ABC named "Misinformer of the Year"
- December 22: The liberal media watchdog group Media Matters names ABC News its "Misinformer of the Year."
Conservative media slant
Media Matters notes that on October 23, ABC News political director Mark Halperin made multiple appearances on Fox News talk shows to assert that what he calls the "old media" -- broadcast news outlets and major newspapers -- were "biased against conservatives; there's no doubt about it." Halperin continued, "I think we've got a chance in these last two weeks [before the then-upcoming midterm elections] to prove to conservatives that we understand their grievances. We're going to try to do better." Apparently Halperin believed that trying to "do better" in presenting conservative viewpoints meant presenting conservatively biased misinformation to its viewers throughout the year.
- ABC aired the controversial miniseries The Path to 9/11 around the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks; the miniseries was chock full of misinformation, presenting a false story of the events predating the attacks and laying the blame for security failures directly on the Clinton administration, and portraying Bush and his officials taking aggressive, dramatic countermeasures after the attacks that were never taken. The miniseries was presented as a "docudrama," but asserted that it was based on factual evidence mostly drawn from the 9/11 Commission report, but commission members, including some Republicans, called the miniseries "inaccurate" and "defamatory," particularly in its false portrayals of Clinton officials actively blocking investigation of al-Qaeda activities. Two weeks before the miniseries's airing, conservative pundits, including Rush Limbaugh and Front Page, were given advance copies of the miniseries and dutifully touted it on their broadcasts and in their pages. ABC and Scholastic Inc. released a "Discussion Guide for the Classroom" that focused on the misinformation in the series to be presented in school classrooms; Scholastic rewrote the material after receiving thousands of complaints about the guide's bias and outright lies.
- In January 2006, after Bush's State of the Union address, Good Morning America co-anchor Charles Gibson cited after-speech polls to tell his viewers that Bush would get a "pretty good size boost in his polls" after the speech, even though ABC News polling director Gary Langer had dismissed such polls as a highly unreliable indicator of the entire country's view of the speech.
- Discussing a report detailing wasteful government spending -- "pork" -- on Good Morning America on April 5, Washington correspondent Jake Tapper claimed that Senator John McCain, the leading candidate for the 2008 presidency, is "such an opponent of pork he's almost kosher."
- During a May 14 interview with first lady Laura Bush on This Week, host and chief White House correspondent George Stephanopoulos failed to correct a claim by the first lady that when Bush's "poll numbers were good," the press did not put them "on the front page." In reality, such poll numbers were regularly reported in front page stories by almost all of the mainstream media outlets.
- Discussing a May 15 ABC News/Washington Post poll, Stephanopoulos stated that "a president just shouldn't be at 33% when you've got 89% of the country optimistic about their future." Stephanopoulos focused on the administration's handling of Iraq as an "opportunity...if things can turn around in Iraq" while omitting other results, both from that poll and others, that provide other reasons for Bush's low approval ratings.
- In reporting on a trip to Arizona Bush took to promote his immigration reform proposals, then-World News Tonight co-anchor Elizabeth Vargas claimed that "it was clear [Bush] is passionate about the very issue that has so many members of his party up in arms: allowing people now here illegally the chance to become American citizens." However, she failed to report the fact that the White House supported a controversial immigration bill proposed by Republican representative James Sensenbrenner that would have made it a crime to be an illegal resident of the United States.
- On March 16, Vargas reported that "Congress voted to raise the national debt limit to nearly $9 trillion" but omitted the fact that every Senate Democrat voted against the increase, along with three Republicans.
- In citing the results of an ABC News/Washington Post poll on Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton on May 31, Tapper ignored the positive results and claimed that "a daunting 42% of all Americans say they will never vote for her." He added that "Some think she's too liberal. Others think she's untrustworthy." Tapper did not mention the poll found that a majority of respondents said Clinton is, in fact, "honest and trustworthy" and that her views are "about right," while a minority thought she is "too liberal."
- Tapper parroted an argument by conservatives on August 2 and August 3 that raising the minimum wage will result in job losses and discourage job creation, even though numerous mainstream studies have found that increasing the minimum wage does not result in job loss or negatively affect employment. Further, neither Tapper nor business correspondent Betsy Stark reported that congressional Republicans tied a minimum-wage increase to legislation cutting the estate tax -- a measure that would disproportionately benefit the wealthiest Americans. As well, neither Tapper nor Stark reported that Democrats have been pushing for years to increase the minimum wage.
- Chief White House correspondent Martha Raddatz told audiences on August 13 that Democrats "don't want" to call for the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq because "the lesson from Vietnam...was you have to support the troops or there's tremendous backlash." Raddatz's statement, which is rank editorializing, says in essence that supporting the United States' withdrawal from Iraq is not supporting the troops. Raddatz gives no citations of Democrats to support her statement.
- In an October 25 report on the campaign advertisement wars of the 2006 election cycle, Nightline co-anchor Terry Moran reported that "both sides are playing a serious game of hardball" with "mudslinging" attack ads hitting "below the belt." Moran wondered: "How low can they go?" Despite Moran's insistence that the "low punches" were being thrown by both Democrats and Republicans, he provided no examples of Democratic-sponsored attack ads that matched the level of distortion and personal attack found in Republican commercials.
- During a February 28 interview with Bush on World News Tonight, Vargas echoed the White House line that Bush "doesn't read the polls," when in fact many sources have cited Bush as very aware of polling results; uncritically accepted Bush's explanation for Katrina failures, despite citing the House Katrina committee report critical of the White House's response; omitted the key distinction that a Dubai company seeking to take over operations at port terminals at six major US ports is state-owned, allowing Bush to falsely attack port deal critics; and failed to ask Bush about a number of other issues, including warrantless domestic spying and the Plame investigation.
- During his October 22 interview with Bush, Stephanopoulos did not challenge Bush on several statements that directly contradicted previous statements and actions, including when Bush asserted that his administration has "never been stay the course" in Iraq, though hundreds of citations of just such statements are readily available.
- In a November 3 interview with White House senior adviser Karl Rove, correspondent Ann Compton asked Rove three questions about Senator John Kerry's "botched joke" about Bush and Iraq but none about other contemporaneous topics of greater significance. The only questions Compton asked not relating to Kerry were whether Rove believed that Bush would be able to "mobilize the Republican base and those independents and undecideds" and if "this [is] George W. Bush's last campaign and yours." In essence, Compton's interview gave Rove the chance to make a campaign presentation to the millions of ABC viewers.
- During a November 3 interview with Vice President Dick Cheney, Stephanopoulos prompted Cheney to blame the recent upsurge of violence in Iraq on an insurgent "strategy" to "influence" the midterm elections, asking Cheney if "that mean[s] that a Democratic victory is a victory for the insurgents." This, of course, was a major Republican campaign talking point. Additional portions of the interview showed that Stephanopoulos let Cheney repeat the administration's self-serving and dubious assertions on Democratic tax plans, Iraq, and the economy.
