Editors’ Blog

Let me recommend a

Let me recommend a book to you in very strong terms. It’s called The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq by Ken Pollack. I can’t do an extensive review of the book here since I’ve just completed a formal magazine review of it which will be appearing in a few weeks. And I don’t want to step, as it were, on my own toes. Or more to the point, the magazine’s toes — if magazines have toes.

As the title states, the book argues that there is no other good solution to the Iraq problem save a military one. Pollack is an ardent critic of the slapdash and petulantly unilateralist way the Bush administration seems inclined to go about it. (This actually is the new TPM catch-phrase for Bush administration foreign policy: petulant unilateralism) But at the end of the day he thinks that the only real option is to topple Saddam’s regime and that the only real way to do that is by force.

Now, I know many regular TPM readers don’t agree at all with that proposition. It’s one I find both deeply troubling and, I think, inescapable. But even if you don’t agree — perhaps especially if you don’t — I think you’ll get a lot out of this book.

This is the most honest, candid, and intelligent discussion I’ve read of this topic. Pollack explains very clearly why serious people — and not just yahoos — believe that the current Iraqi regime represents a serious threat. Pollack, who spent most of the last decade formulating Iraq policy for the US government, also makes a compelling case that the policy we pursued toward Iraq in recent years was and is just a losing game.

Whether you’re for ‘regime change’ or against it, if you want to really understand this issue in detail and have your beliefs and preconceptions seriously challenged, buy this book.

Regrettably through a tragic

Regrettably, through a tragic technical error, the first week of October’s TPMs have slipped into cyber-oblivion. We’re trying to recover a copy. And if and when the gods smile on us in this endeavor we shall post them in the TPM archives promptly.

This passage stood out

This passage stood out to me in Fareed Zakaria’s excellent article (“Our Way“) in the new New Yorker

Perhaps most important, Roosevelt and Truman, having lived through the nineteen-thirties, knew how fragile the international system was and believed that it needed support. Having reaped the fruits of this system—upheld by all successive Presidents of both parties—we have come to believe that stability is natural. But the world order put into place by the United States in the past half century—an order based on alliances, organizations, and norms — functions largely because of the respect paid to it by its superpower creator. Without that support, it will crumble into chaos.

It’s worth pondering. Also check out this brief Talk of the Town piece on George Kennan, the now-98 year old conceptualizer of ‘containment’, and the passing of his doctrine. It’s good, really good.

Now that the Supreme

Now that the Supreme Court isn’t going to walk Douglas Forrester across the finish line in New Jersey, things just seem to be going from bad to worse for the one-time, future, accidental Senator from New Jersey. He’s campaigning with all the grace and pizzazz of a live fish on a hot griddle.

Today Forrester denied Frank Lautenberg’s claim that he supported Social Security privatization, only to have it revealed that his primary campaign website endorsed just that policy.

Then later in the day Forrester made the shrewd call of attacking Lautenberg for being too old. Following up on his earlier challenge to debate Lautenberg 21 times in 21 days, he said “It doesn’t have to be a three-hour debate every day. That may be too much for him.”

When called on this gaffe, Forrester denied any effort to call Lautenberg’s fitness for office into question. Then, however, he apparently realized that if he kept his mouth shut he wouldn’t be able to keep this helpful insult-senior-citizens campaign angle going. So he jumped again into the fray, claiming that it was hypocritical for Lautenberg to accuse him of making age an issue when he, Lautenberg, had made age an issue when he first ran for the Senate against Millicent Fenwick in 1982. The idea, presumably, was to expose the 78 year old Lautenberg as the real denigrator of the aged. “There should be no age limit,” intoned the rapidly deflating Forrester, “But there should be a limit on hypocrisy.”

On Tuesday, TPM has it on good authority, Forrester will launch a stinging new attack on Lautenberg’s unseemly habit of cavorting with smelly poor people.

Theres an excellent —

There’s an excellent — and intelligently assigned — piece today in the Washington Post about the Lautenberg/Forrester
race. The raging national debate about the late New Jersey ballot change
from Torricelli to Lautenberg seems more like just a rage on the part of
Republicans and talk radio denizens. (All yada and yada, signifying nothing,
to update the classic line …) In New Jersey, everyone but hardcore Republicans
seems fine with it. As they should be.

Its sometimes difficultto fathom

It’s sometimes difficult
to fathom what ridiculous hypocrites Republicans are when it comes to election
law and the courts. It turns out that back in the primaries Douglas Forrester, rule-of-law crusader from parts North, had his own problem with a last-minute ballot change. Here’s a few grafs from today’s New York Times

Mr. Genova [the Democrats’ lawyer] also uncovered a legal memorandum from Mr. Forrester lawyer written in April, when State Senator Diane Allen, one of Mr. Forrester
opponents in the Republican primary, was trying to block him from taking
the ballot position of James W. Treffinger. Mr. Treffinger, the Essex County
executive, had resigned from the race because of scandal three days earlier,
or 40 days before the primary.

Senator Allen maintained that moving Mr. Forrester
name to Mr. Treffinger’s place on the ballot would come too late under Title
19 of the state election law, which sets a deadline of 51 days before an
election for ballot substitutions. It is the same argument that Mr. Forrester
lawyer, Peter G. Sheridan, made before the State Supreme Court on Wednesday,
opposing Mr. Lautenberg’s placement on the ballot. The Democrats said that
the deadline was merely a guideline.

In April, Mr. Sheridan read the law the way the Democrats do today.

“Strict compliance to statutory requirements and deadlines within
Title 19,” Mr. Sheridan wrote, “are set aside where such rights may be accommodated
without significantly impinging upon the election process.”

It first seems worth pointing out that if the United
States Supreme Court is inclined to throw Frank Lautenberg off the ballot
they would appear to be obligated to throw Forrester off the ballot too, since his primary candidacy was also a violation of state election law.

