Just One Minute
Balanced Fare: We Report, You Deride

Thursday, July 31, 2003

Extremely Useful Debunking

Writing as one of the Volokh Conspirators, Phillipe de Croy tells us what we already know.

(0) comments

Good News On North Korea

Well, news anyway, although when it comes to North Korea, no nukes is good nukes. Yes, I said it, will my conscience let me rest?

Ok, progress on multilateral talks, which has been a US demand. No mention in this story of whether anyone thinks the Weldon plan will be the basis for discussions.

Stan Crock of Business Week reviews the US "policy" towards N. Korea, and pushes the Weldon Ten Point Plan. MSNBC tells us more about the Weldon plan here. And now I can be insufferable on this topic at cocktail parties this weekend.

UPDATE: Nick Kristof opines; I respond, above.

UPDAET 2: Dr. Drezner explains all.

(0) comments

The Dean Cover-Up Continues!

He admits, "there are future political considerations."

The questions will mount inexorably, until their rising tide carries this candidate away... hey, this is pretty fun!

But seriously, concealing his records as Governor does not square with his image. The media wants to fall in love with him as this election's Sen. McCain. Dr. Dean should facilitate the (seemingly inevitable) romance. It is time for him to graciously and boldly end the shameful cover-up, oops, reinforce his reputation for candor by displaying his record. Especially since it is August and no one cares.

(0) comments

Christopher Shays On The War In Iraq

Perhaps you could care less, but he is my Congressman, and also Chairman of the Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats and International Relations, so here we go, only a bit of commentary, we don't "Fisk" our Congressman:

July 25, 2003

Dear [constituents];

Thank you for your letter of January 18 expressing opposition to the use of force against Iraq, as well as your support for the creation of a Palestinian state. I appreciate you taking the time to share your views with me as well as your patience in awaiting my reply. I supported President Bush's decision to lead a coalition of nations to disarm Iraq.

The need to disarm Iraq had lingered not just for four months, but for 12 long years. This crisis needed to be resolved now - not two, three, or four years from now.

That is an open question, if that debate I hear roaring means anything.

...Regrettably, the world community remained divided, but the consequences of allowing Saddam Hussein to continue developing his weapons of mass destruction were just too great.

Based on all we have learned during four years of hearings by the Subcommittee on National Security, which I chair, the following cannot be disputed: Saddam Hussein had a robust chemical, biological and nuclear weapons program before the Gulf War; he had a robust chemical, biological and nuclear weapons program after the war; and he ejected United Nations inspectors just when they had begun to succeed in dismantling his weapons of mass destruction (WMD) program by going after the roots - the engineers and scientists who sustain the program.

Please don't start - we took the inspectors out because Saddam would not let them do their job and we wanted to bomb him. Fine, he didn't "eject" them. Whatever.

No credible source, public or classified, has been able to prove Saddam Hussein stopped pursuing weapons of mass destruction, and U.N. weapons inspectors determined that Iraq had not disarmed.

Hmm, putting the burden of proof on the other side! As a debating ploy, I like it. But if we are going into Iraq on "probable cause", I do not find the news that no one has proven the probability to be zero wholly reassuring.

...Having learned he cannot dominate his region through conventional combat, Hussein was more determined than ever to deploy chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons. His past behavior and his support of terrorist groups also meant he was likely to deploy these weapons using surrogates.

We note that Al-qaeda is not the only significant "terrorist groups".

...Some have argued that until Iraq posed an "imminent threat to the United States and until Saddam Hussein had nuclear weapons and threatened to use them, the United States should have been content to contain and deter an Iraqi regime amassing weapons of mass death. I could not disagree more.

I am sure he is correct that some have argued that. Whether he is rebutting the best alternative to war, or one of the weaker alternatives, is not clear to me. Is there a consensus Plan B somewhere? (NO, I'm serious, why do you assume I am being snarky just because I so often am?)

...As a free and open society, we are vulnerable to catastrophic attacks by those who see no moral or political "red line to constrain them. Sept. 11, 2001 was a wake-up call from hell. On that day, quaint Cold War doctrines justifying action only against clear and present dangers died with the 3,000 innocent men, women and children in the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and Pennsylvania.

Containment, deterrence and mutually assured destruction no longer assure our national security. Our policy must be proactive and preemptive. The mere existence of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of despots, tyrants and terrorists constitutes an imminent threat to our security. That threat must be addressed before it manifests itself in a smallpox epidemic or a mushroom cloud.

Hmm. "Existence"? Earlier, it was an inability to prove he had disarmed. And has he been smoking mushrooms with the President?

I don't take these times or the use of force lightly. But I am convinced this action is long overdue and believe that in time the rightness of this action will be evident to those who may not see it today.

[He continued on the subject of a Palestinian state].



(0) comments

Weirder And Weirder

The Kobe Bryant Show delivers a new chapter:

When ‘No’ Means ‘No’

NBA superstar Kobe Bryant and his alleged rape victim had some intimate contact, sources told ABCNEWS, but prosecutors will argue that their intercourse was not consensual.

Oh, please. I was actually discussing this case last week with two women that could probably pass in many circles as feminists - mid-forties, successful professionals, married, kids, and ardent, table-pounding lefties (I bring that out in some people, do you believe it?).

So there we were, what do you think about this Kobe Bryant mess, and they both go off on the accuser - where is the accountability, when are women expected to take responsibility for their own decisons? Hmm, a new tack for liberated women.

Uhh, ladies, I am confused, I say. Where might you be on the "What part of "No" don't you understand" question?

Well (I was informed), maybe he didn't understand the part of "no" that came after she went back to his room. Or maybe he didn't understand the part that came after she took off all of his clothes and most of hers. But there ought to be some responsibility on both parties for the choices they make, they explained to me.

Whoa. Well, they aren't lawyers, and if I understand the Colorado statute, consent can be withdrawn at any time, so there.

As lawyers, my friends were useless. As proto-typical jurors, on the other hand, they were quite interesting. Yes, it is the classic "she asked for it" defense, but I have a sneaking suspicion that jurors can make subtle distinctions between a man leaping out from behind some bushes, and this.

More from Slate, and "The Man", who continues to marvel at the monochromatic world in which we live. TalkLeft has lots, natch.

And, we note the plot twist reported by ABC:

...She gave him a tour of the facility's hotel and spa.

The sources say the tour ended at Bryant's room, where he allegedly invited her to come inside and she accepted. It had been reported earlier that the woman returned to the front desk after the tour, but went to Bryant's room after he had called the desk asking for her.

UPDATE: End the madness. Now, ABC News reports that one of the deputies investigating this case was on the wrong side of a racial profiling settlement in 1995 (many more details here). This somewhat undermines the prosecution, one would think. More from the Man Sans Q.
(0) comments

Moving The Goalposts

Josh Marshall, among others, has spent most of July pretending that the famous "16 Words" from the President's State of the Union Address defined the enitire Administration rationale for the war in Iraq. Now, he notices that in a recent press conference, George Bush is discussing Saddam's weapons programs, and concludes that the President is moving the goalposts.

Let me wave in a rebuttal witness:

The question is not whether there was any reason to believe there was a threat. There was.

I'm sorry, Mr. Marshall, I only cut you off in tribute to Maureen Dowd. I am sure you have more.

The questions were whether that threat was imminent and whether we dealt with it in the best possible way or the stupidest possible way.

Well. I am surprised that there is no middle ground between "best" and "stupidest". Perhaps a Third Way! But I'm glad we all agree there was a threat.

As to what the President said in his State of the Union, I will get back to you. Meanwhile, here is the Congressional Resolution titled "Joint Resolution to Authorize the use of United States Armed Forces Against Iraq", from October 2002. I see the phrase "continuing threat" twice, and it clearly refers to Iraqi activites dating back to the 90's; the phrase "imminent threat" does not appear.

(0) comments

Believe The Rumors!

Well, if you can believe Snopes. As a sidebar to the predictive power of markets and the "Futures on Terror" (see below), lots of folks have mentioned rumors that there was odd stock market activity prior to the 9/11 attacks.

Over to Snopes Urban Legends, in a report from October 2001:

Claim: In the days just prior to the September 11 terrorist attacks, the stocks of United and American Airlines were shorted by parties unknown.

