Monday, October 27, 2003

Bushism of the Day By Jacob Weisberg

Lately the Bushisms at Slate have been pretty weak - pouncing on the kind of slips that are really quite common in everyday speech. I assume that the really great Bushisms dried up because his handlers were taking great care to minimize unscripted moments. Or something. He surely didn't grow up and learn English overnight.

This one isn't a classic, but perhaps it's a sign that we'll get our old George back yet.
Wow, this is so pathetic. And sooooooo stupid.

How could they think they would get away with something like this? Once again, I'm torn between disgust at the complete lack of integrity in the admin and amazement at its incompetence.

Sunday, October 26, 2003

Mark A. R. Kleiman: What did Gen. Boykin say that got some people so angry?

Mark Kleiman reminds us why Boykin oughta go. I can't believe his defenders here. Shouldn't you be worried about your case if you can't even bring yourself to bring up the words that got everyone so upset? Wouldn't that be a tip-off that you're not particularly comfortable with what he said either?
The usually sensible Needlenose goes off the deep end:

At the severe risk of being politically incorrect, I'll say that it's a shame Wolfowitz walked away unscathed from this attack. Not so much because I wish the man ill, but because as one of the prime architects of the Iraq fiasco, he should be exposed to some of the dangers he helped create, rather than leaving someone else's sons and daughters to be cannon fodder (and mortar/grenade bait).

Um, look, are you sure you don't wish the man ill? Cause I would say that being in a building attacked by rockets does in fact count as being exposed to some of the dangers he helped create.

I think Wolfie is my favorite hawk. Rummy, Cheney, Rice, and co. all seem either evil (Cheney), unconcerned with evil (Rummy) or stupid (Rice). With Wolfowitz I can never tell if he's sincere, and my doubt about that opens up a little space in which I can feel friendly towards him. He talks such a good talk about the evils of Saddam Hussein, he was a staunch critic of the regime long before his boss was shaking hands with Hussein, he seems to genuinely hate the decision to walk away from the uprising in Iraq in 1991, not just strategically, but also morally, and so on.

This doesn't get him off the hook, of course. I would just love the opportunity to ask him, "Just a sec here. The U.S. gives 2 billion to Egypt every year, and it hasn't managed to stop it's long slide into authoritarianism. What makes you think Iraq is going to be any easier to democratize, assuming that you really are sincere about this? Just what exactly are you thinking, man?"

It's the fact that this is an overwhelmingly good question to ask, and the fact that Wolfie is obviously a bright guy that always makes me suspect that he just can't be sincere about the whole democracy thing. But then I hear him talk about it, and he seems so awfully convinced himself, and his dark ponderous eyes just look so determined and hopeful.

He's got his head up his ass, that's for sure, but I certainly don't wish him any ill (for real, not Needlenose's version of not wishing him ill, which appears to involve wishing for ill things to happen to him).
In Iraq, Sexual Assault Incidents Are Brushed Aside, Report Says

Three cheers for (feminist) cultural imperialism. I hope that the quotations here are not representative, but I am afraid that they may well be . . .

Saturday, October 25, 2003

Rodger A. Payne has a good post on preemption and WMD.

Someday I'll get around to griping about sloppy thinking about preemption.
This post by Easterbrook is just wantonly stupid:

IT'S THIS SIMPLE: COME CLEAN ON WMD, OR LEAVE IRAQ: I'd like to propose a simplification of the entire Iraq/WMD debate. It's this: If the reason we went into Iraq really, truly was that the Bush administration really, truly believed Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction, then there is nothing of which the administration need feel shamed --but the United States must immediately leave Iraq.

We now know there is no significant banned-weapons program in Iraq. Any serious manufacturing facilities for banned weapons would have been detected by this point. If we went in to stop a banned-weapons program genuinely believing one existed, and now know one did not exist, then our military must depart immediately. This is the only honorable course.

Alternative: The administration admits that other reasons, possibly valid, were the real reasons all along

First of all, suppose that the administration went into Iraq solely in order to get WMD. In order to get into Iraq they had to make certain promises to Iraqis, promises which are binding whether or not there turn out to be any WMD in Iraq. Even in international relations, it isn't considered that easy to get out of a promise. And even if they hadn't made any such promises, the very act of invading an occupying a country imposes significant moral obligations on the invading country to ensure the well-being and safety of the citizens of the invaded country.

But suppose that the administration went into Iraq for other reasons, besides a fear of WMD. Suppose - just suppose - they lied like crazy the whole time about their real reasons. Does Easterbrook actually think that this would lessen the obligations of the U.S. to the people of Iraq? Wouldn't having lied about WMD impose greater obligations on the U.S. to help with the rebuilding of Iraq?

(Notice also that Easterbrook sets the bar very low by framing the moral evaluation of the war in terms of sincerity rather than reasonableness. I have no doubt at all that - for all the lies about specific pieces of intelligence - most of the administration quite sincerely believed that Hussein had WMD. (But so what? Even if Iraq had WMD, the war would have been, at the very least, debatable. Doesn't Easterbrook remember the debate leading up to the war, which proceded mostly on the assumption that S.H. did have WMD? Even with that assumption, the case for war struck me as very weak.) The big players also overrated the threat because of bad judgment or ignorance. Both of these are morally culpable, and an appropriate source of shame. The decision to go to war is an extremely serious one: sincerity by itself is never an excuse.)

Look, I know that this is just a short blog entry by a guy who has not been on his game lately. Still, it's incredible how Easterbrook manages to frame the issue in a way that completely loses the perspective of the people his country just waged a war on.

Afterthought: What if Easterbrook was joking? Perhaps he was slyly parodying a stupid view he's seen floating around the internet rather than presenting the position as his own. So, my apologies if I've misunderstood. I'm tentatively assuming that Easterbrook is serious here just because his other posts have the same gee-whiz-look-at-me-miss-the-point sort of feel.
Wow! Wired News reports a great stunt.
On High-Speed Trip, Bush Glimpses a Perception Gap

"Glimpses" . . . as in for the first time? A "gap" . . . rather than, say, a yawning abyss? In "perception" . . . rather than, oh, maybe substance?

This is the point at which I would pray for us all, if I weren't a sceptical godless lefty-liberal secular humanist . . .
Kurds Are Finally Heard: Turkey Burned Our Villages

In a story of this length, was it really impossible to make any mention of Western complicity in Turkey's behaviour all these years?

It doesn't need to be the focus of a news story, but surely the fact that Western governments denied plausible accounts of mistreatment is part of the story of how these things happened.

And while the primary responsibility always rests with the primary agents, in this case the Turkish military (and the PKK, whose human rights record was also abysmal), surely it matters that the U.S. supplied 80% of Turkey's military hardware during the period. And surely it matters that it knew perfectly well what it was used for.

And while the media shouldn't be the focus of every story in the media, is it not relevant - is it not also part of the story? - that the Western press showed a shocking lack of interest in the Turkish military's behaviour during the worst of the human rights abuses in Turkey?

Friday, October 24, 2003


Apparently, the National Review has withdrawn their editorial calling for Boykin to resign. The original editorial puzzled a number of commentators since it seems so . . . well, sensible.

Don't worry, folks. The National Review is back to sucking up to the admin come hell or high water and the world is back in joint.
Inquiry Faults Intelligence on Iraq (

This report is really going to help Americans get to the bottom of the intelligence failures that led to the war. Not, mind you, because the report itself is a serious attempt to get at the truth. It looks like it will be a complete joke.

No, no. The report is going to help Americans get to the bottom of things because Tenet is going to strike back with more leaks, and while they should be treated with caution, he probably has a lot of real dirt left to spill on the monkey business in the admin which preceded the war.

Never underestimate Tenet. Correction: Never underestimate Tenet's ability to cover his ass. Go ahead and rate very low his ability to actually protect the country, stand up for the intelligence community and so on. But never, ever (especially you, Condi) underestimate Tenet's skill in deflecting negative attention away from himself.

