace that I can find of its origin. That's something that originators of chain letters almost have to do on purpose for the purpose of hiding their identities.

The closing text is so clumsily worded and typed that it seems to have been deliberately crafted in order to convince the receiver that it came from someone who's "just plain folks." The "please....." at the end sounds like its coming from the poor little pussy cat--which, by the way, has to be the healthiest, best fed, cutest looking pussy cat in Iraq right now.

Then there are the photos themselves. Some may be genuine pictures taken by regular soldiers, but they'd have to be regular soldiers who either know how to take good pictures or are wizards at Photo Shop. Some images look suspiciously staged, especially the ones of everyday Iraqis holding up signs handwritten in English. However genuine the pictures may or may not be, they were compiled by someone who knows how to use images to convey a striking emotional message. Saving the cat for last was a nice touch, even if a bit obvious.

And for this kind of thing to be making its way around the web as the administration runs its "no good news in the media" campaign is timing too perfect to be coincidental.


I’m not wild about the idea, but I can accept the government spreading this kind of information over the web if it's honest about where the message is coming from. And I think it's fine for Americans to help spread it around of their own free wills as long as they know they're distributing government propaganda.

But if my suspicions are correct--and I'm convinced they are--this is the covert part of an orchestrated government propaganda operation aimed at U.S. citizens, and it is wrong.


Frankly, I don't blame the media for not reporting enough good news from Iraq. Whatever good news there is, it's not good enough to balance the bad news, or to justify the reasons for war. The Bush administration has yet to give us a straight answer as to what those reasons actually were, but you can bet a paycheck we didn't invade Iraq so our soldiers could hand out crayons to Iraqi school kids, or play soccer with them, or pet their putty tats.

The good news out of Iraq isn't relevant, and there's no reason for the media to waste a significant amount of bandwidth on it.

As for the bad news, I think the visual media have shown considerable restraint in the images it has chosen to show us. Maybe too much restraint. If we saw high quality visuals of all the violence we hear about, the anti-war movement would shift into overdrive.

Some have suggested the major mainstream media bear responsibility for helping the administration sell this woebegone Iraq incursion to the public by channeling its pro-war drumbeats through Judith Miller and others. There's something to that argument, but keep in mind that if the big news outlets like The New York Times and The Washington Post are guilty of anything, they're guilty of being duped, and don't bear nearly as much guilt as the dupers who duped them, and who are now trying to transfer blame for the war's failures from themselves to the media they duped at the outset.

And if I weren't so outraged, I'd find it a delicious piece of irony that the administration is using one medium in a discreditable manner to discredit the other media.


Viral propaganda works much like viral marketing. Viral marketing is a pyramid advertising scheme in which "genuine" word of mouth personal testimony about a commercial product's virtues is spread by "plain folks" who have been paid and trained to spread it but who don't let their target audiences know that. It's normally conducted in conjunction with more overt, traditional advertising campaigns. "Viral marketing" is an Internet age term that reflects the language of the contemporary information age--covert "testimonial" advertising can literally be spread like a computer virus.

But covert viral marketing isn't limited to the electronic information sphere. Viral marketers arrive at parties, cookouts, school and church functions, and other social events with free samples of the products they're hawking. They engage family, friends, and acquaintances in conversations into which they interject carefully prepared and easily remembered slogans, buzz phrases, mantras, memes, and talking points.

Pretty soon, the viral marketers' targets are repeating the marketing rhetoric, unknowingly becoming unpaid non-salaried employees of a sophisticated advertising firm.

Viral propaganda functions in much the same way, except it's selling something far more sinister than barbecue sausage or underarm deodorant.

As you find yourself in social situations over the next few weeks, make a conscious effort to notice how many times you hear the phrase "no good news" comes up in conversation. See if you, for the sake of being amiable, agree with the speaker, and add a few comments of your own about the lamentable state of the open press.

And ask yourself if you haven't picked up the virus.

If you're of a mind to, ask people who bring up the "no good news" slogan who they think is really responsible for the mess in Iraq, the press or the administration. How they respond should give you a pretty good idea of where they stand in the propaganda pyramid.

If they answer, "Well, that's what everybody says," you'll know they're pretty close to the bottom of it. If they deftly change the subject to something politically neutral, you can safely assume they're well indoctrinated in the Rovewellian method.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Rove Age Media Madness

I keep wondering how much longer the so-called mainstream media are going to play along with Karl Rove's game. Much of the Bush administration's political strategy is formed on lessons learned during the Nixon years, the era in which people like Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld cut their Capitol teeth.

Among the biggest lessons, as far as they're concerned, is that the Nixon presidency was brought down by the "liberal" news coverage of the Vietnam War and Watergate. In intervening years, the right has conducted a lamentably successful campaign to establish a conservative media network and to demonize any media that isn't part of the Big Brother Broadcast (Fox News, A.M. talk radio, The Washington Times, The Weekly Standard, etc.)

To hear the Rovewellians tell the tale of the Nixon years, the only thing wrong with the Vietnam War was that the press turned the public against it, and hounded Tricky Dick out of office for doing things that were really no big deal.

They won't bother to tell you that the people who lost the Vietnam War were bad politicians and bad generals who misled the public about progress of the conflict for a decade. They won't mention that it was the Nixon administration, not the press, that committed a felony crime when it broke into the Democratic National Committee Headquarters during the 1972 presidential campaign, then committed further felonies by obstructing the investigation of the break in. And they'll never bother to remind you that the media were every bit as critical of Democrat Lyndon Johnson's presidency as they were of Nixon's.