Status: True.

...In the month prior to the 11 September 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, highly unusual trading activity involving American and United Airlines stock was noted by market analysts who at the time had no idea what to make of it. Wildly unusual discrepancies in the put and call ratio — 25 to 100 times normal — were observed in stock options of the two airlines. In one case, Bloomberg's Trade Book electronic trading system identified option volume in UAL (parent of United Airlines) on 16 August 2001 that was 36 times higher than usual.

...it was during the final few trading days (the market closes on weekends) that the most unusual variances in activity occurred. Bloomberg data show that on 6 September, the Thursday before that black Tuesday, put-option volume in UAL stock was nearly 100 times higher than normal — 2,000 versus 27 on the previous day.

On 6 and 7 September, the Chicago Board Options Exchange handled 4,744 put options for United Airlines' stock, translating into 474,000 shares, compared with just 396 call options, or 39,600 shares. On a day that the put-to-call ratio should have been roughly 1:1 (no negative news stories about United had broken), it was instead 12:1.

On 10 September, another uneventful news day, American Airlines' option volume was 4,516 puts and 748 calls, a ratio of 6:1 on yet another day when by rights these options should have been trading even.

No other airline stocks were affected — only United and American were shorted in this fashion.

Accelerated investments speculating a downturn in the value of Morgan Stanley and Merrill Lynch (two New York investment firms severely damaged by the World Trade Center attack) were also observed.

The Chicago Board Options Exchange is investigating each of these trades and at this time is declining to offer comment on its progress...

Last updated: 3 October 2001

One might expect a final report to be available. Assistance would be appreciated.

(0) comments

More On The "Futures On Terror"

Glenn Reynolds comments that "THE IDIOTS WIN A ROUND: Faced with know-nothing criticism from members of Congress, the Pentagon has abandoned its plans for a "futures market" to predict terror."

I'm sure he's right that most Congressfolk understand nothing about the workings of a futures market. However, this "know-nothing" wave would not have swept the program away if Hillary! had been in the meeting. [When cheap shots go bad - here]

Most of the criticism of this proposal amounted to "reasoning by extreme example", and ran as follows: A contract pegged to the assassination of Jacques Chirac would be a bad idea; therefore all contracts this program might develop will be bad ideas. [Note: for "bad", insert "immoral", "repugnant", "insane", or some such].

Or, there are serious conflicts with the incentives created by having intelligence officials bet on the same activities they are meant to stop; therefore, this program is a terrible idea.

I apologize - it is hard to summarize the "bad program" arguments in a way that does not make them sound silly, and I really am doing my best. But illustrating the fallacy behind this is (painfully) simple - it is easy to prove that driving a car at 80 miles per hour in a residential neighborhood is a bad idea. To then leap to the conclusion that all driving is a bad idea is probably not something most of us would do.

Similarly, in the context of "futures on terror", it is easy to think of a million terrible ideas. But proving the foolishness of the "Wack Chirac" contract hardly constitutes proof that all the ideas that might have come out of this program are terrible. The challenge facing the designers was to come up with good, creative ideas (and explain them - more on that to follow), not bad ones.

From the depths of the comments at Prof. DeLong, we extract this:

I spent some time today talking to the CEO of Net Exchange, the company that had set up and was going to be running PAM. As far as I can tell, PAM was going to be a market in which there were essentially two types of futures contracts offered. The first would be contracts relating to three categories: economic health, civil stability, and military preparedness. (Contracts would be available in these categories for eight countries.) These contracts would be pegged to indices compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit. (There are obviously problems with how accurate any such index could be, but the point is that it would serve as an independent arbiter that could measure improvements or declines.) In other words, if the value of the index on the day trading began was assumed to be 100, a contract might be something like: "the civil stability index in Jordan will be 86 in August 2004." It's more complicated than this, since combinatorial contracts would be available, but in essence these contracts would attempt to forecast predict, in broad strokes, the region's economic, political, and military future.

The second type of futures contract would be event-specific. These contracts would not attempt to predict things like when Hamas' next bombing in Israel would occur. Instead, they would attempt to forecast major events, events which arguably have some component of non-randomness built into them. These contracts might ask questions like: "Will Mahmoud Abbas still be in power by the end of next year?" or "Will the U.S. still be taking daily casualties in Iraq six months from now?" or even "Will Hamas join a coalition PA government?"

Now, the idea that this market might offer good forecasts seems not just reasonable, but likely. It's not asking anyone to penetrate an opaque terrorist cell. (In any case, the idea that Hamas does not have long-term patterns of behavior which can be interpreted seems to me wrong.)...

That tracks, with more detail, the description provided by the developers in the NY Times (you have to read well past he critics hypotheticals to find it), and at P. 68-69 of the DARPA proposal (B-8 in the Appendix).

OK, props to the commenter. And shouldn't he have a blog? Well, he is a bit too lofty for that, if we accept Slate as an upgrade. And, although we note that a contract on the political survival of Abbas may create PR problems, the rest of this sounds eminently defensible.

So, my question - how dumb were the developers? They lost the PR battle before it started. When they needed a clear press package providing sensible examples of what might be done, they came up virtually empty, and left the stage to the caricaturists of the other side. If the developers are this politically tone-deaf and inept, they may have earned their fate. In this round.

And following that thought, what motivated the opponents? Are they honestly that unimaginative, or was this just an opportunity to embarrass the Administration generally, and Adm. Poindexter specifically?

They weakened a country today. Well, yesterday. Whenever. I'm sort of ready for the weekend my self.

UPDATE: Lots of comments have floated around about odd behavior in the stock market prior to 9/11. Believe the rumors! Well, some of them - Snopes has more, from Oct. 3, 2001. Huh? Updates?

MORE: Rupert Murdoch's Post editorial. You knew what side they would take, but did you know they would make sense (i.e., agree with me)?

MORE: Adm. Poindexter to resign. Mission accomplished? And now the "futures on terror" idea is radioactive. But, depending on the half-life of the contaminants, it will be back, under much clearer political guidance.

THE LAST: I have TAPPED on my side, and Lambert of the Atrios site (anf the problematic links), and who will stand against us!

UNTIL LATER: This is the only person I saw making a connection to the Heisenberg Uncertainly Principle. Cool.

(0) comments

Sports, Decision Theory, And Rational Behavior

The NY Times takes us out to the ball game with Richard Thaler, U of Chicago economist, Steven J. Sherman, a psychology professor at Indiana University, and David Romer, an economist at Berkeley.

We love this game. We also love the fact that the reporter makes it all the way through this story without mentioning "Moneyball" by Michael Lewis.


...But there is also a more serious undercurrent to the work. In recent years, economists and psychologists have become increasingly interested in the ways that people do not act rationally. Known as behavioral economics, the field examines why stock-market bubbles happen and why many people do not save enough money for retirement, among other things.

Sporting events, which are played out step by step in the most public of settings, allow the researchers to determine the precise moment that somebody veers from good sense.

"My justification for doing this is that it's the one really high-stakes activity where you get to watch all of the decisions," Thaler said. "If Bill Gates invited me to watch all of his decisions, I'd talk more about that."

As the article notes, you get to watch all the decisions, and similar decisions have been addressed hundreds of times before. The more you think about this, the more you realize that all those hours spent watching baseball were not wasted. Well, for Yankees fans, anyway - it's hard to imagine a positive lesson that could be drawn from watching the Red Sox or the Mets. Other than the importance of keeping one hand on the remote, that is.

(0) comments

Wednesday, July 30, 2003

The Bright Lights Continue To Shine

Backers pressure Gore to run again next year:

Former Vice-President Al Gore is coming under pressure from political supporters and friends to jump into the 2004 presidential campaign even though he ruled himself out in December.

Gore’s spokesperson denied that there was any change of plans, but a former Democratic National Committee official close to Gore told The Hill he believes the former vice president may enter the Democratic primary this fall.

The story also notes that the Democratic Part is afflicted with "donor-freeze", in which big donors sit and wait for a candidate to emerge. This sort of chatter about Al Gore (and soon, no doubt, Hillary!) will surely exacerbate the situation, even in the heat of summer. And depicting the current crowd of candidates as lacking Presidentiality is neither helpful to the party, nor accurate.

