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Daily Howler: Had Bush decided on war by July? For Woodward, it's hard to decide
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IT’S HARD TO DECIDE! Had Bush decided on war by July? For Woodward, it’s hard to decide: // link // print // previous // next //

FIRST LESSON IN AMERICAN NEW THINK: Now that Durbin has offered his semi-apology (note all the “ifs” in his statement), we’ve learned our first lesson in American New Think. To fully understand that key first lesson, let’s reread the FBI report on which Disgraced Durbin offered comment:
FBI REPORT (7/29/04): On a couple of occasions, I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food, or water. Most times they urinated or defecated on themselves, and had been left there for 18-24 hours or more. On one occasion, the air conditioning had been turned down so far and the temperature was so cold in the room, that the barefooted detainee was shaking with cold...On another occasion, the [air conditioner] had been turned off, making the temperature in the unventilated room well over 100 degrees. The detainee was almost unconscious on the floor, with a pile of hair next to him. He had apparently been literally pulling his hair out throughout the night. On another occasion, not only was the temperature unbearably hot, but extremely loud rap music was being played in the room, and had been since the day before, with the detainee chained hand and foot in the fetal position on the tile floor.
So here’s the first lesson in American New Think: The next time you read a report like that, you will not think it came from a “mad regime,” the term Durbin used in his troubling comments. You’ll assume that it came from your country—America. And you’ll see that the conduct wasn’t wrong.

High priests McCain and Russert will help if this first lesson proves hard to swallow.

WATCHING A GOOD GERMAN FUNCTION: In this morning’s Post, Mark Leibovich helps the public process their important first lesson. Here’s the way he describes the matter on which Vile Durbin made comment:

LEIBOVICH (6/22/05): Durbin's saga began June 14 on the Senate floor when he read from an FBI memo that described the ordeal of a prisoner at Guantanamo who was allegedly chained to the floor, forced to listen to loud rap music and subjected to extreme heat and bitter cold, among other unpleasantness. Durbin said: "If I read this to you and did not tell you it was an FBI agent describing what Americans had done to prisoners in their control, you would most certainly believe this must have been done by Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime—Pol Pot or others—that had no concern for human beings."
Good boy! The key term there is “among other unpleasantness.” Like all good Germans, Leibovich knew to disappear the conduct which made this report so disturbing. Post readers won’t have to hear how long these prisoners were “allegedly” chained. (Note: Leibovich has gone from the plural to the singular, pretending we’re talking about only one prisoner.) They won’t have to learn that these prisoners were chained so long that they urinated and defecated on themselves. They won’t have to hear about that pile of hair—the pile one prisoner pulled from his head. Good boy! Leibovich knows how “mad regimes” work their will. Here it is: They keep the folks stupid.

Good boy! Mark Leibovich played good German today. He helped that first lesson go down.

TURNING ALL LOGIC UPSIDE DOWN: Remember: When we deal in New Think, we have to learn to turn prior logic upside down. In today’s Post, Shailagh Murray captures good German Dick Daley:

MURRAY (6/22/05): The Anti-Defamation League on Thursday joined lawmakers and other groups in calling for an apology for comparing the activities of U.S. troops to those of Nazis. Then, Chicago's Democratic mayor, Richard M. Daley, declared: "I think it's a disgrace to say that any man or woman in the military would act like that."
But Dick! Some “man or woman in the military” (or in some affiliated force) did act like that in the matters in question. To Daley, it isn’t disgraceful to act that way. It’s only disgraceful to discuss it.

AND INSIDE OUT: Remember, logic must be turned on its head. As Durbin frog-marched his way through his forced confession, he made the following comment: "I'm sorry if anything that I said caused any offense or pain to those who have such bitter memories of the Holocaust, the greatest moral tragedy of our time.” Peculiar, isn’t it? Why would a Holocaust survivor be offended when someone objects to that conduct?

