Saturday, September 30, 2006

Bush and the Ultimate Kool-Aid: Power

Former Bush Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neil mentioned a scene when he was first interviewed to join the Bush cabinet. Bush and Cheney were there; what I remembered about the description is that Bush and Cheney were like fraternity brothers at some second-rate school interviewing somebody for the fraternity with their smugness, knowing looks and eye-rolling well intact as if Paul O'Neil were some innocent freshman. My first reaction as I reading was: uh-oh, I've seen those kind of executives before.

Bob Woodward has an article in The Washinton Post about his book, State of Denial, but I thought of Paul O'Neil's baptism into the inner workings of the Bush circle as Woodward described Jay Garner's experience with Rumsfeld and Bush; Garner was the man in Iraq before Bremer took away his job; we begin with Garner finishing his summary to Rumsfeld of what he felt were the major mistakes up to that time in Iraq:
Third, Garner said, Bremer had summarily dismissed an interim Iraqi leadership group that had been eager to help the United States administer the country in the short term. "Jerry Bremer can't be the face of the government to the Iraqi people. You've got to have an Iraqi face for the Iraqi people," he said.

Garner made his final point: "There's still time to rectify this. There's still time to turn it around."

Rumsfeld looked at Garner for a moment with his take-no-prisoners gaze. "Well," he said, "I don't think there is anything we can do, because we are where we are."

He thinks I've lost it, Garner thought. He thinks I'm absolutely wrong. Garner didn't want it to sound like sour grapes, but facts were facts. "They're all reversible," Garner said again.


Later that day, Garner went with Rumsfeld to the White House. But in a meeting with Bush, he made no mention of mistakes. Instead he regaled the president with stories of his time in Baghdad.

In an interview last December, I asked Garner if he had any regrets in not telling the president about his misgivings.

"You know, I don't know if I had that moment to live over again, I don't know if I'd do that or not. But if I had done that -- and quite frankly, I mean, I wouldn't have had a problem doing that -- but in my thinking, the door's closed. I mean, there's nothing I can do to open this door again. And I think if I had said that to the president in front of Cheney and Condoleezza Rice and Rumsfeld in there, the president would have looked at them and they would have rolled their eyes back and he would have thought, 'Boy, I wonder why we didn't get rid of this guy sooner?'"

"They didn't see it coming," Garner added. "As the troops said, they drank the Kool-Aid."

Forget the ideology which is badly flawed. These guys are wallowing in their own power drink. Bush and his team are dysfunctional. I want to believe that Americans finally understand what a disaster we have on our hands in Washington but that's not certain; forgive me if I state the obvious: it would be in our best interests not to allow Bush and his inner circle to start yet a third war and show us what other fiascos they can offer us.

The Decider-in-Chief Is in Trouble

One of the things I noticed early in the Iraq war was Bush's tendency to sit on his hands and hope for the best; Karl Rove spins that as 'staying the course.' Staying the course has meant, to borrow a metaphor, not containing terrorism and getting it by the roots but throwing fertilizer around so that terrorism grows even more aggressively. It's been a disastrous policy.

It seems the only thing Bush decides these days is which angle of spin he will use that day to justify himself in the press or in front of his carefully selected audiences when he gives a speech. We like to think that our presidents are capable people and if by chance something comes up that they can't handle very well, we would then like to believe there are advisers who can lend a hand. I just Googled Condi Rice and her accomplishment of the week appears to be meeting with the attorney general of Antigua (heckuva job, Condi!).

Bob Woodward's book continues to make headlines, not so much for revealing that Bush is not as capable as his press would have us believe—we've known that for some time—but for the sheer details that confirm what we already know. Michiko Kakutani of The New York Times has more on Woodward's book:
In Bob Woodward’s highly anticipated new book, “State of Denial,” President Bush emerges as a passive, impatient, sophomoric and intellectually incurious leader, presiding over a grossly dysfunctional war cabinet and given to an almost religious certainty that makes him disinclined to rethink or re-evaluate decisions he has made about the war. It’s a portrait that stands in stark contrast to the laudatory one Mr. Woodward drew in “Bush at War,” his 2002 book, which depicted the president — in terms that the White House press office itself has purveyed — as a judicious, resolute leader, blessed with the “vision thing” his father was accused of lacking and firmly in control of the ship of state.

Woodward, who seemed to overly praise Bush in his last two books lost access to Bush and Cheney this time around. It's amazing what a different picture emerges when those two are not spinning their own tales with the support of Karl Rove and the now absent Scooter Libby, though I'm sure there's more to Woodward's odd about-face.

As for the 'vision thing,' the only 'reality,' if one can call it that, that existed to Bush's vision was the image of himself as a war leader, while perhaps relishing one-upping his father in stature: no doubt the rest of the 'vision' was stuff added on, probably after being tested in focus groups. I don't mean to be so cynical, and cynicism is generally not in my nature, but Bush's war in Iraq has simply never made much sense. There is still a certain percentage of Americans who don't understand the profound contradiction and inconsistency of a president who advocates democracy while things like Abu Ghraib were going on in the background (the hardline right wingers still have trouble understanding that the Iraqi people knew about our behavior in Abu Ghraib before the American public did; little wonder that the average Iraqi quickly starting questioning what the United States was really doing in their country).

Let's return to The New York Times:
Mr. Woodward reports that after the 2004 election Andrew H. Card Jr., then White House chief of staff, pressed for Mr. Rumsfeld’s ouster (he recommended former Secretary of State James A. Baker III as a replacement), and that Laura Bush shared his concern, worrying that Mr. Rumsfeld was hurting her husband’s reputation. Vice President Dick Cheney, however, persuaded Mr. Bush to stay the course with Mr. Cheney’s old friend Mr. Rumsfeld, arguing that any change might be perceived as an expression of doubt and hesitation on the war...


...Mr. Woodward writes that on July 10, 2001, Mr. Tenet and his counterterrorism coordinator, J. Cofer Black, met with Ms. Rice to warn her of mounting intelligence about an impending terrorist attack, but came away feeling they’d been given “the brush-off” — a revealing encounter, given Ms. Rice’s recent comments, rebutting former President Bill Clinton’s allegations that the Bush administration had failed to pursue counterterrorism measures aggressively before 9/11.

As depicted by Mr. Woodward, this is an administration in which virtually no one will speak truth to power, an administration in which the traditional policy-making process involving methodical analysis and debate is routinely subverted. He notes that experts — who recommended higher troop levels in Iraq, warned about the consequences of disbanding the Iraqi Army or worried about the lack of postwar planning— were continually ignored by the White House and Pentagon leadership, or themselves failed, out of cowardice or blind loyalty, to press insistently their case for an altered course in the war.

Condi Rice has said many things in her five years working for Bush that are not true, but she stays on because she says what Bush wants to hear. Even in the Reagan Administration, advisers were allowed to speak truth to power; if that had not been the case, Reagan would have been viewed very differently these days. Many things that Reagan was thinking of doing were reversed when the consequences of his ideas were explained to him. Think of Kenneth Lay for a moment; he was warned several times that there were problems at Enron but he convinced himself that he had all the answers; Enron became one of the largest corporate meltdowns in American history and it was almost completely self-inflicted. Kenneth Lay, and not Reagan, is Bush's model. Political ideologues, and there are plenty of them in the Bush Administration, specialize in rationalizing their failures. Fortunately, our constitution has a back up for failure called the US Congress. Unfortunately, our back up has failed thanks to a majority of Republican rubber stampers.

Let's hear more from Kakutani's article:
...A secret February 2005 report by Philip D. Zelikow, a State Department counselor, found that “Iraq remains a failed state shadowed by constant violence and undergoing revolutionary political change” and concluded that the American effort there suffered because it lacked a comprehensive, unified policy.

Startlingly little of this overall picture is new, of course. Mr. Woodward’s portrait of Mr. Bush as a prisoner of his own certitude owes a serious debt to a 2004 article in The New York Times Magazine by the veteran reporter Ron Suskind, just as his portrait of the Pentagon’s incompetent management of the war and occupation owes a serious debt to “Fiasco,” the Washington Post reporter Thomas E. Ricks’s devastating account of the war, published this summer. Other disclosures recapitulate information contained in books and articles by other journalists and former administration insiders.


Mr. Woodward reports that when he told Mr. Rumsfeld that the number of insurgent attacks was going up, the defense secretary replied that they’re now “categorizing more things as attacks.” Mr. Woodward quotes Mr. Rumsfeld as saying, “A random round can be an attack and all the way up to killing 50 people someplace. So you’ve got a whole fruit bowl of different things — a banana and an apple and an orange.”

Mr. Woodward adds: “I was speechless. Even with the loosest and most careless use of language and analogy, I did not understand how the secretary of defense would compare insurgent attacks to a ‘fruit bowl,’ a metaphor that stripped them of all urgency and emotion. The official categories in the classified reports that Rumsfeld regularly received were the lethal I.E.D.’s, standoff attacks with mortars and close engagements such as ambushes.”


