The Point of No Return

Eric Holthaus, "The Point of No Return: Climate Change Nightmares Are Already Here," Rolling Stone, August 5, 2013.

On July 20th, James Hansen, the former NASA climatologist who brought climate change to the public's attention in the summer of 1988, issued a bombshell: He and a team of climate scientists had identified a newly important feedback mechanism off the coast of Antarctica that suggests mean sea levels could rise 10 times faster than previously predicted: 10 feet by 2065. The authors included this chilling warning: If emissions aren't cut, "We conclude that multi-meter sea-level rise would become practically unavoidable. Social disruption and economic consequences of such large sea-level rise could be devastating. It is not difficult to imagine that conflicts arising from forced migrations and economic collapse might make the planet ungovernable, threatening the fabric of civilization" . . . .

James Hansen, the dean of climate scientists, retired from NASA in 2013 to become a climate activist. But for all the gloom of the report he just put his name to, Hansen is actually somewhat hopeful. That's because he knows that climate change has a straightforward solution: End fossil-fuel use as quickly as possible. If tomorrow, the leaders of the United States and China would agree to a sufficiently strong, coordinated carbon tax that's also applied to imports, the rest of the world would have no choice but to sign up. This idea has already been pitched to Congress several times, with tepid bipartisan support. Even though a carbon tax is probably a long shot, for Hansen, even the slim possibility that bold action like this might happen is enough for him to devote the rest of his life to working to achieve it. On a conference call with reporters in July, Hansen said a potential joint U.S.-China carbon tax is more important than whatever happens at the United Nations climate talks in Paris.

One group Hansen is helping is Our Children's Trust, a legal advocacy organization that's filed a number of novel challenges on behalf of minors under the idea that climate change is a violation of intergenerational equity — children, the group argues, are lawfully entitled to inherit a healthy planet.

A separate challenge to U.S. law is being brought by a former EPA scientist arguing that carbon dioxide isn't just a pollutant (which, under the Clean Air Act, can dissipate on its own), it's also a toxic substance. In general, these substances have exceptionally long life spans in the environment, cause an unreasonable risk, and therefore require remediation. In this case, remediation may involve planting vast numbers of trees or restoring wetlands to bury excess carbon underground.

Years of Shame

Iraq War

What happened after 9/11 — and I think even people on the right know this, whether they admit it or not — was deeply shameful. The atrocity should have been a unifying event, but instead it became a wedge issue. Fake heroes like Bernie Kerik, Rudy Giuliani, and, yes, George W. Bush raced to cash in on the horror. And then the attack was used to justify an unrelated war the neocons wanted to fight, for all the wrong reasons.

A lot of other people behaved badly. How many of our professional pundits — people who should have understood very well what was happening — took the easy way out, turning a blind eye to the corruption and lending their support to the hijacking of the atrocity?

The memory of 9/11 has been irrevocably poisoned; it has become an occasion for shame. And in its heart, the nation knows it.

-- Paul Krugman, New York Times, September 11, 2011

One Hundred Years in Iraq

Hendrik Hertzberg in The New Yorker:

The most interesting exchange came at the very end, and it was about Iraq. The money quote—the bit that could come back to haunt McCain—went like this:

Q: President Bush has talked about our staying in Iraq for fifty years.

McCain: Make it a hundred.

That’s the sound bite. That’s the headline. Now let’s look at the context, which I think is worth considering in full. . . .

Bush Administration Iraq Lies Quantified

Iraq War Lies Chart

President George W. Bush and seven of his administration's top officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, made at least 935 false statements in the two years following September 11, 2001, about the national security threat posed by Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Nearly five years after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, an exhaustive examination of the record shows that the statements were part of an orchestrated campaign that effectively galvanized public opinion and, in the process, led the nation to war under decidedly false pretenses.

On at least 532 separate occasions (in speeches, briefings, interviews, testimony, and the like), Bush and these three key officials, along with Secretary of State Colin Powell, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, and White House press secretaries Ari Fleischer and Scott McClellan, stated unequivocally that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (or was trying to produce or obtain them), links to Al Qaeda, or both. This concerted effort was the underpinning of the Bush administration's case for war.

