Just a few brief observations. In case you missed them, this Sunday’s New York Times and Washington Post both had really good pieces on the broad question of political Islamic militancy.

In the Post, a former CIA analyst, Stanley Bedlington, examines Osama bin Laden principally as a maker of myths about himself. A lot of the stuff in the article jibes with things I’ve heard from other folks in the CIA, particularly those with experience in Afghan War in the 1980s. In any case, Bedlington weaves a lot of good information together in an incisive and probative essay.

In the Times, Joe Lelyveld talks to Muslims in Gaza, Cairo and Hamburg (Mohamed Atta’s old stomping grounds) trying to find out what makes young men (and not so young men) turn into suicide bombers. Perhaps not surprisingly it’s in Hamburg where the author finds the really frightening people, where radical Islam brushes up against the underbelly of the West, and where Islamic militancy becomes a language of discontent for the nihilism and ennui of the slums.

An interesting companion to the Lelyveld piece is this article, also from Sunday’s Times, about the aborted attack on the US Embassy in Paris.

Also of note, the one year anniversary of Talking Points Memo is hurtling toward us at a dizzying pace. This font of online wisdom and wisecracks will turn one year old on November 13th. Various festivities will be announced shortly.

Don’t miss this article on the new counter-terrorism crew by Ryan Lizza in the current issue of The New Republic.

Some of my conservative friends must be wondering something like this right about now: if we wanted a war fought from the air, with strategy dictated by politics and not the military, we might as well have given Bill Clinton a third term and kept Larry Klayman out of the unemployment line!

Now, obviously I don’t have such a negative view of the former President’s foreign and military policies (far from it), of which we’ll say more later. But you do have to wonder: this is starting to look not like a new kind of war, but the old kind of war, just fought really badly.

Having said all this, a few disclaimers. It’s really easy to gripe from the sidelines. The folks at the Pentagon have more information at hand than we do. And as everyone should have learned during the Kosovo War, if you’ve got a strategy and you think it’s a good one, don’t get all wobbly just because things get rough for a bit. I remember toward the end of the air phase of the Gulf War there was a lot of grumbling about why we hadn’t just gone ahead and invaded Kuwait. But the military planners knew what they were doing. And at least in purely military terms the whole thing came off famously.

But you don’t come to Talking Points for disclaimers, do you? So let’s cut to the chase.

My concern is less that this is going too slowly than that I’m uncertain just what our strategy is, or more to the point, whether the one we have makes any sense. As nearly as I can understand it, our current plan is to weaken the Taliban through sustained air strikes; and weaken them enough relative to their Afghan opponents (the Northern Alliance, et.al.), that they collapse or get overrun. Then we go in and mop up Al Qaeda.

But like any air power strategy, this leaves it to our opponents to decide when, where and how to say ‘uncle.’ They have the initiative, not us. And decentralized opponents are more able to withstand this sort of barrage than centralized ones.

We also seem to want our ground allies to have at best only a partial victory, which further complicates what we’re trying to do. And the comments leaking out of the Pentagon, that the Taliban are tougher than expected, don’t inspire a lot of confidence.

Our beef here is with Al Qaeda. And as brutal and bloody as it will be, I don’t know what alternative there is to going in on the ground and rooting them out. The problem with our current strategy is that we lack the initiative and as much as we might bluster, time does not seem to be on our side.

Why isn’t time on our side? Because the longer this goes on, the less convincing we become when we say we’re fighting terrorism and not the Afghan people. And because the longer this goes on the more antagonism we kick up in the rest of the Muslim world.

Trust me, I’m not saying this is easy. It’s not. I’m just wondering whether we may have angled ourselves into a position where our opponents are controlling this situation and not us.

Who knows? Maybe next week things will start to break free. I hope so. But for the moment, maybe Perle-Wolfowitz & Company should stop yammering about expanding the war to Iraq and start pushing to expand it to Al Qaeda.

As a cautious partisan of the domestic whacko explanation of the Anthrax attacks, I was quite interested to see this article in the Washington Post, which states unambiguously that the FBI and the CIA don’t think the attacks are connected to Al Qaeda.

