Trump’s Delusional Nuclear Policy

The Trump Administration’s Nuclear Test Delusions

Ambassador Thomas Graham Jr.

Even as the Trump administration continued to struggle to contain the coronavirus in mid-May, White House officials preoccupied themselves with manufacturing a wholly unnecessary threat. On May 15, senior national security officials at an interagency meeting reportedly discussed the possibility of abandoning the longstanding U.S. moratorium on nuclear-weapons testing that has been in place for nearly three decades and is now accepted by the entire world, even North Korea. According to a May 22 report in the Washington Post, the proponents of ending the moratorium argued in the meeting that the United States should resume testing because Russia and China were conducting low-level nuclear-weapons tests, allegations that appear to be based on no evidence.

Such tests would bring no military or strategic benefit to the United States. Instead, they would undermine the foundational global agreement that has curbed the spread of nuclear weapons worldwide for more than 50 years, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Such low-level tests would be of little military benefit to Russia and China either, as there is scant information for them to gain that they do not already possess. Thus, even if such tests occurred, they would not represent any kind of significant security threat to the United States. The only conceivable benefit for the United States of resuming a nuclear-weapons testing program would be to create an opportunity for President Donald Trump to somehow distort the value of it and use it as another meaningless political ploy to bolster his campaign for re-election in November.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, Trump’s likely Democratic challenger, said, “The possibility that the Trump administration may resume nuclear explosive weapons testing in Nevada is as reckless as it is dangerous.” Nevada’s answer to the possibility of resuming nuclear testing, which would take place on – or rather under – its soil, was articulated in an editorial in the state’s leading newspaper, the Las Vegas Sun: “No. Hell no. Not now. Not ever.”

Historic Efforts to Curb the Spread of Nuclear Weapons

During the Cold War, the United States built more than 70,000 nuclear weapons and the Soviet Union around 55,000. At the peak of the arms race, the United States had some 32,500 of these warheads in its nuclear stockpile, the Soviet Union in the range of 45,000 (in each case, the stockpile peak is different from the total produced due to deterioration and some being destroyed as obsolete). There was a widely understood risk that the weapons might spread across the globe. France and Great Britain were conducting tests, and Sweden and Switzerland showed interest in doing so.

In 1961, the United Nations unanimously passed the “Irish” Resolution (introduced by Ireland), which called on all states to conclude an international agreement prohibiting the proliferation of nuclear weapons to additional countries. In 1965, another resolution was passed by the U.N. General Assembly calling on nations to negotiate an international treaty to prevent the further proliferation of nuclear weapons, which became the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). China had just completed an initial nuclear-weapons test program, bringing the number of declared nuclear weapon states to five: the United States, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, France, and China.

This new treaty would be based on five principles, among them a commitment to ultimately abolish nuclear weapons and, in the interim, a balance of obligations among the five nuclear-weapons states and other state parties that thus far had no nuclear weapons. This balance required interim steps toward nuclear disarmament, short of elimination — seen in the depths of the Cold War as a distant objective — in exchange for a commitment that all parties would be permitted to pursue peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

The principal interim step was considered to be the worldwide termination of nuclear-weapons tests. (Although the Limited Test Ban Treaty had been negotiated in 1962, led by President John F. Kennedy, and nuclear-weapon tests were prohibited everywhere except underground, by 1968, many tests were being conducted underground.)

The NPT was signed in 1968. It was to last for 25 years, after which on a one-time basis, the parties would decide by majority vote how much longer it would exist. The non-nuclear-weapons states in the treaty negotiations had urged the inclusion of a reference to interim steps in the agreement, especially an accord to ban nuclear testing, which became the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT). The CTBT was looked upon by the non-nuclear-weapons states as the price to be paid by the five states holding nuclear weapons for the others giving up their rights to develop such armaments.

Thus, a ban on nuclear testing was essential to the strategic bargain of the NPT. The United States and the Soviet Union would not agree to any interim step in the text of the NPT, with one exception: a reference to the CTBT in the preamble. The two nations also promised that interim steps, including the CTBT, would be negotiated at the treaty review conferences that were required under the agreement every five years.

At the first four review conferences after the NPT entered into force in 1970, the United States and the Soviet Union blocked any progress whatsoever on the CTBT. In 1995, the NPT came up for the agreed renewal. At the strong urging of the United States, a plenipotentiary conference of the parties held that year in place of the review conference made the NPT permanent, extending it indefinitely by consensus. The principal quid for this quo was the same as the one at the signing of the NPT in 1968—a CTBT, only this time the commitment was to complete it in one year.

U.S. Commitments and Obligations

The United States took this commitment seriously. It already had placed a moratorium on nuclear testing in 1992, prompting most of the world to do the same, essentially adopting an informal global moratorium on nuclear-weapon tests beginning in 1993. The negotiating conference in Geneva agreed to a CTBT within the one-year timeframe. The treaty was adopted by the United Nations in 1996 by a vote of 158-3, and it was opened for signature in September.

U.S. President Bill Clinton was the first to sign, and ultimately, the CTBT was signed by 184 states, of which 168 have ratified it. But the Treaty requires that all 44 of those states that had nuclear facilities of any kind on their territories in 1996, called Annex 2 states, must ratify the treaty before it enters into force. Of these Annex 2 states, 36 have ratified—states such as Germany, Japan, Britain, France, and Russia. The eight that have not ratified are the United States and seven others that are more or less waiting for the United States to move forward.

Despite having led the negotiations, the United States has been unable to ratify the treaty. The reason is that the Republican Party turned against arms control and disarmament and, ultimately, against peace and diplomacy themselves. This from a party that once stood at the forefront of arms control and disarmament, with major initiatives such as President Ronald Reagan agreeing with Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev at Reykjavik to eliminate all nuclear weapons and President George H.W. Bush concluding four such agreements, more than any other president.

The Clinton administration submitted the CTBT to the Senate for advice and consent to ratification in 1997. Two years later, in 1999, it was rejected by the Republican-led Senate—led by two senators from the right—Senators Jesse Helms (R-NC) and Jon Kyl (R-AZ). Ever since, Republicans in the Senate have blocked ratification, but the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations informally observed the treaty’s terms.

The United States also has abided by Article 18 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, which obligates a state not to defeat the object and purpose of a treaty that it has signed and that is pending ratification unless and until such state has made its intention clear not to become a party. The United States is not a party to the convention, but has recognized its authority. Thus, it is obligated not to do nuclear-weapons testing of any kind unless it clearly states its intention not to ratify. Doing such a test would certainly defeat the object and purpose of the CTBT, and the United States has made no indication that it intends never to ratify the CTBT.

Republican Party, Once Leading on Arms Control, Backs Away

In the last decade, elements in the Republican Party have tried to promote the elimination of this obligation and reopen the door to an underground nuclear-weapons testing program. First, Republicans made an argument for years that the United States was observing a CTBT standard of not testing weapons of any yield even though Russia and China never agreed to do the same. But the negotiating record showed Russia and China stating clearly that they recognize the CTBT is a “zero-yield treaty,” and the strength of that record wore down this argument.

