Opinions, Context & Ideas from the TPM Editors TPM Editor's Blog

This is an unfortunate

This is an unfortunate passage. <$NoAd$>It comes from David Brooks' column in tomorrow's Times ...

But ours is the one revolution that worked, and it did precisely because our founders were epistemologically modest too, and didn't pretend to know what is the good life, only that people should be free to figure it out for themselves.

Because of that legacy, we stink at social engineering. Our government couldn't even come up with a plan for postwar Iraq — thank goodness, too, because any "plan" hatched by technocrats in Washington would have been unfit for Iraqi reality.


I don't know where to start.

The failure to do proper planning for post-war Iraq, it turns out, wasn't a matter of hidebound ideologues who ignored and attacked expertise and experience. It was the happy result of America's tradition of non-ideological pragmatism.

This is screw-up laundering with a spritz of history tossed on.

Amidst these horrible images

Amidst these horrible images out of Iran, I could not help but notice that the magnitude of this earthquake (6.5 on the Richter Scale) was exactly the same as the one last week in California. And of course the difference in the human cost is almost beyond comparison.

The geological make-up of the land under a major quake can play an important role in the devastation it creates. But you have to assume that almost all the difference in this case owes to buildings which are made or not made to withstand quakes.

Here's a list of major quakes in Iran over the last thirty years -- half a dozen of which claimed more than one thousand lives.

Some interesting background on

Some interesting background on the decision to cancel the flights from Paris to LAX. There seems to have been some disagreement between US and French authorities over how to handle the information.

According to this report from the BBC, Department of Homeland Security officials were pissed that the French had handled the matter so publicly, thus losing a chance to possibly arrest the folks about whom suspicion had been raised.

Meanwhile the DC correspondent of a major French media outlet tells me that French authorities looked at the list of names provided by the Americans and eventually concluded on their own that the people in question had no ties to terrorism.

Finally, this report says that a spokesman for the French Prime Minister "said the United States had threatened to refuse the planes permission to land if they did take off," which again suggests a lack of a completely harmonious interaction.

Needless to say, I don't know which of these stories are true or what's behind them. In real-time, counter-terrorism has its own equivalent of the fog of war. So even the players themselves may not know all the details. And add to this the distinct possibility that reports we hear may include disinformation intended to conceal from terrorists what law enforcement authorities do or don't know.

But, assuming nothing terrible ends up happening, I'll be very curious to find out more about just how this was all handled. Because few things are more important than effective liaison and coordination between ours and our allies intelligence services. And if the choppy political waters are getting in the way, on either side, that's a big problem.

My apologies for the

My apologies for the short-rations of posts, but I'm working under a December 24th article deadline. Yes, scroogeful editors -- but don't tell them I told you that!

To everyone, a very happy holiday, this evening and tomorrow, and to members of my tribe, a continuing one.

Let's hope these flight cancellations out of Paris are either out of an abundance of caution or, if it's more than that, that they'll trip up whatever plot could possibly be in the works. Frightening stuff. But to everyone, happy holidays.

South Korea has agreed

South Korea has agreed to dispatch 3,000 troops to <$Ad$>Kirkuk, albeit for "non-military operations," starting next April.

For months we've been getting turned down on requests for significant numbers of troops from other countries. This is a change, one that could be significant both in Iraq and in US-ROK relations. I'm curious what the backstory is.

The Korea Herald says that "If Seoul's plan is approved, the Korean military is expected to pull out a highly organized, well-trained division of 1,400 combatants and 1,600 engineering and medical staff, replacing the U.S. 173 Airborne Brigade based in the northern oil field region near Kirkuk."

Another daily TPM Featured

Another daily TPM Featured Book: The Mediterranean: And the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II, vol. II.

Yes, yes, yes it's a mouthful. And, actually, also a handful at well over 600 pages. And that's just volume two. Don't even get me started on volume one, which -- for reasons we don't have to get into now -- is much less accessible than volume two.

This recommendation isn't necessarily for the casual reader. But if you love losing yourself in a distant part of the past, this one may be for you, one of the crowning works of Fernand Braudel, unquestionably one of the most acclaimed historians of the 20th century. A truly fascinating work of history in the grand style, a joy to read, and, well, as erudite as all get-out.

In the Internet age

In the Internet age, letters-to-the-editor page editors really need to do more due diligence.

Look at these two searches (example #1 and #2) on google.

These are examples from the Bush campaign. But it's not just them. Or, if it is, it won't be for long.

Theres been a story

There's been a story making its way around the web, to the effect that Saddam wasn't really captured by the Americans, but was actually captured by the Kurds, drugged, and then and dropped off somewhere where the US Army could find him. In the background is some sense that there were negotiations perhaps for money or possibly to augment the Kurds' standing in post-war Iraq.

