Browsing the blog archives for July, 2006.

“A Childish Fantasy”

Bush Administration, Middle East

More about the crisis in Lebanon (all boldfacing in the quotes below is added)–

Dan Froomkin:

Bush’s official position is that some blood-spilling in the Middle East is worth it in pursuit of the region’s positive transformation. …

… In the best of circumstances, Bush would be running the risk of being considered callous. But in the current circumstances, he runs the risk of being considered both callous and delusional. …

… You don’t get much more Washington Establishment than Richard N. Haass, who was Bush’s first-term State Department policy planning director and now leads the Council on Foreign Relations. And he apparently finds Bush’s position laughable. Literally.

Peter Baker writes in the Washington Post that Haass “laughed at the president’s public optimism. ‘An opportunity?’ Haass said with an incredulous tone. ‘Lord, spare me. I don’t laugh a lot. That’s the funniest thing I’ve heard in a long time. If this is an opportunity, what’s Iraq? A once-in-a-lifetime chance?’ ” …

Froomkin also notes that Condi’s “shuttle diplomacy” consists mostly of “negotiating” with Israel. Then he brings up a point that IMO is critical —

The White House position appears to be to refuse to even contemplate ideas that, elsewhere, are widely considered obvious: That regardless of who started it, Israeli strikes are taking a vastly more terrible toll on Lebanese civilians than Hezbollah is taking on Israelis; that Israel’s actions are turning the region ever more resolutely against the United States and its goals; that the war is undermining Lebanon’s fragile democracy; that the death of 37 children in an air strike is more than just a “qualifier” — it is a bloodbath that shocks the conscience of the world; and that there is more urgency to stop the killing than there is to pursue a dubious and so far disproved theory of regional rebirth.

It’s apparent to most of the world that Israel has already lost its objective, assuming the objective was to route Hezbollah. The righties continue to make excuses, which mostly consist of “they started it” and “if civilians die, it’s their own fault for not getting out of the way.” They do not see that such “arguments” are not winning them any points; it just makes them look more childishly pathetic.

Even the rightie blogger Michael Totten admits that Israel has lost.

The fog of war makes it impossible for me or anyone else to determine whether or not Israel’s war against Hezbollah is succeeding of failing militarily. But it’s painfully obvious that Israel’s attempt to influence Lebanese politics in its favor is an absolute catastrophe right now.

The (second in a decade) attack on Qana that killed scores of civilians has all but cemented the Lebanese public and Hezbollah together.

Cable news reports that 82 percent of Lebanese now support Hezbollah. Prime Minister Fouad Seniora – whatever his real opinion in private – is now closer to openly supporting Hezbollah in public than he has ever been.

It’s way to late to be whining about how they started it or that, per Victor Davis Hanson, civilians want to be bombed so it’s OK to bomb them. And it’s way too late to whine, as this blogger does, that news photographs of the dead children of Qana are “propaganda.” Right or wrong, fair or unfair, it doesn’t matter. Israel has lost. It’s all over but, unfortunately, the shootin‘. Israel continues to fight, if only to save face.

[Update: The excuse of the hour is that the Qana tragedy was staged. The biggest “clue” is that it appears the building in which the civilians were sleeping didn’t collapse until several hours after the bombing, Saith Carla of Preemptive Karma:

These are the same guys who call lefties conspiracy theorists for questioning Bush’s response to 9/11 and his connection to the bin Laden family. Sheesh.

It just couldn’t be that Israel bombed the crap out of the building and it was so unstable that it collapsed..could it?

Or, it could be that the building did collapse during the bombing attack and the reports of a later collapse are wrong. And even if (for argument’s sake) the collapse was staged — it won’t matter. Here in the United States I have no doubt the audiences of Faux Nooz and rightie talk radio are being told, over and over, ad nauseum, that the atrocity at Qana was staged, and that the Fable of the Staged Atrocity at Qana is already firmly established in rightie mythos. But outside the U.S. most people are exposed to actual news, not wild-ass speculation and propaganda disguised as news, so unless (someday) Israel can actually prove the allegation, it won’t be making headlines. And Israel still will have lost the PR war.]

Sebastian Mallaby writes in today’s Washington Post:

The first lesson is that allies do matter, and so does the global public opinion that creates, or fails to create, a political climate in which governments feel able to work with the United States. The Bush administration has at times skated past this truth, correctly believing that doing the right thing can matter more than doing the popular thing. But it has learned, slowly and painfully, that doing right gets to be impossible if your unpopularity becomes toxic. To address any major foreign policy challenge, from Iran to North Korea to Darfur, you need international backing.

In supporting the bombardment of Lebanon, the administration appears to be forgetting this lesson. It has embraced a military operation that puts pictures of bloodied civilians on the world’s TV screens, harming the United States’ image and disrupting vital U.S. policies. American allies in the region, such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan, which fear Shiite militancy, have switched from criticizing Hezbollah to criticizing the U.S.-backed retaliation. American enemies are seizing the opportunity for a propaganda victory. Al-Qaeda has rushed out a new video, complete with a fresh, studio-quality backdrop. China has hinted that U.S. blocking of an anti-Israel resolution last week at the United Nations would justify Chinese resistance to U.N. action against Iran’s nuclear program.

Gerald Kaufman:

Israel’s current adventure has turned out to be a disaster not only for the Lebanese, being slaughtered in increasing numbers by Israeli attacks, but for Israel itself and its sponsor, the United States. Three weeks after their invasion, the Israelis have accomplished none of their objectives. The two soldiers whose kidnapping was the casus belli remain in Hezbollah hands – just as Corporal Galid Shalit is still a prisoner of Palestinian insurgents in the Gaza strip.

None of the Israelis’ military objectives has been achieved, or shows any sign whatever of being achieved. The Hizbullah infrastructure remains intact and has inflicted heavy casualties on Israeli forces. Hizbullah rockets continue to pour down on Israel, with the entire northern half of the country unprecedentedly a vulnerable target.

The Israelis are calling up thousands of reservists and saying their forces will be in Lebanon for weeks more. It is impossible to see how these additional men or this additional time will improve this situation for the Israelis, or for the Americans – the only two countries who have seemed to believe that the running sore of Hizbullah can be cauterised by a short, sharp shock.

… Taking into account that previous Israeli incursions into Lebanon were total failures, with no objectives attained and many Israeli servicemen killed, and taking into account, too, that the Americans suffered 241 servicemen killed in Beirut at the hands of Hizbullah, it is difficult to understand how even ultimate buffoons like Ehud Olmert and George Bush could have expected anything else.

Furthermore, in the whole history of the state of Israel, this is the first time that that country, in all its wars, has been subject to almost unanimous condemnation, worldwide. Not only has Olmert failed abjectly to protect his country. He has turned it into an international pariah.

