More startling are Suskind’s revelations about the Iraq war and the handling of prewar intelligence regarding weapons of mass destruction. In one instance, Suskind says that denials by the foreign minister of Iraq, Naji Sabri, that his country possessed W.M.D. were simply rewritten —almost certainly altered under pressure from Washington,Suskind writes — into a false assertion that Sabri had substantiated suspicions about active Iraqi biological and nuclear programs.
Even more disturbing is the story of a former Iraqi intelligence chief named Tahir Jalil Habbush. Suskind describes in gripping detail secret meetings between Habbush and British intelligence in January and February of 2003. Habbush insisted that Saddam Hussein had abandoned his weapons programs but would not publicly admit it, so as to maintain a facade of deterrence against regional rivals like Iran. Not only did the White House dismiss Habbush’s statements, Suskind writes, but an irritated Bush even asked whether the Iraqi could be asked forsomething we can use to help us make our case.A subsequent $5 million C.I.A. payment to Habbush, disclosed by Suskind, has the smell of hush money.
Then comes what may be the ultimate bombshell: that the White House instructed the C.I.A. to forge a letter, backdated to July 2001, stating that the 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta had trained in Iraq and, furthermore, that Iraq had received suspicious shipments (presumably of yellowcake) from Niger with Al Qaeda’s help. The letter was to be written and signed by Habbush on Iraqi government stationery and addressed to Hussein himself. This preposterously convenient summary of what a perfect case for war might look like almost resembled some wry gag from The Onion. But at the end of 2003 the letter did, in fact, turn up in a British newspaper, before seeping into the American media.
Suskind does not establish who dreamed up this pernicious document. But he says one of his sources, a former senior C.I.A. operative named Robert Richer, recalls being ordered directly by George Tenet, then the director of central intelligence, to have Habbush transcribe it himself from a draft produced by the White House. Richer even remembersthe creamy White House stationery on which the assignment was written,as Suskind puts it. Since the book’s release, however, Tenet, Richer himself and another key source have adamantly denied that such a thing occurred. (Tenet also denies that Habbush’s prewar claims were muffled.)
Even in the context of the past seven years, the stupid brazenness of a forged letter drafted on White House stationery does test credulity. But any claims made by Suskind, a former Wall Street Journal reporter and a Pulitzer Prize winner, should not be casually dismissed. That no credible challenges have been made to numerous other scoops in his book suggests an attempted covering of exposed derrières. Still, his release of partial transcripts from recorded interviews with Richer has not definitively affirmed his reporting.
Suskind’s point isn’t about proving liability. Rather, the Habbush episodes, if accurate, illustrate a creeping amorality in the way America has managed its war on terror.
George W. Bush
Here’s an item which seemed appropriate and topical to me, given the occasion.
(I refer, of course, to the occasion of Guy Fawkes Eve.)
I rag on Utne, but of course the reason that I read them is that they do occasionally come through. For example, by reprinting this really excellent article by none other than Gene Healy, about the imperial power of the modern Presidency, for an audience full of comfortable professional-class
I’m not a preacher,Republican presidential candidate Phil Gramm snarled to religious right activists in 1995 when they urged him to run a campaign stressing moral themes. Several months later, despite Gramm’s fund-raising prowess, the Texas conservative finished a desultory fifth place in the Iowa caucuses and quickly dropped out of the race. Since then, few candidates have made Gramm’s mistake. Serious contenders for the office recognize that the role and scope of the modern presidency cannot be so narrowly confined. Today’s candidates are running enthusiastically for national preacher–and much else besides.
In the revival tent atmosphere of Barack Obama’s campaign, the preferred hosanna of hope isYes we can!We can, the Democratic candidate promises, not only createa new kind of politicsbut alsotransform this country,change the world,and evencreate a Kingdom right here on earth.With the presidency, all things are possible.
Even though Republican nominee John McCain tends to eschew rainbows and uplift in favor of the grim satisfaction that comes from serving acause greater than self-interest,he too sees the presidency as a font of miracles and the wellspring of national redemption. A president who wants to achieve greatness, McCain suggests, should emulate Teddy Roosevelt, wholiberally interpreted the constitutional authority of the officeandnourished the soul of a great nation.President George W. Bush, when he was passing the GOP torch to his former rival in March, declared that the Arizona senatorwill bring determination to defeat an enemy and a heart big enough to love those who hurt.
