April 26, 2005
Keep up the pressure
Just after finishing my essay, "Sparing America's courts", for today's edition of The Star, news wires carried a story about Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., offering Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., a possible compromise in the judicial nominee-filibuster standoff.
The offer: If the Republicans withdraw one nominee and back off plans to change Senate rules on filibustering, Democrats would help confirm at least two of President Bush's blocked nominees. Frist's response Tuesday was the equivalent of "drop dead."
Frist said he would accept no deal that would block the Republican majority from confirming judicial nominees approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee. That's a far cry from when he voted in 2000 in favor of filibustering over President Clinton's nominee, Richard Paez, to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Frist's logic on what happened then is a little fuzzy.
When questioned about it on CBS News' "Face the Nation" on Nov. 21, 2004, Frist said, "Filibuster is used and it's called cloture." Perhaps he should bone up a bit on parliamentary procedures.
A filibuster is a tactic used to block or delay a vote. Cloture is the procedure by which debate is closed and an immediate vote on the subject at hand is taken. The problem Frist has been running into is that he can't get the necessary 60 votes (under the Senate's current rules) to invoke cloture. That same thing happened in 2000, when those who wanted to filibuster Paez could not muster the 41 votes to deny cloture being invoked. In fact, cloture was invoked by an 85-14 vote, with one senator not voting, and Paez was approved on a 59-39 vote, with two senators not voting. At the time, Republicans held a 54-46 majority in the Senate.
Frist also was wrong when he said on "Face the Nation" in November that the filibuster has not been used to kill nominees: "There has never been in the history of this country until the Democrats started using this tool to filibuster and kill judges." He convienently forgets that in 1968, the GOP led a successful filibuster against President Johnson's wish to elevate Associate Justice Abe Fortas to the Supreme Court's chief justice. In its March 18 edition, The Washington Post details what happened and includes some rebuttals to Republican attempts to pooh-pooh that filibuster.
I'm glad the Republicans are sticking their foots in their mouths over the filibuster issue and I'm glad they are being intransigent about compromising on the judicial nominee-filibuster issue because I don't believe the Democrats should be offering a compromise on this. The filibuster exists for this very reason to keep an out-of-control majority from running roughshod over the minority party in power.
Yes, filibuster can be used in destructive ways, as conservative Southern Democrats did during the 1940s and 1950s to keep civil rights legislation from being enacted. They stood up not for principle but to keep discrimination in place.
This time, the threat of filibuster is being used out of principle to ensure that the judicial system has a diversity of judges, to keep religious groups from trying to apply a religious litmus test on judicial nominees and to protect the rights of judges to be independent arbiters of legal questions. Anything less would undermine the principles under which this nation was formed.
Posted by Rick Larsen at 09:16 AM
April 20, 2005
Is there a chink in the armor?
Republicans appear to be backtracking a bit on two issues that should have been dispensed with quickly. Tuesday, Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee agreed to delay the confirmation hearing of U.N. ambassador nominee and alleged serial abuser of underlings John Bolton for at least two weeks. Over in the House, Republicans on the ethics committee said they were ready to open an investigation into alleged wrong doing by House Majority Leader and judicial attack dog Tom DeLay.
It would be nice if this signaled a softening of GOP smugness, but most likely it is merely politics as usual.
For example, concerning the matter of DeLay, even though four of the five Republicans on the ethics committee seemed to agree to vote for an investigation, part of the reason could be an attempt to break a gridlock. Ever since Republicans unilaterally changed ethics rules last year, in what some have said was an effort to shield DeLay from any ethics investigation, Democrats have gummed up the works so the ethics panel has yet to begin work in this new year. Any investigation cannot proceed until Democrats end their stalement over the rules. If the Democrats do end the stalemate, nothing guarantees that the Republicans must vote to investigate.
As for Bolton, the White House is still standing behind his nomination. White House spokesman Scott McClellan on Tuesday: "John Bolton is exactly the person we need at the United Nations at this time." Bullies, and the more testimony that surfaces suggests Bolton is that and more, should never be put in positions of delicate diplomatic posts.
