May 01, 2005

Death of the Republic?

Death of the Republic?
George W. Bush, the Frightened Man
By WilliamPitt,
Thu Mar 31st, 2005 at 09:49:49 AM EST :: The GOP ::
You can discover what your enemy fears most by observing the means he uses to frighten you. -Eric Hoffer

When I went to New York City this past summer to cover the GOP convention, I remember being awed by the degree of security surrounding Madison Square Garden. There were fences to control the fences, fifty cops on every corner, none of whom knew what the others were telling people to do, a half-dozen passes of needed to get twenty feet in any direction, and that was before you even got inside the door.

I saw the same thing when I went to DC to cover the Inauguration. The capitol was an armed camp, a sea of Bush supporters surrounded by tens of thousands of protesters. At one point, I stopped for 30 seconds next to a squad car to check my cell phone, and was immediately confronted by three cops asking me what I was doing. Amusingly, the security fences and cops decided not to give those protesters One Big Spot to congregate, and instead spread them out like butter across the entire route. The effect was to make the protests seem much larger than they were - and they were big - while forcing the Bush folk to elbow past them every six feet for the entire length of Pennsylvania Avenue.

All those fences. All those guns. All those cops. At first, it seemed like an arguably necessary precaution; these were, after all, the two cities to take the hit on 9/11. But the longer I stayed, the longer I looked around, and the closer I observed the behavior of Bush and his people, I came to a sad conclusion: This security was not about keeping us all safe from terrorists, but was about keeping Bush safe from his own people. The President of the United States is flatly terrified of the citizens he would supposedly lead to some supply-side promised land. He is scared to death of us.
Some positive proof of this came down the wires on Tuesday, when a report surfaced about three people who were removed from a supposedly 'public' town hall meeting with Bush. According to the report, the Secret Service hustled them out because their car had a "No Blood for Oil" bumper sticker on it. The three said they had obtained tickets to the event through the office of Rep. Bob Beauprez (R-CO), had passed through security and were preparing to take their seats when they were approached by a Secret Service agent who asked them to leave.

Brad Woodhouse, a spokesman for Americans United, described the incident accurately: "They're screening the people who are allowed to come and then they're profiling them in the parking lot," he said. "It's quite extraordinary, and disappointing."

'Disappointing' is a mild word. 'Disgusting' would be a better one. George W. Bush is petrified of his own people, and his security goes to extraordinary and wildly expensive pains to make sure that only a hand-picked few, the elect, can get near him to shower him with love and affection.

Where is all this heading? This isolation of the President from the world, from his own people, from any information that does not jibe with his pre-formed opinions? Daniel Ellsberg, the whistleblower from the Nixon scandals, has some thoughts on the matter he shared in an interview with

I think our democracy is going to be tested to the breaking point by some very dark days ahead and before long. I do expect there to be another major terrorist event. Ports, the nuclear power plants and the chemical factories are extremely vulnerable to an attack. To a considerable event, the war against terrorism has been a hoax because the president has not only spent so much money on the war in Iraq, but because the war in Iraq virtually subverts the war on terror. You cannot reduce the appeal and the strength of Al Qaeda while we occupy Iraq. You can only strengthen it, and strengthening it is what we've been doing steadily for the last couple of years. This is the worst public policy decision making, most antidemocratic and most inclined to be authoritarian, I would say, since the Nixon administration, but Nixon was confronting a Democratic House and Senate and a relatively liberal population in media 40 years ago. John Mitchell and John Connolly and Nixon himself had quite authoritarian instincts, but they weren't allowed to act on them, and to the extent that they did act on them -- it brought them down.

Virtually all the things Nixon did against me that were illegal to keep me from exposing his secret policy are now legal under the Patriot Act. Going into my doctor's office to get information to blackmail me with, wiretaps without warrants, overhearing me--all legal now. The CIA supplied the burglars in my doctor's office with disguises and with cameras and they did a psychological profile on me. That was illegal then, legal now.

I would have said that one thing that Nixon did against me was not yet legal and that was to bring a squad of a dozen Cuban-American assets of the CIA up from Miami to beat me up or kill me on May 3rd, 1973 on the steps of the Capitol. Right now there's at least one Special Forces team
under control of the White House operating in this country to take 'extra legal actions'. Now, that sounds to me like a White House-controlled death squad. And that is what the White House sent against me. It's not clear whether the intention was to kill me then, the words were to 'incapacitate Daniel Ellsberg totally'. When I asked their prosecutor, 'does that mean to kill me?'. He said, 'The words were 'to incapacitate you totally.' But he said, 'You have to understand these guys that were CIA assets never use the words 'kill'.'

I think that's the kind of thing we do have in our future, especially when there's another terrorist attack. In that case, I think we'll see enacted very quickly a new Patriot Act, which I'm sure has already been drafted which will make the first Patriot Act look like the Bill of Rights, and the Bill of Rights will be a historical memory.

It is not terrorism that motivates George, or patriotism, or even profiteering. It is fear, pure and simple: Fear of the truth, fear of the world, fear of any data that collides with his faith-based bubble-encapsuled worldview, and fear most of all of the people he would represent.

