Tag Archives: Bush


By Paul Krugman, New York Times, Tuesday 06 May 2003

Gen. Georges Boulanger cut a fine figure; he looked splendid in uniform, and magnificent on horseback. So his handlers made sure that he appeared in uniform, astride a horse, as often as possible.

It worked: Boulanger became immensely popular. If he hadn’t lost his nerve on the night of the attempted putsch, French democracy might have ended in 1889.

We do things differently here or we used to. Has “man on horseback” politics come to America?

Some background: the Constitution declares the president commander in chief of the armed forces to make it clear that civilians, not the military, hold ultimate authority. That’s why American presidents traditionally make a point of avoiding military affectations. Dwight Eisenhower was a victorious general and John Kennedy a genuine war hero, but while in office neither wore anything that resembled military garb.

Given that history, George Bush’s “Top Gun” act aboard the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln c’mon, guys, it wasn’t about honoring the troops, it was about showing the president in a flight suit was as scary as it was funny.

Mind you, it was funny. At first the White House claimed the dramatic tail-hook landing was necessary because the carrier was too far out to use a helicopter. In fact, the ship was so close to shore that, according to The Associated Press, administration officials “acknowledged positioning the massive ship to provide the best TV angle for Bush’s speech, with the sea as his background instead of the San Diego coastline.”

A U.S.-based British journalist told me that he and his colleagues had laughed through the whole scene. If Tony Blair had tried such a stunt, he said, the press would have demanded to know how many hospital beds could have been provided for the cost of the jet fuel.

But U.S. television coverage ranged from respectful to gushing. Nobody pointed out that Mr. Bush was breaking an important tradition. And nobody seemed bothered that Mr. Bush, who appears to have skipped more than a year of the National Guard service that kept him out of Vietnam, is now emphasizing his flying experience. (Spare me the hate mail. An exhaustive study by The Boston Globe found no evidence that Mr. Bush fulfilled any of his duties during that missing year. And since Mr. Bush has chosen to play up his National Guard career, this can’t be shrugged off as old news.)

Anyway, it was quite a show. Luckily for Mr. Bush, the frustrating search for Osama bin Laden somehow morphed into a good old-fashioned war, the kind where you seize the enemy’s capital and get to declare victory after a cheering crowd pulls down the tyrant’s statue. (It wasn’t much of a crowd, and American soldiers actually brought down the statue, but it looked great on TV.)

Let me be frank. Why is the failure to find any evidence of an active Iraqi nuclear weapons program, or vast quantities of chemical and biological weapons (a few drums don’t qualify though we haven’t found even that) a big deal? Mainly because it feeds suspicions that the war wasn’t waged to eliminate real threats. This suspicion is further fed by the administration’s lackadaisical attitude toward those supposed threats once Baghdad fell. For example, Iraq’s main nuclear waste dump wasn’t secured until a few days ago, by which time it had been thoroughly looted. So was it all about the photo ops?

Well, Mr. Bush got to pose in his flight suit. And given the absence of awkward questions, his handlers surely feel empowered to make even more brazen use of the national security issue in future.

Next year in early September the Republican Party will hold its nominating convention in New York. The party will exploit the time and location to the fullest. How many people will dare question the propriety of the proceedings?

And who will ask why, if the administration is so proud of its response to Sept. 11, it has gone to such lengths to prevent a thorough, independent inquiry into what actually happened? (An independent study commission wasn’t created until after the 2002 election, and it has been given little time and a ludicrously tiny budget.)

There was a time when patriotic Americans from both parties would have denounced any president who tried to take political advantage of his role as commander in chief. But that, it seems, was another country.

Mystery of the Missing W.M.D

Published on Tuesday, May 6, 2003 by the New York Times
by Nicholas Kristof

When I raised the Mystery of the Missing W.M.D. recently, hawks fired barrages of reproachful e-mail at me. The gist was: “You *&#*! Who cares if we never find weapons of mass destruction, because we’ve liberated the Iraqi people from a murderous tyrant.”