We can hope that Republicans have come to their senses and agree that tact must outweigh attack-dog and bully tactics. But a new wrinkle has been added to Bolton's nomination.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Wednesday: "I continue to believe that John Bolton would be a really great U.N. permanent representative."
Wait a minute permanent representative? What is she thinking? That Bolton should be selected for life, like the pope? Well, some have suggested that Bolton's hard-driving personality was very similar to the new pope's personality when he was still Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. By the same token, several Vatican observers labeled Ratzinger, before the conclave, and other cardinals who aligned themselves with him, as the neoconservative cardinals.
Of course, all this speculation plus $2.49 might get you a Starbuck's tall latte, as long as Bolton and DeLay were not the barristas, berating you for ordering a wimpy latte or labeling you an activist coffee drinker.
Posted by Rick Larsen at 01:52 PM
April 18, 2005
What are you thinking?
Yes, you know who you are. The ones on I-10 over the weekend driving those Navigators, Escalades, Armadas, Suburbans, Yukons, Hummers and Excursions, some dragging small cruise ships or small three-bedroom homes, traveling at least 80 miles an hour and, most likely, having the air conditioning going full blast.
Do you realize how responsible you are for the current high price of gasoline that you probably curse loudly when you fill the tank?
Conspicuous consumption egos flaunting riches earned or merely inherited by buying things they don't really need has always been one of capitalism's uglier aspects. The proliferation of vehicles that seem more suitable as troop transports has given conspicuous consumption a new level of chutzpah.
I'm sure many drivers of those behemoths consider themselves super patriots, especially since many sported yellow ribbons saying, "Support our troops." We all know that the recent increases in gasoline prices do nothing more than fuel the profits of big oil companies or go toward paying for the increased cost of crude oil purchased from the Middle East. How many Americans have lost their lives protecting a commodity we could wean ourselves from if we actually made the effort?
Is the availability of gasoline more important than lives?
And yes, I was on I-10 also, visiting friends in Indio, in my 1996 Mitsubishi Mirage coupe that got 33 miles to the gallon on the open road, which, I'm sure, was at least three times the mileage of the gargantuan, swollen egos passing me on the road.
Posted by Rick Larsen at 03:35 PM
April 13, 2005
Not quite so supportive
The mantra since this nation attacked Iraq more than two years ago has been "Support our troops." A fine line does exist between using this phrase to mean showing concern for their welfare and using it to mean be in favor of the war because our troops are fighting it. In either case, support for this nation's troops begins at home.
Someone should tell that to Senate Republicans.
The issues deserving Republicans' attention in the Senate seem to include trying to change long-standing rules so a handful of suspect nominees for judicial posts can be jammed down people's throats; working to ensure that the estate tax, which affected only slightly more than 30,000 people in 2003, is either abolished or at least the exemption is raised; and calling extraordinary sessions to placate the Christian right in the Terry Schiavo case.
But when it comes to giving additional funding to Veterans Affairs hospitals, Senate Republicans can't be bothered.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., proposed providing $1.98 billion in additional funding for the care of veterans. She called VA hospitals underfunded, overcrowded and a train wreck waiting to happen. The money would have been included in an emergency spending bill for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars being debated in the Senate.
In largely a party line vote 54-46, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Penn, former chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, and James Jeffords, I-Vermont, sided with Democrats the proposal was defeated. Why?
"In my opinion," Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, current chairman of the veterans committee, "there is not an emergency in the VA."
Considering this nation has troops in harm's way, considering that more than 240,000 servicemen and women have left the military since the beginning of the war in Iraq, considering the fact that more than 50,000 have already applied for VA benefits and considering that at lease 15,000 members of the military have been wounded and injured in Iraq, wouldn't the Republicans rather err on the side of humanity?
The bulk of the spending bill will go for new weapons, body armor, medical supplies and raising benefits to families of those killed in combat zones. If the Senate prevails, the bill also will include about $658 million to build a U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, $210 million to reward nations that participated in Iraq and Afghanistan and several hundred million for tsunami relief.
When the Senate passes this spending bill and differences between it and a House version are ironed out, the United States will have spent about $300 billion in Iraq and Afghanistan. The nearly $2 billion for the VA that Murray wanted would have been 0.67 percent of the the money spent so far for the wars and only 22 percent of the $9 billion that somehow went missing from the sale of Iraqi oil when the U.S. controlled Iraq's oil profits from May 2003 until June 2004.