Having said that, they don’t provide a great deal of new evidence to support the argument beyond quotes from intelligence sources. Come to think of it, they don’t provide much evidence at all, beside quotes from intelligence sources. But it’s certainly worthwhile to know what these intel folks think since presumably they have access to much more information which they can’t divulge.

Anyway, the new wave of reportage seems to be tipping the scale against an Al Qaeda connection and giving some credence to those of us who’ve been raising questions about the whether this had the look of an Al Qaeda operation.

The most interesting hypothesis (not necessarily valid, of course, but interesting) is the ‘have your cake and eat it too’ theory mentioned in the Post article. That theory says that it could be both! The work of some new Rightwing Racist Freak – Islamic Terrorist Freak alliance. Or perhaps just some domestic Aryan Nations types acting in sympathy with Al Qaeda goals. Who knows?

Now let’s touch on another point: Bob Woodward, the fella who’s got a co-byline on the article. I always see Woodward brought in on a byline when the big story gets run even though the other writer has been writing on the subject for weeks or months, really a ton of articles, and clearly has developed all sorts of good sources and expertise. Does Woodward actually bring anything to these articles? Or has he become more like the journalistic equivalent of a DC rainmaker? The mover and shaker who gets brought in at the last minute to make one phone call, sprinkle some holy water, set up the key lunch date? And most important, does this sort of comment mean I won’t get picked up in Howie Kurtz’s media column any more?????

It would really be nice if all the government leakers could get their stories straight about the Daschle Anthrax. Following on Ari Fleischer’s announcement today that even a microbiologist with a decent lab could have made the Daschle batch, NBC’s Andrea Mitchell is now saying investigators are giving a serious look at the home grown nut hypothesis and like the Washington Post two days ago noting that investigators are leaning away from the Iraq hypothesis. But then ABC says that the Daschle Anthrax contains something called ‘bentonite’ which is only known to be used by Iraq!

So what’s the deal?!?!?! Can’t we get a little better info here? And can ABC tell us whether one of the ‘bentonite’ experts is named Richard Perle?

Just curious.

If you didn’t get a chance to see it, there was a splendidly elegant demonstration of common sense by CNN Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta a couple days ago. As you know, the big question this week has been whether or how many Anthrax spores could spill out of an envelope on its way through the postal system. The reason for the screw-up (not meant flippantly, but what else to call it?) with the postal workers was that the folks at the CDC didn’t think Anthrax-tainted envelopes would ‘leak’ spores until they were opened.

Now, anyone who’s ever licked an envelope knows that envelopes DON’T SEAL. The sticky stuff that you lick ends more than a centimeter before the end of the flap. Sometimes there’s also a little gap in the sticky stuff between the two long slanted lines. Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself.

So the intrepid Dr. Gupta fills an envelope with some talcum powder, seals it, and then pats it a few times. So what happens? $%&#’s pouring out of the thing! Out of the flaps. Even a bit through the paper itself. You name it, you got it.

So basically it’s pretty clear this Daschle Anthrax letter must have been leaving a trail of spores from Jersey to DC. And it’s not at all surprising that it spewed lots of spores when it got run through the sorting machine at the Brentwood facility in DC.

In any case, according to Dr. Gupta, the talcum particles are about 30 microns across. That’s compared to the Anthrax spores which were 5 microns and under. The kicker is that the pores in the envelope paper are about a 100 microns. So even if the envelope were “sealed,” the stuff could STILL come out without much difficulty.

If Gupta’s experiment weren’t so sad it almost would have been funny, because it showed how ridiculous the original assumption was.

The only question is why we had to wait for this dude from CNN to think of this. Isn’t this what we have those CDC guys for?

By all means, read this column by Matthew Miller. It brings together a number of seemingly disparate issues rippling beneath the surface in this current moment. And it does it very, very well. Miller also gives a hint of why wartime (pace Andrew S.) is often a seedbed of solidaristic, progressive politics.

One more point on the issue of the MO and motivations behind the Anthrax letter attacks. This article in the Washington Post quotes counter-terrorism expert Gerald “Gary” Brown saying that he thought the “Daschle letter was crafted to attract attention after the anthrax letters sent previously to news organizations garnered too tepid a response.”

