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  xFriday, October 17, 2003

friday link clearance: iraq edition

First off, props to the Administration for the undeniable diplomatic coup of securing unanimous UN Security Council approval of a new resolution on the Iraqi occupations. The true test, however, remains whether the Administration can parlay the symbolic victory into desperately needed aid in the form of troops and money, as the New York Times points out. France, Russia, Germany and Pakistan have already ruled out such aid.

Perhaps mindful of the staggering bill they're piling up, reconstruction contractors are eschewing Iraqi labor (during a time of widespread unemployment) and importing cheap workers from overseas. That's a move sure to delight the Iraqi people.

Today also marks the 100th combat fatality since Bush declared "Mission Accomplished," and a total of 336 dead since the invasion -- not counting casualties that are maimed or wounded, of course.

Meanwhile, back home, the Republican Party shows its commitment to supporting the troops:
The House also narrowly defeated an amendment by Rep. David R. Obey (D-Wis.) that would have shifted $3.6 billion from the Iraq reconstruction fund to the U.S. military to pay for the medical and dental screening of military reservists, for family assistance centers, for pre-paid phone cards for the troops in Iraq, for the transportation of troops on rest-and-relaxation leave, for the construction of more water treatment and power plants for the deployed troops, and for the repair and replacement of damaged equipment.

The amendment died, 216 to 209.

Republicans: 214 Nos; 11 Ayes; 4 Not Voting
Democrats: 2 Nos; 197 Ayes; 6 Not Voting

...So it looks like the troops are going to have to go on drinking chemically treated Tigris River water and paying for their own phone calls home. What do they think Iraq is, anyway, a Club Med?

I'm sure the Republican vote will do wonders for the troops' morale.

Meanwhile, for a prime exampe of Bush crony capitalism at work, check out this audio clip of a slimy, well-connected suit offering to hook up Iraqi businessmen for a monthly "subscription fee." The incredulous reactions of the Iraqis as they're being told to payu to do business in their own country is remarkable. (via Joshua Marshall) Not surprisingly, Iraqis are beginning to question the way the American occupiers and their no-bid contractors are handling the reconstruction of their country.

Of course, the line being pushed by the Administration is that things are just ducky in Iraq, but that darn liberal media just won't report things that way. On the one hand, you have at least 500 Astroturf form letters supposedly sent by soldiers (in a relatively calm part of the country) talking about how swell everything is.

(For a reality check, the Beltway Bandit has a catalog of the Administrations rather reality-challenged rhetoric on Iraq.)

On the other had, yesterday's Washington Post ran an interesting article on a survey of soldiers conducted by Stars and Stripes, which found that
half of those questioned described their unit's morale as low and their training as insufficient, and said they do not plan to reenlist.

The survey, conducted by the Stars and Stripes newspaper, also recorded about a third of the respondents complaining that their mission lacks clear definition and characterizing the war in Iraq as of little or no value. Fully 40 percent said the jobs they were doing had little or nothing to do with their training.

The findings, drawn from 1,935 questionnaires presented to U.S. service members throughout Iraq, conflict with statements by military commanders and Bush administration officials that portray the deployed troops as high-spirited and generally well-prepared. Though not obtained through scientific methods, the survey results suggest that a combination of difficult conditions, complex missions and prolonged tours in Iraq is wearing down a significant portion of the U.S. force and threatening to provoke a sizable exodus from military service.

In the first of a week-long series of articles, Stars and Stripes said yesterday that it undertook the survey in August after receiving scores of letters from troops who were upset with one aspect or another of the Iraq operation. The newspaper, which receives some funding from the Defense Department but functions without editorial control by the Pentagon, prepared 17 questions and sent three teams of reporters to Iraq to conduct the survey and related interviews at nearly 50 camps.

"We conducted a 'convenience survey,' meaning we gave it to those who happened to be available at the time rather than to a randomly selected cross section, so the results cannot necessarily be projected as representing the whole population," said David Mazzarella, the paper's editorial director here. "But we still think the findings are significant and make clear that the troops have a different idea of things than what their leaders have been saying."

MisLeader has a good summary of the situation. The Post article also contained this gem:
In recent days, the Bush administration has launched a campaign to blame the news media for portraying the situation in Iraq in a negative light. Last week, Bush described the military spirit as high and said that life in Iraq is "a lot better than you probably think. Just ask people who have been there."

