Editors’ Blog

For a month or

For a month or more word has been leaking out of the Pentagon and some quarters of the State Department that David Kay would be coming out with a report in mid-September which would settle the WMD debate in the White House’s favor.

Robert Novak put those whispers into print on August 10th when he wrote …

Former international weapons inspector David Kay, now seeking Iraqi weapons of mass destruction for the Pentagon, has privately reported successes that are planned to be revealed to the public in mid-September.

Kay has told his superiors he has found substantial evidence of biological weapons in Iraq, plus considerable missile development. He has been less successful in locating chemical weapons, and has not yet begun a substantial effort to locate progress toward nuclear arms.

So what is Kay going to report? Needless to say, I don’t know. But let me set out a number of clues and possibilities gleaned from a mix of press accounts, my own reporting, and conjecture.

First, it’s very important to note that even the weapons inspectors and arms control experts who are free of any ideological or partisan need to find WMD in Iraq still don’t speak of certainty that there are no biological or chemical weapons there. When I spoke to former weapons inspector David Albright earlier this month he spoke of no ‘significant’ or ‘substantial’ caches of these weapons. It’s still, he told me, “hard for me to believe they didn’t have some” of these weapons.

The point is that the people who are really worth listening to aren’t making absolute or maximalist statements or predictions. The White House would like the standard to be, any chemical or biological weapons and they’re vindicated. And I fear some of the White House’s critics have been complicit in setting this very low standard.

At this point it seems increasingly unlikely we’re going to find anything. But it could happen.

Second, it does seem clear that the Iraqis were keeping scientists organized and ready and that they were prepared to reconstitute these programs when the opportunity arose. This probably involved keeping various dual-use infrastructures at hand. Indeed, as I noted last week, Mahdi Obeidi, the nuclear scientist currently cooling his heels in Kuwait, says that after the war he heard about some nuclear scientists doing some low-level theoretical R&D on possible ways to make progress on nuclear weapons.

The point is that if you want to adopt an expansive definition of ‘programs’ we probably already have at least some evidence that they had on-going ‘programs’ — just ones that were considerably more dormant than we’d imagined before the war.

(Note that “substantial evidence of biological weapons” would seem to mean that they haven’t found any actual weapons since that would presumably be conclusive evidence, not just substantial evidence.)

Third, timing. Look at Novak’s words: “Kay has told his superiors he has found substantial evidence of biological weapons in Iraq, plus considerable missile development.” This construction leaves the issue of chronology quite vague. And I suspect that vagueness is going to become a very important point.

We know that the Iraqis had a biological weapons program and that there were biological weapons in the country. That’s wholly undisputed. If Kay produces substantial evidence of such weapons in 1995 or 1998, that’s meaningless. What we’re trying to figure out is whether he had them in the period when we were considering going to war.

What many suspect is that Kay is going to pull an intel version of a classic 1990s-era document dump. In other words, come forward with a mound of documents detailing the Iraqis’ extensive programs, their histories, the means used to conceal them, whom they imported parts from, and so forth. And then conveniently leave as a footnote the fact that these program had gone pretty dormant by 2002. The idea will be to make up with paper poundage what the report lacks in relevance. Hit them with twenty reams of report about the Iraqi WMD programs and then figure that the follow-on reports about how little was actually happening in 2002 are buried in the back of the papers after no one is paying attention.

All of this is to say that we’re probably set for an elaborate festival of goal post moving courtesy of Mr Kay — the widely telegraphed switch from weapons to ‘programs’ being the key sign.

The point to keep in mind is that at the end of the day the standard isn’t any WMD or any identifiable dormant program which might have made non-conventional weapons in the future. The standard is this: If you look at the totality of the White House’s pre-war statements about Iraqi WMD, and then look at what’s contained in the report, will you say: “Wow, you weren’t kiddin!” or “Wow, you’ve gotta friggin be kiddin!”

That’s the standard. Everything else is chatter.

Heres a short blurb

Here’s a short blurb from Bahrain’s Gulf Daily News. Dateline Sydney …

US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said yesterday US troops would not leave Iraq until they found weapons of mass destruction there.

“We will (find them). I have absolute confidence about that,” he told an Asia Society lunch in Sydney – after talks with Australia’s Prime Minister John Howard on Tuesday.

While the US did not want to remain in Iraq any longer than necessary, “we are not going to leave until we find and destroy Iraq’s capability to launch biological, chemical and nuclear weapons,” Armitage said.

He said the fact that no weapons had so far emerged was a “chilling” reminder that they were “far too easy to move and far too easy to hide.”

Noted without comment …

An interesting email from

An interesting email from one of my favorite New Dem-leaning correspondents in Washington DC.

We’ll call him Mr R …

Hi Josh. Great string of posts this a.m.! Glad to see you’re back in the
swing.

I thought you might be interested in my recent experience as a Democratic
contributor. In the last year I’ve given $100 each to (1) Joe Lieberman,
since he’s a New Dem from way back and his DLCish instincts generally match
my own, and (2) more recently, Howard Dean, because he’s interesting and
smart and, while I don’t much like his current lefty trendline, at bottom I
think he’s a moderate.

Well. I got a couple of half-hearted follow-ups from the Lieberman camp
last year (I think I sent a brochure to you), but absolutely nothing in the
last six months or more, even though now is when they’re starting to need
the money, and a candidate’s prior contributors are the folks he should be
putting the strongest touch on. But, from Joe, at least to me, silence.
Reminds me strongly of the hapless Gore operation – I gave thousands of
dollars to Gore, even going back to his Senate years, and it took his
campaign forever even to get my name right and figure out I was a supporter.
I wonder if Lieberman has inherited some of the not-too-swift Gore
back-office operations.

But from the Doctor! I’ve gotten half a dozen (correctly addressed!)
follow-up letters in the couple of months since I sent him a check, and I’m
obviously on his main direct-mail list, all on the strength of one
contribution. VERY impressive operation on the technical side, and it
certainly makes me more likely to contribute again. Wonder where Dean’s
people came from? Are these the tech-savvy people who are also staffing his
Internet operation?

Anyway, a telling contrast, and I though you should have this report from
the political contributors’ trenches.

Regards, (Mr R.)

Very revealing about each campaign.

Sheesh WorldNetDaily isnt usually

Sheesh! WorldNetDaily isn’t usually at the top of my reading list. But they’re running a story which, if true, is pretty mind-blowing and, frankly, would answer a lot of questions.

Here are the first three grafs …

A former Energy Department intelligence chief who agreed with the White House claim that Iraq had reconstituted its defunct nuclear-arms program was awarded a total of $20,500 in bonuses during the build-up to the war, WorldNetDaily has learned.