Paul Krugman

For Americans who care deeply about Israel, one of the truly nightmarish things about the war in Lebanon has been watching Israel repeat the same mistakes the United States made in Iraq. It’s as if Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has been possessed by the deranged spirit of Donald Rumsfeld. …

… both Clausewitz and Sherman were right: war is both a continuation of policy by other means, and all hell. It’s a terrible mistake to start a major military operation, regardless of the moral justification, unless you have very good reason to believe that the action will improve matters.

The most compelling argument against an invasion of Iraq wasn’t the suspicion many of us had, which turned out to be correct, that the administration’s case for war was fraudulent. It was the fact that the real reason government officials and many pundits wanted a war — their belief that if the United States used its military might to “hit someone” in the Arab world, never mind exactly who, it would shock and awe Islamic radicals into giving up terrorism — was, all too obviously, a childish fantasy.

Professor Krugman is sympathetic to Israel and its famous right of self-defense, but …

There is a case for a full-scale Israeli ground offensive against Hezbollah. It may yet come to that, if Israel can’t find any other way to protect itself. There is also a case for restraint — limited counterstrikes combined with diplomacy, an effort to get other players to rein Hezbollah in, with the option of that full-scale offensive always in the background.

But the actual course Israel has chosen — a bombing campaign that clearly isn’t crippling Hezbollah, but is destroying Lebanon’s infrastructure and killing lots of civilians — achieves the worst of both worlds. Presumably there were people in the Israeli government who assured the political leadership that a rain of smart bombs would smash and/or intimidate Hezbollah into submission. Those people should be fired.

Israel’s decision to rely on shock and awe rather than either diplomacy or boots on the ground, like the U.S. decision to order the U.N. inspectors out and invade Iraq without sufficient troops or a plan to stabilize the country, is having the opposite of its intended effect. Hezbollah has acquired heroic status, while Israel has both damaged its reputation as a regional superpower and made itself a villain in the eyes of the world.

Here’s a message for righties:

Complaining that this is unfair does no good, just as repeating “but Saddam was evil” does nothing to improve the situation in Iraq. What Israel needs now is a way out of the quagmire. And since Israel doesn’t appear ready to reoccupy southern Lebanon, that means doing what it should have done from the beginning: try restraint and diplomacy. And Israel will negotiate from a far weaker position than seemed possible just three weeks ago.

Professor Krugman calls the U.S. response “hapless and malign.”

For the moment, U.S. policy seems to be to stall and divert efforts to negotiate a cease-fire as long as possible, so as to give Israel a chance to dig its hole even deeper. Also, we aren’t talking to Syria, which might hold the key to resolving the crisis, because President Bush doesn’t believe in talking to bad people, and anyway that’s the kind of thing Bill Clinton did. Did I mention that these people are childish?

If you want to understand just who Hezbollah is, Juan Cole provides a primer. They are not, as Michelle Malkin seems to think, another version of al Qaeda. Although after this week they could be inspired to go into the international terrorism business. Who knows?

See also: “A World Gone Mad“; “Why the Middle East Crisis Isn’t Really About Terrorism“; “Israeli Attacks Strengthen Hezbollah“; “The Triumph of Crackpot Realism“; “War in the Age of ‘Poodle-ism’”

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Creative Chaos

Bush Administration, Iraq War, Middle East

“The result in war is never absolute.” — Carl von Clausewitz, On War, Chapter 1

I’ve been trying to wrap my head about the neoconservative “creative chaos” theory. Apparently, the neocons believe that if the Middle East is thrown into enough turmoil, the bad old authoritarian governments will break down and nice democratic governments will rise up out of the ashes. There is more explanation here and here. From the second link, we find a quote from neocon Michel Ledeen:

Creative destruction is our middle name, both within our own society and abroad. We tear down the old order every day, from business to science, literature, art, architecture, and cinema to politics and the law. Our enemies have always hated this whirlwind of energy and creativity, which menaces their traditions (whatever they may be) and shames them for their inability to keep pace. Seeing America undo traditional societies, they fear us, for they do not wish to be undone. They cannot feel secure so long as we are there, for our very existence—our existence, not our politics—threatens their legitimacy. They must attack us in order to survive, just as we must destroy them to advance our historic mission.

What is “our historic mission”? World domination? When did we vote on that?

This does explain why the Bushies didn’t think they needed a postwar plan for Iraq. They really did believe that once they removed Saddam Hussein, the chaos of instability would generate energy and creativity, and out of this a democratic and pro-western nation would rise. I assumed they believed in the Good Democracy Fairy, but it’s really more like quantum chaos theory applied to politics.

Glenn Greenwald asks if Bill Kristol is writing George Bush’s Middle East speeches —

George Bush’s radio address yesterday on the Israel-Lebanon war preaches pure neoconservative gospel. Every point the President made would fit very comfortably into a Bill Kristol Weekly Standard column or a Michael Ledeen Corner item. This speech leaves no doubt that, at least rhetorically, the President is still a full-fledged adherent to the tenets of neoconservatism, and thus considers the Israel-Lebanon war to be “our war” in every sense, merely another front in the Epic Global War of Civilizations (a/k/a The Long War, World War III/IV, etc.):

    As we work to resolve this current crisis, we must recognize that Lebanon is the latest flashpoint in a broader struggle between freedom and terror that is unfolding across the region. For decades, American policy sought to achieve peace in the Middle East by promoting stability in the Middle East, yet these policies gave us neither. The lack of freedom in that region created conditions where anger and resentment grew, radicalism thrived, and terrorists found willing recruits. We saw the consequences on September the 11th, 2001, when terrorists brought death and destruction to our country, killing nearly 3,000 innocent Americans. [emphasis added]

Since that nasty stability gave us all these problems, Bush says, what we need is instability.

So, says the President, the Israel-Lebanon war is not about territorial conflicts or endless Israeli-Hezbollah disputes but, instead, is part of the glorious worldwide “struggle between freedom and terror.” It is but the “latest flashpoint” in the “broader struggle,” which includes the U.S. war in Afghanistan, the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, and America’s hostilities with Iran and Syria. All of these problems are part of the same War, and are all caused by the one big neoconservative sin — stability. Exactly as Mark Levin pointed out yesterday — Mark Levin — the President claims that the reason 9/11 happened is because the foreign policy of both political parties for the last several decades was devoted to preserving stability (i.e., a state of peace, avoidance of war), and stability in the Middle East is our greatest enemy.

