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)

Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Great Iraq Swindle

The Great Iraq Swindle
How Bush Allowed an Army of For-Profit Contractors to Invade the U.S. Treasury

by Matt Taibbi

Rolling Stone
--From Issue 1034

Posted Aug 23, 2007 8:51 AM
How is it done? How do you screw the taxpayer for millions, get away with it and then ride off into the sunset with one middle finger extended, the other wrapped around a chilled martini? Ask Earnest O. Robbins -- he knows all about being a successful contractor in Iraq.

You start off as a well-connected bureaucrat: in this case, as an Air Force civil engineer, a post from which Robbins was responsible for overseeing 70,000 servicemen and contractors, with an annual budget of $8 billion. You serve with distinction for thirty-four years, becoming such a military all-star that the Air Force frequently sends you to the Hill to testify before Congress -- until one day in the summer of 2003, when you retire to take a job as an executive for Parsons, a private construction company looking to do work in Iraq.

Now you can finally move out of your dull government housing on Bolling Air Force Base and get your wife that dream home you've been promising her all these years. The place on Park Street in Dunn Loring, Virginia, looks pretty good -- four bedrooms, fireplace, garage, 2,900 square feet, a nice starter home in a high-end neighborhood full of spooks, think-tankers and ex-apparatchiks moved on to the nest-egg phase of their faceless careers. On October 20th, 2003, you close the deal for $775,000 and start living that private-sector good life.

A few months later, in March 2004, your company magically wins a contract from the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq to design and build the Baghdad Police College, a facility that's supposed to house and train at least 4,000 police recruits. But two years and $72 million later, you deliver not a functioning police academy but one of the great engineering clusterfucks of all time, a practically useless pile of rubble so badly constructed that its walls and ceilings are literally caked in shit and piss, a result of subpar plumbing in the upper floors.

You've done such a terrible job, in fact, that when auditors from the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction visit the college in the summer of 2006, their report sounds like something out of one of the Saw movies: "We witnessed a light fixture so full of diluted urine and feces that it would not operate," they write, adding that "the urine was so pervasive that it had permanently stained the ceiling tiles" and that "during our visit, a substance dripped from the ceiling onto an assessment team member's shirt." The final report helpfully includes a photo of a sloppy brown splotch on the outstretched arm of the unlucky auditor.

When Congress gets wind of the fias­co, a few members on the House Oversight Committee demand a hearing. To placate them, your company decides to send you to the Hill -- after all, you're a former Air Force major general who used to oversee this kind of contracting operation for the government. So you take your twenty-minute ride in from the suburbs, sit down before the learned gentlemen of the committee and promptly get asked by an irritatingly eager Maryland congressman named Chris Van Hollen how you managed to spend $72 million on a pile of shit.

You blink. Fuck if you know. "I have some conjecture, but that's all it would be" is your deadpan answer.

The room twitters in amazement. It's hard not to applaud the balls of a man who walks into Congress short $72 million in taxpayer money and offers to guess where it all might have gone.

Next thing you know, the congressman is asking you about your company's compensation. Touchy subject -- you've got a "cost-plus" contract, which means you're guaranteed a base-line profit of three percent of your total costs on the deal. The more you spend, the more you make -- and you certainly spent a hell of a lot. But before this milk-faced congressman can even think about suggesting that you give these millions back, you've got to cut him off. "So you won't voluntarily look at this," Van Hollen is mumbling, "and say, given what has happened in this project . . . "

"No, sir, I will not," you snap.

". . . 'We will return the profits.' . . ."

"No, sir, I will not," you repeat.

Your testimony over, you wait out the rest of the hearing, go home, take a bath in one of your four bathrooms, jump into bed with the little woman. . . . A year later, Iraq is still in flames, and your president's administration is safely focused on reclaiming $485 million in aid money from a bunch of toothless black survivors of Hurricane Katrina. But the house you bought for $775K is now ­assessed at $929,974, and you're sure as hell not giving it back to anyone.

"Yeah, I don't know what I expected him to say," Van Hollen says now about the way Robbins responded to being asked to give the money back. "It just shows the contempt they have for us, for the taxpayer, for everything."

Operation Iraqi Freedom, it turns out, was never a war against Saddam ­Hussein's Iraq. It was an invasion of the federal budget, and no occupying force in history has ever been this efficient. George W. Bush's war in the Mesopotamian desert was an experiment of sorts, a crude first take at his vision of a fully privatized American government. In Iraq the lines between essential government services and for-profit enterprises have been blurred to the point of absurdity -- to the point where wounded soldiers have to pay retail prices for fresh underwear, where modern-day chattel are imported from the Third World at slave wages to peel the potatoes we once assigned to grunts in KP, where private companies are guaranteed huge profits no matter how badly they fuck things up.

And just maybe, reviewing this appalling history of invoicing orgies and million-dollar boondoggles, it's not so far-fetched to think that this is the way someone up there would like things run all over -- not just in Iraq but in Iowa, too, with the state police working for Corrections Corporation of America, and DHL with the contract to deliver every Christmas card. And why not? What the Bush administration has created in Iraq is a sort of paradise of perverted capitalism, where revenues are forcibly extracted from the customer by the state, and obscene profits are handed out not by the market but by an unaccountable government bureauc­racy. This is the triumphant culmination of two centuries of flawed white-people thinking, a preposterous mix of authoritarian socialism and laissez-faire profit­eering, with all the worst aspects of both ideologies rolled up into one pointless, supremely idiotic military adventure -- American men and women dying by the thousands, so that Karl Marx and Adam Smith can blow each other in a Middle Eastern glory hole.

It was an awful idea, perhaps the worst America has ever tried on foreign soil. But if you were in on it, it was great work while it lasted. Since time immemorial, the distribution of government largesse had followed a staid, paper-laden procedure in which the federal government would post the details of a contract in periodicals like Commerce Business Daily or, more ­recently, on the FedBizOpps Web site. Competitive bids were solicited and contracts were awarded in accordance with the labyrinthine print of the U.S. Code, a straightforward system that worked well enough before the Bush years that, as one lawyer puts it, you could "count the number of cases of criminal fraud on the fingers of one hand."

There were exceptions to the rule, of course -- emergencies that required immediate awards, contracts where there was only one available source of materials or labor, classified deals that involved national security. What no one knew at the beginning of the war was that the Bush administration had essentially decided to treat the entire Iraqi theater as an exception to the rules. All you had to do was get to Iraq and the game was on.

But getting there wasn't easy. To travel to Iraq, would-be contractors needed permission from the Bush administration, which was far from blind in its appraisal of applicants. In a much-ballyhooed example of favoritism, the White House originally installed a clown named Jim O'Beirne at the relevant evaluation desk in the Department of Defense. O'Beirne proved to be a classic Bush villain, a moron's moron who judged applicants not on their Arabic skills or their relevant expertise but on their Republican bona fides; he sent a twenty-four-year-old who had never worked in finance to manage the reopening of the Iraqi stock exchange, and appointed a recent graduate of an evangelical university for home-schooled kids who had no accounting experience to manage Iraq's $13 billion budget. James K. Haveman, who had served as Michigan's community-health director under a GOP governor, was put in charge of rehabilitating Iraq's health-care system and decided that what this war-ravaged, malnourished, sanitation-deficient country most urgently needed was . . . an anti-smoking campaign.

Town-selectmen types like Haveman weren't the only people who got passes to enter Iraq in the first few years. The administration also greenlighted brash, modern-day forty-niners like Scott Custer and Mike Battles, a pair of ex-Army officers and bottom-rank Republican pols (Battles had run for Congress in Rhode Island and had been a Fox News commentator) who had decided to form a security company called Custer Battles and make it big in Iraq. "Battles knew some people from his congres­sional run, and that's how they got there," says Alan Grayson, an attorney who led a whistle-blower lawsuit against the pair for defrauding the government.

Before coming to Iraq, Custer Battles hadn't done even a million dollars in business. The company's own Web site brags that Battles had to borrow cab fare from Jordan to Iraq and arrived in Baghdad with less than $500 in his pocket. But he had good timing, arriving just as a security contract for Baghdad International Airport was being "put up" for bid. The company site raves that Custer spent "three sleepless nights" penning an offer that impressed the CPA enough to hand the partners $2 million in cash, which Battles promptly stuffed into a duffel bag and drove to deposit in a Lebanese bank.

Custer Battles had lucked into a sort of Willy Wonka's paradise for contractors, where a small pool of Republican-friendly businessmen would basically hang around the Green Zone waiting for a contracting agency to come up with a work order. In the early days of the war, the idea of "competition" was a farce, with deals handed out so quickly that there was no possibility of making rational or fairly priced estimates. According to those familiar with the process, contracting agencies would request phony "bids" from several contractors, even though the winner had been picked in advance. "The losers would play ball because they knew that eventually it would be their turn to be the winner," says Grayson.

To make such deals legal, someone in the military would simply sign a piece of paper invoking an exception. "I know one guy whose business was buying ­weapons on the black market for contractors," says Pratap Chatterjee, a writer who has spent months in the Mideast researching a forthcoming book on Iraq contracts. "It's illegal -- but he got military people to sign papers allowing him to do it."

The system not only had the advantage of eliminating red tape in a war zone, it also encouraged the "entrepreneurship" of patriots like Custer and Battles, who went from bumming cab fare to doing $100 million in government contracts practically overnight. And what business they did! The bid that Custer claimed to have spent "three sleepless nights" putting together was later described by Col. Richard Ballard, then the inspector general of the Army, as looking "like something that you and I would write over a bottle of vodka, complete with all the spelling and syntax errors and annexes to be filled in later." The two simply "presented it the next day and then got awarded about a $15 million contract."

The deal charged Custer Battles with the responsibility to perform airport ­security for civilian flights. But there were never any civilian flights into Baghdad's airport during the life of their contract, so the CPA gave them a job managing an airport checkpoint, which they failed miserably. They were also given scads of money to buy expensive X-ray equipment and set up an advanced canine bomb-sniffing system, but they never bought the equipment. As for the dog, Ballard reported, "I eventually saw one dog. The dog did not appear to be a certified, trained dog." When the dog was brought to the checkpoint, he added, it would lie down and "refuse to sniff the vehicles" -- as outstanding a metaphor for U.S. contractor performance in Iraq as has yet been produced.

Like most contractors, Custer Battles was on a cost-plus arrangement, which means its profits were guaranteed to rise with its spending. But according to testimony by officials and former employees, the partners also charged the government millions by making out phony invoices to shell companies they controlled. In another stroke of genius, they found a bunch of abandoned Iraqi Airways forklifts on airport property, repainted them to disguise the company markings and billed them to U.S. tax­payers as new equipment. Every time they scratched their asses, they earned; there was so much money around for contractors, officials literally used $100,000 wads of cash as toys. "Yes -- $100 bills in plastic wrap," Frank Willis, a former CPA official, acknowledged in Senate testimony about Custer Battles. "We played football with the plastic-wrapped bricks for a little while."

The Custer Battles show only ended when the pair left a spreadsheet behind after a meeting with CPA officials -- a spreadsheet that scrupulously detailed the pair's phony invoicing. "It was the worst case of fraud I've ever seen, hands down," says Grayson. "But it's also got to be the first instance in history of a defendant leaving behind a spreadsheet full of evidence of the crime."

But even being the clumsiest war profit­eers of all time was not enough to bring swift justice upon the heads of Mr. Custer and Mr. Battles -- and this is where the story of America's reconstruction effort gets really interesting. The Bush administration not only refused to prosecute the pair -- it actually tried to stop a lawsuit filed against the contractors by whistle-blowers hoping to recover the stolen money. The administration argued that Custer Battles could not be found guilty of defrauding the U.S. government because the CPA was not part of the U.S. government. When the lawsuit went forward despite the administration's objections, Custer and Battles mounted a defense that recalled Nuremberg and Lt. Calley, arguing that they could not be guilty of theft since it was done with the government's approval.