Thomas Rider, as acting director of Energy’s intelligence office, overruled senior intelligence officers on his staff in voting for the position at a National Foreign Intelligence Board meeting at CIA headquarters last September.

His officers argued at a pre-briefing at Energy headquarters that there was no hard evidence to support the alarming Iraq nuclear charge, and asked to join State Department’s dissenting opinion, Energy officials say.

Definitely read this piece. It appears well-sourced. And it definitely left me wanting to know more. I’d like to see one of the bigs get on this since they’d probably have the muscle to bust it open a bit more. Though, of course, the real question is, why didn’t we hear this story from one of them in the first place?

Alright Im a little

Alright, I’m a little confused. Articles like this one at MSNBC say that US agents “foiled an international plot” to smuggle a shoulder-fired surface-to-air missile into the United States for downing a commercial airliner. But when you read into the article you see that there really wasn’t a ‘plot’ at all. This was really a sting operation. And as in most sting operations, the ‘plot’ was really something cooked up by law enforcement to snare a malefactor.

What seems to have happened is that Russian intelligence got wind of the fact that a small time arms dealer might be interested in selling these rocket launchers to terrorists. The seller’s motives weren’t ideological but pecuniary. In other words, the sellers weren’t terrorists, just scoundrels. So in cooperation with Russian and British intelligence, the FBI provided this guy with a potential Islamist terrorist buyer, actually an undercover agent. And they picked him up when the deal was sealed.

Now this is an unquestionably good thing for at least two reasons. First, it’s a good thing to have behind bars any miscreant willing to make money by selling terrorists the equipment to bring down a commercial airliner. (These guys are arguably more evil than the terrorists themselves. The terrorists at least think they’re pursuing some justifiable, even noble, end. These rogues couldn’t care less so long as they can make a buck.) Second, and more to the point, you probably can’t deter terrorists who are willing to kill themselves anyway. But you probably can deter some people with financial motives from supplying the terrorists with the weapons. And this probably goes some way toward that end.

But still, there was no plot. And the point is more than just semantic. Look at this sentence a few grafs into the MSNBC report: “It was not immediately clear whether the plot was connected to al-Qaida or some other terrorist network.”

All the horrors of terrorism aside, that line really brought a smile to my face. There was no plot. So there really wasn’t much of a way al Qaida could have been involved, right?

The reporters who covered the story for the Times seemed to have a better handle on this. This line comes at the end of the third graf of their story: “No real terrorists were ever connected to the plot.”

On the other hand, the Times piece also contains this line: “Intelligence agencies say Al Qaeda already has dozens of missiles, many of them American-made Stingers left over from the war in Afghanistan in the 1980’s when the United States supplied them to Afghan guerrillas seeking to oust Soviet troops from their country. Hundreds of other surface-to-air missiles are reported to be circulating on the black market.”

Something new at TPM.

Something new at TPM. We’re busily working away on the TPM redesign. The site won’t look very different. But it’ll have a number of features readers have been asking for for quite some time. A printer friendly function, easier searching, an RSS feed. There may even be a way to get a discount on your prescription drug costs. But we’re still working on that. And the financing may be a bit touchy.

In any case, here’s something new at the site that we’re rolling out before the redesign. TPM reviews books. But there are many books that I’d like to recommend that I either haven’t had time to read cover to cover or won’t be able to review in a formal way. That’s where the TPM Featured Book comes in — right over there on the left.

Not all of them will be ones I agree with in every respect. I’m actually far from being a doctrinaire civil libertarian — so there are points and attitudes that I disagree with in the first choice, The War on Our Freedoms: Civil Liberties in an Age of Terrorism. But airing these issues is critical for as co-editor Richard Leone says in the introduction, “history teaches us that bypassing public deliberation almost inevitably leads to outcomes that the nation ends up regretting.”

My feeling on the balance between civil liberties and counter-terrorism is that I’m willing to countenance quite a lot that wouldn’t pass ACLU muster if I’m convinced those measures will help prevent terrorist attacks against Americans. (Living in DC in the aftermath of 9/11 and during the anthrax scare tended to focus my attention and priorities in this respect.) What’s consistently troubled me about this administration is the eagerness to adopt certain tactics which don’t seem to make us measureably safer at all simply because they appeal to a pre-existing and ideologically-driven hostility to civil liberties.

In any case, this is an important book, which I’m glad to recommend. It’s got contributions from all the people you’d want to hear from: Alan Brinkley, E.J. Dionne, Tony Lewis, John Podesta and others. Stop by Amazon and take a look.

A week or more

A week or more back I discussed the similarities and dissimilarities between Clinton-hating and Bush-hating. At the time I said that for political purposes it really doesn’t matter which is or was more justified, rational, or whatever. The issue is the political dynamic each creates.

Let me expand on what I mean by that.

Many people wrote in to say that Clinton-hating ended up not profiting the Republican party very much.

That judgment is profoundly mistaken. The vitriolic, organized and often orchestrated opposition to Bill Clinton ended up helping Republicans a great deal. But it’s critical to understand just how it did.

Let’s go back five years to the late summer of 1998. Bill Clinton hadn’t been impeached or acquitted. The various videotaped testimonies had yet to be taken. But, for those with eyes to see, it was already pretty clear how the thing was going to play out. Congressional Republicans were going to pull the country through a protracted impeachment crisis that a clear majority of the public opposed, even though it was pretty clear they weren’t going to be able to drive him from office. A few months later that reality was driven home by the party’s surprisingly disappointing showing in the off-year elections. Yet the whole carnival proceeded anyway.

The Republican party was consumed by its animosity toward the president. Partly this was genuine grass-roots antipathy by Republican partisans. But that generalized rage was pulled together, organized and focused by bullying party moderates with the threat of retribution by an aggrieved base.

However you slice it the Beltway Republican party had grievously and dangerously alienated itself from public opinion on numerous fronts. Clinton-hating was a big loser with a decisive majority of the electorate — at least sixty percent. Yet it still played a key role in the 2000 election.

The key was George W. Bush.

In his person, Bush seemed to Republican partisans to be the antithesis of Clinton. He also consistently tapped at the anti-Clinton keywords like honor, and respect for the office and so forth. At the same time, Bush didn’t come from Washington (or didn’t appear to). And thus he could portray himself as unconnected with the partisan frenzy of the late 1990s. When he talked about ‘changing the tone’ in Washington he wasn’t running against Clinton or Gore. He was running against congressional Republicans in an appeal aimed at swing voters.

What the Bush candidacy provided for the GOP was a candidate who could pocket the 30% to 35% of the electorate animated by anti-Clinton rage, gain from all their energy, and yet also present himself to the political middle and independents as unconnected with the anti-Clinton craziness they found repellent in the congressional GOP. He let the party have its cake and eat it too.

I think the Democrats face a similar dynamic in 2004.

