A Cautious Man
January 30, 2004
 
Took a Wrong Turn and Just Kept Going
Not to be incautious or anything, but perhaps there should be more investigation into how the current Administration's priorities, as it took office, could have contributed to our nation's vulnerability on September 11. A comment in Daily Kos pointed to an article in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, entitled "The Pros From Dover", which addresses this issue:"Three years into the Bush administration, in spite of a host of developments in the national security realm, there has yet to be any serious inquiry into its methods of policymaking and their impact on American security. That inquiry is overdue." It summarizes what has been discussed, about the possible neglect of Clinton administration anti-terrorism efforts, the apparent shifting of focus to Iraq and to changing relations with Russia and the rest of Europe, and the parallel intelligence analysis conducted under the Vice President. It concludes with this disturbing thought:
The truth about 9/11 is one of two things. Either Rice’s NSC machinery did not work, or else it worked perfectly to ensure that what Bush and his cohorts considered a marginal issue like terrorism did not clutter up the schedule of a president intent on another agenda--transforming America’s relationships with traditional allies and former enemies. Either of these conclusions is disturbing. Once the Iraq war is factored into the equation the outlook is even more troubling. Again the NSC machinery operated in a fashion to prevent important objections or alternative policies from coming to the fore. U.S. policy going into the Iraq war was indifferent to alliance politics, to failures to attain needed U.N. approval, to U.S. military objections that the war plan was inadequate, to intelligence warnings that war would be succeeded by guerrilla resistance, to global public opinion, to international disarmament monitors who failed to turn up evidence supporting the Bush rationale for war, and more.
Read the whole thing. It's important to find out what really happened.

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January 29, 2004
 
The Catholic Traffic
Anybody who is a Catholic, thinks he is a Catholic, knows a Catholic or knows what a Catholic should be like, has a wonderful new topic of conversation: "The Passion According to Mel Gibson" (or whatever it's called). On the internet, in particular, there has been, and no doubt will continue to be, much posting and cross-posting on this issue (See Ut Unum Sint, in my reading list, for an excellent ongoing survey of the debate). As many have pointed out, the movie is clearly not a line-by-line retelling of the Passion narrative in the Gospels. As Richard Ostling wrote recently:
A recent viewing of the film’s nearly final cut showed why people are reacting so dramatically. It is not just that the passion was filmed, although the story has long been a delicate subject between Jews and Christians, and among Christians themselves. It’s the elaborate rendering of Christ in agony that is at the core of the reactions. Gibson’s vision is intensely violent. The depiction is close enough to the literal Gospel accounts to upset liberals, yet with imaginative additions that might trouble some biblical purists. While the film is not a collective attack upon Jews, the handling of some Jewish characters seems bound to spark still more protest.
The additions to the story seem to have come originally from a book of meditations by Anne Catherine Emmerich (and which can be read online at this link). It appears that Mr. Gibson did not heed the cautionary note at the start of that book:"The following meditations will probably rank high among many similar works which the contemplative love of Jesus has produced; but it is our duty here plainly to affirm that they have no pretensions whatever to be regarded as history." And, I think that is why there is such "passion" (sorry) surrounding the release of this movie. People familiar with the Gospel narratives ought to be bothered by the additions; people unfamiliar will be given an inaccurate picture.

Compounding the problem has been the shameful attempt by the production company to claim some sort of official "Papal Approval" for their version of the Passion narrative. "It is as it was", according to them, was the "boffo rave" of the Pope upon viewing the movie. Look, even if he said that, nobody ever explained how that is a "rave", or what the context was of the remark. It certainly does not constitute any sort of absolution for the film, if the movie contains scenes which exaggerate Jewish responsibility for the Crucifixion. Then, to add insult to injury, journalist Peggy Noonan, in her attempt to explain how she was part of this "Popish Plot", writes that the Vatican should clarify exactly what the Pope feels about the film:
The answer to that question is important for several reasons. The truth matters. What a pope says matters. And what this pontiff says about this film matters. "The Passion," which is to open on Feb. 25, has been the focus of an intense critical onslaught since last summer. The film has been fiercely denounced as anti-Semitic, and accused of perpetuating stereotypes that will fan hatred against Jews. John Paul II has a long personal and professional history of opposing anti-Semitism, of working against it, and of calling for dialogue, respect and reconciliation between all religions. His comments here would have great importance.
These are people who didn't give a darn about the Pope's position on preemptive war in Iraq, and now they say that what's really needed is his movie review. Please, people, give it a rest.