That, according to neoconservatives (apparently including the President), is what needs to be changed. Stability is our enemy because it breeds hatred and war. Only instability and war will breed a “lasting peace.” Thus, the more instability and war in the Middle East, the better. That is the central neoconservative warmongering tenet and it is what is coming out of the President’s mouth as he discusses his views of the new war in the Middle East. [emphasis added]

That’s just the beginning of Glenn’s thought-provoking post; you can read the rest of it at Unclaimed Territory. I also want to highlight this paragraph of Glenn’s written yesterday —

To neoconservatives, everything that made the U.S. a respected superpower over the last six decades is all obsolete and worthless. To them, foreign policy experts from both political parties are responsible for 9/11 and the rise of Islamic extremism because they believe too much in diplomacy and restraint. They didn’t wage enough wars and the wars they did wage weren’t ferocious enough. There weren’t enough Qanas, and as a result, we aren’t sufficiently feared. People around the world need to know that they either comply with our instructions or fire and brimstone will rain upon their heads.

IMO Neoconservative foreign policy seems rooted in two basic childish conceits. The first conceit is that every foreign policy problem can be resolved, once and for all, and if problems continue to fester after years, or decades, of diplomacy, then diplomacy failed. The second conceit is that we’re better than them, and deep down they know it, and once we knock some sense into them they’ll try harder to be like us.

Regarding the “failure” of diplomacy — when you’re dealing with matters like nationalistic, ethnic, and religious identities, and clashing cultural values, it may in fact take generations for people to stop fearing and hating each other. This is especially true when people have already been locked in a cycle of mutual retribution for many years. It may be that the best anyone can do is prevent war long enough for people to chill out and develop a little tolerance. This can take a long time, as witnessed by the history of racial animosity in America. But sometimes, I believe, there are no shortcuts.

Basic rule: Anything you feed will grow. If you feed hate and war, you get more hate and war. If you feed tolerance and peace, you get more tolerance and peace. It may take a lot of feeding for a warring people to develop tolerance and peace, but that’s the only way peace can get big enough to prevail.

Neocons, on the other hand, think America can force the simple native people to be nice, and that’ll be that. They think they can apply war and get an absolute result, which Carl von Clausewitz said ain’t the way it works. Instead, I believe, the neocon approach just grows hate and war, and it’s going to come back and bite us eventually. Possibly hard.

Who recognizes his limitations is healthy;
Who ignores his limitations is sick.
The sage recognizes this sickness as a limitation.
And so becomes immune.
Tao Teh Ching, Verse 71

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Bush Administration

Scientific support for the Maha Elective Ignorance Theory:

In an experiment that pols may want to note closely, researchers recently plopped 10 Republicans and 10 Democrats into scanners that measure changes in brain-blood oxygenation. Such changes are thought to be linked to increases or decreases in particular areas of brain activity.

Each of the partisans was repeatedly shown images of President Bush and 2004 Democratic challenger John F. Kerry.

When Republicans saw Kerry (or Democrats saw Bush) there was increased activation in brain areas called the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, which is near the temple, and the anterior cingulate cortex, which is in the middle of the head. Both these regions are involved in regulating emotions. (If you are eating an ice cream cone on a hot day and your ice cream falls on the sidewalk and you get upset, these areas of your brain remind you that it is only an ice cream, that not eating the ice cream can help keep those pounds off, and similar rationalizations.) More straightforwardly, Republicans and Democrats also showed activation in two other brain areas involved in negative emotion, the insula and the temporal pole. It makes perfect sense, of course, why partisans would feel negatively about the candidate they dislike, but what explains the activation of the cognitive regulatory system?

Turns out, rather than turning down their negative feelings as they might do with the fallen ice cream, partisans turn up their negative emotional response when they see a photo of the opposing candidate, said Jonas Kaplan, a psychologist at the University of California at Los Angeles.

In other words, without knowing it themselves, the partisans were jealously guarding against anything that might lower their antagonism. Turning up negative feelings, of course, is a good way to make sure your antagonism stays strong and healthy.

You might remember that one component of the Elective Ignorance Theory is that a person’s worldview is integrated into his self-identity. For this reason, challenges to his worldview are perceived as threats to himself.

Put another way, the conceptual box they live in is who they think they are. Any challenge to the integrity of the box must be fought by any means necessary. That’s why you can’t have rational discussions with extremist partisans, because while you’re presenting data and concepts, they’re guarding their cave.

The psychologist quoted, Jonas Kaplan, hasn’t gotten all the way to the Maha Elective Ignorance Theory yet.

“My feeling is, in the political process, people come to decisions early on and then spend the rest of the time making themselves feel good about their decision,” Kaplan said.

Although it seems paradoxical that people would want to make themselves feel poorly, Kaplan said partisans have a strong interest in feeling poorly about the candidate they are not going to vote for as that cements their belief that they are doing the right thing.

With extremist partisans, as I say, the reaction is a lot more than just trying to smooth over doubts or resolving ambiguities. It’s a matter of guarding and defending every part of the “reality” they live in.

The result reflects a larger phenomenon in which people routinely discount information that threatens their preexisting beliefs, said Emory University psychologist Drew Westen, who has conducted brain-scan experiments that show partisans swiftly spot hypocrisy and inconsistencies — but only in the opposing candidate.

When presented with evidence showing the flaws of their candidate, the same brain regions that Kaplan studied lighted up — only this time partisans were unconsciously turning down feelings of aversion and unpleasantness.

“The brain was trying to find a solution that would get rid of the distress and absolve the candidate of doing something slimy,” Westen said. “They would twirl the emotional kaleidoscope until it gave them a picture that was comfortable.”

We all do this, of course. Righties are certain the only reason we lefties oppose President Bush’s policies is that we’re Bush haters. And yeah, we spend a lot of time dissing Bush and enjoying it. No question about that. But most of us leftie bloggers are focused on documentation and criticism of what Bush does. Those criticisms either stand or fall on their merits; the fact that I find Dubya to be an odious toad is beside the point.

And I may be imagining this, but it seems to me there is less cartoony anti-Bush humor on the Left Blogosphere than there used to be. Early on I wrote some humor pieces about Bush, but after awhile I couldn’t do it any more. He just isn’t funny.

On the other hand —

During the 2004 primaries some of the Dean and Kucinich supporters became downright insufferable. I developed a serious dislike of Dennis Kucinich because too many of his followers were nasty little brats. Also in those days I was a regular participant on the Atlantic Online forums (which I think are closed now), but some people with whom I’d enjoyed cordial online relations went off the wall whenever I said anything nice about any candidate other than Howard Dean. And I mean off the wall, as in vicious personal attacks. This was particularly startling to me because I like Howard Dean, and I don’t believe I wrote about him negatively. But that wasn’t good enough for the Deaniacs; either I was fur ‘im or agin’ ‘im. I was so rattled I broke off discussions and relationships and vacated the premises, never to return. So we have to watch for partisan blindness in ourselves, too.

