Sunday, December 30, 2007

Don't Cry for Me, Pakistanis

To hear media luminaries like MSNBC's Chris Matthews tell it last week, Benazir Bhutto's return to Pakistan in October was the second coming of Eva Peron, and her assassination was the second slaying of Archduke Ferdinand.

Mika Brzezinski makes gag noise when her producers make her do stories about the childish antics of girl celebrities like Paris Hilton, but she gushed over the Bhutto news when it broke on Thursday like it was the biggest story since Suzy Homemaker stuck her head in her Easy-Bake Oven. When Mika read the text from Bhutto's last speech she practically cried, especially when she got to the part about how brave Bhutto confessed she was being because she came back to her country from exile to help make all Pakistanis free, and knew full well she was putting her own life at great risk for the sake of her faithful followers, and don't cry for her, Argentina, and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

I normally think quite highly of Mika. Let's hope she just caught a 48-hour bug or something, and gets better soon.

Matthews—good gravy, Matthews started in about how Bhutto was a great democratic leader, and how the world needs great democratic leaders because it doesn't have enough great democratic leaders, and what a tragic loss it is when we lose great democratic leaders like Bhutto, because great democratic leaders like Bhutto are made not born, and it's so hard to make great democratic leaders like Bhutto, and he kept saying that and saying it and saying it until I had to hit the mute button. I thought I was going to be okay until I looked up and saw he was still saying it. I could tell he was still saying it because I could read his lips from having heard him say it so many times, and I became mesmerized, and I watched and watched and watched him say it and say it and say it, until I got so cross eyed that I tawt I taw a putty tat.

Retired U.S. Army General and MSNBC military expert Barry McCaffrey, for a change, provided a delightful breath of fresh air when he reminding everybody that the great democratic leader Benazir Bhutto had been forced into "self-imposed" exile because she and her old man supposedly got caught sticking their hands in the Pakistani national till too many times. McCaffrey didn't go as far as saying that the Bhuttos, as a power couple, made the Clintons look like Ma and Pa Kettle, but you got the idea.

But it was David Shuster who, as he often does, supplied MSNBC's redeeming moment. After listening to Joe Scarboro wax wacky about how Bhutto's death wasn't a reflection on Bush's foreign policy because Bush hadn't done anything wrong in Pakistan or, really, even in Afghanistan for that matter, if your studied the situation a bunch and thought about it a whole lot, Shuster looked at Joe like he'd grown a horn in the middle of his forehead, and said something to the effect of, "Dude, where can I buy a bag of the weed you've been smoking?"

Sorry if it seems like I'm singling out MSNBC, but they have all the anchor and weather girls I have a crush on, so they're news channel I watch the most. I hear, though, that the Fox News set, which normally resembles the bridge of a Klingon battle cruiser anyway, looked like the crew had gone to general quarters and were bracing for impact from a Pakistani photon torpedo.

I finally got sick of television and flipped on the local NPR station, just in time to listen to umpteen yahooligans having the umptieth discussion I'd heard on how maybe Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf had Bhutto killed, or maybe it was al Qaeda, or maybe the Taliban, or maybe the CIA, or maybe what's left of the old KGB. Who knew? Certainly not the people who were talking about it on NPR and all the other news outlets. Some of the people talking about it flat out admitted that neither they nor anyone else talking about it knew what the hell they were talking about. In fact, some confessed, it was irresponsible to even be talking about it in the media at all, but that's what they were all getting paid to talk about, so they all kept talking about it.

And how about those zany presidential candidates? A bunch of them made haste to stand in front of Iowa snow drifts for the cameras and talk about how they'd know how to handle the Pakistan security situation right now, by golly, because of their experience and how well they personally know all the players involved. John Edwards grabbed the brass ring when he could brag that Musharraf had actually called him on the phone. (How's that for access, Joe Biden? Nyeh, nyeh.) You'd think Edwards and the rest of these characters might wonder just if a bit if coming across like they're lipstick buddies with Musharraf is really the best way to impress people with their foreign policy savvy right now.

In all, the media's hysteria over the Bhutto assassination has been their most embarrassing display of indefensible hype since the Jerry Lewis-class mourn-a-thon they threw when Ronald Reagan died. How could any of these "savvy" news types have been surprised? This wasn't the first time someone has tried to kill Bhutto lately, and political assassination is something of a Pakistani tradition. In Bhutto's case, it's a family tradition; her father and two of her brothers were knocked off for political purposes.

The underlying justification for all the neck deep hoopla, of course, is the notion that Bhutto's assassination might set off World War III the way Archduke Ferdinand's death sparked World War I, which is tommyrot. World War I was already packed and ready to leave the station. If the Ferdinand incident hadn't caused hostilities to erupt, something else would have shortly. Hell, at that point in history, Europe would have gone to war over a butterfly beating its wings in the wrong part of Africa.

Likewise, World War III will either happen or it won't independently of Bhutto's demise; things like Bhutto's demise happen all the time in that part of the world. So there were riots in the streets in Pakistan. Big whoop. That puts Bhutto's assassination on par with a soccer match.

