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Government secrecy, government leaks, and the NY Times

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Margaret Sullivan, the Public Editor of the NY Times (and the best Public Editor they’ve had to date), has an interesting column today:

Since 9/11, the United States’ “war on terror” has become the overarching news story of our time.

As the nation’s dominant news organization, The Times deserves, and gets, intensive scrutiny for how it has handled that story. The grades, clearly, are mixed. Its role in the run-up to the Iraq War has been rightly and harshly criticized. Its early reporting on surveillance, though delayed, was groundbreaking. Its national-security reporting has been excellent in many ways and, at times, is justifiably slammed for allowing too much cover for government officials who want to get their message out.

Nearly 14 years after 9/11, a reckoning finally is taking place. The Times’s executive editor, Dean Baquet, has said repeatedly in recent months that he thinks it’s time to toughen up and raise the bar.

Here’s what he told me recently, in the context of a column I wrote about covering drone strikes and the death of civilians:

“We’ve learned the perils of not monitoring and policing warfare” as rigorously as possible, and of too readily agreeing to government requests to withhold information.

“We were too soft years ago — at least, I’ll say that I was.”

As part of this change of heart, Mr. Baquet recently gave approval to publish the names of three undercover Central Intelligence Agency officials, including that of the architect of its controversial drone-warfare program. He said it was important to do so for the sake of providing public accountability. Timing was key: The decision came just after President Obama took responsibility for the deaths of two Western captives in an American drone strike in Pakistan.

Current and former government officials pushed back hard. Robert Litt, the general counsel to the director of national intelligence, saidpublicly that The Times had “disgraced itself” by publishing the names, and had put those officers’ and their families’ lives at risk.

And 20 former C.I.A. officials signed a letter to The Times criticizing the decision. They rejected Mr. Baquet’s accountability argument:

Officials who work on covert operations do not escape accountability. Their actions are carefully reviewed by the C.I.A.’s general counsel, the inspector general, White House officials, congressional overseers and Justice Department attorneys. Indeed, some of the operations referred to by The Times have been discussed publicly by the president and are some of the most carefully overseen in our government.

Here’s a long interview with Mr. Baquet done by Jack Goldsmith, who now has written several times on this subject. Mr. Goldsmith served in various roles in the George W. Bush administration, and essentially approaches the topic from the right. The interview is well worth the time of anyone interested in the details of how Mr. Baquet reached his decision and how he justifies it.

Mr. Goldsmith, in a later post to his Lawfare blog, said he found the C.I.A. officials’ arguments against The Times unpersuasive. He concluded: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 May 2015 at 6:06 am

Why Jeb Can’t Answer the Damn Question

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Martin Longman writes in the Washington Monthly:

Hopefully, if the phone rings at 3am in the White House, Jeb Bush won’t have to give four different answers to whatever questions he gets before he can arrive at one that people won’t reject as ridiculous.

Now, there is a very simple IF>THEN logic to why Jeb was reluctant to say that he wouldn’t have authorized the invasion of Iraq if he had known that Saddam was armed with soggy spit shooters. That works like this:

IF we invaded Iraq based on the faulty assumption that Saddam Hussein was armed with dangerous weapons
THEN everyone who died as a result, died for a mistake.

Jeb understandably did not want to go there, but that’s really putting a whitewash on what actually happened.

When George W. Bush decided to invade Iraq, he hadn’t even received the intelligence on Saddam’s weapons yet.

May 05, 2002

Two months ago, a group of Republican and Democratic Senators went to the White House to meet with Condoleezza Rice, the President’s National Security Adviser. Bush was not scheduled to attend but poked his head in anyway — and soon turned the discussion to Iraq. The President has strong feelings about Saddam Hussein (you might too if the man had tried to assassinate your father, which Saddam attempted to do when former President George Bush visited Kuwait in 1993) and did not try to hide them. He showed little interest in debating what to do about Saddam. Instead, he became notably animated, according to one person in the room, used a vulgar epithet to refer to Saddam and concluded with four words that left no one in doubt about Bush’s intentions: “We’re taking him out.”

