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5/17/2003

Damn you Blogger

My archives are fritzed from this switch over to Dano. The only archival links to the left that work are the last two. God only knows what the problem is. If anyone notices the archives working just drop me an email.
What's going on?

Now that there is a cloud of doubt hovering over the possibility of any biological/chemical weapons ever being discovered in Iraq, war hawks seem to be slowly walking away from the whole issue. Both James Taranto and Charles Johnson, both of whom were premier inciters for war, have cited approvingly an article in National Review by Jim Lacey (Taranto calls it "intriguing," Johnson says it is "interesting and plausible"). The thrust of Lacey's argument is that Husayn's underlings kept him blissfully ignorant of their dismantling of the Iraqi WMD program by spreading around semi-suspicious materials and preoccuping him with new palaces. So Husayn kept acting like there were WMDs, even though there were none.
It is likely that if Saddam no longer had a WMD program he did not know it. Why else would he endure over a decade of crippling sanctions? If Saddam had ended his quest for WMDs, it would have been in his best interest to open the doors wide and let the world see. By playing as the model citizen he would have regained control of his oil wealth and quickly been able to make Iraq a regional superpower again.

Instead, his henchmen did everything possible to obfuscate the true WMD picture and to thwart any inspection teams. If they had nothing to hide, they sure worked hard at trying to hide it. What if they were not just hiding a possible WMD program from inspectors, but also hiding from Saddam the fact that no such program existed?

Outlandish? Maybe not. Consider, for instance, that a WMD program is expensive. It has already been proven that the Saddam regime was siphoning off billions of dollars through black-market oil deals and other under-the-table methods. However, there were numerous claims on these funds. Buying the loyalty of the Republican Guard and Special Republican Guard did not come cheap. Just trying to keep the military in good enough order to crush internal revolts was already prohibitively expensive. Throw in the cost of presidential palaces, reconstructing Babylon, paying off Bath-party loyalists, and it is not long before you would be scraping for nickels. Iraq was not even able to find money and parts to maintain oil-production levels. The golden goose was dying.


Lacey may have a point, he may even be right, but why is the National Review publishing this? And even more interesting, why are Taranto and Johnson, who pointed to every WMD false alarm that came across the news wire, cheerleading this notion? From the extensive bloviation on WMD that preceded the war and continued through its prosecution, you would think they would be in the vanguard of people asking: Where's the beef? They aren't. And truthfully, I'm not surprised. Taranto explains
If this theory is true, it makes the war no less justified. U.N. resolutions obliged the regime not only to destroy all weapons of mass destruction but to document the destruction, something it never did.

So we went to war against Iraq because they didn't keep the receipts? Wonderful! I just hope the IRS doesn't decide to follow Taranto's lead.

Even so, CYA activities are not confined to the blogosphere, as one can gather from today's Washington Post. Kenneth Adelman, of "cakewalk" fame, throws out the idea that maybe Husayn was just lying about the whole violating international law thing.

"It's just very strange," said Kenneth Adelman, a member of a Pentagon advisory board who had predicted weapons would be found a month ago. "There will certainly not be the quantity and proximity that we thought of before." Adelman says Hussein may even have launched "a massive disinformation campaign to make the world think he was violating international norms, and he may not have been."

Saddam Husayn was innocent? Is that the new conservative line? Very strange indeed.

5/14/2003

Random Flashback

For some reason I was thinking today about a passage I read in Bob Woodward's Bush at War, and I remembered that I promised I would review the book it after I finished reading it. I finished it months ago. I guess I'm still too lazy to write that review, but I did want to share the little vignette from War that popped into my head out of nowhere. There is no real moral to this story, I just don't want to have to write about the horrible mess in Saudi Arabia (or more accurately, the horrible mess that is Saudi Arabia).

On p. 319, Woodward describes an interview he and Dan Balz had with Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld on January 9, 2002.

On January 9, 2002, Washington Post reporter Dan Balz and I went to Rumsfeld's office to interview him for a newspaper series we were doing on the first 10 days after the September 11 attacks. Characteristically, Rumsfeld wanted to deal in broad strategic concepts, not specifics, and he had jotted down 12 of them on a piece of paper -- everything from the necessity to preempt terrorists to the opportunity to rearrange the world.

