Browsing the blog archivesfor the day Friday, July 28th, 2006.


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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

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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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What Compassion Looks Like

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criminal justice

You may not be as interested as I am in the Andrea Yates case, but if you are — this commentary on the second jury is very moving.

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In Contempt

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Bush Administration, Middle East

I’ve been blogging about the Bush Administration for just over four years. During that time it’s rare that a day has gone by without some fresh outrage or revelation to write about. But now the calamities are coming so fast my head is spinning. Several major, and dangerous, developments are happening all at once. It’s hard to keep up.

For the past few days I’ve not been following the latest developments on President Bush’s dismantling of the Constitution. I haven’t blogged about the situation in Iraq, which continues to deteriorate. (And the tours of duty by already overstressed troops have been extended, because President Weenie lacks the moral courage to call for a draft to fight his war. I’ve got a really good rant in me on that point.) I haven’t written much about the California heat wave (get used to it, folks). And then there’s the energy crisis, the shrinking middle class, and a host of other big red flags I have barely acknowledged recently.

Instead, I’ve been focused on Lebanon, with despair.

Here’s something I didn’t know. Simon Tisdall posts at The Guardian web site (emphasis added):

In the week preceding Hizbullah’s July 12 cross-border raid into Israel that sparked the Lebanon war, the UN security council was wrestling with a draft resolution on Gaza. Sponsored by Arab countries, it called for the unconditional release of an Israeli soldier captured by Palestinian militants on June 25, an end to the firing of rockets from Gaza into Israel, and a halt to Israel’s “disproportionate” military response that was killing and injuring dozens of Palestinian civilians.

In the event, the US vetoed the Gaza resolution on the grounds that it was “unbalanced” and, ironically in the light of subsequent events, would have exacerbated regional tensions. John Bolton, the US ambassador, said the draft “places demands on one side of the Middle East conflict but not the other”. In a taste of things to come, Britain abstained from voting.

The security council’s failure during the period beginning June 25 to offer even a statement of concern about events in Gaza is one possible reason why Hizbullah took the incendiary action it did on July 12, capturing two more Israeli soldiers and killing several others. The Lebanese Shia militia doubtless had other motives, too. But it appeared determined to stand up for the Palestinians when the international community was evidently unwilling or unable to do so.

The council’s subsequent record as the Lebanon war has unfolded in all its unchecked barbarity has been even less edifying. It has been effectively sidelined as the US has repeatedly disrupted collective attempts to achieve an immediate halt to the violence. Efforts by the French council presidency to gather support for a ceasefire resolution have made scant progress in the face of ongoing US obstruction.

In writing about the Lebanon crisis many of us, me included, feel obligated to attempt balance: “Israel has a right to defend itself, but …”; “Hezbollah provoked this aggression, but. …” I was in high school during the Six Day War, and I remember when Jerusalem was united under Israeli control, and like most Americans I thought this was grand. I was a senior at the University of Missouri when Palestinian terrorists murdered the Israeli Olympic wrestling team in Munich, and like most Americans I was heartbroken and angry. (I remember a large part of the student body showed up at the Hillel Center for a memorial service; I went with my two roommates, who were Catholic and Southern Baptist.) Before that time I was barely aware of the Palestinians; they did not make a good first impression. The next year Egypt and Syria attacked Israel, touching off the Yom Kippur War. Like most Americans I was angry with the Muslim nations determined to destroy Israel. Like most Americans I admired Prime Minister Golda Meir.

In those days more of my attention was given to Vietnam and Watergate, of course, plus the usual messiness of my so-called life. By the time Ronald Reagan sent Marines to Lebanon I had a handful of a baby girl to deal with and wasn’t paying attention to international affairs. And until very recently I had not blogged much at all about Israel and the Palestinians. As I wrote a few days ago, “I don’t pay as much attention to the Israeli-Palestinian situation as I should; after all these years, it’s become background noise to me, I’m sorry to say.”

I wasn’t paying attention this year, when this happened:

Less than a year after its disengagement from Gaza, Israel has become deeply re-engaged, in a sharp escalation of fighting that could ignite a third intifada. The proximate cause was a Palestinian guerrilla attack against an Israeli army base, in which two soldiers were killed and one was taken prisoner. In response Israel launched a furious assault on the entire population of Gaza, destroying its only energy plant, which left 700,000 people without power, and seizing more than two dozen Hamas elected officials. Israel’s leading liberal daily, Ha’aretz, warned that “the government is losing its reason…arresting people to use as bargaining chips is the act of a gang, not of a state.” Amnesty International condemned the attacks against civilian infrastructure as a war crime, and the UN’s Relief and Works Agency warned that Gaza is “on the brink of a public health disaster.”

In an exercise of selective memory, Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns defended Israel, saying, “Let’s remember who started this. It was the outrageous actions of Hamas in violating Israel’s sovereignty, in taking the soldier hostage.” In fact, the current cycle of violence was set off by weeks of Israeli shellings that culminated in the killing of eight Palestinian civilians on a Gaza beach. On a deeper level, the violence arises from the Israeli strategy of unilateralism, in which even the pretense of negotiations is abandoned and Israel alone decides its final borders, while maintaining control over the territories through closures, military assaults and assassination. After Hamas came to power in January in the Arab world’s most democratic elections, Israel and the United States tried to provoke the government’s collapse by cutting off aid and tax revenues, even though Hamas maintained its yearlong cease-fire and its officials repeatedly declared it could accept a two-state solution or at least a long-term truce. Far from leading to Hamas’s demise, the economic strangulation infuriated Palestinians, convincing many that the United States and Israel care nothing about democracy. After the beach killings, popular outrage finally led Hamas’s military wing to call off its cease-fire. [“Lawless in Gaza,” The Nation, July 31, 2006]

I read the editorial quoted above a couple of weeks ago, and yet I still feel obligated to add the qualifiers — “Israel has a right to defend itself, but …”; “Hezbollah provoked this aggression, but. …”

Yesterday Billmon wrote,

I’ve felt many emotions about the Israelis before. I’ve admired them for their accomplishments — building a flourishing state out of almost nothing. I’ve hated them for their systematic dispossession of the Palestinians — even as they smugly congratulated themselves for being the Middle East’s only “democracy.” I’ve pitied them for the cruel fate history inflicted on the Jewish diaspora, respected them for their boldness and daring, honored them for their cultural and intellectual achievements. But the one thing I’ve never felt, at least up until now, is contempt.