But Stars and Stripes raised questions about what those visiting dignitaries saw in Iraq. "Many soldiers -- including several officers -- allege that VIP visits from the Pentagon and Capitol Hill are only given hand-picked troops to meet with during their tours of Iraq," the newspaper said in its interview with Sanchez. "The phrase 'Dog and Pony Show' is usually used. Some troops even go so far as to say they've been ordered not to talk to VIPs because leaders are afraid of what they might say."

Principled conservative James Pinkerton, whom I've cited before, picks up the ball and runs with it in this Newsday column:
Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas) had just returned home from a government-sponsored tour of Iraq when she appeared on Fox News to comment on Sunday's car bombing in Baghdad. Proving she's a good listener, she insisted that the suicide attack was actually good news. How's that? Speaking of the American nation-building effort, she explained, "As it's working, there are more incidents like this, from people who don't want it to work." By that inverted logic, of course, it would be bad news if there were fewer bombings.

But then, undercutting Granger's case, the interviewer noted that Granger and her fellow visitors had not actually stayed overnight in Iraq while they were visiting the country; each night, they were flown back to Kuwait, some 400 miles south of Baghdad. One might think for a moment about the implications of such a long-distance commute. If all the American security in Iraq can't make Iraq secure for VIPs, then maybe Iraq isn't so secure.

Read the whole thing; Pinkerton also tees off on the Bush Administration's habit ofg implying a connection between Iraq and 9/11, among a laundry list of other dishonesties.

Of course, it would seem that touring Iraq at all is only for Republicans willing to parrot GOP happy-talk spin:
Meanwhile, several Senate Democrats complained that they were denied access to a plane for a inspection tour of their own.

“For whatever reason, Sens. [Chris] Dodd [D-Conn.] and others who requested the opportunity to travel were prohibited from doing so, and I think that requires a better explanation that the one I’ve been given so far,” Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) said.

“We have no understanding. We were told that an [Air Force] airplane was not available,” adding that Britain offered them the use of an airplane. “If Britain can offer United States senators an airplane, you would think the United States government could do so as well.”

Daschle added: “We have to assume that what [Republican senators] saw is accurate.”

I hope Daschle was being sarcastic there, because there's no reason at all -- especially in light of an announced Republican PR offensive -- to give them the benefit of the doubt. (via Atrios)

CBS News reported on a thorough takedown of Secretary of State Colin Powell's supposedly definitve February speech to the UN by career foreign service officer Greg Thielmann.
“I think my conclusion now is that it's probably one of the low points in his long, distinguished service to the nation.”

Thielmann's last job at the State Department was director of the Office of Strategic Proliferation and Military Affairs, which was responsible for analyzing the Iraqi weapons threat for Secretary Powell. He and his staff had the highest security clearances, and everything – whether it came into the CIA or the Defense Department – came through his office.

...On Feb. 5, 2003, Secretary Powell presented evidence against Saddam to the U.N., and the speech represented a change in Powell’s thinking. Before 9/11, he said Saddam had “not developed any significant capability in weapons of mass destruction.” But two years later, he warned that Saddam had stockpiled those very weapons.

...At the time of Powell's speech, Thielmann says that Iraq didn't pose an imminent threat to anyone: “I think it didn't even constitute an imminent threat to its neighbors at the time we went to war.”

But Thielmann also says that he believes the decision to go to war was made first, and then the intelligence was interpreted to fit that conclusion. For example, he points to the evidence behind Powell’s charge that Iraq was importing aluminum tubes to use in a program to build nuclear weapons.

Powell said: “Saddam Hussein is determined to get his hands on a nuclear bomb. He is so determined that he has made repeated covert attempts to acquire high-specification aluminum tubes from 11 different countries even after inspections resumed.”

“This is one of the most disturbing parts of Secretary Powell's speech for us,” says Thielmann.

Intelligence agents intercepted the tubes in 2001, and the CIA said they were parts for a centrifuge to enrich uranium - fuel for an atom bomb. But Thielmann wasn’t so sure. Experts at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the scientists who enriched uranium for American bombs, advised that the tubes were all wrong for a bomb program. At about the same time, Thielmann’s office was working on another explanation. It turned out the tubes' dimensions perfectly matched an Iraqi conventional rocket.

“The aluminum was exactly, I think, what the Iraqis wanted for artillery,” recalls Thielmann, who says he sent that word up to the Secretary of State months before.