Play it Again, Sam Donaldson

Today, we're in the middle of a bad war initiated on fuzzy pretexts and run badly by bad politicians and bad generals, and we have a president who has broken laws, unilaterally abrogated treaties, and violated the constitution. Miraculously, however, much of the American public has the perception that the bad politicians and bad generals haven't done anything bad. It's all the media's fault.

And the media have been perfectly willing to take the blame.

This week, Mister Bush took to the road to sell his war in Iraq on its third anniversary before televised Town Hall style encounters with "real folks" asking "spontaneous" questions. These events, covered by the very media the Bush administration scapegoats, were no more genuine than a zirconium engagement ring, but I didn't hear a single commentator question if maybe it wasn't all just another staged propaganda event.

I don't buy for a minute that Bush's handlers actually let him loose in uncontrolled environments. All those "hard ball" questions he fielded on Monday by "average citizens" in the Cleveland City Club sounded as though they were read from scripts, and Bush's answers sounded as scripted as the question.

The grand production on Wednesday in West Virginia was downright embarrassing. Speaking before a crowd of 2,100, made up largely of military families, Mister Bush came off as the darling of the American people. From the transcript:
Q: Mr. President, I have a son that's special forces in Iraq. And I have another son -- (applause.) I have another son that's in the Army. He left college to join the Army. He's out in Hawaii. He's got the good duty right now. (Laughter.) But I thank God that you're our Commander-in-Chief. And I wouldn't want my boys -- (applause.)

THE PRESIDENT: Okay, thanks.

Q: Again, I thank God you're our Commander-in-Chief. You're a man for our times. And I'm supporter of yours. And I think it's good that you come out and tell your story. And I think you need to keep doing more of it, and tell the story and the history of all this. And God bless you. And I thank you for your service.


Q: Sir, thank you for being in West Virginia. I'm the recruiting commander of the West Virginia Army National Guard. And there are a lot of National Guardsmen here with you in Wheeling today. West Virginians are a proud and very patriotic people. I'd like for you to share with us what you would say to a young person today who would like to join the National Guard, and maybe give some encouraging words in that respect.

THE PRESIDENT: Okay, thanks--kind of doing your job for you. All right. (Laughter and applause.) My statement to all Americans is serve your country one way or another. I--and service can be done by wearing the uniform. Wearing the uniform is a fantastic way to say, I want to serve my country. A lot of people have chosen that way, and it's a rewarding experience to wear the uniform. If you want to go to college, it's a good way to gain some skills to help you in your education.


Q: President Bush, I'm a professional firefighter here in Wheeling, West Virginia.

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, sir. (Applause.)

Q: And back during 9/11, I lost over 300 of my brothers in New York. And I was glad that you were our President at that time and took the fight to the terrorists…

Here's the kicker: I've seen it replayed twice on MSNBC.
Q: I have a comment, first of all, and then just a real quick question. I want to let you know that every service at our church you are, by name, lifted up in prayer, and you and your staff and all of our leaders. And we believe in you. We are behind you. And we cannot thank you enough for what you've done to shape our country. (Applause.)

This is my husband, who has returned from a 13-month tour in Tikrit.

THE PRESIDENT: Oh, yes. Thank you. Welcome back. (Applause.)

Q: His job while serving was as a broadcast journalist. And he has brought back several DVDs full of wonderful footage of reconstruction, of medical things going on. And I ask you this from the bottom of my heart, for a solution to this, because it seems that our major media networks don't want to portray the good. They just want to focus -- (applause) --

THE PRESIDENT: Okay, hold on a second.

Q: They just want to focus on another car bomb, or they just want to focus on some more bloodshed, or they just want to focus on how they don't agree with you and what you're doing, when they don't even probably know how you're doing what you're doing anyway. But what can we do to get that footage on CNN, on FOX, to get it on headline news, to get it on the local news? Because you can send it to the news people -- and I'm sorry, I'm rambling -- like I have --

THE PRESIDENT: So was I, though, for an hour. (Laughter.)

Q: -- can you use this, and it will just end up in a drawer, because it's good, it portrays the good. And if people could see that, if the American people could see it, there would never be another negative word about this conflict.

Bush came back with coo-noise about the importance of a free press.

No Good News

There's no way of proving whether administration stage managers gave this woman in West Virginia a script, or if she's fallen under the spell of the "no good news" mantra. That she clumped CNN and FOX together could have been part of FOX's "fair and balanced" brainwash strategy, or it may be that the woman honestly can't see what FOX News is really all about.

Whatever the case may be, the designed message got out. Whatever criticism of Bush and the war in Iraq that appears in the media is unfair, but Bush is a good old guy who just lets that kind of thing roll off his back.

That an outlet like MSNBC ran the clip multiple times goes to show just how severely the mainstream media has allowed itself to be cowed by Rove's liberal press bashing strategy.

It may be that MSNBC ran the clip because the West Virginia woman didn't mention them as part of the "no good news" network. And comments made by MSNBC's Don Imus in the last two days may support that theory.

On Wednesday, Imus castigated White House press corps stalwart Helen Thomas for being disrespectful to Mister Bush during the previous day's press conference. What journalistic sin had Helen committed? She asked Bush why he'd decided to invade Iraq, and persisted in seeking a straight answer to her question when Bush didn't give her one.

Imagine, flaying a journalist for asking the president of the United States the most critical political question of our day and insisting on a coherent reply. You'd think that sort of thing should be encouraged, not condemned. The last thing America needs is for one media icon to blast another one for holding a politician's feet to the fire.

