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Balanced Fare: We Report, You Deride

Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Now I Am On The Comeback Trail!

After my near-death experience with Professor Krugman's "Krug-Math", in which I had to forthrightly step up and admit that I was wrong and he was rrriii... well, anyway, not so terribly wrong, it is nice to see him return to the area of political analysis. Free fire zone! His theme is that the Bush administration deceived us on the WMD capability of Saddam's regime. Here we go:

Sure enough, we have yet to find any weapons of mass destruction. It's hard to believe that we won't eventually find some poison gas or crude biological weapons. But those aren't true W.M.D.'s, the sort of weapons that can make a small, poor country a threat to the greatest power the world has ever known. Remember that President Bush made his case for war by warning of a "mushroom cloud." Clearly, Iraq didn't have anything like that — and Mr. Bush must have known that it didn't.

Well, the best evidence that "Mr. Bush must have known that it didn't" comes from Mr. Bush's own sometimes puzzling words. Let's go to the mushrooms:

If the Iraqi regime is able to produce, buy, or steal an amount of highly-enriched uranium a little larger than a single softball, it could have a nuclear weapon in less than a year.

And if we allow that to happen, a terrible line would be crossed. Saddam Hussein would be in a position to blackmail anyone who opposes his aggression. He would be in a position to dominate the Middle East. He would be in a position to threaten America. And Saddam Hussein would be in a position to pass nuclear technology to terrorists.

...Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof -- the smoking gun -- that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.

Any need to add emphasis? The President was clearly speaking of a hypothetical future threat, which can not be news to Prof. Krugman. But let us press on. Prof. Krugman segues to the Cote D'Ivoire, and questions the US commitment to peace there, so we will lob back this State Dept. briefing. And back to our main theme:

Meanwhile, aren't the leaders of a democratic nation supposed to tell their citizens the truth?

One wonders whether most of the public will ever learn that the original case for war has turned out to be false.

Holy Cow, this is news! Not only have we failed to find WMDs, but we have anounced that we never will, and have abandoned the search! Ooops. I guess if we are still looking, then the Arlen Specter "Not Proven" would be the relevant verdict at this point. Anyway, if you will indulge a "mushroom flashback", earlier in the column, the Earnest Prof told us this:

...It's hard to believe that we won't eventually find some poison gas or crude biological weapons. But those aren't true W.M.D.'s, the sort of weapons that can make a small, poor country a threat to the greatest power the world has ever known.

Ahh, chemical and biological weapons aren't "true" WMDs! Then let me just put this UN Convention on Biological Weapons from waaay back in 1972 directly into the shredder. In fact, let's just fire Hans Blix, and put Prof. Krugman of the idiosyncratic definitions in charge of searching for whatever he considers to be a WMD this week.

But before we shred the UN BWC, let's glance at the opening paragraphs:

Determine to act with a view to achieving effective progress toward general and complete disarmament, including the prohibition and elimination of all types of weapons of mass destruction, and convinced that the prohibition of the development, production and stockpiling of chemical and bacteriological (biological) weapons and their elimination, through effective measures, will facilitate the achievement of general and complete disarmament under strict and effective control

Seems clear enough. Forward!

Did the news media feel that it was unpatriotic to question the administration's credibility? Some strange things certainly happened. For example, in September Mr. Bush cited an International Atomic Energy Agency report that he said showed that Saddam was only months from having nuclear weapons. "I don't know what more evidence we need," he said. In fact, the report said no such thing — and for a few hours the lead story on MSNBC's Web site bore the headline "White House: Bush Misstated Report on Iraq." Then the story vanished — not just from the top of the page, but from the site.

This may be my favorite paragraph ever, for this week at least. First, does it occur to Prof. Krugman or his editors that a well known NY Times columnist might be considered as part of the "national media"? In which case, perhaps he should just answer his own question - did he, or the Times, cover up anti-Administration stories?

Next, what about this mysterious cover up of the IAEA report. Well, the discrepancy was first noted by what some folks refer to as the Moonie Times. However MSNBC handled it, the White House bully boys were unable to silence either Joe Conason at Salon, or the village people at the Village Voice. Perhaps Prof. Krugman can get to the bottom of the mystery of the absence of NY Times coverage - with my limited grasp of their search engine, I can not find coverage there.

