Editors’ Blog

This evening were really

This evening we’re really happy to bring you the first of two installments of our interview with Ken Pollack, author of The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq. Pollack is currently a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution and he served as a high-level government official in various capacities over the course of the 1990s, dealing with Iraq specifically and the Middle East generally.

A few points of preface. There are a number of very important issues that we didn’t get into in this interview — many of them the big questions, like whether or not this whole thing is a good idea or not. That question is touched upon implicitly and indirectly, of course. But these issues are covered at great length in Pollack’s book. You can get a copy here from Amazon (which I strongly recommend), read my review of it in The Washington Monthly, or read Pollack’s earlier article in Foreign Affairs, upon which much of the book is based.

The questions we get into in this interview are the very specific ones we face right now. For better or worse, now is the crunch time. Now’s when the really important decisions are going to be made. Those are the ones I was interested in discussing.

So without more chattering from me, here’s Part One of the interview (both sections together will later be added to the TPM Document Collection) …


TPM: In your book, you were pretty down on the idea of going down the inspectors route again. But having done it, how much is there an argument that even if this is a bad process, that we signed on to it? I saw your Times column but this is one of the questions I’m most curious about.

POLLACK: Yes, I think that’s right. I think it was a mistake to have gone this route. But now that we’ve gone down it we’ve got to find a way to deal with it. That said, that doesn’t necessarily mean we have to allow the inspections to play out forever. That would not be a logical conclusion. Just because you’ve signed up for it doesn’t mean you’ve signed up for it forever. In point of fact, I think that the Blix Report has given the administration the best out that we can [have]. When I wrote the OpEd, when Martin [Indyk] and I wrote it, we were expecting that Blix would be much softer on the Iraqis and a lot of what we were saying was about how the administration ought to handle the aftermath of what we expected to be a pretty bad Blix Report. In point of fact the Blix Report was kind of stunning. It was an incredible indictment of Saddam Hussein. He said flat out: they are not cooperating. They are giving us cooperation only on process. They are not giving us any cooperation on substance. And there is no indication that any of this is going to change, which is a tremendous advantage for the administration in terms of getting out of that trap.

TPM: So in a sense the Blix Report — with less fireworks — is sort of the equivalent of when the inspectors go up to some building and Iraqi guards won’t let them in, which is what people have been looking for, that moment when the Iraqis clearly make a breach and we can say, ‘Okay, you’re not cooperating. And that’s it.’

POLLACK: Absolutely. That’s exactly right. Blix handed the administration the smoking gun that they were unlikely to get in terms — as you just laid it out — of the Iraqis actually blocking an inspection or we find a Scud or something along those lines. In many ways it’s even better than that in the sense that I think even [if we found] a Scud the people who oppose war would have just latched on to that and said ‘See, the inspections are working.’ In point of fact we’re already seeing that. They did catch this Iraqi scientist with 3000 pages of documents on how to enrich uranium. That should have been a smoking gun. But instead the reaction from the rest of the world was, ‘Good, this is the inspections working.’

TPM: In the president’s speech last night, when he first made the turn toward talking about Iraq, he had what I thought was a very good point: that if you go back two or three years the UN is on record saying they had X and Y. The Iraqis now say they don’t have it. And they have no records of having destroyed it. So by definition, they’re not complying. Just on that basis.

Now I went back and looked at the transcript and the actual language – and I take it this is the UN language – is something like ‘materials requisite to make’ such and such amounts of anthrax, whatever. Can you clarify that particular point? If that means they have a lot of petri dishes that’s meaningless. If it means they have something basically as good as having that much anthrax it means a lot more. Can you clarify that point? Because I’ve had a lot of readers ask me that.

POLLACK: I’m not a technical expert so I don’t want to push too far. The way that I’ve had technical experts explain it to me is these are substances you would basically only use, would only import, if you wanted to make these different chemical substances. For example, the precursors to VX, they’re very specialized chemicals. They only have certain uses. The fact that they bought so much of these specific chemicals, and the fact we know they were producing VX, it’s pretty easy to put these two things together. And again these are prohibited chemicals. They’re not supposed to have them without the UN being able to monitor what they’re doing with these specific chemicals, because they’re dual use. So even if they’d gotten permission to import them, the UN would have to be watching what they’re doing.

The fact is they have imported these chemicals. We know that they’ve imported the chemicals. But they haven’t explained what’s happened to them. And so you’ve got people who’ve imported all the ingredients for VX. We know they have been making VX, that they were lying about not having VX, [that they] were [then] forced to admit that they did make VX. And they won’t account for it. This is exactly right. It goes back to another piece that Martin and I wrote in the Los Angeles Times, a while back, where we were saying this is exactly what the administration should do. They need to concentrate on these gaps, on the fact that the UN has previously identified these as key gaps and the Iraqis simply refused to explain the gaps. People are constantly saying … they use this silly courtroom analogy of innocent till proven guilty. And of course it is silly because this is not an analogous situation. This isn’t a courtroom. There’s no court of law here.

But you can actually turn that around and say ‘Look, if this were Columbo or Perry Mason they would have an incredibly damning case to make. Imagine Saddam Hussein on the witness stand. And you put it to him exactly the way the president did last night. ‘Saddam Hussein, you have admitted that you manufactured VX. We also have receipts that show that you purchased the following chemicals which have very limited uses, one of which is making VX. Where are those chemicals?’

The UN resolutions required that [he] account for those chemicals and for twelve years Saddam has just been looking us in the eye and saying ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about. I refuse to answer the question.’ Imagine what that would look like if this were Law and Order and if this were Jack McCoy asking that question again and again. And after each presentation of the evidence and question to Saddam, ‘What have you done with those materials.’ And the Iraqi response is ‘We’re not answering that question.’ That’s a pretty damning indictment.

TPM: Now here’s my other question – or one of my other questions [laughter]. One of the things that stood out to me about your book was that we have this catch-all phrase ‘weapons of mass destruction’, but in strategic terms and – just putting it more crudely — in body-count terms, there’s really a substantial difference between nuclear weapons on the one hand and most every chemical weapon and all but a very few – maybe smallpox would put it into a different category – biological weapons. Everything in the president’s speech yesterday where they had really compelling facts on their side was all about chemical and biological. The stuff about nuclear struck me as much more hypothetical and even in some cases hyperbolic – in the sense of time frames and stuff like that. Is what I’ve said basically accurate? In terms of what we know now? Not what intentions are, but the best we know about what they have now, what their capabilities are now?

POLLACK: In some ways. To some extent it’s that the gaps are biggest and the information that we do have about things the Iraqis are cheating on is greatest on the chemical and biological front. It’s easiest to make the arguments there. We do have a lot of evidence, or a lot of information, about both the missile and the nuclear programs. The problem is that it’s much harder to operationalize. It’s been much harder to use in terms of what the UN has found, what they’ve been able to do with the Iraqis. As a result, the administration seems to be – and this is probably the smart thing to do – they’re using the chemical and biological issues as surrogates. They are the places where the evidence is strongest, where we are most able to trip the Iraqis up, to expose their cheating.

