An intellectual freedom blog with an emphasis on libraries and technology

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Decisions, Decisions

What part of "the intelligence is being fixed" do you Not understand?

The mainstream media has finally, after receiving a deluge of outraged correspondence, covered the story behind the The Downing Street Memo. After reading the document in question and then the administration's explanations one can only wonder if the Bush administration's spokespersons assume that no one has read the memo. Or maybe they are indulging in wishful thinking.

The explanation, as given in the Washington Post, conflates the planning for the possibility of a war with the decision to go to war. Of course they had to plan for a possible war, that doesn't mean they decided. "Given what has been reported about war planning in Washington, the revelations about the Downing Street meeting did not seem like a bolt from the blue," said the ombudsman for the New York Times. Or, that newspaper reports from that time indicated war planning underway means that the Downing Street Memo only confirms information already known.

George W. Bush, in his own words:

(links to web site of press releases)

“Of course, I haven’t made up my mind we’re going to war with Iraq.” [10/1/02]

“Hopefully, we can do this peacefully – don’t get me wrong. And if the world were to collectively come together to do so, and to put pressure on Saddam Hussein and convince him to disarm, there’s a chance he may decide to do that. And war is not my first choice, don’t – it’s my last choice.” [11/7/02]

“This is our attempt to work with the world community to create peace. And the best way for peace is for Mr. Saddam Hussein to disarm. It’s up to him to make his decision.” [12/4/02]

“You said we’re headed to war in Iraq – I don’t know why you say that. I hope we’re not headed to war in Iraq. I’m the person who gets to decide, not you. I hope this can be done peacefully.” [12/31/02]

“First of all, you know, I’m hopeful we won’t have to go war, and let’s leave it at that.” [1/2/03]

“But Saddam Hussein is – he’s treated the demands of the world as a joke up to now, and it was his choice to make. He’s the person who gets to decide war and peace.” [2/7/03]

“I’ve not made up our mind about military action. Hopefully, this can be done peacefully.” [3/6/03]

“I want to remind you that it’s his choice to make as to whether or not we go to war. It’s Saddam’s choice. He’s the person that can make the choice of war and peace.” [3/6/03]

“We are doing everything we can to avoid war in Iraq. But if Saddam Hussein does not disarm peacefully, he will be disarmed by force.” [3/8/03]

“Should Saddam Hussein choose confrontation, the American people can know that every measure has been taken to avoid war, and every measure will be taken to win it.” [3/17/03]

(Thanks go to Think Progress for the quotes and links).

Decisions, not just plans [from the Downing Street Memo, July 23, 2002]

"Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The NSC had no patience with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime's record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action."

"It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran." [emphasis added, see below].

When not Whether
Mention of the phrase "No decisions had been taken" have appeared in the recent stories about the memo, as an attempt to refute the fact that the document clearly states that Bush had already made the decision to go to war. In the context of the document, the "decisions" in question related directly to the timing of a military attack, a question of when not whether. The complete sentence: "No decisions had been taken, but he thought the most likely timing in US minds for military action to begin was January, with the timeline beginning 30 days before the US Congressional elections."

Further reading:
Mark Danner in the New York Review of Books, (June 9) wrote an excellent article about this scandal. The main points:

"1. By mid-July 2002, eight months before the war began, President Bush had decided to invade and occupy Iraq.

"2. Bush had decided to 'justify' the war 'by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD.'

"3. Already, 'the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.'

"4. Many at the top of the [U.S.] administration did not want to seek approval from the United Nations (going 'the U.N. route').

"5. Few in Washington seemed much interested in the aftermath of the war. "

Monday, June 13, 2005

The New York Times vs. Reality

Sometimes chronological order matters

On June 12, New York Times writers David E. Sanger, Steven R. Weisman with help from Don Van Natta Jr. and Alan Cowell launch a bizarre assault on the reality that the rest of us occupy. In the story "Prewar British Memo Says War Decision Wasn't Made" they purposely confuse the reader with a deliberate misrepresentation.

Background: The Downing Street Memo

On July 23, 2002 a British government official wrote the minutes of a meeting with high level Bush administration officials that had taken place that day. This memo, leaked May 2, 2005, contains stunning revelations that Bush intentionally lied to the U.S. public.

