Wednesday, December 26, 2007

This Year's Legislative Lump of Coal

With the 9/11 attacks al Qaeda sought to draw the United States into the "slow bleeding" of wars in Muslim countries, sapping American will to remain in the Middle East while increasing Muslim resentment against the United States and support for the global jihad. With the invasion of Iraq, its disastrous progress, and the rapid unraveling of the Bush administration's fictive justification leading to a concomitant unraveling of American prestige and power, al Qaeda's once delusional analysts succeeded beyond their wildest fantasies. There could be no more effective articulation of their claims of US aggression against Muslims than the invasion of Iraq.

The terrorist attacks were a challenge to our military presence in the Middle East; the administration reacted by reasserting that presence dramatically. Success was to have broken finally resistance that didn't begin with 9/11. We all know the fanciful process by which this was supposed to happen. Things haven't gone as planned. But there's another constituency which now distrusts the US presence in the Middle East. Because of its humbling failure, the administration may have turned the American public against a military commitment that it previously took for granted, to the extent it considered it at all.

But even if America is run out of the region altogether, al Qaeda's ultimate goal of re-establishing the Caliphate remains as fantastical as it is unappealing to the vast majority of Muslims, no matter how much their resentment of the US leads them to identify with the global jihad and terrorism. There are only two factions who take this delirium seriously: fanatical jihadis and true-believing neocons (as opposed to neocon fellow travellers who simply cite it disingenuously).

Had the jihadis of al Qaeda a greater understanding of our society and its history, they might have recognized and deliberately sought the less dramatic, more insidious wound they nonetheless managed to inflict with the dramatic strike of 9/11. They may have inflicted a wound to liberal democracy itself that will take generations to heal.

The global jihad was influenced by the West's own Marxist rhetoric, with Muslim scholars adopting much of the language of the Left from the sixties and early seventies, so perhaps they adopted another strategy of the now defunct terrorist Left of that time period. A few diehard groups in Western Europe, dismayed by the success of center-left political coalitions, the collapse of authentic Communist parties in the wake of Soviet brutality toward the Hungarian and Czechoslovakian revolts, and the proletariat's improving material circumstances and lack of enthusiasm for class struggle, took the Marxist-Leninist analysis to its logical extremes. Acts of terrorist violence, they reasoned, would provoke repressive countermeasures from Western European democracies, exposing the "repressive tolerance" inherent in the system and causing the once deluded masses to rise up, finally, in revolt. The underlying theoretic rationale may be shaky, but as a strategy it would make far more sense than planning to revive the Ottoman Empire.

Germany's Baader Meinhof gang and Italy's Red Brigades ultimately got nowhere with their strategy of provocation (though traces of the far more effective Red Brigades remain, as well as sympathy for Brigate Rosse). They were isolated and targeted by governments that refused, or were unable, to play along. Perhaps all these revolutionaries lacked was their 9/11; a sudden, transcendental act of violence so extreme that it rendered their targets irrational. This may explain the openly admiring, reverential response of some aging leftist radicals to the towers' fall.
The jihadis, by virtue of the suddenness and drama of the Twin Towers' collapse, above all by virtue of those heart-rending pictures, have managed to provoke.

Only the masses, mostly shielded from and welcoming the degradation in civil liberties they see as directed outward, aren't rising up. The core reason for the terrorist left's failure remains; the people are inherently conservative and desire security and prosperity above all. Even now, six years on and with little evidence of a domestic terror threat, the public assents, to the extent it pays attention, to the dismantling of the Constitution. The absence of a terrorist attack on US soil since 9/11 and the dearth of "homegrown" terrorists hasn't cooled the ardor of most politicians for ever more restrictions on a public within an ever-widening surveillance state. Into the void of apathy, as always, strides political ambition.