The jury disagreed, finding Custer Battles guilty of ripping off taxpayers. But the verdict was set aside by T.S. Ellis III, a federal judge who cited the administration's "the CPA is not us" argument. The very fact that private contractors, aided by the government itself, could evade conviction for what even Ellis, a Reagan-appointed judge, called "significant" evidence of fraud, says everything you need to know about the true nature of the war we are fighting in Iraq. Is it ­really possible to bilk American taxpayers for repainted forklifts stolen from Iraqi Airways and claim that you were just following orders? It is, when your commander in chief is George W. Bush. font size="3">There isn't a brazen, two-bit, purse-snatching money caper you can think of that didn't happen at least 10,000 times with your tax dollars in Iraq. At the very outset of the occupation, when L. Paul Bremer was installed as head of the CPA, one of his first brilliant ideas for managing the country was to have $12 billion in cash flown into Baghdad on huge wooden pallets and stored in palaces and government buildings. To pay contractors, he'd have agents go to the various stashes -- a pile of $200 million in one of Saddam's former palaces was watched by a single soldier, who left the key to the vault in a backpack on his desk when he went out to lunch -- withdraw the money, then crisscross the country to pay the bills. When desperate auditors later tried to trace the paths of the money, one agent could account for only $6,306,836 of some $23 million he'd withdrawn. Bremer's office "acknowledged not having any supporting documentation" for $25 million given to a different agent. A ministry that claimed to have paid 8,206 guards was able to document payouts to only 602. An agent who was told by auditors that he still owed $1,878,870 magically produced exactly that amount, which, as the auditors dryly noted, "suggests that the agent had a reserve of cash."

In short, some $8.8 billion of the $12 billion proved impossible to find. "Who in their right mind would send 360 tons of cash into a war zone?" asked Rep. Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Oversight Committee. "But that's exactly what our government did."

Because contractors were paid on cost-plus arrangements, they had a powerful incentive to spend to the hilt. The undisputed master of milking the system is KBR, the former Halliburton subsidiary so ubiquitous in Iraq that soldiers even encounter its customer-survey sheets in outhouses. The company has been exposed by whistle-blowers in numerous Senate hearings for everything from double-charging taxpayers for $617,000 worth of sodas to overcharging the government 600 percent for fuel shipments. When things went wrong, KBR simply scrapped expensive gear: The company dumped 50,000 pounds of nails in the desert because they were too short, and left the Army no choice but to set fire to a supply truck that had a flat tire. "They did not have the proper wrench to change the tire," an Iraq vet named Richard Murphy told investigators, "so the decision was made to torch the truck."

In perhaps the ultimate example of military capitalism, KBR reportedly ran convoys of empty trucks back and forth across the insurgent-laden desert, pointlessly risking the lives of soldiers and drivers so the company could charge the taxpayer for its phantom deliveries. Truckers for KBR, knowing full well that the trips were bullshit, derisively referred to their cargo as "sailboat fuel."

In Fallujah, where the company was paid based on how many soldiers used the base rec center, KBR supervisors ordered employees to juke the head count by taking an hourly tally of every soldier in the facility. "They were counting the same soldier five, six, seven times," says Linda Warren, a former postal worker who was employed by KBR in Fallujah. "I was even directed to count every empty bottle of water left behind in the facility as though they were troops who had been there."

Yet for all the money KBR charged taxpayers for the rec center, it didn't provide much in the way of services to the soldiers engaged in the heaviest fighting of the war. When Warren ordered a karaoke machine, the company gave her a cardboard box stuffed with jumbled-up electronic components. "We had to borrow laptops from the troops to set up a music night," says Warren, who had a son serving in Fallujah at the time. "These boys needed R&R more than anything, but the company wouldn't spend a dime." (KBR refused requests for an interview, but has denied that it inflated troop counts or committed other wrongdoing in Iraq.)

One of the most dependable methods for burning taxpayer funds was simply to do nothing. After securing a contract in Iraq, companies would mobilize their teams, rush them into the war zone and then wait, citing the security situation or delayed paperwork -- all the while charging the government for housing, meals and other expenses. Last year, a government audit of twelve major contracts awarded to KBR, Parsons and other companies found that idle time often accounted for more than half of a contract's total costs. In one deal awarded to KBR, the company's "indirect" administrative costs were $52.7 million, and its direct costs -- the costs associated with the ­actual job -- were only $13.4 million.

Companies jacked up the costs even higher by hiring out layers of subcontractors to do their work for them. In some cases, each subcontractor had its own cost-plus arrangement. "We called those 'cascading contracts,' " says Rep. Van Hollen. "Each subcontractor piles on a lot of costs, and eventually they would snowball into a huge payout. It was a green light for waste."

In March 2004, Parsons -- the firm represented by Earnest O. Robbins -- was given nearly $1 million to build a fire station in Ainkawa, a small Christian community in one of the safest parts of Iraq. Parsons subcontracted the design to a British company called TPS Consult and the construction to a California firm called Innovative Technical Solutions Inc. ITSI, in turn, hired an Iraqi outfit called Zozik to do the actual labor.

A year and a half later, government ­auditors visited the site and found that the fire station was less than half finished. What little had been built was marred by serious design flaws, including concrete columns so shoddily constructed that they were riddled with holes that looked like "honeycombing." But getting the fuck-ups fixed proved problematic. The auditors "made a request that was sent to the Army Corps, which delivered it to Parsons, who then asked ITSI, which asked TPS Consult to check on the work done by Zozik," writes Chatterjee, who describes the mess in his forthcoming book, Baghdad Bonanza. The multiple layers of subcontractors made it almost impossible to resolve the issue -- and every day the delays dragged on meant more money for the companies.

Sometimes the government simply handed out money to companies it made up out of thin air. In 2006, the Army Corps of Engineers found itself unable to award contracts by the September deadline imposed by Congress, meaning it would have to "de-obligate" the money and return it to the government. Rather than suffer that awful fate, the corps obligated $362 million -- spread out over ninety-six different contracts -- to "Dummy Vendor." In their report on the mess, auditors noted that money to nobody "does not constitute proper obligations."

But even obligating money to no one was better than what sometimes happened in Iraq: handing out U.S. funds to the enemy. Since the beginning of the war, rumors have abounded about contractors paying protection money to insurgents to avoid attacks. No less an authority than Ahmed Chalabi, the head of the Iraqi National Congress, claimed that such payoffs are a "significant source" of income for Al Qaeda. Moreover, when things go missing in Iraq -- like bricks of $100 bills, or weapons, or trucks -- it is a fair assumption that some of the wayward booty ends up in the wrong hands. In July, a federal audit found that 190,000 weapons are missing in Iraq -- nearly one out of every three arms supplied by the United States. "These weapons almost certainly ended up on the black market, where they are repurchased by insurgents," says Chatterjee. font size="3">For all the creative ways that contractors came up with to waste, mismanage and steal public money in Iraq, the standard remained good old-fashioned fucking up. Take the case of the Basra Children's Hospital, a much-ballyhooed "do-gooder" project championed by Laura Bush and Condi Rice. This was exactly the sort of grandstanding, self-serving, indulgent and ultimately useless project that tended to get the go-ahead under reconstruction. Like the expensive telephone-based disease-notification database approved for use in hospitals without telephones, or the natural-gas-powered electricity turbines green­lighted for installation in a country without ready sources of natural gas, the Basra Children's Hospital was a state-of-the-art medical facility set to be built in a town without safe drinking water. "Why build a hospital for kids, when the kids have no clean water?" said Rep. Jim Kolbe, a Republican from Arizona.

Bechtel was given $50 million to build the hospital -- but a year later, with the price tag soaring to $169 million, the company was pulled off the project without a single bed being ready for use. The government was unfazed: Bechtel, explained USAID spokesman David Snider, was "under a 'term contract,' which means their job is over when their money ends."

Their job is over when their money ends. When I call Snider to clarify this amazing statement, he declines to discuss the matter further. But if you look over the history of the Iraqi reconstruction ­effort, you will find versions of this excuse every­where. When Custer Battles was caught delivering broken trucks to the Army, a military official says the company told him, "We were only told we had to deliver the trucks. The contract doesn't say they had to work."

Such excuses speak to a monstrous vacuum of patriotism; it would be hard to imagine contractors being so blithely disinterested in results during World War II, where every wasted dollar might mean another American boy dead from gangrene in the Ardennes. But the rampant waste of money and resources also suggests a widespread contempt for the ostensible "purpose" of our presence in Iraq. Asked to cast a vote for the war effort, contractors responded by swiping everything they could get their hands on -- and the administration's acquiescence in their thievery suggests that it, too, saw making a buck as the true mission of the war. Two witnesses scheduled to testify before Congress against Custer Battles ultimately declined not only because they had received death threats but because they, too, were contractors and feared that they would be shut out of future government deals. To repeat: Witnesses were afraid to testify in an effort to ­recover government funds because they feared reprisal from the government.

The Bush administration's lack of interest in recovering stolen funds is one of the great scandals of the war. The White House has failed to litigate a single case against a contractor under the False Claims Act and has not sued anybody for breach of contract. It even declined to join in a lawsuit filed by whistle-blowers who are accusing KBR of improper invoicing in Fallujah. "For all the Bush administration claims to do in the war against terrorism," Grayson said in congressional testimony, "it is a no-show in the war against war profiteers." In nearly five years of some of the worst graft and looting in American history, the administration has recovered less than $6 million.

What's more, when anyone in the government tried to question what contractors were up to with taxpayer money, they were immediately blackballed and treated like an enemy. Take the case of Bunnatine "Bunny" Greenhouse, an outspoken and energetic woman of sixty-three who served as the chief procurement executive for the Army Corps of Engineers. In her position, Greenhouse was responsible for signing off on sole-source contracts -- those awarded without competitive bids and thus most prone to corruption. Long before Iraq, she had begun to notice favoritism in the awarding of contracts to KBR, which was careful to recruit executives who had served in the military. "That was why I joined the corps: to stop this kind of clubby contracting," she says.

A few weeks before the Iraq War ­started, Greenhouse was asked to sign off on the contract to restore Iraqi oil. The deal, she noticed, was suspicious on a number of fronts. For one thing, the company that had designed the project, KBR, was the same company that was being awarded the contract -- a highly unusual and improper situation. For another, the corps wanted to award a massive "emergency" contract to KBR with no competition for up to five years, which Greenhouse thought was crazy. Who ever heard of a five-year emergency? After auditing the deal, the Pentagon found that KBR had overcharged the government $61 million for fuel. "The abuse related to contracts awarded to KBR," Greenhouse testified before the Senate, "represents the most blatant and improper contract abuse I have witnessed during the course of my professional career."

And how did her superiors in the Pentagon respond to the wrongdoing highlighted by their own chief procurement officer? First they gave KBR a waiver for the overbilling, blaming the problem on an Iraqi subcontractor. Then they dealt with Greenhouse by demoting her and cutting her salary, citing a negative performance review. The retaliation sent a clear message to any would-be whistle-blowers. "It puts a chill on you," Greenhouse says. "People are scared stiff."

They were scared stiff in Iraq, too, and for good reason. When civilian employees complained about looting or other improprieties, contractors sometimes threatened to throw them outside the gates of their bases -- a life-threatening situation for any American. Robert Isakson, a former FBI agent who worked for Custer Battles, says that when he refused to go along with one scam involving a dummy company in Lebanon, he was detained by company security guards, who seized his ID badge and barred him from the base in Baghdad. He eventually had to make a hazardous, Papillon-esque journey across hostile Iraq to Jordan just to survive. (Custer Battles denies the charge.)

James Garrison, who worked at a KBR ice plant in Al Asad, recalls an incident when Indian employees threatened to go on strike: "They pulled a bus up, got them in there and said, 'We'll ship you outside the front gate if you want to go on strike.' " Not surprisingly, the workers changed their mind about a work stoppage.