Now, I had heard about this issue before but I hadn’t realized that the
comparison was that spot-on. It’s the same 51 day deadline. The Times
asked Sheridan about the seeming contradiction and he replied that the two
cases were not similar because “no primary ballots had been issued” last
April when the earlier controversy took place and today 1600 absentee ballots have already been sent out.

But this argument only shows that Sheridan is dull as well as hypocritical.
He seems to be arguing that the relevant issue is not the inviolability
of the deadline but the practical effect of allowing a change after the deadline
takes place. He says that in April it was okay to make the change because
no ballots had yet been printed and thus no harm — nothing “significantly
impinging upon the election process” — could come from listing different
names on them when they were printed. In other words, the deadline is simply
an administrative guideline and if changes can still be made after that date
passes, then they should be.

What Sheridan doesn’t seem to realize is that this argument is already
taken. The Democrats have it! And by embracing it, he tears his own case
to shreds. The county clerks in New Jersey all said that they could make
the changes in time. They could even reissue the absentee ballots. So if
the issue is the practicality of making the change and not the inviolability
of the deadline then Sheridan has no case.

Forrester has no case.

Even the lickspittle commentators who embraced their case have no case.

A Washington Post editorial

A Washington Post editorial today gives Al Gore a rough slap (“Negative Al Gore“). Predictably, I guess, the Post
is the repository of this city’s most easy-thinking conventional wisdom.
In a rebuke to the former vice-president’s attack on White House economic
policy the Post writes …

President Bush’s main economic policy — the large tax cut
of last year — was not responsible for any of the current damage. Indeed,
given the twin shocks of 9/11 and the post-Enron stock market decline, the
short-term stimulus created by the tax cuts has turned out to be fortuitously
well timed. To be sure, parts of the tax cut that have yet to be implemented,
especially the repeal of the estate tax, are unaffordable and ought to be
repealed.

Mickey Kaus chimed in with “WaPo acknowledges what Krugman won’t about the Bush tax cuts.”

But does the Post‘s remark even make logical, let alone substantive, sense? The Post
begins by saying that the Bush tax cut — which must be what they mean by
his “main economic policy” — is not responsible for any of our current economic
situation, by which they mean, in large part, the rapidly ballooning federal
deficit.

With respect to the deficit, this is largely true. This year’s
deficit is caused to only a fairly limited degree by 9/11 or (as opposed
to the deficits for the rest of the decade) the Bush tax cut. The culprit
is a flagging economy and what one must imagine is a virtual surcease in
the fat capital gains tax revenues which floated the federal budget through
the end of the last decade.

So far so good.

But then the Post says that “the short-term stimulus created
by the tax cuts has turned out to be fortuitously well timed.” This makes
no sense. Very little of the tax cut has even been implemented yet. That’s
why the White House — and the Washington Post — can accurately say that the administration is not responsible for this year’s deficit. Is the Post talking about the stimulus which Republican flacks sometimes claim comes from the expectation of future tax cuts?

It’s true that some of the tax cuts have kicked in — largely the
middle-class rebate checks foisted on the president by Senate Democrats,
which are rather small. But, in any case, one can either have real stimulus,
which might get some credit for buoying the economy, and also ballooning the deficit. Or one can have neither. The Post picks and chooses to sustain the logic of their editorial.

It’s an example of the crying sin of much recent political journalism
and commentary — not bias of the right or the left, but reflexive special-pleading
on behalf of the Bush White House.

There is a chilling

There is a chilling, even terrifying story unfolding in Washington, DC, though I don’t know how much play it’s getting outside of this area.

Yesterday morning someone shot and killed five people in the Washington,
DC suburbs of Montgomery County, Maryland. Unfortunately, shootouts and
other flurries of violence happen not that infrequently. So that in itself
might not sound so striking. The details tell the story …

To all appearances none of the five had any connection to each other
beside the fact that they were all out in the open Thursday morning in the
area in question. Each was shot dead with a single shot. Police speculate
that the killer used a high-powered rifle. And since police reports don’t
seem to contain any instances of people hearing gunshots or seeing the shooter,
it would seem that the shooter was firing at some distance.

So you have someone on the loose who is apparently a very
good marksman — able to kill five people with single shots at seemingly
great distances and not be seen. The mix of accuracy, stealth, and knowing
where to shoot is unsettling, to put it mildly.

Police now believe that the shooting spree began Wednesday evening
with a single shot through the window of an arts and crafts store in Washington.
Less than an hour later a man walking across a crosswalk at the intersection of Randolph Road and Georgia Avenue was shot dead in a manner similar to that of those killed the next morning in Montgomery County.

From the facts at hand it really sounds like someone who has training
as a sniper, though certainly anyone who was an accomplished marksman could
probably pull it off.

The police are obviously taking this all extremely seriously. But
they don’t seem to have that much to go on. And as you can imagine, if someone
can conceal themselves and shoot from a sufficient distance that no witnesses
can connect the shooter and the victim, it can be really difficult to catch
the guy or even know where to start. Suddenly I’m not feeling so bad that
I’m going to be home working this weekend …

Nothing sounds quite so

Nothing sounds quite so tinny as self-righteous indignation. Until you come to Republican self-righteous indignation.

TPM continues to be inundated by a flurry of Republicans’ emails howling about the outrage of New Jersey Supreme
Court decision allowing a change in the election ballots. The normally sensible
Senator Bill Frist — who walked the Republicans’ appeal over to the Supreme
Court today — was ridiculous enough to charge that Democrats were trying
to “steal an election they could not otherwise win.”

(Where these gun-slingers for the rule of law were when Mitt Romney
got a pass, and rightly so, on his Massachusetts residency requirement I
just don’t know.)

Republicans have developed a lot of know-how in the last couple
years at stealing elections. But I must confess to a certain confusion about
how one steals an election by fielding a candidate. The idea seems to be
that for Doug Forrester, Frank Lautenberg is an unfairly strong candidate. And that Forrester is somehow damaged by Lautenberg’s electability.

