Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Covered by the flood

With the news of Hurricane Katrina covering the front page and most of the air time of the news, activities in Iraq are obscured by the deluge of information about the catastrophe in the Gulf Coast. Meanwhile, U.S. forces dropped eight bombs on residential areas in Iraq today.

This doesn't sound like the type of action you'd hear about in a place where "major combat operations ... have ended" more than two years prior. Yet, forty-seven people were killed in air strikes near the Syrian border. Among the dead were children and women, as well as two members of the medical crew staffing a makeshift hospital.

The president has chosen the very shrewd tactic "to defeat the terrorists abroad so we don't have to face them here at home." I'm sure Americans feel much safer that those women, children, and medical workers are now unable to come to our shores and terrorize us. This will also go a long way in Bush's campaign to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people, where the family of the dead children and women will be comforted by the military spokesman's assertion that the healthcare headquarters were actually an al Q'aeda safe house.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Not tiddlywinks

TiddlyWiki. It's an incredible DHTML technology developed by some guy named Jeremy Ruston. He tries to describe it as a non-linear personal blog.

However, it's not that easy to wrap your brain cells around. It's an altogether new mental construct, so you have to explore one for a while to get it. In fact, to fully understand it, I recommend getting your own (it's open source) and create your own TiddlyWiki. Don't worry, it requires no knowledge of HTML, JavaScript, or CSS (its underlying technologies). If you know how to use a browser and save a file, you're ready to go.

That's not to say it's without limitations. For example, it's best suited for textual information because, although you can include images in a TiddlyWiki, you don't have quite the control over the images as you would in a standard Web page. Additionally, since all the content is stored in one file, if the Web page has a large volume of content, it could take a while to download the page after it's requested.

That said, it's potential for a Web "site" is amazing! In fact, probably one of the best examples I've seen of Web user interface design is a TiddlyWiki page. Elise Springer, a philospher at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, USA, is using TiddlyWiki for her homepage. You can check it out at http://espringer.web.wesleyan.edu/. MyWiki is also a TiddlyWiki page. It's not nearly as impressive as Elise's, but if you're so inclined, you can check it out at www.wardconsulting.com/wiki.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

The 'noble cause'

Too few Americans have the courage to speak truth to power this century. However, an unlikely spokesperson has emerged recently: Cindy Sheehan. Cindy is the mother of a soldier who was killed in the Iraq War.

Like most Americans -- those who support the War and those who oppose it alike -- Cindy is proud of her son doing his duty. However, she's not buying the line that his life was given for a noble cause. In fact, like most Americans who oppose the War, she doesn't even believe the Commander in Chief even knows what his mission in Iraq is.

So Cindy is calling the president to task. She is camped outside Crawford Ranch for the five weeks Bush is on vacation there until she gets to meet with him. She wants Bush to identify the "noble cause" for which her son died. Explaining why she's going to such great lengths for a personal audience, Cindy wrote:
“He’s said that my son -- and the other children we’ve lost -- died for a noble cause. I want to find out what that noble cause is. And I want to ask him: 'If it’s such a noble cause, have you asked your daughters to enlist? Have you encouraged them to go take the place of soldiers who are on their third tour of duty?' I also want him to stop using my son’s name to justify the war. The idea that we have to 'complete the mission' in Iraq to honor Casey’s sacrifice is, to me, a sacrilege to my son’s name. Besides, does the president any longer even know what 'the mission' really is over there?”

The preceding is just an excerpt of her entire statement. I encourage you to read all of it. Cindy eloquently echoes the words that many patriotic Americans would say to the president. In fact, in a Gold Star Families for Peace television commercial, she went so far as to flat-out accuse the president of "lying to us" about the original justifications for invading Iraq.

The truth hurts. Now the right-wing media is trying to cast Cindy in a harsh light. In fact, many claim that Cindy is damaging the anti-war movement with the directness of her comments. On Meet the Press today, Byron York referred to her comments as "the kind of rhetoric that you normally associate with fringe elements on the left," adding that "she'll diminish her own credibility."

