Anti-war running room to the NYT's left!

Anti-war running room to the NYT's left!

Anti-war running room to the NYT's left!

A mostly political Weblog.
Feb. 7 2003 5:09 AM

How Smoking Was It?

Plus: Hillary's state-of-the-art witlessness.

I can think of two arguments against Bob Wright's case for delaying war until beefed-up inspections can find a gun that's smokin' enough to convince an extra 25 percent of the Arab world (which, I agree, would be something worth delaying war for):

1) What if even hundreds of inspectors don't find this smoking gun;

2) What if, while they're looking, the will to go to war fades and the UN-based anti-Saddam military coalition somehow collapses? ...

Wright's argument is made both in the NYT and in Slate. ... If I learn of an answer to these questions, I'll post it. ... Update--Wright responds:


1) There already are "hundreds" of inspectors. I'm talking about many hundreds or even thousands--even if we have to conduct a crash inspector-training program to get them.

2) My Times piece recommended that Bush take advantage of Blix's first report and draft a security council resolution defining various specific acts of non-cooperation with inspectors as a trigger for war. I argued it would be hard for even France to veto a resolution designed to give Blix the cooperation he wants. I didn't have the space to elaborate, but here are the kinds of things I had in mind:

Insist that all known Iraqi weapons scientists be delivered to UN inspectors for multi-day interrogation. If any of them fails to answer any questions, that is grounds for war. (These are government employees, remember, so we can hold Iraq accountable for their behavior.) Insisting that Iraq actually deliver all scientists, rather than that it just let them "volunteer," is key, since scientists don't want to be seen (by Hussein) volunteering even if the regime is technically allowing this.

Then, once you get these scientists alone, you tell them that if, after the regime change, they're found to have lied about anything during this interrogation, they'll be put on trial with punishment ranging up to life in prison. (You could even spell this out, if vaguely, in the resolution.) You also assure them that, in the meanwhile, you won't act on any bit of information that could only have come from them, as that might expose them or their families to retaliation. Interviewing these guys in parallel, and comparing notes from the different interviews, I think you'd start finding some interesting stuff. (You could even keep them incommunicado, with representatives of human rights NGOs there to verify that they're not abused.) If gathering up all their families and putting them in a secure location is feasible, you could do that, too.

3) The aerial surveillance--which my theoretical resolution would insist on, and which Saddam may be agreeing to anyway even as I write--would be a big help.

Given that the more meager and constrained inspections we've had so far have already (a) happened upon some empty chemical warheads and (b) sent the Iraqis scurrying, destroying and moving things just in time, it's hard to imagine these greatly enhanced inspections not hitting paydirt before long.

OK, you ask, but what if this takes awhile, and meanwhile the UN-based coalition collapses? First of all, as of this moment, there isn't a clear UN-based coalition--i.e., a coalition that will get us another resolution that won't be vetoed. My approach might get us one. Second, Bush is obviously willing in the end to go with a coalition of the willing, so we'll eventually get regime change one way or another.

Might this form of regime change be a little worse than leading a coalition of the willing right now? Possibly, yes--and in that sense my approach has risks and downsides. BUT ALL OTHER OPTIONS ON THE TABLE HAVE MASSIVE RISKS AND DOWNSIDES--SUCH AS TRIGGERING A TIME-RELEASE APOCALYPSE. (Maybe I exaggerate, but the long-term consequences for America of a unilateralish war and occupation widely deemed illegitimate could be pretty bad.)

I've noticed that often, when you're entertaining a suggested strategy or policy, you go, "But what if this happens..." and then you seem to adopt the stance that, unless someone can convince you that this won't happen, you can't possibly embrace the policy. But in a case like this all policies have a bad-outcome scenario, and the question is in which cases are the dire scenarios least dire and/or least probable.

Finally, let me note that all the hawks who opposed going through the U.N. and getting the first round of weapons inspections have these very inspections to thank for the phone transcripts and satellite photos that Powell employed so persuasively on Wednesday. So their opposition to further inspections deserves some skepticism.