Thursday, October 23, 2003

Rumsfeld's Pentagon Papers - His leaked memo is the most astonishing document of this war so far. By Fred Kaplan

And now let me throw in my two cents. Rumsfeld's leaked memo contains a glaring run-on sentence.

Shocking. Don't they proof those things?
Why is Israel behaving so badly these day?

Well, if I were Sharon, I would, to be safe, assume that Bush was going down in 2004. So I would want to push as hard as possible to make gains and consolidate them before he gets the boot.
The Agonist: How the Poll Results on Iraq Were Manipulated

The Agonist asks a good question: Why haven't the mainstream media pointed out that Cheney is having reality problems . . . again?
Rubber Hose has a nice post on Safire's idiotic cheerleading for a Turkish military presence in Iraq.
At the start of each of Bush's bad ideas is Dick Cheney

What could Josh Marshall be thinking? Doesn't he know that Cheney adds gravitas to the Bush administration?

He does, right?

Rights Group Exposes Conditions in North Korean Prison Camps

This is an absolutely horrifying report, though it comes more as a reminder of the North Korean regime's evil -if it isn't evil, as you-know-who said, I don't know what is - than as a revelation.

The report is disturbing because it reminds me that there really is no easy way out of the North Korean standoff. It's easy to say that the U.S. should just buckle and give North Korea food aid and a security guarantee in exchange for an end to its nukes program. But a) the food aid will only ever go to propping up a regime that is as evil as anything on the planet; b) they're not likely to follow through on their end of the bargain anyway; c) the prospect of propping up a regime that is as evil as anything on the planet is - or at least should be - quite unappealing.

That's not to say that I'm a fan of the Bush admin's rhetoric. They didn't create the problem, to be sure, but the rhetoric may well have deepened the problem by giving an already paranoid regime a solid reason to fear for its existence. And, as Josh Marshall points out, you don't get points for Churchillian swagger unless you have a plan to along with it.

Ach. What a mess.

That is all.
Whiskey Bar: Looking for a Better Body Count

Billmon wrote this post before I could get to it, but I'm consoled by the fact that he does a better job than I would have.

The uncanny resemblance between Rumsfeld and McNamara has already been noticed by a number of people. I was struck by it again reading Rumseld's latest leaked memo. So was Billmon.
Once at Arm's Length, Wall Street Is Bush's Biggest Donor

If this piece is accurate, I think it confirms that the rich aren't particularly good at pursuing their own long term interests. It's simply not in anyone's long term interests to see Bush back in power. How does the rotting of the country's financial situation really help Wall Street? How does an inept and badly targeted campaign against terrorism help protect these people? It doesn't, and I don't think we need to come up with an explanation for the behaviour of these Wall Street "investors" in Bush's campaign that explains why their behaviour is rational.

I suppose the rich have often misjudged their own interests. But it's often a bit of a surprise to realize it, at least to me. The tendency is to give people too much credit, and not to give enough attention to the possibility that they're simply behaving irrationally.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

The marvellously talented economist Brad DeLong tries his hand at Biblical commentary . . . How do his targets go on living with themselves?
Another little tidbit from the UN's News Service:

New York, Oct 22 2003 2:00PM
The United Nations is owed so much in regular dues that it has had to borrow from its peacekeeping account, though that was not fully paid up either, to cover its bills in October and was likely to have to borrow up to $125 million in November, a senior UN manager said.

Under-Secretary-General for Management Catherine Bertini <"">told the General Assembly's Administrative and Budgetary Committee on Tuesday that unpaid regular budget assessments from 78 countries totalled $693 million, while the arrears for peacekeeping was $1.56 billion.

"The financial stability of the organization is under pressure," she said. "We must be able to rely on payment in full and on time to provide the predictable resource base needed to carry out all our mandated activities."

The United States contributed $31 million of its regular dues earlier in the year and said it would send in another $233 million to $341 million, depending on congressional action, by the end of the year. If it got the lower amount, the United Nations would be $5 million in the red; if the higher amount, it would have a surplus of $103 million, Ms. Bertini said.

At the end of September, the United States owed $732 million for peacekeeping, but it paid $252 million of that on Monday, she said. Fourteen other major contributors owed $464 million.

Nonetheless, the organization was reimbursing Member States for troops and equipment as promptly as possible. It had paid $339 million in troop costs and planned to add another $64 million by year's end, she said.

Meanwhile, the war crime tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia were $117 million in the hole, compared to an unpaid amount at this time last year of just $49 million, so they, too, had had to borrow from peacekeeping funds, Ms. Bertini said. Sixty States had paid their tribunal assessments in full, but five major contributors owed $102 million and 126 others owed $15 million.
Don't miss this wonderful takedown of Krugman's critics.
Why, oh why, do they keep William Safire around at the New York Times? The only charitable interpretation is that the editors must consider it the price that they pay for appeasing the balance police. Fire Safire and you'd get howls of protest that they'd ditched a voice that spoke uncomfortable truths, and all that rubbish. . .

But as his latest column reminds me, Safire is almost totally detached from reality. Sending the Turks into Iraq is a bad idea any way you look at it, in my view. But there's got to be some argument that is better than Safire's. I don't have time - or frankly, the patience - to go through Safire's column paragraph by paragraph. Suffice it to say that if Safire cared at all about developing an argument, or persuading anyone who isn't either already persuaded, gullible or stupid, he might have tried to address Turkey's egregious human rights record, or any of the other very good reasons for politely turning down Turkey's offer. And if he wanted to connect - just a bit - with reality, he wouldn't have described Turkish leaders as eager to help out, when they're quite obviously casting about frantically for some way, any way, to get out of the committment. And he wouldn't have described Turkish opinion, in a recent column, as supporting the move, when everyone who follows Turkish politics knows perfectly well that public opinion is still dead set against participation.

But Safire seems long ago to have given up on anything like this. Instead, he reminds me of a little boy sitting on his bedroom floor moving troops from one part to another, without any clear sense of what the movements would actually mean if they were real.

It's one thing to represent a stupid opinion. It's even worse to represent it so badly, and on the editorial pages of the New York Times. This is - after all, and whether it deserves the distinction - the op-ed world's equivalent of prime real estate. It's painful to see someone this stupid and intellectually irresponsible wasting such a nice opportunity.
The latest from the UN News Service:

New York, Oct 21 2003 4:00PM
Israel has quickened the pace of erecting its separation barrier between itself and Palestinian territories, dividing Palestinian communities and families and threatening to seal off Jerusalem from the West Bank, a senior United Nations official told the Security Council today.

"Over the last month the speed of construction has accelerated," Kieran Prendergast, UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, told the Security Council in his <"">monthly briefing on the Middle East. "Palestinians along the barrier's route face land loss and severely restricted access to jobs, markets and essential social services…We repeat our call to the Israeli authorities to halt construction of the wall."

Yesterday the UN General Assembly reconvened an emergency session on the Middle East to consider the barrier's construction as well as two draft resolutions on the question. One, similar to a version already vetoed by the United States in the Security Council, would have the Assembly say the construction was illegal. The other draft proposed asking the International Court of Justice in The Hague for an advisory opinion on whether Israel should cease construction of the barrier and dismantle the portions it has already built.

A recent report from the three co-chairs of a Local Aid Coordination Committee said that around East Jerusalem the barrier "affects tens of thousands of Palestinians as it divide communities and families and threatens to seal Jerusalem off from the rest of the West Bank," Mr. Prendergast said in his Council briefing. He named the co-chairs as the World Bank, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process (UNSCO) and Norway.

Earlier this month, the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) had issued an order on the areas between the barrier and the Green Line specifying that "people aged 12 years and older who resided in these areas before the military order was issued must now have entry permits to continue doing so. Free access will be granted only to Israelis," Mr. Prendergast said.

"This order marks an unacceptable deepening of restrictions against Palestinians caught between the Barrier and the Green Line."