The White House correspondent was specifically referring to a conference call Cindy had with some anti-war bloggers. During that conference (in which she also called the 2004 presidential election "the election, quote-unquote, that happened in November"), she said:
“They can't ignore us, and they can't put us down. Thank God for the Internet, or we wouldn't know anything, and we would already be a fascist state.

“Our government is run by one party, every level, and the mainstream media is a propaganda tool for the government.”

Has Cindy gone too far with her comments? On this issue, I disagree with York. On the contrary -- I believe the truth can never go too far. Yes, Cindy's comments sound a lot like inflammatory rhetoric. Sadly, they're also soberingly objective truths.

The truth be told, the reason why Cindy's words are getting so much play is because Americans find it refreshing to hear plain speaking rather than tip-toeing around what increasingly more Americans are beginning to recognize as reality: not even Bush can explain what his "noble cause" in Iraq is in a manner that we can clearly grasp.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Iraq War: a foregone conclusion

On July 23rd, 2002 — eight months before the US invaded Iraq — British prime minister Tony Blair gathered top members of his administration for a top-secret meeting. My commentary on what transpired at that meeting could not do it justice. The best testimony comes from a confidential memorandum that summarized the meeting. All I will do is set the scene and highlight a couple of excerpts. I recommend reading the entire memo yourself so you can draw your own conclusion of the implications.

The meeting preceded Saddam Hussein’s 1,200-page declaration to the UN of the status of his weapons programs. It preceded weapons inspectors entering Iraq for the inspections immediately prior to invasion. It also preceded US secretary of state Colin Powell’s now debunked presentation to the UN security council.

Here are a couple of excerpts from the memo:
"There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy...

"It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran...

"The Attorney-General said that the desire for regime change was not a legal base for military action. There were three possible legal bases: self-defence, humanitarian intervention, or UNSC authorisation. The first and second could not be the base in this case. Relying on UNSCR 1205 of three years ago would be difficult."
Eighty-eight congressmen became concerned that the president intended to abrogate their authority to declare war, granted congress by the constitution. Four years after the fact, they wrote a letter to the president, asking him to answer a few questions on the issue. You can read the full letter and see the signatories at:

Being a little too little, a little too late, the letter is not nearly as enlightening as the "Downing Street memo" itself. I think it's crucial to read the full text of that memo yourself, so here it is in its entirety:

From: Matthew Rycroft
Date: 23 July 2002
S 195 /02

cc: Defence Secretary, Foreign Secretary, Attorney-General, Sir Richard Wilson, John Scarlett, Francis Richards, CDS, C, Jonathan Powell, Sally Morgan, Alastair Campbell


Copy addressees and you met the Prime Minister on 23 July to discuss Iraq.

This record is extremely sensitive. No further copies should be made. It should be shown only to those with a genuine need to know its contents.

John Scarlett summarised the intelligence and latest JIC assessment. Saddam's regime was tough and based on extreme fear. The only way to overthrow it was likely to be by massive military action. Saddam was worried and expected an attack, probably by air and land, but he was not convinced that it would be immediate or overwhelming. His regime expected their neighbours to line up with the US. Saddam knew that regular army morale was poor. Real support for Saddam among the public was probably narrowly based.

C reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The NSC had no patience with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime's record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.

CDS said that military planners would brief CENTCOM on 1-2 August, Rumsfeld on 3 August and Bush on 4 August.

The two broad US options were:

(a) Generated Start. A slow build-up of 250,000 US troops, a short (72 hour) air campaign, then a move up to Baghdad from the south. Lead time of 90 days (30 days preparation plus 60 days deployment to Kuwait).

(b) Running Start. Use forces already in theatre (3 x 6,000), continuous air campaign, initiated by an Iraqi casus belli. Total lead time of 60 days with the air campaign beginning even earlier. A hazardous option.

The US saw the UK (and Kuwait) as essential, with basing in Diego Garcia and Cyprus critical for either option. Turkey and other Gulf states were also important, but less vital. The three main options for UK involvement were:

(i) Basing in Diego Garcia and Cyprus, plus three SF squadrons.

(ii) As above, with maritime and air assets in addition.

