November 2005, Part 3
Jim Miller on Politics
Happy Thanksgiving! Here's Audubon's turkey, recycled from last year and the year before.
Wild turkeys are impressive birds, but I am not sure I agree with Franklin's suggestion that they should be our national bird, instead of bald eagles. The eagle does look more impressive, whatever one thinks of its habits. And if I had to pick a bird most like ourselves, I might choose the common crow, which is a smart, social tool user.
- 2:05 PM, 24 November 2005 [link]
Nominee Held Hostage? That's what Byron York says is happening.
As leading Senate Democrats continue to accuse the Bush White House of misleading the country into war in Iraq, the administration is becoming increasingly frustrated by the decision of some Democrats in the Senate to block what the White House believes are key moves in the war on terror. Specifically, John Negroponte, the director of National Intelligence - the post created by Congress in the rush to implement the recommendations of the September 11 Commission - appears to be losing patience with the Democrats, led by Michigan Sen. Carl Levin, who are blocking the nomination of Benjamin Powell to be the DNI's general counsel. There is no substantive objection to Powell, nor does anyone believe the director of National Intelligence should not have a chief lawyer. Rather, the Powell nomination appears to be the victim of Democratic anger at the administration over the treatment of suspected terrorist detainees.So if York is right — and I have found him to be a careful journalist — the appointment of a key official in the war against terror is being blocked because Senator Levin and other Democrats think the Bush administration is being too mean to the terrorists we have captured. Seems just a trifle irresponsible, at least to me.
- 2:04 PM, 23 November 2005 [link]
"He Freed A Lot Of People": If you are old enough to remember John F. Kennedy, you probably remember a song that came out after his death, Abraham, Martin, and John, commemorating three heroes of the civil rights movement, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., and John F. Kennedy. The most popular version was sung by Dion & the Belmonts, although it has been covered by many other singers.
I thought, even then, that the song was more than a little sappy, but there is one line in it that seems relevant today. The first three verses (and the last, with Bobby Kennedy) follow this pattern, just changing the name of the civil rights hero:
Has anybody here(I remember the fourth line as being more grammatical, but I am probably wrong on that point.)
Can you think of any recent American leaders who "freed a lot of people"? Most people give some credit to both President Reagan and President George H. W. Bush for the fall of the Soviet Union, which certainly freed a lot of people. And we should give President Clinton some credit for freeing people in Bosnia and Kosovo. And now there is President George W. Bush who freed about 50 million people in Afghanistan and Iraq, which is a lot by any standard.
None of those four men were assassinated, which may be one reason no new version of Abraham, Martin, and John has come out to honor them. But I don't think that's the only reason that the four have gotten so little credit for freeing a lot of people. Many on the left (and this is true even for Clinton, though to a lesser extent) find the use of American power so distasteful that they can not bring themselves to honor men who freed a lot of people, when that freedom was achieved with what they see as evil means. Most on the left, for instance, would have been happy to see Saddam overthrown — though they opposed the only practical way to do that.
And some on the left are so hostile to American values that they would not admit to what should be obvious; the people of the Eastern Europe, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq are better off than they were. That majorities in all those places say they are better off now does not matter to these leftists. For them, the freedoms these peoples gained will be forever tainted by the way they were gained and the country that helped them gain those freedoms.
As for myself, I find those freedoms one more thing to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.
- 1:26 PM, 23 November 2005 [link]
The Voluntary Human Extinction Movement: Yes, there is one, as Chris Mazur reminds us.
There almost seems to be a natural progression among environmentalists. As they become more extreme, they go from a healthy love of Mother Earth to a hatred; first of large corporations, then Republicans, then "progress" in general and finally of all mankind.Granted, few environmentalists have views this extreme. But it is also true that many environmentalists believe that any human impact on the "natural" world is unfortunate, perhaps necessary but unfortunate. (I have the science-based view that we are as much a part of the natural world as any other species and that, for example, a human dam is no more to be condemned on principle than a beaver's dam.)