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

The New York Review of Books: Terror & the Attack on Civil Liberties

Don't miss this superb piece by Ronald Dworkin in the New York Review of Books. In the past, Dworkin has offered fierce critiques of the Bush administration's terror policies from the point of view of a legal scholar. In this piece, however, he focuses on an even more neglected criticism of the policies, the moral one.
If you use a cell phone, pay especially close attention to the next few bills. This is the latest from the Center for Public Integrity:

Hundreds of Millions in the Bank for Service Not Yet Offered
(WASHINGTON, October 20, 2003)--The nation's top wireless phone
companies have been slipping some mysterious new fees in the bills of
their 101 million customers. The fees, which range from a nickel to
$1.75 per month, are needed primarily to cover the wireless industry's
costs for implementing "number portability," a new service that will
allow phone users to keep their same number when switching from one
wireless company to another. The companies are charging the new fees
with the full knowledge and approval of the Federal Communications
Commission, the government agency that is supposed to look out for the
public on telecommunications issues.

The cost to wireless phone customers: $629 million so far, and still

Sunday, October 19, 2003

Lost in Translation

This is a piece about the difficulties the F.B.I. has had in finding competent translators. May I remind you that the U.S.'s homophobic policies resulted in the departure of several Arabic translators from a training school not so long ago.

True, that story concerned the military. Still, you know you have a culture problem when people won't take gay translators even when the need for translators is very serious indeed.
Rubber Hose has a good post on Bush's recent comparison of U.S. involvement in the Philippines with its involvement in Iraq.

Some got a C in history at Yale! (Probably - I'm too lazy to double check whether history was one of his C's.)

Saturday, October 18, 2003

State Dept. Study Foresaw Trouble Now Plaguing Iraq

Huh. I hadn't realized that the State Dept. planning for the occupation had gotten so far when it got scrapped by Rummy. Nice work, you jackass.
BBC NEWS | Middle East | Turkey cools towards Iraq role

Good news. I like the direction this is moving, if it really is moving in this direction . . .
Whiskey Bar: Freedom of Speech

I was waiting for someone to go through the trouble of assembling all these quotations together in the same place . . .
BBC NEWS | World | Europe | Kurd trial sours Turkey's EU hopes

The timing on this is hardly convenient for Turkey . . . or the U.S. (which idiotically wants to base Turkish troops in Iraq).
Just a reminder that the U.S. shouldn't send Turkish troops into Iraq. . . . in case you needed one.

Friday, October 17, 2003

Baghdad Burning

A nice little discussion of Turkish troops. Wow, I just can't get my head around how stupid the administration is being on this. You'd think I would be used to it by now, but there's something about this decision that just encapsulates all the stupidity so far.

Be sure to read to the end of the post for the Mexico analogy.
Another twist of the knife:

New York, Oct 17 2003 5:00PM
The UN agency charged with uncovering evidence of an Iraqi nuclear weapons programme has found no such evidence, according to a report issued today.

The report from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), dated 10 October but released today after UN Secretary General Kofi Annan officially delivered it to the Security Council, said that despite the war and occupation, the agency has been able, "with the support of Member States, to continue with some of its investigations outside of Iraq," and follow up previous inspections with subsequent analysis. IAEA investigators also conducted inspections inside Iraq for a week in June.
U.S. should accept inevitable, return Iraq to the Iraqis

Pipes thinks the U.S. should pull out of Iraq because failure is inevitable. Didn't Pipes recommend that the U.S. fight the war in the first place? In that case, why didn't he share his rule of thumb with us before the war:

From this pattern, I draw a rule of thumb: Unless a non-Muslim ruler has compelling reasons to control a Muslim population, it will eventually be worn down by the violence directed against it and give up. Note that the U.S. government has already given up twice in recent years, in Lebanon and Somalia.

The U.S.-led effort to fix Iraq is not important enough for Americans, Britons, or other non-Muslim partners to stick it out. That is why I advocate handing substantial power over to the Iraqis, and doing so the sooner the better.

It's too late, frankly, to be casually tossing off comments like this. I've said this before, but I'll continue to say it until every stupid far lefty and far righty accepts it: An immediate U.S. withdrawal from Iraq would lead to bloody chaos. The chances for a better future in Iraq are pretty slim now, but they are nil if the U.S. leaves right away.
Experts Downplay Bioagent

I was wondering when a story like this would get written. Funny thing is, the basic point here has been floating around the better blogs since a day or two after Kay released his report.

The media does this stuff all day long, and they get paid for it. Bloggers do this for fun and they're often ahead of the game. Don't give me that crap about bloggers never breaking a story.
Rummy: There were enough troops.

Sane critics of the war: No there weren't.

Rummy: Quit griping. There were enough troops!

Sane critics of the war: Oh no there weren't.

Thursday, October 16, 2003

Filter Tips By Michael Kinsley

I want to be Michael Kinsley when I grow up.
The Pentagon Unleashes a Holy Warrior

This story is making the rounds today on my favourite blogs. Since my own blog is one of my favourite blogs (such penetrating judgment! such prodigious memory! such silly spelling mistakes!), I thought I would link to it too. News - Latest News - Powell ‘Misled Public over Iraq Threat’

This, by way of Juan Cole.

Ouch. Notice that this criticism comes from State. This isn't some yahoo from Defense.
Whiskey Bar reports a nice little tidbit about infighting in the Bush WH.

I'd like to point out a piece I wrote back at the beginning of April comparing the Bush's admin's infighting to all the fighting in the Reagan admin. This was back at a time before the infighting was so apparent, so I think I'll just pat myself on the back for pointing it out early.

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

BBC NEWS | Middle East | Russia shuns US Iraq resolution

Condi Rice's strategy of remaining cordial with Russia while dissing France has yet to pay off. If there's any wisdom in the plan, I have yet to find it.
The Pentagon is under fire for shoddy security checks on translators used at Guantanamo.

Whenever I read stories like this, my first two reactions are:
a) to feel angry, once again, that the military kicked out a bunch of Arabic translators (in the buildup to the war, no less) for being gay;
b) to wonder why it is essential to pare back civil liberties if the admin hasn't even tried to make do with existing laws.
Guardian | Turks will bring chaos, say Kurds

More warnings.

The U.S. apparently views the Kurdish fear of Turkish troops as some sort of quirk that they can work around. The problem is that the Kurdish fear of Turkey is entirely rational. Anyone who spends a minute or two thinking about this should see it. Why oh why can't the Yanks spend that minute or two?

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Richard Perle goes freelancing again.
'A Gift From God' Renews a Village (

This is not just feel-good propoganda. The plight of the Marsh Arabs under Saddam Hussein was well-documented, even if rarely commented on in the mainstream press. It's worth recalling that if the U.S. hadn't invaded, this 1000 year old way of life would surely have vanished within the next decade.
Juan Cole reports on a new poll on the presence of Turkish troops in Iraq.

I'm not sure about the poll - as usual, it's wise to treat it as suspect until it's methodology and sampling, etc. check out. But still . . .

You know, there are legitimate policy disputes where you say, "Hey, I disagree but I can see your point." And there are policy disputes in which all you can say is, "You're an idiot. How can you even think about doing that?" I think the decision to use Turkish troops in Iraq falls pretty solidly in the latter category. It's just so wantonly stupid that I don't even know where to begin . . .
Remember when things got a bit hot between Pakistan and India in the fall of 2001 (and onwards)? Many sensible people pointed out at the time that the dispute over Kashmir called for international mediation. Although quite serious, the dispute may not be intractible, and anyway, the consequences of a miscalculation between the two powers should be enough to get anyone's attention.

In the meantime, though, no one has dealt seriously with the problem. Despite the occasional hopeful signs of thaw between the countries, no serious progress has been made in resolving the underlying causes of tension. Now things may be heating up again. I notice, for instance, that Pakistan has apparently stepped up its missile testing recently.

