A LETTER FROM THE EDITOR
An Open Letter to:
People who thought this war was a good idea.
Subtitle: You know who you are.
JUNE 19 2004
You don’t get to sneer about how the evidence was there.
You don’t get to scoff about how even Bill Clinton, Germany and France thought there were WMD’s.
You don’t get to shriek about media-elite liberals just Bush-hating, conspiracy theorists whining about Halliburton, and Saddam gassing his own people:
…Not when our leaders were so fully unprepared for this war that there was no legitimate flank or rear security support for the thousands of vehicles, many endlessly breaking down, in that convoy that stretched across the Iraqi desert at the beginning of the war.
…Not when they couldn’t even bribe Turkey into letting us enter Iraq from the north.
…Not when there weren’t enough MRE’s, tanks that would work in the sand and flack-jackets for our troops .
…Not when our Marines suddenly became gendarmes on the streets of Baghdad while we completely disbanded both the Iraqi army and police and the country was being destroyed from the bottom up as the looters demolished everything that the precision guided bombs did not.
…Not when Republican Senators Richard Shelby, Chuck Hagel and Dick Lugar had been screaming about the need for a plan post-war Iraq and what to do about the Shiites/Sunnis/Kurds on The News Hour and Charlie Rose virtually every night for the twelve months leading up to the start of the attack.
…Not when there was no budget for the war, funding was asked for on the eve of the initial strike and there have been no plans to pay for the ever-increasing cost.
…Not when Deputy Secretary Of Defense Paul Wolfowitz is asked to give the number of Americans killed in Iraq during a congressional commitee on April 29 2004 and he’s off by over two hundred soldiers.
…Not when they won’t let us see the bodies at Dover and undercount casualties received in combat by the thousands.
Now bugger off and prepare for the trials.
©2004 THE LOS ANGELES SUN
BY JOHN TULLY
THE LOS ANGELES SUN
JUNE 1 2004
The Today Show, America’s number one source for morning infotainment seemed almost obsessed by two stories in the Fall of Two-Thousand Two. Elizabeth Smart, a young girl from Utah had been abducted from her home by a man at gunpoint that summer and it continued to be a big story. In October, seemingly random citizens of the Washington D.C. metropolitan area were being gunned down by a mysterious shooter.
Katie and Matt stoically opened the show almost every morning with these two stories.
At the same time, a war in Iraq was looming and the shadow of a vote in Congress giving the President authorization to use military force was creeping forward. The vote was even more crucial because the midterm elections were just ahead in November and the GOP was playing the Patriot card like the pros they are.
The Bush administration had strolled into power promising anyone within earshot that they would be exactly the opposite of everything the Clinton administration was and added that the “W” missing from some computer keyboards was not funny.
They vowed to be different from President Clinton: different on the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, and a plan of disengagement was put in place as a way to “back off” and let the two sides work it out for a while.
Mr. Clinton had “coddled” North Korea they said, and now the Bush White House was going to get tough. Moscow and Beijing would know who the new boss was with the plan going forward to build a missile defense shield.
Throw out Kyoto because it’s bad for business and bad for America, and by the way, tell the domestic bad guys that John Ashcroft was putting law and order back into the Justice Department where it belonged.
Presidential transition teams notwithstanding, the grownups were now in charge, and in the first nine months of this new administration they made that fact perfectly clear.
Then the whole world watched in horror as airplanes struck New York, D.C. and Pennsylvania.
This was truly a call to leadership for Mr. Bush.
But perhaps as a sign of things to come, his initial statements thereafter and his address in the pit at Ground Zero on a bullhorn was almost universally praised by the mainstream media though neither speech had much substance or style. Various pundits declared that simply “everything had changed.”
The rest is history.
Two wars, three tax cuts, and the whole world is watching in horror. Sixty miles outside of Kabul, Afghanistan the Taliban have taken over again. Opium production has tripled by some accounts, sure to sweep obscene amounts of heroin into Europe this year. The same conditions that led the country to harbor Al-Qaeda before that war are present once again and we have too few troops there to do the job.
