Did Jim Kelly cook the books? On Wednesday, Assistant Secretary of State James A. Kelly told a Senate Committee that “The enriched uranium issue, which some have assumed is somewhere off in the fog of the distant future, is not … It is only probably a matter of months, not years, behind the plutonium [program].”
You can find the quote here in this article on the CNN website. (Reader beware: Seemingly because of sloppiness, the CNN article contains at least one significant factual error. So don’t put a lot of weight in it beside the quotation.)
In any case, is North Korea’s uranium program really that far along? It would make the administration look better if it were. But is it?
Don’t be so sure.
In his statement, Kelly implied that unnamed others had some misunderstanding about what stage the uranium program was at. But that’s misleading because the US intelligence community was the source of what Kelly now calls a misunderstanding.
Indeed, Jim Kelly was one of the sources of this ‘misunderstanding’.
(Parenthetically, let’s note that, on balance, Jim Kelly is one of the good guys in this whole Korea debacle, though he did once accuse the proprietor of TPM of being a practitioner of “hack journalism” because of an article which caused Kelly some difficulty.)
This change of story caught my eye. So I called up a few of the most wired Korea watchers in town to see what they’d heard. None of them knew what Kelly was talking about.
Now, let’s be clear. The current Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia is going to have more immediate access to the latest intelligence data than almost anyone outside of government. Maybe some new information has come to light.
But this administration has already shown a distressing propensity to send the intell types back to the well again and again until they come up with intelligence that helps the administration’s favored policy.
I’m going to do more digging on this. But we need to know more of what was behind Kelly’s comment. He provided no reason for changing the time frame from that which administration officials had previously noted. So it looks a lot like he was massaging the data in order to retrospectively justify the administration’s bobbling of the issue six months ago.
There was an article today in the Wall Street Journal’s ‘Best of the Web’ column about center-left war-hawks who’ve pulled their support for military action against Iraq in light of the president’s shockingly incompetent management of the country’s foreign policy. James Taranto, the author of ‘Best of the Web’, is a tad condescending about the whole thing …
The most charitable interpretation of this sudden hesitation is that our liberal friends are confused about ends and means. The liberation of Iraq is less important to them than the maintenance of what Marshall calls the “world security system”–meaning the U.N. and NATO. But the “world security system” is only a means to the end of world security …
I’ll be more charitable and call this simply a difference of opinion. Taranto, and those who believe as he does, see the decapitation of the Iraqi government as the linchpin of international peace and security. We see it as extremely important, but as a means to creating a more stable, safer world order. Fundamentally, we see the preservation of our key alliances and standing in the world, indeed the ‘world security system’ itself as even more important than Iraq. And when we see the president destroying those to get into Iraq, we have little choice but to say he’s on the wrong track.
Taranto and Co. are following a fairly thin logic which states that since the UN didn’t do what we wanted it to, it’s defunct and irrelevant. Indeed, they seem to be saying the entire framework of American-sponsored global institutions and alliances is defunct because of this. And thus we have to start over completely from scratch. All I can suggest is that they pick up a copy of Karl Polanyi’s masterful The Great Transformation to get some flavor of what really unstable international state systems look like and how fragile they can be.
(One point that deserves notice — and which we’ll try to return to — is that the Bush crowd is now pursuing a logic on the international stage which is inherently self-validating. Every bust-up of an alliance, every disaster is proof that this or that alliance or relationship or global norm was worthless in the first place and thus we’re even more right than we thought we were in bulldozing through.)
Taranto goes in for the same old canard of hanging our international diplomatic isolation on the perfidy of the French, even though it’s clear that that is not what this is about.
Taranto later goes in for a more cutting interpretation of the center-left’s change of heart, particularly focusing on TPM. The reason it seems is that our inner partisanship is finally coming out and we just can’t resist an opportunity to stick it to the president. Taranto references this TPM post on the possible pullout of the British and writes, “Marshall is positively giddy about the possibility of Britain balking. Would he feel the same way if Bill Clinton or Al Gore were president?”
Let me quickly take these points in order. The charge of partisanship is laughably hollow since — right or wrong — those of us on the center-left who have supported military action against Iraq have amply demonstrated that our position on this issue runs contrary to partisan inclination. It’s a good deal harder to carry the administration’s water when you’re not one of its cheerleaders. So the partisanship charge falls flat.
As to the question of giddiness, one simply can’t compete with the young war-hawks of the right in this department. I mean, it’s just not possible, is it? Speaking for myself, and perhaps for some other internationalists who feel as I do, part of our frustrated anger over the current impasse is watching the present administration traduce and plow under the work of half a century and seeing the administration’s acolytes greet every new disaster and *&$#-up as a grand confirmation of their beliefs and principles. It’s like we’ve been transported into some alternative reality where the debate about international relations is some awful mix of The McLaughlin Group and Lord of the Flies. As these folks should be starting to realize about now, months of this arrogant mumbo-jumbo eventually draws a response — at home and abroad.
Well, they say that patriotism is the last refuge to which a scoundrel flees. But now, it seems, Richard Perle is trying a different approach. He’s suing Seymour Hersh for his article about him in The New Yorker.
He’s suing him … in Great Britain.
(As long as Perle is getting knocked around — unfairly, I think — for alleged dual loyalties, this doesn’t exactly seem like a step in the right direction. Does it? I suppose it may be some sort of clever loyalty triangulation strategy, but still … )
The UK of course has no 1st amendment. And British law makes it notoriously easy for plaintiffs to win libel suits.
