Wednesday, June 30, 2004



There's been an interesting discussion/argument in the comments below Kevin Drum's post (which I mentioned below in an update to my original Sullivan post) about whether liberals should ease up on the criticism of disillusioned liberal and conservative hawks who supported the war. I think the key is that there are two distinct issues at play here: (1) the merits of the war itself; and (2) the rhetoric used to market the war.

So here's my take. People should not be unforgiving simply because they disagree with hawks (or anyone) about point # 1. I agree with Kevin that people like Atrios have been too unforgiving toward people who supported the war (i.e., point # 1). However, there is no reason to forgive those who used abusive, insulting, and irresponsible rhetoric to dismiss those who opposed the war from the start. Thus, Andrew Sullivan gets no forgiveness in light of the language used below. But, that's because of issue # 2, not because he supported the war. Lots of reasonable people supported the war in good faith. People can certainly point out why they were wrong, but I think the moral righteousness is counterproductive. In short, I think dividing the larger issue into its two component parts will bring some clarity to this debate.



I think there's a lot of valuable information in the Sullivan quotes below. I was especially struck by this poll, which Sullivan cited on 10/11: "86 percent of those surveyed believed Saddam had nuclear weapons or was close to acquiring them, and 66 percent believed he was involved in the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States."

I think people tend to forget, today, that the war was marketed mostly on a national-security/imminent threat basis. Sure, there were comments about the democracy domino theory and reshaping the Middle East, but as I read nearly a month of Sullivan's postings, it was clear that the impending threat (from WMDs and terrorists) was doing most of the work. However, I have a question for the unforgiving anti-war people (unforgiving of the hawks, not Bush) - How did you expect the Dems to oppose the war when 86% thought Saddam had or was close to having nuclear weapons, and 66% thought he was involved in 9/11?

It's truly frightening - the most powerful nation in the world went to war under assumptions that were wildly off the mark (even assuming they were in good faith - which I think was true for the chemical/bio weapons, but not at all true for the nuclear threat and al Qaeda connection). Again, the fundamental critique I have is not the war itself, but the way we went to war. As I explained here, perhaps the biggest failure was one of process - Bush failed to develop a fact-finding, information-producing adversarial process to determine whether to invade. Instead, he relied on a group of individuals who largely agreed about everything. Another gripe was the timing. Even if Saddam was close to developing weapons, he wasn't going to do anything while the inspectors were there. There was no need for the rush - which as we now know, might have given us time to question our own assumptions. Third, there was the rhetoric used against war opponents - both at home and abroad - which showed very little respect for the opposite view (which should be considered with respect given that we were about to go off to war). Obviously, the Left can be intolerant, and some reactions by certain elements of the Left immediately after 9/11 were sickening. But, they were the extreme minority - and Sullivan lumped people like me (who supported Afghanistan - and am a liberal "soft hawk" in terms of international interventions) with people like Chomsky. I'm sorry, but the whole thing still makes me very angry.

WHY THE LEFT IS MAD - Andrew Sullivan Circa 2002 


A good friend of mine emailed me and said that I had become too knee-jerk anti-Bush, especially with regards to Iraq. I thought about that for a long time today. It is true that I am extremely angry about both the war and the implementation of the war, and I'm sure that anger gets the best of me at times. So, should I give Bush and the other pro-war supporters a break now that it's turned out so badly? Before answering that question, I decided to go back to the source of my anger - autumn 2002. I have vivid memories of having my position labeled as cowardly, ignorant, and even treasonous. I remember having the war crammed down my throat in the most arrogant way. I can't express how much this bothered me as someone deeply affected by 9/11 and who supported Bush in Afghanistan. Generally, I heard these criticisms of my position on TV or in conversations at law school - and thus I didn't have documentary evidence of the rhetoric that was used. But out of curiosity, I decided to visit the Andrew Sullivan archives to see what he was saying about the loyal opposition back in the heady days of 2002 - and I hit paydirt. Once you read the quotes below, you'll better understand the rise of Dean and why the Left is unwilling to cut Bush any slack - namely; because that courtesy was never extended to us.

It was really fun to get back to doing some real historical work by looking at older primary sources (history is my true love - I find law a bit dreary). I was astounded at some of the Sullivan posts. I was equally astounded at how mild-mannered Glenn Reynolds seemed in comparison to Sullivan (who I had generally considered to be an articulate, reasonable centrist - I had never read these posts). Indeed, I expected to have more choice quotes from Reynolds, but that wasn't true at all. Anyway, the passages below pretty much speak for themselves, though I should provide some very brief background.

I went back to the archives in two periods - from roughly 9/19-10/16, and then the week of, and after, the November midterm elections. It's extremely important to remember the context. In late September and October of 2002, the country was debating the Iraqi war resolution - which passed in early October. Thus, 9/11 was over a year old (but note that the debate was scheduled close to its one-year anniversary). All the comments below about the Left's horrid response to 9/11 should be understood in the context of the Iraq debate. Second, some of the quotes below are directly from Sullivan, while others are from letters or articles that he cited approvingly. Third, what I've cited is merely the tip of the iceberg. The whole period is filled with bitter, rancid condemnations of Gore, Daschle, and pretty much anyone who thought Iraq was a bad idea. Without further ado. . .

9/19 - MAKING THE CASE - "More interesting, on the question of who's exploiting this for domestic reasons, the Democrats come off worse than Bush. 59 percent say the Dems are delaying a war-vote for political reasons. Only 26 percent believe Bush's war-timing is politically motivated. As so often, the voters have sized it up pretty accurately."

9/21 - DUBYA AND THE YOUNG: "I'm struck by the generational dynamics in the latest . . . poll. The GOP has a huge lead among the young, especially men under 44. I wonder why. Could it be that September 11 was a more potent event for those with less life experience under their belts? Or is it that the young recognize that the Democrats are essentially a political operation designed to take money from the young and productive and give it to the old and rich and retired? Both possibilities are encouraging." (emphasis added)

9/23 - BRODER ON THE DEMS - [Broder's] simple argument is that the Democrats have no principled position on the the two most important issues to the president: the war and the tax-cut. They won't actually oppose either, because they fear the political consequences. Yet they carp and obstruct and criticize - without offering any serious credible alternative. Until they tell us why Saddam is not a threat meriting war or that they will repeal the Bush tax cut, they should be treated with the contempt Broder says they deserve.

ANGRY YOUNG MALE FOR BUSH (letter quoted approvingly) - "Yeesh, what if Gore had won? I'd expect to see a speech asking us all to learn how to co-exist with terror and come to terms with our own accountability for it."

9/24 - COALITION CAN'T - "And then [Gore] reiterates the bizarre notion that undermining one of the chief sponsors of terrorism in the world will somehow hurt the war against terrorism. Huh? Perhaps his lamest line was accusing the administration of dividing the country by hewing to a foreign policy of the 'far right.'"

9/25 - THE DOSSIER:It won't satisfy the appeasers, but it sure scares the hell out of me. Blair puts it best: "Read it all and again I defy anyone to say that this cruel and sadistic dictator should be allowed to get his hands on nuclear, chemical or biological weapons." Why don't the Democrats have a leader of similar guts and stature?

9/25 - CLINTONIAN PARSING OF GORE - . . . So what are the actual arguments rather than the bogus ones anti-war Democrats want to flaunt to avoid the obvious inference that they don't like the war on terror and want to stop it as soon as possible?

9/26 - THE REAL ISSUE . . . [Daschle] decided early on me-too-ism, so as to return the debate to less troublesome matters like free pills for seniors. But this didn't work, as the war debate kept going and going despite his best efforts. What the Republicans are dreaming of is a November election between peacenik Dems and warrior Republicans. In the run-up, Bush talks about national security, while the Democrats whine about politicizing the war. Bush talks about international substance; the Dems talk about domestic process.

9/28 - WHAT THE ANTI-WAR CROWD RISKS - [Ed. note - This is an especially good one. Sullivan links to an NRO piece by the normally awesome Eugene Volokh (I didn't read him pre-2004) in which Volokh drafts a parody letter from Saddam. The demagoguery is obvious. Anyway, here's an excerpt from Volokh's letter from Saddam]:

Dear Madam President Clinton:
As you may have gathered by now, the nuclear device exploded over the Nevada desert today came from the mighty arsenal of the Republic of Iraq. We sincerely hope that the device did not injure anyone; its purpose was simply to show that Iraq has acquired a nuclear capability. In fact, we are proud to say that we have manufactured many such weapons. Nearly a dozen of them are now in place in major American cities. We certainly do not want to have to detonate them, and we see no need to go that far, if you accede to several reasonable requests that essentially amount to a permanent disengagement from the internal affairs of the Middle East.

9/30 - UNHITCHED FROM THE LEFT: As Hitchens looked around him, even in the days after the atrocity, he found something rather different. He found that a deep and lingering hatred of America over-powered some leftists' objection to mass murder. He found excuses for totalitarian hatred. He saw exactly what Orwell had seen in the leftist intelligentsia of his own time: not simply a passivity in the face of evil, but almost an admiration for it. And he was disgusted. Since those first days of shock, the hard Left has merely redoubled its assault on a free society's right to self-defense. The endless series of rationalizations, the opposition to any war to fight terror, now the sad and pathetic moral abdication of those who see president Bush as more of a threat to world order and peace than Saddam Hussein - all these responses, under-written by a simpering, barely concealed anti-Semitism, would be enough to turn anyone's stomach, let alone a good liberal's. At some point, when you look around and see that this is the quality of one's ideological allies, you have to break ranks, if only for the sake of personal moral hygiene.