People often talk about the electorate as having a right and a left and a ‘middle’. But that’s not the best way to understand it. It’s really sliced in half in two different ways.

There’s the familiar left and right division — roughly even if you mean Dems versus Republicans. And then there’s the politicized (or partisanized) versus the non-politicized. The politicized group is bigger than the non-politicized part of the electorate. But not by that much. Three to two is probably a reasonable measure.

In many ways the partisans on the left and right have more in common than either do with the non-politicized group, though there are a host of very well-paid pollsters in DC working on teasing out all the nitty-gritty of it.

The key for Democrats is that they very much need a candidate who will harness the intense opposition among Democratic partisans to the direction the president is taking the country without being too tightly connected to or identified with that passion. If they don’t find one, I think they’ll end up having a very mobilized constituency that falls short of securing a majority.

This doesn’t mean the candidate has to have watered down policies or be more ‘centrist’ in policy terms. It also does not and should not mean that he or she doesn’t draw clear distinctions with administration policy. (The self-identified centrist leaders who are publicly scornful of the energized anti-Bush Democratic electorate are foolish and shortsighted. And there’s more than a few people in the orbit of the standard centrist groups that know that and are trying to rectify the mistake.) What it means is that Democrats need a candidate who can appeal to those two very different slices of the electorate.

I’m not prejudging who that candidate is. I’m just saying that Democrats who are seriously interested in having a new president in eighteen months need to choose a candidate with that double-division of the electorate in mind.

Frank Foer has a

Frank Foer has a very nice piece in the current issue of the New Republic. I’ve said many times that there’s been at least as much self-deception as deception in the Bush administration’s myriad endeavors in the Middle East. And Foer’s article unpacks one part of this story: conservatives’ romantic attachment to exile ‘opposition leaders.’ At the moment — or, actually, more like six months ago — Ahmed Chalabi is the example par excellence. As Foer makes clear, he’s just the most recent in a long line going back to the anti-communist insurrectionists of the 1970s and 1980s.

But there is a difference with Chalabi.

Chalabi’s supporters would often attack his critics in two ways. First, they’d claim that opposition to Chalabi meant opposition to Arab democracy. Second, they’d imply that Chalabi had been unjustly maligned or demonized by opponents with other agendas to pursue.

I won’t deny that there was some small merit in these responses, or that they did not identify some roots of the opposition to Chalabi. What’s most revealing about both, however, is how they serve to avoid what was always the paramount criticism of the guy: his general irrelevance to the situation inside Iraq.

There’s no doubt that Chalabi would have been better than most of the potential leaders an unreconstructed Iraqi political system could have churned up. But once you cut your reasoning off from any practical sense of how a potential leader might sustain himself as leader of his country or what his basis of support might be, you can come up with an almost limitless number of fantasy candidates — all of them equally irrelevant to the realities at hand.

Frank quotes Deputy Undersecretary of Defense William Luti calling Chalabi the “George Washington of Iraq.” I’ll do that one better. There’s another neocon at DOD who, I’m told, has often called Chalabi the most important Muslim since the Prophet Mohammed.

As Foer ably notes, there were a lot of folks at the Pentagon who really thought Chalabi could rapidly bestride the Iraqi political scene and take care of many of the problems we’re wrestling with today. Today of course there’s really no one who imagines he’ll be more than a bit player.

The old time right-wing heart-throbs like Jonas Savimbi really did have troops on the ground in their homelands. The problem was that they were often murderous thugs. The problem with the new right-wing-adored opposition leaders — Chalabi perhaps becoming the archetype — is not their bad behavior but their irrelevance.

Coming up later: the much-discussed David Kay report.

You heard it here

You heard it here first. Last week TPM reported on the travails of Iraqi nuclear scientist Mahdi Obeidi and why the CIA has him stashed away in Kuwait — as opposed to letting him come to the US, as promised — because he wouldn’t say the right things about the aluminum tubes and chemical weapons and the rest of it.

Now Newsweek’s Michael Hirsch has some more details.

The short and sweet

The short and sweet of it. UPI’s Martin Walker on the troop strength issue

Quite apart from issues of Arab resentment, religion and the remaining bands of Saddam Hussein loyalists, there is one simple reason why the stabilization of Iraq is proving so frustratingly difficult. By comparison with other similar peace-keeping missions in recent years, the place is very seriously under-policed.

Consider the Balkans. In proportion to their populations, three times as many troops were deployed in Kosovo as in Iraq, and in Bosnia twice as many. By Kosovo standards, there ought to be more than half a million troops in Iraq. But maintaining 180,000 British and American troops in Iraq is putting intense strain on the military manpower of both countries. There is no serious prospect of their deploying any more. Reinforcement will have to come from other countries — and in far greater numbers than the 70 Ukrainian soldiers who flew in Sunday.

On a related note, let’s remember that the small omissions are often the most revealing.

In a new article in The Weekly Standard Reuel Marc Gerecht argues against the conventional wisdom that we need to bring in allied troops and assistance to help stabilize and reconstruct Iraq (“Help Not Wanted“). At the front of the article Gerecht rattles off several examples of establishment nay-sayers who argue that we can’t or shouldn’t accomplish the job alone. The first of those Gerecht mentions is “a recent post-conflict reconstruction report issued under the auspices of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.”

Does that cover all the facts? Not exactly. That report did go out on CSIS letterhead. But it was requested by and completed at the behest of Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld. Somehow that seems like a significant detail.

The new information indicates

“The new information indicates a pattern in which President Bush, Vice President Cheney and their subordinates — in public and behind the scenes — made allegations depicting Iraq’s nuclear weapons program as more active, more certain and more imminent in its threat than the data they had would support. On occasion administration advocates withheld evidence that did not conform to their views. The White House seldom corrected misstatements or acknowledged loss of confidence in information upon which it had previously relied …”

That’s one key graf from this morning’s article (“Depiction of Threat Outgrew Supporting Evidence”) in the Washington Post, which runs down numerous details in the Iraq-intel-manipulation story. But frankly it’s filled with key grafs. Frankly, it’s the best single newspaper piece I’ve seen on the subject to date. Take particular note of Cheney’s role — not so much his deceptiveness as his ingenuousness, his poor judgment.

In aftermath of the

In aftermath of the bombing of the Jordanian embassy in Baghdad we’re already starting to see that pattern so familiar from before and after the war: the tendency to fit new data into ideologically familiar and politically convenient packages.

Specifically, we’re already seeing suggestions that the bombing is the work of a) al Qaida, or b) Ansar al Islam, the al Qaida-linked Kurdish jihadist group in northern Iraq, or c) Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the alleged link between al Qaida and Saddam who worked out of the section of Iraqi Kurdistan controlled by Ansar, and is implicated in the assassination of US diplomat Lawrence Foley in Amman last October.