I'm always trying to come up with a pithy, cogent way to frame the true nature of the threat we face from the Middle East, and always falling short, but let me try this out on you:

When I think how to describe what kind of danger Pakistan poses, the first thing that comes to mind is a tale from a military journalist pal who spent a day in a Pakistani airport, waiting for her airplane to show up and watching the janitor work. The janitor had a broom that he held by string instead of a handle. Every hour, he walked through the terminal, swatting at mounds of dirt, cigarette butts, chicken droppings and other inscrutable filth, trying as best he could to push it all under the chairs the passengers sat in while waiting for their boarding calls. You know who came behind the janitor and cleaned under the chairs? Nobody.

In that context, I also have trouble getting riled up about the possibility of terrorists getting their hands on a Pakistani nuclear weapon. The most complicated thing terrorists have done to date is to fly a few airplanes into buildings. I won't tell you doing that is as easy as falling off a rolling log, but it's not quite so hard as staying up one. Stealing a nuke and hiding it, and sneaking it halfway across the world, and making it blow up in a major American city, now that's real rocket science. If terrorists shoplift a Pakistani nuke, the people they're most likely to blow up with it are themselves. And I've heard whispers that in some circles, experts wonder if even Pakistan's rocket scientists could get one of their piece of junk nukes to cook off if they wanted it to.

Keep that in mind if you start hearing the Bush leaguers insist that Iran is still a bigger threat to us than Pakistan is, and consider that no one on earth can make Iran's nukes blow up because they don't exist.

Then start guessing which Middle East country Pavlov's Dogs of War will try to make you scared incontinent of next.

Maybe we should start a pool.


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books) will be available April 1, 2008.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Iran Narrative, Continued…

In the last episode of the Bush administration's Iran opera, U.S. intelligence revealed that Iran does not, as previously believed, have a nuclear weapons program. Our spies couched this information in terms that strongly infer Iran had a nuclear weapons program at one time, but one has to wonder how much that was influenced by the gang in Dick Cheney's Iranian Directorate.

Some skeptics, including this one, noted that if Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in fall of 2003, and the Russians only began building Iran's first nuclear reactor in fall of 2002, Iran's nuclear weapons program, if they had one at all, must have been the sort of thing Spanky and Alfalfa could have slapped together in Darla's back yard one afternoon and torn down the next morning.

Other doubters observed that Bush, Condoleezza Rice and other administration luminaries are attempting to cover up the fact that they continued to scare the world with boo noise about Iran's nuclear weapons program long after they knew it did not exist.

It is, no doubt, with these criticisms in mind that administration echo chamberlains have shifted the Iran narrative back to its alternate plot line.

Meanwhile, Back at the Other Fabrication…

On Sunday, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan C. Crocker said that Iran's government has decided "at the most senior levels" to pull in the reins on Shiite militias operating in Iraq. Crocker further stated that it would be "a good beginning" for a fourth round of talks between him and his Iranian counterpart in Baghdad if Tehran should "choose to corroborate it in a direct fashion."

That was typical of the "when did you stop beating your wife?" kinds of accusations the Bush leaguers have leveled since it began making Iran the top scapegoat for all things wrong with Iraq around January 2007, about the time it unveiled the surge strategy.

Since February 2007, when they first began providing "evidence" of Iran's culpability in attacks on American G.I.s in Iraq, the administration's front row pieces in the Departments of State and Defense have yet to provide any proof more definitive than the testimony of a U.S. Army weapons expert who says some components of explosively formed penetrators (EFPs) that have killed and maimed U.S. troops either came from Iran or RadioShack.

I, for one, don't call that proof of anything.

Fear and Loathing in November

One of Mr. Bush's primary goals is to be able to say "We were winning in Iraq when I turned the watch over." That terms like "win" and "lose" long ago lost any cogent application to the Iraq conflict makes little difference to a presidency noteworthy for framing all matters great and small in terms of binary banalities. In that context, it doesn't really matter whether America "wins" anything; it matters that Mr. Bush wins, and to a lesser extent that the GOP and the neoconservative movement win as well. They don't need genuine success. An illusory victory will suffice, and as hapless as the administration and its corrupt allies have proven themselves to be at all other aspects of wielding great power, they are unsurpassed in human history at violating the borders between perception and reality.

So it is that the "reduced levels of violence" in Iraq have diminished the war as an election issue—for now, anyway. Never mind that tactical and operational victories mean nothing without corresponding strategic and political results. Never mind that even Fred Kagan, chief architect of the surge, once admitted that that military operations which do not lead to accomplishment of a conflict's political objectives are indistinguishable from "organized but senseless violence." The "things in Iraq have improved" mantra has been established, and the popular media have given it giraffe legs.

But this improvement, as engineered by Bush's "main man" David Petraeus, has been purchased at horrifying levels of risk. Iraq's internal conflict still has more sides than the Pentagon, and through a series of flying trapeze maneuvers like the "Awakening" program that has empowered Sunni groups formerly hostile to U.S. forces and still unallied with the central government, Petraeus has ensured that every one of those sides is armed to the armpits.

What we're seeing now is not so much a downturn or lull as an operational pause. Factions rearm and regroup as millions of refugees return to smoldering hotspots like Baghdad. The once peaceful Kurdish area is becoming the next front in what threatens to become a wider regional conflict. And oh yeah: the surge is out of poop. The Pentagon has to start redeploying units without sending replacements because there's no grain left in the silo, and we can't bump up troop levels again without tapping into the seed corn.