This is the sanitized version. What Bush said was, “F*ck Saddam, we’re taking him out.” To date this, two months before May 5th, 2002 was approximately March 5th, 2002. Let’s march forward a little in time.

I’m going to rely on a bit of Bob Woodward’s reporting here, which I do with obvious reservations. But the basics have been corroborated by many other reporters: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 May 2015 at 8:50 am

In the same week, US and UK hide their war crimes by using “national security”

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Glenn Greenwald reports in The Intercept:

Colonel Ian Henderson was a British official dubbed “the Butcher of Bahrain” because of atrocities he repeatedly committed during the 30 years he served as chief security official of that Middle Eastern country. His reign of terror began in 1966 when Bahrain was a British “protectorate” and continued when the post-“independence” Bahraini King retained him in the same position. In 1996, The Independent described him as “the most feared of all secret policemen” in Bahrain, and cited “consistent and compelling evidence that severe beatings and even sexual assaults have been carried out against prisoners under Henderson’s responsibility for well over a decade.”

A 2002 Guardian article reported that “during this time his men allegedly detained and tortured thousands of anti-government activists”; his official acts “included the ransacking of villages, sadistic sexual abuse and using power drills to maim prisoners”; and “on many occasions they are said to have detained children without informing their parents, only to return them months later in body bags.” Needless to say, Col. Henderson was never punished in any way: “although Scotland Yard launched an inquiry into the allegations in 2000, the investigation was dropped the following year.” He was showered with high honors from the U.K.-supported tyrants who ran Bahrain.

Prior to the massacres and rapes over which he presided in Bahrain, Henderson played a leading role in brutally suppressing the Mau Mau insurgency in another British colony, Kenya. In the wake of his Kenya atrocities, he twice won the George Medal, “the 2nd highest, to the George Cross, gallantry medal that a civilian can win.” His brutality against Kenyan insurgents fighting for independence is what led the U.K. government to put him in charge of internal security in Bahrain.

For years, human rights groups have fought to obtain old documents, particularly a 37-year-old diplomatic cable, relating to British responsibility for Henderson’s brutality in Bahrain. Ordinarily, documents more than 30 years old are disclosable, but the British government has fought every step of the way to conceal this cable.

But now, a governmental tribunal ruled largely in favor of the government and held that most of the diplomatic cable shall remain suppressed. The tribunal’s ruling was at least partially based on “secret evidence for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) from a senior diplomat, Edward Oakden, who argued that Britain’s defence interests in Bahrain were of paramount importance”; specifically, “Mr Oakden implied that the release of such information could jeopardise Britain’s new military base in the country.”

The U.K. government loves to demonize others for supporting tyrants even as it snuggles up to virtually every despot in that region. Her Majesty’s Government has a particularly close relationship with Bahrain, where it is constructing a new naval base. The Kingdom is already home to the United States’ Fifth Fleet.

The tribunal’s rationale is that “full disclosure of the document would have ‘an adverse effect on relations’ with Bahrain, where the U.K. is keen to build further economic and defence ties.” In other words, disclosing these facts would make the British and/or the Bahrainis look bad, cause them embarrassment, and could make their close friendship more difficult to sustain. Therefore, the British and Bahraini populations must be denied access to the evidence of what their governments did.

This is the core mindset now prevalent in both the U.S. and U.K. for hiding their crimes from their own populations and then rest of the world:disclosure of what we did will embarrass and shame us, cause anger toward us, and thus harm our “national security.” As these governments endlessly highlight the bad acts of those who are adverse to them, they vigorously hide their own, thus propagandizing their publics into believing that only They — the Other Tribe Over There — commit such acts.