Then last year, in a public statement at the Hudson Institute, Lt. Gen. Robert P. Ashley Jr., the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), implicitly admitted that Russia had accepted the zero-yield standard. But he asserted that it was carrying out low-yield nuclear tests inconsistent with this commitment, while the United States is adhering to this limit. However, when challenged on this, the DIA director could cite no evidence of Russian testing or even that any evidence existed. He instead said only that Russia had the “capability” to do this, which is true of many states. Tim Morrison, then a senior director at the National Security Council, left the question unclear in a follow-up panel, saying only, “We believe that Russia has taken actions to improve its nuclear-weapons capability that run contrary to the scope of its obligations under the treaty.”

Now Republicans are back again with a similar argument, only this time adding China. They allege — once again without evidence — that both Russia and China are doing low-level nuclear-weapons tests and benefiting from doing so. Perhaps someone will also bring up again the non-argument that Russia and China have the capability to do this. Apparently one senior official at the recent White House meeting asserted that a demonstration by the United States that it could “rapid test” could be useful in a trilateral nuclear negotiation with Russia and China, a seemingly fruitless position that Trump is trying to pursue in withholding an extension of the New START agreement between the United States and Russia that expires early next year. China has made it clear that it will not participate in such a negotiation. Biden found the idea “delusional.”

Notably, the reaction to the report that the Trump administration is considering a resumption of testing was not positive in significant domestic circles either. In its editorial, the Las Vegas Sun also said, “The state endured four decades of nuclear tests – more than 1,000 in all, before testing ceased in 1992 via an international moratorium. We and our downwind neighbors in Utah endured nuclear fallout in above-ground tests during the 1950s and 1960s, and our desert remains irradiated by underground tests conducted later.

“We will fight any effort to reopen the door to that dark era…”

It is difficult to imagine a greater threat to U.S. national security than for the United States to pursue a nuclear-weapons test program at the present time. Such action would defeat the object and purpose of the CTBT, which means the United States would be turning its back on the essential glue that holds the NPT together.

The likely result would be that the NPT would gradually come apart. Other states such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, Turkey, and Egypt would use the U.S. tests as an excuse to develop their own test programs and to acquire nuclear weapons for a national arsenal. Eventually, in an era when many countries may feel less and less secure as climate change erodes their remaining national assets such as arable land and fresh water, they might see nuclear weapons as more and more attractive. Once the door kept closed by the NPT is opened, we would enter a nightmare world, a risk foreseen by past American statesmen.

IMAGE: First CTBT on-site inspection activity at the former Nevada Test on May 18, 2016, at Climax Mine at the Nevada National Security Site, location of historical underground nuclear explosions, to learn about observables resulting from testing in hard granite. (Photo: CTBTO on Flickr)

The One World System is Against Trump

Former President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, in October. He will not support President Trump’s re-election.Tim Heitman/USA Today Sports, via Reuters

Vote for Trump? These Republican Leaders Aren’t on the Bandwagon

Former President George W. Bush and Senator Mitt Romney won’t support Mr. Trump’s re-election. Colin Powell will vote for Joe Biden, and other G.O.P. officials may do the same.

By Jonathan Martin

Published June 6, 2020

WASHINGTON — It was one thing in 2016 for top Republicans to take a stand against Donald J. Trump for president: He wasn’t likely to win anyway, the thinking went, and there was no ongoing conservative governing agenda that would be endangered.

The 2020 campaign is different: Opposing the sitting president of your own party means putting policy priorities at risk, in this case appointing conservative judges, sustaining business-friendly regulations and cutting taxes — as well as incurring the volcanic wrath of Mr. Trump.

But, far sooner than they expected, growing numbers of prominent Republicans are debating how far to go in revealing that they won’t back his re-election — or might even vote for Joseph R. Biden Jr., the presumptive Democratic nominee. They’re feeling a fresh urgency because of Mr. Trump’s incendiary response to the protests of police brutality, atop his mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic, according to people who spoke on the condition of anonymity to disclose private discussions.

Former President George W. Bush won’t support the re-election of Mr. Trump, and Jeb Bush isn’t sure how he’ll vote, say people familiar with their thinking. Senator Mitt Romney of Utah won’t back Mr. Trump and is deliberating whether to again write in his wife, Ann, or cast another ballot this November. Cindy McCain, the widow of Senator John McCain, is almost certain to support Mr. Biden but is unsure how public to be about it because one of her sons is eying a run for office.

And former Secretary of State Colin Powell announced on Sunday that he will vote for Mr. Biden, telling CNN that Mr. Trump “lies about things” and Republicans in Congress won’t hold him accountable. Mr. Powell, who voted for former President Barack Obama as well as Hillary Clinton, said he was close to Mr. Biden politically and socially and had worked with him for more than 35 years. “I’ll be voting for him,” he said.

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell said he would vote for Joe Biden, telling CNN that President Trump “lies about things.”Drew Angerer/Getty Images

None of these Republicans voted for Mr. Trump in 2016, but the reproach of big Republican names carries a different weight when an incumbent president and his shared agenda with Senate leaders are on the line.

Former Republican leaders like the former Speakers Paul D. Ryan and John A. Boehner won’t say how they will vote, and some Republicans who are already disinclined to support Mr. Trump are weighing whether to go beyond backing a third-party contender to openly endorse Mr. Biden. Retired military leaders, who have guarded their private political views, are increasingly voicing their unease about the president’s leadership but are unsure whether to embrace his opponent.

Mr. Biden himself, while eager to win support across party lines, intends to roll out his “Republicans for Biden” coalition later in the campaign, after fully consolidating his own party, according to Democrats familiar with the campaign’s planning.

The public expressions of opposition to Mr. Trump from parts of the Republican and military establishment have accelerated in recent days over his repeated calls for protesters to be physically constrained, “dominated,” as he put it, and his administration’s order to forcefully clear the streets outside the White House so he could walk out for a photo opportunity. His conduct has convinced some leaders that they can no longer remain silent.

Former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’s blistering criticism of Mr. Trump and the admission this week by Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska that she is “struggling” with whether to vote for the sitting president of her own party have intensified the soul-searching taking place, forcing a number of officials to reckon with an act that they have long avoided: stating out loud that Mr. Trump is unfit for office.

“This fall, it’s time for new leadership in this country — Republican, Democrat or independent,” said William H. McRaven, the retired Navy admiral who directed the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. “President Trump has shown he doesn’t have the qualities necessary to be a good commander in chief.”

Admiral McRaven, in an interview on the 76th anniversary of D-Day, noted that those wartime leaders inspired Americans with “their words, their actions and their humanity.”

In contrast, he said, Mr. Trump has failed his leadership test. “As we have struggled with the Covid pandemic and horrible acts of racism and injustice, this president has shown none of those qualities,” Admiral McRaven said. “The country needs to move forward without him at the helm.”

Cindy McCain, the widow of Senator John McCain, is likely to support former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. in November.Francisco Kjolseth/The Salt Lake Tribune, via Associated Press

Mr. Trump won election in 2016, of course, in spite of a parade of Republicans and retired military officers who refused to support him. Far more current G.O.P. elected officials are publicly backing Mr. Trump than did four years ago. Among his unwavering supporters are Republican leaders like Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, and past foes like Senators Ted Cruz and Lindsey Graham. And polls today indicate that rank-and-file Republicans are squarely behind the president, although that is in part because some Republicans who can’t abide Mr. Trump now align with independents.