I think we may all look back at this and wish that the U.S. had turned its attention to the subcontinent instead of Iraq. A joint focus on settling the Kashmir dispute and encouraging the spread of civil society in Pakistan would have done more to hurt bin Laden's recruitment than anything else they could have done. And let's hope that by the time the threat between these two countries is appreciated, our appreciation isn't being prompted by a mushroom cloud.

Monday, October 13, 2003

Cheeky question of the day: Remember way back in 2000 when all (ok, many of) the pundits cooed about Bush's selection of Cheney? Remember how everyone said that it added "gravitas" to Bush's campaign?

Are any of those morons still willing to stand up and repeat this? Or is it not finally obvious that Cheney was a disasterous selection - a wretched choice - who has brought out the worst in an weak and inept president?
Poll shows Bush job approval rating back up

This is really sad. What the hell is wrong with people?

I know there's a taboo against blaming ordinary people for supporting idiot politicians. We're supposed to focus our rage on the politicians, and complain about the media for failing to present the facts. Well, I do think there are problems with the media, but the painful truth is that the facts are out there and anyone who really wants to know what's going on just needs a bit of time and patience.

No, the fact is that some of the blame for the awful mess the U.S. is getting itself into rests with idiot voters. Americans want the benefits of empire, but they'll be fucked if they have to do their homework in exchange.
BBC NEWS | World | Europe | Turks warn Iraqi Kurds

Oh how I wish the U.S. wasn't inviting the Turks into Iraq. Has anyone in the Bush administration ever read a Human Rights Watch report?

One interesting issue that this raises is how closely connected our capacity to predict the outcome of decisions like this is to our capacity for moral reflection. Now, of course sociopaths are sometimes quite good at predicting how others will behave. But all the same, I do think that a capacity for moral reflection - semi-sophisticated moral reflection, at least, and merely not Bush-style moralizing - is often a great aid in figuring out how things are actually going to go in the real world. Certainly a capacity for appropriate moral outrage at Turkey for its disgusting behaviour in South East Turkey would have warned U.S. policymakers off their present course. But they apparently lack this capacity, and so they won't have a clear grasp of the extent of the damage until it is far too late.

Sunday, October 12, 2003

Whiskey Bar: Deserting Dean

The Whiskey Bar's bouncer throws Dean through the bar window.

I'm not as surprised as he is by Dean's remarks. He's presented himself as quite hawkish on lots of wars, and seems only to have taken a pass on Iraq. I share his general sense of depression, though.
TIME - Joe Klein - Dick Cheney, Hard-Liner in Chief

Cheney bashing goes mainstream. . .
Here's the latest from MEMRI:

Special Dispatch - Inter-Arab Relations
October 10, 2003
No. 587

To view this Special Dispatch in HTML format, please visit:

Al-Qaddafi: 'Libya Should Quit the Arab League... Women Must be Trained to Booby-Trap Cars, Houses, Luggage, and Children's Toys'

In an October 4, 2003 speech delivered to a group of women in the city of Sabha, Libyan ruler Col. Mu'ammar Al-Qaddafi spoke of Libya's work for the pan-Arab cause, accused the Arab countries of ingratitude, and apologized to the African states for bringing them into the Arab League. He also said that women should be trained to carry out suicide operations. The following are excerpts from his speech:(1)

The Reactionary Arab Leaders of the Past are 1,000 Times Better Than Those of Today

"...When the war against the Palestinians was declared in 1948, it was the only time that all the Arabs fought as one people and as one nation. The volunteers set out from Libya and from every Arab country for Palestine. The regular armies set out from Egypt, Iraq, and the Sudan and fought in Palestine. This was the period of [King] Farouq, [King] Faisal II, Nouri Sa'id, King Abdallah and the Imam Yahyah [King of Yemen.] We see them as reactionaries, and they were removed and finished, but they were 1,000 times better than the Arabs of today, who have no courage, honor, blood, or pride. They [the kings of the past] did not relinquish their honor and [protected] their women and their children. They did not relinquish Palestine, Iraq, Libya, or any other place in the Arab homeland..."

All Non-Africans Should go Back to the Arabian Peninsula

"Today, you cannot speak of Arab unity and pan-Arab nationalism. Today, you are an Egyptian, Sudanese, Libyan, Tunisian, Moroccan, or a Mauritanian. You are African... You are part of this continent. If Africa is not your land, go back to the Arabian Peninsula. If only all the Arabs, from Mauritania to Egypt, would return to the Arabian peninsula, at least in order to receive their quota of oil...

"The Arabs have become the joke of the world because they do not think of their future... The unification of the Arab Maghreb [i.e. North West Africa] was not the fruit of the thought of the people of the Maghreb; it was a dictate from the European Union. The Europeans said: 'We cannot deal with Libya alone, Tunisia alone, Algeria alone, and with Mauritania alone. You must unite, otherwise we will not be able to conduct business with you...'

"How can this great European Union, which includes nuclear states and industrialized states, deal with the midget Libya, with the midget Tunisia, and with the midget Mauritania? Europe said: 'We will not conduct business with you because you fly like chaff in the wind. You must unite so that you turn into one market, from Libya to Mauritania.'"

Libya Became an Enemy of the U.S., the West, and the Jews For the Arabs' Sake

"I came [to the Arabs] and I told them: Brothers, since our revolution we stand for Arab unity. We have done thus and so for the sake of Arab unity. The U.S. has become Libya's Enemy No. 1 due to Arab and pan-Arab unity and the Palestinian cause. Libya became the enemy of the Jews and the entire West for the Arabs, and without this there would have been no problems between Libya and the U.S. and even between it and the Jews, or between Libya and Europe. If we had not gotten ourselves in trouble in battles because of pan-Arabism and Arab unity, we would have been spared all the tragedies caused us."

We Should be Treated Like Africans

"Today, [the Arabs] curse us and attack us. If we were not an Arab country, they would not be cursing us. Have you heard of an Arab paper, or Arab ruler, or Arab radio station [discussing] a country called Lesotho? Never! It doesn't matter what happens in a country like this, they do not talk about it. Leave us alone! Are you attacking us because we are Arabs? We're fed up. We are Africans. Treat us like Africans; treat us like black Negroes; we'll stay away from you, and you'll stay away from us. Don't talk to us and we won't talk to you. What is the connection between Libya and Kuwait? One country is situated in Africa and the other in Asia. We will not meet again until Judgment Day, and then one of us will go to Paradise and the other will go to Hell..."

On Al-Qaddafi's Valor in the 1973 War

"We gave you [i.e. the Arabs] funds and weapons, and we became exhausted together with you, and for nothing. Ultimately, you all became friends with the U.S., and you recognize Israel. Only Libya has not recognized Israel, and of course will never recognize it until the Day of Judgment. We were exhausted for your sake, and ultimately you cursed us. We gave you 100 Mirage aircraft as a gift to Egypt in order to liberate the Sinai. We gave 100 Mirage aircraft, and then Sadat cursed us. It came out [looking] as if we had not participated at all [in the war], and the unfortunate Egyptian people do not know the truth.

"We are approaching the anniversary of October 6. All the boats that the Egyptian army used to cross the Suez Canal and all the rubber dinghies were Libyan. We do not want reward and we do not want them to say thank you to us, because we fulfilled our pan-Arab and historic obligation. The mobile artillery at the Egyptian front was all Libyan. All the mobile Italian cannons that we purchased from Italy and gave as a gift to Egypt. The Egyptians had no bulldozers. We acquired bulldozers [for them]. It was us who gave the Egyptian army supplies, clothing, and even socks...

"I personally carried the missiles on my shoulders and marched with them until we gave them to the Egyptians. The Israelis reached 83 kilometers from Cairo. But Sadat told me: 'Enough. I am finished with my war. Have a happy holiday.' I told him, 'Goodbye, and happy holiday.'"

The Arabs are Unwilling to do Anything for Their Unity

"The Palestinians and the Lebanese - we sacrificed our blood for them, we gave them our money, we gave them everything. We held training for them and ultimately it turned out that we were terrorists, while they embrace the Americans, the Israelis, and the Westerners, Libya is [accused of] terrorism because it trained the Palestinians. We fulfilled our obligation, we gave our money, we gave them weapons, we exposed ourselves to dangers, [and] we are on the blacklist to this day...