As long as we’re on the subject, The New York Sun’s article announcing the suit leaves a bit to be desired. I like The Sun. I just bought a copy on the newsstand a couple days ago in New York to read on the train. And the article appropriately states at the bottom of the copy that Perle is a director of a company, Hollinger International Inc., which is an investor in The Sun.
But normally when there’s such a connection or conflict you bend over backwards to write a straight-up story and not weight it in your guy’s favor. But The Sun article quotes Perle, New Yorker editor David Remnick, and two of Perle’s foreign policy/neocon intellectual buddies, Stephen Bryen and Laurent Murawiec.
They of course both trash Hersh. (Bryen: “Itâs pretty outrageous for a leftwing columnist to make accusations like this with no factual basis. Most of the many hours he works each day are pro bono to help the administration with its policy on Iraq. He should get is a medal of honor.” Presumably, if Byron York were the writer, it wouldn’t be as bad?) Not exactly ‘fair and balanced,’ you might say. Murawiec, you’ll remember, is the former LaRouchie who Perle last year invited to give a powerpoint presentation at the Pentagon last year, which recommended seizing the Saudi oilfields and pursuing regime change in Egypt.
A few quick points. First, I know many TPM readers have been turned off by Mickey Kaus’s harping on the New York Times and alleged liberal media bias in general. But he’s got a very good run of posts going on the continuing defections of liberal war-hawks and their efforts to come up with some way both to satisfy the United States’ fundamental needs in Iraq and unwind the mess the Bush administration has created. Also, take a look at this editorial on Tony Blair’s passion — in the christological sense of the word — in The Guardian. A lot of us have long had the sense that the Bush administration would use Blair for all he was worth and then toss his political carcass aside like an old banana peel once they were done with him. Yesterday’s embarrassing Rumsfeld episode provided some confirmation.
“Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator. You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”
The words — those of Joseph Welch — have grown trite and hackneyed by repetition over the last half century. And they’re heavily barnacled with a sort of comforting, but facile sanctimony. But they represent a critical moment in American history, the moment when Senator Joe McCarthy finally undid himself, the moment when his boorishness, opportunism and indifference to the truth finally became fully manifest to the great majority of the American people.
There’s been a lot of talk over the last couple days of a remark Richard Perle made on Wolf Blitzer’s show over the weekend when asked to comment on a critical article about him by Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker.
He said Hersh was “the closest thing American journalism has to a terrorist.”
It was an ugly comment and a stupid comment. But altogether I think it amounted to more than that. It — along with Blitzer’s response — was a Joseph Welch moment.
Let’s go through the whole exchange …
BLITZER: There’s an article in the New Yorker magazine by Seymour Hersh that’s just coming out today in which he makes a serious accusation against you that you have a conflict of interest in this because you’re involved in some business that deals with homeland security, you potentially could make some money if, in fact, there is this kind of climate that he accuses you of proposing.
Let me read a quote from the New Yorker article, the March 17th issue, just out now. “There is no question that Perle believes that removing Saddam from power is the right thing to do. At the same time, he has set up a company that may gain from a war.”
PERLE: I don’t believe that a company would gain from a war. On the contrary, I believe that the successful removal of Saddam Hussein, and I’ve said this over and over again, will diminish the threat of terrorism. And what he’s talking about is investments in homeland defense, which I think are vital and are necessary.
Look, Sy Hersh is the closest thing American journalism has to a terrorist, frankly.
BLITZER: Well, on the basis of — why do you say that? A terrorist?
PERLE: Because he’s widely irresponsible. If you read the article, it’s first of all, impossible to find any consistent theme in it. But the suggestion that my views are somehow related for the potential for investments in homeland defense is complete nonsense.
BLITZER: But I don’t understand. Why do you accuse him of being a terrorist?
PERLE: Because he sets out to do damage and he will do it by whatever innuendo, whatever distortion he can — look, he hasn’t written a serious piece since Maylie (ph).
BLITZER: All right. We’re going to leave it right there.
The closest thing American journalism has to a terrorist. On the one hand, it’s obviously just a silly statement, incomparable to the stakes involved in the McCarthy setting. But it was a despicable statement nonetheless. Blitzer clearly saw it as such and immediately called him on it. And Perle couldn’t even begin to justify his statement. His attempts were laughable. Trust me, if lacking a theme in your articles made you close to a terrorist most of my friends and I would be down in Guantanamo with burlap sacks over our heads. It was a particularly despicable statement considering that Perle’s whole calling card these days is whipping people over the horrible dangers of terrorism and terrorists (not that they aren’t horrible, of course.) For him to shoot back with that word in that context spoke volumes about who he is and what his personal rules of engagement are. To me it was a Joseph Welch moment. I hope others will see it that way too.
Lest there be any doubt, Congressman Jim Moran’s comments really were way beyond the pale. And frankly I think the response has been too muted. Joe Lieberman said: “The comments made by Jim Moran recently were deeply offensive and morally wrong. Such sentiments are inconsistent with the ideals of tolerance and diversity upon which our nation was founded. Comments like these have no place in our public discourse.”
That sounds a touch mild to me. I’m not in the business of saying people should resign. That’s for their constituents to decide. But this is a fairly big deal. I guess that given the nature of the statement it’s really up to a non-Jewish pol to lower the boom on Moran.
(Moran told a town meeting in his Northern Virginia district that “if it were not for the strong support of the Jewish community for this war with Iraq, we would not be doing this” and later suggested that Jewish leaders could get the war called off.)