Yet it would be a sharp rebuke for former Trump administration officials and well-known Republicans to buck their own standard-bearer. Individually, they may not sway many votes — particularly at a time of deep polarization. But their collective opposition, or even resounding silence, could offer something of a permission structure for Trump-skeptical Republicans to put party loyalty aside.

John Kelly, Mr. Trump’s former chief of staff and a retired Marine general, would not say whom he would vote for, though he did allow that he wished “we had some additional choices.”

Dan Coats, the former Republican senator who was Mr. Trump’s director of national intelligence, “has been concerned about the negative effect on the intelligence community by the turmoil of turnover at D.N.I.,” said Kevin Kellems, a longtime adviser to Mr. Coats, adding that the former spy chief is “encouraged by the confirmation of a new D.N.I. and career intelligence deputy.”

As for whom Mr. Coats will vote for, “ultimately he remains a loyal Republican but he believes the American people will decide on Nov. 3,” said Mr. Kellems.

Joseph Maguire, a retired three-star admiral who served as Mr. Trump’s acting intelligence chief, invoked the comments of Mr. Mattis and two former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who also criticized the president this week.

“Jim Mattis, Mike Mullen and Marty Dempsey are all good friends, and I respect them tremendously,” Admiral Maguire said in an interview. “I am in alignment with their views.”

Asked who Mr. Boehner and Mr. Ryan will vote for in November, representatives to both former House speakers declined to say.

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, asked if she would support Mr. Trump for re-election, said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” that she didn’t want to discuss politics right now, adding that her focus was on addressing divisions in the country. She did not support Mr. Trump in 2016.

A number of current G.O.P. lawmakers and governors are also wrestling with what to do — and what to say — as they balance conscience, ideology and the risk to themselves and their constituents that comes from confronting Mr. Trump.

Representative Francis Rooney of Florida has donated millions of dollars to Republican candidates over the years, served as President Bush’s ambassador to the Vatican and hasn’t voted for a Democrat in decades.

But Mr. Rooney said he is considering supporting Mr. Biden in part because Mr. Trump is “driving us all crazy” and his handling of the virus led to a death toll that “didn’t have to happen.”

Mr. Rooney is not seeking re-election, so he is not worried about future electoral prospects. He said his hesitation with Mr. Biden owes to uncertainty about whether left-wing Democrats would pull the former vice president out of the political mainstream.

“What he’s always been is not scary,” said Mr. Rooney. “A lot of people that voted for President Trump did so because they did not like Hillary Clinton. I don’t see that happening with Joe Biden — how can you not like Joe Biden?”

Mr. Rooney has been gently lobbied by one of Mr. Biden’s closest allies in Congress: Senator Chris Coons of Delaware, who has effectively become the former vice president’s emissary to current and recent Republican lawmakers.

Mr. Coons said a number of G.O.P. senators, regardless of their public comments, would ultimately not pull the lever for Mr. Trump in the privacy of the ballot booth.

“I’ve had five conversations with senators who tell me they are really struggling with supporting Trump,” said Mr. Coons, who declined to give names.

Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska has said she is “struggling” with the decision of whether to vote for Mr. Trump.Al Drago for The New York Times

Indeed, one Republican senator, who is publicly supporting the president, said in an interview that he might prefer a Biden victory if the G.O.P. managed to preserve its Senate majority. This lawmaker, like a number of Republicans, is uneasy with Mr. Trump’s behavior and weary from the near-weekly barrage of questions from reporters about the latest presidential eruption.

As former Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri, a moderate Democrat who was friends with a number of her former Republican colleagues, put it: “It’s easier to count the ones who are definitely voting for Trump.”

Among the anti-Trump Republicans now out of office, recent events have only vindicated their sense of alarm — and nudged them toward embracing Mr. Biden.

“For people who were long waiting for that pivot, the last week has shown, if anything, he’s dug in and not even making an attempt to appeal to anybody outside his hard base,” said former Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, who is close to Mr. Coons and in conversation with him about how and when to formalize his support for Mr. Biden.

Former Representative Mark Sanford, who briefly challenged the president in the Republican primary, said last year that he’d support the president if he won the nomination.

But now Mr. Sanford believes Mr. Trump is threatening the stability of the country. “He’s treading on very thin ice,” said Mr. Sanford, also a former South Carolina governor, who is engaged in frequent conversations with other Republicans about how to proceed.

There are already a number of Republican groups dedicated to defeating Mr. Trump, and former lawmakers, strategists and policymakers who are plotting what and when to say about the election.

“There is an organized effort about how to make our voices useful in 2020,” said Kori Schake, who worked at the National Security Council and State Department under President George W. Bush and was an editor with Mr. Mattis of the book “Warriors and Citizens,” about the civil-military divide.

She said a number of officials who worked for both Presidents Bush and Reagan, many of whom signed a 2016 letter opposing Mr. Trump, were on Zoom chats and group emails trying to determine how to express their opposition and whether it should come with an endorsement for Mr. Biden. The effort to gather more anti-Trump Republicans to speak out is being spearheaded by John B. Bellinger III, who also worked in George W. Bush’s N.S.C. and State Department.

Some Republicans believe Mr. Mattis made their task easier.

“It laid the cornerstone of fighting back against Trump,” said former Senator John W. Warner of Virginia, who noted that as Navy secretary he once served as “boss” to Mr. Mattis, then a youthful Marine officer. “He said: ‘I can judge the man.’”

Yet neither Mr. Mattis, nor any other former Trump official, is likely to be able to prod Mr. Bush to publicly state his opposition. Freddy Ford, a spokesman for Mr. Bush, said the former president would stay out of the election and speak only on policy issues, as he did this week in stating that the country must “examine our tragic failures” on race.

Notably, though, while the former president, whom Mr. Trump has never reached out to while in office, may be withdrawn from presidential politics, he is not totally disengaged from campaigns: he has raised money for a handful of Republican senators, including John Cornyn of Texas, Susan Collins of Maine and Cory Gardner of Colorado.

Mr. Romney this week lavished praise on Mr. Mattis but stayed mum about who he would actually support for president.

As for Mrs. McCain, she has sought to stay out of partisan politics. “Picking a fight with Trump is no fun,” said Rick Davis, a longtime McCain adviser who’s close to the family.

But, Mr. Davis, alluding to Mr. Biden, said: “You know where her heart is. Whether she articulates that or not is still an open question.”

Eric Schmitt contributed reporting.

Jonathan Martin is a national political correspondent. He has reported on a range of topics, including the 2016 presidential election and several state and congressional races, while also writing for Sports, Food and the Book Review. He is also a CNN political analyst. @jmartnyt

Rating Donald Trump: At least he’s not the Beast From the Sea (Revelation 13:1)

Rating Donald Trump: At least he’s not George W. Bush

By Zachary Karabell, Opinion Contributor

September 26, 2019 – 04:30 PM EDT

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Hill

Let’s stipulate the following: By most measures, Donald Trump has been a problematic president. For some, he is the worst ever; for others, he is a hero for breaking the mold of Washington as usual, for deregulating, for appointing judges in a particular Federalist Society mold. His standing in national opinion polls is rather low for this point in a presidency, and augur a tough road to reelection.

