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Thursday, September 30, 2004

Iraq's Terror Connections

George Bush is still pushing the idea that pre-war Iraq was a haven for international terrorism. This is from his joint press conference with Iraqi PM Allawi on September 23, 2004:
Imagine a world in which Saddam Hussein were still in power. This is a man who harbored terrorists -- Abu Abbas, Abu Nidal, Zarqawi.
Who are these terrorists, other than men with Arabic names?

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi: Zarqawi is quickly become public enemy #1A, but I have serious doubts about whether the President should be mentioning him in his speeches about the legitimacy of the Iraq during this political campaign. First, even the Bush administration acknowledges that Zarqawi set up camps in Kurdish controlled areas during the 1990s. The Kurdish areas were politically autonomous from Saddam after 1991 because they were protected by the US-UK "no fly zones." Indirectly, the US was protecting his terrorist camps from Saddam. Some critics go even further:
NBC News has learned that long before the war the Bush administration had several chances to wipe out his terrorist operation and perhaps kill Zarqawi himself — but never pulled the trigger.
Why didn't the US strike these bases under the "Bush Doctrine" in early 2002?
“People were more obsessed with developing the coalition to overthrow Saddam than to execute the president’s policy of preemption against terrorists,” according to terrorism expert and former National Security Council member Roger Cressey.

...Military officials insist their case for attacking Zarqawi’s operation was airtight, but the administration feared destroying the terrorist camp in Iraq could undercut its case for war against Saddam.
The MSNBC story reports that the White House rejected three chances to kill Zarqawi. Thrice!

A lot of terrorist experts consider Zarqawi a rival to bin Laden, not a vital link to al Qaeda. The Bush administration claimed that he went to Baghdad a few years ago to obtain medical care (to receive an artificial leg), and that this indicated that he had Saddam Hussein's support, but not all terror experts embrace that theory. From the conservative Weekly Standard:
Zarqawi, however, is not Osama's man, and still less was he Saddam's.
Finally, as USA Today pointed out on September 14, 2004, Zarqawi was considered a peripheral figure only one year ago. He's almost certainly an opportunist who has taken advantage of the chaos in Iraq:
It was after Saddam's capture in December that the Jordanian began to emerge as a leader, by tapping into the anger and frustration of the now-leaderless members of Saddam's Baath Party.

[Kenneth] Katzman [senior Iraqi analyst at the Congressional Research Service] says Zarqawi's appeal is broad because he fights to reverse the pan-Arab sense of humiliation caused by the Western control of Arab lands. He appeals to Saddam's Sunni Muslims by advocating the subjugation of the rival Shiites, the majority in Iraq.
How could Bush mention his success as an insurgent leader as a reason to go to war in Iraq in March 2003?

Abu Abbas: He was the notorious Palestinian terrorist who lead a splinter group from the PLO that hijacked the Achille Lauro on the Mediterranean in 1985. However, by 1996, Abbas had moved to Gaza, rejected "armed struggle," apologized for the hijacking, and was implicitly recognized as a legitimate political leader by the Israelis. He died in US custody in Iraq in 2003, age 55. He was not wanted in the US for any crime and the government was not seeking his extradition. Indeed, according to the Palestinian Authority, he was immune from prosecution for any violent acts committed before 1993 as part of the Oslo Accords negotiated with Israel. Fox News described his lack of influence in his obituary:
Abbas had been a marginal figure in the PLO of late. He was a member of the PLO's executive committee, but left in 1991. His tiny faction has very few followers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip....[In 1998] Israeli attorney general Elyakim Rubinstein said Abbas did not pose a threat to Israeli security, and that it would be unreasonable to prosecute him for acts committed before 1993.
Israel didn't even consider him a terrorist anymore. So...that's not much of a major international terrorist link to Saddam, is it?

Abu Nidal: He died in 2002 at age 65, in Iraq after suffering from leukemia. There is some dispute about whether he was killed or committed suicide. Nidal was affiliated with Palestinian causes, but broke apart from the PLO in 1974 because he thought it was too moderate. He tried to kill Arafat twice, allegedly, and was sentenced to death by a Palestinian Court. Nidal was an active international terrorist in the 1970s and 1980s, but seemed to be in Iraq with his remaining small group of followers because it was the last place to excape prosecution for his crimes. This is a guy Syria expelled!

In any event, though Nidal may have been the "bin Laden of the 1980s," he was hardly an active international terrorist at the time of the Iraq war in 2003. He was a senior citizen suffering from a debilitating disease.

Oh, I probably should mention that Nidal did set up base in Iraq during his active period in the 1980s, but Saddam Hussein expelled him so that the US would be on its side in the long war with Iran?

Under the standards Bush is using, he should look for nasty links to Saddam Hussein a lot closer to home:



"Surprising" Polls: Republicans plan to vote Bush

I'm usually not keen on discussing the "horse race" side of the election. Who's ahead toda? Who will be ahead tomorrow? It's exhausting and potentially depressing. But the media continues to do this and it appears that the candidates (and maybe the voters) pay attention to this coverage. I've read recently, for example, that John Kerry's campaign has pulled ads from Arkansas (and other states) because polls show the alleged swing state is becoming a lost cause.

Hmmmm. The Zogby interactive poll on the Wall Street Journal website has the state blue for Kerry as of September 20, by 0.1%.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel had this telling headline on September 22: "On average, Bush leads state, but poll numbers vary widely" . Since Wisconsin is a swing state that went very narrowly for Al Gore in 2000 (roughly 5000 votes), the Kerry campaign is taking it very seriously. Indeed, Kerry has spent parts of 4 days this week in Wisconsin prepping for the first debate.

So, what do the Wisconsin polls show?
According to a new statewide Badger Poll, Bush enjoys a clear advantage in Wisconsin, a state Democrats have carried since the 1980s and can ill afford to lose.

Bush...leads Democrat John Kerry by double digits in the poll....

A new ABC News poll of likely voters in Wisconsin offers similar findings. Bush holds a 10-point lead in that survey...A poll released last week by Gallup also showed Bush leading Kerry, in that case by eight points.

But that's not the whole story.

In non-partisan Wisconsin surveys released this week by the American Research Group, Mason-Dixon and Zogby Interactive, Bush and Kerry are within two points of each other.
Anyone following the national and state polls knows that these widely varying poll numbers are not unique to Wisconsin. These fluctuating poll results are being found everywhere.

Look closely at the Wisconsin polls, however, and one readily gets a feel for the problem:
Kerry spokesman George Twigg termed the Badger Poll flawed.

"The majority of polling continues to show this race is a dead heat. If there's any advantage (for Bush), it's very slight," said Twigg...

Twigg also contended that the pool of voters surveyed in the Badger Poll was skewed toward Republicans. Republicans accounted for 36% of those surveyed in the Badger Poll, Democrats 29%. In the ABC poll, Republicans made up 35% of the likely voters surveyed, Democrats 29%.

Twigg pointed out that Democrats were a bigger share of the state's 2000 voters than Republicans, according to exit polls.

[Political Scientist Charles] Franklin, of the University of Wisconsin, said that's one reason to view these polls as a snapshot rather than a forecast, since the makeup of the state's electorate in November is unlikely to be as Republican as it is in the latest Badger Poll.
The pollster John Zogby had a piece on this precise concern on September 7. He emphasized the known data about party identification as compared to the party ID used in recent prominent polls like Newsweek and Gallup:
If we look at the three last Presidential elections, the spread was 34% Democrats, 34% Republicans and 33% Independents (in 1992 with Ross Perot in the race); 39% Democrats, 34% Republicans, and 27% Independents in 1996; and 39% Democrats, 35% Republicans and 26% Independents in 2000. While party identification can indeed change within the electorate, there is no evidence anywhere to suggest that Democrats will only represent 31% of the total vote this year....

This is no small consideration. Given the fact that each candidate receives anywhere between eight in ten and nine in ten support from voters in his own party, any change in party identification trades point for point in the candidate's total support.
Point-for-point. That's enormous. Look at the 2 Wisconsin polls using 35 amd 36% Republican likely voters but only 29% Democratic. Make the new totals something like 34% Democratic and 33% Republican and the results would be dramatically different. The apparent and widely publicized 8 to 10 point Bush lead suddenly becomes something like 2 or 3%. Statistically, that's almost a tie...or nearly a coin flip.

It's the same in the national polls. Because Gallup and other organizations have been using the same methods all year, it also means that Bush was probably very far behind for much of the year, when the race was portrayed as close.

