Tuesday, September 30, 2003

The other day, I guessed the culprits in the Plame affair would turn out to be Libby and Rove.

I confess, this was utterly by the seat of my pants, and not based on any evidence.

Now, it appears that Rove has assured people that he didn't do the deed. But I'm not ready to take Rove's word for it. It's too soon to call the Rove theory dead yet.

As for Libby, I don't know why I guessed it would be him. But one reason to think so is that the original Wilson article made Cheney in particular look bad, of all the people in the WH.

And, of course, most of the evil in the WH comes from Cheney.

OK, so it's not very scientific. But that's my theory. I'm sticking to it for now.
A quick note about the Plame affair.

Remember that Tenet initiated all this by asking for an investigation, and probably really initiated it by leaking juicy details to the WaPo. So . . . the shit that hit the fan recently was flung by Mr. Tenet, if you'll excuse the expression.

Why? Well, a couple of motives are plausible, and they're all compatible. The first is obviously to shore up institutional support within the CIA. The agency takes a dim view of this sort of thing, and Tenet is already disliked by many for failing to stick up to the agency. Screw the WH, problem (partly) solved.

The second is revenge and deterrence. Remember Condi's absurd attempt to blame Tenet for the whole uranium thing? No one is going to fuck with Tenet when he's holding so many damn trump cards. And that includes the assholes in the WH who might be tempted to have Tenet take the fall for the mess in post-war Iraq.

But the most obvious reason is cover. This story broke - and has consumed everyone's attention, including mine - exactly around the time that a new report came out slamming pre-war intelligence. Without this scandal, I think everyone would now be talking about how Tenet's time has finally come. He's simply presided over too many screwups.

As things are now, I think it would be very hard to get rid of him. Dumping Tenet at this point would create the impression that the WH was trying to punish him for initiating the Plame investigation.

But if Tenet has succeeded in putting himself off limits for criticism from the WH, I don't think he's put himself off limits for anyone else. We shouldn't remember this as we push the Plame story, however legitimate it is in its own right. We should remember that Tenet has done his job poorly, and his job is to protect us. That's both frightening and an appropriate focus of criticism.

Now, ahem, back to Plame.

Monday, September 29, 2003

Guardian Unlimited | Special reports | CIA analysing new 'al-Qaida' tape

Hmmmmm. Wonder if bin Laden is dead? Why is a deputy delivering the message now?

Sunday, September 28, 2003

Iran rules out compromise on uranium enrichment, nuclear programme

We'll never know how much leverage the U.S. would have been able to exert on Iran to get out of the nukes business if it hadn't gone into Iraq.

But that won't keep us from speculating!
Whiskey Bar: Five Leaves Left

I like what they're serving at the Whiskey Bar.
The Unbuilding of Iraq

Ouch. Ouch, ouch, ouch.
Let's bet on the Plame leaker. For no reason other than a hunch, I'll put my chips on Libby and/or Rove.

Ah, could be wrong. But sometimes ya just gotta plunk yer chips down.
Previously an underground sensation in the blogosphere and the leftwing press (David Corn, of the Nation, broke the story), the Valerie Plame story has finally hit the big time. Boy, oh boy, has it ever.

Now, how big could this get? Not sure, but I have a tentative analogy to offer my readers (i.e., my mom, one or two friends and a few others who get (mis-)directed here by Google). Nixon got away with violating domestic and international law for a long time, and when he finally got screwed, it was on something relatively minor. (Quick: Which is worse, illegally and secretly bombing a neutral country and killing thousands of innocents, or authorizing the cover up of a break in at a hotel? Yes, my thoughts exactly.)

Now, you can say that Nixon's downfall over something relatively minor, rather than for his more serious offenses, speaks badly of the American political system. I say that all the time. But it's also only fair to point out that Nixon might well have gotten away with Watergate if it wasn't for the other stuff. (You can mentally insert a line here about straws and camels and backs and such. I haven't the energy to actually write it.) By the time Watergate rolled around, that other stuff had finally spooked the political establishment, and the political establishment made him pay for it when they focused on Watergate.

So, my suggestion is that you shouldn't look at how bad the Plame behaviour is on its own to decide how much play this story is going to get or how much damage it will do to the admin. I suspect it's going to hurt, and that it's going to go proxy for a whole lot of other shit that the Bush admin has pulled.

danieldrezner.com :: Daniel W. Drezner :: What could cause me to switch parties

Right then. How serious is the Plame thing? Here's Dan Drezner:

Let me make this as plain as possible -- I was an unpaid advisor for the Bush-Cheney 2000 campaign, and I know and respect some high-ranking people in the administration. And none of that changes the following: if George W. Bush knew about or condoned this kind of White House activity, I wouldn't just vote against him in 2004 -- I'd want to see him impeached. Straight away.

Saturday, September 27, 2003

United Press International: Bremer: Kuwait, Saudi claim on Iraq unfair

For once, I agree with someone in the Bush admin! Savour it!
Now, if I had a hand in the formulation of U.S. foreign policy, one priority would be to try to avoid a mistake that the U.S. made throughout the Cold War: to support dictators uncritically as the lesser of two evils. I think it's fair to say that many in the U.S. now rue the decision to treat Saddam Hussein with kid gloves during the 80s, to take just one example.

One area to focus on would be the stans around Afghanistan: Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, especially. These are strategically important areas, and I think I can see why the U.S. would consider it in its short term interests, at least, to cultivate the cooperation of the leaders of these countries. But it has been clear to me for some time that the U.S. government is making one of its classic mistakes here: They are aligning themselves with wretched tyrants, and for little long term advantage.

Support for corrupt dictatorships doesn't work. If you go in for morality, rely on that as your reason to reject current policy. But also reject it if you're a cold hearted realist: It won't work. In the long run, societies get ruined more quickly and more thoroughly if their brutal crackdowns are supported by global powers. And when societies are thoroughly ruined, they make for the kind of instability that breeds violence.

Check out this piece in the WaPo.

Sweeping changes to Iraq's farming system are on the horizon.

This would be a little easier to take if the Cancun talks hadn't just collapsed, partly on the issue of . . . farm subsidies.
Russia Won't End Accord With Iran to Build Reactor

All the backslapping. All the soulful gazing into each other's eyes. The playful refusal to mention little follies like the brutalization of Chechnya. And it comes to this.

Now tell me again why France is worse than Russia?
Talking Points Memo reports that the CIA has asked Justice to investigate whether the White House broke the law in leaking the fact that a former diplomat's wife was a CIA agent. The problem, of course, is of finding justice at Justice, so to speak.

What do you think the chances are that political pressure will be brought to bear on the investigation within the Justice Department? Yeah, I thought so too.

Look, the admin can't credibly investigate the admin. Even if these guys were trusted and competent, rather than moronic political hacks with no credibility to speak of, the investigation would be better left to an impartial investigator. What do you think the chances of that are? Well, slightly higher than zero, but of course the same people who can't be trusted to investigate themselves can't really be trusted to appoint an impartial investigator, can they? Well, we can hope.

One questions here: Why didn't the CIA just sit tight? It was obvious from the start that the White House betrayed them for (minute) political gain. But how much can Tenet care about that sort of thing? He seems mainly interested in saving his ass. One extra motivation, besides the desire to be seen within the CIA as - finally - sticking up for the troops: if an investigation is ongoing, perhaps it gives the CIA more leverage against the White House. And so Tenet is able to limp along, from scandal to scandal, doing a crappy job at everything except holding his job.

Thursday, September 25, 2003

Middle East Online

Ah, see! I said it couldn't be true.
Much of the right has been foaming at the mouth for a year or so now over France. Question: Is there some consistent ideological basis for this, or do these chumps march in lockstep to the martial tunes emenating from the White House?

There's actually a very easy test to settle this question: Find a country which has behaved in ways that are relevantly similar to France and see whether it comes in for the same kind of abuse in the right wing press. As I've said, this isn't hard to do. Perhaps you've even heard of this country. It's called Russia.

Russia presented as serious an obstacle as France to U.S. policy in the buildup to war, and for many of the same reasons: greed for oil, a fundamental lack of concern about human rights in its foreign policy, and the kind of deep resentment and rivalry that is felt particularly keenly by has-beens. Since then, besides making the odd friendly noise, Russia has been interested in one thing only, which is to drive a very hard bargain with the U.S. for its support on projects that are really to the mutual benefit of both countries. I suppose it makes sense for the U.S. to bribe Russia to curtail assistance to Iran's nuclear program, for example. But it is beyond me how the U.S. does this without suffering deep resentment. After all, it's idiotic for Russia to encourage an unstable nuclear power so close to home. Why does it need to be bribed for this kind of thing?

Now suppose that you think the U.S. has good reasons for these policies. Suppose that it actually makes sense to look the other way when it comes to Russia's authoritarianism or its grotesque human rights abuses in Chechnya. It still doesn't make any sense for the right wing press - which is free of the diplomatic constraints imposed on the administration – to look the other way. In fact, Russia has all the features that conservative commentators find so maddening about France, and a whole lot of other quite disgusting details thrown in gratis on top.

As long as neo-cons find France's failure to provide decent air conditioning for its senior citizens less worrying than Russia's crimes against humanity in Chechnya, or its deteriorating and corrupt economy, I'll know I don't have to take their outrage seriously.
Hmmmmm. Classy. Very classy.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Whiskey Bar: Life Inside the Bubble

This explains so much . . .
Los Angeles Times: Open Investment Policy Looks Like 'World Occupation' to Iraq Merchants

Look, this just can't be true. It can't. It's too awful to be true.

