A Couple of “Talking Points”

The "spokespersons" for the Bush Administration are fond of the PR technique of incessant repetition of "talking points" designed to "brainwash."  They would call it "educating."  It does not seem to matter how wrong or distorted the information contained therein may be.

Here are a couple of their recent favorites:

1-paraphrasing – "It was the policy of the Clinton Administration as sanctioned by by the ‘Iraq Liberation Act of 1998’ that Saddam’s government should be overthrown."

In 1998 I had conversations with the Senate staffers who had drafted the "Iraq Liberation Act."  These men were determined to see the overthrow of the Iraqi government and were quite proud of the fact that they had brought briefers from the Iraqi National Congress (INC-Chalabi) to the Senate to make the case to members who were then motivated to push for the act.  (See my article "Drinking the Koolaid" for details)  These same Senate staffers told me with glee that "Now we have Clinton where we want him.  He will be forced to take a firm stand against Iraq."  They were correct.  The process worked just that way.  The same people told me that a major goal of the act was to force Clinton to provide money for the Iraqi resistance to Saddam Hussein.

2-paraphrasing – "All the major intelligence agencies in the world believed that Saddam’s government had WMDs or active programs for WMDs."

This is deceptively true.  In fact the major intelligence agencies (with few exceptions) have "liaison" relationships to American agencies, and lack the capability to collect the information on which to base independent judgments.  All these agencies have an ingrained "inferiority complex" with regard to the capabilities of American intelligence and their leaders generally fear to take positions at variance with American intelligence conclusions because the political leaders of their countries tend to judge their performance by the criterion of their agreement with American Intelligence.  The British are no exception to this rule.  "The Secret Intelligence Service" (SIS/MI-6) has largely been a "liaison" service ever since the disaster of the "Cambridge Spies" long ago.  SIS is particularly dependent on American liaison.  Therefore, it can be said that the fact that the foreign services also "believed" that Saddam had WMDs has no meaning.  At the same, critical time, the "International Atomic Energy Agency" (IAEI) was saying that Saddam’s government did not seem to have an atomic program anymore and that the UN inspections were proceeding satisfactorily.

For the record I was head for five or six years of the US end of the military intelligence liaison relationship with one of America’s closest allies.

Pat Lang

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23 Responses to A Couple of “Talking Points”

  1. matt says:

    A brief comment/question. A couple of years ago I was in a conversation with A knowledgeable professional about the factors leading up to the American invasion of Iraq. In this conversation, I posited that the MOST significant event leading up to the war was the passage of the 1998 Act you cite above. My reason for thinking so was based on an analogy between the ’98 Act and the Lend-Lease Act (in the run-up to WWII).
    As you know, American involvement in WWII was a controversial political topic in the US throughout the late 1930’s. It was the passage of Lend-Lease the marked our crossing the rubicon, so to speak. After its passage, there will still ritics/opponents, but they were effectively neutralized or marginalized. I believe that the ’98 Iraq Liberation Act played the same role in this situation. As such, it is one more mark of Ahmad Chalabi’s deft understanding of American government, that once the ostensibly rhetorical law was passed, the floodgates were essentailly open for the sorts of intelligence manipulation we have seen in the interim.
    After all, the backstop statementcould then always be: it was the “policy” of the American government to do this anyway, right?
    To what extent do you you agree with this view ?
    regards, Please keep up the wonderful work!

  2. pl says:

    Yes, the 1998 Act was a masterful stroke and it set the stage in just the way you say.

  3. alice says:

    I am not sure whether or not most people believed Iraq had he weapons is relevant.
    I think the problem is the distortion. This equivalent to lying in court when you *know* someone is guilty. The slope is so slippery you might as well take a sled.
    Colonlell Wilkerson and others have indicated a bureaucracy that was essentially corrupted. My concern is that this process is continuing, that the various intelligence agencies and parts of the military are being “reformed” in dangerous ways.
    I think at times it is necessary to take action on circumstantial and inconclusive evidence. That’s what we had. But when the declaration is made that the information is conclusive and when contradictory data is edited out then you are starting to create the same view of reality that “Comical Ali” had about US troops in Iraq.
    When you have an asdministration willing to destroy those who offer differing views and it wasn’t just Wilson, there were Shineski and Lindsay among others. And then even to lie to cover up their activities with hints of something even deeper:
    then you have a violatin at least as serious as Monica.
    If the purges and coups within the intelligence agencies continue as I suspect then you have something which is an ongoing threat to our nation.