- 9:07 AM, 23 November 2005 [link]
Heard About The Investigations Of Hillary Clinton Campaign Finances? Probably not, though Accuracy in Media tells us that there may be a serious scandal or scandals to be investigated.
Consider the contrasting coverage of DeLay with that of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. Virtually every detail of alleged DeLay transgressions gets reported and in very great detail. But scant coverage has been given to equally serious allegations against the junior senator from New York.Now it it only fair to add that Rosen was acquitted and that Peter Paul has a criminal background that makes testimony from him harder to believe than testimony from an upright citizen. But it is also true that the Clintons have long associated with businessmen with dubious, and even criminal, backgrounds. (For Bill Clinton, I would say that he has associated with these types all his life. He grew up, not in little Hope, Arkansas, but in Hot Springs, then a favorite vacation place for the Chicago mafia and a city with a long record of corruption. His stepfather, a car dealer, would almost certainly have known many of the vacationing crooks and the local crooks.)
- 7:32 AM, 23 November 2005 [link]
Worth Reading: Edward Jay Epstein explores what we know — and what we don't know — about a possible visit to Prague by the leader of the 9/11 hijackers, Mohamed Atta.
PRAGUE--On Oct. 27, 2001, the New York Times reported (erroneously) that 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta "flew to the Czech Republic on April 8 and met with [an] Iraqi intelligence officer," helping to give credence to the so-called Prague connection. It subsequently cast doubt on it, editorializing in November 2005 that the alleged meeting between the hijacker and the Iraqi was part of President Bush and his team's "rewriting of history" based on nothing more than a false tale "from an unreliable drunk." But was the putative Prague connection solely an invention of the Bush administration--or was it the product of an incomplete intelligence operation?Epstein prefers the latter explanation.
Before 9/11, when the investigation into al-Ani's activities was initiated, both the CIA and the BIS took deadly serious the allegation of state-sponsored terrorism directed against Radio Free Europe. Both agencies cooperated in attempting to thwart it, accepting the information furnished by the BIS penetration agent as sufficiently reliable to expel al-Ani. After 9/11, with Iraq now on the Bush administration's agenda, the subject of state-sponsored terrorism became a political hot potato, as Mr. Ruzek learned, that could easily burn anyone who touched it. So hot that if the CIA even questioned al-Ani about the instruction he had concerning blowing up Radio Free Europe, it never disclosed the answers to the BIS. So, like many other intelligence cases that become politicized, the Prague connection, and all that led up to it, was consigned to a murky limbo.Which is, to say the least, unfortunate. One reason many discounted a possible visit by Atta to Prague during this period is that his cell phone stayed in the United States. But that seems almost irrelevant to me, since the terrorists often share cell phones. And no one who discounts the possible Prague connection has explained — at least to my satisfaction — why Atta sought a Czech visa in Germany in 2000, and made at least one trip to Prague in the same year.
- 2:59 PM, 22 November 2005 [link]
Did You Know Ricin Is A Poison Gas? That's what at least three of the local television stations have been telling their viewers in follow-up stories on Dominick Maldonado, who is charged with shooting up the Tacoma Mall. A search of his home revealed, so the stories say, that Maldonado had plans for making the poison gas, ricin.
There's only one problem with this: Ricin is not a poison gas. It is a deadly poison, but it is not a gas. Here are the key facts on ricin from the Center for Disease Control.
Since ricin is a protein, I would guess that, if you were to heat it, it would break down before it changed from a solid into a gas or even a liquid.
Since all three stations used the same phrase, I would guess that it came from a police report. What interests me is that no one at the three stations — and I saw it this morning as well as last night — knows these basic facts about ricin. And this isn't the first ricin story in this area in recent years. A disturbed man in my own suburb of Kirkland has been caught several times trying to make large quantities of the poison.
Are these TV journalists incompetent? Well, they obviously don't know much science. On the other hand, most of them do look good on the tube.
- 9:54 AM, 22 November 2005 [link]
CNN Has Some Explaining To Do: As you have probably heard by now, CNN somehow superimposed an "X" on Vice President Cheney while he was speaking yesterday. Was it deliberate? An accident? You can find arguments for both theories by following the links in this Michelle Malkin post. If I had to guess, I would say that it was deliberate, but that it was done by a single technician who thought it would be funny.