This nation owes a duty to those who put themselves into harm's way in defense of freedom or are thrust into harm's way for reasons not yet satisfactorily explained. Republican senators would do well to remember the duty they owe to America's military.
Posted by Rick Larsen at 01:20 PM
April 12, 2005
"Ahmad Chalabi and the Ayatollah Kid"
"We know intelligence used by the Bush administration to justify war in Iraq was flawed" begins my essay today in The Star: "Fact-finding or flimflam?". More than enough official and unofficial investigations have proved this point, not to mention that no weapons of mass destruction have yet been found in Iraq. What hasn't yet been investigated is how this flawed intelligence became the basis for President Bush's justifications for invading Iraq.
Enough circumstantial evidence exists to suggest a formal investigation needs to be undertaken to find out who passed along the flawed intelligence and whether some administrations officials might have deliberately twisted it.
With the main reasons for invading Iraq fallen by the wayside, Bush would have us now believe that the sole aim of toppling Saddam Hussein has always been to spread democracy. Yes, bringing democracy to Iraq was one of the minor reasons given as the Bush administration pressed Congress, the American people and the United Nations to accept its vision of the rightness of this war. But had this been used as the main argument during the march to war, no invasion would have occurred, nearly 1,550 of America's armed forces and an untold number of Iraqi civilians and American contract workers would still be alive.
The reason is simple: Democracy is the one political system in the world that cannot be militarily imposed. So, Bush and his neoconservative advisers (who had been pushing to invade Iraq since at least 1997) needed sexier reasons biological and chemical weapons, nuclear arms programs, safe haven for al-Qaida and even complicity in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Unfortunately, America's intelligence community wasn't giving the administration the right answers, that is, those answers that proved the preconceived notions the officials held about Iraq that it was an evil place with stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction that would soon be used on the United States. When reasons fail to materialize, create your own. In the Pentagon, civilians created their own intelligence-gathering operation the Office of Special Plans and demanded to see the raw data that had been collected on Iraq, using that data to make their own analyses. The officials also relied heavily on defectors, even though most intelligence experts find defectors less than wholly useful. While a defector might have some useful information, one can never be sure of the defector's motives. It is possible a defector acts from greed, might be unbalanced, might want to settle a personal score or might be acting as the frontman for an organization or a foreign nation that wants to press an agenda.
Meet Ahmad Chalabi banker, Saddam opponent, one-time CIA asset, would-be insurrectionist, almost leader of the new Iraqi government, friend of Iran, darling of neoconservatives and, possibly, flimflam man.
Chalabi, who had not lived in Iraq since 1956 except for a brief period in the mid-1990s when he was organizing what turned out to be a failed attempt at Kurdish resistance against Saddam, had long wanted to be a power broker in Iraq. He came to the attention of neocons at least as early as 1997 when, in a speech before the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, he said Saddam could be toppled on the cheap if the U.S. backed a guerrilla force willing to do so, such as the one Chalabi led at the time. His words came to the attention of ardent neoconservatives Paul Wolfowitz, who would become deputy defense secretary in the Bush administration, and Richard Perle, who would become chairman of the Defense Policy Board, an advisory group to the Pentagon.
A year later, Chalabi and his friends lobbied Congress for support. There were successful in prodding Congress to pass, with broad support from Republicans and Democrats alike, the Iraqi Liberation Act of 1998, which provided funding for Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress. (In 1999, he was demoted from leader of the INC to an ordinary member. In his place, the INC established a leadership of seven people, one from each of the main groups opposed to Saddam.) Despite passage of the act, despite support for Chalabi's objectives, despite U.S. funding for the INC, nothing much happened. While President Clinton did believe Saddam was not someone who should remain in power, he was disinclined to go to war with Iraq merely to effect regime change. Bush, too, was disinclined to deal with Iraq during his first eight months in office. (Giving his business pals tax cuts, having his vice president come up with an energy plan based on the wishes of the energy industry, yanking America out of just about every international treaty it had signed and clearing brush from his newly acquired ranch near Crawford, Texas, were much more important for Bush.)
