Here's a blog with lots of useful insider detail on why that U.S. convoy might have gotten ambushed. ... When I worked at the Washington Monthly in the early 1980s, we were ecstatic when we somehow acquired insider pieces like this. Now they pop up for free in real time! ... 10:58 A.M.
By focusing on the conservative proponents of pre-emption through Iraqi regime change (e.g., Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, Kristol, Perle), instead of the conservative proponents of remaking the Middle East through Iraqi regime change (e.g., Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, Kristol, Perle), the NYT's Steven Weisman gets a twofer. 1) He doesn't look like he's been beaten by the WSJ's equally good piece of two days earlier, which emphasized the "remaking Mid-East" basis for the current war; 2) He gets to duck the touchy issue of Israel, and Perle's idea that replacing Saddam Hussein might (in the WSJ's words)
secure Israel's 'streets and borders' by forcing significant change in the Arab world.
How can you talk about one strand of the argument for the current war without talking about the other? The WSJ 's Greenberger and Leggett at least mention both. ...After reading David Frum's The Right Man, though, I'm skeptical of the WSJ's assertion that, as far as Bush himself goes, a concern with ousting Saddam is a post-9/11 phenomenon -- that when he took office, the president "didn't devote much thought to regime change in Iraq." This is not what Bush ex-speechwriter Frum says. Frum recalls that, at his first Oval Office meeting with Bush a few weeks after the latter took office, Bush discussed
his determination to dig Saddam Hussein out of power in Iraq.
And Frum was taking notes. So the Iraq hawks had gotten to Bush well before 9/11. (That's presumably why he gave them jobs in his administration!) ... 3:47 A.M.
Jo Moore Nominee: Blogger Brian Linse's nominee for the Jo Moore prize (for a significant story buried by the Iraq invasion news) is the NAACP's anti-gun lawsuit, which claims gun "manufacturers and distributors have long known how guns reached criminals but permitted illegal sales to continue" -- as the NYT put it on page A-35. Linse makes the trial -- expected to feature the testimony of a gun-company turncoat -- seem less crazy than it initially sounds, and a way bigger story (absent the war) than page A-35. ... Note: This isn't a case where a publicist or public affairs officer has intentionally buried a story under the war. But it's still a story that got buried. ... Links: Walter Olson on why it's a wacky suit, and why it's happening in Brooklyn. But just because it's wacky doesn't mean there's not news there. Dog sues man! ... 3:45 A.M.
The Beeb's Needs: Some American soldiers have now been killed and captured in Iraq. Journalists can react as WaPo's Tom Ricks does, with a sensible analysis that doesn't dwell on the few casualties, but does note the now-apparent risks of the U.S. military strategy: long supply lines, restrictive rules of combat, little pre-invasion bombardment, and what seems to be an overoptimistic reliance on psycholgical warfare -- all based on "the premise that the senior Iraqi leadership, not the military, is the enemy." ...
Or you can take the line of the BBC broadcast I heard -- how this a) had to be a serious blow to U.S. troop morale and public support for the war and b) how if that wasn't true it was because Americans were out for bloody vengeance after 9/11. Both the charge (a) and the rebuttal (b) seem highly questionable to me. Isn't it more likely that the televised humiliation of prisoners will motivate U.S. soldiers (and voters) by making them ... well, very angry and determined? And if a handful of casualties doesn't cause American public will to crumble, is it because of some crude, vengeful bloodlust or a more sensible perspective on individual casualties after the mass casualties of 9/11 - as well as the realization that the outcry after the loss of 17 soldiers in Somalia was perceived as weakness by al Qaeda, among others. ... P.S. The Iraqi "Somalia" strategy may be effective in one respect -- if it angers our soldiers so much that they become less reluctant to take Iraqi lives, undermining the risky, but probably wise, don't-kill-many-Iraqis approach Ricks describes. ... P.P.S.: A Brit friend had emailed on Friday to defend the BBC, and I was going to write that maybe I'd overreacted. (The radio newscast I heard Friday night wasn't as bad). But now I'm back with Sullivan and his readers. ... 1:39 A.M.