"Military action was now seen as inevitable," said the notes, summarizing a report by Richard Dearlove, then head of MI6, British intelligence, who had just returned from consultations in Washington along with other senior British officials. Dearlove went on, "Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD [weapons of mass destruction]. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy." [From The Washington Post]

More recently, on June 10, 2005, a second memo surfaced, but this one was written on July 21, 2002, two days before the "Downing Street Memo." This one contains slightly different information.

The Lie

Keep in mind that we now have two leaked memos. The New York Times conflates them and confuses them with each other.

The New York Times article cleverly confuses the reader by means of mentioning only one of two leaked documents and deliberately misleads the reader into believing that the 2nd document of the two leaked is the "Downing Street Memo." Read the article for yourself: SECTION: Section A; Column 1; Foreign Desk; THE STRUGGLE FOR IRAQ: ROAD TO INVASION; Pg. 11 ; HEADLINE: Prewar British Memo Says War Decision Wasn't Made. See if you think it mentions one memo or two.

Even if the reader already knows that we now have two documents rather than one, The NYT article still does more to confuse than to inform. The the order in which the memos were written matters.

Salon's War Room blog entry on the troubles of the NYT regarding the Downing Street Memo explains this best:

The problem here is that the briefing containing the phrase "no political decision" was written July 21, 2002, and the memo containing minutes from a senior meeting of British officials was written July 23, in which it was reported that Washington appeared bent on war. That is, the July 21 briefing paper was distributed to participants in preparation for the meeting two days later with Bush's closest intelligence advisors, where the updated details of war planning were then discussed -- and from which one conclusion reached by the Brits was: "Military action was now seen as inevitable."

The assertions that President Bush planned to invade Iraq no matter what have come up before, both National Security Advisor Richard Clark and Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neil have made very public. The Downing Street Memo relates more specifically to a deliberate campaign to mislead the public. Why does the New York Times article fail to mention both leaked documents? Why does the New York Times article confuse the two memos with each other? Does this look like damage control for the Bush Administration?

Friday, June 03, 2005

Nixon, in his own words

Or, you asked for it!

Recently some right-wing pundits and blogs have attempted to re-write history, stating that the fall of Nixon led to Pol Pot's takeover of Cambodia and that Nixon was actually a good President, bringing peace to the world until his enemies brought him down. One blog, Little Green Football posted an editorial by Ben Stein in which he asks "Does anyone remember what he did that was bad?" I read with dismay and astonishment the "comments" section appended to this blog entry. Post after post that showed no indication of even the most rudimentary knowledge of U.S. history. A few more scholarly ones mentioned the invasion and bombing of Cambodia as well as Nixon's rampant anti-semitism. A person responding to this stated that he had no idea that Nixon hated jews. Another expressed confusion, unable to reconcile Nixon's support of Israel with his bigotted rantings.

This is a wonderful opportunity to let Nixon speak for himself. From authenticated sources:

"They're untrustworthy ... Look at the Justice Department. It's full of Jews."

"please get me the names of the Jews. You know, the big Jewish contributors to the Democrats. Could we please investigate some of the (expletives)? that's all."

"What about the rich Jews?...Go after'em like a son of a bitch."

"You're so goddamned concerned about the civilians, and I don't give a damn. I don't care."

Regarding the shooting of Wallace: "Just say he [the shooter] was a supporter of [George] McGovern and [Ted] Kennedy. Just put that out ... Say you have it on unmistakable evidence."

"Many Jews in the Communist conspiracy. . . . Chambers and Hiss were the only non-Jews. . . . Many thought that Hiss was. He could have been a half. . . . Every other one was a Jew - and it raised hell for us."

Addressing Kissenger : "Henry, let's leave the niggers to Bill and we'll take care of the rest of the world"

"John, we have the power but are we using it to investigate contributors to Hubert Humphrey, contributor to Muskie, the Jews, you know, that are stealing every--what the hell are we doing?"

