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Thursday, January 29, 2009

 
Tales From The Crypt

by digby

Back when this blog only had four readers, I wrote a lot about a crazy neocon fantasist by the name of Laurie Mylroie. She was someone that many people knew to be nutty and whose presence as an authority among the Bushies was an instant tip-off that the Iraq war was a bogus. Once the war became unpopular she disappeared from the scene, but apparently she never went away:

It's a truism that neoconservatives have a talent for failing upward: for repeatedly getting important things wrong and not seeing their careers suffer - for, in fact, being handed new opportunities to pursue their work (see, e.g., Kristol, Bill; and Hayes, Stephen).

Today we can add another name to that list: Laurie Mylroie, the quintessential conspiracy theorist of the Iraq War era, wrote reports about Iraq for the Pentagon as recently as Fall 2007, years after she was discredited, according to documents obtained by TPMmuckraker.

Mylroie is the author of two studies -- "Saddam's Strategic Concepts: Dealing With UNSCOM," dated Feb. 1, 2007, and "Saddam's Foreign Intelligence Service," dated Sept. 24, 2007 -- on a list of reports from the Pentagon's Office Of Net Assessment [ONA], obtained by TPMmuckraker through the Freedom Of Information Act. The ONA is the Defense Department's internal think tank, once described by the Washington Post as "obscure but highly influential."

[...]

Heilbrunn suggests Mylroie has been underappreciated as one of the intellectual progenitors of the Iraq war. "She was one of the original fermenters of the idea that Saddam Hussein had these intimate ties with Al Qaeda," he says.

In the definitive profile of Mylroie, written for the Washington Monthly in 2003, terrorism analyst Peter Bergen locates Mylroie's turn in the wake of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, when she developed her theory that the Iraqi government was behind the attack. Bergen sums up the animating principle of Mylroie's work: that "Saddam was the mastermind of a vast anti-U.S. terrorist conspiracy in the face of virtually all evidence and expert opinion to the contrary." (For a good example of Mylroie Logic, read her Sept. 13, 2001, WSJ op-ed "The Iraqi Connection," in which she argues that Iraq had a hand in 9/11 because ... well, mainly just because.) Bergen goes on:

Mylroie believes that Saddam was not only behind the '93 Trade Center attack, but also every anti-American terrorist incident of the past decade, from the bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania to the leveling of the federal building in Oklahoma City to September 11 itself.

Mylroie's theories wouldn't have mattered - except that she had the ear of Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Scooter Libby, Jim Woolsey, et al. Perle blurbed Mylroie's January 2001 book, Study of Revenge: The First World Trade Center Attack and Saddam Hussein's War against America, as "splendid and wholly convincing."

[...]

And how did the Pentagon use Mylroie's Iraq reports? Says DOD: "These reports were part of a multi-scope research effort to identify the widest possible range of analysts whose expertise was likely to generate insights and concepts which would contribute to Net Assessments on-going work to develop and refine trends, risks, and opportunities which will shape future (2020) national security environments."


Richard Clark wrote in his book Against All Enemies how shocked he was when he found out about Mylroie's influence in a meeting in the spring of 2002:

Rice's deputy, Steve Hadley, began the meeting by asking me to brief the group. I turned immediately to the pending decisions needed to deal with al Qaeda. "We need to put pressure on both the Taliban and al Qaeda by arming the Northern Alliance and other groups in Afghanistan. Simultaneously, we need to target bin Laden and his leadership by reinitiating flights of the Predator."

Paul Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld's deputy at Defense, fidgeted and scowled. Hadley asked him if he was all right. "Well, I just don't understand why we are beginning by talking about this one man bin Laden," Wolfowitz responded.

I answered as clearly and forcefully as I could: "We are talking about a network of terrorist organizations called al Qaeda, that happens to be led by bin Laden, and we are talking about that network because it and it alone poses an immediate and serious threat to the United States."

"Well, there are others that do as well, as least as much. Iraqi terrorism, for example," Wolfowitz replied, looking not at me but at Hadley.

"I am unaware of any Iraqi-sponsored terrorism directed at the United States, Paul, since 1993, and I think FBI and CIA concur in that judgment, right, John?" I pointed at CIA Deputy Director John McLaughlin, who was obviously not eager to get in the middle of a debate between the White House and the Pentagon but nonetheless replied, "Yes, that is right, Dick. We have no evidence of any active Iraqi terrorist threat against the U.S."

Finally, Wolfowitz turned to me. "You give bin Laden too much credit. He could not do all these things like the 1993 attack on New York, not without a state sponsor. Just because FBI and CIA have failed to find the linkages does not mean they don't exist."

I could hardly believe it, but Wolfowitz was actually spouting the totally discredited Laurie Mylroie theory that Iraq was behind the 1993 truck bomb at the World Trade Center, a theory that had been investigated for years and found to be totally untrue.


When I used to write a lot about the neocons, I often mused about the mindset that led these kooks to believe that every problem in the world had to be attributed to totalitarian statism. It was as if they could simply could not organize their minds in any other way.

And we are seeing the same thing with the market fundamentalists dealing with the economic crisis. It's not just ideology, although that's a huge part of it. It's a form of psychological rigidity that makes them come back again and again to people who have been proven wrong, as if they simply cannot even consider the possibility that their worldview is incorrect (a characteristic the establishmenst of both political parties unfortunately share to some degree.) Alan Greenspan revealed it in his testimony last October:

In his testimony, Greenspan said that, in light of a crisis he characterized as "a once-in-a-century financial tsunami," he was wrong to think financial markets could police themselves. He incorrectly had expected the discipline of the market would prevent financial institutions from taking life-threatening risks.

Those mistakes raised questions about his most fundamental beliefs, he acknowledged.

Asked by committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Los Angeles, whether his free-market convictions pushed him to make wrong decisions, especially his failure to rein in unsafe mortgage lending practices, Greenspan replied that indeed he had found a flaw in his ideology, one that left him very distressed. "In other words, you found that your view of the world, your ideology was not right?" Waxman asked.

"Absolutely, precisely," replied Greenspan, who stepped down as Fed chief in 2006 after more than 18 years as chairman. "That's precisely the reason I was shocked, because I have been going for 40 years or more with very considerable evidence it was working exceptionally well."


That's absurd, of course. The idea that markets are self regulating in the large, macro sense may be true. But here in the immediate everyday world of markets which are run by flawed humans who hold people's wealth and livlihoods in their hands (and central bankers try to control economic health) it's a ridiculous assumption. He's talking about a romantic Randian view that the titans of finance and business are morally clean because they will always behave rationally, which is an assumption worthy of a 16 year old.

That's not just ideology, although it is certainly ideological. That's a rather simple faithbased worldview, which is just as prevalent among the Randian free market fundamentalists as it is among the neocons and the conservative religious groups. It's what draws all these people to conservatism (and I would argue to other rigid ideologies like communism as well.) It's proudly illiberal. And as completely unsuited to times of rapid change even as many people find themselves attracted to it because of that change.

Across the board, in every discipline, conservatism has failed in epic proportions. And yet, over and over again it comes back, in almost exactly the same form, even featuring the same people. It's possible that this time they screwed the pooch so badly that they will be set back on their heels for a good long time and will be forced to reevaluate. But I wouldn't count on it. Their great strength is their ability to doggedly keep going no matter what.

If Laurie Mylroie was still collecting money from US taxpayers for her advice and analysis about Iraq as recently as 2007, anything is possible.

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