Sunday, March 23, 2003
Sunday, March 23, 2003
You Don't Know 'Sack':
"The sacking of Basra, surrounded since Friday by British troops and American Marines, would mark a victory for the allies." -- MSNBC news report, based on "NBC, MSNBC and news services."
"Sacking"? My online dictionary defines "sack" as meaning "ravage, depredate, desecrate, desolate, despoil, devastate, devour, pillage, spoliate, waste." Is that what we plan to do in Basra? Or is this the celebrated anti-American bias of certain "news services" creeping into the copy of Slate's sister site? ... At last report, we were trying to bribe Basra with promises of aid, not pillage it. ... Update -- Kausfiles Gets Results: "Sacking" in the MSNBC story has been changed to "taking." ... Today, MSNBC. Tomorrow, CNBC! The day after tomorrow, the world! ... 11:51 A.M.
Friday, March 21, 2003
"Glasses of Evil!" That was the phrase in David Frum's first draft. ...
Update: Up, Up, Down, Down has early, in-depth coverage of this issue. (Scroll to the bottom.) ...1:55 P.M.
Kerry Bombs: "Front runner" John Kerry didn't do so well at the recent California Democratic state convention, according to William Bradley. And it wasn't just because the delegates hated his pro-war vote -- John Edwards, who also voted for the war, seems to have been much more successful. Here's Bradley on both. ...
His vote last fall giving George W. Bush the authority needed to launch a war against Iraq prompted some Kerry gymnastics ... as the senator explained how he was changing his position without, um, changing his position. Even more worrisome for Kerry partisans than his parsing of his position on the war -- he would be for an Iraq war if necessary but not this war so undiplomatically put together by this president -- should be his performance at [the state party chairman's] reception Friday night. ...Kerry treated this event, which usually takes the form of a meet-and-greet affair, as something far more formal, delivering a 40-minute address that most of the crowd quickly tuned out.
To his credit, Edwards did not dodge or try to spin his position on the Iraq war, earning widespread boos from convention delegates when he said that military action is needed to remove the threat of Saddam Hussein. Despite the boos, Edwards delivered an otherwise well-received speech, frequently interrupted by applause, in which he skillfully turned his surface image as a wealthy, pretty-boy. ...
Methodological note: As a contributor to the fast-paced world of Internet journalism, you have to discipline yourself to go off half-cocked. You can mull over your initial impressions, testing them against available evidence over the course of weeks, slowly coming to a conclusion. Or you can go with your best instinct and change your mind later if you're wrong! The first route maybe works if you're David Broder (at least it's what David Broder seems to do). The second route works best for everyone else -- especially on the Web, where the clash of all those insta-takes gets to the truth in about a thousandth of the time it takes a Broder to pronounce judgment. "First impression, best impression," as Allen Ginsberg might say. I've gone with my first impression of Kerry, which reassuringly jibes with the longstanding press' CW on Kerry -- that he's an overambitious positioner who threw someone else's medals over the wall. I've yet to see much evidence that clashes with this paradigm. ... 1:25 P.M.
My local NPR station (KCRW) has started running BBC broadcasts in the evening. Now I know what Andrew Sullivan's been talking about! ... And James Lileks is right about the British network's near-permanent anti-U.S. sneer. (There was also a hilarious segment in which the Beeb's man-on-the-scene, in the best British tradition, had chosen to report on the mood of the American citizenry from "Lake County" in California -- i.e., California wine country. He managed to find a few Republican citizens and make them sound like comically rabid John Birchers.) ... If I were in the Bush White House, I too would be paranoid and suspect the BBC's airing of Bush's pre-speech primping wasn't just an honest mistake. ... Update: Various kf readers in the area tell me that Lake County, though it has some wineries, is much more low-rent and Republican than neighboring Napa and Sonoma. I didn't know that. ... Er, what I mean is, it doesn't change the point! The Beeb's man-on-the-scene found a place where he could send home a cartoon image of moronic Americans and yet be a short drive away from some spectacular vacation countryside and fine dining. Very British of him, as I said. ... 12:35 P.M.
Steve Waldman (writing in the Beliefnet blog of spirituality!) wants to take all the fun out of war. But he has a point. ... 12:08 P.M.