But that is what I’m feeling now. The military and political leaders of the Jewish state are doing and saying things that go way beyond the blustering arrogance of a powerful nation at war. Not to put too fine a point on it, but they are behaving like a gang of militaristic thugs — whose reply to any criticism or reproach is an expletive deleted and the smash of an iron fist.

Billmon goes on to make a good case for feeling contempt for Israel. I cannot say I feel contempt for Israel, however. Not yet, anyway, and not the way I felt contempt for the PLO after the Munich Olympics. For Israel, more than anything else, I am terribly sad. I’m sad because Israel has chosen a path that I think could lead to its own destruction. What Israel is doing to Lebanon now will be regretted by many generations of Israelis, if there are many more generations of Israelis.

In RightieWorld, one either supports Israel’s every cough or one hopes for Israel’s destruction. It’s beyond their comprehension that a person could support Israel’s right to exist in peace and yet condemn its current actions. This rightie thinks Howard Dean is inconsistent because he said, in 2003, that the United States should not take sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — “Israel has always been a longtime ally with a special relationship with the United States, but if we are going to bargain by being in the middle of the negotiations then we are going to have to take an evenhanded role.” But in 2006 he said of the government of Iraq — “We don’t need to spend $200 and $300 and $500 billion bringing democracy to Iraq to turn it over to people who believe that Israel doesn’t have a right to defend itself and who refuse to condemn Hezbollah.”

But of course there is no inconsistency at all. To say that one should not favor one side over another doesn’t mean one cannot criticize aggression against Israel, nor does it mean one doesn’t support Israel’s right to exist. Instead, it means supporting right actions and condemning wrong actions, no matter who does them.

Right now, I’m saving my contempt for the Bush Administration. It’s knee-jerk support for Israel, no matter what, is shaming all of us and forcing the rest of the world to take sides against us. Christopher Dickey writes,

The bottom line: Hizbullah is winning. That’s the hideous truth about the direction this war is taking, not in spite of the way the Israelis have waged their counterattack, but precisely because of it. As my source Mr. Frankly put it, “Hizbullah is eating their lunch.”

The United States, following Israel’s lead, does not want an immediate ceasefire precisely because that would hand Hizbullah a classic guerrilla-style victory: it started this fight against a much greater military force—and it’s still standing. In the context of a region where vast Arab armies have been defeated in days, for a militia to hold out one week, two weeks and more, is seen as heroic. Hizbullah is the aggressor, the underdog and the noble survivor, all at once. “It’s that deadly combination of the expectation game, which Hizbullah have won, and the victim game, which they’ve also won,” as my straight-talking friend put it.

Neither U.S. nor Israeli policymakers have taken this dynamic into account. If they had, they’d understand that with each passing day, no matter how many casualties it takes, Hizbullah’s political power grows. Several of my worldly Lebanese and Arab friends here in Rome today—people who loathe Hizbullah—understand this problem well. Privately they say that’s one of the main reasons they are so horrified at the direction this war has taken: they fear not only that Lebanon will be destroyed, but that Hizbullah will wind up planting its banner atop the mountain of rubble.

Note, dear righties: Some of us oppose Israel’s actions not because we support Hezbollah, but because we don’t.

When I heard Condi talking in pitiless academic pieties today about “strong and robust” mandates and “dedicated and urgent action,” I actually felt sorry for her, for our government, and for Israel. As in Iraq three years ago, the administration has been blinded to the political realities by shock-and-awe military firepower. Clinging to its faith in precision-guided munitions and cluster bombs, it has decided to let Lebanon bleed, as if that’s the way to build the future for peace and democracy.

I don’t feel sorry for Condi. I feel contempt for Condi, and Rummy, and Dick, and George, and the rest of the clueless wonders whose shameful policies are causing so much death and destruction, to no good purpose. I respect Israel, but I love America, and these people are shaming America.

Going back to Simon Tisdall, we read that “anger is growing” at the United States and its spoiling tactics. In the UN Security Council, the U.S. is obstructing cease-fire plans and tying the UN’s hands. Now even Tony Blair is trying to tell Bush that there must be a cease-fire, and the sooner the better for everybody.

At a White House meeting, the prime minister will express his concern that pro-western Arab governments are “getting squeezed” by the crisis and the longer it continues, the more squeezed they will be, giving militants a boost. The private view from No 10 is that the US is “prevaricating” over the resolution and allowing the conflict to run on too long.

But diplomatic sources in Washington suggest the US and Israel believe serious damage has been inflicted on Hizbullah, so the White House is ready to back a ceasefire resolution at the UN next week. Today Mr Bush and Mr Blair will discuss a version of the resolution that has been circulating in Washington and London.

I like the part about “serious damage” being inflicted on Hezbollah. Maybe Israel and the U.S. realize Hezbollah is winning, and Israel is preparing to declare victory and withdraw. Let’s hope so.

Also: If you want to do something, please check out this ceasefire campaign. I don’t know any more about this organization than what’s on their web site, but it appears to be legitimate.

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