There’s been a debate recently over whether it’s somehow anti-Semitic to discuss the fact that the president’s foreign policy team is heavily weighted with a number of advisors — a number of them Jewish — who are big supporters of the Sharon government in Israel and that these advisors have been decisive in pushing the case for war within the administration. (Let’s not forget that two of these advisors are Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld, who are — in case you didn’t know it — not members of the tribe.) As Mike Kinsley said recently, “It is the proverbial elephant in the room: Everybody sees it, no one mentions it.” Lawrence Kaplan notwithstanding, it’s a real issue. (I’ll say more about this whole issue later.)
I hope our public debate is flexible and astute enough to see that the one thing is entirely unacceptable and the other is completely appropriate.
I was walking up toward Dupont Circle from the Starbucks at Connecticut and N Street this afternoon when I walked past three neatly-dressed older men — one Korean, another perhaps a Brit — standing outside a building on Connecticut Avenue. They had that slightly awkward but still dignified look of important folks waiting for the driver to pull up or just hawking about trying to decide where to get dinner. Who knows? Anyway, I noticed they were all wearing name tags. And whenever I see that I always try to get a look to see who the people are, what the organization is, and so forth. What did I see?
UNITED NATIONS FOUNDATION.
You’ve never seen longer faces.
Now to some really interesting information from today’s uber-insider-connected Nelson Report. We may be near a breakthrough on the Korea stand-off. No, not between North Korea and the United States, a breakthrough in the tense stand-off between the State Department, the Pentagon and the OVP.
Now here’s the scoop. And bear in mind there’s a good measure of scuttlebutt and informed speculation mixed into this report. But I made some phone calls myself on this matter, and there does seem to be something to this. The word is that Dick Cheney may be gravitating toward tactical alliance with Colin Powell over Korea. Cheney seems to be thinking that as fun as regime change in Pyongyang might be, the US is focused on Iraq and then later on Iran. And he doesn’t want Korea blowing up while the US has important business to get done in the Persian Gulf. (Even global hegemons have to set priorities!) A Cheney trip to the region in April could be the catalyst for a shift in policy.
Could Al Gore really have done a better job getter France on board? Germany? This is how the question is being framed today. At least by some people I read and talk to. My friend Mickey Kaus says he doubts any more diplomatic finessing could have gotten the French on board.
I don’t necessarily disagree with this point. But, frankly, I think it’s beside the point. Or perhaps just misses the point.
The issue here isn’t that France opposes us. That doesn’t bother me particularly. The real point is that everyone opposes us. Everyone.
And don’t give me any chatter about moral clarity and Churchill holding off the Huns alone at Dover. This isn’t that kind of situation. We’re in international affairs not just for today but for the long haul. And our political leadership in the world community matters profoundly.
If we like, we can kid ourselves and believe that “old Europe” in the guise of France and Germany oppose us but “new Europe” supports us. But if we look at the question honestly we have to confess that this isn’t true. The populations all across Europe oppose what we’re doing. A collection of governments in Eastern Europe and on Europe’s periphery support us, for a variety of reasons. Some do it because of an intra-European powerplay. Others for sincere belief that we’re doing the right thing. Others for more mercenary reasons. In the short term, the reasons for their support don’t matter so much. But if we think we can trade our old allies in for these new ones, then it matters a great deal that these governments are doing this in spite of the wishes of their populations, not because of them. One or two elections, and no more ‘new Europe.’ Fundamentally, alliances of democracies are founded — like democracies — on popular opinion.
Again, people say the French are lame or opportunistic for aggrandizing themselves by trying to rally a world-wide coalition in opposition to us. But look more closely at this point. The real heart of the matter isn’t their opportunism, if that’s what it is. Opportunists will always arise to exploit an exploitable situation. The real issue is that the world stage is now ripe for such exploitation. We are supremely isolated right now. That’s the issue we need to contend with. When we can’t get penny-ante states to give us their votes on the Security Council that should tell us something: not something about the rightness of policies, one way or another, but about the depth of our international isolation. The fact that France may be taking advantage of the situation on the international stage is a subsidiary problem.
Next, to the United Nations. One hears that the United Nations was basically a wrecked or never-functioning institution. So the costs of putting it out of its misery are not so great. I’m not so sour on the UN. But what worries me here is not principally the UN. NATO sidestepped the UN in 1999 during the Kosovo war because of Russian intransigence. And I was happy to see NATO do it. Anti-UN types now see this as a bit of internationalist hypocrisy. But again, it’s not the UN I’m worried about. It’s the destruction of NATO that’s the issue here.
By seeking to rend NATO, the administration has demonstrated that poorly-functioning international institutions aren’t what it is opposed to, but rather ALL international institutions.
Over the last day I’ve received a number of emails saying ‘thanks’ or ‘finally’ or ‘you finally wised up’ for changing my position on the war. The passage those folks were referring to was the last in the previous post in which I said …
The pros and cons of handling Iraq have never been separable from how you do it, the costs you rack up in the doing of it, calculated against the gains you’ll get in having accomplished it. At this point, we truly have the worst case scenario on the international stage. And I think that those costs now outweigh the gains.
The last line is the one that generated the emails. Now, I’m afraid I may disappoint those who think I’ve suddenly changed my stripes on this issue. I looked back at what I wrote in my long Washington Monthly article on the subject and I agree with pretty much all of it. I don’t think I’ve really changed my position. But then people who write and make arguments for a living always say that. So I’ll explain to you what I think and why I think it and you can make up your own mind.