Tim Rutten has written a very generous column about warblogging in the LAT. He concludes that the actual onset of military action may reduce the role of blogs "as the appetite for facts trumps the taste for opinion." I tend to disagree. Blogs should thrive whenever the conventions of the mainstream press prevent it from doing something that's worth doing. One of those conventions is the suppression of opinion journalism in the name of "objectivity" -- which means opinionated bloggers have something to add. (In the runup to the current war, this advantage was actually diminished -- there were opinions all over the established media.) But the anti-opinion bias isn't the only blindering media convention. During war, for example, there's a tendency to buy the government's line for a few days -- in part out of patriotism, in part in order to not offend sources, in part to not offend viewers and readers. Blogs can be a source of skeptical analysis -- see item below -- especially when the "facts" come so fast and furious they simply can't be analyzed fast enough (even without a pro-government bias) except by harnessing the distributed analytic power of the blogosphere! ... Bloggers can also speculate about information that reporters are constrained from disclosing for security reasons. (Since they're only bloggers, no enemy would believe them!) ... And there are some bloggers -- "Salam Pax" being the most obvious example -- who are simply in a position to know things others have a hard time finding out. ... [This is just your bid to get invited to more blogger panels, isn't it?-ed. I miss the fast life.] 2:19 A.M.
Gregg Easterbrook is appropriately skeptical of claims that the Patriot defense system shot down two Iraqi missiles, noting that similar claims during the last Gulf War proved optimistic. But, as he notes, the Patriot is a vastly improved system now, and there's always a first time. ... He also notes the general feebleness of Iraq's military response. So far, this is not the doomsday boobytrap we gave Saddam months to prepare, which is good. Perhaps he is also far less advanced in the development of WMDs than we feared -- which would be bad, no? ... 1:48 A.M.
Thursday, March 20, 2003
I finally looked at the now-famous web site of "Salam Pax," an apparent Iraqi blogging from whatever house he's huddled in in Baghdad. He seems real to me, and well worth the click. (He appears to have rapidly debunked a BBC report that the U.S. had taken over Iraqi state radio, for example.) He could become addictive. ... [Link via Blogspotting via Instapundit.] Update: Paul Boutin tries to figure out if "Salam" is authentic. ... 5:37 P.M.
How depressing is it that Bruce Springsteen's fallen for Robert Coles' schtick? Except that there's not much evidence in the normally-sharp Jacques Steinberg's piece that Springsteen's "quietly been friends for nearly seven years" with Coles in any particularly intense way. There's a lot of evidence of Coles' talent for publicizing himself by associating himself with the famous. ... P.S.: It's possible Springsteen's easily won over. The right's missionaries may have missed a real bet when they didn't cultivate him. (Suggestion: Task it to the blonde conservative pundit who is a former Deadhead!) ... 5:16 P.M.
Jo Moore Day: Jo Moore was the British government aide who famously wrote in an email on September 11, 2001, that it was "a good day to get out anything we want to bury." Today's a Jo Moore day too -- a good day for P.R. men and public affairs officers to hide bad news by releasing it when it will be drowned out by the war news. Which means it's also a good day to keep an eye on small stories on the inside pages of the paper. They are likely to include some front-page disasters. ... Certainly the abrupt resignation of a senior White House antiterrorism official wouldn't have been reported on page A-12 of WaPo two weeks ago. ... 1:50 A.M.
I suppose it would be good to kill Saddam Hussein with the opening shot of the war. But it's not hard to imagine circumstances in which it would not be good -- i.e. if a new strongman emerged who claimed to repudiate Saddam, offered up some prominent Baathists, and pledged to really open up Iraq to U.N. inspectors. Would we press an attack then? What if the new leader actually turned over a whole bunch of chemical and biological weapons Saddam had been hiding? It might be very difficult to justify continuing an invasion in those circumstances -- and yet the job would once again be left half-done, or three-quarters done. ... Could we trust the new government? ... We might end up with the opprobrium of the world, but no crowds cheering us as liberators, no "prosperous and free" Iraq and no guarantee of disarmament. ... No wonder they had a four hour meeting before deciding to strike. ...12:50 A.M.