For those who believe he is the worst ever – and, with this week’s scandal surrounding what Trump might have said to Ukraine’s president and the subsequent opening of an impeachment inquiry, that view has been amply reinforced – let’s stipulate something else: Nothing Trump has done, not a single thing, would rank in the top five of what George W. Bush did in the first term of his presidency in terms of sheer, utter, unequivocal harm to the United States, to its legal and governing norms, to the stability of the international system and to the economic security of Americans.

It is remarkable, and not a bit weird, how quickly the Bush years have receded into the past, with Bush himself the recipient of a Trump-era nostalgia for a time when men (yes, men) of character occupied the White House, honored the office and took the responsibilities of “leader of the free world” seriously. Bush’s somber, quiet rectitude during his father’s funeral earned him high accolades even from former adversaries. And he has been praised for staying above the fray as an ex-president and refusing to call out either Barack Obama or Trump when he disagrees with them.

And yet, Bush’s first term was an unmitigated disaster whose ill effects still bedevil the world, and from which we have never fully recovered. The fact that Trump occupies so much mind-space — because of his often odious language, lack of world view and utter disregard for law, norms, civility and thoughtful policy-making — seems to have obscured just how little he actually has done compared to his Republican predecessor, who did a lot and caused irreparable harm.

Let’s catalogue: In Bush’s first term, his administration either deliberately falsified or purposefully fudged intelligence reports about Iraq’s nuclear capabilities, as well as connections between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, in order to steer public opinion to support an invasion of Iraq that, by most estimates, took the lives of at least half a million Iraqi civilians in order to oust a brutal dictator.

Most of those deaths were not directly caused by American munitions or troops but by a combination of the subsequent Iraqi civil war and disease among refugees. But they were the product of a U.S. invasion that included, at best, minimal planning for the invasion’s aftermath; the resulting haphazard nature of the occupation, in turn, gave rise to a violent insurgency and a metastasizing Islamic extremism in the form of ISIS that ultimately helped turn Syria into a war zone.

The Bush administration also opened and then maintained both the extralegal prison system at Guantanamo Bay for suspected terrorists, interrogation techniques that skirted the line between agreed Geneva conventions and actual torture, and the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, which undoubtedly crossed that line. In addition, the administration actively solicited allies such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia for extralegal “rendition” of suspects for “enhanced” interrogation, all under the justification that the war on terror required extraordinary measures not contemplated under existing law.

For similar reasons, the administration authorized, via the National Security Agency, an extensive metadata spying program, purposely circumventing delegated congressional authority and declining to inform Congress. It was only terminated (purportedly) when the program came to light in 2004. Even the Department of Justice challenged the program’s legality at the time, with most of the department concluding that the program violated the law.

Those three things alone – the invasion of Iraq on false grounds and the subsequent chaos due to lack of planning, the sanctioning of torture and encouragement of it beyond U.S. borders, and domestic spying without congressional authorization – are beyond anything yet done or accomplished by Trump. But wait, as they say in late-night commercials, there’s more.

Bush’s first term also saw a substantial deregulation of the housing market and the financial markets in terms of due diligence and oversight of bank lending and financial sector risk. That had already begun during the 1990s when Bill Clinton was president, and enjoyed wide support among elites in both parties.

At the time, of course, those moves were seen not just as benign but actively beneficial not just to financial markets but to millions who could suddenly afford to buy homes and faced less scrutiny when applying for mortgages. Nonetheless, this loosening and indifference to earlier standards enabled the vast distortions in the financial system that helped set the stage for the massive financial crisis of 2008-2009. There were factors other than Bush administration policies, of course, but his role cannot be elided.

And, finally, following the highly questionable Supreme Court decision Bush v. Gore in 2000, the Bush administration opened the floodgates to a political system that now distorts the Electoral College and allows an administration to claim the mantle of a majority while winning a minority of the popular vote. The ballot results, if they had been counted in Florida as agreed on by Florida law, might, of course, have favored Bush and led to his election regardless. But by short-circuiting that process, the administration (with the help of the Supreme Court) set a precedent of cherry-picking law and precedent as it suits rather than being bound regardless. We are witnessing that tendency in excess today.

Recalling the harms of the Bush years is important because, in our hysterical present, where hyperbole is the coin of the realm, we have an unfortunate predilection to hold up “Now” as the worst of all possible worlds and forget just how bad it was only a few years ago.

Trump, for all his evident and multiple faults, has yet to manufacture an invasion of another country that not only costs thousands of lives but creates a trail of regional instability and global violence. He has not, as far as we know, unleashed the national security state on U.S. citizens at home, and he has not authorized torture. Grim conditions in detention camps on the Mexican border are pristine compared to Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo, and downright cushy compared to the “black” rendition sites of our allies in 2002; that doesn’t make border conditions defensible, but there is a material distinction that matters.

And while some of Trump’s deregulatory efforts could yet backfire, most would seem to enable possible corruption in oil, gas and land use contracts rather than systemic dangers a la the mid-2000s’ housing and mortgage bubble.

Some will say, “So, Bush was bad, but he’s in the past.” This reminder of the Bush administration should be a corrective to the view of terminal American decline, to the belief that we will never again be the same and that we are living in some sort of end-of-days. We’ve been worse in the past; we’ve also been far better. And here we are, to tell those tales and fight these fights.

Zachary Karabell, founder of the Progress Network and the author of a dozen books, including “The Leading Indicators: A Short History of the Numbers that Rule Our World,” is president of River Twice Research and River Twice Capital.

Liz Cheney to Expose Her Father’s Legacy (Revelation 13)

Liz Cheney demands Warren provide list of U.S. cities to be nuked

Rep. Liz Cheney (R.-Wyoming.) wants to know which cities Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) would sacrifice to a nuclear attack.

In the early morning hours of July 31, Cheney, apparently responding to the first night of the Democratic debate, tweeted this loaded question at Warren: “Which American cities and how many American citizens are you willing to sacrifice with your policy of forcing the US to absorb a nuclear attack before we can strike back?”

Cheney was referring back to the segment of the previous evening’s presidential debate when moderator Jake Tapper asked whether, as president, the candidates would declare that the United States would never use nukes first.

Warren said that she would adopt that policy.

Cheney, it seems, took that to mean that a President Warren would vow to do nothing while America got nuked. Or that a country wouldn’t be deterred by America’s massive ability to retaliate against any strike.

For many, the assertion called to mind Cheney’s famous father, Vice President Dick Cheney. Cheney the elder has been heavily criticized for encouraging the invasion of Iraq based on bogus weapons of mass destruction intel, and generally being a torture-condoning, warmongering, friend-shooting, Blackwater-connected political figure. (More recently, there was that time Christian Bale thanked Satan for inspiring him to play the former VP in Vice.)

Reactions to the tweet ranged from the obvious, “There is no winning a nuclear war,” to the vicious, “Wow damn didn’t realize that the desire to murder entire nations was a trait you could inherit from your dad,” and several logical souls who pointed out that Warren did not say that.

