The defector who convinced the White House that Iraq had a secret biological weapons programme has admitted for the first time that he lied about his story, then watched in shock as it was used to justify the war.
Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi, codenamed Curveball by German and American intelligence officials who dealt with his claims, has told the Guardian that he fabricated tales of mobile bioweapons trucks and clandestine factories in an attempt to bring down the Saddam Hussein regime, from which he had fled in 1995.
“Maybe I was right, maybe I was not right,” he said. “They gave me this chance. I had the chance to fabricate something to topple the regime. I and my sons are proud of that and we are proud that we were the reason to give Iraq the margin of democracy.”
The admission comes just after the eighth anniversary of Colin Powell’s speech to the United Nations in which the then-US secretary of state relied heavily on lies that Janabi had told the German secret service, the BND. It also follows the release of former defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s memoirs, in which he admitted Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction programme.
But I’m particularly interested in two new details he reveals. First, BND and British intelligence met with Curveball’s boss in mid-2000; the boss debunked Curveball’s claims.
Janabi claimed he was first exposed as a liar as early as mid-2000, when the BND travelled to a Gulf city, believed to be Dubai, to speak with his former boss at the Military Industries Commission in Iraq, Dr Bassil Latif.
The Guardian has learned separately that British intelligence officials were at that meeting, investigating a claim made by Janabi that Latif’s son, who was studying in Britain, was procuring weapons for Saddam.
That claim was proven false, and Latif strongly denied Janabi’s claim of mobile bioweapons trucks and another allegation that 12 people had died during an accident at a secret bioweapons facility in south-east Baghdad.
The German officials returned to confront him with Latif’s version. “He says, ‘There are no trucks,’ and I say, ‘OK, when [Latif says] there no trucks then [there are none],’” Janabi recalled.
So this is yet another well-placed Iraqi who warned western intelligence that the WMD evidence that would eventually lead to war was baseless (one George Tenet and others haven’t admitted in the past).
And Curveball describes how BND returned to his claims in 2002, then dropped it, then returned to it just before Colin Powell’s Feruary 5, 2003 speech at the UN.
We’ve known the outlines of these details before. But it sure adds to the picture of the US dialing up the intelligence it needed — however flimsy — to start a war.
Guardian reporters Martin Chulov and Helen Pidd tracked down Alwan in Karlsruhe, a medium-sized city along the French-German border. They speculate his admission “appeared to be partly a purge of conscience, partly an attempt to justify what he did,” or maybe just a last-ditch attempt “to resurrect his own reputation” in the hopes of moving back to Iraq. They acknowledge Curveball’s attempted “reinvention as a liberator and patriot is a tough sell to many in the CIA, the BND and in the Bush administration, whose careers were terminally wounded” by his fabrications.
Alwan’s motives, not surprisingly, were of little interest to pundits based in those countries that devoted seven years of blood and treasure to the fight in Iraq. “Yet another nail in the coffin of those who claim that the intelligence was clear about the alleged threat,” writes Guardian columnist Carnie Ross. “We should name this process for what it was: the manufacture of a lie.” Wonkette’s Ken Layne echoed the sentiment. “Tell whatever lies you want for whatever ends you desire. That is the lesson.”
Things move fast these days, and 2003 can seem like ancient history to some. But given that the run-up to the war in Iraq was the greatest media failure in decades, I thought this would be a good opportunity to remind ourselves of the tears of joy and gratitude that greeted Powell’s U.N. speech. What’s important to keep in mind is that a lot of Powell’s bogus claims were known at the time to be false or baseless, if reporters had bothered to ask around. But they didn’t, because they were so blinded by how awesome Powell was. Think I exaggerate? Let’s take a look back:
“Secretary of State Colin Powell’s strong, plain-spoken indictment of the Saddam Hussein regime before the UN Security Council Wednesday embodies something truly great about the United States. Those around the world who demanded proof must now be satisfied, or else admit that no satisfaction is possible for them.” — Chicago Sun-Times”In a brilliant presentation as riveting and as convincing as Adlai Stevenson’s 1962 unmasking of Soviet missiles in Cuba, Powell proved beyond any doubt that Iraq still possesses and continues to develop illegal weapons of mass destruction. The case for war has been made. And it’s irrefutable.” — New York Daily News
“Only those ready to believe Iraq and assume that the United States would manufacture false evidence against Saddam would not be persuaded by Powell’s case.” — San Antonio Express-News
“The evidence he presented to the United Nations — some of it circumstantial, some of it absolutely bone-chilling in its detail — had to prove to anyone that Iraq not only hasn’t accounted for its weapons of mass destruction but without a doubt still retains them. Only a fool — or possibly a Frenchman — could conclude otherwise.” — Richard Cohen, Washington Post
That’s just a small sample, but you see the pattern: Not only was Powell’s show presented as settling the matter of whether Iraq had this terrifying arsenal and would use it on us, but if you didn’t agree, you were either an Iraqi sympathizer or at the very least anti-American. At that point, the debate over whether we would invade was pretty much over — the only question was when the bombs would start falling. It may boggle the mind that so much of the case for war was based on the testimony of one absurdly unreliable guy. But that was what passed for “intelligence” during the Bush years.
The Germans returned to Janabi in May 2002, just when the propaganda run-up to the Iraq War was beginning. It doesn’t take too much to figure out that this likely occurred at the behest of the United States, which was eager for as much information proving that Saddam Hussein was pursuing a WMD program in violation of UN sanctions as it could find. Despite the fact that he had been previously established as a liar, he was apparently taken seriously and given incentives for sharing as much information as he could come up with. Which he obviously did.
At the same time, there’s no evidence that the United States knew about the problems with Janabi’s credibility, or even that they knew who he was other than “Curveball,” the code name assigned to him by German intelligence. So, absent additional information, this doesn’t strike me as implicating the Bush Administration in Janabi’s lies. What it does demonstrate, though, is the extent to which, during the period from late 2001 through early 2003, the United States was singularly focused on finding any evidence it could to justify war against Iraq to the exclusion of anything to the contrary. Obviously, the Germans, as our allies, picked up on this and provided us with the information we needed. The problem is that nobody in Berlin or Washington seems to have bothered to make any effort to independently verify what Janabi was saying before deciding to use it as the basis to go to war. And that’s a problem.
So far at least, this story seems to be be drawing very little attention in the blogsphere, and none at all among conservative bloggers. That’s too bad, because the fact that we fought a war based not only on bad intelligence, but on intelligence that was based on evidence provided by someone who was already a known liar strikes me as something that we ought to be concerned about.
I probably wouldn’t be on Colin Powell’s Christmas card list, nor he on mine – not for any particular enmity on my part, or (hypothetical) on his; we’re just not the same kind of Republicans – but I have to admit:
Colin Powell, the US secretary of state at the time of the Iraq invasion, has called on the CIA and Pentagon to explain why they failed to alert him to the unreliability of a key source behind claims of Saddam Hussein’s bio-weapons capability.
…I’d like to know the answer to this one myself. I mean, contrary to Lefty mythology, the liberation of Iraq did not hinge on the presence of WMDs (although I will admit that their proven past existence and use on civilian targets by the late, unlamented-by-civilized-people Hussein regime did make quite a few Democrats at least temporarily capable of being swayed by reason); but the failure to find any in significant amounts after the fact was definitely embarrassing to the Bush administration, and I join former Secretary Powell in wanting to hear the bureaucrats explain themselves. Because we’re still counting on these people to tell us what the heck is going on, and President Obama needs to be better served by them than former President Bush was.
The Obama administration needs to think long and hard about how it can convert its occasional rhetorical flourishes into concrete polices that can assist democracy advocates not only in Tunisia, but in Jordan, Egypt and elsewhere. If Obama wants to do some more productive “Muslim Outreach,” he should stop trying to ingratiate himself with despotic leaders and show that America is, and will continue to be, on the side of those yearning for freedom.
Recall when President George W. Bush talked about democracy taking hold in Iraq and then the region? Now Bush’s vision seems very prescient. Shouldn’t we all be in favor the freedom agenda? Criticized at the time as too Pollyannaish and too ambitious, Bush’s second inaugural address is worth reading again in full. This section is particularly apt:
We will encourage reform in other governments by making clear that success in our relations will require the decent treatment of their own people. America’s belief in human dignity will guide our policies, yet rights must be more than the grudging concessions of dictators; they are secured by free dissent and the participation of the governed. In the long run, there is no justice without freedom, and there can be no human rights without human liberty.
Some, I know, have questioned the global appeal of liberty–though this time in history, four decades defined by the swiftest advance of freedom ever seen, is an odd time for doubt. Americans, of all people, should never be surprised by the power of our ideals. Eventually, the call of freedom comes to every mind and every soul. We do not accept the existence of permanent tyranny because we do not accept the possibility of permanent slavery. Liberty will come to those who love it.
One question that deserves further consideration: How much did the emergence of a democratic Iraq have to do with this popular revolt in Tunisia? For now, the current administration had better get on the right side of history.
Rubin doesn’t even attempt to prove causation — eight years ago, the U.S. invaded Iraq, and last week there was an uprising in Tunisia. Ergo Bush deserves the credit. This is deeply paternalistic — in Rubin’s version of history, the Tunisians who faced down the security forces of an autocratic regime are practically bit players in their own political upheaval.
The point is not to make an actual argument, but to inject a political narrative that will retroactively vindicate the decision to go to war in Iraq, as though the American people would ever forget that the Bush administration justified that decision by manufacturing an imminent danger in the form of WMD that were never found.