...Then, about a year later, when the administration was building a case for war, the tubes were resurrected on the front page of The New York Times.

“I thought when I read that there must be some other tubes that people were talking about. I just was flabbergasted that people were still pushing that those might be centrifuges,” says Wood, who reached his conclusion back in 2001. “It didn’t make any sense to me.”

...Thielmann says the nuclear case was filled with half-truths. So why would the Secretary take the information that Thielmann’s intelligence bureau had developed and turn it on its head?

“I can only assume that he was doing it to loyally support the President of the United States and build the strongest possible case for arguing that there was no alternative to the use of military force,” says Thielmann.

....Allinson watched Powell’s speech in Iraq with a dozen U.N. inspectors. There was great anticipation in the room. Like waiting for the Super Bowl, they always suspected the U.S. was holding back its most damning evidence for this moment.

What was the reaction among the inspectors as they watched the speech?

“Various people would laugh at various times because the information he was presenting was just, you know, didn't mean anything, had no meaning,” says Allinson.

And what did he and the other inspectors say when Secretary Powell finished the speech?

“They have nothing,” says Allinson.

There's much, much, more; read the whole thing. "Smoking gun," indeed.

From the "Hearts and Minds" desk, we have this:
US soldiers driving bulldozers, with jazz blaring from loudspeakers, have uprooted ancient groves of date palms as well as orange and lemon trees in central Iraq as part of a new policy of collective punishment of farmers who do not give information about guerrillas attacking US troops.

The stumps of palm trees, some 70 years old, protrude from the brown earth scoured by the bulldozers beside the road at Dhuluaya, a small town 50 miles north of Baghdad. Local women were yesterday busily bundling together the branches of the uprooted orange and lemon trees and carrying then back to their homes for firewood.

Nusayef Jassim, one of 32 farmers who saw their fruit trees destroyed, said: "They told us that the resistance fighters hide in our farms, but this is not true. They didn't capture anything. They didn't find any weapons."

Other farmers said that US troops had told them, over a loudspeaker in Arabic, that the fruit groves were being bulldozed to punish the farmers for not informing on the resistance which is very active in this Sunni Muslim district.

"They made a sort of joke against us by playing jazz music while they were cutting down the trees," said one man. Ambushes of US troops have taken place around Dhuluaya. But Sheikh Hussein Ali Saleh al-Jabouri, a member of a delegation that went to the nearby US base to ask for compensation for the loss of the fruit trees, said American officers described what had happened as "a punishment of local people because 'you know who is in the resistance and do not tell us'." What the Israelis had done by way of collective punishment of Palestinians was now happening in Iraq, Sheikh Hussein added.

The destruction of the fruit trees took place in the second half of last month but, like much which happens in rural Iraq, word of what occurred has only slowly filtered out. The destruction of crops took place along a kilometre-long stretch of road just after it passes over a bridge.

Farmers say that 50 families lost their livelihoods, but a petition addressed to the coalition forces in Dhuluaya pleading in erratic English for compensation, lists only 32 people. The petition says: "Tens of poor families depend completely on earning their life on these orchards and now they became very poor and have nothing and waiting for hunger and death."

The children of one woman who owned some fruit trees lay down in front of a bulldozer but were dragged away, according to eyewitnesses who did not want to give their names. They said that one American soldier broke down and cried during the operation. When a reporter from the newspaper Iraq Today attempted to take a photograph of the bulldozers at work a soldier grabbed his camera and tried to smash it.

Collective punishment is forbidden under the Geneva Conventions, but of course the US military has the convenient dodge of claiming -- truthfully or not -- a tactical purpose for leveling the fields. Of course no one wants US soldiers jeopardized by guerillas under cover. But the anger inspired by such action could well have undesirable consequences down the road. And such tactics hardly appear to be the actions of a military force confident that it is, in fact, winning the peace.

Many are also looking askance at some recent comments made by the general Bush put in charge of the war on terrorism.
The controversy followed reports Wednesday on “NBC Nightly News” and yesterday in the Los Angeles Times citing Boykin, who is an evangelical Christian, speaking in uniform to church audiences over the past two years. He spoke of Islamic extremists hating the United States because “we’re a Christian nation” and added that our “spiritual enemy will only be defeated if we come against them in the name of Jesus.” He said that President Bush “is in the White House because God put him there,” and that “we in the army of God . . . have been raised for such a time as this.”