It is now beyond dispute that Iraq did not possess any weapons of mass destruction or have meaningful ties to Al Qaeda. This was the conclusion of numerous bipartisan government investigations, including those by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (2004 and 2006), the 9/11 Commission, and the multinational Iraq Survey Group, whose "Duelfer Report" established that Saddam Hussein had terminated Iraq's nuclear program in 1991 and made little effort to restart it.

In short, the Bush administration led the nation to war on the basis of erroneous information that it methodically propagated and that culminated in military action against Iraq on March 19, 2003. Not surprisingly, the officials with the most opportunities to make speeches, grant media interviews, and otherwise frame the public debate also made the most false statements, according to this first-ever analysis of the entire body of prewar rhetoric.

President Bush, for example, made 232 false statements about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and another 28 false statements about Iraq's links to Al Qaeda. Secretary of State Powell had the second-highest total in the two-year period, with 244 false statements about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and 10 about Iraq's links to Al Qaeda. Rumsfeld and Fleischer each made 109 false statements, followed by Wolfowitz (with 85), Rice (with 56), Cheney (with 48), and McClellan (with 14).

The massive database at the heart of this project juxtaposes what President Bush and these seven top officials were saying for public consumption against what was known, or should have been known, on a day-to-day basis. This fully searchable database includes the public statements, drawn from both primary sources (such as official transcripts) and secondary sources (chiefly major news organizations) over the two years beginning on September 11, 2001. It also interlaces relevant information from more than 25 government reports, books, articles, speeches, and interviews.

-- Charles Lewis and Mark Reading-Smith, "False Pretenses," for The Center for Public Integrity.

Basra Violence Plummets after British Troop Withdrawal

Independent.ie, 11/16/2007:

The British army says violence in Basra has fallen by 90% since it withdrew from the southern Iraqi city earlier this year.

Around 500 British soldiers left one of Saddam Hussein's palaces in the heart of the city in early September and stopped conducting regular foot patrols.

A spokesman says the Iraqi security forces still come under attack from militants in Basra, but the overall level of violence is down 90% since the British troops left.

Britain is scheduled to return control of Basra province to Iraqi officials next month, officially ending Britain's combat role in Iraq.

General Petraeus vs. the US Military

David Petraeus and Paul Bremer, Falluja, 2003

In sharp contrast to the lionisation of Gen. David Petraeus by members of the U.S. Congress during his testimony this week, Petraeus's superior, Admiral William Fallon, chief of the Central Command (CENTCOM), derided Petraeus as a sycophant during their first meeting in Baghdad last March, according to Pentagon sources familiar with reports of the meeting.

Fallon told Petraeus that he considered him to be "an ass-kissing little chickenshit" and added, "I hate people like that", the sources say. That remark reportedly came after Petraeus began the meeting by making remarks that Fallon interpreted as trying to ingratiate himself with a superior.

That extraordinarily contentious start of Fallon's mission to Baghdad led to more meetings marked by acute tension between the two commanders. Fallon went on develop his own alternative to Petraeus's recommendation for continued high levels of U.S. troops in Iraq during the summer.

The enmity between the two commanders became public knowledge when the Washington Post reported Sep. 9 on intense conflict within the administration over Iraq. The story quoted a senior official as saying that referring to "bad relations" between them is "the understatement of the century". . . .

The conflict between Fallon and Petraeus over Iraq came to a head in early September. According to the Post story, Fallon expressed views on Iraq that were sharply at odds with those of Petraeus in a three-way conversation with Bush on Iraq the previous weekend. Petraeus argued for keeping as many troops in Iraq for as long as possible to cement any security progress, but Fallon argued that a strategic withdrawal from Iraq was necessary to have sufficient forces to deal with other potential threats in the region.

Fallon's presentation to Bush of the case against Petraeus's recommendation for keeping troop levels in Iraq at the highest possible level just before Petraeus was to go public with his recommendations was another sign that Petraeus's role as chief spokesperson for the surge policy has created a deep rift between him and the nation's highest military leaders. Bush presumably would not have chosen to invite an opponent of the surge policy to make such a presentation without lobbying by the top brass.

The Dark Assessment

Iraq scene in Second Life

"Facing the 'Dark Assessment'" at Firedoglake:

We’ve had an extraordinary week of leaked candor about the catastrophic state of US foreign policy under the Bush/Cheney regime, predictably followed by Presidential denials that al Qaeda is back and blatant propaganda that we’re making "satisfactory" progress on the few Iraq benchmarks that are virtually meaningless. The White House, which has always confused inflexible standards and testing with genuine education and wisdom, has been reduced to giving out report cards on itself that translate to "improvement needed" on everything that really matters.

