Sunday, February 18, 2007

Demise of the Foreign Correspondent

By Pamela Constable
Washington Post
Sunday, February 18, 2007; B01

Blog editor's note: For anyone following foreign policy, the news media--for all of their faults--are indispensable. The ever increasing trend among media owners to chase profits instead of stories leads to what I call "Zen Journalism": If something happens in the world but no journalist is there to cover it, did it happen?

When I think back on the most momentous events of my professional life, they include scenes of both devastation and deliverance. The boulevards of Manila, flooded with peaceful demonstrators chanting for Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos to abandon power. The slums of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, where a joyful, gyrating mob of slum-dwellers is celebrating the election of populist priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide as president. The highlands of Guatemala or Peru, where grave sites conceal the victims of atrocity.

If the Boston Globe had not sent me abroad as a foreign correspondent in 1983, and allowed me to spend a decade in Latin America and other regions of the world, I would never have been able to witness these historic changes -- and bring them alive to readers back home. Even then, the Globe was one of only a handful of American newspapers willing to invest in the luxury of its own foreign staff, and I was keenly aware of how privileged I was to do all this while drawing a steady paycheck.

Today, Americans' need to understand the struggles of distant peoples is greater than ever. Our troops are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, countries that we did not know enough about when we invaded them and that we are still trying to fathom. We have been victimized by foreign terrorists, yet we still cannot imagine why anyone would hate us. Our economy is intimately linked to global markets, our population is nearly 20 percent foreign-born, and our lives are directly affected by borderless scourges such as global warming and AIDS. Knowing about the world is not a luxury; it is an urgent necessity.

But instead of stepping up coverage of international affairs, American newspapers and television networks are steadily cutting back. The Globe, which stunned the journalism world last month by announcing that it would shut down its last three foreign bureaus, is the most recent example.

To read the full text, see Washington

Saturday, February 17, 2007


By Richard Reeves

Feb 9, 2007

LOS ANGELES -- I don't think there is much argument now that the United States made a mistake going into Iraq. We have destroyed the image we had earned or had tried to create as the necessary nation, the benevolent and humble superpower. Instead, with unbelievable arrogance, we have sowed civil war, scorn and hatred that will last for decades and almost certainly spread through the Middle East and beyond.

"Lessons learned" is the military term for examination and re-examination after engagement. Without doubt there will be "lessons learned" hearings and commissions and reports, public and private, military and civilian, after this debacle, one of the saddest episodes in American history. And there should be.

The investigations will begin with Congress, which itself has little to be proud of in this undeclared war. But with Democrats in power, both houses will begin the scrutinizing of the performance of the Republican White House and its intimidated intelligence community. The White House will try to escape blame by investigating both the military and intelligence agencies. The press will investigate them all.

But who will investigate the press? Who will say the emperor-investigators have no clothes? Who will shout that the press's performance these last few years has been as bad as most every other important institution in the land of the free?

To read the full text, see

Monday, February 12, 2007

Victory Is Not an Option
The Mission Can't Be Accomplished -- It's Time for a New Strategy

By William E. Odom
Washington Post
Sunday, February 11, 2007; B01

Blog editor's note: Some of the most insightful criticism of the Bush Administration's Iraq policies have come from former military officers of considerable rank and experience. William E. Odom, a retired Army lieutenant general, was head of Army intelligence and director of the National Security Agency under Ronald Reagan. He served on the National Security Council staff under Jimmy Carter. A West Point graduate with a PhD from Columbia, Odom teaches at Yale and is a fellow of the Hudson Institute, hardly a leftist think tank.

The new National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq starkly delineates the gulf that separates President Bush's illusions from the realities of the war. Victory, as the president sees it, requires a stable liberal democracy in Iraq that is pro-American. The NIE describes a war that has no chance of producing that result. In this critical respect, the NIE, the consensus judgment of all the U.S. intelligence agencies, is a declaration of defeat.

Its gloomy implications -- hedged, as intelligence agencies prefer, in rubbery language that cannot soften its impact -- put the intelligence community and the American public on the same page. The public awakened to the reality of failure in Iraq last year and turned the Republicans out of control of Congress to wake it up. But a majority of its members are still asleep, or only half-awake to their new writ to end the war soon.

Perhaps this is not surprising. Americans do not warm to defeat or failure, and our politicians are famously reluctant to admit their own responsibility for anything resembling those un-American outcomes. So they beat around the bush, wringing hands and debating "nonbinding resolutions" that oppose the president's plan to increase the number of U.S. troops in Iraq.