There are already guidelines for evaluating dramatizations of the Passion. The Catholic Bishops of the United States issued one in 1988, noting that in light of past abuses and blame of the Jews, "It is all the more important, then, that extra liturgical depictions of the sacred mysteries conform to the highest possible standards of biblical interpretation and theological sensitivity." And anybody who doesn't want to work through the language of the Bishops' guidelines can find other sources, such as a study guide from the Center for Christian-Jewish Learning at Boston College. As noted in that guide, "We have a responsibility to be informed and to consider the larger picture in which the Passion is presented. Anti-Jewish images and slogans born in by-gone Passion portrayals are still used to slander Israel and the Jews. Therefore, every presenter of the story must be alert to its potential for doing 'collateral damage.'"

The movie's producers and backers will try to claim that any criticism of their work is motivated by anti-Christian bias. It's important that such claims be shown to be false.

[Update: Another Catholic League missive purporting to know the true motives of anybody who criticizes the film. And for what it's worth, while the Catholic League may be "affiliated with the Catholic Church", as discussed in the linked press release, some people may get the impression that "affiliated" is the same thing as "representing" the Church. It is an organization of people who are Catholics, expressing a particular point of view; they have every right to do that. Any other Catholics also have the right to express their views, whether individually or as part of a larger organization. The League, or any individual representing the League, is not an official voice of the Church, however. So, disagreeing with the League's opinion about something isn't necessarily "wrong", and it certainly isn't "anti-Catholic".]

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January 27, 2004
 
He Walks These Empty Rooms Looking for Something to Blame
David Kay is the recently-resigned chief hunter of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. After wandering through Baghdad and environs, Dr. Kay has concluded that it was more of a snipe hunt, than one for anything actually there. His comments, and the implications of that admission, are being discussed all over the place. One thought that I have in all this, is regarding his attempt to fix blame. As reported concerning Dr. Kay's NPR Interview:
U.S. intelligence agencies need to explain why their research indicated that Iraq possessed banned weapons before the American-led invasion, says the outgoing top U.S. inspector, who now thinks Saddam Hussein had no such arms.

"I don't think they exist," David Kay said yesterday. "The fact that we found so far the weapons do not exist, we've got to deal with that difference and understand why."


Asked whether President Bush owed the nation an explanation for the gap between his warnings on banned weapons in Iraq and Mr. Kay's findings, the inspector said: "I actually think the intelligence community owes the president, rather than the president owing the American people."
But, just two weeks ago we were reading Kenneth Pollock's discussion of how we were fooled on the existence or extent of these weapons. As Mr. Pollock stated:
"The intelligence community's overestimation of Iraq's WMD capability is only part of the story of why we went to war last year. The other part involves how the Bush Administration handled the intelligence."
The analysts were being honest, and accurate, in their assessments, but it was the politicians in the Administration who were filtering and spinning in order to build a case for invasion:
"The Administration gave greatest credence to accounts that presented the most lurid picture of Iraqi activities. In many cases intelligence analysts were distrustful of those sources, or knew unequivocally that they were wrong. But when they said so, they were not heeded; instead they were beset with further questions about their own sources."
People, especially those in the press, have to challenge the "blame the analysts" claims of Dr. Kay, or any other Administration official. There should be no question that the blame lies with those who wanted a war, no matter what.

Update on 1/28/04: At least Senator Kennedy, during Dr. Kay's committee testimony, has asked about intelligence assessments which did "get it right", and about statements from intelligence officials that the Administration only wanted evidence which supported its plans. There should be more of this information brought out.

And Senator Warner kept trying to get Dr. Kay to say that Saddam Hussein was an "imminent threat". If that wasn't what the Administration's claim was, why would Senator Warner care about trying to put those words in Dr. Kay's mouth?