Giving it some thought, and considering the Supreme Court’s decisions in Bush v. Gore, it even seems possible that this might be the basis of an equal protection claim for Forrester. Forrester
entered the race with the reasonable expectation that he would only face
a candidate either equally lame or more lame than him, but not less
lame. It’s almost an implied contract he has with the state’s electorate,
right? Putting a new candidate on the ballot now violates this insufferable
chump’s right to coast into office without facing an actual opponent. But
I digress …

I looked at the NJ Supreme Court ruling
and it struck me as a liberal, though not unreasonable, construction of the
statute. The court “determined that N.J.S.A. 19:13-20 [the statute in question]
does not preclude the possibility of a vacancy occurring within fifty-one
days of the general election …”

Now I’m not a lawyer (and lawyers — though several are very dear
to my heart — rule the world and elections and so forth) so there’s really
no point in my giving you my opinion on whether the decision passes muster.
But I’d say I feel pretty comfortable with the proposition stated here a
couple days back, that election laws should be construed expansively in the
interest of holding actual elections — not just notional elections in which it’s the Republican against the Green or Socialist candidate.

Most of the substantive arguments I’ve heard to the contrary strike
me as pretty weak. One commentator says the whole switch is wrong because
it deprives Jersey voters of the right to throw Torricelli out of office.
But of course that’s just a dumb throwaway comment which means nothing.

The other argument one hears is that this decision will set off
a wave of candidates taking electoral hemlock days or weeks prior to an election
they are destined to lose. Can anyone who makes this argument have ever
spent any time around elected politicians? Not a chance. Especially these
days with weak parties there’s really no institutional force capable of knocking
a candidate out of a race. And people who run for office just don’t have
egos that work that way. To put it mildly.

The real public good question, it seems to me, is just what harm anyone has suffered through this decision. I can’t see one, save Doug Forrester being forced to run against an actual candidate. Unfortunately, the appeal the Forrester
campaign has made to the United States Supreme Court turns on precisely the
same principle which the Court’s 5-4 majority created out of whole cloth
in order to find a way to turn the 2000 presidential election to George W.
Bush. So consistency would dictate their intervention in this case too. Here consistency may be the handmaiden of travesty.

The money quote from

The money quote from the New Jersey Supreme Court ballot case came from Justice Peter G. Verniero, a former Chief Counsel, Chief of Staff and later Supreme Court appointee of former Governor Christie Whitman. “Didn’t Mr. Forrester call for Mr. Torricelli to withdraw?” he said in response to a protesting Republican attorney during oral arguments. “Was he expecting to run unopposed?”

That about sums it up.

The Forrester
campaign is now headed to the United States Supreme Court, the normal recourse
of Republicans who can’t win elections with majorities but aren’t inclined
to see that as the end of the story.

I’ve received a lot of emails in the last couple of days from people
saying I’m ignoring the importance of the deadline which prescribes that
in New Jersey candidates have to pull out 51 days before an election to have
another name put on the ballot. There’s certainly a good argument there.
Just not the best argument. I’m reminded of earlier this year when Massachusetts
Democrats tried to knock Mitt Romney out of contention for the governorship
because there may have been some problem with his Massachusetts residency
status. I thought that was wrong; just as I think this is wrong for Republicans
to do. The unanimous decision of the New Jersey Supreme Court — which is
heavily stacked with Republican appointees — I think gives a lot of credence
to that view.

Some readers who have written in tell me that this is a recipe for
electoral chaos, that every time a candidate looks like he’s going down the
tubes he can just pull out and bring in a ringer. There’s a superficial
logic to the argument. But such arguments toward practical effect must withstand
some measure of logical scrutiny and this one really doesn’t. When filing
deadlines come down how many candidates do you usually see rushing to cash
out their candidacies? Right, not many. The sort of people who run for
elective office just don’t do that sort of thing. And in how many of those
cases is there another credible candidate waiting in the wings? Not often.
If there were, that other candidate probably would have won the primary.
Say what you will about what happened here, it’s hardly likely to become
a pattern.

And so after a

And so after a long intermission we return to the case of Richard Perle, meddler.

As TPM noted,
almost a year ago to the day, Perle is a long-time heavyweight in neo-conservative
foreign policy circles. He is also the Chairman of something called the
Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board. The DPB used to be a rather out-of-the-way
affair, but Perle’s transformed it into an important advisory council within
today’s Pentagon. By any real measure, he’s a member of this administration.

Yet around this time last year he was going on virtually every chat show
there is and attacking Colin Powell for disloyalty to the president. And
he was getting unwary chat show producers to identify him merely as an ‘assistant
secretary of defense’ from the Reagan administration.

Point being, Perle was trying to have it both ways, being an administration
player one day and an outside critic the next. And the administration was
letting him get away with it.

Numerous embarrassments followed.

It was Perle who invited the off-kilter, former Lyndon LaRouche follower
Laurent Murawiec to give a presentation at the Pentagon advising the US essentially
to declare war against Saudi Arabia. As we noted at the time, the real crime
of Murawiec’ presentation — which was later published by Jack Shafer in Slate
— wasn’t so much the controversy it created as the fact that it had all
the appearances of being written by a precocious nine-year-old. But, alas,
I digress …

Now Perle is at it again. According to the Iranian news agency IRNA, Perle just gave an interview to the German daily Handelsblatt
in which he said Gerhard Schroeder, the recently re-elected German Chancellor,
should resign because of the allegedly anti-American campaign he recently
ran. A Pentagon official saying something like that is a big deal.

It’s actually rather similar to the article he wrote about exactly one year ago in Britain’s Daily Telegraph derisively attacking the British Foreign Secretary.

