Political Animal

Out of Iraq by Next Year?

OUT OF IRAQ BY NEXT YEAR?….Paul Bremer is ready to move on:

Now that the governing council has been seated, Bremer told journalists, the next task facing Iraq is the creation of a constitution “written by Iraqis for Iraqis.” The council is expected to name a constitutional conference by September, and experts have said it might take a year to write the country’s new basic laws.

“Once approved, democratic free and fair elections will be held in Iraq for a fully sovereign Iraqi government, and then our job is over,” Bremer said.

….When asked about a timetable for an end to the occupation, Bremer said: “The timing of how long the coalition stays here is effectively now in the hands of the Iraqi people. It’s up to them.

“My personal preference is that it should happen as quickly as it can consistent with writing a good constitution ? largely because then I get to go home,” he said.

I don’t want to make too much out of a single quote, but this really doesn’t sound like the kind of thing Bremer should be staying. I don’t think there are any serious analysts who believe that the United States can successfully rebuild a stable Iraq within a year, and I don’t understand why Bremer would be building false hopes that this might be the case.

I hope this isn’t motivated by a desire to be largely finished with the occupation before next year’s election.

Stem Cells

STEM CELLS….“Lie” is such an ugly word, but Chris Mooney reminds us today that George Bush was seriously, um, bending the truth back in 2001 during his famous stem cell speech. Here’s what he said:

As a result of private research, more than 60 genetically diverse stem cell lines already exist. They were created from embryos that have already been destroyed, and they have the ability to regenerate themselves indefinitely, creating ongoing opportunities for research.

But as Timothy Noah points out in Slate, at the time Bush made this statement the actual number of usable stem cell lines was….one.

At least it wasn’t zero. That means he was closer to the truth with stem cells than he was with Iraq’s WMD….

The iraqi Nuclear Bomb Program

THE IRAQI NUCLEAR BOMB PROGRAM….Josh Marshall reminds me today to link to this very interesting analysis by Walter Pincus in the Washington Post today. You should read the whole thing carefully, since you have to pay attention to really follow the argument, but the gist of it is that evidence for Saddam Hussein’s nuclear programs kept dwindling away last year as the various allegations were checked out. By the time George Bush gave his State of the Union address, the African uranium and the aluminum tubes were all that were left, so despite the fact that both pieces of evidence were highly questionable, they stayed in the speech.

Pincus’ timeline is provocative, but it also piqued my curiosity: even if the specific evidence in the State of the Union speech was dubious, what was the general prewar assessment of Saddam’s nuclear bomb program? Should George Bush have been talking about it at all?

So I pulled my copy of The Threatening Storm off the shelf and reread the section on nuclear weapons (pp. 173-175). It’s unequivocal: writing in late 2002, Kenneth Pollack says there is a “consensus” that Iraq has an active nuclear program; it employs as many as 14,000 workers; experts “unanimously” agree that Iraq is working to enrich uranium; and Iraq might be able to build a bomb as early as 2004.

But unlike chemical and biological weapons, which might yet be found, a nuclear program is too big to hide. If we haven’t found it by now, it just doesn’t exist, and that means that something that was “unanimously” agreed upon in late 2002 has turned out to be flatly wrong.

By the end of January, with UN inspectors roaming freely around Iraq, the evidence for a nuclear program was dwindling fast. For some reason, though, Bush’s advisors felt that chemical and biological weapons weren’t enough for his State of the Union speech, so they seized on what little was left in order to keep the threat of nuclear bombs alive. That’s bad enough, but even worse is how the collective intelligence agencies of the world misjudged what was happening in Iraq so badly. This isn’t a small point of interpretation, it’s a case of absolute certainty about a massive technical and industrial program that turned out to be complete fiction.

How did that happen?