But it does matter, enormously, for American credibility. After all, as Ari Fleischer said on April 10 about W.M.D.: “That is what this war was about.”

I rejoice in the newfound freedoms in Iraq. But there are indications that the U.S. government souped up intelligence, leaned on spooks to change their conclusions and concealed contrary information to deceive people at home and around the world.

Let’s fervently hope that tomorrow we find an Iraqi superdome filled with 500 tons of mustard gas and nerve gas, 25,000 liters of anthrax, 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin, 29,984 prohibited munitions capable of delivering chemical agents, several dozen Scud missiles, gas centrifuges to enrich uranium, 18 mobile biological warfare factories, long-range unmanned aerial vehicles to dispense anthrax, and proof of close ties with Al Qaeda. Those are the things that President Bush or his aides suggested Iraq might have, and I don’t want to believe that top administration officials tried to win support for the war with a campaign of wholesale deceit.

Consider the now-disproved claims by President Bush and Colin Powell that Iraq tried to buy uranium from Niger so it could build nuclear weapons. As Seymour Hersh noted in The New Yorker, the claims were based on documents that had been forged so amateurishly that they should never have been taken seriously.

I’m told by a person involved in the Niger caper that more than a year ago the vice president’s office asked for an investigation of the uranium deal, so a former U.S. ambassador to Africa was dispatched to Niger. In February 2002, according to someone present at the meetings, that envoy reported to the C.I.A. and State Department that the information was unequivocally wrong and that the documents had been forged.

The envoy reported, for example, that a Niger minister whose signature was on one of the documents had in fact been out of office for more than a decade. In addition, the Niger mining program was structured so that the uranium diversion had been impossible. The envoy’s debunking of the forgery was passed around the administration and seemed to be accepted except that President Bush and the State Department kept citing it anyway.

“It’s disingenuous for the State Department people to say they were bamboozled because they knew about this for a year,” one insider said.

Another example is the abuse of intelligence from Hussein Kamel, a son-in-law of Saddam Hussein and head of Iraq’s biological weapons program until his defection in 1995. Top British and American officials kept citing information from Mr. Kamel as evidence of a huge secret Iraqi program, even though Mr. Kamel had actually emphasized that Iraq had mostly given up its W.M.D. program in the early 1990′s. Glen Rangwala, a British Iraq expert, says the transcript of Mr. Kamel’s debriefing was leaked because insiders resented the way politicians were misleading the public.

Patrick Lang, a former head of Middle Eastern affairs in the Defense Intelligence Agency, says that he hears from those still in the intelligence world that when experts wrote reports that were skeptical about Iraq’s W.M.D., “they were encouraged to think it over again.”

“In this administration, the pressure to get product `right’ is coming out of O.S.D. [the Office of the Secretary of Defense],” Mr. Lang said. He added that intelligence experts had cautioned that Iraqis would not necessarily line up to cheer U.S. troops and that the Shiite clergy could be a problem. “The guys who tried to tell them that came to understand that this advice was not welcome,” he said.

“The intelligence that our officials was given regarding W.M.D. was either defective or manipulated,” Senator Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico noted. Another senator is even more blunt and, sadly, exactly right: “Intelligence was manipulated.”

The C.I.A. was terribly damaged when William Casey, its director in the Reagan era, manipulated intelligence to exaggerate the Soviet threat in Central America to whip up support for Ronald Reagan’s policies. Now something is again rotten in the state of Spookdom.

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

Conservatives in transports of social and political engineering


There’s nothing scarier than conservatives in transports of social and political engineering.

The Republicans strain to appear diffident in Iraq, not wanting to be cast as overbearing imperialists. (Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, the new American viceroy, affects a Dockers look while meeting Arabs in jackets and ties.)

The Bushies pretend that we don’t want an all-access pass to Iraqi bases (we do); that we are not interested in influencing the disposition of Iraqi oil (we are); that we will stay out of Iraqi politics, even if they go fundamentalist (we won’t); and that we will leave Iraq soon (we can’t).