A number of people have written in and said that I never should have uttered pro-war sentiments knowing that it would be this president and this group of advisors who were going to implement the plan. Frankly, I don’t agree. The role of someone who does what I do — writes and constructs arguments and opinions for a living — is to look at as many of the facts as possible and then give readers an honest opinion. The role isn’t to try to game the system. That’s just a more high-minded form of dishonesty.
When I first wrote about this issue I came to the opinion that Saddam really was a threat to our interests and that in our long-running dispute with him, time was on his side, not on ours. Many people are now championing the merits of robust containment. But if you think back to a couple years ago the whole point was how our sanctions against Saddam were killing all those Iraqi children. Another point was that containing Saddam required us to garrison troops in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf emirates and that made for a fertile breeding ground for bin Ladenism. Even now, I think it’s right to say that Saddam is contained. But how long can we contain him? We have 250,000 troops on his borders. It’s taken that much to squeeze this grudging level of compliance out of the regime. How long can we maintain that? At how much expense? At how much diplomatic and cultural collateral damage, as we managed to build up during the first decade of containment?
I don’t say these are in themselves justifications for war. But it is not enough simply to say you oppose war. That statement brings with it a responsibility to say what the proper policy is or would be. If you think Saddam is contained now then it’s incumbent on you to say how you imagine perpetuating that state of affairs into the future. And what the costs will be to your policy.
When I first wrote on this issue at length what I said was that this was an issue we really did need to deal with (probably militarily), that it was a running wound, but that the hawks who run foreign policy in this administration were most likely to do it in a way that would lead to disaster.
Now, where are we now?
When you have given careful thought to a question of war and peace, you need to be very careful not to lose heart or change your mind just when things are coming to a head. Things always get dicey just before the trigger is finally pulled. That’s just in the nature of things. And I’ve tried to resist that pressure or temptation myself. But at a certain point it simply becomes clear that the damage the administration has done outweighs the gains we might possibly amass by invading Iraq and toppling this regime.
We are at that point. I’m less worried about the immediate repercussions in the Middle East than in the wider world, where we are as quickly as we can trashing a world security system that decades of statesmanship have built up. That’s worth more than can possibly be gained in Iraq.
That still doesn’t answer the question of what we should do now. And you’ve probably noted in these pages over the past three weeks that that’s a question I’ve been wrestling with. As I said here, I think it’s very clear that we would do this differently if we had a chance. (To disagree with that proposition, I think you have to be in the camp of those who think trashing our alliances wasn’t a necessary cost but a positive good. In other words, you would have to be a political appointee at the Pentagon or the OVP.) But what do we do now, given that all this damage has already been done? I find that a much more difficult question.
People reflexively make light of arguments about ‘credibility’. And it is a slippery slope. But if we just gracelessly and abruptly climbed-down from our position right now, that really would have very serious consequences both for us and for the entire world order. How many other rogue states or Muslim terrorists would be prompted to test our apparently empty will in other parts of the world?
The administration has played this in a way that the costs of changing course really are high. Very high. Given the disaster the administration is barrelling towards, however, I think we need some other solution, some way to reconfigure our policy so as to be able to declare ‘victory’ and have it be credible and not have it lead us back to an even worse situation than the one we started in.
Almost a year ago now I wrote the following in my article in the Washington Monthly …
The same goes for the State Department’s efforts to get weapons inspectors back into Iraq. The hawks tend to view weapons inspections as a contemptible joke, a half-measure that will bog us down with kibitzing at the U.N. and rob us of our justification for invasion. Properly done, however, inspections are not a way to avoid war but to build the ground work for it. Before a single soldier hits the ground in Iraq, the U.S. should demand a virtually air-tight inspection regime–not the half-measures the U.N. is currently negotiating with Saddam. Our European allies would oppose this strenuously, as will Russia and China. But it is well worth drawing them into that conversation, because the force and logic of our argument is quite strong. Once the concept of inspections is granted, the need to make them effective is difficult to refute. If Saddam were to accept a truly robust inspections regime–one which would allow the inspectors to roam the country more or less at will–we will have achieved our aim of neutralizing the threat of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. But, of course, when he doesn’t agree–and he won’t–then we will have forced our allies to confront the reality of Iraqi intransigence head-on. Some may still oppose our imminent military action. But others might join us, and that will make us stronger.
I still agree with those points. And I think the answer is that we have to wait. I feel confident that an able foreign policy mind could come up with a tack that would allow us to secure our vital objectives and yet work our way out of the mess we’ve gotten ourselves into. I’m not sure what that grand gesture is. And absent such a grand gesture I think we have to resort to a policy of coercive inspections, start giving the inspectors quality intelligence data (not garbage) and begin whittling down the Iraqis WMD capability one step at a time.
Will we get everything? No. That’s very unlikely. But what really matters is nuclear weapons. And though I’m certain Saddam wants nukes, he pretty clearly doesn’t have them now, and he won’t be making any progress toward getting them as long as inspectors are there in force.
I think we need to pursue this goal for the next several months and keep ratcheting up the pressure, knowing that we may have to go to war at a later point, even when weather conditions and so forth aren’t ideal. (One tack we might try — and I mean this only half in jest — is to tell particularly the French but also the Germans and the Chinese and the Russians that if they’re so enamored with the current situation which has been brought about by an overwhelming display of American military might, they need to start footing their share of the bill.)