You know the old adage: You don't pay a hooker to spend the night, you pay her to leave in the morning. That maxim also applies to civilian workers in Iraq. A soldier is a citizen with rights, a man to be treated with honor and respect as a protector of us all; if one loses a limb, you've got to take care of him, in theory for his whole life. But a mercenary is just another piece of equipment you can bill to the taxpayer: If one is hurt on the job, you can just throw it away and buy another one. Today there are more civilians working for private contractors in Iraq than there are troops on the ground. The totality of the thievery in Iraq is such that even the honor of patriotic service has been stolen -- we've replaced soldiers and heroes with disposable commodities, men we ­expected to give us a big bang for a buck and to never call us again.

Russell Skoug, who worked as a refrigeration technician for a contractor called Wolfpack, found that out the hard way. These days Skoug is back home in Diboll, Texas, and he doesn't move around much; he considers it a big accomplishment if he can make it to his mailbox and back once a day. "I'm doing a lot if I can do that much," he says, laughing a little.

A year ago, on September 11th, Skoug was working for Wolfpack at a base in Heet, Iraq. It was a convoy day -- trucks braved the trip in and out of the base every third day -- and Skoug had a generator he needed to fix. So he agreed to make a run to Al Asad. "If I would've realized that it was September 11th, I never would've went out," he says. It would turn out to be the last run he would ever make in Iraq.

An Air Force vet, Skoug had come to Iraq as a civilian to repair refrigeration units and air conditioners for a KBR subcontractor called LSI. But when he arrived, he discovered that LSI had hired him to fix Humvees. "I didn't know jack-squat about Humvees," he says. "I could maybe change the oil, that was it." (Asked about Skoug's additional assignment, KBR boasted: "Part of the reason for our success is our ability to employ individuals with multiple capabilities.")

Working with him on his crew were two other refrigeration technicians, neither of whom knew anything about fixing Humvees. Since Skoug and most of his co-workers had worked for KBR in Afghanistan, they were familiar with cost-plus contracting. The buzz around the base was that cost-plus was the reason LSI was hiring air-conditioning guys to work on unfamiliar military equipment at a cost to the taxpayer of $80,000 a year. "They was doing the same thing as KBR: just filling the body count," says Skoug.

Thanks to low troop ­levels, all the military repair guys had been pressed into service to fight the war, so Skoug was forced to sit in the military storeroom on the base and study vehicle manuals that, as a civilian, he wasn't allowed to check out of the building. That was how America fought terrorism in Iraq: It hired civilian air-conditioning techs to fix Humvees using the instruction manual while the real Humvee repairmen, earning a third of what the helpless civilians were paid, drove around in circles outside the wire waiting to get blown up by insurgents.

After much pleading and cajoling, Skoug managed to convince LSI to let him repair some refrigeration units. But it turned out that the company didn't have any tools for the job. "They gave me a screwdriver and a Leatherman, and that's it," he recalls. "We didn't even have freon gauges." When Skoug managed to scrounge and cannibalize parts to get the job done, he impressed the executives at Wolfpack enough to hire him away from LSI for $10,000 a month. The job required Skoug, who had been given no formal security training, to travel regularly on dangerous convoys between bases. Wolfpack issued him an armored vehicle, a Yugoslav-made AK-47 and a handgun, and wished him luck.

For nearly a year, Skoug did the job, trying at each stop to overcome the hostility that many troops felt for civilian contractors who surfed the Internet and played pool and watched movies all day for big dollars while soldiers carrying seventy-pound packs of gear labored in huts with broken air conditioning the civilian techs couldn't be bothered to repair. "They'd have the easiest thing to fix, and they wouldn't do it," Skoug says. "They'd write that they'd fixed it or that they just needed a part and then just leave it." At Haditha Dam, Skoug witnessed a near-brawl after some Marines, trying to get some sleep after returning from patrol, couldn't get a group of "KBR dudes" to turn down the television in a common area late at night.

Toward the end of Skoug's stay, insurgent activity in his area increased to the point where the soldiers leading his convoys would often drive only at night and without lights. Skoug and his co-workers asked Wolfpack to provide them with night-vision goggles that cost as little as $1,000 a pair, but the company refused. "Their attitude was, we don't need 'em and we're not buying 'em," says Thomas Lane, a Wolfpack employee who served as Skoug's security man on the night of September 11th.

On that evening, the soldiers leading the convoy refused to let Skoug drive his own vehicle back to Heet without night-vision goggles. So a soldier took Skoug's car, and Skoug was forced to be a passenger in a military vehicle. "We start out the front gate, and I find out that the truck that I was in was the frickin' lead truck," he recalls. "And I'm going, 'Oh, great.' "

The bomb went off about a half-hour later, ripping through the truck floor and destroying four inches of Skoug's left femur. "The windshield looked like there was a film on it," he says. "I find out later it was a film -- it was blood and meat and stuff all over the windshield on the inside." Skoug was loaded into the back of a Humvee, his legs hanging out, and evacuated to an Army hospital in Germany before being airlifted back to the States.

When Skoug arrived, it was his wife, Linda, who had to handle all his affairs. She was the one who arranged for an air ambulance to take him to Houston, where she had persuaded an orthopedic hospital to admit him as a patient. She had to do this because almost right from the start, Wolfpack washed its hands of Russell Skoug. The insurance policy he had been given turned out to be useless -- the company denied all coverage, beginning with a $72,597 bill for his stay in the German hospital. Despite assurances from Wolfpack chief Mark Atwood that he would cover all Skoug's expenses, neither he nor the insurance company would pay for the $16,000 trip in the air ambulance. Nobody paid for the operations Skoug had in Houston -- as many as three a day, every day for a month. And nobody paid for his subsequent rehab stint in another Houston hospital -- despite the fact that military law requires every company contracting with the government to fully insure all of its employees in the war zone.

Now that he's out, sitting at home on his couch with only partial use of his left hand and left leg, Skoug has a stack of unpaid medical bills almost three inches tall. As he speaks, he keeps fidgeting. He apologizes, explaining that he can't sit still for very long. Why? Because Skoug can no longer afford pain medication. "I take ibuprofen sometimes," he says, "but basically I just grin and bear it."

And here's where this story turns into something perfectly symbolic of everything that the war in Iraq stands for, a window into the soul of for-profit contractors who not only left behind a breathtaking legacy of fraud, waste and corruption but, through their calculating, greed-fueled hijacking of this generation's broadest and most far-reaching foreign-policy initiative, pushed America into previously unknown realms of moral insanity. When I contact Mark Atwood and ask him to explain how he could watch one of his best employees get blown up and crippled for life, and then cut him loose with debts totaling well over half a million dollars, Atwood, safe in his office in Kuwait City and contentedly suckling at the taxpayer teat, decides that answering this one question is just too much to ask of poor old him.

"Right now," Atwood says, "I just want some peace."

When Linda Skoug petitioned Atwood for help, he refused, pointing out that he had kept his now-useless employee on the payroll for four whole months before firing him. "After I have put forth to help you all out," he wrote in an e-mail, "you are going to get on me for your husband not having insurance." He even implied that Skoug had brought the accident upon himself by allowing the Army to place him at the head of the convoy: "He was not even suppose [sic] to be in the lead vehicle to begin with."

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the story of the Iraq War in a nutshell. In the history of balls, the world has never seen anything like the private contractors George W. Bush summoned to serve in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Collectively, they are the final, polished result of 231 years of natural selection in the crucible of American capitalism: a bureaucrat class capable of stealing the same dollar twice -- once from the taxpayer and once from a veteran in a wheelchair.

The explanations that contractors offer for all the missing dollars, all the myriad ways they looted the treasury and screwed guys like Russell Skoug, rank among the most diabolical, shameless, tongue-twisting bullshit in history. Going back over the various congres­sional hearings and trying to decipher the corporate responses to the mountains of thefts and fuck-ups is a thrilling intellectual journey, not unlike tackling the Pharaonic hieroglyphs or the mating chatter of colobus monkeys. Standing before Congress, contractors and the officials who are supposed to monitor them say things like "As long as we have the undefinitized contract issue that we have . . . we will continue to see the same kinds of sustension rates" (translation: We can't get back any of the fucking money) and "The need for to-fitnessization was viewed as voluntary, and that was inaccurate as the general counsel to the Army observed in a June opinion" (translation: The contractor wasn't aware that he was required to keep costs down) and "If we don't know where we're trying to go and don't have measures, then we won't know how much longer it's going to take us to get there" (translation: There never was a plan in place, other than to let contractors rip off every dollar they could).

According to the most reliable ­estimates, we have doled out more than $500 billion for the war, as well as $44 billion for the Iraqi reconstruction effort. And what did America's contractors give us for that money? They built big steaming shit piles, set brand-new trucks on fire, drove back and forth across the desert for no reason at all and dumped bags of nails in ditches. For the most part, nobody at home cared, because war on some level is always a waste. But what happened in Iraq went beyond inefficiency, beyond fraud even. This was about the business of government being corrupted by the profit motive to such an extraordinary degree that now we all have to wonder how we will ever be able to depend on the state to do its job in the future. If catastrophic failure is worth billions, where's the incentive to deliver success? There's no profit in patriotism, no cost-plus angle on common decency. Sixty years after America liberated Europe, those are just words, and words don't pay the bills.

Whistleblowers on Fraud Facing Penalties

Whistleblowers on Fraud Facing Penalties
By DEBORAH HASTINGS 08.24.07, 3:16 PM ET

One after another, the men and women who have stepped forward to report corruption in the massive effort to rebuild Iraq have been vilified, fired and demoted.

Or worse.

For daring to report illegal arms sales, Navy veteran Donald Vance says he was imprisoned by the American military in a security compound outside Baghdad and subjected to harsh interrogation methods.

There were times, huddled on the floor in solitary confinement with that head-banging music blaring dawn to dusk and interrogators yelling the same questions over and over, that Vance began to wish he had just kept his mouth shut.

He had thought he was doing a good and noble thing when he started telling the FBI about the guns and the land mines and the rocket-launchers - all of them being sold for cash, no receipts necessary, he said. He told a federal agent the buyers were Iraqi insurgents, American soldiers, State Department workers, and Iraqi embassy and ministry employees.

The seller, he claimed, was the Iraqi-owned company he worked for, Shield Group Security Co.

"It was a Wal-Mart (nyse: WMT - news - people ) for guns," he says. "It was all illegal and everyone knew it."

So Vance says he blew the whistle, supplying photos and documents and other intelligence to an FBI agent in his hometown of Chicago because he didn't know whom to trust in Iraq.

For his trouble, he says, he got 97 days in Camp Cropper, an American military prison outside Baghdad that once held Saddam Hussein, and he was classified a security detainee.

Also held was colleague Nathan Ertel, who helped Vance gather evidence documenting the sales, according to a federal lawsuit both have filed in Chicago, alleging they were illegally imprisoned and subjected to physical and mental interrogation tactics "reserved for terrorists and so-called enemy combatants."

Corruption has long plagued Iraq reconstruction. Hundreds of projects may never be finished, including repairs to the country's oil pipelines and electricity system. Congress gave more than $30 billion to rebuild Iraq, and at least $8.8 billion of it has disappeared, according to a government reconstruction audit.

Despite this staggering mess, there are no noble outcomes for those who have blown the whistle, according to a review of such cases by The Associated Press.

"If you do it, you will be destroyed," said William Weaver, professor of political science at the University of Texas-El Paso and senior advisor to the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition.

"Reconstruction is so rife with corruption. Sometimes people ask me, `Should I do this?' And my answer is no. If they're married, they'll lose their family. They will lose their jobs. They will lose everything," Weaver said.

They have been fired or demoted, shunned by colleagues, and denied government support in whistleblower lawsuits filed against contracting firms.

"The only way we can find out what is going on is for someone to come forward and let us know," said Beth Daley of the Project on Government Oversight, an independent, nonprofit group that investigates corruption. "But when they do, the weight of the government comes down on them. The message is, 'Don't blow the whistle or we'll make your life hell.'

"It's heartbreaking," Daley said. "There is an even greater need for whistleblowers now. But they are made into public martyrs. It's a disgrace. Their lives get ruined."

