Dick Cheney’s biggest failures are surely moral. The hundreds of thousands of Iraqis killed, senselessly. The thousands of Americans killed, senselessly. The hundreds of thousands, perhaps over a million, on both sides, maimed and poisoned and scarred both physically and mentally.
See Juan Cole and Tomas Young (who will shortly die from wounds suffered in the Iraq War) for an accounting of that cost.
But there has been far too little accounting of the cost of Dick Cheney’s strategic choices.
Dick Cheney spent the first several months of the Bush Administration assessing where the US would get its energy in future years and how that would sustain our hegemonic role in the world. In his autobiographical novel, published in 2011, he had this to say about his Energy Task Force.
The report is one I am very proud of. I commend it to anyone looking to understand America’s energy challenges still today.
The environmental groups that criticized the report are all too often, in my experience, opposed to any increase in the production of conventional sources of energy. They don’t want to drill anyplace. They don’t want to mine coal anyplace. They seem to believe we can depend on alternative sources of energy, such as solar or wind. It’s my view — and it’s the view reflected in the report — that while we should develop alternative sources, in the final analysis, we can’t effectively address our energy problems in the near term nor can we remain competitive in the global economy unless we also produce more energy from conventional, domestic sources.
Right now, none of the alternative sources of energy can compete economically with petroleum and coal and other conventional sources. It’s also the case that time and time again, we have found that developing alternative sources has undesirable, unanticipated consequences. The push for ethanol fuel produced from corn, for example, resulted in driving the price of a bushel of corn up significantly. This had a huge impact on people who used corn for purposes other than fuel — purposes that weren’t subsidized. Cattleman, for example, were suddenly faced with significantly higher feed prices. [my emphasis]
While Cheney’s report did have a chapter on “Nature’s Power,” (which is not, interestingly, one of the two he accused critics of having not read), just one paragraph on any alternative source of power but hydropower shows up on the chapter on “Energy for a New Century.”
Hydropower is, to date, the most successful form of renewable energy. However, some forms of renewable energy generation—wind, geothermal, and biomass— have the potential to make more significant contributions in coming years, and the cost of most forms of renewable energy has declined sharply in recent years. The most important barrier to increased renewable energy production remains economic; nonhydropower renewable energy generation costs are greater than other traditional energy sources. The following chapter discusses renewable and alternative energy in greater detail
Never mind that Cheney’s understanding of the competitiveness of alternatives by 2011, particularly with coal, which the report boosted aggressively, was badly mistaken.
He argued in 2011 — 10 years after 9/11 and 7 years after the Iraq War had descended into a clusterfuck — that alternative energy has some nasty unintended consequences (he might have a point if he talked about how Ethanol contributed to increase food insecurity for actual human beings, which contributes to political instability, but apparently he sees feeding Americans cheap grain fed beef to be a higher priority).
And of course, the nasty unintended consequence that is climate change did not show up in this discussion in the least.
On May 16, 2001, Dick Cheney released a report declaring (based partly on a shortage in CA artificially caused by Enron) an energy crisis, and proposing recommendations to bring more fossil fuels online quickly, as well as nuclear power.
America in the year 2001 faces the most serious energy shortage since the oil embargoes of the 1970s.
This imbalance, if allowed to continue, will inevitably undermine our economy, our standard of living, and our national security.
Present trends are not encouraging, but they are not immutable. They are among today’s most urgent challenges, and well within our power to overcome. Our country has met many great tests. Some have imposed extreme hardship and sacrifice. Others have demanded only resolve, ingenuity, and clar ity of purpose. Such is the case with energy today.
We submit these recommendations with optimism. We believe that the tasks ahead, while great, are achievable. The energy crisis is a call to put to good use the resources around us, and the talents within us. It summons the best of America, and offers the best of rewards – in new jobs, a healthier environment, a stronger economy, and a brighter future for our people.
Four months later, 19 Arabs, 15 of whom were Saudis, destroyed the World Trade Center and damaged the Pentagon. All of them were motivated, in part, by America’s increasing presence in the Middle East.
