Debunking Cheney

Earlier in the week Dick Cheney gave a speech after Barack Obama on national security and the media went along with the hype that this was some sort of debate between the two. Dick Cheney is a war criminal who is wrong on most national security issues, and whose ideas were rejected in the past election. Even the Republican candidate rejected some of Cheney’s more extreme positions, such as support for torture (which is a war crime). Hearing Dick Cheney try to excuse his war crimes and attack Obama should not be taken as a debate between the two as if they are still on equal footing.

Joe Klein interpreted Cheney’s speech in the context of his overall philosophy:

I refer readers to Barton Gellman’s excellent Cheney biography, Angler, in which it is made plain that Cheney’s view of the presidency (provided by his thuggish counsel, David Addington) was eccentric at best; and, at worst, a temporary coup d’etat, abetted by the President’s lack of interest or mortal dimness. It’s true, as Brooks writes, that some of Cheney’s overreach was a result of understandable panic after the 9/11 attacks. But the real problem, as evidenced by the Vice President’s actions in other areas (like environmental policy), was Cheney’s twisted belief that the Constitution confers on the President near-dictatorial powers, especially in a time of war. Cheney’s profound authoritarian streak, and his moral ignorance, were demonstrated once again in his speech yesterday:

“In the fight against terrorism, there is no middle ground and half-measures leave you half-exposed.”

Which is utter nonsense, of course: the middle ground exists between doing nothing and doing far too much, too brutally–in a way that only creates more terrorists–a path that Cheney pursued to our great national detriment.

He also discussed the differences in Obama’s views:

In fact, the thrust of Obama’s national security policy is dramatically different from Bush’s. His emphasis on a comprehensive regional approach in Afghanistan and Pakistan is the opposite of Bush’s feckless abandonment of this far more crucial fight in the war against Al Qaeda. His decision to engage Iran, his decision to push forward in the Middle East (including the demand that Israel stop building illegal settlements), his decision to participate in global climate change talks, his decision not to indulge in the disdain–manifested by Cheney yet again in his speech–for our European allies. These are all dramatic turns for the better.

The difference between Obama and Cheney-Bush on national security and foreign policy issues is simply put: it’s the difference between a moderate and an extremist, the difference between a leader and a bully.

Even Tom Ridge disagreed with Cheney’s claims that the country is less safe under Obama.

McClatchy listed many factual errors made by Cheney:

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Donald Rumsfeld’s Crusade Against Islam

Who would have guessed that Robert Draper (hardly a liberal writer) would have this weekend’s must read article for liberals in GQ (hardly the most significant magazine for current affairs). Draper has some fascinating material on Donald Rumsfeld, especially with regards to the use of Crusade-like religious messages in reports on the war:

Donald Rumsfeld’s Pentagon prepared a top-secret briefing for George W. Bush. This document, known as the Worldwide Intelligence Update, was a daily digest of critical military intelligence so classified that it circulated among only a handful of Pentagon leaders and the president; Rumsfeld himself often delivered it, by hand, to the White House. The briefing’s cover sheet generally featured triumphant, color images from the previous days’ war efforts: On this particular morning, it showed the statue of Saddam Hussein being pulled down in Firdos Square, a grateful Iraqi child kissing an American soldier, and jubilant crowds thronging the streets of newly liberated Baghdad. And above these images, and just below the headline secretary of defense, was a quote that may have raised some eyebrows. It came from the Bible, from the book of Psalms: “Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him…To deliver their soul from death.”

This mixing of Crusades-like messaging with war imagery, which until now has not been revealed, had become routine. On March 31, a U.S. tank roared through the desert beneath a quote from Ephesians: “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” On April 7, Saddam Hussein struck a dictatorial pose, under this passage from the First Epistle of Peter: “It is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.”

These cover sheets were the brainchild of Major General Glen Shaffer, a director for intelligence serving both the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the secretary of defense. In the days before the Iraq war, Shaffer’s staff had created humorous covers in an attempt to alleviate the stress of preparing for battle. Then, as the body counting began, Shaffer, a Christian, deemed the biblical passages more suitable. Several others in the Pentagon disagreed. At least one Muslim analyst in the building had been greatly offended; others privately worried that if these covers were leaked during a war conducted in an Islamic nation, the fallout—as one Pentagon staffer would later say—“would be as bad as Abu Ghraib.”

But the Pentagon’s top officials were apparently unconcerned about the effect such a disclosure might have on the conduct of the war or on Bush’s public standing. When colleagues complained to Shaffer that including a religious message with an intelligence briefing seemed inappropriate, Shaffer politely informed them that the practice would continue, because “my seniors”—JCS chairman Richard Myers, Rumsfeld, and the commander in chief himself—appreciated the cover pages.

