Monday, June 30, 2008


by Aziz Huq

The logic of Justice Antonin Scalia's opinion overturning D.C.'s gun ban is nearly the reverse of his reasoning in his dissent in the recent Guantánamo detainee case.
Scalia's willingness to invoke his legal principles only when it suits him is deeply troubling, especially now that he frequently is backed by a majority of other justices.

Bomb, Bomb, Bomb; Bomb, Bomb Iran...

Annals of National Security

Preparing the Battlefield
The Bush Administration steps up its secret moves against Iran.
by Seymour M. Hersh July 7, 2008

Operations outside the knowledge and control of commanders have eroded “the coherence of military strategy,” one general says.

Late last year, Congress agreed to a request from President Bush to fund a major escalation of covert operations against Iran, according to current and former military, intelligence, and congressional sources. These operations, for which the President sought up to four hundred million dollars, were described in a Presidential Finding signed by Bush, and are designed to destabilize the country’s religious leadership. The covert activities involve support of the minority Ahwazi Arab and Baluchi groups and other dissident organizations. They also include gathering intelligence about Iran’s suspected nuclear-weapons program.

Clandestine operations against Iran are not new. United States Special Operations Forces have been conducting cross-border operations from southern Iraq, with Presidential authorization, since last year. These have included seizing members of Al Quds, the commando arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, and taking them to Iraq for interrogation, and the pursuit of “high-value targets” in the President’s war on terror, who may be captured or killed. But the scale and the scope of the operations in Iran, which involve the Central Intelligence Agency and the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), have now been significantly expanded, according to the current and former officials. Many of these activities are not specified in the new Finding, and some congressional leaders have had serious questions about their nature.

Under federal law, a Presidential Finding, which is highly classified, must be issued when a covert intelligence operation gets under way and, at a minimum, must be made known to Democratic and Republican leaders in the House and the Senate and to the ranking members of their respective intelligence committees—the so-called Gang of Eight. Money for the operation can then be reprogrammed from previous appropriations, as needed, by the relevant congressional committees, which also can be briefed.

“The Finding was focussed on undermining Iran’s nuclear ambitions and trying to undermine the government through regime change,” a person familiar with its contents said, and involved “working with opposition groups and passing money.” The Finding provided for a whole new range of activities in southern Iran and in the areas, in the east, where Baluchi political opposition is strong, he said.

Although some legislators were troubled by aspects of the Finding, and “there was a significant amount of high-level discussion” about it, according to the source familiar with it, the funding for the escalation was approved. In other words, some members of the Democratic leadership—Congress has been under Democratic control since the 2006 elections—were willing, in secret, to go along with the Administration in expanding covert activities directed at Iran, while the Party’s presumptive candidate for President, Barack Obama, has said that he favors direct talks and diplomacy.

The request for funding came in the same period in which the Administration was coming to terms with a National Intelligence Estimate, released in December, that concluded that Iran had halted its work on nuclear weapons in 2003. The Administration downplayed the significance of the N.I.E., and, while saying that it was committed to diplomacy, continued to emphasize that urgent action was essential to counter the Iranian nuclear threat. President Bush questioned the N.I.E.’s conclusions, and senior national-security officials, including Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, made similar statements. (So did Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican Presidential nominee.) Meanwhile, the Administration also revived charges that the Iranian leadership has been involved in the killing of American soldiers in Iraq: both directly, by dispatching commando units into Iraq, and indirectly, by supplying materials used for roadside bombs and other lethal goods. (There have been questions about the accuracy of the claims; the Times, among others, has reported that “significant uncertainties remain about the extent of that involvement.”)

Military and civilian leaders in the Pentagon share the White House’s concern about Iran’s nuclear ambitions, but there is disagreement about whether a military strike is the right solution. Some Pentagon officials believe, as they have let Congress and the media know, that bombing Iran is not a viable response to the nuclear-proliferation issue, and that more diplomacy is necessary.

A Democratic senator told me that, late last year, in an off-the-record lunch meeting, Secretary of Defense Gates met with the Democratic caucus in the Senate. (Such meetings are held regularly.) Gates warned of the consequences if the Bush Administration staged a preëmptive strike on Iran, saying, as the senator recalled, “We’ll create generations of jihadists, and our grandchildren will be battling our enemies here in America.” Gates’s comments stunned the Democrats at the lunch, and another senator asked whether Gates was speaking for Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney. Gates’s answer, the senator told me, was “Let’s just say that I’m here speaking for myself.” (A spokesman for Gates confirmed that he discussed the consequences of a strike at the meeting, but would not address what he said, other than to dispute the senator’s characterization.)

The Joint Chiefs of Staff, whose chairman is Admiral Mike Mullen, were “pushing back very hard” against White House pressure to undertake a military strike against Iran, the person familiar with the Finding told me. Similarly, a Pentagon consultant who is involved in the war on terror said that “at least ten senior flag and general officers, including combatant commanders”—the four-star officers who direct military operations around the world—“have weighed in on that issue.”

The most outspoken of those officers is Admiral William Fallon, who until recently was the head of U.S. Central Command, and thus in charge of American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. In March, Fallon resigned under pressure, after giving a series of interviews stating his reservations about an armed attack on Iran. For example, late last year he told the Financial Times that the “real objective” of U.S. policy was to change the Iranians’ behavior, and that “attacking them as a means to get to that spot strikes me as being not the first choice.”

Admiral Fallon acknowledged, when I spoke to him in June, that he had heard that there were people in the White House who were upset by his public statements. “Too many people believe you have to be either for or against the Iranians,” he told me. “Let’s get serious. Eighty million people live there, and everyone’s an individual. The idea that they’re only one way or another is nonsense.”

When it came to the Iraq war, Fallon said, “Did I bitch about some of the things that were being proposed? You bet. Some of them were very stupid.”

The Democratic leadership’s agreement to commit hundreds of millions of dollars for more secret operations in Iran was remarkable, given the general concerns of officials like Gates, Fallon, and many others. “The oversight process has not kept pace—it’s been coöpted” by the Administration, the person familiar with the contents of the Finding said. “The process is broken, and this is dangerous stuff we’re authorizing.”