To read the full text, see Washington

Saturday, February 10, 2007

The Build-a-War Workshop

The New York Times
February 10, 2007

Blog editor's note: Given its remarkable willingness too believe the Administration's assertions about WMDs in the run up to the 2003 war with Iraq, the Times' anger at the latest evidence of the Bush team's systematic efforts to manipulate intelligence is understandable. Whether the American public will also get as angry at having been gulled into a disastrous war remains to be seen.

It took far too long, but a report by the Pentagon inspector general has finally confirmed that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s do-it-yourself intelligence office cooked up a link between Iraq and Al Qaeda to help justify an unjustifiable war.

The report said the team headed by Douglas Feith, under secretary of defense for policy, developed “alternative” assessments of intelligence on Iraq that contradicted the intelligence community and drew conclusions “that were not supported by the available intelligence.” Mr. Feith certainly knew the Central Intelligence Agency would cry foul, so he hid his findings from the C.I.A. Then Vice President Dick Cheney used them as proof of cloak-and-dagger meetings that never happened, long-term conspiracies between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden that didn’t exist, and — most unforgivable — “possible Iraqi coordination” on the 9/11 attacks, which no serious intelligence analyst believed.

The inspector general did not recommend criminal charges against Mr. Feith because Mr. Rumsfeld or his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, approved their subordinate’s “inappropriate” operations. The renegade intelligence buff said he was relieved.

We’re sure he was. But there is no comfort in knowing that his dirty work was approved by his bosses. All that does is add to evidence that the Bush administration knowingly and repeatedly misled Americans about the intelligence on Iraq.

To read the full text, see New York Times

Friday, February 09, 2007

Feith Takes the Fall

By Mark Thompson/Washington
Friday, Feb. 09, 2007

Blog editor's note: Finally, a mainstream journalist tumbles to the real story that seems to have eluded most of his colleagues: the small fish have been caught in the net while the ones really responsible swim out of harm's way.

For a person most Americans have never heard of, Doug Feith has been called terrible names by very important people. In Plan of Attack, Bob Woodward quotes General Tommy Franks — appalled at the quality of intelligence about Iraq — railing that Feith, then the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, was "the f---king stupidest guy on the face of the earth." Today, there was another bad review. Feith got publicly slapped by the Defense Department's inspector general for developing pro-war intelligence on Iraq — outside of official channels — that now seems plainly wrong. The IG concludes that Feith's office, on a free-lance basis, made claims "that were inconsistent with the consensus of the intelligence community." The report said that Feith's shop exaggerated the purported links between Saddam Hussein's government and al Qaeda. "That was the argument that was used to make the sale to the American people about the need to go to war," said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the armed services committee. He said the Feith's work, "which was wrong, which was distorted, which was inappropriate ... is something which is highly disturbing."

Feith may have been one of the Bush Administration's most fervent supporters of war with Iraq but, in truth, he was only a bit player. Indeed, he is the third bit player in the Iraq fiasco to be paying for the sins of his superiors recently.

To read the full text, see

Pentagon aide's prewar work faulted
A Defense report says the ex-official alleged links between Al Qaeda and Iraq that didn't reflect intelligence.

By Julian E. Barnes
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
February 9, 2007

Blog editor's note: For anyone who still doubts that elements of the Bush Administration didn't "cherry pick" or, in this case, practically fabricate intelligence to justify taking the war option against Iraq, this report should settle the matter (but, of course, it won't.) Two other observations: note the role played by the Vice President's office, and note as well that all of the players--Feith, Wolfowitz, Cheney--have only been rewarded by the Administration, not admonished. The report, according to my understanding of the law, correctly concludes that Feith, et al, did nothing illegal--even if it was "inappropriate." At the same time, it's fascinating to me that people can manufacture intelligence (which in my book is lying) that as much as anything convinced most Americans to support a war, particularly one that's turning out to cost as much as this one in both material and human terms, and merely be guilty of "inappropriate behavior." Perhaps there will be a political cost. One can only hope so. One can also only hope that the death of Anna Nicole Smith doesn't dump the story into the dim, distant backwash of the day's news. )

WASHINGTON — A Pentagon official who was a prime architect of Bush administration policies that led to the Iraq war presented policymakers with allegations of links between Iraq and Al Qaeda that did not accurately reflect the views of U.S. intelligence agencies, according to a Defense Department investigation disclosed Thursday by a senior Senate Democrat.

The report concluded that the official's actions were inappropriate, Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said.