The problem is that we haven’t got the goods to quite the same extent on the missile and nuclear programs. We’ve got enough to indicate that they are cheating as much on those programs as they are on the chemical and biological. It’s just that it’s harder to make that kind of a case, to really demonstrate that the Iraqis are cheating with the nuclear and the missile fronts.

TPM: Now my understanding is that back in the early 1990s the one area where we had some confidence that we had dismantled a lot of their operation was on the nuclear front. And from reading and talking to various people I have at least been given the impression that a nuclear program – whether it’s based on uranium or plutonium – is just intrinsically more difficult to conceal and therefore more readily inspectable. Is that your perception or is that not really the case?

POLLACK: Yes and no. I will say flat out [that] I was under the same impression: that we had a very good grip on their nuclear program and there really wasn’t much of a nuclear program well into the 1990s. I was constantly being assured that by the IAEA and by the intelligence community. And then all of a sudden we had a slew of defectors come out in the mid- and late 1990s and what they told us was that everything that we had thought was wrong. You know Khidhir Hamza is the only one who’s gone public. So he’s the only one I can really talk about. But in 1994 we really thought the IAEA had eradicated their nuclear program. And the IAEA really thought that they’d eradicated their nuclear program. And they were telling us they’d eradicated their nuclear program. And Khidhir Hamza comes out and says ‘No, the nuclear program in 1994 was bigger than it had ever been before.’

In point of fact the Iraqis had found all kinds of ways to hide what they were doing. It introduced inefficiencies in what they were doing. For example, they talk about these short track cascades. Normally the cascade is enormous. The way we do it it’s three football fields long. That’s the most efficient way to do it. The Iraqis figured out ways to do short cascades, which didn’t require as much energy, which weren’t as big and therefore were much more easily concealed. They were more inefficient. They didn’t produce the enriched uranium nearly as well. But nevertheless they were able to do it.

TPM: So when you look at this you have no great confidence that they may not be as well along on the nuclear front as we know from very solid evidence that they are on chemical and biological stuff?

POLLACK: I’d put it slightly differently, Josh. I don’t think they’re as far along. Obviously, on the chemical front they’ve got everything they need. There is not a single chemical weapon they would want to procure beyond what they’ve got. On the biological front there are still some things out there. We don’t think that they have smallpox. We don’t think that they have plague. There are a few other agents out there which they’d like to be getting. So I don’t think it’s quite the case that they’re as far along. It’s just that I believe that they’re working just as hard on the nuclear and ballistic missile side as they are on the chemical and biological side. It’s just been my experience that every time the IAEA says ‘We’ve got this thing under control. We know exactly what they have’ we find out later that they absolutely didn’t. Again, one of the things that has been most important to me is talking to the inspectors., the inspectors who were responsible for this program during the 1990s. Every one of which I’ve spoken to believes that the Iraqis somewhere have a clandestine centrifuge program. And that’s very meaningful to me because the experts, the guys who are in there doing it themselves, they also believe that the Iraqis are still pursuing this. It’s just that we can’t find what they’ve got. On the chemical and biological side it’s not that we can find what they’ve got. It’s just that we’ve got some evidence on the discrepancies. We do have this document that the inspectors briefly held in their hands which showed that the Iraqis had expended far fewer chemical munitions during the Iran-Iraq war than they had claimed to us, a disparity of over 6500 weapons. And so you can look at that and say, where are those 6500 weapons? And that’s exactly what Hans Blix did on Monday.


Stay tuned for Part Two of TPM’s interview with Ken Pollack …

Well this is exciting.

Well, this is exciting. I’ve just signed on to write a weekly column for the Capitol Hill newspaper The Hill. And here’s the inaugural column.

The subject of this column is the Republican party’s recent inability to decide whether the North or the South should have won the Civil War, and other fun matters.
“The problem,” I write toward the end of the piece, “is that too many Republican officeholders still believe it’s important to keep the GOP a congenial home for all manner of unreconstructed yahoos and even downright racists.”

The column will be running every Wednesday. And there’s even a clean-shaven photo of the proprietor of this website!

A few comments on

A few comments on the speech. Up until the Iraq stuff, it seemed well-delivered but lackluster. It was actually weaker than I’d expected. Not bad, just uninspired.

The Iraq stuff was different. And in the early portions, I thought it was quite good. (The line contrasting ‘process’ and ‘result’ was powerful, even if I thought the point he was trying to make was a partly flawed one.) The president made an excellent point: the UN is on record cataloguing great quantities of chemical and biological weapons in Iraq’s possession. What happened to it all? The Iraqis say they don’t have it. And they’ve provided no evidence that they destroyed it. Where is it?

The point here, the point of US policy, the point of the UN resolutions, is that Iraq has to disarm. That lack of an accounting means, pretty much by definition, that Iraq’s not disarming. The onus is on them.

Having said that, the hard evidence the president was able to set forth was focused on pretty garden variety chemical and biological weapons. Scary stuff, to be sure. But nothing much about nuclear weapons.

And after that good beginning, to my mind, he slid into questionable assertions and hyperbole. The failure to disarm is probably a casus belli. But what we’re looking for isn’t a pretext for war, but a rationale for going to war now. On that count I don’t think things look much different than they did few hours ago.

It seems only Republican

It seems only Republican high-rollers and executives from outfits like AT&T and Eli Lilly & Co get the sneak preview on tonight’s State of the Union address. And thus TPM’s outta the loop.

But it wasn’t always that way! Last year at this time TPM got hold of this secret internal State of the Union memo from Karl Rove. And it still makes for revealing reading.

I must confess that

I must confess that the current state of affairs on Iraq fills me with equivocation and no small bit of uncertainty. This is one reason I’m eager to hear what Ken Pollack has to say in the interview TPM will be running with him later this week. (As you know, Pollack is the author of The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq, which TPM reviewed quite favorably here in The Washington Monthly.)

Here, I think, is what we know about the current situation.

1. Iraq isn’t complying with the relevant UN disarmament resolutions. It’s doing the minimum necessary to avoid an open breach with the UN. There’s a big difference.

2. The conversation we’re having is about “weapons of mass destruction.” But this term of art — WMD — obscures the vastly important distinction between chemical and biological weapons on the one hand and nuclear weapons on the other. As I said in my review of Pollack’s book “One theme running through this book is Pollack’s belief–no doubt accurate–that nuclear weapons are the real issue, with chemicals and bioweapons running several laps behind. Frightening as they are, it is simply very difficult to kill large numbers of people with chemical or biological weapons.”

Nuclear weapons capacity is intrinsically more difficult to conceal than chemical and biological weapons capacity. Therefore inspections are a more credible response. And from what we knew going in and even more from what we know from the IAEA inspections, it seems very unlikely that Saddam currently has a serious nuclear weapons programs in place now. I don’t say that as a matter of certainty because I don’t have all the evidence at hand. But from everything I know about the subject it’s what I think is true. Does Saddam want nukes? Absolutely. If left to his own devices would he eventually get them? More than likely. But to the extent that we’re talking about today, and the certainty that Saddam hasn’t given up his WMD programs, I think we’re really talking about chem and bio. That doesn’t exonerate Saddam but it speaks to the question of timing.