A note to Big Al - please don't annoy us and embarrass yourself by extending this flirtation. We don't love you, we don't miss you, it's over, good-bye.

All that said, I would pay extra for a ticket to watch Big Al debate Dr. Dean and my man Al Sharpton. Whichever persona Mr. Gore sent that evening would be trounced.

UPDATE: Or, I might be recycling b***s***.

(0) comments

Colin Powell Talking Trash

"Powell: Saddam Is 'Piece of Trash' to Be Collected".

The era of macho rhetoric may not be fully behind us, Dick Gephardt's pleas notwithstanding. Bring it on!

(0) comments

What Took So Long?

"Bush Accepts Blame for African Uranium Charge"

"Did you order the Code Red?"

"You're damn right I did!"

If I may change channnels slightly, this just makes my day.

UPDATE: The Brits won't back down:

The Foreign Office has again defended the Government's contraversial claim that Iraq had tried to acquire uranium for its nuclear weapons programme from the west African state of Niger.

In a letter to the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC), it insists that there had been no need to include a "health warning" on the claim in the Government's dossier on Iraqi weapons as it was confident in the underlying intelligence.

(0) comments

If They Can't Be Bothered To Read Their Own Paper, Why Should We?

The NY Times editors fulminate on the subject of the proposed Pentagon futures market on terror (links), with their emphasis added to mine:

The insensitivity of the idea boggles the mind. Quite apart from the tone-deafness of equating terrorist attacks with, say, corn futures, the plan would allow speculators — even terrorists — to profit from anonymous bets on future attacks.

And from yesterday's original NY Times story, we learn:

According to descriptions given to Congress, available at the Web site and provided by the two senators, traders who register would deposit money into an account similar to a stock account and win or lose money based on predicting events.

...The initiative, called the Policy Analysis Market, is to begin registering up to 1,000 traders on Friday.

Well, if terrorists want to phone up the Pentagon and register themselves, I am not sure that I am opposed to it. The NY Times position is clear.

UPDATE: The Pentagon Papers. This is the DARPA doc, with the futures program described on p 68-9 of the .pdf file.

(0) comments

Here Is An All-Seeing Eye

TAPPED found it, I perma-linked it, but this was my source for it, so there.

Setting information free sometimes seems a bit like opening the cages in the zoo, if I may steal a metaphor from another from another story.

(0) comments

The Man Without Qualities Is Wrong!

Despite a stunning lack of self-awareness, he demonstrates his possession of at least two qualities - a long attention span, and a good memory. He is connecting dots on Enron.

(0) comments

The Always Interesting Nathan Newman

On the recent gay-rights Supreme Court decisions here, and commentary here. Progressives calling for judicial inactivism - admit it, you are surprised.

And let's sneak in this side bar - segregation for diversity's sake?

(0) comments

Valerie Plame Wilson - July 30

Josh Marshall enters the fray. For fans of hand-to-hand combat, I dissect Mr. Marshall's piece below. For SportsCenter fans, the sound bite is this: we are thrilled that a respected Washington journalist is taking this seriously and attempting to crack this story, but almost no one is talking to him, at least on the record.

The only clear bit of light that emerges seems to be this:

My sources tell me that Plame formerly worked abroad under nonofficial cover and has more recently worked stateside. Her position today may be less sensitive than it was when she worked abroad. But she still works on WMD proliferation issues. And, at a minimum, any operation that she may once have been involved in is probably now fatally compromised, any company which provided her cover is now exposed.

My alternative spin on this:

This advances our understanding a bit, and aids the White House side that she may not be all that covert. Lacking knowledge of her current status or mysterious past, it is arguable that the White House aides did not commit a felony in outing her, if I understand the statute. Please remember, I am not an attorney. Mark Kleiman has commentary on the statute here, and I see many potential avenues of escape.

That said, regardless of the law, it was stupid and rude to drag his wife into it.

Now, wild speculation - maybe, off the record, other big-time Washington reporters have been assured that there is no "there" there. I would still like a story about a non-scandal, but who am I?

UPDATE: An intrepid blogger fights through to Dana Priest at the WaPo. Check his update for more! And yes, the exclamation points are a bit of a ruse. But check anyway! It could be breaking news!


(0) comments

Josh Marshall On Valerie Plame Wilson - My Full Monty

Josh Marshall enters the fray! As a well connected Washington journalist/blogger who has been covering the uranium side of this, we expect he has useful sources and valuable insights to contribute to this story.

[Oh, just say it - the guy is a partisan attack machine (T4?) who is on every Bush scandal like a junkyard dog on a T-bone. His silence up to now has been reminiscent of the curious incident of another non-barking dog.]

We welcome all attempts to publicize this story and drag it into the light of day, so let's see what Mr. Marshall, writing in "The Hill", can add to the story:

[Let's rip into this! Emphasis added throughout.]

Enough already. Enough excuse-making.

We know that two senior members of the Bush administration intentionally blew the cover of an undercover CIA officer whose job is combating weapons of mass destruction (WMD) proliferation. And their motivation was pure politics.

This is a very exciting lead! David Corn quite clearly did not know this when he wrote his heavily caveatted column on July 16. We reprise Mr. Corns's opening:

Did senior Bush officials blow the cover of a US intelligence officer working covertly in a field of vital importance to national security--and break the law--in order to strike at a Bush administration critic and intimidate others?

It sure looks that way, if conservative journalist Bob Novak can be trusted.

Question marks, "it sure looks that way", and "if ...Bob Novak can be trusted". Is Mr. Marshall ready to take us past Mr. Corn's questions?

In case you’re not familiar with what I’m talking about, let me explain...

Which he does. Then:

...To get back at Wilson, they blew the cover of his wife, Valerie Plame, a covert CIA operative specializing in tracking other countries’ efforts to acquire WMD.

How do we know this? Because two weeks ago syndicated columnist Robert Novak fingered Wilson’s wife as an “Agency operative on weapons of mass destruction” on the say-so of “two senior administration officials.” They told him Plame had suggested Wilson for the job.

Now, as it happens, it’s not even clear that this charge — that Wilson’s wife got him the gig in Niger — is true. The more relevant point, however, is that two senior administration officials publicized her identity which they almost certainly knew only because of their access to government secrets.

Oh, dear. So far, this is recycled David Corn, which was fun once. And the "almost certainly" suggests, again, that we just don't know. Still, he wouldn't be writing unless he had some news, so let's be patient, he is just getting us up to speed now. Eventually he will tell us what he has learned, beyond Mr. Corn, to confirm the story. The suspense is gripping!

I would also like to point out, to anyone who thought they knew the answer to this, Mr. Marshall's uncertainty on the matter of whether Ms. Wilson really was involved in selecting the Ambassador for the trip. Continuing:

Consider what that means.

Hey, wait. Shouldn't we consider whether it is true, before we consider what it means? Mr. Corn was not sure. Why, based on the same evidence, is Mr. Marshall? Sentence first, then the trial? Unless Mr. Marshall intends to dismiss the charges, we want evidence!

CIA agents work under different sorts of “cover.” There’s “official cover” — like when an agent is assigned to a U.S. embassy under the guise that he or she is a foreign service officer. Then there’s “nonofficial” cover — like when your business cards say you’re a manager at Acme Overseas Energy Corporation, but you really work for the CIA.

Plame is in that latter category.

OK, I think that might be news. It is unsourced, so perhaps Mr. Marshall is relying on the speculation provided by Mr. Corn.

By telling the world who she really works for, those senior administration officials not only jeopardized her career, they also compromised whatever operations she may have worked on, whatever networks she may have developed or relationships she may have cultivated.

Here is what Mr. Corn wrote, quoting Ambassador Wilson:

"Naming her this way would have compromised every operation, every relationship, every network with which she had been associated in her entire career.

I am just not sure that we are getting independent confirmation, or recycling. I am sure that Mr. Marshall is a skilled journailist, entirely capable of describing, however discreetly, his sources. I am also sure he is a skilled polemicist. Press on:

According to one highly-respected retired CIA officer who I spoke to Monday, revealing the identity of a “NOC” like Plame could literally put the lives of those who cooperated with her at risk. To reveal her identity, he told me, was “grossly irresponsible.”