Bunnatine "Bunny" Greenhouse knows this only too well. As the highest-ranking civilian contracting officer in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, she testified before a congressional committee in 2005 that she found widespread fraud in multibillion-dollar rebuilding contracts awarded to former Halliburton (nyse: HAL - news - people ) subsidiary KBR (nyse: KBR - news - people ).

Soon after, Greenhouse was demoted. She now sits in a tiny cubicle in a different department with very little to do and no decision-making authority, at the end of an otherwise exemplary 20-year career.

People she has known for years no longer speak to her.

"It's just amazing how we say we want to remove fraud from our government, then we gag people who are just trying to stand up and do the right thing," she says.

In her demotion, her supervisors said she was performing poorly. "They just wanted to get rid of me," she says softly. The Army Corps of Engineers denies her claims.

"You just don't have happy endings," said Weaver. "She was a wonderful example of a federal employee. They just completely creamed her. In the end, no one followed up, no one cared."

But Greenhouse regrets nothing. "I have the courage to say what needs to be said. I paid the price," she says.

Then there is Robert Isakson, who filed a whistleblower suit against contractor Custer Battles in 2004, alleging the company - with which he was briefly associated - bilked the U.S. government out of tens of millions of dollars by filing fake invoices and padding other bills for reconstruction work.

He and his co-plaintiff, William Baldwin, a former employee fired by the firm, doggedly pursued the suit for two years, gathering evidence on their own and flying overseas to obtain more information from witnesses. Eventually, a federal jury agreed with them and awarded a $10 million judgment against the now-defunct firm, which had denied all wrongdoing.

It was the first civil verdict for Iraq reconstruction fraud.

But in 2006, U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III overturned the jury award. He said Isakson and Baldwin failed to prove that the Coalition Provisional Authority, the U.S.-backed occupier of Iraq for 14 months, was part of the U.S. government.

Not a single Iraq whistleblower suit has gone to trial since.

"It's a sad, heartbreaking comment on the system," said Isakson, a former FBI agent who owns an international contracting company based in Alabama. "I tried to help the government, and the government didn't seem to care."

One way to blow the whistle is to file a "qui tam" lawsuit (taken from the Latin phrase "he who sues for the king, as well as for himself") under the federal False Claims Act.

Signed by Abraham Lincoln in response to military contractors selling defective products to the Union Army, the act allows private citizens to sue on the government's behalf.

The government has the option to sign on, with all plaintiffs receiving a percentage of monetary damages, which are tripled in these suits.

It can be a straightforward and effective way to recoup federal funds lost to fraud. In the past, the Justice Department has joined several such cases and won. They included instances of Medicare and Medicaid overbilling, and padded invoices from domestic contractors.

But the government has not joined a single quit tam suit alleging Iraq reconstruction abuse, estimated in the tens of millions. At least a dozen have been filed since 2004.

"It taints these cases," said attorney Alan Grayson, who filed the Custer Battles suit and several others like it. "If the government won't sign on, then it can't be a very good case - that's the effect it has on judges."

The Justice Department declined comment.

Most of the lawsuits are brought by former employees of giant firms. Some plaintiffs have testified before members of Congress, providing examples of fraud they say they witnessed and the retaliation they experienced after speaking up.

Julie McBride testified last year that as a "morale, welfare and recreation coordinator" at Camp Fallujah, she saw KBR exaggerate costs by double- and triple-counting the number of soldiers who used recreational facilities.

She also said the company took supplies destined for a Super Bowl party for U.S. troops and instead used them to stage a celebration for themselves.

"After I voiced my concerns about what I believed to be accounting fraud, Halliburton placed me under guard and kept me in seclusion," she told the committee. "My property was searched, and I was specifically told that I was not allowed to speak to any member of the U.S. military. I remained under guard until I was flown out of the country."

Halliburton and KBR denied her testimony.

She also has filed a whistleblower suit. The Justice Department has said it would not join the action. But last month, a federal judge refused a motion by KBR to dismiss the lawsuit.

Donald Vance, the contractor and Navy veteran detained in Iraq after he blew the whistle on his company's weapons sales, says he has stopped talking to the federal government.

Navy Capt. John Fleming, a spokesman for U.S. detention operations in Iraq, confirmed the detentions but said he could provide no further details because of the lawsuit.

According to their suit, Vance and Ertel gathered photographs and documents, which Vance fed to Chicago FBI agent Travis Carlisle for six months beginning in October 2005. Carlisle, reached by phone at Chicago's FBI field office, declined comment. An agency spokesman also would not comment.

The Iraqi company has since disbanded, according the suit.

Vance said things went terribly wrong in April 2006, when he and Ertel were stripped of their security passes and confined to the company compound.

Panicking, Vance said, he called the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, where hostage experts got on the phone and told him "you're about to be kidnapped. Lock yourself in a room with all the weapons you can get your hands on.'"

The military sent a Special Forces team to rescue them, Vance said, and the two men showed the soldiers where the weapons caches were stored. At the embassy, the men were debriefed and allowed to sleep for a few hours. "I thought I was among friends," Vance said.

The men said they were cuffed and hooded and driven to Camp Cropper, where Vance was held for nearly three months and his colleague for a little more than a month. Eventually, their jailers said they were being held as security internees because their employer was suspected of selling weapons to terrorists and insurgents, the lawsuit said.

The prisoners said they repeatedly told interrogators to contact Carlisle in Chicago. "One set of interrogators told us that Travis Carlisle doesn't exist. Then some others would say, 'He says he doesn't know who you are,'" Vance said.

Released first was Ertel, who has returned to work in Iraq for a different company. Vance said he has never learned why he was held longer. His own interrogations, he said, seemed focused on why he reported his information to someone outside Iraq.

And then one day, without explanation, he was released.

"They drove me to Baghdad International Airport and dumped me," he said.

When he got home, he decided to never call the FBI again. He called a lawyer, instead.

"There's an unspoken rule in Baghdad," he said. "Don't snitch on people and don't burn bridges."

For doing both, Vance said, he paid with 97 days of his life.

GIs' morale dips as Iraq war drags on

GIs' morale dips as Iraq war drags on
With tours extended, multiple deployments and new tactics that put them in bare posts in greater danger, they feel leaders are out of touch with reality.
By Tina Susman
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

August 25, 2007

YOUSIFIYA, IRAQ — In the dining hall of a U.S. Army post south of Baghdad, President Bush was on the wide-screen TV, giving a speech about the war in Iraq. The soldiers didn't look up from their chicken and mashed potatoes.

As military and political leaders prepare to deliver a progress report on the conflict to Congress next month, many soldiers are increasingly disdainful of the happy talk that they say commanders on the ground and White House officials are using in their discussions about the war.

And they're becoming vocal about their frustration over longer deployments and a taxing mission that keeps many living in dangerous and uncomfortably austere conditions. Some say two wars are being fought here: the one the enlisted men see, and the one that senior officers and politicians want the world to see.

"I don't see any progress. Just us getting killed," said Spc. Yvenson Tertulien, one of those in the dining hall in Yousifiya, 10 miles south of Baghdad, as Bush's speech aired last month. "I don't want to be here anymore."

Morale problems come as the Bush administration faces increasing pressure to begin a drawdown of troops.

The Times reported Friday that Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was expected to advise Bush to reduce U.S. force levels next year by almost half because of the strain on the military.

But Pace on Friday said, "The story is wrong, it is speculative. I have not made or decided on any recommendations yet."

Plenty of troops remain upbeat about their mission in Iraq. At Patrol Base Shanghai, flanking the town of Rushdi Mullah south of Baghdad, Army Capt. Matt Dawson said residents used to shoot at troops but now visit them and offer ideas on improving security.

"For the 20-year-old kids here who have been shot at for 10 months in a row, the change is a tremendous feeling," Dawson said last week.

The Army cites reenlistment numbers as proof that morale remains high and says it expects to reach its retention goal of 62,200 for the fiscal year.

"On the 4th of July, we reenlisted 588 service members . . . in Baghdad. That has to be an indicator," said Sgt. Maj. Marvin Hill, who visits bases to gauge morale on behalf of Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the commander of U.S. troops in Iraq.

Based on his encounters, Hill said, he would rank morale at 8 on a scale of 1 to 10.

"Units that are having real success are units where troop morale is extremely high," Hill said. "Units that are sustaining losses, whether it be personnel losses, injuries or casualties -- those are organizations where morale might dip a bit."

The signs of frustration and of flagging morale are unmistakable, including blunt comments, online rants and the findings of surveys on military morale and suicides.

Sometimes the signs are to be found even in latrines. In the stalls at Baghdad's Camp Liberty, someone had posted Army help cards listing "nine signs of suicide." On one card, seven of the boxes had been checked.

"This occupation, this money pit, this smorgasbord of superfluous aggression is getting more hopeless and dismal by the second," a soldier in Diyala province, north of Baghdad, wrote in an Aug. 7 post on his blog,

"The only person I know who believed Iraq was improving was killed by a sniper in May," the blogger, identified only as Alex from Frisco, Texas, said in a separate e-mail.

The Army's suicide rate is at its highest in 23 years: 17.3 per 100,000 troops, compared with 12.4 per 100,000 in 2003, the first year of the war. Of the 99 suicides last year, 27 occurred in Iraq.

The latest in a series of mental health surveys of troops in Iraq, released in May, says 45% of the 1,320 soldiers interviewed ranked morale in their unit as low or very low. Seven percent ranked it high or very high.

Mental health trends have worsened in the last two years, said Cindy Williams, an expert in military personnel at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "These long and repeated deployments are causing acute mental stress," she said.

Most troops in Iraq expected 12-month deployments. Those were extended in May by three months for the troop buildup. Thousands already were on their second or third deployments.

The result is a fighting force that includes many soldiers who are worn down, just as Petraeus, who took command of the war six months ago, is asking them to adopt intense counterinsurgency tactics. Those strategies emphasize living "outside the wire," in military-speak, in outposts that put troops close to Iraqis. The theory is that people will come to trust the soldiers and share information needed to quell the violence.

But these posts often lack basic amenities such as running water, flush toilets, telephones and Internet access, which troops at the forward operating bases enjoy, along with food courts and athletic facilities. Being on the front lines, troops in outposts also face greater danger than those at bases.

Since the war began, there have been eight months in which U.S. troop deaths topped 100, including three months since the buildup began in February.

In Yousifiya, troops occupy the sun-scorched grounds of a former potato-processing plant. They use pit latrines and get showers only when there is enough water. They jog around a shade-less concrete lot that serves as a helipad and mortar-launching site. Other troops in this area have far less comfortable surroundings.

Army Maj. Rob Griggs believes rough conditions are good for the mission. Without comforting distractions, troops are more driven to complete their jobs, said Griggs, who is on his fifth deployment, including two in Iraq, since enlisting 17 years ago.

"It allows them to focus on why they are here," said Griggs, who sleeps and lives in half of a 20-foot metal shipping container on the Yousifiya base. Having troops live in the same spare conditions as many Iraqis do also helps convince people that the Americans are genuine about wanting to make things better, he said.

But the disparities in living and working conditions among soldiers heighten resentments, chipping away at morale. So does the feeling that the mission is futile, a belief fueled by the Iraqi political stalemate and the unreliability of Iraqi forces.

"There are two different wars," said Staff Sgt. Donald Richard Harris, comparing his soldiers' views with those of commanders in distant bases. "It's a dead-end process, it seems like."

Asked to rank morale in his unit, Harris gave it a 4 on a 10-point scale. "Look at these guys. This is their downtime," he said, as young soldiers around him silently cleaned dust from their rifles at a battle position south of the capital. A fiery wind blasted through the small base, an abandoned home surrounded by sandbags and razor wire.

"It sounds selfish, but if we just had phones and Internet service," said Staff Sgt. Clark Merlin, his voice trailing off.

Their unit was supposed to go home this month but its tour was extended until November. That means three more months of using plastic sacks for toilets, burning their waste and hoping for packages from home.