I have a long-standing policy of distrusting new information that I want to believe. This is a habit of mind Jason Leopold would do well to cultivate. As I remember, many of the leftie blogs that linked to Leopold’s “Karl Rove is already indicted” story added a “reader beware” caveat to the link. But I don’t believe they all did.

I caught a lot of flack when I criticized Cindy Sheehan for getting her picture taken with Hugo Chavez, but I still think stunts like that compromised Sheehan’s value as an anti-war symbol. And then there’s the “WTC implosion caused by controlled detonation” freaks. Don’t get me started.

So, in the spirit of intellectual honesty, I admit that we lefties have our anterior cingulate cortex misfire episodes, too. But righties are worse.

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The Fantasy Lives of Chickenhawks, II

Iraq War, News Media

Mark Steyn needs to join Victor Davis Hanson in the Shady Rest Hospice for the Terminally Oblivious.

In fact, the notion that “fighting” a war is the monopoly of those “in uniform” gets to the heart of why America and its allies are having such a difficult time in the present struggle.

Translation: Steyn is miffed because some people don’t understand his service — undertaken mostly from his home in New Hampshire, I assume — is just as important as a soldier’s.

You can have the best fastest state-of-the-art car on the road, but, if you don’t know where you’re going, the fellow in the rusting ’73 Oldsmobile will get there and you won’t. It’s the ideas that drive a war and the support they command in the broader society that determine whether you’ll see it through to real victory. After Korea and Vietnam and Gulf War I, it shouldn’t be necessary to have to state that.

Translation: If the war is losing support and direction, this is entirely the fault of the American people, not the Bush Administration. The American people aren’t fighting hard enough. Or maybe they aren’t shopping hard enough. Or something.

In Iraq, the leviathan has somehow managed to give the impression that what previous mid-rank powers would have regarded as a little light colonial policing has left it stretched dangerously thin and bogged down in an almighty quagmire.

I can’t translate that, but oh, I would so love to ship Steyn to Iraq so he can tell the troops — the ones who just got their tours of duty extended — that all they’re doing is “a little light colonial policing.”

British and European education these last 30 years is now one of the biggest obstacles to civilizational self-preservation.

He’s saying that liberal arts education has turned us all into weenies, as opposed to Iron Man Steyn, within whom the great warrior spirit burns bright and hot as he stands resolved against the enemies of freedom. In New Hampshire.

I don’t believe Steyn has ever been in the military. Heck of an imagination, though.

Update: The Editors find another candidate for the Shady Rest Hospice for the Terminally Oblivious.

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Taking Sides

Bush Administration, Condi Rice, Middle East

Today’s Israeli airstrike that killed (at least) 56 people, half of them children, seems to be causing some, um, re-evaluation. Condi Rice has cancelled a trip to Beirut, for example. She was going to talk to Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora about “steps” to a cease fire. It seems Prime Minister Siniora told Condi she was not welcome and could take her steps and shove ’em where the sun don’t shine.

The plan had been for Rice to leave for Beirut in an hour to meet with Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora to discuss steps toward a ceasefire. Now, that trip would be cancelled. She had talked to Siniora, whom she described as “depressed” and “emotional” over what happened in the village of Qana. Rice said, “I called him and told him that I was not coming today because I felt very strongly that my work toard a ceasefire is really here, today.” Siniora, however, had made it clear in a televised address that her trip would have been pointless. He declared he would not engage in any more negotiations until a ceasefire was in place.


… the Lebanese government (of which Shrub was so paternally proud just a few short weeks ago) has just told Madame Supertanker to go take a flying you-know-what at the moon:

    Lebanon told U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Sunday that it could not meet with her before a ceasefire ends a 19-day-old Israeli offensive, Lebanese officials said. The officials said Rice, who was due in Beirut later on Sunday, was informed of the Lebanese position after an Israeli airstrike killed more than 40 civilians in south Lebanon.

And the Kofi Annan has called an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council, at which a resolution calling for an immediate cease fire no doubt will be offered, forcing the United States to veto it — thus officially going on record all by its lonesome in favor of large and horrific massacres.

Juan Cole:

Israeli war planes scored a direct hit on a building in the Shiite village of Qana where destitute farming folk, including old people, women and children, had taken refuge in the basement from Israeli bombing raids. At least 54 are dead, as bodies are pulled from the rubble. 19 children are confirmed dead and another 11 are thought still to be in the basement. The Israelis say they had pamphleted the region demanding that all civilians leave, and high Israeli officials have openly said that anyone who remains is fair game (low civilianity index, and maybe low humanianity index, too). The Israelis don’t say, however, how desperately poor hardscrabble farmers including the aged and infirm and children are supposed to travel to Beirut over the roads and bridges that the Israelis have bombed out, and on what they are supposed to live when they get there.

The Israelis had launched 80 air raids on the village of Qana overnight, with large numbers of buildings flattened, according to CNN.

I boldfaced the part about aged and infirm and children with no way out, because according to Victor Davis Hanson these people wanted to be bombed. I suspect otherwise. A number of trolls have dropped by here today saying that Israel has been oh, so careful not to hurt civilians, and those who remain in areas they’d been warned to vacate have only themselves to blame if they get killed. But every news story I’ve seen about Lebanon in print and electronic media has noted that infrastructure — roads, bridges, airports — have been destroyed, and people are having a hell of a time getting anywhere.

According to the New York Times:

Israel said residents in Qana and the region had been warned several days in advance to leave the village.

Today, Mr. Siniora said Qana’s residents were not warned. He described a scene in the region illustrating the difficulties for civilian evacuations, saying the Israeli strikes had cut “the whole country into pieces,” destroyed bridges and blanketed the village with 50 airstrikes at night. …

… “What we have really been witnessing is something beyond description. And this is something that is unacceptable, and that’s why we are asking for an immediate and unconditional cease-fire,” he said.

“We cannot continue discussing under the sort of blood that is being put on our necks,” Mr. Siniora added.

How did the White House respond, by the way?

Responding to the strikes on Qana, the White House urged Israel today to take more care to avoid civilian casualties in Lebanon. It said that Ms. Rice was working to arrange the conditions for a “sustainable” halt to the violence.

Yeah, that’s tellin’ ’em.

And now, back to Travels With Condi

Rice and her team had already been working with the knowledge that Israel was not going to cease its attacks soon. The night before, she had had dinner with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who told her that Israel needed 10 days to two weeks to complete its military operations. The attack on Qana — apparently the site of rocket launches against Israel — occured shortly after midnight.

On Sunday, a few hours after Rice’s press conference, more bad news arrived when U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan announced that the Israeli Defense Ministry had asked U.N. peacekeeping forces in Lebanon to evacuate two more villages before sunset, suggesting they would meet Qana’s fate. By Sunday evening, Rice had apparently decided that she had done all she could do in Jerusalem and made it known she was heading back to Washington Monday morning.

