AJ Rossmiller: Why Bloggers Are Better Informed than Condi Rice

still-broken.jpgAJ Rossmiller (of AmericaBlog fame) nailed the results of the 2005 Iraqi election. You might recall that as the election where, after it had long become clear Ahmad Chalabi had little base of support in Iraq, some anonymous sources in the Administration nevertheless had great hopes that somehow Chalabi might end up as Prime Minister.

Though he lacks any mass appeal, some U.S. diplomats even cite the secular Shi’ite as a possible compromise candidate for prime minister in a coalition government.

But Chalabi won just .5% of the vote. Iyad Allawi, in whom the Administration also invested their hopes, won just 8% of the vote. And the Shiite coalition dominated by SCIRI and the Sadrists got 41% of the votes. In his book, Still Broken, AJ describes that he saw this coming.

After Iraq’s winter elections, the results validated the predictions contained in the paper I’d written in the fall. It created something of a stir because the paper turned out to be remarkably accurate, far more so than the forecasts of other agencies and departments. Before the election occurred, a high-ranking official requested a follow-up evaluation of our assessments, and I wrote a memo that described our precision. The memo made its way up through the chain, and a few days later the office got a note from Stephen Cambone, the Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence, praising both the prediction and the self-evaluation.

Unfortunately, the bulk of the last half of AJ’s book describes how such accurate predictions are generally weeded out by higher-ranking analysts worried that their office’s work product might piss off the Administration. For example, AJ describes some of the conversations leading up to the election (edited to take out classified information), where people argued against his analysis because it didn’t accord with that of other intelligence agencies.

"You’re being too pessimistic. [The secularists] are gaining strength."

"There’s no way Iraqis will vote for [those in power] again. We can’t pass this up the chain."

"[Other agencies] are predicting something totally different and we need to make sure we’re not too far off message with this."

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Condi Ignores Doubts on the 16 Words

Given that Henry Waxman has been threatening to subpoena Condi to answer precisely the same question that Robert Wexler asked today yesterday, I would guess that Condi has practiced her answer. And, unfortunately, the ability to filibuster is one of Condi’s greatest skills–Condi frankly got the best of Wexler here (and sadly, Wexler didn’t ask her the doozy question–why she approved the 16 words in the SOTU after Tenet had warned her strongly against the Niger claim in October 2002).

If you look at this whole exchange, Condi gets away with defending her integrity in several ways:

  • By eliding the difference between consensus judgments and challenges to it (in other words, Condi successfully ducked Wexler’s question about burying those challenges)
  • By shifting from the decisions she made about intelligence to the decisions others did
  • By ignoring the whole question of leaks to the press (Scooter Libby testified that Condi was the chief leaker in the A1 Cut-Out strategy, for example, which suggests Condi repeatedly leaked insta-declassified information to people like Judy Miller so it would become the dominant story)

But I’m particularly interested in Condi’s successful efforts to still–almost five years after the Valerie Wilson leak–pawn the blame off on the CIA:

RICE: Congressman, I am sorry, I sat through the briefings for the Congress and for the Senate, done by the intelligence community. We were there to provide policy advice, but either George Tenet or John McLaughlin or others gave those briefings.

And, Congressman, the American people were told what their intelligence community as a whole believed to be the assessment concerning Iraq’s programs.

Condi suggests that if Congress and the American people got bad information, it’s George Tenet’s and John McLaughlin’s fault.

Which is why–in addition to asking Condi why she approved the 16 words in the SOTU–Wexler didn’t bring up this briefing:

On October 2, 2002, the Deputy DCI testified before the SSCI. Senator Jon Kyl asked the Deputy DCI whether he had read the British white paper and whether he disagreed with anything in the report. The Deputy DCI testified that "the one thing where I think they stretched a little bit beyond where we would stretch is on the points about Iraq seeking uranium from various African locations. We’ve looked at those reports and we don’t think they are very credible. Read more

How to Establish an Empire without Congressional Approval

Charlie Savage has a great article summarizing Bush’s threats to establish a security relationship with Iraq without consulting Congress.