Imus continued to echo the "no good news" mantra today when he slapped around MSNBC's Iraq correspondent Richard Engel for the media's lack of reporting stories favorable to the administration's agenda. To his credit, Engel held his ground and stood up to Imus's assertions, and did so in a way that showed more respect and dignity than Imus and Mister Bush combined deserve. Young Engel, by the way, is the only television network news correspondent to have covered the entire Iraq War II from Baghdad.

What's Fair or Balanced About "Fair and Balanced?"

As CBS journalist and commentator Andy Rooney said in 2000:
The trouble with news now is money. Most of the decisions being made in television news are not about news, they're about money. Corporate America was late discovering there was profit to be made with news, and it's trying to make up for its slow start…

I wish someone fabulously wealthy like Bill Gates would buy a network and say to the news department: 'Here's a couple of billion dollars a year. Do it right. I'm not going to interfere. I'll get my money back from the entertainment division.

The bad news, perhaps, is that in the 2006 24/7 news network environment, news and entertainment are the same thing. The outrageous absurdities portrayed in the 1976 film Network are readily accepted complacencies in the contemporary information age.

If criticism of itself will lead to ratings and profits, the mainstream media will more than happily tout it, even if that leads to abject loss of objectivity in the pursuit of ratings and readership enjoyed by Rush, the lowbrow Bill (O'Reilley), the high brow Bill (Buckley), the in-between Bill (Kristol), Ann, Laura, Shawn, Neil, Cal, Tom, Suzanne, Gordon, Pat…

Just once, I'd like to see a Murrow or Cronkite class journalist stand up and say something like this:
You've heard a lot lately about how the mainstream media doesn't report enough of the good news about Iraq. As a prominent figure in the mainstream media, I will freely admit to you that assertion is true. Let my tell you why.

Being "fair and balanced" isn't about giving equal weight to all sides of a story, and certainly not about the story of a war. The truth is that there's no amount of good news about our woebegone excursion in Iraq or our equally misfired Global War on Terror that balances or justifies the bad news about them.

I for one am happy to know that little girls in Afghanistan are going to school. But I'm unconvinced that that compensates for the fact that the Taliban have made a comeback in that country, or that subsequent to our incursion in Afghanistan it has become the world's leading exporter of heroin, or that one of its citizens currently faces the death penalty for converting to Christianity.

I am also happy to know that electrical power, clean water, and other services are being restored in some portions of Iraq. But there's no clear evidence that these quality of life utilities have improved over the levels they existed at during Saddam Hussein's regime, or even come back up to those levels. And even the Bush administration has yet to claim that we invaded Iraq for the purpose of improving its peoples' hygiene and indoor climate control.

In the meantime, Iraq, the Middle East, and the rest of the world are less stable than they were before we invaded Iraq.

If, as an American citizen, you wish to be presented with a view of your world distorted through a thick, rose-colored lens, please exercise your freedom to patronize a news outlet other than this one.

If a major media source puts out a message like that, we might just get our republic back.

What are the odds?

Good night and good luck.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Security Strategy: Comedy or Tragedy?

No, it's not a remake of the film Doctor Strangelove. It's the real foreign policy and security strategy really being conducted in real-time by the real United States of America in the real world.

The new U.S. National Security Strategy says America "may face no greater challenge from a single country than from Iran."

Asked yesterday if the U.S. would defend Israel from Iran militarily, Mister Bush said, "You bet, we'll defend Israel."

Mister Bush neglected to mention that Iran at present has nothing for us to defend Israel against. As I outlined in "Iran and Irrational Security Strategy," Iran has no nuclear weapons, claims to have no ambition to acquire or develop them, and its conventional forces are incapable of projecting power against Israel. Iran's conventional forces could conceivably engage U.S. forces in combat, but only because U.S. forces are stationed in two countries adjacent to Iran (Iraq and Afghanistan). And they'd be crazy to do it.

The Security Strategy also states that, "Iran has violated its Non-Proliferation Treaty safeguards obligations."

In February, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made ominous noises about "other means" of making Iran live up to these obligations.

America recently agreed to provide India with fissile materials for its nuclear power plants, but the pact provides no restrictions on India's 8 reactors that produce plutonium for weapons. India has not signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The Strategy further says that "The Iranian regime sponsors terrorism[.]" Saudi Arabia and Egypt have also been known to harbor terrorists. The Strategy doesn't say anything about that, though it does refer to Egypt and Saudi Arabia as our "traditional allies."

Korea Cat Calls

The Security Strategy maintains the Bush administration's policy of preemption.

Yesterday, North Korea North Korea announced that it had built nuclear weapons to counter the U.S. nuclear threat.

A Foreign Ministry spokesman said, "As we declared, our strong revolutionary might put in place all measures to counter possible U.S. pre-emptive strike… Pre-emptive strike is not the monopoly of the United States."

The U.S. urged North Korea to return to international nuclear negotiations instead of making "inflammatory statements."

The National Security Strategy accuses North Korean of posing "a serious nuclear proliferation challenge."

A North Korean spokesman called that accusation "…a robbery-like declaration of war. Through this document, the Bush administration declared to the world that it is a group of war fanatics."

U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said America has no plans to invade or attack North Korea, although joint U.S.-South Korea military exercises are scheduled for this weekend.

Bear Hunting

The Security Strategy also says that America's relationships with long-time nuclear power Russia will depend on that country improving its democracy record and foreign policies.

