Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Perspective: On This Day In Iraq -- August 1st edition

August 1, 2003: Family members say farewell at the funeral of a 21-year old soldier from the 82nd Airborne, killed in Baghdad when his vehicle was hit by an improvised explosive device.

August 1, 2002:

Iraq 'close to nuclear bomb goal'

Saddam Hussein will have enough weapons-grade uranium for three nuclear bombs by 2005, a former Iraqi nuclear engineer told senators yesterday, as the US Congress held hearings on whether to go to war.

Launching what it called a "national discussion" amid frequent reports that the Bush administration is honing its plans for an assault on Iraq, the Senate foreign relations committee was also warned by an expert on the Iraqi military not to underestimate the strength of Saddam's army and air defences and not to doubt that any invasion would require overwhelming force.

A succession of expert witnesses at the high-profile hearings argued that the danger posed by Saddam to the US and the rest of the world was constantly increasing as the Iraqi dictator attempted to build chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.

Khidir Hamza, who played a leading role in Iraq's nuclear weapon programme before defecting in 1994, cited German intelligence in saying: "With more than 10 tonnes of uranium and one tonne of slightly enriched its possession, Iraq has enough to generate the needed bomb-grade uranium for three nuclear weapons by 2005."

He also claimed: "Iraq is using corporations in India and other countries to import the needed equipment for its programme and channel it through countries like Malaysia for shipment to Iraq."

Mr Hamza, who now works for a New York thinktank, said that the chemical and biological weapons programmes were making strides and Baghdad was "gearing up to extend the range of its missiles to easily reach Israel".

His pessimistic assessment was echoed by other witnesses, including the former UN chief weapons inspector, Richard Butler.

However, experts with dissenting views, such as Scott Ritter, another former UN inspector, had not been invited.

Read the rest at

August 1, 2003:

U.S. Shifts Rhetoric On Its Goals in Iraq

As the search for illegal weapons in Iraq continues without success, the Bush administration has moved to emphasize a different rationale for the war against Saddam Hussein: using Iraq as the "linchpin" to transform the Middle East and thereby reduce the terrorist threat to the United States.

President Bush, who has mostly stopped talking about Iraq's weapons, said at a news conference Wednesday that "the rise of a free and peaceful Iraq is critical to the stability of the Middle East, and a stable Middle East is critical to the security of the American people."

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz said on NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday that "the battle to secure the peace in Iraq is now the central battle in the global war on terror, and those sacrifices are going to make not just the Middle East more stable, but our country safer."

And Vice President Cheney, in a speech last week, said Iraq "will stand as an example to the entire Middle East" and thus "contribute directly to the security of America and our friends."

In an interview yesterday, a senior administration official expanded on that theme, saying the United States has embarked on a "generational commitment" to Iraq similar to its efforts to transform Germany in the decades after World War II.

The Bush aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity, outlined a long-term strategy in which the United States would spread its values through Iraq and the Middle East much as it transformed Europe in the second half of the 20th century. As outlined, the U.S. commitment to Iraq and the Middle East would be far more expansive than the administration had described to the public and the world before the Iraq war...

The vision described by the official represents a change in the administration's emphasis in describing the U.S. purpose in Iraq. Before the war, Bush at times stressed the limits of the mission, promising to "remain in Iraq as long as necessary and not a day more." At that time, Bush justified the conflict largely by asserting the need to strip Hussein of chemical and biological weapons and disrupt his nuclear ambitions.

Read the rest at the Washington Post

August 1, 2004:

Al Qaeda-Iraq Link Recanted

An al Qaeda commander who initially told interrogators that Iraq had provided chemical and biological weapons training to the terrorist organization later told CIA officers his statement was not true, according to intelligence officials.

Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, a Libyan captured in Pakistan on Nov. 11, 2001, later "changed his story, and we're still in the process of trying to determine what's right and what's not right" from his information, a senior U.S. intelligence official said yesterday. "He told us one thing at one time and another at another time."

Al-Libi's statement formed the basis for the Bush administration's prewar claim that Osama bin Laden collaborated with Iraq, according to several U.S. officials.

In an October 2002 speech in Cincinnati, for example, President Bush said: "We've learned that Iraq has trained al Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and gases." Other senior administration officials, including Secretary of State Colin L. Powell in a speech to the United Nations, made similar assertions. Al-Libi's statements were the foundation of all of them.

His about-face has not been made public by the CIA or the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

Read the rest at the Washington Post

August 1, 2005:

Who's Paying for Our Patriotism?

President Bush assures us that the ongoing twin wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are worth the sacrifices they entail. Editorialists around the nation agree and say that a steadfast American public was willing to stay the course.

Should anyone be surprised by this national resolve, given that these wars visit no sacrifice of any sort -- neither blood nor angst nor taxes -- on well over 95 percent of the American people?

At most, 500,000 American troops are at risk of being deployed to these war theaters at some time. Assume that for each of them some 20 members of the wider family sweat with fear when they hear that a helicopter crashed in Afghanistan or that X number of soldiers or Marines were killed or seriously wounded in Iraq. It implies that no more than 10 million Americans have any real emotional connection to these wars.

The administration and Congress have gone to extraordinary lengths to insulate voters from the money cost of the wars -- to the point even of excluding outlays for them from the regular budget process. Furthermore, they have financed the wars not with taxes but by borrowing abroad.

The strategic shielding of most voters from any emotional or financial sacrifice for these wars cannot but trigger the analogue of what is called "moral hazard" in the context of health insurance, a field in which I've done a lot of scholarly work. There, moral hazard refers to the tendency of well-insured patients to use health care with complete indifference to the cost they visit on others. It has prompted President Bush to advocate health insurance with very high deductibles. But if all but a handful of Americans are completely insulated against the emotional -- and financial -- cost of war, is it not natural to suspect moral hazard will be at work in that context as well?

