Unconditional commitment to war in Iraq: ‘I will be with you whatever,’ Blair told Bush

The Associated Press reports: Letters published by the U.K.’s Iraq War Inquiry show that then-Prime Minister Tony Blair assured U.S. President George W. Bush of his support for regime change in Iraq eight months before the U.S.-led invasion began in March 2003.

The report by retired civil servant John Chilcot offered a sweeping condemnation of Britain’s preparations for the war and its aftermath. The newly published documents offer one side of the vital relationship between Bush and Blair — Blair’s letters to Bush are published, but Bush’s responses are not.

In a six-page “Secret Personal” memo to Bush written July 28, 2002, Blair says he would do “whatever” with regards to removing Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussain from power. Blair says toppling Saddam is “the right thing to do” adding that the important question is “not when, but how.”

At the time, Blair was telling the British public and Parliament that no decision to go to war against Iraq had been made.

“I will be with you whatever,” Blair wrote to his U.S. counterpart. [Continue reading…]

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Tony Blair demonstrates once again how he took Britain to war in Iraq

Anne Perkins writes: Prime ministers blamed for catastrophic diplomatic failure tend to go quietly to their country houses to grow roses. Stanley Baldwin and Neville Chamberlain, paralysed by fear of the cost of war then blamed for failing to rearm in the 1930s, Anthony Eden for the lying deception of Suez in the 1950s, retreated entirely from public life.

In contrast, Tony Blair, although no longer the representative of the Middle East quartet, has a sports foundation, a faith foundation, an Africa governance initiative, a climate change initiative, and of course Tony Blair Associates, whose earnings fund them all.

The criticisms of the Chilcot report were familiar to him from the privileged access given months ago so that he could challenge the conclusions. They had been trawled over by him and, no doubt, his lawyers. Thus, soon after Chilcot had made his statement, at about the time Rose Gentle was accusing him of murdering her son at the press conference for the families, Blair’s office was ready with a rebuttal, insisting the report had exonerated him of all charges of falsification, deception and a secret war pact with George W Bush.

A couple of hours later, in the mid-afternoon, Blair himself launched his press conference with an expression of responsibility for the Iraq war, for which he felt “more sorrow and regret and apology … than you can ever believe”. He looked, and sounded, utterly stricken.

It feels cheap at such a time to doubt someone’s sincerity. But I have seen him look stricken before – and like millions of other voters, I don’t trust him any more. [Continue reading…]

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The U.S. gazes into the Islamophobic abyss

By Christian Christensen

“When we think of Islam we think of a faith that brings comfort to a billion people around the world. Billions of people find comfort and solace and peace. And that’s made brothers and sisters out of every race — out of every race. America counts millions of Muslims amongst our citizens, and Muslims make an incredibly valuable contribution to our country. Muslims are doctors, lawyers, law professors, members of the military, entrepreneurs, shopkeepers, moms and dads. And they need to be treated with respect.”

These are eloquent words. Words of justice and understanding. Words of reconciliation. They are the words of President George W. Bush – spoken at the Islamic Center of Washington, D.C. on September 17, 2001 – a mere 6 days after the Al Qaeda attacks that killed almost 3,000 in New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania. They are also the words of a President who said that Jesus Christ was the political philosopher who had influenced him the most. And, they are the words of a President who, using falsehoods on Iraqi WMD and links between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda as moral and legal justifications, would green light a military invasion and occupation of Iraq that would leave hundreds of thousands of civilians dead and an entire region destabilized.

Fast-forward 14 years to the candidacies of Donald Trump and Ben Carson. Would either man utter the words uttered by Bush, let alone only days after the 9/11 attacks?

[Read more…]

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Nomi Prins: Jeb! The money! Dynasty!

Money, they say, makes the world go round. So how’s $10 billion for you? That’s a top-end estimate for the record-breaking spending in this 1% presidential election campaign season. But is “season” even the right word, now that such campaigns are essentially four-year events that seem always to be underway? In a political world stuffed with money, it’s little wonder that the campaign season floats on a sea of donations. In the case of Jeb Bush, he and his advisers have so far had a laser-focus on the electorate they felt mattered most: big donors. They held off the announcement of his candidacy until last week (though he clearly long knew he was running) so that they could blast out of the gates, dollars-wise, leaving the competition in their financial dust, before the exceedingly modest limits to non-super PAC campaign fundraising kicked in.

