The Beltway Bandit

An online journal of politics, culture, and sports

Saturday, June 19, 2004

FAILURE IN IRAQ -- The first in a series of three articles from The Washington Post reveals, through interviews and internal Coalition documents, how the U.S. has failed in Iraq with the phoney handover of power on June 30 looming 10 days from now.
The ambitious, 15-month undertaking stumbled because of a series of mistakes that began with an inadequate commitment of resources and was aggravated by a misunderstanding of Iraqi politics, religion and society in occupied Iraq, these participants said.

"We blatantly failed to get it right," said Larry Diamond, a senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution who served as an adviser to the occupation authority. "When you look at the record, it's impossible to escape the conclusion that we squandered an unprecedented opportunity."

Viewed from Baghdad since April 2003, the occupation has evolved from an optimistic partnership between Americans and Iraqis into a relationship riven by frustration and resentment. U.S. reconstruction specialists commonly complain of ungrateful Iraqis. Residents of a tough Baghdad neighborhood who welcomed U.S. forces with cold cans of orange soda last spring now jeer as military vehicles roll past. A few weeks ago, young men from the area danced atop a Humvee disabled by a roadside bomb, eventually torching it.

In many ways, the occupation appears to have transformed the occupier more than the occupied. Iraqis continue to endure blackouts, lengthy gas lines, rampant unemployment and the uncertain political future that began when U.S. tanks rolled into Baghdad. But American officials who once roamed the country to share their sense of mission with Iraqis now face such mortal danger that they are largely confined to compounds surrounded by concrete walls topped with razor wire. Iraqis who come to meet them must show two forms of identification and be searched three times.
And while the Bush admin likes to boast about how many schools it has opened in Iraq, this means little to a people wracked by poverty and deprivation and facing an uncertain and dangerous security situation.

The Coalition has also failed to create the sort of political system it promised.
Iraq's emerging political system is also at odds with original U.S. goals. American officials scuttled plans to remain as the occupying power until Iraqis wrote a permanent constitution and held democratic elections. Instead, Bremer will leave the Iraqis with a temporary constitution, something he repeatedly promised not to do, and an interim government with a president who was not the Bush administration's preferred choice.

The CPA, which had 3,000 employees at its peak, will dissolve on June 30, the date designated to confer sovereignty on Iraq's interim government. U.S.-led military forces -- 138,000 U.S. troops and 23,000 from other nations -- will remain, free to conduct operations without the approval of the interim government. The management of reconstruction projects and other civilian tasks will be handled by a new U.S. embassy.

Over the course of the occupation, the relationship between the CPA and the military has become increasingly bitter. Soldiers have blamed civilians for not rebuilding the country quickly enough to pacify the country, while civilians have blamed the military for not providing enough security to enable the rebuilding. In the view of several senior officials here, a shortage of U.S. troops allowed the security situation to spiral out of control last year. Attacks on U.S.-led forces and foreign civilians now average more than 40 a day, a threefold increase since January. Assassinations of Iraqi political leaders and debilitating sabotage of the country's oil and electricity infrastructure now occur routinely.
Considering all that, it is not difficult to understand why the Coalition is deeply unpopular with the Iraqi people. In a recent poll sponsored by the U.S. government, 85% of Iraqi people said they had little or no confidence in the Coalition authority. Many or most Coalition officials were chosen not for their expertise in reconstruction or the Arab world [very few actually speak the language], but for their loyalty to the Bush admin and support for the invasion.
Within the marble-walled palace of the CPA's headquarters inside Baghdad's protected Green Zone, there is an aching sense of a mission unaccomplished. "Did we really do what we needed to do? What we promised to do?" a senior CPA official said. "Nobody here believes that."
Quite so.