3. Waiting indefinitely isn’t necessarily as easy as it sounds. One of the arguments I found most convincing in Pollack’s book was that Saddam’s ability to play the inspections game is inherently more elastic than ours. His freedom of action is far greater and far more sustainable.

Simply put, he’s there. We’re not. Or, at least, not in strength. Here’s the argument: We’ve now mobilized a big force to the region. And as long as we’re there with our finger at the trigger, he’s going to lie very, very low — as he’s doing now. But we can’t keep those troops there indefinitely. For money and preparedness reasons we’ll eventually have to draw down. Then Saddam can start gaming the system again because our ability to retaliate will be greatly diminished. Then we build up again and Saddam draws back again. That could go on forever. Unfortunately, it’s easy for Saddam to go back and forth, but very hard for us. We can’t just send a quarter million drops back and forth to the Gulf a couple times a year. It’s easy for him but it’ll eventually bleed us dry.

Eventually, we’d just have to say, ‘Okay, this is lame. We’re going to have to settle this once and for all.’ Folks like Pollack, certainly the hawks in the administration, and possibly now Colin Powell too, think we’re already at that point. And I’m not at all certain they’re wrong.

4. It’s hard to ignore the fact that Norman Schwarzkopf isn’t convinced we should go to war right now. And believe me, he speaks for lots of career officers at the Pentagon whose job it rightly is — since they’re still in uniform — to give candid advice in private but follow the orders of their civilian superiors.

5. We signed on to inspections. Like it or not, we did. It’s very hard for us to say the process has run its course. Hard to say primarily since it’s not true. That just raises a problem of consistency for the US. The point of going this route is to push the process hard enough that — in concert with good data from US intelligence agencies — the inspectors either find something or we get to some point where the Iraqis stand in the doorway of some factory or building and don’t let them do their work. Then the process has broken down. There are reasons I’ve noted above that weigh heavily against waiting. But for the moment I think it leaves us with a problem of logic if not of policy. If we’ve got evidence from our intelligence sources that will advance the ball and prove our contentions — and I’m sure we do — we need to go as far as we can to make it public.

This list isn’t meant to cover all the bases or arrive at any conclusions. It’s just meant to address some basic points. I think we’re still back to the same basic point. If the issue is whether Saddam is an immediate threat, we’ve got time and there’s no need to act now. Forget Ken Adelman’s hokum about a mushroom cloud over an American city. But if we’ve made the decision that Saddam is a longterm threat to the region and that we have to remove him, maybe it’s no time like the present.

I’ll stand on what I wrote in this article a few months back.

In the January 25th

In the January 25th issue of The Economist, in article on Republican ‘outreach’ to minorities, the author notes that “the Democrats will fight like hell to hold on to minority voters, who are the only people saving the party from oblivion.”

One hears this line a lot, phrased in a variety of ways. And it is unquestionably true, so far as it goes. But what precisely does this mean? I’d figure that taking away 20% or 30% of a party’s voters would pretty much always knock it on its heels. What’s the subtext of this remark?

I don’t think that I’ve ever heard anyone say that white men from the South and Mountain states are the only thing keeping the GOP from slipping to third party status. Have you heard that? I doubt it.

Even if it’s not meant this way, I think the obvious subtext is that the Democratic party can’t come close to winning elections in the white electorate and has to make up the margin with minority votes. I don’t want to press the point too far. But I can’t help feeling like the idea here is that minority votes are in some sense, well, how else to put it?, second-class votes. It’s as though a party’s political viability and health are best judged by how it fares in the white electorate.

Were going to be

We’re going to be getting back to the Confederacy, treason and other related matters. But first we wanted to share with you an email we received this afternoon from Jim B.

Mr. Marshall,

Perhaps the denizens of Washington, D.C. will take no offense at your diatribe regarding the South and the Sons of Confederate Veterans in the subject article(s), but those of us who are Southerners, with ancestors who served the Confederacy certainly will. Judging from your picture and the derived age of the person photographed, you probably never received any instruction in our countrys history other than the revisionist garbage now taught in our wonderful, diverse education systems. Slavery was certainly an issue that led to the War of Northern Aggression (who invaded who?), but it was not until lincolns second run for the presidency that it took the fore-front. I’m betting you’ve never read any of lincolns personal correspondence. He was a racist of the worst sort. So, please don’t tar us with the racist brush. After all, it was you yankees that imposed Reconstruction, put thousands of blacks in judgeships, state houses, and positions of authority. Positions they largely were totally unsuited for. In the South, blacks used to be part of the family. Now we are enemies; enemies because you yankees imposed your views and values to the benefit of no one but yourselves. It was not and is not illegal to secede. In fact, the Constitution specifically mentions that we as citizens can turn out the government when it becomes oppressive. Mr lincoln decided the Souths secession was illegal. That’s the reason for the war. But, you will never read or research or examine facts and conditions that led to that unfortunate war. You’ve got your pious, one-sided view and that’s that. You know, you would have served well in the Catholic Church during the Inquisition.

So, lay off. You yankees have a history of racism and disrespect for blacks which far exceed that in the South. If anything, your legacy is much more shameful because your racism was calculated and cloaked in ‘the law of the land’.

Finally, the Sons of Confederate Veterans is not racist. We do demand that you not label us or restrict the public display of our ancestors flags and symbols. And that’s a fair demand. Oh, by the way, what the heck is a neo-confederate?

Jim [** last name suppressed by the editor **]

Alas, the unfinished work of Reconstruction …

Please pardon the paucity

Please pardon the paucity of posts of late. The 17th century is monopolizing much of TPM’s attention this week. We should be back to the normal frequency after the weekend. For the moment, don’t miss this article on Colin Powell and Iraq policy in today’s Post. Interesting reading. Also, don’t miss the Post’s article on what — to TPM’s lights — is an especially nasty angle the administration is adopting on prescription drug benefits. Want a prescription drug benefit? No problem. Just give up your Medicare coverage in exchange for entering an HMO! Finally, with Iraq again moving to center stage, next week will be bringing you an interview with Kenneth Pollack, author of The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq.

Well it just goes

Well, it just goes to show you can’t trust a fly-by-night website to get its facts right on an important news story! You may have heard of the operation: Time.com.

A few days ago TPM picked up a Time.com story about President Bush’s resumption of the tradition of sending a wreath to a commemoration of the Confederate war dead — an apparent pay-off to presidential friend and neo-confederate Richard T. Hines. Now there’s a story in Washington Times saying the tradition never stopped under either the first President Bush or President Clinton. Now it was a little unclear to me from the Times story whether Time.com and the Times were actually talking about the same event. Vague as it was, the Times seemed to be talking about something general while Time.com was talking about a specific commemoration tied to Jefferson Davis. Given that, I was inclined to trust Michael Weisskopf and Karen Tumulty at Time.com. But when I went back to read the Time.com story I noticed it’s been yanked off their site, with no apparent explanation, though the press release announcing the story is still up.

