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December 22, 2003, 6:15 P.M.

Citing a substantial increase in the volume of intelligence pointing to “near-term attacks that could either rival or exceed what we experienced on September 11,” the Department of Homeland Security raised the terror alert level to orange, or high. This follows the release of a statement attributed to al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden’s deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, in which he boasted that al Qaeda was “chasing America and its allies everywhere, even in their own home.” At a recent Washington news conference, Homeland Security Czar Tom Ridge indicated that, based upon a “constant stream of reports, al Qaeda continues to consider using aircraft as a weapon.”

Now this is all great news for me, as I plan to board an airplane with my son on the day after Christmas, but I guess that the fact that we are noticing and reacting to increased intelligence is a good sign. The flip side of that, however, is that the threats still exist, are still viable and al Qaeda still has the power to create an atmosphere of fear and disruption. They don’t actually have to do anything. All they have to do is talk about doing something, and we are forced to react. I also don’t put it past our government to manipulate the terror alert system for its own purposes. Every time there is an alert, we are told that it is based on a “high volume” of intelligence or on a high level of traffic, “not seen since 9/11.” The last time we went from yellow to orange we stayed three for 11 days. We still don’t know whether the threats were real, because our government has not told us if any arrests were made, threats were verified or sources identified.

This recent elevation of the threat level happens to coincide with the stunning announcement that Libya has a nuclear weapons program and that it intends to abandon that program. The Bush administration has welcomed that decision and seems to be content to rely on the very same weapons inspectors that it deemed unreliable in Iraq for verification of the Libyan disarmament promise, and again we go, back down the rabbit hole.

Meanwhile, troops have been all but completely removed from Saudi Arabia, and non-essential consular and diplomatic personnel and their families are being moved out of the kingdom in the fact of this recent threat. We are told today that surface-to-air missiles will be strategically placed near major airports to presumably deal with hijacked or stolen aircraft intended as terrorist weapons. The fact that lethal heat seeking missiles will be trained on my plane does nothing to diminish my perceived threat level for this trip.

I heard on National Public Radio today that the threat level has been raised because of increased threats and “chatter” about possible attacks. Apparently, intelligence on the threat of attacks suggests that domestic flights are less likely to be the target because of increased security, but that the “chatter” suggests that airplanes are still the weapon of choice among terrorists seeking American targets.

This is still a high stakes game of cat and mouse. Some intelligence suggests that certain of the chatter, defined as cell phone and internet communications from known or suspected groups or individuals, is manufactured to mislead or obfuscate the true targets, methods or dates. Of course, the problem lies in the difficulty in telling the difference between real threats and diversions. We still intend to make our trip to Florida, where my son will be racing a sailboat with his friend and crewmate who happens to be flying in from Pennsylvania. The heightened terror alert, whether real or imagined, will certainly add a frightening dimension to our holiday travels. The capture of Saddam Hussein does nothing to allay my fears, especially since he had nothing to do with the September 11 attacks anyway. The fact that Qadafi is going to abandon his weapons program (for the promise of some huge amount of aid and the lifting of economic sanctions, no doubt) doesn’t help much either.

But it’s Christmas. We are going to attend a great youth sailing event, where hundreds of kids from all over the country will converge for a week of fun and competition. The terror alert at least has us focused on safety and will prepare us for the inevitable delays at the airport. We will be back in Laconia, safe and sound, in time for the New Year, with many stories to tell. The inconvenience of extra security, regardless of the credibility of the threat, will only ensure that we are around to tell our stories, and inconvenience is a very small price to pay for that.

December 21, 2003, 8:30 P.M.

It must be Christmas. More mail from the mailbag, this time from loyal reader, Brian M, who writes:

Dear Ed

I'm writing to offer my views regarding your 12/15/03 offering.

First Hussein. There's no doubt about it, the capture of Hussein is a huge win for Bush. Although it may be a bit too early to tell, it seems to me that the election is now very much Bush's to lose, and not Dean's to win. All Bush has to do is to run TV commercials showing his smiling mug superimoposing itself over Hussein's, with a little patriotic melody playing in the background. The ads can then jump-cut to a waving American flag, with "Bush-Cheney" fading into the foreground. Yes, I can see it all now very clearly.

Noteworthy is the way in which the predictably-servile media has bought into the story of Hussein's capture, as scripted, no doubt, by Rove, et al. Media-servility notwithstanding, I must say have great suspicions about the timing of the events of the capture. Here's why:

At a minimum, it is peculiar indeed that the Hussein would be captured on the eve of James Baker's trip to Europe to seek forgiveness of Iraq's foreign debt, when Europe was making it clear that there wouldn't be any debt forgiveness if European firms were going to be excluded from reconstruction contracts.

