"Ain't Gonna Study War No More"

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Right-To-Life Party, Christian, Anti-War, Pro-Life, Bible Fundamentalist, Egalitarian, Libertarian Left

Monday, May 16, 2005

Staying What Course?

Is there any point, now that November's election is behind us, in revisiting the history of the Iraq war? Yes: any path out of the quagmire will be blocked by people who call their opponents weak on national security, and portray themselves as tough guys who will keep America safe. So it's important to understand how the tough guys made America weak.

There has been notably little U.S. coverage of the "Downing Street memo" - actually the minutes of a British prime minister's meeting on July 23, 2002, during which officials reported on talks with the Bush administration about Iraq. But the memo, which was leaked to The Times of London during the British election campaign, confirms what apologists for the war have always denied: the Bush administration cooked up a case for a war it wanted.

Here's a sample: "Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and W.M.D. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy."

(You can read the whole thing at www.downingstreetmemo.com.)

Why did the administration want to invade Iraq, when, as the memo noted, "the case was thin" and Saddam's "W.M.D. capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea, or Iran"? Iraq was perceived as a soft target; a quick victory there, its domestic political advantages aside, could serve as a demonstration of American military might, one that would shock and awe the world.

But the Iraq war has, instead, demonstrated the limits of American power, and emboldened our potential enemies. Why should Kim Jong Il fear us, when we can't even secure the road from Baghdad to the airport?

At this point, the echoes of Vietnam are unmistakable. Reports from the recent offensive near the Syrian border sound just like those from a 1960's search-and-destroy mission, body count and all. Stories filed by reporters actually with the troops suggest that the insurgents, forewarned, mostly melted away, accepting battle only where and when they chose.

Meanwhile, America's strategic position is steadily deteriorating.

Next year, reports Jane's Defense Industry, the United States will spend as much on defense as the rest of the world combined. Yet the Pentagon now admits that our military is having severe trouble attracting recruits, and would have difficulty dealing with potential foes - those that, unlike Saddam's Iraq, might pose a real threat.

In other words, the people who got us into Iraq have done exactly what they falsely accused Bill Clinton of doing: they have stripped America of its capacity to respond to real threats.

So what's the plan?

The people who sold us this war continue to insist that success is just around the corner, and that things would be fine if the media would just stop reporting bad news. But the administration has declared victory in Iraq at least four times. January's election, it seems, was yet another turning point that wasn't.

Yet it's very hard to discuss getting out. Even most of those who vehemently opposed the war say that we have to stay on in Iraq now that we're there.

In effect, America has been taken hostage. Nobody wants to take responsibility for the terrible scenes that will surely unfold if we leave (even though terrible scenes are unfolding while we're there). Nobody wants to tell the grieving parents of American soldiers that their children died in vain. And nobody wants to be accused, by an administration always ready to impugn other people's patriotism, of stabbing the troops in the back.

But the American military isn't just bogged down in Iraq; it's deteriorating under the strain. We may already be in real danger: what threats, exactly, can we make against the North Koreans? That John Bolton will yell at them? And every year that the war goes on, our military gets weaker.

So we need to get beyond the clichés - please, no more "pottery barn principles" or "staying the course." I'm not advocating an immediate pullout, but we have to tell the Iraqi government that our stay is time-limited, and that it has to find a way to take care of itself. The point is that something has to give. We either need a much bigger army - which means a draft - or we need to find a way out of Iraq.

E-mail: krugman@nytimes.com

"America Kept in Dark" as Carnage Escalates

U.S. TV Accused of Ignoring Situation

Iraq on brink of civil war, analysts say

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The only thing that can stop civil war is to bring this insurgency under control.
-- Noah Feldman, U.S. adviser to Iraq

Washington-When the man in the white van slowed, the group of labourers from Kut, southeast of Baghdad, approached him in the hope they would be offered work.

Instead he offered death.

As the workers approached, the man blew up his van, killing himself and the men who had tentatively moved to him in trust, sending body parts hurtling through the sky and, according to witnesses, turning the nearest hospital into a blood-stained shrine of futility, overwhelmed by the number and severity of the casualties.

The scene was played out many times over in Iraq this week, where a spike in insurgent violence has placed the country on the precipice of civil war.

More than 450 Iraqis have been slaughtered in the past two weeks in a direct challenge to a new Iraqi government, making those heady days of the January election seem like something from the distant past. The euphoria of the purple thumb, the symbol of the bravery of voters, has given way to a river of blood-red in some of the worst violence in the post-Saddam era.

"We are on the edge of civil war," said Noah Feldman, a New York University professor and chief U.S. adviser to Iraq on the writing of the country's new constitution.

Yet, somehow this sharp surge in deadly bombings, assassinations and kidnappings in Iraq has occurred largely under the radar in the United States.

No public figures have risen this week to decry this most recent carnage, no one is breaking into regular programming on cable news shows.

Perhaps Americans have simply become numb to the background hum of Iraqi violence. Perhaps the lack of graphic images on television mean[s] that medium doesn't know how to cover the story. Perhaps, more cynically, Iraqis killing Iraqis is not as compelling a story.