In one of my earliest blog posts ever–one I’ve lost somewhere–I grappled with why the Bush Administration would choose their Iraq adventure in the face of Peak Oil and climate change.
Why, at the time the US enjoyed its greatest relative power, after Dick Cheney had fought his earliest battles to dodge congressional oversight with his energy task force to study declining readily explotable oil and its alternatives, would the Bush Administration expend America’s hegemonic power in an illegal invasion of Iraq?
This post, asking whether the US refuses to do anything about climate change because it will affect the US relatively less than it will affect other countries, reminded me of that post I wrote years ago.
What if the leaders of the United States — and by leaders I mean the generals in the Pentagon, the corporate executives of the country’s largest enterprises, and the top officials in government — have secretly concluded that while world-wide climate change is indeed going to be catastrophic, the US, or more broadly speaking, North America, is fortuitously situated to come out on top in the resulting global struggle for survival?
What prompted me to this dark speculation about an American conspiracy of inaction was the seemingly incomprehensible failure of the US — in the face of overwhelming evidence that the Earth is heating up at an accelerating rate, and that we are in danger of soon reaching a point of no return where the process feeds itself — to do anything to reduce either this country’s annual production of more atmospheric CO2, or to promote some broader international agreement to slow the production of greenhouse gases.
The conclusion to that 8 year old post–one I still think is valid–is that in the face of both Peak Oil and climate change, Cheney committed the US to doubling down on the source of its hegemonic power in the belief that by retaining hegemonic power for this period of transition out of oil and into alternatives, it would retain hegemonic power thereafter.
Rather than invest the trillion dollars squandered on Iraq (or even the hundreds of billion they had to know it would cost) to make the US energy self-sufficient and lead the world in climate response, Cheney instead chose to seize the largest source of readily exploitable oil, in the process providing an alternative swing producer to the Saudis, whose citizens and funds attacked us on 9/11 (and remember, Iran was teed up to be overthrown next). By choosing the oil route, I figured, Cheney also chose the route that supported relative unilateralism rather than the cooperation that a real climate change response would and ultimately will require.
So I don’t so much think the US has decided it will ride out climate change better than other nations as I think it is intent on retaining its hegemonic position of power, which has been built since 1945 on cheap oil. Sure, the US also seems to have grown comfortable with Neo-Feudalism in the last decade, meaning the elite will happily live in their compounds protected from the instability that climate change will and already has unleashed. And the Global War on Terror will morph unnoticeably into a global counter-insurgency to protect those Neo-Feudal bastions.
But ultimately, I think, this country’s elites have decided they must retain their grasp on power no matter what. And that power rests on oil.
And don’t get me wrong. While I think Cheney fully understood the alternatives presented by this choice and made it for the rest of us, I’m not saying Democrats generally or Obama specifically are innocent. Consider Obama’s unwavering focus on energy independence, which he often cloaks in a false concern for climate change. US power is currently built off a death embrace with the Saudis. But as news reports increasingly–if prematurely–tout, we’re headed for Saudi-level targets of production. That will free us from the troubling demands the Saudis make, shore up our currency, but also keep us precisely where we are, relying on cheap oil to drive our economy and power. That is the goal of Obama’s energy choices, not replacing coal with less-polluting gas. And that explains why Obama just started selling off the rest of the Gulf for exploitation.
It’s crazy, I know. But I sincerely believe there are top secret discussions that insist if we just keep hold of power during what will undoubtedly be a chaotic fifty years, then we can fix whatever mess we’ve caused in the interim. If we can just get the oil while the getting is good, I think they believe, we can adjust to what comes later. Even if the Chinese and Koreans and Europeans will have been eating our lunch in developing new technologies, I guess they believe, we’ll be able to seize them back when the time comes.
The alternative, of course, one Dick Cheney surely recognized during his energy task force, would be to invest instead in a Manhattan project of alternative energy and to dissolve our power into the cooperative structures that will be needed in the face of climate change. That was not, and remains not, a viable option for a top American national security figure.