Someone even referenced Maslow’s hammer.

Harvard Business School professor Gautam Mukunda was among those appalled by Cheney the younger’s nuclear ambitions, “A little self-awareness might lead you to the conclusion that, having made your career entirely on the coat-tails of your war criminal father, maybe you’re not the best person to weigh in on the wisdom of preventive war? Your Dad’s Iraq catastrophe springs to mind, somehow,” he tweeted.

The Daily Dot has reached out to the Warren campaign and will update with their response.

It is worth noting that the United States has long had a policy of being willing to strike first in a nuclear war.

But on the same token, it’s pretty crazy to suggest that a president not being willing to launch a preemptive nuclear attack is the equivalent of them letting nuclear warheads rain down on our nation.

From Bush’s to Trump’s Nefarious Lies

President Trump speaks to the press on the White House South Lawn on Tuesday. (Al Drago/Bloomberg News)

Trump’s Iran policy is rooted in lies — the kind that got us into the Iraq War

Ben Rhodes

Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser during the Obama administration, is author of “The World as It Is.”

May 16 at 6:40 AM

The Iraq War showed us all what happens when exaggerations and lies are weaponized to justify an ideological push for war: In 2002 and 2003, a relentless series of ominous, overblown public statements and bogus intelligence reports were used to justify an invasion — part of a deliberate campaign to make an offensive military action look defensive: “Should Saddam Hussein choose confrontation,” President George W. Bush said, “the American people can know that every measure has been taken to avoid war.”

It wasn’t true. Yet Bush made the case that the United States had to attack before Hussein could use weapons of mass destruction that Iraq didn’t really have. Now a similar cycle of deception may be repeating itself with President Trump’s increasingly belligerent posture on Iran.

Trump’s Iran policy has long been rooted in falsehoods. In 2017, his administration refused to certify the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) — the Iran nuclear deal — on the premise that Iran wasn’t complying with the terms. That wasn’t true. Earlier that year, the International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed Iran’s compliance; the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff reported to Congress that “Iran is adhering to its JCPOA obligations”; and the U.S. intelligence community presented no evidence justifying Trump’s decertification.

Trump’s subsequent decision to withdraw from the JCPOA was no surprise. For years, he had railed against it as the “worst deal ever negotiated” by tossing out a raft of easily debunked assertions: that Iran was given $150 billion under the terms of the deal, a claim The Washington Post’s Fact Checker rated with four Pinocchios; that Iran’s regime was verging on “total collapse” before the deal, implying that somehow the deal lent the regime new life. After pulling out, Trump has continued to dispute his own intelligence community’s assessment that Iran had been complying. Numbed to a president who lies so regularly that it’s become the background noise to our political culture, his reckless exit from a multilateral, U.N. Security Council-endorsed arms-control agreement that wasn’t being violated was treated as just another routine turn of events in Trump’s Washington.

Since then, Trump’s administration has made every effort to manufacture a crisis with Iran. To the dismay of our closest European allies, the administration has repeatedly imposed new sanctions; officially designated Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization; announced an “Iran Action Group” in the same week as the 65th anniversary of a U.S.-backed coup in Iran; threatened, via a tweeted-out video message from national security adviser John Bolton, that the Iranian regime wouldn’t “have many more anniversaries to enjoy”; and hinted that the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force against al-Qaeda and associated forces could be applied to war with Iran.

This month, the manufactured crisis was escalated. Bolton announced the deployment of a U.S. aircraft carrier strike group and a bomber task force to the region, referencing unspecified “troubling and escalatory indications and warnings” from Iran that could lead to the use of “unrelenting force” by the United States. Days later, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned that any attacks from Iran or its proxies would be met with a “swift and decisive U.S. response.” The State Department has drawn down some of our personnel in nearby Baghdad, again citing unspecified threats from Iran.

Our allies have contradicted this view: Speaking at the Pentagon this week, a British major general stated, “There’s been no increased threat from Iranian-backed forces in Iraq and Syria.”

The ideological agenda behind the administration’s rhetoric and policies is clear. Bolton, in particular, has long advocated regime change and called for war, writing an op-ed in 2015 for the New York Times titled, “To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran.” Israel and Saudi Arabia — with governments that have cultivated close ties with Trump — favor confrontation with Iran. Based on that history, it’s hard not to conclude that Trump’s administration has pursued a clear strategy: provoke Iran into doing something that gives a pretext for war. And as with Iraq, the administration has used exaggerations and unspecified intelligence reports to lay the predicate that an offensive war against Iran will be defensive. In that context, the closure of the U.S. Consulate in Basra and the Baghdad Embassy drawdown are ominous, removing targets that could feature in an Iranian response to a U.S. attack.

The remaining question involves Trump’s ultimate intentions. He campaigned pledging to end U.S. wars in the Middle East and as recently as his State of the Union address earlier this year, said, “Great nations do not fight endless wars.” But he also clearly revels in undoing the progress of President Barack Obama’s Iran deal and posing as a tough guy on the world stage. He could (and should) pivot back to diplomacy, as he’s attempted to do with North Korea, though his actions to date have only set back the starting point for serious diplomatic efforts. Instead, on his watch, our country has become isolated from our allies, and, unsurprisingly, Iran has signaled that it plans to restart elements of its nuclear program that were rolled back or halted under the JCPOA. Trump could still pull back from the brink, or he could follow the momentum of his own creation into a war that could be a deadly, costly disaster.

We don’t know what he’ll do. But we know Trump is averse to truth, addicted to lies, and that what he says about Iran should be treated with tremendous skepticism. The consequences of a war with Iran — a much larger, more determined and more sophisticated adversary than Saddam Hussein’s Iraq — should be urgently aired. And Congress, the branch of government empowered to declare war, should make clear that military action against Iran is not authorized.

It can be tempting, sometimes, to shrug off the false and misleading statements, more than 10,000 and counting, that Trump has habitually proffered while in office. But if we slide into another war based on a fundamentally dishonest premise, Trump’s lies could wind up producing painful and far-reaching consequences.

How the Beast from the Sea Lied to US

Iraq: How we were lied into war

Eric S. Margolis /24 Mar 2019 / 19:15 H.

SIXTEEN years ago, the US and Britain committed a crime of historic proportion, the invasion and destruction of Iraq. It was as egregious an aggression as Nazi Germany’s 1939 invasion of Poland.

Large numbers of Iraqi civilians died from 2003 to 2007. Iraq’s water and sewage systems were bombed, causing widespread cholera. The UN estimated 500,000 Iraqi children died as a result. Madeleine Albright, US secretary of state, said it was “a price worth paying”.

But not so much for the 4,424 US soldiers killed in Iraq, or the 31,952 wounded, many with devastating brain and neurological injuries. Nor for US taxpayers who forked out over US$1 trillion for this botched war and are still paying the bill hidden in the national debt.

In 2003, Iraq was the most advanced Arab nation in social welfare, health, education, military power, and industrial development. But it was run by a megalomaniac, Saddam Hussein, who had been helped into power and sustained in his long war against Iran, by the US, Britain and their Arab satraps.

