Tuesday, November 25, 2014

State of War, by James Risen: a review

Things you'll learn, or be reminded of and still shocked by, if you read State of War by James Risen:

  1. CIA Director George Tenet got and kept his job by sucking up to power.
  2. The CIA specifically avoided asking President George W. Bush for authorization to use torture, providing him with what the spy trade calls "plausible deniability."
  3. The NSA started large-scale spying on Americans almost immediately after 9/11/2001, "The Bush administration...swept aside nearly thirty years of rules and regulations" to make this happen.
  4. George W. sent clear signals that he wanted a pretext to go to war with Iraq. People who helped him get one were rewarded. People who warned that the intelligence was being skewed were punished. There was nothing like an objective assessment of the facts before we went to war.
  5. The U.S. had every reason to know there was no active nuclear program in Iraq.
  6. To claim there was a bioweapons program in Iraq, the U.S. relied on sources that the Europeans clearly told us were wrong. 
  7. No one had a plan for what to do in Iraq after the war except for installing a president from the outside, a man (Ahmed Chalabi) that no one inside Iraq trusted. When that proved unworkable, they had to make it up as they went along--all the while pretending they were winning.
  8. By going to war in Iraq, the Bush administration took its eye of Afghanistan, which became the biggest exporter of opium in the world...sending a lot of the poppy right here to the U.S.
  9. The U.S. turned a blind eye to the ways that Saudi Arabia played both sides in the "war on terror."
  10. The U.S. may have helped Iran advance its program for obtaining nuclear weapons. 
Risen focuses on the first term of George W. Bush, but he's scrupulous about pointing out when a problem actually began in the Clinton administration. He puts too much emphasis on individuals (Bush vs. Saddam Hussein, Tenet vs. Rumsfeld) and not enough on mistaken assumptions of U.S. foreign policy.

Still, this is a powerful book. I wish I, and everyone else, had read it when it came out!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Woman Who Could Have Stopped the War in Iraq

The Iraq War could have been prevented if the CIA had listened to... Dr. Sawsan Alhaddad, a Cleveland anesthesiologist.

The CIA recruited Alhaddad to ask her brother Saad Tawfiq, an Iraqi electrical engineer, to reveal secrets about the Iraqi nuclear program. She asked.  He answered: there was no Iraqi nuclear program. It had been dead since 1991.

Alhaddad told the CIA what her brother had said.  They concluded he was lying. The Unites States government, from President Bush on down, was committed to going to war with Iraq--and they needed a nuclear weapons program as an excuse.

James Risen revealed this story in his 2006 book State of War.  Until I read the book, I had never heard of it. Had you?

Don't you think in a democracy we ought to have known that the U.S. went to war because our government couldn't handle the truth?

Saturday, November 22, 2014

I Read James Risen. Ed Snowden Told Me To.

In Laura Poitras' excellent documentary CitizenFour, NSA leaker Edward Snowden mentions how much he admires investigative journalist James Risen.

Neither Snowden nor Risen is any kind of leftist.  Risen is the national security reporter for the New York Times, for God's sake!  He was one of two reporters for The Times who in 2005 broke the news that Mr. Bush’s government had conducted warrantless wiretapping of American citizens. Bush hated that, but Risen kept right on reporting.

Now, Risen faces a possible prison term because he refuses to name the sources inside the CIA who helped him reveal a failed plot to give flawed and misleading nuclear blueprints to Iran.  If you want to know the full story, read chapter nine of Risen's 2006 book State of War--a book the U.S. government tried to suppress.

I'll be reviewing the book this coming week.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

4 Ways New England Democrats Can Lead the Country

"D.C. power shift another blow to influence of New England, " reads today's headline in the Boston Globe. "Region's Democrats will be marginalized in GOP-run Congress."

It doesn't have to be that way. Here's how New England Democrats can make a huge difference over the next two years.

One: join the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Every single one of you. Michael Capuano, Katherine Clark, Joe Kennedy, Jim McGovern, and Bernie Sanders are already members. The rest of you New England Democrats should follow their lead.

Two: set your own agenda. Draft bills, create a budget, and use your mailing lists, email, speaking engagements and media appearances to tell the American public what you would do instead.

Three: talk about big ideas. For God's sake, this is New England, home of the educated and opinionated! Put that visionary thinking to good use. Let people know what America should look like. They already like your policies: they just don't know what you stand for. Make it clear.

And finally, on regional issues, make alliances.  Get together with Minnesota and Alaska to protect heating assistance. Get together with West Coast fisheries to protect East Coast fisheries too. Practice politics--which is a lot more than the art of getting re-elected.

Sulk for two years and the Republicans will win Congress again. Do these four things and you can not only win back Congress in 2016: you can make that victory matter.