This is exactly the same mentality driving the Obama administration’s years-long effort to suppress photographs showing torture of detainees by the U.S. In 2009, Obama said he would comply with a court ruling that ordered those torture photos disclosed, but weeks after his announcement, reversed himself. Adopting the argument made by a group run by Bill Kristol and Liz Cheney against disclosure of the photos, Obama insisted that to release the photos “would be to further inflame anti-American opinion and to put our troops in danger.” Obama went further and announced his support for a bill sponsored by Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman to amend the Freedom of Information Act — a legislative accomplishment which Rep. Louise Slaughter told me at the time had long been “sacred” to Democrats — for no reason other than to exempt those torture photos from disclosure.

In March of this year, a U.S. judge who had long sided with the Obama DOJ in this matter reversed course. In a lawsuit brought in 2004 by the ACLU, the judge ordered the release of thousands of photos showing detainee abuse in Afghanistan and Iraq, including at Abu Ghraib. He ruled that the Obama DOJ could no longer show any national security harm that would justify ongoing suppression.

Rather than accepting the ruling and releasing the photos after hiding them for more than a decade, the U.S. Justice Department last week filed an emergency request for a stay of that ruling with the appeals court. The argument from The Most Transparent Administration Ever™: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 May 2015 at 3:15 pm

The Section 215 wrecking ball

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An interesting column in the New Yorker by Amy Davidson:

In the past week, two fights over domestic spying—one political and one legal—have converged in Congress and the courts. They both began in June, 2013, when the Guardian, as part of a series based on files leaked to it by Edward Snowden, published a secret National Security Agency document ordering Verizon Business Services to hand over call records for all its customers. This immediately caught the attention of the American Civil Liberties Union, not least because it was itself a Verizon Business customer. Its affiliate, the New York Civil Liberties Union, had been one, too. This was not so strange—Verizon is one of the few major providers in the country. (Government officials soon acknowledged that the other providers received similar orders.) But it had legal consequences. A number of previous attempts to challenge secret government surveillance practices in court had failed because the plaintiffs lacked what’s called standing: they couldn’t prove that they, in particular, had been affected, and you need to do that to bring a suit. Just six days after the first Snowden story appeared, the A.C.L.U. went to court, Verizon bill in hand, claiming that the law and the Constitution had been violated.

This was not the only response. The dismay about the bulk collection of phone records was broad; many Americans had assumed that this was the sort of thing for which the government needed an individualized warrant, rather than a dragnet. President Barack Obama and other defenders of the program said, though, that the practice was legal under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which was first passed after September 11, 2001, and which allows the government to collect “tangible things” that are “relevant” to a particular investigation. That rationale seemed dubious. The N.S.A. had relied on the secretly operating Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court. Without access to its classified legal interpretations, a citizen, or a congressman, even one reading the bill carefully, would still not have known that the assembly of the phone records of just about every American into a searchable database was an activity the law envisioned. (Indeed, James Clapper, the director of National Intelligence, had denied that such a thing was taking place in testimony before Congress. He is a defendant in the A.C.L.U. case.) But the N.S.A.’s story was that it was acting in perfect accord with Section 215, and it has largely been allowed to stick to it. Bulk collection, with some tweaks, has continued.

Section 215, however, expires on June 1st, two weeks from now. Congress has, basically, three options. One is to let Section 215 die, and, presumably, the bulk-collection program with it. (But that might allow the N.S.A. simply to tear up the previous order and look for another route to the same end.) A second option is to bring the program above board: pass a new law that would allow the N.S.A. more controlled access to what it said was valuable information. This is the U.S.A. Freedom Act, and it has both Republican and Democratic supporters, including Patrick Leahy, of Vermont, who has a strong record on civil liberties. The White House has said that the President will sign it. The House passed a version on Wednesday, by a vote of 338-88, and sent it to the Senate. But it may run into trouble there, because of a third option: to extend Section 215 and, implicitly, accept the N.S.A.’s interpretation and let it keep collecting everyone’s records with what amounts to impunity. This is the option favored by many Senate Republicans, foremost among them the Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, who refers to it as a “clean” renewal of Section 215.