Even without crisis, the need for politicians to look like they are necessary and vital, above all doing something, ensures the continual flow of unnecessary legislation and its attendant dispersal of public wealth from which private and public interests alike swill as if from a perpetually self-renewing spring. Problems, exaggerated or downright fraudulent, exacerbated or created by politicians themselves, are the raw material used in fabricating political careers. The passion, fear, greed and paranoia of the public, sometimes meticulously cultivated, not hard reality, determines the amount of attention political leaders conspicuously, if not necessarily effectively, pay to these troubles.

Thus we get the costly busy work that produces legislation with titles that none but the blackest heart, surely, would stand athwart; War Orphans Acts and Wet Nosed Puppies Resolutions. Normally waste and fraud are the severest damage coming from this defect of democracy. In the perverse and perilous atmosphere of our current moment, the costs to the Republic of personal ambition are considerably higher.

The latest piece of dubious legislation that we can only hope turns out to be no more than a pointless waste of tax dollars and time and not a vehicle for further degrading freedom of speech and association, the Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007, has caused some commotion out here on the open range of the Internet, but most Americans remain unaware of its existence. The bill has was passed in the House with a level of bipartisanship (404 to 6), that suggests either its utter pointlessness or the kind of mass political cowardice and corruption that gave us the PATRIOT Act and, nearly, "comprehensive immigration reform", and is all but assured passage without significant alteration. The proposal comes from Jane Harman of California, who was missing in action as the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, offering no resistance to illegal wiretapping and little more to the destruction of CIA interrogation tapes.

The bill would create something called "the National Commission on the Prevention of Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism", to convene hearings on the potential for and identification of domestically originated terrorist associations and even, perhaps most ominously, individual radicalization, presumably through the Internet and other media, leading to "lone wolf" terrorism.
Of course the Internet figures prominently in the air of impending doom the act projects in its findings. What it does not account for is the remarkable dearth of domestically originated terrorism thus far. Why the sad sacks of the Sears Tower plot and the uncertain case of the Lackawanna Six would warrant the creation of yet another governmental entity within or without the multi-billion dollar homeland security complex created following 9/11 is not explained, and judging from the mass acquiescence of Congress, few are asking.
The commission's mandate is broad and flexible, empowering any sub-commitee or individual commitee member to call hearings:

The Commission or, on the authority of the Commission, any subcommittee or member thereof, may, for the purpose of carrying out this section, hold hearings and sit and act at such times and places, take such testimony, receive such evidence, and administer such oaths as the Commission considers advisable to carry out its duties.
The commission is to terminate after 18 months, producing "a university-based Center of Excellence for the Prevention of Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism", which remains ill-defined.

As Philip Giralidi points out, empowering commission members individually, acting whenever and wherever they wish, could potentially turn it into something akin to the McCarthy hearings:
Like Joe McCarthy and HUAC in the past, the commission will travel around the United States and hold hearings to find the terrorists and root them out. Unlike inquiries in the past where the activity was carried out collectively, the act establishing the Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Commission will empower all the members on the commission to arrange hearings, obtain testimony, and even to administer oaths to witnesses, meaning that multiple hearings could be running simultaneously in various parts of the country.
Any such legislation carries the potential for opportunistic spill-over; the same vague definitions and broad mandate this bill utilizes to reserve powers are the breaches through which the zealous of various ideological convictions will pour. To avoid the appearance of "racial profiling" and "Islamophobia" the bill states its purpose as identifying radicalization of any sort. The commission could become a vehicle for harassment of a wide range of activist organizations and websites; it's not hard to imagine the SPLC appearing before the commission with its list of "hate sites", David Horowitz using the venue to call out "anti-Semitic" university professors, or the ACLU dropping its opposition to the scheme to seek the designation of some anti-abortion groups as "terrorist." The targeting of individual radicalization, with its hints of thought-crime, must have Daniel Pipes fidgeting in anticipation of testifying about "sudden jihadi syndrome."

