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Hey Whats the deal

Hey!?!?! What's the deal? Why so few Talking Points posts recently? Is Talking Points going under? Going out of business? Packing it in? Going the way of Polaroid?

No, just a busy week. What with buying gas masks and stockpiling supplies. And even some paying work. You know how it is.

Back to normal posting schedule next week.

My previous TPM post

My previous TPM post notwithstanding, subsequent developments tend to point away from an Iraqi Anthrax connection. First, it seems there is a growing pool of admittedly quite circumstantial evidence pointing in the direction of domestic terrorism. Either a purely domestic operation a la Tim McVeigh, or one in sympathy with bin Laden et.al., operating without close coordination with people overseas.

One of the most interesting pieces of evidence can be found in this article by Scott Ritter, a former weapons inspector, permanent hot-head, but never someone who you'd expect to be exculpating Saddam if the facts didn't unmistakably point in that direction. He makes three points: 1) that the weapons inspectors did a pretty good job destroying the Iraqi bioweapons operations, 2) that it simply wouldn't make sense for Saddam to involve himself in something like this since he's already making progress on his major goal, lifting sanctions, and 3) that the strain of Anthrax that the Iraqis worked with isn't the same as that found in Florida, DC and New York. (The not-unreasonable counter-argument from the Iraq hawks would be that the Iraqis have now had three years of unmonitored time to hatch new plans and perhaps new microbes.)

Taken together, Ritter makes a pretty strong case that there's at least no good evidence for an Iraqi connection to date.

I must confess to

I must confess to you that with many friends working on Capitol Hill (and myself living only a few miles away), it's not so easy to get a critical distance on these most recent disclosures of Anthrax-tainted letters.

Regular readers will also know that I've been skeptical of the 'bomb Iraq now' crew inhabiting the middle-ranks of the Pentagon. But these new reports raise some very serious questions.

We now seem to be getting conflicting reports about the nature and quality of the Anthrax which arrived at Tom Daschle's office. First we were hearing that it was high-quality, weapons-grade material. Now authorities seem to be partially backing off those statements, noting among other things that the strain seems highly susceptible to various antibiotics, etc.

Still it seems increasingly likely that someone has Anthrax that is the product of a quite sophisticated operation.

What happens if we find out, upon further testing, that this Anthrax was the product of a sophisticated production system which could only exist as part of a state-sponsored bioweapons program or with the complicity of some state? And let's cut to the chase, what if the evidence points to Iraq?

We needn't assume high-level Iraqi state complicity in giving terrorists anthrax to believe that the Iraqi program was the source of the material. Perhaps it was stolen. Perhaps some Iraqi intelligence officers gave a small amount to Mohammed Atta. Who knows? And perhaps more to the point, who cares?

I say this neither to be flippant nor to discount the possibility of direct Iraqi involvement. I say it only to focus our attention on what I take to be the real question at hand. That is, can we allow the continued existence of production facilities and large stocks of chemical and biological weapons in Iraq once we know, or strongly suspect, that some of them have made it to our shores? Once you put it that way, I don't think it really matters whether Saddam Hussein or Tariq Aziz signed off on the transfer. And if the question is, can we allow it? I think the answer is pretty obviously that we cannot.

That conclusion leads to some dizzying and troubling implications. But I'm not sure they're ones we can any longer ignore.

Just a quick update

Just a quick update on the media consortium's comprehensive recount of last year's presidential election in Florida. When I cited the Globe and Mail article which said the recount story had been spiked, I hadn't yet seen Howie Kurtz's article which said the recount analysis had only been delayed by the war, not canceled. Mickey Kaus makes a similar point, quoting the Wall Street Journal's Alan Murray.

So consider this post a partial correction of yesterday's.

But only partial.

Mickey's evidence comes from a bureau chief of one of the news organizations. And Kurtz provides no quotations. The only quotes I've been able to find are in the Globe and Mail piece. And those seem at least ambiguous about the fate of the mega-recount analysis. A New York Times spokeswoman told the paper that the recount analysis had been "postponed indefinitely."

I assume the recount probably will proceed at some later date. But considering the importance of the matter at hand, it still seems to me that the media outlets in question are being deliberately vague. I think they're hedging. And bureau chiefs giving personal assurances to friends in the business (absent quotes) really doesn't cut it.

As mentioned yesterday, a delay in the project seems entirely reasonable. But if it's only a delay, the whole consortium should issue a press release stating that this is only a delay, and that the complete survey of disputed ballots will be completed and published as originally planned.

I assume Ive written

I assume I've written enough positive stuff about President Bush's conduct of this war that I can say the following with some measure of credibility: It's a very, very bad decision for the media consortium to cancel the publication of their comprehensive analysis of voting results from last year's presidential election in Florida.

What's even more disturbing is that the story is only being reported in news outlets outside the United States. Here's an article about it in Canada's Globe and Mail, which was picked up by a couple regional papers in the US.