Bush has clearly gained, and probably has a small lead, but it is not at all time to panic. Movement by just 1% of the electorate from Bush to Kerry would make this race a virtual tie again. Movement by 2% and Kerry would have a small lead.

Keep working. Don't despair. In 2000, late October polls showed Bush with a 5% lead (or more), Bush took a day off from campaigning, and then Karl Rove sent him to California to demonstrate his confidence in the cakewalk.

We know what happened. The same political team pulled a similarly deceptive stunt on Iraq.

Keep the faith.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Listener alert

Thursday at 4pm ET, I'm slated to be interviewed by Mike Mercier of the University of Cincinnati. He has a new one-hour internet program called "In Depth" and we'll be talking about my book Democratizing Global Politics (SUNY, 2003), coauthored with Nayef Samhat.

The show is supposed to stream live on Cincinnati's Bearcast. Listen!


Meanwhile, here's some good news about the election. Note that this is Zogby's interactive poll, which is internet-based, rather than phone-based.

Take the Gloves Off

As I noted a few days ago, the President keeps emphasizing that John Kerry "would prefer the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein to the situation in Iraq today." In fact, Bush has repeated this charge in various swing states: Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and Maine.

In Ohio, the President ramped the charges up even more:
Later this week, I'm going to have an opportunity to debate my opponent. (Applause.) It's been a little tough to prepare for the debates because he keeps changing his positions. (Laughter and applause.) Especially on the war. I mean, after all, he voted for the use of force, but against funding the troops. He said that we're not spending enough money to reconstruct Iraq, yet now says we're spending too much. He said it was the right decision to go into Iraq, yet now he calls it the wrong war.

AUDIENCE: Flip-flop! Flip-flop! Flip-flop!

THE PRESIDENT: I think he can spend 90 minutes debating himself.
As I've been saying for weeks, Kerry has to undercut Bush's position -- but I don't think Mr. Consistency can do this easily.

So, I think Kerry should come out firing in the debates. He needs to "take the gloves off." He should "go to the mattresses." Pick your favorite of these clich├ęs.
Mr. President, in March 2003, as I clearly said at the time, I was not ready to send American soldiers to war in Iraq. Instead, I would have let the international weapons inspections finish their job. We would have learned then that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction.

So, yes, it is possible that Saddam Hussein might still be in power today. But he would be a defanged dictator, ruling a country that posed no significant threat to the security of the United States of America.

Rather than sending 1000 young American men and women to die in Iraq and pulling special forces out of Afghanistan and Pakistan, my administration would have relentlessly pursued public enemy #1, Osama bin Laden. I find it incredible that in March 2002 you claimed truly "not [to be] that concerned about him." Today, three years after 9/11, you virtually never talk about the man you once wanted "dead or alive," but you boast daily about toppling Saddam Hussein as if you personally slew Goliath.

Rather than wasting two or three hundred billion tax dollars on a war in Iraq that has left us less secure, my administration would have focused US resources on real threats to American security, like the dictator in North Korea who continues to rule and the ayatollahs who continue to govern Iran. You once said these states were part of an "axis of evil," but your administration has done almost nothing while these states relentlessly pursued nuclear capabilities.

The plain truth is that America cannot use force to topple every two-bit dictator in the world today. We must carefully and accurately access the most important threats and act on those. This administration has failed its most important job.
That's my Kerry debate advice.


Updates: A slightly different version of this post appears at KentuckyDems.com. Check out their site, one of my former students was a co-founder.

Also, the Iraq war has "only" cost about $140 billion to-date, but virtually everyone agrees the US will be there for another year or two, at about $4 billion per month. Some perfectly reasonable estimates suggest costs upwards of $350 billion from March 2003 through December 2005.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Electoral College Interactive Map

As the presidential election draws near, you might want to play with an interactive Electoral College map, such as this one from PBS.

It starts with the assumption that Kerry will win all the Gore States and Bush will keep his states. The Electoral Vote, however, would be 278-260 rather than 271-266 because of population growth in Bush's states.

If Kerry could win New Hampshire and Nevada, and everything else remains the same, the Electoral College Vote would be 269-269.

I'd give that scenario about a 1 to 5% likelihood.

Monday, September 27, 2004

"It's getting worse"

Is the situation in Iraq improving?

To many, the answer to that question seems obvious. However, the President has been spouting a lot of optimism lately.

The US Agency for International Development's contract security firm concludes that the President is wrong. This was in Sunday's Washington Post:
A sampling of daily reports produced during that period by Kroll Security International for the U.S. Agency for International Development shows that such attacks typically number about 70 each day. In contrast, 40 to 50 hostile incidents occurred daily during the weeks preceding the handover of political authority to an interim Iraqi government on June 28, according to military officials.

Reports covering seven days in a recent 10-day period depict a nation racked by all manner of insurgent violence, from complex ambushes involving 30 guerrillas north of Baghdad on Monday to children tossing molotov cocktails at a U.S. Army patrol in the capital's Sadr City slum on Wednesday. On maps included in the reports, red circles denoting attacks surround nearly every major city in central, western and northern Iraq, except for Kurdish-controlled areas in the far north. Cities in the Shiite Muslim-dominated south, including several that had undergone a period of relative calm in recent months, also have been hit with near-daily attacks.

In number and scope, the attacks compiled in the Kroll reports suggest a broad and intensifying campaign of insurgent violence that contrasts sharply with assessments by Bush administration officials and Iraq's interim prime minister that the instability is contained to small pockets of the country.
AID, by the way, is a key US foreign assistance agency and thus has to take into account security-on-the-ground in order to make decisions about helping Iraqis.

Though Iraqi PM Allawi claimed last week that all but 3 provinces are relatively safe, the Kroll report showed that the majority of attacks in the last 2 weeks occurred outside those areas. And the attacks target Iraqi civilians, foreign civilians (including aid workers), other Arabs, as well as US and Iraqi security forces. Anyone, really.

But then, have no fear...democracy is on the way, isn't it? Well, administration officials (including Defense Secretary Rumsfeld) are now talking about partial elections and the UN currently has only 30 to 35 people in the country to set them up. Voter registration has not yet started, in a nation of 25.4 million people. Only a tiny portion of US reconstruction money set aside for establishing democratic elections has been spent.

Indeed, the factual reality in Iraq really is quite a bit different than the President has been saying and implying. See this Reuters report for a variety of challenges of the President's version of events:
[Bush] said nearly 100,000 "fully trained and equipped" Iraqi soldiers, police officers and other security personnel are already at work, and that would rise to 125,000 by the end of this year.

...[Pentagon] documents show that of the nearly 90,000 currently in the police force, only 8,169 have had the full eight-week academy training. Another 46,176 are listed as "untrained," and it will be July 2006 before the administration reaches its new goal of a 135,000-strong, fully trained police force.

Six Army battalions have had "initial training," while 57 National Guard battalions, 896 soldiers in each, are still being recruited or "awaiting equipment." Just eight Guard battalions have reached "initial (operating) capability," and the Pentagon acknowledged the Guard's performance has been "uneven."

Training has yet to begin for the 4,800-man civil intervention force, which will help counter a deadly insurgency. And none of the 18,000 border enforcement guards have received any centralized training to date, despite earlier claims they had, according to Democrats on the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Committee.

They estimated that 22,700 Iraqi personnel have received enough basic training to make them "minimally effective at their tasks," in contrast to the 100,000 figure cited by Bush...

The status of election planning in Iraq is also in question. Of the $232 million in Iraqi funds set aside for the Iraqi electoral commission, it has received a mere $7 million, according to House Appropriations Committee staff.
Well, that pretty much trashes the President's version, doesn't it? The fulcrum has much more.

Want a punchline for all of this? Secretary of State Colin Powell provided it just yesterday:
Powell, in an interview on ABC's "This Week," acknowledged that violence by insurgents is worsening and traced it to the upcoming elections.

"They do not want the Iraqi people to vote for their own leaders in a free, democratic election," Powell said of the insurgency. "And because it's getting worse, we will have to increase our efforts to defeat it, not walk away and pray and hope for something else to happen."
"It's getting worse."

Pssst, Kerry campaign, use that one.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Billmon speaks

Blogger Billmon, who is taking a break from his Whiskey Bar, has an op-ed in today's Los Angeles Times that partly explains his absence.

In short, Billmon is worried about the commodification of blogging and the loss of grassroots passion:
Recently, however, I've watched the commercialization of this culture of dissent with growing unease. When I recently decided to take a long break from blogging, it was for a mix of personal and philosophical reasons. But the direction the blogosphere is going makes me wonder whether I'll ever go back.