The most chilling aspect for freedom of speech and association may lie in the commission's high profile imprimatur to identify and publicly label groups and individuals "extremist." Merely being subpeonaed by the commission could prove to threaten livelihoods.
Imagine the commission, cobbled together by partisan horse trading between Republicans and Democrats and thus encompassing a wide array of opinion regarding what constitutes extremism, its members individually empowered to convene hearings and subpoena witnesses and trading one hearing or ruling for another among themselves.
They'll have the opportunity to bring forth allied "experts" using (and seeking) grants paid in tax dollars, pushing whole-cloth theories of how certain "extreme" views and statements, say regarding sex, race, immigration, abortion or religion, inevitably lead to and therefore constitute violent radicalization, prompting the commission or its "Center" (ironically, al Qaeda means "the center") to recommend that websites publishing these views be labelled, surveiled or otherwise harassed; perhaps even dragging individuals who write for them before their hearings to explain their heterodox views.
I repeat: we'll be lucky if it's merely a colossal waste of money and time.


As a novice clumsily researching these things, I find myself wondering if something that draws my attention is unremarkable. Nonetheless, I couldn't help noticing the commission is exempted from The Federal Advisory Committee Act, which seeks to limit the number, authority and activities of such:

(a) The Congress finds that there are numerous committees,
boards, commissions, councils, and similar groups which have been
established to advise officers and agencies in the executive branch
of the Federal Government and that they are frequently a useful and
beneficial means of furnishing expert advice, ideas, and diverse opinions to the Federal Government.
(b) The Congress further finds and declares that -
(1) the need for many existing advisory committees has not been adequately reviewed:
(2) new advisory committees should be established only when they are
determined to be essential and their number should be kept to the minimum necessary;
(3) advisory committees should be terminated when they are no longer carrying out the purposes for which they were established;
(4) standards and uniform procedures should govern the establishment, operation,
administration, and duration of advisory committees;
(5) the Congress and the public should be kept informed with respect to the number, purpose, membership, activities, and cost of advisory committees; and
(6) the function of advisory committees should be advisory only, and that all matters under their consideration should be determined, in accordance with law, by the official, agency, or officer involved.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

"Blogging!", Still

Not that anyone is out there to notice, much less care (I of course am not referring to you, Uncle Morty), but recently I "blogged" on the subject of the recent NIE and the apparent defections of two senior Iranian government officials [correction: the arrest of one for "spying", and the apparent defection of another, Ali Reza Azgari, who is the subject of today's post] wondering aloud (or rather, in print) if there was a connection. In today's Asia Times Gareth Porter reports that one of them may indeed be at the root of the remarkable reversal of intelligence community consensus:
The key development that altered the course of the NIE on Iran, according to intelligence sources, was the defection of a senior official of the Iranian Ministry of Defense, Ali Reza Asgari, on a visit to Turkey last February, as widely reported in international news media in subsequent weeks. The Washington Post's Dafna Linzer, citing a "senior US official", reported on March 8 that Asgari, who had been deputy minister of defense for eight years under the reformist president Mohammad Khatami from 1997 to 2005, was already providing information to US intelligence.

The senior official told Linzer, however, that Asgari was not being questioned about Iran's nuclear program, despite the fact that Asgari certainly had significant knowledge of policy decisions, if not technical details, of the program. That incongruous denial that Asgari had anything to say about Iran's nuclear program suggested that the information being provided by Asgari on that subject was considered extraordinarily sensitive.

Intelligence officials have kept any reference to Asgari out of the discussion of the NIE. Former Central Intelligence Agency officer Philip Giraldi has told Inter Press Service (IPS), however, that, according to intelligence sources, information provided by Asgari was indeed a "key component" of the intelligence community's conclusion that Iran ended its nuclear weapons-related work in 2003, although it was corroborated by other sources.
Israel downplayed Asgari's importance regarding Iran's nuclear program; an official was quoted in the below linked Washington Post article:
"He lived in Lebanon and, in effect, was the man who built, promoted and founded Hezbollah in those years," [former Mossad officer Ram] Igra told Israeli state radio. "If he has something to give the West, it is in this context of terrorism and Hezbollah's network in Lebanon."
Either Mossad never got their hands on Asgari or they somehow got a little more than they bargained for, revealing a clumsiness that's almost charmingly American, assuming they are as disappointed in the NIE as they suggest. It will be interesting to see how the efforts of some within (and without) the Israeli government to counter-spin the NIE play out.