Now, any of these could be true. Indeed, all of them could be true, since they all fold together neatly, one on top of the other.

But there doesn’t seem to be much evidence at the moment that any of them is true.

Bernard Kerik was Police Commissioner of New York City on 9/11 and now serves — in a detail which would make the novel version of this story seem totally cheesy — as the de facto police commissioner of Baghdad. Here’s what he said yesterday, according to an article in the Times

No one has taken responsibility for the bombing, officials said. But Mr. Kerik expressed skepticism about reports today that the attack appeared to be the work of Ansar al-Islam, a terrorist group formerly based in northern Iraq, or Al Qaeda.

“It’s all a guessing game right now,” he said. “Nothing is leading us in that direction.”

The state of affairs in Baghdad is such at the moment that it might be easier to come up with a list of groups and personages who don’t have some possible motive for bombing the Jordanian embassy, rather than those that do. And on the list of those that do, a convenient suspect like al Qaeda probably doesn’t even figure at the top of the list. Indeed, there are other potential suspects at least equally high on that list who would be extremely inconvenient from the US perspective.

My only point is that we should not jump to the most convenient conclusions ahead of the evidence. This is especially so since our main problem in Iraq thus far has been our tendency to see the situation on the ground through the distorting prisms of ideology and wishful thinking.

A lot of attention

A lot of attention is being paid to late reports of meetings between Pentagon hawks and exiled Iranian arms merchant Manucher Ghorbanifar, a central figure in the Reagan-era Iran-Contra scandal. (The original reports have come from Newsday, which continues to amazingly outclass and outpace some of the papers of record on this whole tangled WMD-regime-change-Pentagon-hawks story.)

Ghorbanifar’s involvement merits plenty of attention. But I strongly suspect that name is the sizzle, not the steak, as it were.

Look further down into the story. Particularly, at the name Harold Rhode, who has apparently been the point-man on the Ghorbanifar contacts. Rhode’s name comes up again and again in these stories. He’s also a leading Pentagon contact with Ahmed Chalabi. When Dick Cheney gave his speech at AEI a few weeks ago, sitting in the front row was Mr Chalabi. Sitting next to him, on one side and the other, were Lynne Cheney and … Harold Rhode. Rhode also has a rep as a bit of a hot-head. As I recounted in an article last year in Salon, in early 2001 Rhode physically accosted the dimunitive Saudi diplomat Adel al Jubeir in a hallway at the Pentagon, after a meeting with Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz and Saudi officials.

At the time Rhode was styling himself Wolfowitz’s “Islamic affairs advisor”, and that little incident caused a small sandstorm in Saudi-American relations, as well as scotching Rhode from consideration for a marquee job in the Pentagon’s office of Near East and South Asian Affairs. He eventually landed on his feet in Doug Feith’s Office of Special Plans.

More on Rhode in subsequent posts. But he is at the center of all the grand-planning for America’s new role in the Middle East. And he is very much a thread to pull.

(Special Note to Sen. Carl Levin: Why the delay in sending those document requests to the Pentagon? The clock is ticking!)

Pardon me but the

Pardon me, but the immutable laws of comedic science compel me to write the following post.

Once a week, on Wednesdays, I go on conservative talk-radio host Hugh Hewitt’s radio program to argue about whatever Hugh wants to argue about.

Last week Hugh launched right into Republican charges that Democrats are blocking the judicial nomination of Alabama Attorney General William Pryor because of anti-Catholic bigotry. I told Hugh that was ridiculous. And we knocked it around for our normal single segment. Then late the next evening I wrote up some of my own opinions on this foolishness on TPM.

Here, for what it’s worth is a pretty good run-down of what the Dems’ actual position is, contained in two short-n-sweet grafs of a recent AP article

Pryor also is strongly anti-abortion and has criticized the Supreme Court’s decision that a woman has a right to an abortion. But he has said he will follow the current law if confirmed for the regional courts, one step below the Supreme Court.

Democrats don’t believe him. “Mr. Pryor’s litigation position, public statements and his writings leave little doubt that he is committed to using the law, not simply to advance a conservative agenda, but a narrow and extremely ideological agenda,” said Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.

Now after I wrote that post I started hearing from Hugh about how outrageous it was of me that I hadn’t mentioned this column by the Archbishop of Denver, Charles Chaput, who also accuses the Democrats of anti-Catholic bias. You see, Hugh had mentioned Chaput’s column in our Wednesday interchange. And apparently my not mentioning the Archbishop’s column showed that I was running scared from his logic or something like that. Hugh went on about my perfidy and intellectual dishonesty on his website too.

In any case, I’d been thinking through the Escher-like layers of ridiculousness of this argument Senate Republicans are making. And it really got my blood boiling. So I thought I’d do my best to refute the arguments in my weekly column in The Hill. To do a column like this you usually want to find a few choice quotes to show just how whacked the other side’s arguments are. So needless to say I checked out Hugh’s recent stuff to find a few choice nuggets.

I came up with this one …

As with the Cavaliers who made Catholics publicly renounce the doctrine of transubstantiation, so now Senate Democrats insist that nominees renounce Church teaching on abortion.

Only I didn’t identify the author of the quote. I just said that one “fulminating right-wing commentator” had made this comment. Now, I did this because I don’t like to get into shouting matches with people, or at least on my better days I don’t. And perhaps when someone says something that really makes no sense I don’t want to hold them up to unbearable indignity in the eyes of various readers. But when I went on Hugh’s show last night he wouldn’t stop talking about how I’d violated the rules of blog etiquette by not linking to his column when I quoted him. I pointed out that my column is a newspaper column and not a blog. But to no avail. I’d linked to the column from TPM, he said. I’d linked on my blog to the newspaper column which didn’t link to Hugh’s blog, so … Well, you can see where that goes.

Anyway, I told Hugh that it might strike some people as a touch vain that he was spending our entire segment harping on me for not linking to his website or quoting him by name or whatever rather than choosing instead to address my critique on the merits. That prompted another fusillade about how I was still ducking his challenge to name Archbishop Chaput by name as opposed to simply dismantling, or attempting to dismantle, the charges he and others have made about the Dems’ alleged anti-Catholic bigotry. The whole hurlyburly gave new meaning to the phrase naming names, though what that meaning might be was entirely lost on me.

I managed to survive the storm. And hopefully this post, this florilegium of links and mentions, will calm the waters. But now various readers have sent me another whack from Hugh appearing in today’s Weekly Standard online, which included this morsel …

Joshua Micah Marshall was the most disingenuous of all, refusing to reference Chaput’s statement in either his blog or his column in the Hill, even after we had specifically discussed it on air and off. Instead of attempting to respond to Chaput in an intellectually honest fashion, Marshall quotes me without naming me, describing me as a “fulminating right-wing commentator.” Marshall’s bad form is the best indicator yet that the hard-left senses that anti-Catholic bigotry is a disastrous tactic.