As even at least one analyst at the Pentagon realized, the use of such language would have even worsened the belief in the Muslim world that the Bush administration was conducting a religious crusade against Islam. Rumsfeld felt it was more important to appeal to the mind set of George Bush:

The Scripture-adorned cover sheets illustrate one specific complaint I heard again and again: that Rumsfeld’s tactics—such as playing a religious angle with the president—often ran counter to sound decision-making and could, occasionally, compromise the administration’s best interests. In the case of the sheets, publicly flaunting his own religious views was not at all the SecDef’s style—“Rumsfeld was old-fashioned that way,” Shaffer acknowledged when I contacted him about the briefings—but it was decidedly Bush’s style, and Rumsfeld likely saw the Scriptures as a way of making a personal connection with a president who frequently quoted the Bible. No matter that, if leaked, the images would reinforce impressions that the administration was embarking on a religious war and could escalate tensions with the Muslim world. The sheets were not Rumsfeld’s direct invention—and he could thus distance himself from them, should that prove necessary.

So Rumsfeld thought he could impress his simple-minded boss by quoting the Bible.

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Americans Feel We Are On Right Track After 100 Days of Obama Presidency

It remains to be seen how well Obama’s policies will work, but all the talk of hope really is showing up in the polls. For the first time since January 2004 (after the capture of Saddam Hussein) an AP poll has found that more Americans believe we are on the right track (48 percent) than wrong track (44 percent). This is an increase from 40 percent who thought we were on the right track in February.

It isn’t only AP. Pollster.com shows the trend:

Why They Used Torture

wheel-torture

While we know that torture is illegal, immoral, and ineffective, it has remained a popular tool of tyrants throughout history. Generally torture was used not to extract valid information, as it is not an effective means of doing so, but to force false confessions. This occurred during the Spanish Inquisition. Viewers of The Tudors have seen how torture was used to build a case of incest and adultery against Ann Boleyn. More recently torture was used by the North Vietnamese to force American prisoners, including John McCain, to give false confessions of war crimes. There are now suggestions that the Bush administration used torture in an attempt to prove something which was counter to fact.

McClatchy reports that torture was used to try to prove a connection between Saddam and al Qaeda when no such connection actually existed:

The Bush administration applied relentless pressure on interrogators to use harsh methods on detainees in part to find evidence of cooperation between al Qaida and the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s regime, according to a former senior U.S. intelligence official and a former Army psychiatrist.

Such information would’ve provided a foundation for one of former President George W. Bush’s main arguments for invading Iraq in 2003. In fact, no evidence has ever been found of operational ties between Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network and Saddam’s regime…

A former senior U.S. intelligence official familiar with the interrogation issue said that Cheney and former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld demanded that the interrogators find evidence of al Qaida-Iraq collaboration.

“There were two reasons why these interrogations were so persistent, and why extreme methods were used,” the former senior intelligence official said on condition of anonymity because of the issue’s sensitivity.

“The main one is that everyone was worried about some kind of follow-up attack (after 9/11). But for most of 2002 and into 2003, Cheney and Rumsfeld, especially, were also demanding proof of the links between al Qaida and Iraq that (former Iraqi exile leader Ahmed) Chalabi and others had told them were there.”

It was during this period that CIA interrogators waterboarded two alleged top al Qaida detainees repeatedly — Abu Zubaydah at least 83 times in August 2002 and Khalid Sheik Muhammed 183 times in March 2003 — according to a newly released Justice Department document.

There is a tendency among many Americans to forgive the Bush administration for some of its crimes committed after 9/11, feeling that although they overreacted they were acting to attempt to protect the country. This information shows that they were largely motivated to protect their own legacy and cover up the manner in which they betrayed the country by lying us into an unnecessary war. If this is the case there is no longer any reason why George Bush and Dick Cheney should not be tried and held accountable for war crimes, just as Japanese and Germans were tried after World War II.

Obama’s Win a Nightmare for al Qaeda

November 4 was a day in which two organizations, which have a lot in common, both lost big: the Republican Party and al Qaeda. Both organizations support restrictions on individual liberty and imposing fundamentalist religious views on others. Both depended upon each other. The Republicans would have been thrown out of office a few years earlier if not for capitalizing on fear of terrorism, and al Qaeda would be in far worse shape if not for the foreign policies of George Bush. The Republicans cared far more about using fear of terrorism for political benefit and to pursue their foreign policy goals than to actually do anything about terrorism. Bush enabled al Qaeda to accomplish one of their major goals–to see the end of one of the secular governments in the region–along with greatly assisting al Qaeda with recruitment. In attacking the wrong country after the 9/11 attacks, Bush also enabled al Qaeda to survive in Afghanistan.