I know people will insist to me that the retired CIA chap was speaking of Ms. Wilson specifically, and not making a general observation about covert agents. It will be inconceivable to supporters of this viewpoint that he was making a hypothetical statement, such as "IF she is an NOC, this would be grossly irresponsible, but I am retired, and anyway I would not confirm her status if I knew it, which I don't", which Mr. Marshall shortened for our benefit. And anyway, why shouldn't he shorten it, he has already "established" that she is an NOC.

The debate may or may not swirl - I am open to the possibility that we are getting a bit of spin here, and I suspect others may not be. Press on:

Some of the White House’s spinners have been putting out the word that Plame may not that been that covert an agent after all. So maybe broadcasting her identity wasn’t such a big deal. This isn’t that easy an argument to refute since, precisely because Plame is a covert agent, it’s difficult to find out just what she does or precisely what her status is.

Sorry, I tricked even myself there. Evidently, Mr. Marshall has not yet established whether Ms.Wilson is really "covert" covert, or just covert. Well, that is news.

And note the sourcing - "White House spinners". This almost surely does not mean "White House officials". Don Luskin may have found some, with his "Washington contacts". In fact, I imagine I might qualify, on this story at least, as a "White House spinner". Time to update the business card!

My sources tell me that Plame formerly worked abroad under nonofficial cover and has more recently worked stateside. Her position today may be less sensitive than it was when she worked abroad. But she still works on WMD proliferation issues. And, at a minimum, any operation that she may once have been involved in is probably now fatally compromised, any company which provided her cover is now exposed.

However that may be, though, just how deep undercover does a CIA operative have to be before blowing her cover becomes a problem?

Back to the White House spinner for re-write - Mr. Marshall is warning us that, at a minimum, bad things might possibly have happened. Well, yes, we have said all along (Sorry, in non-spin mode), that that is one of several possibilities. Whether Mr. Marshall has identified a global minimum, or a local minimum will be left for the mathematically inclined.

And we note his question - when does blowing her cover become a problem? Well, we are all wondering. A key point of this story hinges on whether national security compromised. Evidently, we are still not sure.

A second element is, was Ms. Wilson's prospective future covert career ruined? Not knowing the career path she is on, or to which she aspired, we do not know. Doesn't look good, however, as I have said before, and will say again.

So far, the White House’s reaction has been awfully weaselly.

In the company of strangers.

Frankly, I think Novak’s column gives us plenty of evidence.

Complete agreement that it gives us evidence of something. Felonies? Far from clear.

To date, Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) have called for investigations and any number of other senators have told reporters that some sort of inquiry is probably in order. But let’s be honest. We don’t really need any investigations, with all their depositions and fancy lawyers and public grandstanding. If the president wanted to, he could wrap this up with a few quick phone calls. So why doesn’t he?

We don't need no stinkin' badges either. Sentence first!

OK, let me find my way back to the center of the fairway - sometimes I slice right.

As to Mr. Marshall's point that we don't need a formal investigation, I concur. I would hope (my minimum) that the President, Mr. Tenet of the CIA, and top Congressional leaders of both parties would meet, have a candid discussion about whether national security was really compromised, and resolve this. As a bonus, I would love some sort of public acknowledgement that this conversation has occurred, if only so I could shut up about this.

As to "new" news in Mr. Marshall's piece, the main news is that he is working on it at all - we have a talented Washington journalist publicly working on this story, and it is evidently a b**** to get anyone to say anything helpful.

Other news: the bit about his sources describing Ms. Wilson's current role does point in favor of the White House. A possible defense against criminal charges would be lack of knowledge or intent - if she has not been obviously covert (yes, that makes sense, stay with me), but simply has "covert" stamped on her file, it is possible that no one at the White House knew her mysterious past. I am not an attorney, but this seems to help them out, as I understand the statutes. We highlighted earlier a moment when Mr. Marshall inserted a similar qualifier, so we are not making this up.

Does this help the White House against charges of stupidity, or worse (hey, I'm a conservative), bad manners? Not at all. If they want to dump on Ambassador Wilson, fine, but leave the little woman out of it (sorry, unreconstructed troglodyte moment).

Other news - if it is here, I am missing it. Mr. Marshall obviously has made some phone calls, and come up with very little, and we applaud his effort. Believe me, we are deeply sympathetic to any sense of frustration he may be feeling on covering this.

Now (end applause), under "glaring omissions", we note that he never mentions that Mr. Novak cited CIA sources in his original column, nor does he mention that TIME has some coverage of this story which can lend itself to an alternative explanation, as noted in this timeline.

Where does this story go next? One open avenue would be to follow up with Susan Whitson, an FBI spokeswoman, who said the agency would "look at the issue and make determinations about whether there is an investigation that is warranted", if I may plagiarize Newsday. Even a "we don't comment on investigations, or even on whether this has become an investigation" might stir the pot.

So, Big Finish: Mr. Marshall, thanks for joining the conversation. Now pipe down.

UPDATE: More bricks in the bag? Yes, we are puzzling over the "highly-respected retired CIA officer" Mr. Marshall spoke to. Could it be the "former career diplomat who served as U.S. ambassador to a Muslim country. He also studied military strategy at the National War College with retired four-stars like Wes Clark, Hugh Shelton, and others"? You may remember that chap as the one who, during the "too few troops" debate this spring, wondered if we could spell Dunkirk.

Or, perhaps Mr. Marshall has tracked down the "former intelligence official" who gave such helpful input to Sy Hersh.

Just wondering.

(0) comments

The NY Times Swoons For Dr. Dean

The only attempt at restraint is the placement below the fold of the front page. The headline proclaims that "Defying Labels Left or Right, Dean's '04 Run Makes Gains". Dean defies the labels! Read on:

Dr. Dean, who began as an antiwar gadfly, has in the past month burst from his obscurity to rank among the top contenders in a crowded field of Democrats for the party's presidential nomination.

Thanks to his stunning surge as the top fund-raiser among the potential Democratic candidates in the second quarter, Dr. Dean now has a campaign budget to match those of more-established candidates like Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts and Representative Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri.

I have added emphasis only because the Times format does not.

With his early and intense opposition to the American-led attack on Iraq, his call for universal health insurance and his signing a bill that created civil unions for gay couples in Vermont, Dr. Dean, 54, is seen as the most liberal of the major Democratic candidates.

A devastating litany of positions with which NY Times readers will never get comfortable. Ever.

Over 11 years, he restrained spending growth to turn a large budget deficit into a surplus [He's Bill Clinton!], cut taxes [He's George Bush.], forced many on welfare to go to work [He's Clinton again (quiet, Newt)], abandoned a sweeping approach to health-care reform in favor of more incremental measures [He's smarter than Hillary!!], antagonized environmentalists [credible on the environment!], won the top rating from the National Rifle Association [Bush again?] and consistently embraced business interests [unnerving, but maybe in a good way? Clinton!]

After winning the first of his five elections for governor by more than 50 points, he barely got a majority in 2000, in part because of third-party challenges from the left that, in the 2002 election absent Dr. Dean, helped hand the governor's chair to a Republican. [without Dr. Dean, the party was lost!]

It is a much longer profile, but I stopped here, as I find this sort of PDA a bit awkward. Get a room!

(0) comments

Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Bon Jovi Fans, Name That Tune!

Shock and awe
And you're to blame
Bush gives war
A bad name (bad name)

You got it!

And why do I ask? Surely no one could possibly be so silly as to be staggering about the country with the message that Bush gives war a bad name. Could they?

Almost. And don't call me Shirley. Joe Lieberman delivers the principled case for disallowing vanity campaigns, and tells us that President Bush's mishandling of Iraq "'threatens to give a bad name to a just war".

And as for his Democratic rivals, Sen. Lieberman informs us that "they don't know a just war when they see it."

Fascinating. Bush has been dropping a bit in the polls, but surely he is not so weak that Sen. Lieberman can hope to challenge for the Republican nomination.

(0) comments

The CalPundit Gets Results!

Ignore this me-too NY Times story. They're a day late for the futures market in terror.

UPDATE: Whoa, a linkfest at the InstaPundit. We also find Jane Galt and the VodkaPundit offering their thoughts.