"The Arabs are completely useless. They are unwilling to do anything for the sake of unity."

We'll Ultimately be in Our African Nation on the African Continent

"We will not be finished together with them. We will be, ultimately, in our African nation and on the African continent... by means of which we will become stronger, like the American continent and the European continent. The Arabs have written a mark of disgrace in history that they will never be able to eradicate. They watch what is happening in Iraq and in Palestine from the sidelines. They are finished. They have no honor and they have no blood. There is no longer any Arab blood or pan-Arab blood, Arab unity, Arab manliness, Arab femininity. There is nothing. The situation has gotten so bad that the women are the ones who take the initiative. Today was the most dangerous Fedaii operation in so-called Israel - and it was carried out by a young Palestinian woman, not by a man."

Apology to the African States for Dragging Them Into the Arab League

"There are nations to which I did an injustice and I apologize for this. I brought Mauritania, Djibouti, Somalia, and the Comoro Islands into the Arab League, and I tried to bring in Eritrea. But now I cannot speak with Eritrea. Look what an injustice I did them. I brought them into a failed nation, a failed regime, and failed people....

"The Arabs are completely useless. We must not waste time. The Arabs are through. Tomorrow, Asia will establish great unions and Africa is already united - and where are you, Arab?..."

I Ask the Libyan People to Quit the Arab League

"I ask of the Libyan people to agree to quit the Arab League, without wasting time. These people [i.e. the Arabs] are useless. Their situation is terrible. We must be rid of them, of their curses and of their problems. Let them go in peace. They won't talk to us and we won't talk to them. Even the Arab League is nothing. It has been four months since its officials received their salaries, because the Arab countries refrained from paying their membership dues..."

In Favor of Explosive Belts and Car Bombs In Iraq and Israel

"The war changed and moved from the battlefields we learned about in books, into the homes. In the past, soldiers fought soldiers, and today soldiers fight women and children in Baghdad and Gaza... As long as the woman is home and she is the one targeted, she must be trained... The woman must be trained how to fight within the home, how to put together an explosive belt and blow herself up together with the enemy soldiers. Anyone who has a car must make preparations and know how to booby trap it and turn it into a car bomb... In the past they would say [to us in Libya]: 'Why do you train the women? It is not logical that the woman will go out to the battlefield...' Today the face of the battle has changed, and the arenas of fighting have moved to the place where the woman is...

"We must train the women how to booby-trap the car and blow it up among the enemy, how to blow up the house so it falls on the enemy soldiers. Traps must be prepared. You have seen how [the enemy] check[s] luggage. These suitcases should be rigged so that when they open them they blow up. The women must be taught how to booby-trap their clothes closets, booby-trap their purses, booby-trap their shoes, booby-trap the children's toys, so they blow up on the enemy soldiers."

(1) Al-Shams (Libya), October 5, 2003.

Charming. Quite charming.
Violence in Iraq Spreads to North (

One of the pleasant surprises out of Iraq so far is how quiet, relatively speaking, the North has been. I hope that this story isn't a sign that things are deteriorating now.
Der Spiegel is reporting that Israel may strike Iran in an attempt to destroy its nuclear program.

That would raise the temperature a notch or two, I suspect.

Ha'aretz's description of the Der Spiegel piece begins:

Israel is prepared to launch an attack on Iran's nuclear sites in order to prevent them from being operational, the German weekly magazine Der Spiegel reported Saturday.

But the story doesn't appear to suggest that any sort of attack is immanent. It only claims that Israel has drawn up detailed plans for an attack. But of course countries draw up details plans for things they won't do all the time.

Striking now would scuttle talks with Iran on its compliance with the IAEA, which no one wants. I wonder what's going on here. . . . Perhaps this threat is being held in reserve in case talks break down.

Saturday, October 11, 2003

Are these idiots freelancing or is this all part of the plan?
Good to be reminded every once and a while that the Lukid party does not have a monopoly on insanity.
KR Washington Bureau | 10/10/2003 | Leak of CIA officers leaves trail of damage

Now the problem with stories like this is that they're all sourced to current or former CIA officials. It may well turn out that the leak was a serious one. But I just don't trust the CIA to be straight about it. They have too much in this to be trusted: The worse the admin looks on this whole thing, the less attention is paid to the screwups within the CIA, and the more leverage the CIA against the White House when it comes to apportioning blame for those screwups.

I'm reserving judgment on this for a bit, until I hear something firmer. That is, I'm reserving judgment on the question of how seriously the leak damaged national security. I don't have any doubt about what leak itself and, ever more important, the failure to act on it, says about this administration. For that I have all the evidence I need that top officials in the admin have zero integrity.
Just watched Frontline's documentaryon the Iraq War.

Random observations:

1. Holy crap, Bremer has enormous feet! I noticed his big gangly boots once in a picture, but you don't really get a sense of it until you see him try to walk.
2. I never watch TV, so I forget how much I dislike watching Bush or Cheney speak. This reminded me.
3. The interviewer guy was a real knob. I hated his "gritty interviewer" act, which basically consisted in his simply repeating whatever anyone said back to them in an incredulous tone. Doesn't this guy practice in front of the mirror? Doesn't he notice he looks like a knob?
4. The interviews with the Iraqi exiles are fascinating. Chalabi comes off as such - such, such, such - an idiot. What I want to know is, how the hell did this guy impress J. Miller, Rumsfeld, Wolfie, etc.? I wouldn't trust that guy with my laundry, and these very smart (say what you like, they're not stupid) people entrusted their reputations to him. But the other exiles come off looking much better. I found myself really rooting for them, hoping that it will work out, that I'll be wrong in my dire predictions, hoping that Iraq won't turn into a bloody mess, hoping against hope that it escapes the fate of Lebanon.

Friday, October 10, 2003

The latest from HRW:

Pakistan: Four Years After Coup, Rights Abuses Abound

(New York, October 10, 2003) -- Pervez Musharraf's four-year
rule in Pakistan has led to serious human rights abuses,
Human Rights Watch charged today in a letter to the
Pakistani president. On the fourth anniversary of the
military coup that brought General Musharraf to power, Human
Rights Watch called on him to immediately return the country
to constitutional rule.

Human Rights Watch pointed out in its letter that military
agencies have frequently tortured and harassed political
opponents, critical journalists, and former government
officials. The past four years have also seen a rise in
activity by extremist religious groups and an increase in
sectarian killings in Pakistan, in part due to the Musharraf
government's policy of marginalizing mainstream opposition
political groups. Opposition legislators have told Human
Rights Watch they have been beaten, harassed and subjected
to blackmail for opposing Musharraf's policies.

"In Pakistan, the judiciary has been emasculated, political
parties rendered powerless, and extremist and sectarian
religious parties strengthened under Musharraf's rule," said
Brad Adams, executive director of Human Rights Watch's Asia
Division. "General Musharraf should transfer power to a
legitimate government now."

Pakistan's parliamentary opposition has contested
Musharraf's efforts to ensure that federal and provincial
governments remain subordinate to the military. The
Musharraf administration has sidelined the mainstream
political opposition and negotiated only with the Muttahida
Majlis-e-Ama, an alliance of religious political parties
that have historically enjoyed close links with the Pakistan
military. However, even these negotiations broke down
recently over General Musharraf's refusal to provide a date
by which he would resign as army chief in exchange for being
elected president of Pakistan in a civilian capacity.

The growing influence of extremist religious elements has
impinged on the rights of women and religious minorities.
Laws regarding rape and honor killings still discriminate
against women. The number of blasphemy cases registered has
risen while discrimination and persecution on grounds of
religion persist. Adherents of the Shi'a branch of Islam
have faced numerous violent attacks by Sunni Muslim militant

Human Rights Watch also raised concerns about Pakistan's
collaboration with the United States in the so-called war on

"Pakistan's collaboration in the U.S. `war on terror' has
been exemplified by a disregard for due process. Arbitrary
arrests and detentions, allegedly with the support of U.S.
authorities in Pakistan, have taken place with depressing
regularity," Adams said.