I'm sure comments like that qill do wonders to spur badly needed coppoeration from the Pakistani authorities. You also gotta love his claim that it was God Himself who fixed the 2000 election...although come to think of it, Antonin Scalia might agree.

It really doesn't matter how many schools or hospitals we open if the US can't provide basic security -- its duty as an occupying power. Unfortunately, the relentless attacks on US troops and Iraqi civilians have shown that the situation is, at present, totally out of our control. Of even greater concern is the seemingly evident fact that the guerillas who attack US troops get away with it. Their success allows them to fight again and creates an unfortunate impression of US weakness on the Iraqi people. Too often, overreaction (as in the orchard incident) goes even further to damage US prestige.

As NPR's Ann Garrels -- who, unlike many of the conservative things-are-great chorus, does her reporting from Iraq -- put it on CNN:
The situation is extremely difficult in Iraq. If it were not so difficult, the American civilian administration would not be hiding behind coils of barbed wire and walls of sandbags. Once again, the security situation is dire. As long as these attacks can continue and happen anywhere, it's going to be impossible for the international community to work effectively.

Most international organizations have pulled out. New troops are loathe to come in. And Iraqis who work with the Americans are being targeted as collaborators. You only have to kill one in a town for the rest of those people, the rest of the Iraqis to be too frightened to work.

It doesn't really matter how many schools are opening if the US can't provide basic security, as is its duty as an occupying power. As such, the Administration's positive spin becomes less a reminder of progress than a pathetic attempt to distract the public from its obvious failure.

But hey, anything's justified when it comes to bolstering US security, right? If you think so, retired Marine Gen. Joseph Hoar, a former commander of U.S. Central Command, and retired Air Force Col. Richard Klass have some bad news for you.
The argument that America is safer rests on two premises: first, that Iraq posed a threat to this country that has now been eliminated; second, that the war did not increase or create other threats. We believe both are incorrect.

The administration's primary justifications for the war were the threat posed by Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, especially nuclear weapons, and its links to al Qaeda. Neither claim has been borne out. Saddam, it is increasingly clear, was safely in a box and was being kept there. But the case that America is less safe today does not rest solely on the argument that Iraq posed no near-term threat. The Iraq war itself has made this country less safe. There are six reasons why.

• The U.S. military, especially the Army, has been stretched to the breaking point and has very limited capability to respond to a crisis on the Korean Peninsula or elsewhere. This situation is likely to last several years and be compounded by declining enlistment, which is already affecting the National Guard and Reserve forces.

• The Iraq war has diverted resources from the effort to combat terrorism, the primary threat to our security. With our intelligence, military and economic resources concentrated in Iraq, the Taliban has reconstituted itself in Afghanistan and is challenging the Kabul government. The diversion of resources has also given Osama bin Laden's organization the opportunity to regroup.

• The drain on the national budget is pulling money away from critical homeland security needs. The $87 billion requested for Iraq and Afghanistan next year is almost the exact amount recommended in vain by an outside panel to fund port security, first-responder training and equipment and other needs for the next five years.

• If Saddam did have some WMD, they are now loose in a dangerous part of the world where many groups and nations do not wish us well.

• We have created a failed state in Iraq. There is currently no effective control of its borders. Radical Arabs from outside Iraq have answered Bush's call to "bring 'em on" and entered the shooting gallery. They do not speak English. They do not have passports or flight training. They were unlikely, before the war, to be able to attack us here. But they can take their AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades and attack our troops next door in Iraq. This may also have opened up a fertile recruiting and training ground for al Qaeda.

• Finally, our unilateralism has weakened and embittered our allies and undercut the United Nations. The United States cannot defeat terrorism or successfully conclude the Iraqi campaign without them.

The threat to the United States posed by Saddam was greatly overstated. The reasons for that are not yet clear. What is clear is that the dangers created by the president's decision to go to war must be addressed. We cannot cut and run.

Add it all up, and you have the same grim picture that won't go away no matter how much Bush wishes it would: A messy, dangerous occupation -- the costs in lives and treasure the American people are bearing pretty much single-handedly, thanks to Bush's diplomatic foul-ups -- that has created a very real threat to national security where none existed before. That's the bottom line. One can only hope the situation won't get worse before the American people have the opportunity to vote someone more competent than Bush and Company into office.

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