There’s the president, who once said, “I don’t have the foggiest idea about what I think about international, foreign policy,” deciding that he’s going to remake the Middle East and alter the course of American foreign policy...


Mr. Woodward suggests that Mr. Rumsfeld decided to make the Iraq war plan “his personal project” after seeing a rival agency, the C.I.A., step up to run operations in Afghanistan (when it became clear that the Pentagon was unprepared for a quick invasion of that country, right after 9/11). And he suggests that President Bush chose Mr. Rumsfeld as his defense secretary, in part, because he knew his father mistrusted Mr. Rumsfeld, and the younger Bush wanted to prove his father wrong.

It appears that when it comes to Donald Rumsfeld (and other things), the senior Bush knew what he was talking about and the the junior Bush did not. Running the country based partly on family psychodrama and partly on the fantasies of right wing talk shows is perhaps not the best way to serve our country.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Why Bush's Character Is Becoming an Issue

Bush seems to be under the delusion that he's the only president who's ever been criticized. He ought to talk to Clinton or his father; both are easy to reach and only a phone call away.

CNN has an article on the latest antics of thin-skinned president:
President Bush asserted Friday that critics who claim the Iraq war has made America less safe embrace "the enemy's propaganda." He acknowledged setbacks in Afghanistan against a Taliban resurgence but predicted eventual victory.

"You do not create terrorism by fighting terrorism," he told a receptive military audience. "If that ever becomes the mind-set of the policymakers in Washington, it means we'll go back to the old days of waiting to be attacked -- and then respond."

It was the latest in Bush's series of speeches defending his Iraq and anti-terrorism policies against heightened attacks from Democrats, who now are citing a government intelligence assessment to bolster their criticism. The classified National Intelligence Estimate, parts of which Bush declassified earlier this week, suggests the Iraq war has helped recruit more terrorists.

Let's set aside for a moment that Bush was the last one to admit there's an insurgency in Iraq and that he's likely to be the last one to admit that there's a civil war in Iraq as well.

I can't speak for other critics of Bush but as a critic myself I'll speak to the blarney he raises about critics being taken in by the terrorists. First, the only thing I care about when it comes to terrorists is where are they and how quickly can Bush pick them up (though it would be useful to pick up real terrorists and not just any taxi driver who happens to show up). After five years, Osama bin Laden is still on the loose. If anyone pays too much attention to the words of terrorists, it's Bush who has made sure to quote the terrorists whenever it's politically convenient. I'm not particularly interested in what the terrorists have to say. But if a president engages in policies that create terrorists, the critic is obligated to speak up.

But I am interested in an effective foreign policy, a policy that actually gets us somewhere, that doesn't damage our reputation and ability to get things done as Bush's incompetence and recklessness have managed to do over the last five years. The patriotic thing for Bush to do would be to start upholding the U.S. Constitution instead of trying to shred it for his political purposes. The patriotic thing to do would be to stop using fear to hide his own blunders and mistakes so he can win elections. The patriotic thing to do would be to admit that he doesn't have all the answers and start finding people who do and fire the people like Rumsfeld who don't. The patriotic thing to do would be to start solving some of our nation's problems, including the need to tighten security in our ports and to stop talking about a third war before cleaning up Iraq and finishing the job in Afghanistan.

Bush's Dysfunctional Presidency

For more than five years, bit and pieces have been coming through about the general dysfunction and incompetence of the Bush Administration. The idea that somehow a very stubborn president who doesn't listen well has all the answers is simply bankrupt. In America's history, it often takes both the Congress and the President to get things right and even the Supreme Court at times to restore our nation's balance. But Congress, under Republican rule, has simply become a rubber stamp while content to ride the coattails of Bush public relations machine, a machine that for a long time did a good job of hiding the many failures and blunders of the Bush Administration.

Bob Woodward has a new book out. Now I take a little of what he says with a grain of salt; he acted more like a stenographer for Bush and Cheney in his last two books. But Woodward's latest book validates much of what we already know with more details and it curiously has the advantage of Bush and Cheney refusing to give interviews this time around despite the great press Woodward gave them earlier. David E. Sanger of The New York Times has an article on Woodward's book and some of the revelations:
The White House ignored an urgent warning in September 2003 from a top Iraq adviser who said that thousands of additional American troops were desperately needed to quell the insurgency there, according to a new book by Bob Woodward, the Washington Post reporter and author. The book describes a White House riven by dysfunction and division over the war.

The warning is described in “State of Denial,” scheduled for publication on Monday by Simon & Schuster. The book says President Bush’s top advisers were often at odds among themselves, and sometimes were barely on speaking terms, but shared a tendency to dismiss as too pessimistic assessments from American commanders and others about the situation in Iraq.

As late as November 2003, Mr. Bush is quoted as saying of the situation in Iraq: “I don’t want anyone in the cabinet to say it is an insurgency. I don’t think we are there yet.”
"State of Denial" seems to be an apt name for the book. Was there any doubt three years ago that an insurgency was under way? But our president didn't think so. We are now seeing a civil war in Iraq and Bush is still in denial. Let's hear more from Sanger on Woodward's book:
Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld is described as disengaged from the nuts-and-bolts of occupying and reconstructing Iraq — a task that was initially supposed to be under the direction of the Pentagon — and so hostile toward Condoleezza Rice, then the national security adviser, that President Bush had to tell him to return her phone calls. The American commander for the Middle East, Gen. John P. Abizaid, is reported to have told visitors to his headquarters in Qatar in the fall of 2005 that “Rumsfeld doesn’t have any credibility anymore” to make a public case for the American strategy for victory in Iraq.

Sanger doesn't mention when this was but I remember in the fall of 2003 Rumsfeld was obviously floundering. Bush turned some of the Iraq portfolio over to Condi Rice to see what she could do. Rumsfeld and Cheney both balked as Rice started pursuing an agenda designed to foster democracy in Iraq, something that had floundered badly in the first six months (among other blunders, too many faith was put in Iraqi exiles who had not lived in Iraq for decades). Rice gets some credit for finally promoting democracy but the effort was badly organized and not supported well by Rumsfeld. Some of Rice's agenda was abandoned in April of 2004 during the Fallujah fiasco and the revelations about Abu Ghraib which quite obviously made a mess of the democracy agenda in any case. Cheney and Rumsfeld regained the upper hand and Bush stuck by them despite the mounting failures.

Now for more from Sanger:
Robert D. Blackwill, then the top Iraq adviser on the National Security Council, is said to have issued his warning about the need for more troops in a lengthy memorandum sent to Ms. Rice. The book says Mr. Blackwill’s memorandum concluded that more ground troops, perhaps as many as 40,000, were desperately needed.

It says that Mr. Blackwill and L. Paul Bremer III, then the top American official in Iraq, later briefed Ms. Rice and Stephen J. Hadley, her deputy, about the pressing need for more troops during a secure teleconference from Iraq. It says the White House did nothing in response.

The problem with Woodward's last two books is not that they were inaccurate but that they were one-sided, simply representing for the most part what Bush and Cheney wanted presented with a few minor damaging items thrown in. What Woodward reports is usually accurate in its particulars (if not always in regards to the full picture). But if the above is accurate, it again confirms that Bush has repeatedly lied to the American people when he has told reporters that those in charge of Iraq have not been asking for more troops. Quite obviously they have. And the fiasco in Iraq continues.

Bush's Personal Performance Record

Today we affirm a new commitment to live out our nation's promise through civility, courage, compassion and character.

—George W. Bush

Civility. Given the number of tantrums Bush has thrown in just the last month alone, he hardly qualifies. One also has only to think back to his performance at the G8 summit in July. One also needs to remember the number of times that Bush has refused to listen to what others have to say despite a long dismal record of numerous blunders. No administration in recent memory has been so divisive in its approach to politics.

Courage. Bush and his top aides have used fear for political purposes for the better part of five years.

Compassion. The treatment of the victims of Hurricane Katrina was anything but compassionate. One could list many other examples.

Character. Bush has always been fast and loose with this one. Here's the latest example of Bush's character from Roll Call (by way of Americablog):
Hundreds of contacts between top White House officials and former lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his associates "raise serious questions about the legality and actions" of those officials, according to a draft bipartisan report prepared by the House Government Reform Committee.

The 95-page report, which White House officials reviewed Wednesday evening but has yet to be formally approved by the panel, singled out two of President Bush's top lieutenants, Karl Rove and Ken Mehlman, as having been offered expensive meals and exclusive tickets to premier sporting events and concerts by Abramoff and his associates.

In total, the committee was able to document 485 contacts between White House officials and Abramoff and his lobbying team at the firm Greenberg Traurig from January 2001 to March 2004, with 82 of those contacts occurring in Rove's office, including 10 with Rove personally. The panel also said that Abramoff billed his clients nearly $25,000 for meals and drinks with White House officials during that period.

Rove, Mehlman, and other White House officials have denied having any close relationship with Abramoff, despite the fact that Abramoff was a "Pioneer" who raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Bush's White House campaigns.

"The documents depict a much closer relationship between Mr. Abramoff and White House officials than the White House has previously acknowledged," committee staff wrote in a three-page summary that accompanied the report.