Is this a good solution? No. And I’m not certain how long we can sustain it. But I think, as I said yesterday, the gains we’re going to make by doing this (and I still think they would be substantial) will be outweighed by the costs, even the costs entailed by shifting our policy. It’s a very close call. But I owe you a straight-up answer. And that’s it.
Having said all this, do I think there’s much chance this will happen? No, I think we’ll be at war in the next ten days. This is just my sense of what we should do.
While working away on the soon-to-be-submitted final draft of the dissertation, I’ve been working on a new article about the hawks’ ‘grand plan‘ for the Middle East, of which Iraq is only the opening act. As part of the reporting for that piece, I spoke yesterday to a retired, high-level member of the US Intelligence community who specializes in the Middle East.
This is someone who has always been very sour on the idea of invading Iraq. And when we spoke yesterday, I asked him what struck me as the big question: What’s your best guess for the near and medium-term repercussions of what we’re about to do.
His answer, or at least part of it, surprised me. He didn’t think the repercussions within the neighborhood — i.e. in the neighboring Arab states — would be nearly as good as the hawks believe but also not nearly as bad as many nay-sayers expect. No governments falling. And probably — after a rough few months — even that much change from the status quo ante.
His greatest worry was not in the neighborhood, but the world: the costs — unreckonable to some degree — of wrecking the international state system to get this done. The pros and cons of handling Iraq have never been separable from how you do it, the costs you rack up in the doing of it, calculated against the gains you’ll get in having accomplished it. At this point, we truly have the worst case scenario on the international stage. And I think that those costs now outweigh the gains.
With Turkey so much in the news, let me make a few quick book recommendations for those who might be interested in reading more about the subject. If you’re interested in finding out more about the Ottoman Empire and what came before the modern Turkish Republic, here are two good reads. First, there’s The Ottoman Centuries by Lord Kinross. It’s currently published in a big pulpy volume clearly intended to be a mainstay on bookstore shelves for decades to come. I will say that it is the best of the single volume narrative histories on the subject that I’ve read. I just thought it was a bit heavy on political doings, recitations of Sultans (the achilles heel of Ottoman history writing), and just generally grade B history writing.
If you’re not up for reading a tome like Kinross’s book, there is the exquisite Ottoman Empire and the Islamic Tradition by Norman Itzkowitz. At a bit more than one hundred pages, you can easily dash it off in one sitting. But it’s elegantly written, marvelously concise, and provides an excellent overview of a whole epoch of Islamic history, as well as some crucial history of Turkey.
Finally, for the background of the origins of the modern Turkish state I don’t think you can do much better than Andrew Mango’s Ataturk, the most recent biography of the founder of the secular, westward-looking Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal.
At about a quarter-to-nine the president got a straight-up question. I don’t have the transcript. But it was basically: Are we willing to allow the North Koreans to become a nuclear power? Are you starting to get concerned? (This is the “red-line” question.)
As I heard his answer it was: “It’s an issue. I’m concerned.” He then went on into a miscellany about diplomacy and allies.
Question number two tonight in the president’s news conference was on the North Korea crisis. The answer was depressing. And the message was clear: we have no policy. The president wants help from the Chinese, South Koreans, Russians, Japanese, etc. etc. etc. Can anybody help? Does anyone have a policy we can borrow? Does anyone have another question? Next question.
Here’s the quote of the day from today’s Nelson Report …
It would be difficult to exaggerate the growing mixture of anger, despair, disgust, and fear actuating the foreign policy community in Washington as the attack on Iraq moves closer, and the North Korea crisis festers with no coherent U.S. policy. We get the phone calls and e-mails from all over this Administration, Capitol Hill, the think tanks, and even fellow scribblers. We’ve never seen anything like it, and we’ve been here since 1966.
This is a bad situation, getting worse. And the unavoidable truth is that we don’t have a policy and because of that we’re letting it hang.
Here’s a small but important note on the inner-workings of the policy world. For the last two years Hans Riemer has headed up the Social Security Information Project at the Campaign for America’s Future. A lot of people and a lot of hard work have gone into blunting and at least temporarily stymieing the Republican drive to privatize the Social Security system. (They’ve all been helped by the fact that the public — cooked-polls notwithstanding — simply doesn’t want Social Security privatized.) But I don’t think any single person — or a lot of groups of people, for that mater — did more to stem the tide than Hans.
His contribution has been that important.
That included mau-mauing the president’s hopelessly stacked-deck Social Security Commission and a lot of other stuff … working the press, organizing events, not letting the GOP run away from or lie about its pro-privatization positions during the last election.
Anyway, Hans is headed off to a new but as yet unannounced gig. So if you get a chance stop by the SSIP site and send him your appreciation. Or if you’re a pension fund investment manager who wanted to start managing and drawing fees off that Social Security gold mine, drop him a line and bitch about how you can’t buy that new vacation house.
Give a quick read to Chris Suellentrop’s piece from yesterday on Ken Pollack. Here’s one of several good passages …
Six months after The Threatening Storm’s publication, however, Pollack’s book reads as much like an indictment of the Bush administration’s overeagerness to go to war as it does an endorsement of it. A more appropriate subtitle for the book would have been The Case for Rebuilding Afghanistan, Destroying al-Qaida, Setting Israel and Palestine on the Road to Peace, and Then, a Year or Two Down the Road After Some Diplomacy, Invading Iraq. In interviews and op-ed articles, Pollack himself still supports the war, saying that now is better than never. But it’s fair to say that his book does notâor at least not Bush’s path to it.
This point goes too often unmade.
At about 10:20 PM on the east coast this evening, CNN ran a sobering segment on the North Korea crisis which finally detailed what TPM has been telling you for weeks if not months.