And give Jeb credit — or rather consider him a credit to his father (the 41st president) and his brother (the 43rd), who had Iraq eternally on their minds. It wasn’t just that Jeb flubbed the Iraq Question when a reporter asked him recently (yes, he would do it all over again; no, he wouldn’t… well, hmmm…), but that Iraq is deeply embedded in the minds of his campaign team, too. His advisers dubbed the pre-announcement campaign they were going to launch to pull in the dollars a “shock-and-awe” operation in the spirit of the invasion of Iraq. Now, having sent in the ground troops, they clearly consider themselves at war. As the New York Times reported recently, the group’s top strategist told donors that his super PAC “hopes to ‘weaponize’ its fund-raising total for the first six months of the year.”

The money being talked about$80-$100 million raised in the first quarter of 2015 and $500 million by June. If reached, these figures would indeed represent shock-and-awe fundraising in the Republican presidential race. As of now, there’s no way of knowing whether they’re fantasy figures or not, but here’s a clue to Jeb’s money-raising powers: according to the Washington Post, his advisers have been asking donors not to give more than a million dollars now; they are, that is, trying to cap donations for the moment. (As the Post’s Chris Cillizza wrote,“The move reflects concerns among Bush advisers that accepting massive sums from a handful of uber-rich supporters could fuel a perception that the former governor is in their debt.”) And having spent just about every pre-announcement day for months doing fundraisers and scouring the country for money, while preserving the fiction that he might not be interested in the presidency, Jeb, according to the New York Times, bragged to a group of donors that “he believed his political action committee had raised more money in 100 days than any other modern Republican political operation.”

Let’s not forget, of course, that we’re not talking about anyone; we’re talking about a Bush. We’re talking about the possibility of becoming number three (or rather Bush 45) in the Oval Office. We’re talking about what is, by now, a fabled money-shaking, money-making, money-raising machine of a family. We’re talking dynasty and when it comes to money and the Bushes (as with money and that other potential dynasty of our moment), no one knows more on the subject than Nomi Prins, former Wall Street exec and author of All the Presidents’ Bankers: The Hidden Alliances That Drive American Power. In her now ongoing TomDispatch series on the political dynasties of our moment, fundraising, and the Big Banks, think of her latest post as an essential backgrounder on the election you have less and less to do with, in which Wall Street, the Koch brothers, Sheldon Adelson, and the rest of the crew do most of the essential voting with their wallets. Tom Engelhardt

All in
The Bush family goes for number three (with the help of its bankers)
By Nomi Prins

[This piece has been adapted and updated by Nomi Prins from her book All the Presidents’ Bankers: The Hidden Alliances That Drive American Powerrecently out in paperback (Nation Books).] 

It’s happening. As expected, dynastic politics is prevailing in campaign 2016. After a tease about as long as Hillary’s, Jeb Bush (aka Jeb!) officially announced his presidential bid last week. Ultimately, the two of them will fight it out for the White House, while the nation’s wealthiest influencers will back their ludicrously expensive gambit.

And here’s a hint: don’t bet on Jeb not to make it through the Republican gauntlet of 12 candidates (so far). After all, the really big money’s behind him. Last December, even though out of public office since 2007, he had captured the support of 73% of the Wall Street Journal’s “richest CEOs.” Though some have as yet sidestepped declarations of fealty, count on one thing: the big guns will fall into line. They know that, given his family connections, Jeb is their best path to the White House and they’re not going to blow that by propping up some Republican lightweight whose father and brother weren’t president, not when Hillary, with all her connections and dynastic power, will be the opponent. That said, in the Bush-Clinton battle to come, no matter who wins, the bankers and billionaires will emerge victorious.

[Read more…]

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Bush and Cheney must have known about the CIA’s use of torture

Fred Kaplan writes: Of all the shocks and revelations in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on CIA torture, one seems very strange and unlikely: that the agency misinformed the White House and didn’t even brief President George W. Bush about its controversial program until April 2006.

The question of the claim’s truth or implausibility is not trivial or academic; it goes well beyond score-settling, Bush-bashing, or scapegoating. Rather, it speaks to an issue that’s central in the report in the long history of CIA scandals, and in debates over whether and how policy should be changed: Did the torture begin, and did it get out of hand, because the CIA’s detention and interrogation program devolved into a rogue operation? Or were the program’s managers actually doing the president’s dirty business?

