The Commons is a weblog for concerned citizens of southeast Iowa and their friends around the world. It was created to encourage grassroots networking and to share information and ideas which have either been suppressed or drowned out in the mainstream media.

"But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place;' some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection." (Henry V, Act V, Scene 4)

Friday, January 21, 2005

Los Angeles Times: Privatization's Empty Hype,1,6938899.column?coll=la-util-op-ed&ctrack=1&cset=true
Privatization's Empty Hype
Michael Kinsley

December 26, 2004

As I wrote last week, I'm convinced that Social Security privatization is not merely a bad idea but a certain failure, and I offered a logical proof, challenging supporters to find the flaw or give up.

My argument (the full version is at defined success as bringing in more money than the current system. More money is the essential ingredient for either of the benefits usually claimed for privatization: closing the gap between projected benefits and revenues, and/or providing a bonus to future retirees.

More money for Social Security must come from somewhere. If reform doesn't somehow increase economic growth, the money must come somehow out of the pockets of other people.

Increased growth requires more private investment or smarter private investment. Privatization would deflect some money from the Social Security trust fund into private investment, but the government would have to borrow an equal amount to replace it. So the total pool of capital available for investing wouldn't change. As for smarter investing, the only change caused by privatization would be a new role for millions of small, naive investors. There is no credible theory that this would improve the wisdom of capital investment decisions.

Many people believe that stocks pay better than bonds in the (risk-adjusted) long run. If so, letting people buy stocks with part of their Social Security tax payments would improve Social Security's overall return. But the bonus would have to come from whoever was silly enough, in this scenario, to buy bonds.

Privatization, in other words, requires Americans to accept a theory (stocks are better than bonds) that can be true only as long as lots of people believe that it is false. And the White House is campaigning hard to convince everyone that the theory is true. If the campaign succeeds, the theory fails.

Where am I wrong here? Gregory Mankiw, outgoing chairman of the president's Council of Economic Advisors, sent me a polite e-mail saying now was not the best time "to engage in an on-the-record debate … on the validity of your economic theorems." He also sent excerpts from a speech on the Social Security overhaul that may help explain why he is outgoing, because he declared that "there are no free lunches here." For this bromide he was dissed by Republican apparatchiks, though his point — partisan enough, you'd think — was: Don't let Democrats make unfair comparisons between our reform and current unsustainable arrangements.

Many responders made a related point, "Compared with what?" Whatever its flaws, is privatization inferior to the current system with its looming shortfalls? One problem with this question is that privatization itself doesn't address this looming gap. Privatization requires borrowing a "transitional" gazillion dollars to close the gap. With a transition like that, any plan will work, including no plan at all.

Berkeley economist Brad DeLong and blogger Mickey Kaus, among others, challenged my argument that nothing about privatization promises to increase private investment. They cited research by economist Martin Feldstein showing that Social Security reduces personal savings. Big surprise: If you know you've got a nest egg coming from the government, you may not be as avid a saver. It follows that less social security should increase personal savings.

But privatization is supposed to enlarge your nest egg, not produce a net loss. By the Feldstein thesis, that would reduce private saving. So once again, privatization relies on a theory that is wrong if it's right, and right only if it's wrong.

Stephen Moore, president of the Club for Growth, is probably the leading non-administration voice in favor of privatization. His e-mail, direct from President Bush's recent economic conference, made only two fresh points.

One was that the Social Security money that people keep and invest for themselves amounts to "a big supply-side tax cut." If Moore envisions reducing what people owe the government in taxes without reducing what the government owes people in benefits, if he therefore plans to solve the problem of a huge deficit by making it bigger, and if he fantasizes that cutting Social Security taxes will increase Social Security revenue, we are indeed back in a supply-side dream world. But if he contemplates reducing Social Security payments in proportion to the reduction in taxes — and counting on people to make up the difference with their new investments — people will be, and feel, no richer than they were before, and there will be no supply-side incentives.

Moore also argues, as did others who wrote in, that a smaller Social Security trust fund to borrow from would lead the government to cut spending. Maybe. But justifying a policy on the grounds that it will indirectly create pressure to cut government spending has become a tired old game.

Republicans control the entire federal government. If they want to cut government spending, they should do it. They don't need to trash Social Security along the way.

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Los Angeles Times: Kinsley's Proof That Social Security Privatization Won't Work,0,7948674.story
Kinsley's Proof That Social Security Privatization Won't Work
By Michael Kinsley

MY CONTENTION: Social Security privatization is not just unlikely to succeed, for various reasons that are subject to discussion. It is mathematically certain to fail. Discussion is pointless.

The usual case against privatization is that (1) millions of inexperienced investors may end up worse off, and (2) stocks don't necessarily do better than bonds over the long run, as proponents assume. But privatization won't work for a better reason: It can't possibly work, even in theory.

The logic is not very complicated:

1. To "work," privatization must generate more money for retirees than current arrangements. This bonus is supposed to be extra money in retirees' pockets and/or it is supposed to make up for a reduction in promised benefits, thus helping to close the looming revenue gap.

2. Where does this bonus come from? There are only two possibilities-- from greater economic growth or from other people.

3. Greater economic growth requires either more capital to invest or smarter investment of the same amount of capital. Privatization will not lead to either of these.

a) If nothing else in the federal budget changes, every dollar deflected from the federal treasury into private Social Security accounts must be replaced by a dollar that the government raises in private markets. So the total pool of capital available for private investment remains the same.

b) The only change in decision-making about capital investment is that the decisions about some fraction of the capital stock will be made by people with little or no financial experience. Maybe this will not be the disaster that some critics predict, but there is no reason to think that it will actually increase the overall return on capital.

4. If the economy doesn't produce more than it otherwise would, the Social Security privatization bonus must come from other investors, in the form of a lower return.

a) This is in fact the implicit assumption behind the notion of putting Social Security money into stocks, instead of government bonds, because stocks have a better long-term return. The bonus will come from those saps who sell the stocks and buy the bonds.

b) In other words, privatization means betting the nation's most important social program on a theory that cannot be true unless many people are convinced that it's false.

c) Even if the theory were true, initially, privatization would make it false. The money newly available for private investment would bid up the price of (and thus lower the return on) stocks, while the government would need to raise the interest on bonds in order to attract replacement money.

MY CONTENTION: Social Security privatization is not just unlikely to succeed, for various reasons that are subject to discussion. It is mathematically certain to fail. Discussion is pointless.

The usual case against privatization is that (1) millions of inexperienced investors may end up worse off, and (2) stocks don't necessarily do better than bonds over the long run, as proponents assume. But privatization won't work for a better reason: It can't possibly work, even in theory.

The logic is not very complicated:

1. To 'work,' privatization must generate more money for retirees than current arrangements. This bonus is supposed to be extra money in retirees' pockets and/or it is supposed to make up for a reduction in promised benefits, thus helping to close the looming revenue gap.

2. Where does this bonus come from? There are only two possibilities-- from greater economic growth or from other people.

3. Greater economic growth requires either more capital to invest or smarter investment of the same amount of capital. Privatization will not lead to either of these.

a) If nothing else in the federal budget changes, every dollar deflected from the federal treasury into private Social Security accounts must be replaced by a dollar that the government raises in private markets. So the total pool of capital available for private investment remains the same.

b) The only change in decision-making about capital investment is that the decisions about some fraction of the capital stock will be made by people with little or no financial experience. Maybe this will not be the disaster that some critics predict, but there is no reason to think that it will actually i"

Paul Krugman - The Free Lunch Bunch

The New York Times
January 21, 2005
The Free Lunch Bunch

Did they believe they would be welcomed as liberators? Administration plans to privatize Social Security have clearly run into unexpected opposition. Even Republicans are balking; Representative Bill Thomas says that the initial Bush plan will soon be a "dead horse."