Then Sept. 11 happened. Suddenly, the neocons' day had arrived. They had the administration's ear.
Thus, the relationship Chalabi forged with Wolfowitz and Perle proved to be most beneficial. "Their relationship deepened after the Bush administration took office," Seymour M. Hersh wrote in "Elective Intelligence," published May 12, 2003, in the New Yorker, "and Chalabi's ties extended to others in the administration, including (Secretary of State Donald) Rumsfeld; Douglas Feith, the under secretary of defense for policy; and I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff."
So, the timing was right and the gang was all here, so to speak neocons, lusting for a war to effect regime change in Iraq but lacking the sexy arguments to justify a war, and Chalabi, lusting for an Iraq in which he could become a political powerhouse and who had what the neocons wanted.
We believe what we wish to believe. The neoconservatives believed Iraq had stockpiles of weapons of mass destructions. Even when U.N. weapons inspectors in Iraq could not find any before the war, the neoconservatives rejected the inspectors' conclusions. Once again, they were not being told what they wanted to hear, so the inspectors must have been fooled by Saddam. The weapons existed once, the neocons argued; they must still exist because Saddam had not shown any evidence they had been destroyed. If hidden, then it was only a matter of time before they were discovered.
The question that must be asked is, "Who fooled whom?"
The information for this essay comes from Hersh articles "Elective Intelligence" and "The Stovepipe," published in the Oct. 27, 2003, issue of the New Yorker; the May 31, 2004, Newsweek special report "Bush's Mr. Wrong," by Evan Thomas and Mark Hosenball; and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence's July 7, 2004, "Report on the U.S. Intelligence Community's Prewar Intelligence Assessments on Iraq," referred to hereafter as either the intelligence report or SSCI report.
The Iraqi National Congress helped Gen. Hussein Kamal, who had been in charge of Iraq's weapons program, and his brother, Col. Saddam Kamal, defect to Jordan in August 1995. They brought with them crates of detailed information. The data provided by the Kamal brothers became key points in Bush's October 2002 speech in Cincinnati, the beginning of his major push for war against Iraq. These brothers' defections, Bush stated with firm conviction, forced Saddam's regime "to admit that it had produce more than 30,000 liters of anthrax and other deadly biological agents .... This is a massive stockpile of biological weapons that has never been accounted for, and is capable of killing millions."
A few weeks before Bush's speech, Vice President Cheney had declared that the Kamal brother's story "should serve as a reminder to all that we often learned more as the result of defections than we learned from the inspection regime itself."
By the time Bush and Cheney gave their speeches, the Kamal brothers unfortunately were dead, victims of Saddam's treachery. They had been lured back to Iraq in 1996 with promises of forgiveness, but were killed instead. Had they still been alive, perhaps the brothers could have reminded Bush and Cheney of a very important part of their story.
In an Aug. 22, 1995, interview with Rolf Ekeus, then the executive chairman of the U.N. inspection teams, Hussein Kamal said that the stockpile of chemical and biological warheads, all manufactured before the 1991 Gulf War, had been destroyed, many as the result of ongoing inspections.
Thus, the information on biological weapons Bush referred to was based on selectively picked information, ignoring any reference to the fact the weapons had been made at least 12 years before and had been destroyed. Also dismissed was the fact that many of those weapons were destroyed because of the ongoing inspections, but that didn't fit the Bush and Cheney belief that the inspections were useless.
Try as they might, the neoconservatives could not get the intelligence agencies to take the Iraq defectors seriously. Perhaps that was because Abram Shulsky, head of the Office of Special Plans, forgot the lesson written in a 1991 textbook on intelligence that he co-authored. In "Elective Intelligence," Hersh quotes the textbook on the importance of defectors: "It is difficult to be certain that they are genuine .... The conflicting information provided by several major Soviet defectors to the United States ... has never been completely sorted out; it bedeviled U.S. intelligence for a quarter of a century."
The intelligence community was wary of defectors? Sounds like it was doing its job properly, especially since defectors often pass along the information one wants to hear, not the information one needs to hear. Chalabi knew what the neoconservatives wanted to hear.