“Democracy in the Muslim World” was not the primary reason given for invading Iraq, and even as a retroactive justification it remains weak. As Matt Duss pointed out last year, the RAND Corporation did a study concluding that “Iraq’s instability has become a convenient scarecrow neighboring regimes can use to delay political reform by asserting that democratization inevitably leads to insecurity.” But as Donald Rumsfeld might say, the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, so Rubin presses on:
One question that deserves further consideration: How much did the emergence of a democratic Iraq have to do with this popular revolt in Tunisia? For now, the current administration had better get on the right side of history.
Perhaps the most bizarre of Republican foreign policy instincts is the belief that the President of the United States can force the foreign policy outcomes he desires through sheer force of will. This is what Matthew Yglesias has dubbed the “The Green Lantern Theory of Geopolitics.”
One question in Ms. Rubin’s column does have a clear answer however. “How much did the emergence of a democratic Iraq have to do with this popular revolt in Tunisia?” she asks.
Having covered Iraq and Egypt full time between 2003-2008, and having explored the question of whether the US invasion of Iraq would spur regional political change at length with academics, politicians, and average folks in and out of the region over a period of years (and talked to people in touch with current events in Tunisia the past few days) the answer to her question is clear: “Little to nothing.”
The sectarian bloodletting in Iraq, the insurgency, and the US role in combating it claimed tens of thousands of Iraqi lives, and Iraq remains unstable today. The regional view of the Iraq war was and is overwhelmingly negative, the model of Iraq something to be avoided at all costs. Before I read Rubin’s piece earlier today, Simon Hawkins, an anthropology professor at Franklin and Marshall, was kind enough to chat with me about Tunisian politics and history.
Hawkins, whose dissertation was about Tunisia, has been coming and going from the country since the late 1980s. He recounted (unprompted) how the word “democracy” had been given a bad name among many of the Tunisian youth (the same sorts who led the uprising against Ben Ali) because of the Iraq experience, “That’s democracy,” a group of Tunisian youths said to him in 2006 of Iraq. “No thanks.”
The Obama Administration’s policies towards the Arab world, largely focused on counterterrorism cooperation and avoiding pushing hard for political reform in autocracies like Egypt, are in fact an almost straight continuation of President Bush’s approach, particularly in his second term. It’s true that Bush made a ringing call for freedom in the Middle East a centerpiece of his inaugural address, but soon came up against the hard reality that close regional allies like Egypt, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia weren’t much interested in tolerating challenges to their rule.
After the Muslim Brotherhood tripled its share in Egypt’s parliament in one of the fairest (but still fraud marred) Egyptian elections in decades and the Islamist group Hamas swept free and fair Palestinian elections in 2006, the US took a big step back from Arab democracy promotion. That’s a situation that persists today.
While those in Tunisia tell me there is no specific sign of an Islamist presence yet, it remains a real concern for those pressing for a secularized, democratic government.
One final note: while Muslim autocrats in the region have reason to worry, Elliott Abrams of the Council on Foreign Relations makes a convincing case that regimes do not face the same threat of instability. In Jordan and Morocco, for example, the kings in those countries enjoy a “perceived legitimacy.”
Nevertheless, George W. Bush must be pleased to see the debate breakout over the best route to Middle East democracy. It was only a few years that the liberal elite assured us that Muslim self-rule was a fantasy.
I don’t know about “the liberal elite,” but people opposed to the Bush administration’s illegal war in Iraq and ruinous “freedom agenda” actually argued that it would be extremely difficult to construct Western-style liberal democracies in countries that had no political tradition of representative or constitutional government. This is true. It is extremely difficult, it doesn’t seem to be worth the effort and resources devoted to it, and it remains a foolish thing for the U.S. to pursue as a major foreign policy goal. What we also said was that it was outrageous and wrong to invade another country, trample on its sovereignty, wreck its infrastructure, and impoverish its people. What was even worse was to claim that we had liberated it, when we were actually handing it over to the tender mercies of sectarian militias and establishing what turned out to be a repressive government that often resorts to police-state tactics. In 2003, Muslim self-rule was already a reality in Turkey, Bangladesh, and Indonesia. The fantasy was the idea that the U.S. could forcibly topple an authoritarian government and readily install a functioning liberal democratic government in Iraq, and that this would then lead to regional transformation. Except for the first part, none of this happened. So far, the Tunisians seem to be managing much better on their own than Iraq did under the tutelage of U.S. occupiers.
Rubin does raise a significant question, however, regarding U.S. policy towards Tunisia. It could be, as her source suggests, that there exists a wellspring of knowledgeable people in the U.S. federal government who understand Tunisian society and have a keen grasp of how to ensure that the country’s revolutionary tumult is channeled toward a stable, sustainable representative democracy (provided it’s not too Islamist, of course). If that is the case, telling whatever government does emerge “what we expect” makes some sense, as it presumes we know what we’re talking about.
If, however, we don’t actually know what’s best for Tunisian society going forward, outside of a general desire for it to have a representative and relatively liberal government, should we really be butting in?
Now a final note: The left blogosphere seems to have wigged out over the suggestion that George W. Bush and the successful emergence of a secular, democratic Iraq has anything to do with all this. For starters, it is amusing to see that those voices, fresh from the smear on conservatives regarding the Arizona shooting, are now all about “causation.” But more seriously, had democracy failed in Iraq, had the country descended into chaos, and had Iraqis laboring for a secular, democratic Muslim country been killed and exiled, do we imagine this would have been good for the prospects of democracy elsewhere? Recall that it was the left that said that democracy was alien to the Middle East. Bush was right; they were wrong. And the notion that democratization and rebellion against despotic regimes do not spread regionally after a successful experiment is belied by history (e.g. Central America, Eastern Europe).
Well, the country did descend into chaos, Iraqis laboring for a secular country were killed and exiled*, and that wasn’t good for the prospects of democracy elsewhere. These also happen to be the effects of the Bush administration’s Iraq policy, which involved invading and devastating a country for bogus national security reasons and then trying to dress up the entire debacle as an experiment in democratization. The outward forms of democracy didn’t entirely fail in Iraq, but what those forms did was politicize ethnic and sectarian divisions and fuel years of inter-communal violence. Looking at the chaos unleashed by what war supporters kept insisting on calling “democracy,” nations throughout the region associated “democracy” with foreign occupation, civil strife, and constant violence. For that matter, there has been no “successful emergence of a secular, democratic Iraq.” There is an elected government with increasingly authoritarian and illiberal habits governed by sectarians pretending to be secular nationalists.
Recall that it was the left that said that democracy was alien to the Middle East. Bush was right; they were wrong.
No, Bush’s critics understood, usually better than his supporters, that Iran had some measure of constitutional and representative government before the Pahlavis, and Turkey has been gradually developing as a democratic republic since WWII. Opponents of the disastrous war and the “freedom agenda” said that democratic and representative government was alien to almost all Arab countries. Lebanon was and remains the exception. That was true. Maliki’s semi-dictatorship in Baghdad does little to change that assessment. Bush based his conviction that the U.S. should install democratic government in a predominantly Arab country on the general lack of such governments in Arab countries, which democratists concluded was a principal source of jihadism. To the extent that Bush and his allies were serious in wanting to democratize Arab countries, they were taking for granted that democratic government was alien to these countries, which is why the U.S. had to introduce it directly through active promotion. What Bush and his allies also said was that democratic government was part of a “single model of human progress,” and that therefore every society should be governed this way, and furthermore that every society was capable of governing itself this way. That was the far-fetched claim that most of Bush’s critics couldn’t accept, because it is nothing more than an ideological conviction.
The analytical gymnastics Jennifer Rubin is forced to perform here to defend the invasion of Iraq are pretty impressive. If the Tunisian revolution spurs reform in neighboring countries, her line of reasoning goes, Iraq’s quasi-democratic political process must be having a similar effect in the region. I know little about the Middle East and less about Tunisia, but let me suggest one important distinction: If the “Jasmine Revolution” inspires emulation in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, it will have something to do with the fact that Tunisia’s political upheaval was a genuinely organic, popular movement that isn’t perceived as the result of outside meddling. Whatever the merits of Iraq’s new government, it will never enjoy that type of currency in the region, which is why overblown claims about the positive regional consequences of our invasion remain so unpersuasive.
Moqtada al-Sadr is back. The radical Shi’ite cleric and head of Iraq’s most feared militia group has returned to Iraq after a 4-year self-imposed exile in Iran. His homecoming is being welcomed by many Iraqi Shi’ites, who see him as a stabilizing force in the country. His strong anti-American views, however, and history of fomenting sectarian violence have some in Washington on edge.
Anyone remember what Jay Garner, the first U.S. viceroy in Baghdad in 2003, answered when asked how long American troops would be in Iraq? “Look back on the Philippines around the turn of the 20th century,” he told an interviewer. “They were a coaling station for the navy, and that allowed us to keep a great presence in the Pacific. That’s what Iraq is for the next few decades: our coaling station that gives us great presence in the Middle East.” Instead, as radical anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr made a triumphant return this week from self-imposed exile in Iran to assume a central role in the newly elected government, it is looking increasingly likely that the U.S. military presence in Iraq will be terminated by the end of this year.
Sadr arrived in the Shiite holy city of Najaf, in southern Iraq. He visited the Shrine of Imam Ali and his father’s grave before returning to his family’s home. A spokesman for Sadr’s office in Najaf confirmed that he had returned to Iraq permanently.