That may be overstating it, but for privatizers the worst is yet to come. If people are rightly skeptical about claims that Social Security faces an imminent crisis, just wait until they start looking closely at the supposed solution.

President Bush is like a financial adviser who tells you that at the rate you're going, you won't be able to afford retirement - but that you shouldn't do anything mundane like trying to save more. Instead, you should take out a huge loan, put the money in a mutual fund run by his friends (with management fees to be determined later) and place your faith in capital gains.

That, once you cut through all the fine phrases about an "ownership society," is how the Bush privatization plan works. Payroll taxes would be diverted into private accounts, forcing the government to borrow to replace the lost revenue. The government would make up for this borrowing by reducing future benefits; yet workers would supposedly end up better off, in spite of reduced benefits, through the returns on their accounts.

The whole scheme ignores the most basic principle of economics: there is no free lunch.

There are several ways to explain why this particular lunch isn't free, but the clearest comes from Michael Kinsley, editorial and opinion editor of The Los Angeles Times. He points out that the math of Bush-style privatization works only if you assume both that stocks are a much better investment than government bonds and that somebody out there in the private sector will nonetheless sell those private accounts lots of stocks while buying lots of government bonds.

So privatizers are in effect asserting that politicians are smart - they know that stocks are a much better investment than bonds - while private investors are stupid, and will swap their valuable stocks for much less valuable government bonds. Isn't such an assertion very peculiar coming from people who claim to trust markets?

When I ask privatizers that question, I get two responses.

One is that the diversion of revenue into private accounts doesn't have to lead to government borrowing, that the money can come from, um, someplace else. Of course, many schemes look good if you assume that they will be subsidized with large sums shipped in from an undisclosed location.

Alternatively, they point out that stocks on average were a very good investment over the last several decades. But remember the disclaimer that mutual funds are obliged to include in their ads: "past performance is no guarantee of future results."

Fifty years ago most people, remembering 1929, were afraid of the stock market. As a result, those who did buy stocks got to buy them cheap: on average, the value of a company's stock was only about 13 times that company's profits. Because stocks were cheap, they yielded high returns in dividends and capital gains.

But high returns always get competed away, once people know about them: stocks are no longer cheap. Today, the value of a typical company's stock is more than 20 times its profits. The more you pay for an asset, the lower the rate of return you can expect to earn. That's why even Jeremy Siegel, whose "Stocks for the Long Run" is often cited by those who favor stocks over bonds, has conceded that "returns on stocks over bonds won't be as large as in the past."

But a very high return on stocks over bonds is essential in privatization schemes; otherwise private accounts created with borrowed money won't earn enough to compensate for their risks. And if we take into account realistic estimates of the fees that mutual funds will charge - remember, in Britain those fees reduce workers' nest eggs by 20 to 30 percent - privatization turns into a lose-lose proposition.

Sometimes I do find myself puzzled: why don't privatizers understand that their schemes rest on the peculiar belief that there is a giant free lunch there for the taking? But then I remember what Upton Sinclair wrote: "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it."


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Thursday, January 20, 2005

Frank Rich: On Television, Torture Takes a Holiday

Frank Rich: On Television, Torture Takes a Holiday

January 23, 2005

ON the day that the defense rested in the military trial of
Specialist Charles A. Graner Jr. for the abuses at Abu
Ghraib, American television news had a much better story to
tell: "The Trouble With Harry," as Brian Williams called it
on NBC. The British prince had attended a fancy dress
costume party in Wiltshire (theme: "native and colonial")
wearing a uniform from Rommel's Afrika Korps complete with
swastika armband. Even by the standards of this particular
royal family, here was idiocy above and beyond the call of

For those of us across the pond, it was heartening to feel
morally superior to a world-class twit. But if you stood
back for just a second and thought about what was happening
in that courtroom in Fort Hood, Tex. - a task that could be
accomplished only by reading newspapers, which provided the
detailed coverage network TV didn't even attempt - you had
to wonder if we had any more moral sense than Britain's
widely reviled "clown prince." The lad had apparently
managed to reach the age of 20 in blissful ignorance about
World War II. Yet here we were in America, in the midst of
a war that is going on right now, choosing to look the
other way rather than confront the evil committed in our
name in a prison we "liberated" from Saddam Hussein in
Iraq. What happened in the Fort Hood courtroom this month
was surely worthy of as much attention as Harry's
re-enactment of "Springtime for Hitler": it was the latest
installment in our government's cover up of war crimes.

But a not-so-funny thing happened to the Graner case on its
way to trial. Since the early bombshells from Abu Ghraib
last year, the torture story has all but vanished from
television, even as there have been continued revelations
in the major newspapers and magazines like The New Yorker,
The New York Review of Books and Vanity Fair. If a story
isn't on TV in America, it doesn't exist in our culture.

The latest chapter unfolding in Texas during that
pre-inaugural week in January was broadcast on the evening
news almost exclusively in brief, mechanical summary, when
it was broadcast at all. But it's not as if it lacked
drama; it was "Judgment at Nuremberg" turned upside down.
Specialist Graner's defense lawyer, Guy Womack, explained
it this way in his closing courtroom statement: "In
Nuremberg, it was the generals being prosecuted. We were
going after the order-givers. Here the government is going
after the order-takers." As T. R. Reid reported in The
Washington Post, the trial's judge, Col. James L. Pohl of
the Army, "refused to allow witnesses to discuss which
officers were aware of events in cellblock One-Alpha, or
what orders they had given." While Mr. Womack's client, the
ringleader of the abuses seen in the Abu Ghraib
photographs, deserved everything that was coming to him and
then some, there have yet to be any criminal charges
leveled against any of the prison's officers, let alone
anyone higher up in the chain of command.

Nor are there likely to be any, given how little
information about this story makes it to the truly mass
commercial media and therefore to a public that, according
to polls, disapproves of the prison abuses by a majority
that hovers around 80 percent. What information does
surface is usually so incomplete or perfunctorily presented
that it leaves unchallenged the administration's line that,
in President Bush's words, the story involves just "a few
American troops" on the night shift.

The minimizing - and in some cases outright elimination -
of Abu Ghraib and its aftermath from network news coverage
is in part (but only in part) political. Fox News, needless
to say, has trivialized the story from the get-go, as
hallmarked by Bill O'Reilly's proud refusal to run the
photos of Graner & Company after they first surfaced at
CBS. (This is in keeping with the agenda of the entire
Murdoch empire, whose flagship American paper, The New York
Post, twice ran Prince Harry's Nazi costume as a Page 1
banner while relegating Specialist Graner's conviction a
day later to the bottom of Page 9.) During the presidential
campaign, John Kerry barely mentioned Abu Ghraib, giving TV
another reason to let snarling dogs lie. Senator John
Warner's initially vigilant Congressional hearings - which
threatened to elevate the craggy Virginia Republican to a
TV stardom akin to Sam Ervin's during Watergate -
mysteriously petered out.