According to TPMMuckraker, Jack Abramoff is a "lifetime GOP operative" and a convicted felon. George W. Bush and Karl Rove have still not explained their relationship with Abramoff.

Thursday was not the best day in the history of America's democracy. Congress caved in to Bush instead of upholding the U.S. Constitution. It's not clear what Bush is committing himself to these days except his own political fortunes and the fortunes of his party. What America needs is to return to a commitment to its own future.

If I seem to be repeating some of my themes lately, it is simply because the stakes are so high.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Gap Between Oil Production and Oil Discoveries

This graph (from The Oil Drum-UK) is similar to others I've seen, including some that start back around the 1880s. All the graphs have a similar profile: an era that leads to larger and larger discoveries and an era where the oil discoveries, on average, become smaller and smaller. What's useful about this graph and problematic is the dark black line that gives yearly production totals. For some time now, we have been in an era where the worldwide oil production per year exceeds the amount of new oil discovered per year. We're living off of past oil discoveries.

Now one thing about the graph that I don't like are the projections outbound from about 2006 onward (the graph was made in 2002). With the high price of oil and the rapidly growing demand for oil and the realization in most industrialized nations (if not the U.S.) that the writing is on the wall, there is an enormous surge in exploration going on at the moment. So that nice smooth falling line that is projected outward for future discoveries presents a ticklish problem. First, we don't know what in fact will be discovered as we go deeper out into the ocean or farther up into the tundra or into other remote and difficult locations to explore and develop. Maybe we'll get lucky but the odds are not good and it's our future we're talking about. Second, because there is so much exploration going on at the moment, all we may be doing is bunching together the discoveries that otherwise would have been made between 2010 and 2020. Of course, there's no way to tell. The apparently large discovery in the Gulf of Mexico is good news, but only if the larger estimates prove to be true (see this post). Note that if we bunch all the discoveries for 2006 together, including the Gulf of Mexico discovery, it may not equal this year's consumption of oil. Even when we make major oil discoveries, it's still not enough.

Nobody likes politics but it matters right now. There are Americans who still believe in the future, Democrats, independents and Republicans. But there are a number in our country, mostly Republican (but there are others) who don't seem to believe in the future, and who seem to be behaving as if there is no tomorrow, with record deficits and political games the likes of which have not been seen for generations. For the last six years, we have seen corruption, fear-mongering and an ideological agenda that feels like something out of the worst days of the corrupt 1920s and the Gilded Age of the late 19th century. The Republicans in charge bear little resemblance to the administrations of the senior Bush and Ronald Reagan. Despite Nixon's political corruption, he was far more responsible and got far more done than the current president. Although Eisenhower's presidency isn't viewed as favorably as it once was, he too accomplished far more than the current president. This country needs the tension and dialogue of two parties, but it needs two reasonably honest parties. Republican voters are going to have to start recognizing that the Republican Party is currently broken and that putting today's problems off onto the next generation is no longer acceptable.

I had a great uncle who was born in 1889, went to Stanford and became an engineer. He was a Republican through and through and I had a lot of respect for him though I had become a Democrat. He was a pragmatist first and had thought a great deal about his own area of expertise: natural gas and the pipelines to carry them. In his late thirties and early forties, he built a major natural gas pipeline from Wichita, Kansas to Chicago.

My great uncle talked a great deal with the oil people and geologists of the day. He knew the oil wasn't going to last forever but he wanted to know how much time he and others had bought for the United States before other sources of energy were developed. He was given an answer. He was proud that he had essentially solved Chicago's natural gas needs for the next 300-500 years. Or so he was told.

The natural gas figures were based on the population of the time, the average use of natural gas and what were believed to be the reserves at the time. But the country grew, other uses for natural gas were found and the reserves included numbers that were overly optimistic and also included the assumption that more reserves would be found at the rate known in the 20s and 30s.

By the 1970s, my great uncle was in his eighties but he was still as sharp as a tack. The energy crisis had come and only 45 years had passed since he built that natural gas pipeline. He had been watching the numbers for decades and he was angry. He turned to the younger generation of his nieces and nephews and quietly told them a little of his concerns and he said very emphatically, looking each of us in the eye on the days he would bring this up, "It's up to your generation to get it right." That was thirty years ago and we've been wasting time and we can no longer afford to do so.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

More Straight Talk from Brzezinski

Zbigniew Brzezinski continues to speak out against the inadequate foreign policy of the Bush Administration; he has much to say in a recent interview. The article is in the German magazine Spiegel; when you click on the link, just wait a moment for the English version but here's a selection from the interview:
SPIEGEL: Dr. Brzezinski, President Bush compares the dangers of terrorism with the dangers of the Cold War. He has even spoken repeatedly of a "nation at war" and will only accept "complete victory." Is he right or is he using exaggerated rhetoric?

Brzezinski: He is fundamentally wrong. Whether that is deliberate demagoguery or simply historical ignorance, I do not know. For four years I was responsible for coordinating the U.S. response in the event of a nuclear attack. And I can assure you that a nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union on a comprehensive scale would have killed 160 to 180 million people within 24 hours.

No terrorist threat is comparable to that in the foreseeable future. Moreover, terrorism is essentially a technique of killing people and not the enemy as such. If one wages war on an invisible, unidentifiable phantom, one gets into a state of mind that virtually promotes dangerous exaggerations and distortions of reality.

SPIEGEL: What are these distortions?

Brzezinski: After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the United States was energetic and determined, and during the 40 years of the Cold War it was patient and deliberate. In neither case did any U.S. president intentionally preach fear as the major message to the people - on the contrary.

With his very loose formulations, the president is now creating a climate of fear that is destructive for American morale and distorting of American policy.

SPIEGEL: Is fear, as at the thought of a nuclear weapon in the hands of terrorists, not something very natural?

Brzezinski: Certainly, such a notion is not entirely unrealistic, but on the other hand we are not confronted with the Soviet nuclear weapons arsenal. I do not wish to minimize the danger of a single or even multiple terrorist acts, but their scale is simply not comparable.

SPIEGEL: Yet sometimes the discussions, in the United States but also in Europe, create the impression that radical Islam has taken the place of the former Soviet Union and that some form of Cold War is continuing.

Brzezinski: Radical Islam is such an anonymous phenomenon that has arisen in some countries and not in others. It has to be taken seriously, but it is still only a regional danger most prevalent in the Middle East and somewhat east of the Middle East. And even in those regions, Islamic fundamentalists are not in the majority.

SPIEGEL: Fear-mongering is therefore not a valid response?

Brzezinski: We have to formulate a policy for this region which helps us to mobilize our potential friends. Only if we cooperate with them can we contain and eventually eliminate this phenomenon. It is a paradox: During the Cold War, our policy was directed at uniting our friends and dividing our enemies. Unfortunately our tactics today, including occasional Islamphobic language, have the tendency of unifying our enemies and alienating our friends.


SPIEGEL: Opponents of a rapid withdrawal make the case that the sectarian war between Iraqi Shiites and Sunnis would become even more violent than it is already.

Brzezinski: Everyone who knows the history of occupying armies knows that foreign armed forces are not very effective in repressing armed resistance, insurgencies, national liberation movements, whatever one wants to call it. They are after all foreigners, do not understand the country and do not have access to the intelligence needed. That is the situation we are in. Moreover, there is this vicious circle inasmuch as even professional occupying armies become demoralized in time, which leads to acts of violence against the civilian population and thus strengthens resistance. Iraqis can deal with religiously motivated violence in their country much better than Americans from several thousand kilometers away.

SPIEGEL: So there is no alternative to troop withdrawal, even if there is an initial escalation of violence?

Brzezinski: Iraqis are not primitive people who need American colonial tutelage to resolve their problems.


SPIEGEL: You said that the United States needs solid European counsel to avoid an unrealistic view of the world. Is Europe even in the position to give such counsel?

Brzezinski: In the Middle East, the United States is unintentionally slipping into the role of a colonial power, repetitive of extensive European experiences. A combination of self-interest, a sense of mission and an arrogant ignorance resulted in Americans doing what they do right now. Because Britain and France have had the same experiences in the past, they have a better sense for the fact that the American course in the Middle East is a political mistake and, in the long run, also dangerous for America. In the short run, it damages America's principles and its international legitimacy.

Brzezinski says more and it's worth reading. Everything he says is consistent with my belief that the neoconservatives needed a new bogeyman when the Cold War came to an end and they have spectacularly botched our foreign policy. But their kind of thinking ought to be dead in an age that has become much more complicated. There is a great deal our country is still capable of doing but we have to start looking at the world more honestly and return to those qualities that have made us strong.

I'm a liberal Democrat but there are things people on the far right and the far left need to do before we get our country back on track; both groups are making serious mistakes that makes it more difficult to take on the problems of our age. We need some dialogue again even if it takes years to get it right. After the election, whatever happens, I want to start talking about some of these issues. And I hope more and more people also start talking. We can't go on much longer dividing our friends and unifying our enemies as Brzezinski so eloquently alluded to in his interview. But there's another enemy out there bigger than all the rest and no military will ever defeat that enemy; that enemy is fear. We need to get it together and move on.