You can discover what your enemy fears most by observing the means he uses to frighten you. Now we know, and the knowledge is deeply and profoundly disturbing.
Wake Up!
By Chalmers Johnson
In These Times
Thursday 31 March 2005
Washington's alarming foreign policy.
The Rubicon is a small stream in northern Italy just south of the city of Ravenna. During the prime of the Roman Republic, roughly the last two centuries B.C., it served as a northern boundary protecting the heartland of Italy and the city of Rome from its own imperial armies. An ancient Roman law made it treason for any general to cross the Rubicon and enter Italy proper with a standing army. In 49 B.C., Julius Caesar, Rome's most brilliant and successful general, stopped with his army at the Rubicon, contemplated what he was about to do, and then plunged south. The Republic exploded in civil war, Caesar became dictator and then in 44 B.C. was assassinated in the Roman Senate by politicians who saw themselves as ridding the Republic of a tyrant. However, Caesar's death generated even more civil war, which ended only in 27 B.C. when his grand nephew, Octavian, took the title Augustus Caesar, abolished the Republic and established a military dictatorship with himself as "emperor" for life. Thus ended the great Roman experiment with democracy. Ever since, the phrase "to cross the Rubicon" has been a metaphor for starting on a course of action from which there is no turning back. It refers to the taking of an irrevocable step.
I believe that on November 2, 2004, the United States crossed its own Rubicon. Until last year's presidential election, ordinary citizens could claim that our foreign policy, including the invasion of Iraq, was George Bush's doing and that we had not voted for him. In 2000, Bush lost the popular vote and was appointed president by the Supreme Court. In 2004, he garnered 3.5 million more votes than John Kerry. The result is that Bush's war changed into America's war and his conduct of international relations became our own.
This is important because it raises the question of whether restoring sanity and prudence to American foreign policy is still possible. During the Watergate scandal of the early '70s, the president's chief of staff, H. R. Haldeman, once reproved White House counsel John Dean for speaking too frankly to Congress about the felonies President Nixon had ordered. "John," he said, "once the toothpaste is out of the tube, it's very hard to get it back in." This homely warning by a former advertising executive who was to spend 18 months in prison for his own role in Watergate fairly accurately describes the situation of the United States after the reelection of George W. Bush.
James Weinstein, the founding editor of In These Times, recently posed for me the question "How should US foreign policy be changed so that the United States can play a more positive role on the world stage?" For me, this raises at least three different problems that are interrelated. The first must be solved before we can address the second, and the second has to be corrected before it even makes sense to take up the third.
Sinking the Ship of State
First, the United States faces the imminent danger of bankruptcy, which, if it occurs, will render all further discussion of foreign policy moot. Within the next few months, the mother of all financial crises could ruin us and turn us into a North American version of Argentina, once the richest country in South America. To avoid this we must bring our massive trade and fiscal deficits under control and signal to the rest of the world that we understand elementary public finance and are not suicidally indifferent to our mounting debts.
Second, our appalling international citizenship must be addressed. We routinely flout well-established norms upon which the reciprocity of other nations in their relations with us depends. This is a matter not so much of reforming our policies as of reforming attitudes. If we ignore this, changes in our actual foreign policies will not even be noticed by other nations of the world. I have in mind things like the Army's and the CIA's secret abduction and torture of people; the trigger-happy conduct of our poorly trained and poorly led troops in places like Iraq and Afghanistan; and our ideological bullying of other cultures because of our obsession with abortion and our contempt for international law (particularly the International Criminal Court) as illustrated by Bush's nomination of John R. "Bonkers" Bolton to be US ambassador to the United Nations.
Third, if we can overcome our imminent financial crisis and our penchant for boorish behavior abroad, we might then be able to reform our foreign policies. Among the issues here are the slow-moving evolutionary changes in the global balance of power that demand new approaches. The most important evidence that our life as the "sole" superpower is going to be exceedingly short is the fact that our monopoly of massive military power is being upstaged by other forms of influence. Chief among these is China's extraordinary growth and our need to adjust to it.
Let me discuss each of these three problems in greater depth.
In 2004, the United States imported a record $617.7 billion more than it exported, a 24.4 percent increase over 2003. The annual deficit with China was $162 billion, the largest trade imbalance ever recorded by the United States with a single country. Equally important, as of March 9, 2005, the public debt of the United States was just over $7.7 trillion and climbing, making us easily the world's largest net debtor nation. Refusing to pay for its profligate consumption patterns and military expenditures through taxes on its own citizens, the United States is financing these outlays by going into debt to Japan, China, Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong and India. This situation has become increasingly unstable, as the United States requires capital imports of at least $2 billion per day to pay for its governmental expenditures. Any decision by Asian central banks to move significant parts of their foreign exchange reserves out of the dollar and into the euro or other currencies in order to protect themselves from dollar depreciation will likely produce a meltdown of the American economy. On February 21, 2005, the Korean central bank, which has some $200 billion in reserves, quietly announced that it intended to "diversify the currencies in which it invests." The dollar fell sharply and the US stock market (although subsequently recovering) recorded its largest one-day fall in almost two years. This small incident is evidence of the knife-edge on which we are poised.
Japan possesses the world's largest foreign exchange reserves, which at the end of January 2005 stood at around $841 billion. But China also sits on a $609.9 billion pile of US cash, earned from its trade surpluses with us. Meanwhile, the American government insults China in every way it can, particularly over the status of China's breakaway province, the island of Taiwan. The distinguished economic analyst William Greider recently noted, "Any profligate debtor who insults his banker is unwise, to put it mildly. ... American leadership has ... become increasingly delusional - I mean that literally - and blind to the adverse balance of power accumulating against it."
These deficits and dependencies represent unusual economic statistics for a country with imperial pretensions. In the 19th century, the British Empire ran huge current account surpluses, which allowed it to ignore the economic consequences of disastrous imperialist ventures like the Boer War. On the eve of the First World War, Britain had a surplus amounting to 7 percent of its GDP. America's current account deficit is close to 6 percent of our GDP.
In order to regain any foreign confidence in the sanity of our government and the soundness of our policies, we need, at once, to reverse President George W. Bush's tax cuts, including those on capital gains and estates (the rich are so well off they'll hardly notice it), radically reduce our military expenditures, and stop subsidizing agribusinesses and the military-industrial complex. Only a few years ago the United States enjoyed substantial federal surpluses and was making inroads into its public debt. If we can regain fiscal solvency, the savers of Asia will probably continue to finance our indebtedness. If we do not, we risk a fear-driven flight from the dollar by all our financiers, collapse of our stock exchange and global recession for a couple of years - from which the rest of the world will ultimately emerge. But by then we who no longer produce much of anything valuable will have become a banana republic. Debate over our foreign policy will become irrelevant. We will have become dependent on the kindness of strangers.
Ugly Americans