Bart Gellman, reporting like a platoon of Bart Gellmans in WaPo, says we've got new data on Iraq's chem and bio weapons from Iraqi operatives in foreign capitals whom we've recently strong-armed. One hopes this is true. But Gellman also notes:
Officials said the United States has more information on Hussein's weapons programs than it has shared publicly or with U.N. inspectors.
Wouldn't the "new leads" from the foreign operatives provide the perfect cover for the use of old information we'd withheld from inspectors? We discover a chemical weapon -- Gee, we hadn't known about it before, Mr. Annan, honest. It was just a "new lead" that came in a couple of days ago! ... G.P.S. P.S.: Elsewhere, Gellman and Dana Priest explain why in the 1991 war we couldn't have reprogrammed our cruise missiles as fast as we did yesterday for the attempted "decapitation" strike. ... 12:38 A.M.
Wednesday, March 19, 2003
Iraqi dissident Kanan Makiya -- in what could be a valuable war diary, and post-war diary, in TNR -- notices that President Bush didn't use the word "democracy" in his war speech. (Bush called for a "new Iraq that is prosperous and free.") Makiya doesn't raise the obvious point --which wouldn't help his democratic cause -- that an Iraqi democracy might be highly unfriendly to the U.S. in the not-so-distant future. (The shorthand for this argument is "Algeria.") Instead, Makiya claims that the administration's very lack of international support has caused it to be on its best behavior, as far as post-invasion administration goes:
With little international support for this war, the administration has calculated that it cannot afford to lose support from the Iraqi people.
Undersecretary of Defense Doug Feith reassured him of this. ... Why do I think that Makiya might be too-easily reassured? ... Update:Kf reader Y suggests Makiya is just playing naive. ... 4:37 P.M.
Larry Lessig falls for John Edwards. The Stanford law prof is not wildly convincing. ("But there was something different in this candidate this time. There was nothing crafted or rhetorical: it was simple and direct.") You had to be there, I guess. But this isn't the sort of emotional reaction I see people having with, say, "front runner" John Kerry. (Democrats say they like Kerry, he seems presidential, he's taken some positions they like and they think he can win -- here's a wishful Kerry booster piece that takes the unemotional tack I'm talking about.) More evidence that Bob Shrum backed the wrong horse. ... P.S.: Here's Kerry's war statement -- a multi-part symphony of positioning. (What was "thirty additional days for additional real multilateral coalition building" going to get us?) Compare with Bill Clinton's far more straightforward war statement. 3:27 P.M.
I love Heather Mac Donald when she's angry. ... 1:44 P.M.
More relief for the rich: BMW design chief Chris Bangle may have surrendered in his campaign to make BMWs live up to some hothouse avant-garde art text. Autoweek reports that Bangle's team has been desperately restyling the expensive new 7-series sedan, removing forced eccentricities like the weird "eybrows" molded into the headlights. ... Gee, it seems like only a few months ago that Bangle was boasting in the NYT that this very sedan was "the first car of the century ... miles apart from anything that came before." ... And the 7-series isn't even the ugly one! That would be the disastrously "flame surfaced" Z4 sports car. It's the one that's "as big a jump in terms of aesthetic value systems as there was between an Eve before the fall... and an Eve after the fall," according to Bangle. ... [Shouldn't this item be in "Gearbox"?--ed. Yes. Gearbox will return soon.] ... 12:57 A.M.
Tuesday, March 18, 2003
'No Chemistry' update: Even the French say they would join the war if Saddam uses chemical or bio weapons. ... Never Mind! The French "clarify" their offer (in a Reuters dispatch). "What we are talking about is medical assistance." .... 5:11 P.M.
Stix Nix Blix Trix! The hed that was waiting to happen! The peg: A Gallup Poll shows the American heartland -- rejecting the opinion of urban elites! -- supports by a margin of 66% to 30% Bush's decision to cut short the controversial U.N. inspections and issue an anti-Saddam ultimatum. ... 3:42 P.M.
No Chemistry? On This Week last Sunday, Secretary of State Colin Powell said this of U.S. troops invading Iraq:
I'm quite confident they will find evidence of the presence of chemical and biological weapons and some elements of a nuclear infrastructure and I think that that's, there's no question about that in my mind.