President Bush’s plan to forge a long-term agreement with the Iraqi government that could commit the US military to defending Iraq’s security would be the first time such a sweeping mutual defense compact has been enacted without congressional approval, according to legal specialists.

After World War II, for example – when the United States gave security commitments to Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Australia, New Zealand, and NATO members – Presidents Truman and Eisenhower designated the agreements as treaties requiring Senate ratification. In 1985, when President Ronald Reagan guaranteed that the US military would defend the Marshall Islands and Micronesia if they were attacked, the compacts were put to a vote by both chambers of Congress.

By contrast, Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki have already agreed that a coming compact will include the United States providing "security assurances and commitments" to Iraq to deter any foreign invasion or internal terrorism by "outlaw groups." But a top White House official has also said that Bush does not intend to submit the deal to Congress.

Savage shifts the focus from whether Bush is trying to force the hand of his successor to the Constitutional questions behind such an act. And he finds that even wingnut Republicans oppose Bush’s threats to bypass Congress. Read more

GAO to White House: We Hate to Say We Told You So, But We Told You So

The NYT had a story yesterday reporting that the Iraqis just can’t seem to spend its reconstruction money as quickly as it’s supposed to be spending it.

Highly promising figures that the administration cited to demonstrate economic progress in Iraq last fall, when Congress was considering whether to continue financing the war, cannot be substantiated by official Iraqi budget records, the Government Accountability Office reported Tuesday.

The Iraqi government had been severely criticized for failing to spend billions of dollars of its oil revenues in 2006 to finance its own reconstruction, but last September the administration said Iraq had greatly accelerated such spending. By July 2007, the administration said, Iraq had spent some 24 percent of $10 billion set aside for reconstruction that year.

As Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top American commander in Iraq, and Ryan C. Crocker, the American ambassador to Iraq, prepared in September to report to Congress on the state of the war, the economic figures were a rare sign of progress within Iraq’s often dysfunctional government.

But in its report on Tuesday, the accountability office said official Iraqi Finance Ministry records showed that Iraq had spent only 4.4 percent of the reconstruction budget by August 2007. It also said that the rate of spending had substantially slowed from the previous year.

What the NYT doesn’t say, though, is that the GAO itself also reported on how much money Iraq had spent, in its report issued just before Petraeus’ dog and pony show. In fact, the benchmark of whether Iraq was spending its money as quickly it was supposed to was one of the ones on which the GAO and the Administration disagreed. Whereas the GAO declared that Iraq had "partially met" its goal to spend $10 billion on reconstruction, the Administration declared Iraq’s progress "satisfactory." So the GAO’s report is really the GAO providing evidence that its more pessimistic measures were correct.

It’s in that context–the knowledge that the Administration was trying to claim full credit for something the GAO had rather generously awarded a gentleman’s C–that you should read the rest of the article, describing how the Administration managed to invent rosy numbers to as declare the Iraq government was making progress.

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The Sudden Change of Story on Iranian EFPs

I know we’re supposed to be focused on other stuff on IA Caucus Day (maybe I’ll get around to it by prime time). But for the moment I wanted to call attention to this Noah Shachtman post, in which he links to a story in which the ever-reliable (ha!) Steven Boylan declares that Iran has stopped providing Iraq with EFPs.

"We are ready to confirm the excellence of the senior Iranian leadership in their pledge to stop the funding, training, equipment and resourcing of the militia special groups," Col. Boylan said. "We have seen a downward trend in the signature-type attacks using weapons provided by Iran."

In October, U.S. military officials began noticing a decrease in the supply of Iranian weapons and assistance, Col. Boylan added.

 Though Boylan seems poised to declare that Eastasia is again our enemy, if circumstances so require.

"We are very much in the wait-and-see mode to see what happens," Col. Boylan said.