More important is the content of the Cheney speech, which should be read by anyone who wants to understand the administration's position. I was especially struck by the beginning. After the usual bow to his hosts, Vice President Cheney begins by correcting the headlines on his earlier remarks:
My remarks today concern national security, in particular the war on terror and the Iraq front in that war. Several days ago, I commented briefly on some recent statements that have been made by some members of Congress about Iraq. Within hours of my speech, a report went out on the wires under the headline, "Cheney says war critics 'dishonest,' 'reprehensible.'"Criticism is fine, but attacking the honor of the President and the Vice President is "dishonest" and "reprehensible". Is that too complex an idea for our journalists, or even for our headline writers? Apparently so.
If you don't want to read the entire speech, Jeff Goldstein has written a good summary.
Clearly, the important administration arguments are beginning to coalesce: 1) Criticism of the war is not by itself unpatriotic 2) Similarly, answering anti-war critics is not challenging their patriotism 3) But opportunistic and cynical anti-war critics who are trying to walk back their own votes and level spurious charges at the Administration (they lied to take is into war) are themselves lying 4) These lies are hurting the country and the troops. 5) The burden of proof, in a post 911 world, was on Saddam Hussein to prove he'd disarmed; we could not wait for the threat to become imminent before acting 6) The cause the troops are fighting for is just and right 7) Iraq is moving toward freedom; and things on the ground are improving daily, regardless of what the MSM and prominent Dems would have us believe.(Punctuation, or lack of it, as in the original post.)
And there is a larger point that I would think is obvious, but does not seem to be. There is good reason to look at our intelligence failures, but it is more important to think about our future strategic choices. We sometimes use the rear view mirrors in cars to see what happened in the past, but it is dangerous to drive with all our attention given to that view.
- 8:14 AM, 22 November 2005
More: CNN now says that it was a "technical glitch", which they have been unable to duplicate. Bill Quick tells us that those who called to complain did not always get that explanation. (Oddly enough, the CNN web site does not yet have an official explanation, though it does let you watch the segment with the Windows media player.)
- 6:00 AM, 23 November 2005 [link]
Worth Reading: "Wretchard's" discussion of pre-war intelligence on Iraq.
The entire assertion that 'Bush lied, people died' doesn't work if there was a single pre-war consensus Iraq intelligence estimate which unhappily turned out to be wrong, in whole or in part. It only works if there were two versions, one of which was fed to the public and to government officials like John Murtha, Hillary Clinton and John Kerry (which 'misled' them into voting for OIF) and another which was kept secret within the inner circles of the Bush administration, which showed OIF to be unjustified.(OIF = Operation Iraqi Freedom. INR = Bureau of Intelligence and Research, the State Department's spy bureau. Why does the State Department have a spy bureau? I have never seen an explanation, although it may be something as simple as the tendency of bureaucracies to grow in scope, as well as size.)
Interestingly, the Bush administration, by saying more than once that Saddam was not an imminent threat, was taking a position closer to that of the State Department, while some of its current foes in the Democratic party, such as Jay Rockefeller, were taking the more extreme position.
If you read the comments following the post, you'll see many factual mistakes and logical errors by Bush critics, who are certain that Bush is wrong on everything.
- 4:56 PM, 21 November 2005 [link]
Provided: On Friday, a box of books I had ordered from Edward R. Hamilton came, and I spent some time looking through them this weekend — which is one reason you saw fewer posts in the last two days.
Among those books were volumes VI and VII of Samuel Eliot Morison's history of the US Navy in World War II. (I intend to read the whole history, but slowly, and am working through it at the rate of a book or two a year.) In volume VI, Breaking the Bismarks Barrier, I found a description of Japan's decision making during the war and, in it, this passage:
The primary reason for the inadequacy rested in the nature of the government. Military and absolutist regimes are undoubtedly well fitted to get the jump on an unsuspecting or unprepared enemy, but the history of modern warfare proves that they cannot win over representative governments in the long run, provided the people behind those governments have the heart to sustain initial punishment, and both the will and resources to fight back.Let me repeat the key word in the passage: provided.