The Washington Post reports on the press briefing where Bush, speaking with Blair, made the controversial "six months away" comment. Here, we have a WaPo story from November, where they chat with a the former head of the Iraqi nuclear program.. Perhaps he was just hyping his book, but he said this:

Washington, D.C.: Richard Butler, former UNSCOM Executive Chairman (1997-1999), testified before the U.S. House of Representatives International Relations Committee on September 26, 2000, that “when the work of that -Iraq nuclear design] team was stopped in 1991 they were six months away from producing a nuclear explosive device.” Is his statement accurate? Assuming that it is, bearing in mind the extensive nuclear disarmament between 1991 and 1998, and assuming Iraq’s nuclear technological know-how as of 1991, what technology and material would Iraq need to produce a “nuclear explosive device” and to eventually upgrade to a lethal nuclear weapon?

Khidhir Hamza: Butler's statement was correct in 1991, in the sense that Iraq then had then the fissile material to produce one bomb by using the French fuel that came with the Osirak reactor. Sinec that material has been returned to France, Iraq needs anm alternative source of fissile material, and that will take awhile to obtain. What it needs now is fissile material, either from abroad on the black market, or to develop an infrastructure to enrich uranium itself. If he chooses the diffusion techno,ogy, Saddam doesn't need to import much, but he needs time -- probably two to three years. Since I left, all the elements for diffusion technology were completed.

And the Washington Times, which broke the story too hot for the NY Times, had this follow-up in December:

President Bush's recent declaration that Iraq was close to making a nuclear bomb in 1991 has been bolstered by an unlikely source — Baghdad.

A key architect of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs has told reporters his quest for a nuclear bomb was nearly achieved when allied planes struck in January 1991, destroying much of the country's weapons-making facilities.

I wonder if MSNBC sat on that story too. Anyway, Prof. Krugman's big finish:

Now it's true that the war removed an evil tyrant. But a democracy's decisions, right or wrong, are supposed to take place with the informed consent of its citizens. That didn't happen this time. And we are a democracy — aren't we?

Yes, we are. Worst form of government except for all the others. We encourage our free press to ferret out these stories of their own cowardice. And "Google" can be a big help.

UPDATE: Matt Hoy fires away, and dredges up an old Slate article by the earnest Prof in which he argues that the US should use its mighty power for good. Uhh, but not in Iraq!

OK, it is 1999, we are discussing Kosovo, with the high level bombing and Clinton's "no ground troops" commitment (later revised), and I think this little excerpt is fascinating:

For what it is worth, my own sense is that the true immorality of U.S. policy here is the implicit rate of exchange we have established between American and Kosovar lives. We are, to our credit, willing to spend a lot of money in an effort to prevent genocide. But we are very unwilling to place even a few hundred American lives at risk--say, by sending aircraft in direct, low-level attacks on the Serbian forces in Kosovo--even if that might save tens of thousands of civilians. I don't blame the administration, which is responding to a political reality; but it is worth pointing out that we are in effect saying that one American is worth hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Kosovars.

And, a bit later, we have this:

... we will surprise ourselves by facing up to the reality that you can't be a great power unless you are prepared to risk your own citizens' lives. If we discover the strength of character to do the right thing, there is still the question of whether European nations will also be prepared to join in. Some good could still come out of this; but I am not very hopeful.

Shockingly unilateral. However, I should add tha this criticism of the initial Kosovo strategy is similar to my own - Clinton was starting a fight that the country did not seem to be emotionally prepared to finish. And superpowers cannot commit their prestiege that carelessly.

UPDATE 2: How many Sullivans are out there? Oneof them especially liked this excerpt from Prof. Krugman in Slate:

...I do not think of myself as an all-purpose pundit. I remember once (during the air phase of the Gulf War) seeing John Kenneth Galbraith making pronouncements on TV about the military situation, and telling friends that if I ever start pontificating in public about a technical subject I don't understand, they should gag me. In other words, I have nothing to say about the awful news that isn't totally obvious.

Oh, step up. MoDo doesn't let a little lack of knowledge impede her.

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