a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

Plame and Wilson: still “Fair Game” for the Washington Post

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 6th December 2010

This weekend I saw the movie “Fair Game,” and I highly recommend it.  I also highly recommend you read the Washington Post editorial condemning the movie, which might be titled “Who ya gonna believe — us or your lying eyes?”  It should become Exhibit A for evidence of the true function of the Washington Post: not so much a newspaper as the lying mouthpiece of the permanent government of the United States.

The online version of the Post will tell you online that a Saturday, December 4 editorial in that paper was headlined “Hollywood myth-making on Valerie Plame controversy.” But that’s just the first lie you’ll encounter in this hit piece, which was actually titled “Dirty ‘Game’” in the print edition.  The piece begins, “WE’RE NOT in the habit of writing movie reviews. But the recently released film “Fair Game” – which covers a poisonous Washington controversy during the war in Iraq – deserves some editorial page comment, if only because of what its promoters are saying about it,” and continues:

…Fair Game,” based on books by Mr. Wilson and his wife, is full of distortions – not to mention outright inventions. To start with the most sensational: The movie portrays Ms. Plame as having cultivated a group of Iraqi scientists and arranged for them to leave the country, and it suggests that once her cover was blown, the operation was aborted and the scientists were abandoned. This is simply false. In reality, as The Post’s Walter Pincus and Richard Leiby reported, Ms. Plame did not work directly on the program, and it was not shut down because of her identification.

That’s interesting, because what Pincus and Leiby actually reported was this:

As reporters who covered the Plame CIA leak affair, as it came to be known, we compared the reality of what unfolded in Washington in that era against the events that the screenwriters and director of “Fair Game” boiled into their narrative. The movie holds up as a thoroughly researched and essentially accurate account — albeit with caveats.

Moreover, the “caveats” amount to quibbles — mainly about the centrality of Plame’s precise role in the Iraqi scientist program, and this: “[a]lthough the film suggests that the blowing of Valerie’s cover led directly to the shutdown of the Iraqi scientist exfiltration, an intelligence insider told us: “Something like this, if it was going on, wouldn’t have been canceled for this reason.” Well, say no more!  Any anonymous intelligence insider’s word should do for a Washington Post reader.

But even if you take the ‘agency officials’ and ‘insiders’ at their word and grant the accuracy of their estimates,

(1) whether or not the exfiltration was canceled because Plame’s cover was blown by Novak’s article doesn’t change that the blown cover put the Iraqis at greater risk, and
(2), Plame’s fundamental connection to the pre-war CIA Iraq WMD investigation — whether her spot in some CIA org chart was ‘central,’ ‘direct,’ ‘lateral,’ or ‘upside down’  — is actually substantiated by the Pincus/Leib report.

As the reporters write, “The movie effectively dispenses with the canard that Valerie Plame Wilson was not a covert operative” – rebutting a frequent suggestion at the time that no real crime had been committed in revealing her CIA connection.

The editorial also revives the myth that Bush’s famous sixteen words in his 2003 State of the Union speech — “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa” — were in fact “well founded,” citing the Butler Report and the Roberts Senate Foreign Affairs Committee report. Setting aside the metaphysics of whether believing something happened when it clearly didn’t could ever be ‘well founded’, Steve Benen points out that’s not so: the White House knew the claims were dubious at the time… as the Washington Post’s own Peter Eisner reported 3 years ago:

Dozens of interviews with current and former intelligence officials and policymakers in the United States, Britain, France and Italy show that the Bush administration disregarded key information available at the time showing that the Iraq-Niger claim was highly questionable.*

The editorial also more or less baldly recycles the innuendo that Joe Wilson was recruited by his wife, as some kind of gift to a failing career, to go to Niger and look in to claims of a huge yellowcake shipment to Iraq (“it was long ago established that Mr. Wilson himself was not telling the truth – not about his mission to Niger and not about his wife.”).  But the movie shows very successfully, how that was always an intentional distraction: as Wilson asks a student forum, “How many of you know the sixteen words Bush said about uranium in Africa? ”  None raise their hands.  “How many of you know my wife’s name?”  Everyone raises their hands.

Meanwhile the Post hosts foaming-at-the-mouth neocons like Charles Krauthammer — delicately tiptoeing (as it were) to the brink of calling for Wikileaks founder Julian Assange’s assassination in a “might someone wield a poison umbrella and rid us of this meddlesome hacker” kind of way.  (This for publishing leaked material Assange first offered to the State Department for vetting for dangerous information.  Clearly, the Brezhnev-era KGB could have used Krauthammer, he’s their kind of guy.)  Earlier this year, after the similarly harmless Iraq leaks, Marc Thiessen called for development of a computer virus that would destroy computers accessing the Wikileaks site.    Don’t get me wrong: it’s Krauthammer’s and Thiessen’s perfect right to say whatever authoritarian, borderline insane notion crawls into their minds, and it’s the Post’s right and apparent duty to provide them with a lucrative platform to do so.  It’s also mine to despise them for wanting to actively and destructively reduce the information available to citizens of the United States.  (For its part, the Post editorial board has merely tut-tutted about lax security in the Pentagon that allowed the leaks.)

But back to “Fair Game” and Iraq.  Had the Washington Post not been an active party to the disastrous war fever that swept Washington and the country (and me along with it) back in 2002 and 2003, this might be merely pathetic, or perhaps darkly comical.  After all, we have here the Washington Post editorial board (presumably Fred Hiatt) twisting its own reporting and the facts in eerily precise analogy to the Bush White House twisting its intelligence findings or lack thereof.  There’s also evidence of learning from the Rovian master in how the Post piously decries the film as evidence of a “troubling trend of political debates in Washington in which established facts are willfully ignored” — a charge more sensibly leveled at Cheney, Bush, Rove …and the Washington Post, for that matter.   Good boy Freddy! — here’s a cocktail party invitation.