Porter joins the many who've pointed out President Bush's (apparently) feigned ignorance of these developments is highly unlikely, suggesting he knew as early as March of this year, when Asgari's cooperation was being reported in the Washington Post. As Porter notes, that cooperation, corroborated by Giraldi's (whose short dispatches on intelligence matters can be found in the American Conservative's regular feature,"Deep Background") reporting here, would have had to find its way into the President's Daily Briefing (PDB) about the same time.
Keep in mind, while the president was warning of "World War III" because of Iran's alleged position on the verge of nuclear power status, not only did he likely know of contradictory intelligence, he had to know how diligently Vice President Cheney's cabal was working to suppress that intelligence. Contemplating this government of ours kind of makes me all warm inside. Maybe that's just heartburn. Or do I mean heartache?

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Sunday Sermonette

The Unanticipated Consequences of Unacknowledged Ambitions

Let's try to be precise then. The word "torture" does not appear in our orders... And those who explode bombs in public places, do they perhaps respect the law? ... No, gentlemen, believe me, it is a vicious circle. And we could discuss the problem for hours without reaching any conclusions. Because the problem does not lie here. The problem is: the NLF wants us to leave Algeria and we want to remain. Now, it seems to me that, despite varying shades of opinion, you all agree that we must remain... Therefore, to be precise, I would now like to ask you a question: Should France remain in Algeria? If you answer "yes," then you must accept all the necessary consequences.
—Col. Mathieu, The Battle of Algeirs

It is mad and preposterous to bring to the standard of justice and humanity the exercise of a dominion founded upon violence and terror.
Thomas Erskine, 1789

I fear that we would become a third-class nation after two or three years if we just sat tight.
—Hideki Tojo, Nov. 5, 1941

Any defense of torture must ultimately reduce down to two assertions that have always constituted the core defense of any such moral compromise in the enforcement of the law or the waging of war:
we can entrust our representatives with this awful device because our safety is in their hands--our motives vindicate our means; and, conversely, our enemies mean us harm and observe no comparable standard--their motives vindicate our means, negating whatever rights we would normally accord the accused before the law or prisoners of war.

However a standard made conditional and subjective is not a standard but a farce. It is nothing more than power's expedience on masquerade. Justice reserved for those presumed innocent or harmless is no justice at all, and inevitably produces an abomination: accusation equals guilt. And guilt demands punishment. We have ceded the determination of guilt, and thus punishment, to authorities acting in secret. While the Administration insists torture (while refusing even the responsibility to either acknowledge or deny its use) is keeping us safe, it has yet to produce a single instance of proof, citing a need for secrecy that is in large part a consequence of the use of this "enhanced interrogation". Fear, meticulously nurtured by a political faction, now determines our values. It is not merely rhetorical flourish to describe ours as a paranoid society.

A precious standard has been destroyed for expedience. But expedience has its price. Repercussions await; but for the moment, as we explicitly work to legitimize torture for ourselves by claiming extraordinary circumstances, we incidentally work to legitimize torture in and of itself, for us and for our enemies alike, following the presumption that our present might will hold us harmless in perpetuity.

What the argument for torture lacks in logical consistency and ethical rigor it more than makes up for in base appeal. The instinct to hate and fear our enemies is natural and necessary, but for liberty and order to coexist we are forced to adhere to a decidedly "unnatural" state, holding our impulse for self-preservation in abeyance before the sober consideration of fact, granting our enemies a measure of restraint we cannot expect in return.

Before 9/11 there was a clear demarcation between law enforcement and war. Taking advantage of the fear and confusion following 9/11, the Administration created a shadowy non-category, neither entirely criminal nor entirely combatant, for terrorist suspects, fuming at the proposition that we treat the threat as a "law enforcement issue" rather than warfare, and equally outraged at the prospect of waging this war within recognized convention. A "global war on terror" as its proponents so flexibly and vaguely define it, is war without limits or laws, everywhere without end, nominally waged against a method, but actually against the sentiment of anti-Americanism.