Even as it collectively achieves celebrity status for its anti-establishment views, blogging is already being domesticated by its success. What began as a spontaneous eruption of populist creativity is on the verge of being absorbed by the media-industrial complex it claims to despise.

In the process, a charmed circle of bloggers — those glib enough and ideologically safe enough to fit within the conventional media punditocracy — is gaining larger audiences and greater influence. But the passion and energy that made blogging such a potent alternative to the corporate-owned media are in danger of being lost, or driven back to the outer fringes of the Internet.
It figures that I would see this just moments after asking readers whether I should try to turn the past year's blogging into a book.

Of course, I'm an academic, so I'm used to the idea that no one reads my publications. So I blog because about 90 internet users are showing up daily to read what I write in this space. My interest in writing a new book is in finding a few additional readers and producing something lasting that can rest on my Dad's bookshelf.

Plus, I promise to try to maintain my passion and do not anticipate turning this blog into a billboard for ads.

Now, would I show up for a book tour appearance on The Daily Show? Hmmm...


Update: The New York Times also had a lengthy piece on blogging today. Skippy isn't happy about being overlooked in these pieces...but is delighted about being the 39th most influential blogger.

By the blogstreet index, this blog is #13045 (out of 141,300). Hey, Mom, I'm in the top 10%!

Historical footnote

I'm giving some thought to trying to produce a book based on material I've produced for this blog. Anyone think this could work -- and would a publisher go for it? Please let me know in the comments.

Specifically, I'm thinking of producing a work about Iraq, though I need to figure out the balance between the international and domestic politics.

Of course, this is something I've been thinking about for a long time. The following unpublished op-ed was dated December 5, 2001, and thus pre-dates my blogging:
The Case Against Attacking Iraq

Lately, news reports have been filled with speculation that Iraq might be the next target in America's war on terrorism. Not enough attention, however, has been directed at whether the US should go to war against Iraq.

The case for war is built around two points. Bush administration officials emphasize that Iraq supports terrorism with a global reach and has long sought to develop weapons of mass destruction.

While these facts are troubling, they are certainly not new. Indeed, the US has regularly bombed Iraq over the past decade; yet, the threats have not been viewed as sufficiently compelling to trigger a larger conflict.

To date, no American official has accused Iraq of playing a role in the horrible events of September 11, nor has any hard evidence been revealed. The State Department's April 2001 report on global terrorism even acknowledges that Iraq "has not attempted an anti-Western terrorist attack since…1993."

If Iraq is not implicated in the September 11 terrorism, few nation-states, not even America's closest allies, are likely to support a new war. The German Foreign Minister, for instance, has already cautioned against war and claims that all European nations would be skeptical about attacking Iraq.

Lack of international support would clearly mean significant costs for the US and pose numerous logistical difficulties. Before the Persian Gulf War, President George H.W. Bush and Secretary of State James Baker spent months building an impressive international coalition against Saddam Hussein. Consequently, most of the funding for that war, amounting to tens of billions of dollars, came from partners like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Germany and Japan.

Literally hundreds of thousands of American ground troops were also deployed in willing host nations. Where might troops land now? Neither Saudi Arabia nor Kuwait is likely to allow new deployments. Israel might be willing to let the US use its territory as a base for operations, but a prominent Israeli role, following recent retaliatory attacks on the Palestinian Authority, would scuttle any hope for renewed peace talks, aggravate regional tensions, and probably fracture the coalition that has been assembled against terrorism.

Since Turkey borders Iraq and is a NATO ally, it might be considered as a base for a US attack. However, Turkey struggles to balance secular government with a large Islamic population, and would likely face serious internal pressures if it agreed to host an unpopular American war.

Finally, not even the threat of weapons of mass destruction justifies making Iraq the next US target. Arms inspectors were banished years ago, so Iraqi scientists might well have secretly produced new stockpiles of chemical, biological, or even nuclear weapons. Though some see this as a rationale for war, note that Pakistan has actually tested nuclear weapons and is not targeted in the war on terrorism--no matter how terrifying its weapons might seem to India or other states.

Rather than going to war, the US might want to recall a basic security tenet from the cold war era: mutual deterrence. It would be devastating if Iraq used WMD against the US, but Iraq surely knows that it could be destroyed if the US was compelled to respond in-kind. However, Hussein might also figure that he has nothing to lose by using WMD if the US ignores the risks and launches an all-out effort to topple his regime.

The US should not, of course, simply ignore Iraqi WMD threats. The US long sought to counter proliferation with tools of international diplomacy, including a mix of political and economic disincentives. Therefore, the US should negotiate the reintroduction of international weapons inspectors in Iraq and end its opposition to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, an accord that enjoys widespread international support that is aimed at limiting the spread of nuclear weapons.

The US might also want to prioritize non-proliferation goals if it is serious about such threats. Under US law, various sanctions are automatically levied against states that develop WMD. However, sanctions imposed in 1998 upon Pakistan were reversed this fall in appreciation for its cooperation in the war against terrorism. The US certainly wants to end both terrorism and proliferation--but it should not sacrifice one goal to support the other.
I should have edited this a bit more to have a serious shot of publication in 2001, but I think this was better argued that most of the administration's case for war in 2002.

Note also that many months later I worked on a revised version of this op-ed with Avery, but we didn't have any luck finding an outlet either. Avery, mind if I put that on the blog?

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Musharraf criticizes the Iraq war

Did you notice that AP has a story called "Bush Twists Kerry's Words on Iraq"? It turns out Kerry didn't say "he would prefer the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein to the situation in Iraq today" as Bush claimed (to audible audience gasps) yesterday!

Shocking.

As I reported earlier this week, Kerry actually said that Saddam Hussein was "a brutal dictator who deserves his own special place in hell."

And this "The satisfaction we take in his downfall does not hide this fact: We have traded a dictator for a chaos that has left America less secure."

I wonder how Bush will twist the words of Pakistani President Perves Musharraf, uttered just yesterday?

Paula Zahn and Tom Brokow separately interviewed Musharraf yesterday. I canot find the CNN transcript, but it was widely covered in the international press:
Musharraf, in the United States to attend the UN General Assembly, was asked in an interview on CNN if he thought the war in Iraq was a mistake.

"It has ended up bringing more trouble to the world," said the Pakistani leader, an ally of the United States in its broader war on terror.

"[The world] is more dangerous ... because [the Iraq war] has aroused the passions of the Muslims more," he said, describing the US-led coalition as "bogged down" in Iraq.

"[The war in Iraq] has complicated the war on terror ... it has made the job more difficult," said Musharraf, who has been the target of two assassination attempts in recent months.
And remember, Pakistan is a key member of the "coalition of the willing," even though they have never really supported the Iraq adventure.

MSNBC has the transcript of the Brokow interview:
Brokaw: Do you think the American war against Iraq was a mistake?

Musharraf: Well, I wouldn't comment on that. But I will certainly say that it has complicated the issue.

Brokaw: In your part of the world.

Musharraf: In the Islamic world. In the Iraqi region. In the Middle East.

Brokaw: Made it worse for America?

Musharraf: Yes.
Will Bush renounce this pessimism too?

Previously, Bush has been pretty friendly toward the man who came to power in a coup. From June 24, 2003:
President Musharraf is a courageous leader and a friend of the United States. America has a strong relationship with Pakistan, and we have benefitted from the industry and the talents of Pakistani Americans.

Today, our two nations are working together closely on common challenges. Both the United States and Pakistan are threatened by global terror, and we're determined to defeat it. Pakistan's support was essential in our campaign against the Taliban.
Just wait patiently for the cynical political tongue-twisting.


Update: Did the other shoe drop? The US government issued a new travel advisory for Americans:
The U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, meanwhile, issued a renewed travel warning, urging American citizens to keep a low profile in Pakistan and stressing that it might not be able to help anyone who got into trouble while venturing into rural areas.

Embassy staff "may be prohibited from traveling to certain areas of Pakistan due to security concerns as well as the need to obtain advance permission from the government of Pakistan to travel outside urban areas," the warning said. "Therefore, they may not be able to render immediate service to American citizens in distress."
Just a little slap on the wrist, eh?

Friday, September 24, 2004

Al Qaeda's Top Recruiting Sergeant

Monday, BBC NEWS reported a story I haven't seen in the blogs or US press:
"If anyone's ready to celebrate the eventual re-election of Bush, it is none other than al-Qaeda," Sir Ivor [Roberts, the British Ambassador to Italy] was quoted as saying by the Corriere della Sera newspaper.