This is foreign policy freelancing — irresponsible and often shameless
behavior. Beside the behind-the-scenes mischief Perle cooks up, these comments
of his are routinely reported in the foreign countries in question as comments
of a ‘senior Pentagon advisor’ or some similar formulation and — as Perle
clearly intends — the comments carry the impression that he is speaking
in some capacity for the administration. It’s shabby behavior and low intrigue. An administration of pros wouldn’t tolerate it.

A couple months ago

A couple months ago I
told Nick Confessore that I doubted the Democrats would be in much danger
of losing control of the Senate come early October. An article questioning
why Democrats weren’t making more of an issue of that danger or why they
weren’t trying to nationalize the election around fears of unfettered, one-party
control of the federal government, I told him, might fall on deaf ears.

Well, chalk one up for Nick Confessore.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not pessimistic about Democrats chances
of holding the Senate. But a number of factors — the crisis over Iraq primarily,
but also a number of curveballs from left-field — have really thrown the
contest wide-open.

And now Nick’s new article — which is the cover piece in the new issue of the Washington Monthly — looks uncomfortably on target and relevant.

A few days back

A few days back New Jersey Republican Senate candidate Douglas Forrester called on Bob Torricelli to resign. Now Torricelli’s in effect done that and Forrester says it’s not fair and that no new, clean
Democrat should be allowed to take his place on the ballot. He’s complaining.
The heads of the Republican Senate committee are complaining. Everybody
with a parenthetical ‘R’ after their name is complaining.

From what I can tell, the legalities of getting a new name on the
ballot at this late stage are unsettled. But I was disappointed this morning
when I saw some people who should know better claiming that it was somehow
an outrage for the Democrats to try to field a candidate and give New Jersey
voters an actual election next month.

Election law — as we saw in Florida two years ago — is the most
vexed kind of law in a democratic society since it sets such powerful interests
against each other — the rule of law and democracy. In a democratic society,
the presumption in favor of putting significant questions before voters should
almost
always prevail. If New Jersey law is crystal clear on this point, and it
specifically bars any means of putting another name on the ballot, then so
be it. But if there’s a legal way to do it, then it should happen.

This is the advantage Democrats do have and should have in this
case. In a democratic polity, the absence of black letter law to the contrary,
the interests of democracy — having real elections — always trump procedural
squabbling.

The rather shabby truth here is that Republicans understand that Forrester could only get elected in a state like New Jersey not simply if he were facing a bad candidate but essentially no candidate.

Democratic hopes for the

Democratic hopes for the United States Senate have taken a real hit. It’s not so much Bob Torricelli’s decision to drop out of the New Jersey Senate race today as the revelations last week which seem to have made the decision inevitable. Torch’s decision to bail out may be a blessing for the Dems in as much as it at least creates the possibility that that seat — which really should be a Dem seat — can be salvaged.

As emails from friends have streamed in over the course of the morning, I keep thinking of the stabbing scene in Julius Caesar. Not a perfect analogy, mind you. But it’s hard to exaggerate the sheer number of people who can’t wait to slip their own private dagger into this guy now that they see the blood in the water or, perhaps better to say, the body on the ground. Former staffers, old opponents, old friends, old girlfriends, miscellaneous pols, campaign workers, donors, house pets, you name it. Torch always ran his show on fear, bravado and muscle. The denouement is going to be ugly. It already is.

Rumors are swirling in

Rumors are swirling in DC and New Jersey that Senator Bob “Torch” Torricelli is about to pull the plug on his embattled Senate reelection campaign.

If youre a new

If you’re a new reader of TPM you may be surprised to know that in addition to regime change and Iraq and George Orwell and the South Dakota Senate Race, TPM also has a bizarre but abiding interest in the Chandra Levy case. He was sort of an early adopter, you might say.

(Don’t criticize: everyone has their failings.)

Today the Washington Post published an article — expected for some time — reporting that DC police have refocused interest on an El Salvadoran immigrant named Ingmar A. Guandique.

Guandique attacked two women in Rock Creek Park not long after Levy disappeared. And he was later sentenced to ten years in prison under a plea bargain under which he pled guilty to attempted robbery. While awaiting trial a prison inmate told police that Guandique had confessed to the crime. But the snitch failed a polygraph and Guandique passed one. So in the absence of other evidence police scratched him from the list.

Now, according to the Post, police are considering Guandique again after questions were raised about whether the polygraph should have been administered by a bilingual examiner rather than through a translator. Perhaps imprecision in translation led to a bad test result. (Others who’ve followed this case speculate that questions were just getting asked about why the *#$% the DC cops never solved this case. And Guandique was convenient.)

But there are still a few pretty basic problems with the new theory. In fact, the Post article addresses some of them, even if it does sorta bury them.

In May, authorities played down Guandique as a suspect because Levy had been killed before his attacks on the joggers — who fought back and escaped without serious injury. They theorized that someone who already had killed would have been more violent with the later victims. Also, the two joggers looked strikingly similar, tall and blond, while Levy was a petite brunet.

But investigators now believe that opportunity, not how the women looked, was a key factor in the attacks, according to law enforcement sources. They still are not sure why Levy was in the park, because family and friends say she was not a jogger and didn’t like to go there alone. Some investigators have speculated that she went for a long walk, possibly to see the Nature Center, or was in the park to meet someone.

[D.C. Superior Court Judge Noel A.] Kramer said Guandique never stole anything from the women, not even their portable tape players, items he told police he was trying to take when he attacked them. “There is more here than a Walkman,” the judge said.

In a similarity noted by law enforcement authorities, Levy’s Walkman also was found with her remains.

Here we have two very basic problems which — in the absence of any direct evidence inculpating Guandique — still seem to me hard to overcome. It seems improbable — though certainly not impossible — that a serial killer would quickly dispatch his first victim and then flub the next two. As the Post piece says, one imagines you’d get better at it, not worse.