I believe I can pitch two cents into the mix. Several folks mentioned the Iowa Electronic Markets. Please, that is sooo yesterday. The action is at TradeSports.

As a gambling man, I will bet that Trades Sports initially emphasized sports betting. However, they currently offer a wide range of "propositions". Obvious ones are the Democratic Presidential nominee race, and the 2004 Presidential election. However, they also offer contracts on upcoming Supreme Court vacancies, Gray Davis Ascendant, European elections, and, my current fave, the Kobe Bryant legal situation. Right now, punters figure Mr. Bryant has a 65% chance of going to trial, and an 18% chance of being found guilty by jury (plea bargain pays zero).

And, for the benefit of the folks at DARPA, there are contracts on Finding Saddam, Finding WMDs in Iraq, and Finding Osama. You can also bet on the Homeland Security Threat level for different dates. If enough "insiders" (intelligence officials and terrorists, for eample) are participating in these markets, then prices should reflect significant non-public information. Otherwise, prices should represent the cash-weighted consensus of the great unwashed, and are an interesting measure of informed public speculation. And yes, market participants may just be a bunch of sports junkies and bored bond traders watching the wire services, in which case, profit opportunities may abound!

The site is easy to navigate, and they have fairly straightforward explanations where necessary. Full disclosure - not only am I not a shareholder, I haven't even opened an account. Yet.

TradeSports has been mentioned recently in the New Yorker, and the NY Times (sorry, lost to their archive), but caveat emptor.

ANOTHER UPDATE: We deliver mock and awe to the NY Times.

(0) comments

The Dirt On "Dowdification"

(0) comments

More On Professor Krugman

It's Sullivan v. Krugman today, based on a fascinating effort by the Earnest Professor, describing the promotion of the Iraq war in both Britain and the US. It's titled "You Say Tomato". Mr. Sullivan excerpts the same bit that caught my eye, and yes, it is a HUGE time-saver when you can channel Mr. Sullivan directly through your dental fillings. We will flip it to him:

KRUGMAN OFF THE WAGON: Of course he thinks the BBC is innocent of all charges. But this passage is simply wacko: "The BBC apparently has evidence, including a tape, that Dr. Kelly made the key allegations it reported. Moreover, Dr. Kelly was, in fact, in a position to know what he claimed. More information may emerge as a judicial inquiry proceeds, but at this point the BBC seems largely in the clear, while the government looks like a villain." You read the British press and see if you get that impression. The only committee looking into the matter has backed the government. Gilligan is refusing to have his testimony to Parliament released. Kelly said to Parliament that he could not have been the source for the BBC's allegation. Yes, some people are backing the Beeb. But the notion that the BBC isn't severely on the ropes over this is a delusion....

Well, as a casual observer, I was surprised to learn from the Earnest Prof that all is well with the BBC. However, I agree with Mr. Sullivan on this point: "...read the British press and see if you get that impression. "

Casting about, I find this opinion survey reported in the Independent: BBC winning battle for public trust, which is related.

Independent: Hutton inquiry into scientist's death to start this week.

Hmm. I quickly note that two stories are running as one - did the BBC misrepresent the Dr. Kelly story, and did Blair misrepresent the WMD story. Obviously, both might have happened, so saying "Blair is a liar" hardly resolves the BBC case, although it is a clever tactic for BBC supporters.

So, on BBC reporter Gilligan, we have this in the Berkshire something or other: Gilligan evidence may still be revealed , suggesting that further inquiries may proceed, as the Earnest Prof noted.

Here, the (left-leaning) Guardian explains the "Murdoch conspiracy theory" about the press coverage, and concludes it is probably false. It does make clear that at least some Brit papers are screaming for scalps at the BBC.

Here is an article from the Telegraph, aka, the Torygraph. Registration required? It only took me a minute (I type slowly), and the piece is fascinating.

Again, it appears that the Times and the Sun are screaming about the BBC.

This, reprinted from an owner of the Telegrapph, appears in the Guardian, and is quite critical of the BBC.

Well, the qualified "in the clear", from the Earnest Prof, may be overly optimistic. The suggestion of "delusion" from Mr. Sullivan is not immediately supported, either.

Calls for reform of the BBC in the Telegraph.

Oh, man. We seem to have a heavily politicized BBC that opposed the war. War opponents are now BBC supporters, which muddies the waters considerably. And as the columnist points out:

So what is to be done about the virtual political party based in the BBC? If the Irish experience is any guide, things will go on getting worse. The BBC is adept at blackmailing politicians with the implied threat of giving them a bad image.

...The BBC is the big issue in the Iraq dossier affair. Like Iraq itself, it needs to be liberated from fundamentalists and ideologues and returned to those who love fair play - which includes the free play of ideas.

Given the "blackmail" angle, this is not a fight a politician will want to lose.


LATE HIT: This is after the whistle, since the news broke after his column was published. Still, it let's us back-test Prof. Krugman's predictive power. From the Guardian:

Labour and Tory MPs accused the BBC reporter at the heart of the Iraqi weapons row of "leading the public up the garden path in a most staggering way", according to confidential transcripts of a cross-examination of Andrew Gilligan by the Commons foreign affairs committee seen by the Guardian.

(0) comments

Valerie Plame Wilson - July 29

Good story from The Hill.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has demanded a criminal investigation into who exposed the wife of retired ambassador Joseph Wilson as a covert CIA agent.

Their lead is old news. Now, good stuff:

The chairman of the House Permanent Select Intelligence Committee, Rep. Porter Goss (R-Fla.), has also not ruled out an investigation. “It could be part of a wider weapons-of-mass-destruction investigation,” Goss, a former CIA operative, told The Hill.

And not ruled it in.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) told reporters last week that “whoever released the information regarding Mr. Wilson’s wife may have committed a felony, may have actually violated federal law. I think that it ought to be investigated.

...What happened is very dangerous to a person who may be a CIA operative,” said Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, adding: “[The leak] came from the executive branch, in my view. Its intent is to stop other people like Joe Wilson, and I am going to insist on getting to the bottom of this any way we can.”

Charles Tiefer, a former special counsel on the House Iran-Contra Committee, said this is just the latest eruption in tensions between two branches of government over leaks of national security information.

The anger over leaks goes back to the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, when Bush restricted classified information to eight key lawmakers.

In June 2002, the FBI investigated 37 lawmakers and 60 staff members investigating the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks over leaks of classified information from the National Security Agency. [link]

Tiefer added, “By the White House apparently ‘outing’ the identity of a CIA operative just to savage Ambassador Wilson, that war has gotten nastier and hotter and much closer to the core of legally violative revelations.”

And some people who might know argue about whether a felony might have been committed:

...Rep. Rob Simmons (R-Conn.), a former CIA agent, said he was not convinced anyone had violated the law by naming Wilson’s wife as a CIA operative.

“The law criminalizes identifying covert agents as a pattern of activities,” Simmons said. “The intent is to criminalize a behavior … and the routine functioning of the media would not be covered.”

But some intelligence experts disagree with Simmons’ characterization of the law.

“It is true that the letter of the law refers to a pattern of activities intended to identify and expose covert agents,” said Steven Aftergood, executive director of the Project on Government Secrecy.

“The law views such disclosures with the utmost seriousness. … Until we know that exactly what the motive was, the law is not inapplicable.”

Well, I did not know the question of whether this was a felony was that unclear.

But Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) disagreed. He told reporters that the Senate Select Intelligence Committee would investigate the leak.

Sen. Durbin joined this story last week (Newsday, July 23). But the other names are new, which suggests there is a bit of activity.

UPDATE: Mark Kleiman wonders about this "pattern of disclosure" mentioned by Rep. Rob Simmons.

Nothing on this at the daily WH press briefing. A donnybrook on declassifying the Saudi section of the 9/11 report, however, if you like that sort of thing.

(0) comments

Is That Your Final Answer?

As former Chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, co-chairman of the panel that investigated the intelligence surrounding 9/11, and a current Presidential candidate, Sen. Bob Graham deserves special attention when he speaks on the subject of the 9/11 report. The NY Times delivers this:

The attacks of Sept. 11 could have been prevented if the right combination of skill, cooperation, creativity and some good luck had been brought to task, said Senator Bob Graham of Florida..."