Since the election, some news operations, most
conspicuously NBC, have seemed eager to rally around the
winner and avoid discouraging words of any kind. A database
search of network transcripts finds that NBC's various news
operations, in conscious or unconscious emulation of Fox,
dug deeper into the Prince Harry scandal than Specialist
Graner's trial. "NBC Nightly News" was frequently turned
over to a journalism-free "Road to the Inauguration" tour
that allowed the new anchor to pose in a series of
jus'-folks settings.

But not all explanations for the torture story's downsizing
have to do with ideological positioning and craven branding
at the networks. The role of pictures in TV news remains
paramount, and there has been no fresh visual meat from the
scene of the crime (or the others like it) in eight months.
The advances in the story since then, many of which involve
revelations of indisputably genuine Washington memos, are
not telegenic. Meanwhile, the recycling of the original Abu
Ghraib snapshots, complemented by the perp walks at Fort
Hood, only hammers in the erroneous notion that the story
ended there, with the uncovering of a few bad apples at the
bottom of the Army's barrel.

There were no cameras at Specialist Graner's trial itself.
What happened in the courtroom would thus have to be
explained with words - possibly more than a few sentences
of words - and that doesn't cut it on commercial
television. It takes a televised judicial circus in the
grand O. J. Simpson tradition or a huge crew of supporting
players eager (or available) for their 15 minutes of TV
fame to create a mediathon. When future historians try to
figure out why a punk like Scott Peterson became the
monster that gobbled up a mother lode of television time in
a wartime election year, their roads of inquiry will all
lead to Amber Frey.

A more sub rosa deterrent to TV coverage of torture is the
chilling effect of this administration's campaign against
"indecency" through its proxy, Michael Powell, at the
Federal Communications Commission. If stations are fearful
of airing "Saving Private Ryan" on Veterans Day, they are
unlikely to go into much depth about war stories involving
forced group masturbation, electric shock, rape committed
with a phosphorescent stick, the burning of cigarettes in
prisoners' ears, involuntary enemas and beatings that end
in death. (At least 30 prisoner deaths have been under
criminal investigation.) When one detainee witness at the
Graner trial testified in a taped deposition that he had
been forced to eat out of a toilet, that abuse was
routinely cited in newspaper accounts but left unreported
on network TV newscasts. It might, after all, upset viewers
nearly as much as Bono's expletive at the 2003 Golden

Even so, and despite the dereliction of network news and
the subterfuge of the Bush administration, the information
is all there in black and white, if not in video or color,
for those who want to read it, whether in the daily press
or in books like Seymour Hersh's "Chain of Command" and
Mark Danner's "Torture and Truth." The operative word,
however, may be "want."

Maybe we don't want to know that the abuses were widespread
and systematic, stretching from Afghanistan to Guantánamo
Bay, Cuba, to unknown locales where "ghost detainees" are
held. Or that they started a year before the incidents at
Abu Ghraib. Or that they have been carried out by many
branches of the war effort, not just Army grunts. Or that
lawyers working for Donald Rumsfeld and Alberto Gonzales
gave these acts a legal rationale that is far more menacing
to encounter in cold type than the photo of Prince Harry's
costume-shop armband.

As Mr. Danner shows in his book, all this and more can be
discerned from a close reading of the government's dense
investigative reports and the documents that have been
reluctantly released (or leaked). Read the record, and the
Fort Hood charade is unmasked for what it was: the latest
attempt to strictly quarantine the criminality to a few Abu
Ghraib guards and, as Mr. Danner writes, to keep their
actions "carefully insulated from any charge that they
represent, or derived from, U.S. policy - a policy that
permits torture."

The abuses may well be going on still. Even as the Graner
trial unfolded, The New York Times reported that a secret
August 2002 Justice Department memo authorized the use of
some 20 specific interrogation practices, including
"waterboarding," a form of simulated drowning that was a
torture of choice for military regimes in Argentina and
Uruguay in the 1970's. This revelation did not make it to
network news.

"Nobody seems to be listening," Mr. Danner said last week,
as he prepared to return to Iraq to continue reporting on
the war for The New York Review. That so few want to listen
may in part be a reflection of the country's growing
disenchantment with the war as a whole. (In an
inauguration-eve Washington Post-ABC News poll, only 44
percent said the war was worth fighting.) The practice of
torture by Americans is not only ugly in itself. It
conjures up the specter of defeat. We can't "win" the war
in Iraq if we lose the battle for public opinion in the
Middle East. At the gut level, Americans know that the
revelations of Abu Ghraib coincided with - and very likely
spurred - the ruthlessness of an insurgency that has since
taken the lives of many brave United States troops who
would never commit the lawless acts of a Charles Graner or
seek some ruling out of Washington that might countenance

History tells us that in these cases a reckoning always
arrives, and Mr. Danner imagines that "in five years, or
maybe sooner, there will be a TV news special called
'Torture: How Did It Happen?' " Even though much of the
script can be written now, we will all be sure to express
great shock.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Recapturing Kansas -- An Interview with Thomas Frank">Recapturing

This article is permanently archived at:
Recapturing Kansas
By Emily Udell January 12, 2005

How did conservatives win the heart of America?

That is the question Tom Frank explores in his bestselling book What’s the Matter with Kansas?, an incisive analysis of the Republican transformation of traditional economic populism into the Great Backlash. Frank’s book, which has become a post-election touchstone for progressive pundits, looks beyond the red state/blue state paradigm to explain how the mirage of “moral values” issues (“God, guns and gays”) has subverted public dialogue about economic issues and convinced working class Americans to vote against their economic self-interest.

Frank—who is also the author of The Conquest of Cool and One Market Under God, founder and editor of the Chicago-based magazine The Baffler, and a contributing editor for Harper’s—recently spoke with In These Times and its affiliated radio show “Fire on the Prairie,” from his home in Washington, D.C.

Can you give some historical background for what you call the “Great Backlash”?

What I mean by that term is populist conservatism. It’s this angry right-wing sensibility that speaks in—or pretends to speak in—the voice of the working class. It got its start, more or less, in 1968, with the candidacy of George Wallace. The issues that the Backlash has embraced have changed a lot over the years. In the early days it was pretty much racist. Today, you have the same angry, hard-done-by sensibility, but it’s attached to different issues – the most famous being abortion, and, in this latest election, gay marriage.

The Great Backlash has a way of thinking about the people vs. the elite, which is one of the classic hallmarks of populists. According to your standard populism—your left-wing variety—it’s working people against owners, or blue collar against white collar. It’s about social class. According to the Backlash, it’s basically everybody against what they call the “liberal elite,” who they generally identify by their tastes and fancy college educations. But it’s an amorphous term, they’ll apply it to anybody they feel like. It’s not a solid sociological category. Nonetheless, it’s extremely powerful. And conservatives throw this idea around all the time, basically unchallenged by liberals or by the left.

Do you think the traditional values of the left have as much appeal as the cultural values of the right? And is there a motivation besides just winning for Democrats to adopt a real values stance? As you wrote in your book, where is the soft money in that?

I think they definitely have as much appeal as the right-wing values. One of the most interesting things about the right-wing movement that’s so powerful today is that is borrows—or steals, if you will —so much of its language and its blueprint from the old left. The stereotype of liberals as these high-hat blue bloods, these effete, devitalized weaklings is straight out of your proletarian literature of the ’30s. Only back then it was a description of rich people.