Still more problematic is just why Levy would have been in the park. Levy was not only not a jogger, she was not a jogger — according to friends and family — specifically because she didn’t think it was safe to jog outside in a city like DC. If that’s true, why on earth would she go to an isolated and sorta scary place like that to jog?

There are some other small details militating against the jogging hypothesis. But I’ll spare you those.

Secondly, if you consider where she lived and where her body was found this would have been a very, very long jog on a hot summer day. At least it seems that way to a pitiful jogger like TPM. But we don’t have to go into that.

This issue of the eerie similarity of no one having their Walkman stolen is really just too moronic to even comment on.

Now, there is always the Kafkaesque — well, not exactly Kafkaesque, but work with me, I can’t think of another word — scenario in which Condit, or some rent-a-goon he hired, lured Levy into a secluded part of Rock Creek Park to tell her it was over, positively over, and she better not think of making any trouble. Then he leaves her there. Chandra is crushed and despondently drifts off into some wooded section of the park only to get whacked by Guandique.

It would be just Condit’s luck.

Pardon the recent scantness

Pardon the recent scantness of postings. Other matters had been keeping me busy. But now we should be returning to more or less the regular frequency.

There’s a good piece today in Slate by Jake Weisberg making what he calls “The Case Against the Case Against War.” In fact, there’s a nice package of pieces at Slate hashing out many of the different strands of the hawkish and dovish arguments.

I found a lot I agreed with in Jake’s piece. But what really grabbed my attention today was a comment from — of all people — Colin Powell.

Recently I’ve criticized what seemed to me to be the casual attitude toward untruth many in this administration have when it comes to discussing Iraq. Generally, this comes from the more hawkish types from the Pentagon and the Office of the Vice President and so forth.

Today the administration released new information showing purported ties between Saddam Hussein’s regime and al Qaida. On balance, the information didn’t seem that convincing. Or rather didn’t seem to prove very much. There were overtures from al Qaida about whether Saddam would allow some members safe haven, but apparently no information about what the response had been. There are al Qaida in Iraq, but they’re not in a part of Iraq that Saddam controls. Even different administration officials contradicted each other about what information the United States really had — which doesn’t inspire much confidence on a number of levels. The whole thing had the look of the old throwing whatever you can find up against the wall and seeing what sticks.

Again, what struck me though was a comment from Colin Powell.

Powell told a Senate Committee that while there was evidence of Iraqi-al Qaida cooperation there was still “no smoking gun” connecting Iraq to 9/11. I would hasten to note that there is also still no definitive proof that the author of Talking Points lives in a mansion in Georgetown or even that he owns that villa in Capri. But somehow stating this undeniable fact in such a fashion strikes me as a touch misleading.

Normally when you have a claim for which you have no evidence you characterize this as ‘a claim for which you have no evidence.’ Or one might even be bold and say ‘it’s not true, as far as we know.’

When you say there’s no smoking gun, the obvious implication is that there is a lot of information, a lot of clues pointing in that direction, but no real slam-dunk evidence. But of course there simply isn’t any evidence pointing to an Iraq-9/11 connection, and a lot of circumstantial evidence — to the extent that one can ever prove a negative — to the contrary.

So, as I asked several days back, why the endless attempts to fudge? Why the resistance to having this debate on the basis of the very serious facts and threats at hand? Though the rationale for liberating Kuwait was powerful in 1990 there was also testimony before Congress at the time about Iraqi atrocities in Kuwait which was later demonstrated to be entirely bogus. The immediate trigger for our involvement in Vietnam — as opposed to the larger rationale for our involvement — was later revealed to be based on exaggerations so great as to basically amount to lies. And one finds this sort of thing in the lead-ups to many other wars, in this country and in others. It’s almost like these little bogus stories are the bon-bons of war, the little morsels and appetizers to chum up those who can’t quite swallow the whole complicated rationale whole.

In this case, and from someone like Colin Powell, can’t we do better?

Christopher Hitchens is finally

Christopher Hitchens is finally leaving The Nation. He’ll apparently make the announcement in a column in the magazine’s next issue. Hitchens seems to no longer believe the Nation audience is a receptive or congenial one for him, given his hawkish stands on the war on terrorism and Iraq and — I would imagine at least — more or less everything he’s written for the last half dozen years or so. The Nation released the following statement — which will apparently also run in the next issue — to TPM Wednesday afternoon …

We note with keen regret that this week marks the final appearance of Christopher Hitchens’s column, “Minority Report.” We have been publishing Christopher for more than twenty years, and the relationship with him has been a rewarding one for this magazine and for our readers. That is testimony to the fact that Christopher has always been completely free to express his views, and differences he has had with the editors he has honorably ventilated. We will miss his eloquent and passionate voice and his elegantly crafted prose.

We’ll be reporting more on this as it develops.

The normal writing energy

The normal writing energy for TPM entries was taken up by other late-night writing last evening. More posts to come later today. But if you have a moment read this new piece by Fareed Zakaria on Iraq. It’s not the stance I would have thought to take, or would have taken on first blush, but it’s challenging. And Zakaria continues to be one of the shrewdest, most consistently honest writers on the Iraq question.

Let me try to

Let me try to hash out a miscellany of unrelated little points I’d like to mention. The New Republic is not only a nearly-hundred-year-old institution fastened up with luminaries like Edmund Wilson and Walter Lippmann and Herbert Croly, and not only does the current management sometimes see it in its heart to publish my articles, but the magazine now has a blog. (I’ve given it a look; and it’s really quite good.) It seems it’ll be run on the Tapped model, with none of the entries signed, though most or at least many will be written by staffer Noam Scheiber. I think that’s a good model for a magazine blog. Having a bunch of different people signing entries on a single blog makes for clutter and cacophony. Better to run them unsigned.

Whether they’ll be running any items at four in the morning remains to be seen.