You can’t really say the administration has a bad policy on North Korea because in fact it has no policy. Why is there no policy? Because the president has not been able to break the deadlock between the (pro-engagement) State Department and the (pro-confrontation) Pentagon and Office of the Vice-President. And that has led to paralysis. Paralysis or purely reactive gestures. They can’t even find their way to a well-thought-out bad policy because they’re too tied up in organizational incompetence and procedural ridiculousness.
It’s been this way since January 2001 and it still hasn’t gotten resolved. This is why we’re drifting into disaster.
You know it’s really gotta be bad when even the Democrats are willing to stand up mouth some criticisms … Sheesh.
More on the North Korea debacle in a bit.
I got a lot of emails last week responding to the second installment of TPM’s interview with Ken Pollack. In particularly, there were a lot of responses to this passage …
I’ve always felt that we had to go to war against Iraq sooner rather than later. But I didn’t necessarily think it had to be this year. And there were always a whole bunch of things that I wanted to do to make sure that we were ready to go when we did go. But the problem that I face now is that I think we are so deep into this – we are so far down this road – that it is now or never. I think that if we don’t go to war this time around I don’t think we will ever go to war with Saddam Hussein until he’s acquired nuclear weapons. And then he picks the time and place of going to war … if given my preference I would prefer not to be in the position we’re in. But I can’t turn back time. And we’re in the position we’re in. And at this point in time, as messy as it may be, I think that it is now or never. And now is a much better option than never.
This captures a lot of the extreme discomfort of those like myself who think we should deal with Saddam but have started to wonder at what point the enterprise becomes so terribly botched that the cure becomes more harmful than the disease. E.J. Dionne touched on this in his Post column yesterday, as did the DLC’s New Dem Daily.
My column in The Hill this week addresses the point too. As I say in the last line of the column “Weâre all hostage to the Bush administrationâs incompetence, whether we like it or not.”
A quick note on the North Korean interception of an American spy plane over the waters near the Korean Peninsula.
Lest there be any doubt, this is an extremely serious development. It’s also a fairly predictable development. You may have been noticing out of the corner of your eye those almost daily warnings out of North Korea: there’s going to be a great disaster, we’ll repel a US attack, the US will be devoured by flames, the world will be trampled under by a race of gigantic goblins, etc.
We are keeping the North Koreans on the back-burner. But they want to be on the front-burner. So they’re continuing with a pattern of escalations and provocations until we put them there. This is simply the first time they’ve resorted to what can be regarded as a military provocation.
What the North Koreans want is direct talks with the US. Many of us believe that we should have done that a long time ago — not because of the North Koreans provocations but because it is in our interests to do so, usually a sufficient cause. The combined wisdom of the administration — on this issue a deeply-divided administration — thinks otherwise.
Now the North Koreans are moving into really, really dangerous territory to get our attention. Let’s stop for a moment to observe just how provocative but also how delicately calibrated this event seems to have been.
The North Koreans not only intercepted the US spy plane, one of the planes apparently “painted” the US plane. That is to say, it locked onto it with its weapons, as though it were preparing to fire.
As a number of news accounts have noted, if the American plane had had a fighter escort, that might well have led them to open fire on the North Koreans. Of course, the American plane did not have one, as the North Koreans well knew. Thus, they could get away with an extremely provocative action, knowing there was nothing we could do about it and that the situation would be unlikely to spin out of control.
The US now says that it will keep flying those spy planes and give them fighter escorts. Given the North Koreans’ provocation that is the only possible response. However, we are moving into extremely dangerous territory here. The North Koreans are masters of brinksmanship. But as I once saw former Clinton administration official Wendy Sherman say in a TV interview, “they don’t know when to stop.”
What’s more, the situation is not the same as it was in 1994.
Kim Il-Sung was the founder of North Korea, an extremely experienced hand and a charismatic leader. He had the more or less unquestioned support of the entire North Korean elite. None of those attributes apply to his son Kim Jong-Il. That makes North Korea much less predictable, since he and others who are controlling all this may have to prove their toughness to domestic critics.
The important point is that we need to send those planes up with fighter escorts but we cannot do so and continue to treat the situation there as something on the back burner. It’s a delicate, dangerous situation which will require our full attention, and a simultaneous show of military resolution and diplomatic seriousness. One without the other could lead us toward disaster.
Colin Powell’s message to the troops over at Foggy Bottom …
Secretary Colin L. Powell Washington, DC March 3, 2003
Charlotte Beers, a key and vital member of my team, is leaving us shortly for health reasons. Since she arrived in October of 2001, she has brought new energy, new ideas, and new enthusiasm to our interaction with the public in America and throughout the world. Charlotte brought incredible expertise from Madison Avenue to Foggy Bottom. At a critical and stressful time for our nation, she and her team sharpened our policy advocacy and took our values and our ideas to mass audiences in countries which hadn’t heard from us in a concerted way for years. She helped us find new ways of making our case to policy makers while expanding our outreach efforts to make connections with ordinary people, particularly in Moslem nations. Her goal of reaching younger, broader, and deeper audiences will remain with us as she departs. I thank her for revitalizing our programs, and wish her good health and success in her future endeavors.
If Beers’ departure is really for health reasons, we wish her the best. But it’s hard to say our image “particularly in Moslem nations” is on the upswing.
Is Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy Charlotte Beers out at the State Department? Seems so.
This story is getting a lot of attention, as well it should.