Even as they stifle their Pax Americana impulses in Iraq, the imperialists swagger with a Pox Americana at home. Karl Rove has broken creative new ground in appalling political opportunism by pushing back the Republican National Convention in New York City to September 2004, the latest date for a convention in the party’s history and only days away from you-know-when.

Mr. Rove envisions merging the Madison Square Garden party with the 9/11 anniversary commemorations into one big national security lollapalooza. Perhaps President Bush should just skip the pretense of the Garden and give his acceptance speech at ground zero.

In another red-meat moment, Rick Santorum, the obnoxious Pennsylvania senator who is No. 3 in the G.O.P., equated homosexuality with incest, bigamy and polygamy. “In every society, the definition of marriage has not ever to my knowledge included homosexuality,” he told The A.P. “That’s not to pick on homosexuality. It’s not, you know, man on child, man on dog, or whatever the case may be.”

Even Mr. Santorum’s old mentor, Newt Gingrich, felt emboldened to slither back on stage with a proposal to eviscerate the State Department.

After vowing to reshape the American character when he became speaker in ’94, Mr. Gingrich ultimately faced ethics questions and criticism for having an extramarital affair with a young Congressional aide after pushing for Bill Clinton’s impeachment over his extramarital affair with a young White House aide. He stepped down in ’98.

The man who once depicted himself as an “Arouser of Those who Form Civilization” stepped back yesterday into a clash of civilizations between the Pentagon and the State Department. In remarks at the Temple of Triumphalism here (the American Enterprise Institute), Mr. Gingrich denounced Colin Powell’s domain as a “broken bureaucracy of red tape and excuses” and demanded it be “transformed,” like Rummy’s.

He attacked Mr. Powell for announcing that he would visit (rather than bomb) Damascus and for the prewar failure of diplomacy with Turkey � conveniently ignoring the fact that it was the Pentagon hawk Paul Wolfowitz who had tried and failed to talk turkey with Turkey.

Rummy, who has taken on a Mars-like glow among carnivorous conservatives who crave more and more red meat, circulated a Kubrickian memo on North Korea, according to The Times’s David Sanger. While Mr. Powell pressed for diplomatic talks in China to help de-escalate tensions between the U.S. and North Korea, Rummy’s memo suggested that the U.S. and China gang up on the crazed Kim Jong Il to force a regime change.

Even as the conservatives thump their chests in Washington, they have gotten a little nervous watching throngs of men flogging their chests bloody in Karbala. Their coolly rational schemes for establishing 18th-century-style democracy have run up against the 8th-century practices of Islam.

The Bushies were unpleasantly surprised by the sudden muscularity of the Shiite clerics in southern Iraq. According to The Times’s Douglas Jehl, Iranian-trained operatives have crossed into southern Iraq to help the Shiites who are demanding a state like Iran’s.

Administration officials have whispered other fears to reporters � that some of the weapons of mass destruction may have been removed to sell on the terrorism black market, accelerating the proliferation they had hoped to prevent. Or that Saddam loyalists are sneaking back into the government, waiting for the Americans, with their short attention spans, to pull out.

The Saudi bombings

Maureen Dowd NYT
Thursday, May 15, 2003

WASHINGTON America has had its regime change in the Middle East. Now Qaeda terrorists want theirs.

Even before Al Qaeda claimed credit for the explosions that ripped through Riyadh on Monday night, the Saudi princes were frightened and seeking American help. They were scared that Al Qaeda, which they once used to deflect resentment away from their own corruption, had succeeded in infiltrating various levels of society, including the government.

The problem with Saudi Arabia is that it is such an opaque society, you can never be sure what’s going on there from the outside – and apparently it’s not spectacularly transparent from the inside, either.

U.S. intelligence analysts warned the Saudis that an attack on American interests in the kingdom was coming. The Saudis reacted the way they typically do, defensively. Intercepted anti-American chatter had become such a din in the last two weeks that the State Department had warned Americans not to travel there.