Meanwhile, the bad manners of Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and their band of neoconservative fanatics from the American Enterprise Institute dominate the conduct of American foreign policy. It is simply unacceptable that after the Abu Ghraib torture scandal Congress has so far failed to launch an investigation into those in the executive branch who condoned it. It is equally unacceptable that the president's chief apologist for the official but secret use of torture is now the attorney general, that Defense Secretary Rumsfeld did not resign, and that the seventh investigation of the military by the military (this time headed by Vice Admiral Albert Church III) again whitewashed all officers and blamed only a few unlucky enlisted personnel on the night shift in one cellblock of Abu Ghraib prison. Andrew Bacevich, a West Point graduate and a veteran of 23 years of service as an army officer, says in his book The New American Militarism of these dishonorable incidents: "The Abu Ghraib debacle showed American soldiers not as liberators but as tormentors, not as professionals but as sadists getting cheap thrills." Until this is corrected, a president and secretary of state bloviating about freedom and democracy is received by the rest of the world as mere window-dressing.
Foreign policy analysts devote considerable attention to the concept of "credibility" - whether or not a nation is trustworthy. There are several ways to lose one's credibility. One is to politicize intelligence, as Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney did in preparing for their preventive war against Iraq. Today, only a fool would take at face value something said by the CIA or our other secret intelligence services. China has already informed us that it does not believe our intelligence on North Korea, and our European allies have said the same thing about our apocalyptic estimates on Iran.
Similarly, our bloated military establishment routinely makes pronouncements that are untrue. The scene of a bevy of generals and admirals - replete with campaign ribbons marching up and over their left shoulders - baldly lying to congressional committees is familiar to any viewer of our network newscasts.
For example, on February 3, 1998, Marine pilots were goofing off in a military jet and cut the cables of a ski lift in northern Italy, plunging 20 individuals to their deaths. The Marine Corps did everything in its power to avoid responsibility for the disaster, then brought the pilots back to the States for court-martial, dismissed the case as an accident and exonerated the pilots. The Italians haven't forgotten either the incident or how the United States treated an ally. On March 4, 2005, American soldiers opened fire on a civilian car en route to Baghdad airport, killing a high-ranking Italian intelligence officer and wounding the journalist Giuliana Sgrena, who had just been released by kidnappers. The US military immediately started its cover-up, claiming that the car was speeding, that the soldiers had warned it with lights and warning shots and that the Italians had given no prior notice of the trip. Sgrena has contradicted everything our military said. The White House has called it a "horrific accident," but whatever the explanation, we have once again made one of our closest European allies look like dupes for cooperating with us.
In its arrogance and overconfidence, the Bush administration has managed to convince the rest of the world that our government is incompetent. The administration has not only tried to undercut treaties it finds inconvenient but refuses to engage in normal diplomacy with its allies to make such treaties more acceptable. Thus, administration representatives simply walked away from the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on global warming that tried to rein in carbon dioxide emissions, claiming that the economic costs were too high. (The United States generates far more such emissions than any other country.) All of the United States' democratic allies continued to work on the treaty despite our boycott. On July 23, 2001, in Bonn, Germany, a compromise was reached on the severity of the cuts in emissions advanced industrial nations would have to make and on the penalties to be imposed if they do not, resulting in a legally binding treaty so far endorsed by more than 180 nations. The modified Kyoto Protocol is hardly perfect, but it is a start toward the reduction of greenhouse gases.
Similarly, the United States and Israel walked out of the United Nations conference on racism held in Durban, South Africa, in August and September 2001. The nations that stayed on eventually voted down Syrian demands that language accusing Israel of racism be included. The conference's final statement also produced an apology for slavery as a "crime against humanity" but did so without making slaveholding nations liable for reparations. Given the history of slavery in the United States and the degree to which the final document was adjusted to accommodate American concerns, our walkout seemed to be yet another display of imperial arrogance - a bald-faced message that "we" do not need "you" to run this world.
Until the United States readopts the norms of civilized discourse among nations, it can expect other nations - quietly and privately - to do everything in their power to isolate and disengage from us.
Future Reforms
If through some miracle we were able to restore fiscal rationality, honesty and diplomacy to their rightful places in our government, then we could turn to reforming our foreign policies. First and foremost, we should get out of Iraq and demand that Congress never again fail to honor article 1, section 8, clause 11 of the Constitution giving it the exclusive power to go to war. After that, I believe the critical areas in need of change are our policies toward Israel, imported oil, China and the proliferation of nuclear weapons, although the environment and relations with Latin America may be equally important.
Perhaps the most catastrophic error of the Bush administration was to abandon the policies of all previous American administrations to seek an equitable peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Bush instead joined Ariel Sharon in his expropriation and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. As a result, the United States has lost all credibility, influence and trust in the Islamic world. In July 2004, Zogby International Surveys polled 3,300 Arabs in Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. When asked whether respondents had a "favorable" or "unfavorable" opinion of the United States, the "unfavorables" ranged from 69 to 98 percent. In the year 2000 there were 1.3 billion Muslims worldwide, some 22 percent of the global population; through our policies we have turned most of them against the United States. We should resume at once the role of honest broker between the Israelis and Palestinians that former President Clinton pioneered.
The United States imports about 3.8 billion barrels of oil a year, or about 10.6 million barrels a day. These imports are at the highest levels ever recorded and come increasingly from Persian Gulf countries. A cut-off of Saudi Arabia's ability or willingness to sell its oil to us would, at the present time, constitute an economic catastrophe. By using currently available automotive technologies as well as those being incorporated today in new Toyota and Honda automobiles, we could end our entire dependency on Persian Gulf oil. We should do that before we are forced to do so.
China's gross domestic product in 2004 grew at a rate of 9.5 percent, easily the fastest among big countries. It is today the world's sixth largest economy with a GDP of $1.4 trillion. It has also become the trading partner of choice for the developing world, absorbing huge amounts of food, raw materials, machinery and computers. Can the United States adjust peacefully to the reemergence of China - the world's oldest, continuously extant civilization - this time as a modern superpower? Or is China's ascendancy to be marked by yet another world war like those of the last century? That is what is at stake. A rich, capitalist China is not a threat to the United States and cooperation with it is our best guarantee of military security in the Pacific.
Nothing is more threatening to our nation than the spread of nuclear weapons. We developed a good policy with the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which with its 188 adherents is the most widely supported arms control agreement ever enacted. Only India, Israel and Pakistan remained outside its terms until January 10, 2003, when North Korea withdrew. Under the treaty, the five nuclear-weapons states (the United States, Russia, China, France and the United Kingdom) agree to undertake nuclear disarmament, while the non-nuclear-weapons states agree not to develop or acquire such weapons. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is authorized to inspect the non-nuclear-weapons states to ensure compliance. The Bush administration has virtually ruined this international agreement by attempting to denigrate the IAEA, by tolerating nuclear weapons in India, Israel, and Pakistan while fomenting wars against Iraq, Iran and North Korea, and by planning to develop new forms of nuclear weapons. Our policy should be to return at once to this established system of controls.