Even within this new definition, of "illegal enemy combatant," there is no consistency; a suspect is one moment a prisoner of war, the next a criminal suspect, depending on the need to suspend whatever rights he may claim under either category, and always outside of law or convention governing either circumstance; and all predicated on an assumption of guilt. Just as we shuttle them about the globe fleeing our own laws, as if geographic distance decreases moral responsibility, we shuttle them back and forth categorically, in a shell game to confound our own republican system of co-equal government and congressional oversight. In this purgatory our leaders have created there are no limits on the exercise of power. But now we must concede it is naive to think this hasn't been happening in secret and on a smaller scale for a long time now.

We have assented to this, taking for granted that this will all be contained somehow, evincing remarkable trust in a government that reserves unto itself the right to absolute secrecy even as it categorically rejects the right to privacy for any citizen or organization it deems.
Information, facts, events, reality, all disappear into the black hole of state power we have created, reappearing only in distorted fragments: edited, blacked out, redacted, euphemised.

And why do we consent? It is difficult to accept but impossible to deny that the 9/11 attacks were both a heinous crime against us and a consequence of our actions. These are not, contrary to popular sentiment, mutually exclusive. Just as the latter does not preclude our seeking retribution against the murderers of 9/11 and defending against their kind in the future, neither should the former preclude the frank and sober appraisal of our history and the necessary and long overdue debate attendant upon that. It awaits only the recognition of a resolute people looking beyond the hysteria created by a craven elite jealous of their power and disdainful of the truth.

But our leaders have done more than take advantage of 9/11 to draw new powers unto themselves; as well they've bound our security from terrorism to the very same military adventurism that produced it in the first place. The invasion of Iraq was not a misplaced response to 9/11, but a redoubling of the long project of which 9/11 was just the most dramatic and disastrous product. Now opposition to military adventurism, foreign entanglements and our newly acquired levels of state power is convincingly painted, by those keen to keep themselves in power and profiting from this monstrosity, as support for our enemies.
We remain unaware of how close a determined faction came to dealing the final death blow to a republican form of government they, and their predecessors, have been able to subdue but not quite kill for as long as we've had a political class. Success in Iraq as they envisioned it might have irrevocably bound up once and for all our security with our imperial ambitions. The unthinkable occurs: victory in Iraq may have been worse than the horror we are now witnessing. Even as the Iraq project foundered horribly, they still sought to advance us beyond the point of return, straining to create another fait accompli in Iran. Some work for this even now. They will not relent and they will always be with us. Some will retire, some will fall to scandal, a very few will falter in their commitment and repent, but their ranks will continually be replenished by the eager and ambitious, desperately clawing at one another even now as they mount the lower rungs of power, eyes focused upward hopefully. Republicanism is necessarily the enemy of ambition.

We have to continually remind ourselves: it is the failure of the Iraq war that has provoked widespread opposition, not the undeniable injustice of it. Even now, this opposition is thwarted, nearly irrelevant but for the advantage it grants one political party over another, nearly indistinguishable.

But if we're to be honest and thorough we have to follow this thought to its disasteful conclusion: this necessity (as the Administration would have it) for conquest, spying and torture is not a consequence of 9/11, but like 9/11, is a consequence of history, long predetermined before the towers fell. Our leaders are disingenuous, but not entirely dishonest; they truly see the invasion of Iraq, the surveillance state and torture as necessities. It's merely that they do not trust us with the whole truth.
The true cost of empire, to liberty and the law, has long been deferred. Refusing to accept this cost, to honor this debt to our principles, will eventually bankrupt us. That is what is happening to us now.