GOOD GERMAN MCCAIN: Murray captures leering McCain standing over his victim:

MURRAY (6/22/05): After the speech, Republicans said they were ready to put the matter to rest. During a later vote, Sen. Larry E. Craig (R-Idaho) shook Durbin's hand and thanked him for apologizing. Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said of the apology: "It was good for the troops, and it was good for Senator Durbin."

McCain said the lesson is "Watch your words."

"It's a very partisan atmosphere," he said. "Things have a great resonance."

Or as Ari Fleischer once sagely declared, Americans “need to watch what they say.” John McCain? The strutting bantam—the press corps’ great darling—turns out to be the new Fleischer.

ARE AMERICANS SMART ENOUGH: The question has been the same from the start—are human beings smart enough to conduct a democracy? Socrates raised the question at the dawn of the west, and for his trouble, the good Germans of Athens allowed him to swallow the hemlock. But democracy can only function in a culture of logic and reason. Given the crackpot nature of our devolving public discourse, will Americans be smart enough to hang onto a public democracy?

How bizarre is American discourse? Just last evening, on The NewsHour, we watched a ludicrous thirteen-minute debate about PBS’ alleged “liberal bias” (more on this bizarre discussion tomorrow). We watched a ludicrous exchange between Sean Hannity and “biographer” Edward Klein, with Alan safely stashed in Aruba (more tomorrow). We watched David Gregory play the good boy as he interviewed Karl Rove on Hardball (sorry—as he interviewed “Karl,” the appellation he thought appropriate). And we watched the “all-stars” rant and get red about Dick Durbin’s endless perfidy. In that debate, Brit Hume presented his usual line-up: Three well-scripted conservative screamers “balanced” by analyst Mara Liasson.

Given our devolving public culture, are Americans smart enough to hang onto a democracy? This morning, a good German writes the New York Times—and shows how poorly we humans reason, especially at times of high stress:

To the Editor:

Anthony Lewis points to the humiliation of prisoners at Guantánamo and declares it a violation of human rights. But what rights do these prisoners have?

They are not criminals—they committed no crime on United States soil. They are not soldiers—they wear no uniform of an established government. But they are enemies of our country, captured on a faraway battlefield.

Since Mr. Lewis wants to discuss rights, let's discuss them. What rights do these non-citizens, non-criminals, non-soldiers have? This is where the concept of human rights turns to ashes.

I can have no rights other than what I can protect myself or have a government protect for me. The prisoners held in Guantánamo are without rights because of their choice to fight without any government's protection. Americans have no reason to protect them.

As our enemies, they are lucky even to be alive.

B— D—
San Diego, June 21, 2005

“What rights do these non-citizens, non-criminals, non-soldiers have?” Duh! Presumably, such people have human rights, the very subject of the good German’s letter! The right, for example, not to be chained to a floor until one urinates and defecates on oneself, until one pulls one’s hair out (with apologies to Leibovich, whose delicate sensibilities have surely been offended). By the way, are all these Guantanamo prisoners “our enemies?” Like all good Germans, the writer assumes this is true—because his government has implicitly told him. Yes, the good German is always around us, and he tends to reason quite poorly. And he makes it clear that he’d be just as glad if our prisoners weren’t protected at all. Leering like the bantam McCain, he declares them lucky to be alive, so great is our power to control them.

The good German exists in the human gene pool, in every single human society. He was there in Cambodia. He was there in the gulags. He was there in Rwanda. He was there when young, poorly supervised troops tormented and killed those prisoners in Bagram. And yes, he’s there as you walk down the street, no matter what part of the world you may live in. His primitive impulses are held in check by the prophylactic of a liberal society. And a liberal society runs on logic—logic, under assault for the past dozen years as fiery “career liberals,” assessing their interests, politely gazed off and didn’t tell.

LESSON TWO IN AMERICAN NEW THINK: What’s the second lesson in American New Think? Of course! Spend a lot of time and effort banning events which never occur! “[L]obbyists on both sides say the conservative tilt of this Senate gives the measure its best chance of Congressional approval since the Supreme Court ruled 16 years ago that flag burning was a form of protected speech.” You know what to do—just click here.