Al Qaeda had a great deal going with George Bush in office. They hoped to continue this under their preferred candidate, John McCain. They have made their displeasure over Obama’s victory clear. Cynthia Tucker of the Atlanta-Journal Constitution has discussed the importance of Obama’s victory in fighting al Qaeda in a column entitled Obama’s win a nightmare for al-Qaida:

While it’s a bit irritating to have an atavistic mass murderer presume to dictate appropriate politics for a black American, Zawahiri’s diatribe is good news. In fact, it may be the best news we’ve gotten in the struggle against al-Qaida since the so-called Sunni awakening in Iraq. Zawahiri and his fellow jihadists are clearly worried both about the symbolic power of an Obama presidency and about the smarter strategy against terrorism that Obama has laid out.

The hamfisted tactics favored by George W. Bush, including his ill-fated invasion of Iraq, were a gift to al-Qaida and its recruiting efforts. They allowed bin Laden and Zawahiri to paint the U.S. government as an imperial power bent on a 21st-century crusade against Islam.

However, that’s a more difficult argument to make when the Oval Office is occupied by a black man whose Kenyan grandfather was Muslim and who played with Muslim friends during his childhood years in Indonesia.

“Obama’s election has taken the wind out of al-Qaida’s sails in much of the Islamic world because it demonstrates America’s renewed commitment to multiculturalism, human rights and international law,” former National Security Council staffer Richard Clarke said. “It also proves to many that democracy can work and overcome ethnic, sectarian or racial barriers.”

The president-elect has also promised to restore the nation’s moral authority by returning to its fundamental values, starting with shutting the prison at Guantanamo Bay. That facility was never necessary for national security; the U.S. has prisons on continental soil that can secure dangerous suspects. But the Bush administration wanted an off-shore location where it could employ hideous methods of interrogation and isolation away from the prying eyes of the media and human rights officials.

We Americans believe ourselves to be a force for good in the world, but the Bush administration’s wholesale detentions and widespread use of torture badly tarnished our reputation. That matters in the fight against jihadists, who win converts by convincing alienated young Muslim men (and, increasingly, women) that America is their enemy. The toppling of Saddam Hussein, who had nothing to do with Sept. 11; the abuses at Abu Ghraib; the quest for permanent bases in Iraq — all those gave credence to al-Qaida’s claims.

Obama is far from naive about the threat represented by Islamist terrorists. The president-elect has promised to step up efforts to hunt down bin Laden and his Taliban sympathizers, the terrorists responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks. He also understands that we’ve wasted several years — not to mention billions in resources and the nation’s good name — in a diversion from that war.

During the campaign, several of John McCain’s supporters — including the recently forgiven Joe Lieberman — tried to argue that an Obama win would be a victory for terrorists. The neocons hyperventilated over Obama’s promise to draw down troops from Iraq, to talk to our enemies, to restore the rule of law. Even Obama’s correct pronunciation of Pakistan (Pah-kis-tahn) became something to snicker about, as if it were a sign of weakness.

Al-Qaida’s cheap taunts, on the other hand, suggest its minions see something to fear in the new president. They know he’ll fight both the propaganda war and the shooting war a lot better than Bush ever did.

Palin’s Limited Interest in Foreign Policy

Besides showing limited knowledge of foreign policy in her interview with Charles Gibson, The Washington Post reveals that she made a major gaffe during the deployment ceremony for her son. Palin repeated the claims tying the war in Iraq to 9/11 which even the Bush administration has backed away from:

Gov. Sarah Palin linked the war in Iraq with the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, telling an Iraq-bound brigade of soldiers that included her son that they would “defend the innocent from the enemies who planned and carried out and rejoiced in the death of thousands of Americans.”

The idea that the Iraqi government under Saddam Hussein helped al-Qaeda plan the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, a view once promoted by Bush administration officials, has since been rejected even by the president himself. But it is widely agreed that militants allied with al-Qaeda have taken root in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion.

“America can never go back to that false sense of security that came before September 11, 2001,” she said at the deployment ceremony, which drew hundreds of military families who walked from their homes on the sprawling post to the airstrip where the service was held.