Then, last Thursday, the Second Circuit Appeals Court found that the A.C.L.U. was, at least partly, correct: Section 215 did not authorize bulk collection. The program was never legal. Once the court reached that finding, it didn’t have to address the question of whether the practice was unconstitutional, but it did suggest that it was a pretty good one to ask. That all made McConnell’s clean renewal look pretty dirty.

“This is a very delicate issue,” John Boehner, the Speaker of the House, said earlier this week of the House version of the Leahy bill. “I know members would like to offer some amendments, but this is not a place for people to bring out the wrecking ball.” The members he was referring to were libertarians in his own party, who, in this case, want more privacy protections than the bill provides. They are not the only potential wrecking-ball rig operators, though: there is also the McConnell faction, which seems unmoved by the Second Circuit decision and continues to act as though it’s enough to renew Section 215. (As Benjamin Wittes points out, ignoring the court, at the very least, “involves serious litigation risk.”) McConnell may insist on bringing a five-year renewal of the Patriot Act to the floor, as is, which could set off more inter- and intra-party fights. Boehner said, “I’m not going to speculate on what the Senate may or may not do. But all I know is that these programs expire at the end of this month.”

So, while this is a fight about the future of the bulk-collection program, there are bigger puzzles on the table, which have to do with the intersection of law and politics. One is about the direction of both parties, which are not internally unified on surveillance questions. Another is where the public should look for redress, in the face of an uproar like the one that Snowden’s documents brought about. Can Congress handle it, or is this where the courts must come in? Perhaps the largest question is how much laws, and their language, matter. The most outrageous aspect of the N.S.A. revelations was that the agency believed that it could have its own hidden reading of laws like Section 215, divorced from the ordinary meaning of the words that Congress debated and passed. 

The crucial finding of the Second Circuit decision—and why it matters, going forward, even if Section 215 expires—is that the meaning of words does matter. Two central ones in this case are “relevance” and “investigation.” The judges found that the government’s argument, in response to the A.C.L.U., amounted to saying that everyone’s phone records were relevant because, someday, “utilizing its ability to sift through the trove of irrelevant data,” the government might find something helpful. The judges added, “The interpretation urged by the government would require a drastic expansion of the term ‘relevance.’ ”

Similarly, the court found that, when the government asked to connect these searches and seizures to a particular investigation, it had a habit of just invoking names of terrorist groups, which has all the specificity of saying that the world is a dangerous place: “Put another way, the government effectively argues that there is only one enormous ‘anti-terrorism’ investigation, and that any records that might ever be of use in developing any aspect of that investigation are relevant to the overall counterterrorism effort.”

Although the court found that the law was being broken, it held off on ruling on the A.C.L.U.’s request for a preliminary injunction that would end the program immediately. That was because, the judges said, of the June 1st deadline. Something would have to change then. The restrictions introduced in the U.S.A. Freedom Act—having companies like Verizon hold onto the records, instead of the government; making sure that searches were more specific—address the same problems that the court recognized. On the other hand, the court noted, “If Congress chooses to authorize such a far-reaching and unprecedented program, it has every opportunity to do so, and to do so unambiguously.” The court’s decision explicitly left open the possibility that, in either of those scenarios, whatever replaced Section 215 would still face a tough constitutional challenge. (And it indicated that it would be better if any higher court dealt with the law in place after June 1st.) Until then, the judges, it seemed, wanted to give Congress room to do the right thing and end an illegal practice.

Congress, of course, has been known to do nothing. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 May 2015 at 3:02 pm

James Fallows on the questions to be asked of presidential candidates

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Excellent Atlantic blog post by James Fallows:

First some operating principles, then a little history lesson. The principles:

1) No one ever again—not a news person nor a civilian, not an American nor one from anyplace else—should waste another second asking, “Knowing what we know now, would you have invaded Iraq?” Reasons:

a) It’s too easy. Similarly: “Knowing what we know now, would you have bought a ticket on Malaysia Air flight 370?” The only people who might say Yes on the Iraq question would be those with family ties (poor Jeb Bush); those who are inept or out of practice in handling potentially tricky questions (surprisingly, again poor Bush); or those who are such Cheney-Bolton-Wolfowitz-style bitter enders that they survey the landscape of “what we know now”—the cost and death and damage, the generation’s worth of chaos unleashed in the Middle East, and of course the absence of WMDs—and still say, Heck of a job.

b) It doesn’t tell you anything. Leaders don’t make decisions on the basis of “what we know now” retrospectively. They have to weigh evidence based on “what we knew then,” in real time.