Regular readers know that I keep a close eye on the Thune-Johnson Senate contest in South Dakota. For some time I’ve been saying that Johnson would do much better than people were thinking. This is a close race certainly. But the very latest round of polls leaves no doubt that Johnson holds a small but steady lead. A new Zogby poll has Johnson up 46-43. Monday on CNN Robert Novak said that Republican insiders were telling him that their polls showed Thune down by four, though I’ve heard rumors of a GOP poll showing an even deeper deficit.

In his commentary Novak said this was a “close race. It’s been going back and forth.” It’s definitely close. But what strikes me is that it really hasn’t been going back and forth. Look at the polls on this race over the last six months or so and you see a slow but consistent trend bringing Johnson from running behind up to ten points or so until today when he is in every poll running at least a few points ahead of Thune. It’s a tight race. And it’d be foolish to be complacent. But I’d be really surprised if Johnson doesn’t win this one.

Also of interest, the latest St. Louis Post-Dispatch poll — also done by Zogby — has Senator Jean Carnahan up by seven points over Jim Talent. That’s supposed to be one of the close races. So that’s an important result.

Given TPMs editorial line

Given TPM’s editorial line, you may find it surprising that when I go out to a cafe in the morning to read papers and sip coffee I will often pick up a copy of The Washington Times along with the Post and The New York Times. I don’t think a lot of their political coverage but when it comes to reporting on the Pentagon and defense issues they have stuff you just won’t find in the other papers.

But every so often you get a glimpse of just what an odd operation the Times is. On Friday I was sitting in my usual cafe reading my papers when I came across a whole separate section in the day’s Times, a “Special Report”, with the headline: “Adjara, Georgia: Region is Model for Good Government, Vigorous Economy.”

On the front was a man of destiny-looking type figure with the caption: “The dynamic President of the Autonomous Region of Adjara, Aslan Abashidze, is a Georgian patriot and widely respected at home and in Europe.” Below that there’s an article “Adjara – beautiful, successful & secure: A unique region of the globe.” And then on the page’s right side an interview: “President Aslan Abashidze, visionary leader of Adjara.

(I later found this all on the web too, and thus the supplied links.)

After a bit I figured there was something a bit funny here and I discovered the small line of text scrawled at the top corner of the front page: “A Special International Report Prepared by The Washington Times advertising Department.”

But by now I was hooked and, before I knew it, on to the second page, which has “500 Years of Family Leadership” about the Abashidze family’s exploits in Georgian history back to 1463; “President Abashidze: a biography”; and “The Political Testament of Aslan Abashidze.”

The next page has President Abashidze’s open letter to President Bush expressing condolences about 9/11, a note from the First Lady of Adjara, and then from there articles about various economic development projects in Adjara, President Abashidze’s commitment to democracy and stuff about Adjarian culture. On the religious front, surprisingly enough, it turns out that St. Matthew, the guy who wrote the ‘Gospel of’ is buried in the capital of Adjara, Batumi.

The only article about anyone else beside President Abashidze is an article on the back page, page 12, about the newly-elected Mayor of Batumi, the President’s twenty-six year old son George Abashidze. George “has long expressed his political credo as ‘STRONG CITY, STRONG REGION, STRONG GEORGIA!'”

Among the more bizarre

Among the more bizarre and troubling aspects of the ‘regime change’ debate is … well, the phrase ‘regime change.’

According to various neo-conservatives and Iraq-hawks, George Orwell is a dedicated Iraq-hawk and thoroughgoing supporter of regime change. This may well be the case. I’m never able to predict such things. But I would have imagined that were Orwell alive today the phrase ‘regime change’ itself would be one he would quickly set upon with a knife and a fork.

Everybody’s favorite Orwell text is his 1946 essay ‘Politics and the English Language.’ I wouldn’t be foolish enough to try to summarize it. But one key point of the essay is that vagueness, euphemism and abstraction abet muddled thinking, evasions of responsibility, and lies. Put it another way: There is a tight connection between clear thinking and clear language. And clear thinking and clear speech are the beginning of, or at least the handmaidens of, honest thinking and honest speech.

Here’s one passage from the essay …

In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them.

Which brings us back to ‘regime change.’ Like many phrases Orwell had at, ‘regime change’ is one that comes with the evasion and concealment prepackaged within it. We all know more or less what the phrase means: the violent otherthrow of one government and its replacemnet with another, chosen by the power which overthrew the first one, or, in other words, by us. So why not say so? Using an abstract and antiseptic phrase like ‘regime change’ for a process which is neither abstract nor antiseptic is corrupting.

You can imagine various instances where we might try the same stunt in our daily lives. The fifty-five year-old man who dumps his graying middle-aged wife for a busty, blonde, twenty-eight year-old ad-exec. This is ‘spousal replacement.’ And so forth.

In the Weekly Standard this week David Brooks has a review of Christopher Hitchens’ new book Why Orwell Matters. The rather unhappy conclusion of Brooks’ review is how relatively little Orwell really does matter today. And reading Brooks’ review it’s hard not to agree with his conclusion, at least in the sense in which he means it. That is, that the basic issues Orwell concerned himself with — the Soviet Union, socialism, fascism, and so forth, the ones that were paramount in his day — simply aren’t the ones that are central to anything that’s crucial in politics or global affairs today.

For language, politics, and truth, though, Orwell remains quite timely.

I don’t pretend that the short-hand of ‘regime change’ is the end of the world in itself. But it is the exposed tip of an extremely dishonest public debate — one in which assertions which are widely understood to be false are stated and not corrected, in which important distinctions are clouded with obscuring phrases, and in which discussion of the long-term consequences of specific actions are trumped by slogans. And that’s a very big deal.