A few facts
Everyone has heard of Watergate but surprisingly few (who read right-wing blogs, anyway) know more than something vauge about a burglary. The burglars planted bugs in the telephones of the Democrat's national headquarters, in order to spy on Nixon's political enemies. There were actually two burglaries. One to plant the bugs, and then after the Democrats discovered and disabled them, another to fix or re-plant them. During the second one the Nixon operatives were caught. The fact that these burglars answered directly to Nixon's aides remains a matter of public record along with the jail sentences that his aides served as a result. Likewise Nixon's participation in the cover-up of these crimes one can hear on his taped conversations. I remember listening to them at the time during televised hearings by the Congressional committee investigating the Watergate break-in.

The tapes had some gaps, erased or unintelligible portions, one lasting 18 minutes. The tapes and transcriptions released to the public did not show Nixon ordering the Watergate break-in itself, but did clearly show his participation in the cover-up (obstructing justice is a felony). Recently released tapes (1996) do clearly show Nixon ordering a break-in of the Brookings Institution.

More of Nixon's own words:

"break into the place, rifle the files, and bring them out....I want a break-in. I want the Brookings safe cleaned out. And have it cleaned out in a way that makes somebody else look bad.''

"You go in to inspect...and clean it out....I want Brookings, just break in, break in, and take it out. You understand."

The Enemies List
Nixon had his aides write an "enemies list" of his political opponents and critics in the press. The list, related memos and other supporting documents entered the public record during the Watergate hearings. Nixon and his staff used the power of the federal government to harass his politcal enemies, not people who committed any crimes. John Dean, from the introduction to the "Enemies list" memo: "This memorandum addresses the matter of how we can maximize the fact of our incumbency in dealing with persons known to be active in their opposition to our Administration, Stated a bit more bluntly--how we can use the available federal machinery to screw our political enemies." This included IRS audits, grant availability, federal contracts, litigation prosecution.

Nixon did not limit his illegal misuse of the government's power to individuals. The National Archives released more of Nixon's tapes in the mid 1990s. These revealed that he and his aides planned to use anti-trust litigation, or simply the threat of such against the major broadcast networks as a "Sword of Damocles," as the Washington Post Reported in 1997.

Even more of Nixon in his own words:

"If the threat of screwing them is going to help us more with their programming than doing it, then keep the threat,"

"But keeping this case in a pending status gives us one hell of a club on an economic issue that means a great deal to those three networks ... something of a sword of Damocles."

"Our gain is more important than the economic gain. We don't give a goddam about the economic gain. Our game here is solely political. ... As far as screwing them is concerned, I'm very glad to do it."

The Memory Hole
I am especially astounded that the right-wing red state people posting the comments mentioned above could forget about the existence of the Soviet Union so quickly. I suppose a person born around the time the Berlin Wall fell is old enough to type but not old enough to know much. Here's a quick history lesson in case you cut class the day they covered the Middle East: Until the 1980s U.S. politicians (and mainstream media) viewed the Arab-Israeli conflict as a component part of the Cold War. The Arab states were Soviet clients. Israel was and remains a U.S. client. Read some books and newspapers printed during the time. The simplicity looks somewhat quaint by today's standards.

And many people forgot all about Nixon's "Slush fund." I first learned the meaning of this phrase while following the Watergate scandal as it unfolded. Nixon funded his illegal activities by selling political favors to corporations, rich individuals and industry lobbies. He raised about $60 million this way. Some examples include Howard Hughs, a telecom company called ITT (gave $400,000 to end an anti-trust suit) and The dairy industry ($2 million to maintain milk price supports). The list goes on and on. All of this is a matter of public record.

An Editorializing Civics Lesson
Those who truly love democracy and liberty recoil in horror at the Nixon Administration's activities, and the memory of them. The use of the agencies of government to attack one's enemies, personal or political, destroys the democratic process. The buying and selling of government favors or immunity from prosecution destroys the justice system. The right to vote and elections have no real power if the government actively prevents people from participating, organizing or writing. The Former Soviet Union held elections all the time. No one took them seriously (except maybe communist party members running for office unopposed). You need more than two names on a ballot to have a democracy. If the opposition has no means to organize, communicate and raise funds without government interference you have something called a despotic regime, not a democracy. Period. This explains why Nixon posed a threat to democracy and why Mark Felt, whatever his motives, saved the United States from turning into a dictatorship, with sham elections, ruined lives and God knows how many years of Patricia Nixon's icy face on magazine covers (shudder).