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Many Signs of Bush's Incompetent Foreign Policy

Karl Rove has been trying to sell Americans on the idea that Bush and his fellow Republicans know what they're doing when it comes to terrorism, Afghanistan and Iraq. The evidence says otherwise.

Let's go back to a story earlier this month published in several places about NATO in Afghanistan; let's go to Paul Garwood of the Associated Press where his story appears in the Boston Globe:
NATO's top military commander said Thursday that he needs more troops to fight the Taliban in southern Afghanistan, where a widening insurgency has left hundreds dead, including 21 militants in the alliance's latest air and ground attacks.

U.S. Gen. James L. Jones acknowledged NATO had been surprised by the "level of intensity" of Taliban attacks since the alliance took over from American-led coalition forces in the south in August.

Iraq-style suicide bombings, highly organized ambushes and dogged resistance have become hallmarks of Taliban holdouts who are fueling Afghanistan's worst violence since the U.S.-led invasion toppled the hard-line regime in late 2001.

NATO officials say current troop levels are enough to combat militants in southern deserts and mountain ranges, or crossing from neighboring Pakistan. But the vast battlefield in the south provides ample cover for insurgents familiar with the terrain and the region's tribes. Additional air support and as many as 2,500 new, highly mobile reserve troops would help finish the conflict faster, the officials said.

Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf acknowledged Thursday that al-Qaida and Taliban militants are crossing from his country to launch attacks in Afghanistan, but he denied his government sponsored them.

Remember that things like Abu Ghraib, the destruction of Fallujah, torture, the support of Israel's blanket bombing of Lebanon and Bush's many unfortunate comments have damaged the credibility of the United States around the world making it harder to deal with places like Pakistan who are becoming less reliable as allies. The war in Afghanistan should have been done a long time ago with the rebuilding phase clearly underway. But Bush ran off to Iraq.

And how are things in Iraq? Nancy A. Youssef of the McClatchy Washington Bureau (formerly the Knight Ridder Washington Bureau) does not have good news:
A top-ranked U.S. military officer in Iraq said Wednesday that the United States thought that the government of Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki was running out of time to prevent Iraq from dissolving into outright civil war.

"We have to fix this militia issue. We can't have armed militias competing with Iraq's security forces. But I have to trust the prime minister to decide when it is that we do that," said Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the second-highest-ranking American military official in Baghdad.

Chiarelli's comments to a gathering of reporters were a part of a growing chorus of concerns from U.S. political and military leaders about the Iraqi government's ability and willingness to tackle corruption and militia-run death squads. They suggest that top American leaders are growing frustrated with the pace of reforms and may even be starting to argue for eventual U.S. withdrawal.

Saddam Hussein was a bad leader but if you're going to replace a bad leader with someone else, you better know what you're doing. Bush does not know what he's doing. And yet, there talk of going to war in Iran. Here's Laura Rozen of War and Piece (her post also includes comments by General Batiste):
Secretary Rodman, you'll remember, is assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs Peter Rodman, the guy below undersecretary of defense for policy Eric Edelman. And what falls under Rodman in the massive DoD org chart? As I earlier reported, the new Pentagon Iranian directorate, which is de facto overseen by Abram Shulsky, a special advisor to Edelman, and the former director of the Office of Special Plans. As I reported yesterday, according to the recently released Senate Select Intel committee Phase II report on the INC, Rodman also introduced one of the INC defectors to the DIA who later turned out to be a fabricator on quite a scale. "Source Five" as he's referred to in the Senate report (.pdf, page 92) "claimed publicly that Osama bin Laden had come to Baghdad." The spouse of the assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs who introduced "Source Five" to the US government is an official at the think tank where Iraq academic Laurie Mylroie is affiliated. Now he oversees the Iranian directorate. How long until the DIA is generating reports based on sources who claim bin Laden is having tea in Tehran?

The incompetents who led us into Iraq, a war we now know we did not need, are working now on developing the same kind of cherry picked 'intelligence' for Iran.

And how is the "War on Terrorism" going? Worse, apparently, thanks to our Commander-in-Chief who's hoping a little more public relations, a few more appearances by arm-twisted foreign leaders, a few more photo ops and a little posturing at a news conference lectern will make Americans forget the most failed presidency in our nation's history and the fact that Congress led by Republicans refuses to question the president and refuses to do its homework. Here's former Defense intelligence officer AJ of Americablog (bold emphasis mine):
The recently-declassified NIE titled "Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States", which was finalized nearly six months ago, is a devastating repudiation of virtually everything leading Executive and Defense Department leaders have told Americans about the war on terror.

As I've written before, the most important thing to look for in this kind of analysis is trends. Events are different than how things are going in general, and here's an example: the report states that U.S. efforts have damaged the leadership of al-Qa'ida and "disrupted" is operations, which is almost certainly true. There have been plenty of operations disrupted. But that's a summary of events, not a trend. More important is the follow-up that "the global jihadist movement . . . is spreading and adapting to counterterrorism efforts." Event: we've done some good. Trend: things are getting worse, not better.
Watch Karl Rove do ads on events where we've done some good; his ads, though, will say nothing about the trends and certainly nothing about the incompetence of the President of the United States. A president who at least will admit that he has made some mistakes will usually do what he can to try and get things right. For five years, Bush has not tried very hard to get things right. It's dangerous when a president thinks he has all the answers and would do everything exactly the same way over again. When a president is floundering, it is the responsibility of Congress to make sure that the president gets it right. The Republican Congress hasn't even tried.

Large Majority of Iraqis Want Us to Leave

Although there is some rise and fall to the numbers over the last three years, a large majority of Iraqis want the US to leave. Here's the story from Amit R. Paley of The Washington Post:
A strong majority of Iraqis want U.S.-led military forces to immediately withdraw from the country, saying their swift departure would make Iraq more secure and decrease sectarian violence, according to new polls by the State Department and independent researchers.

In Baghdad, for example, nearly three-quarters of residents polled said they would feel safer if U.S. and other foreign forces left Iraq, with 65 percent of those asked favoring an immediate pullout, according to State Department polling results obtained by The Washington Post.

Another new poll, scheduled to be released on Wednesday by the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland, found that 71 percent of Iraqis questioned want the Iraqi government to ask foreign forces to depart within a year. By large margins, though, Iraqis believed that the U.S. government would refuse the request, with 77 percent of those polled saying the United States intends keep permanent military bases in the country.

The stark assessments, among the most negative attitudes toward U.S.-led forces since they invaded Iraq in 2003, contrast sharply with views expressed by the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki...

The article includes some pie graphs for different areas of Iraq. A quick look suggests that the more violent the area, such as Baghdad, the more the local residents want the US to leave. I notice the numbers in Shiite areas are high and it may be that the Shiites want the US to leave since they are the majority and wish to gain full control of the country and won't be able to do so until we leave.

The American people need to decide what our obligations are if a large majority of Iraqis continue to make it clear that they want the US to leave. Shouldn't Bush at least be making it clear that Iraq belongs to the Iraqis? And how long will Maliki last if he ignores the Iraqi people?

The Usual Spin Not Working for Bush

There's so much going on I haven't had a chance to digest it all. Here's a good post by Steve Soto of The Left Coaster on Condi Rice's feeble attempt to defend Bush from Bill Clinton.

And here's three posts by Mahablog on the attempt to limit the damage Clinton did to Bush, Condi Rice's pathetic attempts to limit the damage, and also on Bush and the NIE on Iraq; all three posts question Bush's 'War on Terror.' Bush is clearly floundering this week. The fact-checking on Mahablog, by the way, is superb. By the way, my wife, who's a good reader of body language, thought that Bush looked like a man who's afraid of something. I asked her if she thought he was worried about legal prosecution. She said maybe, but she wondered if he was afraid that his image was crumbling. She may be right. Bush's image is very important to him. Just remember how he strutted on board the Abraham Lincoln when the sign in the background said, Mission Accomplished. It's too bad there wasn't some reality behind the words.

Here's an article on General Batiste's testimony in Washington and also General Hammes criticism of Rumsfeld's Whack-a-Mole strategy in Iraq. I would like to see a fuller article on this and will keep looking.

Christy Hardin Smith of Firedoglake has a statement from Nancy Pelosi on all the controversy on the NIE (it's about halfway down).

Here's a post from Democracy Arsenal that I have to include for such a straightforward title for a post: Bill Clinton Is Angry and So Am I.

And finally, Steve Clemons of The Washington Note tells us that John Bolton's attempt to be confirmed as UN Ambassador has failed, probably for good, though the Bush Administration may still use a manuever or two to keep him around (I think this would be a self-evident bad idea since Bolton's presence would weaken the position of the US at the United Nations but the Bush Administration doesn't always do what's rational). Clemons cuts Bolton too much slack in the end but I respect Clemon's longterm goal of trying to restore a bipartisan foreign policy.