Iraq and Afghanistan have taken close to a thousand lives and wounded at least five-thousand troops. There have been over thirteen-thousand medi-vacs or medical evacuations-mostly American forces. The Bush administration, while publically trying to form a coalition of countries willing to put boots on the ground in Iraq for violations of the United Nations Security Council resolution 1441, had privately trashed that very same U.N. as “irrelevant” at every opportunity.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld scoffed and sneered his way through press conferences, dismissively declaring that he knew where the Weapons of Mass Destruction were, and did we mention that the U.N. is irrelevant? And FRANCE.
The CIA, DIA, FBI, independent intelligence, Congressman Jim McDermott, The Dixie Chicks and The Pope all expressed concern about the attack on Iraq but the administration pooh-poohed all dissent. While Prime Minister Tony Blair was getting absolutely grilled by the House of Commons, the U.S. Congress was eerily silent and on the first day of the War on Iraq Kent Conrad seemed to be all alone on the Senate floor as he lamented the lack of even a basic budget for the conflict and it’s aftermath.
There was a complete breakdown of even basic diplomacy shown by President Bush, failing to privately convince skeptical nations to join him in the fight as his father had done in the first Gulf War and using words like “crusade” “bring ’em on” and “axis of evil” to further alienate the Muslim world.
The mealy-mouthed-chicken-hawk-think tankers in Northwest D.C. kept the pot stirring as well with talks of regime change, disarmament and virtual screaming about resolution 1441. Despite the evidence of dissipating mustard and sarin gas over the last ten years in Iraq, continued flyovers, sanctions and inspections, we were told there may be nuclear program-related activities; the ultimate McGuffin of the war debate. While the term imminent threat was never officially used, the talk of a nuke mushroom cloud not being our smoking gun got the point across stoutly. Throw in chatter about forty-five minute deployment and unmanned aerial vehicles and the cake was baked.
The military and diplomatic tracks never intersected. Spring came around, and the U.S. demanded that Saddam destroy his conventional Al -Samoud missiles even while almost 100,000 troops were amassed on Iraq’s border and CNN was reporting that the first attack was only days away. “Might as well go in now that we’ve gone in” was all the noise that week.
President Bush of course had the complete support of Congress to go right ahead in, and everyone north of MacArthur Boulevard knew he didn’t really have to go back for more approval. That crucial vote in Congress, that blank check, is now brought up whenever there is criticism of the war and rightly so. Because not one of these Senators or Congressmen were really pressed by the Press on this vote, they showed no guts in standing up to the march to Baghdad. Perhaps if the morning shows and popular media had pumped up the voting issue and specific plans for post-war Iraq like the Laci Peterson/MichaelJackson/Elizabeth Smart/Sniper stories with full saturation coverage a real debate would have resulted.
We’ll never know.
In the middle of a War on Terrorism The United States Of America invaded a sovereign Muslim nation of twenty-five million people. Because there were no real plans for the occupation, and no substantive debate about it, we’ve got eighteen year-olds from Cedar Rapids, Iowa negotiating foreign policy on the streets of Fallujah.
This arrogant smug administration has made our country less safe. We’ve lost credibility and our moral standing in the world. Most importantly there can be no doubt that this invasion has created more terrorists that hate America.
Little Boys With Their Toys
September 22 2002
By John S. Tully
Los Angeles–It has become the age of “muddled thinking” around Washington D.C. and throughout this great nation. The debate about Mr. Hussein never materialized and now the war drums are beating hideously loud. No politician it seems is even questioning the administration’s stance that regime change must take place now. The non-debate is currently focusing on when to strike and whether the rest of the world will be cooperative.
This is a time when we are still actively engaged in Afghanistan, searching for remnants of Al-Quaeda amongst the Taliban regime; one that still has a viable presence in a country that our troops will be engaged in for many years to come. In this “War On Terrorism” Osama Bin Laden has not been found and dozens of military experts can still find no connection between Al Qaeda and Iraq. The Middle East peace process is in shambles; the two sides continue to tear one another apart and there are no concrete plans in place to change this paradigm. Indeed, Mr. Sharon has declared that he will strike back if Iraq launches scud missiles on Israel as it did during the Gulf War.
