Monday, March 27, 2006

All Iraq, All the Time

Two new and quite fascinating things on Iraq.

First, today's NY Times gives new insight into the diplomacy and negotiations between Bush and Blair leading up to the war. Revealing contents of a top-secret memo detailing a conversation between Bush and Blair, it shows an administration clearly focused on a confrontation with Saddam, regardless of the outcome of UN diplomacy. From the memo, Bush was clearly set on war, seeking (but ultimately failing to achieve) a second resolution from the UN only as diplomatic cover.

Meanwhile, Russia was allegdly feeding Iraq intelligence about the US warplan, a military study concludes. Russia denies it, but the US will pursue it with them anyway. Now, there are some speculations that this was "freelancing" by Russian officials in Iraq, and regardless of what information was passed, Saddam and his folks ignored it anyway.

Still, though, taken together, its stories like this that start to put the begining of the war into context a bit. You can see past the partisan politics of the time and now, with a bit more information as to what actually happened and the hindsight of how it all turned out, its possible, ever so slightly, to make a more informed judgement as to how history will regard this war.

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Sunday, March 19, 2006

This week marks the 3 year Anniversary of the US invasion / occupation of Iraq.

The Administration (in the form form of a Don Rumsfeld op-ed) asserts that the terrorists are on the run, elections signify progress, and "the vast majority of the Iraqi people want the coalition to succeed."

Well, wanting and actually doing so are two different things. Reading today's Washington Post Outlook section, which features a slew of stories on Iraq, its hard to agree with Rumsfeld's conclusion. Rather, the Administration appears clueless in its attempts to manage the situation.

The Administration today is asserting that Iraq is not falling into Civil War.

Iraqis seem to disagree:

The grim reality today - and the perception among so many Iraqis that the US is responsible - could not be in sharper contrast from the faith Iraqis once held, that the all-powerful Americans would solve their problems.

"It is unfortunate that we are in civil war," Iyad Allawi, Iraq's former prime minister, told BBC news Sunday. "We are losing each day an average of 50 to 60 people throughout the country, if not more. If this is not civil war, then God knows what civil war is.
This war-- not the war on terrorism, not a conservative domestic agenda--has become the defining facet of the Bush Administration. George Will observes:
But more than any presidency in living memory, George W. Bush's will be judged by a single problem -- Iraq, where on May 30 the war will be twice as long as was U.S. involvement in World War I.

Who does this sound like? To me, the most striking parallel is to LBJ. He had grand visions of a Great Society program, and yet it was Vietnam that, to this day, continues to define his presidency. Are we seeing the same thing with Bush and Iraq?

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Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Going Nuclear

24 pulled out all the stops this week, setting off a canister of the nerve gas in CTU headquarters, killing off Edgar as Chloe watched in tearful silence. The most strained set of never to be lovers, and they kill him off yet the spiteful Lynn and Kim survive....
I'm trying out a new TV show, following President Palmer over to The Unit--tonight's first episode was quite hokey, but I'm very willing to give the show staring Haysbert and written and produced by David Mamet, the benefit of the doubt for the first few episodes.
We shall see.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch....

David Sanger asks the right question about Bush's proposed nuclear deal with India in this past Sunday's NYT:
HAS President Bush just made the world a safer or a more dangerous place?
In a nutshell:
In essence, Mr. Bush is making a huge gamble — critics say a dangerous one — that the United States can control proliferation by single-handedly rewarding nuclear states it considers "responsible," and punishing those it declares irresponsible. For those keeping a scorecard, India is in the first camp, Iran is in the second, and no one in the administration wants to talk, at least on the record, about Israel or Pakistan — two allies that have embraced the bomb, but not the treaty.
Therein lies the rub.
The underlying rules on nuclear proliferation are codified in the NPT, which limits nuclear status to the "big 5" / P-5 and says that no one else can have nuclear weapons. The bargain is this--other states can have peaceful nuclear programs for civilian use (energy, research) and the big 5 nuclear states must work toward nuclear disarmament. IAEA inspections would verify the terms of the treaty.

Several notable states didn't sign the NPT, like India, Pakistan, and Israel, all of which now have substantial nuclear weapons programs.

The US has relied on the heft of the NPT to go after nuclear programs in Iraq, Iran, and North Korea--not just go after, but to help construct the danger of these "illegal" programs and convince others, like the Europeans or the Chinese, to engage in significant non-proliferation diplomacy.
After the initial tests in 1998, the US slapped sanctions on both India and Pakistan to punish them for going nuclear. But, after the 9-11 attacks, those sanctions were lifted as other, more immediate regional considerations (Afghanistan) took precedence.

How do you use the NPT to justify and legitimate the non-proliferation diplomacy in Iran and North Korea while signing a nuclear cooperation deal with India, a nation that refuses to sign that treaty?

And, in the meantime, the US is slowly working to upgrade its own nuclear arsenal with a new generation of weapons.

So, how, exactly, do you do this?

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Friday, March 03, 2006

Intelligent Reform
...one year later

Its now been a year since John Negroponte took the new job of Director of National Intelligence.
So, how's that working out for ya?

The NYT took the occasion to look at the revamped Intel structure and concluded:
the agencies charged with protecting the United States against terrorist attacks remain troubled by high-level turnover, overlapping responsibilities and bureaucratic rivalry....
Progress has been made, most of the officials say, toward one critical goal: the sharing of terrorist threat information from all agencies at the National Counterterrorism Center. But many argue that the biggest restructuring of spy agencies in half a century has bloated the bureaucracy, adding boxes to the government organization chart without producing clearly defined roles.
Wasn't that what the DNI reform was supposed to avoid? If you read the 9-11 Commission Report (and everyone should), they identify serious bureaucratic battles between the various intel agencies, major turf battles, and hostility when there should have been cooperation. The DNI was supposed to come in and have the authority to fix that.

Paul Pillar, former National Intel officer for the ME, sees an even greater problem. Writing in the current Foreign Affairs, he writes that:
The most serious problem with U.S. intelligence today is that its relationship with the policymaking process is broken and badly needs repair.
Beyond the turf battles among agencies, politicization of intelligence--allowing political agendas to drive intelligence collection and analysis instead of allowing intelligence officials to present the "unvarnished truth" as best they can asscertain it--poses a much more damaging, long term problem for the future of US intelligence. The reason that the DCI / DNI was made a statutory advisor to the NSC and not a member of the NSC was so that policy makers would be able to make decision based on the best and most accurate information available.

Pillar is, of course, talking about Iraq, charging that intelligence on Iraq was slanted--subtly, but still slanted--to serve a political agenda. Dissenting opinions are not supposed to be "defeatist," they are supposed to be cautions against the potential pitfalls that any policy option might encounter. That way, the President and other folks can be ready if and when things go bad.

But, of course, even a perfect system, where the President gets the full truth and analysis of a developing situation, doesn't guarantee that anything will be done about it.

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