On March 20, the Russian Foreign Ministry released a statement that said:
Should we understand this means that in the immediate future U.S.-Russian relations face far from the best of times? One cannot escape the impression that [Washington] is using populist slogans in its own interests… No one has, or can have, a monopoly on the interpretation of democracy. One can contribute to the creation of democracy, but each state must follow its own path toward democracy, as did and does the United States.

On March 1, Mister Bush paid a "surprise" visit to Afghanistan and praised the country on its "progress toward democracy."

CNN reports today that Afghani Abdul Rahman has been arrested and is on trial for converting to Christianity. Democratic Afghanistan's constitution forbids rejection of Islam. Rahman and other Christian converts are eligible for the death penalty.

Security Strategy Scorecard

In summary:

We've entered the fourth year of a war with a country that supposedly had an active nuclear weapons program but turned out not to.

We're making boo-noise about taking military action against a country that doesn't have nuclear weapons and says it doesn’t seek any.

We've promised a country that admits it has nuclear weapons and has threatened to use them preemptively that we won't attack or invade it.

We're supporting the nuclear program of a country that hasn't signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

We're criticizing the democratic process of the country with the world's second largest nuclear arsenal.

We're praising the democratic process of a country in which being Christian is a capital crime.

And that's just the goofy stuff we're doing overseas.

On the Home Front

This morning, Don Imus criticized Helen Thomas for being disrespectful to Mister Bush at yesterday's White House press conference.

What Helen did that Don considered so impertinent was ask Bush why he went to war in Iraq, and persisted on getting an answer when Bush didn't give her one.

How dare anyone expect a straight answer from the president of the United States? This one, anyway.

Mister Bush has said the Iraq invasion wasn't about oil or Israel.

Mister Bush's Iraq policy was formulated by the conservative think tank Project for the New American Century (PNAC).

In 1998, the PNAC wrote a letter to President Clinton urging him to remove Saddam Hussein from power through military force in order to protect "…our friends and allies like Israel and the moderate Arab states, and a significant portion of the world’s supply of oil…"

Among the signatories of that letter were future key figures in the Bush II administration: Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, John Bolton, Richard Perle, Richard Armitage, Paula Dobriansky, Zalmay Khalilzad, Peter Rodman, and William Schneider, Jr.

Current Vice President Dick Cheney was a PNAC charter member, as was his former chief of staff Lewis Libby.

I haven't heard anyone else mention this, but I find it interesting that Mister Bush claims we didn't invade Iraq to defend Israel, but we'll use military force to defend Israel from Iran. Iraq conceivably could have brought military force to bear on Israel, but Iran, at present, poses no military threat to Israel.

At yesterday's White House press conference, Mister Bush said that it would be up to a "future president" to decide when to bring the troops home.

Heck, if you didn't know better, you might think the purpose of our foreign policy and strategy is to make sure we have an excuse to be in a war for as long as Mister Bush is in the White House.

I pity the poor slob who has to clean up the mess Bush leaves.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Iran and Irrational Security Strategy, Part II

Part I of "Iran and Irrational Security Strategy" illustrated that despite the Bush administration's claims that America "may face no greater challenge from a single country than Iran," the Islamic republic is, in fact, a third rate economic and military power at best.

Part II explores the probability of Iran developing nuclear weapons, and the probable consequences if it does.

The Middle East Nuclear Equation.

The only nation in the Middle East currently known to possess nuclear weapons is Israel. The country's nuclear weapons program was exposed to international scrutiny when photographs of the Dioma nuclear weapons plant taken by an Israeli pacifist were published by the British press in 1996. In August of 2000, overhead satellite imagery showed that Israel could have made enough weapons grade plutonium for as many as 200 bombs. How many ready nuclear weapons Israel has at its disposal right now is anybody's guess, but it has infinitely more nukes than Iran does presently, which is a number we can reliably peg at zero.

In his January 2006 State of the Union speech, Mister Bush strongly inferred that Iran is pursuing development of nuclear weapons, an assertion that has been echo chambered by Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, and other Bush administration luminaries.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad calls Mister Bush's rhetoric "baseless propaganda" designed to take away Iran's nuclear technology program, which the country's leading officials have long maintained was aimed at developing peaceful, energy supply purposes.

It's a sad state of affairs when a president of the United States has as little credibility as a president of Iran, especially when the president of Iran is a world-class trash talker like Ahmadinejad. But Mister Bush has earned a reputation as a major league trash talker as well, and has no one to blame for that state of affairs but himself (dead or alive, with us or against us, bring 'em on, cut and run, total victory, 9/11, 9/11, 9/11…).

Still, high profile conservative commentators like Charles Krauthammer and Thomas Sowell support the Bush position. In January of this year, Krauthammer said Iran was "probably just months away" from the "point of no return" of Iran having a nuclear bomb. In February, Sowell repeated the "point of no return" mantra.

But keep in mind that Krauthammer was a member of the neoconservative Project for a New American Century (PNAC) group that exhorted Mister Bush to remove Saddam Hussein from power through military invasion, and Sowell is a associated with the American Enterprise Institute and Stanford University's Hoover Institution, conservative think tank partners of the PNAC that helped form the Bush II Iraq policy.

At this point in time, Krauthammer and Sowell have believability issues that rival Mister Bush's and Ms. Rice's.

(Note: Condi Rice is a senior fellow with the Hoover Institution. She was a professor of political science at Stanford from 1981 to 2000.)