And so we–and the rest of the world–will melt as a result.
As we’ve all been reading tea leaves about whether and when Israel will attack Iran, I’ve come to suspect we’re ignoring an equally important story. That is, to what degree is our post-Arab Spring policy in the Middle East serving Saudi Arabia’s purposes of aiming to obliterate the Shia–Iranian–pole of influence and not just our typical responsiveness to Israeli demands? And to what degree is that a catastrophic mistake of a magnitude equal to our mistake in invading Iraq (and to what degree is the plan an effort to recover from our loss in Iraq)?
I hope to raise this question more fully in a series of posts, but first some caveats and hypotheses. First, the caveats. I’m obviously not an expert in this field. I speak none of the languages in question. I think current events in the Middle East are more obscure than even they normally are. And I’m not sure my hypotheses are right. For all those reasons, I readily welcome being told I’m an idiot on this front by those with more expertise.
My hypotheses? Dick Cheney invaded Iraq as a middle term strategy to sustain US hegemony as the world transitions into peak oil. The strategy failed, miserably. On top of that failure, we’re faced with the crumbling of our old strategy in the wake of the Arab Spring. As a result, we’re pursuing (either deliberately or through lack of reflection) a strategy of making the Sunni pole–Saudi Arabia–even more powerful. And yet we’re doing this, bizarrely, at the same time we claim to be fighting a war against mostly Sunni terrorism. As such, the strategy seems as stupid as–and in many ways a repeat of–withdrawing troops from Afghanistan to fight in Iraq.
My thoughts on this have really solidified as I read two Bruce Riedel pieces–this recent column and one from last August. The recent one is so breathtakingly logically faulty as to merit mapping out Riedel’s argument–that Iran and Al Qaeda are likely to ally for an attack this summer–closely (note that Riedel’s argument is a response to Israeli spin in European papers about the Iranian threat).
So despite their animosity, al Qaeda, Iran, and Hizbullah can probably also find new places to quietly cooperate, if only passively.
One would think that, within a month of the US finally withdrawing its troops (leaving behind a vast mercenary force) from the nearly nine year nightmare in Iraq that was launched on the basis of evidence-free accusations, and only days after President Obama signed into permanency his ability to detain citizens forever without providing a shred of evidence, the Washington Post would refrain from giving Joby Warrick a chance to yammer again from the basis of unsupportable allegations that Iran is actively pursuing nuclear weapons. But this is the Post we’re talking about, and the same bill that gave Obama indefinite detention powers also tightened the screws on Iran, so it was necessary to bring Warrick out to put forth the latest transcribed version of US spin.
Warrick’s piece, at the time of this writing, is occupying the most prominent position on the home page of the Post’s website, where it has the teaser headline “Iran fears worst as West steps up pressure”. Clicking through to the article gives the headline “As currency crisis and feud with West deepen, Iranians brace for war”. The overall spin that the US is projecting through this transcription is that both the Iranian government and Iranian citizens are feeling the almighty power of the US sanctions and that they are in a state of depressed resignation to the inevitability of war, while the US government is seeing that its brilliant moves are paying off and we just might not need to proceed to the point of an overt attack. I guess that is the upside of moving forward with public sanctions (and covert actions that already constitute a full-on war) based on manufactured evidence: it is also possible to manufacture evidence that allows us to declare victory and (hopefully) move on.
There is, of course, a flip side to that same argument. As commenter Dan succinctly put it in my post from yesterday where we were discussing the risk of all-out war stemming from the US sanctions:
All this risk to punish a country for something no one has proven it has done.
With that as background, here is how the Post article opens:
TEHRAN — At a time when U.S. officials are increasingly confident that economic and political pressure alone may succeed in curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions, the mood here has turned bleak and belligerent as Iranians prepare grimly for a period of prolonged hardship and, they fear, war.