  4. Michael Murry says:

    I don’t think I have seen anyone else look at the situation in quite this way, but it may come to pass — according to the Iron Law of Unintended Consequences — that the passage of a Congressional Act (the so-called “Iraq Liberation Act” of 1998) does indeed reaffirm the primary role of Congress in setting the Country’s war-making agenda.
    Those who have tried for a half-century to establish the purely inferential “commander-in-chief” theory of “war powers” authority may well live to rue the day that a Republican Congress essentially claimed to have forced the country’s chief executive to make war by Congressional fiat. If I read the original comments above correctly, those who authored and forced passage of the act in question do in fact claim that America “essentially” “declared war” on Iraq by adopting such legislation. If so, it then follows that the “Resolution of Force” by Congress in 2002 amounted to nothing more than a sham circus meant to obscure the fact that Congressional staff had in fact already decided the country’s destiny several years previously.
    Just a thought.

  5. Michael Murry says:

    “No Money, No Honey!”
    It also occurs to me — in reference to the above thought on Congressional War Powers — that Alexander Hamilton (our first and greatest Treasury Secretary) boiled the essentials of the case down to a matter of money: especially the Congressional “Power of the Purse,” which Hamilton considered the power of everything — including the only “War Powers Act” the country would ever need.
    Hamilton — along with so many others of his nation-founding generation — understood that kings and princes throughout time had only tolerated parliaments when they needed cash and cannon fodder for their endless wars of aggression against inbred cousins who (illegitimately, in their view) ruled some desirable piece of real estate (and its productive populace) somewhere nearby. Whenever parliaments proved recalcitrant in this regard, kings and princes tended to dismiss them as a useless irritation. The jaded Vietnamese bar girls on Saigon’s Tu Do Street expressed the perfect summary of this principle when they would jeer at the horny but hard-up GIs: “No money, no honey!” Alexander Hamilton understood this iron law of life and applied it to his most profound Constitutional reasoning.
    In the Federalist Papers (specifically numbers 24, 25, and 26) Hamilton argued that the entire defense of the nation against the threat and misuse of standing armies rested with the Congress and its duty to fund — or, more importantly, withhold funds from — any national military force every two years, depending on security considerations prevalent at the time in question. Hamilton, like so many of his experienced generation, had a very low opinion of human nature: especially as this applied to people anywhere near political power. Hence, Hamilton quite frankly admitted that princes or presidents would naturally seek more power for themselves by fomenting fear of national “danger” and would, if necessary, either make up a reason for going to war or else deliberately provoke some other political entity into doing something which could then form a pretext for taking the nation into war. Kings, princes, and presidents tend to do this sort of thing as often as possible, but Hamilton said the Congress could prevent any of this at any time simply by refusing to pay for it. As it turned out, a Democratic Congress in the mid 1970s finally remembered Hamilton’s eternal admonitions and just stopped paying for any more of America’s unprovoked and unnecessary War on Vietnam. No money, no honey.
    America learned this lesson again, in reverse, when a Republican Congress sometime in the 1990s loudly “resolved” NOT to allow President Clinton to bomb Yugoslavia. That same Republican Congress — to further reinforce its “resolute” character — “resolved” again specifically NOT to declare war on Yugoslavia. Then, of course, in time-dishonored capitulation to its pork-barrel military-industrial campaign-contributing constituency, it voted President Clinton the funds he wanted to do the bombing of Yugoslavia. So much for Republican Congresses and their “resolve.” Have money, get honey.
    I claim that the money has about run out for the American War on Iraq. Whether Americans really like the war or hate the war matters little if they can’t afford the war — and it seems painfully obvious that they can’t. Some active-duty and retired military people don’t want to see the Army, Marine Corps, and National Guard destroyed by this unnecessary and unrewarding conflict, and their increasingly frantic expressions of concern will probably drive them to give political cover to Democrats and Republicans who now oppose what they once so ardently embraced. Early on, the war looked like a pretty easy (cheap, if not free) smackdown of a toothless, petty potentate; but that glandular fantasy has long since passed the climactic moment of ecstatic ejaculation. Now comes post-coital depression and buyer’s remorse. Bought honey, got vinegar.
    As an ex-enlisted implement of the Nixon-Kisinger Fig Leaf Contingent, I of course would like to see the President, his Cabinet, his Joint Chefs (not a misspelling) of Staff, several members of the Supine Court, and virtually the entire American Congress sit together cross-legged on the grass of the National Mall and ceremoniously commit Seppuku (or belly-slitting “hara-kiri,” as the vulgar say), Samurai style. Some mass act of abject contrition on the part of those who so cavalierly instigated and abetted this war seems long overdue, in my opinion. A truly shameful performance by our government and one that I, in memory of so many other victims of a similar national travesty not so long ago, will never forgive or forget.