More: Jessica Tuchman Mathews, writing in WaPo, has some more ideas on how to make inspections  quickly effective  -- including a) bombing any sites being sanitized and b) bringing back all the old inspectors who are now "sitting in television studios" because of Baghdad's opposition or "the usual U.N. need for geographic balance in hiring." (Does affirmative action aid terrorism!?) ...

Note, however, that Mathews's and Wright's tough-inspection scenarios seem to have different endings. Mathews wants to "effectively disarm Saddam" while Wright's Times proposal ends with a regime change, but under circumstances designed to minimize the long-term costs (of either Muslim anti-Americanism or a unilateral precedent).  The question for Mathews is: If the "coercive" inspectors do find weapons of mass destruction, hidden by Saddam after what you call his "active effort to deceive, evade, and thwart" the inspection teams, should the U.N. really leave him in power? Is that such a good precedent for other potential WMD proliferators? (Build weapons, hide them, deceive inspectors, and the worst that happens is you lose the weapons?) ... 10:18 P.M.

They really mean it: Today's NYT Iraq editorial  says nothing again! That's two straight days of muddle. Maybe this one's for emphasis.  ... Admittedly, they say nothing slightly less pompously today -- but more unnecessarily.... ... If the Times can sustain its moving, meaningful inconclusiveness through Sunday's editorials, it should be eligible for some sort of award. ... P.S.: Why the placeholder editorials? Obvious guess: They must be having some sort of internal argument. (Pinch v. Howell?) Your assignment, Mr. Pappu. ... 2:01 A.M.

Frum-Skippers? The ever-more-dominant ABC Note writes:

Some day, if anyone ever writes a truly revealing memoir of this Bush term, we would bet you dollars to Krispy Kremes that they will write that the administration knew the economy was MUCH worse than they let on at the time, and that they were consistently amazed that it didn't do the president, and his party, more political harm.


Shouldn't David Frum sue? Not only has Frum already written a memoir, but he has already written that the administration knew the economy was much worse than they let on at the time. In the spring of 2001, Frum writes,

[t]he economy was plunging into what the administration's own chief economic adviser, Lawrence Lindsey, privately predicted would be an extremely severe recession.

But the Frum speech Bush delivered stopped somewhat short of such strong language -- Bush said only that "A warning light is flashing on the dashboard of our economy." ... P.S.: At the time, of course, Democrats and others gave Bush grief for being even that pessimistic, arguing that he was cynically hyping the recession they now argue isn't being hyped enough. ... 1:35 A.M.

Thursday, February 6, 2003


A great nation can ill afford to fail to try to figure out what we mean: OK, so the New York Times editorial page has nothing very definite to say about the war. But do they have to  say nothing pompously and righteously? ... P.S.: Isn''t the Times' multilateralism and legalism about to trap it into a pro-war position? In other words, the Times has been saying for so long that Bush shouldn't go to war unless he has Security Council backing that the paper will be hard put to oppose the war if Bush actually gets that backing. But Secretary Powell's presentation -- and the Security Council's blessing -- doesn't by itself answer the prudential question, namely whether a war is wise (even if it's a) justified and b) authorized). That final question still requires weighing the potential benefits against the costs and risks. True, Security Council approval helps dramatically reduce the main risks (of anti-American blowback, and especially of establishing a hair-trigger international precedent) -- and that may well tip the balance. But it doesn't in itself answer the question. The Times still has some anti-war running room, although it doesn't seem to realize it. Update:Times columnist Kristof realizes it, though he ludicrously bases much of his its-not-worth-it argument on the expected money cost of the war. Surely that's the weakest dove argument, especially since it will cost tens of billions to keep the invasion-ready troops in the Gulf that are obviously necessary to make inspections, and Kristof's "containment" alternative, work. ... Indeed, the best argument for war may be that containment won't work for long, because Arab states won't tolerate the massive U.S. troop presence that would be required to back up the inspectors. This is the point Bush conspicuously failed to make in his State of the Union (focusing instead on the probably-hyped-up threat of "one vial"). It's also the best case for my colleague Robert Wright's Third Way proposal -- pour in inspectors, find the smoking gun quickly and then have the U.N. demand that Saddam abdicate. What could that achieve that an invasion now wouldn't? Less blowback! ...  [And what do you think?--ed Don't rush me.]11:50 P.M.