I think the values of the left still have power. But something has become apparent to me since I moved to Washington, D.C. [from Chicago]. There is this aversion, bordering on hatred, for the left, especially among Democrats. People who dominate discussions in Democratic circles despise the left, and there is no way in hell they are going to embrace the values of the left. You can try to explain to them how they need to do it for strategic purposes or in order to win elections, [but] it doesn’t matter. The Democratic centrists got their way [in the 2004 presidential election], they got their candidate, they got their way on everything, and they still lost. And who gets the blame? It’s going to be the left.

Is there a danger that Democrats could manipulate the language of economic populism (like the conservatives manipulate the language of culture) but still pander to big business?

You mean could they do this in a disingenuous fashion? Of course they could. But I don’t think it would play very well. When you’re talking about economic populism, you’re talking about bread and butter issues. The Republicans have the advantage in that their populism is a matter of fantasy. And so their voters don’t really care that they never gain any ground on their populist issues. Because they don’t really expect to.

If the labor movement had more traction in this country, then would the Democrats be more inclined to embrace traditional populist values?

There’s no question about that. The problem is that unions have been beaten pretty badly. There’s always hope. Back in the ’30s, the labor movement just came out of nowhere, and had its great organizing drives. And it did it more or less by itself, not with a lot of help from the Democratic Party. The funny thing was that when that happened, it was in the middle of a depression. … ordinarily that’s a very difficult time to be organizing people and they really captured this cultural position where it was very attractive to join a union.

In your book you examine the debate over “authenticity”—do you propose to abolish this pursuit to identify the needs and values of the “real” American or to redefine what a “real” American is?

I think we have to play the game of authenticity. The first step is recognizing that the conservatives have been doing it for a long time, and they’ve been doing it without any effective answer from our side. Authenticity is an incredibly powerful commodity in our day and age. There is this sort of culture of soft suburban liberals who are very into authenticity. But in their minds, authenticity is the stuff you read about in travel magazines, whereas Middle America is this horrible, plastic monstrosity that you’re supposed to flee from. The Republicans have just reversed that. The Middle American in his Chevy going to McDonald’s – that’s authentic. They’ve captured this idea of all-American authenticity, and it has to be challenged. But you can’t challenge it by saying American culture is hollow and conformist and stupid. That’s not going to work.

So you’d rather say something like the real American has two jobs and no healthcare?

The Republicans are incredibly vulnerable in many ways. Both in terms of culture and their brand positioning, and in terms of the contradictions between what they say and what they do. Between this world of all-American, regular people that they imagine and the world that they give us, like you just said, where people have to work two jobs to stay afloat, [is a wide gap]. Hammer that contradiction.

Unrestrained free-market capitalism is not the friend of average Americans. It’s not the friend of tradition and of small town values. It’s quite the opposite. It’s the great destroyer. But where are you going to find somebody in American politics to make an argument like that?

One of the things that you document in your book is how anti-abortion activists identify themselves with figures in the anti-slavery movement. And I read in another interview that you attended a party during Republican convention where people were putting Purple Heart band-aids on their clothes. You talk about how it would be really easy to poke holes in these various assertions that are made by conservatives. But if we can’t even address these obvious contradictions….

The Purple Heart band-aids—those were given out at a party sponsored by Grover Norquist’s group Americans for Tax Reform. The idea being that if a liberal gets one, than a Purple Heart is a joke. Everybody at the party had these on, and they thought it was so funny. And the party was being held at the New York Yacht Club. You couldn’t ask for a more perfect set piece for what Republicans are about—they were toasting tax cuts, making fun of Purple Heart winners, at the New York Yacht Club!

In your epilogue you wrote, “Encouraging demographic self-recognition and self-expression through products is, similarly, the bread and butter not of leftist ideology but of consumerism.” What kind of arguments specifically do Democrats and leftists have to make to distinguish their ideology from a consumer ideology so as not to be blamed for the crap that’s out there in the media?

That’s a very hard question to answer. The problem comes when [populist conservatives] pin people’s disgust with the culture around them on free-floating liberalism. And it just ain’t so. Just before I got on the phone with you, I was reading that Clear Channel is in trouble with the FCC for some indecency infringement. Now Clear Channel is not a bunch of liberals! Fox is another [example]—run by conservative Rupert Murdoch, the same man that brings you Fox News. Fox is consistently the most offensive TV network, the one that’s willing to stoop the lowest in search of the most outrageous program. Market values go hand in hand with that sort of thing.

This argument is something that instinctively makes sense, and if you just made it you’d find it would resonate with people. But Democrats are very afraid to make arguments like that about the free market. They don’t want people thinking that they’re some kind of radicals. And also they don’t want to lose the funding from the business community. And this year that was so critical to them, they almost raised as much as W.

So how do Democrats make the argument?

They just have to bite the bullet and try it. We’ve got to do something new. But they’re not going to do anything unless they’re pushed, unless there are forces on the ground making them do something. And it’s our job to stir up those forces.

Have you heard any stories from people who’ve said that they’ve given your book to conservative relatives or friends?

I have gotten some amazing letters—especially from people in Kansas. I got one the other day from someone that I met when I was out there, and she said that her dad and her brother totally fit the description of backlash personality type. She said that they will, when they’re sitting around the dinner table, say things like, “Someday liberal blood is going to have to be shed. That’s the only way this is going to end.”

What’s your next project?

I think I’m going to write about what the Democrats have to do. Don’t you think that’s the thing?

Emily Udell is the advertising director at In These Times.

Seymour Hersh - The Coming Wars

The Coming Wars

What the Pentagon can now do in secret.


0117/05 "New Yorker" -- George W. Bush’s reëlection was not his only victory last fall. The President and his national-security advisers have consolidated control over the military and intelligence communities’ strategic analyses and covert operations to a degree unmatched since the rise of the post-Second World War national-security state. Bush has an aggressive and ambitious agenda for using that control—against the mullahs in Iran and against targets in the ongoing war on terrorism—during his second term. The C.I.A. will continue to be downgraded, and the agency will increasingly serve, as one government consultant with close ties to the Pentagon put it, as “facilitators” of policy emanating from President Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney. This process is well under way.

Despite the deteriorating security situation in Iraq, the Bush Administration has not reconsidered its basic long-range policy goal in the Middle East: the establishment of democracy throughout the region. Bush’s reëlection is regarded within the Administration as evidence of America’s support for his decision to go to war. It has reaffirmed the position of the neoconservatives in the Pentagon’s civilian leadership who advocated the invasion, including Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, and Douglas Feith, the Under-secretary for Policy. According to a former high-level intelligence official, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld met with the Joint Chiefs of Staff shortly after the election and told them, in essence, that the naysayers had been heard and the American people did not accept their message. Rumsfeld added that America was committed to staying in Iraq and that there would be no second-guessing.

“This is a war against terrorism, and Iraq is just one campaign. The Bush Administration is looking at this as a huge war zone,” the former high-level intelligence official told me. “Next, we’re going to have the Iranian campaign. We’ve declared war and the bad guys, wherever they are, are the enemy. This is the last hurrah—we’ve got four years, and want to come out of this saying we won the war on terrorism.”

Bush and Cheney may have set the policy, but it is Rumsfeld who has directed its implementation and has absorbed much of the public criticism when things went wrong—whether it was prisoner abuse in Abu Ghraib or lack of sufficient armor plating for G.I.s’ vehicles in Iraq. Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers have called for Rumsfeld’s dismissal, and he is not widely admired inside the military. Nonetheless, his reappointment as Defense Secretary was never in doubt.