Finally, the most important change we could make in American policy would be to dismantle our imperial presidency and restore a balance among the executive, legislative and judicial branches of our government. The massive and secret powers of the Department of Defense and the CIA have subverted the republican structure of our democracy and left us exposed to the real danger of a military takeover. Reviving our constitutional system would do more than anything else to protect our peace and security.
Chalmers Johnson is the author of the Blowback Trilogy. The first two books of which, Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire, and The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic - are now available in paperback. The third volume is being written.
CIA 'Reform' -- or Just Sack 'Em All
By Robert Parry
April 3, 2005
If the American people want to prevent another intelligence failure like the one that has sent more than 1,500 U.S. soldiers to die in Iraq, it will take more than just shaking up the CIA. Much of Washington’s political and media elites would need to be sacked as well.
Indeed, it is a sign of how deep the problem goes that neoconservative Republican Laurence Silberman chaired a presidential commission evaluating the CIA’s failures, since he also oversaw the Reagan-Bush intelligence transition team in 1980 that struck one of the first blows against the intellectual integrity of the CIA’s analytical division. [See below]
The commission’s co-chairman, former Sen. Charles Robb, represents another part of the problem: the go-along-to-get-along Democrats who did little to stop the Reagan-Bush-era politicization of U.S. intelligence.
But the crisis goes deeper still. The Silberman-Robb report, which faults the CIA for providing “dead wrong” intelligence about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, was delivered to George W. Bush, who has built his presidency on an unprecedented use of pseudo-facts over a wide range of issues, from the federal budget to global warming to the Iraq War.
Bush’s contempt for information that went against his preconceived notions was the chief warning from Bush’s first Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill as recounted to author Ron Suskind in the 2004 book, The Price of Loyalty.
O’Neill, who served in the Nixon and Ford administrations and later ran Alcoa, was startled to find Bush setting policies that “were impenetrable by facts” and based on little more than his ideological certainties. O’Neill also said the Bush administration had been planning a war with Iraq since Bush’s first days in office.
Tenet’s Role
Some mid-level CIA analysts may not have fully grasped this central reality about how the Bush administration functioned. But CIA Director George Tenet certainly did, explaining why he allegedly brushed aside warnings about dubious intelligence, such as the false claims about Iraqi mobile weapons labs from a source codenamed “Curveball.”
In February 2003, on the night before Secretary of State Colin Powell’s WMD speech to the United Nations, a senior intelligence officer warned Tenet that the source’s information was suspect, the Silberman-Robb report said. “Mr. Tenet replied with words to the effect of ‘yeah, yeah,’ and that he was ‘exhausted,’” according to testimony cited in the report. Tenet has denied receiving such a warning.
But regardless of exactly what was said about Curveball and other unreliable sources, the bigger hole in the commission’s 600-plus-page report is that Silberman and Robb failed to put Tenet’s purported reaction into the larger political context of a president who had his mind made up and had a low regard for countervailing information anyway.
The closest the report came to admitting this overriding reality was in an understated observation that “it is hard to deny the conclusion that intelligence analysts worked in an environment that did not encourage skepticism about the conventional wisdom.”
But the Silberman-Robb commission, handpicked by Bush, didn’t delve further into how the president helped create and sustain the Washington “group think.”
Even after the invasion, Bush continued to freely misrepresent the facts about Iraq. In speech after speech, he revised the pre-war history by falsely claiming that he had no choice but to invade because Saddam Hussein wouldn’t let U.N. arms inspectors in, when the truth was Bush had forced the inspectors out.
Bush’s self-justifying distortion began in July 2003, just four months after the invasion, when he said about Hussein, “we gave him a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn't let them in. And, therefore, after a reasonable request, we decided to remove him from power.” Bush continued to make similar assertions right through Campaign 2004, including in the Sept. 30 presidential debate. [See “Bush: Deceptive or Delusional.”]
Deeper Problem
But the problem of corrupted information goes beyond the government, to a Washington press corps that credulously fell for Bush’s bogus case about Iraqi WMD. The journalists and columnists who joined in misleading the American people also benefit from the Silberman-Robb report because it lays most blame for the WMD mess at the CIA’s door. The journalists can claim they were just deceived, too.
The real story of the Iraq-WMD disaster, however, wasn’t just that the CIA fell down on the job. It’s that virtually the entire Washington political-media establishment failed the American people and particularly the U.S. military by buying into the pro-war “conventional wisdom” in 2002-2003, rather than thinking independently and asking tough questions
Given the pro-war hysteria – much of it generated by the Bush administration and the conservative news media – it certainly made career sense for journalists as well as politicians to go along. The few public figures who challenged Bush’s policies – such as former Vice President Al Gore – were pummeled and ridiculed. [See’s “Politics of Preemption.”]
The Silberman-Robb commission said it didn’t take a broader look at the political climate that surrounded the WMD intelligence because the panel was “not authorized” by Bush to do so.
But a truly serious examination of how the nation got to this place where American soldiers can be sent off to war for bogus reasons and because of “dead wrong” intelligence would require even a deeper look back at the crumbling of institutions that Americans count on for supplying accurate information.
That change began in earnest more than a quarter century ago when U.S. conservative leaders decided to invest heavily in building a new infrastructure of media outlets and think tanks that would shift Washington’s “conventional wisdom” to the right.
The conservatives called their strategy “the war of ideas,” but it was really a battle over the control of information. The principal targets were the Washington press corps – which was blamed for exposing Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal and revealing the Pentagon Papers history of the Vietnam War – and the CIA’s analytical division.
By the mid-1970s, aging Cold Warriors and younger intellectuals known as “neoconservatives” banded together to argue that the CIA’s analytical division was grossly underestimating both Soviet power and Moscow’s determination to destroy the United States.
‘Team B’
In 1976, trying to appease this right-wing pressure, then-CIA Director George H.W. Bush allowed these critics to review the highly classified CIA intelligence on the Soviet Union and present an alternative analysis, which became known as the “Team B” experiment. Though Team B found no hard evidence to support its alarmist theories, it still produced a report asserting that its dire Soviet assessments were correct.
The Team B analysis became the basis for a sustained assault on President Jimmy Carter’s arms control efforts during the late 1970s. By 1980, some Republican hardliners, including Laurence Silberman and William Casey, had convinced themselves that Carter had to be ousted to protect the future of the nation.
During Campaign 1980, Silberman and Casey both played roles in secretive back-channel contacts with Iranian emissaries at a time when Iran’s Islamic fundamentalist government was holding 52 U.S. hostages, a crisis that was sapping Carter’s political strength.
Some witnesses – including former Iranian officials and international intelligence figures – have claimed the Republican contacts undercut Carter’s hostage negotiations, though others insist that the Silberman-Casey initiatives were simply ways to gather information about Carter’s desperate bid to free the hostages before the election.
[For the latest and most thorough account of this “October Surprise” mystery, see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq.]
Whatever the Republican intentions were – whether informational or conspiratorial – Carter did lose to Ronald Reagan, who then opened the doors of power to the neoconservatives. Silberman served as Reagan’s top intelligence adviser before the Inauguration and oversaw the Republican transition team that prepared a report on the alleged shortcomings of the CIA’s analytical division.
