Latest IraqSlogger: Chalabi’s back

My latest for IraqSlogger is up, and there’s a howler of an op-ed in today’s _Wall Street Journal_. As I wrote for the Slogger:

Melik Kaylan writes a fawning piece on Ahmad Chalabi for the _Wall Street Journal_’s op-ed page, calling him the “nearest thing Iraqis currently possess to a genuine walk-and-talk democratic politician.” For many Americans, that may be hard to stomach, as the guy has been roundly criticized for peddling false WMD information to eager listeners at the Pentagon. (He once said, “As far as we’re concerned we’ve been entirely successful. That tyrant Saddam is gone and the Americans are in Baghdad. What was said before is not important. … We are heroes in error.”) In Chalabi’s views, everything would have been hunky-dory in Baghdad if the Americans had just let the Iraqis run the show, presumably with him in charge. (Which was pretty much the plan until those meddlin’ State Department kids showed up.) Furthermore, without once mentioning that Chalabi is Shi’ite himself, Kaylan says Chalabi recognizes the realities of Iraq and its ethnic makeup, admitting that Shi’ites will be dominant. Well, other than Sunni insurgents, does anyone really dispute that? Kaylan seems to have been snookered by Chalabi, who thrills Iraqis by wandering amongst the people. Admirable yes, but Chalabi has almost zero support in Iraq and perhaps the reason he’s able to walk and talk relatively safely in public is because no one takes him seriously anymore.

The quote from Chalabi that I reference can be found here, way back from February 2004.

This probably isn’t good…

Has North Korea tested a nuke?

This has little to do with Iraq, but there are various reports of a huge mushroom cloud following a tremendous explosion Thursday near North Korea’s border with China in Ryanggang province, a heavily militarized area. Thursday was the anniversary of the founding of the North Korean state, so the time and size of the cloud (two to 2.5-miles in diameter) suggest it might be a nuclear test, and there were worrying signs that the North was preparing to test a bomb.
Well, on the surface it looks like they have, but let’s wait to see what radiological and seismic tests indicate.

Bloggers: Whitewash in the works

There’s a fair amount of skepticism among well-known bloggers about the Presidential Commission to investigate the intelligence failures in the lead-up to Operation Iraqi Freedom. I don’t have a lot to add myself, but I’d like to point out some good posts.

There’s a fair amount of skepticism among well-known bloggers about the Presidential Commission to investigate the intelligence failures in the lead-up to Operation Iraqi Freedom. I don’t have a lot to add myself, but I’d like to point out some good posts.
First of all, there’s the executive order itself establishing the commission. Its mission, in an excerpt from the order:

Sec. 2. Mission. (a) The Commission is established for the purpose of advising the President in the discharge of his constitutional authority under Article II of the Constitution to conduct foreign relations, protect national security, and command the Armed Forces of the United States, in order to ensure the most effective counter-proliferation capabilities of the United States and response to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the ongoing threat of terrorist activity. The Commission shall assess whether the Intelligence Community is sufficiently authorized, organized, equipped, trained, and resourced to identify and warn in a timely manner of, and to support United States Government efforts to respond to, the development and transfer of knowledge, expertise, technologies, materials, and resources associated with the proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction, related means of delivery, and other related threats of the 21st Century and their employment by foreign powers (including terrorists, terrorist organizations, and private networks, or other entities or individuals). In doing so, the Commission shall examine the capabilities and challenges of the Intelligence Community to collect, process, analyze, produce, and disseminate information concerning the capabilities, intentions, and activities of such foreign powers relating to the design, development, manufacture, acquisition, possession, proliferation, transfer, testing, potential or threatened use, or use of Weapons of Mass Destruction, related means of delivery, and other related threats of the 21st Century.
(b) With respect to that portion of its examination under paragraph 2(a) of this order that relates to Iraq, the Commission shall specifically examine the Intelligence Community’s intelligence prior to the initiation of Operation Iraqi Freedom and compare it with the findings of the Iraq Survey Group and other relevant agencies or organizations concerning the capabilities, intentions, and activities of Iraq relating to the design, development, manufacture, acquisition, possession, proliferation, transfer, testing, potential or threatened use, or use of Weapons of Mass Destruction and related means of delivery.

Well! Looks like the questions *I* want to see answered won’t be. The primary question is not “What went wrong with our intelligence analysis?” but instead should be, “Was this intelligence misused?”
As Billmon says, the fix is in. Josh Marshall says so, too. Hesiod over at Counterspin Central points out that Sen. John McCain, R-AZ, a member of the commission, seems to have already made up his mind. And Atrios points out the Democractic response to the appointment of former federal appellate judge Laurence Silberman, as co-chairman of the commission.
Lots of good reading.