I've been arguing that the U.S. can't leave now, even though the war itself was unjustified. Leaving would create a terrible power vacuum with very serious consequences for Iraq and the region. But if you're going to screw it up utterly, perhaps there is no point in trying.

This is close to being the last straw for me.

Look, you can love the markets as much as the next guy. You can sleep with Hayek under your pillow. You can swoon at the sight of the Wall Street Journal. But you should still admit that there is an embarassing abundance of empirical evidence suggesting that rapid transitions to market economies lead to disaster. If you really want to turn Iraq into a free trade zone (and I thought that might have been a decision for Iraqis to make on their own), you don't suggest that that sort of wrenching transformation be initiated simultaneously with several other wrenching transformations.

So, I hear a little voice asking, do you really think this is more horrifying than Ba'ath party rule? No, of course not. Not in itself. But it is worse for America than Ba'ath party rule in Iraq, for starters. Also, I desperately want the reconstruction in Iraq to go well, to be proven wrong in my resistance to the war. Unlike so many on the left, I believe that the U.S. has a positive role to play in the world, if it will only play it. But the way things are going, Iraq is sure to be transformed into a burning shithole, and that doesn't help anyone. Not Iraqis. Not Americans. Not even the Frencch.
One commentator has this to say about Iraq:

The bottom line: There's good news and bad news, not a single coherent narrative, and different reporters perceive the story differently--not because they're necessarily biased for or against U.S. efforts but because they have different experiences and weight different information differently. All of which explains why I don't, from my perch in the United States, opine on the "real" situation in Iraq. Like the "real" situation in the United States, it's complicated and contains many contradictions. Reporters on the scene owe their audiences the messy details, even when they won't fit into a neat narrative predicting either certain victory or an inevitable quagmire.

Oh jeez. There are also good trends and bad trends. There is indeed some good news coming out of Iraq these days, particularly in the North (though there are also very worrying signs there too). But there are also very alarming developments which are alarming because of what they suggest may happen later on.

Wish that goofy conservatives were so patient and careful in drawing lessons from other complex cases.

Saturday, September 20, 2003

More letters about Riverbend's bridge allegations over at Juan Cole * Informed Comment * for anyone who is interested.
Instapundit's recent post, which quotes approvingly from a Barone article, is really stupid.

Look, the State Dept starting planning for the occupation of Germany and Japan in 1942. The State Department started planning for the invasion of Iraq about 8 months prior to the invasion. And then much of the planning was scuppered by Defence. And don't, please don't, bring up WWI. I don't know if Barone heard: The conference was a disaster, and so hardly something you'd want to cite in a piece defending the admin.
How to make sense of recent French shenanigans over Iraq?? Well, Thomas Friedman now thinks that France is the enemy. He's getting as loony as Safire (and that's loony!), but he does have a point that France's proposal – essentially a very rapid transfer of power to the Iraqi governing council – is a proposal whose point is surely to act as a poison pill in negotiations: France knows that the U.S. cannot, should not, transfer power so rapidly, and so it's clearly trying to put itself into a position where the U.S. rejects one of its proposals. (Wish France had shown some interest in the will of the Iraqi people before!)

So, as far as I can tell, the French are deliberately sabotaging the negotiations. What motives do they probably have?

Well, partly it must be a desire to ensure that it looks like it's playing a constructive role and not just a destructive one. Look at those rejectionist Yanks, the thinking must be, throwing out our perfectly sensible proposal.

It must also partly be a desire to ensure that it avoids any sort of troop commitment. Recent interventions in Africa have been costly to France, and its military is a bit stretched these days.

But I think the main reason is that France really wants the U.S. to fail in Iraq. This is not because, as Friedman thinks, France is turning into an enemy of the U.S., so much as that France turned a while ago into an enemy of G.W.B. It cannot have escaped the attention of the French that Bush has staked his reputation on his venture in Iraq, any more than the Bush admin's visceral dislike of France went unnoticed in the capitals of Europe.

We were repeatedly assured by hawks in the buildup to war that, although Europe and the Middle East hated the war, if it was done and done quickly, they would get over it and come back to the table. One problem with this sort of assurance is that if Europeans or leaders in the Middle East get wind of it, they start to resent the obvious cheapness of their resistance to a particular policy. Unfortunately, I think, word got out.

It's not just spite that's driving the French policy. Folding too easily would confirm the view that, like it or not, the U.S. has only to persist in a policy to get everyone to eventually agree on it. In the long run, that's a precedent no one wants to set.

Alas, I think all the tough talk convinced France that the only way to drive home, really drive home, the indispensability of the world community – and the U.N. in particular, where French influence is artificially high – is to turn Iraq into a burning shithole that represents a permanent stain on American honour and prestige. That's the strategy.

The point, again, isn't to take over America's role in the world. It's to scare a generation of Americans into the belief that multilateralism is good, and unilaterialism (i.e., doing something without the French) is bad.

Now, where does the well-being of all the Iraqis and American troops fit into this? They are, I'm afraid, to be sacrificed to this 'larger point'.

One other thing: It's possible to note all this and still think, as I do, that the Bush admin's unilateralism was a complete screw up.
I'm keeping an anxious watch for people on the left who call for a quick exit from Iraq. As I have said before, whether you supported the invasion or not (I did not), it would be extremely irresponsible of the U.S. to pull out now. Doing that would lead very predictably to an extremely brutal civil war, whereas delaying a withdrawal at least provides some hope that the worst sort of internal strife can be avoided. At some point you have to decide whether you really want for Iraqis to die in the hundreds of thousands in a downward spiral of communal violence just so that Bush looks especially bad.
Greg Pallast has the "exit watch" quote of the day:

How sad. The last remaining neurons of Thomas Friedman's shrinking brain were apparently lost in hot bubbling tub of deep fatuousness today.
The evidence is in Friedman's loony-tunes comment, "Our War with France," in this morning's Paper of Record. You can only conclude the man's mind has been French Fried.
What got Friedman's brain a-boilin' is the impertinent suggestion by French diplomats that, if the US invaded Iraq to bring democracy, then why not allow Iraqis to vote. Vote! Can you imagine! It's all that silly 'libertay, equalitay' stuff that unsophisticated Americans believed before the Patriot Act.
Friedman calls voting a, "loopy symbolic transfer of Iraqi sovereignty." Friedman, Rumsfeld and Saddam Hussein all have the same line: Iraqis aren't ready for democracy. Well, I suppose Tom Paine would have disagreed -- but, hell, he moved to France.
(Maybe Friedman and his White House well-wishers are offended by the idea that Iraq would count ballots before Florida.)
France's election suggestion was prompted by our Secretary of State, the pitiable Colin Powell who, on his boss Rumsfeld's orders, demanded the European Union pony up $5 billion cash to rebuild the parts of Iraq we bombed. (Dollars only, euros not accepted.) And, says the Rummy to Elderly Europe, "Send us 25,000 troops and put'em under US command." After all, didn't we graciously replace France in Vietnam after Dien Bien Phu? Apparently, Rumsfeld thought France would jump at the chance for another game of Colonial Quagmire.
This is no longer a fight about whether the invasion was right or wrong. The question now is occupation or, bluntly, re-colonization. Saddam's gone. Therefore, our kids are dying over there for a single purpose: to prevent an election. Remember when General Jay Garner called for a vote in 90 days?
Here's why we can't have an election (and why the General got the boot): Bush's oil patch buddies can't complete the sell-off of Iraq's oil fields under an elected Iraqi government - no elected Iraqi government would let it happen. Rather than take on the issue of oil and blood, Friedman fries the French.
Get off it, Tommy - this is not about France. This is about a bunch of half-baked cowboys in the White House who made a mess in Mesopotamia and now want Europe to pay the bill before an enraged, bankrupt American electorate throws the Bushitas out on their big fat deficit.
And how DARE Friedman say that France doesn't care about the War on Terror. France declared war on Osama and his madmen years before September 11 got Bush to change from the view of his advisor, Robert Oakley, that we shouldn't have a "fixation" on getting rid of bin Laden. French intelligence warned Bush to stop playing footsie with the Taliban, to stop coddling the Saudi Islamic dictatorship, to stop running interference for the bin Laden family. But would Little George listen? Noooo.
Friedman's line -- like Rumsfeld's -- is arrogant, self-delusional and dangerous. Tres French.

A while ago, I posted a depressing story from the website of an Iraqi blogger who calls herself "Riverbend". The allegation in the story was essentially that her cousin, who is an engineer working on bridges, works for an Iraqi company which bid to construct a bridge. A U.S. company won the contract, even though its bid was much, much higher than the bid submitted by the cousin's company.

Now, Juan Cole posts a very interesting e-mail from a reader with a little more gumption than myself.

Cole remarks that the ball is now in Riverbend's court. Indeed it is. I'll keep you posted.

(What's depressing about this is that if it turns out to be bogus, the right will howl like the dickens at people for believing it. But, of course, the story is perfectly credible given the massive corruption of the U.S. reconstruction process.)