We wanted to deal with specific moments, and Balz asked him about the day after the attacks when Rumsfeld had raised the question, Is there a need to address Iraq as well as bin Laden?

"What the hell did they do!" Rumsfeld exploded. "Give you every goddam classif--...take that off the..."

I urged him not to worry.

"I didn't say that," Rumsfeld declared and then tried to pretend that someone else had shouted. He pointed to Larry DiRita, his civilian special assistant. "Larry, stop yelling over my shoulder, will you please?"

I said that perhaps we could put an 18 1/2-second gap in our tape.

"Now you're talking," Rumsfeld said.

The 19-page transcript that the Defense Department later released of the interview deleted his explosion and the "hell" and "goddamn."


Here is the official transcript from the DOD:
[Balz]: Can we go back to the second day, Wednesday the 12th. At the afternoon NSC meeting you raised the question, is there a need to address Iraq as well as bin Laden.

Can you take us through your views on --

Rumsfeld: What did they do? Give you every -- (laughter)

Q: No, it's -- we've been working on this for weeks.

Rumsfeld: People told you what I said.

Q: There are notes that we've gone through, and we are trying -- this is the most -- you can come up and string us up after this is over --

Rumsfeld: I think I will.

Q: If anyone ever does anything --

Rumsfeld: -- Washington Post with you. (laughter)

Q: Imagine how I felt. (laughter) I was proud. Two Navy men get together. (laughter)

Q: Part of the value of this whole exercise that we've been on is that this is an important moment in history. Memories fade. People's notes get lost. The more that can be --

Rumsfeld: -- dadburned busy I don't have any notes.

Q: Well, there were note takers in various meetings. At any rate, you said -- Iraq. And this is not a direct quote, this paraphrases. Is there a need to address Iraq as well as bin Laden?

Q: Again, a Rumsfeld rhetorical question. Not saying it, but raising it.

Rumsfeld: I want to make sure -- I always ask myself what's missing. It's easy for people to edit and make something slightly better, but the question is, what haven't we asked ourselves? So I do it all the time. I do it here, I do it in Cabinet meetings or NSC meetings. It was a fair question.

Q: What then transpired in terms of the discussion? We know Secretary Wolfowitz was strongly in favor of using this moment --

Rumsfeld: I don't know that. How do you know that? Was he quoted? Did someone tell you?

Q: Yes.

Rumsfeld: He wasn't even at the meeting was he?

Q: Not that meeting.

Q: No, later at Camp David when it came up.

It's not a big deal. It is the context in which there is a discussion because when it gets to Camp David we understand part of the reason of re-raising the Iraq issue is it looks like Afghanistan is really going to be hard, and where of the targets can we succeed at this? And I think Paul is kind of arguing look, we've got somebody we can go to because we've got the plans ready, and these are bad people and they have likely culpability.

Rumsfeld: I don't think Paul's involved in these arguments.

Q: Not this early, but --

Rumsfeld: When I'm in these meetings he doesn't tend to talk much.

Q: The descriptions we've got said that he is in some of these meetings, even the principals, that he was involved in some and was raising the Iraq issue.

Rumsfeld: I don't remember it.

Q: Your thinking about Iraq at that point --

Rumsfeld: I don't remember. If I said that I probably said it, but --

Q: Did the president have a view on this that was defined early on? Was his view we should keep this under consideration? Was it, unless we have clear and compelling evidence of a link we can't --

Rumsfeld: No recollection.

Q: No recollection?

Rumsfeld: We were going so fast and so hard and trying to make sure that we didn't forget things.
There was no roadmap for this.

Q: No book, no index. That's why it's such a good story.


The conversation goes off on a different tangent after this, but he does return to the whole issue of the level of access that Woodward and Balz a little later in the interview.
Q: You made an interesting comment at --

Rumsfeld: It ticks me off telling me what I said. How do you know all this? I can't believe it.

Q: You said at that meeting, as we understand it. (Laughter) After the president had gone through the order --

Rumsfeld: You're reported to have said, or you were alleged to have said.

Q: You were alleged --

Rumsfeld: Even a mass murderer, they say alleged.

Yeah, so that is your moment of zen for today.

5/12/2003

Put a bunch of bloggers in a room...