Which brings us to:

2) The questions reporters and citizens should ask instead. There are two of them.

   a) Based on “what we knew then,” how did you assess the evidence, possible benefits, and possible risks of invading Iraq? What were your views as of early 2003? This is a straightforward-rather-than-tricky, for-the-record query. It’s a prelude to the much more important question:

b) Regardless of whether you feel you were right or wrong, prescient or misled, how exactly will the experience of Iraq—yours in weighing evidence, the country’s in going to war—shape your decisions about the future, unforeseeable choices about committing American force?

Question 2(b) is the essential question, on this topic, for candidates aspiring to become president. In assessing answers to this question:

—Minus points to any candidate who tries to bluff through with the tired “I don’t do hypotheticals” cliché. That might apply if you’re a military commander declining to say exactly when and where you’ll attack. But if you want to be president you need to explain the mindset with which you’ll approach still-undefined (that is, hypothetical) challenges.

—Plus points to any candidate who wrestles honestly with the question of what he (or she) has learned from being wrong (or right) about Iraq.

* * *

Now, the little history lesson. I am reinforcing a point already made in different ways by Peter Beinart for the Atlantic, Steve Benen for the Maddow Show blog, Greg Sargent in the WaPo, and Paul Krugman in the NY Times. But it is so very important, and in so much danger of being swamped by the current “Knowing what we know…” bomfog, that I feel I have to weigh in.

  • The “knowing what we know” question presumes that the Bush Administration and the U.S. public were in the role of impartial jurors, or good-faith strategic decision-makers, who while carefully weighing the evidence were (unfortunately) pushed toward a decision to invade, because the best-available information at the time indicated that there was an imminent WMD threat.
  • That view is entirely false.
  • The war was going to happen. The WMD claims were the result of the need to find a case for the war, rather than the other way around. Paul Krugman is exactly right when he says:

“The Iraq war wasn’t an innocent mistake, a venture undertaken on the basis of intelligence that turned out to be wrong. America invaded Iraq because the Bush administration wanted a war. The public justifications for the invasion were nothing but pretexts, and falsified pretexts at that.”

This is blunter than I usually sound. Why am I putting it this way? I laid out as many details as I could in my book Blind Into Baghdad, and in an Atlantic article with the same name and one called “Bush’s Lost Year.” But here is a summary of things I saw first hand:

•  I was in Washington on the morning of September 11, 2001. When the telephones started working again that afternoon, I called my children and parents, and my then-editors at the Atlantic, Michael Kelly and Cullen Murphy. After that, the very next call I made was to a friend who was working inside the Pentagon when it was hit, and had already been mobilized into a team planning the U.S.-strategic response. “We don’t know exactly where the attack came from,” he told me that afternoon. “But I can tell you where the response will be: in Iraq.” I wrote about this in the Atlantic not longer afterwards, and in my book. My friend was being honest in expressing his own preferences: He viewed Saddam Hussein as the basic source of instability in the region. But he made clear that even if he personally had felt otherwise, Iraq was where things were already headed.

• Four days after the 9/11 attacks, President Bush held a meeting of his advisors at Camp David. Soon after that meeting, rumors emerged of what is by now settled historical fact: that Paul Wolfowitz, with the apparent backing of Donald Rumsfeld, spoke strongly for invading Iraq along with, or instead of, fighting in Afghanistan. (For an academic paper involving the meeting, see this.) The principals voted against moving against Iraq immediately. But from that point on it was a matter of how and when the Iraq front would open up, not whether.