Remember that recently Wolfowitz announced that only members of the so-called coalition would qualify to bid on reconstruction contracts. Note also that the decision was met with wailing and gnashing of teeth both in Europe, and more importantly from Bush's own right wing. Take a look at the memo to Bush on the Project for a New American Century's (PNAC) website, for example. Indeed, PNAC called the move to exclude Europeans a "blunder," which is a pretty strong term to use for one of their own protoges. For the memo, see http://www.newamericancentury.org/iraq-20031211.htm.

It thus became quite evident to Bush and the White House that Wolfowitz (as well as Bush himself via his endorsement of the policy) had screwed up bigtime, and consequently they had to shift to damage control mode. The solution: produce Hussein's head on a platter, as it will undercut European objections. And given the conciliatory character of the European response subsequent to the capture of Hussein, it now appears likely that Berlin, Paris and Moscow have indeed been embarrassed into going along with Bush's debt forgiveness plan, reconstruction contracts or no. Whether Europe eventually gets reconstruction contracts is no longer an issue of particular moment. The important point for Bush is that Europe is now dancing to Washington's tune as opposed to its own.

Regarding the timing of Hussein's capture, I feel it is more likely than not that Bush has known the whereabouts of Hussein for quite some time. After all, Hussein wasn't captured in some makeshift hideout under a plam tree: indeed, it appears from the photographs in the press that Hussein's "spider hole" was quite well-constructed. It is probable that Hussein was jumping between a handful of hiding places, because for Hussein to have used significantly more would have compromised his sense of his own security because too many potential collaborrators would have known his whereabouts. For him to have used only very few places would have made him a sitting duck, likewise compromising his sense of his own security. In other words, it would have been relatively easy for Bush to narrow down Hussein's whereabouts to a comparatively small set of possible locations.

Also, with the previous capture of higher-ups in Hussein's regime and their subsequent "debriefing" it is likely that Bush was able to pinpoint Hussein's locale(s) with reasonable certainty. Add to that satellite intelligence (these satellites can read the trademark on a basketball from outer space), and I would have to conclude the likelihood of Team Bush knowing exactly where Hussein was at just about any given moment.

So what's the problem with that? The problem is this: The case may well be that Bush was simply waiting in the weeds to capture Hussein, as doing so closer to the presidential election would have almost guaranteed him a second term. Certainly, it would have blown Dean's campaign right out of the water, were he to have assumed the Democrat party mantle in the general election. But the problem of Iraq's debt forgiveness (a.k.a. a recalcitrant European leadership), coupled with the angst it has caused Bush's power base on his right wing, has in the meantime reared its ugly head, and a change in plans has become necessary. Herein lies the explaination of the move to "capture" Hussein now as opposed to, say, next July. Of course I could be wrong in this analysis, but I think a fair reading of the timing of the recent turns of events points in this general direction.

Interesting also is the lack of any line of skeptical questioning regarding the timing of events leading to Hussein's capture by the Democrat leadership. The reason for their silence is simple: they lack the spine to do it. However, another more sinister reading of the events would be that the Democrat leadership, like Bush, has also known about Hussein all along, saying nothing. Thus Howard Dean can be left out to dry next year, thereby enabling Hillary Clinton and the DLC wing of the party to re-take the party leadership in 2008. But that's a bit too much of a stretch without more evidence than the leadership's conspicuous silence on the issue.

Which brings me to my second point: in addition to the legitimate criticism of Bush for the country's net export of respectable jobs, the Democrats, particularly the rank and file (to the extent that it wields any power at all), are in dire need of an analysis as to the root causes of the nation's wholesale job loss. After all, it was Clinton and the Democrat leadership who championed NAFTA and led the mad push toward "globalization." Ross Perot had it exactly right: NAFTA meant that jobs would leave. And leave they did. A decade later, the Democrats still refuse to admit their error. I should say here that I am neither a Ross Perot nor a Reform Party devotee by any means.

The bottom line is that I am not optimistic. Bush, et al., will continue to rule by brute force and deceit, and the Democrat leadership appears willing to accept its secondary role blubbering on the sidelines. Doubtless, this is bad for the people of the country, but very good indeed for the further consolidation of political power in the hands of the elite, not to mention for increasing the profit margins of multinational corporations at the expense of normal folks.

As always, I continue to enjoy your website.

Brian M

Thanks for reading and writing in, Brian. It's good to know someone's out there.

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