Senior Democrats in Congress told me that they had concerns about the possibility that their understanding of what the new operations entail differs from the White House’s. One issue has to do with a reference in the Finding, the person familiar with it recalled, to potential defensive lethal action by U.S. operatives in Iran. (In early May, the journalist Andrew Cockburn published elements of the Finding in Counterpunch, a newsletter and online magazine.)

The language was inserted into the Finding at the urging of the C.I.A., a former senior intelligence official said. The covert operations set forth in the Finding essentially run parallel to those of a secret military task force, now operating in Iran, that is under the control of JSOC. Under the Bush Administration’s interpretation of the law, clandestine military activities, unlike covert C.I.A. operations, do not need to be depicted in a Finding, because the President has a constitutional right to command combat forces in the field without congressional interference. But the borders between operations are not always clear: in Iran, C.I.A. agents and regional assets have the language skills and the local knowledge to make contacts for the JSOC operatives, and have been working with them to direct personnel, matériel, and money into Iran from an obscure base in western Afghanistan. As a result, Congress has been given only a partial view of how the money it authorized may be used. One of JSOC’s task-force missions, the pursuit of “high-value targets,” was not directly addressed in the Finding. There is a growing realization among some legislators that the Bush Administration, in recent years, has conflated what is an intelligence operation and what is a military one in order to avoid fully informing Congress about what it is doing.

“This is a big deal,” the person familiar with the Finding said. “The C.I.A. needed the Finding to do its traditional stuff, but the Finding does not apply to JSOC. The President signed an Executive Order after September 11th giving the Pentagon license to do things that it had never been able to do before without notifying Congress. The claim was that the military was ‘preparing the battle space,’ and by using that term they were able to circumvent congressional oversight. Everything is justified in terms of fighting the global war on terror.” He added, “The Administration has been fuzzing the lines; there used to be a shade of gray”—between operations that had to be briefed to the senior congressional leadership and those which did not—“but now it’s a shade of mush.”

“The agency says we’re not going to get in the position of helping to kill people without a Finding,” the former senior intelligence official told me. He was referring to the legal threat confronting some agency operatives for their involvement in the rendition and alleged torture of suspects in the war on terror. “This drove the military people up the wall,” he said. As far as the C.I.A. was concerned, the former senior intelligence official said, “the over-all authorization includes killing, but it’s not as though that’s what they’re setting out to do. It’s about gathering information, enlisting support.” The Finding sent to Congress was a compromise, providing legal cover for the C.I.A. while referring to the use of lethal force in ambiguous terms.

The defensive-lethal language led some Democrats, according to congressional sources familiar with their views, to call in the director of the C.I.A., Air Force General Michael V. Hayden, for a special briefing. Hayden reassured the legislators that the language did nothing more than provide authority for Special Forces operatives on the ground in Iran to shoot their way out if they faced capture or harm.

The legislators were far from convinced. One congressman subsequently wrote a personal letter to President Bush insisting that “no lethal action, period” had been authorized within Iran’s borders. As of June, he had received no answer.

Members of Congress have expressed skepticism in the past about the information provided by the White House. On March 15, 2005, David Obey, then the ranking Democrat on the Republican-led House Appropriations Committee, announced that he was putting aside an amendment that he had intended to offer that day, and that would have cut off all funding for national-intelligence programs unless the President agreed to keep Congress fully informed about clandestine military activities undertaken in the war on terror. He had changed his mind, he said, because the White House promised better coöperation. “The Executive Branch understands that we are not trying to dictate what they do,” he said in a floor speech at the time. “We are simply trying to see to it that what they do is consistent with American values and will not get the country in trouble.”

Obey declined to comment on the specifics of the operations in Iran, but he did tell me that the White House reneged on its promise to consult more fully with Congress. He said, “I suspect there’s something going on, but I don’t know what to believe. Cheney has always wanted to go after Iran, and if he had more time he’d find a way to do it. We still don’t get enough information from the agencies, and I have very little confidence that they give us information on the edge.”

None of the four Democrats in the Gang of Eight—Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Intelligence Committee chairman John D. Rockefeller IV, and House Intelligence Committee chairman Silvestre Reyes—would comment on the Finding, with some noting that it was highly classified. An aide to one member of the Democratic leadership responded, on his behalf, by pointing to the limitations of the Gang of Eight process. The notification of a Finding, the aide said, “is just that—notification, and not a sign-off on activities. Proper oversight of ongoing intelligence activities is done by fully briefing the members of the intelligence committee.” However, Congress does have the means to challenge the White House once it has been sent a Finding. It has the power to withhold funding for any government operation. The members of the House and Senate Democratic leadership who have access to the Finding can also, if they choose to do so, and if they have shared concerns, come up with ways to exert their influence on Administration policy. (A spokesman for the C.I.A. said, “As a rule, we don’t comment one way or the other on allegations of covert activities or purported findings.” The White House also declined to comment.)

A member of the House Appropriations Committee acknowledged that, even with a Democratic victory in November, “it will take another year before we get the intelligence activities under control.” He went on, “We control the money and they can’t do anything without the money. Money is what it’s all about. But I’m very leery of this Administration.” He added, “This Administration has been so secretive.”

One irony of Admiral Fallon’s departure is that he was, in many areas, in agreement with President Bush on the threat posed by Iran. They had a good working relationship, Fallon told me, and, when he ran CENTCOM, were in regular communication. On March 4th, a week before his resignation, Fallon testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee, saying that he was “encouraged” about the situations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Regarding the role played by Iran’s leaders, he said, “They’ve been absolutely unhelpful, very damaging, and I absolutely don’t condone any of their activities. And I have yet to see anything since I’ve been in this job in the way of a public action by Iran that’s been at all helpful in this region.”