Pretty strong. Left unremarked is that, with a bit of worse luck in 1993, the terrorists who bombed the WTC might have changed the location of their explosive-laden truck by twenty feet and brought down the Tower.

Luck? My goodness, is the Senator taking inspiration from that well known socialist, "Lefty" Gomez?

(0) comments

Perception Drives Reality

That is why it is so important to "diffuse the perception in reality" of American occupation in Iraq, according to Sen. John Kerry.

Sen. Kerry further believes the US effort in Iraq could be aided by a broader coalition:

The obligation of the United States government is to rapidly internationalize the effort in Iraq, get the target off of American troops, bring other people, particularly Muslim-speaking and Arab-speaking Muslim troops, into the region," Kerry said.

Well, it is diffuse at this point, but my emerging perception is that Kerry might want to find some Catholic-speakers for his staff. Without engaging in religious or ethnic discrimination, of course, and I am sure the speakers of many other religions could help as well.

And it seems unfair to spoil the fun by addressing the substance of his proposal, but I wonder if the notion of bringing Muslim or Arab troops in to assist with the occupation is a good idea. American, British, and Polish troops will be viewed by the locals as transitory. On the other hand, among Muslim and Arab candidates, Turkey once ruled what is now Iraq, and their troops might be viewed with suspicion. Pakistan is also Muslim, but they seem to be pre-occupied doing their outstanding work on the Afghan border.

Jordan's king has some historic ties to Iraq, a point which might not be lost on Iraqis if Jordan was to participate in the occupation.

Well, Sen Kerry is the expert - one wonders who he had in mind?

(0) comments

Monday, July 28, 2003

The Circular Firing Squad Assembles

UPDATE: Bit of an odd format, but, yes, this is an update.

The Democratic Leadership Council met recently, and is concerned about the leftward drift of the Democratic Party. They directed fire at Dr. Dean, but expressed broader concerns:

It is our belief that the Democratic Party has an important choice to make: Do we want to vent or do we want to govern?" said Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana, chairman of the organization. "The administration is being run by the far right. The Democratic Party is in danger of being taken over by the far left."

Evidently, Sen. Bayh was not satisfied that "Do we want to vent or do we want to govern?" was an adequate soundbite, as we see:

When a reporter asked a panel of council leaders whether Democratic woes were a result of Republican attacks or Democratic mistakes, Senator Bayh responded with a curt two-word answer that silenced the room.

"Assisted suicide," he said.

This comment may attract some criticism, but we note his political sensitivity even here. In deference, we presume, to NARAL, the Senator did not characterize his party's effort as a late term abortion.

(0) comments

Thanks For The Memories

Bob Hope dead at 100.

I was much younger when this got stuck in my brain, as Hope and Crosby staggered across the desert in "The Road to Morrocco" - "Let's go over that hill and see what's dune".

UPDATE: Vincent Canby from the NY Times. There is a wide selection of quips on offer, but let's use this:

Mr. Hope was often at his best sticking barbs in politicians. In "Bob Hope: My Life in Jokes" (Hyperion, 2003), his daughter Linda helped compile some of his jibes decade by decade. His perspective on the 1984 presidential race between Ronald Reagan and Walter F. Mondale was vintage Hope, a theme and variations with only the slightest pause for laughter.

"Hey, what a victory for the Reagans . . . or, as they're now being referred to . . . `Dynasty.' "

"I wonder if anyone woke up the president and told him?"

"Mondale knew this was gonna be a bad day when he called Dial-a-Prayer and the taped message answered him by name."

"Remember, Mondale said God has no place in politics, and apparently God feels the same way about Mondale."

"George Bush decided to sleep late this morning. He left a wake-up call for 1988."

"The farmers hate to see it end. All those campaign speeches were good for the crops."

And Road to Morocco was more influential than I knew:

Woody Allen was among those comedians who often credited Mr. Hope as an influence on their work. "When my mother took me to see `Road to Morocco,' I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life," Mr. Allen once said.

UPDATE: One person reflects, very nicely.

(0) comments

Sunday, July 27, 2003

The Valerie Plame Affair - July 27 - Speak Out!

Sometimes people need to feel the heat before they see the light.

We are stealing shamelessly from a suggestion by Mark Kleiman that we contact our Congressfolks. Below is contact information for some people who might be delighted to learn of your interest in the Valerie Plame affair.

Although I am sure they will be intrigued by general expressions of interest (or outrage), it might be worth suggesting a specific news angle they can pursue. My thought is to follow on the announcement reported on July 25 by Newsday, that the FBI is considering this.

Another "answerable" question might be, has anyone at the White House or the CIA taken steps to determine whether national security has, in fact, been compromised by this leak.

Finally, Mr. Kurtz himself will be appearing in an on-line forum Monday, July 28, at High Noon, Eastern time. His preferred topic seems to be the clash of various media. Valerie Plame seems to be off-topic, but there is a possible hook - what is the process by which a story such as the Valerie Plame leak [insert diatribe] is overlooked by the big media?

NY Times
David Sanger: DaSang@nytimes.com
His byline appears here.

James Risen: No contact info. Yet. Hint!

Richard Stevenson: No contact info.

Washington Post
The WaPo directory

Howard Kurtz: KurtzH@WashPost.com
Mr. Kurtz noted the Newsday coverage here.

Joel Achenbach: AchenbachJ@WashPost.com
Mr. Achenbach noted the story in an on-line chat. [An Alert Reader has since advised me taht this is not Mr. Achenbach's normal area.]

Dana Priest: PriestD@WashPost.com

Dana Milbank: WhiteHouse@WashPost.com

Dana Carvey: JustKidding@GetIt.com

US Senate

Sen. Charles Schumer provides a Webform here.

Sen. David Durbin has some contact info here (please include a US Postal address, you non-constituents, you). His e-mail is: dick@durbin.senate.gov

Loose the hounds! Well, politely and calmly, of course.

TIMELINE of Scandal, from before the beggining.

(0) comments

Saturday, July 26, 2003

We Lead With A Cheap Shot

Doc Drezner links us into a Marshall - Den Beste debate about the neocon strategy for transforming the Middle East - "neocon neocolonialism", as Jeff Hauser of the puzzling permalinks calls it.

The gist of the debate - is the public signed up for this long term commitment, and does it matter?

Now, I have always found Mr. Den Beste to be a gentleman. In addition, I take intermittent personal inspiration from his columns, since I, too, rarely manage to limit myself to one word when two dozen might suffice.

Mr. Den Beste's half of this debate was printed in the Wall Street Journal, which is quite upmarket, and I, at least, am finding further inspiration. I hope to marshall my thoughts for a substantive reaction, but the best I can do right now is leave you with two headscratchers.

First, on the subject of American resolve and the importance of an informed public, Mr. Den Beste braces our spirits:

...does America have the stamina to finish the job? Yes. This kind of thing takes on momentum. Richard Nixon ran for president in 1968 on a platform that essentially opposed the war in Vietnam. (The catch phrase was "Peace with honor.") But we fought for several more years before finally giving up.

Hmm. Few of us are able to find inspiration in the Viet Nam story, so we will salute his optimism. Feel the Big Mo!

And, secondly, on both American resolve and the incidence of early-onset Alzheimer's in Europe:

...there's a tendency to think that we used to have that kind of steel, but that we don't any longer. That's wrong, and every generation the world learns that anew. Going into World War II, many in Europe said that Americans used to be willing to fight back in the days of Lincoln but had become decadent and soft. History proves otherwise, of course.

Why the Europeans were unable to remember the "doughboys" of World War I is a medical mystery.

UPDATE: A typo? C'mon, at the Journal? They don't make mistakes, especially on the editorial page. So many non-believers.

Reading List: Josh Marshall, "Practice To Deceive"

A summary of Ken Pollack's "The Threatening Storm" for lamers, uhh, really busy folks. The summary is provided by a hawk, and Pollack's views evolved.

And the NY Times had an article on the effect of sanctions on Iraq, which I excerpt below.

MORE: Hints on the "Secret" plan from Andrew Sullivan, Sept 11, 2002, writtne as a commemorative "fisking" of Susan Sontag.

