Sunday, February 11, 2007

Barack and Iraq

I was dumbfounded when I heard the first faint drumbeat for war stirring in 2002. It was clear long before the phony evidence rolled out that the Bush administration was intent on invading Iraq, and it was clear all along that there was no good reason for doing so.

Back then, talk of Iraq kept turning up like a bad coin. Its intensity slowly mounted, in steady progression toward a confluence with the fall's midterm congressional elections. There could be no doubt about the administration's intent, and there was no doubt that it was crazy.

Understanding the absurdity of the situation required no special insight; the truth was within the grasp of any thinking person in possession of just a few commonly known facts about Iraq. Namely, that while Al Qaeda was a rabidly fundamentalist Islamist operation, the regime of Saddam Hussein was intensely secular--the two mixed like oil and water. Indeed, they despised each other.

Furthermore, Saddam's aspirations for power were at most regional, albeit thoroughly contained by over a decade of U.N. sanctions. And finally, while Saddam was first and foremost intent on his own survival, his attacking the United States would instead guarantee his demise. It was clear to me that none of the Bush administration's claims of Iraq being a threat to the U.S. made any sense.

That's why it's now appropriate to give credit and cast blame where credit and blame are due.

Hillary Clinton (and a large raft of other senators and representatives) must have known where all the war talk was heading. Knowing what the Bush administration was up to, and understanding the seriousness of the matter, they should have exercised requisite due diligence and responsible oversight instead of rushing to give the president the war powers he requested. They did not.

They should, at a minimum, have read the full classified NIE that was available to them. They should have asked a hell of a lot more questions, demanded a hell of a lot more answers, and expressed a hell of a lot more skepticism. In justifying her vote in the fall of 2002, Hillary now protests that she expected the president to use his powers responsibly. Why did she assume that he would?

Barack Obama, by contrast, was an early and articulate critic of the rush to war. He demonstrated the kind of clear thinking that was sorely lacking and badly needed in the political climate of the day. Where so many fell short, Obama demonstrated basic good judgment. It's no exaggeration to say that may be the single most important quality in a president.

Could Barack Obama and the early war critics have been wrong? They could have, but they weren't. Could there have been secret intelligence that made the case for WMD a "slam dunk?" We've seen how hollow the "intelligence" really was.

It is neither necessary nor desirable to wait until the conquest is complete to assess the merits of the case. When it comes to war, you'd better know going in that you're right: ex post facto discoveries of error are unacceptable. That the administration was on tenterhooks waiting for the WMD to be found in mid-2003 underscores how tenuous the case was in the first place.

Those who shrug that we simply and perhaps unavoidably got it wrong ignore the fact that there were plenty of contemporaneous indications that the case was much less credible than the administration was making it out to be. For example, doubts about the aluminum tubes were reported long before the invasion. And any man on the street might well have asked why the U.N. inspectors who were back in country hadn't turned up any evidence of WMD whatsoever. What right had anybody to be surprised?

In September 2003, as the situation in Iraq was already badly unraveling, I emailed an acquaintance with whom I occasionally corresponded that Bush was a dismal failure. "Good thing someone's willing to lead," he rebutted.

But if we're being led to disaster, like lemmings over a cliff, in what sense can that be "good?" If we're going to be led, then better to have a leader who can exercise judgment commensurate with the greatest challenges of the office. Even more so now with all the damage that has to be undone.

As the 2008 presidential campaign ramps up, the gross failures of the current administration may cause American voters to value a prospective president's judgment in ways they might not have otherwise done. That's why Barack Obama has so quickly become a credible candidate. Were it not for Iraq, there might not be a Barack.

Copyright (C) 2007 James Michael Brennan, All Rights Reserved

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Bush and Bodman: Climate Cads

Don't you just hate it when Al Gore is right? And sonofagun, he's been right about global warming for a couple of decades.

Now comes the latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which says that it is "very likely" (probability greater than 90%) that human activity is causing the planet to rapidly heat up, with dire consequences. The IPCC is an authoritative world body comprising 150 countries and hundreds of scientists. Rush Limbaugh may disagree, but the global warming science is compelling and the scientific consensus overwhelming. To remain in denial is to be willfully ignorant.

Naturally, the question of the day is what should be our response? Not even the Bush Administration continues to deny global warming. How, in the face of vast and incontrovertible evidence, could they? (Dumb question. This is the same administration that denied the disintegration of Iraq even as it unfolded before the eyes of the world.)

It was clear from his State of the Union address that President Bush just doesn't have his heart in this problem. His pallid comments on alternative fuels were aimed more at energy independence than global warming, and half-heartedly even at that. The President who loses no sleep over Iraq is certainly not kept up at night by concerns about climate change.

And so I'm sorry to report we'll not be seeing any leadership from the White House on this matter. This is, after all, an administration that cannot conceive of asking Americans to sacrifice or to change; an administration that has repeatedly tried to muzzle its own scientists when their scientific conclusions were at odds with administration politics.

The not-my-problem attitude was made embarassingly obvious by statements from energy secretary Samuel Bodman. In comments on the IPCC report, Mr. Bodman said that the United States is "a small contributor" to global warming, and that we need to have a "global solution" to the problem.

Small contributor? Secretary Bodman must surely know that while the U.S. has but five percent of the world's population, it emits one fourth of the world's greenhouse gases. Not only is the U.S. contribution not small, it is egregiously disproportionate.

Global solution? This from the administration that walked away from the Kyoto Protocol--that same Kyoto Protocol that despite U.S. abrogation was nevertheless ratified by 160 countries. Those countries continue--without meaningful U.S. participation--to grapple with the problem of climate change.

The administration has always said, and continues to say, that despite the threat of rising sea levels, greater intensity of storms, unstable weather patterns, and a multitude of other impacts with profound economic (never mind moral) implications, that taking action on global warming would be too big a burden on the U.S. economy. Samuel Bodman: "The U.S. economy is not something to be experimented with, in my judgment."

Whence comes such shameful lack of understanding, lack of vision, lack of leadership, lack of ethics, lack of responsibility? From mere wrongheaded stupidity? From head-in-the-sand self delusion? Or from something darker, more callous, more reprehensible? We can only wonder.

Copyright (C) 2007 James Michael Brennan, All Rights Reserved