Here is my second personal favorite:

9/30 - WHOSE SIDE ARE THEY ON?: Congressman Jim McDermott has just accused president Bush of wilfully lying to the American people about national security threats from Saddam or Al Qaeda. He said this not on the floor of the House or in his district - but in Baghdad, the capital city of a despot who is on the brink of war with the United States. At a time when the U.S. government is attempting some high-level diplomatic maneuvers in the U.N., when Saddam is desperate for any propaganda ploy he can muster, these useful idiots play his game. I think what we're seeing now is the hard-core base of the Democratic Party showing its true colors, and those colors, having flirted with irrelevance and then insouciance are now perilously close to treason.

10/3 - THOUGHT FOR THE DAY (quoting Teddy Roosevelt to criticize McDermott) . . . To denounce the nation that wages war in self-defense, or from a generous desire to relieve the oppressed, in the same terms in which we denounce war waged in a spirit of greed or wanton folly stands on a par with denouncing equally a murderer and the policeman who, at peril of his life and by force of arms, arrests the murderer.

This, though, is my personal favorite:

10/4 - USEFUL IDIOT WATCH: Nick Kristof goes to Baghdad and finds people ready to attack the U.S. Quelle surprise! In a police state where the tiniest dissent on the tiniest matter can have you disappeared and tortured, Kristof deduces no support for a U.S. invasion. Let's check in and see what happens if we do invade, shall we? We have long memories in the blogosphere, Nick. And little pity. (Ed. note: Please note that last sentence)

10/9 - DASCHLE'S OPPORTUNISM - . . . Daschle had no credible response to this [question]. He still doesn't have one. So he'll give in, once it seems in his direct political interest to do so. Trust these guys with national security? You've got to be kidding.

10/11 - MORE BUSH VICTORIES - . . . More interestingly, the polls show that Americans get the president's arguments about Iraq in a post-9/11 world. According to a Pew Center poll, reported by ABCNews: "86 percent of those surveyed believed Saddam had nuclear weapons or was close to acquiring them, and 66 percent believed he was involved in the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States. Bush cites the attacks as demonstrating the need to act against Saddam, and has linked his campaign against Iraq to the "war on terrorism" . . .

10/17 - THE ANTI-WAR LEFT'S CONTRADICTION - . . . [T]hese people [on the Left] hate Bush more than they care about the fate of the oppressed people they pretend to care about. Or because they have deeper suspicions about the U.S. than about Saddam's Iraq. Yep, they're that depraved and out of it.

And finally (following the midterm election) . . .

11/6 - BUSH'S TRIUMPH - . . . This was a vote for Bush, for prosecuting the war on terror, for the tax cut. More important, it was a vote against the hollow negativism, cowardice and mediocrity of the current Democratic Party. They have nothing to say; and that matters. . . . One other factor is the blandness and decrepitude of their leaders. Daschle and Gephardt are pathetic. McAuliffe is a nightmare. When the Dems needed new blood, they found Mondale and Lautenberg. This is not a party with self-confidence or much of a short-term future.


People tend to forget - now that Iraq is merely a democracy-building humanitarian mission - how much bile was shot our way during the fall of 2002. What's incredible is that Sullivan was probably in the middle of pro-war spectrum. Face it - as the history books will show - these people lapsed into an intoxicated MacBethian frenzy for war. We were ridiculed and called traitors. We were told we didn't understand 9/11 and didn't care about national security. And as Andrew said, there would be "little pity" for us after the invasion. As I've said before, these people would be bashing us over the head with Iraq had it gone well. But it has not. And while I won't engage in the Sullivan-circa-2002 hysterics, don't expect me to cut much slack to this President (with respect to Iraq), who in my opinion caused the greatest tragedy of our generation.

Instant karma’s gonna get you
Gonna knock you right on the head
You better get yourself together
Pretty soon you’re gonna be dead
What in the world you thinking of
Laughing in the face of love
What on earth you tryin’ to do
It’s up to you, yeah you

Instant karma’s gonna get you
Gonna look you right in the face
Better get yourself together darlin’
Join the human race
How in the world you gonna see
Laughin’ at fools like me
Who in the hell d’you think you are

[Update: I should make it clear what exactly I am, and am not, arguing in this post. First, I strongly agree with Kevin Drum that anti-war people need to be more tolerant of the disillusioned hawks. After all, it wasn't 100% clear that they were wrong. So, it’s not my point to say “I told you so” to any hawks. My point is merely to remind people of the level of the dialogue in late 2002. Many conservatives I know seem genuinely mystified as to why the Left is so mad – this post will hopefully help explain why.]

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

ARMY CALLS UP THE IRR (Individual Ready Reserve) 


Via Yahoo:

The Army is preparing to notify about 5,600 retired and discharged soldiers who are not members of the National Guard or Reserve that they will be involuntarily recalled to active duty for possible service in Iraq or Afghanistan, Army officials said Tuesday.

Unlearned Hand explains why we should be concerned:

[W]hen you hear that the Army is going to call up IRR troops, this is what the Army is saying: our manpower is so threatened that we are reactivating soldiers who already served their contracted active duty time, and who have effectively left the military behind and begun new lives. These are not members of the Army Reserve, training with their units every month. These are men and women who have become completely detached from military service, except for the fact that their name remains on the IRR rolls. And now we are going to call them back.


 Posted by Hello
Bear with me - I'm experimenting with photos. Posted by Hello

[Update: Ok - this is definitely cool. Expect more illustrated posts in the future. Does anyone know how I can get the images to be side by side? I assume there's some html tag that would do it. Update 2: Got it - thanks Ron!]



Yet another reason why Dana Milbank rules:

President Bush seems to have inordinate difficulty pronouncing the name of Abu Ghraib, the infamous prison in Iraq that has been home to Saddam Hussein's atrocities and U.S.-sanctioned abuse. Though the correct pronunciation is "abu grayb," with a slightly guttural g, Bush last week referred to the prison as "Abu Gareff." At a speech this spring at the Army War College, Bush pronounced Abu Ghraib three ways. Reuters described them as "abugah-rayp," "abu-garon" and "abu-garah," but your correspondent distinctly heard "abu-garom."

THERE IS NO "WAR ON TERRORISM" - But There is a War 


Few things are as important in politics as linguistic framing. What I mean is that if you can define the terms of the debate, you will usually win the debate. That’s because people conceptualize issues through the way they are framed, linguistically speaking. For example, in a recent post, I explained that one of Reagan’s most important accomplishments was that he redefined the terms of the political debate in America. In a sense, we are all inhabiting the post-Reagan linguistic world of “big” versus “small” government, “strong” versus “weak” national security, and so forth. As I explained, the Reagan linguistics obscure the reality of our current economic debate. We’re not really fighting over “big” versus “small” government. We’re fighting over how to allocate the 2 or 3% of the budget up for grabs, and determining which interest groups will get that money (e.g., capital vs. wage-earners). But because Reagan and his heirs have defined the terms of the debate (big versus small), that is how many Americans conceptualize the debate.

I think that something very similar has happened with respect to the so-called “war on terrorism.” The way this war has been framed, linguistically speaking, obscures the true nature of the conflict. What I want to argue today is that by framing the current conflict with radical Islam as a “war on terror,” we are actually being outsmarted by Osama bin Laden and losing the real conflict. And the real conflict is not about terrorism – it’s about control over the Middle East. Osama knows it. We do not. And if we don’t change our ways, Osama is going to win – not the war on terror, but the real war – the war for the Middle East. But let’s back up.

I don’t quite know what to think about Anonymous – the CIA officer of 22 years who is about to publish a book excoriating the administration’s terrorism policies - Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror. Before liberals get too giddy, I’d encourage them to read this post over at TPM. Anonymous is a bit too genocidal for my liking (sort of like Genocide-a-pundit) – and his conclusion that we need to emulate Sherman is not anything that any liberal should be happy about. But Anonymous seems right on in his critique of the Bush’s administration’s terrorism policies. So, I would split Anonymous’s points into diagnosis and proposed remedy. Similarly to Marx, I agree with much of his diagnosis, but disagree strongly with his proposed remedy.

Anyway, everyone should read this MSNBC interview with him. You really need to read the whole thing, but here are a few of his main points:

Bin Laden, I think, and al-Qaida and other of America's enemies in the Islamic world certainly saw the invasion of Iraq as a, if you would, a Christmas gift they always wanted and never expected to get. It validated what they all said about American aggressiveness against Islam. It made us the occupiers of the second holiest place for Muslims in the world. In fact, now we are occupying, in the eyes of our opponents, we're occupying the two holiest places, Saudi Arabia, the Arabian Peninsula and Iraq, and the Israelis are occupying the third, in Jerusalem.

That’s all been said – especially by Richard Clarke (it’s funny how the people who actually knew something about al Qaeda came to similar conclusions). Here’s what you may not have heard, and this supports the crux of the argument I will make below:

But we are — we remain in a state of denial about the size of the organization we face, the multiple allies it has, and more importantly probably than anything, the genius of bin Laden that's behind the movement and the power of religion that motivates the movement. I think we are, for various reasons, loath to talk about the role of religion in this war. And it's not to criticize one religion or another, but bin Laden is motivated and his followers and his associates are motivated by what they believe their religion requires them to do. And until we accept that fact and stop identifying them as gangsters or terrorists or criminals, we're very much behind the curve.

. . .