Well, well.

Via Talking Points Memo, we learn that Siniora has expressed “gratitude” to Hezbollah and its leader, Hassan Nasrallah. This reveals, seems to me, that Hezbollah’s political position in Lebanon has been strengthened by Israeli bombs.

In other developments, the bombing at Qana caused King Abdullah II of Jordan to condemn Israel’s “criminal aggression.”

Abdullah condemned “the ugly crime perpetrated by Israeli forces in Qana, which led to the killing of innocent civilians, including a large number of children and women,” said a statement released by the king’s press office.

“This criminal aggression constitutes a blatant violation of the law and all international conventions,” the king said.

Abdullah repeated his call for an “immediate cease-fire.”

This is significant, because Jordan’s King Abdullah is possibly the most pro-western ruler in the Middle East. My understanding is that he has closer ties to the U.S. than he does to Syria and Iran. Jordan signed a peace agreement with Israel back in 1994, and has kept that agreement. But the King has a Palestinian problem of his own. About half of the population of Jordan are Palestinians. Many of these Palestinians are refugees (or children of refugees) from earlier Palestinian-Israeli conflicts. The King of Jordan does not want more Palestinian refugees, because a Palestinian majority could lead to the overthrow of his rule. Nor does the King want Palestinians already living in Jordan to decide he is an enemy of the Palestinians. If forced to choose sides between Israel and Lebanon, I ‘spect the King would choose Lebanon. And it may become hard for him to remain too openly friendly with the United States as well.

Conclusion: War is stupid.

I called this post “Taking Sides” because it shows how extreme actions can force people to take sides they’d rather not take. Right now, the entire world, including Britain, is lining up on one side, and the U.S. and Israel are on the other side. This ought to be making us nervous.

A number of the trolls commenting on yesterday’s “wankers” post have jumped to the conclusion that this blogger is pro-Hezbollah, which is extremely far off the mark. Simple-minded people think there are just two sides to every issue, and if you are not on this side you must be on that one. But there are other sides they don’t see.

Beside the fact that it breaks my heart to see Lebanon being torn apart, my sympathies are with the children, the families, the noncombatants, of all nations, religions, and ethnicities who are being slaughtered and traumatized by Israeli bombs and Hezbollah rockets. My antipathies are against everyone who is making and supporting war, especially war going beyond what is needed for self-defense — again, of all nations, religions and ethnicities.

See also: “U.S. Intelligence on Hizballah and Iran“; “The day Israel realised that this was a real war“; “Watching Beirut Die.”

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Democratic Party, elections

New York Times editorial:

But this primary is not about Mr. Lieberman’s legislative record. Instead it has become a referendum on his warped version of bipartisanship, in which the never-ending war on terror becomes an excuse for silence and inaction. We endorse Ned Lamont in the Democratic primary for Senate in Connecticut.

Update: Don’t miss Digby’s smackdown of David Broder, the dean of wankers.

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The Amazing Disappearing War

Bush Administration, Iraq War, Middle East, News Media

Today Glenn Greenwald blogged about “the very sudden, and virtually complete, disappearance of the war in Iraq from the media radar.”

That country is literally falling apart, engulfed by what even war proponents are acknowledging increasingly appears to be an inevitable civil war and growing anarchy. And yet for the last week, Iraq was barely discussed, save for a completely inconsequential gossipy sideshow about whether the Democrats did something which the Republicans would never, ever do — namely, exploit a national security matter (Prime Minister Maliki’s condemnation of Israel) for political gain.

In Sunday’s New York Times, Frank Rich also writes about the “disappearance” of Iraq. But Rich documents that Iraq has been fading for a while.

On the Big Three networks’ evening newscasts, the time devoted to Iraq has fallen 60 percent between 2003 and this spring, as clocked by the television monitor, the Tyndall Report. …

… The steady falloff in Iraq coverage isn’t happenstance. It’s a barometer of the scope of the tragedy. For reporters, the already apocalyptic security situation in Baghdad keeps getting worse, simply making the war more difficult to cover than ever. The audience has its own phobia: Iraq is a bummer. “It is depressing to pay attention to this war on terror,” said Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly on July 18. “I mean, it’s summertime.” Americans don’t like to lose, whatever the season. They know defeat when they see it, no matter how many new plans for victory are trotted out to obscure that reality.

The specter of defeat is not the only reason Americans have switched off Iraq. The larger issue is that we don’t know what we — or, more specifically, 135,000 brave and vulnerable American troops — are fighting for. In contrast to the Israel-Hezbollah war, where the stakes for the combatants and American interests are clear, the war in Iraq has no rationale to keep it afloat on television or anywhere else. It’s a big, nightmarish story, all right, but one that lacks the thread of a coherent plot.

If you are locked outside the NY Times subscription wall, Frank Rich’s column will probably turn up on True Blue Liberal in the next few hours. [Update: Yep. Here it is, in its entirety.]

Earlier this week I linked to this Michael Hirsh column in which Hirsh discusses the new book Fiasco by Thomas Rick —

Reading “Fiasco,” Thomas Ricks’s devastating new book about the Iraq war, brought back memories for me. Memories of going on night raids in Samarra in January 2004, in the heart of the Sunni Triangle, with the Fourth Infantry Division units that Ricks describes. During these raids, confused young Americans would burst into Iraqi homes, overturn beds, dump out drawers, and summarily arrest all military-age men—actions that made them unwitting recruits for the insurgency. For American soldiers battling the resistance throughout Iraq, the unspoken rule was that all Iraqis were guilty until proven innocent. Arrests, beatings and sometimes killings were arbitrary, often based on the flimsiest intelligence, and Iraqis had no recourse whatever to justice. Imagine the sense of helpless rage that emerges from this sort of treatment. Apply three years of it and you have one furious, traumatized population. And a country out of control.

As most U.S. military experts now acknowledge, these tactics violated the most basic principles of counterinsurgency, which require winning over the local population, thus depriving the bad guys of a base of support within which to hide. Such rules were apparently unknown to the 4th ID commander, Maj. Gen. Ray Odierno. The general is a particular and deserving target of Ricks’s book, which is perhaps the most exhaustive account to date of all that went wrong with Iraq. Nonetheless—according to that iron law of the Bush administration under which incompetence is rewarded with promotion, as long as it is accompanied by loyalty—Odierno will soon be returning to Iraq as America’s No. 2 commander there, the man who will oversee day-to-day military operations. (Odierno, asked by Ricks to respond to criticism, replied that he had studied the insurgency and “adapted quickly.”)