But the Post was a party to that war — as eager and willing to beat the drums then and now as Hearst’s yellow journalism was in other bad old days.  So it’s not pathetic and it’s not funny — it’s disgusting and it’s outrageous.  Almost worse — given its role as a newspaper of record in a republic allegedly professing democratic ideals and a distrust of power — it’s an active party to an ongoing propaganda campaign to twist and rewrite the history of that war.

The masthead of the Post’s editorial page reads “The Washington Post: An Independent Newspaper.”  Would that it were so.

* Moreover, as ThinkProgress’s Matt Duss points out, what the Butler report actually says is that British intelligence on the Iraq-Niger connection was seriously flawed, ignoring important caveats and relying on third hand reports to arrive at its conclusion.

NOTE: Something I first learned from the movie — and not disputed by Pincus/Leib or the editorial —  was that Wilson ascertained that the “sixteen words” in fact referred to the Niger claim he had debunked, and not some other corner of Africa.  I mention this because my initial reaction to the Wilson article in July 2003 — during my regrettable support for the Iraq War — was a rather technical view that the “sixteen words” were, at least on their face, carefully and plainly chosen enough not to be a lie: someone else made the claim and I thought it might not have been about Niger. That becomes unsupportable with this added piece of information.

UPDATE, 12/7: Peter Eisner leaves a comment (see below), and David Corn — author of Hubris, and editor at Mother Jones — weighs in (“Washington Post: Still Spinning the CIA Leak Case): “…it’s the Post editorial board that is ignoring key facts and selectively citing evidence to manufacture a narrative of its own liking: Joe Wilson lied, and Bush & Cheney did not (with an assist from the Post editorial page) mislead the nation into war. The difference between the editorialists and the filmmakers, though, is that Hiatt and his colleagues, as journalists, cannot claim dramatic license.”

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Van Hollen cuts and pastes views on Iran blockade resolution

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 3rd November 2008

I received an e-mail from Representative Chris Van Hollen’s office last week on the subject of H.Con.Res. 362, known to its detractors as the “Iran blockade resolution.”  (The e-mail may be read here.)

A disturbing part of that resolution (in my opinion) is:

[Congress] demands that the President initiate an international effort to immediately and dramatically increase the economic, political, and diplomatic pressure on Iran to verifiably suspend its nuclear enrichment activities by, inter alia, prohibiting the export to Iran of all refined petroleum products; imposing stringent inspection requirements on all persons, vehicles, ships, planes, trains, and cargo entering or departing Iran; and prohibiting the international movement of all Iranian officials not involved in negotiating the suspension of Iran’s nuclear program;…

(emphases added) …which — given this administration’s “ready, fire, aim” methods — still seems to me like waving a red cape in front of a bull in a china shop.” The gist of Van Hollen’s response to my own e-mail expressing opposition to H.Con.362 is this:

Some have interpreted language in the resolution as authorizing a blockade of Iran. The resolution makes no mention of military pressuremuch less a blockade. H. Con. Res. 362 calls for the President to seek the international community’s support for an export ban on refined petroleum, not a blockade. Iran does not export refined petroleum products, it imports them. Therefore an export ban on refined petroleum would be enforced by customs inspectors and export administrators on the territories of the exporting countries, not in the Persian Gulf. This method is already in use by the international community, including the United States to enforce the four existing UN Security Council resolutions imposing sanctions on Iran.

Finally, I draw your attention to the final whereas clause of the resolution which states in explicit language, “Whereas nothing in this resolution shall be construed as an authorization of the use of force against Iran.” Since a naval blockade is by definition the use of force, the language of the final whereas clause of this resolution renders the prospect of a naval blockade simply out of the question.

First, it is of no consequence whatsoever that Iran imports refined petroleum products — in fact, preventing imports is the traditional purpose of a blockade.  Second, the resolution itself speaks of “stringent inspection requirements on all persons, vehicles, ships, planes, trains, and cargo entering or departing Iran.

Now I’m not alone in suspecting that the language of the resolution is a reckless demand for a naval blockade — whatever its sponsors may have intended, the measures envisioned can not be carried out without inspections and, if necessary, interdictions at sea.  From a July 10, 2008 letter by Lawrence Korb, Vice Admiral Jack Shanahan (ret.), and Lt. General Robert Gard, Jr. (ret.) urging Congress to abandon the resolution:

• The language demanding the President initiate an international effort “prohibiting the export to Iran of all refined petroleum products; imposing stringent inspection requirements on all persons, vehicles, ships, planes, trains, and cargo entering or departing Iran,” is of particular concern because despite the protests of its sponsors, we believe that implementation of inspections of this nature could not be accomplished without a blockade or the use of force.

• Immense military resources would be required to implement such inspections of cargo moving through the seas, on the ground and in the air. The international community has shown no willingness to join in such an activity. Without a Security Council Resolution, implementation of these measures could be construed as an act of war.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Rating the Debate

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 28th September 2008

I didn’t get to see the knockout blow by Obama last night I confess I’d been crossing my fingers for; instead, the debate was a vivid demonstration of how narrow the field of debate is, and/or how unwilling Obama is to run outside the hash marks and set up some of that change he’s been promising. Examples (debate transcript via the New York Times):

I actually believe that we need missile defense, because of Iran and North Korea and the potential for them to obtain or to launch nuclear weapons  […]

Senator McCain is absolutely right that the violence has been reduced as a consequence of the extraordinary sacrifice of our troops and our military families.  […]

And to countries like Georgia and the Ukraine, I think we have to insist that they are free to join NATO if they meet the requirements, and they should have a membership action plan immediately to start bringing them in.  […]

[Iran has] gone from zero centrifuges to 4,000 centrifuges to develop a nuclear weapon.