ANONYMOUS v. BUSH -- A senior U.S. intelligence official who has been "centrally involved" in the hunt for Osama Bin Laden is blasting the Bush administration in a new book which asserts the U.S. is not winning the war on terror and the Iraq War was a dangerous diversion.
A senior US intelligence official is about to publish a bitter condemnation of America's counter-terrorism policy, arguing that the west is losing the war against al-Qaida and that an "avaricious, premeditated, unprovoked" war in Iraq has played into Osama bin Laden's hands.
Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror, due out next month, dismisses two of the most frequent boasts of the Bush administration: that Bin Laden and al-Qaida are "on the run" and that the Iraq invasion has made America safer.

In an interview with the Guardian the official, who writes as "Anonymous", described al-Qaida as a much more proficient and focused organisation than it was in 2001, and predicted that it would "inevitably" acquire weapons of mass destruction and try to use them.

He said Bin Laden was probably "comfortable" commanding his organisation from the mountainous tribal lands along the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Imperial Hubris is the latest in a relentless stream of books attacking the administration in election year. Most of the earlier ones, however, were written by embittered former officials. This one is unprecedented in being the work of a serving official with nearly 20 years experience in counter-terrorism who is still part of the intelligence establishment.

The fact that he has been allowed to publish, albeit anonymously and without naming which agency he works for, may reflect the increasing frustration of senior intelligence officials at the course the administration has taken.

Peter Bergen, the author of two books on Bin Laden and al-Qaida, said: "His views represent an amped-up version of what is emerging as a consensus among intelligence counter-terrorist professionals."
The criticism is ferocious on the subject of Iraq:
Anonymous does not try to veil his contempt for the Bush White House and its policies. His book describes the Iraq invasion as "an avaricious, premeditated, unprovoked war against a foe who posed no immediate threat but whose defeat did offer economic advantage.

"Our choice of timing, moreover, shows an abject, even wilful failure to recognise the ideological power, lethality and growth potential of the threat personified by Bin Laden, as well as the impetus that threat has been given by the US-led invasion and occupation of Muslim Iraq."
But the author is no less critical about lost opportunities in Afghanistan.
In his view, the US missed its biggest chance to capture the al-Qaida leader at Tora Bora in the Afghan mountains in December 2001. Instead of sending large numbers of his own troops, General Tommy Franks relied on surrogates who proved to be unreliable.

"For my money, the game was over at Tora Bora," Anonymous said.
And Anonymous believes the U.S. has allowed Al Qaeda to regroup and perhaps emerge from the Afghan invasion more dangerous than ever.
Yesterday President Bush repeated his assertion that Bin Laden was cornered and that there was "no hole or cave deep enough to hide from American justice".

Anonymous said: "I think we overestimate significantly the stress [Bin Laden's] under. Our media and sometimes our policymakers suggest he's hiding from rock to rock and hill to hill and cave to cave. My own hunch is that he's fairly comfortable where he is."

The death and arrest of experienced operatives might have set back Bin Laden's plans to some degree but when it came to his long-term capacity to threaten the US, he said, "I don't think we've laid a glove on him".

"What I think we're seeing in al-Qaida is a change of generation," he said."The people who are leading al-Qaida now seem a lot more professional group.

"They are more bureaucratic, more management competent, certainly more literate. Certainly, this generation is more computer literate, more comfortable with the tools of modernity. I also think they're much less prone to being the Errol Flynns of al-Qaida. They're just much more careful across the board in the way they operate."

As for weapons of mass destruction, he thinks that if al-Qaida does not have them already, it will inevitably acquire them.
Finally, Anonymous believes Al Qaeda might actually wish for Mr Bush to remain in power because his disastrous policies have been so good for recruitment of Islamic jihadists.
Anonymous, who published an analysis of al-Qaida last year called Through Our Enemies' Eyes, thinks it quite possible that another devastating strike against the US could come during the election campaign, not with the intention of changing the administration, as was the case in the Madrid bombing, but of keeping the same one in place.

"I'm very sure they can't have a better administration for them than the one they have now," he said.

"One way to keep the Republicans in power is to mount an attack that would rally the country around the president."
Well, this author is about to become the subject of an absolutely ferocious smear campaign, like the one launched against Richard Clarke and Paul O'Neill. The number of senior security officials in the U.S. government who have spoken out against the incompetence and mendacity of the Bush admin continues to grow.