  6. Serving Patriot says:

    What do you consider was the act of “mass contrition” after the Vietnam War that helped bring the U.S. back into the global fold (somewhat) as a leading power?
    My best guess was the election of Jimmy Carter and his avowed policy of advancing human rights first and letting obvious political/power needs go second. (Of course, the other side of America saw this as weakness and pansyness.) But, think about the statement made to those in chains that the U.S. would stand by while its powerful client in Iran fell to the mobs or its “friend” in Samoza was left hanging in the wind? These action could not have gone unnoticed by those still behind the Iron Curtain or in chains in their own land.
    I wonder what sort of act of “mass contrition” our nation could do to regain some of what has been lost?

  7. Michael Murry says:

    As far as I can remember, no act of contrition whatsoever came after the desultory end to twenty years of agony (Dien-Bien-Phu to Saigon Embassy rooftop) brought to both Indochina (Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos) — and America — by a succession of American regimes: Eisenhower through Ford, Democrat and Republican alike. The country just wanted to forget all about it. The country did, too. Big mistake. Some people should have swung from the end of a rope, much the same as we demand happen when the leaders of other countries do some of the things that our leaders do. America preferred collective amnesia after Vietnam, though, and now has once again begun to pay the price for it — or at least thousands of our soldiers have.
    Historical memory took awhile to reassert itself. I remember losing a prospective job once when the manager who interviewed me said: “My brother tried to hire a Vietnam veteran once, but the guy just turned out to be a drug addict.” What this had to do with me personally, I never found out because I never heard from the company again. I eventually learned to just take the whole Vietnam thing off my resume. I got much better reponses in job interviews after that.
    Things like this happened to a lot of us up until — as you say — the Iran hostage crisis came along. Suddenly, after almost a decade of contemptuous condescension and neglect, somebody finally woke up and said: “Oh, my! Have we really been treating our Vietnam Vets so horribly and stigmatizing them as ‘losers’ only to now go hog wild over one hundred of our civilian employees who just happened to be in the wrong building when our former overthrow of an Iranian government and installation of our own replacement dictator came home to roost?” Or words to that effect. I still don’t know what reason we could possibly have for wanting to get into a pissing contest with Iran. At any rate, they seem to have won the pissing contest and even have us fighting for their Shiite interests in Iraq. They even beat us at soccer when we played them during a World Cup game. We’ve really got to stop pissing all over ourselves.
    Anyway, as historian Barbara Tuchman said in summary of our failed attempt to intervene in the Chinese civil war: “In the end, China went her own way as if the Americans had never come.” The same epitaph applies to Vietnam, and I suspect will apply to Iraq as well. I really can’t see much evidence to support the contention that America knows much of anything about the larger world we live in, much less does its government have any plan or program in place to help out very much. Last time I looked, America had no money left in its bank account and no plans whatsoever to put any there to pay for these open-ended, “discretionary,” Peter Principle, Parkinson’s Law wars.
    I’ll lend some credence to the “people in chains” argument when we stop leaving so many dead bodies laying around without any chains on them. And as Pat has pointed out, giving so much of our money to the Chiang-Kai-Sheks, Ngo Dinh Ziems, and Ahmed Chalabis of this world had gotten really old. These “freedom loving” types should really go back to “fighting Saddam from the nightclubs and casinos of Europe,” as I once heard a rather disgusted Iraqi man say.
    No Iraqi government or people ever attacked or threatened to attack America. So it escapes me what possible reason we could have for our miserable treatment of those poor people. Everyone in our government responsible for this horrible disaster requires summary dismissal — preferably in the most public and humiliating of ceremonies. These people love to preach about “making examples” of miscreants. My comments above relate precisely to my hope that they will soon provide the examples themselves. No more golden parachutes. No more wreck-it-and-run bonuses. No more get-out-of-jail-free cards. No more falling on rhetorical rubber swords. No. I think we need to bring back some good old frontier “tar and feather” justice. Starting at home. Such an example of sincere repentance by America would serve to set many free who now live in chains.
    I still like the Samurai idea, though. It has something about it so completely honorable. So, I dream of someday hearing that old Shakespearean paraphrase: “Nothing in their government service became them as the leaving of it.”