Frank Rich brings up Fiasco also —

The contempt our government showed for Iraqis was not just to be found in our cavalier stance toward their casualties, or in the abuses at Abu Ghraib. There was a cultural condescension toward the Iraqi people from the get-go as well, as if they were schoolchildren in a compassionate-conservatism campaign ad. This attitude was epitomized by Mr. Rumsfeld’s “stuff happens” response to the looting of Baghdad at the dawn of the American occupation. In “Fiasco,” his stunning new book about the American failure in Iraq, Thomas E. Ricks, The Washington Post’s senior Pentagon correspondent, captures the meaning of that pivotal moment perfectly: “The message sent to Iraqis was far more troubling than Americans understood. It was that the U.S. government didn’t care — or, even more troubling for the future security of Iraq, that it did care but was incapable of acting effectively.”

As it turned out, it was the worst of both worlds: we didn’t care, and we were incapable of acting effectively. Nowhere is this seen more explicitly than in the subsequent American failure to follow through on our promise to reconstruct the Iraqi infrastructure we helped to smash. “There’s some little part of my brain that simply doesn’t understand how the most powerful country on earth just can’t get electricity back in Baghdad,” said Kanan Makiya, an Iraqi exile and prominent proponent of the war, in a recent Washington Post interview.

Hey, we’re having trouble keeping electricity turned on in the U.S.

Rich goes on to say that the simple answer to the question of why “the mission” in Iraq was such a failure is that the Bush Administration didn’t care enough about Iraq or Iraqis to get the job right. And although I’m sure that’s true, it begs the question — why didn’t they care? We’ve heard time and time again that Bush “rolled the dice” and “gambled his presidency” on Iraq. You’d think he would have been at least mildly interested.

I think the more essential reason for the Bush Administration’s failure is that the Bushies were never clear in their own minds what the mission — and the motivation for invading Iraq — really was. We know that eliminating Saddam Hussein’s fictitious WMDs was not the real reason for the invasion. Converting Iraq to a pro-western democracy was the neocons’ reason, but if the Bushies had been serious about nation building in Iraq you’d think they would have planned some nation-building activities for the “postwar” period. Instead, they seem to have believed that deposing Saddam Hussein would all by itself cause democracy to root and bloom like dandelions in June.

In 2003 and a large part of 2004 the Bushies dragged their feet on even planning for a sovereign and democratic Iraq, as if they had all the time in the world. They dragged their feet even as what little opportunity they might have had to accomplish something was slipping away. You’d think that if establishing a new Iraq was a priority for the Bush Administration, then the White House would have been energized and focused on the project. But, clearly, it never was. What’s left? Oil, of course, and contracts for Halliburton. But I suspect there are other, more primal, motivations in the murky depths of the Bushie collective psyche. Bottom line, the Bushies invaded Iraq because they wanted to invade Iraq. But I don’t think they are self-reflective enough to understand themselves where that desire was coming from. It just seemed like a good idea at the time.

So now we’re over there with no objectives, no plans, no hope, and it’s not on television because it’s such a bummer.

Glenn Greenwald points out that even Joe Lieberman wants to “move on.”

Via Atrios, it seems that Lieberman himself yesterday “suggested that he wanted to move the debate away from the war. ‘We’re going to try hard to focus this back on the issues that I think really are ultimately more important to the future of families in Connecticut: jobs, health care, education,'” he said.

Somehow, the war went from having “enormous consequences for the people of Iraq, America and the world” to being something that isn’t really all that important to talk about.

Frank Rich concludes, “That the latest American plan for victory is to reposition our forces by putting more of them in the crossfire of Baghdad’s civil war is tantamount to treating our troops as if they were deck chairs on the Titanic.” It’s a horrible mess that makes no sense and has no possibility for a good ending. Who wants to watch that?

Once upon a time news stories from Vietnam were broadcast on television every night, whether we wanted to watch them or not. But in those days, news was news. Now, news is entertainment. The Iraq War just isn’t entertaining. Maybe it could be re-packaged as a reality show.

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A Tale of Two Wankers

Bush Administration, conservatism

[Update: Anyone coming here from GIYUS — please read two earlier posts here and here before you waste my time and yours commenting on this post. If you don’t (I can tell) your comments will be deleted.]

[Update update: Too many trolls; comments on this post are closed.]

On the way to the computer to blog about one wanker I found another one.

This is from Victor Davis Hanson’s latest opus

“Civilians” in Lebanon have munitions in their basements and deliberately wish to draw fire; in Israel they are in bunkers to avoid it. Israel uses precision weapons to avoid hitting them; Hezbollah sends random missiles into Israel to ensure they are struck.

I had to read that paragraph several times. Just what is Hanson saying here? He seems to be claiming that Lebanese civilians commonly volunteer to be suicide victims of Israeli attacks. I see that Hanson puts the word civilians in quotation marks, connoting irony — those so-called civilians are not really (wink, nudge) civilians. Is he claiming that the claims of civilian deaths are exaggerated? Is he saying that it’s OK to kill Lebanese civilians because they are asking for it?

I’m not sure where he gets the “munitions in the basement” story. There have been a number of reports that Hezbollah fighters uses civilian shields, mixing in with civilians to discourage attacks. There have been a number of reports that Hezbollah stores munitions in mosques, homes, and other “civilian” buildings to hide them. In one case Hezbollah took over an apartment building against the wishes of the landlord. But Hanson seems to have patched these reports together and concluded that most Lebanese civilians are sitting on stockpiles of Katyusha rockets in their living rooms. And they have painted “Hey Israeli — Bomb This!” on their roofs. I did some googling, and it appears Hanson came up with this notion by himself. And as for Israel trying to avoid civilian targets — every news story coming out of Lebanon says otherwise.

Hanson appears to be wallowing in elective ignorance; he doesn’t want to believe Israel could be doing something bad, so he filters and rearranges facts accordingly.

BTW — Mitch Prothero writes in Salon — that the claim Hezbollah hides among civilians is a myth —

Throughout this now 16-day-old war, Israeli planes high above civilian areas make decisions on what to bomb. They send huge bombs capable of killing things for hundreds of meters around their targets, and then blame the inevitable civilian deaths — the Lebanese government says 600 civilians have been killed so far — on “terrorists” who callously use the civilian infrastructure for protection.

But this claim is almost always false. My own reporting and that of other journalists reveals that in fact Hezbollah fighters — as opposed to the much more numerous Hezbollah political members, and the vastly more numerous Hezbollah sympathizers — avoid civilians. Much smarter and better trained than the PLO and Hamas fighters, they know that if they mingle with civilians, they will sooner or later be betrayed by collaborators — as so many Palestinian militants have been.