Friday, September 19, 2003

This post by Gregg Easterbrook on the development of prescription drugs seems quite sloppy. Yes, it's true that incentives are necessary to provide pharmaceuticals the incentives to develop new drugs. And, yes, because other countries have price controls on drugs, Americans often end up subsidizing the costs of drug development. But he never bothers to consider a) just what the profit margins involved here are (they are apparently quite healthy); and b) whether drug prices are high partly as a result of market oligopolies. I suspect that an accurate account of both of these issues would lead to far less confident predications about the behaviour of this particular market.
I would really love to know the truth behind this story. And I really like the idea of Karl Rove being frog-marched out of the White House. It's been a long day, but the thought still has the power to energize me.
The General Assembly strikes back:

New York, Sep 18 2003 3:00PM
The United Nations General Assembly will hold a special emergency session tomorrow in a move by Arab and Non-Aligned Movement states to circumvent a United States veto of Tuesday’s Security Council resolution demanding that Israel not deport or threaten the safety of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

The meeting, requested by Sudan on behalf of the Arab League, will convene under the “Uniting for Peace” formula of 1950, under which the Assembly may call for “collective measures” when the Council fails “to exercise its primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security in cases where there appears to be a threat to the peace,” Assembly spokesperson Michelle Montas told a news briefing.

Ms. Montas said no resolution had yet been submitted to the Assembly. “But I think the draft resolution will be pretty close to the resolution that was presented to the Security Council and that met with a veto,” she added.

The request for the session, in the name of the Arab League’s 21 member states, was supported by the 116­member Non-Aligned Movement, together mustering 137 of the UN’s 191 members.

As well as enjoining any Israeli action against Mr. Arafat, Tuesday’s vetoed text demanded “the complete cessation of all acts of violence, including all acts of terrorism, provocation, incitement and destruction, and expressed full support for the Road Map peace plan.”

The Road Map, put forward by the so-called diplomatic Quartet - UN, European Union, Russian Federation and United States - calls for parallel and reciprocal steps by Israel and the Palestinians leading to two states living side by side in peace by 2005.

The United States vetoed the text because it said it failed to explicitly condemn “Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Al Aksa Martyrs' Brigade as organizations responsible for acts of terrorism” and all for the dismantlement of “an infrastructure which supports these terror operations wherever located."

Only the United States and the four other permanent Council members ­ China, France, Russia and the United Kingdom ­ have veto power.

Tomorrow afternoon’s session will formally be a resumption of the 10th emergency special session on Palestine, which was adjourned in August 2002 and allowed for a resumption at members’ request.

Well, perhaps the U.S. should have just signed off the stupid thing. After all, almost everyone agrees that exile or assassination of Arafat is unlikely to improve matters, and that's what the resolution was supposed to be about. But at the same time, what's up with the refusal to condemn Hamas and co.?

The only charitable interpretation that I can find is that the other parties on the council resented having the focus shifted away from Israel when that was the whole point of the resolution. But that's pretty weak. Perhaps there's more here to the story, but I don't think anyone comes out of this looking very good.

If only members of the General Assembly spent a little time reflecting on their own often very dubious human rights records. . .
Here's the latest from the UN News Service:

New York, Sep 18 2003 5:00PM
The United Nations panel set up to process claims and pay compensation for losses and damage suffered as a result of Iraq's invasion and occupation of Kuwait in 1990-1991 today approved awards of more than $315 million, bringing the total awarded so far to $46.6 billion.

Of this total some $17.8 billion has been made available to governments and international organizations for distribution to successful claimants of all categories.

More than 2.6 millions claims with a total asserted value of $350 billion have been filed with the panel, the UN Compensation Commission (UNCC). Ninety-six governments have filed claims on behalf of their nationals, corporations and themselves as well as 13 offices of three international organizations.

The UNCC Governing Council, which met under the presidency of Ambassador Michael Steiner of Germany, decided to hold its next session from 16 to18 December.

Money for the awards comes from the UN Compensation Fund, which received up to 30 per cent of the revenue generated by Iraqi oil exports under the UN's Oil-for-Food programme, which allowed the former sanctions-bound regime to sell oil for humanitarian supplies. That programme will be phased out by 21 November.

Right then.

As I said recently, I know that Iraq's invasion of Kuwait was very, very wrong, and the sort of thing for which restitution is usually due. But for the love of Pete, do the people on this stupid panel read the newspaper? Kuwait is fabulously wealthy, and what was taken from them by Iraq is either gone forever (young men murdered mostly) or replaceable. Iraq is now totally destitute and I hardly think its people are responsible in the circumstances for restitution on all the heinous misdeeds of their former rulers.

The U.S. is scouring the world for donors now. I'm not sure what the situation is with respect to Kuwait's donations, but surely it would be a nice gesture for them to forget about this. No?

Thursday, September 18, 2003

A quick complaint about our stupid press. Everyone has been in a tizzy recently because Bush said that there was no direct link between Al Qaida and Iraq. But the Memory Hole reported a long time ago that Bush had conceded there was no direct link back in the fall of 2002. It's just that the media fucked up and didn't bother to really give it any play.
More bad news from Fallujah. Jittery U.S. soldiers shoot up another wedding procession.

Now, not to be a jerk or anything, but is it absolutely essential to fire your gun in the air at a wedding? I mean, the town is filled with foreign soldiers who are being fired on regularly and have a very low threshold for violence as a result. Do you want to, perhaps, hold off on the gunfire for the moment?

Don't get me wrong. The incident was terrible, and probably avoidable with better planning, communication, training, and so on. But, sheesh, I suppose I'm having trouble getting my head wrapped around what must be a very different set of priorities.
Here's the latest from MoveOn (I'm cutting and pasting it from the email, so the links won't work). I share their desire to get rid of Rumsfield (and Wolfowitz, and Cheney, and . . . you get the idea). But I'm not sure they're thinking more than a step ahead. Suppose congress took their advice. There's zero chance that the Bush admin could cave on this. The loss of face would be tremendous and would signal the kind of weakness that few administrations could survive. So they would refuse. And then . . . what? The problem is that MoveOn's suggestion looks frighteningly like holding the reconstruction of Iraq, such as it is, hostage to the drive to dump Rumsfield. The reconstruction, such as it is, may be going roughly, but it is significantly better than the vaccum that would be created by a quick U.S. withdrawal or a sudden drying up of funds.

We're launching a petition calling on Congress to hold on to the $87 billion President Bush requested until Bush changes his team and changes his course in Iraq. Join the call now:

Then please forward this email to your friends and colleagues.
Dear MoveOn member,

The US occupation in Iraq has left American soldiers unprepared and vulnerable, the country degenerating into chaos, and the Iraqi people embittered and hostile. Now the President is asking Congress for a staggering $87 billion blank check to fund more of the same. Until he takes strong steps to correct this failure, Congress shouldn't give him a cent. President Bush needs to fire the team responsible -- starting with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld -- and transfer authority to the United Nations.

Please join us in telling Congress to hold on to our money until President Bush changes his team and changes his course in Iraq. You can send an email to your Member of Congress and sign our petition at:


Then please pass this message along to your friends and colleagues.

Here's the situation:
• 155 U.S. soldiers have died in Iraq since President Bush declared "Mission Accomplished." Since the beginning of the war, over 300 soldiers have given their lives, more than in any U.S. conflict in decades.
• There are 140,000 troops in the country now. According to General Tommy Franks, those levels won't be reduced "in the foreseeable future." "The Army is strained and stressed," said another general last week. (Washington Post, 9/14/03)
• The U.S. occupation of Iraq now costs about $1 billion a WEEK -- as much as the Federal Government spends on after school programs for the entire year. Those are just military costs -- not including any money for rebuilding in Iraq.
• Suicide attacks and bombings throughout Iraq are becoming a daily occurrence; they show no sign of slowing.
• Iraqis resent the U.S. occupation. The headline of an article in today's New York Times is "Iraqis' Bitterness Is Called Bigger Threat Than Terror." (New York Times, 9/16/03)
• No weapons of mass destruction have been found, nor have we seen any evidence of an active weapons development program.
• And there's no exit strategy: the Administration has yet to present a realistic plan for how the occupation of Iraq will end.

But Donald Rumsfeld and the team that took us to war remain unwilling to concede that anything's wrong. Thomas White, a retired Army General, noted that "[Rumsfeld] is absolutely convinced that he is right, that his view is correct, so all the rest of this stuff that is floating around is kind of noise, a lot of which he just dismisses out of hand, or he rationalizes somehow as consistent with this plan of his." (Washington Post, 9/14/03)

While Rumsfeld rationalizes, we're paying for the mismanagement of Iraq in money and in blood. The President, Secretary Rumsfeld, and the rest of the team distorted evidence to get us into this war. They told us that they had a plan for getting out of Iraq. But so far, the President hasn't done anything to demonstrate that he's going to pull us out of this mess. He should start by hiring a new Defense Secretary. Then he should repudiate the failed unilateral approach and transfer authority for the rebuilding of Iraq to the United Nations.

It's Congress's duty to keep the President accountable. You can tell Congress to hold on to the $87 billion until the President changes his team and changes his course at:


There's a lot at stake. We have to do this right.

--Carrie, Eli, Joan, Noah, Peter, Wes, and Zack
The MoveOn Team
September 17th, 2003

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

The Oslo Mistake

What went wrong with Oslo. Daniel Pipes explains:

Many things, but most important was that the deal rested on a faulty Israeli premise that Palestinians had given up their hope of destroying the Jewish state. This led to the expectation that if Israel offered sufficient financial and political incentives, the Palestinians would formally recognize the Jewish state and close down the conflict.