Accusing the CIA
Renewing the assault that had begun with the Team B analysis, Reagan’s transition team accused the CIA’s Directorate of Intelligence of “an abject failure” to foresee a supposedly massive Soviet buildup of strategic weapons and “the wholesale failure” to comprehend the sophistication of Soviet propaganda.
“These failures are of such enormity,” the transition report said, “that they cannot help but suggest to any objective observer that the agency itself is compromised to an unprecedented extent and that its paralysis is attributable to causes more sinister than incompetence.”
In other words, the Reagan-Bush transition team implied that CIA analysts who didn’t toe the neoconservative line must be Soviet agents. In reality, however, it was the transition team that wasn’t being objective. The evidence now is clear that the Soviet Union was in rapid decline, falling farther behind the West in technology and struggling just to maintain a modern military.
But the neoconservatives were learning an important lesson. By exaggerating an enemy’s strength and then questioning the patriotism of anyone who disagrees, they could win policy battles and silence any meaningful dissent.
Even anti-Soviet hardliners like the CIA’s Robert Gates recognized the impact that the incoming administration’s hostility had on the CIA analysts.
“That the Reaganites saw their arrival as a hostile takeover was apparent in the most extraordinary transition period of my career,” Gates wrote in his memoirs, From the Shadows. “The reaction inside the Agency to this litany of failure and incompetence” from the transition team “was a mix of resentment and anger, dread and personal insecurity.”
Amid rumors that the transition team wanted to purge several hundred top analysts, career officials feared for their jobs, especially those considered responsible for assessing the Soviet Union.
According to some intelligence sources, Silberman expected to get the job of CIA director and flew into a rage when Reagan picked Casey instead. Silberman’s consolation prize was to be named a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, where he became known as one of the court’s most strident conservatives.
‘Politicized’ Intelligence
Under the leadership of Casey and Gates, CIA analysts found themselves under severe pressure to conform to the administration’s political desires, especially hyping the Soviet strategic threat and blaming virtually all acts of terrorism on Moscow.
Analysts also were punished when they pointed out other unhelpful information, such as Pakistan’s secret program to develop a nuclear bomb at a time when Casey considered Islamabad’s help in aiding the Afghan insurgency a higher priority.
By the late 1980s, the internal CIA taboo against noticing Soviet weakness was so ingrained that the CIA analytical division largely missed the Soviet Union’s collapse. Ironically, the CIA analysts got blamed for that intelligence failure, too.
The Reagan-Bush neocons used a similar strategy of intimidation to bring the Washington press corps to heel in the 1980s. Many American journalists who reported information that didn’t fit with the Reagan-Bush propaganda themes were discredited as “liberal” or “anti-American.” Many lost their jobs or learned to censor themselves. [For details on both the intelligence and media cases, see Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege.]
In that Reagan-Bush climate of career intimidation, congressional intelligence staffers, including a young George Tenet, also learned that playing along with the neoconservatives was the safest route to advancement.
Tenet earned his spurs with the Bush Family in 1991 when he helped clear the way for Robert Gates to become CIA director, despite public complaints from former CIA analysts that Gates had “politicized” U.S. intelligence. Gates was also implicated in a string of national security scandals, including the Iran-Contra Affair and the secret arming of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein.
At the time, Tenet was a Senate Intelligence Committee staffer working for the panel’s Democratic chairman, Sen. David Boren, whom Gates thanked in his memoirs for pushing through his confirmation. Later, Tenet became Bill Clinton’s last CIA director and was kept on in that post by George W. Bush.
Staying Useful
A politically savvy player with renowned back-scratching skills, Tenet made himself useful to his new bosses – Bush and the neocons, who had returned to power and were obsessed with finishing off Saddam Hussein.
As the drums of war grew louder, Vice President Dick Cheney personally sat in at CIA meetings at Langley where rank-and-file analysts felt themselves under pressure to adopt the worst-case interpretations of Iraqi evidence.
By late 2002 and early 2003, the Washington “group think” was in full swing. Not only was the U.S. intelligence community giving the neocons the WMD intelligence product they wanted, but that faulty evidence was reverberating through the national news media, including leading newspapers such as the New York Times and the Washington Post.
Anyone who dared to raise questions got clobbered. When former U.S. weapons inspector Scott Ritter questioned the WMD evidence, he was labeled a traitor. When chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix asked for more time to search for the supposed weapons, he was called an incompetent.
After the U.S.-led invasion, the cable news networks eagerly declared that any 55-gallon drum of chemicals was proof of Iraq’s WMD and Bush’s vindication. Only gradually did it sink in that Hussein and other Iraqis had been telling the truth when they said before the war that they had destroyed their WMD stockpiles.
No Accountability
Still, even as the death toll of U.S. soldiers and Iraqis mounted, there was almost no accountability in Washington. That was, in large part, because almost the entire political-media establishment had been wrong.
Also, since most national Democrats – including Sen. John Kerry – hadn’t challenged Bush’s rush to war, they had trouble articulating a coherent case against Bush’s wartime leadership during Campaign 2004.
In the end, virtually no one was punished for leading the nation into the disastrous war. Bush got his second term; Tenet resigned but got the Presidential Medal of Freedom; the pro-war TV commentators and WMD-believing journalists kept their jobs, too.
Since then, the major recommendations for change have centered on structural reform within the intelligence community. Congress created a National Intelligence Director, who supposedly will work closely with the president in overseeing the intelligence community.
But adding just another box to the organizational chart doesn’t address what appears to be the core problem: the politicization of the U.S. intelligence product over the past quarter century, while honest intelligence analysts were driven out of the CIA. The problem is cultural, systemic, even ethical – not structural.
So the need is not to put the intelligence product more directly under Bush’s control, but rather to restore the CIA’s analytical commitment to professionalism and objectivity. The CIA’s ethos again must be to give the policymakers the unadorned truth, not the rouged-up versions that the neocons demanded in the Reagan-Bush years and again in George W. Bush’s first term. [For more details, see’s “Neocon Amorality.”]
The Future
But how could this cultural reform of the intelligence community – and the Washington Establishment – occur?
The hard answer is that many of the government officials and the journalists, who have thrived under this corrupt process, would need to go. They would then have to be replaced by people who stood up for what was right and suffered during this period, the likes of Melvin Goodman, a CIA Soviet specialist who testified against Gates in 1991.
The housecleaning would have to include both Republicans who have been most responsible for the distortion of intelligence and some Democrats who aided and abetted the process. The news media would also need to purge many of its top editors, prominent reporters and leading columnists for failing to perform their journalistic duties.
If a reform Congress were elected in 2006, accountability could be exacted, too, against President Bush and top officials in his administration. Given the egregious loss of life in Iraq and the international opprobrium that the misguided war has brought down on America’s reputation, firings would be in order; investigative hearings should be held; and potentially even an impeachment resolution against Bush could be considered.
Yet this accountability could only occur if there were an informed, energized and incensed American public. Democracy would have to find a fire that we haven’t seen in the United States for many years.
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His new book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at It's also available at, as is his 1999 book, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth.'