Sadr’s movement won 40 seats in last year’s parliamentary elections, reestablishing it as a powerful force in Iraqi politics. Its decision to support Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a longtime nemesis of the movement, for a second term was instrumental in helping Maliki win the premiership. However, the Sadrists received numerous government posts in return for their support – and also, apparently, government assurances that Sadr could safely return to Iraq.
Some analysts also suggested that his return could be motivated by a desire to retain his preeminence over the movement’s leaders in Iraq, who have overseen the party’s impressive gains in recent years. “His party is becoming stronger and bigger, and the need for him to preside over it has grown, especially since there is fear that new leaders within the party could surpass him,” wrote Hazem al-Amin in the Arabic daily al-Hayat.
Sadr’s move and the deal-making among Shia factions that is related to it underscore the sharpness of the sectarian divide in Iraq, notwithstanding earlier encouraging signs of cross-sect political activity. The chief manifestation of such activity, Ayad Allawi’s Iraqiya coalition, was outmaneuvered by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Maliki has cut his most important deals with other Shiites, and especially with the Sadrists. What passes for democracy in Iraq doesn’t go much beyond a simple concept of majority rule. Shiites are in the majority, and they are ruling. Having made a bargain with Maliki, notwithstanding earlier bloody confrontation between the two, Moqtada al-Sadr is a major part of that system.
Sadr’s return also underscores how far away in other respects Iraq still is from anything a westerner would recognize as a stable democracy. Given the responsibility of the Sadrists for much of the sectarian bloodshed of Iraq’s very recent past, the fact that their leader is back in place as an accepted political player in Iraq rather than being consigned to ignominy and exile is itself a major statement in that regard. Iraq is still a violent place, in the sense not only of daily incidents but also of how close beneath the surface of political life is the possibility and the inclination to resort to bigger bloodshed.
Sadr is a force for intolerance in Iraqi society, and it remains to be seen if he has actually abandoned his predilection for use of coercive force. His followers have attempted to regiment women, close down video stores, close down cinemas, and prevent public performance of music. They have also targeted Sunnis and secular Shiites, neither of which will likely welcome his return to Iraq.
On the one hand, Sadr’s return and his bloc’s participation in the Iraqi government is a sign of increased stability and might bode well for al-Maliki’s second term. The majority Shiites, including the Sadrists, have for the moment joined together and rallied behind the new prime minister. On the other, if Sadr goes back to promoting intolerance, he could be a force for disorder in a country and a political climate that already has enough of those.
Unfortunately, there are some who have inflated Muqtada’s status as a revolutionary and his street battles with US forces as uprisings. They were never uprisings but merely a show of force by a man using the established clerical reputation of his family to gain a foothold among some of Iraq’s Shia, position himself as a resistance leader and earn dividends both in Iran and among Iraq’s disenfranchised.
His militia is comprised not of revolutionary nationalists but is a ragtag force of high school drop-outs, brigands, and common criminals; it is no threat to a regular army and was routed even by the then poorly-trained Iraqi army. However, the police, security and armed forces have been infiltrated by thousands of Sadrists in the past five years.
American strategists can claim victory in replacing a secular dictator with a theocratic one. In the meantime, the trap has been sprung and all Iraqis are living the nightmare.
President Obama has asked the television networks for 15 minutes tonight, and he’s going to pack quite a bit of messaging into that short period of time. Why do we need a speech marking the end of the combat mission in Iraq? It’s because we’re going to need, according to Obama, to understand the future of the war in Afghanistan and the interconnectedness of foreign and domestic policy in a way that reflects what Obama was able to do in Iraq.
What did he do? He set a time-frame and stuck to it. Iraq will now begin to fend for itself. He promised during his presidential campaign that he would end the Iraq war “responsibly.” He will note tonight that his administration managed to withdraw 100,000 troops from Iraq “responsibly.” He will portray this as a major milestone in his presidency.
We forget how integral Sen. Barack Obama’s decision to oppose the Iraq war was to his own political awakening, and how many contortions Hillary Clinton had to untwist in order to justify her own support for the war authority, and how, by the day of the general election, given the success of the surge (or the success of JSOC’s counterterrorism efforts), Iraq was no longer a central voting issue. Voters seemed to exorcise that demon in 2006, when they voted Democrats into Congress.
A large chunk of the speech will be taken up by the president’s careful description of the sacrifices that a million U.S. soldiers and diplomats have made by their service in Iraq, and how 4,400 Americans did not come home.
Then, a pivot point: the Iraq drawdown has allowed the president to refocus attention on the threat from Al Qaeda worldwide, and he will mention that the terrorist network is degraded, albeit still capable of waging terrorist attacks and intending to do so.
He will note that the government will be able to reap a bit of a post-Iraq transition dividend, allowing the administration to invest more in job creation, health care, and education here at home. (Subtly, the point: Obama wouldn’t have gone into Iraq, so we wouldn’t have had to spend as much as we did.) It’s time, he will say, to build our own nation.
Since it’s a slow news day, let’s mull this over. First take: can you imagine anything that would piss off the liberal base more than acknowledging that the surge worked? You’d be able to hear the steam coming out of lefty ears from sea to shining sea. Second take: Even if he decided to do it anyway, would it be worthwhile? If he wants to be honest, Obama would have to at least mention all those other factors that Ambinder mentions, namely that the reduction in violence in 2007 was quite clearly the result of 4 S’s: Surge, Sadr ceasefire, Sectarian cleansing, and Sunni Awakening. But is this too much to talk about? And would it seem churlish to acknowledge the surge and then immediately try to take some of the credit away from it?
Third take: Forget it. Not only would mentioning the surge piss off liberals, but it would also imply some kind of “victory” in Iraq, and surely Obama can’t be dimwitted enough to come within a light year of claiming that, can he? Of course not. Not with sporadic violence back in the news and Iraqi leaders still stalemated on forming a government five months after the March elections.
So I’ll predict no direct mention of the surge. And since I’m usually wrong about this kind of stuff, I suppose you should try to lay down some money right away on Obama mentioning the surge tonight. But I still don’t think he’ll do it.
To mark the end of U.S. combat missions in the nation George W. Bush invaded over seven years ago, the president on Tuesday night will deliver a high-profile address from the Oval Office. Speeches from the Oval Office are usually reserved for the most pressing and profound matters of a presidency. And this partial end of the Iraq war — the United States will still have 50,000 troops stationed there — is a significant event. It demonstrates that Obama has kept a serious campaign promise: to end this war.
But with the economy foundering — many of the recent stats are discouraging — most Americans are probably not yearning above all for a report on Iraq and likely will not be all that impressed with Obama’s promise-keeping on this front. The main issue remains jobs, especially as the congressional elections approach.
Summer is essentially done. It’s back-to-school and back-to-work time for many of us. But on Obama’s first days after his Martha Vineyard’s vacation, he’s devoting (at least in public) more time and energy to foreign policy matters than the flagging economy. Worried Democrats must be livid. (Most House Democrats are still campaigning in their districts and are not yet back in Washington to gripe about their president.)
Wars are the most significant stuff of a presidency. There’s not enough media attention devoted to the Afghanistan war. But politically there’s little or no payoff for an Iraq war address. Obama can’t brag, “Mission accomplished.” (In fact, on Monday, press secretary Robert Gibbs said Obama would not be using those words.) He can’t declare victory. He can only declare a murky end to a murky war. That’s not going to rally the Democrats’ base or win over independents. It was not mandatory for Obama to deliver such a high-profile speech. Vice President Joe Biden traveled to Baghdad to commemorate this milestone. The administration has conducted other events regarding the end of combat operations. It’s been duly noted.
The president’s biggest political problem is the disillusionment of his liberal voters. Contra Fox News, they do not see a liberal president doing liberal things. They see a consensus president rescuing Wall Street. The job situation remains dismal, the administration is deporting illegal immigrants, and where are the gays in the military?
What Obama needs to do between now and November is pound home the message: I have kept faith with my voters on their big concerns, healthcare and the Iraq war. Now those voters must keep faith with me.
Ronald Reagan could count on a cadre of conservatives to defend his actions against any and all critics. A friend once teased Bill Rusher, then publisher of National Review: “Whenever Reagan does something awful, you defend it on one of two grounds: either that Reagan had no choice, or that the full wisdom of his action will be disclosed to lesser mortals in God’s good time.” According to legend, Rusher answered, “May I point out that the two positions are not necessarily incompatible?”
Nobody seems willing to do for Obama what Rusher did for Reagan. So Obama must do the job himself. Tonight’s speech is part of that job. Message: I ended George Bush’s war. Vote Democratic.
The trouble is: This message seems unlikely to work in the way Democrats need. Obama’s speech is much more likely to alienate marginal voters than to galvanize alienated liberals, and for this reason:
Obama’s liberal voters will not abide any whiff of triumphalism in the president’s speech. For them, Iraq was at best a disaster, at worst a colonialist war crime. (Elsewhere on the Politics Daily site, David Corn’s colleague Jill Lawrence specifies what she’d like to hear the president say: “Never again.”)
But most Americans want and expect triumphs. “Americans love a winner. Americans will not tolerate a loser.” So said George Patton on the eve of D-Day, and he was right. And if President Obama declines to declare himself a winner, guess what alternative remains? Exactly.
8:20: All in all, a nice speech by Mr Obama, in my opinion. Hit most of the right notes.
8:19: Agreed, though “they are the steel in the ship of our state” was a little much.