We had, by any measure, the resources to defeat Japan, but the Japanese leaders did not believe that we had the heart and will. After the first year of the war, their strategy was simple: they tried to make the war so expensive that we would quit.
We have, by any measure, the resources both to win in Iraq, and to defeat the radical Islamists, though the latter will take far longer than any of our previous wars. Our enemies continue the struggle because they do not believe that we have the heart and will. And if they read our newspapers, as some of them do, one can understand why they might think so poorly of us.
(Hamilton is a fine place to buy books, especially if you are on a budget. The Morison volumes cost me just $9.95 each. And since Hamilton ships through the US Post Office, shipping is just $3.50, no matter how many books you buy or where you live in the United States.)
- 11:26 AM, 21 November 2005 [link]
Need A Heartwarming Story For Monday Morning? Try this one about Emily Bourgeois.
This 9-year-old boy is her favorite. Look at him in this photograph, smiling sly at the camera, his school uniform all out of whack. The green shorts sit lopsided on his hips. The pocket on his yellow shirt is torn. The striped socks are stretched unevenly on his shins.Bourgeois was once one of those poor children but was saved by nuns who sent her first to boarding school in Uganda and then to college in the United States. (The article does not name the order, and a very quick internet search on her name and "nuns" produced no results.)
- 10:11 AM, 21 November 2005 [link]
The Tacoma Mall Shooting: Yesterday, the broadcast of the Seahawks game was interrupted by reports that a man had shot people in a popular local mall and then held several people hostage. (Seven people were hospitalized; of the seven, one is in critical condition and the other six are in satisfactory condition.) The police were able to talk the shooter, Dominick Sergio Maldonado, into surrendering, apparently with the help of the hostages, one of whom had served in Iraq.
Somewhat to my surprise, the early accounts, at least those I heard, did not even speculate on his motive or motives, which are still unclear, although this article says that he had a grudge against the police. And, he had broken up with a girlfriend shortly before and has a troubled past.
Court records show Maldonado has a juvenile criminal history dating back to 1998. He has been convicted of burglary, theft and trafficking in stolen property, and the records indicate he had been ordered by a judge not to possess any weapons.Why is he not in prison, given this criminal record? The article does not say, and I have not seen an explanation anywhere else. Presumably, part of the reason is that his crimes were committed while he was a juvenile. (He's now 20 years old.)
(Oh, and the press interfered with police efforts to talk to the shooter, or so says Brian Maloney. I wish I were surprised by that, but I am not.)
- 8:57 AM, 21 November 2005 [link]
President Bush Is Wicked: When he is attacked, he defends himself. Although Bush's defense against the claim that he lied about pre-war intelligence on Iraq has been slow in coming, it is here, and we can be glad that it is. We can be glad — regardless of our position on the war — because, as David Reinhard of the Portland Oregonian puts it, the critic are engaging in historical revisionism.
Here was the case in a nutshell: "Saddam's government has contact with many international terrorist organizations that likely have cells . . . in the United States. . . . I do believe that Iraq poses an imminent threat, but I also believe that after Sept. 11, that question is increasingly outdated. It is in the nature of these weapons, and the way they are targeted against civilian populations, that documented capability and demonstrated intent may be the only warning we get. To insist on further evidence could put some of our fellow Americans at risk. Can we afford to take that chance? We cannot!"Gerard Baker, writing in the Times of London, makes a similar argument.
Perhaps the biggest weapon in the arsenal of America's critics is carefully selective amnesia. Conveniently forgetting important historical facts enables tactical amnesiacs to make claims about US policy that seem to support their contention that the country's government is uniquely evil.We need two parties that are serious about foreign policy. That so many Democrats, looking for an advantage in their quarrel with Bush, have decided to make these cynical charges shows that we have only one.
(Bush made a fine gesture in China, trying to soften the debate and going out of his way to compliment Congressman John Murtha.