US Democracy Politics
Why Are the Democrats Silent?
Posted: 04/09
From: CounterPunch

Bush's Potemkin Town Meetings

President Bush claims he's holding "conversations" all around the country on his plans to "reform" or "save" Social Security. These purported dialogues with the public take place at gatherings which the president likes to characterize as "town meetings."

Now as a native of Connecticut, a New England state that prides itself for its town meeting form of local government, and as a reporter who got his start covering such exercises in real people's government, I have to say that I know town meetings and Mr. Bush, those are not town meetings.

Real town meetings, a form of direct democracy developed by the early settlers in New England in preference to the old European model of representative government that featured mayors and counselors, tend to be pretty freewheeling and rambunctious affairs, where any citizen can attend, speak out on an issue from the floor, and vote on the issue at hand.

As I wrote in an article in CounterPunch two months ago, when I tried to go to one of those Bush "town meetings" that was set up at a community college a couple miles from my house, I found myself turned away by Republican Party goons barring the entrance-something that would never happen at a real town meeting. It turned out that, as with all the president's "public" meetings on this issue, you have to have a ticket to get in, and those tickets are being handed out only by Republican members of Congress.

No wonder the crowds seem so friendly on TV!

What I'm really surprised at, though, is how passive the Democrats have been about this road show charade.

The huckster ¬in-chief, after all, is traveling the country not as a candidate for office, but as the President of the United States. He's making this tour at taxpayer expense, and he's holding his meetings in public buildings-in my case at an auditorium belonging to the Montgomery County Community College. But he's only talking to Republicans. Even people with tickets are being turned away if it appears they may have contrarian ideas, like several people who arrived at one such event in Colorado with tickets, but with a bumper sticker on their car saying "No Blood for Oil." The president's GOP goons apparently aren't just blocking the doors; they're spying in the parking lot, too.

Why aren't Democratic senators and representatives screaming bloody murder at this scam?

I asked my local representative, the recently elected Democratic Rep. Alyson Schwartz, when she led a teach-in on Social Security at Temple University.

"Shouldn't you Congressional Democrats be screaming about not being offered tickets to distribute at these presidential events?" I asked her.

"Well I guess maybe we should be," she agreed.

That was over a week ago.

I still haven't heard a word of complaint about it from either Rep. Schwartz or from other members of the so-called opposition in Congress.

Why are these people, who are supposed to be the opposition, so quiet? If Congresswoman Schwartz, for example, had stood outside the auditorium at Montco Community College decrying the inability of her Democratic constituents to get into the building and "dialogue" with the president, maybe the somnolent TV reporters who didn't even notice or remark on the packing of the hall would have actually reported on the president's deceit.

Instead, we got reports that evening about how supportive the public seems to be of the president, and how worried people at the event seemed to be about the viability of the Social Security system.

President Bush is a hypocrite of the first order in calling for democracy in the Islamic world and the states of the former Soviet Union while he creates a Potemkin democracy for himself to operate in. But the Democrats who assist him in this stage management effort by remaining silent as they and their constituents are shut out of the debate are perhaps even worse.

They have become a Potemkin opposition.

Click here for Comment or Discussion version of this item.

Support Alternative Media

Wednesday, 27 April 2005
Remarks as prepared by former Vice President Al Gore
Washington, DC.
Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Four years and four months ago, the Supreme Court of the United States, in a bitterly divided 5 to 4 decision, issued an unsigned opinion that the majority cautioned should never be used as a precedent for any subsequent case anywhere in the federal court system.

Their ruling conferred the presidency on a candidate who had lost the popular vote, and it inflamed partisan passions that had already been aroused by the long and hard-fought election campaign. I couldn't have possibly disagreed more strongly with the opinion that I read shortly before midnight that evening, December 12, 2000. But I knew what course of action best served our republic.