In December 2001, Chalabi produced Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, who fled Iraq with the help of the INC. A civil engineer, al-Haideri told The New York Times that he had seen 20 hidden facilities most likely used for biological, chemical and nuclear weapons production. One of the sites, he said, was beneath a Baghdad hospital.
Defector Sabah Khodada, an Iraqi army captain, told the Times and PBS' "Frontline" in a joint interview aired in November 2001, that Iraq trained people to carry out hijackings in the manner of the Sept. 11 hijackers. That imformation seemed to confirm what another defector, Abu Zeinab al Qurairy, said in 2000. Al Qurairy, a supposed former general in the Iraqi secret police, said he witnessed Arabs being given lessons in hijacking on a Boeing 707 at a camp near the town of Salman Pak, south of Baghdad.
Neither of these claims panned out.
U.N. inspection teams that returned to Iraq just prior to the war could not find any of the hidden weapons facilities al-Haideri claimed existed. Chief weapons inspector Hans Blix had his teams physically examine the hospital and other sites al-Haideri had named. Not even the use of ground-penetrating radar equipment turned up a shred of evidence to prove al-Haideri's claims.
Khodada's claims likewise came to nothing, as well as those espoused by al Qurairy, whom, according to Newsweek, the CIA considered to be a "bullshitter."
The camp near Salman Pak did exist, but as a counterterrorism training site. It had been there as far back as 1991, one of several such camps the CIA helped establish in the Middle East, to train Iraqis on how to deal with a hijacking. As one former CIA agent told Hersh, "You don't need a real plane to practice hijacking." But, a real plane is necessary to train to learn how to take it back from hijackers.
With America's intelligence community not biting, what next?
Chalabi turned to the Germans, providing their intelligence agency with the infamous "Curveball."
According to the Senate Intelligence Committee report, Curveball, an INC source and two others (blacked out in the report) provided information on Iraq's supposed mobile biological weapons labs. The INC source might well have been al-Haideri. Hersh suggested in his "Elective Intelligence" article that al-Haideri was the source of Powell's U.N. presentation on the mobile labs.
But the intelligence report notes there were difficulties with Curveball as an informant.
He "spoke in English and Arabic," the report noted, "which was translated into a Western European language." Presumably, German. A Homeland Security Department officer then "translated the reports back into English before transmitting them to the intelligence community."
If you've ever played the game where one person whispers a sentence to someone, who then whispers it to the next and so on, then you know how horribly skewed the original sentence becomes after being filtered through eight, nine, 10 or more people. Consider what might have been skewed when a combination of Arabic and English are translated into German and then back to English.
The problem of language aside, the intelligence report noted other, more serious considerations. A Department of Defense employee, perhaps the only American to meet Curveball before the war, believed that Curveball might be an alcoholic and believed that Curveball's case officer "had fallen in love with his asset and the asset could do no wrong." (SSCI report, p. 156.) The DoD employee also was told that it was not possible for the United States to have direct access to Curveball, and noted that Curveball's handlers were having major issues with him and "were attempting to determine if, in fact, Curveball said who he said he was." (SSCI report, p. 155.)
To bolster Curveball's story, Chalabi supporters sent another defector to the Defense Intelligence Agency. The DIA labeled that defector a "fabricator."
Despite the dubious nature of the information provided and the defectors' lack of credibility, the information ended up as fact in the White House laundry list of justifications for the war against Iraq. How could this occur?
Hersh suggested one possibility. Chalabi's group had provided a defector who was interviewed overseas by a Defense Intelligence Agency agent. The defector reportedly said he had trained in Iraq with al-Qaida terrorists in the late 1990s and that Iraqis had received instructions in using chemical and biological weapons. The only problem was that the agent used an interpreter provided by Chalabi's people. A month later, a team of CIA agents reinterviewed the defector, using its own interpreters. A vastly different story emerged.
"He says, 'No, that's not what I said,' " a former intelligence officer told Hersh. "He said, 'I worked on a fedayeen camp; it wasn't al-Qaida.' He never saw any chemical or biological training."
The DIA interview with the defector, though classified, was leaked in the summer of 2003, supposedly to bolster administration claims that they had intelligence about Saddam's ties to al-Qaida. The CIA rebuttal also was classified, but it was never leaked. Thus, the mistaken DIA report and the flawed intelligence it provided was never challenged publicly.