It reported he also told the meeting of British and Italian politicians, bankers, academics and journalists in Tuscany: "Bush is al-Qaeda's best recruiting sergeant."
This is perhaps a condensed version of the Asia Times story, "Why al-Qaeda votes Bush" from February 2004.

The BBC notes that Sir Ivor thought he was speaking off-the-record.

Bush speaks to the press!

George Bush conducted a rare press conference Thursday:
We went into Iraq because Saddam Hussein defied the demands of the free world. We went into Iraq after diplomacy had failed....As I said before, Iraq is a central part of the war on terror. And I believe it's important for us to succeed there because of that.

See, 9/11 changed everything. September the 11th meant that we had to deal with a person like Saddam Hussein. Of course, I was hoping it could be done diplomatically. But diplomacy failed. And so the last resort of a President is to use force. And we did.
This is wrong on so many levels. I'll focus on the claim about the failure of diplomacy.

How could diplomacy have failed? The primary purpose of UN and US diplomacy from 1991 through 2003 was containment of Iraq and disarmament. After 18 months in-country, US inspectors have learned that Saddam was contained and disarmed. Prior to the war, UN resolution 1441 convinced Saddam to open his countries to inspectors and they were revealing their findings: nothing. He had no nuclear program, for example.

OK, I guess from Bush's perspective, diplomacy failed. Bush, Secretary of State Colin Powell and former UN Ambassador John Negroponte failed to obtain a UN resolution authorizing the use of force. They couldn't get "regime change" through diplomacy. That made the war illegal, which is a failure of this administration. But I don't think that's what Bush had in mind.

The president also said this Thursday:
I saw a poll that said the right track/wrong track in Iraq was better than here in America. (Laughter.) It's pretty darn strong. I mean, the people see a better future.

Talk to the leader. I agree -- I'm not the expert on how the Iraqi people think, because I live in America, where it's nice and safe and secure. But I talk to this man. One reason I'm optimistic about our ability to get the job done is because I talk to the Iraqi Prime Minister.
If I were President, I'm not sure that I'd go around saying that more Americans think the US is "off track" than do Iraqis, but he's the one trying to get elected.

Incidentally, the President was apparently referencing a poll by the International Republican Institute. I don't really know much about the source or poll, but the website features a lot of Republicans and touts an event they hosted at the Republican National Convention. Are they partisan? Do a quick google search and you'll find that poll after poll reveals that Iraqis want US soldiers to leave. Immediately.

Bush's message is truly mind-boggling: Why believe the "guesses" of your National Intelligence Council, he says, when you can talk to a hand-picked leader?

Let's see, the CIA says the best-case scenario through the end of 2005 is more of the same in Iraq, with the chance of civil war looming. Three prominent Republican Senators use words like "pitiful," "embarrassing," "dangerous," "incompetent" and "nonsense" to describe US policies in Iraq. And I didn't mention this two weeks ago, but the "safe" Green Zones in Iraq are no longer safe. The Financial Times quoted the US military leaders:
US military officers in Baghdad...have warned they cannot guarantee the security of the perimeter around the Green Zone, the headquarters of the Iraqi government and home to the US and British embassies, according to security company employees.

At a briefing earlier this month, a high-ranking US officer in charge of the zone's perimeter said he had insufficient soldiers to prevent intruders penetrating the compound's defences.

The US major said it was possible weapons or explosives had already been stashed in the zone, and warned people to move in pairs for their own safety.

The Green Zone, in Baghdad's centre, is one of the most fortified US installations in Iraq. Until now, militants have not been able to penetrate it. But insurgency has escalated this week, spreading to the centre of Baghdad.
What can we make of this president? David Kay said Bush might be delusional, if he thinks WMD are going to be found in Iraq.

I think a better metaphor was provided last week by comedian Bill Maher, who referred to Bush as "Baghdad Bob" on his HBO TV show:
Baghdad Bob, of course, was Saddam Hussein's minister of information, now immortalized on t-shirts, Web sites and even a DVD for his optimistic, if fanciful, statements about Iraq's triumph over the American infidels, right up to the point we toppled his boss's statue.
Columnist Joe Klein, of Time apparently came up with much the same idea on September 19, 2004:
Scott McClellan is beginning to sound like Baghdad Bob, the infamous spokesman for Saddam who announced hallucinatory Iraqi victories as the American troops closed in on Baghdad.
Who cares about credit?

The President's attitude reminds me of the attitude taken in that old Timbuk 3 song, "The Future's So Bright I Gotta Wear Shades." Of course, it was dripping with irony.

Bush seems to be serious, and is seriously wrong. See this great post by Juan Cole, "If America were Iraq, What would it be like?"

George W. bush is our very own Baghdad Bob. Let's see if the name sticks.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Dukakis moment

A commenter at Daily Kos wants to give President Bush a Michael Dukakis moment in the presidential debates:
"If Andrew Card came to you in that Florida classroom and told you that your family had been carjacked on September 11, would you still have sat there for seven minutes and done nothing?"
In case you do not follow the reference:
In 1988, CNN's Bernard Shaw asked Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis whether he would favor the death penalty for someone who had raped and murdered Dukakis' wife, Kitty. "No, I do not," Dukakis replied and went on to describe the reasons for his long-standing opposition to capital punishment.

It wasn't the substance of Dukakis' answer that made it one of those legendary debate moments. It was the candidate's calm demeanor and refusal to say anything about what personal feelings the rape and murder of his wife might engender. His response reinforced the stereotype of Dukakis as a bloodless bureaucrat.
It wasn't good for the candidate.

Did Kerry Vote for War or Leverage?

Commenter David Nieporent (of Jumping to Conclusions) was up late last night, leaving two comments (here and here) about my post on Kerry's consistent position vis-a-vis Iraq.

David does not really challenge the thrust of my argument. Instead, he goes after "Kerry's claim that he was merely voting for the resolution to give Bush leverage."

1) "It's complete and utter" BS. "Not one person on the planet viewed that congressional vote as anything other than a declaration of war."
Really? Then I guess you are saying President Bush was lying when he repeatedly claimed not to have made up his mind about whether force would be necessary. I've gone through his speeches from August 2002 through March 2003. He said it repeatedly. Indeed, as I've blogged before, Bush spent fall 2002 calling for debate and discussion, not war.

Here's Rumsfeld on August 7:
I would say that we're at a relatively early stage in the dialogue, the international dialogue and discussion and debate on this issue, and I think it merits thoughtful comment rather than trying to particularize it with a series of hypothetical compound questions, if there is such a thing
Bush said this, in fact, as recently as March 6, 2003:
"I've not made up our (sic) mind about military action. Hopefully, this can be done peacefully. Hopefully, that as a result of the pressure that we have placed -- and others have placed -- that Saddam will disarm and/or leave the country."
Bob Woodward claimed in his last book that Bush made up his mind in January 2003, but Condoleezza Rice denies even that:
She said she was with Mr. Bush in Crawford, Tex., in January 2003 when he expressed his frustration with how weapons inspections were proceeding in Iraq. "He said, `Now, I think we probably are going to have to go to war, we're going to have to go to war,' " Ms. Rice recalled today on the CBS News program "Face the Nation." "It was not a decision to go to war. That decision he made in March when he finally decided to do that."
And John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago, who was all over mass media in fall 2002, said this on Jim Lehrer's "Newshour" on November 25, 2002 (after the congressional resolution):
I think that two things have happened to the Bush administration over the past few months. One is, I think they've become more aware of the down-side risks of attacking Iraq. And secondly, I think they are aware that there is a lot of opposition in this country to a war against Iraq. And as a result, the Bush administration appears to be willing to let the U.N. inspections regime work, and then maybe declare victory and avoid a war.
War was not certain when Congress voted. It was authorized, but with the caveat the the US should pursue diplomacy through the UN first.
2) "...except one person, and if he was right, then Kerry is wrong in a different way. That person was Robert Byrd, who repeatedly denounced the vote. Congress does not have the constitutional authority to delegate to the president the choice as to whether to go to war. Kerry had no business making such a vote, if that was really his motive."
As you undoubtedly know, Congress has not declared any war since December 1941. Your indictment of Kerry here applies to every member of Congress who has voted to authorize any use of force for decades. That would be a lot of members, including virtually every current Republican who served in 2001 or 2002.