BURN RATE -- It seems almost too incredible to believe, but the Bush election campaign has spent almost 70% of the more than $200 million it has raised so far. What that means is that through May 2004, the Bush campaign has spent over $150 million and still trails [narrowly] in almost every national poll. Most of that money went towards negative television ads aimed at John Kerry. So, what has Mr Bush bought with all that money? Less than you might think.

The relentless television ad barrage has succeeded in driving up Senator Kerry's negative ratings, which is smart strategy if you don't think your candidate can survive on his own merits. However, as noted above, Bush has a real lead in no national polls of which I am aware and trails in most. Kerry has successfully defended himself with a series of positive television spots emphasizing his record of public service and war heroism.

The aggressive campaign strategy used successfully by Bill Clinton to open up a big summertime lead over Bob Dole in 1996 has been copied by the Bush campaign, but with far different results. Clinton used a huge money advantage over Dole [whose coffers were empty after a bruising primary season] in the spring and summer months to build a 4-point lead into an ultimately insurmountable 16-point lead just before the national party conventions. Mr Bush's strategy, even more aggressive than the Clinton gambit, has failed to open up a lead at all. Why?

Well, for one thing, the news from Iraq continues to be awful and the economic news on the home front does not impress most Americans, though the media elite thinks the country is turning around. In other words, real life events have prevented Mr Bush's attempts to open up a lead on anybody. Secondly, the Kerry campaign has been remarkably adept at raising money itself. Senator Kerry has broken even the records for a non-incumbent set by Mr Bush four years ago. Senator Kerry has raised about $140 million, about $100 million of that coming after the end of the primary season. In addtion, a group of liberal non-party groups, like, have spent about $40 million to attack Mr Bush and his record.

The result is a very tight race, with the gigantic money advantage Mr Bush was thought to enjoy not materializing and his campaign getting far less for the money they do spend than previously imagined. With the situation in Iraq continuing to deteriorate and the history of most undecided voters breaking for the challenger, the Kerry campaign is in better shape right now than Bill Clinton was 12 years before.

Friday, June 18, 2004

MORE ON THE PAUL JOHNSON MURDER -- Photos of Mr Johnsons's beheaded body have appeared on a website commonly used by Islamic radicals to post messages. The Los Angeles Times has more:
Saudi security officials later said Johnson's body was found in al-Munisiyah district just outside the capital, Riyadh. Police cordoned off the area, blocking all roads leading to the area, said the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity.

It was not clear whether police had surrounded any suspects in the rural area of farms and villas used by wealthy residents as resorts.

"In answer to what we promised ... to kill the hostage Paul Marshall (Johnson) after the period is over ... the infidel got his fair treatment," the Al Qaeda statement said.

"Let him taste something of what Muslims have long tasted from Apache helicopter fire and missiles," the statement said.
One of the three photographs posted on the Web site showed a man's head, face toward the camera, being held by a hand. The other two showed a beheaded body lying prone on a bed, with the severed head placed in the small of his back, the clothes underneath bloodied.

The face looked like Johnson's.

The beheaded body was dressed in a bright orange jumpsuit, similar to one Johnson is seen wearing in earlier videos released by the kidnappers.

"To the Americans and whoever is their ally in the infidel and criminal world and their allies in the war against Islam, this action is punishment to them and a lesson for them to know that whoever steps foot in our country, this decisive action will be his fate," the statement said.
This is our true enemy, these conscienceless savages who take great delight in butchering innocent "infidels." Why we have wasted time, treasure, and blood in Iraq while these monsters are running about the world free is a question that will long be debated by historians and political scientists.

MISLEADER -- And since we're discussing The Financial Times [see post below], consider what The Financial Times has to say about Mr Bush and his tissues of lies.
The congressional commission investigating the September 11, 2001 attacks on the US has concluded that there is no evidence to support the Bush administration's thesis that Saddam Hussein helped Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda organisation carry them out. This conclusion, emerging from a strong tradition of congressional oversight, could be taken further.