This got me thinking. What was the timeline exactly? What was the state of play, publicly, when the perpetrator sent the Daschle letter?

The letters to the New York Post and NBC News were sent on September 18th from Trenton, New Jersey. To the best of my knowledge, the letters responsible for the CBS, ABC and AMI contaminations have yet to be found. But it seems reasonable to assume, from all we know now, that those letters were also sent out of Trenton on the same day.

Two weeks later almost nothing had happened. Bob Stevens had been hospitalized on the 2nd of October, had his diagnosis confirmed on the 4th, and died on the 5th. But at that time federal authorities were still sticking with some improbable natural explanation for Stevens sickness.

So after two weeks the terrorist’s work had gone entirely ignored and after two and a half weeks authorities were not even conceding that there had been a terrorist attack. None of the letters to the legit media had even been publicly discovered or acknowledged. This isn’t meant to sound flippant but you get the sense there was a bit of frustration.

It was in this climate that the terrorist or terrorists sent the letter to Tom Daschle on October 9th, this time leaving no doubt what the letter contained: “We have this Anthrax. You die now.”

(Again from the Post: “Unlike the earlier letters to Brokaw and the New York Post, which had no return addresses, the letter to Daschle carried a fictitious one. “Now they’re saying, ‘How can we get this through the system? Well, a letter to a senator from grade school kids might get it through. And if we mention that this is anthrax, this might get their attention,’ ” said Brown.”)

Soon after the Daschle letter was sent, of course, news started to break about letters to various media outfits. (The skin Anthrax infection at NBC was reported on October 12th.) But on the 9th it must have seemed to the terrorist that this first volley might go permanently unnoticed.

This is all tea leaf reading of course. But I think there’s something there, and I suspect Brown is on to it. The motivation for the second letter seems not only to have been to kill people but even more to make sure people realized that a terror campaign was underway.

Here’s yet another article, highly speculative but interesting nonetheless, about who might be behind the Anthrax attacks. The general tilt of the experts interviewed by the Washington Post points away from a foreign source and toward some domestic culprit, perhaps even one with a rightist tilt.

I must confess that I have given this matter a lot of thought and the evidence is just endlessly contradictory and baffling.

Consider some examples.

This article in today’s Washington Post the Daschle Anthrax “treated with a chemical additive so sophisticated that only three nations are thought to have been capable of making it … The United States, the former Soviet Union and Iraq are the only three nations known to have developed the kind of additives …”

But then later the article says: “A government official with direct knowledge of the investigation said yesterday that the totality of the evidence in hand suggests that it is unlikely that the spores were originally produced in the former Soviet Union or Iraq.”

Are we supposed to draw the logical – though not definitive – inference from these two facts?

Also, for all the talk about the sophisticated and weaponized nature of the Daschle Anthrax, what serious biological weapons program produces Anthrax which is so susceptible to almost every antibiotic? Is there a good answer to this question?

Another question. Is there anything that we know about the terrorists involved with Al Qaeda which would lead us to believe that they would warn the letter recipients to take penicillin or tell them that the letter they received contained Anthrax? Does that make sense? Yes, it does terrorize people. But this does not strike me as the bin Ladenites’ theory of terrorism. In many respects I think our theory of terrorism is much more highly articulated and over-determined than that of the terrorists themselves. I think these guys terrorize by killing people, in large numbers.

So why all the warnings? Why the heads up about the letters’ contents?

Here’s another question I have. Using the mail is an excellent delivery system for someone who wants to avoid detection or danger to themselves. But Al Qaeda seems to operate by suicide bombers. The incubation period of Anthrax makes it hard to compare this to truck bombs in terms of dying in the attack. But still. Isn’t the very caginess of this means of attack a bit odd?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying there aren’t good logical reasons for assuming a direct 9/11-Al Qaeda connection. And I wonder too whether some of my doubts may be wishful thinking. But these are some of the things that make me wonder.

It’s very, very hard to find any good news in the recent flood of ominous Anthrax developments. But one example is the seeming survivability of pulmonary (i.e., inhalation) Anthrax. According to established medical literature the survival rate for this condition ranges from the very low single digits to virtually zero.