For their part, the Israelis seem to think that if they keep pounding civilians, they’ll get some fighters, too. The almost nightly airstrikes on the southern suburbs of Beirut could be seen as making some sense, as the Israelis appear convinced there are command and control bunkers underneath the continually smoldering rubble. There were some civilian casualties the first few nights in places like Haret Hreik, but people quickly left the area to the Hezbollah fighters with their radios and motorbikes.

But other attacks seem gratuitous, fishing expeditions, or simply intended to punish anything and anyone even vaguely connected to Hezbollah. Lighthouses, grain elevators, milk factories, bridges in the north used by refugees, apartment buildings partially occupied by members of Hezbollah’s political wing — all have been reduced to rubble. …

… Although Israel targets apartments and offices because they are considered “Hezbollah” installations, the group has a clear policy of keeping its fighters away from civilians as much as possible. This is not for humanitarian reasons — they did, after all, take over an apartment building against the protests of the landlord, knowing full well it would be bombed — but for military ones.

“You can be a member of Hezbollah your entire life and never see a military wing fighter with a weapon,” a Lebanese military intelligence official, now retired, once told me. “They do not come out with their masks off and never operate around people if they can avoid it. They’re completely afraid of collaborators. They know this is what breaks the Palestinians — no discipline and too much showing off.”

Prothero writes that among Lebanese Shiites — about 40 percent of the population of Lebanon — many people are Hezbollah Party members and employees of Hezbollah, but most of these people are noncombatants.

Israel, however, has chosen to treat the political members of Hezbollah as if they were fighters. And by targeting the civilian wing of the group, which supplies much of the humanitarian aid and social protection for the poorest people in the south, they are targeting civilians.

And, of course, Israel is not limiting its military aggression to those parts of Lebanon where Hezbollah is concentrated, meaning it is punishing Hezbollah supporters and non-supporters alike. Not to mention children, who make up a third of the civilians killed so far. Victor Davis Hanson probably believes the children were wearing targets on their backs. Or their diapers.

But … shifting gears here … Hanson is not the wanker I was going to write about originally. If you want to meet someone with no clue whatsoever — I give you Nick Gillespie, who reviews John Dean’s new book Conservatives Without Conscience in this weekend’s New York Times.

With Ahab-like monomania, Dean discovers that every objectionable conservative Republican action — from “taking America to war in Iraq on false pretenses” to Dick Cheney’s obscene outburst at Senator Patrick Leahy to harsh right-wing criticism of the nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court — reflects triumphant authoritarianism. For those of us with little or nothing good to say about the Bush administration, the Republican Party or conservatives in general, Dean’s book is ideological comfort food, providing not only tasty anecdotes about abuse of power but a rationale for dismissing political opponents out of hand. …

Here’s the punch line:

What Dean sees as dark new developments read far more like politics — and politicians — as usual.

Anyone who thinks we’re living with “politics as usual” these days is either brain dead or suffering from five-alarm elective ignorance. Maybe both.

I haven’t read Dean’s book, but Gillespie’s review suggests that Dean is basing his ideas on authoritarianism on the writings of just one guy, when in fact (according to what Dean has said on television) it is based on 50 years of research by a number of social psychologists. But Gillespie wrote this review in self-defense mode, and what’s a little intellectual dishonesty when one’s precious little worldview is threatened?

Politics as usual? Puh-LEEEZE …

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Help Us

Bush Administration, Middle East

Holy bleep

At today’s press conference, NBC’s David Gregory noted that, three years ago, the Bush administration predicted that “the invasion of Iraq would create a new stage of Arab-Israeli peace,” but that hasn’t happened.

In response, President Bush proudly declared that American foreign policy no longer seeks to “manage calm,” and derided policies that let anger and resentment lie “beneath the surface.” Bush said that the violence in the Middle East was evidence of a more effective foreign policy that addresses “root causes.”

The world can’t survive another two and a half years of this …

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Bolton Lies; Righties Confused

Bush Administration, North Korea

I saw this headline on Memeorandum — “John Bolton Embarrasses a Confused Senator Kerry (Video)” — linking to a rightie site, and of course I had to click on it. And here is the exchange in which Bolton allegedly “totally outclassed” Senator Kerry, according to the rightie.

Democrats like John Kerry have vowed to fight the nomination (of John Bolton). Kerry showed up at the very last minute of today’s hearing and it turned into a barbed exchange between the Bush Administration’s attempt to engage North Korea in 6 party talks:

    John Kerry: This has been going on for five years, Mr. Ambassador.

    John Bolton: It’s the nature of multilateral negotiations, Senator.

    John Kerry: Why not engage in a bilateral one and get the job done? That’s what the Clinton Administration did.

    John Bolton: And, very poorly since the North Koreans violated the agreed framework almost from the time it was signed.

Ouch!… It’s pretty painful to watch.

What’s painful is that Bolton was wrong, as in either ignorant or lying, and righties are too dense to realize it.

Returning to the “Blame Bush for North Korea’s Nukes” Mahablog archive, we find (note in particular difference between uranium and plutonium) —

Throughout 1993 North Korea and the IAEA inspectors engaged in major head butting. The IAEA said North Korea had more uranium and plutonium fuel than it was admitting to. Also, the U.S. announced that it had intelligence, some from satellite photos, that there was a lot of nuclear-waste-related activity going on in North Korea that had been concealed from the IAEA. Details here.

Although North Korea had both uranium and plutonium, it was the plutonium that really worried everyone. In the nuclear weapons biz there is a huge difference between plutonium and uranium that news stories don’t always make clear. Very basically, you need vast amounts of uranium and years and years of processing in order to get enough nuclear stuff to make a bomb. But plutonium is nearly ready to use out of the box, so to speak.

The biggest point of ignorance on the part of the righties has to do with the distinction between plutonium and uranium, and as I said, lots of journalists, and also lots of politicians, are not clear about this, either. But now you are informed.

So, even though North Korea had both uranium and plutonium, it was the plutonium that concerned the rest of the world. The North Koreans were thought to be years away from doing much with the uranium. But by 1993 it was believed North Korea already had enough plutonium in the can, so to speak, for at least one nuclear weapon.

With me so far? Plutonium real bad, real scary. Uranium bad and scary, but harder to make a bomb with than plutonium. More details about this below.

In 1994, western intelligence sources realized that a reprocessing complex being built at Yongbyon included a gas graphite reactor designed specifically for separating plutonium from nuclear waste. This scared the stuffing out of lots of people. The IAEA believed North Korea was hiding more plutonium somewhere. And then North Korea announced it was restricting IAEA inspections. Matters came to a head in June 1994, when North Korea relinquished its IAEA membership and all the inspectors cleared out of the country.