To the contrary: if we’re ever hit by a nuclear weapon in the U.S., it will almost certainly arrive here not by missile, but in a container on a ship, truck, or train. The surge didn’t reduce violence, the successful conclusion to ethnic cleansing and al-Sadr’s decision to pocket his gains did. Fast-tracking Georgia into NATO is of less than no value to American interests compared to locking down loose nukes, something Obama said in the next breath was something he also wanted; he may have to choose. And while I seem to be the last person on the East Coast who remembers it, it was not one year ago that a National Intelligence Estimate stated, and I quote, We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program.

Even on Iraq, Obama couldn’t forebear to lead his criticisms with the observation that “We have weakened our capacity to project power around the world because we have viewed everything through this single lens,” as if our capacity to project power is itself the goal and point of American foreign policy.

I think Josh Marshall misses the point here: “I know that many Obama supporters are disappointed that he passed on various opportunities to deliver a smackdown that McCain couldn’t recover from. But having watched the guy for 18 months now, for better and worse, that’s not who he is.”  I realize that Obama is temperamentally not inclined to go for the jugular, and that may even be smart politics.  As hilzoy argued, his graciousness compared to McCain’s rudeness may be the dominant impression that many take away from the debate — something that burnishes his “bipartisan, get it done” credentials (not to mention his “not an angry old coot” credentials) much more than McCain’s.

The point wasn’t that Obama failed to smack McCain down, though I wish he had — say, on voting against the Webb G.I. bill, given McCain’s teary praise for vets.  (Bonus: would have got McCain mad, always good to watch for those just tuning in.)  No, it was actually and simply that he agreed on too much with McCain. As Jim Henley wrote after the debate:

As a symptom of the constriction of elite opinion, the debate was instructive less for the answers than even the questions. “Foreign policy” consists of wars and nothing but wars. It’s about whom you bomb or don’t, and whom you do or don’t convince to help you bomb someone.

The debate certainly also proved that there’s plenty of important stuff Obama is right about and McCain is wrong about.  But even if and when Obama wins this election, that will not be the end of all that’s wrong with our military and foreign policy.

Not all of that is Obama’s fault by any means.  Tonight, I saw a video by a group heretofore unknown to me: United Against Nuclear Iran.  It featured lots of ominous music, and repeated yet again the claim that Iran was building nuclear weapons. The video has one Richard Sokolsky talking about military measures as a way of stopping Iran’s alleged nuclear ambitions. And while known neocons Fouad Ajami and James Woolsey were two of the talking heads involved, so were ex-Clintonistas Dennis Ross and Richard Holbrooke.

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Off to Maine for a week

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 2nd August 2008

Blogging will be sparse at best. Meanwhile some items worth paying attention to:

Vital unresolved anthrax questions and ABC News (Glenn Greenwald) — Greenwald makes a pretty good case that the government’s case against Bruce Ivins (the Fort Detrick germ lab scientist who committed suicide), the m.o. of the anthrax terrorist, and ABC News’s false insistence at the time that lab results pointed to Iraq all add up to a case that urgently requires Congressional investigation. Whoever gave ABC the false “bentonite additive” story has a lot to answer for — very arguably the Iraq war.

Wal-Mart mobilizing against EFCA, pressuring “associates” on how to vote — That’s illegal, and that’s arguably what they’re doing by raising Obama’s support for the Employee Free Choice Act in in-store meetings. The charge is based on a Wall Street Journal article “Wal-Mart Warns of Democratic Win“:

The Wal-Mart human-resources managers who run the meetings don’t specifically tell attendees how to vote in November’s election, but make it clear that voting for Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama would be tantamount to inviting unions in, according to Wal-Mart employees who attended gatherings in Maryland, Missouri and other states.

The main link leads to “Americans Rights At Work,” where you can add your name to a petition urging the FEC to investigate Wal-Mart for potential election law violations.

Last and definitely not least, the ACLU is sounding the alarm about a jaw-dropping legislative initiative by Bush and Attorney General Mukasey:

After years of litigation, the Supreme Court recently ruled in Boumediene v. Bush that detainees held at Guantánamo have a right to challenge their detention through habeas corpus — the ancient freedom that protects people from being thrown in prison illegally, with no help, no end in sight and no due process. Habeas proceedings could allow detainees to bring up the fact that the evidence that the government has against them came from hearsay, or even torture and abuse. Courts could also release people who are detained indefinitely without charge. Attorney General Michael Mukasey wants to make sure neither of these things happen. That’s why he’s calling on Congress to authorize indefinite detention through a new declaration of armed conflict. He is also proposing that Congress subvert the right of habeas corpus with a new scheme to hide the Bush administration’s past wrongdoing — an action that would undermine the constitutional guarantee of due process and conceal systemic torture and abuse of detainees.

More here. Join the ACLU petition to your Representative and Senators here urging them to oppose this misbegotten idea. Thanks to Mick Arran and the Talking Dog for sounding the alarm as well. As Mick says: “Please let’s not give them this one.”

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Department of followups: obliteration, Altstoetter, UPDATE: Zimbabwe

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 11th May 2008

An occasional review of further developments in stuff I’ve written about before.

  • Past diminishing and well into negative returns…, April 24, 2008 — Responding to Senator Clinton’s threat to “obliterate” Iran if it were to attack Israel,* Iranian cleric and “Assembly of Experts” member Ahmed Khatami said:

    A disreputable American (presidential) candidate has said that if Iran attacks Israel, she will obliterate Iran if she is the president. I tell the American people, it is a shame for them that their presidents are servants of Israel without any willpower.