Iraq is a replenished powder keg waiting for another Archduke Ferdinand style catalyst like last year's golden dome shrine incident to set it off again, and the country is rife with such potential triggers.

The trick for the administration, then, is to stiff-arm that eventuality until at least November. But if things go bang while Bush still occupies the bunker, it will be wonderfully convenient to have Iran to blame things on, as well as al Qaeda, the Democrats, the liberal media, activist judges, Hollywood, the ACLU, Catholics who voted for John Kerry, MTV, YouTube, stem cells, steroids, hurricanes, fluoridation, Beatles music, etc., etc., etc.


Speaking of Archduke Ferdinand: the breaking news of the assassination of Pakistan's Benazir Bhutto this morning further illustrates how ludicrous the Bush administration's Iran policy is. We don't need to worry that Iran may become the unstable Muslim nation whose nuclear weapons can fall into the hands of terrorists. One of our supposed allies already fills that prescription.


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books) will be available April 1, 2008.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Keystone Kondi's Kurdish Kaper

Condoleezza Rice, Doctor of Philosophy in Political Science and 66th United States Secretary of State, arrived unannounced in the oil rich Iraqi city of Kirkuk on Tuesday, just after Turkey's attacks on Kurdish targets in northern Iraq, to do what she does best: step into a bad situation and make it worse.

Keystone Kop-out

Kurdish regional President Massud Barzani refused to meet with her because the U.S. had assisted the Turks. Regional Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani (Massud's nephew) said, "It is unacceptable that the United States, in charge of monitoring our airspace, authorized Turkey to bomb our villages."

Pentagon officials, preferring more passive language to describe America's role in the strikes, said that the U.S. had "deconflicted" the airspace over northern Iraq for the Turks. That sounds eerily similar to the way Dick Cheney deconflicted the airspace over Lebanon for Israel two summers ago.

An unnamed "American military officer" said that, “Nothing the Turks have done to date should be considered a surprise,” and that while "we've shared information" with the Turks, "the decision to pursue military options is theirs.” The New York Times granted the quoted officer anonymity because he was "discussing actions of a sovereign ally," which is the NYT's lamest excuse to date for allowing a faceless administration official to use it as a propaganda platform.

Nabi Sensoy, Turkey's ambassador to the U.S., said the air strikes against the Kurds were the result of real-time, actionable intelligence provided by the Americans.

Real-time actionable intelligence isn't something you casually "share" with an allied chum over cocktails at the embassy. It's something your command and control people aggressively monitor and pass to your ally's forces as they execute an operation. That doesn’t happen spontaneously, either; it requires significant prior planning. Further, you don't "deconflict" an ally's strike aircraft into your controlled airspace unless you know just what in the wide world of sports they're up to.

And it looks like the order to play along with the Turkish strikes came from the top of the U.S. chain of command. Ambassador Sensoy claimed the strikes and follow on ground incursion operations were "tangible results" of talks in Washington last month between Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Mr. Bush, during which Mr. Bush promised the U.S. would do everything it could to help Turkey counter the threat presented by the Kurdistan Workers Party, known as the PKK.

Kondi Inkognizance

While everyone knows the strikes on the PKK were a U.S. certified operation, Condi had the bald temerity to pretend otherwise and caution Turkey that, “No one should do anything that threatens to destabilize the north.”

But the Turks aren't interested in pretense. Ambassador Sensoy said, "This is not a once and for all operation… The ultimate target is the elimination of the PKK operation." Prime Minister Erdogan, speaking from Turkey's capital of Ankara, seconded that sentiment with: “From now on, our security forces will continue to do whatever is necessary.”

It sounds like Condi's got a lot more cautioning to do. She'll also have to smooth some ruffled feathers, something she's not the best choice for doing since she sold Lebanon down the river during the 2006 Israeli/Hezbollah conflict.

We knew about the Turkish ops, and gave them the go ahead, but, apparently, we didn't tell our pals in the Iraqi government about it.

Iraqi officials condemned the Turkish raids, saying they added "insult to injury" and calling them "a cruel attack to Iraqi sovereignty."

Our sovereign ally Turkey said it had a right to strike the PKK in northern Iraq because its presence there threatens Turkey's sovereignty.

Poor Condi. Torn between two sovereigns. At least she had the good sense not to point out that nothing constitutes a crueler attack on a nation's sovereignty than occupying it with an armed force, and that nothing threatens a nation's sovereignty more than having to ask America's permission to protect its sovereignty.

She did, however, manage to insult Kirkuk's municipal officials before she left, lecturing them on how grateful they should be for America's help. "I look forward to talk with you about how the PRTs (provincial reconstruction teams) are helping to bring prosperity, creating jobs and bringing political reconciliation," she told them.

Great. Caesar's. Ghost.

I’m not sure what stuns me more: that our Secretary of State actually said that to a hostile audience, or that she might actually have thought saying it was a world-class piece of international diplomacy. How much do we have to pay Doctor Ditz to resign, jump on her broom, and go back to teaching political science at Stanford?

Komik Karma Koda

Here's one last theater of the absurd wrinkle in the U.S./Iraq/Turkey relations saga.

Ambassador Sensoy says that the Unites States has promised—presumably during the meeting between Bush and Prime Minister Erdogan—to investigate charges that U.S. weapons have fallen into the hands of the PKK.