(iii) As above, plus a land contribution of up to 40,000, perhaps with a discrete role in Northern Iraq entering from Turkey, tying down two Iraqi divisions.

The Defence Secretary said that the US had already begun "spikes of activity" to put pressure on the regime. No decisions had been taken, but he thought the most likely timing in US minds for military action to begin was January, with the timeline beginning 30 days before the US Congressional elections.

The Foreign Secretary said he would discuss this with Colin Powell this week. It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran. We should work up a plan for an ultimatum to Saddam to allow back in the UN weapons inspectors. This would also help with the legal justification for the use of force.

The Attorney-General said that the desire for regime change was not a legal base for military action. There were three possible legal bases: self-defence, humanitarian intervention, or UNSC authorisation. The first and second could not be the base in this case. Relying on UNSCR 1205 of three years ago would be difficult. The situation might of course change.

The Prime Minister said that it would make a big difference politically and legally if Saddam refused to allow in the UN inspectors. Regime change and WMD were linked in the sense that it was the regime that was producing the WMD. There were different strategies for dealing with Libya and Iran. If the political context were right, people would support regime change. The two key issues were whether the military plan worked and whether we had the political strategy to give the military plan the space to work.

On the first, CDS said that we did not know yet if the US battleplan was workable. The military were continuing to ask lots of questions.

For instance, what were the consequences, if Saddam used WMD on day one, or if Baghdad did not collapse and urban warfighting began? You said that Saddam could also use his WMD on Kuwait. Or on Israel, added the Defence Secretary.

The Foreign Secretary thought the US would not go ahead with a military plan unless convinced that it was a winning strategy. On this, US and UK interests converged. But on the political strategy, there could be US/UK differences. Despite US resistance, we should explore discreetly the ultimatum. Saddam would continue to play hard-ball with the UN.

John Scarlett assessed that Saddam would allow the inspectors back in only when he thought the threat of military action was real.

The Defence Secretary said that if the Prime Minister wanted UK military involvement, he would need to decide this early. He cautioned that many in the US did not think it worth going down the ultimatum route. It would be important for the Prime Minister to set out the political context to Bush.


(a) We should work on the assumption that the UK would take part in any military action. But we needed a fuller picture of US planning before we could take any firm decisions. CDS should tell the US military that we were considering a range of options.

(b) The Prime Minister would revert on the question of whether funds could be spent in preparation for this operation.

(c) CDS would send the Prime Minister full details of the proposed military campaign and possible UK contributions by the end of the week.

(d) The Foreign Secretary would send the Prime Minister the background on the UN inspectors, and discreetly work up the ultimatum to Saddam.

He would also send the Prime Minister advice on the positions of countries in the region especially Turkey, and of the key EU member states.

(e) John Scarlett would send the Prime Minister a full intelligence update.

(f) We must not ignore the legal issues: the Attorney-General would consider legal advice with FCO/MOD legal advisers.

(I have written separately to commission this follow-up work.)


(Rycroft was a Downing Street foreign policy aide)

Sunday, August 07, 2005

A look back

If today's two posts look a little dated to you, you'd be right. The Progressive Zone used to be hosted on MSN Spaces before I moved it here to Blogger. I originally made the following two posts in the old location, so I am copying them here today.

This blog doubles as an archive of research I've done over the years. I refer back to the posts regularly for quotes, statistics, and hyperlinks to sources I've used. Today's posts are rich with objective data that I don't want to lose track of when I retire the old location of The Progressive Zone.

Please bear with me today while I copy a couple of old posts. You might want to give them a read anyway because it could still be news to you.

Expert prognostications on the war

Vice president Dick Cheney has good news about the Iraq War: regarding the aggression American forces are facing, he says that "I think they're in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency." He went on to add that he expected the war would end during president Bush's second term.

That's good news, right? Well, let's see how good the Dick is at predicting the progress of the war before we decide. Dateline: March 16, 2003 -- that's before we invaded Iraq -- the Dick said to the American people that the Iraq War would last "Weeks rather than months." Hmmm ... that was 27 months ago.