David Kay: We Was Wrong

David Kay says the entire world was wrong about WMDs in Iraq.

Oops! We were all wrong. Our bad.
That’s essentially what David Kay, former chief weapons inspector, said today when he testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Let me begin by saying, we were almost all wrong, and I certainly include myself here.
Sen. [Edward] Kennedy knows very directly. Senator Kennedy and I talked on several occasions prior to the war that my view was that the best evidence that I had seen was that Iraq indeed had weapons of mass destruction.
I would also point out that many governments that chose not to support this war — certainly, the French president, [Jacques] Chirac, as I recall in April of last year, referred to Iraq’s possession of WMD.
The Germans certainly — the intelligence service believed that there were WMD.
It turns out that we were all wrong, probably in my judgment, and that is most disturbing.

No one was pressured, he said, to come up with evidence that wasn’t there. “Never — not in a single case — was the explanation, ‘I was pressured to do this,'” he said. “The explanation was very often, ‘The limited data we had led one to reasonably conclude this. I now see that there’s another explanation for it.'”
And Iraq was in violation of some aspects of “UNSCR 1441”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/000085.php#000085, which required Iraq to make a full disclosure of its unconventional weapons and programs.
One violation included the discovery of dozens of rockets capable of carrying chemical warheads and of flying farther than allowed by the United Nations. “There was no evidence the warheads themselves had ever been filled” with chemicals, but the rockets should have been reported to U.N. inspectors and destroyed, Kay said.
OK. Most of the West’s intelligence services were wrong. No doubt about that. For the record, “I thought Saddam had chems and bios, too.”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/000112.php#000112 But — and this was probably the thinking of the French and the Germans — _what remained of the weapons and programs didn’t warrant going to war._ Saddam was contained, his striking power was laughable. He wasn’t going to hook up with al Qaeda.
Kevin Drumm over at Calpundit has assembled a collection of statements from people who weighed on on the WMD issue before the war. Some of them include:
Former British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook in his March 2003 resignation speech:

Iraq probably has no weapons of mass destruction in the commonly understood sense of that term — namely, a credible device capable of being delivered against strategic city targets. It probably does still have biological toxins and battlefield chemical munitions. But it has had them since the 1980s when the US sold Saddam the anthrax agents and the then British government built his chemical and munitions factories.

As Kevin notes, the assumption is that Saddam had the WMD, but that they weren’t very dangerous.

Australian Intelligence officer Andrew Wilkie in March 2003:

Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction program is, I believe, genuinely contained. There is no doubt they have chemical and biological weapons, but their program now is disjointed and limited. It’s not a national WMD program like they used to have.

Again, the WMDs are there, just not much of a threat.
And so on, with the most skeptical voice coming from Russian President Vladimir Putin saying in October 2002 that it’s unlikely that any weapons exist, but even so, the Russians worry that they might.
So everyone thought they were there, but only the Bush administration thought they were an imminent existential threat to the United States. (And for those who said the White House never said Iraq was an “imminent threat” because they didn’t utter the _actual words_ “imminent threat,” I roll my eyes at you. Just read this collection of statements from members of the administration.)
The question that we have it answer is why did everyone else think Iraq was manageable while Washington didn’t? Sept. 11? Greed for Oil? Strategic positioning in a new Great Game? Personal grudges? Manifest destiny in the sands of Arabia? I think it’s all of those and more. The Bush administration believed the worst about Iraq not because they had to but because they wanted to. For all of those reasons and goals, Iraq had to become the number one target. Was it a legitimate one? In hindsight, obviously it appears no. At the time, I and others smarter than me argued that it wasn’t worth going to war over it. That the threat wasn’t imminent, that Iraq wasn’t worth the blood and treasure that would be paid.
The Center for American Progress has put up a devastating critique of the White House’s willful ignorance regarding Iraq’s weapons. David Kay is, at best, playing the loyal soldier with this “faulty intelligence” meme. “A review of the facts,” the Center says, “shows the intelligence community repeatedly warned the Bush Administration about the weakness of its case, but was circumvented, overruled, and ignored.”