Would it not be a kolossal kick in the kranium to discover the PKK is killing Kurds with some of the 190,000 Kalishnikov rifles and pistols U.S. military commander in Iraq David Petraeus lost track of in 2004 and '05 when he was handing them out like Hershey bars to Iraqi security force trainees?

I'd love to hear what Condi would have to say about that. Something klever, no doubt.


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books) will be available April 1, 2008.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Two Wars, No Hits, Two Errors, One Left

Despite the neoconservative establishment's best efforts at amending history, Mr. Bush will go down as the first U.S. president to lose two wars. Efforts at spinning the recent "military success" in Iraq have met their inevitable collision with ground truth.

On Sunday, Turkey bombed militant Kurdish targets in northern Iraq, following up the air strikes with artillery shelling. “Turkish Armed Forces gave one message to Turkish people and rest of the world,” said General Yasar Buyukanit, commander of the Turkish Army. “It can be winter, snowing or them hiding in caves, but we would ultimately find and hit them.”

Yes, General, you can ultimately find them and hit them if the U.S. tells you where they are and gives you permission to fly into their air space, like it did this time. Giving Turkey permission to attack the Kurds was no doubt cheaper than having Blackwater do it, and it certainly created far fewer legal complications. And it was a darn sight safer to let another country use our intelligence to carry out an offensive action than to take that action ourselves. That way, when our intelligence turns out to be wrong again, it's not our fault that women and children get blown to kingdom come instead of the bad guys we were after because we're not the ones who dropped the bombs.

Neat, huh?

Your Old Kit Baghdad

The oafish U.S. handling of long-standing issues in Kurdish northern Iraq has, in essence, created yet another major front in a war that was already noteworthy for its resemblance to the Whack-a-Mole game so popular at America's favorite pizzeria for children. And it's not as if things are going swimmingly on all the old fronts.

Last month, Iraq's government invited its more than 1.4 million refugees currently in Syria to return home. That presents a huge problem for the occupying American force. According to Colonel William E. Rapp, a senior aide to the commanding general in Iraq David Petraeus, "There is an element of the violence being down because segregation has already happened."

In other words, sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shiites in places like Baghdad is down because the Sunnis and Shias living in integrated neighborhoods packed their bags and hightailed it out of there. When former Baghdad residents return, they're likely to find someone of the opposite sect living in their old homes (providing that their old homes still exist).

They'll also find a changed security situation.

The hundreds of senior and mid-level members of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army arrested by U.S. forces during the surge have been replaced by boys, some as young as 15. These al-Sadr youth, who terrorize Sunnis and non-cooperative Shiites alike operate with virtual impunity "under the radar" of American forces in the city, disguised as, of all things, themselves. "No one will suspect they are Mahdi Army," says one young militiaman of his comrades, as they patrol the streets on foot and mopeds, dressed in blue jeans and baseball caps. These young militants, intoxicated with their newfound power, have turned Baghdad into a bizarre reincarnation of Al Capone era Chicago. Theft and extortion are rampant. Many young Mahdi soldiers have become ruthless murderers.

The return to Baghdad by refugees—particularly Sunni refugees—will be like an infusion of kerosene on a conflagration already barely under control. What is the U.S. military's proposed solution for avoiding the pending catastrophe?

Iraqis have to ask themselves, ""Do you even want to come back?" offers Colonel Rapp.

Unfortunately for most Iraqi refugees, whether or not they want to come back is a moot point. Syria and other countries neighboring Iraq have recently stepped up efforts to evict them. Imagine that, countries who are tired of uninvited immigrants. This situation has been gestating for a long time, but U.S. high command is completely unready for it, just as it's been unready for every predictable disaster that has occurred since the staged fall of Saddam Hussein's statue.

What will those refugees do? It's a good thing for us they can't swim to Canada and Mexico and slip into America through our porous borders, huh? Think how many of them there terrorists might sneak in with them!

Meanwhile, Back at the Other Fiasco…

From AFP: "The Pentagon confirmed Monday that the US military and its NATO partners were reviewing plans for Afghanistan, rocked by its bloodiest year since 2001 amid a fierce Taliban resurgence."

Afghanistan, once the crown jewel in Mr. Bush's war on terror, is now the bloody ball of fur on the side of the road that nobody wants to look at or touch. President Hamid Karzai's government has no influence outside of the capital city of Kabul; Afghanistan is a world leader in narcotics exports and a sanctuary for terrorists. And to think, the mission was accomplished in Afghanistan well before we even ventured into Iraq.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, sounding more every day like he's just another standard Bush appointee, says the fate of the Afghanistan mission is in the hands of his NATO allies and has asked that a European official be put in charge of coordinating (i.e., taking the fall for) the international presence in Afghanistan.

With all this beautiful ugliness collapsing around his ankles, Mr. Bush continues to make boo noise about Iran. During a Monday speech to the Rotary Club in Fredericksburg, Virginia, Mr. Bush agreed with one of the Rotarians that Iran has a nuclear weapon, even though the recent National Intelligence Estimate says they have neither a nuclear weapon nor a nuclear weapons program. He also stated that Iran is a threat to peace, even though its defense budget is less than one 20th that of the United States, even though it has never started a war, even though during the one war it fought—with Iraq, a war that Saddam Hussein initiated by invading Iran—it was unable to project land or air power significantly beyond its own borders.