    What they are saying recently is just psychological war. However, if the crazy people in Washington or Tel Aviv take any military action, the Iranian nation will hit them with such a slap that they will not be able to get on their feet again.

    We are observing the siege of Shiite Sadr City in Iraq. It seems Americans would like to make what happened in Gaza happen in Sadr City too. We can only conclude that America is fighting Islam.

    What the “slap” would be is left to our imaginations, but Americans are now presumably in the collateral damage crosshairs if Iran chooses to retaliate for any American military action. A corollary to “violence begets violence” is “reckless, foolish talk begets reckless, foolish talk.”

  • Practice to deceive, April 22, 2008 — In prior posts I’ve echoed the suggestions of legal scholars like Scott Horton and Philippe Sands that the Nuremberg “Judges” or “Justice Trial”, a.k.a. U.S. v. Altstoetter, is a precedent for trying lawyers like John Yoo and David Addington for war crimes based on giving the color of law to illegal acts. However, writing at “Balkinization,” New Zealand legal historian Kevin Jon Heller argues otherwise:

    The bottom line, in my view, is that as reprehensible as Yoo’s opinions were –- and they were indeed reprehensible -– the case provides far less support for prosecuting him than most scholars assume.

    The key difficulty, Heller believes, is that none of the Altstoetter defendants merely gave legal advice; rather, all were also part of the Nazi legal machinery denying habeas corpus to prisoners and issuing verdicts. Heller asserts that the NMT (Nuremberg Military Tribunal) arguably convicted all the defendants for their deeds rather than their legal advice:

    … the mode of participation they use to convict a defendant -– ordering, aiding and abetting, joint criminal enterprise, etc. -– and often even fail to identify which of the defendant’s acts discussed in the judgment they consider criminal. […] … individual responsibility required the prosecution to prove “that a defendant had knowledge of an offense charged in the indictment . . . and that he was connected with the commission of that offense…

    Related posts at “Balkinization” include Marty Lederman’s setup for Heller, “What, if Anything, Does the Nuremberg Precedent Tell Us About the Criminal Culpability of Government Lawyers?,” acknowledging the potential relevance of Altstoetter, and “What’s the Relevance of Altstoetter, Anyway?” following Heller’s piece which reiterates Lederman’s skepticism about the propriety of Altstoetter-based criminal charges against Yoo et al for their “aspirational” readings of U.S. and international law, rather than an inquiry into whether constitutional obligations were breached.**

    However, Lederman also acknowledges Scott Horton’s comment about Heller’s post. There’s much more in Horton’s comment, but one part makes a point I made in “Practice to Deceive” — that the way in which the advice and directives were concealed argues for knowledge that said advice was criminal in nature:

    Philippe Sands’s key finding — if there is just one — is that the bottom up narrative that the Administration puts forward surrounding the introduction of torture techniques is a sham. He follows the story to its roots, and he finds that it is, to the contrary, a “top down” story, with a number of lawyers engaging in an elaborate scheme to cover it up with the paper trail that starts with the Diane Beaver memoranda. Key to this unraveling is the story of the senior lawyers’ trip to GTMO at the launch of the process, a trip about which Haynes repeatedly lied. Now it’s possible to explain this from a PR angle focused on domestic politics, which undoubtedly was a major focus of the White House throughout, but a prosecutor could just as well make the case that this shows recognition and belief that the scheme was essentially criminal (or presented substantial likelihood of criminal culpability) and thus needed to be concealed.

  • Zimbabwe: enough is enough, April 10, 2008 — The repression of Zimbabweans following their election of Morgan Tsvangirai (contested by Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party and state apparatus) continues unabated — but so far at least without the logistical resupply of a ship full of weapons sold by China to the Zimbabwean government. The An Yue Jiang was not allowed to dock in South Africa, Namibia or Angola — generally thanks to union activism in those countries.But Nell Lancaster (“A Lovely Promise”) points to a recent article at Sokwanele *** alerting readers that the government of Malawi may be the weak link in the chain of refusals to allow the ship to offload its deadly cargo. As the Sokawanele author Hope puts it, the case is important because (a) political violence in Zimbabwe continues, (b) the case has proven to be something people outside Zimbabwe can get involved in, and (c)…

    it is also forcing countries in the region to ‘nail their colours to the mast’, so to speak. In the open glare of the public eye, this story shows us which nations are concerned for the safety of the Zimbabwean people, and which ones are more concerned with the loyalty to the Zanu PF regime.

    The Malawi embassy in Washington, D.C. can be contacted at (202) 721-0274. Embassy e-mail addresses I’ve found include (Taiwan) and (UN); several others are listed here.

    * Clinton’s remarks to Chris Cuomo (emphases added): whatever stage of development they might be in their nuclear weapons program, in the next 10 years during which they might foolishly consider launching an attack on Israel, we would be able to totally obliterate them.” Like him or not, Khatami is justified to consider this, on careful consideration, as a (reckless) threat of nuclear retaliation by Clinton for a nonnuclear attack — even if, in a subsequent interview with Keith Olbermann, she conditions a U.S. nuclear response on an Iranian nuclear attack on Israel. In another interview with Andrea Schaefer, she claimed “facts on the ground have changed” since October 2007 (before the release of an NIE denying an active Iranian nuclear weapons program was underway) — and considered the notion of Iranian theocrat undeterrability plausible enough to repeat without qualification on national TV.
    ** Lederman thus at least implicitly concedes the possibility and potential propriety of impeachment proceedings against Yoo (and possibly the president) by Congress. As may or may not be well known, one of the consequences of a conviction for an impeachable act is that the convicted person may not hold federal office again. Both impeachment and conviction are thus useful and possible after that person has held federal office.
    *** The word means “Enough is Enough”; the site chronicles Mugabe’s repression and democratic resistance to it in Zimbabwe.