Perhaps only the Dick sux at predicting the progress of the war. Certainly secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld has a much better grasp on the scope of the war, right? At a TownHall Meeting before the war, one of our troops asked him how long Guard and Reserve forces would be deployed for the Iraq War. The Donald responded, "It could last, you know, six days, six weeks. I doubt six months."

Well, I guess it's clear that the people in charge of the Iraq War either have no clue about its scope or progress, or they're simply lying to Americans. That explains why the administration is back-tracking on the Dick's latest prediction. When president Bush was asked if he agreed with the Dick's assessment that the insurgency was in its "last throes," he dodged the question and did not answer it. Since the president wouldn't answer, reporters asked his press secretary, Scott McClellan, to answer the same question. Of course, it's no surprise that he refused to answer it either.

Certainly the administration must be much better at estimating the cost of the Iraq War than predicting its length, then. Let's check. When deputy secretary of defense Paul Wolfowitz was trying to convince Congress to support the war, he told them that, "We are dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction and relatively soon." Oops, missed again!

Let's ask White House budget director Mitch Daniels instead. He said that the $200-billion figure is "likely very, very high." He told reporters that the cost would more likely be between $50-billion and $60-billion.

That's it -- I give up. I'm going to stop looking to the Bush administration for prognostications on the Iraq War. It was silly of me to think this Commander in Chief would know anything about war. I'm going to start listening instead to Republican senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, who said:
"Things aren't getting better; they're getting worse. The White House is completely disconnected from reality. It's like they're just making it up as they go along. The reality is, we're losing in Iraq."

Monday, August 01, 2005

Is democracy the only value America is exporting to Iraq?

The president's excuse du jour for invading Iraq is to bring democracy to the Middle East. However, it seems that democracy is not the only value America is foisting on Iraq.

Stuart Bowen, the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, released his latest report Saturday. He said he found millions of dollars worth of fraud by US officials and companies. As if to comfort Iraqis, he added that, "The reconstruction for Iraq is peaking, 1000 projects are completed and 1000 more are ongoing." Of course, since we're "staying the course," Iraqis could construe that to simply mean millions of dollars more fraud coming down the pike by US officials and companies as long as it's business as usual.

Bowen also found billions of dollars of waste in Iraqi reconstruction. Cash airlifted to Baghdad from the Federal Reserve Bank in New York in shrink-wrapped bundles of $100 bills can't be properly accounted for. Intended to pay Iraqi bureaucrats, fix power lines, and build schools, instead U.S. Special Forces Major Robert Caffrey tells us that he could not even get money to foster local government or pay for small clean-up projects and schools.

If you recall, Congress apportioned $21-billion dollars specifically for the reconstruction of Iraq a couple of years ago. The Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank, gathered statistics that show us what that's bought the Iraqis. A year ago, Iraqis stood in line to buy gas an average of six minutes; today they wait an hour. Eighteen months ago, electricity powered lights and air conditioning across Iraq an average of 13 hours a day. Today, the nationwide average has sunk to 9.4 hours.

What about vice president Cheney's former employer, Halliburton? Surely they are demonstrating impeccable ethics to the Iraqis. Let's see what Pentagon investigators have found. They found $219-million in "unacceptable" charges under a contract with Halliburton for the $2.5-billion Restore Iraqi Oil program to supply Iraq with fuel and rebuild its oil industry. An additional $60-million in claims were "unsupported" by documentary evidence.

This just scratches the surface of the theft, greed, and corruption Bowen has found, but here's a sampling of what a close inspection of his report uncovers:
  • A third of the $10-billion in contracts signed in fiscal 2003 were awarded without competition.
  • A contractor charged the U.S. $3.3-million for phantom employees assigned to an oil pipeline repair contract.
  • Iraqi construction firms allegedly paid U.S. soldiers to help steal construction equipment from the interim government.
  • At least a third of the government-owned vehicles and equipment that Halliburton was paid to manage was believed lost.
  • The U.S. failed to keep track of nearly $9-billion it transferred to the new Iraqi government, much of which appears to have been embezzled.
After bringing a complement of values like fraud, waste, backsliding, and graft to Iraq, democracy is sure to follow.