Hillary-Skipper: I punished myself today by reading Hillary Clinton's entire "major" policy address on "homeland security." My working theory was that the speech would prove to be an utterly contentless exercise in cynical political positioning and risk-minimization. I was wrong. It's not utterly contentless, but it is utterly dreary, as well as an exercise in cynical political positioning and risk-minimization.

Sen. Clinton's criticism of Bush's homeland security department isn't that it's too big to work, or that it doesn't include the FBI, or that it does include a whole bunch of employees who, judging from their pre-9/11 performance, need to be fired, or that Tom Ridge isn't on the ball and things aren't getting done -- all of which might be valid arguments. Her entire criticism is that Bush hasn't dribbled enough pork-barrel block grants to "our cities and towns." Bush is proposing to spend $36.2 billion for h------d security (sorry, I can't bring myself to type that word again) -- a more-than-seven percent increase -- but Clinton attacks him for not also backing a Byrd amendment to spend an additional "$585 million for port security, $150 million to purchase interoperable radios ... another $83 million to protect our borders" etc. "Congress settled for less," she thunders. "Yes, you heard correctly, Congress settled for less."

The cynicism is clear -- if there's another terrorist strike, Hillary can say it was because the Republicans didn't earmark that extra $150 million for interoperable radios. (New York can't fix its radio problem unless there's a federal grant to do it?) But mainly what comes through is state-of-the-art lack of imagination. It's Robo-Senatoring. All the mechanicals are in place: 1) The pervasive partisan disingenuousness (hasn't Bush done anything right? Maybe he's done some things right and some things wrong?); 2) The empty stridency and pathetic speechwriting flourishes ("the frontlines are at our front doors ... rhetoric won't stop the spread of anthrax"); 3) The bogus survey, in which New York mayors, shockingly, complain that they're not getting enough federal money; 4) The for-show legislation, with a "Public Private Task Force" and a "Counter-Terror Technology Fund." ... There's not a glimmer of humanity or wit in the whole thing. And I was just warming to Hillary for her sensible position on welfare reform. ...


Update: For more on what's wrong with Sen. Clinton's "Porkland Security" approach, see this essay by Richard Flanagan.  "Cow towns across the [country] facing no plausible terrorist threat will use this money to pay for protection they simply do not need," he writes. Remember Richard Nixon's "Law Enforcement Assistance" grants that went to buy every town with more than two gas stations its own armor-plated SWAT Team? This is like that. "Block grants" to local governments are a proven way to waste billions of dollars. But they're a great way to seem to be taking bold action -- and to suck up to mayors in upstate New York. 11:26 P.M.

Spectral weeks: Well-done Spector column  (with solid alternative hed); well-done  profile of the late Ms. Clarkson. ... An even better Spector piece is here. ... That now-famous Mick Brown Spector interview can be read  here  ... Note to Instapundit and Prof. Volokh: Isn't this incident potentially rather a bad show for gun-control opponents? Update:Instapundit responds, briefly. ... 4:05 P.M.

Tuesday, February 4, 2003

"THEN HE KILLED ME": Should legendary rock producer Phil Spector or anyone associated with him ever be suspected of involvement in a homicide, that would be your headline. Looks like its time may have come. ... 3:18 P.M.