Yet those statistics are based on data sets which are extremely small, of uncertain reliability, and in some cases simply out of date. And the rapidly and tragically growing number of new cases is giving at least some reason for hope.

The first victim of the recents attacks, Robert Stevens, died of Anthrax, as have two DC postal workers. Significantly, the two DC postal workers died before Anthrax was even suspected, let alone definitively diagnosed. But Ernesto Blanco, the other pulmonary Anthrax victim from AMI in Boca Raton, Florida, has now been released from the hospital. The two other DC postal workers with confirmed pulmonary Anthrax are in very serious, but apparently stable condition. Medical authorities in Virginia are expressing at least cautious hope that they’ll pull through.

One doesn’t want to be naive or foolishly optimistic. But this new evidence does lead to the conclusion that pulmonary Anthrax — perhaps because of rapidly growing medical knowledge or a new generation of antibiotics — is not the 99% killer we thought it was.

If memory serves, the last administration had a quite strict policy that the Treasury Secretary was the only person who spoke for the administration on certain key points of economic policy. I’m wondering if we don’t need something similar from the current administration on developments in the Anthrax case. Actually, such a policy might profitably extend to Congress as well.

Our political leaders have been all over the place in the last several days on two key questions: 1) the precise quality and nature of the Anthrax spores contained in the letter to Tom Daschle, and 2) what if anything we know about connections between the Anthrax letters and 9/11.

This morning Dick Gephardt seemed to nudge the scale in a more ominous direction on both the weaponization question and the 9/11 tie-in issue.

The problem with all these different opinions and phrasings from Daschle, Gephardt, Fleischer, Ridge, Ashcroft, et.al. is that it’s very difficult to get a handle on whether this is just Dick Gephardt’s opinion (in which case, who cares), whether he’s being freer with information the administration is holding back, or whether administration officials are using Gephardt to float new information which they themselves don’t feel comfortable announcing publicly.

In normal circumstances, these sorts of differences just come out in the wash. But the necessity of getting clarity on these critical questions demands a bit more discipline and uniformity.

Oh, the infamy of it all!

Today I see that Howie Kurtz takes me to task for my brief post about a London Times article about the US possibly using torture against terror suspects. In that post I said news often appears in the British press which you never see in the United States.

Anyway, Kurtz points out that the article itself refers to a Washington Post article from which the Times had snagged most of the info.

So am I supposed to be embarrassed by this? Okay, maybe a little.

Anyway, back to the main point. I think the larger pattern is true, though this was admittedly a rather unfortunate example. A better example would have been the BBC’s continued unexpurgated reporting of Al Qaeda threats and video taped messages after they had largely been squelched in the American press.

A few days after the 9/11 attacks, I remember watching an insurance company executive tell CNN’s Lou Dobbs that he doubted any insurance company would try to use legal technicalities (such as an ‘act of war’ exception) to evade paying off claims to WTC policy holders. I thought of that interview when I saw this article in the Times describing how one of the major WTC insurers, Swiss Re, is now trying to do just that.

Shameless, right?

Well, maybe not. The surprise, if you read the article, is that the insurance company seems to have a pretty damn good case.

According to the Times article, the policy held by the folks with the lease on the WTC stated that every insurable incident would be covered up to $3.5 billion. But Larry A. Silverstein, whose company holds the lease to the WTC complex, wants $7 billion. His argument — as the math indicates — is that the 9/11 attack on the Twin Towers wasn’t one incident, but rather two separate incidents, one for each plane.

Doesn’t that seem like a bit of a stretch?

One of the persistently interesting aspects of the war on terrorism story is how much information ends up getting published in the British or other foreign press, but never seems to see the light of day in the United States. Here’s one example from The Times of London about the FBI considering tactics that border on torture to get a few key suspects to talk. Sounds grisly; but the moral stakes involved are quite complex, and tricky.

I’ve also gotten a number of responses to the last post on Cipro. A number of readers make what seems to be a quite valid medical/public health point about the use or over-use of this drug. They note (as I did) that this strain of Anthrax is susceptible to a number of antibiotics. And that the one thing we don’t want to do is use so much Cipro that we end up creating a plethora of new Cipro-resistant bugs.