On paper, it would be impossible for Iran to win a war against the United States; but keep in mind that Mr. Bush has achieved the impossible twice before. He might still go for the hat trick.


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books) will be available April 1, 2008.

Friday, December 14, 2007

When Did Iran Stop Beating Its Wife?

It seems as if the fat lady will sing herself hoarse before the Bush administration drops its fabulist's narrative on Iran. Its echo chamberlains continue to condemn Iranian complicity in the deaths of American G.I.s in Iraq even though, as historian and journalist Gareth Porter phrases it, "The administration has not come forward with a single piece of concrete evidence to support the claim that the Iranian government has been involved in the training, arming or advising of Iraqi Shiite militias."

Now, in a transparent attempt to save face from the recently released National Intelligence Estimate that says Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program in the fall of 2003, Mr. Bush has challenged Iran to "come clean" and "explain to the world why they had a program." Presumably, Mr. Bush means Iran should come clean about its "nuclear weapons program," but presuming that Iran had a nuclear weapons program in 2003, or at any other time, might be, well, overly presumptive.

The latest NIE has the look of a corpse that's been picked over by every vulture in Dick Cheney's undisclosed aerie. Every statement in which a professional intelligence analyst appears to be conveying that Iran isn't really a major threat to the U.S. and/or its interests is accompanied by a disclaimer that Iran could very well be a major threat to the U.S. and/or its interests. Contrarily, each assertion that Iran really might be a major threat devolves into a pretzel logic loop that asserts Iran isn't much of a threat at all. In all, the NIE calls to mind the American POW who, when tortured into reading enemy propaganda in front of a camera, blinked "S-O-S" repeatedly so everyone at the receiving end would know he was speaking under duress.

The NIE "does not assume that Iran intends to acquire nuclear weapons" in one sentence, but assumes in the next sentence that Iran's nuclear activities are only "partly civil in nature" (page 4).

It judges with "moderate confidence" that the earliest Iran would be capable of producing a weapon is "late 2009," but then it says that is "very unlikely" (page 7). If you're moderately confident that something is very unlikely, why would you even bother to mention it, much less include it in an intelligence estimate?

It states: "We do not have sufficient intelligence" to "judge confidently" whether "Tehran is willing to maintain the halt of its nuclear weapons program." But we're confident enough about the sufficiency of our intelligence (presumably) to warn that Tehran may "already" have "set specific deadlines or criteria that will prompt it to restart the program" (page 7). This NIE is starting to sound like one big confidence game, isn't it?

The NIE says that, "We cannot rule out that Iran has acquired from abroad—or will acquire in the future—a nuclear weapon or enough fissile material for a weapon" (page 6). Hells bells, we can't rule out that the Vulcans will reveal themselves to us tomorrow night and let us in on the secret of their matter/anti-matter drive.

The NIE goes on like this, and on and on and on. My very God. You can sleep tonight, America. Your intelligence services are awake.

As I said earlier in the week, if an intelligence officer brought me a compendium of bull feathers like this NIE, he'd need a surgical instrument to pluck it from his sinuses. If I’m the head of Dick Cheney's Iranian Directorate, though, I may be rather pleased at how the final NIE product turned out. Its primary message—that Iran does not have a nuclear weapon or an active nuclear weapons program—was bound to come out sooner than later. The important thing to me, if I'm the head of Dick Cheney's Iranian Directorate, is that the NIE says the one thing I absolutely, positively need it to say:
We assess with high confidence that until fall 2003, Iranian military entities were working under government direction to develop nuclear weapons.

If I'm the head of Dick Cheney's Iranian Directorate, that one statement gives my boss all the ammunition he needs to carry on his disinformation campaign about Iran until at least November, and probably through next January. As long as the world buys that Iran had a nuke weapons program at one time, we can pretty much hang any prevarication we want on that belief.

The only thing that can spoil the scheme is if some disloyal, un-American smarty pants takes a cursory glance at Iran's nuclear timeline. Any smarty pants who does that can't help but notice that Russia didn't begin building Iran's first nuclear reactor until September of 2002, and that the International Atomic Energy Commission said there was no evidence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program in November of 2003, which is around the time the latest NIE says Iran "halted" its nuclear weapons program.

Having digested those data bits, said smarty pants might conclude that the nuclear weapons program that "Iranian military entities" were working to develop must have consisted of a couple of Revolutionary Guard colonels shooting the breeze about it one afternoon at the Fort Khomeini O' Club over 10 or 12 pitchers of San Miguel.

I don't know how much longer the Bush administration and its side buoys plan to stay on their Iran horse. I suspect that unless Congress or the Joint Chiefs of Staff knock them out of the saddle, they'll keep whipping it, presumably in hopes of bringing it back to life.


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books) will be available April 1, 2008.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Joy of Cooking Intelligence

If an intelligence officer brought me a report that read like the latest National Intelligence Estimate on Iran, he'd be picking it out of his next morning's constitutional. That NIE was one of the worst compendiums of unsupported summary judgment statements I've ever seen. Good golly; Charles Krauthammer supports his opinions better than that.