Fallon made it clear in our conversations that he considered it inappropriate to comment publicly about the President, the Vice-President, or Special Operations. But he said he had heard that people in the White House had been “struggling” with his views on Iran. “When I arrived at CENTCOM, the Iranians were funding every entity inside Iraq. It was in their interest to get us out, and so they decided to kill as many Americans as they could. And why not? They didn’t know who’d come out ahead, but they wanted us out. I decided that I couldn’t resolve the situation in Iraq without the neighborhood. To get this problem in Iraq solved, we had to somehow involve Iran and Syria. I had to work the neighborhood.”

Fallon told me that his focus had been not on the Iranian nuclear issue, or on regime change there, but on “putting out the fires in Iraq.” There were constant discussions in Washington and in the field about how to engage Iran and, on the subject of the bombing option, Fallon said, he believed that “it would happen only if the Iranians did something stupid.”

Fallon’s early retirement, however, appears to have been provoked not only by his negative comments about bombing Iran but also by his strong belief in the chain of command and his insistence on being informed about Special Operations in his area of responsibility. One of Fallon’s defenders is retired Marine General John J. (Jack) Sheehan, whose last assignment was as commander-in-chief of the U.S. Atlantic Command, where Fallon was a deputy. Last year, Sheehan rejected a White House offer to become the President’s “czar” for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “One of the reasons the White House selected Fallon for CENTCOM was that he’s known to be a strategic thinker and had demonstrated those skills in the Pacific,” Sheehan told me. (Fallon served as commander-in-chief of U.S. forces in the Pacific from 2005 to 2007.) “He was charged with coming up with an over-all coherent strategy for Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and, by law, the combatant commander is responsible for all military operations within his A.O.”—area of operations. “That was not happening,” Sheehan said. “When Fallon tried to make sense of all the overt and covert activity conducted by the military in his area of responsibility, a small group in the White House leadership shut him out.”

The law cited by Sheehan is the 1986 Defense Reorganization Act, known as Goldwater-Nichols, which defined the chain of command: from the President to the Secretary of Defense, through the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and on to the various combatant commanders, who were put in charge of all aspects of military operations, including joint training and logistics. That authority, the act stated, was not to be shared with other echelons of command. But the Bush Administration, as part of its global war on terror, instituted new policies that undercut regional commanders-in-chief; for example, it gave Special Operations teams, at military commands around the world, the highest priority in terms of securing support and equipment. The degradation of the traditional chain of command in the past few years has been a point of tension between the White House and the uniformed military.

“The coherence of military strategy is being eroded because of undue civilian influence and direction of nonconventional military operations,” Sheehan said. “If you have small groups planning and conducting military operations outside the knowledge and control of the combatant commander, by default you can’t have a coherent military strategy. You end up with a disaster, like the reconstruction efforts in Iraq.”

Admiral Fallon, who is known as Fox, was aware that he would face special difficulties as the first Navy officer to lead CENTCOM, which had always been headed by a ground commander, one of his military colleagues told me. He was also aware that the Special Operations community would be a concern. “Fox said that there’s a lot of strange stuff going on in Special Ops, and I told him he had to figure out what they were really doing,” Fallon’s colleague said. “The Special Ops guys eventually figured out they needed Fox, and so they began to talk to him. Fox would have won his fight with Special Ops but for Cheney.”

The Pentagon consultant said, “Fallon went down because, in his own way, he was trying to prevent a war with Iran, and you have to admire him for that.”

In recent months, according to the Iranian media, there has been a surge in violence in Iran; it is impossible at this early stage, however, to credit JSOC or C.I.A. activities, or to assess their impact on the Iranian leadership. The Iranian press reports are being carefully monitored by retired Air Force Colonel Sam Gardiner, who has taught strategy at the National War College and now conducts war games centered on Iran for the federal government, think tanks, and universities. The Iranian press “is very open in describing the killings going on inside the country,” Gardiner said. It is, he said, “a controlled press, which makes it more important that it publishes these things. We begin to see inside the government.” He added, “Hardly a day goes by now we don’t see a clash somewhere. There were three or four incidents over a recent weekend, and the Iranians are even naming the Revolutionary Guard officers who have been killed.”

Earlier this year, a militant Ahwazi group claimed to have assassinated a Revolutionary Guard colonel, and the Iranian government acknowledged that an explosion in a cultural center in Shiraz, in the southern part of the country, which killed at least twelve people and injured more than two hundred, had been a terrorist act and not, as it earlier insisted, an accident. It could not be learned whether there has been American involvement in any specific incident in Iran, but, according to Gardiner, the Iranians have begun publicly blaming the U.S., Great Britain, and, more recently, the C.I.A. for some incidents. The agency was involved in a coup in Iran in 1953, and its support for the unpopular regime of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi—who was overthrown in 1979—was condemned for years by the ruling mullahs in Tehran, to great effect. “This is the ultimate for the Iranians—to blame the C.I.A.,” Gardiner said. “This is new, and it’s an escalation—a ratcheting up of tensions. It rallies support for the regime and shows the people that there is a continuing threat from the ‘Great Satan.’ ” In Gardiner’s view, the violence, rather than weakening Iran’s religious government, may generate support for it.

Many of the activities may be being carried out by dissidents in Iran, and not by Americans in the field. One problem with “passing money” (to use the term of the person familiar with the Finding) in a covert setting is that it is hard to control where the money goes and whom it benefits. Nonetheless, the former senior intelligence official said, “We’ve got exposure, because of the transfer of our weapons and our communications gear. The Iranians will be able to make the argument that the opposition was inspired by the Americans. How many times have we tried this without asking the right questions? Is the risk worth it?” One possible consequence of these operations would be a violent Iranian crackdown on one of the dissident groups, which could give the Bush Administration a reason to intervene.

A strategy of using ethnic minorities to undermine Iran is flawed, according to Vali Nasr, who teaches international politics at Tufts University and is also a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “Just because Lebanon, Iraq, and Pakistan have ethnic problems, it does not mean that Iran is suffering from the same issue,” Nasr told me. “Iran is an old country—like France and Germany—and its citizens are just as nationalistic. The U.S. is overestimating ethnic tension in Iran.” The minority groups that the U.S. is reaching out to are either well integrated or small and marginal, without much influence on the government or much ability to present a political challenge, Nasr said. “You can always find some activist groups that will go and kill a policeman, but working with the minorities will backfire, and alienate the majority of the population.”