The lack of serious debate is not limited to the hawks. The opponents of deposing Saddam are often similarly muddled. Many Democrats have busied themselves with asking good questions rather than proposing a credible alternative policy. Meanwhile, many people in the peace camp are simply not willing to face seriously the belligerence, recklessness and brutality of Saddam Hussein’s regime. They are not willing in most cases to consider the consequences of a nuclear-armed Iraq under Saddam Hussein’s control. They often won’t face the pressing nature of the issue, one in which time is not necessarily on our side. But mostly these are simply matters of evasion, an unwillingness to seriously consider the issue. There’s little of the casual making up of stories that is the staple of this administration’s arguments.

More notes from the

More notes from the annals of spin and war.

Last night I noted the part of the president’s proposed use of force resolution which claimed there was a “the high risk that the current Iraqi regime will either employ those weapons to launch a surprise attack against the United States or its Armed Forces or provide them to international terrorists who would do so…”

Maybe the Iraqis would give WMD to terrorists. Maybe. But does anybody really think Saddam is going to launch a surprise attack against the United States?

It turns out that one White House correspondent also found that line questionable and asked an administration official about it. The administration official — who was well-placed and in a position to know — told the reporter that the resolution’s original language was much more specific and made clear that the reference was to US interests in the Middle East or military installations in the region. However, late in the process of drafting the resolution that wording got swapped out in exchange for the current, more dramatic language.

The implication from the administration official seemed to be that of course everyone knows that Iraq isn’t going to launch a surprise attack against the US but, you know, read between the lines, etc.

Isn’t a charge like this — that a foreign power is likely to launch a devastating surprise attack on the United States with weapons of mass destruction — not the sort of thing you just toss off like a throwaway line?

But, of course, this is who we’re dealing with.

I just happened upon

I just happened upon this excellent piece by James Fallows in the November issue of the Atlantic Monthly. As you might imagine, it’s about Iraq. And it’s one that should be on the top of your list to read if you want to think seriously and in depth about this very important and quite pressing subject.

In this article at least Fallows doesn’t draw any real conclusions, at least not explicitly. What he does is dig into all the details of what the ‘day after’ of regime change would look like. He doesn’t spend much time with the more outlandish scenarios — cleaning up after a nuclear blast, treating thousands of people for exposure to Anthrax, some follow-on confrontation with Iran, etc. He sticks to the ones we know we’d face: feeding everyone in the country, setting up a new government, courts, bringing in an American military police force to prevent people from killing each other — both in ordinary criminal ways and out of politically-tinged revenge.

All together it’s a very, very sobering picture. The sheer immensity of the effort is staggering to consider. And the prospect of doing this all on our own dime (which we almost certainly would) and with our own personnel is daunting. It’s not so much an article about arguments as simple wealth of detail, a reality check to drag you back down from the hot air balloons of slogans and rationales on both sides of the regime change debate. In any case, read it or at least dip into it. It’s well worth your time.

Fallows himself played a small but pretty influential part in the evolution of my own thinking about the Iraq question. I interviewed Fallows at the beginning of my reporting for the article on Iraq I wrote in the Washington Monthly last Spring. Going into that conversation I tended to view all the big pushers of regime change as warmongers, hysterics or trouble-makers. Coming out of it I gave up the thought the arguments of at least the more serious regime change advocates could be easily dismissed. After reading Fallows’ own piece this evening — or I guess, this morning — I wondered whether Fallows’ own reporting for this article had changed his thinking on the question and how that conversation with him would be different today. I wondered; but the answer remained obscure.

Since I started reporting intensively on Iraq almost six months ago my own thinking has strained quite a bit under the push of unfolding events. As readers of this site know I wrote a long article in which I tentatively came out in support of military action to remove Saddam from power — albeit by the means I think Colin Powell favors rather than those embraced by the Iraq-hawks.

In recent weeks I’ve mulled over this judgment again and again. Some of this is simply the fact that judgments like this become weightier as the prospect of actual action moves closer. On balance, though, I’d say I remain comfortable with what I wrote then.

There’s also an issue people don’t like to talk about, but which is an undeniable reality for many. Military action is easier to contemplate if it’s being planned by political leaders who you support and whose values you share. One might say this is mere partisanship, agreeing with what politician X wants to do because he’s a member of your party or vice versa. And there’s always some of that. But it runs deeper. Following political leaders into war requires a deep measure of trust on a variety of levels: trust in their judgment, trust in their analysis of factual information that can never be shared with the public, and so forth. If your general sense of an administration is that they’re not trustworthy or that they don’t share your values it’s difficult not let that color your opinions. Of course, to some degree it should color your opinions. But it’s important to evaluate these questions as much as possible simply on the merits. And I’ve tried to do that to the best of my ability in my writing about Iraq on this site over the last several months.

But let me discuss with you for a moment what I find the most difficult about this debate. The more ardent supporters of regime change lie a lot. I really don’t know how else to put it. I’m not talking about disagreements over interpretation. I mean people saying things they either know to be false or have no reason to believe are true. Perhaps the word ‘lie’ is a very slight exaggeration. Perhaps it’s better to say they have a marked propensity to assert as fact points for which there is virtually or absolutely no evidence. How’s that?

Let’s just take one example, one among many. In the proposed use of force resolution the president sent to Congress on Thursday it cites as one reason for war “the high risk that the current Iraqi regime will either employ those weapons to launch a surprise attack against the United States or its Armed Forces or provide them to international terrorists who would do so.” Whether Iraq would give WMD to terrorists to use against the United States is debatable. But is there a high risk that Iraq will launch a surprise attack against the United States? Really? Is there any risk this will happen? Is it even conceivable that this will happen? I don’t think anybody of sound mind seriously believes this. That doesn’t mean that Iraq isn’t a serious threat or that an Iraq with nuclear weapons is not an eventuality we cannot allow to come into being. But a surprise attack against the United States? It’s not a serious statement.

So why is it there? I assume it is just there as one more throwaway line that has no relation to the truth but sounds good and ups the ante. And the carefree indifference to the truth that that sort of statement betrays is worrisome in the extreme — even if it’s said in the service of a goal you think we should pursue.