If Saddam was smart, and was really concerned with making himself look good and the U.S. look bad after he's deposed, then his strategy wouldn't be to use his chemical weapons. It would be to destroy his chemical weapons, and the evidence of their existence, wouldn't it? [Thanks to alert kf reader D.J.] ... Note that such a strategy would not be inconsistent with the plans suggested by Amir Taheri in the N.Y. Post, all of which do not require chemical weapons, but which rely mainly on non-WMD weapons, and Iraqi civilians, to slow U.S. forces. ... A non-chemical defense would seem essential if, as Taheri suggests, Saddam is relying on the U.N. to broker a cease-fire that saves him. ... P.S.: Of course, this wouldn't preclude Saddam from slipping a few chem or bio weapons to terrorists for later use against the U.S.. It would only preclude him from actually using them on the batlefield in Iraq. ... 3:25 P.M.
Unfortunately, George W. Bush is one of a tiny number of Americans -- almost all of them named Bush -- who are unable to emphasize the one slogan that might be most effective in mobilizing troops and citizenry in the coming Iraq War. The slogan is "Finish the Job." Bush can't use it, of course, because it would make the war look like a personal obsession with undoing his father's mistake in not finishing the job in 1991. ... 3:49 A.M.
Clinton Backs Bush's War ... Well, Blair's, Anyway ... Ex-president Bill Clinton, embracing a Bushian interpretation of Resolution 1441 and blaming "Russia and France," with surprising decisiveness (and no "Bush-botched-it" sniping) comes to the defense of the British P.M. in The Guardian. The thesis graf:
As Blair has said, in war there will be civilian was well as military casualties. There is, too, as both Britain and America agree, some risk of Saddam using or transferring his weapons to terrorists. There is as well the possibility that more angry young Muslims can be recruited to terrorism. But if we leave Iraq with chemical and biological weapons, after 12 years of defiance, there is a considerable risk that one day these weapons will fall into the wrong hands and put many more lives at risk than will be lost in overthrowing Saddam. [Emphasis added.]
I look forward to "BJ"'s favorable mention and link in Lucianne. ... 2:56 A.M.
Monday, March 17, 2003
Solid "50-Cent" scener by WaPo's Segal. He's there when the deal goes down! It's a sophisiticated exegesis of a sociological phenomenon! ... OK, it's not. It's more the sort of thing you'd never read in the exegetic NYT:Loose, funny, not written with geriatric earnestness (B. Weinraub) or ironic condescension. Yet it's still a crib sheet for the uninformed. ... Jodi Kantor, are you reading this? 10:41 P.M.
More Blix Trix: More evidence that inspections might have come up with something -- but the U.S. was holding back its intelligence -- comes from Pincus and Woodward on Page A17 in Sunday's WaPo. CIA director Tenet's assertion that we've given "detailed information on all of the high-value ... sites" to inspectors is counterposed against the following blind-sourcery:
These [senior intelligence] officials said the administration is withholding some of the best intelligence on suspected Iraqi weapons -- uncertain as it is -- from U.N. weapons inspectors in anticipation of war. ...
A CIA spokesman refused to discuss the matter. But some officials charge the administration is not interested in helping the inspectors discover weapons because a discovery could bolster supporters in the U.N. Security Council of continued inspections and undermine the administration's case for war.
"We don't want to have a smoking gun," a ranking administration official said recently. He added, "I don't know whether the point is to embarrass Blix or embarrass Saddam Hussein."
Another official familiar with the intelligence said, "Not all the top sites have been passed to the inspectors."
Again, if this was the administration's policy, I don't understand it, even accepting that what we wanted was a war and not ongoing inspections. The discovery of a smoking gun or two would seem, on balance, to have strengthened the U.S. case for disarmament through war, by providing irrefutable proof that Saddam was not only failing to cooperate but also hiding banned terror weapons. And it would have made the invasion now underway more acceptable to the world. It's not as if the failure of inspections won us a lot of Security Council support, is it? .... 4:37 P.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" Lucianne.com--Stirs 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. Overlawyered.com--Daily 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 Paine.com--Web-lib populists. B-Log--Blog of spirituality! Nonzero--Bob Wright explains it all. [More tk.