The Administration may have been willing to rely on dissident organizations in Iran even when there was reason to believe that the groups had operated against American interests in the past. The use of Baluchi elements, for example, is problematic, Robert Baer, a former C.I.A. clandestine officer who worked for nearly two decades in South Asia and the Middle East, told me. “The Baluchis are Sunni fundamentalists who hate the regime in Tehran, but you can also describe them as Al Qaeda,” Baer told me. “These are guys who cut off the heads of nonbelievers—in this case, it’s Shiite Iranians. The irony is that we’re once again working with Sunni fundamentalists, just as we did in Afghanistan in the nineteen-eighties.” Ramzi Yousef, who was convicted for his role in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who is considered one of the leading planners of the September 11th attacks, are Baluchi Sunni fundamentalists.

One of the most active and violent anti-regime groups in Iran today is the Jundallah, also known as the Iranian People’s Resistance Movement, which describes itself as a resistance force fighting for the rights of Sunnis in Iran. “This is a vicious Salafi organization whose followers attended the same madrassas as the Taliban and Pakistani extremists,” Nasr told me. “They are suspected of having links to Al Qaeda and they are also thought to be tied to the drug culture.” The Jundallah took responsibility for the bombing of a busload of Revolutionary Guard soldiers in February, 2007. At least eleven Guard members were killed. According to Baer and to press reports, the Jundallah is among the groups in Iran that are benefitting from U.S. support.

The C.I.A. and Special Operations communities also have long-standing ties to two other dissident groups in Iran: the Mujahideen-e-Khalq, known in the West as the M.E.K., and a Kurdish separatist group, the Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan, or PJAK.

The M.E.K. has been on the State Department’s terrorist list for more than a decade, yet in recent years the group has received arms and intelligence, directly or indirectly, from the United States. Some of the newly authorized covert funds, the Pentagon consultant told me, may well end up in M.E.K. coffers. “The new task force will work with the M.E.K. The Administration is desperate for results.” He added, “The M.E.K. has no C.P.A. auditing the books, and its leaders are thought to have been lining their pockets for years. If people only knew what the M.E.K. is getting, and how much is going to its bank accounts—and yet it is almost useless for the purposes the Administration intends.”

The Kurdish party, PJAK, which has also been reported to be covertly supported by the United States, has been operating against Iran from bases in northern Iraq for at least three years. (Iran, like Iraq and Turkey, has a Kurdish minority, and PJAK and other groups have sought self-rule in territory that is now part of each of those countries.) In recent weeks, according to Sam Gardiner, the military strategist, there has been a marked increase in the number of PJAK armed engagements with Iranians and terrorist attacks on Iranian targets. In early June, the news agency Fars reported that a dozen PJAK members and four Iranian border guards were killed in a clash near the Iraq border; a similar attack in May killed three Revolutionary Guards and nine PJAK fighters. PJAK has also subjected Turkey, a member of NATO, to repeated terrorist attacks, and reports of American support for the group have been a source of friction between the two governments.

Gardiner also mentioned a trip that the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, made to Tehran in June. After his return, Maliki announced that his government would ban any contact between foreigners and the M.E.K.—a slap at the U.S.’s dealings with the group. Maliki declared that Iraq was not willing to be a staging ground for covert operations against other countries. This was a sign, Gardiner said, of “Maliki’s increasingly choosing the interests of Iraq over the interests of the United States.” In terms of U.S. allegations of Iranian involvement in the killing of American soldiers, he said, “Maliki was unwilling to play the blame-Iran game.” Gardiner added that Pakistan had just agreed to turn over a Jundallah leader to the Iranian government. America’s covert operations, he said, “seem to be harming relations with the governments of both Iraq and Pakistan and could well be strengthening the connection between Tehran and Baghdad.”

The White House’s reliance on questionable operatives, and on plans involving possible lethal action inside Iran, has created anger as well as anxiety within the Special Operations and intelligence communities. JSOC’s operations in Iran are believed to be modelled on a program that has, with some success, used surrogates to target the Taliban leadership in the tribal territories of Waziristan, along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. But the situations in Waziristan and Iran are not comparable.

In Waziristan, “the program works because it’s small and smart guys are running it,” the former senior intelligence official told me. “It’s being executed by professionals. The N.S.A., the C.I.A., and the D.I.A.”—the Defense Intelligence Agency—“are right in there with the Special Forces and Pakistani intelligence, and they’re dealing with serious bad guys.” He added, “We have to be really careful in calling in the missiles. We have to hit certain houses at certain times. The people on the ground are watching through binoculars a few hundred yards away and calling specific locations, in latitude and longitude. We keep the Predator loitering until the targets go into a house, and we have to make sure our guys are far enough away so they don’t get hit.” One of the most prominent victims of the program, the former official said, was Abu Laith al-Libi, a senior Taliban commander, who was killed on January 31st, reportedly in a missile strike that also killed eleven other people.

A dispatch published on March 26th by the Washington Post reported on the increasing number of successful strikes against Taliban and other insurgent units in Pakistan’s tribal areas. A follow-up article noted that, in response, the Taliban had killed “dozens of people” suspected of providing information to the United States and its allies on the whereabouts of Taliban leaders. Many of the victims were thought to be American spies, and their executions—a beheading, in one case—were videotaped and distributed by DVD as a warning to others.

It is not simple to replicate the program in Iran. “Everybody’s arguing about the high-value-target list,” the former senior intelligence official said. “The Special Ops guys are pissed off because Cheney’s office set up priorities for categories of targets, and now he’s getting impatient and applying pressure for results. But it takes a long time to get the right guys in place.”

The Pentagon consultant told me, “We’ve had wonderful results in the Horn of Africa with the use of surrogates and false flags—basic counterintelligence and counter-insurgency tactics. And we’re beginning to tie them in knots in Afghanistan. But the White House is going to kill the program if they use it to go after Iran. It’s one thing to engage in selective strikes and assassinations in Waziristan and another in Iran. The White House believes that one size fits all, but the legal issues surrounding extrajudicial killings in Waziristan are less of a problem because Al Qaeda and the Taliban cross the border into Afghanistan and back again, often with U.S. and NATO forces in hot pursuit. The situation is not nearly as clear in the Iranian case. All the considerations—judicial, strategic, and political—are different in Iran.”