What gives?

Late Update: Time.com has now retracted the story. That’s web journalism for ya! Sheesh …

Busily working away as

Busily working away as I was yesterday writing about seventeenth century New Englanders, land distribution, Indians and warfare, I already had the post about Don Rumsfeld forming in the back of my mind. About two weeks ago, in response to a question about reinstituting the draft, Rumsfeld said draftees had added “no value, no advantage really, to the United States armed services over any sustained period of time.”

It’s a standard part of the political game. You say something stupid. Your political foes call you on it and seek political advantage by demanding an apology. But sometimes what you’ve said is really so stupid and so offensive that you’ve really gotta apologize. At this point in the post I was going to say, Don Rumsfeld’s gotta apologize.

I see in tomorrow morning’s Post that he has.

Hundreds of thousands of military draftees served over the years with great distinction and valor — many being wounded and still others killed. The last thing I would want to do would be to disparage the service of those draftees.

There’s a bit of wiggle toward the end of the letter.

I always have had the highest respect for [draftees’] service and I offer my full apology to any veteran who misinterpreted my remarks when I said them … [italics added]

Let’s at least admit one thing. If a Democratic Sec Def had said such a thing there’s a very good chance it would have cost him his job. (The outrage expressed yesterday in a letter from three congressional Democrats — Evans, Daschle, and Kerry — was undoubtedly sincere.) It was always kind of clear what Rumsfeld meant: draftees get relatively little training and are then cycled out of a conscript army relatively quickly. (There’s an argument — and not at all an unreasonable one — that on these grounds the all-volunteer army is more efficient — other issues of equity, and civic values notwithstanding. See a contrary argument here.) But Rumsfeld’s words were clearly more than a simple slip of the tongue.

At a minimum they demonstrated a serious lack of sensitivity and respect for not only the sacrifice but the heroism and valor of hundreds of thousand of American draftees who’ve died in the service of the nation. (Remember World War II? Conscript armies didn’t do half bad in that little skirmish, did they?) That’s of course not to mention even more who’ve been wounded and the lucky ones who managed to get through their years of service in one piece. (The official percentage of draftees in WWII, Korea and Vietnam actually understates the effect of conscription since many guys enlisted knowing they’d soon get drafted anyway.) I think the best you can say is that this was a case in which Rumsfeld’s sometimes entertaining and sometimes admirable shoot-from-the-hip, no-nonsense style did him, the country, and millions of vets a serious disservice. It’s almost unimaginable, for instance, that Colin Powell would have ever made a similar statement.

At least he apologized.

One thing you can say for Rumsfeld is that unlike so many other members of the hawkish wing of this administration, Rumsfeld is himself a veteran. A real one. He served as a Navy Aviator in the mid-1950s and then in the Navy Reserves for a couple decades after that.

Like I said, at least he apologized. To me, I’d say it’s the end of the story. But then, I’ve never served a day in uniform, voluntary or otherwise. So I’m going to leave it to others to judge.

For a couple weeks

For a couple weeks now, TPM has been pressing the question: what did the Bush administration know about the North Korean uranium enrichment program and when did they know it? Obviously, TPM’s reporting resources are nothing compared to those of Seymour Hersh and The New Yorker. Now he’s got the goods. And it’s not pretty.

Last week we discussed

Last week we discussed the most recent publicly-aired GOP debate about whether the Northern victory in the civil war was, on balance, a good thing or a bad thing. A member of the Board of Directors of the California GOP, Randy Ridgel, wrote an open letter to fellow Board member Bill Back, taking him to task for apologizing for republishing an article which was a touch soft on slavery. (Back is a candidate to lead the California GOP). Ridgel saw no reason for the apology since …

The main thrusts of the article was that our rights under the 10th Amendment began to erode chiefly as a result of the South losing the Civil War (true) and that blacks suffered far more from reconstruction than they did from the war. Of course they did; they suffered the destitution and starvation imposed by draconian Northern Reconstruction laws even worse than whites, and most of the poor devils had no experience fending for themselves, so they fared worse than before the war and during the war.

Well, now we bring you the Ridgel Letter in its entirety — just added to the TPM Document Collection.

Yesterday youll remember we

Yesterday, you’ll remember, we discussed Richard T. Hines, a political ally of President Bush, who provided key support in mauling John McCain in South Carolina in 2000. According to Time.com, he is also the likely force behind the President’s decision to resume the practice of sending a wreath to honor the memory of Jefferson Davis on Memorial Day.

Now if you think back to your high school or college American history classes, you may remember the caning of Charles Sumner, one of most infamous moments in the lead-up to the Civil War. Sumner was Senator from Massachusetts and an ardent anti-slavery ‘Whig’ — a soon to be defunct political party which was in some ways the predecessor of the Republican party.

In any case, in the Spring of 1856, Sumner delivered a long and explosive speech entitled ‘Crime Against Kansas’ on whether Kansas should be admitted into the union as a free or slave state. Three days later a South Carolina congressman, Preston Brooks, came into the Senate chamber while Sumner was at his desk and proceeded to beat him over the head with a gold-topped cane. For the key few moments it took Brooks to inflict the first blows Sumner was partially trapped under the desk where he was at work franking copies of his speech — staffs weren’t quite so large as they are these days. After that Brooks proceeded to beat the now thoroughly bloodied Sumner into unconsciousness. It took Sumner years to recuperate — the Bay State left his seat unoccupied during that time — and he was partly disabled by the incident for the rest of his life. In most of the country the incident became a symbol of the barbarity of the ‘slave power’ and its propensity to resort to violence in defense of the ‘peculiar institution.’ Among Southern ‘fire-eaters‘, Brooks was embraced as a hero.

Here — just added to the TPM Document Collection — is President Bush’s political ally Richard T. Hines’ celebration of the attack (“The Caning of Charles Sumner: Blows Struck for the South“) in — where else? — the Southern Partisan magazine.

“Mr. Hines, a member of the Reagan administration, tells us how Southerners handle Yankees who don’t treat us with respect,” says the intro …

Colin Powell is a

Colin Powell is a big enough hitter that he gets to go public with a restrained (though welcome and honorable) dissent from the White House’s position on the Michigan affirmative action case. But it seems not everyone gets a chance to speak their mind. Remember, Colin Powell isn’t the only high-profile Republican who supports affirmative action. It took him a long time to go public about his views. But Trent Lott (R-MS) is also a big-time supporter of affirmative action.

Unfortunately, Lott now appears to be in such a weakened state — because of his recent resignation as Majority Leader-designate — that the White House and/or Bill Frist won’t let him speak his mind on this critical issue.

What happened to the big tent? Rove and Frist would never have been able to muzzle Lott if he were still Majority Leader. Let Trent speak!