- In an October 17 online article, Halperin asserted that Republicans had "an advantage" over Democrats in the then-upcoming midterm elections on "national security and taxes." In fact, polls suggested that Democrats actually held the advantage over Republicans on both issues.
- On Sean Hannity's radio show, Halperin falsely suggested that while progressive 527 organizations with ties to the Democratic Party attacked Bush during the 2004 election, there were no comparable groups on the right. Halperin omitted the most prominent 527 group active during the 2004 elections, the Swift Boat Veterans For Truth, a group with ties to both the GOP and the Bush-Cheney '04 campaign, whose attacks on Kerry received broad coverage in the media.
- During an October 29 report about the controversy surrounding Rush Limbaugh's attacks on actor Michael J. Fox, who has Parkinson's disease, Halperin claimed that "[i]n the past, conservatives let liberal entertainers kind of have a free ride," but now "they're saying, under George W. Bush, if you get involved in politics, we're going to come after you and the Democrats you're supporting." In fact, Fox was campaigning for candidates who support embryonic stem cell research; in 2004, he appeared in a campaign ad for Republican senator Arlen Specter.
- During a March 21 report on ties between Republican House member Katherine Harris and disgraced defense contractor Mitchell Wade, a crony of Jack Abramoff, correspondent John Donvan reported that Wade "made illegal contributions to her campaign" but added, "[T]hough she gave the money back, it's what reporters in Florida keep asking about. Even this week it came up." In fact, while Florida newspapers continued to raise questions about the illegal campaign contributions, they also focused on Harris' subsequent request to the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee for a $10 million earmark that would have benefited Wade's company. Donvan did not report on the earmark.
- On Good Morning America, 20/20 co-host John Stossel claimed on May 12 that it is a "myth" that "women earn less" than men for "doing the same work." Stossel acknowledged that women "earn less" than men overall, and concluded that "[t]he truth is" that "men are more willing to take lousy jobs" and "work longer," and that is why they yield higher wages. In fact, numerous studies and data indicate that, on average, men earn more than women regardless of occupation.
- On a Good Morning America broadcast on July 27, discussing whether conflicts in the Middle East heralded the potential coming of the Apocalypse, co-host Robin Roberts asked of the authors of the Left Behind series: "You see what's going on: the bombing in Haifa and Israel and it's so close to the valley of Armageddon. And when you think about that, and people see this and think about [it], is it indeed Armageddon?" Throughout the segment, the onscreen text read: "Apocalypse Now: Is The End Near?" (MediaMatters [links to video and audio])
- December 22: Incoming Democratic senator Jim Webb says that the White House is responsible for the spate of publicity that surrounded his recent exchange with Bush, who asked about Webb's son, currently serving in Iraq and a survivor of a recent firefight in which several of his comrades were killed.
When Webb told Bush he thought the troops should begin coming home, Bush snapped, "I didn't ask you that." (See the November 28 entry.) Webb, who told a reporter that for a moment he was tempted to punch Bush, says the coverage was "vastly overblown," and adds, "This was something that emanated from the White House. I did not say anything about this for two weeks. I said nothing publicly at all." As to why the White House pushed the issue, Webb says, "Probably as an attempt to try to define me between the election and the beginning of the Congress. And that's all I am going to say." (New York Times Magazine/Editor and Publisher)
- December 23: Democrat David Wu of the House of Representatives believes that the Bush administration is using the idea of a "temporary surge" in troops to Iraq as a marketing ploy to shore up support for its failed Iraq policies.
Iraq war and occupation
"We need to focus on whether we would choose to send our own son or daughter, our own wife or our own husband off for a temporary surge in Iraq," Wu says. "If we wouldn't do that, then should we permit this administration to roll out a potential product like that?" Like Wu, the Democrat-dominated Oregon delegation is adamantly opposed to any increase in troop levels; instead, they believe it is time to begin bringing the troops home. They were recently joined by Oregon Republican Gordon Smith of the Senate, who voted to authorize military action against Iraq and was once a staunch supporter of the war, but now opposes a surge: "I believe it's too little and too late for that." Smith's Democratic counterpart, Ron Wyden, says, You've got to start bringing some of our people home in order to send a message that the Iraqis must make tough choices. They're not going to do it as long as we still convey that this is an indefinite, open-ended commitment." House Democrat Peter DeFazio says the factions have been fighting for more than 1,400 years and a temporary surge in troops won't solve that problem. "Bush seems determined to provide the illusion of a major change in strategy while he's following the same delusional course," he says. DeFazio's House colleague, Earl Blumenauer, agrees: "I don't know how anybody can talk to our personnel over the last three years and not get a sense of the pain and the frustration." Wyden says that he expects Democrats to hold oversight hearings on the war, unlike their Republican predecessors. "The Senate just hasn't done the kind of detailed, focused oversight on the issues surrounding this," he says. (Oregon Live)
- December 24: Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most powerful Shi'ite cleric in Iraq, comes out in opposition to a US-backed plan to form a political coalition of Iraq's Shi'ites, Sunni Arabs and Kurds.
Iraq war and occupation
Instead, al-Sistani tells Iraqi lawmakers that the unity of Shi'ites, who have the largest bloc in parliament, must come first. Al-Sistani's opposition, intended to help unite the Shi'ite's fractured 130-member majority block in Parliament, is expected to cripple and perhaps destroy the plan. His resistance also strengthens the political power of radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. "There are obstacles in the face of forming this coalition, because al-Sistani does not support it," says Hassan al-Suneid, a top aide to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The proposed coalition, which would not have included al-Sadr's supporters, could have isolated al-Sadr and perhaps weakened the influence of his Mahdi Army militia, the source of many of the sectarian attacks in and around Baghdad. (Guardian)
- December 24: The American military is holding at least four Iranians in Iraq, including men the Bush administration calls senior military officials, seized in a pair of raids late last week aimed at people suspected of conducting attacks on Iraqi security forces.
War with Iran
The administration is so far playing down the detention of the four Iranians, including two diplomats who, after showing documentation that they were in Iraq legally, were turned over to Iranian authorities and released. Other Iranians, including the so-called military officials, remain in custody. While US officials hint that the Iranians were in Iraq to plan attacks against American soldiers, it offers no evidence. The two raids that seized the Iranians have enraged Iraqi government officials, who have been making strenuous efforts to engage Iran on matters of security. At least two of the Iranians were in Iraq on an invitation extended by Iraq's president, Jalal Talabani, during a visit to tehran earlier this month. It was particularly awkward for the Iraqis that one of the raids took place in the Baghdad compound of Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, one of Iraq's most powerful Shi'ite leaders, who traveled to Washington three weeks ago to meet Bush. Over the past four days, the Iraqis and Iranians have engaged in intense behind-the-scenes efforts to secure the release of the remaining detainees. Iraqi leaders have appealed to the American military, including to General George Casey, the senior American ground commander in Iraq, to release the Iranians. A senior Western official in Baghdad says the raids were conducted after American officials received information that the people detained had been involved in attacks on official security forces in Iraq. "We conduct operations against those who threaten Iraqi and coalition forces," says the official.