To view the letter to General Musharraf, please see:
For those with the time (certainly not me), you might want to check out an interesting interview on the subject of Don Rumsfeld in the Atlantic Monthly.
Earlier, I indulged in baseless speculation that Libby and Rove were behind the Plame affair (the guess was "Libby, with an assist from Rove.").

Then the White House specifically denied that they were involved.

So why haven't I apologized? Well, because they haven't exactly denied that they were involved. And so the theory is not dead - not quite, not yet.

Check out Josh Marshall's post on this here. (And please pay special attention to his point that the question was not asked by a mainstream reporter.)

I promise to apologize when it becomes appropriate to apologize. But not a minute before then.
Well, isn't that classy? A U.S. administration official says that Canadians are ashamed of their Prime Minister for joking about smoking a little pot once it is decrminalized.

Well, he's certainly right that many of us are ashamed of our Prime Minister. But I thought his remarks on this subject were actually a nice touch, a pleasant exception to the nonsense that usually comes out of his mouth.
Brad DeLong has a nice little piece on the criticism of motives in political and economic arguments.

Thursday, October 09, 2003

Kurd Sellout Watch, Day 219 - The Turkish are coming, the Turkish are coming! By Timothy Noah

They're idiots. They're just complete idiots. If Mr. Noah fails to convince, please direct your browser to Human Rights Watch to get a sense of what the U.S. is flirting with here.
Josh Marshall nails it again.

Don't know whether to laugh or cry. . .
Daniel Pipes writes:

"Suppose for an instant that no weapons of mass destruction ever turn up in Iraq. Of course, WMDs might well still appear, but let's imagine that intelligence estimates were completely wrong about Saddam Hussein having an advanced program for chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, as well as the missiles to carry them.
What would that imply?
U.S. President George W. Bush's Democratic opponents say it renders the decision to go to war a 'fraud' or 'hyped.' But they miss the point, for there was indeed massive and undisputed evidence to indicate that the Iraqi regime was building WMDs.
Defectors and other Iraqi sources nearly all agreed on his WMD program. The actions of the Iraqi government -- fending off United Nations weapons inspectors tooth and nail, hiding evidence, and forgoing opportunities to have the economic sanctions lifted -- all confirmed its existence.
Nor is that all: Rich Lowry of National Review has shown that the entire Clinton administration leadership -- as well as the UN and the French and German governments -- believed in the existence of Iraqi WMDs.
If no WMDs exist, the real mystery is not how the Bush administration made the same mistake everyone else did; the mystery is why Saddam purposefully created the false impression he had WMDs. Why did he put himself into the bizarre position of simultaneously pretending to build WMDs and pretending to hide his nonexistent weapons?"

Not so fast, there, mister.

Pipes goes from the perfectly obvious (a) everyone agreed that S.H. had a WMD program, to the false (b) so the Bush admin was telling the truth (or were, at least, sincere) in their claims about S.H.'s alleged WMD program.

Why is this a problem?

First, there are programs and there are programs. It was crucial to the admin's position that Iraq's program was vast, ambitious and highly successful. The serious debate was between people who thought that S.H. had WMD and could be contained and people who thought that S.H. had WMD and could not be. The admin is most certainly guilty of hyping the evidence regarding the extent of the WMD program on this question. If Pipes disagrees, he must not have been following the pre-war debate very carefully.

Second, and even more important, the admin lied about particular pieces of evidence that were used to lead the public into war (uranium from Niger, pilotless planes, aluminum tubes, etc. etc.). They lied repeatedly about what they knew. In doing so, they put U.S. credibility on the line and now that credibility is essentially gone.

Just try and imagine the U.S. attempting in the next decade or so to repeat Colin Powell's performance at the U.N. Yeah, I can't either.

Pipes obviously cares about the proliferation of WMD. You'd think, then, that he would care about the U.S.'s capacity to address the problem. But Pipes' judgement about this issue is so distorted he can't even see that this admin, by repeatedly lying, has seriously degraded the U.S.'s capacity to follow through on its policies.
BBC NEWS | World | Asia-Pacific | US rejects Burma progress report

I'm astonished to say that I completely agree with the U.S.'s position.

Now if only they could apply the same standards to the U.S.'s favoured dictatorships. . .
New Chechen President 'Will Not Tolerate Opposition'

Oh! Well, that takes care of that.
Here's the latest from FAIR:

Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting
Media analysis, critiques and activism

Times Corrects Iraq Inspections Myth

October 7, 2003

In the wake of a FAIR action alert, the New York Times printed the
following correction on Saturday, October 4:

An article on Wednesday about renewed criticism of the Bush administration
for its handling of intelligence before the Iraq war misstated the
circumstances under which international weapons inspectors left Iraq in
1998. They were withdrawn by the United Nations, not expelled by Saddam

Hundreds of FAIR activists wrote to the Times after a recent report
(9/29/03) repeated as fact a charge by Secretary of State Colin Powell
that weapons inspectors were thrown out of the country in 1998. According
to the Times, "Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, in a television
appearance today, noted that the Iraqi leader threw weapons inspectors out
in 1998, making it more difficult for intelligence agencies to get hard
information." In fact, as FAIR's action alert pointed out, the inspectors
were not kicked out, but were removed by team leader Richard Butler right
before an American bombing campaign. The Times had corrected the same
error three years earlier (2/2/00).

The TV program on which Powell made the false statement, ABC's This Week
(9/28/03), has yet to correct the error.

FAIR thanks the many activists who took the time to write to the Times
about this matter. For the record, the error was in Monday's edition of
the paper, not in Wednesday's, as the Times indicated in its correction.

FAIR is, of course, perfectly correct to point out the "mistake". This is one of the little rhetorical tricks that the admin used in the push to war.

The problem is that the inspectors were withdrawn in circumtances which were considerably more complicated than either the admin or FAIR admits. On the one hand, the inspection process had been corrupted at the time by spying and other shenanigans. On the other hand, the inspectors were withdrawn when it had become quite clear that Iraq would no longer really cooperate with them. By this point, the UN had caved into so many crucial Iraqi demands that the inspections were pointless anyway.

So . . . they were withdrawn by the UN rather than kicked out. But only after the whole thing had become a pointless farce anyway, a result for which Iraq bears considerable responsibility.

FAIR is so eager to point out the admin's lie that it comes dangerously close to distorting the historical record itself.
Posting very lightly lately. I've been busy.

I started a post on the Israeli attack on Syria and then scrapped it. Still working out my thoughts on this in an attempt to improve on my last (obnoxiously glib) post.

Stay tuned.

Sunday, October 05, 2003

BBC NEWS | Middle East | Israeli strike sparks crisis talks

Though no fan of Israeli foreign policy, I find it incredibly hard to muster any sympathy for Syria here.

Sheesh. As if the bastards have ever had any respect for anyone else's borders. . .
The Focus On Tenet Sharpens After Leak (

This is good. It's important that the Plame affair doesn't distract us from the fact that the CIA has failed repeatedly under Tenet. (I also hope that the pressure leads Tenet to leak even more juicy stuff in an attempt to throw the press off the trail.)

Saturday, October 04, 2003

2 Disclaim Leaking Name of Operative

Damn. Not that I believe it, but if this is true, my pet Libby theory is dead.

Stay tuned. . . .
Report Offered Bleak Outlook About Iraq Oil

Now this is just brutal. It's one thing to doubt intelligence about WMD that you suspect is politicized, as the neo-cons in power obviously did. But it seems another to doubt straightforward reports about the state of the Iraqi oil industry. The industry was, after all, far more open to scrutiny than any weapons program Iraq might have had.