In other words, it is hardly a compelling argument, and one the courts have not resolved since the passage of the War Powers Resolution in 1973. This case was different from most prior instances because Bush asked for the authority even as he was claiming that he might not have to use it. He said the leverage would be useful to attain US security goals. On November 8, Bush said this:
"If we're to avert war, all nations must continue to pressure Saddam Hussein to accept this [UN] resolution and to comply with his obligations."
Again, was Bush lying about the chances to avoid war? Was he lying about the use of leverage? Maybe he was just playing partisan politics in the 2002 midterm elections, hoping to trap Democrats in a Catch-22? I report, you decide.
3) "If Kerry felt that authorizing force was necessary to give leverage to the president, then how does that explain his vote in 1990, when he voted AGAINST giving President Bush authority in Iraq? Was he trying to sabotage Bush's diplomatic efforts then?"
Well, the context was completely different. Look at the chronology. The 1991 congressional vote was on January 12, 1991, just four days before war. Congress was being asked to support the use of force after the diplomacy was finished. Bush had already been pressuring Iraq and building an international coalition. Indeed, the UN had already given Hussein a deadline of January 15.

In 2002, the congressional debate began in September and the Senate vote was on October 11. That vote was genuinely before the UN diplomacy. Resolution 1441 passed 15-0 on November 8 and even the White House claimed all along that the congressional vote would help secure the necessary diplomacy.

The leverage of force was already apparent in the nearly half million American troops deployed (plus around a quarter of a million international troops). Kerry was among those arguing to give other means (including sanctions) more time to work. Look at his Senate speech on January 12, 1991 (which can be found via a search here), he said there was no hurry:
"If we go to war in the next few days, it will not be because our immediate vital interests are so threatened and we have no other choice. It is not because of nuclear, chemical, biological weapons when, after all, Saddam Hussein had all those abilities or was working toward them for years--even while we armed him and refused to hold him accountable for using some of them. It will be because we set an artificial deadline."
As George H.W. Bush's neocon foes argued at the time, the war did not topple Saddam Hussein, did not disarm or destroy his WMD, and did not save the thousands of Iraqis who were inspired to rebel by Bush's actions (comments and leaflets) -- but were killed by the regime.

Nieporent continues:
"And Kerry's full of [expletive deleted}...in another way. Bush and Dean were correct; Kerry is lying or dumb. (I assume the former.) The choice was "between force without diplomacy and diplomacy without force." The US could have chosen not to invade; it could not have chosen "more diplomacy."

If Kerry thinks we shouldn't have invaded, fine. But to pretend that there was any chance of getting more support is dishonest. It may not be "flip flopping" in the sense of changing his position, but it's "flip flopping" in the sense of trying to have it both ways, to pretend to be both a war opponent and supporter.

Bush could have sung La Marseillaise while wearing a beret, and it wouldn't have swayed France. Unless there were Iraqi troops marching down the Champs-Elysees, Chirac wasn't going to support this thing. Kerry knows that; he's hoping swing voters who supported the war don't.
Colorful, but wrong.

First, the inspections could have continued until they met serious opposition from Iraq and that would have constituted ongoing diplomacy. Why was that impossible? Iraq was not impeding them. This is what France and Germany clearly favored. Germany might never have agreed to go to war if Iraq started blocking inspections, but they had only a 2-year term on the Security Council. France had the veto.

And there was a chance to draft and pass a second resolution with French support. The Financial Times had a very good multi-part series about the buildup to war (in May 2003). They found that more effort might have brought the French on board for war. Here's some reporting from one of the articles in the series:
Looking back, French and British officials acknowledge a further irony. In the last few days before the resolution was withdrawn, Mr Blair was deeply concerned that France might in the end agree to a plan that would impose a 30-day deadline for Iraq to comply with some tough benchmarks. British officials believe that, at that late stage, Mr Blair would have been forced to accept the proposal. The Americans, they suspect, would have opposed it, splintering the small and fragile coalition. For their part, the French feared that they might have to accept an equally difficult outcome. If the British proposed a tough and serious deadline - of about 30 days - they might well have signed on.
Chile was proposing 30 additional days of inspections and France publicly supported it.

Without the rush to war, the coalition could have been larger and stronger. This would have meant more legitimacy and greater sharing of burdens if war had been necessary.

Of course, the counterfactual is difficult to prove because we don't know what Iraq would have done in those 30 days. If they continued to cooperate, obviously, no weapons would have been found. What then? Probabliy more inspections. At what point would trigger-happy Bush have gone to war? The pretext was collapsing.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Imagine...

Imagine....what John Lennon's classic song would sound like if a talented artist (rx of thepartyparty) sampled bits of George W. Bush's speeches for the vocal track and undergirded those words with "the sliding bass line" from Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side."

Actually, you don't have to imagine. It's here, and it's brilliant.

I got an email about the track the other day, but didn't click the link until skippy the bush kangaroo provided the endorsement.

Culture alert: check it out.

Kerry: March 18, 2003

Project Vote Smart has a huge inventory of speeches and statements by John Kerry (and other major political figures).

In just a minute, I found this "Statement of Senator John Kerry Regarding President Bush's Announcement on Iraq" dated March 18, 2003, the day before the President started the war against Iraq (but after the 48 hour ultimatum). Does this sound familiar?
...the Administration's handling of the run up to war with Iraq could not possibly have been more inept or self-defeating. President Bush has clumsily and arrogantly squandered the post 9/11 support and goodwill of the entire civilized world in a manner that will make the jobs ahead of us -- both the military defeat and the rebuilding of Iraq -- decidedly more expensive in every sense of that word.

The Administration's indifference to diplomacy and the manner in which it has treated friend and foe alike over the past several months have left this country with vastly reduced influence throughout the world, made impossible the assembly of a broad, multinational effort against Saddam Hussein, and dramatically increased the costs of fulfilling our legitimate security obligations at home and around the world.
While Kerry next offers some bland words of support to the President for attempting to protect America's security in the post-9/11 world, he could not have been clearer about what he would have done differently:
My strong personal preference would have been for the Administration -- like the Administration of George Bush, Sr. -- to have given diplomacy more time, more commitment, a real chance of success. In my estimation, giving the world thirty additional days for additional real multilateral coalition building -- a real summit, not a five hour flyby with most of the world's powers excluded -- would have been prudent and no impediment to our military situation, an assessment with which our top military brass apparently agree. Unfortunately, that is an option that has been disregarded by President Bush.

In the colloquial, we are where we are. It will take years to repair the needless damage done by this Administration, damage to our international standing and moral leadership, to traditional and time-tested alliances, to our relations with the Arab world, ultimately to ourselves.
It's crystal clear.

Really, it is.

Bush went to war; Kerry would have waited and worked harder on diplomacy.

Then what?

Here's Kerry and Veep choice John Edwards on "60 Minutes," in July. They were being badgered by Leslie Stahl about their votes to support the October 2002 Iraq war resolution:
John Kerry: I think I answered your question. I think the way he [Bush] went to war was a mistake.

John Edwards: And I know you want to make this black and white, but the difference is... I'm going to finish this. The difference is, if John Kerry were president of the United States, we would never be in this place. He would never have done what George bush did. He would have done the hard work to build the alliances and the support system. We would have known... let me finish.

Stahl: Why build an alliance if they didn't have weapons of mass destruction?

John Edwards: We would have found out. That's the point.
It is really pretty simple.

I'm going to keep repeating this point every so often until someone with a large microphone joins me.

I imagined Edwards will help clarify the entire thing when confronting Cheney:
Stahl: You just recently said, if you get elected, no young Americans will go to war needlessly.

John Edwards: That's true.

Stahl: That's a direct quote from you.

John Edwards: Yes, ma'am.

Stahl: It implies that president Bush sent young men and women to war needlessly.

John Edwards: Because he didn't do the things that should have been done before taking this country to war. This is not A... I mean, we've now said it ten times. This is not a complicated thing.
It really isn't complicated.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Roger Stone?

If you google "Roger Stone forged documents," this blog comes up first.

Why does this matter? Well, it turns out a lot of people are googling those words together today. The NY Post repeated a rumor that is supposedly circulating suggesting Stone forged the Bush Guard Memos.

I previously blogged about Roger Stone back on February 12. He is the Republican operative who had some dubious links to the presidential campaign of Reverend Al Sharpton. He also engineered the "rioting" Cubans who disrupted the ballot counting in the 2000 Florida election fiasco.

And my "forged document" post from February 10 is this blog's most popular post ever -- but it is about the forged Niger documents. I guess since both posts appear on the same page from February, google directs users to this page.