Special report—Downing Street info!

PART 2—IT’S HARD TO DECIDE: Had Bush decided on war with Iraq by July 2002? The Downing Street memo suggests that he had, but this matter is hard to judge—in part due to the shadowy logic of decision-making itself. After all, as commander in chief, Bush could have aborted the war at any point, right through its start in March 2003. And since Bush was saying, all through 2002, that war with Iraq was his very last option, there was never a chance that he’d tell an outsider that he had settled on war by July. “Military action was now seen as inevitable,” Sir Richard Dearlove wrote in the July 23 memo, describing his recent meetings in Washington. “Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action.” But if high officials had conveyed that to Dearlove, Bush wasn’t going to convey it to Woodward. Indeed, absent particular circumstances, it’s intrinsically hard to nail down the point at which a “decision” has truly been made. Had Bush decided by July 2002? The Downing Street memos suggest that he had. But such a matter is intrinsically hard to judge, and Bob Woodward’s ballyhooed Plan of Attack simply can’t settle this issue.

That isn’t to say that Woodward’s book doesn’t shed light on the question. As Woodward notes, some members of the Bush Admin favored war with Iraq from the start. According to Woodward, Paul Wolfowitz favored such military action in the administration’s first days, a plan Colin Powell viewed as “lunacy” (page 22). And in the immediate aftermath of September 11, Donald Rumsfeld had “asked if the terrorist attacks did not present an ‘opportunity’ to launch against Iraq” (page 25). According to Woodward, “The only strong advocate for attacking Iraq at that point was Wolfowitz, who thought war in Afghanistan would be dicey and uncertain” (page 26). But Bush decided against such a war—at least for the time being:

WOODWARD (page 26): The next afternoon, Sunday, September 16, [2001,] Bush told Rice that the first target of the war on terrorism was going to be Afghanistan. “We won’t do Iraq now,” the president said, “we’re putting Iraq off. But eventually we’ll have to return to that question.”
According to Woodward, the question re-emerged as early as November 2001. On November 21, Bush ordered Rumsfeld to get started on a war plan for Iraq. “[G]et Tommy Franks looking at what it would take to protect America by removing Saddam Hussein if we have to,” Bush is quoted saying, in a stirring statement which seems to be fashioned for history. By December, Rumsfeld is telling Franks that action may be needed fairly shortly:
WOODWARD (page 43): “You need to look at things that you could do even as early as April or May [2002].” That was four or five months away.

The suggestion took [Major General Gene] Renuart’s breath away. First Rumsfeld had implied there was no urgency, then implied it was all urgency. The thought of starting a war against Iraq in the spring was daunting.

“Yes, sir,” Franks said, “we’ll go back and take a look at it.”

According to Woodward, the time frame of the planning kept getting pushed back, although “extensive war planning efforts” continued. Indeed, by March 2002, Woodward says that Franks was sure that Bush had decided on war. This doesn’t mean it was so, of course. But Woodward says Franks was “convinced:”
WOODWARD (page 113): That day, March 21, [2002,] and the next, Franks gathered the component commanders of the services—Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines—at Ramstein Air Base in Germany...

Franks was poised for war. He was convinced that they were going to do this. By “do this,” he meant either Saddam Hussein and his family were going to leave [Iraq] and turn his country over, or the president was going to war. Would Saddam and his family leave? As a practical matter, he concluded that the answer was no.

“This is fucking serious,” Woodward quotes Franks telling the commanders. “You know, if you guys think this is not going to happen, you’re wrong. You need to get off your ass.” This doesn’t mean that Bush had decided. But, according to Woodward’s reporting, Franks now believed that he had.