There's no definitive proof that Iran doesn't seek to develop nuclear weapons. But as Lew Rockwell's Charley Reese pointed out in January of this year, there's no proof that it does.

Those skeptical of Iran's stated peaceful intentions question why an oil rich nation would seek to develop nuclear energy. But the answer is that Iran would be foolish not to. As Reese says, "Oil is their biggest and most valuable export. The less they use for domestic purposes, the more they will have to export." More importantly, perhaps, is that the world's developed nations will continue seek to wean themselves from dependence on oil, and it would be strategic folly for Iran to let itself be one of the last oil countries to get in the nuclear energy game.

But What if Bush is Right?

There's a first time for everything. Mister Bush could be right about Iran's intention to develop nukes, even if he's only right by accident. But if he is right, what are the consequences? As Reese puts it, the Iranians are…
…surrounded by nuclear powers – Israel, Russia, Pakistan, India and the U.S. (through its heavy presence in the Persian Gulf and Iraq). So maybe they do want to develop a nuclear bomb. Personally, I don't care if they do. Having lived most of my life with 30,000 nuclear warheads and the means to deliver them in the Soviet Union, I'm not going to worry about the Iranians having six or seven.

What can Iran do with six or seven nukes? As Barry R. Posen of the New York Times wrote in February, it could put nuclear weapons to three "dangerous purposes," but isn't likely to.
Iran could give them to terrorists; it could use them to blackmail other states; or it could engage in other kinds of aggressive behavior on the assumption that no one, not even the United States, would accept the risk of trying to invade a nuclear state or to destroy it from the air. The first two threats are improbable and the third is manageable.

…We know that Tehran has given other kinds of weapons to terrorists and aligned itself with terrorist organizations, like Hezbollah in Lebanon. But to threaten, much less carry out, a nuclear attack on a nuclear power is to become a nuclear target.

Anyone who attacks the United States with nuclear weapons will be attacked with many, many more nuclear weapons. Israel almost certainly has the same policy. If a terrorist group used one of Iran's nuclear weapons, Iran would have to worry that the victim would discover the weapon's origin and visit a terrible revenge on Iran. No country is likely to turn the means to its own annihilation over to an uncontrolled entity.

Because many of Iran's neighbors lack nuclear weapons, it's possible that Iran could use a nuclear capacity to blackmail such states into meeting demands — for example, to raise oil prices, cut oil production or withhold cooperation with the United States. But many of Iran's neighbors are allies of the United States, which holds a strategic stake in their autonomy and is unlikely to sit by idly as Iran blackmails, say, Kuwait or Saudi Arabia. It is unlikely that these states would capitulate to a nuclear Iran rather than rely on an American deterrent threat. To give in to Iran once would leave them open to repeated extortion.

Playpen Policy

The National Security Strategy is reviewed and published every four years by the National Security Council (NSC). As Dafna Linzer of the Washington Post reported on March 12th of this year, today's NSC is largely populated by the "X" Generation of conservatives.
Understand them -- and where they came from -- and suddenly President Bush's Middle East forays, grand democratic experiments and go-it-alone strategies take on a different look.

That's because nearly a dozen thirtysomething aides, breastfed on "Sesame Street" and babysat by "The Brady Bunch," are now shaping those strategies in unexpected ways as senior advisers at the National Security Council, the White House's powerful inner chamber of foreign policy aides with routine access to Bush…

…Their adulthood has never included a fellow superpower or the need to reach accommodation with an enemy--a Cold War concept none of the NSC's Gen-X crowd can get their heads around. Instead, their history begins with Sept. 11, 2001. It is the measuring stick they use when discussing their generation's challenge and the sole lens through which they envision the future…

…[I]s it any wonder that some of the generation's best conservative minds serve a president who has staked his legacy on transforming the Middle East by force of arms?

One of these "best conservative minds" of the X Generation is 36-year-old Meghan O'Sullivan, who serves as NSC's deputy national security adviser for Iraq and Afghanistan, and who doesn’t think weapons of mass destruction were a factor in the Cold War. Another is NSC's 32-year-old assistant for legislative affairs Michael Allen who says things like, "Arms control, what's that?"

These are the kinds of folks who crafted the official U.S. security document that says we "may face no greater challenge from a single country than Iran."

With or without a fistful of nuclear weapons, Iran poses no direct military threat to the United States. It is not capable of attacking Israel with conventional forces. Iran could conceivably strike Israel or other U.S. allies in the Gulf region with one or more nuclear tipped Sabab-3 ballistic missiles, but the retaliation strikes from either Israel or the U.S. would be massive enough to turn Iran into the world's largest solar panel, and Iran knows that.

A preemptive strike on Iranian nuclear weapons sites would be preferable to retaliation, but preemption requires reliable intelligence that the nuclear weapons sites actually exist, and where they are. If we want reliable intelligence, given our intelligence communities' track record, we'll need to rely on the Israelis to get it for us. And as long as we're relying on the Mossad for intelligence, let's rely on the Israeli Air Force to execute the preemptive strike.

An Iran with a small nuclear arsenal is more of a challenge than an Iran without one. But it's no bigger challenge than China and North Korea, both of whom have nuclear weapons and systems capable of delivering those weapons on our friends in Japan, Taiwan, and elsewhere.

If Iran is the nation that presents our greatest national security challenge, we don't have much of a security challenge. So why are we spending over half a trillion dollars a year on national security?

Maybe we should pack our gang of young conservative political scientists on the National Security Council back off to college where they can study up on history, and a few other things besides. And perhaps we should make the conservative little rascals coming up behind them stay in college until they, um, actually, learn something about what went on between nations and societies that happened, like, totally yesterday.