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January 13, 2004
 
Your Book With All Your Fears
The NYT has a review of the new book by Richard Perle and David Frum. Please read for yourself, but as for me, I loved the last line:
Such contradictions, combined with the volume's bullying tone and often specious reasoning, make for a strident, sophistical book, one unlikely to persuade anyone who doesn't already share the authors' super-hawkish views and self-righteous braggadocio.
Thanks to No More Mister Nice Blog for the link to the NYT review, although he declined to include the really "good" quotes, such as the one above. There are also a lot of scary quotes from the book, including the following:
Of critics of the Patriot Act, they warn, "We may be so eager to protect the right to dissent that we lose sight of the difference between dissent and subversion; so determined to defend the right of privacy that we refuse to acknowledge even the most blatant warnings of danger."
So, then, in order to save America, we must be less like the America that people want. Is it me, or is this a little scary to hear from influential government advisors?

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When It's All an Old Black and White Movie ...
I just realized that the hunt for weapons of mass destruction, and for a rationale for the Iraq War, is really the plot of The Maltese Falcon. Sam Spade has to solve the mystery of the murder of his partner, but before he can do that, he instead becomes involved with the hunt for the elusive "Black Bird". He allies with, and takes action against, various unsavory foreign types. In the end, he finally has the "bird" in his hand. Instead of containing a fortune in jewels beneath its exterior, however, it turns out that the bird is worthless. "Fake! It's a phony! It-it's lead! It's lead! It's a fake!" shouts the most unsavory of the foreigners, the "Fat Man". After the unsavory types have left, and the real killer is unmasked, Sam Spade cradles the bird in his arms, and when asked what it is, he replies: "The, uh, stuff that dreams are made of."

I don't know if the current movie will have as tidy an ending.

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On that Execution Line
Now my waitin's over
As the final hour drags by
I ain't about to tell you
That I don't deserve to die
But there's twenty-seven men here
Mostly black, brown and poor
Most of em are guilty
Who are you to say for sure?

(Steve Earle, Billy Austin)
New Jersey Governor McGreevey has vetoed a bill (one that passed overwhelmingly and with bipartisan support in both houses of the Legislature) which would have established a commission to study the application of the death penalty in New Jersey. He did so despite said bipartisan support for the measure, and the additional urgings of other elected officials and the general public. He unfortunately ignored the Legislature's findings, as contained in the bill as passed:
1. The Legislature finds and declares that:

a. Life is the most valuable possession of a human being; the State should exercise utmost care to protect its residents' lives from homicide, accident, or arbitrary or wrongful taking by the State;

b. The experience of this State with the death penalty has been characterized by significant expenditures of money and time;

c. The financial costs of attempting to implement the death penalty statutes may not be justifiable in light of the other needs of this State;

d. There is a lack of any meaningful procedure to ensure uniform application of the death penalty in each county throughout the State;

e. There is public concern that racial and socio-economic factors influence the decisions to seek or impose the death penalty;

f. There has been increasing public awareness of cases of individuals wrongfully convicted of murder, in New Jersey and elsewhere in the nation;

g. The Legislature is troubled that the possibility of mistake in the death penalty process may undermine public confidence in our criminal justice system;

h. The execution of an innocent person by the State of New Jersey would be a grave and irreversible injustice;

i. Many citizens may favor life in prison without parole or life in prison without parole with restitution to the victims as alternatives to the death penalty; and

j. In order for the State to protect its moral and ethical integrity, the State must ensure a justice system which is impartial, uncorrupted, equitable, competent, and in line with evolving standards of decency.
In order to take action in light of these findings, the bill would have created a commission to address these concerns. As set forth in the Statement accompanying the bill:
Under the bill, the commission is charged with studying all aspects of the death penalty as it is currently administered in this State. Issues the commission must consider include: (1) whether the death penalty rationally serves a legitimate penological intent, such as deterrence; (2) whether there is a significant difference between the cost of the death penalty from indictment to execution and the cost of life in prison without parole; (3) whether the death penalty is consistent with evolving standards of decency; (4) whether the selection of defendants in New Jersey for capital trials is arbitrary, unfair or discriminatory and if there is unfair, arbitrary, or discriminatory variability in the sentencing phase or at any stage of the process; (5) whether there is a significant difference in the crimes of those selected for the punishment of death as opposed to those who receive life in prison; (6) whether the penological interest in executing certain persons found guilty of murder is sufficiently compelling that the risk of an irreversible mistake is acceptable; and (7) whether alternatives to the death penalty exist that would sufficiently ensure public safety and address other legitimate social and penological interests, including the interests of victims' families.
These should be basic questions, which anybody would want to see addressed, in order to be comfortable with the need for capital punishment in twenty-first century America. Nevertheless, as reported in the press:
The Legislature agreed to the study commission, which death penalty opponents had sought for years. The commission was to determine if the death penalty is applied fairly, how much it costs, if it is a deterrent to crime and if it should be outlawed.