The Saudi princes reluctantly began an investigation into the possible Qaeda plot. But even in such a repressed and repressive state, Saudi security forces couldn’t stop the terrorists. They tried to seize an Islamic militant cell with links to radical clerics on Tuesday last week. But although the authorities found 365 kilograms (800 pounds) of explosives, all 19 cell members – 17 Saudis, one Iraqi and one Yemeni – escaped.

So, with a new Qaeda spokesman warning that “an attack against America is inevitable” and that “future missions have been entrusted” to a new team “well protected against U.S. intelligence services,” now we have to worry about 19 slippery Islamic terrorists coming at us from Saudi Arabia?

Talk about a sickening sense of deja vu.

Busy chasing off Saddam Hussein, the president and vice president had told us that Al Qaeda was spent. “Al Qaeda is on the run,” President George W. Bush said last week. “That group of terrorists who attacked our country is slowly but surely being decimated,” he added. “They’re not a problem anymore.”

Members of the U.S. intelligence community bragged to reporters that the terrorist band was crippled, noting that it hadn’t attacked during the assault on Iraq.

“This was the big game for them – you put up or shut up, and they have failed,” Cofer Black, who heads the State Department’s counterterrorism office, told The Washington Post last week.

Of course, the other way of looking at it is that Al Qaeda works at its own pace and knows how to conduct operations on the run.

Al Qaeda has been weakened by the arrest of leaders like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. But Osama bin Laden, in recent taped messages, has exhorted his followers to mount suicide attacks against the invaders of Iraq. And as one ambassador from an Arab country noted, the pictures of American-made tanks in both Iraq and the West Bank certainly attracted new recruits to Osama.

The administration’s lulling triumphalism about Al Qaeda exploded on Monday in Riyadh, when well-planned and coordinated suicide strikes with car bombs and small-arms fire killed at least 20 people in three housing complexes favored by Westerners, including seven Americans.

The attack was timed to coincide with Secretary of State Colin Powell’s visit to the kingdom, and clearly meant to hurt both America and Saudi Arabia. Even though Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld announced two weeks ago in Riyadh that he was pulling out of Saudi Arabia the U.S. troops bin Laden hated so much, Qaeda leaders still want to undermine the Saudi monarchy that has been so receptive to infidel U.S. presidents.

Buried in the rubble of Riyadh are some of the Bush administration’s basic assumptions: that Al Qaeda was finished, that invading Iraq would bring regional stability, and that a show of American superpower against Saddam would cow terrorists.

Bob Graham, the Florida senator running for president, said at the Capitol on Tuesday that Iraq had been a diversion: “We essentially ended the war on terror about a year ago. And since that time, Al Qaeda has been allowed to regenerate.”

Doing a buddy routine with Rummy on Tuesday in Washington, as the defense secretary accepted an award, Vice President Dick Cheney was as implacable as ever. “The only way to deal with this threat ultimately is to destroy it,” he said.

So destroy it.

America kicked the Taliban out of Afghanistan but …

Feb 14th 2003 From The Economist Global Agenda

America kicked the Taliban out of Afghanistan but stands accused of failing
to follow through on promises to make the country more stable and
democratic: many areas remain lawless, and Afghanistan?s neighbours are
trying to exert influence over regional warlords. Lessons here for the
looming war with Iraq?

ANOTHER week, another wave of skirmishes. On February 12th, American combat
jets dropped bombs on hostile militants in Afghanistan?s Baghran Valley,
reportedly killing several fighters and at least 17 civilians. The air
assault came in response to an increase in attacks in southern Afghanistan
by groups linked to the ousted Taliban regime and al-Qaeda. This is a stark
reminder that, though the Taliban no longer rule in Kabul, the Afghan
capital, they still hold sway in outlying parts of the country, despite the
presence of around 10,000 American-led troops who continue to hunt them

Afghanistan has been fought over by foreigners for centuries, and many
Afghans have an understandable resentment of foreign influence. However, the
government of President Hamid Karzai, installed after American-led forces
kicked the Taliban out of Kabul at the end of 2001, knows that it needs all
the foreign help it can get if it is to turn its country into a stable,
coherent entity. In particular, Mr Karzai is keen that America fulfil its
promise to help spread democracy and prosperity across a land that has been
riven by war for more than two decades.