"Who's the Next Jew?" -- A kf contest! Boston "Brahmin" Senator John Kerry has learned that both his paternal grandparents were Jewish, and General Wesley Clark has revealed his Jewish heritage (see comprehensive coverage today in Lloyd Grove's column) -- as have Christopher Hitchens, Madeleine Albright, Hillary Clinton, and The Thing. President Kennedy's patrician Treasury secretary, the late C. Douglas Dillon, had Jewish roots (his father's real name was Lapowski), as many readers of his obituary were surprised to learn. ... Which political or public figure will be next to unexpectedly discover Jewish roots ? Kf readers are invited to submit their predictions. ... My nominee: Bruce Springsteen! ... Kf reader nominees so far: Arnold Schwarzenegger! (wouldn't that be convenient), Bono, Mick Jagger, Al Sharpton, Ben Affleck!, John McCain ... Note to Boston Globe: And Jews can't have "lean, patrician looks"?  ... P.S.: Noam Scheiber thinks Kerry's revelation helps Lieberman -- and hurts Kerry, by giving the press a shorthand for his fatal flaw: He has no "core," we'll be told. I tend to think this shorthand doesn't quite capture Kerry's mysterious loathsomeness, which has more to do with risk-aversion and megalomaniacal ambition. ... 1:15 P.M.


Will nobody defend poor Ben Affleck? The actor and Gore supporter tells Vanity Fair he thinks "of someday running for Congress," and gets ridiculed for it here and here. But a trustworthy kf California source, who has actually talked policy with Affleck and has no particular dog in this hunt, claims he's "extremely smart," with "astute business instincts" and a "balanced approach to thinking about policy," adding that he "understands policy issues related to digital media better than anybody in Hollywood." ... I just don't think he's very, you know, sexy. But that's for the voters to decide! And there are things they can do with make-up and lighting to compensate. ... 12:23 P.M.

Monday, February 3, 2003 

NASA vs. Cassandra: Alert kf reader C.S. reminds me that back in 1991 NASA was so annoyed with journalist Gregg Easterbrook's criticisms (see below) that it published an 8-page document, "An Analysis of Statements by Gregg Easterbrook." At the time WaPo's Howie Kurtz wrote that the document "obviously involved considerable government manpower." Aside from one factual error that Easterbrook admitted, Kurtz concluded that

 ... NASA's other "facts" appear to involve conflicting interpretations. For example, Easterbrook says the agency has ignored the recommendations of the Rogers Commission, formed after the Challenger accident, while NASA says it has "wholeheartedly embraced" the panel's findings.

NASA's then-Deputy Administrator James R. Thompson told Kurtz  "I was trying, frankly, to ring his bell."  2:16 P.M.

NASA Cassandras, III: Physicist Richard Feynman's celebrated appendix to the official post-Challenger report can be found  here. There's no "money graf," but here are some key passages:

The argument that the same risk was flown before without failure is often accepted as an argument for the safety of accepting it again. Because of this, obvious weaknesses are accepted again and again, sometimes without a sufficiently serious attempt to remedy them, or to delay a flight because of their continued presence. ...

If a reasonable launch schedule is to be maintained, engineering
often cannot be done fast enough to keep up with the expectations of originally conservative certification criteria designed to guarantee a very safe vehicle. In these situations, subtly, and often with apparently logical arguments, the criteria are altered so that flights may still be certified in time. They therefore fly in a relatively unsafe condition, with a chance of failure of the order of a percent (it is difficult to be more accurate).

   Official management, on the other hand, claims to believe the
probability of failure is a thousand times less. One reason for this
may be an attempt to assure the government of NASA perfection and success in order to ensure the supply of funds. The other may be that they sincerely believed it to be true, demonstrating an almost incredible lack of communication between themselves and their working engineers.

   In any event this has had very unfortunate consequences, the most serious of which is to encourage ordinary citizens to fly in such a dangerous machine, as if it had attained the safety of an ordinary airliner. ...

  For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over
public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.

P.S.:  Feynman wrote, "a chance of failure of the order of a percent (it is difficult to be more accurate)." Alert kf reader J. emails: "There have been 128 missions, 2 disasters. That's 1.56%. Pretty accurate." [Note: The NYT says there have been 113 missions. Same difference. The point is that Feynman was in the ballpark and NASA was not.] 10:34 A.M.