8:19: Call me a shallow booster, but that part about troops coming home, from the predawn dark to the excerpt below, was great prose. Just beautiful. Very affecting.
8:18: “Who fought in a faraway place for people they never knew”—that’s some beautiful iambic hexameter right there.
8:18: This turned into a rather moving tribute to the troops.
8:17: The shift from the war-ending announcement to the nation-building task reminds me of the BP speech—from the disaster to a different energy future was a stretch too far. A good speech makes one or two strong points, not lots.
8:17: Yep—there’s the money: a post 9/11 GI bill. He’s daring Republicans to challenge it.
8:17: Is that a subtle gauntlet—the reference to doing right by our veterans?
8:16: This is starting to feel a little platitudinous. Time to dangle Beau from the upstairs window.
8 p.m. ET across the dial. It’s billed as an Iraq speech, but that’s not really what it is. The “key part,” apparently, will be a renewed call to “take the fight directly to al Qaeda” by finishing the job in Afghanistan. (Wouldn’t taking the fight to AQ require operations in Pakistan, not Afghanistan?) It’s also being billed as a “mission unaccomplished” speech, as the White House is ever mindful after Bush of the pitfalls in celebrating too early. But that’s not really what this is either. Like it or not, by investing the end of combat ops with the grandeur of an Oval Office address, The One is necessarily signaling completion of the task. And why not? The public couldn’t be clearer as to how it feels about renewing combat operations if Iraqi security starts to fall apart. This is closure, for better or worse.
Because it is closure, and closure at a moment when things are ominously open-ended in Iraq, I admit to having no appetite today for the standard left/right recriminations about how much Bush screwed up or whether Obama should credit him for the surge. (I think he will acknowledge Bush tonight, for what it’s worth, mainly to signal that this is an occasion that transcends partisanship. But never underestimate the political instincts of the perpetual campaigner.) Instead, since we’re putting a bookend on history, I offer you this grim big-picture reminiscence by star NYT correspondent John Burns, who was on the ground over there until 2007. Today is a day that’s taken forever to arrive, he says, and yet it still seems to have arrived too soon.
But most of all, the bulk of the speech had nothing to do with either Iraq or Afghanistan — it was a pep talk for his domestic agenda. This cements the sense that he simply wants out of messy foreign commitments. He also repeated a number of domestic policy canards. This was among the worst, blaming our debt on wars rather than on domestic fiscal gluttony: “We have spent over a trillion dollars at war, often financed by borrowing from overseas. This, in turn, has short-changed investments in our own people, and contributed to record deficits. For too long, we have put off tough decisions on everything from our manufacturing base to our energy policy to education reform.”
He is arguing for more spending.
Obama is still candidate Obama, never tiring of reminding us that he kept his campaign pledge and ever eager to push aside foreign policy challenges so he can get on with the business of remaking America. All in all, it was what we were promised it would not be — self-serving, disingenuous, ungracious, and unreassuring.
UPDATE: COMMENTARY contributor Jonah Goldberg’s smart take is here.
UPDATE II: Charles Krauthammer’s reaction is here.
President Obama opposed the war in Iraq. He still thinks it was a mistake. It’s therefore unrealistic for supporters of the war to expect the president to give the speech John McCain would have given, or to expect President Obama to put the war in the context we would put it in. He simply doesn’t believe the war in Iraq was a necessary part of a broader effort to fight terror, to change the Middle East, etc. Given that (erroneous) view of his, I thought his speech was on the whole commendable, and even at times impressive.
In Morning Defense, POLITICO’s Jen DiMascio and Gordon Lubold make sense of the somewhat confusing drama last night as a convoy of troops from the 4th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division crossed from Iraq into Kuwait:
OVERNIGHT — More than seven years after the U.S. invasion, the last U.S. combat troops rolled out of Iraq and into Kuwait in the early-morning darkness. That’s two weeks ahead of Barack Obama’s schedule, but it ain’t over ’til it’s over: A U.S. Army spokesman tells CBS that the U.S. still has “plenty of trigger-pullers there.”
THE PRESIDENT, IN OHIO: “We are keeping the promise I made when I began my campaign for the presidency. By the end of this month we will have removed 100,000 troops from Iraq and our combat mission will [end].”
THE AP’S REBECCA SANTANA IN KHABARI CROSSING, KUWAIT: “For these troops of the 4th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, it was a moment of relief fraught with symbolism. As their convoy reached the barbed wire at the border crossing out of Iraq on Wednesday, the soldiers whooped and cheered. Then they scrambled out of their stifling hot armored vehicles, unfurled an American flag and posed for group photos.” http://yhoo.it/dcT5Wj
It’s Thursday morning, and this is Morning Defense.
IRAQ BY THE NUMBERS, from Stars and Stripes:
U.S. troops killed: 4,414
U.S. troops wounded in action: 31,897
Number of U.S. troop amputees: 1,135
Iraqi civilian deaths: 113,166
War’s operating cost: $747.6 billion
Per American: $2,435; Per Iraqi: $25,828
Estimate of the total cost of the war: $3 trillion
Cost of maintaining 50,000 troops from now to end of 2011: $12.75 billion
Cost of medical care and disability compensation for Iraq war veterans over their lifetimes: $500 billion.
The 4th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, which left Iraq this week, was the final U.S. combat brigade to be pulled out of the country….”Operation Iraqi Freedom ends on your watch!” exclaimed Col. John Norris, the head of the brigade.
“Hooah!” the soldiers roared, using an Army battle cry.
Shortly before midnight Saturday, a group of infantrymen boarded Stryker fighting vehicles, left an increasingly sparse base behind and began scanning the sides of a desolate highway for bombs. For many veterans, including some who made the same trip in the opposite direction years ago under fire, it was a fitting way to exit.
“They’re leaving as heroes,” Norris said of his soldiers. “I want them to walk home with pride in their hearts.”
They are heroes. The advise and assist brigades, and the strong Special Operations contingent, remain behind for a time. It’s a strange war that ends this way; but as Clausewitz said, war is the continuation of politics by other means. We’re moving from war to a very tense political environment. That’s more or less what we should expect. What comes next? Either compromise arises that allows tensions to ramp down, so that the political takes over from the war; or it goes the other way, and war blooms anew from the failure of politics.
The departure of the last combat brigade from Iraq is full of symbolic weight.
1. President Obama, to his credit, dropped the nonsense from his candidacy about promising withdrawal by March 2008 and stuck to the Bush-Petraeus plan.
2. While there is violence in Iraq (as there is in Pakistan and in many nations of the Arab Middle East), the surge worked, broke the back of the resistance, and allowed some sort of consensual government to survive.
3. We are reminded by the departure that the campaign-constructed “bad” war in Iraq become okay in late 2008, while the okay war in Afghanistan turned bad, something candidate “Let me at ’em in Afghanistan” Obama probably never anticipated, as his post-campaign surprise seems to suggest.
4. We should remember that while the surge coincided with a booming economy, the departure is taking place against the backdrop of a deep recession, and borrowed money is now as big a consideration as grand strategy (e.g., it will be difficult to ever reinsert the troops at their former levels should the terrorists return) . . .
5. . . . but the 50,000-something troops left in Iraq are not weaponless, and with air support can in extremis aid the Iraqi security forces.
6. If the calm holds, George Bush will be seen in a rather different light than when he left in January 2009, not just because Iraq miraculously has functioned under a constitutional system for years now, but because we have seen how different governance is from perpetual campaigning. In the latter, the rhetorical choices are always good and bad, rather than bad and worse, as is the case when one must be responsible for consequences. In short, despite all the “war is lost,” the “surge is not working,” and the “General Betray Us,” Bush’s persistence paid off — and now Joe Biden, of erstwhile “trisect Iraq” fame, thinks that Iraq could be one of the Obama’s administration’s “greatest achievements.”
In the waning days of World War II, the OSS gave FDR a briefing that would have turned his hair white, if it hadn’t been white already. The president was told to expect a sea of German saboteurs and assassins running rampant through post-war Europe. They would number in the tens of thousands. It might take years to quell the havoc.
The briefers were wrong. The Nazis did, indeed, have a “Werewolf” campaign to continue the fight after armistice, but it largely fizzled. Hundreds of thousands of American troops flooded back home sooner than expected.
Yet some stayed and, for reasons that shifted over the years, American troops remain there today. They remain in Japan and South Korea, too.
This history is not recited to suggest that Iraq is on the road to becoming the next South Korea, but it is a reminder of how the future unfolds. There is no predictable linear path, and in matters of war, everybody gets a vote — enemies as well as allies. Anyone who tells you today just how many troops will be in Iraq ten years hence and just what shape the country will be in is guessing just as much as the OSS agents who briefed FDR on the post-war nightmare that never came.
Here is what we know for sure. 1) Given the state of Iraq in 2006, the country is in a much better place today that any reasonable observer then dared hope. 2) Iraq is better off than it was in the age of Saddam. Now the country has a future, and it rests in the hands of its people. Bonus: The world is rid one of its most dangerous and bloodthirsty thugs. Yes, it was a heavy price. Freedom rarely comes cheap. 3) The surge worked. The surge never promised a land of “milk and honey.” It just promised to break the cycle of continuous, unrelenting violence, to give the new Iraqi political process a chance, and to allow the Iraqis time to build the capacity for their own security. It did that. 4) Things didn’t turn out the way Bush planned. But the vision — a free Iraq without Saddam — was achieved. Remember, things didn’t turn out the way FDR planned either. He said all the troops would be out of Europe in two years.