The left-leaning American Progress Action Fund said in a statement yesterday America's most important foreign policy venture is teetering on the edge of civil war, but it is being ignored by television networks.

"Television media - still the primary source of news for most Americans - is failing miserably," it said. "America is being kept in the dark."

While American TV viewers turn to runaway brides, fast-food fingers and the daily Michael Jackson aberration, they are missing the story of an increasingly massive foreign policy failure.

The number of car bomb attacks in Iraq jumped from 64 in February to 135 in April, a record, according to U.S. military statistics. Insurgents are reported to have stockpiled car bombs and the attacks are becoming more brazen as Sunni insurgents and foreign fighters try to provoke civil war with the Shiite majority.

"There is an apparent free flow of suicide bombers into Iraq," a Western diplomat told the London-based Guardian newspaper.

The U.S. death toll is at 1,611 and U.S. legislators this week approved funding which pushes the cost of the Iraq war beyond $250 billion (U.S.).

The chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard Myers, called again this week for patience.

"One thing we know about insurgencies is that they last from, you know, three, four years to nine years," he said. "These are tough fights. And in the end, it's going to have to be the Iraqis that win this.

"If there was a magic bullet, then Gen. (George) Casey and Gen. (John) Abizaid or I, or somebody on the staff more likely, would have found it."

While U.S. authorities say they believe most of the jihadists are foreign fighters - and have launched a major offensive near the Syria border to try to choke off the influx - J. Patrick Lang, a former chief of Middle East intelligence for the Defence Intelligence Agency, told National Public Radio this week that he believed the insurgents are 90 per cent home-grown.

He said they're a mix of former military, intelligence, police personnel and Baath party functionaries taking directions from a government-in-exile.

David Phillips of the non-partisan Council on Foreign Relations and author of Losing Iraq: Inside the Postwar Reconstruction Fiasco, said the spike in the insurgency can be blamed on three factors.

He said the delay of Iraqis in convening a new government to validate the January elections, the preponderance of Shiites and Kurds in the government plus the intensification of the de-Baathification process simply backed the Sunni view that there is no role for them in the new government.

But, Phillips also points to statements from the White House that U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had intervened to try to break the cabinet stalemate as another spark.

"It reinforced the view in Iraq that (Prime Minister Ibrahim) Jaafari was merely a proxy for those people in Washington," he said.

The damage done by a decision to give Sunnis a small representation in the cabinet unveiled last month seems to have been exacerbated with the decision to appoint only two Sunnis to the 55-member committee chosen to write Iraq's permanent constitution.

It will only play to the sense of despair and disenfranchisement among Sunnis, many analysts say.

Feldman said the Shiite population in Iraq has shown patience of historic proportion in not retaliating against the Sunni attacks.

"The reason I say we are on the edge of civil war is that you can't have one if only one side is attacking," he said. "But the truth is, Shiites are only human and they will run out of patience," he said. "The only thing that can stop civil war is to bring this insurgency under control."

But to do so, he said, Iraqi security forces have to convince Sunnis that violence will not work and they should join the political process.

Sunni fighters, however, are convinced they can hasten the departure of some 139,000 American troops by starting a civil war, Feldman wrote.

Conversely, he said, should U.S. troops depart, civil war is guaranteed.

Phillips is even more pessimistic. When asked about the chances that the brakes could be put on the insurgency in the short term, he answered: "None. This insurgency will go on for years and years, regardless of what the U.S. does."

The insurgency can never be defeated by military force, he said. Instead, Iraqis have to believe that their institutions are worth defending and that defence has to come from Iraqi troops.

Tim Harper
Washington Bureau
May 14, 2005

A Terrorist Comes Home to Roost

The sudden and untimely arrival on U.S. territory of a former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) asset and admitted terrorist, Luis Posada Carriles, poses an embarrassing challenge to the credibility of the Bush administration's war on terrorism.

Posada, who in an interview with the New York Times seven years ago admitted to organising a wave of bombings in Cuba in 1997 that killed an Italian tourist and injured 11 others, is best known as the prime suspect in the bombing of a Cubana Airlines flight shortly after it took off from Barbados in October 1976.

The incident, in which all 73 crew members and passengers including teenaged members of Cuba's national fencing team were killed, was the first confirmed mid-air terrorist bombing of a commercial airliner.

Then-President George Bush in 1990 pardoned Orlando Bosch, another Cuban exile opposed to President Fidel Castro and implicated in the plot, overruling a strong U.S. Justice Department opinion that called for Bosch's deportation.

Posada, who also worked for the operation supplying ''Contra'' rebels in Central America in the mid-1980s until the Iran-Contra scandal broke open with the downing of one of its planes, was also convicted of conspiring to assassinate Castro during a 2000 visit to Panama. A Panamanian court sentenced him to eight years in prison in 2004 but he was unexpectedly pardoned by outgoing President Mireya Moscosa last September and flew to Honduras.