There's one thing that I find especially puzzling about Novak's side of the Plame story. According to Novak, the CIA issued a half-hearted request not to publish her name. He insists that they weren't really that alarmed.

Now, what do we know about this? First, people love to point out that if it weren't very important the CIA wouldn't have taken the highly unusual step of formally requesting that Justice look into the leak. The problem with this, as I have pointed out, is that the CIA might simply be trying to screw the admin.

Second, a bunch of former CIA people have come out and said that, yes, Plame was undercover and the Admin are bastards for leaking it. One possibility is that these people are saying this because they have an ideological axe to grind with the admin and want to make it look bad.

Third, some people claim that it was common knowledge that Plame was in the CIA. But they're also suspect, because they have an obvious ideological axe to grind: they want to make the admin look good.

Fourth, for independent reasons it is looking more and more as if Plame was pretty important to the CIA and that real damage was in fact done by the leak.

So, on balance, the leak looks very serious, though not for the reasons critics of the admin sometimes give.

But this brings us back to Novak's claims about the CIA's half-hearted response to his request. Could Novak be lying? Sure, given the other inconsistencies in his story, it wouldn't be surprising. Could the CIA person who spoke with Novak have screwed up?

Here's a strong possibility, on the assumption that Novak wasn't lying. The CIA knew that the admin was leaking this by the time Novak called. On a popular theory, Novak's contact with the admin came after the admin officials made their fateful 6 calls to other reporters. If even one of the other reporters had called the CIA by this point, they would already have known that the cat was out of the bag and begun damage assessment. And that would explain the CIA's response to Novak, as Novak describes it.

Remember that something doesn't need to be printed in the paper to be an intelligence disaster. If the admin calls 6 people in the press, the cover is blown, even if none of the 6 puts it into print. It's not just that foreign intelligence is smart enough to pick up the rumour and check it out. It's that prudence requires you to assume that they're smart enough to pick up the rumour and check it out.
Wow, people are really jumping all over Novak for spilling the beans again, this time by providing the name of the CIA front company Plame worked for.

As much as it pains me to say something nice (or rather, non-hostile) about Novak, surely it's worth pointing out that other intelligence agencies must have already figured out the name of the front company. It's not as if Novak had to work that hard to dig it up, eh?

This little tidbit does, however, remind us that the original leak was pretty serious. Even if she'd been a receptionist at the CIA, now that everyone knows about the phony front company, the game is up for all the people associated with it, and all the people associated with them, etc.

Can I just say how annoyed I am that no one in the press is willing to just come out and say who leaked? Half of Washington must know by now. Sheesh.

Friday, October 03, 2003 Leak of Agent's Name Causes Exposure of CIA Front Firm

Holy crap. Now it's official: The admin really did do serious damage to national security.

Can't hide behind the "she was a lousy analyst" excuse anymore.
"You have got to be kidding."

Well, someone isn't happy over at Defense.
A couple of quick points about the admin's spin on the Kay Report.

-Critics of the admin tend to focus too narrowly on the issue of "imminence" in the Bush admin's rhetoric leading up to the war. This is only half-fair. The official line, recall, was that the U.S. couldn't afford to wait until the threat was imminent. That's different from claiming that the threat was imminent. Does this get the admin off the hook? No. The admin's rhetoric was alarmist in the extreme, and clearly designed to spook the public into regarding the threat as imminent. But things aren't quite as cut and dry as critics of the admin claim here.

-The report claims that Iraq posed a long term threat to the U.S. I think that's a fair assessment. (But see below.) I don't think that critics of the admin ought to deny this. They ought to stick to their pre-war position, that while Iraq wasn't harmless, it could also be contained.

-Yes, the pre-war intelligence sucked. Yes, the threat was way over-hyped. Yes, the admin lied its way into war. But don't lose sight of the fact that it would have been grossly irresponsible before the war not to assume that Saddam Hussein had nuclear ambitions.

-Alas, the stupid report (with most of the media following along passively) fails to distinguish between different kinds of so-called WMD. There are a number of good reasons not to lump together chemical with nuclear weapons. For one, the U.S. recently used napalm in Iraq, and it is, as far as I'm concerned, a chemical weapon. For purely dialectical reasons, you might have thought they'd avoid this . . . but there you go. The really serious threat came from nuclear weapons, and I'm quite confident that they had no nukes program. I was pretty confident of this before the war, because a nukes program is the hardest to hide. Considering WMD a single category sets the bar very low for the admin. That it has conked its head on the bar nonetheless doesn't change matters. The main result of this little bit of linguistic confusion is that if one piddly chemical warhead turns up in someone's backyard, the admin, and much of the press, is going to treat the discovery on par with turning up evidence of an advanced nuclear program. One focus of criticism of the report, and the admin's assumptions in general, should be on this bit of harmful linguistic fraud.

-Although it's obvious, I can't resist pointing out the most obvious flaw in Bush's defence. Bush claims the report shows that Iraq was a long term threat. Suppose that's true. That settles nothing. The (prudential) case for going to war had to rest on much more than bare claims of danger. It had to rest on a relative assessment of the dangers. Sure Iraq was dangerous, or potentially dangerous. The question is whether it was more or less dangerous than Iran. Or Syria. Or, in the long run, Saudi Arabia. Or Pakistan. Or, in general, the problem of the proliferation of nuclear material and technology. The question was whether action on Iraq would make it easier or harder to deal with these other problems. Iraq was only ever one part of a much bigger picture. Most people don't seem to get this. I'm not sure Bush himself does. But this bit of stupidity has allowed the admin to use reasonable claims about danger in some very unreasonable ways.
CBC News: Israeli officer charged with killing 4 Palestinians

This is encouraging, though unusual. A very, very high proportion of Palestinian deaths go uninvestigated, even when the circumstances suggest that they are avoidable and deliberate.
Pak is politically unstable: Russian military -

We are witnessing the creation of a new international norm, the right to preventative war. It's not the norm I was hoping for . . .

Thursday, October 02, 2003

Brie and Wine Speculation No. XVII: Archive Entry From Brad DeLong's Webjournal

Yeah, that's got the ring of truth, as far as I can tell, or at least the half-ring of half-truth.
This from the ever sensible Secrecy News:


Indignation, righteous or otherwise, continues to mount over the
reported Bush Administration leak of the identity of an
undercover CIA employee. The subject almost completely
dominated yesterday's White House press briefing:

Under the circumstances, it is easy to forget that not all leaks
are undesirable acts of political skullduggery. To the
contrary, for better and for worse, they are an essential
component of the overall economy of news and government

In many cases, leaks are the most expeditious remedy to arbitrary
or irrational government information policies.

For example, it is the position of the Central Intelligence
Agency that the national security of the United States would be
damaged if intelligence spending information from half a century
ago were publicly disclosed today.

No serious person believes this. But it is the official Agency
position, reiterated in a December 2000 Freedom of Information
Act denial letter (and now the subject of pending litigation):

Fortunately, however, the CIA's ability to impose its peculiar
concept of information security is limited. It is limited,
among other things, by other agency disclosures that are beyond
CIA's awareness or control.

David Barrett, a scholar of intelligence history at Villanova
University, found a number of documents on historical
intelligence spending in the course of his archival research for
an upcoming book on congressional oversight of intelligence in
the early Cold War era.

One of the documents he discovered in the papers of Rep. George
Mahon (D-TX), a member of the House Appropriations Committee in
the 1950s and 1960s, identifies the amounts of money (and lists
their "concealed" locations in the defense budget) that
cumulatively comprised the CIA budget for fiscal year 1953.

See the CIA's 1953 budget, courtesy of David Barrett, here:

This is not exactly a "leak" in the ordinary sense. But it is an
inadvertent disclosure of CIA information, unauthorized by CIA,
and containing information that the Agency has taken trouble to
keep classified, even to the point of litigating to uphold its
continued secrecy.

For such unauthorized disclosures, and the unauthorized
disclosers who disclose them, one can only be grateful.
Holy crap, the Libby hypothesis is gaining ground quickly! And among people who know what they're talking about - and not just blowhards like me who are into groundless speculation.