From his perspective it's very much a war against someone who is oppressing or killing Muslims. And the genius that lies behind it, because he's not a man who rants against our freedoms, our liberties, our voting, our — the fact that our women go to school. He's not the Ayatollah Khomeini; he really doesn't care about all those things. To think that he's trying to rob us of our liberties and freedom is, I think, a gross mistake. What he has done, his genius, is identify particular American foreign policies that are offensive to Muslims whether they support these martial actions or not — our support for Israel, our presence on the Arabian Peninsula, our activities in Afghanistan and Iraq, our support for governments that Muslims believe oppress Muslims, be it India, China, Russia, Uzbekistan. Bin Laden has focused the Muslim world on specific, tangible, visual American policies.

. . .

I think the mistake is made on our part to assume that they hate all those things. What they hate is the policy and the repercussions of that policy, whether it's in Israel or on the Arabian Peninsula. It's not a hatred of us as a society, it's a hatred of our policies.

That’s the big point I want to make today. Osama doesn’t give two shits about America. Osama doesn’t give two shits about our freedoms. What Osama does care about is Muslims. And when he gazes across the landscape of the Arabic Middle East, here’s what he sees: (1) a near-apartheid government in Israel that seizes Palestinian land and refuses them political rights – while we stand silent; (2) corrupt regimes in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, supported by us; (3) brutal repression of Muslims by Russia, China, and India – while we say nothing; (4) our occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. If we were charged with being a friend to Arabic people, would there be enough evidence to convict us?

Osama is not out to destroy the world - or us. He's out to change the Middle East (and change it in Taliban-like ways that are unacceptable). But unfortunately, this is not how the conflict with radical Islam is framed. Instead, we are told we are in a war on terror. How many times have we heard that the war on terrorism is a war to save our civilization, or protect us from utter annihilation. We’ve heard that they want nothing more than to destroy our way of life. That’s why they attack us. We are in a war for our very survival. No. No. No. We are not fighting a war for civilization – we are fighting a war for the Muslim hearts and minds. We are fighting for the soul of the Middle East. Osama doesn’t care about us – he wants to radicalize the Muslim population and overthrow what he sees as corrupt regimes. He wants the Muslim world to be united. We must fight it, not because the terrorists want to destroy our freedoms, but because we don’t want the Muslim world to fall under a theocracy (not to mention that we want to protect Israel’s existence).

But here’s the big point – terrorism against us is merely a tactic in Osama's Middle Eastern chess game. The point of 9/11 was to goad us into launching a disproportionate attack against an Arabic country which would then inflame Arabic opinion – and that’s exactly what we did. And look what’s happening. The House of Saud is wobbly. Pakistan is an assassin’s bullet away from being a nuclear-powered nest of radicals. Who the hell knows what will happen in Iraq? Already, many Arabic countries view Osama more favorably than Bush. And our favorability ratings in the Middle East are horrid.

So what’s to be done? First, we need to understand the nature of the conflict. There is no “war on terrorism." There is, however, a war for the soul of the Middle East. Terrorism is merely a tactic in that broader war. In other words, stopping terror would be winning a battle in a broader war - but defeating terrorism will not win the real war. A more accurate description is that we are battling against terrorism as a part of the larger war for the soul of the Middle East. The intended purpose of terrorism as a tactic is to (1) trigger disproportionate responses (which is the goal of any guerilla movement) and (2) strike a blow against the world powers who Muslims feel are oppressing them, which thus rallies public opinion.

Second, understanding the nature of the conflict will help us understand that terrorists are not trying to destroy our civilization (though they wouldn't mind if it happened, I'm sure), or send the world into barbarism. They are trying to transform the Middle East – and they must be stopped, for the sake of the Arabic people. Thus, when terrorists strike, or behead people, or burn them in Fallujah, we should take a step back and analyze the situation before we respond. We should ask, “Even though our emotions are high, would striking indiscriminately help or hurt their cause (and our cause)?” Fallujah is a great example of how not to react (though to Bush’s credit, it could have been worse).

Third, when we understand that the true source of Arabic anger is not our freedom but our policies in the Middle East, we should think about how we might change those policies. Can we really expect to persuade moderate Arabs – or give them leverage within their societies – if we say nothing about the abuses of Israel, China, Russia, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia? Can we expect moderate Arabs to speak out after we allow Abu Ghraib to happen? The road to winning the Middle East begins in Palestine. Given our history, that requires selecting at least one issue where we strongly denounce something that Ariel Sharon is doing – how about the wall? We must publicly disagree with Israel in order to protect Israel. If the Middle East becomes Greater Osamaland, Israel will be in very big trouble and there will be nuclear bombs in Tel Aviv.

Obviously, all of this must be combined with a systematic effort to locate, infiltrate, and ultimately destroy al Qaeda. But as Anonymous explains, and as I explained here, people also don’t understand the nature of al Qaeda. It’s not a finite group of people that can be killed – it is a virus, a computer program – it seeks fertile ground to spread. The only way to kill it is to deny it fertile ground (i.e., win the soul of the Middle East).

The big point is that the way our leaders and pundits have framed the war on terror obscures the nature of the conflict. We are fighting a war for the soul of the entire Middle East – and thus we must think more globally. Any tactics in the Middle East (especially anti-terror tactics) must be part of a greater strategy. For an example of what I mean, go read Clinton’s absolutely fan-friggin’-tastic speech in Qatar in January. He praises the history and accomplishments of the Muslim world. He denounces terror. He explains that both Americans and Arabs should engage in more self-criticism and attempt to understand each other better.

It’s pretty simple. If we remain ignorant (meaning “uninformed”), Osama will win the war for the Middle East. If we change our ways – meaning that we adopt a two-part strategy of going after terrorists and changing our anger-producing policies – then we can win the war for the Middle East. However, because the neocons have spent the past two years destroying our good name, we've got an uphill battle ahead of us.

Monday, June 28, 2004



The Supreme Court just released opinions for all the post-9/11 terrorism-related cases. I'll have more to say after reading the opinions.

[Update: Ok - here is my initial take based on an exceedingly brief scan of the opinion summaries. There were three cases in total.

1) Padilla - The question here was whether the government had the right to detain Padilla (an American citizen arrested in America) and label him as an "enemy combatant." The Court (5-4) essentially punted and did not answer the question. The majority relied on a jurisdictional argument and thus didn't reach the merits. As far as I can tell, Padilla can still raise his claims - he just has to do it in South Carolina rather than New York. So, we haven't heard the last of this case.

2) Rasul - This was the Gitmo case and the question was whether the federal courts had jurisdiction over prisoners' claims from the naval base. The big issue (it seems) was the Court's ruling that the lower courts had jurisdiction because America exercised "plenary and exclusive" jurisdiction and control over the base. The Court also distinguished the facts of this case from the earlier World War II case (Eisentrager). The Bush administration clearly lost this one. On an aside, I wonder if any of the Justices changed their vote after Abu Ghraib. It will be interesting to read the Justices' internal papers at some point in the future.

3) Hamdi - This seems to be the most interesting opinion - though the most confusing. The issue here was sort of like the one in Padilla, with one important distinction. Hamdi was an American citizen captured in Afghanistan. The questions here were (a) could Bush declare him an "enemy combatant" (i.e., did Congress authorize it); and (b) if so, could he challenge that designation in court. The Court was all over the place. Four Justices (the plurality opinion - O'Connor, Kennedy, Rehnquist, and Breyer) sort of split the baby - they found that Congress had authorized Bush to declare Hamdi an enemy combatant, but that Hamdi could challenge that designation in court. Four other Justices (Ginsberg, Scalia, Stevens, and Souter - in two separate opinions) would have held that the detention was unlawful. Scalia has an especially interesting opinion in which he argues that Congress should have explicitly suspended habeas corpus before this sort of detention would be allowed. Thomas would have given complete authority to Bush to do whatever he wanted to do pursuant to the government's war powers. Even though Ginsberg and Souter disagreed with the plurality, they joined it to the extent that it concluded that Hamdi could get his day in court. This will be a difficult opinion to unpack. Bush didn't win, but he didn't altogether lose.

All in all, I think it was a good day for the Court (that's my tentative conclusion - there may be some land mines buried in the opinions). As I explained here, the heart of these cases is really about how much trust we have in the executive branch. Our Constitution - an uber-secular document based on extreme pessimism of the goodness of man - wisely separated the government's powers and imposed checks and balances. If it did nothing else today, the Court affirmed that there are boundaries to the executive war power. In doing so, it reaffirmed one of the most essential structural protections our Constitution provides. Everyone should remember that one's view of Bush shouldn't really matter in assessing the wisdom of the Court's decisions today - there are larger questions at play. If the Court had sided completely with Bush, it would have gutted one of the most basic principles of our Constitution. The executive branch must know that, even in wartime, there are limits. It's a principle as old as the Magna Carta.]



I just got back into town tonight, so I'm still catching up with the weekend's news. I did, however, see Fahrenheit 9/11. I'll have plenty to say about the movie later on, but for now I just want to focus on small part of it - the press.

Both in Fahrenheit 9/11 and Bowling for Columbine, Moore has been extremely critical of the press. I generally agree with many of his press-related criticisms. For one, the press is absurdly sensationalist - and local news organizations are the worst on this front ("The air you breathe could kill your infant. Tonight at 11."). And don't get me started on the Scott Peterson case. What truly kills me though is the press's absolute unwillingness to challenge absurd statements made by the administration, and especially Bush. Over and over, Bush offers up gross simplifications, vague platitudes, or straw men, and only Dana Milbank ever calls him out on it. To be fair, the press should call out Kerry too if he, say, distorts the effects of outsourcing to scare people. But Kerry isn't president. And Kerry didn't lead us into war. Those who do should expect tough questions. And that brings me to Bush's interview with Irish journalist Carole Coleman for Irish television. Hopefully American journalists could learn from Coleman the art of the follow-up question when they are presented with bullshit statements or platitudes.