But if the world is watching America?s commitment to post-Taliban
Afghanistan as a sign of what might happen in post-Saddam Iraq, it is likely
to be disappointed. The consensus is that, having changed the Afghan regime,
America has lost interest before finishing the job. At a hearing on February
12th, American senators queued up to berate the Bush administration for
?sugarcoating? the situation in Afghanistan. It has, said one, allowed
Afghanistan?s neighbours to exert influence over the warlords who still
control much of the country. It has, added another, lowered its goal from
nation-building to merely stemming violence. In reply, Peter Rodman, deputy
secretary of defence, said that violence had now been confined to only about
20% of the country, and that the administration had a commitment to ?stay as
long as it takes to do the job?.

That progress has been made since the fall of the Taliban is indisputable.
Under that harsh, Islamist regime, music was banned and girls could not be
educated. Food was in short supply, a plight made worse by a terrible
drought. The regime?s international isolation severely limited the amount of
aid it received. Now, girls go to school: some 3m Afghan children are back
in school, double the number the United Nations predicted. Some 2m refugees
returned home last year?the biggest population movement since the formation
of Bangladesh from what was East Pakistan. The 5,000-strong International
Security Assistance Force (ISAF) manages to keep the peace pretty well in
Kabul: the murder rate is now half that of Washington, DC. Roads and tunnels
are being rebuilt. Several cities even have working mobile-phone systems. A
new currency, the new afghani, has been introduced. New elections will be
held next year.

But there have been disappointments too. The Taliban were defeated with
breathtaking speed, but it is now clear that many of the most dangerous
members of the Taliban and of al-Qaeda, which the Taliban had sheltered,
escaped death or capture. Indeed, Colin Powell, the American secretary of
state, this week openly acknowledged that Osama bin Laden, the leader of
al-Qaeda, was still alive. And George Tenet, the director of America?s
Central Intelligence Agency, admitted that officers were picking up
intelligence similar to that which preceded the September 11th attacks.

Those involved in nation-building in Afghanistan believe that the way in
which the Americans go about their business is not helpful. The Bush
administration, as well as European governments, is accused of offering
insufficient support to the ISAF. (No Americans serve in the lightly armed
force, because America feared that its men would be sitting ducks.)
Moreover, America?s own forces collaborate with some local warlords, much as
they relied on the rather vicious Northern Alliance to help defeat the
Taliban. They do so despite knowing that the central government of Hamid
Karzai is desperately trying to establish its authority and has been
hamstrung by the defiance of the local warlords. A case in point is Ismail
Khan, who holds sway in the western province of Herat, near Iran: he is
believed to keep most of the customs duties collected locally, passing only
a fraction on to the central government. Mr Karzai barely escaped an attempt
on his life in the former Taliban stronghold of Kandahar last year. It is
not surprising that he has not yet declared his candidacy in next year?s

American officials like to point to their spending in Afghanistan: $840m
since October 2001, with plans to spend at a similar rate this year. That
might sound like a lot, but it is little more than Iran, an impoverished
country, has promised to its neighbour. In one astonishing oversight, the
Bush administration failed to request funds for humanitarian aid and
reconstruction in Afghanistan in the latest budget, prompting Congress to
step in and allocate $300m on February 13th. Much of America?s spending has
gone on achieving its military objectives, rather than on aid or
construction programmes. And America, like other donors, likes to specify
which projects it wishes to fund, to the annoyance of Mr Karzai?s central

Despite the rhetoric to the contrary, America?s attention has undoubtedly
switched to Iraq over the past year, and Afghanistan is largely presented to
the American public as a problem that has been solved. Ironically, Zalmay
Khalilzad, the American special envoy to Afghanistan, recently lectured the
Afghan government on the poor progress it was making on
institution-building, on security, and even on the ?quality of service you
still get from government departments?. Mr Karzai is due to visit George
Bush in Washington at the end of the month. Perhaps by then he will have
drawn up a reciprocal list of complaints.