Tuesday, June 2, 2009

How W's State Department Sabotaged W's War in Iraq

Prior to George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq, the #3 at State - Marc Grossman - and the #2 at Defense - Paul Wolfowitz - went to Turkey, to secure permission to move US troops through Turkey into northern Iraq.

The short story is Turkey said, "No."

Don't be mis-led.

The long story is that Marc Grossman purposefully mis-handled the negotiations in order to get a "no" - in order to make the war impossible. The top guys at State were making their own policy decision, to oppose and undermine the President. Isn't that special!

Paul Grossman served seven years as a diplomat in Turkey - three in Adana as consul (where he married a Turk) and four in Ankara as ambassador. He knew very well that, in Turkey, the military is a fourth branch of government. Yet, Grossman excluded the military from consulations and argued for his superior knowledge of the country against suggestions/objections put forth by the Defense Department that the Turkish military should be consulted.

Hurriyet, Turkey's highest circulation daily newspaper, reported the results in the paper of December 4, 2002: 8:30 pm Foreign Minister says okay; 11:15 pm Turkish General Staff says we made no such decision; 12:30am Foreign Ministry spokesman says Turkey has not agreed. As one 3-star general told me, "Ankara is boiling."

Marc Grossman risked creating a military coup in order to sow the confusion and discord that flowed copiously from his actions. He played a three-cushion billiard shot and pulled it off.

At that time the new religous Ak Party government had been in power for only 18 days. The leader of the party, Tayyip Erdoğan, had previously been mayor of Istanbul and had no experience in national government. The new government was caught unprepared.

The new Turkish government haggled. The party leaders came to Washington. They were eventually offered incentives worth more than $2 billion.

The party leader, Tayyip Erdoğan, decided to be clever. He announced that the Parliament must decide "yes" or "no" so that he could distance himself from the approval if events called for such a tactic. Nothing in Turkish law or government practice called for a Parliamentary vote. Further, Erdoğan announced that he would not enforce party discipline - that each representative could vote as he chose. Erdogan never imagined that the vote would be "no."

And the vote was "no." The Foreign Secretary, who had initially said "yes" had voted "no." So, Turkey was stuck with a decision no one wanted.

The US went ahead with the invasion anyway.

The Turks lost $2 billion in aid. The Turks lost long-term strategic importance, since the US now had bases in Iraq and other countries beyond Turkey. And, very important, the Kurds who supported US troops, The Peshmerga, became folk heroes in the American press. This undermined important Turkish diplomatic positions concerning the Kurdish terrorists, the PKK, and Kurdish efforts to create their own country from territory now party of Iran, Iraq and Turkey.

Without a doubt, this was all engineered by Marc Grossman. Would Marc Grossman have acted without consulting his Secretary of State, Colin Powell. I don't think so.

There are important lessons here for how Washington really works and how the Turkish government made a mess through lack of astute leadership . . .as well as how this particular set of decisions came to be made.

How Ronald Reagan is Partially to Blame for Our Aesthetic Famine

Ronald Reagan is guilty in this matter only to the extent that he did not intercede in the aftermath of the 1979 Supreme Court decision known as the Thor Power Tool decision. The court case dealt with the valuation of inventories for tax purposes. It was applied to book publishers which had, by long practice and tradition, been given special treatment.

Before Thor Power Tool, publishers showed the printing expenses of a new book in the year it was printed, even though the books might sell over a twenty-year period. This reduced the taxable current profits and, therefore, current taxes. It was a special priviledge given to publishing, in the interest of public education,

And then, with Thor Power Tool, the IRS took the priviledge away. The publishers now had to re-calculate their income and tax according to the new rules on their entire 20-years of accumulated inventory. Afterward, the new rule would bump up annual income and tax, but the spike in income and taxes on the entire inventory in that first year was like a tidal wave.

More books were destroyed by that IRS action than any other event in human history. Millions of books were pulped or burned to avoid the taxes.

The choice of paying taxes or destroying books also motivated the corporate consolidation of American book publishing, the take-over of book publishers by entertainment conglomerates and the eventual preponderance of non-US ownership of those conglomerates. The IRS publishes statistics for 2002 - US book-publishing is 63% foreign-owned, US film-and-video is 64% foreign-owned.

And the price of books sky-rocketed. One of my favorite books is The Embassy Letters, by Mary Wortley Montagu. She was the wife of the British Ambassador to the Ottoman Sultan. Her book describes the overland voyage from London to Istanbul in 1716. Her book has been in print for almost 400 years, as a colorful description of daily life at that time. I watched the price of the Modern Library hardback go from $4.95 to $13.95 - the price of paying both the back taxes on the inventory and the new corporate overhead.

If only Ronnie and the guys around him had intervened on the application of Thor Power Tool to publishing, our cultural landscape would likely be far deeper and richer than it is today.