To quote the immortal Mr. T, I pity the fool who says such things. But, as per my wont, I won’t identify that person by name.

I havent said much

I haven’t said much about the California recall race so far because, frankly, I couldn’t think of much to say. And that tends to be my standard. But now that things have totally gone out of control I guess I should wade in a bit. That’s especially so since there’s one bit of news today that seems unquestionably good. That’s the news that Rep. Darrell Issa is out of the race. Issa, you’ll remember, is the execrable opportunist who got this whole bit of ridiculousness underway, funding much of the effort on his own dime, figuring it was his only way of slipping into statewide office without having to bother with that majority of the vote peskiness. (The last we heard from Issa before the recall craziness was his demand that the Pentagon rewire (rewireless?) Iraq with the inferior cellphone technology (CDMA) owned by hometown company Qualcomm.)

According to press reports, Issa had to fight back tears when making his announcement today. Now at first I figured Issa was tearing up because he’d spent such a big chunk of change on what’s turning out to be someone else’s party. But then I realized that wasn’t it at all. He was just thinking how much more money he’s going to have to spend to replace that sheet set and mattress and that fancy duvet because of the mess from that decapitated horse head he found in his bed this morning.

I mean, where do you think the call that got Issa outta this race came from? Yeah, me too …

Yesterday I said that

Yesterday I said that Mahdi Obeidi had told his CIA handlers about some on-going WMD programs.

Here’s what I hear: Sometime in June 2003, after the fall of Saddam but prior to his leaving the country, Obeidi heard the following from a colleague in the Iraqi scientific community.

The colleague told Obeidi that there was another Iraqi scientist (someone involved in the nuclear program but not tied specifically to the uranium enrichment effort) who had done the following. At some point in 2001 or 2002 this scientist had brought together some junior people (other scientists, that is) to do work TPM World Exclusive!  You heard it hear first!  Must Credit.on the uranium enrichment front. This wasn’t work actually enriching uranium, per se, in the sense of actual production, but theoretical R&D, discussing and hashing out ideas for how the job should be done once the word was given.

This would be in line with the CIA’s 2000 report on the state of Iraq’s program which said the Iraqis had “probably continued low-level theoretical R&D” after weapons inspectors had been expelled in 1998.

Again, Obeidi seems to have found out about this particular detail only after the fall of Baghdad, not before. This wasn’t something he’d been involved with, but something he’d heard, and apparently believed.

That information jibes with other information both from Obeidi and other Iraqi scientists pointing to the conclusion that the Iraqi WMD programs were much closer to a state of dormancy than US intelligence had feared. However, there was clearly an attempt to keep the relevant scientists around and, at least on the chemical and biological front, to remain prepared to reconstitute the programs if and when the opportunity or need arose. (Bear that in mind when you think about the report coming from David Kay.)

And one other detail: It was widely believed in the US intelligence community that once inspectors left, the Iraqi WMD programs would really kick into high gear. That was a pretty solid assumption. And many of the estimates of the state of Iraqi WMD programs were based not simply or even primarily on positive evidence so much as this inference. What now seems clear, however, is that the sanctions regime may have been — to the Iraqis — a bigger deal than the inspectors. And it was the end of the sanctions that would have been the real green light for moving ahead.

Next up: what more evidence of biological and chemical weapons we might still find in Iraq and what it might mean.

Remember Mahdi Obeidi Hes

Remember Mahdi Obeidi? He’s the Iraqi nuclear scientist who made headlines back in June when he turned over parts of a gas centrifuge for uranium enrichment and blueprints related to Iraq’s pre-1991 nuclear weapons program. The parts of course were buried under a rosebush in his backyard.

More recently, Obeidi made more embarrassing headlines when the Associated Press revealed that he has consistently told CIA investigators that those much-discussed aluminum tubes had nothing to do with nuclear weapons development.

The AP reported that Obeidi was in Kuwait. But it turns out there’s a bit more to the story. Given that Obeidi was so quick to come clean about the history of Iraq’s nuclear weapons program and Saddam’s plans to reconstitute the program once sanctions were lifted, you might think that we were helping him restart his life in the US, Iraq or perhaps some other Arab country.

Well, not exactly.

It turns out he’s being held against his will in Kuwait apparently because he won’t ‘come clean’ about the aluminum tubes, an on-going Iraqi nuclear weapons program and significant chemical and biological weapons stocks.

Obeidi is not in prison. He’s in a residential setting with his family, under US government supervision, well-fed and so forth.

But he can’t leave. He can’t go back to Iraq — for obvious reasons. He’s only in Kuwait through a US agreement with the Kuwaiti government. He can’t go anywhere else since he doesn’t have a passport. American friends provided him with a satellite phone. But his CIA handlers have frowned on his using it.

The deal he made, or thought he’d made with the US, was that he would be given asylum and allowed along with his family to come to the United States. He has a job lined up in the US and even, believe it or not, a book contract (that’s globalization for ya). But though he had a good-faith understanding with the CIA that he’d be allowed to come to the United States, he failed to secure a formal agreement.

That turned out to be a mistake. For two months they’ve been holding out on him, apparently because the answers he’s giving them aren’t the ones they want to hear.

Now, the CIA’s nominal rationale is that they don’t think Obeidi is being honest with them, that he hasn’t come clean. They apparently point to examples of Obeidi’s lying to inspectors about various issues during the 1990s — an allegation I’ve independently confirmed with a knowledgeable source. But that, of course, was back when Saddam’s regime was still in power. The fact that he would have lied to inspectors back then doesn’t show he’s some sort of congenital liar. It just shows that he didn’t want himself or his family to end up with bullets in the backs of their heads.

In any case, the claim that Obeidi is deceiving his handlers seems pretty implausible on its face. As they say in hard-boiled detective novels, the guy’s made his choice. He provided the US with various materials and equipment the Iraqi regime was prohibited from keeping. He’s incurred the displeasure of fellow scientists, not to mention the fact that he’s probably made himself a marked man to whichever Baathist loyalists continue to roam the country. Why would he make a deal with the US, expose himself to all the dangers and opprobrium that entails, and then hold out on all the significant evidence?

I don’t deny that such a scenario is possible. It is. But logic and other confirmatory evidence points strongly to the conclusion that Obeidi has come clean already.

Now, as CNN reported back in June, former weapons inspector David Albright has acted as an intermediary between Obeidi and the CIA. “I find that there’s a conflict of interest for the CIA,” Albright told me on Wednesday. “The answer they’re getting is that there were no significant stocks of chemical weapons or biological weapons, no significant on-going work on nuclear weapons. But they’re not in a position to go to Bush and say, ‘Hey, we were wrong.’ So they’re stalling.”