First, as Atrios explained, Coleman had to submit her questions in advance. So, Bush knew exactly how he would respond to each one. But, Coleman tripped Bush up when she asked a follow-up question - something that never happens in America. Here's the key exchange:

THE PRESDIENT: [T]he United Nations said [to Saddam], disarm or face serious consequences. That's what the United Nations said. And guess what? He didn't disarm. He didn't disclose his arms. And, therefore, he faced serious consequences. But we have found a capacity for him to make a weapon. See, he had the capacity to make weapons. He was dangerous. And no one can argue that the world is better off with Saddam -- if Saddam Hussein were in power.

Q But, Mr. President, the world is a more dangerous place today. I don't know whether you can see that or not.

THE PRESIDENT: Why do you say that?

Q There are terrorist bombings every single day. It's now a daily event. It wasn't like that two years ago.

THE PRESIDENT: What was it like September the 11th, 2001? It was a -- there was a relative calm, we --

Q But it's your response to Iraq that's considered --

THE PRESIDENT: Let me finish. Let me finish, please. Please. You ask the questions and I'll answer them, if you don't mind. On September the 11th, 2001, we were attacked in an unprovoked fashion. Everybody thought the world was calm. And then there have been bombings since then -- not because of my response to Iraq. There were bombings in Madrid. There were bombings in Istanbul. There were bombings in Bali. There were killings in Pakistan.

This is an such an interesting exchange - it reveals so much. First, whenever Bush gets an Iraq-related question that's mildly challenging, he responds with gross simplifications like these: And no one can argue that the world is better off with Saddam -- if Saddam Hussein were in power. He says it forcefully, and the American press then retreats and hopes no one accuses them of being biased. But you know what? People can argue that. And the people who do argue that would be correct. Of course Saddam was bad, but that's not what's relevant. The relevant question is whether the benefits of removing Saddam were worth the costs - these are not questions that can be answered in the abstract. So, instead of accepting Bush's attempt to deflect criticism through misleading simplifications, Coleman did a remarkable thing - she followed up. She actually responded to an answer given - "Mr. President, the world is a more dangerous place today. I don't know whether you can see that or not." Bush forgot that Hannity and Colmes doesn't work in Ireland - it won't bother Coleman if Hannity says something like, "These liberal media types are actually saying that the world is worse off with Saddam out of power." (The choice is always Saddam vs. no-Saddam. The choice is never Saddam vs. no-Saddam accompanied by complete Middle East destabilization, 6,000 American casualties, God knows how many Iraqi civilian casualties, an inability to challenge Iran, no WMDS or terrorist links, and on and on. Nope. Saddam was bad. Case closed.)

The second interesting part of this exchange was Bush's retreat into a 9/11 non sequiter.

Q There are terrorist bombings every single day. It's now a daily event. It wasn't like that two years ago.

THE PRESIDENT: What was it like September the 11th, 2001? It was a -- there was a relative calm, we --

Q But it's your response to Iraq that's considered --

THE PRESIDENT: Let me finish. Let me finish, please.

If anyone can follow this logical leap, please comment below and enlighten the rest of us. This response is actually very similar to the response from people like Lieberman when we were debating whether to apologize for Abu Ghraib (or Gar-eff for Daily Show fans). During this debate, Lieberman helpfully pointed out that no one ever apologized for 9/11 - yet another 9/11 non sequiter. I wrote a couple of posts on this 9/11 non sequiter phenomenon (here and here), and I think the same reasoning applies to Bush's response.

Many people (perhaps even including Bush) supported the invasion, not out of logic (or logos), but for emotional reasons (or pathos). For many Americans, the most basic motivation for invading Iraq was the fear and anger surrounding 9/11. They projected that fear - with a lot of help from Bush and the Mushroom Clouds - onto Saddam, a conveniently bad dictator. So, when something fundamentally challenges the justification of the war, people retreat to "first principles," which means they retreat back to emotion and 9/11. Here's what I said about this phenomenon with respect to Abu Ghraib:

Because Abu Ghraib strikes at the very heart of pro-invasion arguments, and thus creates the most cognitive dissonance, it's understandable why people would feel such a strong need to rationalize it. To continue justifying the invasion in their own minds, Americans must reconcile their prior beliefs with the new allegations of abuse. And so they're returning to their first principles - anger and revenge.

It's quite simple. After Abu Ghraib, people are experiencing so much cognitive dissonance that they must re-justify the war to themselves. To persuade themselves, they're using a specific type of rhetoric - pathos. They recall the rage and fear they experienced on 9/11. And then, through a logical "leap of faith," they project that rage on to Saddam, who is a convenient target because he's such a horrible man. I think that, in effect, many Americans are saying, "We had to invade because of what they did to us on 9/11." This is not logical - it's pathos, pure and simple. Raw emotion and anger.

Bush did the same thing - he had no answer, so he retreated to 9/11 even though it was utterly unrelated to the question at hand. The million dollar question is whether Bush himself feels that way, or whether he knows it's a bunch of crap but says it anyway in the hope that people will recall 9/11 and continue to cut him slack.

Friday, June 25, 2004



On the issue of the "connections" between Saddam and al Qaeda, the NYT today writes:

[A newly disclosed document revealed that] [c]ontacts between Iraqi intelligence agents and Osama bin Laden when he was in Sudan in the mid-1990's were part of a broad effort by Baghdad to work with organizations opposing the Saudi ruling family . . . American officials described the document as an internal report by the Iraqi intelligence service detailing efforts to seek cooperation with several Saudi opposition groups, including Mr. bin Laden's organization, before Al Qaeda had become a full-fledged terrorist organization. He was based in Sudan from 1992 to 1996, when that country forced him to leave and he took refuge in Afghanistan.

That's a pretty important point, and it reminded me of what Dick Clarke explained in his book. People simply didn't know about al Qaeda in the mid-1990s, largely because it was still in a pre-Afghanistan inchoate form. People certainly didn't view it as a "full-fledged terrorist organization." Iraqi officials apparently considered it as a Saudi opposition group. Given the Saudis' cooperation in the first Gulf War, it makes sense why Iraq might be interested in contacting these people.

Even assuming that Iraq had extremely limited "contacts" with al Qaeda (or the precursor of al Qaeda which had yet to set up base in Afghanistan), this article explains why we should be very hesitant to draw any terrorism-related conclusions from these contacts, let alone cite them as justification for war.


KnightRidder stole my post!! Well, maybe not, but it's worth reading. Here's the key blurb:

Western diplomats and local officials in the Middle East say Iran, widely considered a supporter of international terrorism that's trying to develop nuclear weapons, is emerging as the unintended winner of Bush's war on terrorism.

The invasion to fight terrorists and remove WMDs may be having exactly the opposite effect.

[Update: And here's a KR article on the Kurds and how Kirkuk might start a civil war.]

Thursday, June 24, 2004



Anti-Bush fever has hit Hollywood. An entire wave of anti-Bush and anti-GOP movies are on the way – Fahrenheit 9/11, The Hunting of the President, The Manchurian Candidate. Undoubtedly, if Bush loses (or if we lose in Iraq), Hollywood will be an easy scapegoat. Already, war supporters have started laying the groundwork so that they can blame the press, rather than themselves, for our failures in Iraq. Matt Yglesias calls this the “stab in the back” account of the war’s failure – it’s not the administration’s fault, but the press’s fault (and other alleged left-wingers). The most notable “stab in the back” theorist is Genocide-a-pundit. But even Wolfowitz got into the act this week (though he picked a bad day to blame the press for being too "afraid" to go outside). With respect to the films though, there is a larger lesson to be learned from the sudden release of anti-Bush films. So today, I want to use these films to do a brief lesson on cultural history.

Though it may not get much respect in history departments, cultural history is certainly cool to read. The basic idea is that, for any given time, you study a cluster of cultural events and then explain their relation, or ask how they were caused, or what exactly these events might reflect. For example, a cultural history of the early 50s might study the rise of Elvis Presley and Jackie Robinson, and then speculate as to how the two are related. Both were products of the various post-World War II forces that ushered in a new era for race relations. The significance of Jackie Robinson is obvious. Elvis, by contrast, is underappreciated as a world-historical event. Elvis sang “black music” – and did so in the segregated South in the 1950s. It was incredibly controversial at the time. Even today, people accuse him of “stealing” black music, but I think he was quite courageous. It took some guts to sing that music in Memphis in the early 1950s, and to open that world to white American teens. Elvis was very much the Eminem of his day. Or better, Eminem is the Elvis of today.

Anyway, the big point is that cultural events, like all other events, are caused by larger historical forces. The Great Migration, the rising black middle class, the democratic ideology of World War II – all of these forces combined to create the necessary conditions for the rise of Elvis. Elvis was thus caused.

Similarly, when future cultural historians look back at our time, this little cluster of anti-Bush movies will be studied. It’s no accident that all of these movies are coming out at once. That’s because they are all products of the same historical forces. If you buy what I said above, it makes sense that they would all appear at once – it suggests that there is something more structural or systemic at play, which there is. In other words, Michael Moore’s movie was caused. The Hunting of the President was caused. So, the big question is what’s causing them.

The “stab in the back” theorists will maintain that the movies are simply a product of the liberal, Bush-hating Hollywood culture. They will argue that liberals control the movies, just as they do the press, and that it’s unfair that Bush is facing the wrath of angry filmmakers who are now jeopardizing the war effort. That’s one explanation – but it’s wrong.