And let's hope they don't go to Stanford where they'll have to listen to lectures from Professor Emeritus Condoleezza Rice.

Or, God help us, from Honorary Doctor of Political Science George W. Bush.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Iran and Irrational Security Strategy, Part I

Mister Bush's new National Security Strategy says America "may face no greater challenge from a single country" than one that has an economy the size of Holland's, no nuclear weapons at present, no navy or air force to speak of, a ground force that couldn't beat Saddam Hussein's army, and is halfway around the world from the continental United States. The Security Strategy echoes remark made last week by Secretary of State and former National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice before the Senate Appropriations committee.

According to the CIA World Factbook, Iran's economy ranks 20th in the world, just ahead of Turkey's and right behind Taiwan's. Its total estimated 2005 Gross Domestic Product was $551.6 billion, roughly the amount that the United States will spend in 2006 on its Department of Defense alone, which in itself is a fiscal expenditure that matches the military spending of the rest of the world combined.

Iran's economy isn't showing signs of an imminent explosion. Again, from the World Factbook:
Iran's economy is marked by a bloated, inefficient state sector, over reliance on the oil sector, and statist policies that create major distortions throughout. Most economic activity is controlled by the state. Private sector activity is typically small-scale - workshops, farming, and services… Relatively high oil prices in recent years have enabled Iran to amass some $40 billion in foreign exchange reserves, but have not eased economic hardships such as high unemployment and inflation. The proportion of the economy devoted to the development of weapons of mass destruction remains a contentious issue with leading Western nations.

Airplanes, Ships, and Soldiers

As pathetic as Iran's economy is, the state of its conventional armed force is even worse. Its estimated 2003 military budget was $4.3 billion, which ranks well below such war mongering powerhouses as Canada ($9.8 billion), Mexico ($6 billion), and Sweden ($5.7 billion).

The Imperial Iranian Air Force combat aircraft are fighter jets we sold to the country when Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlevi
was still in power: Korea era F-84s and F-86s and Cold War vintage F-4s, F-5s, F-14s, and F-16s. We haven't given Iran parts and maintenance support for these aircraft in over two decades, and except for the F-16--of which Iran only had 300 in 1976--all the jets we sold Iran have been retired from service in the U.S. military, and nobody else makes them.

In 1988, U.S. naval air and surface forces sank most of Iran's navy during Operation Praying Mantis in the course of a clear spring day. Iran has somewhat reconstituted its maritime force since that time, but it is still a coastal navy, designed to control the territorial waters off the country's shores on the Indian Ocean, Caspian Sea, the Arabian Gulf, and the Strait of Hormuz.

The Iraq-Iran war lasted from 1980 to 1988. It was almost exclusively a land war fought along the border of the two countries and ended when the two exhausted countries agreed to a cease-fire brokered by the United Nations.

With so much of the world's oil supply in question, many nations participated in the war through economic and other indirect means. The two superpowers, the U.S. and the U.S.S.R., backed Iraq. Interestingly, Israel supported Iran.

Sticks and Stones

The new National Security Strategy says that Iran "threatens" Israel, but doesn't specifically address what the "threat" consists of other than bellicose rhetoric.

The crow flying distance between Tehran and Tel Aviv is roughly a thousand miles. Iraq and Syria sit between the two countries, but even if they didn't, there's no way on God's brown earth Iran could project conventional air or land power that far. To bring firepower to bear on Israeli territory, Iran's Navy would have to sail more than 3,000 miles, something it is not designed or trained to do. Even if Iran's war ships made it all the way up the Red Sea, Israel's navy would sink them as they came out of the Suez Canal and entered the Mediterranean Sea.

Closer to Home

Israel has enemies a lot closer to home than Iran. It is literally surrounded by nations historically hostile to it: Egypt to the west, Jordan to the east, and Lebanon and Syria to the north. And, of course, it's snuggled up next to whatever constitutes Palestine at any given moment.

Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria have all attacked Israel. Only Egypt and Jordan have signed peace treaties with the country. Hezbollah, the Shia Islamist group formed in 1982 to fight the Israeli occupation and labeled as a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union, holds 23 seats in the Lebanese Parliament subsequent to the 2005 elections. Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist organization that has conducted attacks on Israeli military and civilian targets since its creation in 1987, became the majority party of the Palestinian Authority Legislative Council in 2006.

The specter of Iran possessing nuclear tipped, long-range ballistic missiles would change Israel's security equation to some extent, but the equation has a range of uncertain variables.

Right now, Israel has nuclear weapons. Iran does not. Mister Bush continues to claim that the Iranians seek to possess nuclear weapons. The Iranians continue to claim that they don't.

Even if the Iranians are lying, it's uncertain whether they can actually afford to build and maintain nukes. If they can afford nukes, they certainly can't afford very many of them.

Ultimately, though, even if they go to the effort and expense to develop a handful of nukes, it is highly debatable whether they would every actually dare to use them.

Coming up in Part II: Nukes or no nukes? And if so, so what?

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Coming Monday...