P.S. Special thanks to TPM reader EAP.

Now thats a catch

Now that’s a catch!

From the presidency of Woodrow Wilson — who, despite being admirable in other capacities, was an ardent segregationist — until 1990, US presidents sent a wreath to the Confederate Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day to honor Jefferson Davis. The first President Bush stopped the practice in 1990. But, according to Time.com, this President Bush restarted that tradition when he became president in 2001.

Why this renewed affection for a failed leader of a failed rebellion against the government of the United States?

The Time.com story points to a logical suspect: Richard T. Hines.

Who’s Richard T. Hines? Hines is a big-time DC lobbyist whose website says he “has an active voice in the current Bush Administration.” But don’t take his word for it. He played a key role in helping President Bush rescue his presidential campaign by whacking John McCain in the South Carolina primary in 2000. More to the point, Hines is a leading neo-Confederate and the former Managing Editor of the Southern Partisan, the crypto-racist magazine which is the venue of choice for Republican politicians looking to cater to the neo-confederate yahoo vote.

Hines is also a leader of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, one of the groups involved in organizing the annual event to which the White House sent the wreath. According to this article by one-time TPM advisor Sean Wilentz …

Hines first gained national media attention in 1996 when, in a public protest over the unveiling of a monument to the black tennis great Arthur Ashe in Richmond, Va., he unfurled the battle flag of his great-grandfather’s regiment and denounced the statue as “a sharp stick in the eye of those who honor the Confederate heritage.”

Now at this point I was going to continue on with the post and explain how this is the White House — probably Karl Rove, actually — talking out of both sides of its mouth. First they denounce Trent Lott for his nostalgia for the segregationist past. Here they’re pandering to these neo-Confederate yahoos. But you know how that post would unfold, right? So let’s just pretend I wrapped the post up like that and get on to the fun stuff. Deal? Great. Here goes …

If you go to the Sons of Confederate Veterans website you’ll find these instructions for how to report a ‘Heritage Violation.’ What’s a ‘Heritage Violation’? “Any attack upon our Confederate Heritage, or the flags, monuments, and symbols which represent it, can be termed a Heritage Violation,” says the SCV website.

“Any disrespect shown to our Confederate Heritage should be considered as serious,” continues the SCV. But it’s important not to let the emotion of the moment get the better of you!

SCV members are reminded, however, to remain calm and to respond in a manner befitting the dignity of the heritage we seek to preserve. Those persons or groups who cause a heritage violation often do so in a manner deliberately intended to provoke us into intemperate response. Do not play into their hands by over-reacting. We should always handle ourselves as the responsible Southern gentlemen that we are.

One of the best ways to stifle your Southern fury, it seems, is to follow the SCV’s ridiculous and arcane procedures for reporting a ‘heritage violation’ — procedures which may well have been secretly devised by some right-minded group like the NAACP in order to get heritage-sensitive, neo-Confederate whack-jobs running around in circles and thus not acting out in some more unfortunate fashion …

Whom do you report it to? Your first contact should be your Camp Commander or Heritage Officer. They should in turn report the heritage violation to the Heritage Chairman in your Brigade. The Brigade Heritage Chairman should then contact his Brigade Commander and the Division Heritage Chairman. Heritage violation responses are best handled at the local level, in cooperation with Brigade and Division level officers. A plan of action to deal with the heritage violation should be developed by these Brigade and Division officers, acting in concert with the local camp and member (or other person) that initially reported the violation.

The Division Heritage Chairman should report the violation to the Division Commander, and the SCV’s Chief of Heritage Defense. The Chief of Heritage Defense can call upon the national organization to respond to the violation, if such action is required. The Chief of Heritage Defense is assisted by a members of a Heritage Defense Committee, appointed by the Commander-in-Chief.

For the Chief of Heritage Defense to have a heritage situation officially deemed as a violation by the Sons of Confederate Veterans, he must have consent from the Commander-in-Chief and such other members of the General Executive Council as the Commander-in-Chief may designate, as well as a consensus of the Heritage Defense Committee.

Did Trent Lott call in a ‘heritage violation’ on W? Is that why we haven’t heard from him in a while? He’s trying to master the reporting requirements?

Heres a key passage

Here’s a key passage from a Sunday Times article on US and Russian intelligence gathering in North Korea.

The latest crisis over the North Korean nuclear program erupted last year, when United States intelligence obtained strong evidence that North Korea had secretly developed a uranium enrichment program, which would represent a second track toward the development and production of nuclear weapons. American officials said there was fragmentary evidence of a uranium enrichment effort as far back as the late 1990’s, but much more compelling evidence of such a program came last year, officials said.

This squares with my own reporting, as far it goes. But it begs the question: How much was known about the program? And when?

Last week I spoke to a Clinton administration official who told me that in 1999 and 2000 the US didn’t know the North Koreans had a uranium-enrichment program, per se. But they did have evidence that they were purchasing centrifuge equipment and other hardware that you would use to put such a program together. That would square with this subsequent, unclassified CIA report from 2001 which said North Korea had “been seeking centrifuge-related materials in large quantities to support a uranium enrichment program. It also obtained equipment suitable for use in uranium feed and withdrawal systems.”

The relevant point is this: we didn’t know they had a program, as such. But we knew they were buying all the stuff you’d use to create such a program. Which is to say, we pretty much knew they had a program.

(I was also told that the North Koreans made “an all-out push” to actually get the program started about two years ago, though it wasn’t clear, from what my source told me, whether this acceleration was tied to the turnover in the US administration or for other reasons.)

In any case, what seems very clear is that the US knew of the existence of North Korea’s uranium enrichment program long before October 2002. As The Nelson Report disclosed a couple weeks ago, former members of the Clinton administration say they briefed the incoming administration on this in January 2001. Clearly, over time, more and more information became available. A Post article from last week says administration officials “received conclusive evidence” about the program in July 2002. But given how hardcore the administration is on such issues, presumably they wouldn’t need to get Kim Jong Il’s embossed Uranium-Enrichment Open House invitation in the mail before kicking things into gear.

And thus the question: If it’s been known about for so long, why did it take two years to bring it up with the North Koreans?

I suspect a significant part of the answer is that for a year and a half the White House couldn’t decide whether to engage or confront North Korea. And without resolving that basic question, nothing much could be done at all.

We need to know what the administration knew and when they knew it.

William Perry and Ashton

William Perry and Ashton Carter have an OpEd in the Times today which provides a good overview of Clinton administration policy toward North Korea. To my lights, Perry and Carter leave too implicit the ridiculousness and amatuerism of much of the Bush administration’s subsequent policy. But they’re technocrats and defense intellectuals, not polemicists. So what can you can do?

In any case, their piece does a good job fleshing out many of the complexities we face in Northeast Asia. It’s particularly good at making clear that there is a history to our dealings with the North Koreans between 1994 and 2002 — a point often missed in the cookie-cutter renderings of the situation one sees argued on the chat shows and in the press, which have a deal cut in 1994 and a sudden discovery of North Korean shenanigans in 2002.