    NOTES: (1) Khatami remark link is to a Real News Network video clip, transcript, and translation of Khatami’s remarks. (2) Nell has an earlier post about the An Yue Jiang here.

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Past diminishing and well into negative returns…

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 24th April 2008

…on the value of this Democratic primary campaign. eRobin (“fact-esque”) and others see it differently, seeing the campaign as giving candidates a chance to hear from more voters:

…the more time they’re out there forced to compete for the votes of the people who want to hear about the candidates’ schemes to reverse the damage of the BushCo years, the better off the Democrats are for November.

In the abstract, I’d agree. Here, now, and with respect, I don’t, because I guess I’m not seeing the campaign they’re seeing.

The campaign I’m seeing features Hillary slingshotting rightward off of questions about flag lapel pins, the Iranian nuclear threat — remember, there isn’t one — and appearances and “toughness” generally. What people are likely to remember from Pennsylvania primary isn’t energy policy or college tuition support, but belligerent statements on Iran, “can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen”, and the hideous ABC debate (regardless of the crowd outside). The outcome will be either to bloody nominee Obama, or coronate nominee Clinton by overturning the pledged delegate and popular vote count via party elders… like herself. Yes, that would be nominally legit. No, it wouldn’t be good.

I’m particularly appalled by Clinton’s Iran war drum beating and her bizarre extension of a nuclear umbrella over not just Israel — which has its own nuclear weapons — but other Middle East countries. And for using Good Morning America to do it. I gave her the benefit of the doubt once about falling for hypotheticals (re the so-called “ticking time bomb” scenario); no more. Congratulations all around — Charles Krauthammer’s “Slim Pickens” fantasy is only two weeks old and already it’s taking shape as future U.S. policy.

In so doing, Hillary has all but single handedly revived the Iranian hardliner position for getting a deterrent of their own. And here’s the beauty part (if you’re a “Left Behind” fan or a Likudnik, that is): all without even trying to get a nuclear free zone including Israel in the Middle East — the only way I’d want an American president to even consider such a step. But wait, that’s not all: she’s also hemming and hawing about how Iran may be undeterrable — something that was a critical (il)logical* step to getting us into the Iraq War.

I surely won’t be pleased about it, but Clinton being more “likely to be bamboozled into another war” may (unfortunately) turn out to be the most accurate assessment I’ve ever made for the record. For all her vaunted experience, the closer I look at her Iran statements, and the more I think about them, the much worse she looks: like someone who is play-acting tough, and like someone who’s playing with fire.

If this kind of talk is punished at the polls, I’ll stand corrected that the Democratic primaries are serving a higher purpose. As it is, McCain could — if he were smart, and so inclined — flank Clinton from the left and undermine her “experience” bullet point with a variation on the “in your heart you know she’s nuts” strategy. After all, he just joked “bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran.” She was in earnest. She was talking about using nuclear weapons. And not even in retaliation for an attack on this country.

I’d like her not to.

* Obligatory “by me too.” NOTE: The embedded video collection above includes four clips substantiating the statements about Iran I’m attributing to Senator Clinton. Re Iranian undeterrability, she says in the Olbermann interview “I don’t buy that”, nosirree, but leaves that qualifier out in the Schaefer interview, inviting those viewers to believe the mad mullahs are all itching for a nucular showdown someday.

UPDATE, 4/25: Transcript of 4/23 Clinton exchange with Andrea Schaefer on “Morning Joe” (4th clip in embedded video above). Also, for how two experts think Iran should be addressed, tune in to this dialogue between ISIS Jackie Shire and Ploughshares Fund’s Joe Cirincione.
UPDATE, 5/4: Transcripts of the key parts of all 3 Hillary Clinton clips above (Cuomo=1st clip, Olbermann=2d clip, Schaefer=4th clip) are now here: Cuomo interview (“obliterate”), Olbermann interview (“would provoke a nuclear response”), Schaefer interview (“facts on the ground have changed”). The note above now specifies which interview is which.
UPDATE, 5/28: The Olbermann clip is no longer available in the video collection embedded above.

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Book tag: Shock Doctrine, Arsenals of Folly

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 5th March 2008

Having answered Jim Henley‘s call, Nell Lancaster has graciously tagged me, Gary Farber, and JanInSanFran with the task of supplying text — to wit, the 6th, 7th, and 8th sentences on page 123 — from the book closest to where each of us is sitting. I hear and obey — and tag eRobin, Avedon Carol, Tom, and Paul in turn.

At the time I read the tag, that book was “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism,” by Naomi Klein. For the designated sentences, the context is the Ford Foundation’s prior support for the “Chicago Boys” and “Berkeley Mafia” economics teams that helped bring about major impoverishment and repression of the lower and middle classes in Chile and Indonesia:

After the left in [Chile and Indonesia] had been obliterated by regimes that Ford had helped shape, it was none other that Ford that funded a new generation of crusading lawyers dedicated to freeing the hundreds of thousands of political prisoners being held by those same regimes.

Given its own highly compromised history, it is hardly surprising that when Ford dived into human rights, it defined the field as narrowly as possible. The foundation strongly favored groups that framed their work as legalistic struggles for the “rule of law,” “transparency,” and “good governance.”

I once threatened to try to write about this excellent book, but by now I’d need to reread it to do it justice. The book enraged many libertarian writers for its well-documented portrayal of Milton Friedman as the intellectual godfather of Pinochet/Argentine style economic warfare — and hence of the repression that went hand in hand with that warfare. Yet Klein’s critique of the Iraq disaster bonanza ought to have rung a bell with many of those same writers, if they got that far.