I have more to say about this. But, alas, I must go to sleep. If you’re dying for more you can read this article on Iraq which I published this evening in Salon.

Its a matter of

It’s a matter of long-settled constitutional practice that the president’s role as Commander-in-Chief gives him the effective power to wage war more or less as he sees fit, subject only to the constraining power of the Congress’s control over the purse strings.

The point of seeking a congressional resolution authorizing military action is get the Congress on record behind some relatively specific policy. The meat of the proposed ‘use of force’ resolution the president sent to Congress today says ..

The president is authorized to use all means that he determines to be appropriate, including force, in order to enforce the United Nations Security Council resolutions referenced above, defend the national security interests of the United States against the threat posed by Iraq, and restore international peace and security in the region.

That language is broad. And it’s vague. It authorizes the president to use force to enforce UN resolutions and do various, but unspecified, other good things in the Middle East. The vagueness of the language is deepened by the fact that president’s policy seems to have been in complete disarray for several days.

The long and the short of it is that this resolution doesn’t really mean anything. It gives the president the power he already has and puts the Congress on record behind no particular policy.

More thoughts on all this in a piece running this evening in Salon.

New posts to come

New posts to come soon.

For all the floundering

For all the floundering on Iraq, the capture of Ramzi Binalshibh is a major victory in the war against al Qaida. The Associated Press now reports that the White House is considering whether to try him before a military tribunal.

Military tribunals do have a place in our constitutional system. And perhaps Binalshibh — who seems to be the only person we’ve captured with serious, direct involvement in the 9/11 attacks — is just the fellow who should face one.

But this latest decision should focus us again on the recurring and as yet unanswered question: just what are the rules here? The rule of law is principally a matter of there being rules. What the rules are is often much less important than that there be rules and that they be followed. Thus far war on terrorism jurisprudence hasn’t so much been draconian or lax as it has been a rather comical make-it-up-as-you-go-along affair.

John Walker Lindh, a US citizen, gets a straightforward civilian trial. Zacarias Moussaoui, a French citizen, gets a straightforward civilian trial. Jose Padilla, a US citizen, is held indefinitely and without counsel as an enemy combatant. Yasir Hamdi, another US citizen, is also an enemy combatant being held indefinitely, but he may get a lawyer. The folks down in Guantanamo, well, who knows?

A military tribunal, civilian trials, various sorts of detention — cases can be made for each method of proceeding. But the essence of the rule of law is having rules in place for how you’re going to deal with people before you catch them, not making them up afterwards.

Certain conservative webloggers who

Certain conservative webloggers who happen to be former editors of the New Republic are crowing about how President Bush’s assertive stand on Iraq is making former opponents into allies: the Saudis, the French, the Egyptians, et.al. Actually, this line of reasoning — this interpretation of recent events — is pretty widespread. But it could scarcely be more foolish.

The opposition of more or less all of these countries was explicitly tied to the president’s eagerness to sidestep the UN Security Council and his indifference to the return of inspectors. Has the president bent these countries to his will? Or did they bend him to theirs?

A few months ago I wrote a long article on Iraq in the Washington Monthly in which I endorsed the Powell-ite policy and drew sharp criticism from the usually Iraq-hawk quarters for doing so …

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.

A return of inspectors is the only sensible policy since we win either way. If they’re allowed to do their job our problem is solved. If not, our argument is made.

This of course is — for all the Cheney-ite bluster in the UN speech — precisely what the administration is now doing. Cheney and Rumsfeld are out of the saddle. Disingenuousness and ignorance is just keeping their allies out of government from admitting it.

If the president fell flat on his face in the middle of the Rose Garden some of these characters would applaud his uncanny foresight in having arranged for the ground to be in just the right place to break his descent. Shades of the personality cult.

Otto J. Reich is

Otto J. Reich is perhaps the most unreconstructed, old-style rightist
appointee
in the Bush administration. A friend and
protector
of Cuban emigre terrorist Orlando Bosch, Reich was also implicated in
the United States’ seeming involvement in the failed coup against Venezuela’s
Hugo Chavez last April. He runs Latin America policy
at the State Department.

Recently, the St. Paul Pioneer Press asked Reich if he had any advice
for out-going Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura and state business executives who
are accompanying him on a trade mission to Cuba this month. Reich
told the
paper
: “First, I would ask them not to participate in sexual tourism, which
is one of the main industries in Cuba.”

Ventura called the remark “offensive” and said:
“At the very least, he and President Bush owe my wife and children a personal
apology.”

A State Department spokesman rebuffed Ventura’s request.

Talking to different people

Talking to different people today I heard many different
opinions about just what policy the president had enunciated in his speech.
After reading the speech several times it seemed to me that when you peeled away
the Cheney-esque bluster you had a Powell-esque policy.

No one is mentioning this. The White House had one policy. They hit a brick
wall. Now they’ve changed policies.

And that’s good. Because this is a better policy.

Meanwhile, The New Republic has a scathing
editorial
in its new issue, which strikes me as completely half right. The
magazine argues that the Democrats are shirking their responsibility by ducking
the basic questions about what to do about Iraq and in essence failing to
embrace the president’s historic policy of preemption and regime change. The
first part of that is true, I think. The second part strikes me as strained and
unpersuasive.


(In the Cold War, guys, containment was the historic policy, not
roll-back. The logic of containment doesn’t apply to Iraq today. But bold does not always mean
right. Nor is maximum assertiveness always a sign of clarity or logic.)

I believe the Democrats are missing an opportunity. The opportunity, though,
is not to play Vandenbergs to Bush’s
Truman, but to hash out an aggressive
policy
on Iraq which eschews the dishonesty and amateurism which has plagued
White House policy for months. They are missing that opportunity. And for that
alone the TNR editorial is worth considering.

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