Friday's must-reads


Geraldine Sealey
March 19, 2004 7:37PM (UTC)

The difference a year makes
It's worth revisiting what President Bush told the nation exactly one year ago about why we were invading Iraq. In a solemn address from the Oval Office, Bush said: "My fellow citizens, at this hour, American and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger. Our nation enters this conflict reluctantly -- yet, our purpose is sure. The people of the United States and our friends and allies will not live at the mercy of an outlaw regime that threatens the peace with weapons of mass murder. We will meet that threat now, with our Army, Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard and Marines, so that we do not have to meet it later with armies of fire fighters and police and doctors on the streets of our cities. Now that conflict has come, the only way to limit its duration is to apply decisive force. And I assure you, this will not be a campaign of half measures, and we will accept no outcome but victory."

Now we know better, of course. The Washington Post has an analysis of Bush's speech and war rationale a year later, although it focuses less on the "weapons of mass murder" that did not exist, and more on how the administration underestimated the intensity and duration of the war.

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From the Post: "The administration badly underestimated the financial cost of the occupation and seriously overstated the ease of pacifying Iraq and the warmth of the reception Iraqis would give the U.S. invaders. And while peace and democracy may yet spread through the region, some early signs are that the U.S. action has had the opposite effect."

"Much of the focus on prewar expectations vs. postwar reality has been on the failure to find weapons of mass destruction. But while that was the central justification for the war in Iraq, the administration also made a wide range of claims about the ease of the invasion and the benefits that would result. Though comparisons between expectations and results are complex, it appears that the administration, based on limited human intelligence and conversations with a small corps of Iraqi exiles, was overly optimistic."

"White House officials, who did not respond to requests for information for this report, acknowledge that the financial costs have been greater than expected but say they are pleased with the progress toward democracy, security and prosperity in Iraq."

Coalition of the reluctant
The Associated Press says "President Bush's prized 'coalition of the willing' -- the three dozen countries that are contributing military forces in Iraq -- appears suddenly to be losing some of its will. First Spain said it was getting out, then Poland said it might leave early, and on Friday the South Korean Ministry of Defense announced that it will not send its troops to the area of Iraq that U.S. commanders had requested, although it said it would position them elsewhere in Iraq."

"It's possible, of course, that security conditions in Iraq will improve so markedly over the remainder of this year that a military force much smaller than the current one of about 140,000 will be required. In that case the United States may not need additional allied troop contributions. But if the insurgency persists or gains ground, then any slack in coalition contributions -- as suggested by Spain, Poland and possibly South Korea -- may have to be made up by deploying even more American forces."

Blix: We're not safer
The Chicago Tribune interviewed former U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix, who said "the war in Iraq has not made the world safer, and the widening violence there has underscored the need for United Nations backing of military action [Blix] chastised the Bush administration for its reliance on what he described as faulty intelligence in asserting that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction As for the impact of the Iraq war, Blix thinks it has backfired. 'The Iraqi people are better off, but the world is not safer,' he said. 'How can the world be safer with what has happened in Baghdad and Madrid?'"

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Blix should know that kind of talk will get him ridiculed in some quarters. House Republicans this week passed a resolution to thank U.S. troops in Iraq, but also included language saying the United States and the world are safer now because of the Iraq war. "Iraq is free, America is safer, and the world has changed for the better," House Majority Leader Tom DeLay said. House Democrats, including Leader Nanci Pelosi, disagreed with DeLay and company. Pelosi said: "With their resolution, the Republicans are in denial as to why we went into Iraq, in denial as to the current state of stability and security in Iraq, and are denying our men and women the benefits, the equipment and the quality intelligence that they deserve as they serve our country."

The National Republican Congressional Committee promptly sent out an email chastising Pelosi for her "shameful" vote refusing to honor and thank our troops. The email was titled: "Pelosi Delusional: Confuses Own Pitiful Defense Record with Republicans'"

Al-Qaida low priority pre-9/11
Lisa Myers at NBC News interviewed a former counter-terrorism "insider" and now-critic of George W. Bush who says there was a surprising lack of urgency to eliminate al-Qaida in the months leading up to the 9/11 attacks. Roger Cressey says that in the early days of the Bush administration, al-Qaida simply was not a top priority, "There was not this sense of urgency. The ticking clock, if you will, to get it done sooner rather than later."

"For example: One document shows a key high-level National Security Council meeting on Iraq on Feb. 1, 2001. Yet, there was no comparable meeting on al-Qaida until September. Is Cressey saying that some senior members of the Bush administration viewed Saddam Hussein as a greater threat to the United States than Osama bin Laden? 'Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. It was inconceivable to them that al-Qaida could be this talented, this capable without Iraq, in this case, providing them real support.'"

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"That spring, President Bush learned bin Laden was responsible for the attack on the USS Cole, which killed 17 sailors. Why was there no retaliation? 'You would think after an attack that almost sank a U.S. destroyer there would have been [a mandate] for some type of action. Yet we never saw that from the Pentagon,' Cressey answered. Condoleezza Rice insists that President Bush wanted to avenge the Cole, but not with a pinprick retaliatory strike, 'We were concerned that we didnt have good military options. That really all we had were options like using cruise missiles to go after training camps that had long since been abandoned.'"

Here's a partial transcript of Rice's interview with Myers. Meanwhile, the New York Daily News reports that the White House has offered to have Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage testify next week before the 9/11 Commission instead of Rice, who refuses to testify in public.

Medicare threat came from White House
The Washington Post interviewed Richard S. Foster, the government's Medicare analyst who was threatened with firing last year if he disclosed too much information to Congress, who told the paper "he believes the White House participated in the decision to withhold analyses that Medicare legislation President Bush sought would be far more expensive than lawmakers knew."

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"Foster has said publicly in recent days that he was warned repeatedly by his former boss, Thomas A. Scully, the Medicare administrator for three years, that he would be dismissed if he replied directly to legislative requests for information about prescription drug bills pending in Congress. In an interview last night, Foster went further, saying that he understood Scully to be acting at times on White House instructions, probably coming from Bush's senior health policy adviser Foster added that he believed, but did not know for certain, that Scully had been referring to Doug Badger, the senior health policy analyst."


Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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