My take on the madness over Iran.
Mister Bush's new National Security Strategy echoes Secretary of State and former National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice's recent admonition that America "may face no greater challenge from a single country" than one that has an economy the size of Holland's, no nuclear weapons at present, no navy or air force to speak of, a ground force that couldn't beat Saddam Hussein's army, and is halfway around the world from the American continent.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Swarmers and Farmers

I just ran across this Times article on Operation Swarmer:
On Scene: How Operation Swarmer Fizzled

Not a shot was fired, or a leader nabbed, in a major offensive that failed to live up to its advance billing…

…The press, flown in from Baghdad to this agricultural gridiron northeast of Samarra, huddled around the Iraqi officials and U.S. Army commanders who explained that the "largest air assault since 2003" in Iraq using over 50 helicopters to put 1500 Iraqi and U.S. troops on the ground had netted 48 suspected insurgents, 17 of which had already been cleared and released. The area, explained the officials, has long been suspected of being used as a base for insurgents operating in and around Samarra, the city north of Baghdad where the bombing of a sacred shrine recently sparked a wave of sectarian violence.

As I said yesterday, something was fishy about this operation. If our forces in Iraq were truly looking to strike at the heart of the insurgency based on intelligence cueing, something clearly went wrong.

The intelligence could have been bad. It certainly wouldn't be the first time that's happened.

The insurgents might have been tipped off and fled before the combined force troops arrived, which would be very bad news. If there was a leak in operational security, it almost certainly had to have come from someone in the Iraqi forces. If we can't trust the Iraqi forces not to leak our operational intentions, it doesn't matter a hill of ants how well trained they are.

It's not unlikely that Swarmer was a politically timed event to quell criticisms of the readiness of Iraqi forces as many media outlets are suggesting.

It could also be that the operation was simply designed as a "dry run" practice maneuver, and that military Public Affairs got carried away in publicizing it.

Whatever happened, it didn't happen according to the script. Military public affairs got the story wrong, and the independent media got it even wronger.

Times notes that "contrary to what many many television networks erroneously reported, the operation was by no means the largest use of airpower since the start of the war."

The operation was an air "assault," not an air "strike" as many news outlets reported. An air assault is an airborne insertion of ground troops, these days usually accomplished with helicopters. An air strike involves aerial bombing. There were no air strikes in support of Swarmer.

The official Army News Service press release stated, "More than 1,500 Coalition troops and Iraqi security forces along with 200 tactical vehicles and 50 aircraft have launched the largest air assault operation since Operation Iraqi Freedom began in March 2003."

Army public affairs might have anticipated that this message would be misinterpreted. It takes familiarity with the military to immediately grasp the difference between an assault and a strike.

But on the other hand, three years into a war, you'd think the major media outlets would have someone familiar with the military on staff to sort these kinds of things out.

In any case, the operation was an over-hyped flop, and military public affairs isn't explaining it, and I have yet to hear or read anyone in the mainstream media asking hard questions about what the heck happened.

I really, really don't want to spread gloom and doom, but the worst case scenario--that some Iraqi supposedly on our side leaked the operation--has to be explored. If Iraqi troops are tipping off the bad guys, there's no way this "stand up, stand down" strategy will work.

Saturday Drive By

My doggies' daddy needs to get a few things done this weekend. Regular essay columns will be back Monday.

In the meantime, you might want to take a look at Think Progress, where Judd has posted a transcript of the speech given Yesterday by former National Security Advisor Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski on the Iraq war at the Center for American Progress.

Chosen highlights:
…I recently read a book that was quite revealing in an unintended fashion. It was Jerry Bremmer’s memoir of his stewardship as the governor general of Iraq. At the end of the book he says something that is very true. He says, “Ours is a failed occupation.” A failed occupation, that’s his definition of it, and I agree.

It is a failed occupation as a consequence of a decision-making process that compounds errors, that involves a very narrow group of true believers, and that evades responsibility and accountability – for errors and even crimes. No one responsible for wrong judgments has been fired. No one responsible for setting in motion a chain of events that produced extraordinarily embarrassing crimes has been put on trial. The [administration’s] resistance to the International Criminal Court is perhaps more understandable under these circumstances…

…I think one can argue that under the porous U.S. military umbrella which suffers from very poor intelligence because it is an external occupation army, there are two wars going on at the same time, but one feeds and stimulates the other. One war is the insurgency against the occupier, and that seems to be gaining more sympathy from the public as time passes, which is an ominous sign. More sympathy – not necessarily more engagement – but more sympathy, more vocal emotional support. And the other war that’s ongoing is of course a sectarian conflict between the Shiites and the Sunnis. And the U.S. umbrella, which in effect is designed to stifle these wars but is so poor that it perpetuates them, in a sense keeps these wars alive.

In my judgment, quote end quote “victory” is unlikely. I think that’s a judgment that, if I were a decision-maker today, I feel I would have to reach. And I certainly realize that the consequences of the absence of what we would have liked to have happened, namely victory, are uncertain…

I'm not a huge Zbig fan, but agree with much of what he says. Some things, I think he's wrong about.

He says he thinks we could squelch "both wars" with about 500,000 troops, if it were possible to deploy that many. I think it's way, way, way too late to thing more troops is an answer, unless we're willing to keep them deployed there forever.

Zbig doesn’t think there's a civil war in Iraq yet. I think he needs to consult a dictionary.

But his oddest comment, in my opinion, was this:
What troubles me the most is not that which that I have criticized, but that which hasn’t happened. That is to say: a serious and comprehensive Democratic challenge on this subject. Democratic leaders have been silent or evasive. They have not offered an alternative to the war in Iraq. It’s easy to criticize – that was the first part of my speech.

Has Zbig not actually heard of Jack Murtha's proposal?

Friday, March 17, 2006

Dead Skunk Friday: All the Bad News That's Fit to Print

Another funky Friday, as chronicled in today's New York Times.