Preemptive Attack: California governer Gray Davis' political consultant Garry South believes in shooting down the enemy's missiles when they're still over the horizon. (Ask moderate former L.A. mayor Richard Riordan, whose gubernatorial candidacy South helped kill in the GOP primary.) Last week, South wrote an LAT op-ed about Arnold Schwarzenegger that's worth reading because it's a) a fairly clear threat; b) an accurate threat, both in the sense that it pinpoints Schwarzenegger's vulnerability and that this vulnerability will be exploited by the Dems; c) an example of the subtlety and high tone of California politics as practiced by South; and d) an indication that Schwarzenegger is the biggest potential problem California Democrats now face (aside from their own fiscal profligacy). ... 3:28 A.M.

He doesn't look hawkish: John Kerry's current campaign isn't just a run for the White House. It's "a voyage of self-discovery"!Kerry's discovered that his grandfather was Jewish, thanks to help from  The Boston Globe. (What a convenient bit of de-aloofifying drama!) And he's discovering his position on war with Iraq -- "sorting through his own convictions," as Ron Brownstein puts it. ... P.S.: Is the current stir-frying of Kerry for having it both ways on the war issue -- see Peter Beinart's takedown -- 1) a justified attack, or 2) a case of the Kerry-loathing press latching on to the first issue it can use to illustrate their preexisting conviction that he's a shamelessly ambitious, calculating, options-preserving opportunist? A little bit of both, I'd say. As Brownstein notes, even alleged straight-talker Howard Dean has said he'd attack Iraq without U.N. approval if there were clear evidence Saddam had Weapons of M.D. So even he's not a 100 % clear-cut anti-unilateralist peacenik. On the other hand, as Beinart argues, Kerry did actually vote to give Bush authority to wage non-UN-approved war with or without new evidence, and Kerry now tries to act as if he didn't....  Kf's line: If they're framing Kerry, they're framing a guilty man! ... P.P.S.: The results of the Kerry Mystery Challenge  will be posted soon. [How can you prejudge the candidate before the campaign has really started?--ed. Many mainstream reporters have prejudged Kerry too! They just have to pretend they're neutral until a suitable opportunity arises to do him in. It looks as if that opportunity is arising sooner rather than later. Other Dem campaigns are smart to push the Two-Faced Kerry line, although it would be even smarter if they just let it happen. ...] 1:57 A.M.

Sunday, February 2, 2003

Always read the gossip columns: The L.A. Daily News' "Tinseltown Spywitness" coverage of an L.A. awards banquet has former U.N. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke predicting a war  in 10 weeks.

"There will be heavy air strikes with very accurate weapons," said Holbrooke. "And those on television who say the war will be a cake walk are wrong."

Also, Universal Pictures chairman Stacey Snider wore a black Vera Wang pantsuit. ... [But if Bush is bluffing maybe Holbrooke is part of the bluff--ed. An American Jewish Committee dinner at the Beverly Wilshire isn't a venue well-chosen to send a message to Saddam. Not many Iraqi agents there. But maybe they read the trades.] 8:60 P.M.

Another pre-Columbia Cassandra: Looks like this guy told us so too. Roger Pielke, like Easterbrook, argues that the problem isn't lack of spending billions (contrary to the implication of the administration's immediate post-catastrophe reaction). ... 8:59 P.M.

Easterbrook Update: The competition to get Gregg Easterbrook to write a piece about Columbia has been won by Time. It's up and it's good. As expected, Easterbrook argues that the Shuttle's problem is not a lack of funding -- more like an addiction to the substantial funding for an outmoded program. Contrary to expectations, though, Easterbrook doesn't dismiss the idea of an escape pod. ... Meanwhile, the Washington Monthly has posted the entire text of Easterbrook's creepily prescient 1980 (pre-Challenger)anti-Shuttle piece. Be sure to also view the irresponsible-enough-to-be-responsible cover image. ... 1:53 P.M.