Rumsfeld will become even more important during the second term. In interviews with past and present intelligence and military officials, I was told that the agenda had been determined before the Presidential election, and much of it would be Rumsfeld’s responsibility. The war on terrorism would be expanded, and effectively placed under the Pentagon’s control. The President has signed a series of findings and executive orders authorizing secret commando groups and other Special Forces units to conduct covert operations against suspected terrorist targets in as many as ten nations in the Middle East and South Asia.

The President’s decision enables Rumsfeld to run the operations off the books—free from legal restrictions imposed on the C.I.A. Under current law, all C.I.A. covert activities overseas must be authorized by a Presidential finding and reported to the Senate and House intelligence committees. (The laws were enacted after a series of scandals in the nineteen-seventies involving C.I.A. domestic spying and attempted assassinations of foreign leaders.) “The Pentagon doesn’t feel obligated to report any of this to Congress,” the former high-level intelligence official said. “They don’t even call it ‘covert ops’—it’s too close to the C.I.A. phrase. In their view, it’s ‘black reconnaissance.’ They’re not even going to tell the cincs”—the regional American military commanders-in-chief. (The Defense Department and the White House did not respond to requests for comment on this story.)

In my interviews, I was repeatedly told that the next strategic target was Iran. “Everyone is saying, ‘You can’t be serious about targeting Iran. Look at Iraq,’” the former intelligence official told me. “But they say, ‘We’ve got some lessons learned—not militarily, but how we did it politically. We’re not going to rely on agency pissants.’ No loose ends, and that’s why the C.I.A. is out of there.”

For more than a year, France, Germany, Britain, and other countries in the European Union have seen preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon as a race against time—and against the Bush Administration. They have been negotiating with the Iranian leadership to give up its nuclear-weapons ambitions in exchange for economic aid and trade benefits. Iran has agreed to temporarily halt its enrichment programs, which generate fuel for nuclear power plants but also could produce weapons-grade fissile material. (Iran claims that such facilities are legal under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, or N.P.T., to which it is a signator, and that it has no intention of building a bomb.) But the goal of the current round of talks, which began in December in Brussels, is to persuade Tehran to go further, and dismantle its machinery. Iran insists, in return, that it needs to see some concrete benefits from the Europeans—oil-production technology, heavy-industrial equipment, and perhaps even permission to purchase a fleet of Airbuses. (Iran has been denied access to technology and many goods owing to sanctions.)

The Europeans have been urging the Bush Administration to join in these negotiations. The Administration has refused to do so. The civilian leadership in the Pentagon has argued that no diplomatic progress on the Iranian nuclear threat will take place unless there is a credible threat of military action. “The neocons say negotiations are a bad deal,” a senior official of the International Atomic Energy Agency (I.A.E.A.) told me. “And the only thing the Iranians understand is pressure. And that they also need to be whacked.”

The core problem is that Iran has successfully hidden the extent of its nuclear program, and its progress. Many Western intelligence agencies, including those of the United States, believe that Iran is at least three to five years away from a capability to independently produce nuclear warheads—although its work on a missile-delivery system is far more advanced. Iran is also widely believed by Western intelligence agencies and the I.A.E.A. to have serious technical problems with its weapons system, most notably in the production of the hexafluoride gas needed to fabricate nuclear warheads.

A retired senior C.I.A. official, one of many who left the agency recently, told me that he was familiar with the assessments, and confirmed that Iran is known to be having major difficulties in its weapons work. He also acknowledged that the agency’s timetable for a nuclear Iran matches the European estimates—assuming that Iran gets no outside help. “The big wild card for us is that you don’t know who is capable of filling in the missing parts for them,” the recently retired official said. “North Korea? Pakistan? We don’t know what parts are missing.”

One Western diplomat told me that the Europeans believed they were in what he called a “lose-lose position” as long as the United States refuses to get involved. “France, Germany, and the U.K. cannot succeed alone, and everybody knows it,” the diplomat said. “If the U.S. stays outside, we don’t have enough leverage, and our effort will collapse.” The alternative would be to go to the Security Council, but any resolution imposing sanctions would likely be vetoed by China or Russia, and then “the United Nations will be blamed and the Americans will say, ‘The only solution is to bomb.’”

A European Ambassador noted that President Bush is scheduled to visit Europe in February, and that there has been public talk from the White House about improving the President’s relationship with America’s E.U. allies. In that context, the Ambassador told me, “I’m puzzled by the fact that the United States is not helping us in our program. How can Washington maintain its stance without seriously taking into account the weapons issue?”

The Israeli government is, not surprisingly, skeptical of the European approach. Silvan Shalom, the Foreign Minister, said in an interview last week in Jerusalem,with another New Yorker journalist, “I don’t like what’s happening. We were encouraged at first when the Europeans got involved. For a long time, they thought it was just Israel’s problem. But then they saw that the [Iranian] missiles themselves were longer range and could reach all of Europe, and they became very concerned. Their attitude has been to use the carrot and the stick—but all we see so far is the carrot.” He added, “If they can’t comply, Israel cannot live with Iran having a nuclear bomb.”

In a recent essay, Patrick Clawson, an Iran expert who is the deputy director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (and a supporter of the Administration), articulated the view that force, or the threat of it, was a vital bargaining tool with Iran. Clawson wrote that if Europe wanted coöperation with the Bush Administration it “would do well to remind Iran that the military option remains on the table.” He added that the argument that the European negotiations hinged on Washington looked like “a preëmptive excuse for the likely breakdown of the E.U.-Iranian talks.” In a subsequent conversation with me, Clawson suggested that, if some kind of military action was inevitable, “it would be much more in Israel’s interest—and Washington’s—to take covert action. The style of this Administration is to use overwhelming force—‘shock and awe.’ But we get only one bite of the apple.”

There are many military and diplomatic experts who dispute the notion that military action, on whatever scale, is the right approach. Shahram Chubin, an Iranian scholar who is the director of research at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, told me, “It’s a fantasy to think that there’s a good American or Israeli military option in Iran.” He went on, “The Israeli view is that this is an international problem. ‘You do it,’ they say to the West. ‘Otherwise, our Air Force will take care of it.’” In 1981, the Israeli Air Force destroyed Iraq’s Osirak reactor, setting its nuclear program back several years. But the situation now is both more complex and more dangerous, Chubin said. The Osirak bombing “drove the Iranian nuclear-weapons program underground, to hardened, dispersed sites,” he said. “You can’t be sure after an attack that you’ll get away with it. The U.S. and Israel would not be certain whether all the sites had been hit, or how quickly they’d be rebuilt. Meanwhile, they’d be waiting for an Iranian counter-attack that could be military or terrorist or diplomatic. Iran has long-range missiles and ties to Hezbollah, which has drones—you can’t begin to think of what they’d do in response.”

Chubin added that Iran could also renounce the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. “It’s better to have them cheating within the system,” he said. “Otherwise, as victims, Iran will walk away from the treaty and inspections while the rest of the world watches the N.P.T. unravel before their eyes.”

The Administration has been conducting secret reconnaissance missions inside Iran at least since last summer. Much of the focus is on the accumulation of intelligence and targeting information on Iranian nuclear, chemical, and missile sites, both declared and suspected. The goal is to identify and isolate three dozen, and perhaps more, such targets that could be destroyed by precision strikes and short-term commando raids. “The civilians in the Pentagon want to go into Iran and destroy as much of the military infrastructure as possible,” the government consultant with close ties to the Pentagon told me.