• Anyone who was paying attention to military or political trends knew for certain by the end of 2001 that the administration and the military were gearing up to invade Iraq. If you want a timeline, again I refer you to my book — or to this review of Bob Woodward’s Plan of Attack, which describes Bush’s meetings with General Tommy Franks in December, 2001, to draw up invasion plans. By late 2001 forces, weapons, and emphasis were already being diverted from Afghanistan in preparation for the Iraq war, even though there had not yet been any national “debate” over launching that war.

• Want some proof that we, at the Atlantic, took seriously the fact that the Iraq decision had already been made? By late February, 2002, our editors were basing our coverage plans on the certainty of the coming war. That month I started doing interviews for the article that ran in the November, 2002 issue of the print magazine but which we actually put owe put online in August. It was called “The Fifty-First State” and its premise was: The U.S. is going to war, it will “win” in the short term, but God knows what it will then unleash.

• All this was a year before the invasion, seven months before Condoleezza Rice’s scare interview (“We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud”), also seven months before Rumsfeld’s “trained ape” quote (“There’s no debate in the world as to whether they have these weapons. We all know that. A trained ape knows that”), and six months before Dick Cheney’s big VFW scare speech (“Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction”). It was long before the United States supposedly “decided” to go to war.

In the late summer of 2002, the public began hearing about the mounting WMD menace as the reason we had to invade Iraq. But that was not the reason. Plans for the invasion had already been underway for months. The war was already coming; the “reason” for war just had to catch up. . .

Continue reading.

It’s amazing that a small group can so deliberately lie to create a war that killed and maimed thousands of American troops and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, and suffer no consequences whatsoever for their actions.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 May 2015 at 1:18 pm

Paul Krugman (and others) point out that the Iraq War was not a mistake, it was based on deliberate deception

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I continue to surprised that those who lied to the public to get the US to fight a disastrous war skate free of any consequences. Paul Krugman in his blog:

Jeb Bush definitely did us a favor: in his attempts to avoid talking about the past, he ended up bringing back a discussion people have been trying to avoid. And they are, of course, still trying to avoid it — they want to make this just about the horserace, or about the hypothetical of “if you knew what we know now”.

For that formulation is itself an evasion, as Josh Marshall, Greg Sargent, and Duncan Black point out — each making a slightly different but crucial point.

First, as Josh says, Iraq was not a good faith mistake. Bush and Cheney didn’t sit down with the intelligence community, ask for their best assessment of the situation, and then reluctantly conclude that war was the only option. They decided right at the beginning — literally before the dust of 9/11 had settled — to use a terrorist attack by religious extremists as an excuse to go after a secular regime that, evil as it was, had nothing to do with that attack. To make the case for the splendid little war they expected to fight, they deliberately misled the public, making an essentially fake case about WMD — because chemical weapons, which many believed Saddam had, are nothing like the nukes they implied he was working on — and insinuating the false claim that Saddam was behind 9/11.

Second, as Greg says, even this isn’t hindsight. It was quite clear at the time that the case for war was fake — God knows I thought it was glaringly obvious, and tried to tell people — and fairly obvious as well that the attempt to create a pro-American Iraq after the invasion was likely to be an expensive failure. The question for war supporters shouldn’t be, would you have been a supporter knowing what you know now. It should be, why didn’t you see the obvious back then?

Finally, and this is where Atrios comes in, part of the answer is that a lot of Very Serious People were effectively in on the con. They, too, were looking forward to a splendid little war; or they were eager to burnish their non-hippie credentials by saying, hey, look, I’m a warmonger too; or they shied away from acknowledging the obvious lies because that would have been partisan, and they pride themselves on being centrists. And now, of course, they are very anxious not to revisit their actions back then.

Can we think about the economic debate the same way? Yes, although it’s arguably not quite as stark. Consider the long period when Paul Ryan was held up as the very model of a serious, honest, conservative. It was obvious from the beginning, if you were willing to do even a bit of homework, that he was a fraud, and that his alleged concern about the deficit was just a cover for the real goal of dismantling the welfare state. Even the inflation craziness may be best explained in terms of the political agenda: people on the right were furious with the Fed for, as they saw it, heading off the fiscal crisis they wanted to justify their anti-social-insurance crusade, so they put pressure on the Fed to stop doing its job.