- A Bush administration official says the Iranian military officials held in custody are suspected of being members of the Quds force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. It has been involved in training members of Hezbollah and other groups that the Americans regard as terrorist organizations. American and Iraqi officials have long accused Iran of interfering in this country's internal affairs, but have rarely produced evidence. NSC spokesman Gordon Johndroe says, "We suspect this event validates our claims about Iranian meddling, but we want to finish our investigation of the detained Iranians before characterizing their activities." In the raids, the Americans also detained a number of Iraqis. Western and Iraqi officials say that following normal protocol, the two Iranian diplomats were turned over to the Iraqi government after being questioned. The Iraqis, in turn, released them to the Iranian Embassy. An Iraqi official said his government had strained to keep the affair out of the public eye to avoid scuttling the talks with Iran that were now under way. Some in Baghdad and Washington believe that the timing of the raids was intended to reinforce arguments by administration officials that direct talks with Iran would be futile.
- Nonetheless, the United States is now holding, apparently for the first time, Iranians who it suspects of planning attacks. One senior administration official says, "This is going to be a tense but clarifying moment. It's our position that the Iraqis have to seize this opportunity to sort out with the Iranians just what kind of behavior they are going to tolerate. They are going to have to confront the evidence that the Iranians are deeply involved in some of the acts of violence." However, the imam of the Buratha mosque in Baghdad, near the Iranian embassy, says some of the Iranians, who were detained on their way back from the mosque, had come to the mosque to worship and, as far as he knew, were not involved in any illicit activities. It is common for Iraqi Shi'ites to come to Iraq to visit its holy places. The second raid took place before dawn in al-Hakim's compound, inside the house of Hadi al-Ameri, the chairman of the Iraqi Parliament's security committee and leader of the Badr Organization, the armed wing of al-Hakim's political party, Sciri. Many Shi'ite political groups are now suspected of having ties to Iran, and Sciri is no exception. Senior party leaders lived in exile in Iran for years plotting the overthrow of Hussein. Some married Iranians and raised their children there. Al-Hakim has emerged as the central Iraqi Shi'ite who is backing a new bloc made up of Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds that would isolate more radical politicians. Americans back the new bloc, and al-Hakim traveled to Washington earlier this month to discuss its formation with Bush. It was not clear how the arrests, embarrassing to al-Hakim, would affect those political efforts.
- What is known is that the arrests will further disrupt relations between the al-Maliki regime of Iraq and the US government. (New York Times)
- December 24: Los Angeles Times op-ed editor Sonni Efron writes that former deputy defense secretary and current World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz owes the American people an explanation for the disaster in Iraq.
Iraq war and occupation
Wolfowitz, writes Efron, "one of the most powerful men in President Bush's inner circle, a man who helped conceive, plan and execute the Iraq war, has managed to escape scrutiny for steering his country into one of the greatest strategic catastrophes of his generation. ...Remember Wolfowitz, best known to readers of this and other newspapers as the 'chief architect of the Iraq war'? Before the war, he was hailed by many as one of the great foreign policy intellectuals of our time. He was a leading defense strategist, a former US ambassador to Indonesia and the former dean of the School of Advanced Studies at Johns Hopkins University, a man whose views on democracy and the Middle East were taken seriously by both his admirers and his critics. In 2001, Wolfowitz, then 58, was named deputy secretary of Defense, serving as top aide to Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. Yet today, as the policies he put in place come crashing down, Wolfowitz is nowhere to be found -- at least not at the Pentagon. In fact, he left in 2005 to become president of the World Bank, where he has been busy trying to save Africa. In seeking refuge at the World Bank, Wolfowitz has followed in the footsteps of Robert McNamara, President Johnson's Vietnam War-era Defense secretary. McNamara was the 'architect' of the Vietnam War in his own time, but he bailed out of the Pentagon to run the World Bank in 1968 as the US body count mounted."
- Wolfowitz refused to comment on Efron's planned op-ed, e-mailing the following response: "I'm not a US official any more and unfortunately not a private citizen either. I work for 184 countries that expect me to do the job at the World Bank. I would like nothing better than to be able to get involved in this debate [over Iraq]. I would particularly like to be able to clear the record of some of the garbage about myself personally, but if I start doing that, the people I work for would say, 'You are not doing your job, you are getting mixed up in something that is a distraction from the message that we would like you to deliver.' I have spoken to heads of 11 African countries, I have spoken to ordinary people, I have spoken to civil society groups; none of them care about my role in Iraq, they care about what I do in the World Bank." Efron asks, "Is that a reasonable answer? It's true that the bank's international board probably would prefer that Wolfowitz stick to saving Africa. But is that an excuse for him to keep silent while his country is agonizing over how Iraq went so wrong?"
- So why pick on Wolfowitz now, Efron asks. "Because from Bush on down, the politicians are being held accountable. Iraq has destroyed the Bush legacy. Generals have seen their military wounded. The war has tarnished Colin Powell's once-shining reputation, destroyed Rumsfeld's and killed any shot Condoleezza Rice might have had at the White House. But Wolfowitz has failed up, into one of the world's most prestigious jobs. 'I'll have a chance sometime to talk about Iraq,' Wolfowitz said in his e-mail last week. 'But it's a distraction and a harmful distraction from what I'm trying to accomplish for Africa and the developing world.' Still, as a man whose reputation for intellectual honesty helped land him the World Bank job, the cerebral Wolfowitz owes the American people not only an explanation but also his best forensic analysis of mistakes made and how not to repeat them. Does he believe democracy can be promoted in any real sense when the Middle East is on fire? Under his stewardship, the World Bank is stepping up lending in Iraq, so these questions are not entirely academic. If Wolfowitz still believes that the decision to go to war was correct and that more reconstruction money can still save Iraq, then this is a critical time to explain why. If he believes he erred, he should help us understand how it happened and why -- and he should apologize, as a private citizen. A World Bank job -- or any other important post -- should not shield him from accountability." (Los Angeles Times)
- December 26: The Bush White House is preparing for a feared onslaught of investigations by Congressional Democrats by hiring lawyers to fill key White House posts and preparing to play defense on countless document requests and possible subpoenas.