President George W. Bush sought to tone down the debate in the U.S. over the Iraq war, saying strong opinions on both sides were a sign of the issue's importance to the country.Will the Democrats respond to this olive branch from Bush? I fear not. Most Democrats know that their financial supporters like the charges, many Democrats believe they have a winning issue, and a few Democrats may even believe the charges by now. Of course, if the Democrats lose further ground in the 2006 election, they may decide that new tactics are called for.
You can find the origin of the phrase I used for the beginning of this post here.)
- 2:36 PM, 20 November 2005 [link]
Learning The Wrong Lessons From Katrina: In a Seattle Times editorial urging faster decisions on the Alaskan Way Viaduct in Seattle, I found this paragraph:
In fact, Katrina taught exactly the opposite lesson.
Let's summarize. The failures of two of the floodwalls were probably due to design and construction errors. The floodwalls did not have deep enough roots, especially considering the layer of peat. The failure of the third floodwall, along the Industrial Canal, may have been caused by a pork project from the 1960s.
(You often see news articles that say that levees failed. In fact, none of the levees protecting New Orleans failed, but three of the floodwalls did. For an explanation of the difference between floodwalls and levees, along with a map of the floodwall failures, see this post.)
In other words, the lessons that we should draw from Katrina is not that we should hurry, but that we should make the right repairs, and that we should be careful not to make matters worse by building the wrong thing. If the floodwalls along the 17th Street and London Avenue canals had been built correctly, they most likely would not have failed. And it is possible that the floodwall along the Industrial Canal would not have failed had the wasteful Mississippi River Gulf Outlet never been built.
And there's another lesson that the Seattle Times should draw from Katrina. The coverage of Katrina was terrible and may have cost lives, as I argued here and here. But journalists, although they admit to many errors during Katrina, seem immensely pleased with their performance. This column by the executive editor of the Seattle Times, Michael Fancher, is typical. He tells us that the journalists who got so many stories wrong during Katrina and who may have cost lives by delaying the rescue efforts were "genuine heroes". If he has changed his mind about this since September, I missed it.
As far as I can tell, no major news organization realizes that "massive failure" is a good summary for their coverage of Katrina. In their coverage, they preferred again and again to be first (or second) instead of right. It is distressing that no one at the Seattle Times seems to understand that — even though these mistakes by members of their guild may have cost lives.
Cross posted at Sound Politics.(Those who work at newspapers like the Seattle Times have a serious handicap: they must, if they want to get along with their colleagues, believe that the news stories in their newspaper give them a roughly accurate picture of the world. That those pictures are seriously distorted, and often wrong, is no longer in dispute. It may be hard for any person who works at a newspaper to recognize this, but if they want to understand the world they should try. And they should definitely spend some time reading magazines and web sites that criticize newspaper coverage.)
- 2:04 PM, 18 November 2005 [link]
Worth Study: This interview with Iraqi arms inspector, Bill Tierney. Some excerpts to whet your appetite:
Tierney: It was probably on my second inspection that I realized the Iraqis had no intention of ever cooperating. They had very successfully turned The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections during the eighties into tea parties, and had expected UNSCOM to turn out the same way.You will definitely want to read the whole thing.
Wonder if any of the lefties who gave platforms to Scott Ritter time after time will even speak to Bill Tierney? In this area, for instance, Ritter appeared so many times on the Dave Ross talk show that I began to think of it as the Ross-Ritter show. Ross, who was also a losing Democratic candidate for Congress last year, gave Ritter such gentle treatment that I began to wonder if Ritter refused to speak to anyone who would not promise to raise certain questions, such as, for instance, why he had been arrested for attempting to meet an underage girl in a fast food restaurant.
It depends, I suppose, on whether Ross, and others like him, are more interested in the truth or in making partisan points.
- 9:19 AM, 18 November 2005 [link]
Understandable, If Embarrassing: By way of the Viking Observer, I learned this amusing fact.