Update (with corrected link): In an earlier comment thread, S.W. Anderson of Oh!Pinion mentioned a post he had done on leadership and the great example of John Kennedy owning up to his mistakes in the Bay of Pigs fiasco and accepting full responsibillity. It's a reminder of how different a man our current president is; Bush is a stubborn and angry man who's oddly unwilling to own up to his mistakes and our nation is not the better for it.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Only 4% of Experts Believe Iran Is Our Biggest Threat

The neoconservatives, who were dead wrong about Iraq, and dead wrong about terrorism despite their superior public relations image, have nevertheless been itching for a chance to redeem themselves by beating the drums for war in Iran. There is great concern that the Bush Administration is seriously considering a military attack.

Now the thing to remember about the conservative intellectuals who are regarded as neoconservatives is that most of them belonged to that branch of conservative Cold War hawks who were always overestimating the danger of the Soviet Union but who managed to find jobs in think tanks and sometimes in conservative administrations despite their poor records; since the fall of the Soviet Union, these same neocons have been looking for other things to do with their 'talents' and war with Iraq has been one of their big projects and big failures.

We are fortunate that neocons have not had a monopoly on foreign policy in the last sixty years. The thing to keep in mind is that there are experts out there, both Democrat and Republican, who know what they're talking about. Here's a survey that was done by the Center for American Progress and the magazine, Foreign Policy:
The press reports said that the Bush administration's new National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq concluded that America faces greater danger of terrorist attacks precisely because of the invasion of Iraq and its bloody aftermath. The NIE analysis, prepared in April, is the consensus conclusion of 16 U.S. government intelligence agencies.

This is essentially the same consensus conclusion that CAP [Center for American Progress] and Foreign Policy discovered when we did our own independent polling at about the same time, asking over 100 of America's most esteemed terrorism and national security experts for their assessment of the war against terrorist networks. This survey, titled The Terrorism Index, mined the highest echelons of the U.S. national security establishment across the ideological spectrum for their insights on the war on terrorism.

The result, we know today, shows a surprising consensus among the experts inside and outside of the U.S. government about terrorism and U.S. national security. In our survey, a vast majority think that the world today is more dangerous for the American people. So, too, does the NIE. Over half of the experts we polled list Islamic animosity and the Iraq war as the main reasons why the world is becoming more dangerous. That's also the consensus conclusion of the NIE.

In our survey, fewer than two in 10 believe the United States is winning the war on terror. More than eight in 10 believe we are likely to face a terrorist attack on the scale of September 11 within the next 10 years. These experts put nuclear weapons and materials as the top threat, followed closely by weapons of mass destruction (WMD) as a whole and then terrorism. Only four percent rank Iran as the greatest threat.

Four per cent of the top 100 experts regard Iran as our greatest threat. We have a problem. We have a president who voluntarily stumbled into a war in Iraq and has made a mess. We need to clean up that mess and then turn Iraq over to the Iraqis. We need to finish the job in Afghanistan. We need to get back to having al Qaida on the run. Remember, for most of 2002 and 2003, Bush, with the help of many countries, had al Qaida on the run. Given the energy situation, no one in the world wants war with Iran. If real nuclear weapons and real WMDs are the top threat to the United States, we need the cooperation of the world. The blunt truth is that Bush has succeeded in starting a third world nuclear arms race. That's not an accomplishment. That's a disaster that has to be laid directly to Bush's unwillingness to sit down and negotiate with anyone. You simply cannot get the agreements necessary unless you sit down and do the work. The Bush Administration has not done the work.

At the G8 meeting this summer, it became obvious that most world leaders have trouble trusting George W. Bush these days. In fact, it's worse than that. They have trouble taking him seriously. The credibility of the United States has fallen dramatically in the last five years. Bush has squandered the goodwill the United States had in the weeks after 9/11. How will our deteriorating relationship with the world translate into the cooperation that's needed to clean up Bush's fiascos while dealing realistically with terrorism? When it comes down to it, what useful thing has Bush accomplished in five years? If we're to understand where we're to go from here, don't we need facts? It's time for the American people to find out what the facts are and it's essential that we find out the facts before the midterm election, not after.

Democrats are demanding that we, the voters, have the right to know what's going on in Iraq. We don't need censored and slanted intelligence summaries that are cherry picked the same way that intelligence was cherry picked in 2002 when Bush made a phony case for war; we need the real facts. And if Republicans won't join Democrats in demanding that those facts be made public, then it's time for them to go.

Bush Botching the War on Terror

There's a lot happening today. Bush is flailing and diddling as he tries to defend his failed presidency and his dismal record on terrorism and Iraq. Before I review Bush's record, let's start with Dan Froomkin of White House Briefing:
President Bush's all-important terror-fighting credentials are taking a bruising this week.

Former President Clinton has revived charges that Bush didn't take the threat of terrorism seriously enough before Sept. 11.

And an intelligence report indicates that Bush's signature response to terror since the attacks -- invading Iraq -- has actually backfired.

The result: A potential erosion of Bush's strongest political suit -- at the worst possible moment for a White House already fearful of losing Republican majorities in Congress in November.

It's long past time for Americans to stop pretending that George W. Bush knows what he's doing. Let's make it as clear as possible. Bush had an obsession with Iraq from day one, even before he became president. He spent the first eight months largely ignoring Osama bin Laden and al Qaida despite being warned by the leaving Clinton Administration. For months, warning were sent up the line to Bush but they were ignored by Condi Rice and others. Finally, a serious briefing was arranged and Bush was warned on August 6, 2001 that Osama bin Laden was probably going to try a major terrorist attack inside the United States; Bush shrugged, told his briefers they had 'covered their asses' and took the rest of the day off on his ranch at Crawford (to go fishing, bike riding, or to clear brush—take your pick).

Within hours of the 9/11 attack, it was known that Osama bin Laden and al Qaida were probably behind the attack; Osama bin Laden was in Afghanistan. Within hours, Bush and Rumsfeld and probably Cheney were looking for ways they could go after Saddam Hussein in Iraq who had nothing to do with the 9/11 attack.

We went to Afghanistan and toppled the Taliban; we had a chance to get Osama bin Laden but it was muffed by the White House and Rumsfeld who very quickly were focusing on Iraq, more than a thousand miles in the other direction, which had nothing to do with al Qaida or 9/11 or capturing Osama bin Laden.

Nevertheless, with help from around the world, we had al Qaida on the run in 2002, though it appears Pakistan, our so-called ally, allowed some members of al Qaida to hide out in the Northwest Territories, including Osama bin Laden.

But Bush was focused on Iraq. A lot of talltales, including scary descriptions of mushroom clouds, got told in 2002 and 2003 to sell and justify the war against Iraq. But there were no WMDs, no nuclear program, no imminent threat, no al Qaida connection—just a deadbeat, defanged dictator thoroughly contained with his 'glory' days well behind him. The incompetent Rumsfeld was left in charge of Iraq with his experimental 'ideas' about how to wage war; Rumsfeld's biggest blunder was not sending enough troops and not planning for the aftermath but there were dozens of blunders that the generals and experts warned against but they were ignored.

One of the strangest blunders in Iraq was the failure of the Bush Administration to take out Zarqawi three times before the war actually began. Zarqawi was stuck in a remote hideout in Northeastern Iraq in the Kurdish area. The Kurds didn't want him there but they didn't have the resources to take out his group. We did and Bush did nothing. Zarqawi was dangerous but he was more a criminal thug than a politically or religiously motivated terrorist. By failing to get him, by failing to send enough troops to secure Iraq, Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld turned much of Iraq into a magnet for terrorists.

The worst problems in Iraq were in Anbar province, the Sunni area on the west side of the country. Paul Bremer, with help from Rumsfeld and the White House, screwed up the relationship with the Sunnis by firing almost all the Baathists and disbanding the army. In Iraq, there are very few jobs in the private sector which meant the Bush Administration shot itself in the foot by making enenies of most Sunnis who found themselves without a living. It was a ripe situation for an insurgency and a ripe situation for terrorists to come in. Here's an article from a couple of weeks ago from MSNBC:
A new military intelligence report offers up the most pessimistic assessment yet of military prospects for al-Anbar province, the vast no-man's land in western Iraq that has seen some of the fiercest fighting of the war — from hard-hit Fallujah to the provincial capital Ramadi, which the U.S. military has never controlled.

A top secret report by a Marine Corps intelligence officer says there's no chance the U.S. military can end insurgent violence in al-Anbar, and no viable government institutions or chance for political progress anytime soon.

Even more ominous, military officials say al-Qaida in Iraq has rushed to fill that political vacuum. Military officials tell NBC News al-Qaida's also recruiting increasing numbers of Iraqi Sunnis into the terrorist group.

The Sunnis of Iraq, who never had anything to do with al Qaida, have increasingly turned to al Qaida thanks to Bush's bungled policies in Iraq. It is a fiasco. It is a disaster. It was an utterly unnecessary development that could have been prevented by any number of moves. Bush, through his incompetence, has not check terrorism, he has thrown fertilizer on terrorism; al Qaida, after being on the run in 2002 and 2003, is making a comeback. And in Afghanistan, the Taliban is threatening to come back. Bush's actions have made the world and our country less safe. It's time to stop pretending that talking tough about terrorism is the same as knowing how to handle terrorism. It is time for Americans to have the facts and it is time for accountability.