Some of the missions involve extraordinary coöperation. For example, the former high-level intelligence official told me that an American commando task force has been set up in South Asia and is now working closely with a group of Pakistani scientists and technicians who had dealt with Iranian counterparts. (In 2003, the I.A.E.A. disclosed that Iran had been secretly receiving nuclear technology from Pakistan for more than a decade, and had withheld that information from inspectors.) The American task force, aided by the information from Pakistan, has been penetrating eastern Iran from Afghanistan in a hunt for underground installations. The task-force members, or their locally recruited agents, secreted remote detection devices—known as sniffers—capable of sampling the atmosphere for radioactive emissions and other evidence of nuclear-enrichment programs.

Getting such evidence is a pressing concern for the Bush Administration. The former high-level intelligence official told me, “They don’t want to make any W.M.D. intelligence mistakes, as in Iraq. The Republicans can’t have two of those. There’s no education in the second kick of a mule.” The official added that the government of Pervez Musharraf, the Pakistani President, has won a high price for its coöperation—American assurance that Pakistan will not have to hand over A. Q. Khan, known as the father of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb, to the I.A.E.A. or to any other international authorities for questioning. For two decades, Khan has been linked to a vast consortium of nuclear-black-market activities. Last year, Musharraf professed to be shocked when Khan, in the face of overwhelming evidence, “confessed” to his activities. A few days later, Musharraf pardoned him, and so far he has refused to allow the I.A.E.A. or American intelligence to interview him. Khan is now said to be living under house arrest in a villa in Islamabad. “It’s a deal—a trade-off,” the former high-level intelligence official explained. “‘Tell us what you know about Iran and we will let your A. Q. Khan guys go.’ It’s the neoconservatives’ version of short-term gain at long-term cost. They want to prove that Bush is the anti-terrorism guy who can handle Iran and the nuclear threat, against the long-term goal of eliminating the black market for nuclear proliferation.”

The agreement comes at a time when Musharraf, according to a former high-level Pakistani diplomat, has authorized the expansion of Pakistan’s nuclear-weapons arsenal. “Pakistan still needs parts and supplies, and needs to buy them in the clandestine market,” the former diplomat said. “The U.S. has done nothing to stop it.”

There has also been close, and largely unacknowledged, coöperation with Israel. The government consultant with ties to the Pentagon said that the Defense Department civilians, under the leadership of Douglas Feith, have been working with Israeli planners and consultants to develop and refine potential nuclear, chemical-weapons, and missile targets inside Iran. (After Osirak, Iran situated many of its nuclear sites in remote areas of the east, in an attempt to keep them out of striking range of other countries, especially Israel. Distance no longer lends such protection, however: Israel has acquired three submarines capable of launching cruise missiles and has equipped some of its aircraft with additional fuel tanks, putting Israeli F-16I fighters within the range of most Iranian targets.)

“They believe that about three-quarters of the potential targets can be destroyed from the air, and a quarter are too close to population centers, or buried too deep, to be targeted,” the consultant said. Inevitably, he added, some suspicious sites need to be checked out by American or Israeli commando teams—in on-the-ground surveillance—before being targeted.

The Pentagon’s contingency plans for a broader invasion of Iran are also being updated. Strategists at the headquarters of the U.S. Central Command, in Tampa, Florida, have been asked to revise the military’s war plan, providing for a maximum ground and air invasion of Iran. Updating the plan makes sense, whether or not the Administration intends to act, because the geopolitics of the region have changed dramatically in the last three years. Previously, an American invasion force would have had to enter Iran by sea, by way of the Persian Gulf or the Gulf of Oman; now troops could move in on the ground, from Afghanistan or Iraq. Commando units and other assets could be introduced through new bases in the Central Asian republics.

It is possible that some of the American officials who talk about the need to eliminate Iran’s nuclear infrastructure are doing so as part of a propaganda campaign aimed at pressuring Iran to give up its weapons planning. If so, the signals are not always clear. President Bush, who after 9/11 famously depicted Iran as a member of the “axis of evil,” is now publicly emphasizing the need for diplomacy to run its course. “We don’t have much leverage with the Iranians right now,” the President said at a news conference late last year. “Diplomacy must be the first choice, and always the first choice of an administration trying to solve an issue of . . . nuclear armament. And we’ll continue to press on diplomacy.”

In my interviews over the past two months, I was given a much harsher view. The hawks in the Administration believe that it will soon become clear that the Europeans’ negotiated approach cannot succeed, and that at that time the Administration will act. “We’re not dealing with a set of National Security Council option papers here,” the former high-level intelligence official told me. “They’ve already passed that wicket. It’s not if we’re going to do anything against Iran. They’re doing it.”

The immediate goals of the attacks would be to destroy, or at least temporarily derail, Iran’s ability to go nuclear. But there are other, equally purposeful, motives at work. The government consultant told me that the hawks in the Pentagon, in private discussions, have been urging a limited attack on Iran because they believe it could lead to a toppling of the religious leadership. “Within the soul of Iran there is a struggle between secular nationalists and reformers, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the fundamentalist Islamic movement,” the consultant told me. “The minute the aura of invincibility which the mullahs enjoy is shattered, and with it the ability to hoodwink the West, the Iranian regime will collapse”—like the former Communist regimes in Romania, East Germany, and the Soviet Union. Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz share that belief, he said.

“The idea that an American attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities would produce a popular uprising is extremely illinformed,” said Flynt Leverett, a Middle East scholar who worked on the National Security Council in the Bush Administration. “You have to understand that the nuclear ambition in Iran is supported across the political spectrum, and Iranians will perceive attacks on these sites as attacks on their ambitions to be a major regional player and a modern nation that’s technologically sophisticated.” Leverett, who is now a senior fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, at the Brookings Institution, warned that an American attack, if it takes place, “will produce an Iranian backlash against the United States and a rallying around the regime.”

Rumsfeld planned and lobbied for more than two years before getting Presidential authority, in a series of findings and executive orders, to use military commandos for covert operations. One of his first steps was bureaucratic: to shift control of an undercover unit, known then as the Gray Fox (it has recently been given a new code name), from the Army to the Special Operations Command (socom), in Tampa. Gray Fox was formally assigned to socom in July, 2002, at the instigation of Rumsfeld’s office, which meant that the undercover unit would have a single commander for administration and operational deployment. Then, last fall, Rumsfeld’s ability to deploy the commandos expanded. According to a Pentagon consultant, an Execute Order on the Global War on Terrorism (referred to throughout the government as gwot) was issued at Rumsfeld’s direction. The order specifically authorized the military “to find and finish” terrorist targets, the consultant said. It included a target list that cited Al Qaeda network members, Al Qaeda senior leadership, and other high-value targets. The consultant said that the order had been cleared throughout the national-security bureaucracy in Washington.

In late November, 2004, the Times reported that Bush had set up an interagency group to study whether it “would best serve the nation” to give the Pentagon complete control over the C.I.A.’s own élite paramilitary unit, which has operated covertly in trouble spots around the world for decades. The panel’s conclusions, due in February, are foregone, in the view of many former C.I.A. officers. “It seems like it’s going to happen,” Howard Hart, who was chief of the C.I.A.’s Paramilitary Operations Division before retiring in 1991, told me.