It’s difficult to ascertain people’s motives in a situation like this. Albright figures the CIA is caught between their own integrity and their unwillingness or inability to deliver the White House news it really doesn’t want to hear, i.e., that the WMD search is more or less a bust. “They’re getting answers they can’t cope with,” says Albright.

The one thing that no one wants is for Obeidi to make it to the United States where he’s liable to end up on Larry King Live telling a story that would, to put it mildly, be very unhelpful to the White House. That means it’s in everyone’s interest — or at least in the White House’s and CIA’s interest — to keep Obeidi on ice in Kuwait. Maybe he’ll become more helpful. Maybe the search in Iraq will come up with other evidence that will make Obeidi’s revelations less embarrassing. Whatever happens, it’ll keep him out of reach of journalists and from telling the very off-message story he apparently has to tell. It kicks the can down the road, as they say. No one in the government has any interest in getting Obeidi out of his odd de-nationalized limbo. So it’s best just to leave him in Kuwait.

This all sounds rather similar to the story David Ingatius told in the Washington Post on July 18th about Saddam Hussein’s science adviser, Amir Saadi. And even if Obeidi were holding out on some information, considering that he’s the only Iraqi scientist who’s really come up with some real goods, wouldn’t it still be in our interests not to so obviously jerk him around? If nothing else, aren’t we dissuading other scientists from coming forward? He said he’d give us the centrifuge parts and the blueprints. And he did. But we won’t come through for him.

According to Albright, “Obeidi remains hopeful” of getting asylum and being allowed to come to the United States. But his leverage is rather limited. And, according to TPM’s sources, earlier attempts to get word out to the press have made his situation in Kuwait all the more difficult.

Coming up later, how Obeidi has told the US about some on-going WMD work by the Iraqis, but why that hasn’t come out either.

Here are my thoughts

Here are my thoughts on the Republican claims that Senate Democrats are guilty of anti-Catholic bigotry for opposing the judicial nomination of Alabama Attorney General William Pryor. It’s my new column in The Hill.

To my mind, it’s an extremely ugly and cynical game the Republicans are playing — led by Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA). They’re doing their best to wrench advocacy of abortion rights into some latter-day version of anti-papal hysteria. Santorum’s argument, in essence, is that political opposition to pro-lifers is fine, unless they base their pro-life stance on their Catholicism, in which case any such opposition becomes a form of anti-Catholic bias.

To me, that argument is ridiculous on its face. And there is the added ugliness of tossing around fake charges of religious bigotry for the most frivolous reasons — precisely the charge Republicans constantly make against Democrats. In any case, I make my argument in the column.

A tad more on

A tad more on General Clark.

In discussing a potential Clark candidacy earlier today, I wrote

One of the big attractions of ex-military candidates is straight talk. Always has been. It signals a no-nonsensism that’s one of the big attractions. Yet a while back I remember Clark not only being cagey about whether he was going to be a candidate (that’s certainly understandable) but even which party’s nomination he’d run for. And that falls a bit short on the no nonsense test.

A number of readers have written in to say that this same caginess about party affiliation was practiced by Eisenhower and Powell. (For that matter the same applies to Grant.)

That’s true. But it misses the point. For various reasons there was a real question about which party the others would choose, what their real politics were. But the same is hardly true for Clark. He’s not running for Republican nomination. He’s considering whether to run as a Democrat, period. No question about it.

Because of that, the equivocation sounds odd.

Believe me, I have no interest in criticizing Clark. I’m quite intrigued by his potential candidacy. And one stray comment is hardly a big deal. But the comparison to Eisenhower’s notorious caginess strikes me as quite inapt.

Ive been hearing more

I’ve been hearing more and more about these Meet-Up meetings for various presidential candidates. So yesterday I stopped by one for Wesley Clark in Washington, DC. Or rather I should say it was for the Draft Wesley Clark group, since Clark isn’t even a candidate yet. I can’t say I was particularly underwhelmed or overwhelmed by the turn-out or the energy of the folks there. But it’s hard for me to judge really since it’s the only one of these I’ve been to.

I have a number of friends who are very taken by the idea of a Clark candidacy. And I think I’d say that I’d include myself in that group.

At the same time, though, I’m awfully skeptical. Military heroes who get into politics or are drafted into politics are usually big heroes, generals whose popularity is so transcendent that they can literally sweep away all the rest of the contenders from the field. The key examples would be Grant, Eisenhower, Powell (had he chosen to get into the race in 1996).

Clark, as much as I admire him (and I do, a lot), simply isn’t in that category. And by conventional standards, it’s way too late for him to get into the race. It’s not at all clear to me that he can push these other contenders from the field simply by throwing his hat into the ring. And will he have the money or the organization or staff that will allow him to do it the old fashioned way?

I have my doubts.

Here’s another issue.

One of the big attractions of ex-military candidates is straight talk. Always has been. It signals a no-nonsensism that’s one of the big attractions. Yet a while back I remember Clark not only being cagey about whether he was going to be a candidate (that’s certainly understandable) but even which party’s nomination he’d run for. And that falls a bit short on the no nonsense test.

Now I say this as someone who’d really like to see Clark get into this race and catch fire. The national security credentials speak for themselves. And he does have the advantage that none of the other candidates have really pulled away from the pack or demonstrated any serious credibility as national candidates. (Even Dean’s momentum — as important and innovative as it is at the level of technology-assisted grass-roots organizing — still strikes me as a sign of the weakness of the Democratic field.) I just have my doubts.

By ten oclock this

By ten o’clock this morning, by the time I left for the train station, I had already received a flood of email about last night’s post about the parallels between Bush-hating and Clinton-hating.

Of course, the response was shaped by the fact that the TPM audience leans Democratic — though probably not as much as most people think. And many of those responses could be summarized as follows: animus toward President Bush simply doesn’t compare to that against President Clinton — whether in the sheer degree of rage, the organized nature of it, or simply its mania. Emailers also noted two other distinctions: One was that animus toward President Bush isn’t nearly as tied to the president as a person, as it was in Clinton’s case. The other was that intense opposition to President Bush is, quite simply, far more justified.

Now, this is a conversation that has so many moving parts that it’s difficult to know quite where to start. Let me begin with this: by and large, I agree with those points stated above. But before getting into this more deeply, I think it’s important — both in terms of intellectual honesty and of crafting responses — for us to understand the structure and function of these two phenomena as clearly as we can.

Now, let’s take that last point first: Bush has done more to deserve it. True or not, this is obviously not the kind of judgment you’re ever going to get agreement on across the partisan or ideological aisle. What I think you can say is this: opposition to President Clinton was more personal, aggrieved and intense. And this is all the more striking considering his presidency was fairly centrist in its orientation and quite non-ideological. The same certainly can’t be said about the Bush White House, which has been quite conservative and quite ideological.