When Saddam grew too big for his britches, Washington lured him into invading Kuwait, another American-British oil satrapy. A hue and cry went out from Washington and London that Iraq had secret nuclear weapons that threatened the world. War, thundered US-British propaganda, was urgent and necessary.

As I knew from covering Iraq for many years, it had no nuclear weapons and no medium or long-range delivery systems. What it did have was a laboratory at Salman Pak staffed with British technicians producing lethal toxins for use against Iran. I discovered this secret operation and reported it. Meanwhile, the Iraqis were threatening to hang me as an Israeli spy.

I watched with disgust and dismay as the US and Britain launched massive broadsides of lies against Iraq and those few, like myself, who insisted Baghdad had no nuclear weapons.

Almost the entire US and British media were compelled to act as mouthpieces for the George Bush/Tony Blair war against Iraq, trumpeting egregious lies designed to whip up war fever. US media, supposedly the tribune of democracy, became lie factories, putting even the old Soviet media to shame.

The New York Times led the charge, along with the three main TV networks. I was in Iraq with its star correspondent, Judith Miller, who became a key agent of the pro-war campaign. So too the Murdoch press in Britain and Fox News. When the BBC tried to question the torrent of lies about Iraq, it was crushed by Tony Blair. A leading British nuclear expert who questioned the nuclear lies was murdered. Iraq was polluted by US depleted uranium shells.

Journalists like me were intimidated or marginalised. I was dropped by a leading US newspaper, a major Canadian TV chain, and by CNN for whom I had been a regular commentator. I was told the Bush White House had given orders, “get rid of Margolis”. My sin: insisting Iraq had no nuclear weapons and was not threatening the US. Things became so absurd that the story went out that Saddam had “drones of death” that were poised to attack America.

Of the US media, only the McClatchy chain and Christian Science Monitor reported the war honestly. Nearly all the rest of America’s TV talking heads brayed for war. Most are still there today, demanding war against Iran.

Who was behind the war? A combination of big oil, which wanted Iraq’s vast reserves, and the Israel lobby, which wanted to see Iraq destroyed by US power. The Pentagon was taken over by pro-war neoconservatives: Wolfowitz, Feith, Rumsfeld.

George Bush, an ignorant fool, was putty in the hands of vice-president Dick Cheney, a pro-war megalomaniac. The CIA played along. Even the respected former general, Colin Powell, made a fool of himself before the UN by claiming Iraq had hidden weapons. It had chemical weapons, all right, but we had the receipts to show they came from the US and Britain.

No one in the US or Britain ever faced trial for war-mongering and killing vast numbers of people. The lying media escaped well-deserved censure. As for the lying politicians who brought on this disaster, they blamed poor intelligence and bad luck. Those few who opposed the war of aggression remain sidelined or silenced.

Eric S. Margolis is a syndicated columnist. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

The Real Reason Bush Went to War in Iraq (Revelation 13)

The Real Reason Bush Went to War in Iraq: The Answer May Shock You

Ahsan I Butt 21 March 2019

EXPOSEDSixteen years after the United States invaded Iraq and left a trail of destruction and chaos in the country and the region, one aspect of the war remains criminally underexamined: why was it fought in the first place? What did the Bush administration hope to get out of the war? (Photo above from left: Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, President George W. Bush, and Vice President Dick Cheney.

The official, and widely-accepted, story remains that Washington was motivated by Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) program. His nuclear capabilities, especially, were deemed sufficiently alarming to incite the war. As then US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said, “We do not want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.”

Despite Saddam not having an active WMD program, this explanation has found support among some International Relations scholars, who say that while the Bush administration was wrong about Saddam’s WMD capabilities, it was sincerely wrong. Intelligence is a complicated, murky enterprise, the argument goes, and given the foreboding shadow of the 9/11 attacks, the US government reasonably, if tragically, misread the evidence on the dangers Saddam posed.

There is a major problem with this thesis: there is no evidence for it, beyond the words of the Bush officials themselves. And since we know the administration was engaged in a widespread campaign of deception and propaganda in the run-up to the Iraq war, there is little reason to believe them.

My investigation into the causes of the war finds that it had little to do with fear of WMDs – or other purported goals, such as a desire to “spread democracy” or satisfy the oil or Israel lobbies. Rather, the Bush administration invaded Iraq for its demonstration effect.

A quick and decisive victory in the heart of the Arab world would send a message to all countries, especially to recalcitrant regimes such as Syria, Libya, Iran, or North Korea, that American hegemony was here to stay. Put simply, the Iraq war was motivated by a desire to (re)establish American standing as the world’s leading power.

Indeed, even before 9/11, then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld saw Iraq through the prism of status and reputation, variously arguing in February and July 2001 that ousting Saddam would “enhance US credibility and influence throughout the region” and “demonstrate what US policy is all about”.

These hypotheticals were catalyzed into reality by September 11, when symbols of American military and economic dominance were destroyed. Driven by humiliation, the Bush administration felt that the US needed to reassert its position as an unchallengeable hegemon.

The only way to send a message so menacing was a swashbuckling victory in war. Crucially, however, Afghanistan was not enough: it was simply too weak a state. As prison bullies know, a fearsome reputation is not acquired by beating up the weakest in the yard. Or as Rumsfeld put it on the evening of 9/11, “We need to bomb something else to prove that we’re, you know, big and strong and not going to be pushed around by these kinds of attacks.”

Moreover, Afghanistan was a “fair” war, a tit-for-tat response to the Taliban’s provision of sanctuary to al-Qaeda’s leadership. Rumsfeld, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, and Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith considered restricting retaliation to Afghanistan dangerously “limited”, “meager”, and “narrow”. Doing so, they alleged, “may be perceived as a sign of weakness rather than strength” and prove to “embolden rather than discourage regimes” opposed to the US. They knew that sending a message of unbridled hegemony entailed a disproportionate response to 9/11, one that had to extend beyond Afghanistan.

Iraq fit the bill both because it was more powerful than Afghanistan and because it had been in neoconservative crosshairs since George HW Bush declined to press on to Baghdad in 1991. A regime remaining defiant despite a military defeat was barely tolerable before 9/11. Afterwards, however, it became untenable.

That Iraq was attacked for its demonstration effect is attested to by several sources, not least the principals themselves – in private. A senior administration official told a reporter, off the record, that “Iraq is not just about Iraq”, rather “it was of a type”, including Iran, Syria, and North Korea.

In a memo issued on September 30, 2001, Rumsfeld advised Bush that “the USG [US government] should envision a goal along these lines: New regimes in Afghanistan and another key State [or two] that supports terrorism [to strengthen political and military efforts to change policies elsewhere]”.

Feith wrote to Rumsfeld in October 2001 that action against Iraq would make it easier to “confront – politically, militarily, or otherwise” Libya and Syria. As for then-Vice President Dick Cheney, one close adviser revealed that his thinking behind the war was to show: “We are able and willing to strike at someone. That sends a very powerful message.”

In a 2002 column, Jonah Goldberg coined the “Ledeen Doctrine”, named after neoconservative historian Michael Ledeen. The “doctrine” states: “Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business.”