The report by the Pentagon's inspector general examined the activities of Douglas J. Feith, an influential undersecretary to former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld during the months leading up to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003. An unclassified summary of the report will be released today.

Its findings lend credence to charges by White House critics that Feith, who has since left the department, was out of line when he sought to discredit analyses by CIA intelligence officials that discounted alleged ties between Al Qaeda and then-Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

Feith, in responding to the investigation, defended his actions and said he was pleased that the report found he had done nothing illegal.

To read the full text, see Los Angeles Times

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Diplomatic Memo
Few Veteran Diplomats Accept Mission to Iraq

The New York Times
February 8, 2007

WASHINGTON, Feb. 7 — While the diplomats and Foreign Service employees of the State Department have always been expected to staff “hardship” postings, those jobs have not usually required that they wear flak jackets with their pinstriped suits.

But in the last five years, the Foreign Service landscape has shifted.

Now, thanks to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the White House is calling for more American civilians to head not only to those countries, but also to some of their most hostile regions — including Iraq’s volatile Anbar Province — to try to establish democratic institutions and help in reconstruction. That plan is provoking unease and apprehension at the State Department and at other federal agencies.

Many federal employees have outright refused repeated requests that they go to Iraq, while others have demanded that they be assigned only to Baghdad and not be sent outside the more secure Green Zone, which includes the American Embassy and Iraqi government ministries. And while Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice maintained Wednesday that State Department employees were “volunteering in large numbers” for difficult posts, including Iraq, several department employees said that those who had signed up tended to be younger, more entry-level types, and not experienced, seasoned diplomats.

To read the full text, see The New York Times

Monday, February 05, 2007

4th Anniversary of U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell Address to the U.N. Security Council on Iraq's WMDs, which as much as anything else paved the way for the 2003 war

February 5, 2003
Transcript provided by The White House

Blog editor's note: Today (Feb. 5) is the fourth anniversary of then-Secretary of State Colin Powell's testimony before the United Nations in which he famously remarked, "What you will see [today] is an accumulation of facts and disturbing patterns of behavior... Indeed, the facts and Iraq's behavior show that Saddam Hussein and his regime are concealing their efforts to produce more weapons of mass destruction..." It is instructive to review his testimony, given that history has shown he was not dealng with facts at all. At the same time keep in mind that at least one study showed almost a 30-point swing in public opinion toward the war option following his remarks. Ironically, the transcript will be found on a White House web page headlined, "Iraq: Denial and Deception."

POWELL: This council placed the burden on Iraq to comply and disarm and not on the inspectors to find that which Iraq has gone out of its way to conceal for so long. Inspectors are inspectors; they are not detectives.

I asked for this session today for two purposes: First, to support the core assessments made by Dr. Blix and Dr. ElBaradei. As Dr. Blix reported to this council on January 27th, quote, ``Iraq appears not to have come to a genuine acceptance, not even today, of the disarmament which was demanded of it,'' unquote.

And as Dr. ElBaradei reported, Iraq's declaration of December 7, quote, ``did not provide any new information relevant to certain questions that have been outstanding since 1998.''

POWELL: My second purpose today is to provide you with additional information, to share with you what the United States knows about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction as well as Iraq's involvement in terrorism, which is also the subject of Resolution 1441 and other earlier resolutions.

To read the full text, see White

Saturday, February 03, 2007

$3T Bush budget to trim domestic programs
Monday plan to kick off major debate with Democratic-controlled Congress

The Associated Press
Feb 2, 2007

WASHINGTON - Keeping troops in Iraq for another year and a half will cost nearly a quarter-trillion dollars - about $800 for every man, woman and child in the U.S. - under the budget President Bush will submit to Congress Monday.

Bush will ask for $100 billion more for military and diplomatic operations in Iraq and Afghanistan this year and seek $145 billion for 2008, a senior Pentagon official said Friday. Those requests come on top of about $344 billion spent for Iraq since the 2003 invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.

At the same time, Bush's budget request will propose cost curbs on Medicare providers, a cap on subsidy payments to wealthier farmers and an increase to $4,600 in the maximum Pell Grant for low-income college students.

Bush's proposal, totaling almost $3 trillion for the budget year starting Oct. 1, will kick off a major debate with the new Democratic-controlled Congress. Democrats are sure to press for more money for domestic programs, and they've signaled they won't consider renewing Bush's tax cuts until closer to 2010, when they are to expire.