You could certainly find some hacks and liars who would challenge that essential characterization. But this analysis is as close to objective truth as the highly subjective terrain of political analysis can ever hope to be. In fact, the testimony of conservatives demonstrates the fact. Remember, of course, that one of the prime Republican charges against President Clinton was that he was ‘stealing our issues.’ A fair translation of this charge is that he repositioned the Democrats out of positions and policies and imagery that made it easy for Republicans to pillory and defeat them. One would even hear this line in a more frustrated form when partisan Republicans lashed out at Clinton for masking his true liberal desires with all manner of centrist-sounding policies.

Today, to demonstrate the conservative line President Bush has taken, one need only look at the quiescence of the Republican right, their basic satisfaction with him on virtually every issue. That is because he has faithfully satisfied their essential wants on almost every issue: tax cuts, conservative judicial appointments, business-friendly regulatory policies, no compromise on bright-line ‘morality’ issues like gay-marriage, stem-cell research and the like.

I think a much more maximal argument could be made on both of these points — both about Clinton and Bush. But for the moment I want to stick to arguments that are, I believe, undeniable. And so I think you can say that opposition, even intense opposition to President Bush is at least more explicable in conventional political terms than was the opposition, animus and rage directed toward President Clinton.

Another point worth making is that opposition to President Bush isn’t nearly as personalized as it was to President Clinton. And, to be frank, it’s nowhere near as frenzied. There is simply no equivalent to the talk of ‘body counts,’ conspiracy theories about the deaths of Vince Foster and Ron Brown, the numerous intensely politicized investigations leading to nothing, the Impeachment jihad, or the lot of it (much of it cynically trafficked in by supposedly respectable commentators and politicians). ‘Wingers will frequently try to jump on the Richard Hofstadter bandwagon. But this sort of zeal and political hysteria, as Hofstadter understood, has almost always been the province of the right in this country or if not the right, per se, than political groupings currently aligned with the right.

There are more than a few sorta liberal commentators who’ve tried to imply or predict that Democratic antipathy towards Bush has become or would become as intense as the Clinton variant, predicting in one case that it would become as violent as hard-right activism sometimes did in the 1990s. This was, is and I’m pretty confident always will be a stretch, a facile attempt to find a symmetry that isn’t there.

(The new faddish attention to Bush-hating among many DC types is an example of the town’s collective amnesia and, on a deeper level, failure to really come to grips with what happened in the middle and late 1990s.

Now, I want to say more about this. And I’ll try to pick up some of these threads in a subsequent posts.

But let me conclude on this point. It’s always a mistake to let the rights and wrongs of a situation obscure its dynamics. For some time now I’ve been working on a review of Sidney Blumenthal’s book, The Clinton Wars. It’s a long book. And I think a very good book. And, though I’ve read a number of reviews of it with different reactions, I think it’s actually a fairly straightforward book, straightforward, that is, in its essential point.

The conceit of official Washington is that the ‘Clinton wars’ were an inane time-wasting battle between a president with no morals and outlandish partisans with unhinged brains. It was, in this view, as though politics had simply stopped for half a dozen years or skidded off the rails into something that was utterly alien to politics, in the sense that politics has anything to do with issues and governance and so forth. Let’s call this view, for the lack of a better word, Quinn-Broderism. Blumenthal’s point is that the entire episode was deeply political, precisely about politics and concrete political issues, an effort on the part of one side to go outside the conventional political system and engage in a sort of political guerilla warfare. Defending Clinton, which many people have seen as the central aim of Blumenthal’s book is, I think, actually quite secondary to sustaining that larger point.

I’ll leave the rest of my take on Blumenthal’s book to my review. But I think that this new phenomenon grows very much out of that earlier period. And, whatever the rights and wrongs of it, I think the dynamics involved are quite important for Democrats to understand.

More on this soon.

There are more and

There are more and more articles being written about the intense animus toward president Bush among Democratic partisans. (I believe David Brooks got the meme rolling a month or two back.) I don’t think there’s much doubt that many are pushing this idea to discredit or marginalize the more intense opposition to the president. At the same time, there’s simply no doubt that there is some real truth to it.

Here’s what’s weird about this, though: no one seems to mention how deeply this parallels the situation which prevailed through most of the 1990s between core Republicans and President Clinton. It wasn’t simply that hardcore partisans then and now despised the president. But there was perhaps a third of the electorate that believed deeply in the president’s illegitimacy (then Clinton, now Bush) and were driven further into that belief by the fact that they could not manage to get the rest of the electorate (say 60% or so) to see the man in the way they did. The difficulty of unmasking him became a sign of his political sins.

This was certainly the case with Bill Clinton. And there are at least hints of that now with Bush. If anything the depth of the enmity against Clinton was far more in-grown and aggrieved. But the parallel is so strong, the dynamics so similar, that the fact that it’s gone so little mentioned really points to a blindspot among the folks who think up these ideas in the Washington press corps and commentariat.

Not that such a blind-spot would be so surprising, but still.

The reason we don’t hear more about it, I suspect, is that Clinton-hating wasn’t as jarring to most of these folks as enmity toward President Bush is, in that it wasn’t that separated from their own passions and opinions and leanings through the 1990s.

Both phenomena — Clinton-hating and now Bush-hating — are signs of a deeper volatility, instability and acrimony in our current politics.

This article doesnt seem

This article doesn’t seem to have been picked up much of anywhere. But it provides a very interesting view into the struggles taking place behind the scenes in the US government over Iraq.

In this case, one of the important hawks at the Pentagon, F. Michael Maloof, has apparently had his security clearances lifted because of his contacts or connections with a Lebanese-American businessman whom the US is investigating for running guns to Liberia. (Small world, ain’t it?) Maloof was a key player in the Pentagon’s effort to develop its own intelligence to support a al Qaida-Iraq link.

This sort of story about security clearances, secret intelligence, and administrative decisions which are themselves supposed to be classified are very hard to nail down. And the article inevitably leaves all sorts of questions unanswered.

Maloof’s defenders (the usual suspects among the hawks) say he’s being punished for dissenting from and finding evidence to challenge the State Department-CIA view of the Middle East. Whatever the case, this is clearly part of a deeper tug-of-war over the control of intelligence, most details of which remain outside the public view.

This article from the

This article from the Associated Press fleshes out the theory that Saddam had actually shuttered his WMD programs but intentionally kept the world guessing to produce the deterrent effect of having people believe he still had them.

He may even have put out disinformation to get people to believe the programs were still underway. Actually, it’s more than a theory. The story is based on the testimony of a close aide who says this is what happened.