Meanwhile, both India and Pakistan have nuclear capability at a time of increased reports of Al Quaeda presence in both countries. There is serious uneasiness in the entire region about the ramifications of a power play in an Islamic country by a foreign power.
Administration officials asked the United Nations for permission to go back into Iraq and hold meaningful inspections of their weapons program; permission was granted unconditionally with disarmament being the ultimate goal. Now it seems that nothing short of a “regime change” will satisfy officials in the White House and the State Department.
Experts from the military, scholars of international diplomacy, recognized leaders of democratic countries have warned the United States that an attack on Iraq could be disasterous for the entire region and in fact the entire globe. Saddam Hussein is a very dangerous man in a very dangerous neighborhood. Evidence shows that he does have chemical and biological weapons. There is however absolutely no conclusive evidence of any kind that Mr. Hussein has “Weapons of Mass Destruction”
Young American men and women are about to go to a war with Iraq that may take more lives than that devastating day last September. With six weeks until the elections United States Congressman and Senators have fallen silent; their hollow echoes frightening the rest of the world.
Who will speak up?
©2002 The Los Angeles Sun
THE WASHINGTON MONTHLY :: FEB/MARCH 2003
JOSHUA MICAH MARSHALL
Early last December, Vice President Dick Cheney was dispatched to inform his old friend, Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, that he was being let go. O’Neill, the president’s advisers felt, had made too many missteps, given too much bad advice, uttered too many gaffes. He had become a liability to the administration. As Cheney himself once said in a different context, it was time for him to go. It couldn’t have been a fun conversation–especially since it was Cheney who had picked O’Neill two years earlier.
O’Neill stormed off to Pittsburgh and within days the White House had announced his replacement. Yet the new treasury secretary nominee turned out not to be much of an improvement. Like O’Neill, John Snow was a veteran of the Ford administration who ran an old-economy titan (the railroad firm CSX) and seemed to lack the global market financial experience demanded of modern day treasury secretaries. Like other Bush appointees, Snow came from a business that traded heavily on the Washington influence game. And–again typical of the president and his men–the size of Snow’s compensation package seemed inversely proportional to the returns he made for his shareholders. Of the three new members of the president’s economic team nominated in early December, Snow was the only one to get almost universally poor reviews. He was also Dick Cheney’s pick.
Week after week, one need only read the front page of The Washington Post to find similar Cheney lapses. Indeed, just a few days after Cheney hand-picked Snow, Newsweek magazine featured a glowing profile of National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice that began with an anecdote detailing her deft efforts to clean up another Cheney mess. In a July speech, the vice president had argued that weapons inspections in Iraq were useless and shouldn’t even be tried. That speech nearly upended the administration’s careful late-summer repositioning in favor of a new United Nations-backed inspections program. As the article explained, Rice–the relatively junior member of the president’s inner circle of foreign policy advisers–had to take the vice president aside and walk him through how to repair the damage he’d done, with a new statement implicitly retracting his earlier gaffe. Such mistakes–on energy policy, homeland security, corporate reform–abound. Indeed, on almost any issue, it’s usually a sure bet that if Cheney has lined up on one side, the opposite course will turn out to be the wiser.
Yet somehow, in Washington’s collective mind, Cheney’s numerous stumbles and missteps have not displaced the reputation he enjoys as a sober, reliable, skilled inside player. Even the Newsweek article, so eager to convey Rice’s competence, seemed never to explicitly note the obvious subtext: Cheney’s evident incompetence. If there were any justice or logic in this administration as to who should or shouldn’t keep their job, there’d be another high-ranking official in line for one of those awkward conversations: Dick Cheney.