”This is a real test of (President) George W. Bush's commitment to fighting terrorism,” said Peter Kornbluh, a Latin American specialist at the non-governmental National Security Archive (NSA). This week, the organisation released a series of declassified U.S. documents that detailed Posada's terrorist history and his previous association with the CIA.

”Already, U.S. credibility has been eroded in the six weeks since Posada apparently arrived in the United States without the government doing anything about it,” Kornbluh told IPS Thursday. He said Posada had apparently arrived in south Florida, almost certainly by boat, in late March.

A spokesperson at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in Miami, where Posada's attorney, Eduardo Soto, announced April 12 that his client had filed an asylum claim, told IPS that its agents were not looking for Posada because ''no warrant for his arrest has been issued.”

”We do have an interest in talking with him but we don't have a way to exercise jurisdiction without a warrant,” she said.

Venezuela, where Posada was originally arrested shortly after the 1976 Air Cubana bombing, is expected to transmit a provisional arrest warrant to the State Department either Friday or Monday, according to Arelis Baiba, a spokesperson for its embassy here. The issuance of the warrant will be followed by a formal extradition request.

In deliberating on the case earlier this week, the Venezuelan Supreme Court referred to Posada as ”the author or accomplice of homicide,” adding, ”he must be extradited and judged.”

It is unclear how the Bush administration, whose ties to Venezuela are increasingly fraught, will react, although many analysts said they believe that Washington will not deport him to Caracas.

Some said that administration intermediaries are trying to persuade Posada to leave the U.S. precisely in order to avoid further embarrassment for Bush.

”I think they're trying to persuade him to quietly leave the country,” said Wayne Smith, a Cuba specialist at the Washington-based Center for International Policy (CIP) who served as chief of the U.S. Interest Section in Havana in the late 1970s and early 1980s. ''But will he go along with that? I don't know.”

For now, the administration insists it has no idea where Posada is or even whether he is actually on U.S. soil. At a public appearance earlier this week, the hardline Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Roger Noriega, ignoring the fact that Posada's lawyer was the first to declare that he was in the United States, charged that more recent charges by Castro himself that Posada was here could be ”inventions.”

In a call-in to a Miami radio station, Bosch, who said he believes Posada should indeed receive asylum, said he had talked with Posada who confirmed that he was in the United States.

”In terms of where he presently is, I think it's fair to say we don't know,” said State Department spokesman Tom Casey Monday. Asked whether the State Department considered Posada to be a terrorist, Casey said the foreign ministry had no ”particular assessment.”

According to the NSA, Posada, who is now 77 years old, joined the U.S. military in 1963 and was recruited by the CIA, which trained him in demolitions. CIA documents posted at the NSA's Web site show that he was terminated as an asset in July 1967 only to be reinstated four months later.

The relationship lasted until 1974, although he retained contact with the agency at least until June 1976, three months before the plane bombing, according to the documents. During that period, he worked as a senior official in the Venezuelan intelligence agency, DISIP.

Another 1972 CIA document describes Posada as a high-level official in charge of demolitions at DISIP. The report noted that Posada had apparently taken CIA explosives supplies to Venezuela and was associated with a Miami mafia figure named Lefty Rosenthal.

A series of 1965 FBI memos obtained by NSA describe Posada's participation in a number of plots involving sabotage and explosives, as well as his financial ties to Jorge Mas Canosa, another anti-Castro activist who would later go on to found and lead the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF).

Plots included efforts to blow up Cuban or Soviet ships in Veracruz, Mexico, and the bombing of the Soviet library in Mexico City. One memo links him to a major plot to overthrow the Guatemalan government, an effort halted by the discovery by U.S. Customs agents of a cache of weapons that included napalm and explosives. During this period, Posada was working with the CIA.

In one of the very first reports on the Oct. 6, 1976 bombing of the Cubana Air flight, a cable from the FBI Venezuelan bureau cites an informant who identified Posada and Bosch as responsible and notes that the two Venezuelan suspects -- who both worked for a Caracas private security firm set up by Posada in 1974 -- had been arrested by police in Barbados.

A follow-up Nov. 2 cable cites information from another Cuban-exile informant for DISIP, Ricardo Morales Navarrete, also known as ”Monkey” Morales, about Posada's participation in planning meetings before the bombing.

Posada was arrested by Venezuelan authorities shortly after the bombing in what one former FBI counter-intelligence official described to the Times earlier this week as a ''preventative measure -- to prevent him from taking or being killed.”

”They knew he had been involved,” said Carter Cornick. ''There was no doubt in anyone's mind, including mine, that he was up to this eyeballs,” in the Air Cubana bombing. Posada then spent the next eight years in jail, punctuated by two inconclusive trials, before escaping a minimum-security facility in 1985 and making his way to Central America.

Posada, who is rumoured to be suffering from cancer, now hopes to gain asylum in the United States, posing a particularly delicate problem for a president whose family has long courted anti-Castro militants in the Cuban-American community but who himself has sworn that neither terrorists nor the governments that harbour them should escape punishment.

Jim Lobe

Inter Press Service