Excuse me, but war was not disclosed or declared by the United States. It was declared quite emphatically and unapologetically by Islamist terrorists years ago, and has been going on in the Middle East and elsewhere for the better part of three decades. (Sontag might read Lawrence Wright's superb reporting in this week's New Yorker (summary here) to see how deep this war goes and who is really galvanizing it. Hint to Susan: not us.)

...in the sense that war and politics can make the Middle East a less barbaric, depraved and despotic place, the answer is that the anti-terror war absolutely can end. But only if we wage it with conviction and skill, and recognize that all the belligerent components, from Iraq and Iran to Saudi Arabia, are connected - exactly the response Sontag opposes.

Shh, Andrew, not so loud!

Jonah Goldberg

Stanley Kurtz

James Taranto

(0) comments

The Must-Read Article This Weekend

This Sunday's NY Times magazine has a long story by David Rieff titled "Were [Iraqi] Sanctions Right?" (also here).

The author recounts sanctions as a humanitarian disaster, and a foreign policy problem, prior to 2003. He then presents a bit of history:

The actual history of American sanctions on Iraq is fairly straightforward. On Aug. 2, 1990, in response to Iraq's invasion and annexation of Kuwait, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 661, imposing comprehensive multilateral international sanctions on Iraq and freezing all its foreign assets.

...By early 1993, opposition to sanctions was growing, especially in the Arab world, and so was dissension within the United Nations. Albright, then Washington's newly appointed ambassador to the United Nations, recalls that when she arrived in New York to take up her post in February 1993, there was confusion about sanctions policy. As she put it: ''No one had thought they would be in place for so long, but then, no one had really thought Saddam Hussein would still be there either. The intelligence was that he'd be gone fairly soon.''

That ever-reliable intelligence. Describing her trip to Arab capitals in 1993, then UN Ambassador Madeleine Albright says:

''I went to various Arab capitals with photographs we'd declassified that showed how much money Saddam Hussein was spending on his palaces,'' she told me recently. ''The Arab leaders were amazed. They hadn't known any of this. But in turn they told me about how much the Iraqi people were suffering under sanctions. They also talked about the anger over sanctions that was building in the Arab 'street.' Of course, this protest was affecting them, too. But I was appalled by what they told me, not just worried about the political consequences. And it was when I returned to the U.N. that I began to try to mitigate the humanitarian consequences of the sanctions. That's when the idea of 'food for oil' was born.''

The premise of the oil-for-food program, which was administered by the United Nations, was that Saddam Hussein would be allowed to sell a certain amount of oil. With the proceeds, Hussein's government would be permitted to buy essential humanitarian supplies, including food, medicine and materials needed to keep Iraq's crumbling infrastructure running.

...although the Security Council agreed to the oil-for-food program in April 1995, Saddam Hussein at first refused to participate, holding out for a total lifting of sanctions.... It was only in December 1996 that Hussein accepted the oil-for-food program, and only in 1997 that it became effective in alleviating some, though not all, of the torments of the Iraqi people.

At the same time, the French and the Russians were pushing hard within the Security Council either for a ratcheting down or an outright lifting of sanctions. Nancy Soderberg [then with the NSC] states flatly that the French and the Russians allowed their eagerness to develop business deals with Iraq to affect their work on the 661 Committee. ''The French and Russians wanted to make money,'' she told me. ''By the time of the second gulf war, the Russians had $40 billion in prospective deals with Saddam Hussein's regime.'' (As for the French, as the International Peace Academy's David Malone puts it, ''Paris never offered an effective alternative to sanctions, simply grandstanding on humanitarian questions while doing business with Iraq.'')

And, summarizing the discussion of the paucity of alternatives:

...James Rubin [State Department spokesman under Albright] asks: ''What should we have done, just lift sanctions and hope for the best? I believed then and believe now that that was just too risky, given Saddam Hussein's past, his repeated attempts to invade his neighbors, his treatment of his own people and the weapons we knew he was developing.''

On the other hand:

These observations do not answer the question of whether any policy, no matter how strategically sound, is worth the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children -- a figure that originated in a Unicef report on infant mortality in sanctions-era Iraq and became the rallying cry of anti-sanctions campaigners. And the argument against sanctions on Iraq went beyond even this single, horrifying statistic. Sanctions, their opponents insist, transformed a country that in the 1980's was the envy of the developing world in terms of investments in health, education and physical infrastructure into a place where everyone (except the half-million or so members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party and their families and cronies) was dependent on United Nations food aid, where infant mortality rates had skyrocketed, educational outcomes had collapsed and diseases that had disappeared were reappearing, sometimes at epidemic levels.

American officials may quarrel with the numbers, but there is little doubt that at least several hundred thousand children who could reasonably have been expected to live died before their fifth birthdays. The damage, according to those who fought against sanctions, was terrible, medieval. It was, in the literal sense, unconscionable, since those who died had not themselves developed weapons of mass destruction or invaded Kuwait. Rather, they were the cannon fodder for Hussein's war and the victims of his repression.

The author then describes the ways in which Saddam used sanctions to strengthen his grip on his country, enrich himself, and score propaganda points against the US.

In an earlier post, I had addressed one of the puzzles of this war - if Saddam had no WMDs, why did he not say so, and let the sanctions be lifted? Part of my answer - the sanctions helped him maintain tight control over his economy. The author details how, with control of food ration cards, this was achieved. Sound-bite: "It was a secret policeman's dream":

''Saddam could do many things to the people,'' a former Iraqi Army officer named Raed Mohammed told me, ''but while he could kill them, he could not afford to starve them. So yes, he made sure the Ministry of Trade organized things correctly. As a result, the rationing was popular. It helped the regime maintain its legitimacy. Most people thought, 'Saddam is feeding us while the Americans are trying to starve us to death.'''

...there were other, unanticipated, advantages that accrued to the regime from the rationing system. Every Iraqi head of household had to have such a ration book, issued by the Ministry of Trade, which named every immediate family member and listed the precise quantities of foodstuffs to which the bearer was entitled. Every food agent had a computerized list from the Ministry of Trade of the people he was supposed to supply with these staples.

What this meant in practice was that the regime could maintain a database on every Iraqi citizen and constantly update it, without recourse to the security services or even a network of paid informants. It was a secret policeman's dream -- and it was all provided, however inadvertently, by the sanctions the United States and Britain had conceived as a way of limiting Saddam Hussein's power.

On corruption and graft:

...the Iraqi government was able to set up a well-orchestrated system of kickback schemes in which a contract would be signed at far more than the cost of fulfilling it, with the difference deposited secretly by the selected contractors in Iraqi government-controlled accounts all over the world. As a result, Saddam Hussein and the Baath elite got rich off the sanctions, and a great many international businessmen, notably in the Arab world, in France and in Russia, made handsome profits as well.

''The Syrians, the Jordanians, the Turks -- they all had their own deals,'' Nancy Soderberg recalls.

On the propaganda battle:

...Saddam Hussein used the pretext of the sanctions to wage a propaganda war -- one that even many American officials would later concede he probably won. Not only did Hussein use the sanctions to rationalize to Iraqis every shortage they were enduring, but he also proved himself a kind of genius at exaggerating and exploiting the effects of sanctions that were already tragic enough when reported truthfully. To rally his population, and probably also in a bid to win support from Western sympathizers and the international media, Saddam Hussein orchestrated a kind of traffic in suffering -- all meant for the television cameras.

One doctor I spoke to who spent several years in a hospital in the provincial city of Baquba, about 25 miles north of Baghdad, told me that the hospital staff had instructions, whenever a child died, to keep the corpse in the morgue rather than burying it immediately as mandated by Islamic custom. ''When a sufficient number of bodies accumulated,'' he explained, ''the authorities would stage a mass funeral, railing against the sanctions, even though as often as not there was no connection between a particular child's death and the sanctions.''

...I inquired whether there had been other manipulations of the system to make things seem worse than they had really been.

''Of course,'' he replied, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. ''It happened all the time. For example, we would get a shipment from the Ministry of Health of vaccines provided by the World Health Organization. But then we would be instructed not to use them until they had reached or even exceeded their sell-by date. Then the television cameras would come, and we would be told to lie and tell the public how the U.N. made ordinary Iraqis suffer. You have to understand: this was a system where everyone knew what was expected of them. Most of the time, we didn't even have to be told what to do.''