There was other evidence of Pentagon encroachment. Two former C.I.A. clandestine officers, Vince Cannistraro and Philip Giraldi, who publish Intelligence Brief, a newsletter for their business clients, reported last month on the existence of a broad counter-terrorism Presidential finding that permitted the Pentagon “to operate unilaterally in a number of countries where there is a perception of a clear and evident terrorist threat. . . . A number of the countries are friendly to the U.S. and are major trading partners. Most have been cooperating in the war on terrorism.” The two former officers listed some of the countries—Algeria, Sudan, Yemen, Syria, and Malaysia. (I was subsequently told by the former high-level intelligence official that Tunisia is also on the list.)

Giraldi, who served three years in military intelligence before joining the C.I.A., said that he was troubled by the military’s expanded covert assignment. “I don’t think they can handle the cover,” he told me. “They’ve got to have a different mind-set. They’ve got to handle new roles and get into foreign cultures and learn how other people think. If you’re going into a village and shooting people, it doesn’t matter,” Giraldi added. “But if you’re running operations that involve finesse and sensitivity, the military can’t do it. Which is why these kind of operations were always run out of the agency.” I was told that many Special Operations officers also have serious misgivings.

Rumsfeld and two of his key deputies, Stephen Cambone, the Under-secretary of Defense for Intelligence, and Army Lieutenant General William G. (Jerry) Boykin, will be part of the chain of command for the new commando operations. Relevant members of the House and Senate intelligence committees have been briefed on the Defense Department’s expanded role in covert affairs, a Pentagon adviser assured me, but he did not know how extensive the briefings had been.

“I’m conflicted about the idea of operating without congressional oversight,” the Pentagon adviser said. “But I’ve been told that there will be oversight down to the specific operation.” A second Pentagon adviser agreed, with a significant caveat. “There are reporting requirements,” he said. “But to execute the finding we don’t have to go back and say, ‘We’re going here and there.’ No nitty-gritty detail and no micromanagement.”

The legal questions about the Pentagon’s right to conduct covert operations without informing Congress have not been resolved. “It’s a very, very gray area,” said Jeffrey H. Smith, a West Point graduate who served as the C.I.A.’s general counsel in the mid-nineteen-nineties. “Congress believes it voted to include all such covert activities carried out by the armed forces. The military says, ‘No, the things we’re doing are not intelligence actions under the statute but necessary military steps authorized by the President, as Commander-in-Chief, to “prepare the battlefield.”’” Referring to his days at the C.I.A., Smith added, “We were always careful not to use the armed forces in a covert action without a Presidential finding. The Bush Administration has taken a much more aggressive stance.”

In his conversation with me, Smith emphasized that he was unaware of the military’s current plans for expanding covert action. But he said, “Congress has always worried that the Pentagon is going to get us involved in some military misadventure that nobody knows about.”

Under Rumsfeld’s new approach, I was told, U.S. military operatives would be permitted to pose abroad as corrupt foreign businessmen seeking to buy contraband items that could be used in nuclear-weapons systems. In some cases, according to the Pentagon advisers, local citizens could be recruited and asked to join up with guerrillas or terrorists. This could potentially involve organizing and carrying out combat operations, or even terrorist activities. Some operations will likely take place in nations in which there is an American diplomatic mission, with an Ambassador and a C.I.A. station chief, the Pentagon consultant said. The Ambassador and the station chief would not necessarily have a need to know, under the Pentagon’s current interpretation of its reporting requirement.

The new rules will enable the Special Forces community to set up what it calls “action teams” in the target countries overseas which can be used to find and eliminate terrorist organizations. “Do you remember the right-wing execution squads in El Salvador?” the former high-level intelligence official asked me, referring to the military-led gangs that committed atrocities in the early nineteen-eighties. “We founded them and we financed them,” he said. “The objective now is to recruit locals in any area we want. And we aren’t going to tell Congress about it.” A former military officer, who has knowledge of the Pentagon’s commando capabilities, said, “We’re going to be riding with the bad boys.”

One of the rationales for such tactics was spelled out in a series of articles by John Arquilla, a professor of defense analysis at the Naval Postgraduate School, in Monterey, California, and a consultant on terrorism for the rand corporation. “It takes a network to fight a network,” Arquilla wrote in a recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle:

When conventional military operations and bombing failed to defeat the Mau Mau insurgency in Kenya in the 1950s, the British formed teams of friendly Kikuyu tribesmen who went about pretending to be terrorists. These “pseudo gangs,” as they were called, swiftly threw the Mau Mau on the defensive, either by befriending and then ambushing bands of fighters or by guiding bombers to the terrorists’ camps. What worked in Kenya a half-century ago has a wonderful chance of undermining trust and recruitment among today’s terror networks. Forming new pseudo gangs should not be difficult.

“If a confused young man from Marin County can join up with Al Qaeda,” Arquilla wrote, referring to John Walker Lindh, the twenty-year-old Californian who was seized in Afghanistan, “think what professional operatives might do.”

A few pilot covert operations were conducted last year, one Pentagon adviser told me, and a terrorist cell in Algeria was “rolled up” with American help. The adviser was referring, apparently, to the capture of Ammari Saifi, known as Abderrezak le Para, the head of a North African terrorist network affiliated with Al Qaeda. But at the end of the year there was no agreement within the Defense Department about the rules of engagement. “The issue is approval for the final authority,” the former high-level intelligence official said. “Who gets to say ‘Get this’ or ‘Do this’?”

A retired four-star general said, “The basic concept has always been solid, but how do you insure that the people doing it operate within the concept of the law? This is pushing the edge of the envelope.” The general added, “It’s the oversight. And you’re not going to get Warner”—John Warner, of Virginia, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee—“and those guys to exercise oversight. This whole thing goes to the Fourth Deck.” He was referring to the floor in the Pentagon where Rumsfeld and Cambone have their offices.

“It’s a finesse to give power to Rumsfeld—giving him the right to act swiftly, decisively, and lethally,” the first Pentagon adviser told me. “It’s a global free-fire zone.”

The Pentagon has tried to work around the limits on covert activities before. In the early nineteen-eighties, a covert Army unit was set up and authorized to operate overseas with minimal oversight. The results were disastrous. The Special Operations program was initially known as Intelligence Support Activity, or I.S.A., and was administered from a base near Washington (as was, later, Gray Fox). It was established soon after the failed rescue, in April, 1980, of the American hostages in Iran, who were being held by revolutionary students after the Islamic overthrow of the Shah’s regime. At first, the unit was kept secret from many of the senior generals and civilian leaders in the Pentagon, as well as from many members of Congress. It was eventually deployed in the Reagan Administration’s war against the Sandinista government, in Nicaragua. It was heavily committed to supporting the Contras. By the mid-eighties, however, the I.S.A.’s operations had been curtailed, and several of its senior officers were courtmartialled following a series of financial scandals, some involving arms deals. The affair was known as “the Yellow Fruit scandal,” after the code name given to one of the I.S.A.’s cover organizations—and in many ways the group’s procedures laid the groundwork for the Iran-Contra scandal.

Despite the controversy surrounding Yellow Fruit, the I.S.A. was kept intact as an undercover unit by the Army. “But we put so many restrictions on it,” the second Pentagon adviser said. “In I.S.A., if you wanted to travel fifty miles you had to get a special order. And there were certain areas, such as Lebanon, where they could not go.” The adviser acknowledged that the current operations are similar to those two decades earlier, with similar risks—and, as he saw it, similar reasons for taking the risks. “What drove them then, in terms of Yellow Fruit, was that they had no intelligence on Iran,” the adviser told me. “They had no knowledge of Tehran and no people on the ground who could prepare the battle space.”

