Thursday, March 01, 2007

Strange Days in the Bush Administration

First, the good news. The Bush Administration says it plans to talk to the Syrians and Iranians. Of course, it's good news only if the Bush Administration follows through on its statement, something it has not always done. So we will see if this is real or more nonsense.

Now for the strange news that keeps coming out of Washington:

Recently, we saw the Bush Administration trying to claim some of our troops were being killed by explosive devices made in Iran. What they offered was shaky evidence and the Bush Administration was forced to backpedal, before it was shown the devices were being made in Iraqi workshops as most people assumed all along.

We have the Walter Reed scandal with administration figures saying that no one cares about our wounded soldiers and veterans more than they do though mysteriously their Republican friends in Congress kept failing to provide oversight or money. Alas, it appears to be another heckuva job Brownie moment that has become such a familiar hallmark of this particular presidency.

One of the latest things is the Bush Administration's backpedaling on North Korea's so-called uranium enrichment program, which was always an iffy matter. All along, plutonium, not uranium, appeared to be what the North Koreans were using for their nuclear arms program. And the bomb most likely to fizzle is the plutonium bomb which has to built just right. We are fortunate that Bush is not the only incompetent in world affairs; North Korea called its own bluff and their missiles failed and later their nuclear device failed to make the statement they were hoping for (one suspects they may have known they had a troubled program and picked the bomb most likely to succeed and it wasn't good enough, hence no second try). Bush's many bizarre exaggerations of other nation's arms programs is leading to serious repercussions and makes it more difficult to engage in arms control in the future. We are fortunate that other nations, such as those in Europe, take arms control more seriously in terms of careful monitoring, analysis and diplomacy. At least there are people around who still know what they're doing. But they're certainly rare in the Bush Administration.

But nothing matches the bizarre and strange behavior of Dick Cheney. The more we learn about the arrogant and self-assured Vice President and his delusional assertions, the more evident it becomes that Dick Cheney needs to step down. He blew Iraq. He blew North Korea. Along with Bush and Rumsfeld, he was dead wrong to put Afghanistan on the back burner. But Cheney is itching for action in Iran as if he still retains some credibility.

No one is more the topic of discussion these days than Dick Cheney and much of that discussion has been prompted by Cheney's odd behavior—more prominent lately possibly because of the Scooter Libby trial and Cheney's close connection to the affair. As secretive and low profile as Cheney has been for most of Bush's six years in office, he has been a source of real concern from the beginning when he turned out not to be the steadying hand many people thought he was going to be. Sidney Blumenthal has an article in Salon that focuses on Cheney:
Cheney's implication that the U.S. presence in Iraq cannot possibly be an inspiration for terrorism is simply not shared at the highest levels of the senior military, including commanders on the ground in Iraq. I have learned that they are privately reading, circulating, and in agreement with a new article written by terrorism experts Peter Bergen and Paul Cruickshank, senior fellows at the New York University Center on Law and Security. (Bergen is also a fellow at the New America Foundation. For purposes of full disclosure, I am also a senior fellow at the NYU Center.) Their article, "The Iraq Effect: War Has Increased Terrorism Sevenfold Worldwide," published in Mother Jones, provides empirical evidence for careful conclusions:

"Our study yields one resounding finding: The rate of terrorist attacks around the world by jihadist groups and the rate of fatalities in those attacks increased dramatically after the invasion of Iraq. Globally there was a 607 percent rise in the average yearly incidence of attacks (28.3 attacks per year before and 199.8 after) and a 237 percent rise in the average fatality rate (from 501 to 1,689 deaths per year). A large part of this rise occurred in Iraq, which accounts for fully half of the global total of jihadist terrorist attacks in the post-Iraq War period. But even excluding Iraq, the average yearly number of jihadist terrorist attacks and resulting fatalities still rose sharply around the world by 265 percent and 58 percent respectively."

Draining military and economic resources from Afghanistan in the run-up to invading Iraq contributed to Afghanistan's current crisis. While money and materiel were siphoned to Iraq, Afghanistan was starved. "Aid per capita to Afghans in the first two years after the fall of the Taliban was around a tenth of that given to Bosnians following the end of the Balkan civil war in the mid-1990s," Bergen noted in testimony on Feb. 15 before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan James Dobbins has said, "Afghanistan was the least resourced of any major American-led nation building operation since the end of World War II." But the Iraq policy has had other ricochet effects, according to Bergen and Cruickshank:

"Since the invasion of Iraq, Afghanistan has suffered 219 jihadist terrorist attacks that can be attributed to a particular group, resulting in the deaths of 802 civilians. The fact that the Taliban only conducted its first terrorist attacks in September 2003, a few months after the invasion of Iraq, is significant. International forces had already been stationed in the country for two years before the Taliban began to specifically target the U.S.-backed Karzai government and civilians sympathetic to it. This points to a link between events in Iraq and the initiation of the Taliban's terrorist campaign in Afghanistan. True, local dynamics form part of the explanation for the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan. But the use of terrorism, particularly suicide attacks, by the Taliban is an innovation drawn from the Iraqi theater."


Rather than approaching a climactic struggle against free-floating sects of "Islamofascism," the administration has been a party since Sept. 11 to concrete regional conflicts in which not only were economic, social and diplomatic instruments ignored but international military help was also rejected. Belatedly, in Afghanistan, circumstances of the administration's own making have forced it to concede the necessity of getting assistance from allies. Yet the movement of 1,400 British troops there is a direct reflection of the disintegration of the "coalition of the willing" in Iraq. Those very troops are being redeployed from southern Iraq, the British sector now being ceded to control of Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army, which Bush's "surge" is supposedly intended to suppress.

To repeat a point I made the other day, the Bush Administration had terrorists and al Qaida knocked back on its heels in the months after 9/11 but by refusing to finish the job in Afghanistan (or deluding themselves that they had done their job despite what a number of terrorist experts were saying), they gave al Qaida a breather. More important, by attacking Iraq with such a fraudelent case for war, a case so fraudelent that it was evident to the whole world—and by allowing such stupid and inflammatory acts as Abu Ghraib—Cheney, Bush and Rumsfeld, through their own recklessness and incompetence, breathed new life into al Qaida and several terrorist groups.

On any number of issues, Cheney has some explaining to do. He has been treated, up to now, with far too much deference—and perhaps fear—by the media and generally Republican members of Congress. He is no expert and no visionary. He is a right winger caught in a rigid ideology that belongs in the cocktail lounge of a conservative country club; it is where Cheney belongs—in such an environment he can snarl and sneer all he wants, just so he isn't taken seriously by anyone in government. Congress needs to demand serious answers from Cheney. If answers aren't forthcoming, cut the funding for his office. If that doesn't work, begin impeachment proceedings. What we can no longer afford to do is pretend that Dick Cheney is not a major problem.

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