Sorry, if you are looking for followup, virtually everything I know about this story comes from Kos diarists.

Update: USA Today, just before 11 pm:
"I have nothing whatsoever to do with this," Stone told USA TODAY. "I'm a firm believer in political hardball, but I draw the line at forged documents."

Monday, September 20, 2004

John Kerry: Mr. Consistency?

President Bush charged again today that John Kerry is a flip flopper who is increasingly sounding like anti-war former candidate Howard Dean. Bush and the Republicans are implicitly arguing that Kerry is a soul-less, unprincipled politician who blows with the winds of expediency.
Reciting a statement Kerry made at Drake University in Iowa in December, when he was battling Howard Dean, who opposed the Iraq war, Bush quoted Kerry as saying that "those who believe we are not safer with [Saddam Hussein's] capture don't have the judgment to be president or the credibility to be elected president."

"I couldn't have said it better myself," Bush said, as the audience roared.
Yawn.

The trouble is that this can be fact-checked. This is what John Kerry actually said at Drake University on December 16, 2003:
I believed then - and I believe now - authorizing force was the only way to get inspectors in, and the only way ultimately to enforce Saddam Hussein's compliance with the mandate he had agreed to, knowing that as a last resort war could become the ultimate weapons inspections enforcement mechanism.

And I also believe that those who doubted whether Iraq or the world would be better off without Saddam Hussein, and those who believe we are not safer with his capture don't have the judgment to be President - or the credibility to be elected President.

A year and a half ago, as this campaign was starting, I argued that for Democrats to win America's votes we must first convince the voters that we will keep America safe.

I believed then and I believe now that Americans deserve better than a false choice between force without diplomacy and diplomacy without force.
Kerry has been saying these exact same things since the very beginning of the Iraq discussion. I've previously quoted at length from Kerry's s speech justifying his Iraq vote in the Senate.

Want more?

Here's Kerry in an op-ed in the New York Times, September 6, 2002:
It may well be that the United States will go to war with Iraq. But if so, it should be because we have to -- not because we want to....

Regime change in Iraq is a worthy goal. But regime change by itself is not a justification for going to war. Absent a Qaeda connection, overthrowing Saddam Hussein -- the ultimate weapons-inspection enforcement mechanism -- should be the last step, not the first. Those who think that the inspection process is merely a waste of time should be reminded that legitimacy in the conduct of war, among our people and our allies, is not a waste, but an essential foundation of success.

If we are to put American lives at risk in a foreign war, President Bush must be able to say to this nation that we had no choice, that this was the only way we could eliminate a threat we could not afford to tolerate.

...knowing ahead of time that our military intervention will remove him from power, and that we will then inherit all or much of the burden for building a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq, is all the more reason to insist on a process that invites support from the region and from our allies. We will need that support for the far tougher mission of ensuring a future democratic government after the war.

...until we have properly laid the groundwork and proved to our fellow citizens and our allies that we really have no other choice, we are not yet at the moment of unilateral decision-making in going to war against Iraq.
Gosh, these are nearly identical arguments to the ones Kerry presented in July when he accepted the Democratic nomination! If only the President had been as consistent over the same 21 month period!

Here's Kerry at the Democratic Debate in New Hampshire, January 22, 2004:
there was a right way to hold Saddam Hussein accountable and there was a wrong way.

The right way was what the president promised, to go to the United Nations, to respect the building of an international coalition in truth, to exhaust the remedies of inspections and literally to only go to war as a last result.

Now, I've fought all my life for peace. I fought against the war in Vietnam when I came home. I fought against Ronald Reagan's illegal war in Central America. I fought with John McCain to make peace in Vietnam. I fought to hold the Khmer Rouge accountable in Cambodia. And on and on.

If anybody in New Hampshire believes that John Kerry would have in fact gone to war the way George Bush did, they shouldn't vote for me. But if they know that I would have stood up and exhausted the remedies and done what was necessary to hold them accountable but lived up to the values and principles of our country, then I'm the person to be president who actually can make America more secure without breaching relationships across this planet.
This is basically the exact same message he continues to use.

In the debate, in fact, Kerry reminded everyone that he'd been saying the exact same thing since March 2003:
[Use force] As a last resort was the promise of a president. And I wrote in the New York Times at that time, I said the United States of America should never go to war because it wants to. It should only go to war because it has to. And that means building legitimacy and consent of the America people, Brit [Hume, Fox moderator].

Look, I know there is a test as a commander in chief as to when you send young Americans off to war, because I know what happens when you lose that consent.

And you got to be able to look in the eyes of a family and say you exhausted every possibility and you only sent their son or daughter to die because you had no other choice.

I believe George Bush failed that test in Iraq. I said so at the time, and that's what I believe happened.

There is the right way to do it and wrong way to do it. He chose the wrong way. And he's run the most arrogant, inept, reckless and ideological foreign policy in the modern history of our country.
Can't someone in the media do a little fact checking instead of just repeating what the President claims?

Just for the sake of consistency, here's Kerry on Monday, September 21, 2004...nearly two full years after the op-ed I quoted above:
Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator who deserves his own special place in hell. But that was not, in itself, a reason to go to war.

The satisfaction we take in his downfall does not hide this fact: we have traded a dictator for a chaos that has left America less secure....

Two years ago, Congress was right to give the President the authority to use force to hold Saddam Hussein accountable.

This president - any President - would have needed the threat of force to act effectively. This president misused that authority...

The president rushed to war without letting the weapons inspectors finish their work.

He went without a broad and deep coalition of allies.

He acted without making sure our troops had enough body armour.

And he plunged ahead without understanding or preparing for the consequences of the post-war. None of which I would have done.

Yet today, President Bush tells us that he would do everything all over again, the same way. How can he possibly be serious?

Is he really saying that if we knew there were no imminent threat, no weapons of mass destruction, no ties to al-Qaeda, the United States should have invaded Iraq?

My answer is no, because a commander-in-chief's first responsibility is to make a wise and responsible decision to keep America safe...
It's exactly the same critique he's offered since the Bush administration went to war, which was grounded in his pre-war analysis of the situation.

John Kerry: Mr. Consistency.

The Republicans seem to believe they can win this election through obfuscation and lies about Kerry's position.

However, Kerry has clearly decided to fight back and will have to get his message across. And part of that message has to include highlighting this same history I've posted here.

The entire speech from Monday is worth reading, by the way, though it is basically a summary of key points raised in this blog over the past year.

Update: Robert Kagan and William Kristol attempt to make Kerry look like a flip flopper in The Weekly Standard of September 20. One of their quotes is the same one Bush used Monday.

I don't have time to do all the fact-checking, but William Saletan already covered some of this ground on August 12, in Slate.

The Long and Winding Road

President George W. Bush, March 17, 2003 (2 days before going to war):
Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised.
Resolute. Notice the lack of doubt.

Bush, June 21, 2003:
The intelligence services of many nations concluded that he had illegal weapons and the regime refused to provide evidence they had been destroyed. We are determined to discover the true extent of Saddam Hussein's weapons programs, no matter how long it takes.
Creeping doubt? No matter, everyone knew Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

Bush, November 12, 2003:
"I think our intelligence was sound; I know the British intelligence was sound. It's the same intelligence that caused the United Nations to pass resolution after resolution after resolution. It's the same intelligence that was used by my predecessor to bomb Iraq. I'm very confident we got good intelligence."
Maybe some doubt, but still firm.

Bush, January 27, 2004:
There is no doubt in my mind that Saddam Hussein was a gathering threat to America and others. That's what we know. We know from years of intelligence -- not only our own intelligence services, but other intelligence gathering organizations -- that he had weapons -- after all, he used them. He had deep hatred in his heart for people who love freedom. We know he was a dangerous man in a dangerous part of the world.
Firm and resolute again...though he's completely reframed the threat.

Mr. President, where are the WMD?

Bush, July 9, 2004, on the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee Report:
there has been some failures -- listen, we thought there was going to be stockpiles of weapons. I thought so; the Congress thought so; the U.N. thought so. I'll tell you what we do know. Saddam Hussein had the capacity to make weapons. See, he had the ability to make them. He had the intent. We knew he hated America. We knew he was paying families of suiciders. We knew he tortured his own people, and we knew he had the capability of making weapons. That we do know. They haven't found the stockpiles, but we do know he could make them. And so he was a dangerous man. He was a dangerous man.
Failures? But nothing personal.

Bush, August 2, 2004:
Knowing what I know today, we still would have gone on into Iraq. We still would have gone to make our country more secure. He had the capability of making weapons. He had terrorist ties.
OK, now the President is just being stubborn.