The chief executive of the United States is no longer a mere constitutional officer charged with faithful execution of the laws. He is a soul nourisher, a hope giver, a living American talisman against hurricanes, terrorism, economic downturns, and spiritual malaise. He—or she—is the one who answers the phone at 3 a.m. to keep our children safe from harm. The modern president is America’s shrink, a social worker, our very own national talk show host. He’s also the Supreme Warlord of the Earth.
This messianic campaign rhetoric merely reflects what the office has evolved into after decades of public clamoring. The vision of the president as national guardian and spiritual redeemer is so ubiquitous that it goes virtually unnoticed. Americans, left, right, and other, think of thecommander in chiefas a superhero, responsible for swooping to the rescue when danger strikes. And with great responsibility comes great power.
It’s difficult for 21st-century Americans to imagine things any other way. The United States appears to be stuck with an imperial presidency, an office that concentrates enormous power in the hands of whichever professional politician manages to claw his way to the top. Americans appear deeply ambivalent about the results, alternately cursing the king and pining for Camelot. But executive power will continue to grow, and threats to civil liberties increase, until citizens reconsider the incentives we have given to a post that started out so humbly.
Read the whole thing. Along the way you’ll find Healy introducing Utne readers to the basics of Higgs crisis analysis and Bourne’s dictum that
War is the Health of the State. The only thing to add to Healy’s analysis is to complete the thought: to stress that the progress of the Presidency from a minor administrative position to an elective dictatorship, and from an elective dictatorship to a world-spanning imperial warlord, was not just some unhappy accident, or the result merely of a a decadent culture, or of a conspiracy against the public interest by a few motivated scoundrels. It was the necessary result of an ever-expanding warfare State, and the ever-expanding warfare State was the necessary result of the whole experiment in a centralized, nationalistic
limited government (where the only effective
limit on the Executing branch of the government are other branches of government, mainly a legislature composed of aparatchiks from the same national political parties from which the President is drawn). The
incentives we [sic] have given for the warlord Presidency are built into the structure of the Party State itself, and while massive changes in cultural attitudes towards the Presidency might check or even temporarily roll back the imperial Presidency, but no lasting or fundamental change will happen without structural change — ideally meaning anarchy and freed-market competition in self-defense and neighborhood defense. Or, at the very least, the abolition of the one-man Presidency, just as such.
Part of what’s heartening about this, other than the basic fact, is how much public fury about all these past bail-outs, and this new rotten plan on top of it, has defeated the Pelosi-Bush coalition’s ambitions to ramrod this stinker through as quickly as possible. The obvious fury, combined with the sensitivity of an election season, hobbled the bipartisan
Leadership gang in their abilities to whip other members into rank-and-file. This may be another sign of important cracks in the pillars that hold up the ruling coalition. It’s certainly an opportunity that we ought to seize.
The bad news is that the pols, even (or especially) those who did the most to scotch the deal, all have A Plan for a new and better deal to put in its place. And every plan is stupider than the last. Paulson is still demanding
a plan that works, because
We’ve got much work to do and this is much too important to simply let fail. Peter DeFazzio (D-Occupied Oregon) objected to the bail-out deal on the grounds that
What we are considering today is still built on the Paulson-Bush premise that buying up Wall Street’s bad bets will solve the liquidity problem. But then he turns back around and suggests
We can do better. We should start again on a new package, apparently because a new plan for buying up Wall Street’s bad bets at taxpayer expense will somehow improve on the old one. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), who also voted against the bail-out bill, insists that
Inaction has never been an option, but [Treasury chief Henry] Paulson’s plan should never have been our only option. Democratic and their
Progressive enablers have repeatedly hinted that they’d be willing to accept a multibillion dollar bailout if it’s attached to partial nationalization of the firms being bailed out, or re-regulation of financial corporations, or new entitlement programs, or, even better, a combination of all three.