See, in particular, their discussion of the 1998 review.

If nothing else I

If nothing else, I give Charles Krauthammer credit for candor. He’s willing to admit that in a matter of mere weeks the administration has jettisoned all its bellicose puffery toward North Korea and embraced a policy which is at least as accomodationist as that pursued by the previous administration. That, you’ll remember would be the feckless, appeasing, undisciplined Clinton administration that the new crew pillories and slanders at every opportunity.

Krauthammer of course sees this as terrible. I and others see it merely as a confirmation that playing 1930s-dress-up is much easier in the conference room at AEI than it is on the actual international stage. One only wishes the Cheney-ites in the administration had realized this before they started shooting their mouths off.

As I say, most conservative commentators refuse to recognize what is obvious to everyone with their eyes open — that the Bush administration is now looking for a deal pretty much just like the one the Clintonites were working on. Failing that, some administration supporters insist that this whole embarrassing spectacle is actually part of some grand master-plan. (This would be one of those classic diplomatic masterstrokes in which you put forth a maximalist position, cave shamelessly, have a lifeline thrown to you by second- and third-tier powers, and then emerge in a miraculously strengthened position.)

Meanwhile, in-coming South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun today says that “some high-level U.S. officials last month discussed the possibility of attacking North Korea because of its nuclear activities, but later decided to seek a peaceful solution.” (That’s the AP’s paraphrase.) If nothing else, he’s advertising the inconstancy and uncertainty of US policy.

P.S. I’m now reading Don Oberdorfer’s excellent and newly-revised The Two Koreas: A Contemporary History. If you want a solid primer on what we’re dealing with on the Korean Peninsula, by all means order a copy.

Republicans like taking problems

Republicans like taking problems out of Washington, DC and devolving them to the states. And damned if they don’t practice what they preach!

Like the problem of GOP hokum-peddlers and their comically and offensively retrograde views on race, for instance.

Now that Trent Lott’s out of the way, or at least out of the GOP Senate leadership, this ‘problem’ seems to be devolving to the several states in a big way. On Wednesday night we spotlighted the estimable Doug White, Republican President of the Ohio Senate, who has a tendency to use the word ‘jew’ as a verb and, apparently, rubs the heads of black people for good luck.

Now we’re on to Randy Ridgel, a member of the Board of Directors of the California GOP, who just fired off a letter to GOP activists about Shannon Reeves, a black member of the Board, who recently said the GOP has treated blacks like “window dressing.” (Reeves’ comments were in response to the last California race imbroglio in which a candidate vying to head the state party, Bill Back, had to apologize for republishing an article which was a touch soft on slavery.) Ridgel, whom the Times calls “a retired white rancher from rural Lake County,” might also be a future candidate for the ‘cracker defense.’ But, alas, we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

Ridgel is mad as hell and he’s not going to take it anymore. According to today’s LA Times Ridgel’s letter read, in part …

“I, for one, am getting bored with that kind of garbage. Let me offer this suggestion to Mr. Reeves: ‘Get over it, bucko. You don’t know squat about hardship.’ … I personally don’t give a damn about your color … so stop parading it around. We need human beings of all human colors in our party to pull their weight, so get in without the whining or get out.”

Never one to go on the defensive, Ridgel also endorsed the earlier pro-confederate, sorta-kinda pro-slavery article. “Most of the poor devils [i.e., newly-emancipated slaves] had no experience fending for themselves, so they fared worse than before the war and during the war,” Ridgel opined in his letter. Ridgel says he might even republish the original article. “You sure as hell won’t see me apologize to these turkeys,” he insisted.

No doubt, we’ll soon be hearing more from the D.W. Griffith wing of the Republican party.

This mornings Times Op-Ed

This morning’s Times Op-Ed page has one of those examples of just how important a voice Paul Krugman’s is. Don’t miss it. The Bush administration promised their fiscal policy wouldn’t lead to deficits. When it did they made excuses and said it wouldn’t be for long. Now that the deficits are huge and there as far as the eye can see, they say deficits never really mattered in the first place. Bad policy, bad character, and eventually — one has to assume and hope — bad politics.

The Cracker Defense Why

The Cracker Defense! Why didn’t Trent Lott think of that?

Ohio Senate President Doug White recently got into trouble for using the phrase “Jew them down” at a fundraising event just before last November’s election. When called on the remark, White said he wasn’t aware the phrase was considered offensive and pled his rural upbringing as a defense. “Hillbillies use certain ways, briar-hoppers use certain ways. I’m a hillbilly.” The phrase, White said, only meant “to be a sound bargainer, to be an effective bargainer – I wish I were a better bargainer.”

White later saw the error of his ways and apologized. “I said, ‘Look guys, I’m as sorry as I can be. Call me ignorant, but don’t call me anti-Semitic. That’s just not me.’ I’m rural.”

But White’s other rural ways may now be catching up with him too. It seems the aptly-named Mr. White has the rather archaic habit of rubbing the heads of nearby African-Americans in order to put himself on the right side of the fates. Dayton Mayor, and former state senator, Rhine McLin told the Cleveland Plain Dealer that White had now and again rubbed her head or shoulder for good luck when she served in the senate. “McLin, who is black, said the conduct dates back to a superstition that rubbing a black person brings good fortune,” says the article in today’s edition. “Although offended by the conduct, McLin said she never complained to White or asked him to stop. Instead, she said she tried to stay out of his way.”

White is now disputing the head-rubbing charge. And his fellow senate Republicans are rallying to his defense.

Special thanks to TPM reader JDW for bringing this to TPM’s attention.

Just how much evidence

Just how much evidence do we need? How much evidence that pretty much every miscue and goof that comes out of the Bush White House will sooner or later be found to have Dick Cheney’s fingerprints all over it? The White House is now taking hits on two fronts — hits which, by most accounts, are the driving factors behind the president’s slipping job approval numbers. One of those hits is over the North Korea crisis, the other is tied to the increasingly negative reaction to president’s stimulus package.

As we’ve noted earlier, the policy of confrontation on the Korean Peninsula, which the administration is now running away from and which has gotten the US into such a jam, was most forcefully backed by Cheney.

There is also a growing consensus that the president’s new stimulus/tax cut plan is a loser both politically and in policy terms. Democratic opposition is to be expected, certainly, though perhaps not unanimous opposition. But the president’s real problem is deteriorating support among Senate Republicans. Public support is tepid at best. Out of the gate with a quick gallop, the plan has been getting iffy to bad press ever since. (David Broder: “It Reeks of Politics,” Jan. 12, 03 … ) True, the ‘dividend tax cut’ doesn’t have quite the sound of the ‘yacht basin wet slip rental fee tax credit’ but it still just doesn’t seem to sell all that well.

Not surprisingly, the prime mover, as Major Garrett reports in the current issue of the Weekly Standard, was none other than Dick Cheney.