Violence in Iraq: It's Not Just for Sunnis and Shiites Anymore

It seems that all is not peace, love and understanding in the northern Kurdish region. NYT's Robert Worth reports on civil unrest in Halbaja:
For nearly two decades, Kurds have gathered peacefully in this mountainous corner of northern Iraq to commemorate one of the blackest days in their history. It was here that Saddam Hussein's government launched a poison gas attack that killed more than 5,000 people on March 16, 1988.

So it came as a shock when hundreds of stone-throwing protesters took to the streets here Thursday on the anniversary, beating back government guards to storm and destroy a museum dedicated to the memory of the Halabja attack.

The violence, pitting furious local residents against a much smaller force of armed security men, was the most serious popular challenge to the political parties that have ruled Iraqi Kurdistan for the past 15 years.

It sounds like things are getting serious over there.

Iraq, Iran, I Waffle…

Last week, Secretary of State Condi Rice declared that the United States faces "no greater challenge" than Iran. Yesterday, the United States and Iran agreed to hold direct talks on ways to stop the sectarian violence in Iraq.

But don't get the idea things between America and Iran have gone lovey-dovey all of a sudden. "This isn't a negotiation of some kind," said Rice, indicating that the talks on Iraq would have no bearing on U.S. attitudes on Iran's nuclear program.

Sure. The next thing you know, Iran will be part of the "coalition of the willing." Do you think that will get them off the "axis of evil" list?

Coalition of the Not So Willing

Steven Weisman says that high profile Republicans are expressing concerns that the Bush administration is promoting democracy around the world at the "expense of protecting other American interests." Chuck Hagel, Richard Lugar, Henry Kissinger, and Brent Scowcroft "are alarmed at the costs of military operations and of nation-building in Iraq and Afghanistan." They're also concerned over the electoral victories that Hamas and other radical groups have gained in Palestine, Iraq, Egypt, and Lebanon.

Put It on Our Tab

Carl Hulse tells of the Senate approving a $2.8 trillion federal budget, and voting to increase the debt ceiling to $9 trillion to avert a government default.

Across the hall, the House approved $92 billion in war and Katrina recovery spending.

As of this morning, the national debt is $ 8.274 trillion.


If you're looking for someone to blame for all this bad news, blame the Times for reporting it. You won't be the only one who does.

And Now: the Good News

On MSNBC General Peter Chiaralli said Operation Swarmer was aimed to strike at the heart of the Iraqi insurgency effort. MSNBC also said the military reported that there was no resistance to the operation. U.S. and Iraqi forces captured 40 suspected insurgents, but later released 10 of them.

Something sounds fishy about this story. But don't climb all over MSNBC about it. They're just passing along what the military told them.

Dead Skunk Friday: All the Bad News That's Fit to Print

Another funky Friday, as chronicled in today's New York Times.

Violence in Iraq: It's Not Just for Sunnis and Shiites Anymore

It seems that all is not peace, love and understanding in the northern Kurdish region. NYT's Robert Worth reports on civil unrest in Halbaja:
For nearly two decades, Kurds have gathered peacefully in this mountainous corner of northern Iraq to commemorate one of the blackest days in their history. It was here that Saddam Hussein's government launched a poison gas attack that killed more than 5,000 people on March 16, 1988.

So it came as a shock when hundreds of stone-throwing protesters took to the streets here Thursday on the anniversary, beating back government guards to storm and destroy a museum dedicated to the memory of the Halabja attack.

The violence, pitting furious local residents against a much smaller force of armed security men, was the most serious popular challenge to the political parties that have ruled Iraqi Kurdistan for the past 15 years.

It sounds like things are getting serious over there.

Iraq, Iran, I Waffle…

Last week, Secretary of State Condi Rice declared that the United States faces "no greater challenge" than Iran. Yesterday, the United States and Iran agreed to hold direct talks on ways to stop the sectarian violence in Iraq.

But don't get the idea things between America and Iran have gone lovey-dovey all of a sudden. "This isn't a negotiation of some kind," said Rice, indicating that the talks on Iraq would have no bearing on U.S. attitudes on Iran's nuclear program.

Sure. The next thing you know, Iran will be part of the "coalition of the willing." Do you think that will get them off the "axis of evil" list?

Coalition of the Not So Willing

Steven Weisman says that high profile Republicans are expressing concerns that the Bush administration is promoting democracy around the world at the "expense of protecting other American interests." Chuck Hagel, Richard Lugar, Henry Kissinger, and Brent Scowcroft "are alarmed at the costs of military operations and of nation-building in Iraq and Afghanistan." They're also concerned over the electoral victories that Hamas and other radical groups have gained in Palestine, Iraq, Egypt, and Lebanon.

Put It on Our Tab

Carl Hulse tells of the Senate approving a $2.8 trillion federal budget, and voting to increase the debt ceiling to $9 trillion to avert a government default.

Across the hall, the House approved $92 billion in war and Katrina recovery spending.

As of this morning, the national debt is $ 8.274 trillion.


If you're looking for someone to blame for all this bad news, blame the Times for reporting it. You won't be the only one who does.

And Now: the Good News

On MSNBC General Peter Chiaralli said Operation Swarmer was aimed to strike at the heart of the Iraqi insurgency effort. MSNBC also said the military reported that there was no resistance to the operation. U.S. and Iraqi forces captured 40 suspected insurgents, but later released 10 of them.

Something sounds fishy about this story. But don't climb all over MSNBC about it. They're just passing along what the military told them.