Tuesday, September 14, 2004

The Reviews Are In

I didn’t know that The New York Review of Books was available on-line until the Faithful Correspondent sent me the link. Check out this week’s edition.

  • Elizabeth Drew notes that historically presidential commissions have been abused, ignored, and used as a smokescreen. The 9/11 Commission is no different in that regard as seen by the White House, but in reality it has revealed some amazing weaknesses and misjudgements by the Bush administration at the time of the attacks and its response to them.
  • Thomas Powers on Report on the US Intelligence Community’s Prewar Intelligence Assessments on Iraq by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence:

    No tyrannical father presiding over an intimidated household was ever tiptoed around with greater caution than is the figure of President George W. Bush in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s fat report of its investigation into the scary stories about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction cited by the President as all the justification he needed for going to war in Iraq.

    Before the war the CIA expressed “high confidence” that once American soldiers had the run of Iraq they would find stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, mobile laboratories to make more, vigorous programs to buy uranium and develop atomic bombs, and much else confronting the United States with a “gathering threat” or “growing danger”—words used by the President and other high administration officials to summarize the intelligence laid out in a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) issued by the CIA on October 1, 2002. Only a week later the dangers described in the NIE convinced Congress to vote for war, and in March 2003 President Bush ordered an invasion of Iraq to remove those dangers once and for all. There would have been no Senate investigation and no report if the weapons had been found—indeed, almost any one of them would have satisfied—but a year of looking has turned up nothing.

    It is presidents, not secret intelligence organizations, who decide if and when the United States shall go to war, but that fact was set aside, perhaps only temporarily, by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence at the outset of its investigation into the CIA’s embarrassing failure to be right about almost anything when it came to Iraq. It is unlikely that most Americans grasp the magnitude of the failure even now, but plenty of others around the world see it only too plainly. France, Germany, and Russia all resisted the American insistence on war in the Security Council of the United Nations, arguing that UN inspectors should be given additional weeks or months to continue their search for these weapons of mass destruction before war could be justified.

  • Peter W. Galbraith on the bungled transition of power in Iraq.

    Iyad Allawi is America’s man in Iraq. The interim prime minister, a Shiite, is tough, pro-American, but not visibly subservient. He is determined to take on the responsibility of fighting the insurgents, whether Sunni or Shiite, and prepared to be as ruthless as necessary to win. In short, Iyad Allawi is exactly the man President Bush thinks he needs as he faces an election likely to turn on events in Iraq.

    Within days of his designation as prime minister, Allawi spoke openly of postponing Iraq’s elections and he gave himself the authority to impose martial law. In early August, he closed down al-Jazeera’s Baghdad bureau in retaliation for unfavorable coverage. Meanwhile, the Bush administration quietly let Iraq’s interim constitution — the so-called Transitional Administrative Law — expire stillborn, along with its much-ballyhooed protections for human rights, women, and democracy.


    [N]early two months after the handover, Allawi’s government faces a Shiite rebellion that extends from Basra to Baghdad, and has included extreme fighting in and around the Imam Ali shrine in the Shiite holy city of Najaf. Thanks to an April agreement between the US military and Falluja’s Baathist leaders, the city has become a safe haven for terrorists. Other Sunni Arab cities—Mosul, Samarra, and Baquba—are full of armed insurgents while residents of Baghdad live in a capital beset by violent crime, terrorism, and the insurgency. All things considered, Allawi’s chances now appear to be highly uncertain.

  • Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. looks at two books that detail the background on how we got there in the first place.

    Who got us into this mess anyway—our headlong plunge into preventive war against Iraq? The formal, and facile, answer is George W. Bush. But our president campaigned four years ago on a promise of humility in foreign policy and a rejection of nation-building as social work. Who persuaded him to change his mind?


    James Mann is the author of two books about Sino-American relations. James Bamford is the author of two books about the National Security Agency. Their ably written new books, Rise of the Vulcans and A Pretext for War, return varying answers to the origins of the theory on which President Bush based the Iraq War—the theory that Iraq presented such an urgent and imminent danger to the United States as to justify preventive war.

  • All in all, it paints a grim picture of an arrogant and ignorant foreign policy in the hands of an incompetent, partisan, and corrupt administration. Does that remind those of us of a certain age of another war in a foreign land?