It may be discomfiting to Americans to say nothing of millions of Iraqis that the Bush administration spent their blood and treasure for a war inspired by the Ledeen Doctrine. Did the US really start a war – one that cost trillions of dollars, killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, destabilized the region, and helped create the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) – just to prove a point?

More uncomfortable still is that the Bush administration used WMDs as a cover, with equal parts fearmongering and strategic misrepresentation – lying – to exact the desired political effect. Indeed, economists consider the notion that the Bush administration deliberately misled the country and the globe into war in Iraq to be a “conspiracy theory”, on par with beliefs that President Barack Obama was born outside the US or that the Holocaust did not occur.

But this, sadly, is no conspiracy theory. Even Bush officials have sometimes dropped their guard. Feith confessed in 2006 that “the rationale for the war didn’t hinge on the details of this intelligence even though the details of the intelligence at times became elements of the public presentation”.

That the administration used the fear of WMDs and terrorism to fight a war for hegemony should be acknowledged by an American political establishment eager to rehabilitate George W Bush amid the rule of Donald Trump, not least because John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser, seems eager to employ similar methods to similar ends in Iran.

(Ahsan I Butt is an Associate Professor at the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University. Posted earlier and made available to CityWatch by Common Dreams.)

-cw

The Beast from the Sea Is STILL Lying About Iraq (Revelation 13)

16 Years Later And The Bush Administration Is STILL Lying About Iraq

March 21, 2019

Ari Fleischer, the former press secretary for President George W. Bush, took some time on the 16th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq to remind us that the Bush administration DID NOT lie us into the war, but instead everyone just got their intelligence wrong. This is another lie. We’re 16 years into this quagmire and those responsible for it still can’t admit that they weren’t honest with the American public. Ring of Fire’s Farron Cousins discusses this..com/watch?vTranscript:

*This transcript was generated by a third-party transcription software company, so please excuse any typos.

Yesterday, mark the 16th anniversary from the date that the United States decided to invade Iraq. Ari Fleischer, George W. Bush has a press secretary during the run up to the Iraq war, decided to take the time not to commemorate the 4,500 dead US soldiers or the 300,000 dead Iraqi civilians and combatants, but instead took to Twitter, wrote a multi tweet thread about how nobody in the Bush administration lied us into the Iraq war. He swore up and down that no money lied. Stop saying we lied. Nobody lied. It’s just that all the intelligence was bad. But we were telling the truth based on this intelligence that later turned out to not be true. So there was no intentional or malicious lying taking place by anyone within the Bush administration. So says Ari Fleischer the guy who helps spread the lies that got us into the Iraq war. Now, plenty of people on Twitter, plenty of articles came out.

Everybody already refuted what Ari Fleischer had to say, because just like when he was press secretary, his entire litter, little, uh, Twitter screed was a lie. None of it was true except for the fact that, yeah, the intelligence agencies got it wrong. But what he left out was that not only did they get it wrong in some areas, but they actually had it right in plenty of other areas. It’s just that the Bush administration chose to ignore those parts. Like when the intelligence officials came and said, hey, we can’t find any evidence anywhere of nuclear weapons. And then Dick Cheney goes on TV and says, Oh yeah, there’s no question Saddam has nuclear weapons. Or when Condalisa Rice went on TV and said, well, they’ve got all these aluminum tubes, and they’re using those to build missiles. The probably nuclear missiles. Yeah. The intelligence community before those claims were made, told them these things aren’t happening.

So guess what, Ari, that is a malicious and intentional lie. The list is, is endless of all the lies this administration told to get us into Iraq. They lie to us in there. They didn’t know how to get out of there. Once they got in there, they didn’t even have an actual goal with this war other than George W. Bush. And Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld trying to finish what Bush’s daddy started in the early nineties beyond that, they didn’t know what to do. They didn’t know how to get out, and that’s why we still have American troops over there interact 16 years later. But the worst part of it all is that nobody from that administration is willing to admit that they weren’t honest. Hell, back in, I think it was what, 2006 we got the Downing Street memo, maybe it was even 2005 were British officials, said that the u s is fixing intelligence around a specified goal of Iraq invasion.

Even the British knew that we were fixing our intelligence to support an invasion that happened. That was a thing and nothing happened to George W. Bush or anyone else from his administration. They should have all immediately upon taking office by Barack Obama had been prosecuted for their war crimes, for lying us into the war for torturing enemy combatants. Everything totally prosecutable. Very easy to prove. But Obama came to office and said, let us look forward, not backward. It’s actually what he said, and that’s why these people are walking around today. Hell, George W. Bush has getting praise from some Democrats now. He’s so sweet. He gave Michelle Obama a piece of candy at the funeral. What a, what a good guy. He couldn’t figure out how to get his rain Poncho on during Trump’s inauguration. He’s such a goofball. He’s a goofball who got hundreds of thousands of people across this planet killed, and he hasn’t shown a single bit of remorse for the lies that calls all those deaths. That’s not exactly the kind of guy we should be hoisting up on our shoulders and saying, look at this lovable idiot. Isn’t he cute?

How Bush Set the Prophecy in Motion

‘The ground feels unsteady’: Exposed CIA spy on why Iraq was ‘one of the worst foreign policy decisions in history’ and its consequences

CommonSpace spoke to Valerie Plame, the ex CIA spy who’s story was turned into a film, about the “trumped up” intelligence in the US and UK which led to the Iraq war, and why mistrust in government now runs deep in western society

OVER 10 years after the invasion of Iraq, Valerie Plame travels the world with her spy thriller story, but the unlikely peace activist, formerly a senior spy tasked with nuclear counter-proliferation missions, never expected to attract sell-out crowds. 

Sitting down to lunch at the Beyond Borders festival before the interview begins, it is clear that Plame is more comfortable as part of a room than at its centre. Masterfully turning questions from journalists and film crew around and asking them herself, most notably finding out the hometown of those quizzing her before revealing where she lives now in New Mexico, it’s clearly her spy training hasn’t left her.

Plame’s life and career has been the plot of a major Hollywood blockbuster, and she has written her own account in a spy novel, but the unlikely protagonist of the “Plame affair” could not have dreamed of becoming a household name when she signed up to the Central Intelligence Agency [CIA] in the 1980’s.

Valerie Plame was a covert agent specialising in the counter proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, in her own words she “chased down the bad guys” who threatened the security of the West.

“When I was with the CIA, I was recruiting foreign spies to provide good, critical intelligence to senior policymakers. My expertise was counter-proliferation, essentially that means making sure bad guys did not get nuclear weapons,” she says.

Speaking to CommonSpace two years after the UK’s official inquiry into the Iraq war concluded that the invasion was founded on inaccurate intelligence, the woman behind the US intelligence gathering mission reaffirmed her belief that the Blair and Bush governments misused intelligence to support “one of the worst foreign policy decisions in history”.

“I would say that the whole time period, here we are 15 years on from the invasion of Iraq, and it is a decision that I think will go down in history as probably one of the worst foreign policy decisions in the US and perhaps in the UK, although it has a much longer history [in Iraq] than the US.