If, on the other hand, I'm in charge of Dick Cheney's Iranian Directorate, I'm reasonably happy with the NIE. In fact, maybe I'm downright ecstatic about it.

I'm thinking, of course, that it would have been better if the damn thing hadn't come out at all. Back in the Office of Special Plans days, during the run up to the Iraq invasion, when we owned the front page of the New York Times and had at least one leg-breaking jerk like John Bolton in every office at every level of every division of every department in the executive branch, there's no way an NIE that says Iran doesn’t have a nuclear weapons program would have seen the light of day. But what's the point of dwelling on the past? Fond nostalgia doesn't solve today's challenges, does it?

The major media didn't give our efforts at successfully blocking the latest NIE much bandwidth, and we managed to keep it under wraps for almost a year before the alternative media floated the story above the ambient noise level. So it was inevitable, really, that the news we that we knew Iran doesn't have a nuclear weapons program was bound to come out. The important thing, I'm thinking, if I'm the head of Dick Cheney's Iranian Directorate, is that we managed to shoehorn enough Rovewellian bull pluck in to the NIE to maintain control of the spin vector.

This morsel, for example, I found positively delicious:
This NIE does not assume that Iran intends to acquire nuclear weapons. Rather, it examines the intelligence to assess Iran’s capability and intent (or lack thereof) to acquire nuclear weapons, taking full account of Iran’s dual-use uranium fuel cycle and those nuclear activities that are at least partly civil in nature.

Heh. In normal times, somebody might say, Hey, if you don't assume Iran intends to acquire nuclear weapons, don't you also have to assume that all of it's nuclear activities are entirely civil in nature?

But these aren't normal times, are they? Not by half, they're not.

Here's another tidbit I really liked:
Our assessment that the program probably was halted primarily in response to international pressure suggests Iran may be more vulnerable to influence on the issue than we judged previously.

Re-heh. According to the story we're telling now, we didn't start cranking up the international pressure until the program was already halted. That's why Iran may be more vulnerable to more international pressure, because everything we do is retroactive, right? Tee-hee! Now that's what I call creating your own reality.

This part completely cracked me up:
This Estimate does assume that the strategic goals and basic structure of Iran’s senior leadership and government will remain similar to those that have endured since the death of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989. We acknowledge the potential for these to change during the time frame of the Estimate, but are unable to confidently predict such changes or their implications. This Estimate does not assess how Iran may conduct future negotiations with the West on the nuclear issue.

Priceless. A big chunk of scary sounding noise that really says we don't know what the Iranians have been up to but we confidently assume they'll keep doing the same thing unless something changes. Propaganda in its purest form; foolproof, bulletproof, 151 proof.

There's just one aspect of the NIE that scares me, I'm thinking, if I'm head of Dick Cheney's Iranian Directorate. It's the bit at the top that says: "We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program."

I don't know for sure what we'll do if somebody with real clout demands to know how we judge that, or that we produce real evidence that Iran ever had a nuclear weapons program at all. If shove comes to biff, I'm thinking, we can have that schmuck Dick Armitage say he overheard it at an AEI cocktail party. He'll say anything we tell him to. If that doesn't work, yikes… Somebody might start asking even harder questions, like why the latest NIE on Iran only talked about its nuclear program and not about all those claims we've been making about Iran arming and training Iraqi militias and helping them kill American G.I.s.

If that happens, I'm thinking, if I'm the head of Dick Cheney's Iranian directorate, we revert to Plan B: everybody pulls up the pardon.doc file from their hard drives, global replaces Scooter Libby's name with theirs, e-mails it to White House Counsel Fred Fielding's office and hopes for the best.

Fortunately for me, I don't have to worry about begging for a pardon because I'm not the head of Dick Cheney's Iranian Directorate. Unfortunately, that also means I have no way of knowing what really happened in Iran in 2003. But I do know this: the Russians didn't begin construction on Iran's first nuclear reactor until September 2002, and the International Atomic Energy Commission concluded there was no evidence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program in October 2003. So what kind of nuclear weapons program could Iran have possibly had at any time in 2003 that it supposedly halted?

If it existed at all, I'm thinking, it must have been the kind that only exists on the back of a bar napkin.


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books) will be available April 1, 2008.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Bush's Persian Ploy

I made the sound of one jaw dropping Monday when National Security Adviser Steven Hadley said that the latest National Intelligence Estimate on Iran "suggests that the President has the right strategy."

On Tuesday, Mr. Bush himself further confounded me when he said the NIE indicated the need to further intensify the harsh sanctions against Iran and, apparently, nixed any notion that his administration would accept any new diplomatic initiative from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

I nearly became hysterical later on Tuesday when neoconservative fabulist Frank Gaffney said in the National Review that the NIE's reasons for assessing that Iran abandoned its nuclear weapons program were "highly subjective and debatable," even though those reasons were highly classified and there's no conceivable way he could know what they were. Wednesday evening I experienced something akin to rapture when Gaffney repeated his spiel on Chris Matthews' Hardball and demonstrated once again to the entire known universe that he wouldn't know reality if it crawled up his pant leg and died there.