In spite of all the evidence most beltway chatterers still insist on seeing Cheney as the White House’s shrewdest political hand. But they don’t know Dick. Someday someone is going to put together an article cataloging just how many screw-ups Dick Cheney has been responsible for in the last two years. Or wait a minute …

Some of the most

Some of the most sensible things said so far about the Korea situation and 1994 agreement are to be found in former Assistant Secretary of State Jamie Rubin’s comments this morning on CNN (transcript to come later) and Colin Powell’s comments to the Wall Street Journal in this morning’s paper. The 1994 agreement was a stopgap, an agreement meant to address the immediate threat posed by North Korea’s plutonium production facilities. It accomplished that and was followed by subsequent negotiations on ballistic missiles, nuclear weapons and other issues. (Conservatives, hawks, and yahoos who criticize the 1994 agreement or call it appeasement do so by comparing it to their imagined resolution of the 1994 crisis — one brought about by force and/or their indomitable will and uncompromising moral clarity. The failure of that approach today is but one indication of its almost inevitable result back then.) The bright idea of the hawks, led by Dick Cheney, was to abandon that process or any effort to improve on the 1994 accords (Powell’s approach) in favor of isolating the North Koreans into either submission or implosion (what Fareed Zakaria recently called “a policy of cheap rhetoric and cheap shots.”) Powell and company are now trying to walk that policy back and replace it with one brought about by a mix of threats and inducements, which will build on and improve the 1994 Agreed Framework. If we’re lucky we’ll get the standard story: mess created by the Cheney and company, cleaned up by Powell, with the upshot of the detour being a lot of (hopefully remediable) collateral damage to our alliances and standing in the world.

Okay I admit it.

Okay, I admit it. Even I’m a bit North Korea-ed out at this point. But let’s run down a few quick points.

War may not be likely on the Korean Peninsula and not even a certainty in Iraq, but the White House’s war against the English language is already into its second or third major engagement. Yesterday at the White House just about every reporter in the press corps, it seems, took a stab at getting Fleischer to explain why Jim Kelly’s suggestion that energy aid might come in response to North Korean nuclear cooperation wasn’t what it sounded like, i.e., a possible quid pro quo. It’s an entertaining performance. Even some of the more adminstration-helpful members of the press couldn’t help calling Fleischer out on this ridiculousness.

Meanwhile, we have another example of the administration’s incompetence and disorganization which played a major role in getting us to this point in the first place. Yesterday, as we just noted, Jim Kelly laid out the possibility of a new aid-for-nuclear-cooperation agreement with the North. In this morning’s Washington Post, however, an unnamed administration official from the hawk camp says “Kelly went off the reservation” and that “he should not have planted that seed.”

Here’s the point: if your chosen Korea point man (Kelly) goes to the region and makes a major announcement and is then undercut or repudiated by other officials back home, by definition, that’s a screw up. Whoever’s right, whoever’s got the right policy, it’s a screw up. One hand doesn’t know what the other’s doing. The administration can’t negotiate effectively with its allies or ‘talk’ with the North Koreans because it hasn’t even gotten to the bottom of its negotiations with itself.

And the game seems to be commenced on this issue of when the administration found out about the North Koreans uranium-enrichment program. In his comments yesterday Fleischer seemed to say that the administration was readying a new package, a new overture to the North Koreans last Fall, before it found out about their violation of the 1994 agreement …

Q Ari, on North Korea, are you saying it is now okay for American officials to talk about what North Korea could expect from good behavior after it comes back into compliance?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, it’s nothing new. American officials have said that since Jim Kelly went to Korea and met with Korean officials and said we are prepared to offer a bold package for North Korea, until it was clear that you had violated the existing agreements that you made.

However, as we’ve noted, former Clinton administration officials are saying this was known about in 1999 and 2000 and that they briefed the incoming Bush administration officials on this in January 2001. That raises the question of why the administration chose to press the matter when they did and, more importantly, why they failed to press it earlier. (We’ll say more on what we think the answer to that question is in a subsequent post.) The administration’s claim seems even more strained given the fact that this unclassified (i.e., public) CIA report to Congress, covering the second half of 2001, states…

“During this time frame, P’yongyang has continued attempts to procure technology worldwide that could have applications in its nuclear program. The North has been seeking centrifuge-related materials in large quantities to support a uranium enrichment program. It also obtained equipment suitable for use in uranium feed and withdrawal systems.”

Perhaps it’s possible that this report was retrospectively revised to cover information discovered later? But I find that unlikely. In any case, there’s still that matter of Clinton’s waiver, which seems to tell the story. If the CIA was saying in public reports back then that the North Koreans had embarked on a uranium enrichment program you have to figure that they had much more extensive information which they were not publicly disclosing. If that’s the case, is it all credible that the administration didn’t know about it until just a few months ago?

Second or third-level State

Second or third-level State Department appointees seldom get that much attention in the press. But the crisis on the Korean Peninsula has made Assistant Secretary of State James A. Kelly an exception.

It was Kelly, as noted in the post below, who just announced that the Bush administration is now willing to make a deal not unlike the one the Clinton administration made in 1994. Indeed, almost all the major exchanges between the US and the South Koreans and the North Koreans over the last couple months have been with Jim Kelly.

Now, let’s run through some basic points about Jim Kelly.

I would argue that, broadly speaking and in the context of the Korea situation, Kelly is one the administration’s good guys. (This is at least a bit generous of me since last March Kelly personally accused me of being a practitioner of “hack journalism” during a question and answer session after a speech before the US-China Policy Foundation. I had just written an article in the New Republic sharply critical of the appointment of Kelly’s friend Douglas H. Paal as US envoy to Taiwan.) As Colin Powell’s Asia policy person, Kelly has been one of those in the administration trying to keep the administration to something like a sensible policy in North Asia. In many respects they were unsuccessful. But they were on the right side of the debate and now it’s left to them to clean up the mess the hawks made.

In any case, here are a few other issues which have come up during Kelly’s tenure and place that tenure in some perspective.

Prior to joining the administration, Kelly was the head of something called the Pacific Forum, the Hawaii branch of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a major DC think tank.

Last year TPM’s article in Salon and another in the Washington Post revealed that Kelly had used the Pacific Forum to help Taiwan’s National Security Bureau funnel $100,000 to a former minister of the Japanese government, Vice Defense Minister Masahiro Akiyama, in return for his assistance, while in office, in helping Taiwan get included under the United States’ proposed missile defense shield. The money was for Akiyama’s support during a two-year stint at Harvard University after his forced resignation from the Japanese government in January 1998. The money was from a secret $100 million slush fund controlled by then-Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui and used to buy influence with governments, individuals and organizations in various foreign countries, including the United States. (The details of the arrangement — and the ethical issues raised by it — are quite complicated. I encourage you to read either my piece or the Post piece for more details.)