McGreevey said the proposed study was unlikely to provide any new information.

"New Jersey's death penalty law has been continuously studied in painstaking detail since its 1982 enactment, by the courts, academics, attorneys and interest groups, including anti-death penalty advocates who ably assist defendants in capital cases," McGreevey said.
So, on that basis, the Governor rejected an attempt to determine the fairness or efficacy of capital punishment in this state.
So when the preacher comes to get me
And they shave off all my hair
Could you take that long walk with me
Knowing hell is waitin' there
Could you pull that switch yourself sir
With a sure and steady hand
Could you still tell youself
That you're better than I am

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You've Been Fooled This Time, That's a Fact
From perusing Sursum Corda, I learned about Kenneth Pollock's new article in the Atlantic Monthly. That's right, Mr. "Gathering Storm" writes on how we were fooled. Excerpts:
The intelligence community's overestimation of Iraq's WMD capability is only part of the story of why we went to war last year. The other part involves how the Bush Administration handled the intelligence. Throughout the spring and fall of 2002 and well into 2003 I received numerous complaints from friends and colleagues in the intelligence community, and from people in the policy community, about precisely that. According to them, many Administration officials reacted strongly, negatively, and aggressively when presented with information or analysis that contradicted what they already believed about Iraq. Many of these officials believed that Saddam Hussein was the source of virtually all the problems in the Middle East and was an imminent danger to the United States because of his perceived possession of weapons of mass destruction and support of terrorism. Many also believed that CIA analysts tended to be left-leaning cultural relativists who consistently downplayed threats to the United States. They believed that the Agency, not the Administration, was biased, and that they were acting simply to correct that bias.

Intelligence officers who presented analyses that were at odds with the pre-existing views of senior Administration officials were subjected to barrages of questions and requests for additional information. They were asked to justify their work sentence by sentence: "Why did you rely on this source and not this other piece of information?" "How does this conclusion square with this other point?" "Please explain the history of Iraq's association with the organization you mention in this sentence." Reportedly, the worst fights were those over sources. The Administration gave greatest credence to accounts that presented the most lurid picture of Iraqi activities. In many cases intelligence analysts were distrustful of those sources, or knew unequivocally that they were wrong. But when they said so, they were not heeded; instead they were beset with further questions about their own sources.

On many occasions Administration officials' requests for additional information struck the analysts as being made merely to distract them from their primary mission. Some officials asked for extensive historical analyses—a hugely time-consuming undertaking, for which most intelligence analysts are not trained. Requests were constantly made for detailed analyses of newspaper articles that conformed to the views of Administration officials—pieces by conservative newspaper columnists such as Jim Hoagland, William Safire, and George F. Will. These columnists may be highly intelligent men, but they have no claim to superior insight into the workings of Iraq, or to any independent intelligence-collection capabilities.
And that, boys and girls, is where "preemptive" wars come from.

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January 12, 2004
 
And when you realize how they tricked you this time ...
So, what left-wing America hater penned this?
In the wake of the September 11, 2001, al-Qaeda terrorist attacks on the United States, the U.S. Government declared a global war on terrorism (GWOT). The nature and parameters of that war, however, remain frustratingly unclear. The administration has postulated a multiplicity of enemies, including rogue states; weapons of mass destruction (WMD) proliferators; terrorist organizations of global, regional, and national scope; and terrorism itself. It also seems to have conflated them into a monolithic threat, and in so doing has subordinated strategic clarity to the moral clarity it strives for in foreign policy and may have set the United States on a course of open-ended and gratuitous conflict with states and nonstate entities that pose no serious threat to the United States.