"I think the extension has been 99% of the reason morale is low," said Merlin, rating it 4 or 5.

Counterinsurgency expert Stephen Biddle of the Council on Foreign Relations said the "two wars" issue is common in conflict zones as front-line soldiers grow to resent troops at the bases and come to believe their commanders are out of touch with the realities in the field.

"But this kind of war really highlights it," Biddle, who has advised Petraeus, said of Iraq. Soldiers' discomfort is compounded by the task of forging relations with people whom few trust, and who often make clear their dislike of the U.S. presence.

"All war is political, but usually privates and specialists don't have to think much about that part of it. In this conflict they do, to a much greater degree," Biddle said, referring to the community activities that troops have been drawn into. These include negotiating with tribal leaders who once harbored insurgents, striking deals with former insurgents to bring them into the Iraqi security forces, and listening to residents' complaints about lack of services.

"You have to help people despite the strong suspicion that lots of them mean you ill," Biddle said. "We're asking an awful lot of very, very young people."

It is especially difficult for soldiers trained to fight a uniformed enemy but in Iraq face an array of unconventional forces. Most thought their job was finished after Saddam Hussein was ousted. Instead, they found themselves directing traffic in Baghdad's chaotic streets. Four years later, they still are policing and doing community work they did not anticipate.

"You couple that with getting blown up and shot at, and it definitely makes it harder to deliver service with a smile," said Staff Sgt. Kevin Littrell, whose plan to leave the Army in May was thwarted when his unit's tour was extended.

At another patrol base, Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, commander of U.S. forces in southern Iraq, was introduced to 1st Lt. Jeff Bess. The young man had just arrived for his first assignment. Asked how he liked the Army so far, Bess made an attempt to be polite. "It's a learning experience, sir," he replied.

Lynch told him: "You're making history here while those back home are watching it on TV."

Times staff writers Julian E. Barnes in Washington and Garrett Therolf, Carol J. Williams and Alexandra Zavis in Iraq contributed to this report.,0,6831100,print.story?coll=la-headlines-world

Friday, August 24, 2007

Seeking Willie Horton

Seeking Willie Horton


So now Mitt Romney is trying to Willie Hortonize Rudy Giuliani. And thereby hangs a tale — the tale, in fact, of American politics past and future, and the ultimate reason Karl Rove’s vision of a permanent Republican majority was a foolish fantasy.

Willie Horton, for those who don’t remember the 1988 election, was a convict from Massachusetts who committed armed robbery and rape after being released from prison on a weekend furlough program. He was made famous by an attack ad, featuring a menacing mugshot, that played into racial fears. Many believe that the ad played an important role in George H.W. Bush’s victory over Michael Dukakis.

Now some Republicans are trying to make similar use of the recent murder of three college students in Newark, a crime in which two of the suspects are Hispanic illegal immigrants. Tom Tancredo flew into Newark to accuse the city’s leaders of inviting the crime by failing to enforce immigration laws, while Newt Gingrich declared that the “war here at home” against illegal immigrants is “even more deadly than the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

And Mr. Romney, who pretends to be whatever he thinks the G.O.P. base wants him to be, is running a radio ad denouncing New York as a “sanctuary city” for illegal immigrants, an implicit attack on Mr. Giuliani.

Strangely, nobody seems to be trying to make a national political issue out of other horrifying crimes, like the Connecticut home invasion in which two paroled convicts, both white, are accused of killing a mother and her two daughters. Oh, and by the way: over all, Hispanic immigrants appear to commit relatively few crimes — in fact, their incarceration rate is actually lower than that of native-born non-Hispanic whites.

To appreciate what’s going on here you need to understand the difference between the goals of the modern Republican Party and the strategy it uses to win elections.

The people who run the G.O.P. are concerned, above all, with making America safe for the rich. Their ultimate goal, as Grover Norquist once put it, is to get America back to the way it was “up until Teddy Roosevelt, when the socialists took over,” getting rid of “the income tax, the death tax, regulation, all that.”

But right-wing economic ideology has never been a vote-winner. Instead, the party’s electoral strategy has depended largely on exploiting racial fear and animosity.

Ronald Reagan didn’t become governor of California by preaching the wonders of free enterprise; he did it by attacking the state’s fair housing law, denouncing welfare cheats and associating liberals with urban riots. Reagan didn’t begin his 1980 campaign with a speech on supply-side economics, he began it — at the urging of a young Trent Lott — with a speech supporting states’ rights delivered just outside Philadelphia, Miss., where three civil rights workers were murdered in 1964.

And if you look at the political successes of the G.O.P. since it was taken over by movement conservatives, they had very little to do with public opposition to taxes, moral values, perceived strength on national security, or any of the other explanations usually offered. To an almost embarrassing extent, they all come down to just five words: southern whites starting voting Republican.

In fact, I suspect that the underlying importance of race to the Republican base is the reason Rudy Giuliani remains the front-runner for the G.O.P. nomination, despite his serial adultery and his past record as a social liberal. Never mind moral values: what really matters to the base is that Mr. Giuliani comes across as an authoritarian, willing in particular to crack down on you-know-who.

But Republicans have a problem: demographic changes are making their race-based electoral strategy decreasingly effective. Quite simply, America is becoming less white, mainly because of immigration. Hispanic and Asian voters were only 4 percent of the electorate in 1980, but they were 11 percent of voters in 2004 — and that number will keep rising for the foreseeable future.

Those numbers are the reason Karl Rove was so eager to reach out to Hispanic voters. But the whites the G.O.P. has counted on to vote their color, not their economic interests, are having none of it. From their point of view, it’s us versus them — and everyone who looks different is one of them.

So now we have the spectacle of Republicans competing over who can be most convincingly anti-Hispanic. I know, officially they’re not hostile to Hispanics in general, only to illegal immigrants, but that’s a distinction neither the G.O.P. base nor Hispanic voters takes seriously.

Today’s G.O.P., in short, is trapped by its history of cynicism. For decades it has exploited racial animosity to win over white voters — and now, when Republican politicians need to reach out to an increasingly diverse country, the base won’t let them.

Bush's next invasion: Vietnam?

Bush's next invasion: Vietnam?

Following the president's logic, our best move is to repeat a huge mistake.
Rosa Brooks

Re-invade Vietnam!

Oh yes. You thought the Bush administration was fresh out of ideas? You thought that with Karl Rove leaving, the administration that brought us the war in Iraq and "Mission Accomplished" had no more tricks up its sleeve?

Think again.

On Wednesday, speaking before a Veterans of Foreign Wars audience, President Bush did something he had previously avoided: He compared the Iraq war with the Vietnam War, agreeing that Vietnam does hold lessons for U.S. policy in Iraq.

Can't argue with that. For most Americans, the lessons of Vietnam were reasonably clear before we invaded Iraq and have been painfully reinforced by the ongoing disaster there:

Don't fight needless wars; don't go blundering around in countries where you don't know the language, history or culture; don't underestimate the power of nationalism, ethnicity and religion to bind together -- or tear apart -- people whose interests otherwise seem to diverge or converge; and, most of all, don't imagine that military force can solve fundamentally political problems.

But the president, who has his own very special set of history books, drew the public's attention to some entirely different lessons from Vietnam. To Bush, the "unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of America's withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens."

Right! To Bush, the tragedy of the Vietnam War is that we didn't let it drag on for another decade or so.

Some might quibble with Bush's understanding of historical causation. Yes, many innocent civilians suffered in the aftermath of the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam -- but it's more accurate to attribute their suffering to the prolongation of the war itself, rather than to the U.S. withdrawal as such.

It's hard to be precise (as is the case in Iraq today, no one kept careful count of Vietnamese civilian casualties, and all sides in the conflict had an incentive to fudge the true figures), but somewhere between 1 million and 4 million civilians died as the war needlessly dragged on, many killed by U.S. weapons. Millions more were displaced.

But those are details.

Bush went on to assert that "another price to our withdrawal from Vietnam" was the rise of "the enemy we face in today's struggle, those who came to our soil and killed thousands of citizens" on 9/11.

Yup -- it's so obvious! The U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam caused the rise of Al Qaeda -- and, by extension, "our withdrawal from Vietnam" ultimately turned Iraq into "the central front" in "the war on terror."

Once you're in the right frame of mind -- the Right frame of mind, I should say -- the logic becomes blindingly clear:

Step 1: In 1975, the Vietnam War ended and young Osama bin Laden, age 18, saw that the mighty U.S. could be brought low and that an unhappy citizenry could push a democratically elected government to end an unpopular war.

Step 2: Hmm. This step is a little tougher. Al Qaeda attacked the U.S. on 9/11. Then Bin Laden, bearing the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam constantly in mind, um . . . somehow tricked us into going to war in Iraq . . . where Al Qaeda had no presence prior to the U.S. invasion . . . because he knew we'd make a mess of things . . . and that Al Qaeda could move in while we were bogged down fighting insurgents . . . and bog us down even more?

Something like that.

And from there, we easily reach Step 3: We are stuck in a quagmire in Iraq, just as in Vietnam! Millions of civilians are paying the price for U.S. over-reaching -- just as in Vietnam! Our credibility is suffering -- just as in Vietnam! The American public has lost faith in the war -- just as in Vietnam! Bin Laden is happy to see us brought low -- just as in Vietnam! If we leave, more bad things may happen, and Bin Laden will also be happy -- just as in Vietnam!

Step 4. Therefore, as the president explained Wednesday, we must stay in Iraq forever, until every last terrorist or every last Iraqi civilian is dead, whichever comes first.

But Bush forgot to mention Step 5, which follows logically from Steps 1 to 4.

How can we show the innocent civilians of Southeast Asia that we haven't forgotten them and simultaneously send a message of resolve to the Iraqi people? How can we show Al Qaeda once and for all that the U.S. is not to be trifled with?

It's time for Step 5:

Re-invade Vietnam.

Because no matter what they say -- it's never too late to repeat the mistakes of the past.

Historian: Bush use of quote ‘perverse'

Historian: Bush use of quote ‘perverse'

By: Avi Zenilman
Aug 23, 2007 04:55 PM EST

A[n] historian quoted by President Bush to help argue that critics of the administration’s Iraq policy echo those who questioned the U.S. effort to bring democracy to Japan after World War II angrily distanced himself from the president’s remarks Thursday.

“They [war supporters] keep on doing this,” said MIT professor John Dower. “They keep on hitting it and hitting it and hitting it and it’s always more and more implausible, strange and in a fantasy world. They’re desperately groping for a historical analogy, and their uses of history are really perverse.”

In a speech on Wednesday, Bush quoted “one historian” as suggesting that foreign policy experts – and, by implication, critics of Bush’s approach to Iraq – aren’t always right. “An interesting observation, one historian put it, ‘Had these erstwhile experts’ — he was talking about people criticizing the efforts to help Japan realize the blessings of a free society — he said, ‘Had these erstwhile experts had their way, the very notion of inducing a democratic revolution would have died of ridicule at an early stage.’ ”

A search of Google books revealed that the “one historian” is Dower. The quote is from his book, “Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II,” which won the National Book Award and the Bancroft Prize, among other awards, in 1999.

Dower was decidedly unhappy with his 15 minutes of fame. “I have always said as a historian that the use of Japan [in arguing for the likelihood of successfully bringing democracy to Iraq] is a misuse of history,” he said when notified of the Bush quote.

He immediately directed me to a November 2002 New York Times op-ed where he outlined 10 reasons why “most of the factors that contributed to the success of nation-building in occupied Japan would be absent in an Iraq militarily defeated by the United States.”

In March 2003, Dower wrote an essay for Boston Review, entitled “A Warning From History: Don’t Expect Democracy in Iraq.”

And what about the specific quote Bush used – that experts on Japan were wrong about the country’s capability for democracy?

“Whoever pulled that quote out for him [Bush] is very clever,” Dower said, acknowledging that “if you listen to the experts prior to the invasion of Japan, they all said that Japan can’t become democratic.”