He added, “There is huge opposition inside the intelligence community to the idea of waging a covert war inside Iran, and using Baluchis and Ahwazis as surrogates. The leaders of our Special Operations community all have remarkable physical courage, but they are less likely to voice their opposition to policy. Iran is not Waziristan.”

A Gallup poll taken last November, before the N.I.E. was made public, found that seventy-three per cent of those surveyed thought that the United States should use economic action and diplomacy to stop Iran’s nuclear program, while only eighteen per cent favored direct military action. Republicans were twice as likely as Democrats to endorse a military strike. Weariness with the war in Iraq has undoubtedly affected the public’s tolerance for an attack on Iran. This mood could change quickly, however. The potential for escalation became clear in early January, when five Iranian patrol boats, believed to be under the command of the Revolutionary Guard, made a series of aggressive moves toward three Navy warships sailing through the Strait of Hormuz. Initial reports of the incident made public by the Pentagon press office said that the Iranians had transmitted threats, over ship-to-ship radio, to “explode” the American ships. At a White House news conference, the President, on the day he left for an eight-day trip to the Middle East, called the incident “provocative” and “dangerous,” and there was, very briefly, a sense of crisis and of outrage at Iran. “TWO MINUTES FROM WAR” was the headline in one British newspaper.

The crisis was quickly defused by Vice-Admiral Kevin Cosgriff, the commander of U.S. naval forces in the region. No warning shots were fired, the Admiral told the Pentagon press corps on January 7th, via teleconference from his headquarters, in Bahrain. “Yes, it’s more serious than we have seen, but, to put it in context, we do interact with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and their Navy regularly,” Cosgriff said. “I didn’t get the sense from the reports I was receiving that there was a sense of being afraid of these five boats.”

Admiral Cosgriff’s caution was well founded: within a week, the Pentagon acknowledged that it could not positively identify the Iranian boats as the source of the ominous radio transmission, and press reports suggested that it had instead come from a prankster long known for sending fake messages in the region. Nonetheless, Cosgriff’s demeanor angered Cheney, according to the former senior intelligence official. But a lesson was learned in the incident: The public had supported the idea of retaliation, and was even asking why the U.S. didn’t do more. The former official said that, a few weeks later, a meeting took place in the Vice-President’s office. “The subject was how to create a casus belli between Tehran and Washington,” he said.

In June, President Bush went on a farewell tour of Europe. He had tea with Queen Elizabeth II and dinner with Nicolas Sarkozy and Carla Bruni, the President and First Lady of France. The serious business was conducted out of sight, and involved a series of meetings on a new diplomatic effort to persuade the Iranians to halt their uranium-enrichment program. (Iran argues that its enrichment program is for civilian purposes and is legal under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.) Secretary of State Rice had been involved with developing a new package of incentives. But the Administration’s essential negotiating position seemed unchanged: talks could not take place until Iran halted the program. The Iranians have repeatedly and categorically rejected that precondition, leaving the diplomatic situation in a stalemate; they have not yet formally responded to the new incentives.

The continuing impasse alarms many observers. Joschka Fischer, the former German Foreign Minister, recently wrote in a syndicated column that it may not “be possible to freeze the Iranian nuclear program for the duration of the negotiations to avoid a military confrontation before they are completed. Should this newest attempt fail, things will soon get serious. Deadly serious.” When I spoke to him last week, Fischer, who has extensive contacts in the diplomatic community, said that the latest European approach includes a new element: the willingness of the U.S. and the Europeans to accept something less than a complete cessation of enrichment as an intermediate step. “The proposal says that the Iranians must stop manufacturing new centrifuges and the other side will stop all further sanction activities in the U.N. Security Council,” Fischer said, although Iran would still have to freeze its enrichment activities when formal negotiations begin. “This could be acceptable to the Iranians—if they have good will.”

The big question, Fischer added, is in Washington. “I think the Americans are deeply divided on the issue of what to do about Iran,” he said. “Some officials are concerned about the fallout from a military attack and others think an attack is unavoidable. I know the Europeans, but I have no idea where the Americans will end up on this issue.”

There is another complication: American Presidential politics. Barack Obama has said that, if elected, he would begin talks with Iran with no “self-defeating” preconditions (although only after diplomatic groundwork had been laid). That position has been vigorously criticized by John McCain. The Washington Post recently quoted Randy Scheunemann, the McCain campaign’s national-security director, as stating that McCain supports the White House’s position, and that the program be suspended before talks begin. What Obama is proposing, Scheunemann said, “is unilateral cowboy summitry.”

Scheunemann, who is known as a neoconservative, is also the McCain campaign’s most important channel of communication with the White House. He is a friend of David Addington, Dick Cheney’s chief of staff. I have heard differing accounts of Scheunemann’s influence with McCain; though some close to the McCain campaign talk about him as a possible national-security adviser, others say he is someone who isn’t taken seriously while “telling Cheney and others what they want to hear,” as a senior McCain adviser put it.

It is not known whether McCain, who is the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, has been formally briefed on the operations in Iran. At the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, in June, Obama repeated his plea for “tough and principled diplomacy.” But he also said, along with McCain, that he would keep the threat of military action against Iran on the table. ♦
Happy 91st Birthday, Lena Horne

Sunday, June 29, 2008


As a former U.N. weapons inspector, Scott Ritter knows a thing or two about nuclear threats around the world. So when so-called experts go on television or appear in print to help make the case for war with Iran, it gets his attention.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Drilling Deep to Mislead on Oil Prices

It's still a bad idea to drill offshore for oil, and the issue is distorted when the media gives equivalence to both sides of the issue and repeats industry misinformation.

On energy, McCain sounds a lot like Cheney

The GOP nominee wants to distance himself from Bush on climate change, but he'd do better to emulate Jimmy Carter than the vice president.