To read the full text, see

Report questions Bush's Iraq strategy

By Jonathan S. Landay
McClatchy Newspapers
Feb. 02, 2007

Blog editor's note: To access the government's press release/summary about the report, "Prospects for Iraq’s Stability: A Challenging Road Ahead," go to Office of Director of National Intelligence

WASHINGTON - In the bleakest terms yet, a new U.S. government intelligence assessment warned Friday that Iraq's sectarian violence is now self-sustaining and that the country's forces will be "hard pressed" to assume responsibility for security before mid-2008, despite accelerated U.S. training.

The new National Intelligence Estimate raised serious doubts about President Bush's latest stabilization plan for Iraq, the first goal of which is to "let the Iraqis lead," with the help of U.S. military trainers embedded in the army and police.

But the NIE said that "Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) - particularly the Iraqi police - will be hard pressed in the next 12-18 months to execute significantly increased security responsibilities."

At the same time, the report echoed Bush's warnings that a rapid U.S. troop pullout in the next 18 months could trigger a "significant increase in the scale and scope of sectarian conflict," which could produce "massive" civilian casualties and forced population transfers and prompt open intervention by Iraq's neighbors, such as Turkey.

The findings illustrate Bush's dilemma as violence in Iraq escalates and he confronts demands from Democrats, a growing number of Republicans and many Americans to withdraw the 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.

"This NIE appears to be the latest in a long line of bleak assessments by foreign policy and military experts indicating that the president's new plan is flawed and failing," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

To read the full text, see McClatchy Washington Bureau

Thursday, February 01, 2007

THOMAS FRIEDMAN ON IRAN: Not-So-Strange Bedfellow

by Thomas Friedman
New York Times
Jan. 31, 2007

Blog editor's Note: Thomas Friedman, perhaps the best known of the Times' columnists and a staunch supporter of the invasion of Iraq in 2003, has written a column that is 'must' reading for anyone who thinks military strikes against Iran are either necessary or a good idea. To find the column in its entirety, do a Google search with the terms: Not-So-Strange Bedfellow

Here’s a little foreign policy test. I am going to describe two countries — “Country A” and “Country B” — and you tell me which one is America’s ally and which one is not.

Let’s start: Country A actively helped the U.S. defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan and replace it with a pro-U.S. elected alliance of moderate Muslims. Country A regularly holds sort-of-free elections. Country A’s women vote, hold office, are the majority of its university students and are fully integrated into the work force.

On 9/11, residents of Country A were among the very few in the Muslim world to hold spontaneous pro-U.S. demonstrations. Country A’s radical president recently held a conference about why the Holocaust never happened — to try to gain popularity. A month later, Country A held nationwide elections for local councils, and that same president saw his candidates get wiped out by voters who preferred more moderate conservatives. Country A has a strategic interest in the success of the pro-U.S., Shiite-led, elected Iraqi government. Although it’s a Muslim country right next to Iraq, Country A has never sent any suicide bombers to Iraq, and has long protected its Christians and Jews. Country A has more bloggers per capita than any country in the Muslim Middle East.

To find the entire text, do a Google Search with the terms Not-So-Strange Bedfellow.

Britain plays down claims of Tehran role

Tom Baldwin in Washington
The Times (UK)
February 01, 2007

Senior British officials, citing mistakes over Saddam Hussein’s alleged weapons of mass destruction, are voicing scepticism about US efforts to build an intelligence-based case against Iran.
Sources in London and Washington suggest that the British Government has been “badly scarred” by its Iraq intelligence dossiers. Amid signs of a concerted American operation to prove that Iran is threatening US troops in the region, British officials say that they are “not aware of a smoking gun” that would justify taking military action against Tehran.

The Pentagon disclosed yesterday that it was investigating whether Iran was behind a January 20 attack on a military compound in Karbala in which five US soldiers were abducted and killed. “This was beyond what we have seen militias or foreign fighters do,” a US defence official said.

To read the full text, see

Senators Unite On Challenge to Bush's Troop Plan
Revised Warner Language That Protects Funds Is Embraced for Bipartisan Appeal

By Shailagh Murray and Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, February 1, 2007; A01

Democratic and Republican opponents of President Bush's troop-buildup plan joined forces last night behind the nonbinding resolution with the broadest bipartisan backing: a Republican measure from Sen. John W. Warner of Virginia.

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) announced the shift, hoping to unite a large majority of the Senate and thwart efforts by the White House and GOP leaders to derail any congressional resolution of disapproval of Bush's decision to increase U.S. troop levels in Iraq by 21,500.

To read the full text, see Washington Post