Oh, I get it! It had nothing to do with Netanyahu or the settlers or the wretched conditions in the occupied territories, the closures, the deprivations, the abuse.

I love the use of "the Palestinians" throughout, as if they are a monolithic block of likeminded terrorists.

There's plenty of blame to go around. Pipes' fantasy is that all of it rests with the Palestinians. This, please remember, is the Bush admin's recent choice of top thinkers on peace.
I think I'm going to slaughter a fatted calf or something to the Internet Gods. If not for the internet, I would never be able to read people like Josh Marhsall or Brad DeLong or Juan Cole everyday. Check out Juan Cole's latest gem.

Let a thousand Izzy Stone's bloom!

The U.S. is playing hardball with Russia over arms sales to Iran. Ok, ok. Fair enough. But will the hypocrites do anything about U.S. arms dealers, or take responsibility for the fact that they've helped to flood the region with cheap weapons for decades?
I have to believe that in the long run the Internet is going to force real changes in the way the press works. Take this piece by Brad DeLong complaining about the way his comments to a reporter at the New York Times had been distorted. DeLong's post is brief and utterly persuasive. What's more it manages both to critique the particular distortion and to place it in the context of a general critique about the way the press works. And you just know that the reporter will read it. And will be embarrassed. And annoyed . . . hopefully with himself.

In the past, the expert would have lacked this opportunity. Sure, he could complain very loudly, and then some fraction of the people who read the original story would learn about the distortion. But the effort required would be quite high. DeLong can hammer away at this sort of thing all day. Eventually, people will either stop asking him for his opinion (unlikely, since he's a big shot; and because his blog must surely enhance his reputation), or will take the damn time to get his comments straight.
You would think that all the recent criticism of the U.S. decision in the 80s to back Saddam Hussein would lead to a bit of soul searching about regimes that the U.S. is currently supporting for strategic reasons. You would think.

Look, if we learned any lesson from all that, isn't it that often we would have been better off from a strictly prudential point of view if we had just followed our consciences and refused to support evil dictators, however convenient it seemed at the time?

I think the situations in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, in particular, demand more attention from our press. These are countries that are slipping further every day into totalitarian nightmares of precisely the sort that breed instability and lawlessness in the long run. And yet they have the U.S.'s support, and the U.S.'s military aid, because they are considered important in the war on terror. I'm telling you, whatever they're giving the U.S., it's not worth the long term price.

Here is a nice piece from Eurasianet on the deteriorating situation in Uzbekistan which emphasizes the dilemma it poses for U.S. policymakers.
I hate Israeli policies, but boy do I ever love Ha'aretz. There is hope, however faint, for Israel if a major daily can sustain a readership when it consistently publishes cogent and insightful critiques of some popular policies. Countries under siege experience usually find their public spaces occupied increasingly by extremists and fools who would make things even worse. Of course, that's very much the case with Israel. But I wonder if Canada or the U.S. (and just forget about France) would be able to sustain a newspaper like Ha'aretz under that kind of strain. I rather doubt it.

I recommend this piece in today's Ha'aretz about the "security fence" which is about the alter the dynamic of events more radically than most people now understand.
Two useful new items on Spinsanity to report. The first urges clarity on reporting about the bin Laden relatives allowed to leave the U.S. after 9/11.

The second tries to straighten out the story, mentioned previously on this site, that Wesley Clark was encouraged immediately after 9/11 to hype the connection between Iraq and the attacks.

Spinsanity does good work. Gosh, I wish the left took more care to get the facts straight.
The latest from FAIR:

Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting
Media analysis, critiques and activism


Wesley Clark: The New Anti-War Candidate?
Record Shows Clark Cheered Iraq War as "Right Call"

September 16, 2003

The possibility that former NATO supreme commander Wesley Clark might
enter the race for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination has been
the subject of furious speculation in the media. But while recent
coverage of Clark often claims that he opposed the war with Iraq, the
various opinions he has expressed on the issue suggest the media's
"anti-war" label is inaccurate.

Many media accounts state that Clark, who led the 1999 NATO campaign
against Yugoslavia, was outspoken in his opposition to the invasion of
Iraq. The Boston Globe (9/14/03) noted that Clark is "a former NATO
commander who also happens to have opposed the Iraq war." "Face it: The
only anti-war candidate America is ever going to elect is one who is a
four-star general," wrote Michael Wolff in New York magazine (9/22/03).
Salon.com called Clark a "fervent critic of the war with Iraq" (9/5/03).

To some political reporters, Clark's supposed anti-war stance could spell
trouble for some of the other candidates. According to Newsweek's Howard
Fineman (9/8/03) Clark "is as anti-war as Dean," suggesting that the
general would therefore be a "credible alternative" to a candidate whom
"many Democrats" think "would lead to a disaster." A September 15
Associated Press report claimed that Clark "has been critical of the Iraq
war and Bush's postwar efforts, positions that would put him alongside
announced candidates Howard Dean, Sen. Bob Graham of Florida and Rep.
Dennis Kucinich of Ohio as the most vocal anti-war candidates." The
Washington Post (9/11/03) reported that Clark and Dean "both opposed the
war in Iraq, and both are generating excitement on the Internet and with
grass-roots activists."

Hearing Clark talking to CNN's Paula Zahn (7/16/03), it would be
understandable to think he was an opponent of the war. "From the
beginning, I have had my doubts about this mission, Paula," he said. "And
I have shared them previously on CNN." But a review of his statements
before, during and after the war reveals that Clark has taken a range of
positions-- from expressing doubts about diplomatic and military
strategies early on, to celebrating the U.S. "victory" in a column
declaring that George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair
"should be proud of their resolve in the face of so much doubt" (London
Times, 4/10/03).

Months before the invasion, Clark's opinion piece in Time magazine
(10/14/02) was aptly headlined "Let's Wait to Attack," a counter-argument
to another piece headlined "No, Let's Not Waste Any Time." Before the
war, Clark was concerned that the U.S. had an insufficient number of
troops, a faulty battle strategy and a lack of international support.

As time wore on, Clark's reservations seemed to give way. Clark explained
on CNN (1/21/03) that if he had been in charge, "I probably wouldn't have
made the moves that got us to this point. But just assuming that we're
here at this point, then I think that the president is going to have to
move ahead, despite the fact that the allies have reservations." As he
later elaborated (CNN, 2/5/03): "The credibility of the United States is
on the line, and Saddam Hussein has these weapons and so, you know, we're
going to go ahead and do this and the rest of the world's got to get with
us.... The U.N. has got to come in and belly up to the bar on this. But
the president of the United States has put his credibility on the line,
too. And so this is the time that these nations around the world, and the
United Nations, are going to have to look at this evidence and decide who
they line up with."

On the question of Iraq's supposed weapons of mass destruction, Clark
seemed remarkably confident of their existence. Clark told CNN's Miles
O'Brien that Saddam Hussein "does have weapons of mass destruction." When
O'Brien asked, "And you could say that categorically?" Clark was resolute:
"Absolutely" (1/18/03). When CNN's Zahn (4/2/03) asked if he had any
doubts about finding the weapons, Clark responded: "I think they will be
found. There's so much intelligence on this."

After the fall of Baghdad, any remaining qualms Clark had about the wisdom
of the war seemed to evaporate. "Liberation is at hand. Liberation-- the
powerful balm that justifies painful sacrifice, erases lingering doubt and
reinforces bold actions," Clark wrote in a London Times column (4/10/03).
"Already the scent of victory is in the air." Though he had been critical
of Pentagon tactics, Clark was exuberant about the results of "a lean
plan, using only about a third of the ground combat power of the Gulf War.
If the alternative to attacking in March with the equivalent of four
divisions was to wait until late April to attack with five, they certainly
made the right call."

Clark made bold predictions about the effect the war would have on the
region: "Many Gulf states will hustle to praise their liberation from a
sense of insecurity they were previously loath even to express. Egypt and
Saudi Arabia will move slightly but perceptibly towards Western standards
of human rights." George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair
"should be proud of their resolve in the face of so much doubt," Clark
explained. "Their opponents, those who questioned the necessity or wisdom
of the operation, are temporarily silent, but probably unconvinced." The
way Clark speaks of the "opponents" having been silenced is instructive,
since he presumably does not include himself-- obviously not "temporarily
silent"-- in that category. Clark closed the piece with visions of
victory celebrations here at home: "Let's have those parades on the Mall
and down Constitution Avenue."

In another column the next day (London Times, 4/11/03), Clark summed up
the lessons of the war this way: "The campaign in Iraq illustrates the
continuing progress of military technology and tactics, but if there is a
single overriding lesson it must be this: American military power,
especially when buttressed by Britain's, is virtually unchallengeable
today. Take us on? Don't try! And that's not hubris, it's just plain

Another "plain fact" is this: While political reporters might welcome
Clark's entry into the campaign, to label a candidate with such views
"anti-war" is to render the term meaningless.

The only plainly idiotic thing FAIR says here is to criticize Clark for thinking that there were WMD in Iraq. Everybody thought that, including, surely, the people at FAIR. Certainly they didn't criticize anti-war protesters who were worried about possible retailiation from Saddam Hussein.

I don't know enough about Clark yet. I have a hunch that the glow is going to wear off pretty soon. Not sure why he waited so long to jump into the race.
I haven't seen the draft of the resolution that the U.S. suggested as an alternative to the one that it just vetoed in the Security Council. More on this later. But I'm guessing that the blame here lies with the U.S. Who's making a farce of the U.N. now?