Bush, August 5, 2004:
He [Saddam Hussein] was a threat, and we saw him as a threat.

Now, the United States Congress looked at the same intelligence I looked at, the exact same intelligence, and came to the same conclusion. Members of both political parties looked at the intelligence. My opponent looked at the very same intelligence and came to the same conclusion.
Wait a minute everyone, it's John Kerry's fault that we went to war. He saw the same intelligence and voted for the war resolution.

Except, of course, Kerry didn't see the evidence or situation in the same way. By March 2003, as I've written before, the IAEA and UNMOVIC had been on the ground for months, virtually unimpeded, and they were not finding WMD. None. Iraq was very close to full compliance and bright people like Kerry were not ready to go to war, partly because few of America's major allies were prepared to go to war given the realities on the ground.

Literally dozens of countries, by the way, actually have stockpiles of WMD (mainly chemical weapons) and many of them are ruled by leaders who hate the US and have links to terrorism.

What's the standard for going to war?

John Kerry says repeatedly,
As President, I will ask hard questions and demand hard evidence. I will immediately reform the intelligence system – so policy is guided by facts, and facts are never distorted by politics. And as President, I will bring back this nation's time-honored tradition: the United States of America never goes to war because we want to, we only go to war because we have to.
Strong national security policy depends on more than just a reckless willingness to shoot from the hip.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Republican Senators are Shrill

The latest National Intelligence Estimate about Iraq leaked to the Associated Press this week, and the news was not good. Not good at all.
In a highly classified National Intelligence Estimate, the [National Intelligence] council looked at the political, economic and security situation in the war-torn country and determined that -- at best -- stability in Iraq would be tenuous, a U.S. official said late Wednesday, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

At worst, the official said, were "trend lines that would point to a civil war." The official said it "would be fair" to call the document "pessimistic."

The intelligence estimate, which was prepared for Bush, considered the window of time between July and the end of 2005.
So why does President George W. Bush tour the country talking about the good news in Iraq? The AP quoted Bush in August: "We're making progress on the ground."

Wouldn't one simple and quantifiable sign of progress be the reconstruction of Iraq? I know that conservatives are always talking about the new schools and hospitals in Iraq. Why doesn't the media talk about them more, they say?

Better check those talking points.

It turns out that only $1 billion of $18.4 billion allocated by Congress for reconstruction of Iraq has been spent this year. In response to this news, Republican Senator Chuck Hagel (Neb.) was not happy:
"It's beyond pitiful, it's beyond embarrassing, it's now in the zone of dangerous," said Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., referring to figures showing only about 6 percent of the reconstruction money approved by Congress last year has been spent.
Republican Senator Richard Lugar is not happy either (Reuters):
"This is the incompetence in the administration," he said on ABC's "This Week."
Reuters too got a choice quote from Hagel today:
"The fact is, we're in deep trouble in Iraq ... and I think we're going to have to look at some recalibration of policy," Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska said on CBS's "Face the Nation."
Republican Senator John McCain has discussed the broader context of Iraq, noting that George W. Bush isn't always a "straight shooter."
"We made serious mistakes," said Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican...After the CIA report was disclosed on Thursday, Kerry accused the president of living in a "fantasy world of spin" about Iraq and of not telling the truth about the growing chaos.

McCain said Bush had been "perhaps not as straight as maybe we'd like to see."
Here's Lugar quoted in the AP piece:
"Our committee heard blindly optimistic people from the administration prior to the war and people outside the administration -- what I call the 'dancing in the street crowd' -- that we just simply will be greeted with open arms," Lugar said. "The nonsense of all of that is apparent. The lack of planning is apparent."
Deep Trouble. Beyond pitiful. Beyond embarrasment.

Dangerous. Incompetent. Nonsense.

Does this seem shrill? These are three sitting senior Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee talking about US policy in Iraq.

So why would anyone want to keep the same team in place?

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Iraq and the Youth Vote

I've been saying that Iraq is the #1 issue in this campaign and Harvard's Vanishing Voter Project just completed a survey that demonstrates this. Yesterday, the Project issued its latest press release:
In the Vanishing Voter Project’s national survey of September 8-12, Americans were almost evenly divided when asked whether Iraq or the economy “is of greater concern to you.” Forty-three percent said they were more concerned with Iraq while 37 percent said that the economy was of greater concern.

However, there was a significant difference between the two issue groups in their level of campaign involvement. Among those identifying Iraq as their major concern, 75 percent indicated they have been paying relatively close attention to the campaign. Among those for whom the economy was the larger issue, 65 percent said they were paying close attention. Americans concerned with Iraq were also more likely to indicate they “had discussed the campaign” recently. Fifty percent of the Iraq group reported a campaign-related conversation within the past day, compared with 43 percent of those who said the economy was the more important issue.
Perhaps most interesting, and tied to the cell phone point I made yesterday, younger voters are very interested in Iraq:
Young adults have been particularly responsive to the Iraq issue. Among adults who are 30 years of age or younger, 72 percent of those for whom Iraq is the top issue say they have been paying relatively close attention to the campaign, as compared with 48 percent of those who say the economy is the leading issue. Among older adults, the level of campaign attention is nearly the same among the two issue groups.

Young adults’ election involvement is perhaps higher in 2004 than in any presidential election since 1972.
By one measure, the survey found that younger voters are about twice as interested in this election as they were in the 2000 race.

The Vanishing Voter Project is particularly interested in turnout. In 1972, half of young adults voted; in 2000, it was about 30%.

Hmmm, I wonder what would happen in 2004 if young adult turnout increased by two-thirds? And I wonder how the current polls are doing -- reporting about "likely voters" based on past turnout, hypothetical increases in Republican Party affiliation, and dialing only land lines?

One final question: Do you suppose young adults have noticed that they're demographic is being asked to do most of the dying in Bush's "war on terror?"

Based on the fact that I teach US Foreign Policy to over 80 young adults, I know they have heard the whispers about reinstituting the draft.

I can think of a good question for the President in the fall debates:
"There will be no draft when John Kerry is president," the North Carolina senator vowed, raising the question of whether there would be a draft if Bush remains in the White House.
If this is too subtle:
“America will reinstate the military draft” if Bush is re-elected and continues the Iraq War, [former Senator Max] Cleland predicted, according to an account of his speech by the Colorado Springs Gazette.

"Pay attention ... to what you've got going on in Iraq. That, ladies and gentlemen, is Vietnam. I've seen this movie before. I know how it ends. It does not end pleasantly," he added. Cleland has been in a wheelchair since 1968 when he lost both legs and one arm in a grenade accident in Vietnam.

Former Kerry rival Howard Dean, now traveling the country to drum up support for Kerry and raise money for Democratic candidates, said last week at Brown University in Providence, R.I., "I think that George Bush is certainly going to have a draft if he goes into a second term, and any young person that doesn't want to go to Iraq might think twice about voting for him."
The MSNBC story which reported these quotes also noted that the Army National guard didn't meet recruitment goals in 14 of 20 months from October 2002 through May 2004. It was nearly 8000 soldiers short as of the end of FY 2003.

In fairness, note that President Bush and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld have said they oppose a draft. They both say the US doesn't "need" a draft.

Psssst, debate moderator: Better phrase the question in a way that makes the President consider the very strong possibility that recruiting goals won't be met even with pay and benefit increases.

Friday, September 17, 2004

Latest Zogby Polls

Since I just blogged about polling methods, let me relay some results from Zogby, who apparently uses non-phone methods and thus arguably doesn't have the same sampling error that other pollsters face.

Ooops, hold the phones:
Zogby International conducted telephone interviews of 1018 likely voters chosen at random nationwide.
Still, it might be worth considering Zogby's results since he at least acknowledges the methodological problems -- and had perhaps the most accurate results in 2000:
Of all the pollsters monitoring the 2000 election, Zogby made the most accurate prediction of the down-to-the-wire race for president.
Then again, that's from NewsMax, which has a business relationship with Zogby, and Zogby's state polls from 2000 were not nearly as accurate as his final national sample.

In any case, Zogby's latest poll, conducted September 8-9, had Bush/Cheney over Kerry/Edwards by 2 points (47-45) in the head-to-head and 4 points (46-42) in the comprehensive one that included Nader, Badnarik, etc. In each poll, there are 7-8% undecideds, who break mostly for challengers over incumbents when it is time to vote.