If the former was the case, then heads should roll, grand juries should be assembled, organizational charts should be reshuffled, and mechanisms of oversight should be tightened. If the latter was the case, well, that’s what elections are for. “Enhanced-interrogation techniques” were formally ended by President Obama after the 2008 election, and perhaps future presidents will read the report with an eye toward avoiding the mistakes of the past.

But which was it? Were the CIA’s directorate of operations and its counterterrorism center freelancing after the Sept. 11 attacks, or were they exchanging winks and nods with the commander-in-chief?

The annals of history suggest the latter, and in a few passages, so does the report. [Continue reading…]

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Bush-Obama continuity and the interests of the national security establishment

Glenn Greenwald writes: The just-retired long-time NSA chief, Gen. Keith Alexander, recently traveled to Australia to give a remarkably long and wide-ranging interview with an extremely sycophantic “interviewer” with The Australian Financial Review. The resulting 17,000-word transcript and accompanying article form a model of uncritical stenography journalism, but Alexander clearly chose to do this because he is angry, resentful, and feeling unfairly treated, and the result is a pile of quotes that are worth examining, only a few of which are noted below:

AFR: What were the key differences for you as director of NSA serving under presidents Bush and Obama? Did you have a preferred commander in chief?

Gen. Alexander: Obviously they come from different parties, they view things differently, but when it comes to the security of the nation and making those decisions about how to protect our nation, what we need to do to defend it, they are, ironically, very close to the same point. You would get almost the same decision from both of them on key questions about how to defend our nation from terrorists and other threats.

The almost-complete continuity between George W. Bush and Barack Obama on such matters has been explained by far too many senior officials in both parties, and has been amply documented in far too many venues, to make it newsworthy when it happens again. Still, the fact that one of the nation’s most powerful generals in history, who has no incentive to say it unless it were true, just comes right out and states that Bush and The Candidate of Change are “very close to the same point” and “you would get almost the same decision from both of them on key questions” is a fine commentary on a number of things, including how adept the 2008 Obama team was at the art of branding. [Continue reading…]

Greenwald says Alexander “has no incentive to say it unless it were true” — but actually he does have an incentive as does every other former and current member of the national security establishment.

Whenever intelligence agencies are accused of lack of accountability, evading Congressional oversight, or any other abuse of power, their comeback is always the same: we are the humble and loyal servants of the president doing exactly what we are asked to do.

So, they very much do have an interest in portraying the continuity of their own operations as perfectly mirroring the continuity in the approaches of their commander in chief.

The irony in the continuity between Bush and Obama has been frequently noted. What seems more worthy of being underlined is the way in which Obama has turned out to be worse than Bush.

The excesses of the last administration have come to be portrayed as a product of 9/11, but the ways in which Obama has institutionalized pervasive secrecy are much more insidious and much less likely to be undone by future presidents.

And if anyone thought that the legacy of the Snowden/Greenwald revelations might be a move towards more open government, the opposite is turning out to look more likely.

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The American Surveillance State

Glenn Greenwald writes:

One of the hallmarks of an authoritarian government is its fixation on hiding everything it does behind a wall of secrecy while simultaneously monitoring, invading and collecting files on everything its citizenry does. Based on the Francis Bacon aphorism that “knowledge is power,” this is the extreme imbalance that renders the ruling class omnipotent and citizens powerless.

In the Washington Post today, Dana Priest and William Arkin continue their “Top Secret America” series by describing how America’s vast and growing Surveillance State now encompasses state and local law enforcement agencies, collecting and storing always-growing amounts of information about even the most innocuous activities undertaken by citizens suspected of no wrongdoing. As was true of the first several installments of their “Top Secret America,” there aren’t any particularly new revelations for those paying attention to such matters, but the picture it paints — and the fact that it is presented in an establishment organ such as the Washington Post — is nonetheless valuable.

Today, the Post reporters document how surveillance and enforcement methods pioneered in America’s foreign wars and occupations are being rapidly imported into domestic surveillance (wireless fingerprint scanners, military-grade infrared cameras, biometric face scanners, drones on the border).

In this respect — whose significance can hardly be overstated — Barack Obama is worse than George Bush: Bush’s excesses and the ideology he represented could be circumscribed by his administration and in theory America could purge itself of the effects through the ritual purification of an election. What Obama is doing is normalizing those excesses so that the Bush era can be perpetuated without being tainted by the names Bush and Cheney.