Here is what we don’t know. How much longer will U.S. troops need to stay there? The fact that the “combat” troops are gone does not mean that the mission is done or that U.S. troops won’t see some kinds of combat. While troops don’t and should not remain permanently in Iraq, they will obviously need to stay longer than one or two more years. Withdrawing U.S. forces too fast would jeopardize progress. Freedom may lose its momentum. Everything is contingent on events on the ground. There cannot even be serious discussions about the long-term U.S. presence until after an Iraqi government is formed.
Having landed in Baghdad as U.S. ambassador to Iraq at the end of June 2004, I find it a truly remarkable and positive accomplishment that we are able to look to the day not too far off when Iraqi security forces will be able to assume full and complete responsibility for their country’s security. At the time of my arrival, Iraqi security forces were, for all practical purposes, nonexistent. There was, for example, only one — yes, one — Iraqi army battalion and it was composed of various ethnic and sectarian elements. Today, there are some 600,000 Iraqi security forces and important strides have been made toward giving Iraq’s security organizations a national rather than partisan character. This is no small achievement; it has taken seven years to accomplish and only after some false starts and perilous moments.
In the wake of the Samarra Mosque bombing in 2006 and the ensuing sectarian strife, those of us concerned with Iraq could not have imagined the dramatic reversal of fortunes that would occur in the ensuing two years — the death of al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the liberation of Basra by the Iraqi army, and the extension of the government’s authority to the country as a whole. By 2008, these improvements had given the government of Iraq the necessary self-assurance to negotiate the withdrawal arrangements that are now being implemented.
But can Iraq really remain stable once U.S. troops have completely withdrawn? While there are no guarantees, the prospects for Iraq’s security and stability beyond 2011 look as good or better than they have at any time in the recent past. The Iraqi army now has close to 200 trained combat battalions, a formidable increase from the somber days when I arrived in 2004, and they are spread throughout the country. The specter of sectarianism poisoning the ranks of Iraqi military and police forces remains the single most serious threat to be guarded against. But progress since the 2007 surge in nurturing the army and police as truly national institutions has been encouraging. Vigilance and political maturity will be needed to ensure that this positive trend continues.
Americans can take pride in how Iraq has developed. But have we truly “won” the war? That is a hard question to answer.
Opponents of the war effort—including Barack Obama and Joe Biden—once had an interest in saying that the war was unwinnable. Now they claim that we should sit back, relax and prepare for a smooth on-time departure. If only.
Iraq has made tremendous strides, but it still has a long way to go. Violence has fallen more than 90% since 2006. Al Qaeda in Iraq has lost most of its leadership. The Jaish al Mahdi, Moqtada al-Sadr’s militia, has been silenced. But this uneasy peace is still broken by too many acts of terrorism. One still reads headlines like this one, from earlier this week: “61 Killed in Bomb Attack on Iraqi Army Recruits.” Baghdad is considerably safer than it once was but is still more dangerous than Kabul, where I’ve also visited recently. Iraq had clean elections in March but still has no new government. Investors are holding off committing funds, the Iranians are licking their chops, and various militias are nervously fingering the triggers of their AK-47s.
Iraq’s future is still to be determined: Will it continue on the path of prosperity and democracy? Will it emerge as a key American ally in the Middle East? Or will it regress into civil war or dictatorship? U.S. forces still have a vital mission: to ensure that a newly sobered Iraq does not fall off the wagon and once again imbibe the deadly brew of ethno-sectarian violence.
The primary remaining military mission is to continue providing support to the Iraqi security forces. There are now 440,000 Iraqi police and 220,000 Iraqi soldiers, but they still lack the capacity to defend their own borders. The U.S. plans to deliver M-1 tanks and F-16 fighters to Iraq, but it will be many years before the Iraqis can operate such sophisticated weapons systems on their own. In the meantime they cannot even control their own air space; that will remain the job of American personnel. The U.S. Navy will continue to safeguard Iraq’s main oil export terminal near the southern city of Basra.
The remaining political mission is even more important—to reassure all sides in Iraq’s fractious politics that their opponents will not resort to the car bomb or the powerdrill-through-the-temple to get their way. Iraq is still recovering from the trauma of internecine bloodletting—as are, for example, Bosnia and Kosovo. In Bosnia it has been 15 years since the guns went silent; in Kosovo 11 years. In both places thousands of foreign troops remain to safeguard a fragile peace.
It would be the height of hubris—the kind once displayed by George W. Bush’s prematurely proclaimed “Mission Accomplished”—to suggest that Iraq, a country of more than 25 million, needs less help in its post-conflict transition than did the micro-states of the former Yugoslavia.
The last combat troops are out and now 50,000, er, “advisors” remain. It’s not the end of the war, in other words, but as a not-so-grim milestone for a lot of guys who are no longer in harm’s way, it’s a moment worth celebrating. Rather than waste your time by blathering at you, let me give you some reading and viewing material. Watch the two clips below from NBC, which, to its credit, did a bang-up job in covering the occasion. And note well Col. Jack Jacobs’s reminiscence about being sent to Vietnam after combat had supposedly ended there too. The fighting isn’t over yet; the question is who’ll be doing it from now on. And the NYT has an answer sure to please liberals of all stripes: “Mercenaries.”
To protect the civilians in a country that is still home to insurgents with Al Qaeda and Iranian-backed militias, the State Department is planning to more than double its private security guards, up to about 7,000, according to administration officials who disclosed new details of the plan. Defending five fortified compounds across the country, the security contractors would operate radars to warn of enemy rocket attacks, search for roadside bombs, fly reconnaissance drones and even staff quick reaction forces to come to the aid of civilians in distress, the officials said…
The department’s plans to rely on 6,000 to 7,000 security contractors, who are also expected to form “quick reaction forces” to rescue civilians in trouble, is a sensitive issue, given Iraqi fury about shootings of civilians by American private guards in recent years. Administration officials said that security contractors would have no special immunity and would be required to register with the Iraqi government. In addition, one of the State Department’s regional security officers, agents who oversee security at diplomatic outposts, will be required to approve and accompany every civilian convoy, providing additional oversight.
It’s the State Department’s show now, on an “unprecedented” scale for such a dangerous area. But can they run it with so few troops left in the country if the electoral stalemate between Maliki’s and Allawi’s factions blows up? (Ryan Crocker: “Our timetables are getting out ahead of Iraqi reality.”) That’s the story you want to read if you’re interested in the “what now?” angle. If you’re looking for something more human, i.e. troop reactions on finally getting to leave, MSNBC’s and WaPo’s pieces are the way to go.
In a speech to a disabled veterans’ group in Georgia today, U.S. President Barack Obama will draw attention to the scheduled withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraq. Under the current withdrawal plan, which the president says is on track, the American force will shrink to 50,000 troops by the end of August, down from 144,000. These remaining “advise and assist” troops are scheduled to leave by the end of 2011.
“Make no mistake: Our commitment in Iraq is changing, from a military effort led by our troops to a civilian effort led by our diplomats,” Obama says in his prepared remarks.
Politically, the speech is likely an effort to draw attention to a largely unheralded success as criticism of the increasingly bloody war in Afghanistan mounts, particularly within his own party. The White House has pointed out that the total number of U.S. troops on the ground in both wars has declined from 177,000 when he took office to about 146,000 by the end of this month.
The U.S. military on Sunday refuted the Iraqi government’s claim that July was the deadliest month in the country since 2008. According to U.S. data, 222 people were killed in Iraqi violence last month, less than half the number claimed by Iraqi authorities.
Well, at least he didn’t announce the end of major combat operations in Iraq under a banner that said “Mission Accomplished.” He did it in front of the Disabled American Veterans, the most grave and sober audience imaginable. And appropriately so, after a war that should never have been fought, a war that by some estimates will cost $3 trillion before it’s done (including the health care services rendered to those represented by the DAV), a war whose casualties number in the 100s of thousands. The war in Iraq hasn’t been much in the news over the past year, but this is an important moment, a moment for reflection, for humility in the face of a national disaster.
There is no “victory” in Iraq, nor will there be. There is something resembling stability, but that might not last, either. There is a semblance of democracy, but that may dissolve over time, or in the next few months, into a Shi’ite dictatorship–which, if not well-run, will yield to the near-inevitable military coup. Yes, Saddam is gone–and that is a good thing. The Kurds have a greater measure of independence and don’t have to live in fear of mass murder, which is a good thing, too. But Iran has been aggrandized. Its Iraqi allies, especially Muqtada Sadr’s populist movement, remain a force that will play a major role–arguably one more central than ours–in shaping the future of the country. This attempt by western neo-colonialists–that is, the Bush Administration–to construct an amenable Iraq will most likely end no better than previous western attempts have. Certainly, even if something resembling democracy prevails, the U.S. invasion and occupation–the carnage and tragedy it wrought–will not be remembered fondly by Iraqis anytime soon. We will own the destruction in perpetuity; if the Iraqis manage to cobble themselves a decent society, they will see it, correctly, as an achievement of their own.
What has America achieved by its intervention, if anything? Such is the continuing rancour about the decision to invade Iraq in the first place that it is almost impossible to debate this question dispassionately. The Economist was a strong supporter of the invasion (see here, for example), not because we thought Saddam Hussein had anything at all to do with 9/11 but because we were afraid that he was going to break out of the box that was built to contain him after the Gulf war of 1991, with hugely dangerous consequences for the region. But we were wrong about his WMD programmes. And we were terribly wrong about the human cost of the war. Had we foreseen that the country would collapse into such bloody mayhem after the invasion we would not have supported it.