As the former intelligence officer told Hersh, "If it doesn't fit their theory, they don't want to accept it."
To be fair, we cannot yet say for certain how much influence Chalabi had over the neocons who vetted intelligence about Saddam. But the preponderance of circumstantial evidence suggests a fuller investigation is warranted. Such an investigation would have to decide not only if Chalabi and his organization duped enough people into believing Saddam needed to be brought down, but whether another player either at Chalabi's insistence or using Chalabi for its own purposes had been involved. We don't have to look far to find a potential player: The land of Tehran lurks in the background of Chalabi, weapons of mass destruction, al-Qaida and the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
There has been no love lost between the United States and Iran. We fomented a coup in 1952 after Prime Minister Muhammad Mossadeq tried to dethrone the Shah of Iran. We supported the shah even as he created SAVAK, the feared and brutal secret security service given to torture and to murder to crush opposition to the shah. We backed the shah as he repressed dissent, as he instituted martial law, as he fled Iran in the face of growing unrest from followers of the Ayatollah Ruhallah Khomeini. When President Carter invited the shah, no longer in power, to the U.S. for medical treatment, the ayatollah approved demonstrations demanding the shah's extradition to Iran. We didn't. Iranians took over the U.S. Embassy and held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days.
There was no love lost between Iraq and Iran, either. In the middle of the hostage crisis, Saddam, believing Iraq was a weakened state under the rule of ayatollahs, launched a war that would last for eight years, a war in which Iraq used chemical weapons against Iranian soldiers and Iranian civilians. The U.S., still smarting from the hostage crisis, sided with Saddam, gave him arms, money and the means to make more chemical and biological weapons.
Chalabi's former intelligence chief, Aras Habib, had murky ties to Iranian intelligence, Newsweek reported in its May 31, 2004, issue. Conveniently, Habib is nowhere to be found.
U.S. officials now believe that one-time ally Chalabi, along with Habib, might have passed along classified U.S. intelligence to Iran.
When Chalabi's home and offices in Baghdad were raided lasat year on warrants alleging criminal activity (since dropped), where was Chalabi? Visiting in Iraq.
With Iran so much in the background of Middle East intrigue surrounding Iraq and Chalabi, with reports that it provided safe haven and transit for al-Qaida operatives, and with it now occupying the No. 1 spot on the Axis of Evil hit list, it makes sense to consider whether Iran, through Chalabi, planted the seeds of discord all that flawed intelligence that made their way back to the neoconservatives.
Can we say with certainty that Chalabi and the Iranians gamed the U.S. into attacking Iraq and deposing Saddam? No, but someone in our government needs to begin asking these questions and needs to instigate a formal investigation because all the flawed intelligence in the world doesn't mean a thing unless someone uses it.
Posted by Rick Larsen at 08:34 AM
April 11, 2005
Bolton down the hatches
John Bolton, President Bush's choice to become U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, is getting his day in the Senate and facing some harsh questioning — as well he should. While any president may nominate whom he pleases to fill posts that advance his policies, no president should expect his nominees to be given a free ride.
And Bolton is determined to advance Bush's polices. In his opening statement before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bolton said, "If confirmed, I pledge to fulfill the president's visions of working in close partnership with the United Nations." Has he seen the error of his previous comments about the United Nations or was he merely restating his previous beliefs in a more palatable way?
Most have already heard that Bolton holds no love for the United Nations. He feels it ineffective. In 1994, Bolton said during a Global Structures Convocation: "The (United Nations) secretariat building in New York has 38 stories. If you lost 10 stories today it wouldn't make a difference." Yet, at his hearing today, he said: "The United States is committed to the success of the United Nations, and we view the U.N. as an important component of our diplomacy."
He will uphold the president's visions on working with the United Nations and he sees it as an important component of this nation's diplomacy. Actually, Bolton sees it more than a component, he considered it merely a tool for the U.S.
In "Delusions of Grandeur: The United Nations and Global Intervention," published by the Cato Institute in 1997, Bolton wrote Chapter Three, "The Creation, Fall, Rise, and Fall of the United Nations". This is how he views the United Nations:
"Above all, let us be realistic about the United Nations. It can be a useful tool in the American foreign policy kit. The UN should be used when and where we choose to use it to advance American national interests."