A bit further along, we get the US gloating on its “successful” approach:
The sense of impending confrontation is not shared in Washington and other Western capitals, where government officials and analysts expressed cautious satisfaction that their policies are working. Continue reading
The NYT, which played a key propaganda role in getting us into the Iraq war, has a 1000-word article telling us the Iraq war has officially been declared over.
And while it is true that the Administration had a
campaign event dog and pony show yesterday declaring the war over, it is not.
After all, Rand Paul tried to formally, legally end the Iraq war last month. And 67 Senators refused to do so.
The fact that the Iraq AUMF remains on the books matters. It matters because no matter how many times we wax eloquent about Iraqis controlling their own destiny, Nuri al-Maliki knows that little prevents Obama from bringing in troops again–or dropping drones in his country. Maybe that’s why Maliki is doing unfathomable things like laying a wreath at the military cemetery of the country that has occupied and ravaged his country for 8 years.
And, as I keep noting, the Iraq AUMF serves another purpose. That AUMF’s general language on “terrorism” has been used to authorize the use of “war powers” against people the Executive Branch claims are terrorists who have nothing to do with al Qaeda. The Iraq AUMF has been interpreted by the Executive Branch to authorize a war against all so-called terrorists, not just the terrorists who hit us on 9/11. And based on that argument, it was used to authorize the wiretapping of American citizens in the US.
Credulous journalists may want to accept the Administration’s propaganda about the Iraq war ending. But until we take the expanded powers given to the President pursuant to a vile propaganda campaign away from him, the Iraq war is not over. And Obama should not be able to use it as a campaign line until he actually gives up those powers.
You may have seen discussions about this project around the Toobz. In it, scholars use supercomputers to analyze the tone of news coverage. Their results from Egypt and Tunisia–showing low sentiment right before this year’s revolutions–suggest you can predict volatile events with such analysis.
Feinstein set a skeptical tone at the opening of the hearing, saying Obama and other policymakers deserved timely intelligence on major world events. Referring to Egypt, she said, “I have doubts whether the intelligence community lived up to its obligations in this area.”
After the hearing, Feinstein said she was particularly concerned that the CIA and other agencies had ignored open-source intelligence on the protests, a reference to posts on Facebook and other publicly accessible Web sites used by organizers of the protests against the Mubarak government.
Speaking more broadly about intelligence on turmoil in the Middle East, Feinstein said, “I’ve looked at some intelligence in this area.” She described it as “lacking . . . on collection.”
According to DiFi, the CIA missed the Arab Spring because they weren’t monitoring open source materials (an argument that WikiLeaks cables seem to confirm). And this study is all the more damning for our intelligence community, because this study uses their own (actually, Britiain’s) open source collection.
Recognizing the need for on–the–ground insights into the reaction of local media around the world in the leadup to World War II, the U.S. and British intelligence communities formed the Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS — now the Open Source Center) and Summary of World Broadcasts (SWB) global news monitoring services, respectively. Tasked with monitoring how media coverage “varied between countries, as well as from one show to another within the same country … the way in which specific incidents were reported … [and] attitudes toward various countries,” (Princeton University Library, 1998) the services transcribe and translate a sample of all news globally each day. The services work together to capture the “full text and summaries of newspaper articles, conference proceedings, television and radio broadcasts, periodicals, and non–classified technical reports” in their native languages in over 130 countries (World News Connection, 2009) and were responsible for more than 80 percent of actionable intelligence about the Soviet Union during the Cold War (Studeman, 1993). In fact, news monitoring, or “open source intelligence,” now forms such a critical component of the intelligence apparatus that a 2001 Washington Post article noted “so much of what the CIA learns is collected from newspaper clippings that the director of the agency ought to be called the Pastemaster General.” (Pruden, 2001)
While products of the intelligence community, FBIS and SWB are largely strategic resources, maintaining even monitoring coverage across the world, rather than responding to hotspots of interest to the U.S. or U.K. (Leetaru, 2010). A unique iterative translation process emphasizes preserving the minute nuances of vernacular content, capturing the subtleties of domestic reaction. More than 32,000 sources are listed as monitored, but the actual number is likely far lower, as the editors draw a distinction between different editions of the same source. Today, both services are available to the general public, but FBIS is only available in digital form back to 1993, while SWB extends back more than three decades to 1979, and so is the focus of this study. During the January 1979 to July 2010 sample used in this study, SWB contained 3.9 million articles. The only country not covered by SWB is the United States, due to legal restrictions of its partner, the CIA, on monitoring domestic press.