  • In 2001 and before, intelligence agencies noted that Saddam Hussein was effectively contained after the Gulf War. In fact, former weapons inspector David Kay now admits that the previous policy of containment – including the 1998 bombing of Iraq – destroyed any remaining infrastructure of potential WMD programs.
  • Throughout 2002, the CIA, DIA, Department of Energy and United Nations all warned the Bush Administration that its selective use of intelligence was painting a weak WMD case. Those warnings were repeatedly ignored.
  • Instead of listening to the repeated warnings from the intelligence community, intelligence officials say the White House instead pressured them to conform their reports to fit a pre-determined policy. Meanwhile, more evidence from international institutions poured in that the White House’s claims were not well-grounded.

(Thanks to Hesiod over at Counterspin Central for tipping me off on this timeline.)
Americans will forgive presidents their honest mistakes. But dishonest statements backed up by willful ignorance and an “I’m not listening, la-la-la-la-la!” attitude should never be tolerated or forgiven.
Bush lied. You know the rest.

WMDs still MIA

Well, the great Iraqi WMD Hunt appears to be winding down.

Well, the great Iraqi WMD Hunt of 2003 appears to be winding down. The Associated Press reports:

Weapons-hunters are spending more time on base, intelligence experts have been reassigned to work on the counterinsurgency, and the man leading a search for chemical, biological and nuclear weapons is thinking of bowing out.

The conventional wisdom is that no one in the electorate cares anymore. Saddam’s been caught! “The war’s going great!”:http://gallup.com/poll/releases/pr031219.asp
But they should care, because — and this will come as no surprise, but I have to say it — this war was fought using the American people’s tax money and their sons and daughters. Since March 20, 548 troops from Coalition countries “have died”:http://lunaville.org/warcasualties/Summary.aspx, at the average rate of 1.6 a day.
Citizens should care because they were lied to. There’s really no polite way to say it, but the White House lied about the threat of Saddam’s WMDs to get the American people to support the war. And it worked. Now, $87 billion and almost 550 dead soldiers later, the hunt is almost played out.
“It’s probably time to call it quits,” said Hans Blix, the former chief U.N. weapons inspector, whose teams were given one-third the time the United States has spent looking for weapons.
“The U.S. and the U.K. are so wedded to the idea that the Iraqis were hiding things that they are not willing to explore the possibility that they’re wrong,” Blix said.
If there’s anything good that came out of the campaign of mass deception, I’d like to think that the American people won’t be fooled twice. Perhaps that realization hit Karl Rove, too, and may be another reason Washington and London chose to believe Col. Muammar al-Qadhafi when he said he would give up his WMDs and allow UN inspectors in. Because the White House couldn’t cry wolf twice, Qadhafi is now a man the West can do business with instead of a lyin’, theivin’, treacherous dictator, like Saddam Hussein.
But perhaps my faith in the common sense of the American people is misplaced. I mean, according to a recent Gallup poll, “53 percent of Americans think Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the 9/11 attacks”:http://gallup.com/poll/releases/pr031219.asp, _up_ 10 points from a similar poll take in September.
The American people were lied to — they should be angry. Instead, they’re still willingly believing lies.

Deal with a Devil

Since we’re dealing with devils in getting Libya to open up its weapons programs to inspectors, why wasn’t the same deal offered to Hussein?

Some thoughts on the Libyan developments of this weekend:

Libya has been working to shed its pariah image for years, but it still hasn’t gone far enough

There’s no doubt Libya has been a bad seed since the 1969 coup brought Col. Muammar Abu Minyar al-Qadhafi to power. His government exported terrorism, revolution and generally rocked the boat wherever possible. But because of the United Nations sanctions imposed in 1992 for the bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988, Libya’s support for terrorism has been waning. In 1999, the sanctions were suspended and on Sept. 12, 2003, they were finally lifted. However, Libya is still a nasty place to live, with massive human rights violations on par with Saddam Hussein’s. Human Rights Watch says

Over the past three decades, Libya’s human rights record has been appalling. It has included the abduction, forced disappearance or assassination of political opponents; torture and mistreatment of detainees; and long-term detention without charge or trial or after grossly unfair trials. Today hundreds of people remain arbitrarily detained, some for over a decade, and there are serious concerns about treatment in detention and the fairness of procedures in several on-going high profile trials before the Peoples’ Courts. Libya has been a closed country for United Nations and non-governmental human rights investigators.

Sound familiar? By the way, today, Dec. 21, 2003 is the 15th anniversary of the Lockerbie attack that killed 270 people. Family members of the victims are not pleased with this deal. President Bush, in his remarks on Friday, made no mention of the bombing. So America gets to overlook a history of terrorism and human rights abuses and Qadhafi likely gets full diplomatic recognition and and end to the economic and diplomatic isolation that many Libyans resented. The unintended consequence will be that Col. Qadhafi just got a new lease on his political life, since this will allow him to crack down on dissent, much of which has been of the Islamist variety.