All that said, where does Iraq stand now? Still a chaotic mess in most ways. The New York Times has an excellent, depressing story on how America and its allies have failed to provide something as simple and (especially in the scorching heat of Mesopotamia) vital as a decent supply of electricity for Baghdad since they took over the country the better part of a decade ago.
In politics, however, the picture is more mixed. Iraq has not yet replaced Saddam with another dictator, as many feared. And for the time being the country’s politics is not riven violently along sectarian lines. A largely peaceful election took place last spring with a high turnout but failed to produce a clear majority, and since then drift and stalemate have been the order of the day. The election showed that, contrary to what many experts say from afar, Arabs have no difficulty in understanding what democracy is all about and would like it for themselves. The subsequent stalemate shows why they do not get it: incumbent rulers cling leech-like to power no matter what wishes the people express at the ballot box.
The interesting question about this particular moment is: can America use its remaining military, political and economic heft in Iraq to jolt its politicians into heeding the wishes of Iraq’s voters? Should it even try? The prize is potentially huge: a peaceful election that actually succeeded in changing a government peacefully would be a signal achievement not just for Iraq but for the Arab world as a whole. The problem is that as America draws down its forces its ability to influence events diminishes, too. Besides, Iraq is supposedly sovereign now. So by what right can America meddle in its internal politics?
The political impasse is worrying Iraqis. “Everything is stopped,” one told the Washington Post. “There’s no work, no jobs. People are waiting. People are just buying food and saving money because they are afraid the situation will get worse in the future — worse than in 2006 and 2007.” People also are bummed by the lack of electricity, especially in the brutal height of Iraq’s punishing summer. And someone keeps blowing up the houses of police officers in the Fallujah area.
President Obama is gonna talk today in a speech to vets in Atlanta about how all this is no longer gonna be our problem.
I wonder if we had done a census in Iraq in say 2005 if that would have settled some of the political issues that have led to Iraq’s impasse.
The White House is hoping that Obama’s delivery on such a major promise will, you know, matter a bit to people. Public anxiety over Iraq was powerful enough to help decide a presidential election less than two years ago. But now, amazingly, it’s unclear how powerful a motivator this will be even for Democratic base voters.
Max Fisher at The Atlantic rounds this up. Fisher:
The Pentagon cannot account for over 95 percent of $9.1 billion in Iraq reconstruction money, according to an internal audit. The lost $8.7 billion, handled by the U.S. Department of Defense between 2004 and 2007 for reconstruction work, was raised from Iraqi oil revenues by that country’s government. Of that amount, the military has no records at all for $2.6 billion in funds. Here’s what obilservers have to say about the misplaced money.
Though there is no apparent evidence of fraud, the improper accounting practices add to the pattern of mismanagement, reckless spending and, in some instances, corruption uncovered by the agency since 2004, when it was created to oversee the total of $53 billion in U.S. taxpayer money appropriated by Congress for the reconstruction effort.
“The breakdown in controls left the funds vulnerable to inappropriate uses and undetected loss,” notes the audit report, a copy of which was obtained Monday by the Los Angeles Times.
Special Inspector General Stuart Bowen, who heads the agency, said repeated investigations have shown that “weak oversight is directly correlated to increased numbers of cases of theft and abuse.”
In this instance, the audit focused on Iraqi revenue earmarked for reconstruction under a 2004 arrangement granting the Defense Department access to Iraq’s oil proceeds at a time when the country did not have a fully functioning government and was unable to undertake urgently needed projects. The revenue was deposited in a special account in New York, called the Development Fund for Iraq.
The report comes as Iraqis are increasingly frustrated with their own government’s inability to provide basic services, or to explain how tens of billions of dollars’ worth of oil revenue has been spent since 2007. The alleged U.S. mismanagement of Iraqi money is certain to revive grievances against the U.S. for failing to make a big dent in the country’s reconstruction needs despite massive expenditures.
SIGIR also notes that the “U.S. military continues to hold at least $34.3 million of the fund, even though it was required to return it to the Iraqi government in December 2007.” The “Department of Defense comptroller promised to report back to the inspector general’s office by November on progress made.”
Not especially shocked that no one has any idea what we did with all the money, but it does remind me of that multi-year period where it seemed that we invaded Iraq in order to free Iraqi schoolchildren from the tyranny of peeling paint.
The reason is that in the chaotic days after the fall of the Baath government and the collapse of the old economy, Paul Bremer & Co. attempted to jump-start the Iraq market economy by giving out large sums in brown paper bags with no questions asked. They did not understand that the Iraqi market had been killed by decades of government control and that no magic hand any longer existed, so they might as well have taken that money and buried it in the ground. (Actually some of it probably was buried, in back yards in Fairfax County, Va.)
The real problem, though, is not petty larceny but that no one can account for our whole country being gone in the aftermath of the 2003 illegal war– with a cancellation by John Roberts of our Bill of Rights, $2 trillion missing from the treasury for the wars and their related costs (at least), torture still permitted overseas, arbitrary no-fly punishments meted out to peaceful protesters, the entire Republican Party kidnapped and stealthily replaced with glaze-eyed Manchurian cultists, and habeas corpus permanently embezzled and bamboozled out of existence.
Pierre-Joseph Proudhon was wrong when he declared in 1840 that ‘property is theft.’
But I can offer a more solid and more consistently true aphorism: “War is theft.”
Except unlike Miller, who was forced to leave the New York Times over what she did, and the NYT itself, which at least acknowledged some of the shoddy pro-war propaganda it churned out, Goldberg has never acknowledged his journalistic errors, expressed remorse for them, or paid any price at all. To the contrary, as is true for most Iraq war propagandists, he thrived despite as a result of his sorry record in service of the war. In 2007, David Bradley — the owner of The Atlantic and (in his own words) formerly “a neocon guy” who was “dead certain about the rightness” of invading Iraq — lavished Goldberg with money and gifts, including ponies for Goldberg’s children, in order to lure him away from The New Yorker, where he had churned out most of his pre-war trash.
One of his most obscenely false and damaging articles — this 2002 museum of deceitful, hideous journalism, “reporting” on Saddam’s “possible ties to Al Qaeda” — actually won an Oversea’s Press Award for — get this — “best international reporting in a print medium dealing with human rights.” Goldberg, whose devotion to Israel is so extreme that he served in the IDF as a prison guard over Palestinians and was described last year as “Netanyahu’s faithful stenographer” by The New York Times’ Roger Cohen, wrote an even more falsehood-filled 2002 New Yorker article, warning that Hezbollah was planning a master, Legion-of-Doom alliance with Saddam Hussein for a “larger war,” and that “[b]oth Israel and the United States believe that, at the outset of an American campaign against Saddam, Iraq will fire missiles at Israel — perhaps with chemical or biological payloads — in order to provoke an Israeli conventional, or even nuclear, response,” though — Goldberg sternly warned — “Hezbollah, which is better situated than Iraq to do damage to Israel, might do Saddam’s work itself” and “its state sponsors, Iran and Syria, maintain extensive biological- and chemical-weapons programs.” That fantastical, war-fueling screed — aimed at scaring Americans into targeting the full panoply of Israel’s enemies — actually won a National Magazine Award in 2003. Given how completely discredited those articles are, those are awards which any person with an iota of shame would renounce and apologize for, but Goldberg continues to proudly tout them on his bio page at The Atlantic.
Despite all of those war-cheerleading deceits — or, again, because of them — Goldberg continues to be held out by America’s most establishment outlets as a preeminent expert in the region. As Jonathan Schwarz documents, Goldberg is indeed very well-“trained” in the sense that establishment journalists mean that term: i.e., as an obedient dog who spouts establishment-serving falsehoods. That’s why Goldberg is worth examining: he’s so representative of the American media because the more discredited his journalism becomes, the more blatant propaganda he spews, the more he thrives in our media culture. That’s why it’s not hyperbole to observe that we are plagued by a Jeffrey Goldberg Media; he’s not an aberration but one of its most typical and illustrative members.
It turns out that the left-wing commentator Glenn Greenwald doesn’t like me (who knew?). In a rather long posting, he accuses me of many different sins, mainly, though not exclusively, having to do with my early support for the Iraq war, and for my reporting from pre-invasion Iraqi Kuridstan. (Greenwald has always been vehemently opposed to the invasion.)
As it happens, I was e-mailing yesterday with the prime minister of Iraqi Kurdistan, Barham Salih, and I mentioned Greenwald’s critique. I explained that Greenwald believes the invasion was a criminal act, to which Salih responded by asking if Greenwald had ever visited Iraqi Kurdistan. I said I didn’t know, not having too much contact with him, on account of him hating me. So Salih asked me to extend an invitation to Greenwald to visit Iraqi Kurdistan. So, Glenn, you are hereby invited to visit Iraqi Kurdistan. I’m happy to go with you (I’m actually a pretty good travel companion — even Matt Yglesias says that I can be both “funny” and “charming,” though, to be fair, he also says I can be “dangerous” and “inaccurate”). But if you didn’t want to go with me, I’m sure I can find someone to go with you.
The prime minister said we could invite Kurds from different political parties and media outlets to a big, public forum, and Glenn could explain to them his position that the invasion was immoral, and the Kurds could explain why they supported the invasion. (Of course, we would try to find some Kurds who opposed the invasion, and there are, indeed, some out there, to meet with Greenwald as well). We would also be able to visit Halabja, and the other towns and villages affected by Saddam’s genocide, and I’m sure we could arrange meetings with other Kurdish leaders and dissidents.