Another part of Kelly’s background raised the hackles of DC’s China-hawks. From December 1995 to January 2001, Kelly served on the board of Dan Form Holdings, a real estate and construction company with major holdings in Hong Kong and a number of major projects on the Chinese mainland. The CEO of Dan Form Holdings was a man named Dai Xiaoming, one of the accused in the 1997 Asian fundraising scandal. In fact, Kelly served on Dai’s board at the same time Dai became a key subject of controversy.

As the Washington Post reported on May 13th, 1997 …

At a $100,000 DNC fund-raiser held by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and her husband, Richard C. Blum, in San Francisco, Huang showed up with Dai Xiaoming, a Hong Kong businessman with Beijing ties. Clinton was the featured guest.

Huang told DNC officials that Dai was a prominent California businessman who wanted to contribute $50,000 to Clinton’s reelection, though no such contribution shows up in contribution records. In fact, Dai had bought control of a Hong Kong property development concern from Lippo two years earlier, with financing from the Bank of China, Beijing’s largest state-owned commercial bank. “John misled us on that,” a DNC official said. “He really wanted [Dai] to be there.”

To the best of our knowledge, Kelly has never been asked about any of this.

Of more concern to DC’s China-hawks is Dan Form Holdings’ ties to Chen Yuan, one of the highest profile of China’s so-called ‘princelings,’ the sons and daughters of the elite of the Communist Party. (In 1994, The Economist called Chen “the most powerful of the princelings.”) By most accounts, Chen, now Governor of the China Development Bank, is the power and the source of money behind Dai. In other words, Dai is, shall we say, Chen’s man in Hong Kong. For more on the Dan Form Holdings story, see this April 5th 2002 TPM Post.

As China-hawks look at the current situation and Kelly’s role in it, that connection is sure to play into their thinking.

Several days ago we

Several days ago we predicted that the Bush administration’s awkward climb-down would end with their embracing a policy close to, if not identical to, that pursued by the Clinton administration: i.e., a mix of threats and offers of aid to induce the North Koreans to abandon their nuclear program. And now we have the other shoe dropping. After a meeting with South Korean officials this morning in Seoul, Assistant Secretary of State James A. Kelly said that “Once we get beyond nuclear weapons, there may be opportunities with the U.S., with private investors, with other countries to help North Korea in the energy area.” It’s a grudging statement. But the interpretation of Lee Chung Min, a North Korea expert at Seoul’s Yonsei University, quoted in the Washington Post has it just right. “It is a concession, a change of position. It’s an indication of the Bush administration really wanting to settle this diplomatically and probably under a lot of pressure to do so.”

Weve already been noting

We’ve already been noting the unseemly manner in which the Bush administration and those close to it have started picking a fight with South Korea in part because of the administration’s inability to grapple with the crisis with North Korea. Now — predictably I guess, since this is the responsibility era — at least one “senior Bush administration official” is telling the Washington Post that it’s all Bill Clinton’s fault.

In fact, the article itself doesn’t include any clear argument on the part of the senior official as to why it’s all Bill Clinton’s fault. But to shed more light on this, let’s look at some emerging information about just when the US became aware of the North Koreans’ clandestine uranium-enrichment program.

Last week in The Nelson Report — which is becoming the source for information on this whole evolving story — Chris Nelson revealed that the Clinton administration first found out about the illicit program in 1999, though at the time the much more pressing issue was North Korea’s ballistic missile program. Nelson quotes a staff source saying “The Clinton Administration was near an agreement on cutting off missile production, as well as a resolution of the [uranium-based] nuclear program, to ensure North Korea did not become a nuclear power.”

Now, what sort of agreement were the Clintonites near in 1999 or 2000? I don’t know. Nelson’s reporting makes clear, however, that whatever plan or agreement the previous administration did or didn’t have in the works, they fully briefed the Bush administration on North Korea’s uranium enrichment program in January 2001.

In other words, when Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly confronted the North Koreans with evidence about their uranium-enrichment program, this wasn’t information the Bush administration had just discovered. It was information they’d been sitting on for almost two years.

If the uranium-enrichment program was so important — and it is — why didn’t they do anything about it until a couple months ago? Why did they sit on this information for almost two years?

The available evidence seems to suggest that while their main efforts were focused on the ballistic missile issue, the Clinton administration was trying to resolve the uranium-enrichment program issue by securing yet another deal. Conservatives may disagree with that strategy, calling it appeasement, or bribing the North Koreans, or whatever. But they seem to have been doing something — even if it was something conservatives don’t put much stock in. From the best we can see at the moment, however, the Bush administration found out about this information in January 2001 and went almost two years doing nothing about it at all.

I happen to know that at least one administration hawk is fiercely denying this rendition of events. But thus far, only with non-denial denials.

Some critics claim that what I have been arguing in these virtual pages is that the Bush administration simply shouldn’t have called the North Koreans out on their uranium-enrichment program. This has never been my argument. What I am saying is, first, that the administration has spent the last two years pursuing a confused, provocative, and counterproductive policy which played a significant role in fomenting this crisis and, possibly, complicating a potential solution. Secondly, one has to question the timing of seeking a showdown over the North Koreans’ uranium-enrichment program just as the US is girding itself for a major regional war on the other side of the globe. If we had just found out about it, then perhaps it’s pressing enough to bring it up right now even though it complicates the Iraq situation and threatens to leave us awkwardly overextended. Perhaps. But if the administration had been sitting on the information for almost two years, what possible rationale could there be for choosing this moment to blow the whistle? What other explanation beside incompetence?

Another entry from the

Another entry from the annals of oops.

Another crucial task for the United States is to focus on relations with
other powerful states. Although the United States is fortunate to count
among its friends several great powers, it is important not to take them
for granted-so that there is a firm foundation when it comes time to rely
on them. The challenges of China and North Korea require coordination and
cooperation with Japan and South Korea. The signals that we send to our
real partners are important. Never again should an American president go
to Beijing for nine days and refuse to stop in Tokyo or Seoul.

Condoleezza Rice
Foreign Affairs
Jan/Feb 2000

Many analysts say the growing anti-Americanism here has emboldened North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Il, to ratchet up the confrontation because he is secure that the Bush administration cannot wage war against him, or even contain him, without the support of South Korea, and equally secure that such support is lacking.

Through the Cold War and the last decade, governments in Washington and Seoul danced in lockstep. But that changed under the rule of South Korean President Kim Dae Jung, whose “sunshine policy” toward the North has relied upon engagement and reconciliation, expanding trade and aid while reuniting families divided by the Demilitarized Zone.

While Bill Clinton was in power, the sunshine policy caused no discord. But when President Bush came into office and branded North Korea part of an “axis of evil,” along with Iraq and Iran, it embarrassed Kim and caused a cleavage in Seoul’s dealings with Washington.

Peter S. Goodman and Joohee Cho
Washington Post
January 09, 2003

Oops …

TPM on C-Spans Washington

TPM on C-Span’s Washington Journal from 9 to 10 AM EST on Friday morning.

If youre interested in

If you’re interested in national security issues and defense technology, take a look at Noah Shachtman’s new blog, Defensetech.org.

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