Consider the evidence. Last year, Cheney’s White House energy task force produced an all-drilling-and-no-conservation plan that failed not just on policy grounds but as a political matter as well, saddling the administration with a year-long public relations headache after Cheney insisted on running his outfit with a near-Nixonian level of secrecy. (To this day, Cheney and his aides have refused to provide the names of most of those industry executives who “advised” him on the task force’s recommendations, though a federal judge has now rejected the Government Accounting Office’s effort to make them do so.) During the spring of 2001, rather than back congressional efforts to implement the findings of the Hart-Rudman commission that called for forceful action to combat terrorism (including the creation of a department of homeland security), Cheney opted to spearhead his own group–not because he disagreed with the commission’s proposals, but to put the administration’s stamp on whatever anti-terrorism reforms did get adopted. Cheney’s security task force did nothing for four months, lurching into action only after terrorists actually attacked America on September 11. In the months that followed, Cheney was one of several key advisers arguing that the White House should keep Tom Ridge’s Office of Homeland Security within the White House rather than upgrade it to a cabinet department and thus open it to congressional scrutiny. Cheney’s obstinacy ensured that the administration’s efforts were stuck in neutral for nearly eight months.
Cheney has not fared much better in the diplomatic arena. Last March, he went on a tour of Middle Eastern capitals to line up America’s allies for our war against Saddam. He returned a week later with the Arabs lining up behind Saddam and against us–a major embarrassment for the White House. Much of the success of the administration’s Iraq policy came only after it abandoned the strategy of unilateral action against Saddam, the strategy Cheney championed, to one of supporting a U.N. inspections regime–a necessary and successful course correction that Cheney resisted and almost halted. Indeed, broadly speaking, the evolution of White House Iraq policy might be described fairly as a slow process of overruling Dick Cheney.
And there’s more. Remember those corporate scandals that came close to crippling Bush? Last summer, White House advisers were pondering whether to back the sort of tough corporate accountability measures that Democrats and the press were demanding. The president was scheduled to deliver a big speech on Wall Street in early July. His advisers were divided. Some argued that strong reforms were at the least a political necessity. But Cheney, along with National Economic Council chair Larry Lindsey, opposed the idea, arguing that new restrictions on corporations would further weaken the economy. The president took Cheney’s advice, and gave a speech on Wall Street that recommended only mild and unspecific reforms. “He mentioned a lot of things in the speech that the Securities and Exchange Commission already does,” one non-plussed Wall Streeter told The Washington Post with a yawn. The day after the president’s speech, the Dow shed 282 points, the biggest single-day drop since the post-terrorist tailspin of Sept. 20. Within days the president was backpedaling and supporting what Cheney had said he shouldn’t. Lindsey got the boot later in the year. Cheney is still in the West Wing shaping economic policy.
Much of the reason Cheney so often calls things wrong–even on those business issues that would seem his area of expertise–can be traced to the culture in which he’s spent most of his professional life. Despite his CEO credentials and government experience, Dick Cheney has been surprisingly insulated from the political and financial marketplace. He began his career as a Nixon-administration functionary under Donald Rumsfeld. Later, he joined the Ford administration as a deputy assistant to the president before becoming White House chief of staff. From there he moved into elective office, but to the ultra-safe House seat from Wyoming, a post only slightly less shielded from the tides of American politics than were his posts in the Ford administration.
Cheney resigned his House seat in 1989 and moved back to the executive branch where he belonged, serving–with distinction–as defense secretary under the first President Bush. From there he moved to the corporate suite at Halliburton, where he eventually earned tens of millions of dollars. But Halliburton is a peculiar kind of enterprise. It doesn’t market shoes or design software. Rather, its business–providing various products and services to the oil industry and the military–is based on securing lucrative contracts and concessions from a handful of big customers, primarily energy companies and the U.S. and foreign governments. Success in that business comes not by understanding and meeting the demands of millions of finicky customers, but by cementing relationships with and winning the support of a handful of powerful decision-makers.
Indeed, that’s why Halliburton came to Cheney in the first place. His ties with the Bush family, his post-Gulf War friendships with Arab emirs, and the Rolodex he’d compiled from a quarter century in Washington made him a perfect rainmaker. And though he did rather poorly on the management side–he shepherded Halliburton’s disastrous merger with Dresser Industries, which saddled the new company with massive asbestos liabilities–he handled the schmoozing part of the enterprise well.