Today, I scanned through a get together between a bunch of American warbloggers and an Israeli journalist on the prospects of Israeli/Palestinian settlement. Naturally, the Israeli (Allison Sommer) was the most moderate and rational of the bunch, but I was pleased to see that people like Johnson weren't quite as ridiculous as they sometimes try to make themselves out to be. The worst part was that they had some little brat, Ben Shapiro, on there spouting off bullshit about transfer as if it were a viable notion. He came off looking like a retard, and from a cursory scan of his blog and some of his articles, that seems a justified conclusion. He proudly trumpets on his blog that "Of course, I was the most right-wing of the bunch..." When you can say that while in the same place as Charles Johnson, something is wrong with you.

It really is disturbing how powerful the notion of transfer has become among American Jews, and how infrequently it meets with the forceful and unequivocal condemnation it deserves. Israelis have been pushed to the right by Palestinian terror, but American Jews have literally been driven insane in many cases. This deserves more attention than it is currently getting. Thankfully, Sommer delivers a smack-down to this twerp on her blog, which is worth reproducing here.

I rarely pull out the fact that I LIVE in Israel when debating the politics, but I was sorely tempted to when Ben Shapiro started vilifying all Israeli Arabs as hating Jews and the state and wanting to kill us all. I felt too dopey saying things like, "I know some really nice Israeli Arabs" in the middle of a heated political argument, so I let it drop.

But I thought of him today: I had a flat tire, and went to my local tire place where all of the workers are Israeli Arabs. My six-year-old son dropped his can of apple juice on the ground, and one of the workers didn't just pick it up and wipe it off, he walked across the parking lot and carefully washed it under a faucet. Then another one took out a box of cookies, opened it, and offered it to my kids.

I thought how intolerable my life would be if I truly believed as Shapiro did that this was all a big act, and that these young men were all harboring murderous thoughts and truly wanted to be banging my kids over the heads with their tools instead of handing them cookies.

It's so much easier to just throw up your hands, and take an extreme position -- right or left -- when you aren't actually living in the country. You can say, "Yup, all Arabs are scum, let's just kick them all out," or you can say, "Israel is a big failure, the Jews should just pack it in" and then go on with your life in New Jersey. We Israelis (and Palestinians) have to get up every morning and face the consequences of this stuff, it's not just fodder for blogging or material for the talking heads on the Today Show to debate.


Is the search over?

I read this bombshell from the Washington Post yesterday, but never got around to blogging about it. Here are the first six grafs:
The group directing all known U.S. search efforts for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq is winding down operations without finding proof that President Saddam Hussein kept clandestine stocks of outlawed arms, according to participants.

The 75th Exploitation Task Force, as the group is formally known, has been described from the start as the principal component of the U.S. plan to discover and display forbidden Iraqi weapons. The group's departure, expected next month, marks a milestone in frustration for a major declared objective of the war.

Leaders of Task Force 75's diverse staff -- biologists, chemists, arms treaty enforcers, nuclear operators, computer and document experts, and special forces troops -- arrived with high hopes of early success. They said they expected to find what Secretary of State Colin L. Powell described at the U.N. Security Council on Feb. 5 -- hundreds of tons of biological and chemical agents, missiles and rockets to deliver the agents, and evidence of an ongoing program to build a nuclear bomb.

Scores of fruitless missions broke that confidence, many task force members said in interviews.

Army Col. Richard McPhee, who will close down the task force next month, said he took seriously U.S. intelligence warnings on the eve of war that Hussein had given "release authority" to subordinates in command of chemical weapons. "We didn't have all these people in [protective] suits" for nothing, he said. But if Iraq thought of using such weapons, "there had to have been something to use. And we haven't found it. . . . Books will be written on that in the intelligence community for a long time."

Army Col. Robert Smith, who leads the site assessment teams from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, said task force leaders no longer "think we're going to find chemical rounds sitting next to a gun." He added, "That's what we came here for, but we're past that."


Essentially all personnel tasked to finding WMD have either returned to America, or have been assigned to other important missions like looking for ancient copies of the Talmud. According to the Post, the entire operation is going to wind down in a month, with no WMD in hand. Judith Miller, who is embedded with the 75th, should be reporting this. But, of course, she isn't.