Republican Noise Machine Spluttering

There's nothing more embarrassing than a man who's incompetent who keeps blaming other people for his failures. Now it so happens I have met many competent Republicans in my life: businessmen, engineers, doctors, dentists, lawyers, a handful of military officers and a couple of scientists. So, in many ways the incompetence in Washington is not about the Republican party, but a particular collection of right wing ideologues who are good at media games but not very good at getting anything useful done. They've been around for a number of years now, either wealthy like Bush or funded by very wealthy campaign donors and corporate special interests, throwing their weight around, pushing aside experienced people who are competent such as liberals, moderates, and rational conservatives.

A lot of the people these right wing ideologues have been shoving aside never thought much about politics—they just wanted to serve their country; curiously, or perhaps understandably, much of the incompetence of the Bush Administration has been uncovered by nonpolitical professionals who understand their jobs, people who will tell you how much a war will actually cost, not how much Bush and his friends would like voters to believe.

Bush is in trouble and Karl Rove and a lot of Bush's friends know it. Early in Bush's presidency, the spinners spent a lot of time blaming Clinton for everything that went wrong when the real problem were a bunch of heckuva job Brownies that Bush had hired who had little idea what they were doing. Bush, himself, is a heckuva job Brownie. The media and the American people got tired of the Clinton blame game and Karl Rove dropped that line of spin and went on to play other games. Now they're back at it again, trying to blame Clinton for not catching Osama bin Laden when Bush, in his first eight months in office, could hardly remember who the guy was.

There's something very small about a president who can't accept responsibility for things going wrong in the sixth year of his tenure. In 1961, John Kennedy hadn't been on the job three months before accepting responsibility for the Bay of Pigs, an operation that had been planned in the Eisenhower Administration by people who weren't always the best and brightest; Kennedy learned quickly to be more discriminating about the kind of people he had inherited from the previous administration but he accepted responsibility for what happened. Kennedy didn't know about earlier stunts like this:
SEP 28, 1960: The CIA attempts its first drop of weapons and supplies to the Cuban resistance. The aircrew tries to drop an arms pack for a hundred men to an agent waiting on the ground. They miss the drop zone by seven miles and land the weapons on top of a dam where they are picked up by Castro's forces. The agent is caught and shot. The plane gets lost on the way to Guatemala and lands in Mexico. (Thomas, p.241)

The CIA has come a long ways from those bizarre exploits of the fifties that often produced many problems for us down the road. There are a lot of professionals these days but the real problem in the Bush Administration have been the civilians under the control of Cheney and Rumsfeld and the public relations types under Bush: the neocons, the cronies, the ideologues, the hired liars, the young kids, and, for that matter, even somebody like Rumsfeld who seems to fantasize that the freewheeling, uncontrolled days of the CIA in the 50s represented an asset rather than mostly a hindrance to America's foreign policy. Rumsfeld, Cheney, Bush and their friends never seemed to learned the difference between the real world and a spy novel, though they keep trying to rewrite the history of their own disasters.

Think Progress has a post on a number of prominent Republicans who were dead wrong about Osama bin Laden in 1998 and criticized Clinton for focusing too much on our nation's number one terrorist. They have comments from the time by Rep. Jim Gibbon (R-NV), Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), former Senator John Ashcroft (R-MO), Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX), former Sen. Dan Coats (R-IN), Rep. Dave Weldon (R-FL), and former Rep. Bob Barr (R-GA). Check it out. There's apparently a link to more but I think we all get the picture.

George W. Bush is responsible for the failures of his administration. Stubbornly, he refuses to do anything about it. It's time to hold him accountable and get our government working again. The voters need to put an end to the Great Republican Gold Rush of the last six years. Our nation has work to do.

Monday, September 25, 2006

More Warnings on Long-Term Oil Problem

It's a given that in a tight and volatile oil market, prices are going to go up and, yes, they're sometimes going to go down. Of course, the current drop in oil prices, after being on the rise for most of the last two years, is curiously suspicious as the midterm elections approach. It's appropriate to ask what the price of oil will be a month after the midterms?

I've read articles suggesting that the price of oil is dropping because the threat of war with Iran has lessened (but not really) and because of the large oil find, reportedly 15 billion barrels, in the Gulf of Mexico. Now if you look closely at the stories on the Gulf of Mexico find, you find the announced statement of up to 15 billion barrels of oil. Up to. If you hunt around, you find more specific numbers and they have a considerable range: the Gulf of Mexico find may be between 3 to 15 billion barrels of oil, a more honest assessment (I've written about this in an earlier post and The Oil Drum also has a response).

I hope the Gulf of Mexico find yields 20 billion barrels of oil but that's not the issue. The public needs accurate information about the current oil crunch and the future we face in just a few short years. There are people in Houston, the oil capital of the United States who are honest about what we face; here's an editorial from the Houston Chronicle:
U.S. Energy Department study concludes crude production will peak, requiring other energy forms

Last September, a Chronicle editorial warned that global oil production would peak in this decade or the next, and then inexorably decline. Given that likelihood, the United States would have to embark on a crash program to develop alternative energy sources or endure crippling increases in the price of energy.

Last week, a study performed for the U.S. Department of Energy concurred with the editorial's conclusions.

The study, led by Robert Hirsch, warned that the world should be spending $1 trillion per year developing alternative energy sources — including tar sands, oil shale and gas liquefaction — to avoid having its economy crippled by oil shortages and the resulting chaos. The study recommends a 20-year lead time, so it might already be too late to prevent a crunch.

The report said the timing was uncertain. Hirsch predicted peak oil production could come in five years, almost certainly by 2020.

Actually, the world would not have to arrive at peak production in order to experience severe shortfalls in oil supplies. The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina showed what even a minor constriction in supply can do to drive prices skyward....

We've known for thirty years that we have a problem. And now we have five to twenty years to deal with it. Some argue peak oil is already here but, even if true, it probably only applies to conventional light sweet crude. The immediate problem in many ways is enormous worldwide demand. But clearly, the writing is on the wall. We need to act.

We have a president and vice president who claim they can walk and chew gum at the same time, but they have dawdled for five years and are still reluctant to deal honestly and completely with the need for alternative energy; they have been too happy to help friends in the oil business maintain their fat profits—even if those profits are on hold for two months before the midterm elections. Congress is the body of the people, it's always been the body of the people, and it's time for the people to be heard again in Washington.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Central Asia Nuclear-Free Zone

Sometimes I sit on interesting stories wondering whether to pass them on or not. In this case, I was hoping for some further news on the treaty recently signed regarding the Central Asia Nuclear-Free Zone. Here's the story from UPI:
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan welcomes the creation of the Central Asia Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone, calling it an important step towards peace and security.

In a statement by Annan read out Friday by Yuriko Shoji, the U.N. resident coordinator in Kazakhstan, Annan said the establishment of weapons-free zones strengthens the global nuclear non-proliferation efforts, reinforces global efforts to achieve a nuclear-free world and improves global and regional peace and security.

"May the efforts of the central Asian states help move us further in that direction," the statement said.

Annan also acknowledged some states had expressed concerns about Friday's agreement and called on the five Central Asian nations to ensure its effectiveness.


The treaty was signed by representatives from Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan in the northern Kazakh town of Semipalatinsk, near the now-defunct testing ranges where the then Soviet Union exploded more than 400 atom bombs.

The story does not indicate which states had "expressed concerns" about the agreement. But I checked several other stories and one of the countries that has concerns seems to be the U.S., apparently because, at some future time, it might need to use a base from which to launch nuclear weapons. Here's a story by Natasha Mayers of the Kennebec Journal that elaborates further but without giving sources:
Are we crazy? The Bush administration is objecting a groundbreaking treaty that set up a nuclear weapon-free zone in Central Asia this week. Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan have committed themselves not to produce, buy, or allow the deployment of nuclear weapons on their soil. Isn't this exactly what we should be applauding and encouraging?

The U.S. is opposing this treaty because this is a very strategic region and the U.S. is reticent to give up the option of deploying nuclear weapons there in the future.

Manas airbase in Kyrgyzstan is one of the six most important U.S. military bases in the world, established as a hub for multinational operations following Sept. 11. It is close to Afghanis-tan and located near the immense energy reserves of the Caspian Basin, as well as the Russian and Chinese frontiers.

The United States has been involved in planning potential nuclear use scenarios for Iran.

I don't consider the second article a verified story in all its particulars but it would make a good question at a White House press conference. It would be curious to see how Tony Snow would answer the question. I'm sure there are many interested parties who would like to hear the answer.

Col. Sam Gardiner's Report on Iran

In Col. Gardiner's report for The Century Foundation that was quoted often this week, he begins with a quote from National Security Adviser, Stephen Hadley, "The doctrine of preemption remains sound and must remain an integral part of our national security strategy. We do not rule out the use of force before the enemy strikes."