But then, according to Woodward’s implication, Bush’s judgment to go to war may have been made a few months earlier, in January 2002, by the time of the State of the Union—the address at which Bush first decried the three-member “axis of evil.” Here, we’re relying on Woodward’s judgment. But, for what that judgment is worth, Woodward seems to wink at his readers, suggesting that the “axis of evil” speech was a virtual declaration of war—on Iraq. Woodward seems to be mind-reading in this passage. But his view of Bush’s intention seems fairly clear:

WOODWARD (page 95): Charles Krauthammer, a conservative columnist for The Washington Post, caught the understory, calling Bush’s speech an “astonishingly bold address,” and adding, “Iraq is what this speech was about. If there was a serious internal debate within the administration over what to do about Iraq, that debate is over. The speech was just short of a declaration of war.”

The president appreciated the impact of Axis of Evil, as he recalled later. “It just kind of resonates.” It was way above the normal noise level. “When I edited it, or when I went on the prompter, I don’t remember anyone saying, ‘By the way, Mr. President, when you say axis of evil, you’re fixin’ to make headlines.’ It was just one of those phrases that caught.”

It served a dual purpose for Bush. On one hand, it sounded tough. Since Reagan, no president had so blatantly rattled the sword. On the other hand, the speech blurred the focus by including North Korea and Iran, providing additional cover for the secret planning for covert action in Iraq, and war.

That doesn’t mean that Bush had decided. But seven weeks later, Franks thought he had. “You know, if you guys think this is not going to happen, you’re wrong,” he told his commanders. That doesn’t mean that Franks was right. But it does provide some context to our murky question—a question Woodward simply can’t settle in his ballyhooed but little-read book.

Had Bush decided on war by July? Woodward doesn’t tell us. He does say that Cheney had settled on war by mid-August. Some major Republicans were talking about pursuing diplomacy through the UN. Cheney saw that as disaster:

WOODWARD (page 163): Cheney saw he was rapidly losing ground. Talk of the U.N., diplomacy and now patience was wrong in his view. Nothing could more effectively down the march to war—a war he deemed necessary. It was the only way.
According to Woodward, Cheney “deemed a war necessary” by mid-August. But there is no point where Woodward shows that Bush had settled on war by this point—and of course, in theory, war could have been stopped at any time up to March 2003.

Finally, of course, the question arises—why did Bush take that diplomatic route, the route through the UN? The Downing Street memos and Woodward’s book answer that question fairly clear. Bush very much wanted British allies in a war with Iraq. And the Brits were very firm—they had to go through the UN. Woodward describes the state of play around August 16—and he says that Tony Blair thought Bush was “committed to action:”

WOODWARD (page 161): [Powell] met privately with British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who had wanted to come over for a day since Iraq was heating up. In Blair’s conversations with Bush, it was increasingly clear to the prime minister how committed Bush was to action. Straw had some of the same concerns as Powell. His message was in essence, If you are really thinking about war and you want us Brits to be a player, we cannot be unless you go to the United Nations.

Powell knew this would add to the pressure on Bush, who absolutely had to have Blair on board.

So that’s the situation Woodward portrays around the time of the Downing Street memos. Bush decides to go to the UN because he needs Blair for a war with Iraq. Cheney is troubled by this turn, because he has flatly deemed the war necessary. But nowhere does Woodward define Bush’s intention this clearly—although Franks had believed that war would come since all the way back in March.

When did Bush decide on war? Absent clear statements from Bush himself, it’s impossible to settle such a question. Throughout the summer and fall of 2002, Bush was publicly saying he hoped to avoid war; given that fact, there was no chance that he’d tell Woodward different. But one thing is clear in Plan of Attack; right around the time of the Downing Street memo, Woodward clearly portrays the Admin starting to “fix” the intelligence. Did the Bush Admin “fix the facts and the intelligence” around the time of the Downing Street memo? On that question, Plan of Attack is quite clear. Was the nation lied into war? The Downing Street memo suggests that it was—and Woodward’s book backs up that suggestion. Woodward shows the bald dissembling starting in August—dissembling that the liberal and Democratic establishments haven’t yet been bright enough to nail down.

TOMORROW—PART 3: Pimping the nukes

FRIDAY—PART 4: Bungling the argument

SATURDAY: Attack’s widely-pimped misdirection