The Likudnik Factor

The Likudnik Factor

The Likudnik Factor

A mostly political Weblog.
Feb. 14 2003 4:39 AM

The Likudnik Factor

Plus: Don't rush Pinch either.

Don't Rush Me, II: "The Likudniks are really in charge now."WaPo's Robert Kaiser has tried to raise an issue that Slate's Michael Kinsley attempted to raise a few months ago, namely the influence, among the administration's hawks, of what Kaiser carefully calls people with "loyalty to strong positions in support of Israel and Likud."  Kinsley wrote that "the role of Israel in the thinking of [President Bush]  is the "proverbial elephant in the room: Everybody sees it, no one mentions it."

Like the New Yorker's Nicholas Lemann, Kaiser notes without much comment that three top Bush hawks (Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, David Wurmser) were on an 8-person committee that in 1996 proposed to incoming Likud Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

that he abandon the Oslo peace accords negotiated in 1993 and reject the basis for them -- the idea of trading "land for peace." Israel should insist on Arab recognition of its claim to the biblical land of Israel, the 1996 report suggested, and should "focus on removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq." [Emphasis added]


As someone trying to make up his mind about the war, am I troubled by the unspoken, widely-acknowledged influence of the Likudniks? Yes! I'm not a Mideast expert. I'm an ordinary citizen with inherently limited and imperfect information. How close is Saddam really to having a bomb? How long would neighboring Arab states tolerate a massive U.S. troop presence to back up inspections? Even "senior government officials" don't know the answers to these questions, but I will never know as much as they do. To some extent, they are asking me – us -- to trust them. Which means it's very relevant to us ordinary citizens what conscious or subconscious motives might be skewing their decision in favor of war.

Am I suggesting these people might have dual loyalties? To paraphrase Leon Wieseltier, why only two? People have multiple loyalties; life is complicated. (If my grandfather had been a singlemindedly loyal citizen of his country, Germany, rather than a Jew with both patriotic and internationalist sympathies, he'd have loyally stayed in Frankfurt with his family when Hitler came to power, and I wouldn't be here.)

That's not to say that Bush's advisers aren't patriots who put what they perceive to be America's interests first in a crunch. (Maybe that 1996 memo was in part an attempt to nudge Israel into doing our bidding on Iraq!)  But, of course, their complicated loyalties might still subconsciously influence what they perceive to be their country's interest. Does any self-reflective person deny that such subconscious influences are at work in all of us?

Isn't it better to discuss this issue out in the open before the war starts? Surely Perle and Feith can defend themselves eloquently (and if they can't, maybe we should hear that too). On the other hand, imagine the potential for conspiratorial anti-Semitic mischief if the war goes badly and sub-rosa Web-fed resentment focuses blame on the unpublicized Likudnik factor.


P.S.: Kinsley, in his extensive "to be sure" paragraph, says that "[the] president's advisors, Jewish and non-Jewish, sincerely believe that the interests of America and Israel coincide. What's more, they are right about that, though they may be wrong about where that shared interest lies." [Emphasis added] But that's a little too neat, isn't it? Sure, ultimately the interests of America and Israel – in a peaceful, prosperous, democratic Middle East – coincide. And, sure, the main argument is about where this shared interest lies.  But in the short to medium run it's entirely possible that two countries national interests will diverge a bit. To pick the most obvious example, even a quick, victorious war with Iraq carries a huge risk to the U.S. of inciting terror strikes by enraged Islamic fundamentalists on the American mainland. Yet it's hard to see how enraged Islamic fundamentalists could inflict any more barbarous terror on Israel than they're already trying to inflict. So the marginal downside of a war for Israel (once the immediate threat of Saddam's Scuds and other weapons is removed) could be a lot smaller than the downside to the U.S..

In other respects, the risks to Israel may be greater than the risks to America. But the point is that the interests, even of two such close allies, can and almost certainly do diverge. ... 1:08 A.M.