But there are major differences, Dower said. “I’m not being misquoted, but I’m being misrepresented.”

“In the case of Iraq,” Dower said, “the administration went in there without any of the kind of preparation, thoughtfulness, understanding of the country they were going into that did exist when we went into Japan. Even if the so-called experts said we couldn’t do it, there were years of mid-level planning and discussions before they went in. They were prepared. They laid out a very clear agenda at an early date.”

White House spokesman Tony Fratto said that Bush used Dower’s quote “to in no way endorse his view of Iraq, only his view of Japan.”

Added Fratto: “While professor Dower may disagree with the applicability of the quote, the president in no way endorses his view of Iraq.”

Are Bush & Co. Gearing Up to Attack Iran?

Are Bush & Co. Gearing Up to Attack Iran?
By Ray McGovern, AlterNet
Posted on August 23, 2007, Printed on August 24, 2007

A shorter version of this article first appeared on

It is as though I'm back as an analyst at the CIA, trying to estimate the chances of an attack on Iran. The putative attacker, though, happens to be our own president.

It is precisely the kind of work we analysts used to do. And, while it is still a bit jarring to be turning our analytical tools on the U.S. leadership, it is by no means entirely new. For, of necessity, we Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) have been doing that for almost six years now -- ever since 9/11, when "everything changed."

Of necessity? Yes, because, with very few exceptions, American journalists put their jobs at grave risk if they expose things like fraudulent wars.

The craft of CIA analysis was designed to be an all-source operation, meaning that we analysts were responsible -- and held accountable -- for assimilating information from all sources and coming to judgments on what it all meant. We used data of various kinds, from the most sophisticated technical collection platforms, to spies, to -- not least -- open media.

Here I must reveal a trade secret and risk puncturing the mystique of intelligence analysis. Generally speaking, 80 percent of the information one needs to form judgments on key intelligence targets or issues is available in open media. It helps to have been trained -- as my contemporaries and I had the good fortune to be trained -- by past masters of the discipline of media analysis, which began in a structured way in targeting Japanese and German media in the 1940s. But, truth be told, anyone with a high school education can do it. It is not rocket science.

Reporting from informants

The above is in no way intended to minimize the value of intelligence collection by CIA case officers recruiting and running clandestine agents. For, though small in percentage of the whole nine yards available to be analyzed, information from such sources can often make a crucial contribution. Consider, for example, the daring recruitment in mid-2002 of Saddam Hussein's foreign minister, Naji Sabri, who was successfully "turned" into working for the CIA and quickly established his credibility. Sabri told us there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

My former colleagues, perhaps a bit naively, were quite sure this would come as a welcome relief to President George W. Bush and his advisers. Instead, they were told that the White House had no further interest in reporting from Sabri; rather, that the issue was not really WMD, it was "regime change." (Don't feel embarrassed if you did not know this; although it is publicly available, our corporate-owned, war profiteering media has largely suppressed this key story.)

One former colleague, operations officer-par-excellence Robert Baer, now reports (in this week's Time) that, according to his sources, the Bush/Cheney administration is winding up for a strike on Iran; that the administration's plan to put Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps on the terrorism list points in the direction of such a strike; and that the delusional "neoconservative" thinking that still guides White House policy concludes that such an attack would lead to the fall of the clerics and the rise of a more friendly Iran.

Hold on, it gets even worse: Baer's sources tell him that administration officials are thinking that "as long as we have bombers and missiles in the air, we will hit Iran's nuclear facilities."

Rove and Snow: Going wobbly?

Our VIPS colleague Phil Geraldi, writing in The American Conservative, earlier noted that in the past Karl Rove has served as a counterweight to Vice President Dick Cheney, and may have tried to put the brakes on Cheney's death wish to expand the Middle East quagmire to Iran. And former Pentagon officer, retired Lt. Col. Karen Kwiatkowski, who worked shoulder to shoulder with some of the most devoted neocons just before the attack on Iraq, has put into words (on speculation several of us have been indulging in with respect to Rove's departure.

In short, it seems possible that Rove, who is no one's dummy and would not want to be required to "spin" an unnecessary war on Iran, may have lost the battle with Cheney over the merits of a military strike on Iran, and only then decided -- or was urged -- to spend more time with his family. As for administration spokesperson Tony Snow, it seems equally possible that, before deciding he had to leave the White House to make more money, he concluded that his stomach could not withstand the challenge of conjuring up yet another Snow job to explain why Bush/Cheney needed to attack Iran. There is recent precedent for this kind of thing.

We now know that it was because former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld went wobbly on the Iraq war -- as can be seen in his Nov. 6, 2006, memo to the president -- that Rumsfeld was canned. (That was the day BEFORE the election.) In that memo, Rumsfeld called for a "major adjustment" in war policy. And so, Robert Gates, who had been waiting in the wings, was called to Crawford, given the test for malleability, hired, and dispatched by the president immediately to Iraq to weigh in heavily with the most senior U.S. generals (Abizaid and Casey). They had been saying, quite openly: Please, please, no more troops; a surge would simply give the Iraqis still more time and opportunity to diddle us while American troops continue to die. So much for the president always listening to his senior military commanders. And the bug of reality was infecting even Rumsfeld.

In his memo to the president, Rumsfeld suggested that U.S. generals "withdraw U.S. forces from vulnerable positions -- cities, patrolling, etc.," and move troops to Kuwait to serve as a Quick Reaction Force. Bush, of course, chose to do just the opposite.

Our domesticated press has not yet been able to put two and two together on this story, so it has been left to investigative reporters like Robert Parry to do so. In his Aug. 17 essay, "Rumsfeld's Mysterious Resignation," Parry closes with this:

The touchy secret about Rumsfeld's departure seems to have been that Bush didn't want the American people to know that one of the chief Iraq war architects had turned against the idea of an open-ended military commitment -- and that Bush had found himself with no choice but to oust Rumsfeld for his loss of faith in the neoconservative cause.

Granted, it is speculative that similar factors, this time with respect to war planning for Iran, were at work in the decisions on the departure of Rove and Snow. Someone ought to ask them.

Surgical strikes first?

With the propaganda buildup we have seen so far on Iran, what seems most likely, at least initially, is an attack on Revolutionary Guard training facilities inside Iran. That can be done with cruise missiles. With some 20 targets already identified by anti-Iranian groups, there are enough assets already in place to do that job. But the "while-we're-at-it" neocon logic referred to above may well be applied after, or even in conjunction with, that kind of limited cruise missile attack.

Cheerleading in the domesticated media

Yes, it is happening again.

The lead editorial in yesterday's Washington Post regurgitates the allegations that Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps is "supplying the weapons that are killing a growing number of American soldiers in Iraq," that it is "waging war against the United States and trying to kill as many American soldiers as possible." Designating Iran a "specially designated global terrorist" organization, says the Post, "seems to be the least the United States should be doing, giving the soaring number of Iranian-sponsored bomb attacks in Iraq."

It's as though Dick Cheney and friends are again writing the Post's editorials. And not only that: arch-neocon James Woolsey told Lou Dobbs on Aug. 14 that the Nited States may have no choice but to bomb Iran in order to halt its nuclear weapons program. As Woolsey puts it, "I'm afraid within, well, at worst, a few months, [or] at best, a few years, they could have the bomb."

Woolsey, self-described "anchor of the Presbyterian wing of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs," has long been out in front plumbing for wars, like Iraq, that he and other neocons myopically see as being in Israel's, as well as America's, interest. On the evening of 9/11, Woolsey was already raising with Tom Brokaw and Peter Jennings the notion that Iraq was a leading candidate for state sponsorship of the attacks. A day later, Woolsey told journalist James Fallows that, no matter who proved responsible for 9/11, the solution had to include removing Saddam Hussein because he was so likely to be involved the next time (sic).

The latest media hype is also rubbish. And Woolsey knows it. And so do reporters for the Washington Post, who are aware of, but have been forbidden to tell, a highly interesting story about waiting for a key National Intelligence Estimate -- as if for Godot.

The NIE that didn't bark

The latest National Intelligence Estimate regarding if and when Iran is likely to have the bomb has been ready since February. It has been sent back four times -- no doubt because its conclusions do not support what Cheney and Woolsey are telling the president and, through the domesticated press, telling the rest of us as well.

The conclusion of the most recent published NIE (early 2005) was that Iran probably could not acquire a nuclear weapon until "early to mid-next decade," a formula memorized and restated by Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell at his confirmation hearing in February. One can safely assume that McConnell had been fully briefed on the first "final draft" of the new estimate, which has now been in limbo for half a year. And I would wager that the conclusions of the new estimate resemble those of the NIE of 2005 far too closely to suit Cheney.

It is a scandal that the congressional oversight committees have not been briefed on the conclusions of the new estimate, even though it cannot pass Cheney's smell test. For it is a safe bet it would give the lie to the claims of Cheney, Woolsey and other cheerleaders for war with Iran and provide powerful ammunition to those arguing for a more sensible approach to Iran.

But attacking Iran would be crazy

Despite the administration's warlike record, many Americans may still cling to the belief that attacking Iran won't happen because it would be crazy and that Bush is a lame-duck president who wouldn't dare undertake yet another reckless adventure when the last one went so badly.

But rationality and common sense have not exactly been the strong suit of this administration. Bush has placed himself in a neoconservative bubble that operates with its own false sense of reality. Worse still: as psychiatrist Justin Frank pointed out in the July 27 VIPS memo "Dangers of a Cornered Bush," updating his book, Bush on the Couch:

We are left with a president who cannot actually govern, because he is incapable of reasoned thought in coping with events outside his control, like those in the Middle East.

This makes it a monumental challenge -- as urgent as it is difficult -- not only to get him to stop the carnage in the Middle East, but also to prevent him from undertaking a new, perhaps even more disastrous adventure -- like going to war with Iran in order to embellish the image he so proudly created for himself after 9/11 as the commander in chief of 'the first war of the 21st century.'


Former CIA analyst Ray McGovern is co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Not-So-Quiet American

The Not-So-Quiet American
by Hunter (dailykos)
Thu Aug 23, 2007 at 04:00:43 PM CDT

Via Atrios, Frank James points out the seeming, um... oddness... of Bush citing the novel The Quiet American in his VFW speech, specifically the character Alden Pyle. Bush's quote:

In 1955, long before the United States had entered the war, Graham Greene wrote a novel called "The Quiet American." It was set in Saigon and the main character was a young government agent named Alden Pyle. He was a symbol of American purpose and patriotism and dangerous naivete. Another character describes Alden this way: "I never knew a man who had better motives for all the trouble he caused."

After America entered the Vietnam War, Graham Greene -- the Graham Greene argument gathered some steam. Matter of fact, many argued that if we pulled out, there would be no consequences for the Vietnamese people.

In the speech, Bush indeed argued that the primary lesson of Vietnam, the only lesson of Vietnam after three decades to think about it, was that we shouldn't have left.

Back in college, our school (like most) had a time-honored tradition of pranking. The quality of a good prank was judged not on causing damage or embarrassment to the (frequently innocent) victim, but on two things: raw creativity and seeming impossibility. Pranking was considered a medium of artistic expression and technical skill: the best pranks were those that seemed to defy all plausibility of success. Stealing a treasured campus artifact? Crass and boring. Somehow rigging the scoreboard of a nearby major football stadium in order to display the school name instead of the actual competitors? Brilliance defined.

And so the only conclusion I can come to, after hearing Bush's "Vietnam" speech, is that it was an elaborate prank. Some Democrat somewhere hacked into the teleprompter and inserted a speech just barely plausible enough that Bush would actually read it, but otherwise nonsensical enough to make anyone with a shred of foreign policy sense, literary sense or -- what the hell, let's go for the lowest denominator here, any knowledge or memory of the Vietnam war whatsoever -- wonder if the president hadn't gone off his nut.