Of particular concern has been the conflation of al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq as a single, undifferentiated terrorist threat. This was a strategic error of the first order because it ignored critical differences between the two in character, threat level, and susceptibility to U.S. deterrence and military action. The result has been an unnecessary preventive war of choice against a deterred Iraq that has created a new front in the Middle East for Islamic terrorism and diverted attention and resources away from securing the American homeland against further assault by an undeterrable al-Qaeda. The war against Iraq was not integral to the GWOT, but rather a detour from it.

Additionally, most of the GWOT’s declared objectives, which include the destruction of al-Qaeda and other transnational terrorist organizations, the transformation of Iraq into a prosperous, stable democracy, the democratization of the rest of the autocratic Middle East, the eradication of terrorism as a means of irregular warfare, and the (forcible, if necessary) termination of WMD proliferation to real and potential enemies worldwide, are unrealistic and condemn the United States to a hopeless quest for absolute security. As such, the GWOT’s goals are also politically, fiscally, and militarily unsustainable. Accordingly, the GWOT must be recalibrated to conform to concrete U.S. security interests and the limits of American power.
Why, it's Dr. Jeffrey Record of the Army War College, in a new report assessing the War on Terror. The complete report can be accessed at this link.

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January 08, 2004
 
That Equipment You Got's So Outdated
The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has released its report on Iraq's WMDs. You can obtain the report at this link, or just read the summary here. The short version: There are no WMDs.
Iraq's nuclear program had been suspended for many years; Iraq focused on preserving a latent, dual-use chemical and probably biological weapons capability, not weapons production.

Iraqi nerve agents had lost most of their lethality as early as 1991.

Operations Desert Storm and Desert Fox, and UN inspections and sanctions effectively destroyed Iraq's large-scale chemical weapon production capabilities.
The report also has other recommendations and findings which hopefully somebody in authority in the US will take to heart:.
Revise the National Security Strategy to eliminate a U.S. policy of unilateral preventive war, i.e., preemptive war in absence of imminent threat.
...

There were at least two options preferable to a war undertaken without international support: allowing the UNMOVIC/IAEA inspections to continue until obstructed or completed, or imposing a tougher program of "coercive inspections.
Sounds a lot like one of my favorite thinkers on war and peace.

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January 06, 2004
 
There is no Keyser Soze!
David Brooks has hastened to reassure us that there is nothing to worry about. In today's column, he chides those who listen to "ludicrous stories" which talk "about how Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Doug Feith, Bill Kristol and a bunch of 'neoconservatives' … had taken over U.S. foreign policy." (Actually, the point of Mr. Brooks' column may just be to set up a handy rejoinder the next time someone criticizes Administration policy, since he also writes: "con is short for 'conservative' and neo is short for 'Jewish'.")

But, in any event, Mr. Brooks wants to make it clear that, despite what you may have heard:
In truth, the people labeled neocons … travel in widely different circles and don't actually have much contact with one another. The ones outside government have almost no contact with President Bush. There have been hundreds of references, for example, to Richard Perle's insidious power over administration policy, but I've been told by senior administration officials that he has had no significant meetings with Bush or Cheney since they assumed office. into their fillings.
Of course, Mr. Perle would probably be the first to argue with Mr. Brooks, about how important he was, and may still be. He has a delightful new book out, described by the American Enterprise Institute as follows:
An End to Evil charts the agenda for what's next in the war on terrorism, as articulated by David Frum, former presidential speechwriter and bestselling author of The Right Man, and Richard Perle, former assistant secretary of defense and one of the most influential foreign-policy leaders in Washington.

An End to Evil will define the conservative point of view on foreign policy for a new generation--and shape the agenda for the 2004 presidential-election year and beyond. With a keen insiders' perspective on how our leaders are confronting--or not confronting--the war on terrorism, David Frum and Richard Perle make a convincing argument for why the toughest line is the safest line.
But, according to Mr. Brooks, for anybody who was worried about what the Usual Suspects have been up to, it's all in your head.

Nobody believed he was real. Nobody ever saw him or knew anybody that ever worked directly for him, but to hear Kobayashi tell it, anybody could have worked for Soze. You never knew. That was his power.

The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist.

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