Correction: Today's entries were written by a Microsoft contractor blogging on condition of anonymity, not by "Mickey Kaus." ... P.S.: Wasn't that NYT correction  saying that the author of a quote was "not Condoleezza Rice" a ... well, a lie. As Today's Papers suggests, it's pretty obvious it was Condoleeza Rice, isn't it? Maybe that was the Times' little joke -- to serve her right for complaining. But it's still a lie. ... Why not do what WaPo once did to one of her predecessors, and run her picture over the caption "an administration official"? ... 12:22 A.M.

Thursday, February 13, 2003  

Ryan Lizza inaugurates his "Campaign Journal" with a solid Kerry column  that effectively captures the shivs-drawn attitude of other campaigns and of the press. ... Kerry's best hope, after what one hopes will be his speedy post-surgery recovery, may be that his many enemies press the obvious "two-faced" charge so early and overzealously that it plays out before too many actual voters are paying attention -- and thus perversely inoculates him against a repetition of the charge when it really counts, next winter. [So people like  Jacoby and Kurtz and Vennochi and Coulter and Beinart and you have been doing him a favor?--ed. Unfortunately. But does he call to thank?] 2:36 A.M.


Dr. Manhattan has one all-too-plausible terror scenario to watch out for. ...2:30 A.M.

Aren't ex-President Clinton's answers to Katie Couric about his Marc Rich pardon newsworthy? They're at least revealing: 1) Clinton claims Bush would have pardoned Marc Rich if he hadn't! 2) He also seems to let it slip that the investigation of the Rich pardon is still going on -- "[H]e wouldn't be being investigated. ... It's been two years now, and the Justice Department has not charged him." [Emphasis added] ... P.S.: The former president also does a suitably Clintonesque job of not answering the question of whether he'd attack Iraq without a second U.N. resolution. [Thanks to valued "Source X"] 1:50 A.M.

Obvious point: If Osama bin Laden were dead and buried under the rubble in Tora Bora, and you were working in the al Qaeda public affairs shop, you might want to fake a few pungent posthumous proclamations before you had him, conveniently, predict his own demise. ... 1:22 A.M.

The mystery of who runs Media Whores Online doesn't seem too important right now, I agree. But there's a big clue on the MWO site right now. ...  I think I know that door! It looks like a Georgetown, D.C. door ... There's even a house number. ... Take it away, Lloyd Grove! ... 1:10 A.M.


Wednesday, February 12, 2003  

Like virtually the entire political press corps, I'm a diligent reader and admirer of ABC's free-on-the-Web "Political Note." It surveys the day's events so thoroughly and smartly that it's often difficult to imagine there could be anything left to say. (This is not just the suck-up set-up before the "but" paragraph.) Like the best novels about campaigning (e.g., Primary Colors) the Note has a knowing admiration for the semi-cynical craft of politics. Here is a passage from its extensive, insidery coverage of Senator Kerry's prostate operation:

Props to Kerry and his media team for their handling of this, right down to the carefully prepared briefing book. Kerry himself walked into the press conference yesterday armed with two of the most key chapters of "Chris Lehane's Great Big Book of Press Management: Chapter 3: "Get All the Facts Out and Completely," and Chapter 4: "Set a Tone of Levity and Lightness."

The problem is, the Note is so knowingly appreciative of the craft of stage-managing campaigns that it may miss a key point about Kerry's campaign, which is precisely that it's entirely too artificial and stage managed. Tha means Kerry's prostate cancer operation "helps" him, in the unsentimental political sense, in a way it might not "help" another candidate -- namely by emphasizing to voters that he's in fact a liviing, breathing human being and not a continually trimmed and positioned semi-holographic self-creation. ... 12:56 P.M.


Tuesday, February 11, 2003

Crusade = Error? Is the New York Times now admitting it got a bit carried away while flooding the zone on Enron? Dr. Manhattan  is paying attention. ... Not so fast:Slate's "Today's Papers" argues that the Times actually fails to acknowledge its true culpability, shifting the blame to the "many people" who seized on its Ken Lay reporting as "evidence of duplicity." Donald Luskin agrees that the NYT isn't coming clean, and he appears to have the goods. ...12:21 P.M.