First, Hollywood has been liberal for a very long time, so that’s insufficient to explain why these movies are all coming out at this time. I have a better explanation. The true cause of the anti-Bush movies is not Michael Moore, but George W. Bush. If Bush supporters are upset that all these movies are coming out now, there is but one person to blame – George W. Bush. Bush set the forces in motion that created these films way back in the summer of 2002. But let’s back up.

The true reason why many liberals hate Bush is not because he cut taxes, or stumbles when he speaks, or even Bush v. Gore. I mean, people were upset about these things, but they didn't cause the sort of glowing hatred that I’ve seen over the past two years. In my opinion, and E.J. Dionne’s, the real reason that liberals hate Bush is that they feel he betrayed them. Betrayal is the root of Bush-hatred. After 9/11, the entire country (and world) supported Bush. I remember liking the guy in December 2001. All Americans – including many liberals/progressives – were deeply affected by 9/11, and we all gave Bush a great deal of political capital to deal with it. Patriotic pride returned. But most of all, there was a strong sense of unity and purpose across the political spectrum. It was a truly amazing time - I miss it.

But instead of using that capital for a national unifying purpose, Bush (following Rove-the-genius’s advice) decided to use that capital to punish Democrats. Democrats trusted him and he turned right around and used 9/11 against them, viciously. The fear and anger from 9/11 were used to rally support for a war that many opposed. But even worse, opponents of the war were ridiculed and called unpatriotic.

The 2002 midterm elections were the last straw - and a new low. Bush deliberately politicized the war on terror by scheduling a vote just prior to the election. Rove himself urged Republicans to “run on the war.” Veteran Max Cleland was compared to Osama. The arrogance was intolerable. Here was a President who lost the popular vote, but was given a national mandate to fight terror after 9/11. Within six months, Bush took that mandate and he used it to punish and betray anti-war progressives. He and his supporters ridiculed us. They scared people. They lied to people. They accused us of not caring about 9/11. They accused us of not learning the lessons of 9/11. And for what? To fight a war that his idiot cabinet had wanted to fight for a decade. For that, he sent kids off to die. I have never been more bitter and angry about politics in my entire life than I was in March and April of 2003. And a lot of other people felt the same way. AND MAKE NO MISTAKE - if Iraq were going well, he would be bludgeoning Democrats with it as we speak (just as he used Afghanistan and 9/11). That's why I will never feel sorry for him, and that's why I think that he is not "a good guy."

Progressives will never forgive Bush for the personal betrayal. It burns too deep. But getting back to the point, it was the lead-up from August 2002 to April 2003 that stirred the slumbering Left. There was such intense anger caused by the administration’s actions that it’s only natural that the anger is starting to be reflected in artistic expressions such as movies, books, and television programs like The Daily Show. Keep in mind that if these movies are coming out now, the inspiration must have come roughly two years ago (and you remember what was going on two years ago). In the absence of Iraq, I guarantee you that these movies would not have been made. They are all the cultural manifestations of the large and widespread anger and betrayal felt across the liberal-progressive spectrum. As I said, Michael Moore was caused. He was caused by George W. Bush and the historical forces he unleashed.

So remember this post when you start hearing all the inevitable “stab in the back” theories, or the people who claim that “Hollywood is against us.” The administration has only itself to blame. It’s like the Frenchmen in the Matrix said, “Causality. Action, and reaction.” Or as Isaac Newton said, “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” It’s pure physics. When Bush adopted Rove’s energize-the-base, screw-the-middle approach, it should have been clear that a reaction would follow. You can’t demonize half the country and expect them to remain silent. Causality. Action. Reaction. It's as simple as physics.

Rove, in his genius, has done more for the Democratic Party than anyone in the past thirty years except for Bill Clinton. Yet another reason why Karl Rove, and not Doug Feith, is the stupidest fucking person on earth.



I'm getting sick of the whole Clinton-lost-his-temper bit. From the media, you would think Clinton had started ranting wildly on the BBC. Even Maureen Dowd, who hasn't written a good column in two years and who should be kicked off the op-ed page, used the word "ranting." I expected as much from Hannity who used it to argue that Clinton, like Gore, was losing his mind (no transcript - but it's in his interview with Dick Morris). Just because people passionately or even angrily disagree with certain policies or actions doesn't mean that they are "crazy" when they strongly denounce those policies. However, accusing people of insanity is a very good way to deflect the merits of their arguments.

Anyway, I thought the exchange-in-question during the Clinton interview was pretty powerful. For those of us who were barely in high school (I was a freshman) when Clinton was inaugurated, there is a lot of ignorance about how ruthlessly and unfairly the anti-Clinton cabal sought to destroy him from Day One (I won't denigrate conservatives by labeling this cabal as "conservative."). I'm about to go buy The Hunting of the President (here's the movie site), so I'll have more to say in future posts. But for now, I would encourage people to watch the interview for themselves. First, go to this site and click on "Clinton: The Panorama Interview," then click on "Lewinsky: Saving his Life . . ." Then, fast forward the interview about a third of the way up, until you get to this passage: "And, and let me just say this. One of the reasons [Starr] got away with it is because people like you only ask people like me the questions." Here's a transcript to help you navigate the interview. You can decide for yourself whether this a crazy man losing his temper, or a pretty profound, poignant criticism of actions that affected innocent people in Arkansas and destroyed their lives. You really can't get the full flavor from the transcript - you need to see Clinton's delivery.

APPALACHIA - How to Build a New Coalition 


The Democratic Party has an “angry white male” problem. Stanley Greenberg explained that the so-called “F-You Boys” – white married men under 50 without a college degree – favor Republicans 63% to 30%. There are probably an infinite number of historical causes and reasons for this divide. But having grown up in a rural town filled with F-You Boys, I can tell you that affirmative action is on the very top of that list of reasons. Nothing – and I mean nothing – enrages working-class whites more than affirmative action. The F-You Boys simply believe that the Democratic Party does not represent them or their interests even though it’s clear that working-class whites have a good bit more to gain from Democratic economic policies than Republican ones. Now I don’t really give a shit about the Democratic Party (I wish both parties would shatter into many pieces), but I am interested in a new Progressive coalition that includes a good number of F-You Boys that so desperately need economic assistance. And I have a modest proposal for bringing these people in – help Appalachia. If Democrats are serious about addressing their angry white male problem (while refusing to yield on civil rights), they should set their sights on helping Appalachia.

First, a quick look at a map of Appalachia shows why it could be so important in swinging national elections. As you can see, much of Appalachia is Ground Zero for the 2004 election. But even more important than pure political calculations, helping Appalachia is the right thing to do, and is consistent with progressive values. The people of Appalachia are no different than any other racial minority in this country. The people live in extreme poverty. Education is horrible. Opportunity is limited. What’s worse, the people of Appalachia are looked down upon and regularly ridiculed (usually on the basis of conduct rooted in poverty and lack of access to education). Like any self-contained community, the people of Appalachia speak their own dialect of English, complete with its own linguistic structures. Unfortunately, because that dialect differs from the Tom-Brokaw-evening-news dialect of English, it is considered a “dumb” form of English – which is also how black English is viewed by many. (People should understand that grammatical “errors” are often merely differences in dialect, or reflections of class/education, etc.).

In light of this, my first proposal would be to expand affirmative action to include Appalachian students. As I explained earlier, the key to winning support for any proposal is by convincing people that it’s in their own self-interest. Right now, white opposition to affirmative action is so hostile because they see it as directly antithetical to their self-interest. So, instead of relying exclusively on historical arguments (e.g., explaining the continuing effects of discrimination), progressives should make affirmative action in the economic self-interest of poor whites. Affirmative action should probably be economics-based anyway, but if that’s impossible, then Democrats could save affirmative action by expanding it. It’s quite simple – link Appalachian children together with all other disadvantaged minorities. If dismantling affirmative action would hurt poor white kids in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Georgia, then it would be very hard for any conservative to win by rallying support against it. In short, affirmative action would suddenly become in white people’s economic self-interest. (Ideally, it would be expanded to all poor whites, and narrowed to exclude wealthy and privileged minorities - but that's another post.)

My other proposal would be a nationally-funded jobs program, similar to the old New Deal Works Projects Administration (“WPA”). The New Deal is actually a great example. I can’t tell you how many elderly Southern Democrats remain in the party strictly because of the New Deal. The TVA is especially beloved for having brought electricity to much of the South. The WPA brought jobs. The courthouse I work in was built in the New Deal – it’s very cool to see the old 30s murals with romantic pictures of people working in the fields or mining (there’s a great collection of these murals here – you have to scroll down and click on some of the states’ links to see them). What Democrats today don’t understand is that actions speak louder than words. Democrats talk a good game when it comes to helping the working poor, but their actions are sorely lacking. This extends even to young progressives who often volunteer for the inner cities, but are rarely seen in the small Appalachian towns that need them.

Can you imagine how popular a mass public-works program would be? Unemployed manufacturers could be employed to construct roads, or modernize schools, or anything else that would have a positive ripple effect across the Appalachian economy. You would be amazed at how quickly white voters would forget about the culture wars if they had a $15 to $20-hour-a-day job. It would also be a lot easier to protect Appalachia’s mountaintops from coal mining as well.

Again, one of the problems with Democratic spending proposals is that people, unfairly, view them as taking money from whites and giving that money to minorities. (I grew up in a Southern town – I’m not excusing that misperception, I’m merely explaining that it exists). But, if you could convince these people that the programs were in their own economic self-interest, then everything would change. For example, if Democrats proposed a New Deal-style jobs program for America’s inner-cities, and then linked that program with an Appalachian jobs program, it would be much easier to get such a program passed. In fact, it would be easier to raise taxes for such a program, so long as everyone knew that those tax increases were going directly to the jobs program. (On an aside, isn’t this a better political strategy for adopting tax increases – i.e., by proposing them incrementally while linking them strategically to a politically unopposable program?).