Bush is moving quickly to fill vacancies within his stable of lawyers, though White House officials say there are no plans to drastically expand the legal staff to deal with a flood of oversight. "No, at this point, no," Tony Snow, the White House spokesman, said recently. "We'll have to see what happens." Snow rebutted the notion that Bush is casting about for legal advice in the wake of his party's loss of control of the Congress. "We don't have a war room set up where we're...dialing the 800 numbers of law firms," he said. But several experienced lawyers have already been hired, including Christopher Oprison, a specialist in white-collar investigations, and securities law special Paul Eckert. More lawyers will be hired soon. "Obviously, if we do have investigations, we'll have to make sure we have enough people to be prepared to answer questions that come our way," says White House spokeswoman Emily Lawrimore. "As of right now, I wouldn't say it's anything special." "At a time like this, the experienced people in the White House view themselves as in a race they hope to win, of organizing and coordinating their defenses to have them in place in time to slow down or resist oversight before the oversight can get organized," observes Charles Tiefer of the University of Baltimore Law School, a former House counsel and veteran of congressional investigations. Mark Corallo, a former top Republican aide to the House committee that issued more than 1,000 subpoenas to the Clinton camp, has, with another Republican PR executive, Barbara Comstock, launched a crisis-communications firm to serve officials and corporations who, Corallo says, could end up as "drive-by victims" -- read co-conspirators -- in a new round of probes. Snow denies that the new firm has any connections to the White House. Democrats, too, are beefing up their staffs with their own legal hires, with some anticipating pre-emptive investigations from the White House designed to obfuscate Democrats' efforts. (Baltimore Sun/Populist Party)
- December 27: Mississippi lawyer Michael Wallace withdraws his name for consideration for the federal appellate court, saying that he believes Senate Democrat Patrick Leahy, the incoming chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, willl work to impede his nomination.
Wallace, in a letter to Bush delivered last week, said that although he thinks he could win approval by the Senate, Leahy "made it clear two weeks ago that he intends to permit vacancies to be filled only with 'consensus nominees'" and that Leahy has indicated that he doesn't consider Wallace to be such a nominee. Wallace is a former aide to Republican senator Trent Lott, whose name was among six controversial nominees resubmitted to the Senate by Bush after the Republican-controlled Senate refused to pass on the six. Wallace was unanimously raited "unqualified" for the position by the American Bar Association, and has a record of siding with white supremacists and against black litigants. Lott calls the dispute over Wallace's nomination "petty partisanship." (Washington Post)
Former president Gerald Ford said in 2004 that he opposed the Iraq war
- December 28: In a fascinating interview from July 2004 that is just now being published, former president Gerald Ford came out strongly against the Iraq war.
"I don't think I would have gone to war," he told reporter Bob Woodward. The interview was "embargoed" by Ford, who died on December 26 at the age of 93. A number of Bush officials, most prominently Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, served in the Ford administration. Ford told Woodward that he "very strongly" disagreed with Bush's justifications for invading Iraq and said he would have pushed alternatives, such as sanctions, much more vigorously. Ford was critical not only of Bush but also of Cheney -- Ford's White House chief of staff -- and Rumsfeld, who served as Ford's chief of staff and then his Pentagon chief. "Rumsfeld and Cheney and the president made a big mistake in justifying going into the war in Iraq. They put the emphasis on weapons of mass destruction," Ford said. "And now, I've never publicly said I thought they made a mistake, but I felt very strongly it was an error in how they should justify what they were going to do." Referring to Bush's secondary justification of the US's "duty to free people," Ford said, "Well, I can understand the theory of wanting to free people. But Ford said he was skeptical "whether you can detach that from the obligation number one, of what's in our national interest. And I just don't think we should go hellfire damnation around the globe freeing people, unless it is directly related to our own national security."
- The Ford interview, along with a subsequent conversation a year later, was for a future book project by Woodward. Ford said the interview could not be published until after his death.
- Of Cheney, Ford recalled, "He was an excellent chief of staff. First class. But I think Cheney has become much more pugnacious" as vice president. He agreed with former secretary of state Colin Powell's assertion that Cheney developed a "fever" about the threat of terrorism and Iraq: "I think that's probably true." Ford said he would not have gone to war in Iraq, based on the publicly available information at the time, and would have worked harder to find an alternative. "I don't think, if I had been president, on the basis of the facts as I saw them publicly," he said. "I don't think I would have ordered the Iraq war. I would have maximized our effort through sanctions, through restrictions, whatever, to find another answer."
- Ford was equally candid about Henry Kissinger, who was Nixon's secretary of state and national security advisor, and who now advises Bush on his Iraq policies. Kissinger was a challenge to work with, recalled Ford, and had "the thinnest skin of any public figure I ever knew. ...I think he was a super secretary of state, but Henry in his mind never made a mistake, so whatever policies there were that he implemented, in retrospect he would defend." In 1975, Ford decided to relieve Kissinger of his national security title. "Why Nixon gave Henry both secretary of state and head of the NSC, I never understood," Ford said. "Except he was a great supporter of Kissinger. Period." But Ford viewed Kissinger's dual roles as a conflict of interest that weakened the administration's ability to fully air policy debates. "They were supposed to check on one another." That same year, Ford also decided to fire Defense Secretary James Schlesinger and replace him with Rumsfeld, who was then Ford's chief of staff. Ford recalled that he then used that decision to go to Kissinger and say, "I'm making a change at the secretary of defense, and I expect you to be a team player and work with me on this" by giving up the post of security adviser. Kissinger was not happy. "Mr. President, the press will misunderstand this," Ford recalled Kissinger telling him. "They'll write that I'm being demoted by taking away half of my job." But Ford went ahead with the changes, elevating his deputy national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, to take Kissinger's White House post. Throughout this maneuvering, Ford said, he never consulted with his chief of staff. "I didn't consult with Rumsfeld. And knowing Don, he probably resented the fact that I didn't get his advice, which I didn't," Ford said. "I made the decision on my own."
- Kissinger continued to pose a challenge for Ford, regularly threatening to resign. "Over the weekend, any one of 50 weekends, the press would be all over him, giving him unshirted hell." Ford recalled. "Monday morning he would come in and say, 'I'm offering my resignation.' Just between Henry and me. And I would literally hold his hand. 'Now, Henry, you've got the nation's future in your hands and you can't leave us now.' Henry publicly was a gruff, hard-nosed, German-born diplomat, but he had the thinnest skin of any public figure I ever knew." Ford added, "Any criticism in the press drove him crazy." Kissinger would come in and say: "I've got to resign. I can't stand this kind of unfair criticism." Such threats were routine, Ford said. "I often thought, maybe I should say: 'Okay, Henry. Goodbye,'" Ford laughed. "But I never got around to that." Kissinger, said Ford, is a "wonderful person. Dear friend. First-class secretary of state. But Henry always protected his own flanks."
- Ford had some regrets of his own. He remembered bowing to pressure in 1976 to dump his vice-president, Nelson Rockefeller, from the ticket in favor of the more conservative Bob Dole. Some polls at the time showed that up to 25% of Republicans would not vote for Ford if the liberal Northeastern Rockefeller were on the ticket. Ford reluctantly acquiesced, but said in the interview, it was "an act of cowardice on my part."