New York, Sep 16 2003 5:00PM
The United States today vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution specifically demanding that Israel not deport or threaten the safety of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Eleven members voted in favour and three abstained on the resolution, which was sponsored by Council members Pakistan and Syria, along with South Africa and the Sudan.

The defeated text also demanded "the complete cessation of all acts of violence, including all acts of terrorism, provocation, incitement and destruction" and expressed full support for the Road Map peace plan.

The Road Map, put forward by the so-called diplomatic Quartet - UN, European Union, Russian Federation and United States - calls for parallel and reciprocal steps by Israel and the Palestinians leading to two states living side by side in peace by 2005.

The resolution expressed full support for the Quartet's efforts and "calls for increased efforts to ensure the implementation of the Road Map by the two sides."

Abstaining were Bulgaria, Germany and the United Kingdom. The Council meeting followed a daylong session yesterday, which saw the participation of more than 40 countries, to discuss Israel's decision last week to remove Mr. Arafat "in a manner and at a time of its choosing."

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Here is Dershowitz on the recent Israeli commission that attacked the government's handling of riots involving Arab-Israelis.

Dershowitz's piece is good as far as it goes, especially when he slams the double standards prevalent throughout the Arab world. What he misses is that most of the international criticism of Israeli policies is aimed at the treatment of Palestinians in the occupied territories, and not of Arab Israelis. And that treatment is very shabby indeed.
Wow, those neo-con doorknobs over at the Weekly Standard are getting really antsy . . .

Well, say what you like, at least they're not calling for a quick withdrawal from Iraq – which would only make things much worse at this point.
Thank goodness for Dana Milbank. This piece in the WaPo is just beautiful. (Milbank had help on this piece, but he's been discrediting stupid admin lies for a while now.)
I was astonished to learn recently that 5% of Iraq's oil revenue - even though it is currently at a trickle, the country is destitute and the U.S. is groaning under the costs of occupation – goes to Kuwait for reparations for Iraq's 1990 invasion. I agree that Iraq's invasion of Kuwait was a pretty brutal affair, one for which reparation is normally due, and moreover for which reparation was promised.

And yet, and yet. Isn't it an astonishing act of both greed and stupidity for Kuwait to accept the money? Kuwait is fantastically wealthy, wealthy beyond the imaginations of the inhabitants of the teeming slums of the Middle East. It was this wealth that cost them a lot of sympathy when Saddam Hussein first invaded, when you might have thought invasion would produce the opposite effect. Continuing to accept reparations payments seems idiotic from a public relations point of view, given the circumstances.

It also seems plain greedy. Kuwaitis must surely know that ordinary Iraqis had nothing to do with the decision to invade. Indeed, if they thought about it, they might reflect on how close they came to being Iraqis themselves - with no personal responsibilities for the next round of depredations by a regime acting in their name.

Doesn't there come a point at which you've got enough frickin money?

Sunday, September 14, 2003

Public Says $87 Billion Too Much (washingtonpost.com)

I usually complain about the Bush admin. But the 'public' sampled in this poll must include people who supported the war but now don't like the bill. These people didn't do their homework. They suck.

Saturday, September 13, 2003

The Taliban File

Wow. Check out the latest from the always interesting National Security Archives.
I did a final search for 'napalm' in Lexus-Nexus. Nothing about the U.S.'s recent use of naplm in Iraq in the New York Times or the WaPo or . . . virtually anywhere in North America.

Scratch this up as a victory for Google's new News Service, which allows you to monitor news based on a keyword. The collection of stories is quite random: an editorial from Al-Jazeera, a piece from an Indian newspaper, etc. But it's exactly that randomness that put the napalm story in my e-mail inbox. If I relied on the editorial sensibilities of the mainstream press I would never have known.

(I'm not saying that napalm use per se presents any greater moral problem than bullets and bombs. Perhaps it does, but I haven't made up my mind about that yet. I do think it raises difficult questions for the U.S. that it used what is obviously a chemical weapon in this context. No?)
The Agonist: Powell Rejects French Proposal

Here's a different interpretation of Powell's rejection of the French proposal. I'm kicking myself for not having seen it. But it's compatible with my earlier suggestion, which emphasized French cynicism, and not in competition with it.

Remember, just because the Americans are cynical, doesn't mean the French aren't too!
Among the rationale's cited for the war in Iraq was the humanitarian one. I think many well-meaning people (including myself!) who wouldn't ordinarily have trusted Bush to pick up their groceries were moved by this line of argument. Perhaps not moved all the way, but nevertheless moved. And I noticed a general pattern which I came to term 'Iraqitis': the more people knew about Iraq under Saddam Hussein, the more they were willing to sanction anything, just anything, to get him out of power. I think I had a touch of Iraqitis a few times during the buildup to the war, as I read Human Rights Watch reports and the like, though never severe enough to short-circuit my brain when it came to forecasting the likely outcomes of an invasion.

The same considerations moved many progressives and liberals over Kosovo: this sick in the stomach feeling that enough is enough and that force is the best option. (In fact, I think Kosovo played an important and underappreciated role in lowering - even further - the American threshold for the use of military force. Whether you supported Kosovo or not, that was one of its effects. So don't forget to weigh it in the balance of good and evil achieved by the war.) Before then, it was the failure to act in Rwanda - and I believe that Rwanda called for a military response - that gave an extra force to the notion, as people in the West began to digest what they had allowed to happen.

Fair enough.

As I said, I'm at least open to this kind of argument, even if it's unpersuasive in particular cases.

But humanitarian justifications for war are becoming popular enough that it's very important now to recognize how very dangerous they can be and how open to abuse they are. What is desperately needed now is more historical context, because I think that a number of historical cases give us special reasons for humility, and special reasons to put humanitarian justifications for particular wars under intense scrutiny, even if we accept them in principle. Today, I have in mind two examples. The first is the conquest of the "New World". This was, it is astonishing to recall, promoted by appeal to humanitarian concerns: the desire to stamp out cannibalism (save them from themselves!), whose prevalence was greatly exaggerated, and the desire to save their souls for Christianity. The Crusades were also promoted, perhaps even sincerely, by appeal to goals which were religious and moral. And we could go on.

The examples do not debunk the notion of a humantarian justifications for war. But they ought to teach us to be extremely suspicious of them.
Shadow of the Hegemon wonders what the Israelis are up to with their recent threats to expel Arafat.

I think it's obvious. Stake out an extreme position. Then let yourself be - very slowly - talked down from it. After you've "compromised" by backing down, you're where you started . . . except now the position looks more moderate than when you began. You did, after all, compromise.
Juan Cole is right as usual.
An interesting piece on Rwanda's Paul Kagame. The piece rightly calls attention to the failure of Western governments to denounce the very flawed vote Rwanda recently held. Western governments are rightly ashamed of their earlier failure to stop the genocide, and I suppose it is understandable that they would be reluctant to decry a rigged vote after that failure. Still, silence about the flawed vote is no solution - in the long run our reluctance to tell the truth doesn't do anyone any favours.
Powell Rejects French Proposal (washingtonpost.com)

What's going on here? Well, there are two questions: How much control of the occupation should the U.S. be prepared to hand over for now? And second, how quickly should the occupiers hand over power to Iraqis?

As far as I can guess, Powell seems right that the French proposal about turning over power to Iraqis is awfully quick. It's easy for the French to go on about self-determination, but if things are turned around really quickly, they will disintegrate really quickly - and it will be the U.S. on the hook for the failure and not France. My guess is that the French are offering something they know the U.S. couldn't and shouldn't accept so that they will be rebuffed again. At least this way they will not seem obstructionist.

Friday, September 12, 2003

The Agonist: UN says Taylor still trying to run Liberia

OK, perhaps after all I was right that Taylor would never leave . . .
What's come over me? I'm about to compliment, sort of, the admin again. This press release from the State Department is entirely appropriate. I wish they did this sort of thing more often.

Condemnation of Honor Killings in Jordan

The United States condemns the recent vicious murders of two young Jordanian
sisters at the hands of their brothers. These reports are a chilling reminder
that the terrible practice of honor killings continues to impede the efforts
of nations like Jordan to extend the full protection of its legal system to
each of its citizens.

We call upon the Government of Jordan to take action to ensure judicial
protection for all its citizens, as well as the ability to prosecute those
responsible for these crimes.

Check out Memri's recent translation of portions of a book from some Al Qa'ida hacks.
The latest from Public Citizen. Gosh, sometimes I got sooooo mad!

Public Citizen Press Releases
Providing the latest information about Public Citizen activities

Sept. 11, 2003

Citing Westar Bribery Plan, Public Citizen Calls on Tauzin, Barton to
Recuse Themselves from Energy Bill Negotiations

Group Also Calls for Lawmakers to Open Energy Bill Conference to

WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Reps. Billy Tauzin (R-La.) and Joe Barton
(R-Texas) should recuse themselves from leadership and participation in
the energy bill conference committee because of their involvement in
Westar Energy's plan to bribe lawmakers last year, Public Citizen said

In a letter to Tauzin and U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici, both of whom are
chairing the energy bill conference committee, Public Citizen also
called for the conference to be open to the public because energy policy
is too important to be hammered out in backroom deals with no oversight
from those who will be most affected by it.