I have no idea how much these programs would cost, or how they would be implemented, but I think these are the sorts of big ideas that progressives need to consider. Progressivism must be more than merely forcing conservatives to cut taxes a few percentage points less than they want to. The terms of the debate must be shifted – old coalitions must be challenged. In a 50/50 country, it doesn’t take much to create a new national majority coalition. Appalachia is a good place to start.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004



There's a great op-ed in the NYT today that provides a good deal of support for my argument below that Iran has emerged as the real winner from our invasion of Iraq. The key is to understand the dynamics of the Shiite majorities in both countries, which the op-ed explains very well.

Iran, with its 65 million Shiites, its powerful army and its ancient civilization, is the de facto master of the Persian Gulf. Tehran is clearly pleased that Iraq's 15 million Shiites will more or less control their country eventually



It's hard to tell yet if there's anything truly significant in yesterday's document dump. One thing to note was that Bush's order was directed at the military in February 2002. There's apparently nothing directed to the CIA, which we know handled many of the interrogations. The Bybee memo came later in August 2002, so that makes me suspect that there was a separate, and as yet undisclosed, order to the CIA. For example, this sounds a little fishy (from WP):

Gonzales refused to comment on techniques used by the CIA, beyond saying that they "are lawful and do not constitute torture." He also would not discuss the president's involvement in the deliberations.

So until the CIA order comes out, it will be difficult to know what exactly Bush did or did not authorize.

In the meantime, I would encourage everyone interested in this story to go visit Michael Froomkin and Intel Dump.



Wars have unintended consequences. Always. That’s not necessarily a reason to avoid them – after all, World War II is not less just because it caused the Cold War. But still, it’s something that people should consider before they decide to support a war. Unintended consequences can be especially fierce when the war takes place in an already unstable region – just ask Austria-Hungary. To use billiards as a metaphor, whenever you invade places like the Middle East, you’re essentially “breaking.” You’re shooting the cue ball into the triangle, which in turn sets off a chain reaction that you can no longer control and that you must hope turns out OK. The Sy Hersh article that I mentioned yesterday (found here) had many important points. What struck me most, though, was that the article provided evidence of at least two unintended consequences: (1) the real winner of Bush’s Crusade has been Iran; and (2) the Kurds may very well be leading the Middle East into a major regional war. The first unintended consequence has already happened – the second one has not, though it’s more likely than it should be.

As Hersh explained, “several top European officials . . . told their counterparts in Iran, “‘You will be the winners in the region.’” Matt Yglesias has made a similar argument here (and I’m relying partially upon his argument). First, America removed the Taliban, which was Sunni and thus anti-Iranian, from Iran’s eastern border. Contrary to popular belief, Afghanistan has essentially become a set of tribal enclaves ruled by warlords, the most powerful of whom is pro-Iranian. Second, America removed one of Iran’s staunchest enemies – Saddam – from its western border. Thus, in two fatal swoops, America removed two hostile neighbors.

However, you would think that Iran wouldn’t exactly be thrilled about having the American military next door either. After all, one of the supposed benefits of the war was that we could use our military leverage to pressure Iran. Under that view, any strengthening of Iran would be more than counterbalanced by our increased military presence and credible threat of force. That might have been true at one time, but no more. Due to the tragic combinations of our incompetence, failed diplomacy, faulty assumptions, and failure to plan, we are no longer a threat to Iran. And what’s worse – Iran knows it. The Iranians get CNN – they know about our troops shortages and the growing opposition both at home and abroad. In what must be the irony of all ironies, Iran knows that we are more powerless to threaten them now than we were prior to the war.

And they’re taking advantage. First, it seems clear that Iraq 2.0 (Billmon’s term) is going to be ruled by the Iran-friendly Shiite majority. Due to our incompetence, al-Sadr is also going to be a major player in Iraq 2.0. As Hersh noted:

Iraqi Shiite militia leaders like Moqtada al-Sadr, the former American intelligence official said, are seen by the Israeli leadership as “stalking horses” for Iran—owing much of their success in defying the American-led coalition to logistical and communications support and training provided by Iran. The former intelligence official said, “We began to see telltale signs of organizational training last summer. But the White House didn’t want to hear it: ‘We can’t take on another problem right now. We can’t afford to push Iran to the point where we’ve got to have a showdown.’”

Second, Iran is becoming increasingly bold in the nuclear arena. As this excellent (though utterly terrifying) NYT Magazine article by James Traub makes clear, the Iranians could be well on their way to obtaining the enriched uranium necessary for a nuclear weapon (the uranium is what’s difficult to make, not the weapon). Israel is especially scared, according to Hersh:

Israel is convinced that Iran is on the verge of developing nuclear weapons, and that, with Syria’s help, it is planning to bolster Palestinian terrorism as Israel withdraws from the Gaza Strip.

And so am I. Syria, Iran, Palestinian terror, and nuclear weapons are not exactly an ideal mix. That’s why Israel has stepped up its efforts to befriend the Kurds – which is one of the major contributions of Hersh’s article.

Third, in a sign of growing confidence, Iran seized eight British sailors this week and, as of this posting, was refusing to grant the British access to them. That’s not the sort of action one takes if one feared the military forces next door. But Iran doesn’t fear them – either us or the British – because Bush’s failures have made our overstretched miliary impotent. It’s enough to keep you up at night.

As Hersh indicated above, it’s not just that we can’t really threaten major force (such as an invasion). We can’t even afford to get in a fight that would require us to threaten force - and which would allow Iran to call our bluff. There’s a lot of game theory going on here – but the gist of it is that we know we can’t threaten Iran, Iran knows that too, and we know that they know that we can’t threaten them. I mean, can you imagine Iran seizing British soldiers a month before the invasion? No way.

What’s truly tragic is that it didn’t have to be this way. If we had stopped at Afghanistan, we would have had every bit of leverage that we were supposedly going to gain from invading Iraq. Afghanistan showed that the American threat of force was credible. We also had world support and probably had inspired a lot of Arab intellectual self-reflection. But we’ve pissed all that away in the sands of Iraq, and now Iran is essentially mooning us and we can’t do a thing about it. So that’s unintended consequence # 1 – a new Iran, free from hostile neighbors, with a new foothold in Iraq and on the verge of nuclear weapons.

Unintended consequence # 2 relates to the Kurds and the specter of regional war. I know I’ve said this before, but it’s important. Iraq is not a real country – it has never been a real country. It was drawn up by Europeans on a table in Paris after World War I. The ethnic groups hate each other. Thus, if the Pentagon had relied on the people who actually knew something about the Middle East, they might have foreseen the inevitable Balkanization of the ethnic groups that we’re now seeing. The Kurds, who are justifiably wary of everyone, have already threatened to leave Iraq 2.0 if they lack the sort of veto rights promised under the interim constitution. Sistani and the Shiites, equally wary of others, are insisting that the interim constitution is bogus because it recognizes too many minority rights. I’m skeptical that these positions can be reconciled. So is Israel, who knows a bit more about these things than we do. If you believe, as I do, that Israel is smarter than us in these matters, it’s interesting to note what Israel is doing – arming the Kurds.

Obviously, the fact that Israel is helping the Kurds will spark an enormous controversy in the Middle East. What’s terrifying is that greater Kurdistan is a powder keg waiting to explode. And because Kurdistan’s fault lines extend deeply into several countries, a Kurdish secession could easily escalate into a much larger regional war. It’s very analogous to Serbia in the years prior to 1914. Hersh explains:

As far as most Kurds are concerned, however, historic “Kurdistan” extends well beyond Iraq’s borders, encompassing parts of Iran, Syria, and Turkey. All three countries fear that Kurdistan, despite public pledges to the contrary, will declare its independence from the interim Iraqi government if conditions don’t improve after June 30th. . . . A declaration of independence would trigger a Turkish response—and possibly a war—and also derail what has been an important alliance for Israel.

As I see it, there are two ways that the Kurds could trigger a larger war. First, they could leave Iraq 2.0, which would force the world to recognize what, in reality, already exists – a divided Iraq. As a Turkish official explained in the Hersh article,

“[A divided Iraq] is very dangerous for us, and for them [the Kurds], too. We do not want to see Iraq divided, and we will not ignore it. . . . We will burn a blanket to kill a flea”—he said, “We have told the Kurds, ‘We are not afraid of you, but you should be afraid of us.’”

An independent Kurdistan would enrage Turkey and it would energize the large Kurdish minorities both there and in Syria. If hostilities broke out, Israel might well come to the aid of Kurdistan, which means that our asses might get dragged in as well.

Second, war could also come if the Kurds decide to act aggressively against the other two ethnic groups in Iraq, or if the ethnic groups' militias decided to act aggressively against the Kurds. Just this week, the New York Times reported that many Kurds were seizing land that had been stolen from them under Saddam,and expelling the Arabs. And America is struggling to control them:

In Baghdad, American officials say they are struggling to keep the displaced Kurds on the north side of the Green Line, the boundary of the Kurdish autonomous region. The Americans agree that the Kurds deserve to return to their ancestral lands, but they want an orderly migration to avoid ethnic strife and political instability.