Recently the Swedish government was forced to admit that they simply had no idea how many government agencies exist. As the major daily papers took up the issue, the Agency for Public Management were given the task of performing an official inquiry to find out how many agencies there were.There is probably some archivist who could answer that question for the United States government, but I would be greatly surprised if any prominent elected politician could.
A couple of decades ago, some reformers here were arguing for "sunset" laws that would automatically abolish agencies and programs, unless a legislature voted affirmatively to continue them. It was a good idea, even if one of the proponents was Jimmy Carter. (By the way, it is an especially good idea for those on the left. Bureaucracies that are failing to their jobs, or no longer have jobs, consume resources that could be used for better purposes. But the Democratic party has become so dependent on public employees that such proposals will find little support there, now.)
- 8:47 AM, 18 November 2005 [link]
The Woodward-Plame-Wilson-Libby Kerfuffle: I have tried to avoid writing much about the Plame leak investigation because it seems such a small story — at a time when there are so many far more important things to write about. But it has been important politically, and it has damaged the Bush administration, just as those who promoted the Patrick Fitzerald investigation intended. So, I suppose I should say a few words about it and give you some links to good commentary on the subject.
Let me start by repeating a point I made in this post. Our memories are unreliable and the fact the Scooter Libby gave a different account of his conversations with reporters does not show that either is lying. (For an extended discussion of the same point, with much more evidence, see this post from the American Thinker.)
Nor is it surprising that two Washington Post journalists, Bob Woodward and Walter Pincus, have different recollections.
Woodward's statement said he testified: "I told Walter Pincus, a reporter at The Post, without naming my source, that I understood Wilson's wife worked at the CIA as a WMD analyst."Michael Barone has an explanation for that difference, an explanation that illuminates the central issue in this story.
But you could see this as a sort of partisan dispute. Woodward's reporting on George W. Bush, as is evident in his books, is seen by many critics as pro-Bush. In my view, he has taken Bush at face value, describing how the president makes decisions and taking Bush's own words seriously. Which is, in my view, the way it should be. Pincus's reporting, on the other hand, has relied heavily on critics of the Bush policies, including, it appears, sources in the CIA. It is obvious that cadres in the CIA—the folks around Valerie Plame who sent Joseph Wilson on his mission to Niger, the folks who authorized the publication of Michael Scheuer's "anonymous" book—have been trying to discredit and undermine support for Bush's policy of liberating IraqI would say — though Barone does not, perhaps because he knows Pincus personally — that Walter Pincus has been a tool of the anti-Bush faction in the CIA, a faction that has been using illegal tactics to undermine an elected president and his policies — with the help of many in the "mainstream" media.
That help has been so strong that, as Tucker Carlson points out, many reporters have favored the Fitzgerald inquiry, even though they knew it would reduce their access to information.
Thanks to Fitzgerald, there will be fewer leaks from the Executive Branch in years to come. Fewer leaks mean less information, and therefore a less informed public. We all lose. You'd think reporters would point this out. Instead, many have spent the last few months attacking Judy Miller, and now Bob Woodward. Why? Because in the end a lot of journalists hate Bush more than they love their own work. Which is depressing.Depressing only for those who have a higher opinion of "mainstream" journalists than I do.
What should be done? Barone suggests, tongue in cheek, a simple solution:
I recall that some years ago Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan argued that the CIA should be abolished, and I argued that that was a ridiculous and irresponsible position. As usual when Pat and I disagreed, Pat turned out to be right.That some are saying, even in jest, that the CIA should be abolished should cause some second thoughts at that rogue agency. That many in the public will be pleased if a few of those reporters who aided the CIA faction go to jail should disturb the "mainstream" media. I do not expect many in either group to have second thoughts — but I do expect that some will lose their jobs, as the Bush administration cleans out the CIA, and as newspaper circulation continues to drop.
(For more on this subject, you can consult this page of links compiled by "N. Z. Bear", or, as usual on this subject, Tom Maguire.)
- 7:29 AM, 18 November 2005 [link]
Worth Reading: Matt Rosenberg describes how a student, Ed Swan, has been discriminated against by the Washington State University education department because of his traditional social views. (You may also want to read this AP story for some of the background.)