Even though many of my supporters said they were unwilling to accept a ruling which they suspected was brazenly partisan in its motivation and simply not entitled to their respect, less than 24 hours later, I went before the American people to reaffirm the bedrock principle that we are a nation of laws, not men. "There is a higher duty than the one we owe to a political party," I said. "This is America and we put country before party." The demonstrators and counter-demonstrators left the streets and the nation moved on -- as it should have -- to accept the inauguration of George W. Bush as our 43rd president.

Having gone through that experience, I can tell you -- without any doubt whatsoever -- that if the justices who formed the majority in Bush v. Gore had not only all been nominated to the Court by a Republican president, but had also been confirmed by only Republican Senators in party-line votes, America would not have accepted that court's decision.

Moreover, if the confirmation of those justices in the majority had been forced through by running roughshod over 200 years of Senate precedents and engineered by a crass partisan decision on a narrow party line vote to break the Senate's rules of procedure then no speech imaginable could have calmed the passions aroused in our country.

As Aristotle once said of virtue, respect for the rule of law is "one thing."

It is indivisible.

And so long as it remains indivisible, so will our country.

But if either major political party is ever so beguiled by a lust for power that it abandons this unifying principle, then the fabric of our democracy will be torn.

The survival of freedom depends upon the rule of law.

The rule of law depends, in turn, upon the respect each generation of Americans has for the integrity with which our laws are written, interpreted and enforced.

That necessary respect depends not only on the representative nature of our legislative branch, but also on the deliberative character of its proceedings. As James Madison envisioned, ours is a "deliberative democracy." Indeed, its deliberative nature is fundamental to the integrity of our social compact. Because the essential alchemy of democracy -- whereby just power is derived from the consent of the governed -- can only occur in a process that is genuinely deliberative.

Moreover, it is the unique role of the Senate, much more than the House, to provide a forum for deliberation, to give adequate and full consideration to the strongly held views of a minority. In this case, the minority is made up of 44 Democratic Senators and 1 Independent.

And it is no accident that our founders gave the Senate the power to pass judgment on the fitness of nominees to the Judicial branch. Because they knew that respect for the law also depends upon the perceived independence and integrity of our judges. And they wanted those qualities to be reviewed by the more reflective body of Congress.

Our founders gave no role to the House of Representatives in confirming federal judges. If they had believed that a simple majority was all that was needed to safeguard the nation against unwise choices by a partisan president, they might well have given the House as well as the Senate the power to vote on judges.

But they gave the power instead to the Senate, a body of equals, each of whom was given a term of office -- 3 times longer than that of a representative -- in order to encourage a reflective frame of mind, a distance from the passions of the voters and a capacity for deliberation. They knew that the judges would serve for life and that, therefore, their confirmation should follow a period of advice and consent in which the Senate was an equal partner with the executive.

Alexander Hamilton, in Federalist # 78, wrote that the "independence of the judges is equally requisite to guard the Constitution and the rights of individuals from the effects of those ill-humors which the arts of designing men... have a tendency, in the meantime, to occasion dangerous innovations in the government, and serious oppressions of the minor party in the community."

When James Madison introduced the Bill of Rights, he explained that "independent tribunals of justice will consider themselves... the guardians of [these] rights, ... an impenetrable bulwark against every assumption of power in the legislature or executive."

So, it is not as a Democrat but as an American, that I appeal today to the leadership of the majority in the Senate to halt their efforts to break the Senate's rules and instead protect a meaningful role in the confirmation of judges and justices for Senators of both parties. Remember that you will not always be in the majority, but much more importantly, remember what is best for our country regardless of which party is temporarily in power. Many of us know what it feels like to be disappointed with decisions made by the courts. But instead of attacking the judges with whose opinions we disagree, we live by the rule of law and maintain respect for the courts.

I am genuinely dismayed and deeply concerned by the recent actions of some Republican leaders to undermine the rule of law by demanding the Senate be stripped of its right to unlimited debate where the confirmation of judges is concerned, and even to engage in outright threats and intimidation against federal judges with whom they philosophically disagree.

Even after a judge was murdered in Atlanta while presiding in his courtroom, even after the husband and mother of a federal judge were murdered in Chicago in retaliation by a disgruntled party to a failed lawsuit -- even then -- the Republican leader of the House of Representatives responded to rulings in the Terri Schiavo case, by saying ominously: "The time will come for the men responsible for this to pay for their behavior."

When the outrage following this comment worsened Rep. DeLay's problems during the House Ethics scandal, he claimed that his words had been chosen badly, but in the next breath, he issued new threats against the same courts: "We set up the courts. We can unset the courts. We have the power of the purse."

In previous remarks on the subject, DeLay has said, "Judges need to be intimidated," adding that if they don't behave, "we're going to go after them in a big way."

Moreover, a whole host of prominent Republicans have been making similar threats on a regular basis.

A Republican Congressman from Iowa added: "When their budget starts to dry up, we'll get their attention. If we're going to preserve the Constitution, we must get them in line."

A Republican Senator from Texas directly connected the "spate of courthouse violence lately" to his view that unpopular decisions might be the explanation. "I wonder whether there may be some connection between the perception in some quarters on some occasions where judges are making political decisions, yet are unaccountable to the public, that it builds and builds to the point where some people engage in violence."

One of the best-known conservative political commentators has openly recommended that "liberals should be physically intimidated."

The spokesman for the Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee said: "There does seem to be this misunderstanding out there that our system was created with a completely independent judiciary." Misunderstanding?

The Chief of Staff for another Republican senator called for "mass impeachment" by using the bizarre right-wing theory that the president can declare that any judge is no longer exhibiting "good behavior," adding that, "then the judge's term has simply come to an end. The President gives them a call and says: 'Clean out your desk. The Capitol police will be in to help you find your way home.'"

The elected and appointed Republican officials who made these dangerous statements are reflecting an even more broadly-held belief system of grassroots extremist organizations that have made the destruction of judicial independence the centerpiece of their political agenda.