Combining a newfound acceptance of torture with an aggressive campaign of nation-building means that we are in the business of arresting and torturing people who are not threats to the security of US citizens, but threats to our ambitions abroad; the greater these ambitions, the greater their numbers.
The most damaging and damning reality of the Abu Ghraib scandal was not that we were involved in the torture of "suspected terrorists" but of suspected insurgents--rebels against an occupation we still cannot justify. But it's worse than that; in the haste compelled by Donald Rumsfeld, a man with an incomparable combination of incompetence and arrogance, we soon found ourselves imprisoning and torturing innocents caught up in our desperation.
It's not merely that we swell the ranks of the Jihadis; we've acquired a whole new class of enemies with which we have to concern ourselves. We've undeniably acquired the burdens of empire, whatever we choose to call it.

The terrorists never held it in their power to change us, our way of life, our laws, or our values. They still don't. They are still ultimately powerless. Only we have that power.
We continue to lie to ourselves about the nature of these things. But the only way to be rid of the consequences of empire is to be rid of the empire. Neither then should we lie about the inestimable costs we will incur in abandoning it. For, having railed thusly against it, I now have to concede that I cannot tell you we haven't gone too far already. We may have. But this I know: we can no longer justify it, if ever we could, and we can no longer deny it. The nation cannot behave as a child attempting to will away reality.
For all the celebration of martial heroism, that even the critics of the war immerse themselves in as if to baptize away the sin of insufficient patriotism, in our hearts we know the greater courage lies in standing down. Sending the children of the working class off to subdue the restive corners of the empire while singing paens to them takes no courage at all. Accepting the limitations of decency and the awful uncertainty of restraint, however, does, and it's required of each one of us.
Warning: sanctimony, with a brogue, at 2:32;

Orbital, You Lot
Video by Sebastian Demuth using footage from the film Casshern. Voice sample from the British television program The Second Coming.

These are great days we're living, bros. We're jolly green giants, walking the earth. With guns!

--"Crazy Earl", Full Metal Jacket

Friday, December 07, 2007


Is there a connection between the arrest of former Iranian nuclear negotiator Hossein Moussavian last May for allegedly passing on information about Iran's nuclear program to the British, and the recent National Intelligence Estimate? The New York Times reported on Dec. 5:
American intelligence agencies reversed their view about the status of Iran's nuclear weapons program after they obtained notes last summer from the deliberations of Iranian military officials involved in the weapons development program, senior intelligence and government officials said on Wednesday.
On the same day the L.A. Times reported:
According to current and former U.S. intelligence officials familiar with the matter, the information that surfaced this summer included intercepted conversations of Iranian officials discussing the country's nuclear weapons program, as well as a journal from an Iranian source that documented decisions to shut it down.
Another possible source is Ali Rez Asgari, former deputy defense minister under former Iranian President Khatami. Asgari, a rival of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, knew his days were numbered when Ahmadinejad won the presidency in 2005. Asgari disappeared in February while on a trip to Turkey. Whether he defected or was kidnapped by Western intelligence agents remains a mystery.

The Washington Post reported in March of this year that he was cooperating with Western intelligence. At the time U.S. and Iranian sources alike discounted Asgari's knowledge of Iran's nuclear program; Western sources highlighted his value as the senior Iranian overseeing support for Hezbollah. Iran, for its part, sought to downplay Asgari's importance. A Sunday Times article in March reported that he had been a mole for Western intelligence since 2003--about the same time that the intelligence community now asserts Iran suspended its weapons program. The sources for the article were Iranian, so this may have been simply an attempt to smear him, or an effort by Ahmadinejad's faction to reach back and undermine nuclear negotiations with Europe that effectively began, again, in '03, or to implicate his political associates still in Iran. About the same time Yedioth Aharonot reported that Mossad had orchestrated his defection. So it's just a bit easier to follow than a David Lynch film and chock full of le Carré-esque intrigue.

Moussavian was acquitted of the more serious charges brought against him, but convicted of something called "propagating against the system", for which he received a suspended sentence. Conviction for espionage could have brought a death sentence. Ahmadinejad hasn't relented, however, threatening to expose elements in the government whom he says pressured the presiding judge. Within hours of Moussavian's acquital, Ahmadinejad ally Sa’id Mortazavi, under his authority as Public Prosecutor for Tehran and something called the Islamic Revolution Tribunal (or Courts), announced that he would continue to press charges. This is all in keeping with Iran's convoluted constitution.

