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Your humble narrator is...
...a research analyst at a think tank in the Washington DC area. Born in Israel, raised in Kentucky, movie fanatic and sports nut.
My first-hand account of the Palestinian divestment conference at the U. of Michigan

:: Saturday, October 04, 2003 ::

Yom Kippur War retrospective
I usually don't feel like posting when there's another major terror attack like today, but Ha'aretz posted an interesting article yesterday about the circumstances facing Golda Meir and the Israeli government on the eve of the Yom Kippur War.

The article doesn't really deal with the Arabs' motivations for going to war and what the Israelis had assumed about them, but I do think there's some relevance to the sort of thing I was talking about in this post from last month about the different ways of thinking between (roughly speaking) the Arab/Muslim world and the Western world, specifically the often different conceptions of "strength" and "weakness." A prevailing assumption among the Israeli leaders in 1973 seems to have been that the Arabs wouldn't go to war if they were convinced that Israel was strong enough to defend itself and capable of defeating them a la 1967. The deterrent factor would basically correlate with how much "strength" Israel could credibly project. Unfortunately, Sadat proved willing to wage war and claim success based on potentially more limited results: even a partial re-conquest of territory, and a successful crossing of the Suez Canal, would erode the view of Israeli invincibility that prevailed after 1967, and if he could demonstrate that he had the guts to fight Israel and hold his own, he would be seen by the Arabs as a strong leader who restored their credibility. That was a dramatically different perception of "strength" and "weakness" than the one that the Israelis assumed to be the prevailing Arab point of view.
11:24 AM
:: Wednesday, October 01, 2003 ::
The mysterious Mr. Wilson
I'm just as confused as the Joseph Wilson bashers are about why he was sent to Niger in the first place. Let's see, the CIA wanted to send someone on a fact-finding mission to Africa about possible Iraqi attempts to purchase uranium from there. A fact-finding mission--as in, get us some information that we don't have--not a political mission, as in, make the case for the administration's policy to someone. So they picked someone whose qualifications included years of service in diplomatic posts in multiple African countries, as well as Senior Director for African Affairs at the National Security Council. He also speaks fluent French, the official language of Niger. Oh, and he served three years in Baghdad as Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy, and he was the last US diplomat to meet with Saddam before the Gulf War. If any other people are around with that particular combination of experiences--diplomatic work at that high a level in both Africa and Saddam's Iraq--there surely aren't more than a dozen of them, and probably a lot less than that. So, why would such a person be sent on what was supposed to be a fact-finding mission to an African country to determine whether or not the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein was attempting to purchase uranium from there? Why, God, why?

"I don't know! It's a mystery!" -- Geoffrey Rush in Shakespeare in Love
5:10 PM
:: Monday, September 29, 2003 ::
WTF, Ryan Lizza?
Is this bit of Clark-bashing from the Weekly Standard? National Review Online? No, The New Republic Online:
When he was the main attraction at the now infamous fundraiser for Arkansas Republicans in 2001 the general had nothing but praise for the war. "I mean Desert Storm was wonderful; we whipped Saddam Hussein," he told GOP fat cats.

But Thursday night in New York, before an audience of Democratic donors, Clark seemed to have changed his mind. In criticizing the Pentagon and Republicans for opposing Kosovo he dismissively referred to the 1991 conflict as "a war for oil." Just as the Republicans did back in 2001, his Democratic audience cheered.

Wasn't Clark supposed to neutralize Bush's national security advantage? The general, if we take his derogatory comment about the conflict to mean that he thinks the war was unwise, is now to the left of Howard Dean on the issue. Even Dean mentions his support for the first Gulf War in almost every speech.
I can't find a transcript online, but I saw Clark's speech at the event that Lizza is talking about when it was re-broadcast on C-SPAN. It was a big dinner hosted by the DNC after the candidates' debate. Now what I remember Clark saying was something like, "My buddies at the Pentagon opposed the humanitarian war in Kosovo, but they supported a war for oil." Having read his first book, the thing that came to my mind was this passage from Waging Modern War, p. 312 of the paperback edition. It's from a meeting Clark had during the Kosovo conflict at the Pentagon with Joe Ralston, the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Clark was trying to get support for his plan to deploy ground forces, but everyone above him at the Pentagon was resisting:
I talk[ed] through the plan with him... As I concluded, I asked for his support.

"Wes, let me ask you this question," he replied. "Let's just say we implemented your plan, and then something went wrong in Korea, and we had to go to war there. What would we do? We do have 80,000 Americans there, and a treaty. So we'd have to do something."

"You'd fight it with other forces," I said. "You'd use the forces that have that as their assigned mission in case of war." I could see where this conversation was headed. It was the old "two major regional conflicts" argument.

"OK," he said. "But I care about oil, too, so what if fighting were to occur at about the same time in the Persian Gulf?"