According to the aide, by the mid-1990s “it was common knowledge among the leadership” that Iraq had destroyed its chemical stocks and discontinued development of biological and nuclear weapons.

Who knows if this true? But I will say that it jibes with a lot of chatter I’ve heard back from Iraq in the last couple months. And it explains some key questions — in particular, some supposed evidence of WMD from just before the war which it’s been clear for some time was disinformation from the Iraqis. Frankly, it accounts for more potential questions than almost any other theory I’ve heard.

Frankly, it shows that, if nothing else, Ken Pollack was right about one thing: Saddam could be a pretty big idiot. Remember, one of Pollack’s main arguments was that Saddam had a propensity to miscalculate. So I think you can say that Pollack had that one pretty much right — only perhaps with slightly different consequences than expected.

Apparently Saddam was the only person in the universe last Spring who didn’t know the fix was in on regime change.

And, I’ve gotta ask. Those uranium document forgeries? Could they have come from …? No, couldn’t be.

An official who has

“[A]n official who has read the [9/11] report tells The New Republic that the support described in the report goes well beyond [support for charities]: It involves connections between the hijacking plot and the very top levels of the Saudi royal family. ‘There’s a lot more in the 28 pages than money. Everyone’s chasing the charities,’ says this official. ‘They should be chasing direct links to high levels of the Saudi government. We’re not talking about rogue elements. We’re talking about a coordinated network that reaches right from the hijackers to multiple places in the Saudi government.'”

That’s the key passage in a new piece up at the TNR website by John B. Judis & Spencer Ackerman. Take a look.

Meanwhile, we’re working on a very interesting piece of news about the WMD search in Iraq.

Let’s hope TPM can nail it down before the bigs get to it.

Were happy to announce

We’re happy to announce our new numbers for July, as well as our continued growth. During the month of July 2002, TPM had 53,000 individual readers (“unique visitors”). This last month, July 2003, the number was 235,000.

A special thanks to all the TPM regulars who’ve helped spread the word.

An investigation into the

An investigation into the Valerie Plame affair does appear to be underway at the CIA.

Republicans constantly complain that

Republicans constantly complain that Democrats play the “race card” whenever blacks or other minorities are involved in some political question or nomination or the like. And certainly the charge is sometimes valid.

The striking contrast, however, is with Republicans who now do this in virtually every case, even in the most preposterous instances, without a hint of shame, and usually without garnering much of any criticism at all from the capital’s self-styled arbiters of political sportsmanship.

So far Senate Democrats have stalled three of the president’s appeals court nominees: Miguel A. Estrada , Priscilla R. Owen, and today William H. Pryor, Jr.

Of those three, Republicans accused Democrats of opposing two on the basis of religious and/or racial prejudice.

That’s a pretty high percentage, don’t you think?

Democrats supposedly opposed Estrada because of anti-Hispanic bias and now they’re purportedly opposing Pryor because of anti-Catholic bias.

According to a July 7th article in Roll Call, the group that spearheaded the claim that opposition to Pryor was based on anti-Catholic bigotry plans to do the same thing with the next controversial nominee who’s coming down the pike, Carolyn Kuhl. She happens to be Catholic too. So, what the hell. Run it up the flagpole and see what happens.

No one with a shred of intellectual honesty thinks that this is really the case in any of these cases. It’s understood by everyone that this is merely another political cudgel thrown into the mix to raise the heat on Democrats. In fact, it’s done precisely because Democrats have large constituencies of Hispanic and Catholic voters.

It’s entirely cynical, entirely obvious, everyone knows what the score is, and yet these hacks manage to get pretty much a complete pass.

One more house-keeping note.

One more house-keeping note. A few readers have written in fearing that I’m about to turn TPM into some whacked-out imitation of the MTV website or something else with long-downloading graphics or annoying pop-up ads or perhaps other similar terribleness.

Not to worry. The redesigned site should look very much like the current one and to outward appearances should look more or less unchanged. The changes that I do plan on having made are things like making it easier to print out individual posts, an RSS feed, the ability to adjust the size of the text. That’s for all of you archeo-TPMers out who’ve written in to tell me of the perils of reading your daily TPM with that not-what-it-used-to-be eyesight.

Other changes won’t be visible to readers but will make it easy and less time-consuming for me to update and maintain the site, which I’ll appreciate a great deal. Up until now I’ve designed and run TPM from the ground up, doing all the coding by hand, which is something like writing an article with a decently sharpened piece of charcoal.

I’ve always been a fan of web design minimalism. And that feature of the site won’t change.

Okay one more round.

Okay, one more round. If you’ve read the previous few posts you know that TPM reader Bryan M. wrote in to tell me that if I want the president to fire the “senior administration officials” who blew the cover of CIA agent Valerie Plame then I am obligated to first ascertain who these as-yet-anonymous officials are. I published the letter because this struck me as a ridiculous argument.

Now some readers thought I was saying it was a sound criticism — a misunderstanding I don’t understand.

But a few other hawk-eyed readers pointed out that the grammar I used in my column was actually imprecise and clumsy.

Jon G. wrote in to say …

When I originally read it, I thought it was some grammar joke. Your
statement:

“the president should find out who they are, reprimand them or, preferably,
fire them.”

could be read as the president should find out who they are OR reprimand
them OR fire them. I.e., finding them out is one option, but firing (or
reprimanding) them without finding out who they are is another.

I think what you meant is, “the president should find out who they are and
then reprimand them or, preferably, fire them.”

OK, it’s kind of a weak joke, but maybe that’s where Bryan M. was coming
from.

Ouch. I think he’s got me. And there’s nothing worse than being hoisted on your own mockery, believe me.

Here I was thinking Bryan M. was making a boneheaded criticism, when actually the jokes on me because he was knocking me for my dopey grammar. Now I’m feeling better though because Bryan M. has written back in to confirm that it actually was the boneheaded criticism he was making, not the grammatical point …

I see I have become a subject of your current post. Evidently, we have
both been too subtle for our respective reader(s). As you must know, my
comment was directed to the fact that it may not be very easy for Mr.
Bush to “pick up the phone” and “get to the bottom” of these anonymous
statements. It seems to me that before you criticize the President for
failing to fire these unknown employees you ought to be sure that he is
able to tell who he should fire. Do you know which “senior
Administration officials” he should fire for this transgression? Do you
know that the President has not already attempted to discover the
identities of these persons?

Since you decided publish my original comments aren’t you obligated to
provide your readers with my explanation as well?

As it happens, I don’t think this is true. In Washington reporterese, “senior administration official” can only refer to a fairly small group of people. So I don’t suspect it would be that hard, if he was determined to get to the bottom of it.

In any case, I know this is probably getting a touch tedious for regular readers. So, I promise, no more.

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