And the Very Serious People enabled all this, much as they enabled the Iraq lies.

But back to Iraq: the crucial thing to understand is that the invasion wasn’t a mistake, it was a crime. We were lied into war. And we shouldn’t let that ugly truth be forgotten.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 May 2015 at 6:38 pm

Distributing responsibility for ISIS

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Dexter Filkins writes in the New Yorker:

The exchange started like this: at the end of Jeb Bush’s town-hall meeting in Reno, Nevada, on Wednesday, a college student named Ivy Ziedrich stood up and said that she had heard Bush blame the growth of ISIS on President Obama, in particular on his decision to withdraw American troops from Iraq in 2011. The origins of ISIS, Ziedrich said, lay in the decision by Bush’s brother, in 2003, to disband the Iraqi Army following the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s government.

“It was when thirty thousand individuals who were part of the Iraqi military were forced out—they had no employment, they had no income, and they were left with access to all of the same arms and weapons.… Your brother createdISIS,’’ she said.

“All right,’’ Bush said. “Is that a question?”

“You don’t need to be pedantic to me, sir,” she said.

“Pedantic? Wow,” Bush said.

Ziedrich finally came forth with her query: “Why are you saying that ISIS was created by us not having a presence in the Middle East when it’s pointless wars, where we send young American men to die for the idea of American exceptionalism? Why are you spouting nationalist rhetoric to get us involved in more wars?”

Jeb replied by repeating his earlier criticism of President Obama: that Iraq had been stable until American troops had departed. “When we left Iraq, security had been arranged,” Bush said. The removal of American troops had created a security vacuum that ISIS exploited. “The result was the opposite occurred. Immediately, that void was filled.”

“Your brother created ISIS” is the kind of sound bite that grabs our attention, because it’s obviously false yet oddly rings true. Bush didn’t like it: he offered a retort and then left the stage. Meanwhile, Ziedrich had started a conversation that rippled across Twitter, Facebook, and any number of American dinner tables. Who is actually right?

Here is what happened: In 2003, the U.S. military, on orders of President Bush, invaded Iraq, and nineteen days later threw out Hussein’s government. A few days after that, President Bush or someone in his Administration decreed the dissolution of the Iraqi Army. This decision didn’t throw “thirty thousand individuals” out of a job, as Ziedrich said—the number was closer to ten times that. Overnight, at least two hundred and fifty thousand Iraqi men—armed, angry, and with military training—were suddenly humiliated and out of work.

This was probably the single most catastrophic decision of the American venture in Iraq. In a stroke, the Administration helped enable the creation of the Iraqi insurgency. Bush Administration officials involved in the decision—like Paul Bremer and Walter Slocombe—argued that they were effectively ratifying the reality that the Iraqi Army had already disintegrated.

This was manifestly not true. I talked to American military commanders who told me that leaders of entire Iraqi divisions (a division has roughly ten thousand troops) had come to them for instructions and expressed a willingness to coöperate. In fact, many American commanders argued vehemently at the time that the Iraqi military should be kept intact—that disbanding it would turn too many angry young men against the United States. But the Bush White House went ahead.

Many of those suddenly unemployed Iraqi soldiers took up arms against the United States. We’ll never know for sure how many Iraqis would have stayed in the Iraqi Army—and stayed peaceful—had it remained intact. But the evidence is overwhelming that former Iraqi soldiers formed the foundation of the insurgency.

On this point, although she understated the numbers, Ziedrich was exactly right. But how did the dissolution of the Iraqi Army lead to the creation of ISIS? . . .

Continue reading.

I would note that Paul Bremer is heavily implicated: it was his orders that led to the abandonment of the Iraq military. Paul Bremer keeps a very low profile these days, for obvious reasons: he’s a disgrace.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 May 2015 at 4:44 pm


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