By Joe Conason

Friday, June 27, 2008

It Must Be Scary To Be A Conservative
by: Chris Bowers

It must be really scary to be a conservative. To be one, you must live in constant fear of terrorists nuking the United States, of gay people on the verge of convincing you that you really enjoy sodomy, of Spanish becoming the official language of the United States next week, of every African-American voting seven or eight times in the next election, of radical Islam suddenly becoming the latest hip thing among kids across the country, of perpetual lesbian orgies in girls bathrooms in high schools across America, of liberals forcing everyone to become a vegan, of Christians being rounded up into concentration camps, and of Democrats outlawing private property if they were to ever take power again. Read more



A Court of Radicals
By E.J. Dionne

In knocking down the District of Columbia’s 32-year ban on handgun possession, the conservatives on the U.S. Supreme Court have shown again their willingness to abandon precedent in order to do whatever is necessary to further the agenda of the contemporary political right.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Video: George Carlin "It's called the American Dream because you have to be asleep to believe it."


Amy Goodman:Funny Man in an Unfunny World

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

LA Times Throws McCain a “Curveball” on Iraq
By: Jon Perr


John McCain’s campaign launched a new effort this week to whitewash his calamitous record of egregious errors and flawed forecasts when it comes to Iraq. As ThinkProgress reported, the McCain web site has unveiled a very elegant - and very selective - new timeline highlighting John McCain’s “judgment” on Iraq. Hoping that voters will forget his disastrous predictions throughout 2002 and 2003 in the run-up to the war, the McCain timeline unsurprisingly starts in August 2003. Unfortunately, a timely Los Angeles Times interview with the infamous “Curveball” will remind Americans just how wrong John McCain has been about Iraq from the very beginning.


As the LA Times recounts, Rafid Ahmed Alwan, aka Curveball, played an essential role in the Bush administration’s justification for war with Iraq. Despite warnings from CIA officials such as Tyler Drumheller that claims from Curveball were unreliable and unbelievable, the German intelligence asset’s tall tales became a foundation for the White House’s rationale for war:


President Bush declared in his State of the Union address in January 2003 that “we know” that Iraq built mobile germ factories. Then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell highlighted Alwan’s supposed “eyewitness” account to the U.N. Security Council when he pressed the case for war.


Among those taken in was John McCain, who bought in to the WMD horror stories lock, stock and two-smoking barrels. In October 2002, McCain took to the Senate floor to sound the alarm about Saddam’s weapons: (Read the rest of this story…)

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

McCain strategist: Terrorist attack ‘would be a big advantage’ in election




Clarke: McCain should fire adviser
Bateman: John McCain's "Energy Security"
Scott Bateman takes a look at John McCain's new web ad promising cleaner power sources. (Subscribe to Bateman's cartoons through iTunes and RSS.)


The Bush/McCain gas price escalation is an Enron Re-Run. It is Chapter 2 of the scam Bush crony “Kenny Boy” Lay used in 1999-2001 to steal $100 billion from California ratepayers.

Monday, June 23, 2008

As Long As We're Talking About Michelle Obama, Did You Know Cindy McCain Was A Drug Addict? by Stephen Elliott

It's a psychedelic experience this week, watching Cindy McCain out on the campaign trail, attacking the opponent's wife. In rally after rally she says, "I've always been proud of my country," a not so subtle jab at Michelle Obama's gaffe earlier about really being proud of America for the first time.

But Cindy McCain has one hell of a scandal in her past. In the mid-nineties she was addicted to prescription pain killers. Worse, she was stealing the drugs from the American Voluntary Medical Team, a third world relief organization she founded. Like most ridiculously rich people, she didn't have to go to jail for her crimes and was allowed to enter a rehab program rather than face criminal charges. The charity was shut down.

So when Cindy McCain says, "All I know is that I've always been proud of my country," take it with a grain of salt. She spent at least three years stoned out of her mind. It's impossible to know what she thought during that time. Was she really proud, or was she just hallucinating?

Cindy's addiction has been virtually ignored this election season. As a thought experiment, try to imagine what the reaction would be if Michelle Obama had a history with drug addiction? If Michelle Obama had stolen drugs meant for third world countries to support her own addiction?

Of course, we want to leave spouses out of politics. But if Cindy is out attacking Michelle people are going to start throwing rocks back at her glass house. She'd have to be high to think otherwise.
Fuck. George Carlin Dead at 71
George Carlin Mourned As A Counterculture Hero

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Bruce Springsteen: Tribute To Tim Russert 6-18-08


The former press secretary's testimony about Valerie Plame is valuable, but only the press can uncover whether Bush and Cheney lied to investigators.

By Joe Conason
Notorious I.R.A.Q.I.
Yo, Suge, come get your cousin!
By Brian Marsh


To all those who continue to whine about our mission of spreading democracy (stealing oil?) in Iraq, here's proof that it's working. As you can see, fat baby thug daddies have the streets on lock and the bitches in check. All is well. From Stereogum. NSFW.

Friday, June 20, 2008


Craven Congress
By Jim Hightower

Congress should arrest the White House outlaws.
He Said It First
The Rachel Maddow Show



Rachel documents John McCain's unpredictable, shifty, inconsistent record on environmental issues. Four different positions in eight years- - now THAT'S maverick-tastic!

George W. Told The Nation ( By Tom Paxton)

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Vote Republican

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FiQJ9Xp0xxU
General who probed Abu Ghraib says Bush officials committed war crimes
by Warren P. Strobel

The Army general who led the investigation into prisoner abuse at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison accused the Bush administration Wednesday of committing "war crimes" and called for those responsible to be held to account.
Vlad Rudy Has Returned from the Fear Mongering Netherworld
by Bob Cesca
With a blinding white light, a loud bang and a puff of wig powder, Vlad Rudy Giuliani has emerged from the netherworld of Republican politics like a hunched, creepy, bulbous- foreheaded genie, shamelessly trying to frighten Americans into voting for a Republican presidential candidate again.