That must be it, because the only other conclusion is that the White House really intended the President to evoke one of the more notable American dimwits in literature in a speech justifying his own "trouble" caused. That he'd intended to evoke further dimwittedness by apparently misreading the entire point of the novel. That after resisting the comparisons to Vietnam for years, he would now willingly equate the two as quagmires, just as breezy passing point on the way to another assertion of his own confidence.

And that, in the entire speechwriting process of the White House, the only actual message any of the involved parties took from Vietnam is that we would have won, if it weren't for all those pesky congressmen, senators, foreign policy analysts, statesmen, military experts, soldiers and citizens that made us leave just before we could have really turned things around via some unknown and unspecified strategy. I've often heard that premise used to discredit conservatism -- the accusation that, after all this time, they are so hidebound and gullible that they really do believe that Vietnam was a grand and noble effort on the verge of winning, before it was sabotaged by the implicit cowardice of the American people -- but it's not often you hear it coming from the president's own lips. From the mouth of an American president, it is creepy and alarming, and smacks of delusion.

Bush correctly recognizes that the price of failure in Iraq will be high. And yet, at the same time, he has been categorically unwilling to do what is necessary to actually win. A supposed "surge" of 30,000 more troops cannot quell the unrest: perhaps a quarter million could provide the necessary stability and security. But to do that, he would have had to engage in either international diplomacy or an intranational military draft, and neither of those two steps, even though they would have helped win what the president sees as the defining world struggle of our times, were considered politically palatable.

The White House chose to staff the Baghdad-based government with hundreds of inexperienced die-hard conservatives with no actual knowledge of the country or infrastructures they were governing, even though it presumably knew a rapid and competent rebuilding of the Iraqi nation was absolutely vital for any chance of stability. But instead the White House chose years of cronyism and partisan loyalty over nonpartisan expertise and experience, because critical efforts to win the defining world struggle of our times were considered less important than promoting those partisan ideological economic experiments and fiefdoms.

The White House chose at the beginning of the war to move troops from Afghanistan into Iraq, launching a second supposed front to their anti-terrorism efforts while the bin Laden trail was still fresh. Bush is insistent that the only way to lose a war is to leave, and yet he managed to apply exactly that strategy to the actual war on terrorists themselves: attack with vigor, maintain the ongoing effort with insufficient forces, then leave. The special forces actively hunting bin Laden were needed elsewhere because a war with Iraq could not wait even another six meager months: winning Bush's defining world struggle of our times was indeed more important than winning the war with the people who attacked our nation. Abstract ideological goals took center stage -- and the lion's share of presidential attention and of troops on the ground -- over the more concrete military and security needs of the actual fight against actual terrorists.

In short, Bush correctly recognizes the price of failure, but that has not stopped him from, at every turn, playing politics with his own chosen war. The military has done what the military was tasked to do -- remove Hussein from power, and remove Iraq's military capabilities. Everything else has been on the administration to do, and that "everything else" has turned out to be a partisan fiasco wrapped in a ideological quagmire and sculpted into an incompetent clusterf*ck. There is apparently not one major neoconservative within the wide span of Bush's ideological wings, not one within an entire movement dedicated to the premise that they know how the world works and how nations should be run that can accomplish, on the real world stage, one damn thing of note.

Alden Pyle has indeed lost his war, and he lost it by entering it, and by not understanding what he was entering into, and not sufficiently even caring. He lost it when his attention became distracted from actual terrorism by vivid dreams of a new world order that needed only a few rifle shots to point it in the right direction. We have seldom known a man who had better motives for all the trouble he caused.

And in this case, even that is being generous.

Behind Giuliani's Tough Talk

Behind Giuliani's Tough Talk
By Amanda Ripley

Islamic terrorists are at war with us," Rudy Giuliani told about 300 people at a synagogue in Rockville, Md., one evening in July. He likes to say it that way—that they are at war with us, not the other way around. "They want to kill us," he warned a group in New Hampshire the same month. "They hate you," he told a woman in Atlanta.

Giuliani says he understands terrorism "better than anyone else running for President," and he certainly talks about it more than anyone else. "Basically, what he's selling is, 'As dangerous a world as this is, I can make it safer,'" says GOP pollster Frank Luntz. So far, it seems to be working. Giuliani has been the consistent front runner of the Republican candidates in most national polls through August.

By framing his campaign this way, Giuliani has raised an interesting question. What does it actually mean to understand terrorism? His supporters might find the question absurd. He owns terrorism, they say. The entire world watched on television as Giuliani led New York City through the aftermath of a terrorism attack. To his opponents, the answer is equally plain: he has no foreign policy experience, and he talks about terrorism as if it's an enemy country on a continent only he knows how to find.

But being a victim of terrorism, or the steely leader of a recovery, is not necessarily the same as understanding terrorism. Nor is foreign policy experience all that matters. So how would Giuliani actually prevent, contain and respond to the next major terrorist attack in the U.S.? What is his vision for what he considers the existential challenge of our time?

This much is indisputable: Giuliani knows what it means to be a victim of terrorism, to lose old friends in an avalanche of violence and spit the dust of a skyscraper out of his mouth in a new, blackened world. He understands the urgency of speaking to the American people after an attack—and not circling above the ruins in Air Force One. He knows how to grieve and go to work at the same time.

But before 9/11, Giuliani spent eight years presiding over a city that was a known terrorist target. A TIME investigation into what he did—and didn't do—to prepare for a major catastrophe is revealing. In addition to extraordinary grace under fire, Giuliani developed an intimate knowledge of emergency management and an affinity for quantifiable results. On 9/11, he earned the trust of most Americans; one year later, 78% of those surveyed by the Marist Institute had a favorable impression of Giuliani. This magazine also named Giuliani its Person of the Year in 2001. Assuming he can keep it, trust is a priceless resource in psychological warfare.

The evidence also shows great, gaping weaknesses. Giuliani's penchant for secrecy, his tendency to value loyalty over merit and his hyperbolic rhetoric are exactly the kinds of instincts that counterterrorism experts say the U.S. can least afford right now.

Giuliani's limitations are in fact remarkably similar to those of another man who has led the nation into a war without end. Some of the Bush Administration's policies, like improved intelligence sharing between countries and our own agencies, have made the U.S. better at fighting terrorism. But others, from the war in Iraq to the treatment of detainees at Guantánamo Bay, have actually made the task much more difficult. The challenge for the next President will be focusing on and adapting the good tools and jettisoning the bad. Whether you conclude Giuliani can win this war depends ultimately on whether you think we are winning now. A Mayor's Skill Set
Giuliani and his aides have said he has been "studying Islamic terrorism" for 30 years. This is an exaggeration. As a prosecutor and Justice Department official in the 1970s and '80s, Giuliani had many successes—against white collar criminals and the Mafia. He did not direct major terrorism prosecutions that led to convictions. As mayor, he worked relatively closely with the FBI, according to James Kallstrom, former FBI assistant director in charge of the New York office. "The four years that I was there, we had a fabulous relationship," says Kallstrom. "He was able to do many things in this city that I never expected him to be able to do."

But until 9/11, the security obsession of Giuliani and the FBI was crime, not terrorism. He came into office 11 months after the first attack by Muslim extremists on the World Trade Center. Yet an analysis of 80 of Giuliani's major speeches from 1993 to 2001 shows that he mentioned the danger of terrorism only once, in a brief reference to emergency preparedness. He talked more about the "terror" of domestic violence.

With his own preparedness staff, he did discuss terrorism, says Jerome Hauer, Giuliani's emergency-management chief from 1996 to 2000. Giuliani was certainly more aware of the subject than most mayors, which made sense, given the city's panoply of targets. But he was not a student of Islamic extremism, as he claims on the campaign trail, Hauer says. (Giuliani and Hauer had a falling-out during the election to replace Giuliani after 9/11, both sides confirm, after Hauer endorsed a Democrat, arguing in part that the city would be safer under his choice.) "We never talked about Islamic terrorism," Hauer says. "We talked about chemical terrorism, biological terrorism. We did talk about car bombs every now and then. [But] I don't think there was much interest on his part. If he's been studying it for 30 years, he certainly never verbalized it to me."

Giuliani has also claimed he knows more about foreign policy than other candidates, but that's exceedingly unlikely. John McCain spent 22 years as a Navy pilot and five as a prisoner of war and is now the ranking member of the Armed Services Committee in the Senate, where he has served for 20 years. He has been to Iraq six times; Giuliani has never been there. (Of the major candidates, only Giuliani, Fred Thompson and John Edwards have never visited Iraq.)

Giuliani had an unusual opportunity to cram foreign policy when he was invited to join the Iraq Study Group by the co-chairman, former Secretary of State James Baker III, in February 2006. Giuliani accepted, becoming one of just 10 people, including former Secretary of Defense William J. Perry and retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, in the congressionally mandated group. He participated in a conference call to discuss logistics but then did not attend the first two major meetings. On those days, he delivered paid speeches.

The May session Giuliani missed was a master class on Iraq. He would have gotten briefings from General David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq; former Secretary of State Colin Powell; former Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki; and Douglas Feith, the Pentagon's former No. 3 civilian, among others. All told, says a staffer for the Iraq Study Group, "they had 40 of the top experts on Iraq brief them for hours. They had access to anyone they wanted."

After the two no-shows, Baker contacted Giuliani and Alan Simpson, a former Senator who had also missed meetings, to gauge their commitment levels. Simpson affirmed his dedication and was able to make future meetings. But Giuliani formally withdrew, citing "previous time commitments," according to a copy of his letter to Baker provided to TIME by John B. Williams, Baker's policy assistant. Giuliani recently said he resigned because he was considering running for office and it didn't seem right to stay on such an "apolitical" panel. Staffers on the commission say they don't remember that coming up. Room for Improvement
On the campaign trail, Giuliani's foreign policy comments have sometimes come off more confident than competent. In New Hampshire this spring, according to the New York Times, Giuliani said it was unclear whether Iran or North Korea was further along on building a nuclear bomb. (North Korea tested a nuclear device in October 2006. Iran has not done so.) Then, in his speech at the Maryland synagogue in July, Giuliani mocked Democratic candidate Barack Obama for claiming that North Korea was the nation's No. 1 enemy. "North Korea is an enemy. North Korea is dangerous. I mean, I grant that. And boy, we have to be really careful about North Korea," Giuliani said, his voice iced with sarcasm. "But I don't remember North Koreans coming to America and killing us."

North Korea is known to sell advanced weaponry to other states that sponsor terrorists. The State Department has listed North Korea as a sponsor of terrorism. The reason North Korea keeps U.S. terrorism experts up at night is not that North Korean operatives will come here and attack us; it's that they might sell a nuclear bomb to people who will.

Earlier this summer, the National Intelligence Estimate stated that al-Qaeda has regenerated, directly challenging Giuliani's claims that the war in Iraq has made the U.S. safer. Yet the former mayor continues to insist that the opposite is true: "Being on offense gives us more safety than being weak and being on defense." When I ask him how he reconciles that conclusion with reports that the terrorism threat has increased since we've been "going on offense," Giuliani dismisses those findings and points to the lack of an attack on U.S. soil since 9/11 as evidence of our safety. Sometimes," he says, "we miss the forest for the trees when we sit in places and just analyze."

In a Foreign Affairs article out this month, Giuliani blames the Clinton Administration's foreign policy for provoking terrorism. "The Terrorists' War on Us was encouraged by unrealistic and inconsistent actions taken in response to terrorist attacks in the past," he writes. He also reaches further back into history, questioning the U.S. decision to leave Vietnam. And his views on Israel sound to the right even of the Bush Administration: "It is not in the interest of the United States, at a time when it is being threatened by Islamist terrorists, to assist in the creation of another state that will support terrorism," he writes.

Democratic Senator Joe Biden is so far the only presidential candidate to directly rebut Giuliani's claim that he knows more about terrorism and foreign policy. "Give me a break," says Biden, who has served on the Senate Foreign Relations committee for 32 years and has been to Iraq seven times. "I'm more qualified than him by a mile." He calls Giuliani a "semidemagogue" on terrorism and criticizes him for mischaracterizing the threat. "I think he gets away with this because the most catastrophic event in modern American history saw him at the base of a building demonstrating some personal courage and taking command." But this is no time for sentimental whimsy, Biden says. "When power is passed from this President to the next, that person is going to be left with virtually no margin for error."