That quote was made in March of this year and it's stunning in its blind assessment of reality. The preemptive strike principle is either a failure, if we take the notion seriously, or it is a complete fraud used only for public relations purposes. Stephen Hadley, who has no initiatives or accomplishments to his name, or at least any that have made the news, fails to recognize that the failure to find WMDs in Iraq means the whole preemptive strike principle is bankrupt. When the time comes to leave Iraq—and that time will come—we'll be no safer then than we were in 2002. Given the report in today's New York Times, the war in Iraq has contributed to terrorism, not made the world safer from terrorism. Col. Gardiner has no illusions about the failed foreign policy of the Bush Administration.

Here's more from Gardiner's report:
The summer of diplomacy began with a dramatic announcement on May 31, 2006, Secretary of State Condolezza Rice declared that if the Ahmadinejad government agreed to halt Iran's nuclear enrichment program, the United States would talk directly with Tehran. Secretary Rice crafted the statement working alone at home. She called Bush and received his approval. The Bush administration announced it as a significant initiative; it appeared to reflect a major change in policy.

I've been uneasy about this initiative from the beginning. Criticizing an initiative that may be real and that may have some chance of succeeding is generally not a good idea (unless the criticism is focused on improving the initiative), but it was hard to know how seriously to take something put together at home on a single weekend without a serious discussion of where the United States was trying to go with its policy towards Iran. Was it more a publicity stunt or just the kind of clumsy statesmanship that seems par for the Bush Administration? Given the rhetoric of the last few weeks, and the failure of Bush to hold back his neocon friends in the media, it appears what we saw was tilted more towards domestic consumption than towards serious policy.

Back to Gardiner's report:
This shift [towards diplomacy] was not uncontroversial within the administration; Vice President Dick Cheney had opposed the announcement. But the rationale that prevailed seems to have been that if the United States were going to confront Iran, the diplomacy box had to be checked. The secretary of state was given the summer to try it.

Well, the summer is over. Diplomacy was given a chance, and it now seems that the diplomatic activity of the past several months was just a pretext for the military option.

Diplomacy is a funny thing. We've seen occassions in the past when diplomacy didn't seem possible. In the 70s, it didn't seem possible to negotiate with Egyptian President, Anwar Sadat, but an interview by Walter Cronkite opened a small chink in the door and the Carter Administration was quick to pursue the opportunity that led to the Camp David talks. You never preclude diplomacy but the Bush Administration repeatedly does a poor job of setting up the conditions that make diplomacy possible and even following opportunities to talk (Bush muffed two opportunities to improve relations with Iran in 2001 and 2003). Diplomacy is not luck. You have to work at it and you have to pursue multiple opportunities to make it happen. If diplomacy is possible with Iran, the Bush Administration has repeatedly refused to the do the work necessary to make it possible.

Is diplomacy still possible? Yes. Will diplomacy with Iran be some kind of October Surprise? Not likely, not with Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld around. Or rather, if such a thing did happen, it would be hard to take seriously with Cheney and Rumsfeld still in office and would have to be regardedly as a midterm election publicity stunt. Gardiner suggests the Bush Administration may seriously be considering the military option, which I believe would be nothing more than a high-stakes roll of the dice with low odds.

Let's end, for now, with Gardiner's next paragraph:
Unfortunately, the military option does not make sense. When I discuss the possibility of an American military strike on Iran with my European friends, they invariably point out that an armed confrontation does not make sense—that it would be unlikely to yield any of the results that American policymakers do want, and that it would be highly likely to yield results that they do not. I tell them them they cannot understand U.S. policy if they insist on passing options through that filter. The "making sense" filter was not applied over the past four years for Iraq, and it is unlikely to be applied in evaluating whether to attack Iran.

In other words, no one should expect the Bush Administration to be rational, not with the amount of ideological baggage that weighs it down. There's a way for voters to think about this: if you have rats in the attic, you don't hire an exterminator that attacks them in the basement. But that's essentially what the American voters are getting from Bush, because, from day one, Bush has sold himself with the slickest ads in town, and for people too busy too check how good a job or poor a job Bush can do, those targeted ads sound pretty good. That's why today we are where we are: in a mess.

Rubber Stampers Inc.: (cont.)

One doesn't have to look far to find many examples of Republicans in Congress simply rubber stamping whatever Bush wants to do. The rubber stamping has gotten so bad that Republican representatives don't bother to read reports or even read legislation; and it's standard operating procedure not to let the opposition have much time to read legislation before it's voted on. There's too many examples to list them all, but here's one by the top Republican in the Senate; Laura Rozen of War and Piece caught it on TV:
Senate Majority leader Frist on ABC's this Week: has not read the April NIE on terrorism.

It's becoming an echo chamber when Congressional Republicans appear on TV. Haven't read it. Haven't heard. Didn't know. Was I supposed to know? But they all trust the most failed president in our nation's history.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Convenient Enemies and Convenient Friends

I've encountered some strange gloating on some right wing websites about Osama bin Laden supposedly being dead, as if right wing Republicans were more gleeful that Bush would have that embarrassment off his back rather than relieved that the mastermind behind 9/11 is gone. In a sense, Osama bin Laden has become an inconvenient enemy of late, despite the fact that he was initially the reason why Bush launched a war on terrorism in the first place. These truly are strange times and on many of these strange developments there just aren't enough words around to describe the current presidency.

There's a famous scene in a play by Samuel Beckett; I believe the scene is in Endgame. One of the main characters gets upset because there's a fly buzzing around; to paraphrase, he cries out, "Quick! Get him before he dies of old age!"

Given the nature of White House press briefings and Bush Administration spin and photo ops, absurdist theater is alive and well, and oh so quick to respond. If Osama bin Laden dies of natural causes, there can be no doubt that the White House will try to claim credit. But, when it comes to the real world, the White House is anything but quick. After five years, Osama bin Laden has not been brought to justice. Afghanistan was a job left unfinished. Iraq was not a cakewalk. Victims of Katrina waited for days for help. America waits for an energy policy. Bush is always in a hurry but nothing useful actually gets done. But in Bush's universe, the games go on.

Maureen Dowd of The New York Times has choice words for the latest White House games:
American officials are dubious about Mr. Musharraf's committment to destroying Al Qaeda and the Taliban. But at the press conference, W., who no doubt thinks he has seen into General [Musharraf's] soul, acted as though he were willing to believe the Pakistani president when he says he is "on the hunt" for Osama and the Taliban at the same time he's setting up a safe haven for them—and getting huffy at the idea that American forces have the right to go into Pakistan to track Osama.


Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan, who is coming to the White Housse next week to dine with W. and General [Musharraf], expressed a sly skepticism about his neighbor's protestations that he is strategizing against militants. As David Sanger reported, the Afghan leader told Times editors and reporters at a meeting Thursday that he had tried to get Pakistan's help in repelling the resurgent Taliban by giving the Pakistanis "information on training ground, on operation, people, their phone numbers, their G.P.S. locations."

"Our friends come back to us and say this information is old," Mr. Karzai continued. "Maybe. But it means they were there."

Asked where Osama was, he smiled and replied: "If I said he was in Pakistan, President Musharraf would be mad at me. And if I said he was in Afghanistan, it would not be true."

Bush is developing a growing list of convenient enemies and convenient friends and it's getting very difficult to follow the superficial logic of which is which and even sometimes who he would prefer to forget. Even the rules change so often in the Bush presidency that it's hard to know which rules apply and which rules do not.

There are reasons why laws are greater than the capricious assertions of any one man; too many Americans have forgotten that, including many in Congress, and time is beginning to run out.

My Republican grandfather was a good man and he had some good rules in life. One of them, in the language of his era, went like this for people he had just hired: judge a man by what he does, not what he says. Times have changed and the modern version is easy enough: judge people by what they do, not what they say. We have seen what Bush can do and it ain't much.

Today's right wing Republicans are already bombarding the airwaves with expensive ads that have little to do with their poor performance over the last five years. We'll know in November whether Bush and his fellow Republicans are being judged for their actions or judged for their words.

The Republican Congress: Rubber Stampers Inc.

In the last six years, Republicans in Washington have said and done things that just makes clear they have abdicated their constitutional obligations in Congress. TPM Reader DK of Talking Points Memo has the latest word on Republicans sitting on their hands:
Important bit of context on the detainee legislation and the associated debate in Congress, from the Boston Globe:
As lawmakers prepare to debate the CIA's special interrogation program for terrorism suspects, fewer than 10 percent of the members of Congress have been told which interrogation techniques have been used in the past, and none of them know which ones would be permissible under proposed changes to the War Crimes Act.
But that doesn't stop the esteemed gentleman from Alabama: "I don't know what the CIA has been doing, nor should I know," said Senator Jeff Sessions, an Alabama Republican.

I don't know.....nor should I know. They see nothing, they hear nothing, and otherwise don't tell us anything. They are supposed to be the guardians of our nation, our laws and our constitution. The right wing conservativism of this era has failed America and it's time to change course.