If you believe that study author Kalev Leetaru’s research is valid (I think it’s very preliminary), then you basically grant that using his data analysis methods would have warned our intelligence services that the unrest in North Africa was exceptionally high.
But that’s not what I found most intriguing about Leetaru’s research.
And as he explains, they generally track during this period, though with key deviations.
To verify that these results are not merely artifacts of the SWB data collection process, Figure 4 shows the average tone by month of Summary of World Broadcasts Egyptian coverage plotted against the coverage of the New York Times (16,106 Egyptian articles) and the English–language Web–only news (1,598,056 Egyptian articles) comparison datasets. SWB has a Pearson correlation of r=0.48 (n=63) with the Web news and r=0.29 (n=63) with the New York Times, suggesting a statistically significant relationship between the three. All three show the same general pattern of tone towards Egypt, but SWB tone leads Web tone by one month in several regions of the graph, which in turn leads Times tone. All three show a sharp shift towards negativity 1–24 January 2011, but the Times, in keeping with its reputation as the Grey Lady of journalism, shows a more muted response.
That is, for these events, local coverage was both more attuned to a change in sentiment and more reflective of the volatility of it. Or to put it another way, the NYT was slow to consider Egypt a major story, and never thought it was as big of a deal as the rest of the world did.
A far more interesting comparison of how the NYT outlook compared with the rest of the world comes in these two graphs, which show the NYT sentiment from 1945 to 2005 and the SWB sentiment from 1979 to 2010 (caution–neither the X nor Y axes here use the same scale; click to enlarge or go to the study for larger images).
You can sort of pick out events that might be driving sentiment on both scales. And they don’t entirely line up. Just as an example, the US seems to have reacted far more strongly–2 deviations as compared to .5 deviation–to what appears to be the first Gulf War in January 1991.
But note where both data sets converge more closely: with our second war against Iraq, with even the chief cheerleader for war, the NYT, measuring in the high 2 deviations from the mean in early 2003, and the international SWB measuring almost 2 deviations from the mean.
Significantly, the study shows that Egyptian sentiment before they revolted was in the 3+ range–more incensed than we were with the Iraq invasion, but not by much; whereas sentiment in Tunisia and Libya was less negative. Were we that close to revolting?
Now, I could be misreading both the stats and the explanation for the global bad mood as we lurched toward war against Iraq (though it also shows up in the Egyptian and Tunisian graphs; the sentiment is least severe in Libya). But if I’m not, it raises questions about what was driving the sentiment. In Europe especially and even in the US, there were huge protests against the war, though we never seemed all that close to overthrowing the war-mongers in power. I wonder, too, whether the sentiment also reflects the ginned up hatred toward Saddam Hussein. That is, it may be measuring negative sentiment, but partly negative sentiment directed against an artificial enemy.
So are these graphs showing that we were even closer to revolt than those of us opposed to the war believed? Or is the NYT graph showing that warmongers reflect the same nasty mood as people attempting to prevent an illegal war?
In any case, the NYT coverage reflected the crankiest mood in the US of the entire previous half century, significantly worse than the VIetnam period. I knew I was cranky; I wasn’t entirely sure everyone else was, too.
Tim F made this point implicitly, but it deserves to be made explicitly. Do you really think Howell Raines, the editor who oversaw Judy Miller’s Iraq War propaganda, is really the one to exhort journalists to call out Fox for its false journalism?