I actually finished that book a while ago; in case this is supposed to be about the book I’m reading, that one is “Arsenals of Folly: The Making of the Nuclear Arms Race,” by Richard Rhodes. The text is from a 1984 address by Jerome Wiesner, arguing that it would take just 50 nuclear weapons to put American or Russian society “out of business,” and 300 to destroy it.

It would take a bigger bomb for Los Angeles or New York. If you are a weapons expert you know you should “pepper ’em down”; you would get a better effect. In any event, it does not take many.

As Joseph Cirincione points out in his review of the book**, the United States and the Soviet Union had a combined 65,000 warheads at the height of the Cold War — and still have 25,000 today.

I actually happened to talk with Cirincione about the book, and mentioned that one thing I thought about it was “what about us?” — by which I meant the Nuclear Freeze movement that I spent a great deal of time in during the 1980s. Rhodes’s book spends a great deal of time focused on Reagan and Gorbachev — their head-to-head negotiations in Geneva and Reykjavik, even a chapter length bio of the Russian leader. But Rhodes barely acknowledges or discusses the mass movement that opposed a U.S. nuclear weapons buildup, or even the congressional donnybrooks over MX missile deployment that were defining moments of the Reagan years. I suppose that would have complicated the scope of the book, but whether it’s intended or not, the omission seems to signal that we didn’t matter.

If so, I would beg to differ, even if I can’t prove a causal connection between the Freeze and eventual successes like the INF and CFE treaties. There was a time when nearly every Congressman or -woman was deeply aware of nuclear weapons and of their constituents’ beliefs that there were too many of them and we didn’t need any more of them. Like the narrator in “Masters of War,” we spoke out of turn, and we won those victories, too — even if we’re still in the shadow of thousands of remaining nuclear weapons.

* Hers was quite unusual and interesting, you should have a look.
** Along with three others, which are more about Pakistani/A.Q. Khan proliferation.

EDIT, 3/5: Final sentence of Klein discussion split into two sentences, ‘if they got that far’ added to 2d. Also, “impoverishment” and “economic warfare” moved to the first spots in prior sentences, ahead of “repression”; I’d summarize much of Klein’s point as being that the order matters, just as the motive matters in any crime.
EDITS, 3/6: 25,000, not 26,000; the other 1,000 are divided among the other nuclear powers. Also, on re-reviewing the index, I found 3 references to the nuclear freeze movement; the effect in the text is that Rhodes “barely acknowledges” rather than “doesn’t acknowledge” it.

TAG WATCH: Tom has probably nailed down the Most Eclectic Response Award: “La vie du pape Saint Gregoire, ou la legende du bon pecheur.” Paul checks in with a little light bedtime reading: Walter Isaacson’s “Einstein: His Life and Universe.”

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Worth reading

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 4th March 2008

  • The true cost of war (Aida Edemariam, The Guardian, 2/28/08) — After 3 years of research, Nobel prize economist Joseph Stiglitz puts it at three *trillion* dollars, so far, to the U.S. alone.
  • The Myth of the Surge (Nir Rosen, Rolling Stone, 3/08) —

    Hoping to turn enemies into allies, U.S. forces are arming Iraqis who fought with the insurgents. But it’s already starting to backfire. A report from the front lines of the new Iraq. […]As the Awakening gains power, Al Qaeda lies dormant throughout Baghdad, the Mahdi Army and other Shiite forces prepare for the next battle, and political assassinations and suicide bombings are an almost daily occurrence. The violence, Arkan says, is getting worse again.

  • Chicken Doves (Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone, 2/21/08) — [C]ongressional superduo Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi have completed one of the most awesome political collapses since Neville Chamberlain. At long last, the Democratic leaders of Congress have publicly surrendered on the Iraq War, just one year after being swept into power with a firm mandate to end it.

  • Security Gains from “Surge” Backsliding (Spencer Ackerman, Washington Independent, 1/31/08) —

    It used to be that surge enthusiasts would at least hint at the unachieved strategic objective of the surge. As Bush himself put it, the surge was meant to provide the Iraqi government “the breathing space it needs to make progress” on sectarian reconciliation. But reconciliation hasn’t happened, and, in important respects, sectarianism has deepened over the past year. So surgeniks are now simply declaring victory by the sheer fact of reduced violence itself, unmoored to any strategic goal.

  • The Greatest Threat to Us All (Joseph Cirincione, New York Review of Books, 3/6/08) — Cirincione reviews Richard Rhodes’s excellent third book chronicling the nuclear arms race, “Arsenals of Folly.” Not only did the Iraq WMD myth similar to prior ones about the relative strength of the USSR’s arsenal — some of the same people were involved in selling it. Put differently, it’s prudent to assume most of what Richard Perle says is either stupid or a lie.
  • The Dean Legacy (Ari Berman, The Nation, 2/28/08) — Top Dean supporters “believe the Clinton-Obama contest has become a referendum on the kind of grassroots party building and citizen empowerment Dean pioneered as a presidential candidate and continued as DNC chair.”

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You’d think this would get more attention

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 7th January 2008

The Sunday Times Online reported today that…

…foreign intelligence agents had enlisted the support of US officials to acquire a network of moles in sensitive military and nuclear institutions. […]

…one well-known senior official in the US State Department was being paid by Turkish agents in Washington who were selling the information on to black market buyers, including Pakistan…

“He was aiding foreign operatives against US interests by passing them highly classified information, not only from the State Department but also from the Pentagon, in exchange for money, position and political objectives.”