This leads me to another point:

Pointing to the Iraq war as the driving force in getting Libya to cooperate is just an attempt to claim a success from the debacle that Iraq has become.

British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon said, “We showed after Saddam Hussein failed to cooperate with the UN that we meant business and Libya, and I hope other countries, will draw that lesson.”

Hm. Have we? And will they? A good chunk of the U.S. military is tied down in Iraq, Afghanistan or otherwise engaged. It’s highly unlikely the U.S. could mount another military campaign to topple a government even if it had good reason to do so. The threat of a Iraq-sized invasion is an empty one and Iran, Sudan, North Korea and, yes, Libya know it.

Instead of fearing the Bush Doctrine of preemptive attacks, “bad guy” countries can see that possessing WMDs is a good way to wring concessions from a superpower they might not have received otherwise. Because the U.S. doesn’t have any other choice. It’s these rogue nations with WMDs that are arguing from a position of strength, not the U.S.

President Bush said on Friday,

We obtained an additional United Nations Security Council Resolution requiring Saddam Hussein to prove that he had disarmed, and when that resolution was defied, we led a coalition to enforce it. All of these actions by the United States and our allies have sent an unmistakable message to regimes that seek or possess weapons of mass destruction. Those weapons do not bring influence or prestige. They bring isolation and otherwise unwelcome consequences. (Emphasis added.)

Some problems with that. No Iraqi weapons of mass destruction have been found. Iraq said it didn’t have them, and damned if Saddam’s regime wasn’t telling the truth this time. The whole world thinks the WMD charge is a MacGuffin. By the way, the resolution Bush mentioned, UNSCR 1441, said:

The Security Council, …

Decides that, in order to begin to comply with its disarmament obligations, in addition to submitting the required biannual declarations, the Government of Iraq shall provide to UNMOVIC, the IAEA, and the Council, not later than 30 days from the date of this resolution, a currently accurate, full, and complete declaration of all aspects of its programmes to develop chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, and other delivery systems such as unmanned aerial vehicles and dispersal systems designed for use on aircraft, including any holdings and precise locations of such weapons, components, sub-components, stocks of agents, and related material and equipment, the locations and work of its research, development and production facilities, as well as all other chemical, biological, and nuclear programmes, including any which it claims are for purposes not related to weapon production or material; …

all of which it appears now Iraq actually did. The government of Iraq said they didn’t have any unconventional weapons and — whaddya know?! — they didn’t.

I was as surprised as anyone. I called the 7,000-page Iraqi declaration that the country was “devoid of weapons of mass destruction” a suicide note, and wondered what the Iraqis were up to. (Note to consistency watchers: Before the war, I believed Saddam possessed some kind of unconventional arsenal, just not one worth going to war over. Some chems, certainly, maybe some biologicals, no nukes — that was my guess. I was wrong.)

Placing the Libyan deal in the context of the Iraq war is what is so infuriating. Actually, it’s this administration’s shifting rationales, attempts to claim successes and cynical of-the-momentism that are really infuriating. I mean, the rationale for invading Iraq right this very minute was to disarm the country of WMDs and remove an imminent threat to the survival of the United States. When that threat (and the arsenal) were proven to be a lie — or a gross incompetence in reading intelligence data — the war became one of liberation. And now the United States makes a deal with an oppressive dictator who killed a lot of innocent civilians — and a fair number of Americans — in a string of terrorist attacks. And claims a failed policy and a quagmire were the reasons for this bit of good news.

Don’t get me wrong: It’s a good thing that Libya has agreed to give up its unconventional weapons programs; any successes in ridding the world of nasty weapons are welcome. But let’s not kid ourselves here. This is a deal with a devil, and the U.S. is making it because it has no other choice; forcible regime change is out of the question because the U.S. doesn’t have the resources. This is a big win for Qadhafi, a smaller win for American and Britain, and a wash for the people of Libya who now have a leader with a softened image, but still a fist of iron.

*UPDATE 12/22* Juan Cole has some “excellent thoughts”:http://www.juancole.com/2003_12_01_juancole_archive.html#107199393231717277 on this issue. George over at Warblogging.com also “weighs in”:http://www.warblogging.com/archives/000780.php, and includes a handy “dictator comparison chart.” And Josh Marshall, again, “finds a real nugget”:http://www.talkingpointsmemo.com/archives/week_2003_12_21.html#002338 in the Pakistan connection to Libya’s WMD programs.