As much of a firebrand as I am on last year's election, I am perfectly willing to concede that this may not be the time to rehash this controversy -- especially if, as has been rumored, it cuts strongly in Al Gore's direction. A delay may be in order, but we're still a democracy. Knowing what really happened last year still counts, a lot.

And the apparent decision of many news organizations not even to announce the cancellation of the study points less to a concern for the national interest than a less appealing desire not to offend.

More and more is

More and more is being made of the story of how Sudan offered to turn over Osama bin Laden to the United States in 1996. There's been much foolish Monday-morning quarterbacking questioning various errors the Clinton administration allegedly made in counter-terrorism policy. And as a Clinton loyalist I'd be more than happy to point out how this Sudan story is just another example of that. But I can't. Because it's not. This really was a missed opportunity of immense proportions.

But it's easy to draw the wrong lesson from what happened.

The prevailing idea seems to be that the Clinton administration got things wrong because they were too indulgent toward so-called 'rogue states.' If you look close at what happened in 1996, though, it's really more that they were, in a sense, too rough with them. The real story about what happened with Sudan in 1996 is that the folks at NSC were so keen to 'isolate' the Sudan (and generally slap them around) that the they were blinded to the fact that this quasi-bad-actor state was willing to do us a very good turn. In a sense, they fell for their own spin.

In our current situation that's a lesson well worth considering.

Next up, the Richard Clarke angle.

Okay I suppose youve

Okay, I suppose you've probably seen this evidence of the connection between Osama bin Laden and notorious Sesame Street sourpuss Bert.

But I just couldn't help pointing it out to you in case you missed it. In case you're wondering, except for the highlight circle, this is not a doctored photo. And this article describes the very 21st century, globalization -drenched way the seemingly mild-mannered Bert ended up on bin Laden posters in Bangladesh.

But first a warning: the editor of Talking Points literally almost died of laughter when he read the story. So be warned. I mean, I hadn't heard anything so funny since I read about how Kermit the Frog had hooked up with Imad Mugniyah in the Bekaa Valley!

The Talking Points crusade

The Talking Points crusade (can we still say 'crusade'?) against Richard Perle is catching on. And across the ideological spectrum too.

Jude Wanniski -- pied piper of supply-side economics -- gets into the act. He actually calls on Don Rumsfeld to fire his deputy Paul Wolfowitz (a topic we've touched on here before, though I don't think Wolfowitz is in the Perle category by any means). But Perle gets his mention too.

Here's what he says:

Do you realize that Wolfowitz, and his pal Richard Perle who chairs your Defense Policy Board, have been calling all their friends in the press corps, urging them to beat the drums for war with Iraq? Perle actually signed the “famous” letter of 41 drafted by Bill Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, who is Perle’s mouthpiece in Washington ... It is incomprehensible to me that you would allow Perle to remain at that post, where he is permitted to read all the most sensitive secret traffic flowing through the Pentagon. Not that he wouldn’t see it anyway, courtesy of Wolfowitz, but how brazen can he be and get away with it.
Now, I disagree with a number of points Wanniski makes in his piece. But the inappropriateness of Perle's behavior should be clear to everyone.

Also, let's roll out the first edition of the Richard Perle Media Hall of Shame (RPMHS): the list of media outlets which have featured Perle without noting his position in this administration. So far CNN, The Washington Post, and the London Daily Telegraph have all joined. No doubt others are soon to take the plunge.

Another Richard Perle update.

Another Richard Perle update.

Why the continuing subterfuge and irresponsibility? In today's Washington Post article on expanding the war beyond Afghanistan, Perle is identified as "a Pentagon official in the Reagan administration who is close to many members of the Bush administration."

As we've noted repeatedly in recent posts, Perle is a member of this administration. I know this is a matter of definition. But for my money when the Sec Def appoints someone chairman of a key policy oversight committee, which comes with an E-Ring office and salary, that's being in the administration, period.

When will this man realize the rules apply to him too? And when will someone (anyone!) call him on it?

Neo-cons may not like Colin Powell but don't they like loyalty and the chain of command? And just when I was going to praise Bill Kristol's excellent piece in the Weekly Standard Online!

You may have thought

You may have thought this was the government of Uzkekistan's first effort to curry favor with American presidents. But far from it. Back in 1997 the Embassy of Uzbekistan paid the PBN Company (which specializes in work in Eastern Europe and former Soviet republics) $7,500 to a) put together a “briefing book of Hillary Clinton speeches” and b) get approval from the White House and the publishers to translate It Takes a Village into Uzbeke!

All so dignitaries back home could drop a few good lines on Hillary when she visited the country that year.

P.S. This from secretly obtained confidential documents? Alas, no. Publicly obtained at the Foreign Agents Registration Act office several months ago while researching an unrelated story.

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