So, the choices - endless appalling, unpopular sanctions, or quick, unpopular war:

...The reality of sanctions is very likely the one adduced by Lee Feinstein of the Clinton-era State Department. For implicit in his description of why the Clinton administration acted as it did is the sense that sanctions were less a policy than a stopgap -- one that was a tragedy for the Iraqi people but that also turned into a trap for the United States. Soderberg says that the controversy over sanctions allowed Saddam Hussein to transform the debate from one about his compliance with United Nations resolutions to one about the lifting of the sanctions. As a means of containing Hussein, she says, sanctions were successful, but they were a ''deteriorating'' policy.

...had sanctions really succeeded, presumably there would have been no need for the war at all. Not that every Iraqi I met preferred sanctions to war. To the contrary, some even insisted that given the choice between being subjected to open-ended sanctions and the bloody resolution of an American invasion, they would opt for the latter. ''I detest the Americans and want them to leave Iraq now, immediately,'' one Shiite notable told me. ''But they got rid of Saddam, and now they have lifted the sanctions. That's good. Otherwise, who knows how long this slow death by water torture, which the sanctions were for us, would have gone on?''

And internationally, sanctions were not a popular choice:

...[Rubin] points to the fact that in the run-up to the second gulf war, many of the same countries and campaign groups that had pushed hardest for the lifting of sanctions began to insist that sanctions and containment should be given time to work. ''After spending 1995 to 2000 criticizing Iraq sanctions, the Germans and French fell in love with containment,'' Rubin observes sardonically. ''They wanted better, more extensive containment. They were ready to rethink their opposition to sanctions.''

The author closes with a discussion of the role of sanctions as an effective tool of diplomacy, and notes:

We did not see the end of radical evil with the demise of Saddam Hussein. One has only to think of Robert Mugabe, Kim Jong Il or Charles Taylor to recognize that. Sooner or later, powerful states confronted by such a figure are almost certain to turn to sanctions as part of what Albright calls the diplomatic ''tool box.'' In fact, the United States now has sanctions in place against about a dozen countries, including North Korea, Cuba, Zimbabwe, Syria and Libya. Just this month, Congress imposed a new array of economic sanctions against Myanmar after the military government in that country detained the opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

...And there is always the example of apartheid South Africa -- the one instance where comprehensive, multilateral sanctions do appear to have succeeded in producing ''regime change.'' To anti-sanctions campaigners, however, the South African case is the exception that proves the rule, rather than serving as a model for future confrontations with unsavory regimes. In South Africa, they point out, the humanitarian costs were low (South Africa was nowhere near so dependent on imported staples), and there was an effective and viable opposition in the African National Congress.

I don't suppose many folks care to rally to the defense of the South African government, so what the heck - would if be reasonable to wonder whether the white regime in South Africa did not possess the quality of "radical evil" that the author ascribes to Robert Mugabe, Kim Jong Il or Charles Taylor? This point would connect to the argument that a Gandhi could succeed in India, or a Martin Luther King in the American South, in a way that a similar figure could not succeed in, for example, Iraq. Maybe sanctions worked in South Africa because the white regime was not as brutal or evil as the alternatives noted above.

[Note - if you have an unpopular cause, send it in, let me take a look, and who knows? And I did say "maybe" with South Africa, so don't belabor me with hate mail, thanks.]

UPDATE: The Brothers Judd comment on the article. They don't quite say "Give war a chance", settling for:

Is it not the lesson of the two easily successful Iraq Wars and the failure of the sanctions regime that rather than try "peaceful" means we should more readily resort to force? War saves lives; it's "peace" that kills.

Yes, that would seem to be the point.

Daniel Drezner, who wrote the book on sanctions, comments. On the "give war a chance" implied by Mr. Rieff's article:

One of the reasons I preferred an invasion of Iraq was that the other policy options -- including sanctions -- had a more devastating humanitarian impact. But Iraq is a special case. Rieff is trying, in this article, to suggest that military intervention may always be preferable to sanctions -- and that is just wrong.

So, as to the general rule, not so fast! But for Iraq, we can make an exception.

Oh, and I have a minor quibble with the good Doctor. He criticizes Mr. Rieff for reporting the UN figure for infant casualties, and argues that it is wildly inflated. Mr. Rieff did lead with that figure, and buried his modification, but we should note that he did, after delivering the figure of "500,000 infants" twice, say this:

American officials may quarrel with the numbers, but there is little doubt that at least several hundred thousand children who could reasonably have been expected to live died before their fifth birthdays.

From Dr. Drezner, we have:

The most precise study of this topic-- conducted by people hardly sympathetic to the sanctions regime -- concludes that between 100,000 and 227,000 children died during the acute period of sanctions imposition. These are still appalling numbers. But claiming between 273,000 to 400,000 more deaths is cheap and manipulative. [But Rieff is only quoting the UNICEF figure!!--ed. Rieff is also bright enough to know that UNICEF relied on the post-1991 Iraqi government for much of their data.]

Well, it seems that Mr. Rief exaggerated an already strong case.

(0) comments

WTF At The Tour De France

I am watching the rain come down on the many riders, and wondering, what sort of a way is this to settle the Tour de France?

Yes, yes, it is raining on all of the riders. But that reminds me of a quip made when someone said, in defending a (network) decision to play a World Series game in the rain, that it's raining on all the players.

Yes, said the skeptic, so it is. And would you say the same thing if there were alligators in the outfield?

The conditions may be equal, but they are not equal to the importance of the moment. The best deserve the best!

UPDATE: OK, Ullrich is the first (of the Top Two) to slide and crash, losing the two (maybe six?) seconds he had picked up, but he is getting back up and carrying on. The announcers say he has lost his nerve, and is clearly riding more cautiously.

END: Lance Armstrong does not fall, and will win the Tour.
And this post-race comment by Armstrong will trigger speculation. I paraphrase - "this has been a difficult tour, for reasons people know, and reasons they don't know."

(0) comments

Friday, July 25, 2003

The Valerie Plame Affair - July 26

Those who do not understand the past are doomed to watch summer re-runs. I have a theory about why the media is ignoring this affair, and with a tip from Charles Schumer, we take you back one glorious summer:

Ashcroft Demands Records of 17 Senators Probing Sept 11th. Attacks

The FBI has intensified its probe of a classified intelligence leak, asking 17 senators to turn over phone records, appointment calendars and schedules that would reveal their possible contact with reporters.

In an Aug. 7 memo passed to the senators through the Senate general counsel's office, the FBI asked all members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence to collect and turn over records from June 18 and 19, 2002. Those dates are the day of and the day after a classified hearing in which the director of the National Security Agency, Lt. Gen. Michael V. Hayden, spoke to lawmakers about two highly sensitive messages that hinted at an impending action that the agency intercepted on the eve of Sept. 11 but did not translate until Sept. 12.

Important leaks, a big investigation, FBI involvement - Valerie Plame could take us right back there. And how many want to go? The media is interested in source protection, not source prosecution. And many folks express concern when John Ashcroft commences investigations in the name of national security.

Let me reprise a point I have made earlier - At this moment, journalists are attempting to cajole their sources into divulging classified information about the October NIE, only portions of which were released; and the 9/11 report, portions of which dealing with the Saudi connection were redacted.

These leaks would, I suspect, represent felonies, and, one might imagine, compromise national security. Yet the press, and at least some of the public, want these leaks. For Aschcroft and/or the Congress to clamp down on the Valerie Plame leakers without clamping down on this seems unlikely.

Be careful what you wish for.
Glenn Reynolds commented last summer, as did Atrios.

UPDATE: This, from the NY Times, is what I am talking about:

Classified Section of Sept. 11 Report Faults Saudi Rulers


WASHINGTON, July 25 — Senior officials of Saudi Arabia have funneled hundreds of millions of dollars to charitable groups and other organizations that may have helped finance the September 2001 attacks, a still-classified section of a Congressional report on the hijackings says, according to people who have read it.

The 28-page section of the report was deleted from the nearly 900-page declassified version released on Thursday by a joint committee of the House and Senate intelligence committees. The chapter focuses on the role foreign governments played in the hijackings, but centers almost entirely on Saudi Arabia, the people who saw the section said.

Who thinks we should call Ashcroft?

(0) comments