Giuliani can, of course, make up for his experience deficit with his advisers. So far, he has chosen hawkish foreign policy gurus, including Norman Podhoretz, a founding member of the neocon movement who recently called for an immediate attack on Iran, and Kim Holmes, an expert at the Heritage Foundation who advised former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. His chief foreign policy adviser is Charles Hill, a lecturer in international studies at Yale, who says Giuliani doesn't actually require much staffing. "If you run New York City, you know foreign affairs," he says. "In dealing with the U.N. and a host of foreign leaders, that's a host of experiences."

Even if Hill is correct, Giuliani—like all Presidents—would need to be surrounded with the most qualified and competent advisers, particularly when it comes to overseeing homeland security. One of the most damning criticisms of Giuliani, however, has been his record of flawed judgment on personnel. In 2004, Giuliani recommended that President George W. Bush nominate Bernard Kerik to run the Department of Homeland Security. Kerik was a police officer and Giuliani's driver before he was elevated to corrections commissioner and police chief. But the nomination collapsed when information about Kerik's past and possible ties to mob-related businesses began to filter out. Kerik pleaded guilty last summer to improperly accepting $165,000 worth of free renovations on his apartment and may still face federal charges. "I should have done a better job of investigating him, vetting him," Giuliani told reporters this spring. "It's my responsibility, and I've learned from it." (Questions were raised about Giuliani's vetting system yet again in June when his South Carolina campaign chairman, Thomas Ravenel, was indicted on federal cocaine charges.)

For his chief homeland-security adviser on the campaign, Giuliani has chosen Robert Bonner, a partner at the law firm of Gibson, Dunn and a former head of the U.S. Customs Service. But Giuliani's most surprising security adviser so far is his old friend former FBI director Louis Freeh. Freeh's stewardship of the FBI during the eight years before the bureau's most spectacular failure makes him an unusual choice. The 9/11 commission report concluded that Freeh and his FBI had failed to adapt to reality: "Freeh recognized terrorism as a major threat ... [His] efforts did not, however, translate into a significant shift of resources to counterterrorism," the report found. "Freeh did not impose his views on the field offices."

Like Giuliani, Freeh blames President Clinton and Congress for failing to dedicate the necessary resources to the FBI's counterterrorism efforts. "There was no willingness to fund any of this before 9/11," he says. New York City's communication failures on 9/11 should not give voters pause, Freeh says, because today, with new technology and increased counterterrorism funding, things would be different. And then Freeh defaults to the iconic moment, the trump card issued to all Giuliani disciples: "You don't walk through the rubble for one moment on that day and not understand that this cannot happen again and that whatever has to be done will be done." Following the Sirens
Before 9/11, Giuliani understood what needed to be done in New York City, but getting it done was another matter. In 1994, less than a year into his mayoralty, a depressed computer analyst set off a homemade bomb in a No. 4 subway train as it pulled into a busy station in lower Manhattan. The firebomb, built from a mayonnaise jar, a kitchen timer and batteries, hurt more than 40 people. Passengers spilled, screaming, out of the train, some rolling on the platform to try to put out the flames, others beating back the fire with their coats.

As soon as he learned of the attack, Giuliani did what he always does: he followed the sirens. When he got to the scene, he sought out police, fire and emergency officials. Then he went to the cameras. In an hour and a half, he held 10 interviews. Then he led a press conference in front of two dozen TV crews. "The emergency response," he said, "was close to miraculous."

It was the same public composure in crisis that Giuliani demonstrated to the world seven years later. "Everything is being done to try to make the city as secure as possible," Giuliani said late on the night of 9/11—at his second press conference of the day. "And tomorrow New York is going to be here, and we're going to rebuild, and we're going to be stronger than we were before."

Giuliani's resolve is not just emotionally reassuring. On 9/11, he single-handedly limited the emotional and economic impact of the loss by his measured, confident response. "The fundamental prerequisite is to respond coolly and soberly and not irrationally and emotionally," says Bruce Hoffman, a Georgetown University professor and one of the country's most respected terrorism experts. "I think you could give him credit. Terrorists are trying to provoke us to respond emotionally. He kept his head about him." But that's about the extent of Hoffman's praise. "In Mayor Giuliani's case, it's a very narrow subset of skills where his credentials are unvarnished."

Giuliani dealt with major emergencies on a regular basis. He had time to prepare his city for a major calamity. But did he do all that he could? Much has been made of the fact that Giuliani's state-of-the-art emergency command center was rendered useless on the day of the attacks. The $13 million center was in the World Trade Center complex, on the 23rd floor of Building 7, which collapsed that day. When I asked Giuliani three years after 9/11 if it had been a mistake to place the command center in a known terrorist target, he said no. "You had to put it somewhere," he said. And he noted that the Secret Service and the CIA also had offices in that building. The center was above ground level, leaving it less prone to flood damage (a serious concern in lower Manhattan), and it was within walking distance of City Hall—one of Giuliani's priorities. "In hindsight, it's pretty bad," says John Farmer Jr., senior counsel to the 9/11 commission and the person in charge of reconstructing the response to the attacks for the investigation. "But that's a tough call."

Giuliani's record on managing the city's emergency responders is more telling—and shows a more complicated leadership style than Americans saw on 9/11. "When we reflected on his tenure, we saw qualities that were not helpful," says Jamie Gorelick, a member of the 9/11 commission and former Deputy Attorney General in the Clinton Administration. "[For President], I think you want someone who is not polarizing. Someone who brings people together by the power of persuasion rather than the power of dictate. Someone who is considering of other points of view and ultimately decisive. And on all three scores, I have serious doubts about the mayor."

Remember that 1994 subway firebombing? Despite what he said in public, Giuliani had profound concerns about the emergency response, according to Hauer, who became Giuliani's emergency-management chief in 1996. When Giuliani arrived that day, he couldn't figure out who was in charge. "Rudy walked down there and got one story from the police department, one from fire, one from EMS," says Hauer. "He was very frustrated."

Getting police and fire departments to cooperate is hard anywhere. But New York City was worse than most places. "We had—and still have—a long history of competitive rivalry between the police and fire departments," says Joe Lhota, Giuliani's deputy mayor from 1998 to 2001. This kind of turf war is extremely dangerous. As we now know, the single biggest failing of intelligence agencies before 9/11 and response agencies after Hurricane Katrina was a lack of coordination and communication.

In 1996, to his credit, Giuliani tried to fix the problem. Giuliani established an Office of Emergency Management that reported directly to him. He put Hauer, an experienced emergency manager, in charge. But five years later, the problems persisted. On 9/11 the police and fire departments ran separate command centers, and communication was poor. The firefighters carried the same radios that had failed them in the 1993 bombing. At 10:04 a.m. on 9/11, after Tower Two had collapsed, a member of the New York Police Department's Aviation Unit warned that the top 15 floors of Tower One were "glowing red" and might collapse. Four minutes later, a helicopter pilot said he did not believe the tower would last much longer. Neither of these warnings made it to the fire chiefs. That tower collapsed at 10:28 a.m. "If communications were better," concluded the federal investigation into the collapse, conducted by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, "more firefighters would have been saved."

Before he left in 2000, Hauer tried to get police and fire chiefs to use radios that could communicate with one another. It never happened, partly because of the police department's refusal to cooperate, he says. The mayor could have forced the issue, Hauer says, but he didn't: "Rudy did not back us." On 9/11 the Office of Emergency Management was run by Richard Sheirer, who now works for Giuliani Partners. Giuliani's campaign declined to make Sheirer available for an interview.

No one could have expected communications to be flawless. "That emergency would have probably overwhelmed any emergency system," notes 9/11 commission staffer Farmer, who was the attorney general for New Jersey under a Republican administration. But Giuliani owns some accountability for the failures. "To say that he had identified problems and he'd been in office for a while and they hadn't been fixed—that's fair," Farmer says. Gorelick, the 9/11 commissioner, says Giuliani's shortcomings became clear when the commission looked at the Pentagon on 9/11. "If you compare the incident command at the Pentagon to the one at the World Trade Center, you will see the difference between life and death," she says. "In New York, the hard decisions were not made. There was not a unity of command. And heroic firefighters went up into the towers when they should have been coming down." Ministry of Fear
more than anything else, counterterrorism experts interviewed by Time cited Giuliani's campaign rhetoric as a cause for concern. He frequently conflates different threats, from Iraqi insurgents to al-Qaeda to Iran, into one monolithic dark force. He routinely compares the terrorism threat to the Holocaust and the cold war. In one 15-min. phone interview in August, Giuliani compared the terrorism threat with Nazism or communism six times. When I asked him if he risked exaggerating the threat, since most terrorist plots against the West are not the kind of attacks that will bring down a nation, he replied, "I'm not saying it would take down a country. What terrorism can do and has done is kill thousands and thousands of people. It's real, it's existential, it's independent of us."

Retired Lieut. General William Odom was director of the National Security Agency under Ronald Reagan from 1985 to 1988. He calls Giuliani's terrorism rhetoric "the most delightful thing that al-Qaeda could want." And he laments that Giuliani isn't showing the stoicism he displayed on 9/11. "We need a President who cools it," says Odom, a senior fellow with the conservative Hudson Institute. As for Giuliani's analogy to the cold war, a period Odom knows rather well, he is unimpressed. "Jihadism is a mosquito bite compared to communism," he says. "Anybody who talks about terrorism this way is like a witch doctor."

Giuliani, however, seems to think it is almost impossible to overstate the risk. "We've never had a history of overestimating threats," says the former mayor. "We underestimated by a lot the threat of Nazism." Yet when candidates give terrorists too much credit, they can inadvertently assist them in terrifying the public, says Frank J. Cilluffo, a terrorism expert at George Washington University. "Our words matter," he says. "The last thing we want to do is empower [terrorists] and make them holy warriors, which they're not."

Giuliani used to speak more carefully about terrorism. "No mayor, no Governor, no President can offer anyone perfect security. You've got to be able to deal with a certain level of risk in anything that you do," he said in 1999. On the eve of the millennium New Year's Eve celebration in Times Square, he appeared on cnn to warn against melodrama: "When people overdo it about terrorism, terrorists actually win. You're sort of like becoming agents and instruments of the terrorists."

But now Giuliani is running for President, and he has apparently made a tactical decision to thunder loudly about terrorism, perhaps to deflect from his personal life and his liberal record on social issues—which an internal campaign memo termed potentially "insurmountable" last year. (The memo was leaked to the New York Daily News.) The more he can remind people of his performance on 9/11, the better off he is, says GOP pollster Luntz. "You cannot underestimate the impact of having seen him on television hour after hour dealing with the tragedy," he says. "That gives him a level of credibility that nobody else has."

As Giuliani himself put it to the Detroit News recently, "The American people are not going to vote for a weakling. They're going to elect someone who will protect them from terrorism for the next four years." It's the same calculus Bush used in 2004. In fact, it sometimes seems as if Giuliani is in a time warp. Freeh cites this as a point of pride: "If you compare [Giuliani's] remarks to what every politician and most of our citizens were saying on Sept. 12, 2001, you would not find it noteworthy or unusual," he told the Concord, N.H., Monitor.

The question is whether voters have changed. Borrowing rhetoric from one of the least popular Presidents in history may backfire, even for America's mayor. In a recent cbs poll, 46% of respondents said the war in Iraq is actually creating more terrorists. For many, though, the same words sound different when Giuliani says them. Sherie Silverman, 62, went to hear Giuliani in Rockville and left convinced that he "gets it" on terrorism. "He said what I wanted to hear," she said. "I'm looking for a more competent version of Bush." The crowd gave Giuliani a standing ovation. —With reporting by Andrea Sachs/New York,8816,1655262,00.html