James Fallows discusses in length the significance of Palin not being aware of the meaning of the Bush Doctrine showing how this indicates that “she evidently has not been interested enough even to follow the news of foreign affairs during the Bush era.” Of course this insight is nothing new. Palin previously revealed this in interviews when she was asked about the Iraq war.

Well, maybe Sarah Palin thought the surge was great, or maybe she didn’t. It’s hard to tell what, if anything, Palin thinks or thought about the surge of troops in Iraq, or the decision to invade Iraq in the first place, for that matter. A clip search doesn’t show any substantive comments from Palin about Iraq during her short term as governor of Alaska, in 2007 or 2008, or at any point prior to that. That includes instances when she was specifically asked about the war.

In an interview with Alaska Business Monthly shortly after she took office in 2007, Palin was asked about the upcoming surge. She said she hadn’t thought about it. “I’ve been so focused on state government, I haven’t really focused much on the war in Iraq,” she said. “I heard on the news about the new deployments, and while I support our president, Condoleezza Rice and the administration, I want to know that we have an exit plan in place; I want assurances that we are doing all we can to keep our troops safe.”

Seven months into the surge, she still either had not formed any opinion on the surge or the war or just wasn’t sharing. “I’m not here to judge the idea of withdrawing, or the timeline,” she said in a teleconference interview with reporters during a July 2007 visit with Alaska National Guard troops stationed in Kuwait. “I’m not going to judge even the surge. I’m here to find out what Alaskans need of me as their governor.”

While McCain has enjoyed a bump in the polls from picking Palin, it will ultimately be difficult for him to explain why he chose someone with so little interest in foreign policy to be a heartbeat away from the presidency during a war he feels is extremely important.

Ron Suskind’s New Book Could Provide Smoking Gun on Bush and Iraq

Based upon this report in The Politico, Ron Suskind’s new book, The Way of the World, should revive suspicions that George Bush lied the country into a war, and perhaps even make people wonder why Nancy Pelosi took impeachment off the table. If the accusations can be proved, this would be as nearly as damaging a smoking gun as the tapes were to Richard Nixon. The Politico reports:

A new book by the author Ron Suskind claims that the White House ordered the CIA to forge a back-dated, handwritten letter from the head of Iraqi intelligence to Saddam Hussein.

Suskind writes in “The Way of the World,” to be published Tuesday, that the alleged forgery – adamantly denied by the White House – was designed to portray a false link between Hussein’s regime and al Qaeda as a justification for the Iraq war.

The author also claims that the Bush administration had information from a top Iraqi intelligence official “that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq – intelligence they received in plenty of time to stop an invasion.”

Besides discussing this in more detail, the article shows how Suskind provides additional information on the Bush administration. This came as no surprise:

John Maguire, one of two men who oversaw the CIA’s Iraq Operations Group, was frustrated by what Suskind describes as the “tendency of the White House to ignore advice it didn’t want to hear – advice that contradicted its willed certainty, political judgments, or rigid message strategies.”

And Suskind writes that the administration “did not want to hear the word insurgency.”

After 9/11 I got the impression that George Bush was hiding out in panic for the first couple of days. Suskind has a similar impression:

Suskind is acidly derisive of Bush, saying that he initially lost his “nerve” on 9/11, regaining it when he grabbed the Ground Zero bullhorn.

Beyond the allegations that the Bush administration lied the country into war, this section might reveal the most about their mind set:

Suskind contends Cheney established “deniability” for Bush as part of the vice president’s “complex strategies, developed over decades, for how to protect a president.”

“After the searing experience of being in the Nixon White House, Cheney developed a view that the failure of Watergate was not the break-in, or even the cover-up, but the way the president had, in essence, been over-briefed. There were certain things a president shouldn’t know – things that could be illegal, disruptive to key foreign relationships, or humiliating to the executive.

“They key was a signaling system, where the president made his wishes broadly known to a sufficiently powerful deputy who could take it from there. If an investigation ensued, or a foreign leader cried foul, the president could shrug. This was never something he’d authorized. The whole point of Cheney’s model is to make a president less accountable for his action. Cheney’s view is that accountability – a bedrock feature of representative democracy – is not, in every case, a virtue.”

Dick Cheney’s goal was not to prevent abuses of power such as those which occurred during Watergate, but to figure out how to get away with abusing power. The failure to prosecute Richard Nixon after he left office due to his pardon from Gerald Ford helped allow subsequent presidents such as Bush to feel they could repeat such misconduct. The failure to hold Bush and Cheney accountable for their actions will in turn increase the risk that this will be repeated in the future.