Rumsfeld’s decision to revive this approach stemmed, once again, from a failure of intelligence in the Middle East, the adviser said. The Administration believed that the C.I.A. was unable, or unwilling, to provide the military with the information it needed to effectively challenge stateless terrorism. “One of the big challenges was that we didn’t have Humint”—human intelligence—“collection capabilities in areas where terrorists existed,” the adviser told me. “Because the C.I.A. claimed to have such a hold on Humint, the way to get around them, rather than take them on, was to claim that the agency didn’t do Humint to support Special Forces operations overseas. The C.I.A. fought it.” Referring to Rumsfeld’s new authority for covert operations, the first Pentagon adviser told me, “It’s not empowering military intelligence. It’s emasculating the C.I.A.”

A former senior C.I.A. officer depicted the agency’s eclipse as predictable. “For years, the agency bent over backward to integrate and coördinate with the Pentagon,” the former officer said. “We just caved and caved and got what we deserved. It is a fact of life today that the Pentagon is a five-hundred-pound gorilla and the C.I.A. director is a chimpanzee.”

There was pressure from the White House, too. A former C.I.A. clandestine-services officer told me that, in the months after the resignation of the agency’s director George Tenet, in June, 2004, the White House began “coming down critically” on analysts in the C.I.A.’s Directorate of Intelligence (D.I.) and demanded “to see more support for the Administration’s political position.” Porter Goss, Tenet’s successor, engaged in what the recently retired C.I.A. official described as a “political purge” in the D.I. Among the targets were a few senior analysts who were known to write dissenting papers that had been forwarded to the White House. The recently retired C.I.A. official said, “The White House carefully reviewed the political analyses of the D.I. so they could sort out the apostates from the true believers.” Some senior analysts in the D.I. have turned in their resignations—quietly, and without revealing the extent of the disarray.

The White House solidified its control over intelligence last month, when it forced last-minute changes in the intelligence-reform bill. The legislation, based substantially on recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, originally gave broad powers, including authority over intelligence spending, to a new national-intelligence director. (The Pentagon controls roughly eighty per cent of the intelligence budget.) A reform bill passed in the Senate by a vote of 96-2. Before the House voted, however, Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld balked. The White House publicly supported the legislation, but House Speaker Dennis Hastert refused to bring a House version of the bill to the floor for a vote—ostensibly in defiance of the President, though it was widely understood in Congress that Hastert had been delegated to stall the bill. After intense White House and Pentagon lobbying, the legislation was rewritten. The bill that Congress approved sharply reduced the new director’s power, in the name of permitting the Secretary of Defense to maintain his “statutory responsibilities.” Fred Kaplan, in the online magazine Slate, described the real issues behind Hastert’s action, quoting a congressional aide who expressed amazement as White House lobbyists bashed the Senate bill and came up “with all sorts of ludicrous reasons why it was unacceptable.”

“Rummy’s plan was to get a compromise in the bill in which the Pentagon keeps its marbles and the C.I.A. loses theirs,” the former high-level intelligence official told me. “Then all the pieces of the puzzle fall in place. He gets authority for covert action that is not attributable, the ability to directly task national-intelligence assets”—including the many intelligence satellites that constantly orbit the world.

“Rumsfeld will no longer have to refer anything through the government’s intelligence wringer,” the former official went on. “The intelligence system was designed to put competing agencies in competition. What’s missing will be the dynamic tension that insures everyone’s priorities—in the C.I.A., the D.O.D., the F.B.I., and even the Department of Homeland Security—are discussed. The most insidious implication of the new system is that Rumsfeld no longer has to tell people what he’s doing so they can ask, ‘Why are you doing this?’ or ‘What are your priorities?’ Now he can keep all of the mattress mice out of it.”

Copyright © CondéNet 2005

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Paul Krugmant: That Magic Moment

The New York Times
January 18, 2005
That Magic Moment

A charming man courts a woman, telling her that he's a wealthy independent businessman. Just after the wedding, however, she learns that he has been cooking the books, several employees have accused him of sexual harassment and his company is about to file for bankruptcy. She accuses him of deception. "The accountability moment is behind us," he replies.

Last week President Bush declared that the election was the "accountability moment" for the war in Iraq - the voters saw it his way, and that's that. But Mr. Bush didn't level with the voters during the campaign and doesn't deserve anyone's future trust.

I won't belabor the W.M.D. issue, except to point out that the Bush administration, without exactly lying, managed to keep most voters confused. According to a Pew poll, on the eve of the election the great majority of voters, of both parties, believed that the Bush administration had asserted that it found either W.M.D. or an active W.M.D. program in Iraq.

Mr. Bush also systematically misrepresented how the war was going. Remember last September when Ayad Allawi came to Washington? Mr. Allawi, acting as a de facto member of the Bush campaign - a former official close to the campaign suggested phrases and helped him rehearse his speech to Congress - declared that 14 or 15 of Iraq's 18 provinces were "completely safe," and that the interim government had 100,000 trained troops. None of it was true.

Now that the election is over, we learn that the search for W.M.D. has been abandoned. Meanwhile, military officials have admitted that even as Mr. Bush kept asserting that we were making "good progress," the insurgency was growing in numbers and effectiveness, that the Army Reserve is "rapidly degenerating into a 'broken' force," and oh, by the way, we'll need to spend at least another $100 billion to pay for war expenses and replace damaged equipment. But the accountability moment, says Mr. Bush, is behind us.

Maybe we can't hold Mr. Bush directly to account for misleading the public about Iraq. But Mr. Bush still has a domestic agenda, for which the lessons of Iraq are totally relevant.

White House officials themselves concede - or maybe boast - that their plan to sell Social Security privatization is modeled on their selling of the Iraq war. In fact, the parallels are remarkably exact.

Everyone has noticed the use, once again, of crisis-mongering. Three years ago, the supposed threat from Saddam somehow became more important than catching the people who actually attacked America on 9/11. Today, the mild, possibly nonexistent long-run financial problems of Social Security have somehow become more important than dealing with the huge deficit we already have, which has nothing to do with Social Security.

But there's another parallel, which I haven't seen pointed out: the politicization of the agencies and the intimidation of the analysts. Bush loyalists begin frothing at the mouth when anyone points out that the White House pressured intelligence analysts to overstate the threat from Iraq, while neocons in the Pentagon pressured the military to understate the costs and risks of war. But that is what happened, and it's happening again.

Last week Andrew Biggs, the associate commissioner for retirement policy at the Social Security Administration, appeared with Mr. Bush at a campaign-style event to promote privatization. There was a time when it would have been considered inappropriate for a civil servant to play such a blatantly political role. But then there was a time when it would have been considered inappropriate to appoint a professional advocate like Mr. Biggs, the former assistant director of the Cato Institute's Project on Social Security Privatization, to such a position in the first place.

Sure enough, The New York Times reports that under Mr. Biggs's direction, employees of the Social Security Administration are being forced to disseminate dire warnings about the system's finances - warnings that the employees say are exaggerated.

Still, there are two reasons why the selling of Social Security privatization shouldn't be another slam dunk.

One is that we're not talking about secret intelligence; the media, if they do their job, can check out the numbers and see that they don't match what Mr. Bush is saying. (A good starting point is Roger Lowenstein's superb survey in The Times Magazine last Sunday.)

The other is that we've been here before. Fool me once ...

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