This is serious serious stuff. Should civil war break out, it’s easy to see how actions like these could trigger it (even though the Kurds deserve that land). Again, I’m not saying that war in inevitable. But given the demographic forces now in play and beyond our control, the threat has become serious. And given the strategic position of Kurdistan, any – and I mean any – conflict there would almost certainly escalate and bring in other countries.

But none of that seems to matter to the administration – they’re just trying to get something that can survive until November:

A former White House official depicted the Administration as eager—almost desperate—late this spring to install an acceptable new interim government in Iraq before President Bush’s declared June 30th deadline for the transfer of sovereignty. The Administration turned to Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations special envoy, to “put together something by June 30th—just something that could stand up” through the Presidential election, the former official said.

That's reassuring.

[For more commentary on the Hersh article, see Total Information Awareness.]

Tuesday, June 22, 2004



Let's see . . . first, Bush opposed the Texas law that allowed patients to sue HMOs in state court:

Bush initially vetoed the bill in 1995, then let it become law without his signature two years later, saying, "This legislation has the potential to drive up health care costs and increase the number of lawsuits. I hope my concerns are proven wrong."

Next, he took credit for that bill in a debate with Gore in October 2000:

"If I'm president," Bush said, "people will be able to take their HMO insurance company to court. That's what I've done in Texas, and that's the kind of leadership style I'll bring to Washington."

Finally, Bush filed a brief opposing this same law that he took credit for during his campaign. This law was overturned yesterday by the Supreme Court, which means that Bush's position won:

At the Supreme Court, the Bush administration filed a brief arguing that allowing state lawsuits would undermine ERISA, and that the benefits to patients are outweighed by costs to managed-care companies -- which, passed on to employers, "could make employers less willing to provide health benefits."

Now Bush and the Court might both be right on the merits. But the real question is honesty.



The new Sy Hersh New Yorker article has been posted, and it's an absolute must-read. It has several fascinating stories all wrapped up into one article. I'll have a lot more to say about this (the Appalachia post may have just been bumped), but I strongly encourage everyone to read it. When you do, take special note of Israel's view of our war effort and general incompetence:

A former Israeli intelligence officer said that Israel’s leadership had concluded by then that the United States was unwilling to confront Iran; in terms of salvaging the situation in Iraq, he said, “it doesn’t add up. It’s over. Not militarily—the United States cannot be defeated militarily in Iraq—but politically.”

. . .

A former Administration official who had supported the war completed a discouraging tour of Iraq late last fall. He visited Tel Aviv afterward and found that the Israelis he met with were equally discouraged. As they saw it, their warnings and advice had been ignored, and the American war against the insurgency was continuing to founder. “I spent hours talking to the senior members of the Israeli political and intelligence community,” the former official recalled. “Their concern was ‘You’re not going to get it right in Iraq, and shouldn’t we be planning for the worst-case scenario and how to deal with it?’”

Ehud Barak, the former Israeli Prime Minister, who supported the Bush Administration’s invasion of Iraq, took it upon himself at this point to privately warn Vice-President Dick Cheney that America had lost in Iraq; according to an American close to Barak, he said that Israel “had learned that there’s no way to win an occupation.” The only issue, Barak told Cheney, “was choosing the size of your humiliation.” Cheney did not respond to Barak’s assessment.

My anger is giving way to full-blown terror about what actions we have set in motion. The world is not a better place because of our actions, and I fear we're about to see why.

Monday, June 21, 2004

ECONOMIC SELF-INTEREST - What Progressives Are Missing 


Kevin Drum posted an article from Newsweek yesterday explaining that Americans’ love-affair with the SUV may be ending. Is it because people are beginning to realize that our excessive oil consumption threatens (1) our environment; (2) our economic stability (by relying on Middle East oil); or (3) our troops who may have to go die one day to keep it flowing? Nope. Their gas bill is getting too high:

John Luber reached the breaking point when he took the family SUV for a fill-up recently and the pump didn't stop spinning until it hit $65. When the Cincinnati-area dentist got home, he sat down with his wife and did the math. With their GMC Yukon getting only 13mpg and gas at $2 a gallon, they discovered their monthly fuel bill was more like a car payment: $385.

My friends, as unlikely as it seems, John Luber and $65 gas tank just showed progressives how to obtain a political majority in this country. As I’ve explained before, the problem isn’t that progressives lack good positions. We do. Our problem is that our political narrative is hopelessly ineffective. We have failed to define the debate in favorable terms. But John Luber is showing us the way out of the political wilderness. To win, progressives must appeal to that most basic of American traits – self-interest. Especially economic self-interest. That’s the key to everything. Conservatives know it, progressives don’t – for reasons I’ll explain.

Especially on economic issues, progressives market their policies through appeals to either morality or class resentment. Both are big fat losers. You can’t really blame them though. I mean, progressives see the insanity of the Bush fiscal policy, both in terms of stagnating wages and the long-term fiscal disaster-to-come (Baby Boomer retirement), and they think it’s unfair. It’s unfair for profits to be this disproportionate when 40 million people don’t even have health care. It’s also unfair to shift the tax burden to future generations who could not even vote on the wisdom of these policies. So, progressives see these things and they appeal for higher targeted tax increases (or reductions in the payroll tax) in the name of basic fairness – or perhaps in the name of empathy for those on the bottom. [On an aside, why are well-educated liberals castigated when they call for targeted tax increases on capital – isn’t this position against their own economic self-interest and thus presumptively more moral in a Kantian sense?] When progressives aren’t appealing to fairness, they’re stirring up anger and resentment against the rich (see, e.g., any Gephardt speech at any time, ever).

You know, I admire the effort, but it’s a loser. Why? Because Americans think that any and all tax cuts are against their economic self-interest. It’s wrong, but it’s reality, and progressives need to understand it. Basic principles of economics are not taught in public schools and people don’t understand them – hell, even the Washington Post doesn’t know them. The opposite view is so simple. People lack money. Taxes take their money. Tax increases take even more of their money. People therefore oppose tax increases. The idea of offsetting benefits (such as $50 in extra taxes in exchange for $500 savings from nationalized health care) is an utterly foreign concept. For twenty-five years, conservatives have hammered home the all-taxes-hurt-your-economic-self-interest mantra, and it’s worked.

But say what you will about the conservatives, they understand their audience. I mean, in a sense, America has never acted out of anything other than economic self-interest. Hell, our nation was founded by people who didn’t want to pay taxes for the services they benefitted from (the British war effort in the Seven Years War – which was the proximate cause of the American Revolution). Despite the modern-day romantic views of the North before the Civil War, mainstream Northerners condemned slavery largely because they valued “free labor” and feared the economic drag of the anachronistic Southern semi-feudal economy (the moral “libruls” of the day – the abolitionists – were considered extremists until well into the 1850s). Our Constitution, to its credit, is founded not upon any divine or moral values, but upon an extremely pessimistic view that man always acts in his own economic self-interest. The genius of the Constitution is that it channeled this impulse into a working structure of government (with checks and balances, separation of powers, federalism, etc.).

Progressives must understand that persuading the American public to support any major program requires persuading them that the program is in their economic self-interest. It’s that simple.

For example, to convince people to get more fuel-efficient vehicles and to stop buying SUVs, progressives have to stop appealing to morality or even patriotism. They have to appeal to people’s wallets. As Kevin suggested, advertising should direct people’s attention to their monthly gas bill. Perhaps they could mimic the old Total cereal commercials – “you’d have to eat one zillion bowls of Wheaties to get the same value as one bowl of Total.” By adding the monthly gas bill to the overall cost of the SUV, advertisers could show how many cars could be purchased for the price of one gas-guzzling SUV.

Take immigration. You can appeal all day to basic human dignity, or the mere arbitrariness of being born in one country and not another, but it ain’t gonna work. But, if you show that granting immigrant workers hour and wage protections would actually help American workers (because immigrants couldn’t undercut them on wages anymore), then you’d get some support for immigration reform. Perhaps you could show that it would put more money into the economy, which would create more jobs and open new markets in Latino communities. I don’t know how all the economics would work, but I know how the policies must be marketed – they must be direct appeals to economic self-interest or they won’t work.

Same deal with economics. To their credit, Dean and Gephardt tried to argue that repealing the Bush tax cuts (and spending them wisely) would actually save people money. It didn’t work, but you can’t reverse a 25-year effort in a few months. It has to be pounded in people’s heads every day – “targeted” tax increases and new spending programs will save you money (though I hope that spending programs would adopt market incentives in the spirit of Clinton/Blair Third Way centrism). So, the important lessons are: Don’t appeal to fairness. Don’t appeal to class resentment. Do appeal to people’s wallets. That, sadly, is the American way. It’s enshrined in our Constitution, and it founded our country.

Unless something changes, I plan on providing an even more specific and detailed example of how to use the self-interest narrative to expand the progressive coalition. More specifically, I’m going to lay out some specific proposals that progressives could use to fix their “angry white male” problem – namely; reaching out to white Appalachia. But that’s for tomorrow (or later today).

Before I conclude, I will concede that the "self-interest" narrative is not the most inspiring. In fact, it’s the opposite of inspiring. As I have explained earlier, I think that the progressive positions are very inspiring when you remember that empathy is the theoretical foundation for progressivism. But, empathy won’t get you 51% – or at least, it never (or only rarely) has. Even the civil rights victories were as much a product of Cold War necessities as they were a product of our collective moral awakening (we had to convince Third World nations not to go Communist). But if you’re interested in winning elections, you’ve got to embrace the self-interest narrative.

Perhaps there is a way to reconcile the more-inspiring empathy narrative with the less-inspiring self-interest one. Instead of seeing the choice as being only between a morally-inspiring narrative and a blatant appeal to economic self-interest, consider it as a two-front attack. Both fronts will be necessary for any future victory. Certain audiences will need to hear one narrative, others will need to hear the other.