Update: The Annonymous Liberal also ties this into the controversial uranium from Niger which Bush hyped. Ron Suskind has a post at Huffington Post where he writes:

In the fall of 2003, after the world learned there were no WMD — as Habbush had foretold — the White House ordered the CIA to carry out a deception. The mission: create a handwritten letter, dated July, 2001, from Habbush to Saddam saying that Atta trained in Iraq before the attacks and the Saddam was buying yellow cake for Niger with help from a “small team from the al Qaeda organization.”

The mission was carried out, the letter was created, popped up in Baghdad, and roiled the global newcycles in December, 2003 (conning even venerable journalists with Tom Brokaw). The mission is a statutory violation of the charter of CIA, and amendments added in 1991, prohibiting CIA from conduction disinformation campaigns on U.S. soil.

Bush Lied, People Died

After a long delay the the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the run up to the war was finally released. The full reports (pdf) are available here:

Report on Whether Public Statements Regarding Iraq by U.S. Government officials Were Substantiated by Intelligence Information

Report on Intelligence Activities Relating to Iraq Conducted by the Policy Counterterrorism Evaluation Group and the Office of Special Plans Within the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy

Talking Points Memo has listed these key points from a press release from Senator Jay Rockefeller’s office:

–Statements and implications by the President and Secretary of State suggesting that Iraq and al-Qa’ida had a partnership, or that Iraq had provided al-Qa’ida with weapons training, were not substantiated by the intelligence.

–Statements by the President and the Vice President indicating that Saddam Hussein was prepared to give weapons of mass destruction to terrorist groups for attacks against the United States were contradicted by available intelligence information.

–Statements by President Bush and Vice President Cheney regarding the postwar situation in Iraq, in terms of the political, security, and economic, did not reflect the concerns and uncertainties expressed in the intelligence products.

–Statements by the President and Vice President prior to the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate regarding Iraq’s chemical weapons production capability and activities did not reflect the intelligence community’s uncertainties as to whether such production was ongoing.

–The Secretary of Defense’s statement that the Iraqi government operated underground WMD facilities that were not vulnerable to conventional airstrikes because they were underground and deeply buried was not substantiated by available intelligence information.

–The Intelligence Community did not confirm that Muhammad Atta met an Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague in 2001 as the Vice President repeatedly claimed.

Keith Olbermann’s Special Comment on Bush’s Great Sacrifice

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Above is the video of Keith Olbermann’s Special Comment following George Bush’s claim that he gave up golf to honor the soldiers killed in Iraq. Full transcript is below the fold.

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Zbigniew Brzezinski On Getting Out Of a Foolish War

Zbigniew Brzezinski has an op-ed in The Washington Post which makes a number of excellent points, beginning with the characterization of the war as foolish in the title. Those who argue against leaving point out the risks of leaving but ignore the damage that is done by staying.

I think many liberal bloggers have being playing politics in portraying John McCain as being worse than George Bush on foreign policy. McCain’s views on the war are being distorted when his comment about remaining in Iraq for one hundred years is taken to mean he envisions a prolonged continuation of the current state of warfare. While this is a distortion of McCain’s statement, McCain still has serious problems in failing to recognize the extent of the problem. Just as he has underestimated the violence in Iraq in the past, John McCain is wrong in failing to recognize that our very presence in Iraq as an occupying power is a cause of problems. Brzezinski writes:

The contrast between the Democratic argument for ending the war and the Republican argument for continuing is sharp and dramatic. The case for terminating the war is based on its prohibitive and tangible costs, while the case for “staying the course” draws heavily on shadowy fears of the unknown and relies on worst-case scenarios. President Bush’s and Sen. John McCain’s forecasts of regional catastrophe are quite reminiscent of the predictions of “falling dominoes” that were used to justify continued U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Neither has provided any real evidence that ending the war would mean disaster, but their fear-mongering makes prolonging it easier.

Nonetheless, if the American people had been asked more than five years ago whether Bush’s obsession with the removal of Saddam Hussein was worth 4,000 American lives, almost 30,000 wounded Americans and several trillion dollars — not to mention the less precisely measurable damage to the United States’ world-wide credibility, legitimacy and moral standing — the answer almost certainly would have been an unequivocal “no.”

Nor do the costs of this fiasco end there. The war has inflamed anti-American passions in the Middle East and South Asia while fragmenting Iraqi society and increasing the influence of Iran. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s recent visit to Baghdad offers ample testimony that even the U.S.-installed government in Iraq is becoming susceptible to Iranian blandishments.

In brief, the war has become a national tragedy, an economic catastrophe, a regional disaster and a global boomerang for the United States. Ending it is thus in the highest national interest.