If it turns out to be Libby (with an assist from Rove), just remember that I was one of the first to guess it was him.

(If it turns out not to be Libby, hope you'll just forget I mentioned it.)
Two tiny points about the Plame affair: First, people are saying that the fact that the CIA asked for a formal investigation shows that they regarded the leak as very serious. But it doesn't prove anything of the sort. Tenet might just be trying to screw the admin. It's better to argue for the point by citing independent evidence which is now surfacing that blowing Plame's cover was very bad to national security. But don't use the "CIA cares" proof.

Second, people are saying that this was obviously vindictive. Well, perhaps. But of the three reasons cited here, only one of them is really suggestive. A) The original WaPo story cited an admin official spinning the story hard with the "vindictive" angle. This was obviously Tenet. See above. Just don’t trust the man. B) This is Wilson's interpretation. But I don't want to rely on his interpretation here without corroborating evidence. As an interpretation it isn't an independent piece of evidence. C) This is the corroborating evidence: Wilson said that reporters told him that Rove said that Wilson's wife was fair game.

Problem: Some accounts of the story make revenge as such incidental or secondary. My understanding is that the motive for the leak was to discredit Wilson, by suggesting that he only got the job because of his wife. It's entirely possible that this was all that was on the minds of admin people. Rove's "fair game" comment might have come in response to concern that this went too far, or it might signal a secondary goal. So it is possible, at least, that revenge wasn't the primary motivation.

Problem: After all but accusing Rove, Wilson backed off the original Rove claim. Then he reversed course again, or seemed to, by re-implicating Rove. Why?

Assume that Wilson is telling the truth and trying to give an accurate account here. Here's a possible scenario, in that case: Rove isn't the source of the original leak, but knows and approves of it. He tells further inquiring reporters that Wilson's wife is fair game. The reporters tell Wilson that Rove said this. Wilson concludes that Rove is the source of the claim. Wilson makes his famous frog-march comment. But then – embarrassment – the same reporters call Wilson and tell him that he's wrong to identify Rove as the source of the original leak. Wilson retracts his comment, awkwardly. Finally, Wilson sees the story about to break, and knowing that Rove was involved though not the source of the original leak, decides to put heavy pressure on Rove, but this time is more careful about exactly how he implicates him.

Well, highly speculative, but what can ya do?

Wednesday, October 01, 2003

Read Human Rights Watch's letter to Bush on the Israeli "Separation Barrier" and check out their resources on the same.
I have a bad feeling about the way the Plame scandal is going to be spun. I'm afraid that Bush et. al. will turn this into an excuse to be even more secretive. The obvious point waiting to be made by defenders of the admin is that people leak all the time, that this is accepted practice, and that it is even healthy within limits. It is also usually against the law, but the law is usually ignored.

The Plame scandal risks giving the admin a get out of jail free card the next time it wants to put someone in jail for leaking something considerably less flattering to the admin.

Whether the admin gets away with this depends a great deal on how vigorously critics insist on the distinction between ordinary leaks which aim to publicize information in the public interest and leaks which break more serious laws in order to punish critics and have no othe redeeming features.

You'd think that the distinction would be obvious. But never underestimate the basic dishonest of the right, and the intellectual laziness of the center.

Tuesday, September 30, 2003

The other day, I guessed the culprits in the Plame affair would turn out to be Libby and Rove.

I confess, this was utterly by the seat of my pants, and not based on any evidence.

Now, it appears that Rove has assured people that he didn't do the deed. But I'm not ready to take Rove's word for it. It's too soon to call the Rove theory dead yet.

As for Libby, I don't know why I guessed it would be him. But one reason to think so is that the original Wilson article made Cheney in particular look bad, of all the people in the WH.

And, of course, most of the evil in the WH comes from Cheney.

OK, so it's not very scientific. But that's my theory. I'm sticking to it for now.
A quick note about the Plame affair.

Remember that Tenet initiated all this by asking for an investigation, and probably really initiated it by leaking juicy details to the WaPo. So . . . the shit that hit the fan recently was flung by Mr. Tenet, if you'll excuse the expression.

Why? Well, a couple of motives are plausible, and they're all compatible. The first is obviously to shore up institutional support within the CIA. The agency takes a dim view of this sort of thing, and Tenet is already disliked by many for failing to stick up to the agency. Screw the WH, problem (partly) solved.

The second is revenge and deterrence. Remember Condi's absurd attempt to blame Tenet for the whole uranium thing? No one is going to fuck with Tenet when he's holding so many damn trump cards. And that includes the assholes in the WH who might be tempted to have Tenet take the fall for the mess in post-war Iraq.

But the most obvious reason is cover. This story broke - and has consumed everyone's attention, including mine - exactly around the time that a new report came out slamming pre-war intelligence. Without this scandal, I think everyone would now be talking about how Tenet's time has finally come. He's simply presided over too many screwups.

As things are now, I think it would be very hard to get rid of him. Dumping Tenet at this point would create the impression that the WH was trying to punish him for initiating the Plame investigation.

But if Tenet has succeeded in putting himself off limits for criticism from the WH, I don't think he's put himself off limits for anyone else. We shouldn't remember this as we push the Plame story, however legitimate it is in its own right. We should remember that Tenet has done his job poorly, and his job is to protect us. That's both frightening and an appropriate focus of criticism.

Now, ahem, back to Plame.

Monday, September 29, 2003

Guardian Unlimited | Special reports | CIA analysing new 'al-Qaida' tape

Hmmmmm. Wonder if bin Laden is dead? Why is a deputy delivering the message now?

Sunday, September 28, 2003

Iran rules out compromise on uranium enrichment, nuclear programme

We'll never know how much leverage the U.S. would have been able to exert on Iran to get out of the nukes business if it hadn't gone into Iraq.

But that won't keep us from speculating!
Whiskey Bar: Five Leaves Left

I like what they're serving at the Whiskey Bar.
The Unbuilding of Iraq

Ouch. Ouch, ouch, ouch.
Let's bet on the Plame leaker. For no reason other than a hunch, I'll put my chips on Libby and/or Rove.

Ah, could be wrong. But sometimes ya just gotta plunk yer chips down.
Previously an underground sensation in the blogosphere and the leftwing press (David Corn, of the Nation, broke the story), the Valerie Plame story has finally hit the big time. Boy, oh boy, has it ever.

Now, how big could this get? Not sure, but I have a tentative analogy to offer my readers (i.e., my mom, one or two friends and a few others who get (mis-)directed here by Google). Nixon got away with violating domestic and international law for a long time, and when he finally got screwed, it was on something relatively minor. (Quick: Which is worse, illegally and secretly bombing a neutral country and killing thousands of innocents, or authorizing the cover up of a break in at a hotel? Yes, my thoughts exactly.)

Now, you can say that Nixon's downfall over something relatively minor, rather than for his more serious offenses, speaks badly of the American political system. I say that all the time. But it's also only fair to point out that Nixon might well have gotten away with Watergate if it wasn't for the other stuff. (You can mentally insert a line here about straws and camels and backs and such. I haven't the energy to actually write it.) By the time Watergate rolled around, that other stuff had finally spooked the political establishment, and the political establishment made him pay for it when they focused on Watergate.

So, my suggestion is that you shouldn't look at how bad the Plame behaviour is on its own to decide how much play this story is going to get or how much damage it will do to the admin. I suspect it's going to hurt, and that it's going to go proxy for a whole lot of other shit that the Bush admin has pulled. :: Daniel W. Drezner :: What could cause me to switch parties

Right then. How serious is the Plame thing? Here's Dan Drezner:

Let me make this as plain as possible -- I was an unpaid advisor for the Bush-Cheney 2000 campaign, and I know and respect some high-ranking people in the administration. And none of that changes the following: if George W. Bush knew about or condoned this kind of White House activity, I wouldn't just vote against him in 2004 -- I'd want to see him impeached. Straight away.