Friday, September 22, 2006

More Thoughts on Iran and Col. Gardiner

When a president has low credibility and when it becomes difficult to trust him because of his record of political games, anything becomes possible. However, the lower the credibility, the more dangerous a president becomes because there is no rule of thumb by which to gauge possible moves or possible outcomes. Such a situation might work in politics. In world affairs, a president with low credibility who makes a seriously wrong move can have things blow up in his face or drag us into danger we quite obviously don't need.

I notice many people have different reasons for why Bush took us into Iraq. In general, I still stand behind the idea that first of all I don't believe there's a clear coherent reason why we're in Iraq and where reasons do exist in the Bush Administration, they are frequently at cross-purposes. If one can't make coherent sense of Bush's Iraq policy, it's therefore difficult to make any sense of Bush's Iran policy.

This week, we have heard more about the possibility of a military strike against Iran. Among several blogs I've been reading, here's Kevin Drum of The Washington Monthly with his own reaction:
BOMBING IRAN....Over at The Century Foundation, Sam Gardiner has published a war-gaming analysis of possible military action against Iran. His narrow conclusion is similar to what Wes Clark told me in February: contrary to conventional wisdom, which suggests that Iran's research sites are too widespread to be destroyed via bombing, a military strike could probably do a pretty good job of taking them out. Although Gardiner warns that there's a lot of uncertainty over this, his baseline guess is that five nights of bombing would set back the Iranian nuclear program significantly.

He also notes that this very definitely seems to be the goal of the Bush administration, which has been carefully designing its diplomatic maneuvering to guarantee failure...

Destroying Iran's nuclear program with five days of bombing is a clear act of war. Perhaps the Bush Administration is thinking of the Israeli raid on Iraq's nuclear facilities as a model of what will happen. When Israel bombed Iraq's program in the 1980s, Israel had the advantage that Iraq was in the middle of a war and Saddam Hussein had enough to deal with in his war with Iran without taking on a nuclear-armed Israel. There were no significant consequences to Israel at the time.

It's possible the Bush Administration honestly believes that Iran will not respond to five days of bombing. Even if the Bush Administration is correct, the reaction in the rest of the world may not be what they expect. Matt Yglesias has a post on an uncomfirmed story on how delusional the Vice President's office may be. The story may or may not be true but it has a ring of truth to it because we have grown used to hearing strange things and even stranger predictions from the offices of the president and vice president. The thing to keep in mind is that this is not 1981, nor is it even 2001 when the US had a very different reputation than it does now; the world today is very different and the credibility of the United States is lower than it has been in well over a hundred years.

Here's more from Col. Sam Gardiner in a report he wrote for the The Century Foundation.

Note: I'll have more on this in the next day or two.

Is a Naval Blockade of Iran Possible?

The Bush Administration, which has no credibility these days, is difficult to read because there is so little connection between its rhetoric and its actions. All we know is that in general Bush tends to give diplomacy short shrift before leaning towards military action. Dave Lindorff of The Nation has a post on some recent developments:
As reports circulate of a sharp debate within the White House over possible US military action against Iran and its nuclear enrichment facilities, The Nation has learned that the Bush Administration and the Pentagon have issued orders for a major "strike group" of ships, including the nuclear aircraft carrier Eisenhower as well as a cruiser, destroyer, frigate, submarine escort and supply ship, to head for the Persian Gulf, just off Iran's western coast. This information follows a report in the current issue of Time magazine, both online and in print, that a group of ships capable of mining harbors has received orders to be ready to sail for the Persian Gulf by October 1.


According to Lieut. Mike Kafka, a spokesman at the headquarters of the Second Fleet, based in Norfolk, Virginia, the Eisenhower Strike Group, bristling with Tomahawk cruise missiles, has received recent orders to depart the United States in a little over a week. Other official sources in the public affairs office of the Navy Department at the Pentagon confirm that this powerful armada is scheduled to arrive off the coast of Iran on or around October 21.

October 21. Is this Rove's October surprise? What a raw and brazen interference with the Nov. 7 midterm elections this would be. Iran is not an emergency but Bush is good at creating fear. Let's continue with the story from The Nation:
The Eisenhower had been in port at the Naval Station Norfolk for several years for refurbishing and refueling of its nuclear reactor; it had not been scheduled to depart for a new duty station until at least a month later, and possibly not till next spring. Family members, before the orders, had moved into the area and had until then expected to be with their sailor-spouses and parents in Virginia for some time yet. First word of the early dispatch of the "Ike Strike" group to the Persian Gulf region came from several angry officers on the ships involved, who contacted antiwar critics like retired Air Force Col. Sam Gardiner and complained that they were being sent to attack Iran without any order from the Congress.

It is the obligation of Congress, and particularly the Senate, to be involved in foreign policy. Are the rubber-stamping members of Congress going to even bother to vote or make their voices heard on any of this? Bush could launch a war without any congressional authorization. Here's more from The Nation:

Even as Bush was making not-so-veiled threats at the UN, his former Secretary of State, Colin Powell, a sharp critic of any unilateral US attack on Iran, was in Norfolk, not far from the Eisenhower, advocating further diplomatic efforts to deal with Iran's nuclear program--itself tantalizing evidence of the policy struggle over whether to go to war, and that those favoring an attack may be winning that struggle.

"I think the plan's been picked: bomb the nuclear sites in Iran," says Gardiner. "It's a terrible idea, it's against US law and it's against international law, but I think they've decided to do it." Gardiner says that while the United States has the capability to hit those sites with its cruise missiles, "the Iranians have many more options than we do: They can activate Hezbollah; they can organize riots all over the Islamic world, including Pakistan, which could bring down the Musharraf government, putting nuclear weapons into terrorist hands; they can encourage the Shia militias in Iraq to attack US troops; they can blow up oil pipelines and shut the Persian Gulf." Most of the major oil-producing states in the Middle East have substantial Shiite populations, which has long been a concern of their own Sunni leaders and of Washington policy-makers, given the sometimes close connection of Shiite populations to Iran's religious rulers.

Of course, Gardiner agrees, recent ship movements and other signs of military preparedness could be simply a bluff designed to show toughness in the bargaining with Iran over its nuclear program. But with the Iranian coast reportedly armed to the teeth with Chinese Silkworm antiship missiles, and possibly even more sophisticated Russian antiship weapons, against which the Navy has little reliable defenses, it seems unlikely the Navy would risk high-value assets like aircraft carriers or cruisers with such a tactic. Nor has bluffing been a Bush MO to date.


One solid indication that the dispatch of the Eisenhower is part of a force buildup would be if the carrier Enterprise--currently in the Arabian Sea, where it has been launching bombing runs against the Taliban in Afghanistan, and which is at the end of its normal six-month sea tour--is kept on station instead of sent back to the United States. Arguing against simple rotation of tours is the fact that the Eisenhower's refurbishing and its dispatch were rushed forward by at least a month. A report from the Enterprise on the Navy's official website referred to its ongoing role in the Afghanistan fighting, and gave no indication of plans to head back to port. The Navy itself has no comment on the ship's future orders.

We now have ships in the Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea and we have our military on the west and east side of Iran. The northern border of Iran is less covered but in the last eighteen months, U.S. military officials have been trying to get permission for military bases in that region and it appears we at least have overflight permission. A possibility designed for election year games is a naval blockade. We know that Bush wants to impose sanctions against Iran after a very poor diplomatic effort over the summer that we now know was largely designed to fail. A naval blockade can be regarded as an act of war but it can also be sold, at least briefly, as simply an enforcement of sanctions, if this is where things are going.

The political advantage of a naval blockade is simply the illusion of trying to come to a peaceful resolution with Iran while trying to scare the daylights out of the American voter (would Karl Rove dare to invoke the image of Kennedy and the Cuban Missile Crisis?). If the blockade is announced two weeks before the elections, it would be designed to scare voters before they have time to think of how stupid the whole thing is. There is no emergency with Iran. Diplomacy, real diplomacy, hasn't even been tried. Tens of millions of Americans would see through the nonsense but it may be a close call whether a majority of voters would see through such a manipulative and political outrage. The real risk is whether Iran is stupid enough to rise to the bait. Bush clearly wants Iran to start a war. But there are still powerful voices in the military and Washington calling for a more rational course.

At the very least, Americans ought to recognize how dangerous Bush's games have increasingly become. If we include the Caspian Sea, the northern side of Iran includes Russia as one of the countries on Iran's borders; if we forget Iran for a moment, there is a growing risk that Bush and his incompetent friends may be pushing us back into a Cold War with Russia. Because of oil, the power of Russia is rising again and Bush has badly handled our relationship with Russia over the last six years (like so much in the Bush years, Russia represents an area of criminal negligience on the part of the Bush Administration).

Whether we have a naval blockade, an election year attack or just more posturing by Bush, everything Bush says should be regarded with skepticism. The last thing we need is a third war at this time and if Republicans in Congress go along with this nonsense, they have no business being in office.

Whatever happens, it's important for voters to remember that Bush has repeatedly shown he cannot be trusted. He's not honest, he is incompetent and his judgment has repeatedly proven to be wrong. Bush is the boy who has cried wolf too long.