  8. Eric says:

    The Shakespearean paraphrase is apt.
    Watching this farce play out, I am getting very weary.
    Whole thing reminds me of the reign of “Bloody Mary” in England 1553-1558.
    Foreign-policy wise we’ll have more left than Calais, I guess, when it ends. Still, “Out damned farce,” I say.
    Meanwhile, some talking point poopee from the editor of Pravda on the Potomac:
    You tell’em Joseph–er Fred.

  9. Serving Patriot says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful reply. While it is hard to imagine any of the current miscreants being led away in cuffs to face justice, it may be the only real way to salvage this dilemma.
    No wonder the current Administration fights so hard against the Rome Convention.

  10. Pat:
    I would be interested in your professional take on the following…
    If you have not checked out today’s NYT Opinion article by M. Gregg Bloche and Jonathan H. Marks about the SERE training being turned upside down — You may wish to start at Josh Marshall’s TPM site:
    Here’s the point that caused my eyebrows to twitch . . .
    : : As the article explains, there was a “classified program at Fort Bragg, N.C.,
    : : known as SERE, for Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape. Based on studies
    : : of North Korean and Vietnamese efforts to break American prisoners, SERE
    : : was intended to train American soldiers to resist the abuse they might face in
    : : enemy custody.”
    : :
    : : As the piece goes on to explain, “The Pentagon appears to have flipped SERE’s
    : : teachings on their head, mining the program not for resistance techniques but
    : : for interrogation methods. At a June 2004 briefing, the chief of the United States
    : : Southern Command, Gen. James T. Hill, said a team from Guantánamo went ‘up
    : : to our SERE school and developed a list of techniques’ for ‘high-profile, high-value’
    : : detainees.”
    Here’s the links to the NYT Opinion:
    Thanks in advance for any input you may provide on this particular matter.

  11. Jerome Gaskins says:

    YAY RAY!!!
    I saw your colleague on C-SPAN this morning, and I was once again glad to be American, because he feels the same way I do and drove the cretins mad, especially the one from Tennessee!
    Mr. McGovern also plugged your book, Colonel. I only wish you guys could afford to give a copy to the right senators.
    By the way, where can I get an orange wristband?

  12. W. Patrick Lang says:

    A number of journalists have asked me about the SERE kinds of training that were taught by various commands over the years.
    In my early life I was both victim and victimizer in some of these courses.
    Since Military Intelligence interrogators have nobody to interrogate in peacetime, their knowledge of this dark art is often limited to theory. Their “experience” often consists of having been trainers in these klnds of courses, where people are trained to resist interrogation against enemies who do not accept the limitations of law.
    Do I think it likely that some of the nonsense that has happened had its origins in such courses?
    I do.

  13. Jonah says:

    Thank you Colonel.
    I too — like you — was both victim and victimizer in some of these courses. US Navy SERE. That’s why this one really caught my eye.
    Could you possibly keep this particular matter in mind when speaking with some of your current contacts. Then, possibly you could ferret out what this recent training was really all about and let us know in a future post.
    Thanks again.

  14. Curious says:

    Additional comments
    FRANCE: President Jacques Chirac: “France is not pacifist. We are not anti-American either. We are not just going to use our veto to nag and annoy the U.S. But we just feel that there is another option, another way, a less dramatic way than war, and that we have to go down that path. And we should pursue it until we have come to a dead end, but that is not the case yet.” [CNN, 3/17/03]
    GERMANY: Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer: “The Security Council is now meeting for the third time within a month at ministerial level to discuss the Iraq crisis. This shows the urgency we attach to the disarmament of Iraq and to the threat of war. … Are we really in a situation that absolutely necessitates the ‘ultima ratio’, the very last resort? I think not, because the peaceful means are far from exhausted.” [Statement by Fischer to Security Council, 3/7/03]
    RUSSIA: Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov: “What is really in the genuine interests of the world community? Continuing the albeit difficult but clearly fruitful results of the inspectors’ work, or resorting to force, which inevitably will result in enormous loss of life and is fraught with serious and unpredictable consequences for regional and international stability? It is our deep conviction that the possibilities for disarming Iraq through political means do exist. And they really exist. And this cannot but be acknowledged.” [Statement by Ivanov, 3/7/03]
    CHINA: Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan: “We believe that as long as we stick to the road of political settlement, the goal of destroying Iraq’s WMD could still be obtained. Resolution 1441 did not come by easily. Given the current situation, we need resolve and determination, and more importantly, patience and wisdom.” [Statement by Jiaxuan, 3/7/03]

  15. Curious says:

    Also, Germany was strongly opposed to Bush Iraq invasion.
    (remember when a minister says Bush uses hitler tactic of invading other country to cover domestic economic problem? So to say everybody supports Bush to attack Iraq is disinginuous)
    The regional Schwaebisches Tagblatt newspaper quoted Ms Daeubler-Gmelin, as saying: “Bush wants to divert attention from his domestic problems. It’s a classic tactic. It’s one that Hitler used.”
    Throughout the current election campaign in Germany, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has defied America by opposing US military action against Iraq.