August 12-14, Zogby had Kerry up by 7 in the head-to-head (50-43) and by 4 in the broader one (47-43). The margin of error is 3.1%, so this looks like a close race that swung a bit towards Bush in the past month. 53% of those polled disapproved of Bush's job as President. When over half of voters say this, it usually means big trouble for an incumbent.

Moreover, Bush's margin over Kerry is larger in the "red states" (51-38) from 2000 than Kerry's is over Bush in the "blue states" (47-40). Since an electoral vote win is a win, whether it is triggered by 51-49 or 60-40 popular vote margin, this likely means the race remains very close on the state-to-state level. Who cares if Bush is winning Texas and Alabama decisively? Kerry has to retain all the close states, like Iowa, New Mexico...and Florida.

Polls and Cell Phones

Are pre-election opinion polls accurate?

If you know anything about polling, you've probably heard about this notorious polling mistake from 1936:
One of the most accurate straw polls for a while was the Literary Digest poll. It gained a wide following for its straw polls of presidential elections in the early 20th Century. The Digest's straw polling methods were based on the then-current belief that the bigger the sample, the more accurate the results.

During the last year (1936) the Digest polled, over 10 million questionnaires were mailed out, and over two million people responded. Compared to the roughly 1,500 or fewer people interviewed in a modern poll, two million respondents seem almost incalculable.

It was, however, with the 1936 poll that the Literary Digest's techniques became a symbol of flawed polling, and the Digest thereafter would have a special place in polling research infamy. Based on a sample of two million, the Digest confidently predicted that Pennsylvania native Republican Alf Landon, now a Kansan, would overwhelm Democrat Franklin Roosevelt.
FDR got 63% of the vote and won 46 of 48 states!

The question of poll accuracy is again alive in the 2004 election season.

Columnist Jimmy Breslin makes the most controversial claim. The polls are bunk, he says, because pollsters call people to unearth their opinions and a substantial number of people use cells phones that are never called:
Anybody who believes these national political polls are giving you facts is a gullible fool.

Any editors of newspapers or television news shows who use poll results as a story are beyond gullible. On behalf of the public they profess to serve, they are indolent salesmen of falsehoods....

There are almost 169 million cell phones being used in America today - 168,900,019 as of Sept. 15, according to the cell phone institute in Washington.

There is no way to poll cell phone users, so it isn't done.
Why don't pollsters call cell phone users?

Well, there are technical hurdles, which you probably already considered:
A technological factor is that users of wired telephones screen out unwanted calls from pollsters and survey researchers with caller-ID and computer programs that filter out calls from any unrecognized phone number.
There are also legal barriers unique to cell phones:
For a decade, Federal Communications Commission regulations have restricted pollsters from using modern dialing equipment to call cell phones. And even if they dial by hand, another rule prohibits them from phoning anyone who would have to pay for the call.

“That’s just about everyone with a cell phone,” said Elyse Gammer, an executive with the Marketing Research Association in Connecticut. “They pay for airtime, and if somehow they don’t, how are you going to know?”

A violation makes the caller vulnerable to a lawsuit with a penalty of at least $500.

To avoid a barrage of lawsuits, pollsters have long used lists of phone numbers that exclude cell phone exchanges.
Pollsters are exempt from the "do not call" laws, but still cannot call people who pay for incoming calls.

The impact of these limits are potentially huge. It is possible that failure to call cell phones skews the polling sample and thus distorts the meaning of the results. In a voter pool that seems quite evenly divided, the implications are obvious.

Columnist Robert Landauer of Portland's Oregonian newspaper claims that there may be huge demographic effects that will distort the poll samples:
Young people are the demographic group least likely to have their own wired telephones and most likely to communicate via cell phone. "Just over 18 million young people (18-30) voted in 2000, and five states were decided by less than 8,000 votes," said a March 11 report in Wired News.
Breslin quotes pollster John Zogby to demonstrate the enormity of the problem faced by pollsters:
"The people who are using telephone surveys are in denial," Zogby was saying. "It is similar to the '30s, when they first started polling by telephones and there were people who laughed at that and said you couldn't trust them because not everybody had a home phone. Now they try not to mention cell phones. They don't look or listen. They go ahead with a method that is old and wrong."
I've read that pollsters this year are asking to speak to the youngest members (over age 18) of the households they call. This seems like an obvious attempt to compensate for the "cell phone problem."

Does it work?

Landauer quoted another polling expert in his column
"At the moment there is no ready answer on how to deal with cell phones and how to get people into surveys and how to design surveys to accurately represent the population," says John Tarnai, director of the Social & Economic Sciences Research Center at Washington State University.
This story came to a similar conclusion, and noted the difficulty of even finding out if the survey methods are correct:
Relatively few people have opted to go entirely wireless, and little research has been conducted into whether that group differs significantly from the wired community. Pollsters note the Catch-22 of wanting to profile wireless-only customers but being unable to poll them.
Zogby is using direct interviews and is apparently trying to figure out ways to employ email to conduct polling, which might also prove controversial.

Anyway, I'm going to blog about Zogby's latest results in my next post.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Q: Any circumstances for war against Iraq?

This is how the President is talking about Iraq:
In Saddam Hussein, we saw a threat. I went to the United States Congress. They looked at the same intelligence I looked at. They remembered the same history I remembered. And they came to the conclusion that I came to: Saddam Hussein was a threat. And they voted to authorize the use of force.

My opponent looked at the same intelligence. And when they said, show of hands for the authorization of force, he said, yes. Before the Commander-in-Chief commits troops into harm's way, we must try all options. I was hoping diplomacy would work. I went to the United Nations. The United Nations looked at the same intelligence I looked at. They concluded Saddam Hussein was a threat. They voted by 15 to nothing in the U.N. Security Council for Saddam Hussein to disclose, disarm or face serious consequences. I believe when bodies say something, they better mean it. I believe when a President speaks, he better mean what he says. (Applause.)

Saddam Hussein ignored the demands of the free world again. As he had for over a decade, he wasn't interested in what the free world had to say. As a matter of fact, he systematically deceived inspectors that were sent into his country. So I have a choice to make at this point in time, diplomacy isn't working...

Knowing what I know today, even though we haven't found the stockpiles of weapons we thought were there, I'd have still made the same decision. America and the world are safer with Saddam Hussein sitting in a prison cell. (Applause.) I would have made the same decision because he had the capability of making weapons and he could have passed that capability on to an enemy. I would have made that same decision because I'll never forget the lessons of September the 11th, 2001.
He said these words campaigning in Minnesota, earlier today.

A few moments later, this is what Bush said about Kerry's position:
Now, during the course of this campaign, the fellow I'm running against has probably had about eight positions on Iraq -- for the war but wouldn't provide the funding; then he was the anti-war candidate; then he said, knowing everything we know today, I'd have done -- did the same thing; then he said, well, we're spending too much money -- that's after he said we weren't spending enough money. (Laughter.) And so yesterday in a radio interview, he tried to clear things up. He said, there were no circumstances -- none -- under which we should have gone to war. Although he said, his own vote to go to war was the right vote, and it was right to hold Saddam Hussein accountable. (Laughter.) The radio interviewer concluded, I can't tell you what he said. (Laughter.) Let me be clear: Mixed signals are the wrong signals to send to our troops in the field, the Iraqi people, to our allies, and -- most of all -- to our enemies. (Applause.)

It is critical --

AUDIENCE: Four more years! Four more years! Four more years!

THE PRESIDENT: It is critical -- it is critical that the President of the United States speaks clearly and consistently at this time of great threat in the world and not change positions because of expediency or pressure. (Applause.)
Do you see why I wrote what I did last weekend?

And here's the President's reference, from the Don Imus radio program Thursday:
IMUS: Do you think there are any circumstances we should have gone to war in Iraq -- any?

KERRY: Not under the current circumstances, no, there are none that I see. I voted based on weapons of mass destruction. The president distorted that and I've said that. I mean, look, I can't be clearer. But I think it was the right vote based on what Saddam Hussein had done, and I think it was the right thing to do to hold him accountable. I've said a hundred times, there was a right way to do it and a wrong way to do it. The president chose the wrong way. Can't be more direct than that.
I think Kerry intentionally answered a question that wasn't asked, though it is clear that George W. Bush evades questions all the time. Yet, the President takes his cue from the Imus question, not the Kerry answer.

Iraq is the #1 issue in this campaign and Kerry has got to make sure that everyone understands his position. Bush is twisting Kerry's words-- and I just saw CNN broadcast Bush doing it, without correction.

I also posted this on my DailyKos Diary, which I haven't used in awhile.