- Probably what rankled Ford most was Vietnam and the legacy of retreat he presided over. After Saigon fell in 1975 and the United States evacuated from Vietnam, Ford was often labeled the only American president to lose a war. "Well," he said of the label, "I was mad as hell, to be honest with you, but I never publicly admitted it." (Washington Post)
Saddam Hussein executed for war crimes
- December 29: Former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein is executed. He was sentenced to death by hanging by an Iraqi court after being convicted of murdering hundreds of Iraqis as part of his brutal crackdown on dissidents who opposed his rule.
Iraq war and occupation
Hussein was hanged for his role in the 1982 Dujail massacre, in which 148 Iraqis were killed after a failed assassination attempt against him; Hussein was found guilty of murder, torture and forced deportation. Many Arabic television stations aired part or all of the execution, apparently captured on video by someone's cell phone; the video is also available on the Internet. The execution was not broadcast live in the US, but excerpts from the preparations for the hanging, and shots of Hussein's dead body, have been broadcast on US news broadcasts. Iraq's national security adviser, Mowaffak al-Rubaie, says immediately after the execution, "This dark page has been turned over. Saddam is gone. Today Iraq is an Iraq for all the Iraqis, and all the Iraqis are looking forward. ...The [Hussein] era has gone forever." Rubaie, who witnesses the execution, later says that Hussein is "strangely submissive" to the process: "He was a broken man. He was afraid. You could see fear in his face." But the video of the execution shows Hussein taunting some of the small group of witnesses -- some of whom chanted slogans in support of Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr -- and loudly praying to Allah. Iraqi blogger "Riverbend" writes, "Apparently, Rubai[e] saw a different lynching because according to the video they leaked, he didn't look frightened at all. His voice didn't shake and he refused to put on the black hood. He looked resigned to his fate, and during the heckling he looked as defiant as ever."
- Bush touts the execution as a "step forward" for Iraq's fledgling and troubled democracy, saying after the execution, "Fair trials were unimaginable under Saddam Hussein's tyrannical rule. It is a testament to the Iraqi people's resolve to move forward after decades of oppression that, despite his terrible crimes against his own people, Saddam Hussein received a fair trial." Two other co-defendants -- Barzan Hassan, Hussein's half-brother, and Awwad Bandar, the former chief judge of the Revolutionary Court -- were also found guilty and had been expected to face execution with Hussein. Instead, they are slated to be hung sometime in mid-January of 2007, refusing a request from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon to stay the executions. Celebrations over Hussein's death break out within hours of the execution, mostly among Iraq's Shi'ite and Kurdish populations. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is not present.
- Few believe that Hussein's execution will do anything to curb the violence erupting throughout Iraq; US and Iraqi forces are on high alert in anticipation of retaliatory attacks after the execution. December is already the bloodiest month on record for US forces in the country. Ba'ath party officials exhort Iraqis, on an Iraqi Web site, "Today is your great day. Strike without mercy at the joint enemy in Iraq -- America and Iran. Forget your organizational structures and take the stand of honor you deserve which is to take revenge for Saddam Hussein." The posters warn Iraqis not to harm other Iraqis or be drawn further into civil war. "Let your destructive response be by stepping up jihad against the occupation and against Iran," say the posters. "Avoid reactions against Iraqis because this is what Iran and America want, which is to turn your holy jihad against the American-Iranian invasion into a civil war. Our revenge from America and Iran is in defeating the occupation and causing it bigger losses." NBC reporter Richard Engle, on the ground in Iraq, notes that supporters of Hussein "are not the overwhelming majority of people in this country carrying out attacks against American soldiers or against Iraqis themselves." Because the execution was "tinged by...sectarian overtones" it could "fuel [the] civil war."
- One source of controversy is the timing of Hussein's execution. He is executed during the first day of the Muslim holiday Eid Al-Adha, the four-day "Feast of the Sacrifice" that is celebrated around the world at the end of the annual hajj, or pilgrimage, period. Executions are specifically prohibited during Eid. Though the holiday began today for Shi'ites, for Sunnis, the holiday begins tomorrow. Hussein is a Sunni. Celebrated blogger "Riverbend," an Iraqi woman blogging from Baghdad, is outraged at both the execution and its timing. "It's official. Maliki and his people are psychopaths," she writes. "This really is a new low. It's outrageous -- an execution during Eid. Muslims all over the world (with the exception of Iran) are outraged. Eid is a time of peace, of putting aside quarrels and anger -- at least for the duration of Eid. This does not bode well for the coming year. No one imagined the madmen would actually do it during a religious holiday. It is religiously unacceptable and before, it was constitutionally illegal. We thought we'd at least get a few days of peace and some time to enjoy the Eid holiday, which coincides with the New Year this year. We've spent the first two days of a holy holiday watching bits and pieces of a sordid lynching."
- 24 hours after his execution, Hussein is buried in a small private ceremony in his hometown of Ouja, near the small desert city of Tikrit. Hundreds of family members and Hussein supporters are present to mourn his death and vow vengeance on the US as well as the Iraqis who had Hussein executed. "[T]he path of Arab nationalism must inevitably be paved with blood," says Mohammed Natiq, a college student. "God has decided that Saddam Hussein should have such an end, but his march and the course which he followed will not end."
- Hussein had been expected to stand trial in several other similar cases, and many from all sides of the political spectrum believe that Hussein was "rushed to judgment" for political purposes. While Hussein's guilt in committing innumerable atrocities against his own people, and the people of Iran and Kuwait, is unassailable, an editorial by the International Herald Tribune observes, "What really mattered was whether an Iraq freed from his death grip could hold him accountable in a way that nurtured hope for a better future. A carefully conducted, scrupulously fair trial could have helped undo some of the damage inflicted by his rule. It could have set a precedent for the rule of law in a country scarred by decades of arbitrary vindictiveness. It could have fostered a new national unity in an Iraq long manipulated through its religious and ethnic divisions. It could have, but it didn't. After a flawed, politicized and divisive trial, Saddam was handed his sentence: death by hanging. This week, in a cursory 15-minute proceeding, an appeals court upheld that sentence and ordered that it be carried out posthaste. Most Iraqis are now so preoccupied with shielding their families from looming civil war that they seem to have little emotion left to spend on Saddam or, more important, on their own fading dreams of a new and better Iraq. ...Toppling Saddam Hussein did not automatically create a new and better Iraq. Executing him won't either."