The recently-installed senior director for Near East and North African affairs on the National Security Council, Elliott Abrams, has just canned three government Middle East experts who staffed that desk at the NSC. Presumably, they are to be replaced by others who will more faithfully toe and execute the party line.
It’s an important story. But actually an old story. The same thing has been happening throughout the national security bureaucracy for two years, particularly at the Pentagon. It’s not a secret. Any other reporter who covers foreign or military affairs knows this.
There’s a dynamic — and hopefully fruitful — tension which exists between political appointees and civil servants in these cases. The civil servants have to execute the policy decisions of their appointive superiors — at least they’re supposed to. But the civil servants are also supposed to give candid advice and raise the obvious questions.
They’re supposed to point out why the Assistant Secretary for such-and-such’s idea to do this-that-or-the-other is going to be a complete disaster. If they’re smart, the appointees listen, even if they decide to do it anyway.
It’s an important ballast in the process of policy formation, even if can be annoying for the politicals. But getting that kind of feedback can be uncomfortable and troublesome. And there’s always the temptation to shoot the messenger.
I’ve never discussed this in any of the articles I’ve written on national security or defense issues because in any given article discussing it can mean fingering people who are already trying to keep their heads down and avoid retribution.
But on the key issues that matter to this administration, particularly the Middle East, there’s been an exodus of government experts out of the executive branch into exile on the Hill, at National Defense University, and various other outta-the-way parts of the national security bureaucracy. A lot of these folks got canned like those Abrams dropped at the NSC. Others just got the message when they were instructed not to pen any reports or tender any advice which conflicted with the administration’s favored policies. Everyone who leaves makes one more open seat for a think-tank hack who will tell the politicals what they want to hear.
Let’s be clear: this tension always exists. Probably a bit more after a two-term presidency when the incoming crew believes the career bureaucracy has been shaped for a decade by the opposite party. But in this administration it’s gone to unprecedented levels.
Career civil servants aren’t the be-all and end-all. But without them, the policy-making process can become an echo-chamber of over-confident ideologues, confirming each others’ preconceived notions, and blundering into ridiculousness and disaster.
It’s the battle of the emigre NSC Directors! Today on CNN’s Late Edition Wolf Blitzer had on Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski. I don’t normally do this, but I’m going to quote Brzezinski at length because I think what he said amounts to some of the most sensible stuff I’ve heard of late on this subject. It’s worth reading through.
BLITZER: Welcome back to our special LATE EDITION, Showdown: Iraq. We’re talking with former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and former U.S. National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski.
Dr. Brzezinski, how much damage do you believe there will be in U.S.-Turkish relations if the Turkish parliament does not reverse itself and authorize the deployment of some 62,000 U.S. troops to Turkey?
BRZEZINSKI: I think there would be resentment here, obviously, and understandably so.
But one has to take into account that one of the costs of pressing Turkey into this war, in addition to bribing them, which is pretty expensive too, in any case, might be significant political instability in Turkey. And this is another reason why I feel we ought to let inspection and verification run its course. The political costs we’re going to be paying for this, whether in Turkey or in Pakistan, probably in much of the Middle East, already in a great deal of Europe, throughout the world in fact, are going to be so high that, unless there is an imminent threat — I repeat the word “imminent,” which we’re not using actually — I think we can afford to let this process go forward.
BLITZER: But you heard Dr. Kissinger say, you have 200,000 U.S. troops, you can’t keep them cocked at ready to go forever. And if you start withdrawing, then it’s basically all over, and it underscores U.S. weakness in the face of Iraqi defiance.
BRZEZINSKI: You know, admittedly the Middle East is not Europe, and the climatic conditions are more adverse. But the fact is that we kept war-ready troops in Europe, war-ready, poised for war, for several decades, and we have far greater rapid-redeployment capability today than we ever did.
So the argument that we have to go to war because we deployed troops to press the other side to concede, I think, is not a sufficient cause for a war, which could be very costly, very destructive, and which, at least in the near future, is not necessary.
I don’t exclude the possibility that, in the long run, we may have to use force. What I am saying is, let’s think of the larger picture, the broad geostrategic costs. Let’s think of the dangers elsewhere before we take a plunge which could isolate us in the world at enormous cost to our international position.
BLITZER: Is this about as bad as you’ve seen the U.S. relationship with some of these NATO allies?
BRZEZINSKI: I think Henry is right in saying that this is very serious, but I think we have to ask ourselves, how have we conducted ourselves? We have in effect said to them, “Line up.” We have treated them as if they were the Warsaw Pact. The United States issued orders, and they have to follow.
Now, let me give you one striking example. The president since 9/11 has uttered the phrase “He who is not with us is against us” — mind you, “He who is not with us is against us,” anyone who disagrees with us is against us — no less than 99 times. We have a concept of the alliance, inherent in this kind of conduct, which involves giving orders and others falling in line.
The issue of Iraq is a complicated issue. It’s related to the whole question of proliferation and global stability. Ultimately, it points even to the issue of North Korea, that we haven’t talked about at all.
And how we conduct this problem, how we deal with it is essential to the effective exercise of America’s global leadership.
We are literally undercutting it right now. We have never been as isolated globally, literally never, since 1945.
How much of the diplomatic capital we’ve built up over the last 50 years can we spend down in a few short months? I guess we’re about to find out.
The more I think about this Turkish rejection of US troops the bigger a deal it looks like.
Perhaps it can be salvaged next week, though that seems unclear.