"Americans have witnessed repeated scandals, bankruptcies and system
breakdowns in the energy sector over the past several years - from
Enron's massive accounting fraud and cynical manipulation of the West
Coast energy markets to the recent blackout in the Northeast," the
letter said. "In some cases, the scandals have been the direct result of
lax government oversight or legislative and regulatory exemptions that
were obtained through lobbying and campaign contributions."

Last year, Reps. Tom DeLay, Tauzin and Barton inserted and defended
language not included in either the House- or Senate-passed bills that
provided an exemption from federal law for a single company, Westar.
According to internal company e-mails released after a later federal
fraud investigation of the company, Westar schemed to obtain the
exemption by sending more than $60,000 to campaigns and fundraising
organizations affiliated with DeLay, Tauzin and Barton, as well to the
campaigns of congressional Republican allies of the three (Westar's CEO
has since been convicted of six unrelated felonies).

A top Westar executive wrote in a May 2002 e-mail that the company's
plan "requires working with the Conference committee to achieve. We have
a plan for participation to get a seat at the table...DeLay is the House
Majority Leader. His agreement is necessary before the House Conferees
can push the language we have in place in the House bill. [Illinois
Republican Rep. John] Shimkus is a close associate of Billy Tauzin and
Joe Barton, who are key House Conferees on our legislation. They have
made this request in lieu of contributions made to their own campaigns."
Westar's top executives and the company's DC lobbyists sent more than
$60,000 to the politicians identified in the e-mails.

"Because of their actions last year regarding Westar, Billy Tauzin and
Joe Barton are tainted and should not be involved in this year's energy
conference committee negotiations and decisions," said Public Citizen
President Joan Claybrook. "The citizens of the United States are
entitled to feel confident that our democratic processes will not be
corrupted by the selling of legislative favors."

Public Citizen also called on the House-Senate energy conference
committee to explicitly forbid lawmakers from writing legislation that
benefits a single company and hold the entire proceedings in a venue
open to the media and the public. In addition, to ensure that the public
does not endure another "blackout," the conference committee should hold
every meeting in which two or more conference committee members discuss
the legislation in a forum accessible to the public and the media,
Public Citizen said.

Public Citizen sent a detailed narrative along with the letter, which
is posted at http://www.citizen.org/documents/recusalnarrative.pdf. To
read the letter, go to


Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization
based in Washington, D.C. For more information, please visit
Around the time of the looting in Iraq, I posted several times angrily about the American response. It’s only fair, then, to provide this update. The looting still appears to have resulted in some catastrophic – and avoidable - losses. At the same time, the U.S. military appears to be making a genuine attempt to recover the items that were taken. I can’t resist reproducing the following briefing in full. It’s extraordinary for several things. The guy in charge of the investigation, Bogdanos, seems to be quite genuine, honest and passionate about the recovery of the lost antiquities. It’s not every day that you read Defense Department transcripts in which briefers rave about antiquities, but this fellow seems to have a degree from Columbia. (One reservation. I just don’t buy the story – at least not yet – that the U.S. military was unable to secure the museum because of the fighting. And even if that turns out to be true, it wasn’t the case for other sites that were looted.) Read the whole thing. It’s astonishing.

NEWS TRANSCRIPT from the United States Department of Defense

DoD News Briefing
Marine Col. Matthew Bogdanos
Wednesday, September 10, 2003 - 10:00 a.m. EDT

(Briefing Slides used in this briefing are available at:

Staff: Well, good morning. It's a light crowd. I trust that some of
your colleagues are listening from their booths, and we may have some that join us
in progress here.

But today we have kind of a special treat, and he's not a stranger to
this room, although this is the first time that we've had him in person, I think, in
here. Colonel Matthew Bogdanos is the person that has been leading the U.S.
government's investigation into the theft and looting of the Iraqi museum in
Baghdad. It is a duty that he is uniquely qualified to do. Before being called to
active duty after the September 11th attacks, he was a homicide prosecutor for the
New York City District Attorney's Office, and he has a graduate degree in classical
studies from Columbia University. And I think you'll agree that -- we're here for
his interim report, and you'll see today that he is very much expert in this area.

In May -- it was in May that he presented the team's preliminary
findings, and his final report is -- he is nearing completion of his final report;
it's in its final review. But he has been gracious enough to offer his time today
to come and talk about it.

As I read the report, I was taken back by the complexity of the
challenges, and I was impressed with the progress and the results and the
accomplishments that the team was able to achieve, recovering nearly 3,500 artifacts
in four different countries during the last five months.

He'll talk a bit about the ongoing effort, and I'll stop now. But this
part of the investigative work and his work is coming to a close. But there is an
ongoing international effort that will continue as we work to return all of these
priceless treasures to the Iraqi people.

So, with that, let me turn it over to the real expert here and welcome
Colonel Matthew Bogdanos.

Bogdanos: Good morning, all. What I'd like to do this morning, if I
could, is start by going through the report. I have a series of slides, photographs
mostly, from the museum and from Baghdad, illustrating certain aspects of the
investigation. Once I'm done, then I'd like to take any questions you may have.

As we all recall, in mid-April of this year, it was widely reported that
over 170,000 artifacts had been stolen or looted from the museum in Baghdad. After
fierce fighting, U.S. forces finally secured the area surrounding the museum, and on
the 16th of April, a tank platoon was positioned on the museum compound to prevent
any further damage.

The U.S. government then dispatched a 13-member team from U.S. Central
Command, the Joint Interagency Task Force, made up of 10 different federal
agencies. They were 13 members altogether. They were four military and nine
Customs or Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agents that were sent to begin the
investigation and to begin the recovery of the items.

From the outset, the primary goal of this investigation has been the
recovery of the items, the missing and stolen antiquities, and not necessarily
criminal prosecution. The methodology was tailored accordingly, and it comprised
four components. First was to determine precisely what was missing. Second was to
disseminate photographs of those missing items to the international law enforcement
and art communities to aid in interdiction and confiscation. Third was to initiate
community outreach with religious and community leaders and enlist your aid as well
as theirs in promoting an amnesty or no- questions-asked policy. And finally, to
develop leads ion the Baghdad community and then conduct raids based on that
information on targeted locations.

Each of these separate four components has had its challenges, and each
has had its successes. Foremost among the challenges, as you are all intimately
aware, has been to determine precisely what is missing. In part, this is because of
the sheer size of the museum's collection. In part, it is also because the museum
has not only cataloged items, but items from excavation sites throughout the country
that have not yet been cataloged. And finally, it was because of the museum's
antiquated manual and incomplete inventory system prior to the war.

The reality is that after five months into the investigation, we still
do not have a complete inventory of precisely what is missing. We can, however, make
some findings based on what we know about the inventory today. The inventory, of
course, is being completed on a daily basis, with the help of American, British and
Italian archeologists and museum specialists.

The second component to that investigation -- to the investigation so
far has been the dissemination of photographs of the missing items. That, too, has
proven problematic, largely because many of the items simply didn't have
photographs, or if they were photographs, they were of poor quality; or, if they
were photographs, they were frequently destroyed during the looting. We have,
however, disseminated photographs to the international law enforcement and art
communities, and where a photograph did not exist, we provided photographs of
virtually identical or similar items. The goal here was simply to make the stolen
items as recognizable as possible throughout the world.

The third component and really the heart of the investigation so far has
been the amnesty, or "no questions asked," policy. Towards this end, the team has
met with local Imams and community leaders, who have assisted this investigation
tremendously by communicating the policy of amnesty throughout the -- Baghdad and
throughout Iraq so that individuals can return items without any fear of retribution
or criminal prosecution.

While it has proven enormously successful -- to date over 1,700 items
have been returned pursuant to the amnesty program -- there have been problems here,
as well. Specifically, the problems were the perception among the Iraqi people of
the museum staff's identification and association with the former regime and the
Ba'ath Party. Time and time again when individuals would turn property over, they
would make it clear that they were turning the property over to the U.S. forces for
safekeeping until a lawful Iraqi government could be elected.

The fourth and final component of this investigation involves raids and
seizures. They have also borne fruit. The raids on targeted locations in Iraq
based on information given to us by Iraqis have resulted in the recovery of over 900
separate artifacts. This simply would not have been possible without the
overwhelming support received from and the mutual sense of trust developed with the
Iraqi people in and around Baghdad.

Seizures at checkpoints, airports and international border crossings
have proven equally successful, largely as a result of the dissemination of the
photographs of the items. So far, over 750 artifacts have been recovered in four
different countries.

Turning now to the chronology of events. Years before Iraqi freedom,
most of the gold and jewelry that was kept at the museum was removed to the Central
Bank of Iraq. It was moved in 21 separate boxes. Sixteen of those boxes contained
the royal family collection of gold and jewelry, approximately 6,744 pieces, placed
in one of the underground vaults of the central bank. A second set of five boxes
contained the fabled Treasure of Nimrud and the original golden bull's head from the
Golden Harp of Ur.

The vaults themselves were flooded prior to the team's arrival in
Baghdad, but with the assistance of Mr. Jason Williams and his National Geographic
crew, we pumped out the water -- took three weeks to pump out the water from the
underground vaults -- and ultimately were able to gain entry into the vaults. And
in a moment that can only be characterized as sheer joy, we opened each of those
boxes and found the treasure of Nimrud completely there, intact. And ultimately it
was able to be displayed at the one-day opening we had on the 3rd of July.