There are a few possible flaws with this argument that come to mind. But I’m not a doctor. So I’m really not in a position to evaluate it on the merits. But the point I was making was political, not medical. And on that basis, I think the point stands.

Here’s why.

Maybe we should be using more penicillin than Cipro. Who knows? But there’s nothing we’ve heard from Tommy Thompson that would make us think that this is why they’re supplementing the Cipro stockpiles with doxycycline and penicillin. The issue seems to be patent law. And what I’m saying that is that this decision needs to be made on the basis of scientific, medical and public health considerations, not patent law issues.

It’s a little difficult to figure how any company could have flubbed an opportunity for good PR more than Bayer has in recent days.

As you probably know, Bayer is the manufacturer of the Anthrax-fighting drug Cipro. As it turns out, there are several antibiotics that seem effective against the particular strain of Anthrax popping up in media mail rooms around the United States. But apparently that’s because this strain is quite susceptible to treatment. The point is that Cipro is the gold standard: it would apparently work against certain strains which other antibiotics couldn’t handle. (To wit, if I get exposed to Anthrax of unknown provenance, I want Cipro; and you probably do too.)

So, in addition to helping a lot of people, Bayer could have used this as an opportunity to get a lot of well-earned good press. At the end of the day there’s almost no way Bayer wouldn’t end up making lots of money off this scare, even if the United States or Canada gave temporary permission for generic manufacturers to make Cipro also.

Wasn’t this a no-brainer? A way for a major drug manufacturer to demonstrate that it was fundamentally in the business of health, not simply interested in the bottom line?

The argument for loosening the patent isn’t that the government couldn’t afford buying tons of Cipro (though that too is an important issue), but that Bayer may well not be able to satisfy the almost incalculable demand.

So far Bayer has been issuing assurances that it can keep up with demand and resisting any efforts to enlist generic manufacturers to supply government stockpiles. But obviously their capacity must have some limits. And the country seems pretty obviously to be in a situation in which we shouldn’t allow any arbitrary limit (the production capacity of a single company) to keep us from getting as much as we need of the choicest drug (Cipro).

What’s a little distressing is that HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson seems inclined to make up the shortfall in Bayer’s production capacity with drugs like doxycycline and penicillin, rather than allowing other manufacturers to make Cipro. Again these two other drugs seem to work fine against this strain of Anthrax. But everything I’ve heard to date indicates that Cipro would likely be effective against a broader range of strains. (Remember, everyone currently under treatment is getting the good stuff, Cipro. So why scrimp?)

Setting aside the Bayer patent — perhaps to let generic manufacturers produce Cipro exclusively for government stockpiles — would not necessarily mean abrogating the law. According to Senator Chuck Schumer, current law contains exceptions for just this sort of pressing national emergency.

So there are a lot of medical facts which are uncertain at this point. And it’s possible that Thompson will adopt a stronger line. But at the moment at least it seems like he is letting an over-zealous concern for patent law get in the way of public health.

Just a thought.

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 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 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 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 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 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 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 (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.

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 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.

In case you missed this crushing passage

“Each addict’s story here in the Pakistan city of Quetta is sadder than the next. Mooruddin Aki’s arms were chopped off by the Taliban after authorities caught him smoking opium in an Afghan school. At 18, he begs on the streets and people who take pity on him place bills in his mouth.”

New York Times, Oct. 7th, 2001

As I noted Friday evening, Richard Perle (a member of this administration, which I explained in the earlier post) went on Crossfire and accused Colin Powell of working against President Bush’s policies. Let’s follow up on a few fronts.

First, it turns out Donald Rumsfeld agrees with me! Or at least he used to. When I saw Perle mouthing off on CNN, I thought I remembered something from Rumsfeld’s Rules (what’s that?) about this. And it turns out I’m right. “Avoid public spats,” RR says on page 9, “When a Department argues with other government agencies in the press, it reduces the President’s options.” All the more so during wartime, one must imagine.

Second, it turns out this isn’t the only freelancing Perle was doing on Friday. On the 5th, in the London Daily Telegraph, Perle penned a derisive attack on British Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, for his recent visit to Tehran.