Cheney is conservative, of course, but beneath his conservatism is something more important: a mindset rooted in his peculiar corporate-Washington-insider class. It is a world of men–very few women–who have been at the apex of both business and government, and who feel that they are unique in their mastery of both. Consequently, they have an extreme assurance in their own judgment about what is best for the country and how to achieve it. They see themselves as men of action. But their style of action is shaped by the government bureaucracies and cartel-like industries in which they have operated. In these institutions, a handful of top officials make the plans, and then the plans are carried out. Ba-da-bing. Ba-da-boom.
In such a framework all information is controlled tightly by the principals, who have “maximum flexibility” to carry out the plan. Because success is measured by securing the deal rather than by, say, pleasing millions of customers, there’s no need to open up the decision-making process. To do so, in fact, is seen as governing by committee. If there are other groups (shareholders, voters, congressional committees) who agree with you, fine, you use them. But anyone who doesn’t agree gets ignored or, if need be, crushed. Muscle it through and when the results are in, people will realize we were right is the underlying attitude.
The danger of this mindset is obvious. No single group of people has a monopoly on the truth. Whether it be plumbers, homemakers, or lobbyist bureaucrats, any group will inevitably see the world through its own narrow, mostly self-interested, prism. But few groups are so accustomed to self-dealing and self-aggrandizement as the cartel-capitalist class. And few are more used to equating their own self-interest with the interests of the country as a whole.
Not since the Whiz Kids of the Kennedy-Johnson years has Washington been led by men of such insular self-assurance. Their hierarchical, old economy style of management couldn’t be more different from the loose, non-hierarchical style of, say, high-tech corpor-ations or the Clinton White House, with all their open debate, concern with the interests of “stake-holders,” manic focus on pleasing customers (or voters), and constant reassessment of plans and principles. The latter style, while often sloppy and seemingly juvenile, tends to produce pretty smart policy. The former style, while appearing so adult and competent, often produces stupid policy.
Over time, people in the White House have certainly had to deal with enough examples of Cheney’s poor judgment. It’s fallen to the White House’s political arm, led by the poll-conscious Karl Rove, to rein in or overrule him. Yet the vice president has apparently lost little stature within the White House. That may be because his get-it-done-and-ignore-the-nay-sayers attitude is one that others in the administration share. Cheney stands up for the cartel-capitalist principles they admire. He is right, in a sense, even when he’s wrong.
Why, though, has the press failed to grasp Cheney’s ineptitude? The answer seems to lie in the power of political assumptions. The historian of science Thomas Kuhn famously observed that scientific theories or “paradigms”–Newtonian physics, for instance–could accommodate vast amounts of contradictory evidence while still maintaining a grip on intelligent people’s minds. Such theories tend to give way not incrementally, as new and conflicting data slowly accumulates, but in sudden crashes, when a better theory comes along that explains the anomalous facts. Washington conventional wisdom works in a similar way. It doesn’t take long for a given politician to get pegged with his or her own brief story line. And those facts and stories that get attention tend to be those that conform to the established narrative. In much the same way, Cheney’s reputation as the steady hand at the helm of the Bush administration–the CEO to Bush’s chairman–is so potent as to blind Beltway commentators to the examples of vice presidential incompetence accumulating, literally, under their noses. Though far less egregious, Cheney’s bad judgment is akin to Trent Lott’s ugly history on race: Everyone sort of knew it was there, only no one ever really took notice until it was pointed out in a way that was difficult to ignore. Cheney is lucky; as vice president, he can’t be fired. But his terrible judgment will, at some point, become impossible even for the Beltway crowd not to see.
Joshua Micah Marshall, author of the Talking Points Memo, is a Washington Monthly contributing writer.
I was alluding to the fact that people can spend hours investigating a succotash recipe or watch hours of mindless television or play video poker until the cows come home, eat and then go back
out but immediately scoff and mock a discussion of the worst attack on the U.S. in it’s history.
Liberal architects investigating the World Trade Center Towers?