An alarmist John McCain is using Iran as a political weapon against Barack Obama -- even as he misjudges our Middle East adversary.

By Hooman Majd
The Changing of the Guard:


Wednesday, June 18, 2008



By Robert Scheer —

Why not Hillary? Not my first choice—Al Gore is—but I find all of the pro-and-con debate about Hillary Rodham Clinton to be beside the point. She is, as Barack Obama said, likable enough, and the Dems are not likely to pick anyone better.


President George W. Bush, reversing a longstanding position, planned to call on Congress on Wednesday to end a ban on offshore oil drilling.

By Sheryl Gay Stolberg
*
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McCain's Slippery History With Offshore Drilling
The Republican nominee is taking a pointless and environmentally dangerous position in order to pander to voters hit by high gas prices. It may hurt him come November.
—By Jonathan Stein
The Rich and the Rest of Us
Over the past three decades, market-worshiping politicians and their corporate backers have engineered the most colossal redistribution of wealth in modern world history, a redistribution from the bottom up, from working people to a tiny global elite.
By John Cavanagh & Chuck Collins
McCain Contradicts Himself Over Similarities With Bush


No issue in this campaign is as simultaneously neglected and important. And the opposite reactions of John McCain and Barack Obama to the decision underscore how much is at stake for the future of the court.

By Ruth Marcus


Haunted by the ghosts of Vietnam, the one-time maverick has transformed himself into just another liberal-bashing fearmonger.

by MATT TAIBBI
Happy Birthday Sir Paul!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Here's What Four More Years Would Sound Like



Election 2008: Declare A Forfeit
To avoid humiliating a once-great party and subjecting America to more painful glimpses of McCain's ideas and teeth, the mercy rule must be invoked now.
By Gary Kamiya

Monday, June 16, 2008


Hillary Clinton, Superstar
The Fall and Rise of Hillary Clinton
What she won by losing.
By John Heilemann
*****
Angry Clinton Women ♥ McCain?
By FRANK RICH
The same Republican operatives who gleefully insulted Hillary Clinton are now peddling the fable that her female supporters will desert their own party en masse.
Barack Obama's Speech on Father's Day
Why Obama should pick Hillary Clinton as veep
The case for an Obama-Clinton ticket, also known as, you got any better ideas?
By Ed Kilgore
*********
Why Obama should NOT pick Hillary Clinton as veep
He would lose his claim to being the candidate of change -- and probably wouldn't get any swing states in return
By Thomas F. Schaller

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Friday, June 13, 2008

Court: Constitution Applies to Detainees

Jonathan Hafetz: The Supreme Court delivers another blow to the President's lawless detention policies and affirms Guantánamo Bay detainees' rights to constitutional protections.



Obama is enlisting his millions of supporters to help him hunt down and quash these stories, just as those supporters helped him turn his insurgent campaign into a history-making juggernaut. Says Obama adviser Anita Dunn: "We will not allow Michelle — or, for that matter, Barack — to be defined by rumors."

Thursday, June 12, 2008

GOP Claims China Drilling Off Cuban Shores; Actually, That's False

To gin up support for off-shore drilling, the Right has an ace up its rhetorical sleeve: the Chinese in Cuba. Here's Vice President Cheney.

"[O]il is being drilled right now 60 miles off the coast of Florida. We're not doing it. The Chinese are in cooperation with the Cuban government... Even the communists have figured out that a good answer to high prices is more supply. Yet Congress has said... no to drilling off Florida.''

"Even the communists" is a nice flourish. Mix the red scare with the yellow scare and get Uncle Dick's own Orange Scare. Guaranteed to freak out Americans concerned about their energy security. Here's House Republican Whip Roy Blunt (R-MO), piling on:

"Even China recognizes that oil and natural gas is readily available off our shores; thanks to Fidel Castro, they’ve been given a permit to drill for oil 45 miles from the Florida Keys."

Adds House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), "Right at this moment, some 60 miles or less off the coast of Key West, Florida, China has the green light to drill for oil in order to lower energy costs in that country."

Problem is, that's all false. Like, completely false. China is not currently drilling off the shores of Cuba; in fact, it doesn't even have a off shore drilling contract. What is does have is a permit to drill on Cuban land. "China is not drilling in Cuba's Gulf of Mexico waters, period,'' Jorge Piñon, an energy expert at the University of Miami's Center for Hemispheric Policy, told the Miami Herald. In fact, it is not yet drilling on Cuban land, either. The Herald added:

China's Sinopec oil company does have an agreement with the Cuban government to develop onshore resources west of Havana, Piñon said. The Chinese have done some seismic testing, he said, but no drilling. Western diplomats in Havana told McClatchy that to the best of their knowledge there is no Chinese drilling offshore.

The Congressional Research Service also debunks Republican claims:

"While there has been some concern about China’s potential involvement in offshore deepwater oil projects, to date its involvement in Cuba's oil sector has been focused on onshore oil extraction in Pinar del Rio province through its state-run China Petroleum and Chemical Corporation. (Sinopec)"

In a Democratic-controlled Congress, off shore drilling is not going to expand any time soon. But the war against dishonest bombast never stops.
Blame Rising Oil Prices on Bush
By Robert Scheer —
Wow, a lot of people must have bought Hummers last week. How else to explain the spike in oil prices? No, I’m not being silly: They are, and by they I mean the gaggle of media pundits and other administration apologists—abetted by some green zealots—who want to explain our energy crisis by reference to profligate consumers.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Women Give John McCain A Zero


Kucinich Introduces 35 Articles of Impeachment

On the night of June 9, Rep. Dennis Kucinich spent several hours on the House floor introducing 35 articles of impeachment against George W. Bush. Here is the text of Kucinich's presentation.
Fox Anchor Calls Obama Fist Pound A "Terrorist Fist Jab"

Update: MediaMatters has issued a call to action around this incident.
ACTION: The Obamas' affectionate "fist bump" is no "terrorist fist jab"

On the June 6 edition of Fox News' America's Pulse, host E.D. Hill teased an upcoming discussion on a gesture Sen. Barack Obama shared with his wife, Michelle, saying, "A fist bump? A pound? A terrorist fist jab? The gesture everyone seems to interpret differently."
A "terrorist fist jab"? Seriously?