Bolton is a big believer in the unlimited right of America to do whatever it wants in this world, even if it requires pre-emptive military strikes — as an signatory of the neoconservative Project for the New American Century's statements of principles, he would be.
But he goes beyond merely promulgating neoconservative thought; he might have helped cooked up some of the flawed intelligence that got this nation into the war in Iraq. This is what I wrote in my April 5 essay ("Failures, faults and fluff"):
"In 'The Stovepipe,' published Oct. 27, 2003, in the New Yorker, (Seymour) Hersh notes that Greg Thielmann, who worked in the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, was assigned as that agency's daily intelligence liaison to Bolton, then undersecretary of state for arms control.
'Hersh wrote that Bolton didn't think he was getting the right information. So, Bolton sidestepped Thielmann and demanded his aides be given access to the raw intelligence data to make their own analyses and assessments. Bolton ignored one of the main tenets of intelligence gathering: Keep raw data away from people lest it mislead them.'
That wouldn't be the only time he might have tried to fudge intelligence. At his hearing today, he was questioned about trying to have fired a State Department analyst, Christian Westermann, and a Central Intelligence Agency analyst because they refused to approve one of Bolton's speeches that contained, they said, unsupported intelligence about Cuba's weapons capability.
Does this nation need such a weapon of mass deception representing us at the United Nations? Hardly.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee should summarily dismiss Bolton and force Bush to come up with a nominee who believes in the United Nations, who sees it as a forum where no one nation dominates and who is willing to work with other nations to create a better world.
Posted by Rick Larsen at 03:12 PM
April 06, 2005
Getting priorities straight
Today began with what looked like another day of nearly continuous coverage of Pope John Paul II's final hours and death, and of the rituals leading to his funeral Friday. Just prior to the pope's worsening health crisis, news media provided extended coverage of the Terri Schiavo death watch and the political circus that surrounded in.
The intense coverage given these two events makes me wonder, not for the first time, about the priorities of my chosen profession journalism.
Make no mistake. John Paul's stature as a spiritual and world leader does justify extended looks at his life and his reign as pope. And though the media have increased coverage of other stories today, the heavy coverage will return for the pope's funeral and, most likely, for the first few days of the conclave where his successor will be selected. The right-to-die issue raised by Schiavo's plight brought an important topic to the forefront of public discussion. But what happens when these events pass from the immediacy of the moment to become old news?
I haven't been quite happy over the past decade or so with the lack of attention media have been giving some very important stories in this nation and in the world. I wonder, what if the media took the resources they devoted to the Terri Schiavo case and the pope's death and committed them to educating and informing the public about some of the life-and-death situations existing in the world?
How about nearly continuous coverage for two or three days of the situation in Darfur, Sudan? Such focused attention would help give people a better understanding of situations in the world that urgently need our helping hand rather than a militant sword.
What if there was nearly continuous coverage for two or three days on the problem of poverty in the United States? Such focused attention would help identify some of the domestic problems this nation must face before it can assert any moral message to the world.
What if there was nearly continuous coverage for two or three days on the child sex trade in Thailand, the spread of AIDS in Africa, what conditions are truly like in the rural areas of Afghanistan still controlled by warlords, or deeper explorations of any place where racism, poverty, illiteracy and oppression are dominant themes?
With more knowledgeable of the conditions in which some people are forced to live, more people might be inclined to join in the discussions about and in the efforts to craft solutions that will make the world better. But to give people this kind of news requires a commitment from too many people in the media who spend more time worrying about the bottom line than about the need to inform.
If you want to know why better and more sustained coverage of the ills that plague societies are critically important to the future of the world, consider this: According to a U.N. report released in December, in the two or three minutes you've spent reading this, anywhere from 24 to 36 children in the world have died from malnourishment.
Posted by Rick Larsen at 08:48 AM
April 05, 2005
Accountability still matters
That prewar intelligence on Iraq was "dead wrong," a conclusion most people already knew and didn't need a presidential commission to confirm (a pdf copy of the unclassified report is available at FindLaw.com), should not fool people into complacency. Investigations have yet to delve into the more important aspect of how policymakers used, or abused, the intelligence. (See "Failures, faults and fluff.")