"Well, you have other forces that could be used, or you could call up reserves. But if you needed the forces we're using, those forces would be unavailable for, let's say, about four weeks while we pulled out and repacked for the Gulf. But, Joe, there is no fighting in either place, and no likelihood of it in the near term," I protested...

"Joe, surely you're not saying that we're going to give up and lose in the only fight we have going, in order to be ready for two other wars that are not threatening in any way now?"

"Well, it's the kind of question we have to ask," he said.

Sure, it was a logical question, I thought. But it wasn't a supportive question. The Chiefs were seriously considering withholding forces to be ready for the two nearly simultaneous hypothetical major theaters of war elsewhere, however unlikely, even if it caused the United States and NATO to lose the actual war in Europe.
My own emphasis added. Now, I hasten to add that I don't have a transcript handy to reference exactly what Lizza was talking about. But I'm almost positive that what Lizza saw as Clark's far-left anti-Desert-Storm pandering was, in actuality, a reference to the basic attitude expressed in Ralston's quote in bold up above: Clark's bosses were all but explicitly arguing that a hypothetical war for oil was more important than the very real humanitarian effort that was happening on the ground in Kosovo. Maybe Clark shouldn't have put it the way he did last Thursday night, but I didn't see a problem with it, and I think Lizza has utterly mis-represented it by claiming that it was supposed to be about anti-Desert-Storm sentiment.
10:27 PM
:: Sunday, September 28, 2003 ::
More to come, I hope
The Washington Post reports on what I hope will be only a first step in Congressional investigations on pre-war Iraq intelligence:
Leaders of the House intelligence committee have criticized the U.S. intelligence community for using largely outdated, "circumstantial" and "fragmentary" information with "too many uncertainties" to conclude that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and ties to al Qaeda...

The letter constitutes a significant criticism of the U.S. intelligence community from a source that does not take such matters lightly. The committee, like all congressional panels, is controlled by Republicans, and its chairman, Rep. Porter J. Goss (R-Fla.), is a former CIA agent and a longtime supporter of Tenet and the intelligence agencies. Goss and the committee's ranking Democrat, Rep. Jane Harman (Calif.), signed the letter. Neither was available for comment yesterday. The full committee has not voted on the letter's conclusions...

"Lack of specific intelligence on regime plans and intentions, WMD, and Iraq's support to terrorist groups appears to have hampered the IC's [intelligence community's] ability to provide a better assessment to policymakers from 1998 through 2003," the letter said...

On the question of Iraq's ties to terrorists, the committee scrutinized three volumes of data and found that "substantial gaps" in credible information from human sources that would have allowed U.S. intelligence agencies "to give policymakers a clear understanding of the nature of the relationship." Instead, the agencies had a "low threshold" or "no threshold" on using information the intelligence community obtained on Iraq's alleged ties to al Qaeda.

"As a result, intelligence reports that might have been screened out by a more rigorous vetting process made their way to the analysts' desks, providing ample room for vagary to intrude," the letter states. The agencies did not clarify which of their reports "were from sources that were credible and which were from sources that would otherwise be dismissed in the absence of any other corroborating intelligence."
There are a lot of people who get all bent out of shape defending the war whenever they hear this stuff. That's not even the issue I'm talking about, whether the war was justifiable or not. The issue is the US government's credibility, and capability, when it comes to drawing conclusions from intelligence. The sharpest comments I've seen on this issue (and I've linked to them before) came in July from Zbigniew Brzezinski, the national security adviser during the Carter administration:
I think the uranium or the nuclear issue, regarding which there has been such a flap over the last few days, is a symptom of a much larger problem. And I think it is the larger problem that has to be addressed.

The larger problem is that the United States stated, at the highest level, repeatedly, without any qualification whatsoever, that Iraq was armed with weapons of mass destruction. Not just nuclear, but bacteriological and chemical. And that was stated without any ambiguity. In fact it was hyped. It was stated that Iraq is armed with the most dangerous weapons that man has ever devised.

And that's why we went to war. This is what we said to the world. This is what we said to the American people...

It's clear that they weren't armed with these weapons. They didn't use them. We defeated their army in the field. We have control over their arsenals. We haven't found them...

The problem is, was that administration misled by very poor intelligence? In which case, some heads should roll in the intelligence community, absolutely, because an intelligence failure at this scale totally destroys American global credibility. Or... was anyone in the administration hyping it while as the intelligence was qualifying it? And that has to be established... because I think the credibility of our system, domestically and internationally, depends on that issue being resolved...

It seems to me the argument is, the president had all of this information to the effect that they may have these weapons, therefore, he acted in good faith.

Good and well. The issue is not at this stage whether the president was deliberately lying. The issue, however, is, why did we go to war on the basis of absolutely erroneous information?

This is fundamental to our security and to the trust that others have in us.

12:08 AM

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