Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Spying on Americans, Ruling Iraq: Books by Risen, Bremer, Envoy

Spying on Americans, Ruling Iraq: Books by Risen, Bremer, Envoy

By Edward Nawotka

Jan. 20 -- In the 1998 movie ``Enemy of the
State,'' Will Smith portrays a Washington lawyer eluding goons
from the U.S. National Security Agency. In scene after scene,
NSA high-tech wizardry tracks the attorney, keeping him under
surveillance and on the run.
What seemed like a paranoid Hollywood fantasy at the time
has come much closer to reality since the terrorist attacks of
Sept. 11, 2001, writes James Risen in ``State of War: The Secret
History of the CIA and the Bush Administration'' (Free Press,
240 pages, $26).
Risen is the New York Times reporter who disclosed in
December that U.S. President George W. Bush had authorized the
NSA to eavesdrop on the international phone calls and e-mail
messages of American citizens and foreign nationals. The purpose
of that spying was to search for what Risen calls the
``potential evidence of terrorist activity without search
warrants or any new laws that would permit such domestic
intelligence collection.''
The NSA report forms just one chapter in Risen's book,
which discusses half a dozen episodes of alleged intelligence
blunders and deceptions going back to the administration of
President Bill Clinton. Risen's main focus is the Central
Intelligence Agency, which he dubs ``the government's equivalent
of Enron.'' Highlights include a CIA operation in 2000 that
Risen says slipped blueprints for a nuclear weapon to Iran.

`Critical Precedent'

In places, Risen makes alarming suppositions. He quotes an
unidentified source, for example, who says Bush asked then CIA
director George Tenet why an imprisoned al Qaeda member, Abu
Zubaydah, had received pain medication. Then Risen asserts:
``In many ways, the Abu Zubaydah case was the critical
precedent for the future handling of prisoners both in the
global war on terrorism and in the war in Iraq.''
(Tenet will this year publish his own memoir, tentatively
titled ``At the Center of the Storm,'' according to a statement
from his publisher, HarperCollins.)
Risen also asserts that Bush allowed Vice President Dick
Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to create an
atmosphere of intimidation that prevented U.S. generals from
requesting more troops in Iraq.

`My Year in Iraq'

One man who says he wasn't cowed by the likes of Cheney and
Rumsfeld is L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator of Iraq
following the fall of Saddam Hussein in April 2003.
Before heading to Iraq, Bremer sat down to lunch with Bush
to make it clear that he was ``the president's man,'' not a
servant of Rumsfeld or former Secretary of State Colin Powell,
he writes in his memoir, ``My Year in Iraq: The Struggle to
Build a Future of Hope'' (Simon & Schuster, 417 pages, $27).
Bremer's book describes his work at the Coalition
Provisional Authority from May 2003 until sovereignty passed to
the Iraqis in June 2004. Written almost like a diary, the memoir
shows how Bremer collaborated with the U.S. military, the United
Nations mission and various Iraqi factions to fill ``the chaotic
power vacuum'' with something resembling law and order.
On his arrival in Baghdad, Bremer says he felt as if he had
landed in ``a postapocalypse Los Angeles.'' His headquarters in
one of Hussein's former palaces smelled of ``diesel exhaust and
overloaded portable toilets.'' He ditched his dress shoes for a
pair of Timberland boots, which he wore with blue suits.

`Revolt on the Tigris'

The book unfortunately bogs down in blow-by-blow accounts
of diplomatic exchanges and bureaucratic maneuvering. Bremer's
days are long, hot and frustrating. While Bremer supported the war, he is concerned about being abandoned to become a fall guy for controversial decisions, such as his disbanding of the Iraqi army, an order he says came down through the political chain of command.
In the end Bremer, who survived numerous assassination attempts and had a bounty of 10,000 grams of gold on his head offered by Osama bin Laden, expresses little regret about the job, only wishing he’d done more to bolster the economy by limiting subsidies and improving overall security. Though short on startling disclosures, ``My Year in Iraq'' will be essential primary reading for future historians.

A more absorbing account of the occupation comes from Mark
Etherington, a U.K. diplomat who acted as governor of southern
Iraq's volatile Wasit province from October 2003 to May 2004. He
describes this stint in ``Revolt on the Tigris: The Al-Sadr
Uprising and the Governing of Iraq'' (Cornell, 252 pages, $25;
published in the U.K. by C. Hurst, 15 pounds).
Garrisoned in the town of Kut, Etherington and his U.S.
deputy, Timm Timmons, were charged with administering a
region that included about 1 million people and a stretch of
border with Iran running 145 kilometers (90 miles) long. The
group was initially protected by a modest contingent of
Ukrainian soldiers and later by an Abrams tank nicknamed ``Be
Wasit province was home to Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr,
who was fomenting a rebellion. The diplomat's limited defenses
proved inadequate when the cleric's Mehdi army attacked in April
2004, temporarily forcing him to flee the region.
Etherington displays the expected stiff upper lip under
pressure, yet manages to communicate the pathos of daily
civilian life in Iraq. Just before leaving al-Kut, Timmons says
something that sums up the whole occupation of Iraq:
``You know -- it just could have been done a lot better.''

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