October 2003

2003 10 29
[Support for dictators]

This piece in the Guardian is highly recommended.

The author writes of the very low standards which Blair and Bush apply to allies like Uzbekistan, after resting the case for war against Iraq partly on humanitarian grounds. This lack of consistency is both wrongheaded (support for dictators hasn’t proven a particularly useful strategy in the past, has it?) and corrupting.

In Bush’s case, I suppose you might argue that he’s hardly aware that such a country exists. So perhaps the piece only directly challenges the moral coherence of his position, rather than the sincerity with which he holds it (this is not exculpatory, nor am I taking a position on whether he is in fact sincere). In Blair’s case, it’s obvious that he knows exactly what the score is, but he simply does not care. The piece shreds the moral coherence of Blair’s position and his claim to be genuinely concerned about human rights.

And don’t tell me that this policy of sucking up to dictators is part of the cost of the war on terror, or that in the real world we’re forced to make difficult trade-offs. No administration that squanders as many lives and as much credibility and influence as this one has in Iraq deserves to lecture me about the costs of my policy prescriptions. And neither do any of its apologists.

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2003 10 29
[Applebaum on North Korea]

I keep thinking about this piece by Anne Applebaum in the WaPo. Writing about recent reports of the North Korean regime’s barbarity, including new satellite evidence of its massive Gulag system, Appelbaum throws down the challenge:

But the problem is not only one for immediate neighbors. In fact, if any of the democratic participants — the United States, South Korea, Japan — were to absorb fully the information the images convey, the knowledge would make it impossible for that country to conduct any policy toward North Korea that did not make regime change its central tenet.

Applebaum’s description of North Korea is not, unfortunately, exaggerated. There is ample accounting from all sorts of human rights groups which testify to the fact that the regime is among the very worst in the world, possibly the worst.

But what do you do? You cannot simply go to war with North Korea. Even if the nukes threat is a bluff pure and simple, North Korea has a massive conventional deterrent.

You cannot ignore North Korea. If the country someday collapses, the collapse may be even more dangerous if nuclear weapons are involved. And in the meantime its desperate leaders may well barter away some of its nuclear expertise and material with other unsavory states and groups.

And yet, and yet, I feel a profoundly Bushian hatred for the regime, which is strong enough to make me loath the idea of giving it support, aid, and security guarantees. These things only prop up an apparatus of evil which I would like to see vanish from the earth as quickly as possible.

So . . . what the hell do we do?

(I haven’t read enough of Appelbaum’s work to know where exactly she draws the line. Russia, for example, is a paradise compared to North Korea . . . unless you live in Chechnya, where the Russians have waged a brutal and indiscriminate war. Putin is quite simply a war criminal. It seems to me that absorbing fully what Russia has done in Chechnya would make conducting normal relations with Russia highly distasteful. But even if I hate it, I can see that there are some very good reasons to hope for normal relations with Russia.)

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2003 10 25
[Easterbrook on Iraq]

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.

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2003 10 23
[North Korea]

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.

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2003 10 22

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.

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2003 10 14
[Marsh Arabs of Iraq]

‘A Gift From God’ Renews a Village (washingtonpost.com)

This is not just feel-good propaganda. 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.

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2003 10 14
[India and Pakistan]

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.

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2003 10 13
[Bush approval ratings]

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.

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2003 10 11

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.

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2003 10 11
[Frontline on the Iraq War]

Just watched Frontline’s documentary on 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.

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2003 10 10
[No apologies yet]

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.

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2003 10 09
[Pipes on Iraq]

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.

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2003 10 04
[Plame, yet again]

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.

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2003 10 04

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.

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2003 10 03

washingtonpost.com: 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.

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