A policymaking elite whose families and purses are shielded from the sacrifices war entails may rush into it hastily and ill prepared, as surely was the case of the Iraq war. Moral hazard in this context can explain why a nation that once built a Liberty Ship every two weeks and thousands of newly designed airplanes in the span of a few years now takes years merely to properly arm and armor its troops with conventional equipment. Moral hazard can explain why, in wartime, the TV anchors on the morning and evening shows barely make time to report on the wars, lest the reports displace the silly banter with which they seek to humor their viewers. Do they ever wonder how military families with loved ones in the fray might feel after hearing ever so briefly of mayhem in Iraq or Afghanistan?

Moral hazard also can explain why the general public is so noticeably indifferent to the plight of our troops and their families. To be sure, we paste cheap magnetic ribbons on our cars to proclaim our support for the troops. But at the same time, we allow families of reservists and National Guard members to slide into deep financial distress as their loved ones stand tall for us on lethal battlefields and the family is deprived of these troops' typically higher civilian salaries. We offer a pittance in disability pay to seriously wounded soldiers who have not served the full 20 years that entitles them to a regular pension. And our legislative representatives make a disgraceful spectacle of themselves bickering over a mere $1 billion or so in added health care spending by the Department of Veterans Affairs -- in a nation with a $13 trillion economy!

Last year kind-hearted folks in New Jersey collected $12,000 at a pancake feed to help stock pantries for financially hard-pressed families of the National Guard. Food pantries for American military families? The state of Illinois now allows taxpayers to donate their tax refunds to such families. For the entire year 2004, slightly more than $400,000 was collected in this way, or 3 cents per capita. It is the equivalent of about 100,000 cups of Starbucks coffee. With a similar program Rhode Island collected about 1 cent per capita. Is this what we mean by "supporting our troops"?

When our son, then a recent Princeton graduate, decided to join the Marine Corps in 2001, I advised him thus: "Do what you must, but be advised that, flourishing rhetoric notwithstanding, this nation will never truly honor your service, and it will condemn you to the bottom of the economic scrap heap should you ever get seriously wounded." The intervening years have not changed my views; they have reaffirmed them.

Unlike the editors of the nation's newspapers, I am not at all impressed by people who resolve to have others stay the course in Iraq and in Afghanistan. At zero sacrifice, who would not have that resolve?

Read the rest at the Washington Post

August 1, 2006:

An out-of-touch Middle East vision

When this round of fighting in Lebanon is long over, and the denouement in Iraq has become clear, historians may look back at a July 21 quote from Condoleezza Rice as the epitaph for the Bush administration's Mideast policy.

“What we're seeing here,” said Rice, while Hezbollah missiles rained on Haifa, and Lebanese civilians fled Israeli bombs, “is the . . . birth pangs of a new Middle East. . . . We have to be certain that we are pushing forward to the new Middle East, not going back to the old one.”

I had to ask, as I watched Rice's remarks, whether the secretary of state had any idea of what kind of “new Middle East” was being born with American help.

If the Lebanon tragedy is to be resolved without a victory for Hezbollah, and if there is any chance to save Iraq, the White House needs some kind of grip on realities in the region. Yet as Lebanon burns and Iraq convulses, the rhetoric of the Bush team seems ever more removed from the facts on the ground.

No one on the Bush team seems to have noticed that their utopian vision of a secular democracy with a growing middle class in Iraq followed by “regime change” in Syria and Iran has utterly failed. Nor have they asked why.

Under Saddam, as many experts forewarned, the middle class had shrunk, religiosity had grown, and the country lacked any experience with the compromise politics necessary to make democracy work. Democratic elections have produced a government led by religious parties representing the Shiite majority, parties that are allied with Iran.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who visited Washington last week, has not shown the strength needed to make his national unity government work. Iraq is edging ever closer to a level of disintegration that a few thousand more U.S. troops won't stem.

Iraq has become the anti-model for democratic change in the region – a failed state that gives democracy a bad name, and marginalizes liberals in the area. And the chaos in Baghdad stems directly from a gross American misunderstanding of the Iraqi culture.

Ditto for its misunderstanding of the rest of the region. The most eager adherents of elections these days are the Islamists. Hamas came to power by the vote, and Hezbollah votes won a major role in the Lebanese parliament...

The Bush administration, however, sees Lebanon in a broader context of Middle East “transformation.” It hopes for an Israeli knockout blow against Hezbollah militias that would send a powerful message to the group's Iranian backers. That view ignores internal Lebanese dynamics that won't permit the destruction of Hezbollah.

Some in the administration, along with neocon pundits, see the Israel-Hezbollah battle as part of a global struggle that pits the West against “Islamofascists” – they call it “World War III.” On last Sunday's talk shows, former House speaker Newt Gingrich insisted the White House must pursue Mideast regime change and “use the kind of strategy we used” in Eastern Europe to encourage democratic revolts in terrorist states.

This transformational vision is tidy. But today's terrorists can't be fought with the pitched battles of World War II. Nor does the Middle East resemble Eastern Europe, with its democratic experience and links to the West. Combating terrorists requires a far more sophisticated military and political approach.

No one strategy fits all in the region. Dealing with Hamas requires a focus on the Israel-Palestinian issue, while dealing with Hezbollah requires a focus on Lebanese politics. Unless we confront the Middle East that is, not the vision cooked up by the ill-informed, the regional situation will worsen. And more victories in this “new Middle East” will go to the Islamists, not to democrats.

Read the rest at the San Diego Tribune