As Rosenberg points out, neither Seattle daily has shown much interest in this story, though I am sure the journalists at the Seattle PI and the Seattle Times would be happy to tell you just how evil political tests for jobs are. (I'm not sure, given the hostility to evangelicals and others with traditional religious beliefs, so common in news organizations, that the journalists would be quite as happy to tell you that religious tests for jobs are wrong.)
(One amazing fact not mentioned in either the post or the article: Some in the department accused Swan of racism, even though he has biracial children.
For more on this and similar stories, see the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, an organization that genuinely believes in freedom of speech and conscience — even on college campuses.)
- 2:06 PM, 17 November 2005 [link]
A Review Of The Basics On Saddam's WMDs: The Bush administration has begun to respond to the Democratic critics who are accusing them of lying about the intelligence information on Saddam's WMDs. Sometimes the Democrats directly accuse them of lying, sometimes they do it indirectly, but the message gets through in either case. Often the Democratic claims include false claims about what President Bush said; a common mistake (or is it always a mistake?) is to say that Bush said the danger from Saddam was "imminent", when in fact Bush several times said that the danger was not imminent.
So the Democrats often misrepresent what Bush said (and often ignore the fact that they came to the same, or harsher, conclusions when they looked at the same evidence). And they ignore what bipartisan investigations have found, that the Bush administration did not pressure the intelligence analysts to come to particular conclusions, though it did press them for more information.
But what bothers me more than these Democratic failures, which are what one expects when parties are dueling as intensely as ours are, is their almost complete failure to comprehend the facts on Saddam's WMDs — or, to be even more blunt, their almost complete failure to even try to comprehend those facts. (I don't doubt that some of the Democratic senators who are making these charges are aware of what I am about to say, but I fear that many of them are not.) And there is a danger to our country in that failure; the problems we had with Saddam will be repeated with other dictators. If one of our two great parties misunderstands the real lessons from Saddam's WMDs, then we may may take the wrong steps in the future, when we are confronting a different dictatorial regime.
In getting the facts straight, let's begin with a fact that almost everyone agrees on. Before the first Gulf War, American and allied intelligence greatly underestimated Saddam's WMD programs and stockpiles. We were dismayed to learn that he was far closer to developing a nuclear weapon than we had believed; the most common estimate that I have seen is that he was then just 18 months from that goal. And the extent of his chemical and biological stockpiles and programs also came as a harsh surprise. The CIA (and most other intelligence agencies) failed badly before the first Gulf War. And the surprises continued to come in the years after his defeat. In 1995, a son-in-law of Saddam's, Lieutenant General Hussein Kamel, defected to Jordan. The Saddam regime assumed that he had confessed to the UN and immediately released documents showing that Iraq had weaponized germs, something they had denied to that point. Our intelligence agencies suspected this, but had never been able to find proof. These multiple failures lead me to my first summary point:
1. Our intelligence agencies failed, again and again, to get an accurate picture of Saddam's WMD programs and stockpiles. These failures are what any student of military history would expect. Military intelligence is often wrong. Your enemy tries to deceive you and often succeeds. And, discouragingly often, you deceive yourself. During our Civil War, General George McClellan believed that Lee's armies heavily outnumbered his, because of intelligence estimates that he got from the Pinkerton Agency. (Actually McClellan's army heavily outnumbered Lee's.) Many of McClellan's failures as a general can be explained, at least in part, by these mistaken estimates.
Intelligence estimates are especially likely to be wrong when the enemy is a dictatorship. In this post, I mentioned two famous examples of intelligence failures in World War II and in the Korean War. In the first, we were trying to understand the intentions and capabilities of the Nazis, in the second, the intentions and capabilities of the Communists.
2. After the first Gulf War, a large part of Saddam's inventory of WMDs was destroyed and his WMD programs were disrupted. The inspections process succeeded — in part. But only in part.