Obviously, I think this is a good idea, because I view the subject of Iraq as a complicated one, and I think that Greenwald has an overly simplistic, black-and-white view of the situation. If he were to meet with representatives of the Kurds — who make up 20 percent of the population of Iraq and who were the most oppressed group in Iraq during the period of Saddam’s rule (experiencing not only a genocide but widespread chemical gassing) — I think it might be possible for him to understand why some people — even some Iraqis — supported the overthrow of Saddam. Also, as a bonus, I’m reasonably sure we could meet with Kurdish intelligence officials who could explain to him why they believe Saddam was secretly supporting an al Qaeda-affiliated Kurdish extremist group, and, if we have time, I could also arrange a visit to Najaf or the equivalent, where Greenwald could meet with representatives of the Shi’a, who also took it on the chin from Saddam.
This is a sincere offer from a very important Kurdish official, and I hope Glenn Greenwald takes it seriously.
Jeffrey Goldberg responded yesterday to my post detailing his long list of journalistic malfeasance by telling me that he and the Prime Minister of Iraqi Kuridstan would like me to travel there to hear how much the Kurds appreciate the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Leaving aside the complete non sequitur that is his response — how does that remotely pertain to Goldberg’s granting of anonymity to his friends to smear people they don’t like or the serial fear-mongering fabrications he spread about the Saddam threat prior to the invasion? — I don’t need to travel to Kurdistan to know that many Kurds, probably most, are happy that the U.S. attacked Iraq. For that minority in Northern Iraq, what’s not to like?
Goldberg apparently thinks that if you can find some citizens in an invaded country who are happy about the invasion, then it demonstrates the aggression was justifiable or at least morally supportable (I suppose I should be thankful that he didn’t haul out the think-about-how-great-this-is-for-the-Iraqi-gays platitude long cherished by so many neocons, though — given the hideous reality in Iraq in that realm — that’s now a deceitful bridge too far even for them). I’m not interested in an overly personalized exchange with Goldberg, but there is one aspect of his response worth highlighting: the universality of the war propaganda he proffers. Those who perpetrate wars of aggression invariably invent moral justifications to allow themselves and the citizens of the aggressor state to feel good and noble about themselves. Hence, even an unprovoked attack which literally destroys a country and ruins the lives of millions of innocent people — as the U.S. invasion of Iraq did — is scripted as a morality play with the invaders cast in the role of magnanimous heroes.
It’s difficult to find an invasion in history that wasn’t supported by at least some faction of the invaded population and where that same self-justifying script wasn’t used. That’s true even of the most heinous aggressors. Many Czech and Austrian citizens of Germanic descent, viewing themselves as a repressed minority, welcomed Hitler’s invasion of their countries, while leaders of the independence-seeking Sudeten parties in those countries actively conspired to bring it about. Did that make those German invasions justifiable? As Arnold Suppan of the University of Vienna’s Institute for Modern History wrote of the German invasion of Czechoslovakia (click on image to enlarge): And, of course, German citizens were told those invasions were necessary and just in order to liberate the repressed German minorities. To be a bit less Godwin about it, many Ossetians wanted independence from Georgia and thus despised the government in Tbilisi, and many identified far more with the invading Russians than their own government; did that make the 2008 Russian assault on Georgia moral and noble? Pravda routinely cast the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan as one of protection of the populace from extremists. I have no doubt that one could easily find Iraqi Sunnis today who would welcome an invasion from Hamas or Saudi Arabia to liberate them from what they perceive (not unreasonably) as their repressive Shiite overlords; would Goldberg therefore recognize the moral ambiguity of that military action? If, tomorrow, China invaded Israel and changed the regime, there would certainly be many, many Palestinians who would celebrate; would that, in Goldberg’s view, make it morally supportable? Saddam himself, in FBI interrogations after he was captured, was insistent that many Kuwaitis were eager for an Iraqi invasion and that this justified his 1990 war; if he were right in his facutal premise, would that render his actions just?
As Jonathan Schwarz wrote in 2007, responding to similar war-justifying claims from Christopher Hitchens that he saw Iraqis giving “sweets and flowers” to American and British soldiers:
The strange-but-true reality is that throughout history, whenever one country has invaded another, there have always been some people within the invaded country who’ve welcomed the invaders. Sometimes it’s because they’ve been oppressed by their own government, are similar ethnically or religiously to the invader, or just know what side their bread is buttered on.
At the same time, those within the invading country who support the invasion have always seized on tales of the welcome they’ve received and declared it demonstrates the justice of their cause. And this is rarely pure cynicism. Human beings — even (or especially) the worst of them — need to believe they’re moral.
As Schwarz wrote: “I don’t know who took this footage, but I would bet a lot of money it was the Nazis themselves, and that they rushed it back to the home front to demonstrate the extraordinary morality of their cause.” And just to bolster the point a bit more, compare the propagandistic photograph on the right (below) used by Germans in 1941 to show that Lithuanians welcomed their invasion (depicting citizens pulling down a statue of an oppressive Communist ruler, likely Lenin), to the virtually identical, iconic photograph on the left of the staged scene of Iraqis “celebrating” the American invasion by pulling down a statue of Saddam:
It should go without saying, but doesn’t: the point here is not that the attack on Iraq is comparable to these above-referenced invasions. It may or may not be, but that’s irrelevant. The point is that every nation which launches even the most brutal, destructive and unprovoked wars of aggression employs moralizing propaganda to claim that their aggression engenders magnanimous and noble ends, and specifically often points to segments of the invaded population which welcome the violence and invaders. Pointing to the happy and rewarded Kurdish minority no more justifies or legalizes the attack on Iraq than similar claims do for any of those other cases.
To be sure, lazy, corrupt journalism happens; always has, always will. But Goldberg’s work is quite the opposite: rigorously reported, beautifully written and fiercely honest. Indeed, Jeff’s willingness to be candid about lessons he learned along the way created a book that Greenwald rarely, if ever, mentions: Prisoners, a memoir of Jeff’s time as a member of the Israel Defense Forces when he served as a prison guard and developed a close, difficult and unresolved friendship with one of his Palestinian prisoners. This is the sort of work that Greenwald, locked in the sterile prison of his ideology, is completely incompetent to understand.
And now, Greenwald–who, so far as I can tell, only regards the United States as a force for evil in the world–has laid out the incredible notion that the liberation of the Kurds, which Jeff celebrates (and so do I, and so do civilized people everywhere) as a happy byproduct of George W. Bush’s dreadful war in Iraq, can be compared to the Nazi seizure of the Sudetenland:
This is obscene. Comparing the Kurds, who had been historically orphaned and then slaughtered with poison gas by Saddam Hussein, with Nazi-l0ving Sudeten Germans is outrageous. Comparing the United States to Nazi Germany is not merely disgraceful, but revelatory of a twisted, deluded soul. And, once again, we need to stand back and remember how this started: a dispute over whether the Post should have fired Dave Wiegel. Wow.
Greenwald will probably come after me now, armed with the same three or four quotes he routinely uses as evidence of my moral and professional dishonesty and dissipation. For Greenwald, it seems, any honest political disagreement always winds up with charges of corruption and decadence. I wonder why that is. But fine, Glenn, go for it. I’m going back to my vacation.
Update: A commenter–a Glennbot, clearly–notes that Greenwald finagles this caveat:
It should go without saying, but doesn’t: the point here is not that the attack on Iraq is comparable to these above-referenced invasions. It may or may not be, but that’s irrelevant.
No, it’s not irrelevant. If he’s going to compare the U.S. in Kurdistan with Nazi Germany in Sudetenland, Greenwald can’t just slink away by saying those actions “may or may not be comparable.” He can’t plead ignorance, can’t get away with a litigator’s trick. And if he truly is ignorant–it certainly seems so–perhaps he should take the time to study up on the situation, or perhaps take up Jeff’s invitation to visit Kurdistan, before he goes off comparing Kurds to Sudeten Germans. But then, that would involve…reporting, wouldn’t it?
Let’s put this in words Joe can understand- If Israel were to be attacked, occupied, and have millions of her citizens murdered or killed in an invasion by Egypt, six years from now, it would not be ok to point to that immoral invasion and say “But look how happy the Palestinians are!” Which is precisely what Goldberg was doing, and exactly what Greenwald was pointing out. Even worse, Klein needed a reader to point out the very fact that Greenwald himself insisted the invasion of Iraq and the Nazi invasions are not the same. Now that’s some close reading of something that really upset you!
Joe noted that he was interrupting his vacation for this outburst- for his sake, I hope it was written from the hotel bar, because he completely missed the point. And for the record- I really like reading Joe Klein- most of the time.
*** Update ***
We’ve now got the spectacle of two prominent journalists, one for Time, one for the Atlantic, willfully misinterpreting someone’s remarks and screaming that person is a Nazi lover and hates America. Godwin wept.
Glenn Greenwaldwrote a column about Jeff Goldberg, the Iraq War, and the moral issues surrounding invasions of countries, in which he mentioned Germany’s invasion of the Sudetenland, among other examples. Quote: “It should go without saying, but doesn’t: the point here is not that the attack on Iraq is comparable to these above-referenced invasions.” Time’s Joe Klein responded: “And now, Greenwald—who, so far as I can tell, only regards the United States as a force for evil in the world—has laid out the incredible notion that the liberation of the Kurds, which Jeff celebrates (and so do I, and so do civilized people everywhere) as a happy byproduct of George W. Bush’s dreadful war in Iraq, can be compared to the Nazi seizure of the Sudetenland.” Joe Klein is the world’s best reader.