Months before the war, the staff moved all of the manuscripts from the
museum in 337 boxes, totalling 39,453 manuscripts, parchment, vellum and the like.
They moved it to a bomb shelter in western Baghdad. On the 26th of April, we
located that bomb shelter and began to arrange for the return of those items to the

The members of the community, when we went there, grew concerned about
returning those items of the museum, again, because of the identification with the
Ba'ath Party. And they asked us to allow them, as a matter of honor, to keep those
items in the bomb shelter, with their promise that they would provide a 24-hour,
seven-day-a-week neighborhood community watch. To this day, they do that, and to
this day, those items are safely kept in that bomb shelter, under the watchful
protection of that community watch.

Weeks before the war, the staff moved 179 boxes containing 8,366 of the
more priceless artifacts from the display cases in the museum itself. They moved
those items to a secret place, and you will recall that on May 16th, when I last
spoke to you, we had not learned the location of this secret place, because the
senior museum -- five senior museum staff members had sworn on the Koran not to
reveal the location of the secret place.

After weeks and months of developing and building a trust with the
museum staff, we were able to gain access to the secret place on the 4th of June.
And when we did, we found that all 179 boxes were present and all of their contents
accounted for. Those items have been returned to that secret place and will be
placed on display in the museum once the security is sufficient.

As for the looting period itself, the evidence shows the following:

On the 8th of April, the last of the museum staff left the museum. U.S.
forces then became engaged in intense combat with Iraqi forces that fought from the
museum grounds and from a nearby Special Republican Guard compound across the
street. It was during this period that the looting took place, between the 9th of
April and the 12th of April. It ended on the 12th of April when several museum
staff returned to the museum. The keys to the museum, that had previously been
locked away in the director's safe in the administrative offices, were gone and
they've never been found since.

U.S. forces entered the compound, as I said, on the 16th of April, and
we began the investigation on the 22nd of April.

Turning now to the losses. I stress, as I have for the last five
months, that the loss of a single piece of our shared heritage is an absolute
tragedy. But it is abundantly clear that the original number of 170,000 missing
artifacts was simply wrong. But again I stress, numbers simply cannot tell the
whole story, nor should they be the sole determinant used to assess the extent of
the damage or of the recovery itself.

For example, it is simply impossible to quantify the loss of the world's
first known Samarian mask of a female deity. That's one number; you cannot possibly
quantify it, and it is irreplaceable. On the other hand, a single clay pot
recovered at an archeological site in 25 separate pieces, depending on the
circumstances under which it is recovered, counts as 25 separate pieces -- each
bead, each pin, each amulet, each pendant counts as a separate piece. So numbers
simply cannot tell the whole story. They do, however, offer, used appropriately, a
metric with which we can assess what indeed has been done, and what so far is being

And this is what we found. In the administrative area, all of the
offices were ransacked. All of the equipment was stolen or destroyed. All of the
safes were emptied or destroyed. Fires were lit throughout the museum. We saw the
same level of destruction in the administrative offices that we saw in presidential
palaces and buildings identified with the former regime throughout Iraq.

Turning to the public galleries, however, you don't see anywhere near
that level of destruction. The staff, as I mentioned, had previously emptied all of
the display cases. So, of the 451 display cases, only 28 of them were damaged. All
of them had been emptied. Those items that were too large to be moved by the museum
staff were covered with foam padding and laid on their sides in order to prevent any

From the galleries themselves, 40 pieces or 40 exhibits were stolen,
most notably among those, the famous Bassetki Statue from approximately 2300 B.C.,
and the Roman heads of Poseidon, Apollo, Nike and Eros.

Of the original 40 missing items, 10 have been recovered, including the
Sacred Vase of Warka, an exquisite white limestone votive vase dating from
approximately 3200 B.C., and arguably the most significant piece possessed by the
museum. While it was damaged during the looting and during its theft, it should be
noted that the vase was returned on 11 June, pursuant to the amnesty program. It
was in exactly the same condition it was when it was found by German archeologists
at Al Samawa in 1940. In other words, there's no additional damage, and this item,
the sacred vase, can and will be restored by the museum staff.

Also recovered during the investigation is one of the oldest known
bronze relief bulls, and my favorite, two pottery jars from the 6th millennium B.C.
from _Tell Hassuna._

Unfortunately, 30 exhibits from the main gallery, 30 display- quality,
irreplaceable pieces, are still missing from the museum. Another 16 pieces were
damaged, most notably, the Golden Harp of Ur, although its golden bull's head, as I
mentioned, had previously been removed. And you can see the harp on the left there
in three pieces, and then you can see the golden bull's head. That photograph was
taken when we uncovered the Treasure of Nimrud in the underground vaults of the
Central Bank of Iraq. The Golden Harp itself can also be restored.

In turning to the Heritage Room, consisting of more recent scrolls and
Islamic antique furniture and fine porcelain, 236 pieces were originally stolen.
We've recovered 164, which leaves 72 still missing.

Turning then to the restoration and registration rooms, which were
temporary storage areas -- (to staff) next side please Senior -- temporary storage
areas, we found 199 pieces originally missing, of which we've recovered 118, leaving
81 still missing. It was in this room that the Golden Harp of Ur and several
delicate ivories were kept and subsequently damaged during the looting.

The museum also, in additional to the public galleries themselves, had
eight storage rooms. Of the eight, only five were entered, and only three had
anything missing. Because these rooms contain tens of thousands of clay pots,
pottery shards, copper and bronze weapons, tools, statuettes and pieces, as you're
looking at now, the inventory is simply not complete. It contains items both from
museum-sponsored excavations as well as from internationally sponsored excavations.
The inventory in these rooms will take months to complete.

However, we can make several findings, based on what we know now. The
first- and second-level storage rooms were looted but show no signs of entry on
their -- forced -- on their shared exterior doors. And you see those doors before
you. Either the door -- neither the door leading from the museum floor to the
storage area nor the door leading from the storage area to the back alleyway were
forced or showed any signs of forced opening. The keys to these doors were last
seen in the director's safe and are now missing.

Some shelves were disturbed in the storage rooms. Boxes were turned
upside down. Contents were emptied on the floor.

In the two storage rooms that I've just described, 2,703 excavation site
pieces -- jars, vessels, pottery shards, statuettes and the like -- were stolen, of
which 2,449 have been recovered, and -- (to staff) -- next please -- 254 remain

It was in the second-floor storage room that the investigation
discovered evidence of its use as a firing or sniper position. The team found a
window slit broken open from the inside, with boxes pressed up against the wall,
placing the window opening at shooter's height. This particular window is one of
only two windows in the entire museum that offers a clear field of fire onto the
street that runs along the western side of the museum and down which U.S. and
coalition forces passed.

Found near this window were RPG parts, an ammunition box, an AK- 47
magazine, grenade pouch and a dud -- a grenade that turned out to be a dud.

This finding -- and you see in the far -- the photo -- of the position
from the inside and then, in this next photo, the position from the outside -- this
finding of a sniper position within the museum is consistent with the discovery of a
box of RPGs on the roof of the museum library and another box of RPGs on the roof of
the children's museum. This latter building, the children's museum, a separate
building in the compound, was the building from which RPGs were fired at U.S.
forces during the looting period. These findings are also supported by the team's
discovery of more than 15 Iraqi Army uniforms and additional RPGs in the museum's

I point out that the investigation has uncovered no evidence that any
fighters entered the museum before the staff left on the 8th of April and no
evidence that any member of the staff assisted Iraqi forces in entering the museum
or in building the various fighting positions found inside and surrounding the
museum. There are actually four additional fighting positions, two in front of the
museum and two in the back.

Turning to the basement-level storage room, on the other hand, the
evidence here strongly suggests not random looters, as in the other magazines, but
rather the evidence here suggests thieves with an intimate knowledge of the museum
and its storage procedures. I have a diagram of the basement up here for you.

It is here, in the basement magazine, that they attempted to steal the
most traffickable and easily transportable items stored in the most remote corner of
the most remote room in the basement of the museum. The front door of this basement
room was intact and unforced, but its bricked rear doorway, accessed only through a
remote, narrow and hidden stairwell, was broken and entered. This storage area
actually has four rooms, three of which (talking to himself) that doesn't work,
you can see the L-shaped rooms. (Showing slides.) On the far side, if you start
from the far side and you count one, two, three, four, the L-shaped, it's the second
room that was entered. The other three rooms, containing tens of thousands of
priceless pieces, were simply not touched.

However, the fourth room was also virtually untouched, except for one
remote corner where 103 small plastic boxes originally containing cylinder seals,
loose beads, amulets, small glass bottles and jewelry had been emptied, while
hundreds and hundreds of surrounding larger, but empty, cardboard boxes (to staff)
next, please -- as you see there, were completely untouched. The thieves here had
keys that had previously been hidden elsewhere in the museum, not the keys that were
in the museum director's safe; a separate set of keys that was established by the
museum as a safety procedure to have a second set of keys for these cabinets. They
were hidden elsewhere in the museum. That hiding place was known to only several
people in the museum. Whoever did this had those keys.

These keys were to 30 storage cabinets that lined that particular corner
of the room. It's the brown storage cabinets that you see before you. Those
cabinets contained arguably the world's finest collection of absolutely exquisite
cylinder seals and the world's finest collection of Greek, Roman, Islamic and Arabic
gold and silver coins.