3. Another part of Saddam's inventory of WMDs has never been accounted for. We simply do not know what happened to some of his weapons. He may have destroyed them on the eve of the liberation of Iraq (or before). He may have hidden them in Iraq. He may have transfered them to the Baathist regime in Syria. I repeat, we do not know what happened to some of his chemical and biological weapons, and we may never know. The weapons are so small that they could, for example, have been carried out to some desert site in a few trucks and buried there — and we would never find them. (Especially if Saddam took the elementary precaution of killing those who had done the actual work.) As I have said a number of times, this uncertainty about part of his inventory is unsatisfactory, for many reasons. But those who want to live in the real world must accept that uncertainty.
4. Saddam continued his weapons programs after his defeat in the first Gulf War. On this, the best witness is the Swedish arms inspector, Rolf Ekeus. Here's a key segment from an interview he did with Jim Lehrer:
Jim Lehrer: So it was a mistake to think that there were stockpiles buried underground or in warehouses or hidden in various places in Iraq in the first place?The evidence that Saddam was continuing his WMD programs — in violation of the ceasefire agreement and many UN resolutions — is absolutely convincing. And a little bit of thought will show you that the programs are a far greater danger — in the long run — than limited stockpiles. (But I must add that I do not entirely accept Ekeus's conclusion that Saddam did not also have some hidden stockpiles as well, for reasons I explained in this post.)
5. A number of chemical weapons have been found since the liberation of Iraq, both by the United States and by our allies. It is difficult to know what to make of these discoveries. Are they a few leftovers, missed by a comprehensive effort to destroy such weapons? Or are they a few leftovers, missed by a comprehensive effort to hide stockpiles? It is, in other words, false to say that we have not found chemical weapons, but it is also false to say that we have found large stockpiles of weapons. We have found large stockpiles of precursors, chemicals that could be quickly turned into chemical weapons and we have found large stockpiles of equipment that could be used to create biological weapons.
6. A large number of scientists who worked for Saddam have been assassinated since his fall. The simplest explanation is that they were killed to keep them from talking about stockpiles or programs.
Now when we put these points together, what should we conclude? First, of course, is that we should be extremely careful about trusting our intelligence, especially when we are trying to spy on a dictatorship. And second, that the errors (if they are errors) that have been found in our estimates of Saddam's WMDs make almost no difference in the case that the Bush administration made for war. Suppose that President Bush had said before the war, not that Saddam had chemical and biological weapons, but that we did not know what had happened to some of his weapons and that he had ongoing weapons programs, two points that are not disputed by serious people. Would that have changed our assessment of Saddam's long run danger to us and to our allies? Not that I can see. (And, in fact, if you look at the arguments that the Bush administration made before the liberation of Iraq, you will often find that they put their arguments in just those terms. Often, they did not say we know that Saddam has these weapons; instead they said that the weapons are are not accounted for.)
In fact, we can go just a little farther and say that, if we knew that Saddam was developing weapons but did not have them yet (and that point is, as I said, uncertain), then it would be well to remove him before he acquired the weapons, or escaped from the sanctions completely. Acting sooner would reduce the risks to our troops and our allies — and to the Iraqi people.
Can we expect many Democrats to come to these straightforward conclusions? Some will, but, given the partisan advantage they have gained by saying that Bush lied, I doubt many will say so. But we should honor those who do, and by doing so, show that they put their country ahead of short term partisan advantage.
(For more, including much documentation supporting the arguments I made above, see this post by Reverend Sensing, who has stronger reasons than most to get this matter correct. Here's what he has to say to those Democratic critics:
Listen, Senators Reid, Rockefeller, former Sen. Edwards, Sen. Kerry and your rhetorical allies: I have known many patriots. My son, fighting in Iraq, is a patriot. And you, sirs, are no patriots. You are actively betraying my son and his comrades. You are giving comfort to the enemy.For a description of the struggle to find the weapons and programs that Saddam was concealing, see this interview with one of the inspectors, Bill Tierney.
And for an astonishing story of how Jay Rockefeller tipped off Saddam's Syrian allies — which would have given Saddam more time to hide his WMDs — see this William Bennett column.)
- 1:09 PM, 17 November 2005 [link]