Nor is the story only in obscure publications or conspiracy sites. It's been picked up by Agence France Presse and Bloomberg. It's even linked now on Drudge's site.

So, I've had a slew of readers write in to ask, Is there something to this story?

In a word? No.

Obviously a single word seldom covers things adequately. So permit me a few more.

I've been far too busy to do any reporting on this. But I have looked at the published stories. And I've seen nothing that makes me think this is true.

First, the fact that the story ran in AFP means little in this case. Because if you look at the AFP story they seem to have done no original reporting. They only reported what ran in the original story which appeared in Britain's Sunday Express. (The Bloomberg wire story picked it up from AFP. So same difference.)

So what about the original story in Sunday Express? Among other problems, it reads as based on shaky sources, and it includes this passage ...

The Sunday Express was told: "There was no question of the tribe claiming the GBP 16million reward from the US.

Apparently it was a question of honour. The Kurdish Patriotic Front held him while they thrashed out their own deal. It didn't just involve the reward but it involved gaining some sort of political advantage in the region."


What's this group, the Kurdish Patriotic Front? Good question. As far as I know, there is no such group.

It sounds a lot like the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), one of the two main Kurdish political factions. And later on in the article it refers the 'Front's' leader as Jalal Talabani. He is the head of the PUK. So the author of the piece, Yvonne Ridley (reporting from Qatar), on the face of it seems not to know what is literally the first thing about Kurdish politics. And that, shall we say, doesn't inspire a lot of confidence in her reporting.

(Responding to the post you're reading now, another TPM reader provides some very interesting additional details on Ms. Ridley.)

Meanwhile, this article from an Australian paper, picks up on the story and adds some details which seem to stem from the fact that someone from the PUK apparently reported the story before the US officially announced Saddam's capture.

Talabani was asked about this yesterday by Al Jazeera and the following is a translation of the exchange provided by the BBC world service ...

Jalal Talabani, member of the Iraqi Governing Council and leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), has denied that the Peshmerga forces were responsible for arresting the former Iraqi president, Saddam Husayn, as reported by a British newspaper (Sunday Express) on Sunday (21 December). In an interview with Al-Jazeera in Moscow, Talabani said that the arrest of Saddam had been carried out by the Americans alone. Talabani arrived in Moscow prior to the start of an official visit by an Iraqi Governing Council delegation to Russia. (Talabani - recording) We contributed to trailing and pursuing Saddam Husayn when he used to go from one place to another. We provided the coalition with important information about these places. However, the arrest was carried out by American hands. The American forces carried out the arrest and none of the Peshmerga members took part in the arrest. Therefore, this report is regrettably false. It could be meant to justify the low spirits of the former president and the shock on his face following the arrest so as to say that he was drugged. He was not drugged because four members of the Iraqi Governing Council met him and he was fully conscious and traded insults with them.

(Al-Jazeera correspondent in Moscow Akram Khuzam) Why was the PUK given the right to announce the arrest of the former president, Saddam Husayn?

(Talabani) The truth is that no one gave it the right. We were one of the parties hunting down the ousted president. A PUK surveillance unit was present in the area. On the night of the arrest, it seems that a member of this unit learned about the arrest. He telephoned us and told us about the arrest of the former president, Saddam Husayn. We asked him to confirm the report because it was important news. He came back after one hour and confirmed that the news was true. I was on my way to Iran. When I met with an Iranian journalist, he asked me about the latest news. I told him: I have important news for you, which is the arrest of Iraqi president Saddam Husayn. The Americans had confirmed to us the truth of this report before I left for Iran.


So, I think this all adds up to no reason to believe there's anything to do this story, at least not based on what I've seen in published accounts. What I think we've got here is a rumor which got picked up by an inexperienced reporter and then made its way on to some mainstream newswires.

There've been other rumors flying around -- like this one from Debkafile. But Debkafile is about as reliable as raw intelligence and should be treated with the same skepticism. Actually, it's not just that it should be treated like raw intelligence, it ... well, that's for another day.

Let me be clear: I'm not saying there's nothing to this. I haven't had time to make any calls. Anything could be true. And it's entirely possible that there are dimensions to the intel leading to Saddam's capture, which haven't yet been revealed. But none of the publish accounts I've seen strike me as credible or even close to substantiated. So until I see more I assume there's nothing to it.

For the last days

For the last days of shopping frenzy, another daily TPM Featured Book: Colin Martin's and Geoffrey Parker's truly marvelous The Spanish Armada. Actually, this is the The Spanish Armada: Revised Edition, which just came out last year. I've only read the original. But if it's revised it must be even better. And I'm going to assume it still turns out that the Armada didn't manage the hook up down there in the Spanish Netherlands and the fire ships did their business and the anchors were cut. In any case, a wonderful history with splendid new evidence from the archives and the bottom of the sea.

TPMLivewire