This is a losing approach — because there’s clarity in a simple demand of
No–hell no! that you lose amidst the complicated details of everyone’s latest Great New Plan, once you start horse-trading and concede that it might be O.K. in principle to grab billions of dollars out of working people’s pockets and give it to a bunch of hat-in-hand robber barons begging to go on the government dole, if it can be tied to advancing your other political goals. It’s also the wrong approach, because no matter what strings you might manage to attach, there is no justification whatsoever for this massive act of robbery from working folks. If the things that
Progressives want to get are really worth getting, then they should fight to get those things done on their own; there’s certainly nothing to be gained by hitching them up to this act of plunder. If they cannot practically be got except by conceding to this massive privateering raid, then they are not worth the cost of getting them, and we ought to talk about ways that we can get the things that we really want, outside of the stifling limitations of electoral politics.
There’s remarkably little I could say that wouldn’t just amount to copy-and-paste from what I’ve already said. The stupidity and evil of robbing $700,000,000,000 out of the pockets of working folks, use it to bail politically-connected financial corporations out of their ill-conceived high-risk investments and speculations, and to do so with the explicit purpose of using government force to artificially insulate and stabilize the economic status quo from market reality, should go without saying. So should the right response to make.
No bail-outs. No sweetheart loans. Under no condition. No excuses and no deals. Kill this bug dead, and replace it with nothing.
If the prevailing business model for high-stakes investment banking or mortgage-lending is really viable, then these guys can suck it up and get to work and make their way through this mess the same way that all of us who the government considers small enough to fail are doing. If, on the other hand, their business model can’t survive without having the government repeatedly come around and seize trillions of dollars from working folks who don’t have the money to give and then force them to cover the costs of the money-men’s own stupid mistakes, and to cushion the poor usurers from the reality that nobody really wants to keep buying what it is that they have to sell–well, then, let it die, for God’s sake. Don’t run around finding New Deals or Main Street Bail-outs or any other stupid gimmick to try to tie in along with some tweaked or polished version of Paulson’s Endangered Capitalists Act. We can talk about ways that we can work together to help ourselves and our neighbors and fellow workers make it through these tough times–through practicing radical solidarity, through building alternative institutions, and through organizing grassroots mutual aid. All without wasting billions or trillions more on propping up the dinosaurs of inflation-driven politically-connected go-go finance capital.
Let the robber barons clean up their own mess, or let them hang out to dry if they can’t hack it. Not one damned dime from workers’ pockets to Wall Street. Period. End of political program.
A few days ago, Roderick mentioned one of the sillier complaints that’s usually directed against Tom Tomorrow and his cartoon This Modern World: that he allegedly only satirizes the Right and never the Left. (By
Left, the person making this criticism usually means
corporate liberalism, or, really, just
Democrats.) There’s plenty of blind spots or confusions that you could criticize Tom Tomorow for, but this one I don’t get. I don’t know exactly why a political cartoonist with very decided views is expected to adhere to the Fairness Doctrine in the topics that he chooses, but anyway, the complaint is just empirically false, and nobody who actually read more than two or three installments of the comic would think that it’s true. Just recently, there’s comics like
Obama phenomena, but it’s especially clear if you spent any time reading the comic back during its glory days in the 1990s — since there was a Democratic president at the time, not surprisingly, Tomorrow spent more time writing about Democrats than he does now (and also, at times, the real Left — see, for example,
Chomsky). Roderick mentioned a particular comic:
But I seem to recall one This Modern World strip in which someone accidentally drops a lit match and then quickly steps on it to extinguish it –- while the punditocracy immediately goes into overdrive, speculating on how, if the match hadn’t been snuffed out, it might have caused forest fires that would devastate whole cities; they conclude:I think this shows the need for more regulation.Anyone know of a link to that?
Took me a while, but I found it. The comic is
The work took a bit of digging, but it was good fun, since it gave me the opportunity to go back and remind myself of how weird and funny This Modern World used to be back in the 1990s. (Not that it’s bad now; but I appreciated the Bay Area absurdism of something like
Citizens Beware or
Car Alarm, and Tom Tomorrow has himself said that the comic has gotten less sharp during the Bush years than it was in the 1990s — because the targets for parody have become so damn obvious that there’s no real room for subtlety anymore.) Anyway, along the way I was also happy to be reminded of
Terrorists (1995), the response to Bill Clinton’s omnibus
anti-terrorism surveillance bill:
As well as
You can catch up with more of the last decade through Tom Tomorrow’s online carton archive.