There are three possibilities here:


  1. There were WMDs, and we let them get away. Which is truly scary as hell.
  2. There were no WMDs when we honestly thought there were. Meaning that our intelligence apparatus is woefully unprepared for dealing with this issue.
  3. There were no WMDs and Bush knew it and lied to the public. This is the theory that is starting to gather steam, and will probably be front and center in the upcoming presidential election.

None of these are pleasant to think about. I just hope the truth is the second one. I want to believe that our troops fought for something good, but I also don't want to think that there are chem/bio agents floating freely now. Will the second possibility be the one that is eventually vindicated? Probably not...
It's a self-solving problem!

Judith Miller from the New York Times is a access-slut. As long as she can get a story that no one else can, she'll do just about anything, break just about any rule of journalism. Still, her reports from the exclusive embed she has with Mobile Exploitation Team Alpha can often be enlightening, as was today's.

Although the headline reads "Radioactive Material Found at a Test Site Near Baghdad," and one might be forgiven for believing it relevant to WMD, it's not. The site was used to expose Iraqi troops to a simulated nuclear battlefield and was abandoned a decade ago. Of course, you have to read 11 paragraphs into the article to find that out. The real issue is the insecurity of materials capable of being used in radiological bombs (so-called "dirty bombs"). Miller blithely informs the reader in a single sentence that, "There was no American security force when the inspection team members arrived at the sprawling test range, though they had been told there would be." She then moves right along without skipping a beat, as if it wasn't something worth dwindling over.

I blogged about this back when the Washington Post broke the story of the looting of Al Tuwaitha Nuclear Research Center, and I also passed along a translation of an Al Jazeera interview with an Iraqi nuclear scientist who was talking about people using radioactive waste containers to store milk, tomatoes, and cooking utensils. The grotesque insecurity of radioactive materials in Iraq is a serious issue. I don't want a dirty bomb to go off in New York as a result of us fighting a war ostensibly to prevent something like that from happening. American soldiers should have shoot-to-kill orders in protecting sites that have a possible connection to WMD. No one has the right to loot a nuclear research facility. End of story.

Which brings us back to the enlightening part of Ms. Miller's article.

The area itself is quite remote, which is fortunate given the size of the radiation source, believed to be Cobalt-60, which is commonly used in X-ray machinery, Drew said. He said that because the sources are well shielded in the concrete bunkers, they do not pose a hazard to the immediate area.

Nevertheless, the team recommended, as did the International Atomic Energy Agency when it surveyed the site, that the nuclear source in the area be secured, which has not happened yet.

Drew said he was not concerned that terrorists or elements of the deposed government might try to steal the material to make a crude nuclear bomb. He said exposure to the radioactive material itself would be lethal to anyone who tried to move or steal it. "It is a self-solving problem," he said.


Well, I feel safe now.

5/11/2003

New Lead in Anthrax Investigation

The Washington Post is reporting that federal investigators have found a new lead in the anthrax mailings that happened in 2001. While dredging in a pond in Fredrick, Maryland late last year and early this year, investigators found a clear glove box for manipulating objects in a sealed environment and vials wrapped in plastic.
A piece of equipment and other evidence recovered this winter from ice-covered ponds in Frederick Municipal Forest have reinvigorated the 18-month-old case, leading officials to explore a novel theory with shades of science fiction. Some involved in the case believe that the killer may have waded into shallow water to delicately manipulate anthrax bacteria into envelopes, working within a partly submerged airtight chamber. When finished, the killer could have easily hidden the evidence by simply dumping contaminated equipment and clothing into the pond.

I don't know if I believe the theory the Post seems to favor (the reporter frankly admits it has "shades of science fiction"), but anything new in this case is a good thing.
TlhIngan Hol Dajatlh'a'?

(via LA Times) Position Available: Interpreter, must be fluent in Klingon.

The language created for the "Star Trek" TV series and movies is one of about 55 needed by the office that treats mental health patients in metropolitan Multnomah County, Ore.

Although created for works of fiction, Klingon was designed to have a consistent grammar, syntax and vocabulary.

"We have to provide information in all the languages our clients speak," said Jerry Jelusich, a procurement specialist for the county Department of Human Services, which serves about 60,000 mental health clients in the Portland area.

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