Nothing yet revealed lets anyone in the Bush administration off the hook for culpability in selling Congress, the American people and the world an illegal war.
Yet, many people, including some very vocal critics of this nation's march to war, would give President Bush and his neoconservative advisers a pass. Their argument goes: Because elections have been held in Iraq, because Syria is pulling out of Lebanon and because Egypt has agreed to multiparty selections, perhaps Bush was right in stirring things up by attacking Iraq.
Two things matter here: How the Bush administration misled this nation into attacking Iraq and what our responsibility as a nation is now after ending Saddam Hussein's regime.
We went to war. War creates destruction and uncertain times. Our duty now is to bring all the best traits in America to bar in helping Iraq stabilize and in helping create the conditions that will let Iraqis determine their own destiny. We were the aggressor nation; we must be the peacebuilder now.
Simply because we now hope a democratic society of some sort might emerge in Iraq and might have some influence on neighboring nations does not exonerate anyone in government of blame if they conspired to present "dead wrong" intelligence to advance egotistical notions of world dominance.
A good example (used in my June 29, 2004, essay, "One small step forward") is that of someone who robs a bank and used the money to help the homeless. It doesn't matter that the robber might have done good after the crime, he is still guilty and must face punishment.
Likewise, even as we extend a helping hand to Iraq, we must hold accountable and punish if necessary those who might have committed crimes for political gain whether that is Abram Shulsky, who directed the Office of Special Plans in the Defense Department, or John Bolton, who was undersecretary of state for arms control, or Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, or Vice President Dick Cheney or even Bush.
Posted by Rick Larsen at 09:02 AM
April 01, 2005
Don't let the words get twisted
If anything can be learned from the circus that surrounded the tragic ordeal of Terri Schiavo well, aside from the need for all to decide what they want or not want done if found in a similar situation is that language can get in the way of reasoned debate and turn dialogue into hatred.
Look at Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas. Thursday, after Schiavo died, he called the judges who consistently ruled in favor of Schiavo's husband, Michael, "arrogant, unaccountable and out-of-control."
Somehow, the one who seems arrogant here is DeLay for believing that he, and no one else, knows best. He needs to be held accountable for his out-of-control behavior by threatening the judicial system: "The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior, but not today."
DeLay is not alone in his arrogance; it cuts across the religious right and conservative Republicans who used Terri Schiavo's plight to push their social-conservative agenda, which is to reshape this nation into their image.
Rick Scarborough, acting chairman of the Judeo-Christian Council for Constitutional Restoration, said, "The Schiavo case demonstrates the mortal danger of giving judges the unbridled power of life and death."
The council will convene its first conference shortly with the theme "Confronting the Judicial War on Faith." According to a news release, among the topics to be considered at the conference will be "the right of Americans to publicly acknowledge God."
Funny, there didn't seem to be any restraint on publicly acknowledging God among those keeping vigil outside the hospice where Schiavo died. That's how language gets twisting. What the religious right wants is to implant its beliefs into law and turn this nation into its own private theocracy.
Another group weighing in on the Schiavo case is Life Decisions International, which bills itself as "dedicated to challenging the Culture of Death." "Death" is a bad word, so the more people those on the right can associate with the word "death," the more people they can vilify. Isn't it strange that the ones who would consider themselves as the Culture of Life spend their entire lives working to their ultimate reward, death and rising to heaven.
Then there is the Rev. Rob Schenck, president of the National Clergy Council, who said of Schiavo's death: "This is a new terrifying threshold of public sin and must be dealt with swiftly." Religions do like to have their followers believe they are always sinful and need atonement. Perhaps Schenck should consider that such a blanket condemnation of society is, in itself, a sin.
You are immoral. You sin. You worship death. Judges are arrogant and need to be reined in. None of these observations have any relevance or logical underpinnings because you are these things and judges are bad because the religions right and conservative Republicans lost. To to avenge themselves, they will punish everyone else.
I wonder, who really is pretending to play God here?
Posted by Rick Larsen at 02:17 PM