Madmen, Neocons and the Washington Post

In all, the neocons' reaction to the NIE shows that at this point in their tea party, they've all gone hare and hatter bat plop crazy. The main myth they're trying to spin is straight out of an H.G. Wells novel. The intelligence estimate judges with "high confidence" that "in the fall of 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program." How does Hadley expect us to believe that Bush's Iran policy had anything to do with that? John Bolton and his team of leg breakers didn't bully the U.N. Security Council into ordering Iran to suspend all uranium enrichment activity until 2006. However you want to parse what Hadley and others are saying about Bush's "right strategy," they're trying to plant the idea into the minds of Joe Six Pack and Melissa Merlot alike that Bush's tough guy stance was the thing that made Iran give up its nuclear bomb program, and there's no way that happened unless the smart boys at the American Enterprise Institute invented a time machine we don't know about.

Bush is trying to hang much of the justification for continuing his present Iran policy on Ahmadinejad. To hear Bush tell it, he was all roses and lipstick with Iran until Ahmadinejad came into power, and that's when he had to turn into a big meanie. It's more accurate to say Bush didn't pay much attention to Iran until Ahmadinejad came along and started hurling schoolyard insults at him, which Ahmadinejad knew full well that Bush would react to like a kindergartner. Bush is trying to fabricate an impossible link between Ahmadinejad and nuclear weapons even though the most pre-sapien members of his following can plainly see there isn't one.

And Frank, Gaffney… My word! I've come to expect pretzel logic from him, but lately he's sounding as batty as I've heard him since the first time he compared somebody he didn't like with Hitler. He's no longer content to compare apples and oranges; now he's equating oranges with elephants. In his latest article for National Review titled "Where’s Our Churchill?," he describes Iran as "a regime animated by apocalyptic visions every bit as dark as Mein Kampf," and echoes the standard neocon wheeze that frames direct diplomatic talks with Iran as the present day analog of Neville Chamberlain's "appeasement" of Nazi Germany in 1938.

Gaffney and his fellow ficticioners don't bother to mention that in 1938, Nazi Germany had the world's most highly trained and technically advanced military and nobody was ready to stand up to it. The gross domestic product and defense budget of 21st century Iran, by contrast, are less than five percent those of the United States. And unlike 19th and 20th century Germany, modern Iran has never initiated an armed conflict.

When you're more than twenty times stronger than a country that has never started a war, talking to it hardly constitutes "appeasement."

In March 2006 Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that America "faces no greater challenge from a single country" than Iran. If that's the case, we can quit spending more than a half trillion dollars a year on our military because we don't need one.

It's not a surprise, or even a disappointment, that the administration continues to pluck its Iran narrative from a bull. But I'm devastated that the editorial staff of the erstwhile fourth estate bastion Washington Post is so willing to help the Bush crowd erase history before it's even written. Their Wednesday column, "Intelligence on Iran," backs the Bush company line by recommending that it's an "odd time to recommend" that the administration drop the "precondition that the [Iranian] regime suspend uranium enrichment" prior to beginning "a broad dialogue."

This completely ignores the clause in the U.N. Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty--which both the United States and Iran have ratified--that says "Nothing in this Treaty shall be interpreted as affecting the inalienable right of all the Parties to the Treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes."

Our intelligence agencies just told us Iran isn't developing nuclear energy for weapons purposes, and we're signatories on the treaty that guarantees Iran's right to do what it's doing. The WaPo editorial staff dances around this circumstance by trotting out the lamest bullet in the neocons' Iran bashing arsenal: "Iran's massive overt investment in uranium enrichment meanwhile proceeds in defiance of binding U.N. resolutions [which, keep in mind, are in defiance of the U.N.'s own Non-Proliferation Treaty], even though Tehran has no legitimate use for enriched uranium."

A first semester political science major at the most obscure community college in America can figure out that the less of its own oil an emerging nation burns, the more it can sell to finance its infrastructure and economic growth. Before said poli-sci major starts her sophomore year, she can piece together the strategic wisdom that says if you're the first Middle East oil nation to establish a functioning nuclear energy industry, you'll become a regional superpower.

And by the time she's picked up a full scholarship to finish her baccalaureate studies at Stanford, she'll realize that the Iran crisis has always been about nuclear energy, not nuclear weapons, because if Iran and its senior partners China and Russia can control when and how the world transitions from fossil fuel to the power of the sun, Dick and Dubya's big oil buddies will have to suck hind spigot on the global energy cash cow.

If our small town poli-sci major can figure that out, the editorial staff of the mighty Washington Post should damn well be able to figure it out too.

It sickens my heart to reflect that in my youth, the Washington Post single-handedly rescued the United States Constitution from obliteration at the hands of Richard Milhouse Nixon.

What has become of us?


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books) will be available April 1, 2008.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

General Malpractice in the Bush Military

"It's one thing to attack me. It's another thing to attack somebody like General Petraeus."

-- George W. Bush, September 13, 2007

People tell me all the time to lighten up on our senior generals like David Petraeus because they have such a hard job. Well, answer me this. If the job consists of saying "yes" to the boss, who in return protects you from any and all criticism, how freaking hard can it be?

Mr. Bush's reaction to's "Betray Us" ad in the New York Times was, of course, a delectable bit of Dubya Speak. From one side of his mouth he skirts being held responsible for his Iraq disaster by saying he listens to his generals on the ground, and from the other side he says nobody can criticize the generals. Standard fare from the Decider, and you can almost feel sorry for Petraeus for being stooged like that. But then Petraeus turns around and reminds you that he himself is a master of Rovewellian mendacity.