But the reality based assessments dominated the news. First it was the intelligence community’s pre-denial assessment that al Qaeda has been allowed to regroup along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border to become as threatening as ever, both for Europe and possibly the US. The obvious conclusion is that the President’s six year global war on terror is not only an abject failure but a growing threat to our security.

Then there were the pre-spin reports about the virtual absence of any meaningful progress in achieving the objectives of the US troop surge. And Thursday Bob Woodward released his history of intelligence briefings the CIA gave the Iraq Study Group last fall, briefings that revealed what Condi Rice described as “the dark assessment” that security conditions had so deteriorated as to be “irretrievable,” while the al Maliki government was so inherently ineffectual, that there was virtually nothing the US could do to make things turn out right in Iraq. That sobering assessment was reaffirmed this week by Stephen Biddle’s op-ed explaining why the only realistic but unavoidably awful choices had narrowed to "go deep" or "get out," since staying the course had become increasingly untenable and morally dubious.

We are left with the unspoken and unspeakable conclusion that the real rationale for keeping so many U.S. soldiers in harm’s way – in the middle of Iraq's irreconcilable sectarian and civil wars — is that they serve as our national punishment for the inexcusable blunder our government made in invading and occupying Iraq and opening this pandora’s box in the first place.

CIA, Eight Months Ago: Iraq Regime Failure “Irreversible”

Bob Woodward in the Washington Post, July 12, 2007:

Early on the morning of Nov. 13, 2006, members of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group gathered around a dark wooden conference table in the windowless Roosevelt Room of the White House.

For more than an hour, they listened to President Bush give what one panel member called a "Churchillian" vision of "victory" in Iraq and defend the country's prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki. "A constitutional order is emerging," he said.

Later that morning, around the same conference table, CIA Director Michael V. Hayden painted a starkly different picture for members of the study group. Hayden said "the inability of the government to govern seems irreversible," adding that he could not "point to any milestone or checkpoint where we can turn this thing around," according to written records of his briefing and the recollections of six participants.

"The government is unable to govern," Hayden concluded. "We have spent a lot of energy and treasure creating a government that is balanced, and it cannot function."

Later in the interview, he qualified the statement somewhat: "A government that can govern, sustain and defend itself is not achievable," he said, "in the short term."

Hayden's bleak assessment, which came just a week after Republicans had lost control of Congress and Bush had dismissed Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, was a pivotal moment in the study group's intensive examination of the Iraq war, and it helped shape its conclusion in its final report that the situation in Iraq was "grave and deteriorating."

In the eight months since the interview, neither Hayden nor any other high-ranking administration official has publicly described the Iraqi government in the uniformly negative terms that the CIA director used in his closed-door briefing.

White House Begins to Confront Iraq Withdrawal

"White House Debate Rises on Iraq Pullback" -- David Sanger in The New York Times, July 9, 2007:

White House officials fear that the last pillars of political support among Senate Republicans for President Bush’s Iraq strategy are collapsing around them, according to several administration officials and outsiders they are consulting. They say that inside the administration, debate is intensifying over whether Mr. Bush should try to prevent more defections by announcing his intention to begin a gradual withdrawal of American troops from the high-casualty neighborhoods of Baghdad and other cities.

Mr. Bush and his aides once thought they could wait to begin those discussions until after Sept. 15, when the top field commander and the new American ambassador to Baghdad are scheduled to report on the effectiveness of the troop increase that the president announced in January. But suddenly, some of Mr. Bush’s aides acknowledge, it appears that forces are combining against him just as the Senate prepares this week to begin what promises to be a contentious debate on the war’s future and financing.

“When you count up the votes that we’ve lost and the votes we’re likely to lose over the next few weeks, it looks pretty grim,” said one senior official, who, like others involved in the discussions, would not speak on the record about internal White House deliberations.

That conclusion was echoed in interviews over the past few days by administration officials in the Pentagon, State Department and White House, as well as by outsiders who have been consulted about what the administration should do next. “Sept. 15 now looks like an end point for the debate, not a starting point,” the official said. “Lots of people are concluding that the president has got to get out ahead of this train.”