For Sale: West’s deadly nuclear secrets Sunday Times Online, 1/6/08

The source is Sibel Edmonds, an FBI translator fluent in Farsi and Turkish, who was assigned to a backlog of untranslated documents and wiretaps in 2002. Following what she saw as an unsuccessful effort in late 2001 to enlist her in espionage similar to that reported above, Edmonds reported the Americans involved to the FBI — and was fired for her trouble in March 2002.* In his 2005 Vanity Fair piece “An Inconvenient Patriot,” David Rose described what came next:

But being fired is one thing. Edmonds has also been prevented from proceeding with her court challenge or even speaking with complete freedom about the case.

On top of the usual prohibition against disclosing classified information, the Bush administration has smothered her case beneath the all-encompassing blanket of the “state-secrets privilege”—a Draconian and rarely used legal weapon that allows the government, merely by asserting a risk to national security, to prevent the lawsuits Edmonds has filed contesting her treatment from being heard in court at all. According to the Department of Justice, to allow Edmonds her day in court, even at a closed hearing attended only by personnel with full security clearance, “could reasonably be expected to cause serious damage to the foreign policy and national security of the United States.”

Using the state-secrets privilege in this fashion is unusual, says Edmonds’s attorney Ann Beeson, of the American Civil Liberties Union. “It also begs the question: Just what in the world is the government trying to hide?”

Now we have a better idea.

Remarkably, Ms. Edmonds couldn’t get any major American news organization to agree to publish her allegations naming names. It’s really a bit of a shame the story is getting crushed by ObamaNewHampshireIowaEdwardsClintonHuckabeeRomney, and one may wonder why Ms. Edmonds took so long to go to foreign media with her story, which even as reported in outline form before now seemed like a huge scandal. The answer may have to do with libel laws abroad, or at least in the U.K., that are more protective of public figures than they are in the United States. Certainly no names were named in the Times Article.

However, Ms. Edmonds has now published a “State Secrets Privilege Gallery” on her own web site (“Just A Citizen“) with unlabeled photographs of well known Defense Department and intelligence figures like Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, Brent Scowcroft, and Congressmen Dennis Hastert, Richard Livingston, Stephen Solarz, and Art Lantos, to name a few — the full list is spelled out by lukery (“Let Sibel Edmonds Speak”). The intent appears to be to imply names to put to the allegations in the Times story, without taking the legally fraught step of connecting every dot in writing.

Whoever the weak links in the American chain turn out to be, the nexus of espionage that Edmonds’ story describes is unsettling indeed:

The Turks and Israelis had planted “moles” in military and academic institutions which handled nuclear technology. Edmonds says there were several transactions of nuclear material every month, with the Pakistanis being among the eventual buyers. “The network appeared to be obtaining information from every nuclear agency in the United States,” she said.

If the Israeli angle is true as well, it seems plausible that they were trying to get information about how to build “better” nukes of their own, though I suppose there are Israelis who’d sell nuclear plans to Pakistan. The Times provides a timeline of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons development at the end of the story, and most reactions understandably focus on that country.* Jim Henley (“Unqualified Offerings”) writes, “The thing that most struck me is how much, over the decades, Pakistan has acted not at all like a client state of the US.”

The Turkish Connection
True. I’d add, though, that most of the article tends to point our good friend Turkey’s way in that respect. The Congressional involvement implied by Ms. Edmonds’ photo gallery is certainly all connected to Turkey; sometimes the worthy Congressmen involved were impressed that Turkey has been willing to work with Israel diplomatically and militarily, sometimes they’ve been impressed with Turkish money (Livingston’s lobbying firm is on an annual $1.8M retainer by the Turkish government), and sometimes both. Edmonds says Mr. Hastert may not have been willing to wait to get out of office before pocketing his payoffs. Rose:

[Edmonds] reported hearing Turkish wiretap targets boast that they had a covert relationship with a very senior politician indeed—Dennis Hastert, Republican congressman from Illinois and Speaker of the House since 1999. The targets reportedly discussed giving Hastert tens of thousands of dollars in surreptitious payments in exchange for political favors and information.

What sort of political favors? In an interview with Amy Goodman, Rose says that in secret testimony, Edmonds told Congressional investigators that Speaker Hastert may have sold out his support for the Armenian Genocide Resolution in 2000, withdrawing it just before a final vote:

One of the Turkish targets of these wiretaps claimed that the price for getting Dennis Hastert to withdraw the resolution would be $500,000. Now, I do emphasize there’s no evidence at all that he received such a payment, but that is what is said to have been recorded in one of the wiretaps.

Thus, it’s not all about nukes; denial of the Armenian Genocide is a centerpiece of Turkish policy, since acknowledging it would invite reparations claims — and might undermine the political legitimacy of a Turkish republic that has long and strenuously denied many of its founders’ responsibility for that genocide.

But it is likely very much about money in any case. Since 9/11, Turkey is the 7th largest recipient of military “aid” from the United States,** and Turkish military officials — who wield constitutional power in that country as designated arbiters of the secular tradition in that country — are both well placed and not reluctant to profit from sidelines, or recycle some of that largesse in ambitious ways. Entrepreneurism being universal, and absolute power notoriously corrupting absolutely, it would be little wonder if Turkish military and intelligence might go into all kinds of unexpected business sidelines.

We’ll just have to hope that responsible, upstanding people in Islamabad — and not Al Qaeda — were the final destination for any nuclear secrets said entrepreneurs got their hands on.