And in case you haven’t noticed, the Brits have been rather supportive of our efforts of late. (Perle just doesn’t seem to like Foreign Offices, whether in the UK or the US.)

As I explained in the earlier post, Richard Perle is a member of this administration, though he seldom identifies himself as such in these contexts. This isn’t about his views, but rather his behavior, which lacks honor, judgment and discretion. By his actions he has shown that he believes the normal rules do not apply to him.

According to Newsweek, Dick Cheney told Paul Wolfowitz to knock off the public statements about attacking Iraq, after publicly butting heads with Powell. Isn’t it time for Rumsfeld or someone to do the same with Perle?

The rules apply to Reaganites and neo-con intellectuals too, ya know. No special pleading. No excuses.

There’ve been many articles describing what good has been able to come from the tragedies of September 11th: the outpouring of charitable giving, the surge of national unity and patriotism, the willingness of states around the globe to provide the cooperation necessary to hunt down and root out terrorist organizations. Of course, few developments have been more salutary than the banishment of Mitch Daniels from public life.

Have you seen Daniels recently? A quick Nexis search revealed 19 references to Daniels’ name in the last week; and 124 for Glenn Hubbard, the head of the Council of Economic Advisors, who’s recently been put forward as Daniels de facto public replacement.

The real question now is whether it’s just Daniels — a dissembler and a hack — who is going to stay banished or whether his hackish ways are out too. Paul Krugman thinks the chances of that are starting to look pretty poor indeed.

This is a dirty, dirty business. If you watched CNN’s Crossfire tonight you saw Richard Perle, an Assistant Secretary of Defense from the Reagan administration, talking about strategy in the United States’ war against terrorism. In particular he was distinguishing between President Bush’s strategy and that emanating from the State Department, i.e., from Colin Powell. I don’t have the transcript in front of me. But to put it bluntly he was saying that Powell was pursuing a foolish policy of coalition building and undermining or ignoring the stated wishes of the president.

Tough words. But not so unexpected from someone with Perle’s politics and temperament.

Only that’s not the whole story. Because Perle’s not really a former Assistant Secretary of Defense. Or at least that’s not all he is. He’s also the Chairman of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board. He’s got an office in the E-ring of the Pentagon, a floor away from Rumsfeld’s office.

In other words, he’s a part of this administration. CNN was either dishonest or asleep at the switch in how they chose to identify him.

(As a side note, my understanding is that part of the reason Perle was given this job is that administration hawks really wanted to bring him in but knew there was no way to give him a position that requires Senate confirmation. And this position doesn’t require it.)

Different appointees of an administration will sometimes criticize each other, certainly. But junior appointees at the Defense Department do not go on TV and explicitly accuse the Secretary of State of ignoring the president’s wishes or undermining his policies.

So what’s going on here? Can this really be allowed to continue? Can the Secretary of State or the President’s dignity abide this? And where’s Rumsfeld on all this? Can we, i.e., the American people, really put up with this kind of crap at what we are told, rightly, is a time of national crisis and mobilization?

This is a big deal. And it’s not a laughing matter.

Oh what a tangled web we weave …

They say lies beget more lies. But, more importantly, boneheaded statements tend to beget more boneheaded statements. Especially when you can’t bring yourself to take one back and move on.

Ever since Andrew Sullivan let fly that hot-headed and instantly pummeled remark about a lefty “fifth column” on the deracinated East Coast he’s been hunting around for some way to get out of the egregious over-statement penalty box. And now he’s done it! He’s found the fifth column! It’s called United Peoples. And they’re so big and well organized they even have a web site!

Of the ten American “organizers” included on the site most are identified as affiliated with another website called Friendly Favors, which that site chillingly identifies as “A tool to find Friendly people, connect with them and acknowledge their Favors.”

I, for one, already feel more secure that Andrew has unearthed this gaggle of risible oafs. Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit seems to have the right idea when he says: “if this is the fifth column, we can focus most of our attention on the first four. They’re no threat, except to their own credibility.”

I was thinking they might be a bigger threat to Andrew’s.

P.S. Yes, yes, yes. I know I’m writing too much about Sullivan. And I’m trying to kick the habit. But on this one I couldn’t help it.