  16. JH says:

    in re Curious
    Actually, it was in the 2004 election that Schröder played the Iraq card. He scored points this time around (just shy of enough, as it turned out) by nailing his challenger Angela Merkel with the fact that she had voted to support our endeavors in Iraq at all costs – a huge foreign-militarist step for post-WW2 Germans to take. To my lights, the Social Democrats’ most effective poster was one of US-flag-draped coffins, with the bold caption, “She would have sent troops.”
    As for Frau Däubler-Gmelin, Rove took such umbrage at her faux-pas that she was quietly edged first out of a judicial nomination, then out of the government. (It wasn’t the first time her mouth got her into trouble.)
    In 2004, Bush refused to meet with Schröder, favoring instead his challenger Stoiber in an unprecedented White House audience for a non-ministerial official. This time around, the Bushies were quick to (prematurely) stand up SPD ministers like Defense Minister Struck, as soon as it seemed like the “anti-American” (i.e. anti-involvement-in-Iraq-War) party’s star might be falling.

  17. Curious says:

    Posted by: JH | 14 November 2005 at 10:42 PM
    oh schroeder definitely plays that card, so is chirac. Had Bush not done that ‘old europe’ talk, both men would have gone one term soooner.
    But I have to believe that they really do know Bush is lying about WMD. (ie. rejecting Bush plan is pretty safe. Both men won’t be humiliated with the fact Bush was going to find WMD. They both can say ‘I told you so’)
    Let’s just hope the European mass never find out how Bush pulls string and use rightwing think tank to alter european politics.

  18. searp says:

    I am betting that there was a moderate-confidence consensus that Saddam had not rebuilt his nuclear program.
    It just seems hard to imagine that an intelligence analyst would say anything else given the paucity of evidence.
    I imagine that foreign intelligence agencies would just tell us what we wanted to hear – why cause problems?
    What I am saying is that it is hard to imagine that our intelligence agencies said that Saddam had restarted his nuke program. Wanting to restart it, well, I want to be Albert Einstein.
    Parsing the words carefully only make them seem weaker and less convincing.

  19. wtofd says:

    As I type Chalabi is telling Ray Suarez on the News Hours that he simply passed on informants and it was the United States’ job to vet the info. Chalabi threw three informants at the wall and one stuck. His mission was accomplished. Warner should be embarrassed for defending him.

  20. Curious says:

    As I type Chalabi is telling Ray Suarez on the News Hours that he simply passed on informants and it was the United States’ job to vet the info.
    Posted by: wtofd | 15 November 2005 at 04:29 PM
    I truely don’t understand why Bush is still keeping Chalabi around. IS he even an effective stooge? Does he keep the oil flowing to us un-metered? Chalabi has been a true disaster for us.
    Why is he still romping around?

  21. Curious says:

    This is amazing, so Chalabis is running around protected by OUR tax payer supplied bodyguard. He is one of the primary source of war lies.
    I arrived at Megu at 11:30 and was led past a phalanx of American security guards (provided, I was told, by the U.S. State Department), to a small, private room where Chalabi, his daughter Tamara (a Harvard PhD who lives in Baghdad and works closely with her father), and a half-dozen members of his entourage were seated. Also there were ABC news investigative reporter Chris Isham and his wife Jennifer, president of the Tribeca Film Festival. Isham has known Chalabi since 1988. When they first met in Washington, Chalabi was trying to convince U.S. officials to force Saddam out of power — but those were the days when Saddam was still our friend.
    Chalabi looked downright laid-back in a multi-colored sweater that can only be described as Cosby-esque. His group was an hour into their dinner when I arrived, with the remnants of a sushi meal spread across the table. Most were drinking sake but Chalabi (who doesn’t drink) and I (who wanted to keep my wits about me) stuck to green tea.
    Everything about him suggested a man in full: smart, articulate, and, above all, totally present. His focus never flagged — not even at 3:30 in the morning when we said good-bye.

  22. Hannah K. O'Luthon says:

    I assume some intelligence agencies also employ “agents of influence” rather than just “spies”. I wonder who might have been trying to push the U.S. to war with Iraq. Fortunately the integrity of our elected officials is a mighty bulwark against such dangers.

  23. RJJ says:

    omertá, HKO.

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