Ironically, the thieves here appeared to have lost the keys to those
cabinets by dropping them in one of the plastic boxes that lined the floor. There
was no electricity at the time in the museum during this period, so the thieves lit
the foam padding for light. After frantically and unsuccessfully searching for the
keys in the fire-lit room, breathing in the noxious fumes from the foam and throwing
those boxes in every direction, they were unable to gain access to the storage

We ultimately found the keys under the debris after a methodically,
fully lit and hours-long search. Upon inspecting those cabinets, and opening each
one with absolutely bated breath, we learned that not a single cabinet had been
entered and a catastrophic loss narrowly averted.

However, the contents of the plastic boxes were taken by the thieves.
Those boxes, while -- the contents, while not of the same caliber as the items in
the storage cabinets, were nonetheless valuable in their own right. All together
from those boxes, there were 4,997 bins, beads, amulets and pendants, and 4,795
cylinder seals. An additional 500 smaller pottery pieces and bronze weapons from
the shelves were also taken. So, from this room alone, 10,337 pieces were stolen, of
which, 667 have been recovered.

It is from this room we also recovered a set of readable fingerprints.
Those fingerprints were sent to the FBI lab for comparison against all known
databases, to include all U.S. military forces. There are no matches in the U.S.
databases for those fingerprints. Members of the staff who had immediate access to
that storage room were also fingerprinted and compared against those prints, and
there are also no matches. Those prints remain on file for future use.

Thus, in viewing the evidence as a whole, the antiquities stolen from
the museum appear to fall into three broad categories, strongly suggesting three
different dynamics at work in the theft.

First are the 40 exhibits stolen from the public galleries. Here the
thieves were clearly selective and discriminate in their choice of artifacts,
stealing the most valuable items, while bypassing copies and less valuable items.

Second are the 3,138 pieces stolen from the storage rooms on the first
and second floors. The pattern here was indiscriminate and random. Entire shelves
were emptied, while adjacent shelves were untouched. Entire shelves that had
priceless antiquities were untouched, while an adjacent shelf that had nothing but
fakes were taken and emptied. We found entire shelves or partial shelves with arm
sweeps through the dust on the shelf, as if they were sweeping the items into a bag,
and then we would find that very bag at the end of the storage room, and the shelf
next to that bag emptied, as if they had seen something they liked better.

Virtually all of the times returned under the amnesty program -- by the
way, further indicating the random, indiscriminate nature of this looting in these
two storage rooms, virtually all of the items returned under the amnesty program
come from these rooms, come from neighborhood residents.

The third category, the third dynamic at play here are the over 10,000
pieces from the basement storage room. It is simply inconceivable that this area
was found, breached and entered, or that the unmarked keys were found by anyone who
did not have an intimate, insider's knowledge of the museum and its storage
practices in general, and of that corner of the basement and the contents of those
specific, unmarked, nondescript cabinets in particular.

None of this, this separation into different dynamics, is intended to
suggest that there is not some overlap among the categories. Surely, some of the --
it's called an insiders, could have taken more valuable items from the display
floor, as well as random looters may have fortuitously taken items from the floor.
It is also not to suggest that there is or is not a connection among the various
dynamics at play. For example, the professional thieves, that is those who knew
what they were looking for in the public galleries and took the display quality
pieces, may very well have left the doors open to the museum in the hope or
expectation that individuals would come in, engage in looting, thereby covering up
any evidentiary trails.

Rather, the differentiation among the different dynamics at play here
offers an analytical basis upon which to fashion a methodology to recover the
items. Those items stolen by looters, for example, are most likely to be recovered
locally, in and around Baghdad and throughout Iraq, through the amnesty program and
other community outreach programs, as well as through developing local informants
and conducting targeted raids. As I said, 99 percent of all of the items that we've
recovered in Iraq have come from this random or indiscriminate looting of the two
storage rooms.

The higher value, more recognizable exhibits, on the other hand, demand
a different approach. Because they have a far more limited market, one of the
primary ways to recover these items would be through identifying and monitoring the
buyers, and by continuing to develop confidential sources within the art smuggling
community, just like we would in the drug smuggling community, in order to track,
recover and return these pieces. Thorough border inspections and searches also play
a crucial role in interdicting these higher value items.

Turning to the 10,000 smaller cylinder seals and pieces of jewelry
stolen from the basement, this requires a different approach. Because these items
are not necessarily and immediately recognizable as contraband or evidence of
criminality, the first goal must be the education of the international, national and
local law enforcement authorities in the identification of these artifacts. Toward
this end, we have gone to London to brief Scotland Yard or the London Metropolitan
Police, we have briefed Interpol, we have briefed the U.S. Attorneys for New York
and New Jersey. We have briefed FBI, Customs and State Department, in order to
educate and disseminate all of this information, again, to make these items as
easily recognizable as possible.

The goal here is simple. I want a Chilean border official, a Lithuanian
customs official or an Okinawan police officer to see an item, recognize it as a
cylinder seal, say very simply, "You shouldn't have that. It's stolen from the Iraq
museum in Baghdad, and you are under arrest." And toward this end, we have been
sharing all of our findings with the international law enforcement community.

We have also used other available tools, such as Web sites. This is the
FBI website. We've chosen the most influential websites in the world -- the FBI,
Customs, State Department, Interpol and the Art Loss Registry -- and they have all
been tremendously cooperative in updating their Web sites to show what items are
missing, what items are recovered. Next Web site is the Interpol Web site.

To further assist law enforcement by making these items so recognizable,
we have also prepared a poster -- you see in front of you here -- of the 30 most
significant missing artifacts from the public galleries. These will be disseminated
not only to the law enforcement community but to the art community as well.

A second goal must be a greater level of cooperation between the law
enforcement and art communities. The reality is that in order for these items to be
sold profitably, they must be authenticated by an acknowledged expert within the art

In order, therefore, to enlist the effective assistance of the art
world, we recently and at the invitation of the British Museum presented the
findings of this investigation to more than 300 of the world's leading ancient Near
Eastern archaeologist professors and dealers, toward that very -- and provided them
photographs of all items, toward that very end: to ensure greater cooperation
between the art and law enforcement communities.

Indeed, I must commend the efforts of the staff of the British Museum
and Professors Al-Radi; Bahrani, from New York; Henry Wright, from Michigan; and
McGuire Gibson, from Chicago. They have afforded us the -- their assistance,
through their expertise, and also showed the courage to go to Iraq, to go to
Baghdad, to conduct assessments, to assess the museum, to assess various
archaeological sites over the course of the last four and a half to five months.
Very simply, we get paid to be shot at. They do not, but they went nonetheless, and
they should be commended.

The remaining 1,679 items recovered -- (pauses) -- I'm sorry. Turning
-- now let me turn to the recovery efforts and just sum it up for you. Several
factors bear noting.

Three thousand, four hundred eleven items have been recovered. Of those,
about half, 1,731, have come from Iraqi citizens pursuant to the amnesty or "no
questions asked" policy. Again, most stress their desire to turn these over as part
of Iraqis' culture.

It is not just Iraqis, however, who have responded to the call. On a
recent trip home on leave in Manhattan, I was contacted by an individual who had
learned of the investigation, through your efforts, and told me he had something to
turn over. A meeting was arranged, package was turned over, and a 4,000-year-old
Akhadian tablet is now in the hands of the Iraqi museum, where it belongs.

The remaining 1,679 items have been recovered as the result of sound law
enforcement techniques, from raids in Baghdad, to random car stops at checkpoints
throughout Iraq, to increased vigilance at international borders. For example, over
400 pieces were returned by Dr. Ahmed Chalabi after Iraqi National Congress forces
stopped a car at a checkpoint near Kut in southern Iraq. Altogether, 911 pieces
have been recovered in Iraq, while another 768 have come from numerous seizures in
Jordan, Italy, the U.K. and the U.S. Most recently and publicly, on the 12th of
August a journalist was arrested for smuggling into the U.S., at JFK, three cylinder
seals stolen from the museum.

In total, the number of artifacts now known to be missing from the
museum stands at slightly over 10,000. As it has for over the last five months,
this number will change on a daily basis. What is accurate today will not be
accurate tomorrow. More items will be found. The inventory will be completed, and
more items will be found to be missing or will be found in other parts of the
museum. So I stress, the numbers will always change.

The team's mission was to conduct a preliminary investigation into the
theft and to begin the process of restoring Iraq's past, preserving her heritage for
future generations. This phase of the investigation is substantially complete. The
evidentiary findings will be turned over to Iraqi authorities for criminal
prosecution if they deem it appropriate.

Justice is also about process, and the team's other goal was to cut
through the unproductive rhetoric that surrounded this in the beginning and bring
objective truth to the story of the museum's looting. We have not acted alone. In
addition to the superb efforts of supervisory special agent Steve Mocsary and his
customs agents, I commend the staff of the Iraq Museum, and the residents of
Baghdad, who gave us their time, their trust and their hospitality.

The majority of the work remaining, that of tracking down the missing
pieces, will likely take years. It will require the cooperative efforts of all
nations, to include legislatures, law enforcement officers and art communities. The
missing artifacts are indeed the property of the Iraqi people, but in a very real
sense, they are the property, the shared property of mankind. I speak for all when
I say we are honored to have served.

And now, if there are any questions, I'd be happy to take them.

I haven’t reproduced the questions period. The rest is available at: http://www.dod.mil/transcripts/2003/tr20030910-0660.html