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Balanced Fare: We Report, You Deride

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Prof. Krugman Delivers!

We love his latest column, "Who's Accountable?". First, we note his generous provision of sources for quotes. Evidently, a new era of accountabilty has reached the NY Times. Secondly, amongst the many quotes on offer, we are sure to find a few duds. Here is one:

On March 16 Dick Cheney declared, "We believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons."

This announcement was made to Tim Russert on the eve of war. From the transcript, it seems clear that Russert did not even blink. This is because Cheney mis-spoke, and Russert knew it. Russert had asked whether Iraq had a nuclear program; earlier in the interview, Cheney had asserted his belief that Saddam had "reconstituted these programs since the Gulf War".

With this response, Cheney managed to substitute "weapons" for "programs", but it is clear from the context what he meant. Later in the show, Cheney also said this:

{Cheney]: ...We’re now faced with a situation, especially in the aftermath of 9/11, where the threat to the United States is increasing. And over time, given Saddam’s posture there, given the fact that he has a significant flow of cash as a result of the oil production of Iraq, it’s only a matter of time until he acquires nuclear weapons.

This is consistent with Administration pronouncements. As presented, this quote has the virtue of being literally accurate - however, it is also hopelessly misleading.

By odd coincidence, I posted on this back on May 23, [Note: This quote is finally quashed on July 18] but this misquote seems to have taken on a life of its own - CNN, Slate, and TIME all have it. Well, I don't obsess about their miscues.

Flood the zone: retrace@nytimes.com

CONTINUED: We are just going to keep having fun, with emphasis added throughout. More from the Prof:

The Bush and Blair administrations are trying to silence critics — many of them current or former intelligence analysts — who say that they exaggerated the threat from Iraq. .... In this country, Colin Powell has declared that questions about the justification for war are "outrageous."

This seems to be a transcript, and summary, of the quote in question:

SECRETARY POWELL: We have uncovered the mobile vans and we are continuing to search. We also know that they were masters of deceit and masters of hiding these things. So a little patience is required, and it is really somewhat outrageous on the part of some critics to say that this was all bogus. It's not the least bit bogus. And the work continues, and a 1,300-man group is going in to continue that work.

Unless Prof. Krugman has some other quote in mind, I think we can agree that what Powelll decribed as "outrageous" was NOT "questions about the justification for war", but rather, allegations that the intelligence effort was totally bogus (dude). The implication that Powell is attempting to stifle debate is not supported by this evidence.

The Barrel Fishing Continues:

From Prof. Krugman::

"...the Bush administration found scraps of intelligence suiting its agenda, and officials began making strong pronouncements. Saddam Hussein recently authorized Iraqi field commanders to use chemical weapons — the very weapons the dictator tells us he does not have," Mr. Bush said on Feb. 8."

Well so Bush did, in a radio address. Even a casual reader will note the qualifier that eluded Prof. Krugman and his editors (if any), and weakens the "strong" pronouncement:

"...And we have sources that tell us that Saddam Hussein recently authorized Iraqi field commanders to use chemical weapons — the very weapons the dictator tells us he does not have."

OK, this is getting embarrassing, but I am nearly done. Prof. Krugman:

...the Bush administration's determination to see what it wanted to see led not just to a gross exaggeration of the threat Iraq posed, but to a severe underestimation of the problems of postwar occupation.... Now a force of 150,000 is stretched thin, facing increasingly frequent guerrilla attacks, and a senior officer told The Washington Post that it might be two years before an Iraqi government takes over. The Independent reports that British military chiefs are resisting calls to send more forces, fearing being "sucked into a quagmire."

Is there any doubt that we are talking about the occupation of Iraq? Maybe there should be, because this is what is in the Independent:

Defence chiefs are resisting calls for British troops to be sent to join American forces in Baghdad because they could be "sucked into a quagmire".

Although the Ministry of Defence's official position is that sending units to the Iraqi capital would risk "overstretch", senior officers are believed to have told Tony Blair such a deployment would inevitably mean British soldiers getting caught up in the rising tide of anti-American violence.

Military commanders privately accept that if sufficient pressure is brought to bear by Washington, Downing Street may feel obliged to send British troops to Baghdad.

...The US officially requested two weeks ago that the British Army's 16th Air Assault Brigade be sent to Baghdad. Defence chiefs rejected the request but have since been under pressure from Downing Street to reconsider.

...Despite the adverse publicity generated by the alleged heavy-handed actions of some British troops, senior officers insist they are happy with the way things have gone in areas under their control in southern Iraq. They stress there have been very few attacks on British forces by Iraqis and point to progress, such as the handing over of Umm Qasr to a civilian administration.

By contrast, American forces in Baghdad and Fallujah have come under repeated attack from Iraqis.

...One of the main reasons the US Central Command sounded out London on the possibility of sending contingents to the American-controlled zones was because of the relative success of British troops in policing roles. British officers feel the aggressive actions of the Americans in some incidents resulted in anger that may be taken out on British soldiers.

Look, this is a joke - the Independent story clearly and repeatedly says that the Brits want to stay out of Baghdad specifically, not Iraq generally. The Krugman presentation is quite different.

Send your comments to the NY Times editors at retrace@nytimes.com

Matt Hoy has his collection of misdeeds by the Earnest Prof.

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