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George Bush gets some advice from the Conservative Mayor of London

Borris Johnson writes:

It is not yet clear whether George W Bush is planning to cross the Atlantic to flog us his memoirs, but if I were his PR people I would urge caution. As book tours go, this one would be an absolute corker. It is not just that every European capital would be brought to a standstill, as book-signings turned into anti-war riots. The real trouble — from the Bush point of view — is that he might never see Texas again.

One moment he might be holding forth to a great perspiring tent at Hay-on-Wye. The next moment, click, some embarrassed member of the Welsh constabulary could walk on stage, place some handcuffs on the former leader of the Free World, and take him away to be charged. Of course, we are told this scenario is unlikely. Dubya is the former leader of a friendly power, with whom this country is determined to have good relations. But that is what torture-authorising Augusto Pinochet thought. And unlike Pinochet, Mr Bush is making no bones about what he has done.

Unless the 43rd president of the United States has been grievously misrepresented, he has admitted to authorising and sponsoring the use of torture. Asked whether he approved of “waterboarding” in three specific cases, he told his interviewer that “damn right” he did, and that this practice had saved lives in America and Britain. It is hard to overstate the enormity of this admission.

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Bush’s Decision Points is a terrifying journey into the authoritarian mind

Anis Shivani writes:

This would be less grim to talk about if Bush weren’t still with us. But he is, in every way that matters. The Bush Doctrine lives. No leading American politician can disavow the two key aspects of the Bush Doctrine: that we cannot distinguish terrorists from the countries where they live, and that we must act preemptively against gathering threats before they materialize (propositions contradicting international law). Bush’s memoir is arguably the most important book of the year because it reveals — far better than do books by Charlie Savage, Isikoff and Corn, or Bob Woodward — how he fundamentally reconceptualized the functions of the presidency, the balance of power among the branches of government, and the expectations and obligations of citizens, with lasting effects.

Reviews in the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, and New York Times treat Bush respectfully — much as a Machiavellian prince would desire to be treated after going into retirement; too often reviewers play Bush’s game by humanizing him, or treating him with humor, or safely relegating him to history. But Bush truly was a transformative president, among the rare few, and we deceive ourselves — as many in the commentariat continue to do, as with Maureen Dowd’s light-hearted mockery of him — if we consider him an anomaly, a rare eruption of a virus that won’t repeat itself. This book’s ideas will have resonance with a large segment of the population, and a notable number among the elites; we need to study Decision Points (Crown, Nov. 9) seriously, as onerous a task as it may be, if we are to make sense of the perpetual aura of crisis that has enveloped America, and why we seem to be stuck on a self-destructive path.

Decision Points is a classic recipe for a benign dictatorship, a uniquely American form of dictatorship, to be sure — from its rigid understanding of morality (good versus evil) to its distorted valuation of life (only American lives matter; Bush is not concerned about the loss of civilian life in the countries he attacked) — that gives comfort to many in a time of economic and cultural stress.

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British deny George Bush’s claims that torture helped foil terror plots

The Guardian reports:

British officials said today there was no evidence to support claims by George Bush, the former US president, that information extracted by “waterboarding” saved British lives by foiling attacks on Heathrow airport and Canary Wharf. In his memoirs, Bush said the practice – condemned by Downing Street as torture – was used in CIA interrogations of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks on the US.

He said Mohammed, below, was one of three al-Qaida suspects subjected to waterboarding. “Their interrogations helped break up plots to attack American diplomatic facilities abroad, Heathrow airport, and Canary Wharf in London, and multiple targets in the United States,” he wrote.

It is not the first time information extracted from Mohammed has been claimed as helping to prevent al-Qaida attacks on British targets. Mohammed cited attacks on Heathrow, Big Ben and Canary Wharf in a list of 31 plots he described at Guantánamo Bay after he was subjected to waterboarding 183 times following his capture in Pakistan in March 2003. The Heathrow alert in fact happened a month before his arrest, with army tanks parked around the airport, in what was widely regarded as an overreaction.

British counter-terrorism officials distanced themselves from Bush’s claims. They said Mohammed provided “extremely valuable” information which was passed on to security and intelligence agencies, but that it mainly related to al-Qaida’s structure and was not known to have been extracted through torture. Eliza Manningham-Buller,head of MI5 at the time, said earlier this year that the government protested to the US over the torture of terror suspects, but that the Americans concealed Mohammed’s waterboarding from Britain. Officials said today the US still had not officially told the British government about the conditions in which Mohammed was held.