“Nevertheless, the UK at that time under Tony Blair was famously closely allied with US choices on this. What I saw, somewhat contemporaneously, and even more so today, of course, knowing what we know, is that the US administration was set to go to war with Iraq. The intelligence was famously wrapped around the policy, rather than intelligence driving policy.”

Plame’s identity as a covert CIA spy was leaked to the press in July 2003 by then Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff Lewis “Scooter” Libby in retaliation for a column authored by her husband, Ambassador Joe Wilson, himself a distinguished diplomat, which disputed the central premise behind the US and UK Government’s argument for the Iraq war.

Wilson, formerly second in command at the US embassy in Iraq, was sent to Niger, in Western Africa, in February 2002 to investigate UK intelligence passed to the US Government concerning the sale of enriched uranium to Saddam Hussein, a critical component part of a nuclear weapon of mass destruction.

Despite Wilson finding no evidence of such a sale, the faulty intelligence was quoted by the then American president George Bush when he announced action in Iraq, leading Wilson to conclude in a New York Times column that: “Some of the intelligence related to Iraq’s nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat”.

The retired ambassador was no friend of Saddam Hussein and had been a trusted advisor to Republican presidents and military commanders, serving as deputy chief of mission in Iraq he responded to threats by the then Iraqi dictator to “kill all foreigners” by appearing at a press conference with a homemade hangman’s noose around his neck and said: “If the choice is to allow American citizens to be taken hostage or to be executed, I will bring my own fucking rope”.

Only a handful of people outside of the CIA knew of Plame’s real identity, and her “cover” as a venture capitalist extended to even her children and closest friends. After a prolonged investigation, Scooter Libby was later found guilty of exposing the CIA spy, but using his executive powers Bush ensured that Libby would not serve his sentence, and after coming into office President Donald Trump officially pardoned Libby.

Central to Tony Blair’s case for war, set out in the infamous “dodgy dossier” which made the public case, was that Saddam Hussein could deploy weapons of mass destruction [WMDs] within 45 minutes of an order to use them.

Asked by CommonSpace if her experience in Iraq had ever indicated if this claim could be true, Plame laughed.

“No. No significant WMDs, in particular nuclear, were found of any sort [in Iraq],” She says. “Government at the very highest levels knew that. We had recruited the Iraqi foreign minister and he was a source providing intelligence and others.

“Again, an extremely complicated question, but why the US and the highest levels of government chose to ignore the understanding of that and still proceeded is the subject of many books and lots of ink.”

She explains that in the US, a coordinated marketing campaign for war in Iraq was tasked with convincing the public of the need for war: “How you market a war, and the thing that gets people to sit up and take notice is, ‘hey, psst, they got a nuclear weapon.’ That gets people to pay attention.”

Despite her exposure and initial reservations, Plame was able to launch a fightback against the political campaign which attempted to smear her, which included a leading politician telling the media she was simply a “secretary” with the CIA.

“I never wanted to be a public person, if none of that had happened I would be overseas now chasing nuclear weapons around the world. It took me some years to come to terms with it. I found it horrifying that my name and picture were in the newspaper and on TV,” she says.

Plame agreed that there was a public mistrust both in government and the intelligence services following the failures of the Iraq war: “Whether it is in the US or the UK, the politicisation of intelligence is always a possibility and always a threat.

“It happens and you try to pull back and re-establish a semblance of trust with the general public. That is very difficult because of the nature of the intelligence business. If it continues to happen you become a banana republic.

“in part, we are where we are today, and the general trend of populism we are seeing throughout the world and particularly in Western Europe can be traced back to 9/11 and the aftermath. Going to war on essentially trumped up charges, democratic institutions being eroded and a deep mistrust of those institutions.

“It has created a world where we are today where you sort of have people with pitchforks out on the street, exacerbated of course by the financial crash of 2008. The ground feels unsteady.”

Hesitant to comment on the details of the plans, Plame was uneasy at proposals from the new UK Government home secretary Sajid Javid, who would for the first time share secret intelligence relating to terror subjects outwith the tightly controlled grip of the security services.

“I haven’t read much on this, but it doesn’t sound like the way to go. We would have to read and understand more to look at this properly.”

The interview came in the same week that Donald Trump used powers to remove security clearance from political opponents who have access to secret or classified information, a McCarthyite tactic, according to Plame, used by Trump to remove the security clearance of people who say things he disagrees with.

“This is a dangerous precedent, and I keep waiting, and I may wait in vain, for someone in the Republican leadership to step forward and say, ‘that’s enough, Mr President,”‘ she says.

On the next global crisis, Plame says she would always revert back to her expertise on nuclear weapons: “What I know best is the nuclear threat, and right now we have nine declared nuclear countries. We’ve had some sabre rattling between North Korea and the United States, turns out that not everything was sorted out at the North Korea and Trump summit.

“That continues to be of grave concern, as does Pakistan, which is to my mind a country always ready to implode but which has nuclear weapons. And one can’t forget the Iran nuclear deal, which the US unilaterally withdrew from.

There are lots of problems in the world, but I always come back to the nuclear threat and how it should be discussed by clear thinking people.”

Picture courtesy of Paul Morse 

NO, We Can’t Trust Our Intelligence

 

We have a very serious problem in the U.S. Do we trust our national intelligence services or don’t we? The president repeatedly has favored Vladimir Putin (a known liar) over our national intelligence services. He has openly questioned the performance of our national intelligence services. He has openly questioned the performance of our national intelligence services during the run-up to the Iraq War. In fact, he has used this as the basis for his case against our national intelligence services. Is he correct? Did our intelligence services completely botch intelligence during the run-up to the Iraq War or was it the fact that the George W. Bush administration was given mostly good intelligence but misused it in its desire to go to war.

Consider the following…

First. In an August 2002 speech, Vice President Dick Cheney asserted, “Simply stated, there’s no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us.” But earlier this year, Vice Adm. Thomas Wilson, the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, had told Congress that Iraq possessed only “residual” amounts of WMDs.

Second. In September 2002, Cheney insisted there was “very clear evidence” Saddam was developing nuclear weapons: Iraq’s acquisition of aluminum tubes that were to be used to enrich uranium for bombs. But Cheney and the Bush White House did not tell the public that there was a heated debate within the intelligence community about this supposed evidence. The top scientific experts in the government had concluded these tubes were not suitable for a nuclear weapons program. But one CIA analyst-who was not a scientific expert-contended the tubes were smoking-gun proof that Saddam was working to produce nuclear weapons. The Bush- Cheney White House embraced this faulty piece of evidence and ignored the more informed analysis. Bush and Cheney were cherry-picking-choosing bad intelligence over good-and not paying attention to better information that cut the other way.

There are many more examples. We will run out of room.

Finally, consider the following article in the March/April edition of the magazine “Foreign Affairs” by Paul R. Pillar titled “Policy and the War in Iraq.” I will only present the summary. “Summary: During the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, writes the former senior analyst for the Middle East, the Bush administration disregarded the communities expertise, politicized the intelligence process, and selected unrepresentative raw intelligence to make it’s public case.

The conclusion is that it was not faulty intelligence from our intelligence services that got us into the Iraq War. We can trust our national intelligence services. But, we have to worry about our politicians misusing the intelligence they are given.

Robert Peterson