But then along came Jimmy. In June 1994, former President Carter went to North Korea to negotiate with Kim Il Sung, president of North Korea. These negotiations were a great success. North Korea committed to freezing its plutonium weapons program in exchange for two proliferation-resistant nuclear reactors and other aid. …

… Specifically, the agreement stipulated that North Korea’s graphite-moderated nuclear power plants, which could easily produce weapons grade plutonium, would be replaced with light water reactor (LWR) power plants by a target date of 2003.

You can read the actual text of the 1994 agreement here. You will see that the language of the agreement refers specifically to North Korea’s “graphite-moderated reactors and related facilities.” The graphite reactors, as explained above, were specifically for separating plutonium from nuclear waste. I am no nuclear engineer, but from my research I believe graphite reactors are not used for processing uranium. It’s easier to process uranium in other ways. For more information, here is an article about North Korea’s graphite reactors from the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists.

I have found another good source for historical background, which is this PBS Online Newshour page on North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs. It provides a basic history of North Korea’s nuclear research programs going back to the Korean War. If you scroll down to the part about the Agreed Framework, you read (emphasis added),

The main goal in offering North Korea LWRs [light water reactors]was to eliminate the output of plutonium that could be used for weapons. David Albright and Holly Higgins of the Institute for Science and International Security explained the difference between the reactors in a 1997 report.

“If the two light water reactors slated to be built in North Korea are operated to optimize power production, they will discharge about 500 kg of reactor-grade plutonium a year in highly radioactive spent fuel. However, this plutonium cannot be used in nuclear weapons until it is separated from this radioactive fuel,” Albright and Higgins wrote. “North Korea’s existing reprocessing plant…would require extensive and difficult modification to separate all this plutonium.”

Back to the “Blame Bush” page in The Mahablog archives:

And, in spite of what the righties will tell you, the North Koreans kept this agreement. The plutonium processing at Yongbyon and elsewhere stopped, and IAEA inspectors were allowed back into North Korea. The plutonium processors were sealed with IAEA seals.

As for the U.S. part of the bargain — the U.S. was supposed to supply North Korea with fuel oil until the first of the light-water reactors went online. The target date for that was 2003. Congress dragged its feet on approving the funds for the fuel oil, so the Clinton Administration got around this by forming a multinational consortium, called KEDO to implement the agreement and build the reactors. KEDO began fuel shipments in 1995. Construction on the reactors was held up, mostly by North Korea, and didn’t begin until 2001. Construction was suspended in 2003. This is also explained on the PBS Online Newshour page linked above. (Note: Wikipedia gets some details about the LWRs wrong, so don’t use it as a source.)

Now, strictly speaking, North Korea wasn’t supposed to process uranium either, especially not weapons grade uranium, because it was signed on to other agreements — the Korean Peninsula Denuclearization Declaration, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, etc. And, according to the PBS page, North Korea was alleged to be either processing uranium or preparing to process uranium in the 1990s. The Clinton Administration knew of this by 1998 or so. The Clinton Administration felt the situation needed watching. But U.S. intelligence said North Korea was a long way away from having weapons grade uranium, so it was not a situation that needed to be blown up into an international crisis right away.

As explained on the “Blame Bush” page in detail, nearly as soon as he became president George W. Bush began to antagonize both North and South Korea in several ways. Then in the fall of 2002 James Kelly, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, made a big stink about North Korea’s processing of uranium. That’s uranium, notice, not plutonium. So in the weeks before the November 2002 elections, and just about the time concrete was being poured for the first light-water reactor, Bush Administration surrogates were all over the cable news talk shows hoo-hawing about how the Clinton Administration was so stupid that they didn’t know North Korea was violating the agreement. Except at that time North Korea was not processing plutonium.

How reliable are the Bush Administration’s claims about uranium? In the January/February 2005 issue of Foreign Affairs, Selig Harrison argued that the Bush Administration was way short of credible evidence that North Korea was seeking to process weapons-grade uranium. Could the Bush Administration have misrepresented and distorted the intelligence data the way it did with Iraq?

A review of the available evidence suggests that this is just what happened. Relying on sketchy data, the Bush administration presented a worst-case scenario as an incontrovertible truth and distorted its intelligence on North Korea (much as it did on Iraq), seriously exaggerating the danger that Pyongyang is secretly making uranium-based nuclear weapons.

This part is critical:

Washington’s accusation of Pyongyang was delivered during a visit to the North Korean capital by James Kelly, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs. Kelly told a key North Korean official that he had evidence of a uranium-enrichment project. According to Kelly, the North Korean official, First Deputy Foreign Minister Kang Sok Ju, acknowledged the existence of such a program at the time. But Kang has subsequently denied this; what he actually told Kelly, according to Foreign Minister Paek Nam Sun, was deliberately ambiguous: that North Korea is “entitled” to have such a program or “an even more powerful one” to deter a pre-emptive U.S. attack. …

… Kelly’s confrontation with Kang seems to have been inspired by the growing alarm felt in Washington in the preceding five months over the ever more conciliatory approach that Seoul and Tokyo had been taking toward Pyongyang; by raising the uranium issue, the Bush administration hoped to scare Japan and South Korea into reversing their policies.

Kelly’s grandstanding activities came immediately after Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi had gone to North Korea without consulting the United States to work out a long-range missile agreement. The Bush Administration, in effect, threw a temper tantrum.

Faced with the prospect that the North Korea policies of South Korea and Japan had slipped out of its control, the Bush administration “saw a real possibility that its options on the [Korean] peninsula would increasingly be driven by the policy agendas of others,” wrote Jonathan Pollack, chairman of the Strategic Research Department at the U.S. Naval War College in the summer of 2003. Plans for Kelly’s visit to Pyongyang were accelerated, and his showdown with North Korean leaders came less than three weeks after Koizumi’s meeting with Kim Jong Il.

Pollack suggests that Kelly’s charges were not justified by U.S. intelligence.

You can read the details in the Foreign Affairs article. Selig Harrison goes on to argue that North Korea didn’t have the equipment or capacity to process weapons-grade uranium. Harrison goes into a lot of detail about what North Korea had and what it had bought from whom; again, you can read about that in the article. Bottom line, North Korea was nowhere near having the 1,300 high-performance centrifuges required to process weapons-grade uranium, much less all the replacement parts they would need to keep the operation running.

I’m not going to re-hash the whole sorry history of the Bush Administration’s “negotiations” with North Korea. There’s been a lot of bad behavior on both sides. The juicy bits are these: In December 2002 the Bush Administration announced it was stopping the oil shipments, and North Korea responded by saying it would go back into the plutonium processing biz. And in February 2005 North Korea announced it had plutonium weapons.

And John Bolton is full of shit, and the righties are still ignorant of what’s really going on. Yada, yada, yada.

I hope you don’t mind my re-hashing this North Korean stuff. I just feel compelled to try to get the truth out every time the Bushies repeat the lies.

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