Saturday, February 1, 2003

Original 1980 Cover Image
Original 1980 Cover Image

He Told Us So: WaPo has a long piece suggesting budget-cutting is to blame for the Columbia disaster. Such claims may be true, but should be viewed with great initial skepticism -- isn't a bureaucracy's first defense always to implicitly ask for more money? The idea that the shuttle might have been fitted with an escape pod that might somehow have been activated "as it broke up around the point of reentry into Earth's atmosphere" seems especially suspect.

This aspect of the shuttle's design seems to have been dicey from the start. Back in 1980, six years before the Challenger exploded, Gregg Easterbrook wrote a cover story for The Washington Monthly, where I was working. I had nothing to do with Easterbrook's piece, but I did feel guilty when we sensationalistically titled it "Beam Us Out of This Deathtrap, Scotty." (The even-more-irresponsible teaser hed was "5 ..4 ...3 ...2 ...1 ... Goodbye, Columbia.") Easterbrook's article was highly persuasive, unfortunately -- and looks gruesomely clairvoyant two decades later. These passages stood out when I reread it this evening:

"Columbia must be fitted out with 33,000 of these tiles, each to be applied individually, each unique in shape. The inch-thick tiles, made of pyrolized carbon, are amazing in two respects. They can be several hundred degrees hot on one side while remaining cool to the touch on the other. They do not boil away ... they can be used indefinitely. But they're also a bit of a letdown in another respect -- they're so fragile you can hardly touch them without shattering them. ...

Fixing them to the Columbia without breaking them is like trying to eat a bar of Bonomo Turkish Taffy without cracking it. ...

The tiles are the most important system NASA has ever designed as "safe life." That means there is no back-up for them. If they fail, the shuttle burns on reentry. ... The worry runs deep enough that NASA investigated installing a crane assembly in Columbia so the crew could inspect and repair damaged tiles in space. (Verdict: Can't be done. You can hardly do it on the ground.)

Easterbrook has written equally solid, mostly-skeptical (but sometimes supportive) articles about NASA in the years since. He works quickly, so I suspect we'll be hearing from him soon. I will link. Update: See links in item immediately above. ... 12:56 A.M.





Drudge Report--80 % true. Close enough! Instapundit--All-powerful hit king. Joshua Marshall--Escapee from American Prospect. Salon--Better click fast! Andrew Sullivan--He asks, he tells. He sells! Washington Monthly--Includes "Tilting at Windmills" the drink. Virginia Postrel--Friend of the future! Peggy Noonan--Gold in every column. Matt Miller--Savvy rad-centrism. WaPo--Waking from post-Bradlee snooze. The Liberal Death Star--Registration required.  NY Observer--Read it before the good writers are all hired away. New Republic--Left on welfare, right on warfare!  Jim Pinkerton--Quality ideas come from quantity ideas. Tom Tomorrow--Everyone's favorite leftish cartoonists' blog.  Ann "Too Far" Coulter--Sometimes it's just far enough. Bull Moose--National Greatness Central. John Ellis--Forget that Florida business! The cuz knows politics, and he has, ah, sources. "The Note"--How the pros start their day. Romenesko's MediaNews--O.K. they actually start it here. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities--Money Liberal Central.. Steve Chapman--Ornery-but-lovable libertarian. Rich Galen--Sophisticated GOP insider. Man Without Qualities--Seems to know a lot about white collar crime. Hmmm. horror stories. Eugene Volokh --Smart, packin' prof, and not Instapundit! Eve Tushnet--Queer, Catholic, conservative and not Andrew Sullivan! WSJ's Best of the Web--James Taranto's excellent obsessions. Walter Shapiro--Politics and (don't laugh) neoliberal humor! Eric Alterman--Born to blog. Joe Conason--Bush-bashing, free most days. Lloyd Grove--Don't let him write about you. Arianna--A hybrid vehicle. Tom populists.  Nonzero--Bob Wright explains it all. [More tk.