1) Jonathan Chait's article in the Wash Post yesterday. I try to read everything this guy writes - he's awesome. His point yesterday was that, despite all the hoopla, the 2000 election was far more important and consequential than the 2004 election will be. He also articulates perfectly my most fundamental gripe with the Bush economic program - it's shifting the tax burden from capital to labor (especially when you remember that the deficit would be even greater if we weren't counting Social Security surpluses - which are largely the result of regressive payroll taxes).

2) "U.S. Said to Overstate Value of Guantánamo Detainees" - by one of the few remaining good reporters at the NYT (Don van Natta).

3) Reason number 10,532 why Rove is incompetent, and thus not a genius - "Foes Confounded by Limited Outcry Against Gay Marriage" (in the WP).

BURDENS OF PROOF - The Iraq/al Qaeda "Connections" 


I must confess that I’ve been somewhat shocked at the administration’s recent wave of statements that strongly affirmed links between al Qaeda and Iraq. More precisely, I’ve been shocked that so many Bush supporters would defend these statements, which seemed to me to be full-blown Orwellian absurdities with no evidentiary support. On the other hand, it seemed equally crazy to think that all Bush supporters were just lying or supporting a lie. I mean, my choices were either: (1) every Bush supporter is intentionally supporting a lie or (2) I’m missing something. Choice # 2 seems more sound. I’m unwilling to believe that all or even most Bush supporters would knowingly support what they considered to be an outright lie. So what the hell is going on? How can two sets of people look at the same facts and draw such two radically different conclusions? I’m going to take a stab at that question that hopefully gets beyond the screaming match - i.e., “You’re a liar! . . . I’m not a liar! . . . You’re a liar!”

The basic dispute is not over the basic facts, but over the conclusion one should draw from those facts (though I am not considering anything by Laurie Mylorie or Stephen Hayes). The 9/11 Commission essentially said that Iraq and al-Qaeda, using Sudan as a mediator, had a few contacts in the early to mid-1990s. Apparently, al Qaeda requested some help and Iraq never got back to them. Just to be clear, here’s the provision from the 9/11 Commission report:

A senior Iraqi intelligence officer reportedly made three visits to Sudan, finally meeting Bin Laden in 1994. Bin Laden is said to have requested space to establish training camps, as well as assistance in procuring weapons, but Iraq apparently never responded. There have been reports that contacts between Iraq and Al Qaeda also occurred after Bin Laden returned to Afghanistan, but they do not appear to have resulted in a collaborative relationship. Two senior Bin Laden associates have adamantly denied that any ties existed between Al Qaeda and Iraq.

So, there were a few visits in 1994 and some subsequent “contacts” that didn’t result in any collaboration. In addition, there is the fact that Zarqawi was apparently in Iraq before the war (though as I explained here - in a region not controlled by Saddam). That’s about it as far as hard evidence goes. So, the question becomes - What conclusion should we draw from these facts? I conclude that there were no connections between Iraq and al Qaeda, and that this conclusion flatly contradicts the statements of the administration both before and after the war (including those made last week). Supporters of the administration take the opposite view. In fact, the White House talking points memo was entitled: “9-11 Commission Staff Report Confirms Administration's Views of al-Qaeda/Iraq Ties.” So what gives?

Here’s what I think is going on – both sides are operating under two very different burdens of proof. Here’s what I mean. In a criminal trial, the jury has to find that you were guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt." I don’t know how to translate that into a percentage, but let’s just say it’s 90%. In other words, a jury has to be 90% sure that you’re guilty before they can convict you. In a civil case, by contrast (one not involving a crime), the jury operates under a “more likely than not” standard. For example, if a jury is 51% sure that a chemical company polluted, then the company will be held liable.

It’s a rough analogy, but I think it’s helpful. The underlying question is whether al Qaeda had enough of a link/connection/relationship with Iraq so as to justify invading the country; or more precisely, to justify telling the public that a threat exists (or existed). One side is essentially demanding that the administration prove more than mere contacts. For them, the burden of proof is such that the administration must establish connections that rise to a operational or collaborative level. For the other side, the burden of proof is such that merely establishing the existence of contacts is enough (especially in light of WMD threat). This side is essentially arguing that, by showing that the two contacted each other, the threat was real and the administration was and is justified in saying so.

The real question, then, is which burden of proof is more appropriate. Obviously, partisan epistemology (explained here) is doing a lot of the work. Each side is motivated by pre-existing political preferences to adopt the burden of proof that best suits their respective side. So, to get beyond this impasse, we need to assess empirically (if we can) which burden of proof is more justified.

To me, it’s not even a close call (though I welcome and encourage comments from conservatives on this issue). The Bush burden of proof (“mere contacts”) seems inappropriate for several reasons. First, under that standard, we should have invaded a dozen countries before we even got to Iraq. Just yesterday, the LA Times ran a story on the 9/11 Commission’s finding that Saudi Arabia and Pakistan provided tangible support to both the Taliban and al Qaeda throughout the 90s. I’m sure that one could add Iran, Syria, and others to that list as well. In fact, given our own efforts in Afghanistan in the 1980s, one could just as easily argue that America had stronger “connections” to al Qaeda than Iraq did. Is that a ridiculous statement? Yes – but don’t blame me, blame the burden of proof that we’ve adopted. On an aside, Iraq spent the 90s trying to rally world support to get the sanctions removed. Saddam was evil, but rational. He would not have risked the world’s ire by embracing al Qaeda (or at least he didn’t risk it, whatever his reasons happened to be).

Second, the very nature of war seems to demand a higher burden of proof than "mere contacts." Wars cost lives. Wars destabilize populations. Wars have unintended consequences. In short, you need some damn good reasons to go to war. To illustrate what I mean, let's return to the criminal justice analogy. Because locking people up is a very big deal, the Constitution requires that a jury find them guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Given the consequences of a conviction, we require strict standards before we allow it to happen. Similarly, before we go to war, we should always adopt a strict burden of proof – maybe not “beyond a reasonable doubt,” but something at least approaching it. Anything less would be a disservice to those who volunteer their lives to serve our nation, not to mention humanity more generally.

The third point is a response to a possible objection. Bush supporters could and do argue that you have to evaluate the “contacts” in the context of the unknown threat of WMDs, which reasonable people disagreed about before the war. Fair enough. But that would only excuse the pre-war statements regarding the link between al Qaeda and Iraq (which some have said were always ridiculous – but I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt for today). I would certainly have less of a problem if Bush came out and said, “Hey, the best intelligence indicated that there were links. It seems that may have been wrong and we're going to get to the bottom of that. But still, we did the right thing in removing a war criminal and in initiating a wave of democracy, etc.” But that is not at all what he is saying – and that’s really not what Cheney has been saying. Bush said, “The reason I keep insisting that there was a relationship between Iraq and Saddam and al Qaeda: because there was a relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda.” Cheney has said worse, and does so unapologetically.

Finally, there’s just a common sense reason – these were frickin’ phone calls, and perhaps a meeting. These are not enough to constitute a threat, let alone justify an invasion. Perhaps I can’t justify this argument empirically, but I just don’t understand how smart, reasonable, good-intentioned people could buy this. Again, let’s assume (for the sake of argument) that the pre-war statements were good faith mistakes. How can anyone believe that the paltry evidence that has now come to light supports what the administration said last week? What baffles me is not the pre-war statements themselves, but the stubborn insistence that the 9/11 Commission’s report justifies those pre-war statements. In other words, it just seems crazy to me that people refuse to admit that the pre-war statements were wrong, or at least strongly exaggerated.

To me, this statement is what pushes the administration headfirst into Orwell-land (from the White House Talking Points):

A 9-11 Commission staff report supports the Bush Administration's longstanding conclusion that there was no evidence of "collaboration" between al-Qaeda on the 9-11 attacks against the United States. The Administration has never suggested that Iraq "collaborated" or "cooperated" with al-Qaeda to carry out the 9-11 attacks.

Statements like these can only be believed by a willful (perhaps unconscious) self-deception regarding the language used in the lead-up to the war. Again, my problem is not so much with the statements themselves, it’s with the refusal to admit (now) that the threat was overstated both before and after the war. Unless you had your head in a hole from August 2002 to August 2003, you simply cannot deny that the Bush administration consciously linked Iraq and al Qaeda, and strongly implied that a major relationship (more than mere “contacts”) existed, and that the relationship posed a serious threat. (For instance, see here and here and here and here (click on "topics" - "Iraq-al Qaeda Links") and here and here.) I especially want to draw your attention to this speech - the 2003 State of the Union:

And this Congress and the American people must recognize another threat. Evidence from intelligence sources, secret communications and statements by people now in custody reveal that Saddam Hussein aids and protects terrorists, including members of Al Qaida. Secretly, and without fingerprints, he could provide one of his hidden weapons to terrorists, or help them develop their own.

Before September the 11th, many in the world believed that Saddam Hussein could be contained. But chemical agents, lethal viruses and shadowy terrorist networks are not easily contained. Imagine those 19 hijackers with other weapons and other plans, this time armed by Saddam Hussein. It would take one vial, one canister, one crate slipped into this country to bring a day of horror like none we have ever known.

Even assuming that administration officials only used the word “connection” (which they didn’t – as the links above clearly show), it seems disingenuous (or an exercise in extreme wishful thinking) to not read what was so clearly in between the lines. I'm really trying my absolute hardest to understand how last week's statements weren't lies - but I need some help.

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