But if you want some evidence of this administration’s diplomatic incompetence, consider this. We publicly sold out the Kurds to get this deal. We really should have made sure we had a deal before we tipped our hands to the Kurds about the price we were willing to pay for it.
Now we have no deal and no Kurds. I don’t think we should have sold out the Kurds regardless. But if we were going to do so we should have been clearer with ourselves about who we were in bed with, the Turks or the Kurds.
The administration has a stiff wind of anti-anti-Americanism at its back which has thus far allowed it to weather each of these storms. Every one of the administration’s diplomatic debacles is the fault, not of the administration, but of our conniving friends: the Germans, the French, the Turks, the Canadians, Gerhard Schroder, Noam Chomsky, Bono, Elmo, you name it. (The dog ate my homework, and so forth.) But the list of #$&@-ups is really becoming mind-boggingly long.
So far our experiment with Middle Eastern democracy-building isn’t going so well. We’ve just sold out an incipient democracy in Iraqi Kurdistan. And now we can’t get an existing democracy in Turkey to go along with our war plans (“Turkey rejects U.S. troop plan“).
Meanwhile, we’ve got some very good news in the war on terrorism, the arrest of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the suspected mastermind of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. This isn’t just some capo in the organization. He’s about as high up the food-chain as you can get without being bin Laden himself.
This is great news. And I’ve got no problem with how we pulled it off. But in the democracy-building context, we should bear in mind that we accomplished this by continuing our long-standing policy of using autocratic governments in the Muslim and Arab worlds to do our bidding notwithstanding public opposition.
All of which is to say that exporting democracy and getting everyone to agree with you at the same time is a rather difficult proposition.
And this is the easy part.
Kucinich responds! Or at least to Salon. Jake Tapper has a new interview with Congressman Dennis Kucinich in Salon. In it he has this question and response …
A rival’s campaign has brought an April 1972 Cleveland Magazine article to my attention in which you are accused of using racial politics. The story says that after you arrived in the city council in 1967 you began “playing confrontation politics with the city’s black administration as if [you] had invented the game.” Care to comment?
My political career goes back to the ’60s and those were times of vigorous debates. But race was not a factor in those debates. The debates were on issues, not about race — there may have been differences of opinion. But they were never about race. When I was running for mayor I said that half of my major appointments would go to members of the African-American community, and they did. I could cite a long, deep connection with the African-American community. I have a very strong constituency in that community. So in the ’60s was it possible that there were some differences of opinion? Yes. But it was never based on race. Never. Not a chance. Not even the people I clashed with in major ways would ever say that.
Also of interest is this list of three people’s accounts of Kucinich’s career. One friend, one foe, one a bit of each.
We have our traffic statistics in for February 2003. Unique Visitors 138,279; Visits 368,900; Page Views 1,000,258.
Thanks so much to all who’ve visited the site, those who keep returning and those who spread the word. Thank you.
Okay, a number of intrepid TPM readers have gotten to the bottom of the Coldline mystery, noted in the earlier post. (Actually, what am I thinking? No one in his right mind in DC wants to offend the newsgods at the Hotline. They can make buzz or break buzz with a stern look. I just imagine them sitting in some smokey nightclub, with fancy suits and pinky rings, telling me “All I need is your respect and none of this ugliness has to happen.”)
Anyway, here’s what seems to have transpired. As we speculated in the last post, the story of the Georgia state legislators objecting to the musical South Pacific because it “justifies intermarriage of different races” is true. It really did happen. Only it didn’t happen yesterday. It happened fifty years ago yesterday.
Apparently the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, the paper that ran the item the Hotline picked up, often runs fifty-years-ago-today filler-items. Here’s one from last week, for instance. Only this time they forgot to add the “Fifty Years Ago Today” moniker and it ran with the appearance of a normal news item. “Georgia Senators Attack ‘South Pacific’ Themes”
Apparently, the folks at the Hotline caught wind of it and, not surprisingly, thought it was a new story.
Thanks to TPM readers TFW and JS for some above-and-beyond-the-call-of-duty sleuthing.
Well, I’m always up for a good story about unreconstructed Republicans making themselves look stupid with racial wackiness. And I thought maybe I had one. The Hotline picked up a story from the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer today which said that two members of the Georgia state legislature had some problems with a certain musical. (“The Broadway musical “South Pacific” is ‘offensive to Southern tradition,'” said two GA legislators 2/27″.) Here’s the item from the Ledger-Enquirer website.
Georgia Senators Attack “South Pacific” Themes
“South Pacific,” smash Broadway musical hit, is “offensive to Southern tradition,” two Georgia legislators charged yesterday.
Rep. David C. Jones of Sylvester and Sen. John Sheppard of Ashburn said in a written statement they would ask the next legislature for a bill to prevent the showing of “theatricals which have an underlying philosophy inspired by Moscow.”
Jones said the play “justifies intermarriage of different races” which “produces half breeds which are not conducive to the higher type of society… We in the South are a proud people and have pure blood lines. We want to keep it that way.”
Now, as regular readers know, TPM likes nothing better that ridiculing these sorts of yahoos.
But, I’ll be honest: this one just seemed a bit too good to be true. So I picked up the phone and called the Georgia House Information Office and the same office on the Senate side. According to them, neither of these men exists. At least, neither is a member of the Georgia House or Senate.
The other items on the page at the Ledger-Enquirer website are from the early 1950s so it seems like this is maybe something that actually happened back then. From the site, it’s just not clear. Whatever the case, on this one the Hotline looks like the Coldline.
TPM, preserving the good name of the South one step at a time.