- In the end, the main political benefit of Hussein's execution may belong to Bush. Investigative reporter Robert Parry writes sourly, "Like a blue-blood version of a Mob family with global reach, the Bushes have eliminated one more key witness to the important historical events that led the US military into a bloody stalemate in Iraq and pushed the Middle East to the brink of calamity." The expected celebration of the execution by Bush officials is muted at best, probably because of the overarching disaster continuing to blossom in Iraq and the deaths of nearly 3,000 Americans in that country. But with Hussein's death, "Bush has done his family's legacy a great service while also protecting secrets that could have embarrassed other senior US government officials. [Hussein was] a unique witness to crucial chapters of the secret history that stretched from Iran's Islamic revolution in 1979 to the alleged American-Saudi 'green light' for Hussein to attack Iran in 1980, through the eight years of the Iran-Iraq War during which high-ranking US intermediaries, such as Donald Rumsfeld and Robert Gates, allegedly helped broker supplies of war materiel for Hussein. Hussein now won't be around to give troublesome testimony about how he obtained the chemical and biological agents that his scientists used to produce the unconventional weapons that were deployed against Iranian forces and Iraqi civilians. He can't give his perspective on who got the money and who facilitated the deals. Nor will Hussein be available to give his account of the mixed messages delivered by George H.W. Bush's ambassador April Glaspie before Hussein's 1990 invasion of Kuwait. Was there another American 'green light' or did Hussein just hear what he wanted to hear?" Hussein can no longer speak on the subject. "...Bush has now guaranteed that there will be no public tribunal where Hussein gives testimony on these potentially devastating historical scandals, which could threaten the Bush Family legacy," Parry writes.
- Like many, Parry had hoped that Hussein would be turned over to an international tribune at the Hague just as was done with Yugoslavian dictator Slobodan Milosevic. But Bush refused to countenance such a move, insisting that Hussein be tried in Iraq even though it was patently obvious that Hussein, as guilty as he was, would receive nothing close to a fair trial, and would be speedily put to death, thusly shutting his mouth forever. Parry observes, "Hussein's death effectively moots other cases that were supposed to deal with his alleged use of chemical weapons to kill Iraqi civilians and other crimes that might have exposed the US role." He concludes, "[T]he singular figure who could have put the era in its fullest perspective -- and provided the most damning evidence about the Bush Family's role -- has been silenced for good, dropped through a trap door of a gallows and made to twitch at the end of a noose fashioned from hemp."
- Another veteran investigative journalist, Robert Fisk, echoes Parry's concerns. "The moment Saddam's hooded executioner pulled the lever of the trapdoor in Baghdad yesterday morning, Washington's secrets were safe" Fisk writes. "The shameless, outrageous, covert military support which the United States -- and Britain -- gave to Saddam for more than a decade remains the one terrible story which our presidents and prime ministers do not want the world to remember. And now Saddam, who knew the full extent of that Western support -- given to him while he was perpetrating some of the worst atrocities since the Second World War -- is dead.
- Whatever evidence of his decades of complicity and cooperation with the CIA goes to the grave with him, Fisk writes. "Gone is the man who personally received the CIA's help in destroying the Iraqi communist party. After Saddam seized power, US intelligence gave his minions the home addresses of communists in Baghdad and other cities in an effort to destroy the Soviet Union's influence in Iraq. Saddam's mukhabarat visited every home, arrested the occupants and their families, and butchered the lot. Public hanging was for plotters; the communists, their wives and children, were given special treatment -- extreme torture before execution at Abu Ghraib.
- Fisk, like Parry, notes the knowledge that Hussein had of his complicity with the US before his 1980 invasion of Iran, and the Pentagon's assistance to Hussein's armies. The Pentagon provided key intelligence of Iran's military response to Hussein's invasion. The US also provided Iraq with the chemical weapons the Iraqis used against Iran, including anthrax, botulism, and the elements used to devastating effect against the Iranian forces, a combination of nerve and mustard gases. The US also helped Iraq build chemical weapons manufacturing plants. Hussein later used some of these very same chemical weapons against his own people.
- Fisk wants to know the details, taken to the grave by Hussein, of the extensive funding provided to Iraq by Reagan and Bush administration officials, which began in 1982 and by 1990 had swelled to $3.5 billion a year, and similar fundings from Britain's Margaret Thatcher. He also wants to know what Hussein and the Iraqi government at the time knew about the May 1987 attack on the USS Stark, an attack which killed over a sixth of the crew of the American frigate and nearly sunk the vessel. The US accepted Hussein's excuse that an Iraqi jet had "accidentally" attacked the vessel, and complied with Hussein's refusal to let US officials interview the pilot. Fisk writes, "The whole truth died with Saddam Hussein in the Baghdad execution chamber yesterday. Many in Washington and London must have sighed with relief that the old man had been silenced for ever."
- TPM Cafe's Michael Roston has an interesting speculation on the almost-immediate, worldwide "viral" circulation of the video of Hussein's execution. Hussein's execution was a small, private affair, conducted in a secret, secure location outside of Baghdad. Iraq's "official videographer," Ali al-Massedy, films the execution and immediately turned it over to al-Maliki's chief of staff. "It is top secret," he tells a Newsweek reporter. As of this writing, Iraqi officials had not yet decided to release the film. But several people in the small execution party -- less than twenty people all told -- were allowed to bring in cell phones and record the execution. Roston writes, "I bet you couldn't smuggle a gun into that execution chamber. But apparently you could smuggle a cell phone with a video camera into those gallows, and stand out in plain sight 15 feet from the platform and shoot that video of this 'top secret event' to your heart's desire. And just as our fair president raced to wake up Saturday morning and issue a statement about what had been done in Iraq, several of those 20 attendees raced home or to their offices to upload videos of a hanged Saddam Hussein so everyone in the world could see this secretive execution carried out." Roston calls the release of the videos "21st century psychological operations," and adds, "It's hard to know who is directing this Internet traffic, but it can be concluded there were elements within America's government and/or military, working in concert with Iraq's current scarecrow power-holders, who wanted as many people as possible in the world to see Saddam hang. And from that rope hanged not just that bearded old man, but whatever was left of our culture that hasn't been degraded by the 7 years of 'leadership' we've been dragging around with us." (CNN, San Jose Mercury News, Reuters, NBC/Think Progress, ABC News, Riverbend, International Herald Tribune, Consortium News, Independent, TPM Cafe, BBC)
- December 29: In a particularly egregrious example of White House spin, national security counsel Frances Fragos Townsend terms the failure to capture Osama bin Laden "a success that hasn't occurred yet."
Osama bin Laden
CNN correspondent Ed Henry says to Townsend, "You know, going back to September 2001, the president said, dead or alive, we're going to get him. Still don't have him. I know you are saying there's successes on the war on terror, and there have been. That's a failure." Townsend responds, "Well, I'm not sure -- it's a success that hasn't occurred yet. I don't know that I view that as a failure." (CNN/TPM Muckraker)
3,000th US soldier dies in Iraq
- December 31: Army Specialist Dustin Donica, of Spring, Texas, is the 3,000th US soldier to die in Iraq.