At least 75 people have died in attacks today in Iraq, the Associated Press reports, making it the nation’s “bloodiest day of the year so far.”
The most carnage occurred at a textile factory in Hillah. After two car bombs were set off and a crowd gathered to help victims, a suicide bomber walked into the scene and set off explosives strapped to his belt. At least 40 people died there and another 135 or so were wounded. Hillah is 60 miles south of Baghdad.
According to the BBC, more than 20 people were also killed “in a series of attacks which included drive by shootings and suicide bombings on police checkpoints and a market.”
From Baghdad, NPR’s Peter Kenyon reports that “the spike in violence is adding to the anxiety in Iraq as the U.S. military prepares to reduce its presence dramatically, and as Iraqi politicians struggle to form a new government in the wake of inconclusive elections back in March.”
There’s little to say about the violence, honestly. We’ve assembled a list of the attacks, and the casualty counts, after the jump. The scope is stunning: A dozen attacks on police and army checkpoints in Baghdad; coordinated car and suicide bombings in Hilla, Suweira and Fallujah; and other brazen attacks against security and political officials.
Iraq’s political class — distracted by the government formation process — hasn’t said much about the violence. Prime minister Nouri al-Maliki hasn’t released an official statement on the violence, and I haven’t seen him (or any other Iraqi officials) quoted in the Iraqi/Arabic press.
Ali al-Dabbagh, Maliki’s spokesman, did say tonight (عربي) that the attacks “have the hallmarks” of Al-Qaeda in Iraq.
Al-Qaida is trying to … use some gaps created by some political problems,” Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, spokesman for Baghdad’s security operations center, told Arabiya TV. “There are well-known agendas for the terrorist groups operating in Iraq. Some of these groups are supported regionally and internationally with the aim of influencing the political and democratic process inside Iraq.”
More than two months after the March 7 election, Iraq’s main political factions are still struggling to put together a ruling coalition. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Shiite bloc has tried to squeeze out election front-runner Ayad Allawi – a secular Shiite who was heavily backed by Sunnis – by forging an alliance last week with another religious Shiite coalition. The union, which is just four seats short of a majority in parliament, will likely lead to four more years of a government dominated by Shiites, much like the current one.
Sunni anger at Shiite domination of successive governments was a key reason behind the insurgency that sparked sectarian warfare in 2006 and 2007. If Allawi is perceived as not getting his fair share of power, that could in turn outrage the Sunnis who supported him and risk a resurgence of sectarian violence.
The relentless cascade of bombings and shootings – hitting at least 10 cities and towns as the day unfolded – also raised questions about whether Iraqi security forces can protect the country as the U.S. prepares to withdraw half of its remaining 92,000 troops in Iraq over the next four months.
BAGHDAD (AP) — A suicide bomber blew himself up outside a textile factory Monday in a crowd that gathered after two car bombings at the same spot in the worst of a series of attacks that killed at least 84 people across Iraq, the deadliest day this year.
its interesting to compare the murdering competence of these Iraqis against the clown that hit us in Times Square. What Iraq experienced today is about equal to the OKC bombing. I’m not sure America could handle a wave of these. We’ve come to expect some sort of exemption from the world’s violence
The leader of the bloc that received the most votes in last month’s elections called Wednesday for the creation of an internationally backed caretaker authority to prevent what he said were unlawful attempts by Iraq’s government to overturn the results.
The move escalated a standoff between the Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc, which won the most seats in the March 7 parliamentary elections, and a bloc led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, which came in a close second. Former prime minister Ayad Allawi, the leader of Iraqiya, also proposed extending the mandate of the outgoing parliament until a new one is in place, “for the purpose of monitoring the executive branch.”
Adding to the political tension, Human Rights Watch released a report late Tuesday saying that members of a military unit under the command of Maliki, a Shiite, systemically tortured and sexually abused hundreds of Sunni Arab prisoners.
“The horror we found suggests torture was a norm in [al-Muthanna],” Joe Stork, the group’s Middle East director, said in a statement, referring to a secret detention facility at a military airport in Baghdad. “The government needs to prosecute all of those responsible for this systemic brutality.”
In recent days, U.S. officials have expressed concern about the post-election wrangling, which has prevented Iraq’s electoral commission from certifying the results and has indefinitely delayed formation of a new Iraqi government.
Standing in the way are a manual recount of votes cast in Baghdad and efforts by a commission run by Shiite politicians to disqualify winning candidates for alleged ties to Saddam Hussein’s outlawed Baath Party. At the same time, the U.S. military intends to withdraw about half of its current force by the end of August, leaving 50,000 troops.
Allawi said Wednesday that the Justice and Accountability Commission is carrying out “malicious disqualifications.”
Part of me thinks that we’ve entered into a period similar to 2004-2005, where brewing trouble inside Iraq is either dismissed or ignored. Just as conservatives and the Bush administration pooh-poohed the insurgency right up until the point that it exploded, now (if they’re even paying attention) they’re dismissing the political violence and declaring President Bush a world-historical figure for the Surge. Liberals, who had an incentive during the Bush years to sound the alarm, have mostly fallen silent (except for Robert Dreyfuss, who thinks Iran has already won). I sure hope I’m wrong. But sectarian torture camps don’t bode well for the future of a democratic Iraq.
Detainees in a secret Baghdad detention facility were hung upside-down, deprived of air, kicked, whipped, beaten, given electric shocks, and sodomized, Human Rights Watch said today. Iraq should thoroughly investigate and prosecute all government and security officials responsible, Human Rights Watch said.
Human Rights Watch interviewed 42 of the men in the Al Rusafa Detention Center on April 26, 2010. They were among about 300 detainees transferred from the secret facility in the old Muthanna airport in West Baghdad to Al Rusafa into a special block of 19 cage-type cells over the past several weeks, after the existence of the secret prison was revealed.
The men’s stories were credible and consistent. Most of the 300 displayed fresh scars and injuries they said were a result of routine and systematic torture they had experienced at the hands of interrogators at Muthanna. All were accused of aiding and abetting terrorism, and many said they were forced to sign false confessions.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki disputed reports charging that Iraq is torturing and abusing people in a secret prison.
“There are no secret prisons in Iraq at all,” the prime minister said in a Monday interview with state-run Al-Iraqiya TV.
Allegations of torture and abuse at the prison, named Muthanna, were first reported by The Los Angeles Times April 19. Amnesty International has urged Iraqi officials to investigate the claims.
Human Rights Watch released a report on the issue Tuesday, saying the detainees are routinely beaten, shocked and sodomized by their interrogators.
Al-Maliki continued to deny that there was a secret prison and called the reports “a smear campaign in which embassies and media organizations took part and it was perpetuated by Iraqi politicians because it serves their interests to say that there are secret prisons.”
The torture of Iraqi detainees at a secret prison in Baghdad was far more systematic and brutal than initially reported, Human Rights Watch reported on Tuesday.The Washington Post:
Adding to the political tension, Human Rights Watch released a report late Tuesday saying that members of a military unit under the command of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, systemically tortured and sexually abused hundreds of Sunni Arab prisoners.NPR:
Iraqi men held for months at a secret prison outside Baghdad were systematically tortured and forced to sign confession statements that in at least some cases they were forbidden to read, according to a new report by a human rights group released Wednesday.When OTHER people do it, HRW is a legitimate, credible source, and it is not “allegations of torture” or “enhanced interrogation techniques.”
On the politics of Iraq, it’s pretty clear from the article and other coverage that at least some Republicans are preparing to attack the president on Iraq, on the grounds that he’s (1) insufficiently focused on it, (2) stubbornly sticking to an inflexible deadline, and so therefore (3) he will have “lost” Iraq. (Not to mention (4) The Terrorists!). Obama would be wise, on narrow political grounds, to continue to ignore such criticisms. This is, in a sense, a curious case where the usual myopia of the American mass media is going to help Obama even if the policy goes wrong. Basically, as long as Americans aren’t dying in Iraq, there are going to be very few news stories about that nation. That’s going to be true if there’s a low-level civil war, and it’s certainly going to be true if democracy doesn’t, in the end, triumph. Sure, if there’s a coup, CNN will cover it briefly, but after that it’ll be back to weather, murders, shark attacks, and whatever else CNN fills its days with. If there’s no coup, but just increasingly rigged elections, or Iraq falling further into Iran’s camp, it’ll get even less coverage (were you aware of this anti-American rally in Iraq last week? Didn’t think so). No one is ever going to base their vote against Barack Obama or the Democrats primarily on Iraq becoming a basket case, if that’s what happens, in large part because the media aren’t going to cover it.
He thinks Obama will continue to draw down troops even if all hell breaks loose. That seems to be the message from the White House. But I’m not so sanguine about the reaction in the US if all those deaths and all that cost and all that damage ends up empowering a Shiite pseudo-strongman, with torture prisons and rigged elections. Anarchy is on the march.
The End? Part II: Speech, Speech, Speech!
Max Fisher at The Atlantic with an early round up.
David Corn at Politics Daily:
David Frum at FrumForum:
Democracy In America at The Economist:
UPDATE: Ross Douthat
George Packer at The New Yorker
Scott Johnson at Powerline
Jonah Goldberg at The Corner
Matt Welch at Reason
UPDATE #2: Bill Scher and Matt Lewis at Bloggingheads
Filed under Iraq, Political Figures
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