One question has tugged at my professional conscience throughout the year-long congressional debate over health-care reform, and it has nothing to do with the public option, portability or medical malpractice. It is this: Why haven’t America’s old-school news organizations blown the whistle on Roger Ailes, chief of Fox News, for using the network to conduct a propaganda campaign against the Obama administration — a campaign without precedent in our modern political history?
Why has our profession, through its general silence — or only spasmodic protest — helped Fox legitimize a style of journalism that is dishonest in its intellectual process, untrustworthy in its conclusions and biased in its gestalt?
Why can’t American journalists steeped in the traditional values of their profession be loud and candid about the fact that Murdoch does not belong to our team?
As for Fox News, lots of people who know better are keeping quiet about what to call it. Its news operation can, in fact, be called many things, but reporters of my generation, with memories and keyboards, dare not call it journalism.
I’ll admit that when I first suggested that Judy Miller was not engaging in journalism when Dick Cheney and Scooter Libby outed Valerie Plame to her, I wished that other journalists would have the courage to acknowledge that what she was doing was not journalism. It would have been nice, then, to have a column like this, calling on journalists to expose disinformation in the guise of journalism.
But really. Does Howell Raines have no sense of irony?
After all, it’d be a pity if Raines missed the irony of the fact that Judy Miller now works for Fox News.
According to al-Libi, the foreign government service [redacted] “stated that the next topic was al-Qa’ida’s connections with Iraq. … This was a subject about which he said he knew nothing and had difficulty even coming up with a story.” Al-Libi indicated that his interrogators did not like his responses and then “placed him in a small box approximately 50cm x 50cm.” He claimed he was held in the box for approximately 17 hours. When he was let out of the box, alLibi claims that he was given a last opportunity to “tell the truth.” When al-Libi did not satisfy the interrogator, al-Libi claimed that “he was knocked over with an arm thrust across his chest and he fell on his back.” Al-Libi told CIA debriefers that he then “was punched for 15 minutes.”216
(U) Al-Libi told debriefers that “after the beating,” he was again asked about the connection with Iraq and this time he came up with a story that three al-Qa’ida members went to Iraq to learn about nuclear weapons. Al-Libi said that he used the names of real individuals associated with al-Qa’ida so that he could remember the details of his fabricated story and make it more believable to the foreign intelligence service. Al-Libi noted that “this pleased his [foreign] interrogators, who directed that al-Libi be taken back to a big room, vice the 50 square centimeter box and given food.”217
That mock burial–and al-Libi’s subsequent lies about Iraqi ties with al Qaeda–happened sometime before February 22, 2002, when a DIA cable challenged the report.
This is the first report from Ibn al-Shaykh [al-Libi] in which he claims Iraq assisted al-Qa’ida’s CBRN efforts. However, he lacks specific details on the Iraqi’s involvement, the CBRN materials associated with the assistance, and the location where the training occurred. It is possible he does not know any further details; it is more likely this individual is intentionally misleading the debriefers. Ibn al-Shaykh has been undergoing debriefs for several weeks and may be describing scenarios to the debriefers that he knows will retain their interest. Saddam’s regime is intensely secular and is wary of Islamic revolutionary movements. Moreover, Baghdad is unlikely to provide assistance to a group it cannot control
Al-Libi was, you’ll recall, the onsite manager of the Khalden training camp, a camp that trained a range of Muslims, a policy that put it at odds with Osama bin Laden, who wanted training to be limited to al Qaeda operatives.
Just over a month after al-Libi claimed, having been shoved in a coffin for almost a day, there were ties between al Qaeda and Iraq, the US captured al-Libi’s associate, Abu Zubaydah, who handled logistics for Khalden. Rather than send Abu Zubaydah off to the Egyptians, as the US had done with al-Libi, they instead sent Abu Zubaydah to a CIA run black site in Thailand.
And there, less than three months after the Egyptians shoved Ibn Sheikh al-Libi in a coffin overnight, James Mitchell threatened to do the same with Abu Zubaydah. Ali Soufan objected and told Mitchell doing so was torture. Soufan left the black site and alerted DOJ of what Mitchell had intended to do.