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America and Iran: strikes, sanctions and scapegoats

Gary Sick writes:

For the pundits, there are only two questions about U.S.-Iran relations that are of any importance: (1) Will Israel and/or the United States attack Iran? and (2) will the new sanctions have enough bite to persuade Iran to change its nuclear policy? Despite all the printers ink spilled on these two issues, the answers are an easy no and no.

Neither the United States nor Israel will take the military option off the table, thereby giving the pundits (and the crowd that is dying to repeat Iraq) latitude to keep the distant prospect of military action on the front pages, where it has been for years. As a lede, it sells columns and newspapers, so it will not go away. But as analysis it is either blinded by the momentary hype or else is simple wish fulfillment.

Uber-neocon John Bolton had it right. If any such attack were to occur, it would have been at the end of the Bush administration when there was nothing left to lose. Bolton thought it was so inevitable that he predicted it unequivocally in a Wall Street Journal column in 2008. Dick Cheney apparently agreed, judging from his subsequent statements of regret. So it is fair to say that George W. Bush, after looking the potential consequences, resisted the advice of his neocon advisers, his previously dominant vice president, and the reported direct request from the government of Israel — and rejected a strike. What is the likelihood that Barack Obama, with the same catastrophic scenario before him, will approve? Forget it.

One of the more enlightening parts of Jeffrey Goldberg’s “The Point of No Return,” conveyed the same point:

“We all watched his speech in Cairo,” a senior Israeli official told me, referring to the June 2009 speech in which Obama attempted to reset relations with Muslims by stressing American cooperativeness and respect for Islam. “We don’t believe that he is the sort of person who would launch a daring strike on Iran. We are afraid he would see a policy of containing a nuclear Iran rather than attacking it.”

This official noted that even Bush balked at attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities, and discouraged the Israelis from carrying out the attack on their own. (Bush would sometimes mock those aides and commentators who advocated an attack on Iran, even referring to the conservative columnists Charles Krauthammer and William Kristol as “the bomber boys,” according to two people I spoke with who overheard this.)

“Bush was two years ago, but the Iranian program was the same and the intent was the same,” the Israeli official told me. “So I don’t personally expect Obama to be more Bush than Bush.”

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Me talk presidential one day

Me talk presidential one day

If my colleagues at the White House were even momentarily scared straight about McCain over the convention fracas, the clarity wore off just as quickly as it came when the very conservative governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, was picked as McCain’s running mate. I didn’t have anything against Governor Palin from what I knew about her, which was next to nothing. The instantaneous reaction to Palin at the White House, however, was almost frenzied. I think what was really going on was that everyone secretly hated themselves for supporting McCain, so they latched onto Palin with over-the-top enthusiasm. Even the normally levelheaded Raul Yanes, the president’s staff secretary, was overtaken by Palin mania. He’d been slightly annoyed with me for not jumping on the McCain bandwagon and for saying aloud that I thought McCain would lose. Now, of course, I had to be enthusiastic about the ticket. “You still think we’re going to lose?” he asked me laughingly.

“Yep,” I replied.

Raul looked incredulous. “Well, you obviously don’t believe in facts!”

I was about to be engulfed by a tidal wave of Palin euphoria when someone—someone I didn’t expect—planted my feet back on the ground. After Palin’s selection was announced, the same people who demanded I acknowledge the brilliance of McCain’s choice expected the president to join them in their high-fiving tizzy. It was clear, though, that the president, ever the skilled politician, had concerns about the choice of Palin, which he called “interesting.” That was the equivalent of calling a fireworks display “satisfactory.”

“I’m trying to remember if I’ve met her before. I’m sure I must have.” His eyes twinkled, then he asked, “What is she, the governor of Guam?”

Everyone in the room seemed to look at him in horror, their mouths agape. When Ed told him that conservatives were greeting the choice enthusiastically, he replied, “Look, I’m a team player, I’m on board.” He thought about it for a minute. “She’s interesting,” he said again. “You know, just wait a few days until the bloom is off the rose.” Then he made a very smart assessment.

“This woman is being put into a position she is not even remotely prepared for,” he said. “She hasn’t spent one day on the national level. Neither has her family. Let’s wait and see how she looks five days out.” It was a rare dose of reality in a White House that liked to believe every decision was great, every Republican was a genius, and McCain was the hope of the world because, well, because he chose to be a member of our party. [continued…]

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