Tony Perkins, leader of the Family Research Council, who hosted a speech by the Senate Majority Leader last Sunday, has said, "There's more than one way to skin a cat, and there's more than one way to take a black robe off the bench." Explaining that during his meeting with Republican leaders, the leaders discussed stripping funding from certain courts, Perkins said, "What they're thinking of is not only the fact of just making these courts go away and recreating them the next day, but also de-funding them." Congress could use its appropriations authority to just "take away the bench, all of its staff, and he's just sitting out there with nothing to do."

Another influential leader of one of these groups, James Dobson, who heads Focus on the Family, focused his anger on the 9th circuit court of appeals: "Very few people know this, that the Congress can simply disenfranchise a court. They don't have to fire anybody or impeach them or go through that battle. All they have to do is say the 9th circuit doesn't exist anymore, and it's gone."

Edwin Vieira (at the "Confronting the Judicial War on Faith" conference) said his "bottom line" for dealing with the Supreme Court comes from Stalin: "He had a slogan, and it worked very well for him whenever he ran into difficulty: 'no man, no problem.'"

Through their words and threats, these Republicans are creating an atmosphere in which judges may well hesitate to exercise their independence for fear of Congressional retribution, or worse.

It is no accident that this assault on the integrity of our constitutional design has been fueled by a small group claiming special knowledge of God's will in American politics. They even claim that those of us who disagree with their point of view are waging war against "people of faith." How dare they?

Long before our founders met in Philadelphia, their forebears first came to these shores to escape oppression at the hands of despots in the old world who mixed religion with politics and claimed dominion over both their pocketbooks and their souls.

This aggressive new strain of right-wing religious zealotry is actually a throwback to the intolerance that led to the creation of America in the first place.

James Madison warned us in Federalist #10 that sometimes, "A religious sect may degenerate into a political faction."

Unfortunately the virulent faction now committed to changing the basic nature of democracy now wields enough political power within the Republican party to have a major influence over who secures the Republican nomination for president in the 2008 election. It appears painfully obvious that some of those who have their eyes on that nomination are falling all over themselves to curry favor with this faction.

They are the ones demanding the destructive constitutional confrontation now pending in the Senate. They are the ones willfully forcing the Senate leadership to drive democracy to the precipice that now lies before us.

I remember a time not too long ago when Senate leaders in both parties saw it as part of their responsibility to protect the Senate against the destructive designs of demagogues who would subordinate the workings of our democracy to their narrow factional agendas.

Our founders understood that the way you protect and defend people of faith is by preventing any one sect from dominating. Most people of faith I know in both parties have been getting a belly-full of this extremist push to cloak their political agenda in religiosity and mix up their version of religion with their version of right-wing politics and force it on everyone else.

They should learn that religious faith is a precious freedom and not a tool to divide and conquer.

I think it is truly important to expose the fundamental flaw in the arguments of these zealots. The unifying theme now being pushed by this coalition is actually an American heresy -- a highly developed political philosophy that is fundamentally at odds with the founding principles of the United States of America.

We began as a nation with a clear formulation of the basic relationship between God, our rights as individuals, the government we created to secure those rights, and the prerequisites for any power exercised by our government.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident," our founders declared. "That all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights..."

But while our rights come from God, as our founders added, "governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just power from the consent of the governed."

So, unlike our inalienable rights, our laws are human creations that derive their moral authority from our consent to their enactment-informed consent given freely within our deliberative processes of self-government.

Any who seek to wield the powers of government without the consent of the people, act unjustly.

Over sixty years ago, in the middle of the Second World War, Justice Jackson wrote: "If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion."

His words are no less true today.

The historic vulnerability of religious zealots to subordinate the importance of the rule of law to their ideological fervor was captured best in words given by the author of "A Man for All Seasons" to Sir Thomas More.

When More's zealous son-in-law proposed that he would cut down any law in England that served as an obstacle to his hot pursuit of the devil, More replied: "And when the last law was cut down and the devil turned round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast-man's laws, not God's -- and if you cut them down, and you're just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then?"

The Senate leaders remind me of More's son-in-law. They are now proposing to cut down a rule that has stood for more than two centuries as a protection for unlimited debate. It has been used for devilish purposes on occasion in American history, but far more frequently, it has been used to protect the right of a minority to make its case.

Indeed it has often been cited as a model for other nations struggling to reconcile the majoritarian features of democracy with a respectful constitutional role for minority rights. Ironically, a Republican freshman Senator who supports the party-line opposition to the filibuster here at home, recently returned from Iraq with an inspiring story about the formation of multi-ethnic democracy there. Reporting that he asked a Kurdish leader there if he worried that the majority Shiites would "overrun" the minority Kurds, this Senator said the Kurdish leader responded "oh no, we have a secret weapon.... [the] filibuster."

The Senate's tradition of unlimited debate has been a secret weapon in our nation's arsenal of democracy as well. It has frequently serves to push the Senate-and the nation as a whole-toward a compromise between conflicting points of view, to breathe life into the ancient advice of the prophet Isaiah: "Come let us reason together"; to illuminate arguments for which the crowded, busy House of Representatives has no time or patience, to afford any Senator an opportunity to stand in the finest American tradition in support of a principle that he or she believes to be important enough to bring to the attention of the nation.

In order to cut down this occasional refuge of a scoundrel, the leadership would cut down the dignity of the Senate itself, diminish the independence of the legislative branch, reduce its power, and accelerate the decline in its stature that is already far advanced.

Two-thirds of the American people reject their argument. The nation is overwhelmingly opposed to this dangerous breaking of the Senate's rules. And, so the leadership and the White House have decided to call it a crisis.

In the last few years, the American people have been told on several occasions that we were facing a dire crisis that required the immediate adoption of an unusual and controversial policy.

In each case, the remedy for the alleged crisis was an initiative that would have been politically implausible at best -- except for the crisis that required the unnatural act they urged upon us.

First, we were told that the nation of Iraq, armed to the teeth as it was said to be with weapons of mass destruction, represented a grave crisis that necessitated a unilateral invasion.

Then, we were told that Social Security was facing an imminent crisis that required its immediate privatization.

Now we are told that the federal judiciary is facing a dire crisis that requires us to break the rules of the Senate and discard the most important guarantee of the de

Posted by richard at May 1, 2005 11:24 AM