Iraq war and occupation
The number is expected to rise even more sharply than it has in previous months, with violence in Iraq at an all-time high. "It escalated while I was there," says Captain Scott Stanford, a National Guard officer who was a commander of a headquarters company in Ramadi for a year, arriving in June 2005. "When we left this June, it was completely unhinged. There was a huge increase in the suicide car bombs we had. The IED's were bigger and more complex." The spike in violence is being felt even more so by Iraqi civilians, who are dying by the thousands. Many Democrats in Congress are urging a phased withdrawal from the country, but the Bush administration is defying the Democrats and the American people, instead leaning toward deploying additional troops in 2007. If the conflict continues into March, the Iraq war will be the third longest in American history, ranked behind the Vietnam War and the American Revolution. Bush has so far refused to acknowledge the 3,000-death milestone, but White House spokesman Scott Stanzel says Bush "grieves for each one that is lost" and will ensure that their sacrifices were not made in vain. The campaign against terrorism, says Stanzel, will be a long struggle. Over all, the casualty rate has remained relatively steady since 2005, dipping only slightly. It took 14 months for the death toll to jump to 2,000 soldiers from 1,000. It took about two weeks longer for it to rise to 3,000 from 2,000, during the period covering Oct. 25, 2005, to the end of December. More than 22,000 soldiers have been wounded. "It is hugely frustrating, tragic and disappointing that we can't reduce the fatality rate," says Michael O'Hanlon, a military analyst for the Brookings Institution. Cathy Weber, the mother of a slain soldier, asks incredulously, "For what did all these guys get killed over there? What for?" (New York Times)
- December 31: New York Times reporters David Sanger, Michael Gordon, and John Burns compile a detailed evaluation of the complete failure of Bush's 2006 "strategy for victory in Iraq," which has led to his desperate search for a "new strategy" -- a strategy doomed to fail like all the others, because Bush and his core of top advisors refuse to change any of their fundamental thinking about the objectives and goals for Iraq.
Iraq war and occupation
The 2006 plan led to chaos throughout Baghdad and central Iraq; there is no reason to believe that the "new" will have any better results.
- By the beginning of 2007, according to the 2006 plan championed by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and General George Casey, the top US military commander in Iraq, the country's security should have been largely turned over to well-trained Iraqi troops. The number of American bases could have been reduced, and some sort of phased withdrawal of American soldiers could have commenced. But instead, Iraq continued to unravel, taking most of Bush's war council -- but few others -- by surprise. Senior US officials say the White House, the Pentagon and the State Department failed to take seriously warnings, including some from its own ambassador in Baghdad, that sectarian violence could rip the country apart and turn Bush's promise to "clear, hold and build" Iraqi neighborhoods and towns into a meaningless slogan. As a result, Bush and his advisors were constantly lagging a step or more behind current events. "We could not clear and hold," says national security advisor Stephen Hadley. "Iraqi forces were not able to hold neighborhoods, and the effort to build did not show up. The sectarian violence continued to mount, so we did not make the progress on security we had hoped. We did not bring the moderate Sunnis off the fence, as we had hoped. The Shi'a lost patience, and began to see the militias as their protectors."
- Of course, events during the past 12 months collided with the belligerent optimism of Bush and his coterie, and predictably, Bush and his advisors decided to take out their wrath on the officials who had not been able to reforge Iraq's realities into the Bush vision of success. One of the most visible retaliations has been against Casey, whose strategy is now all but repudiated, and Casey himself on his way out. Casey repeatedly argued that his plan offered the best prospect for reducing the perception that the United States remained an occupier, and he believed his plan matched Bush's own desires. Earlier in the year, it had. But as chaos blossomed throughout Baghdad, some of Bush's advisors began looking to pin blame on Casey, who they began to say was more concerned with pulling US troops out of Iraq than winning a victory. Casey's public criticism of Bush's plans to escalate troop numbers in central Iraq may have been the final straw for his future as Bush's top commander in Iraq. Casey still cautions against the Bush "surge:" "The longer we in the US forces continue to bear the main burden of Iraq's security, it lengthens the time that the government of Iraq has to take the hard decisions about reconciliation and dealing with the militias. And the other thing is that they can continue to blame us for all of Iraq's problems, which are at base their problems."
- Bush, angry at the events spiraling out of control in Iraq, called for a complete review of Iraq strategy, to take place in Washington, not Baghdad. But political considerations surrounding the November elections shaped the policy and its presentations during the latter half of 2006, based on political advisors such as Karl Rove telling Bush that to voice any doubts about the eventual success of his strategy would lead to political catastrophe for the Republicans. Bush continued to insist, against all evidence and against the growing discontent among the electorate, that the US was succeeding in Iraq, and the result was reflective of the events in Iraq: catastrophic for his party and his agenda. As the review continued, Bush and his officials began slapping down any suggestions of a reworking of policy which, in his words, would encourage a "graceful exit" from Iraq. Visiting the Pentagon after the midterm elections for a classified briefing on Iraq with his generals, Bush made it clear that he was not interested in any ideas that would simply allow American forces to stabilize the violence. Bush told the generals, in words passed along to the soldiers, "What I want to hear from you is how we're going to win, not how we're going to leave."
- At the beginning of 2006, Bush and his advisors were ignoring anything but the Sunni insurgency, and that was the focus of the US military strategy. The February 22 bombing of the Shi'ite Askariya Mosque in Samarra by al-Qaeda jolted the administration's strategists. The bombing had its desired effect: it inflamed the Shi'a, prompted immediate and violent retaliation, and helped make Iraq all but ungovernable. Shi'ites in Sadr City poured into the streets in the hours after the bombing, many dressed in black clothing (signifying allegiance to the local Shi'ite militia), carrying weapons and shouting defiant slogans. US ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad insisted that Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari impose a 24-hour curfew; al-Jaafari, a member of the Shi'ite Dawa Party, refused. But even some government officials believed the curfew was necessary. The current national security adviser, Mowaffak al-Rubaie, recalls telling al-Jaafari, "This is going to be the trigger of an all-out civil war." Al-Jaafari's plans for dealing with the bombing, which amounted to little more than closing the Sunni television stations and imposing a belated curfew, achieved little. Violence from the outraged Shi'ites against the Sunnis grew, the government did little to protect its Sunni citizens, and the US forces were hard-pressed to handle the escalating violence with its overstretched, undermanned units. Days later, bodies turned up in sewers and garbage heaps throughout the area.
- It is worth noting that Sanger, Gordon, and Burns are following the administration's version of events in implying that the Shi'ites were largely quiescent before the Askariya Mosque bombing. In reality, Shi'ite death squads had been roaming the streets of Baghdad and other cities for at least 15 months before the bombings, slaughtering Sunni politicians and clerics. They also follow the administration's lead in blaming al-Qaeda forces for bombing the mosque, without mentioning the supporting role played by native Iraqi Shi'ites.
- Once again, unfounded optimism prevailed in Washington. When the immediate outbreak of violence abated, Bush and his top officials declared that the crisis was past. Both Sunnis and Shi'ites had "looked into the abyss and did not like what they saw," according to Bush. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told his listeners on a March 5 broadcast of NBC's Meet the Press that renegade militias were a concern but "not a major long-term problem as long as the Iraqi armed forces and the Iraqi police continue to be loyal to the central government, as they have been." But sectarian-inspired executions, however, rose from almost 200 in January to more than 700 in March, and continued upward.