While Shachtman seems inclined to give Boylan the benefit of the doubt, he also notes that the dominant narrative on IEDs tends to be rather conveniently tied to larger geopolitical questions.

I’m inclined to take Boylan at his word — he’s always been straight with me.  But, the cynic in me can’t help but note that the Iran connection was overplayed last winter.  The EFPs that the U.S. military displayed as evidence of Iranian machining struck some observers as hand-hammered ashtrays. The EFPs I saw in Iraq had a similar, home-made feel — and bore no mark of Iranian manufacture.   At least two EFP factories have been found inside Iraq.

Since I’m more cynical and much less trusting of Boylan than Shachtman, I’d just like to emphasize that swing, particularly the timing of the swing back to the conclusion that Eastasia Iran is not arming Iraqi insurgents: October, about the time Bush was making his WWIII comments and Putin was proclaiming a war on Iran to be a war on Russia. And one month before the NIE stating that Iran had given up its nukes program. And two months before Abdullah and Ahmadinejad started smooching secretly behind the back of the school. 

2008, the Year of $100/Barrel Oil

As freep pointed out, the price of oil has officially topped $100/barrel.

Surging economies in China and India fed by oil and gasoline have sent prices soaring over the past year, while tensions in oil producing nations like Nigeria and Iran have increasingly made investors nervous and invited speculators to drive prices even higher.

Violence in Nigeria helped give crude the final push over $100. Bands of armed men invaded Port Harcourt, the center of Nigeria’s oil industry Tuesday, attacking two police stations and raiding the lobby of a major hotel. Word that several Mexican oil export ports were closed due to rough weather added to the gains, as did a report that OPEC may not be able to meet its share of global oil demand by 2024.

Light, sweet crude for January delivery rose $4.02 to $100 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, according to Brenda Guzman, a Nymex spokeswoman, before slipping back to $99.15.

I’m not surprised in the least that this symbolic limit has been passed (however briefly–this was just a single transaction). It’s just kind of creepy that it happened on the first business day of the New Year (along with a 200 point decline in the Dow).

We started last year with the hope that somehow we could scale back Bush’s disastrous imperialism. A year later, Bush’s policies and the developed world’s addiction to oil continue to destabilize the world. Only now, the economic impacts of those policies are taking center stage.

Why the Sudden Veto of Military Pay Raises?

Digby and Steve Benen are right. Bush’s impending veto of the military spending bill is just weird. Here’s how Pelosi and Reid describe the veto:

Despite the Administration’s earlier support for the Department of Defense authorization bill, it appears that President Bush plans to veto this legislation, which is crucial to our armed forces and their families.

The Defense bill passed both houses of Congress by overwhelming bipartisan margins and addresses urgent national security priorities, including a 3.5 percent pay raise for our troops and Wounded Warriors legislation to remedy our veterans’ health care system. It is unfortunate that the President will not sign this critical legislation.

Instead, we understand that the President is bowing to the demands of the Iraqi government, which is threatening to withdraw billions of dollars invested in U.S. banks if this bill is signed.

The Administration should have raised its objections earlier, when this issue could have been addressed without a veto. The American people will have every right to be disappointed if the President vetoes this legislation, needlessly delaying implementation of the troops’ pay raise, the Wounded Warriors Act and other critical measures.

It’s weird in that Bush has had months to push a very compliant Congress to write the bill precisely as he wants. And it’s weird because the stated reason for the impending veto doesn’t make any sense. Steve points to this Yahoo article explaining why. Bush says he’s going to veto the bill because the Iraqis are worried about getting sued, but the Iraqis are already protected by law.

Sovereign nations are normally immune from lawsuits in U.S. courts. An exception is made for state sponsors of terrorism and Iraq was designated such a nation in 1990. After the 2003 invasion of Iraq, however, Congress passed a law and Bush issued a decree stating that Iraq was exempt from such lawsuits. Read more