Axes of Axles of Evil! The Rolling Stones recently played an anti-global-warming benefit in Los Angeles for the Natural Resources Defense Council, which identifies gas-guzzling automobiles and power plants as the cause of the warming problem. The Stones were introduced by ex-President Clinton and opened their set with the song "Start Me Up" -- which they just happened to have recently licensed to the Ford Motor Company for use in TV spots in which it's used to promote the fuel-thirsty, greenhouse-gas-emitting Ford Explorer SUV. ... Reader Rimshot: Alert reader B.S. writes: "Isn't it hypocritical of them to deny that good things can come from really old fossils."  1:06 A.M.

Monday, February 10, 2003

Don't Rush Him! It's official: "We really haven't made up our minds" on a war with Iraq, says NYT publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr., displaying a clarity absent from his paper's murky, question-evading editorials. ... I'm with Pinch. ... 4:39 P.M.

Kerry "Calculation" Meme Achieves Critical Mass: They called kf irresponsible for pointing out Sen. John Kerry's gross characterological deficiencies before Kerry had a chance to display them on the campaign trail. But it didn't take long! It's been barely two months since Kerry declared for president, and he's already 1) zig-zagged opportunistically on the Iraq war issue and 2) zig-zagged opportunistically on the dividend taxation issue. (Kerry called for "ending the double taxation of dividends" in his major December economic speech and then denounced President Bush's plan, which ends the double taxation of dividends, for creating "unaffordable new tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans.") Now -- amazingly and all-too-predictably -- Kerry has started rhapsodizing about the Jewish roots he's been ignoring for decades, according to Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby:

''I am so excited,'' he told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee during a dinner last week at Congregation B'nai Israel of Palm Beach. ''A light has literally turned on within me -- like an epiphany -- and I am proud to share this special measure of connection with you.''

But didn't Kerry only recently discover his Jewish roots? No! As Jacoby points out, he's known about his Jewish grandmother for 15 years, yet he "rarely spoke about it in public." Nor does he seem to have been especially eager, over the past few decades, to uncover the fact that he has no Irish heritage at all, despite his surname. Kerry never, for example, wrote to correct the Globe when the paper described him as Irish, according to Jacoby (though the paper has run numerous Kerry corrections over the years). ...

Jacoby also takes a stab at winning the fiercely-contested Kerry Mystery Challenge with this one-sentence description of Kerry's fatal flaw:

His reactions are relevant only because they seem to fit his career-long pattern of equivocation and calculation -- trying whenever possible to have it both ways, always maneuvering to leave himself an out.

Not bad! But I think Kerry's problem isn't simple, run-of-the-mill calculating opportunism. It's more comically transparent calculating opportunism, of which his Jewish "epiphany" is a good illustration.  In other words, his opportunistic zig-zagging is so instantaneous and shameless -- changing week-to-week in the case of Iraq -- that it becomes counterproductive, losing Kerry the benefit the opportunism is supposed to gain. Why suddenly turn Jewish just when half the press corps is ready to pounce on any indication of convenient chameleonism? How dumb is that? It's calculation, but also incompetent calculation -- not what you look for in a president. ... Now the press has three recent examples of Kerry flip-flops. And every reporter knows if you have three examples you have a trend. ...

P.S.: I forgot. He tactically zig-zagged on the death penalty too. That's four. ...

P.P.S.: Kerry also ostentatiously agonized about affirmative-action when that was an attention-getting thing for a thoughtful Democrat to do in 1992, before retreating. Recently he told NPR's Tavis Smiley "I have a vision that says we should have affirmative action in the country." But it's hard to find many other clear, unequivocal recent statements by Kerry of support for affirmative action. (You won't find any on his web site, for example.) Maybe Kerry's still genuinely agonizing, or cynically straddling, or keeping open the option of eventually opposing racial preferences (perhaps while defending some 'original' limited idea of "affirmative action"). Or maybe this flip just hasn't completely flopped back yet (the way it has for erstwhile agonizer Joe "Please Don't End It" Lieberman). ... 2:12 P.M.

Friday, February 7, 2003

I can think of two arguments against Bob Wright's case for delaying waruntil 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 If Iraq fails to deliver them, or if any scientist 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. (OK, 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.





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.