- Both Rumsfeld and Casey remained optimistic. Rumsfeld had repeatedly said that history showed that it could take a decade or so to defeat an insurgency. He was eager to turn over responsibility for the war to the Iraqis and to reduce the American footprint in Iraq as quickly as possible. Both Casey and General John Abizaid, head of the United States Central Command, agreed. During the summer of 2005, Casey had forecast "fairly significant reductions" in American troops by the summer of 2006, an assessment that the commander said reflected "feelers" from Sunni insurgents that they might be willing to negotiate and lay down their arms. Casey's planning was informed by Bush's reluctance to expand the American military presence despite a persistent and escalating insurgency. Casey has said that it was always his intention to get the US out of Iraq as quickly as possible, after turning over the responsibility for Iraq's security to Iraqi forces. He stressed that he was following a strategy to match the "convoluted" political and military situation in Iraq, and was not seeking to advance his career with plans that suited the Bush administration's political agenda. "I have worked very hard to ask for what I need, for what I thought I needed to accomplish the mission," Casey now says. "It's always been my view that a heavy and sustained American military presence was not going to solve the problems in Iraq over the long term."
- By late 2005, the White House had accepted Casey's hand-over strategy. Hadley recalls, "Casey and Abizaid had what seemed like a plausible plan at the time. It was well thought out, and after the [Iraqi] elections in January looked like the direction we were headed in." On November 30, 2005, Bush said, "We will continue to shift from providing security and conducting operations against the enemy nationwide to conducting more specialized operations targeted at the most dangerous terrorists. We will increasingly move out of Iraqi cities, reduce the number of bases from which we operate, and conduct fewer patrols and convoys."
- But warning bells were sounding. In early 2006, the DIA briefed Bush's war council that the insurgency was winning in Iraq, an assertion contradicted by Casey's intelligence chief, who prepared his own analysis tracing the positive trends in Iraq. But even data from Casey's own command supported the grim DIA assessment. At the State Department, Condoleezza Rice's counselor Philip Zelikow was no more optimistic. In late 2005, he recommended a big push -- economically, militarily, and politically -- for the beginning of 2006 that would boost the nascent Iraqi government. Still, Casey thought his basic strategy was working. In April, May, and June of 2006, Casey told the White House that the American military was having success against al-Qaeda of Mesopotamia and the Sunni-based insurgency, and that sectarian violence could be managed.
- Events on the ground continued to undermine Casey's determination to stick with his strategy. By May 2002, State Department and NSC officials were demanding a complete review of Iraqi strategy. A meeting was convened at Camp David to consider those approaches, but Bush left early for a secret visit to Baghdad, where he reviewed the war plans with Casey and al-Maliki, and met with the American pilot whose plane's missiles killed Iraq's al-Qaeda leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Buoyed by the news of al-Zarqawi's death, Bush returned confidant that his and Casey's strategy was winning out, and the reconsideration of strategy was fairly perfunctory. In June, Casey briefed the White House on the latest version of his troop reduction plan. By September, two of the 14 American combat brigades would come home, and, conditions allowing, two more would return in December. If the Iraqis continued to assume more responsibility for their security, there would be only five or six combat brigades in Iraq by December 2007. But the idea of troop withdrawals didn't sit well with Bush. And more and more US field commanders were questioning Casey's continued focus on troop withdrawals and base consolidations. They said that American forces should be focusing on a greater counterinsurgency effort, which would require that a substantial number of troops be dispersed to protect that population against insurgent and militia attacks. By August 2006, the US had reversed course and added more troops in Baghdad. Hadley reflects, "Finally the patience of the Shi'a had worn thin.... By the time the unity government took over the cycle of sectarian violence had begun. And they and we have not been able to get ahead of it."
- The summer's focus would be on "clear, hold, and build:" clearing selected Baghdad neighborhoods of insurgents and militia leaders, holding them with the aid of Iraqi police, and winning over the population with job-creating reconstruction programs. But there were never enough American troops in Baghdad to carry out the assignment -- indeed, no amount of US troops may have been enough. (Casey confidently reported to Bush in August that he had sufficient troops to secure the city.) The Iraqi forces were maddeningly unreliable: the Iraqis never delivered four of the six Iraqi Army battalions that they had committed to the effort, and some of the Iraqi police units proved to be so infiltrated by Shi'ite militias that they had to be pulled off duty for retraining. In numerous instances, US forces had to clear areas more than once, after Iraqi security forces were unable or unwilling to keep the insurgents from returning. In Sunni neighborhoods, the largely Shi'ite Iraqi National Police used their authority to bully, intimidate, and even kill Sunni civilians. "They were trying to dominate the Sunni population and terrorize them to the point that they would leave Baghdad or leave the neighborhood," recalls Lieutenant Colonel James Danna, who commanded troops in the areas. According to Danna, the second Baghdad security operation, like the first one, failed.
- As the American miderm elections approached, White House officials believed it would amount to political suicide to announce a broad reassessment of Iraq strategy. But they recognized that unless they began such a review, they would be forced to accept the conclusions of the final report of the Iraq Study Group. The White House review began in September, around the same time Bush finally decided to oust Rumsfeld. In the days before the election, Bush suggested during an interview that Rumsfeld could stay until the end of his term -- a deliberately misleading statement. Bush admitted outright lying about Rumsfeld, but justified the lie by saying it was a political necessity. Similarly, it was not until days after the election that the White House revealed that a major Iraq review was under way.
- The same kind of lying and deception continues. In public, Bush insists that he and al-Maliki are on the same page, but privately, according to a Bush aide, "he questions whether Maliki has the will or the power" to make good on any commitments. American military officers also wonder if the Shi'ite-dominated Iraqi government and the Americans share the same vision. Were the Iraqis not pulling their weight because they did not have the capability to provide security and proceed with reconstruction? Or did the Iraqi authorities have a sectarian agenda? Lieutenant General Peter Chiarelli recently briefed White House officials on possible "end states" in Iraq, which suggests a divided, chaotic nation will result no matter what the US does. Unless there is radical change in the Iraqi government, the Chiarelli briefing foresees an Iraq run by a weak central government, a largely autonomous Shi'ite region in the south, an autonomous Kurdish region in the north, and a Shi'ite-dominated Baghdad. The Sunnis would be the big losers, relegated to a small area around Anbar Province and other enclaves. Chiarelli's briefing poses the question: is this a result the US can live with? If so, how can the US limit the bloodshed as Iraq transitions into these new conditions?
- Bush's own vocabulary is still dominated by the concept of victory, even if his own people wrangle over its definition. For Bush, the market value of the term is priceless. "It's a word the American people understand," he told members of the Iraq Study Group who came to see him at the White House in November. "And if I start to change it, it will look like I'm beginning to change my policy." (New York Times, McClatchy/Editor and Publisher)