In late November, Petraeus expressed his displeasure that Iran had not lived up to its promise to stop supplying arms to Shiite militias in Iraq. Now, one might reasonably deduce that Iran's promise to stop supplying arms to insurgents was a frank admission that they had been supplying arms in the first place, one that contradicted their previous denials. And one might justifiably wonder if the Iranians would really be dumb enough to accidentally admit something like that.

If one cared to get to the bottom of the mystery, one might bump into a recent article in which journalist and historian Gareth Porter notes that the "admission" came not from the Iranians, but from our own dear commander in Iraq David Petraeus, who told reporters on September 30th that in meetings with Iranian leaders, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had "pledged he would stop the flow of weapons, the training, the funding and the directing of these militia extremists."

Iranian leaders who were at those meetings tell a markedly different story. According to them, they promised to do more to police the Iran/Iraq border, which is a far cry from admitting to arming, funding and training Iraqi militias.

Petraeus has become a classic Bush administration general: that is to say, a bull feather merchant. Those who went before him set a high standard to emulate, but Petraeus is living up to the challenge and more.

His predecessor as commander of Multinational Force Iraq, William Casey, was known for his boast that his troops had never lost a battle in Iraq, echoing a hollow sentiment from Vietnam and revealing how far he was willing to go to support the administration's spin machine. When it was his job to deny that he didn’t have enough troops, Casey played ball and opposed talk of a surge right up to and including the moment when he realized Bush would make him Chief of Staff of the Army if he changed his tune and supported it.

Ricardo Sanchez, the U.S. commander in Iraq before Casey, complained as he retired from the Army that he'd missed getting a fourth star and a choice assignment as head of U.S. Southern Command over the Abu Ghraib incident. It never occurred to Sanchez that he was lucky to leave with the three stars he had, considering that Private Lynndie England, one of the junior enlisted people who took the fall for him over the scandal, was lucky to get only three years in a military prison. Sanchez later made a shameful spectacle of himself when he ranted in front of a conference of reporters, and blamed them along with the administration for his misfortunes and the failures in Iraq, never once admitting that, well, as commanding general he might have had a little something to do with the fates of both the war and himself. Sanchez personifies a key tenet of the Bush administration's leadership philosophy: responsibility and accountability should always be delegated to subordinates.

Air Force General Richard Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the onset of Iraqi Freedom, was the administration's blow up doll when it came to endorsing whatever cockamamie neoconservative strategies and propaganda campaigns came from Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld's offices. Myers set the penultimate example of what a good Bush era general does when he retires. He kept his mouth shut and took his four-star retirement stipend, and a job as professor of military history at Kansas State University, and a chair on the board of defense industry giant Northrup Grumman Corporation. So we don't have to worry about Myers ever becoming one of those Iraq/Afghanistan era homeless veterans.

Myers's successor, Peter Pace, was capable of extraordinary ethical flexibility when it came to balancing his own military expertise with allegiance to the administration's blind mice policies. When it came to the idea of homosexuals serving openly in the military, though, Pace bravely stepped forward and avowed how immoral he considered gay sex to be.

That calls to mind one of Pace's distant forbears, Colin Powell, who was Joint Chiefs chairman during Big Daddy Bush's war with Saddam Hussein. Powell asserted that allowing gays to serve openly would erode unit cohesion. Powell also told us, during the run up to young Mr. Bush's war in Iraq, that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Imaging how relieved Powell must be this morning that he didn't go in front of the U.N. General Assembly and claim that Iran is actively pursuing a nuclear weapons program.

The latest National Intelligence Estimate on Iran only covers its nuclear intentions and capabilities, but one suspects that another estimate that debunks the Iran arming/training Iraqi insurgents myth will follow shortly. Porter decisively refuted administration claims on that score in September 2007. In a nutshell, the "evidence" consists of:

* Confessions gained under interrogation of which we've seen no transcripts.

* Seized documents and databases we haven't seen copies of.

* Iranian officials detained in Iraq on suspicion of conspiring to supply arms to insurgents who were later released when they prove to be "of no continuing intelligence value."

* A U.S. Army weapons expert who claimed that roadside explosive components found in Iraq may have come from either Iran or RadioShack.

* Photographs in a PowerPoint presentation that for all we know could have been taken in Ehud Olmert's basement.

* Politicians like Joe Lieberman and generals like David Petraeus who point to the above as hard proof of Iranian culpability in the deaths and maiming of American G.I.s.

What the Iran bashers want everybody to forget is that the single largest known supplier of weapons to the insurgency was David Petraeus himself. Petraeus failed to follow established procedures in distributing weapons to Iraqi security forces while he was in charge of training them in 2004 and '05. The Government Accountability Office reported in August 2007 that almost 190,000 pistols and rifles disturbed to Iraqi forces—mostly on Petraeus's watch—grew legs and walked away, never to be seen again. Guess who's got them now.

We have a lot fixing to do in this country once Bush is finally out of office. Purging our military of the likes of Petraeus is right at the top of the "must do" list. Here's hoping we're up to the task.


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books) will be available April 1, 2008. Visit here to listen to Jeff's recent conversation with Karen Kwiatkowski on National Forum.