Moussavian is allied to yet another former Iranian president, Hafshemi Rafsanjani, the most powerful member of the conservative pragmatist faction vying for primacy with Ahmadinejad's Islamic revolutionary fundamentalists, who chairs both Iran's Expediency Council and its Assembly of Experts (responsible for electing and with the authority to replace the Supreme Leader, currently Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the most powerful person in the Iranian government with final say over foreign and domestic policy and control of the Revolutionary Guard Corps).

Iran's pragmatist element is opposed to Ahmadinejad's bombastic campaign of defiance regarding Iran's nuclear program, seeing it as needlessly provoking the United States and the international community and risking war. Thus, ironically, the confluence of interests places the neoconservatives and their fellow travellers in league with Ahmadinejad. For those who believe that the Iranian regime must be wiped off the map, their greatest fear at this stage is not its nuclear program but the prospect of rapprochement.

Ahmadinejad shares this fear. His overt hostility toward Israel and the United States is primarily for domestic consumption. In his struggle with Rafsanjani's conservative faction his rabble rousing is both offensive strategy and the source of his opposition's frustration. His glorying in the latest NIE may signal more his political instincts toward spinning any given outcome in his favor than any particular pleasure with its assertions; when speaking directly to his base of support at home he openly revels in the weapons potential of Iran's nuclear program and its right to it. For the purposes of drumming up nationalist support at home, the NIE is at best a distraction.

It's hard not to come to the conclusion that separate tracks of engagement are ongoing (or rather, a covert track of engagement lies beneath the campaigns of aggression, hell-bent on collision, between the neocons and Ahmadinejad's revolutionaries), with pragmatists on each side waging covert signalling operations attempting to shepherd both nations into the next U.S. administration.

Ahmadinejad's faction is in an effective alliance of sorts with the Cheney/neocon shadow government; both want the same confrontation they each envision playing out differently. Ahmadinejad is irrationally willing to risk a U.S. attack on Iran's nuclear installations, or worse, because it plays directly into his hands, driving popular sentiment into his camp and making it more difficult for his pragmatist opposition to marginalize and eventually be rid of him. Also, if he manages to make it appear that he has stared down the Great Satan, he could become the most powerful Iranian president yet. Our revolutionaries, going for broke, risk that disastrous outcome in their zeal to reach the conflict; indeed, they use this risk they've created to propel us toward war. By essentially fabricating the falsely exigent issue of Iranian nukes, they seek to give us no exit and our adversaries no face-saving way to accommodate us. And they dare speak of "conspiracies" hobbling the Administration.

What makes such madness possible? Two weak presidents on either side: Iran's, constitutionally hampered by the authority that resides in the Supreme Leader and the labyrinthine nature of Iran's government; here, a president who has ceded authority for foreign policy to the Vice President, whose grip on it is challenged by rival factions in the absence of any clear authority other than the President's acquiescence. A president who remains congenitally incapable of understanding the issues and complexities before him. Refusing to acknowledge his lack of authority and ability, he relies on stubbornness and faith, holding his line to the end, substituting fortitude for realism. Pride, thy name is still Bush.

We have our own radical faction, unfortunately identified as conservatives (oh for the day when the term can be rescued from those who inspire such righteous wrath), which seems determined to attack Iran. For all of their demonizing of Ahmadinejad, we forget how valuable he is to them. Remember their hostility toward Iran did not begin and will not end with Ahmadinejad's rule; the Israel lobby was more interested in seeing a U.S. assault on Iran than Iraq, recall, before Ahmadinejad came to power (to put it in its crudest form: Iraq was about oil; Iran is about Israel). The Cheney faction viewed the so-called "grand bargain" offered by Iran as more a threat than opportunity, regardless of whatever potential may have been there, again before Ahmadinejad came along to regularly and dutifully provide them with soundbites they would be hard-pressed to make up on their own. An ideal foil, as if sent from central casting.