Tell Fox News this is appalling and unacceptable, and demand an apology from E.D. Hill.

Sign the Petition.
Call Fox News.
Tell Your Friends.



Happy Birthday, Les Paul
Les Paul, arguably the most famous electric guitarist, guitar engineer, and musician extant, ...

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Relax, liberals. You've already won

No matter who prevails at the ballot box in November, John McCain or Barack Obama, the four-decade-long conservative counterrevolution is over.

By Michael Lind

Monday, June 09, 2008


Democrats, put down your swords

Mourn defeat, yes, but the destruction wreaked by the Bush administration leaves little room for factional fights and identity politics between today and Nov. 4.

By Joe Conason

Sunday, June 08, 2008


Frank Rich: One Historic Night, Two Americas

Barack Obama’s resolutely cheerful embrace of the future is a wildly different vision of America than John McCain’s promise of vigilant conservation of the past.

Legendary journalist Bill Moyers address the National Conference for Media Reform in Minneapolis, June 7, 2008.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Savor the Moment

The New York Times

June 7, 2008

Savor the Moment
By BOB HERBERT

Friday was the 40th anniversary of the death of Robert F. Kennedy. Had he lived, he would be 82 now.

It’s impossible to gauge the what-ifs of history. But nevertheless, I wonder what Kennedy, a complicated man with a profound sense of the moral issues at play in politics, would have made of the idea that Barack Obama has captured the Democratic Party’s nomination for president.

He might not have been surprised. Kennedy had been accused of dreaming when he said in the early 1960s that a black person could get elected president in the next 40 years.

The fact that even a dreamer could imagine nothing shorter than a 40-year timeline gives us a glimpse of the nightmarish depths of racial oppression that people of goodwill have had to fight.

The United States in 1968 (the same year in which the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated) was a stunningly different place from the country we know now, so different that most of today’s young people would have trouble imagining it. The notion in ’68 that a black person — or a woman — might have a serious shot at the presidency would have been widely viewed as lunacy.

Thurston Clarke, in his new book about R.F.K., “The Last Campaign,” tells of the time that Kennedy was touring a Ford plant in Indiana. A white assembly-line worker refused to shake the presidential candidate’s hand, telling Kennedy, “Get your [expletive] nigger-loving presence out of here.”

George Wallace also ran for president in ’68. He was famous for “standing in the schoolhouse door” to block the court-ordered admission of black students to the University of Alabama. Wallace’s views on racial matters were unequivocal. His mantra was: “Segregation now! Segregation tomorrow! Segregation forever!”

The winner of the election was Richard Nixon, riding the G.O.P.’s soon-to-be infamous, racially polarizing and remarkably successful Southern strategy.

A black man president? You must be joking.

Women in 1968 were mired in depths of misogyny that were as soul-destroying as racism. Discrimination on the basis of gender was so pervasive as to barely attract notice. Many retail stores refused to issue credit cards to married women in their own names. Employers could fire women with virtual impunity if they got married or pregnant or weren’t attractive enough or turned 30.

According to the National Organization for Women, in a statement of purpose issued in 1966, fewer than 1 percent of all federal judges were women, fewer than 4 percent of all lawyers, and fewer than 7 percent of doctors.

Racism and sexism have not taken their leave. But the fact that Barack Obama is the presumptive nominee of the Democratic Party, and that the two finalists for that prize were a black man and a white woman, are historical events of the highest importance. We should not allow ourselves to overlook the wonder of this moment.

I was stopped on the street the other day by a woman who was holding the hand of a little girl, a toddler. After talking politics for a couple of minutes, the woman smiled and said: “Watch this.” She then looked at her daughter and, referring to a certain presidential candidate, asked: “What’s her name?”

The little girl beamed and said: “Hil-la-ry!”

That same night a middle-aged black man came to my apartment door with a food delivery. I’d seen him before, but he’d never said much, just sort of grunted a hello and a thank you. This time, after handing me the package and counting out change, he asked, shyly: “Did Mr. Obama win the nomination?”

“Yes,” I said. “He won.”

“For sure?”

I said yes, and suddenly the widest grin spread across the delivery man’s face. It was as though he’d been holding that grin in some hidden depth of emotional reserve for the entire campaign.

This election year has been a testament to the many long decades of work and sacrifice by men and women — some famous, most not; some still alive, many gone — to build a more equitable and just American society.

When the night riders were fitted for their robes, when Wallace stood in the schoolhouse door, when lowlifes mocked and humiliated those who were fighting for women’s rights, they were trying to forestall the realization of this type of moment in history.

We’ll see whether Senator Obama gets elected president. But whether he does or not, this is a moment of which Americans can be proud, a moment the society can build upon.

So a victory lap is in order. Not for Senator Obama (he still has a way to go), but for all those in every station in life who ever refused to submit quietly to hatred and oppression. They led us to a better place.

Friday, June 06, 2008



McCain's behavior on these vital issues completely negates the two attributes the media uses to define him -- his "moderate" ideology and principled independence.

by Glenn Greenwald

Thursday, June 05, 2008



We may not want to admit it, but the war in Iraq is now primarily about murder.

by Chris Hedges

Wednesday, June 04, 2008


HISTORIC NOMINATION FOR OBAMA
Illinois senator will be first black candidate to top ticket for major party

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Q&A: Meet the Teen Science Whiz with the Plastic Bag Breakthrough

16-year-old Daniel Burd talks science, time management, and why you don't need to be an environmentalist to care about plastic pollution. —By Casey Miner
Bo Diddley, rock's rhythm king, dies
Bo Diddley's a gunslinger: Bo Diddley, photographed in 2005, laid down rhythms that inspired generations of rock musicians. ...


by Amanda Terkel

The White House response to former press secretary Scott McClellan's damning new book would be much more convincing if it weren't so familiar.

The administration is following the same script it always uses when one of its own turns against it.

Bush On Iraq War: "I Don't Care If It Created More Enemies"

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