The evidence the administration produced to demonstrate the link was, at best, spurious, at worst, fabricated. This is not a small matter, especially in the context of the Bush team's case for its war of choice against Iraq.
Whether the Osama and Saddam thesis was more the result of self-delusion or cynical manipulation, it - along with Washington's mismanagement of the whole Iraqi adventure - has been enormously damaging.

The Bush administration has misled the American people. It has isolated the US, as American diplomats and commanders pointed out this week. And its bungling in Iraq has given new and terrifying life to the cult of death sponsored by Osama bin Laden. Above all, it inspires little confidence it is capable of defeating the spreading al-Qaeda franchise, which always was the clear and present danger.
Whoever thought The FT would be part of the liberal media, eh?

THE PITIFUL MR POWELL -- According to a report in today's Financial Times, Secretary of State Colin Powell would be willing to return for a year or so in a second Bush term [assuming there is one] if, you know, people actually paid attention to him a bit.
"He could possibly stay on for a year or 18 months, especially if he is told that the ship of state is available at the helm," the official said.
The official, who asked not to be named, said there was a possibility that the influential neo-conservatives were "in complete retreat and turning on themselves" after the setbacks in Iraq, and that there would be a "massive exiting". But he also conceded that they could simply be "hunkered down" and might return.
However, the problem is that there is no reason to believe Mr Powell would have anything more to say about U.S. diplomacy in a second Bush term than he has in the first.
Ivo Daalder, a pro-Democrat analyst at the Brookings Institution, said it appeared that the Powell camp of "realists" wanted to stir up a pre-election debate in an attempt to sway future policy.

However, Mr Daalder said he would be surprised if Mr Powell thought he would get his way because of the power of Dick Cheney, the vice-president, who is closely associated with the neo-conservatives and on the Bush ticket.

"I can't believe that Powell doesn't realise that Cheney is part of the problem," Mr Daalder said. "And it misreads where Bush is. The foreign policy he pursued is very much his world view."

Mr Bush has been vocal in his support of core neo- conservative beliefs. Two weeks ago, he publicly attacked the "realists".

"Some who call themselves 'realists' question whether the spread of democracy in the Middle East should be any concern of ours," he told the Air Force Academy.

"But the realists in this case have lost contact with a fundamental reality. America has always been less secure when freedom is in retreat. America is always more secure when freedom is on the march."
One strives to feel some sympathy for Mr Powell, who is still the most publicly-respected member of the Bush admin. After all, he has routinely been sidelined and humiliated by Mr Bush, Mr Cheney, Mr Rumsfeld, and others in the administration. Nevertheless, surely Mr Powell brought this upon himself and has done little to take the hard edges off Mr Bush's unilateral foreign policy. When pressed he has supported Mr Bush's invasions and evasions and then tried to rehabilitate his image with thinly-veiled leaks to the press, especially his pal Bob Woodward. In other words, Mr Powell has behaved like a coward the last three years and I do find it difficult to summon up a well of sympathy for such a man. If Mr Powell's fate is inglorious, he has only himself to blame.

LET'S GO TO THE MOVIES -- Joe Conason informs Eric Alterman that “The Hunting of The President” is only opening in New York on Friday at the Angelika. It will be in D.C. next week, then Chicago, SF, LA, Seattle.

IN THE WOODSHED -- In his forthcoming autobiography, "My Life," Bill Clinton says after confessing the Monica Lewinsky affair to his wife Hillary, the former president began sleeping on the couch for a few months.

In happier news, pre-orders for "My Life" have exceeded two million, which means Clinton-hating Republicans are going to be driven nuts by the success of this publishing venture, just as they were when Mrs. Clinton's biography became a huge success last year.


WHOSO SHEDDETH MAN'S BLOOD -- Paul Johnson, the American Lockheed Martin contractor in Saudi Arabia who was kidnapped by Al Qaeda terrorists has apparently been beheaded, probably in much the same fashion as American Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. An inexcusable atrocity by a gang of subhumans.