Two nations with weak presidents, their words valueless, their motives hard to discern and each nation's progress the unpredictable, sideways motion resulting from a tug of war between opposing factions. For our side this is the result of our election to the presidency of a woefully unqualified man; indeed a callow, incurious neophyte regarding foreign policy, with a pathological pride blinding him to his inadequacy. Actions still have consequences even if we've managed to avoid looking at them full on, and the consequences of our contemptuous disregard for our own republic will be unfolding for a long time still.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Weapons Grade Nerve

That boom off in the distance was not the bombing of Iran's nuclear facilities, but Norman Podhoretz's head exploding. Sadly, this hasn't set back his personal program of permanent global warfare, which is securely ensconced in the deep underground bunker of his psyche, reinforced with hardened layers of fervor so as to withstand even the most advanced assaults of common sense and morality:

It is worth remembering that in 2002, one of the conclusions offered by the NIE, also with “high confidence,” was that “Iraq is continuing, and in some areas expanding its chemical, biological, nuclear, and missile programs contrary to UN resolutions.” And another conclusion, offered with high confidence too, was that “Iraq could make a nuclear weapon in months to a year once it acquires sufficient weapons-grade fissile material.”

It is also worth remembering the circumstances by which the aberrational 2002 NIE was delivered, under intense pressure from the Vice President's office to produce, well, what it produced, and from Congress to produce anything that would provide them with a hedge for their craven political acquiescence to a clearly unnecessary war (and it has worked well in that regard; the much-used excuse about faulty intelligence is that hedge being cashed in). The intelligence community submitted peacefully to its violation and now, like some unfortunate Saudi Arabian rape victim, is being brought up on morals charges.

The point of Podhoretz's post is to question the sincerity of the latest NIE. Some disappointed hawks have described it as a "conspiracy." I suspect they're correct (if typically overblown in their language) in that the intelligence is being spun a bit (as if analysts' "spin" of their own analysis is equivalent to political leaders and their operatives stovepiping and spinning intelligence) but it would be more accurate to describe it as a counter-conspiracy.
The hawks are rather typically fabricating context here. The stubborn myth that the Iraq war was the result of "failed intelligence" persists because dishonest people in positions of influence manipulate a widespread fundamental misunderstanding of how the intelligence process works and a child-like belief that the intelligence community has the ability and should be expected to discern with absolute reliability the doings of closed, secretive states like Iraq and Iran. (For insight from someone with experience in these matters, see the invaluable Dr. Leo Strauss here.) The lesson of Iraq is not that "the intelligence failed" but that intelligence is manipulable by a determined administration in collusion with corrupt journalists and commentators.

But you have to admire the open dishonesty:

As the intelligence community must know, if [Bush] were to [bomb Iran], it would be as a last resort, only after it had become undeniable that neither negotiations nor sanctions could prevent Iran from getting the bomb, and only after being convinced that it was very close to succeeding.

Where on earth would they get the idea that Bush would act precipitously? When will people start giving this president a fair shake? This from the guy who has declared diplomacy and sanctions irrelevant and has done everything, as part of a concerted, orchestrated effort by a small, determined and influential faction (one might even call it a "conspiracy"), to ensure that they will not succeed.
Steve Sailer recently noted that Gregory Cochran, the physicist and anthropology professor who pointed out the glaring misrepresentations in the Administration's pre-war hysterics (all you need to know about "intelligence failures" right there) before the Iraq invasion, sees the NIE as an attempt by the Community to pre-empt a second pre-war agit-prop offensive and "run out the clock" on the remaining, nerve-wracking 13 months of Bush II. I tend to believe it, and God bless them for it.
Vice President Cheney's office has been pushing for an NIE with alarmist conclusions, just as in 2002, for the last two years. His apparent failure is cause for hope, but not celebration. These guys aren't done by a long shot. Someone once said, in trying to make sense of the Bush Presidency, that one simply has to wake up every morning and remind himself that a coup has occurred. Then it all makes sense. Think of this as a counter-coup. And be glad.


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