CROSSPOSTED TO “American Street

* Indeed, I wonder if Benazir Bhutto’s assassination was an additional reason Edmonds went to the Times. The stated reason, however, was that she “approached The Sunday Times last month after reading about an Al-Qaeda terrorist who had revealed his role in training some of the 9/11 hijackers while he was in Turkey.” Joseph Cannon (“Cannonfire”) writes the story was probably this one about Louai Sakka (or Sakra), an Al Qaeda operative now jailed in Turkey. The “hall of mirrors” feeling about the story deepens in that Sakka is apparently linked to many Western intelligence services, according to a article citing the 9/11 Commission and media reports.
** $1.325 billion from 2002-04, according to Countries receiving more aid — or “aid” — were Israel, Egypt, Pakistan, Jordan, Afghanistan, and Colombia, with figures ranging from $9 billion to $2 billion over the same time period.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I’d be remiss not to mention that I’ve often written often about the Armenian Genocide and the struggle to have it acknowledged as such. (See, e.g., 90 years ago: Armenian Genocide Begins and Another Day, Another Turkish New Lira for the Washington Post) While I like to think I’d feel this way in any case, I’m married to an Armenian American.

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…and when did they know they didn’t know it?

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 4th December 2007

We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program.
Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities
National Intelligence Estimate, November 2007
released December 3, 2007

Well, well, well.

Given the amount of saber rattling about Iran over the past year and more by Bush, Cheney, Rice, Hadley, et al, the questions are what did they know they didn’t know, and when did they know they didn’t know it… and are we ever talking about the President of the United States as we discuss this?

Today, Bush said (incredibly) that he was made aware of the NIE last week,”* adding that Mike McConnell told him “in August, I think it was” that there was “new information” about Iran’s nuclear ambitions, [h]e didn’t tell me what the information was.” You’d like to hear President “catapult the propaganda.”  Bush was mildly curious about the information, but that doesn’t seem to fit his view of his job description.

Moreover, it appears this particular estimate was ready quite a bit earlier than “last week.” The Washington Post’s Dafna Linzer and Joby Warrick write that “The report was drafted after an extended internal debate over the reliability of communications intercepts of Iranian conversations this past summer that suggested the program had been suspended. […] when intelligence officials began briefing senior members of the Bush administration on the intercepts, beginning in July, the policymakers expressed skepticism.

But apparently even the “past summer” date is being generous — if you’re interested in knowing when the administration should have stopped beating its war drums. Last month Gareth Porter of IPS reported that “A National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran has been held up for more than a year in an effort to force the intelligence community to remove dissenting judgments on the Iranian nuclear programme.” Yet given what’s been released — no nuclear program now, ability to produce even a HEU (highly enriched uranium) atomic weapon by 2013 at earliest — the problem must have been finding any affirming judgments.

Yet here’s National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley on November 10, 2007:

There’s clearly a recognition that we may need to put more pressure on the Iranian regime, so that they would change a set of policies that are having the effect of isolating the Iranian people … at the same time keeping open the — as we have from the very beginning — the option of negotiating a successful outcome […] …the problem is not a civilian nuclear program for Iran, the problem is a program that seems designed to achieve a nuclear weapon capability. That’s the problem; and that once that problem is removed, then there is a positive way forward for Iran on the table that involves easing pressure on the regime and also a civilian nuclear program. (*)

And here’s Bush on August 28, 2007:

Iran’s active pursuit of technology that could lead to nuclear weapons threatens to put a region already known for instability and violence under the shadow of a nuclear holocaust. Iran’s actions threaten the security of nations everywhere. And that is why the United States is rallying friends and allies around the world to isolate the regime, to impose economic sanctions. We will confront this danger before it is too late. (*)

And again on October 18, 2007:

…I’ve told people that if you’re interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them from have the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon. I take the threat of Iran with a nuclear weapon very seriously. (*)

So Bush was banging the alarm bell well after August — but that’s cool, because of course he hadn’t bothered to find out what that new information was back then, and wasn’t briefed on the NIE until last week! “Need to know” and all that.

Given our strange new American political system, Vice President Cheney’s threats loom the largest of all, perhaps most memorably the one issued aboard the U.S.S. Stennis in the Persian Gulf on May 11, 2007:

With two carrier strike groups in the Gulf, we’re sending clear messages to friends and adversaries alike. […] We’ll stand with others to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and dominating the region. (*)

While that was before the summer’s developments, this statement, given on October 21, 2007, was not:

The Iranian regime needs to know that if it stays on its present course, the international community is prepared to impose serious consequences. The United States joins other nations in sending a clear message: We will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon. (*)

ThinkProgress has its own “greatest Iran the nuclear threat hits,” if you’re looking for more. At this point, I think Josh Marshall gets the last word on this administration:

But it shows us once again, for anyone who needed showing, that everything this administration says on national security matters should be considered presumptively not only false, but actually the opposite of what is in fact true, until clear evidence to the contrary becomes available. They’re big liars. And actually being serious about the country’s security means doing everything possible to limit the amount of damage they can do over the next fourteen months while they still control the US military and the rest of the nation’s foreign policy apparatus.

* All emphases added. Asterisk links lead to full text of remarks at

UPDATE, 12/4: Scott Horton (“No Comment”) quotes an intelligence community source who says “The NIE has been in substantially the form in which it was finally submitted for more than six months,” i.e., since at least early June, 2007 or so.
UPDATE, 12/5: Greg Mitchell (Editor & Publisher) provides quotes by our nation’s pundits on Iran’s inactive nuclear weapons program; David Brooks, Jim Hoagland, Tom Friedman, Bill Kristol, Richard Cohen, and Ken Pollack are featured. Glenn Greenwald (Salon) focuses on Fred Hiatt and the Washington Post; see particularly the September 5, 2007 lead editorial “Rogue Regulator” attacking IAEA director Mohammed ElBaradei — a skeptic about Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions. They’re never wrong — so they never learn.
UPDATE, 12/6: Dan Froomkin (, “A Pattern of Deception“; emptywheel (firedoglake), NIE Timeline.

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