Browsing the blog archivesfor the day Friday, November 3rd, 2006.

Giant Bloodsucking Worms

blogging, Bush Administration, Iraq War, Weapons of Mass Destruction

For some reason, today I keep thinking of the X-Files episode in which Mulder says, matter-of-factly, “It looks like I’m gonna have to tell Skinner that his suspect is a giant bloodsucking worm after all.” One of the all-time great moments of television.

Today I’m looking at the Right Blogosphere and thinking, “They really are that stupid, after all.”

The background story, which you’ve probably heard by now, comes out of today’s New York Times. William J. Broad writes that Iraqi documents the U.S. government had posted on the web to keep the wingnuts busy included —

… detailed accounts of Iraq’s secret nuclear research before the 1991 Persian Gulf war. The documents, the experts say, constitute a basic guide to building an atom bomb.

I repeat, accounts of Iraq’s nuclear research before the 1991 Persian Gulf war.

Skip over to National Review Online, where Jim Geraghty writes,

I’m sorry, did the New York Times just put on the front page that IRAQ HAD A NUCLEAR WEAPONS PROGRAM AND WAS PLOTTING TO BUILD AN ATOMIC BOMB?

What? Wait a minute. The entire mantra of the war critics has been “no WMDs, no WMDs, no threat, no threat”, for the past three years solid. Now we’re being told that the Bush administration erred by making public information that could help any nation build an atomic bomb.


I think the Times editors are counting on this being spun as a “Boy, did Bush screw up” meme; the problem is, to do it, they have to knock down the “there was no threat in Iraq” meme, once and for all. Because obviously, Saddam could have sold this information to anybody, any other state, or any well-funded terrorist group that had publicly pledged to kill millions of Americans and had expressed interest in nuclear arms. You know, like, oh… al-Qaeda.

The New York Times just tore the heart out of the antiwar argument, and they are apparently completely oblivous to it.

There are times when I almost wish I were a rightie. If you are a rightie, you can be don’t know shit from shinola stupid, and get paid for it. Must be nice. (See also “Cry, the Beloved Stupid Country” at A Tiny Revolution.)

That Iraq knew how to make nuclear bombs isn’t exactly a surprise. Through the magic of the Internets and the Google, we can find detailed information on Iraq’s nuclear weapons program before the 1991 Gulf war. We can learn that Iraq had a lot of uranium, and that in 1989 Iraq began construction on the mass production of centrifuges and a pilot-scale cascade hall at Al Furat. We can learn that Iraq “planned to divert highly enriched uranium, that was subjected to Agency safeguards, at Tuwaitha under a ‘crash programme’ to use the material in the production of a nuclear weapon,” says the IAEA. And on the same page we learn that

  • Iraq’s primary focus was a basic implosion fission design, fuelled by HEU
  • Using open-source literature and theoretical studies, ran various computer codes through Iraq’s mainframe computer to adapt the codes and develop the physical constants for a nuclear weapon development programme
  • Was aware of more advanced weapon design concepts
  • Invested significant efforts to understand the various options for neutron initiators
  • This is not news. This is stuff the IAEA had up on the web, in English, before the 2003 invasion. I know this because I found it way back then.

    However, if you don’t have stuff to make a bomb with — you know, like uranium and hundreds of centrifuges — the plans are not all that effective. You could wad them up and toss crumpled paper balls at people, but that’s about it. And on the same page (scroll down to the chart at the bottom) we can learn that Iraq’s nuclear program stuff was destroyed, either by the 1991 Gulf war or by the IAEA.

    Thus, information about Iraq’s nuclear weapons program before 1991 is not relevant to a decision to invade Iraq in 2003, unless you have new information that they’d rebuilt their centrifuges and cascade hall and such, and the IAEA was very certain they had not done this. Remember, inspectors were re-admitted into Iraq more than four months before the invasion, and they had found what was left of Iraq’s nuclear bomb-making facilities exactly as it had been left in 1998. You can find the IAEA’s press releases and reports on Iraq’s nuclear facilities from September 2002 to July 2003 here.

    Once again, I am dumbfounded — which is what happens when you have found stuff that’s dumb — at how little the righties understand the history of Iraq’s WMDs and by their utter inability to comprehend linear time. (See also, from the Maha archives, “Jeez, Righties Are So Gullible.”)

    Today, some of them seem to think that Saddam could have just snapped his fingers and had an advanced nuclear weapons program cranked up in no time. No, dears. We’re talking about a nation with only some centrifuge fragments buried in some guy’s flower garden. It would have taken them years to get back to where they were in 1991, especially after the inspectors were readmitted.

    Broad of the Times says it was the IAEA that noticed the Iraqi plans on the web and asked that it be taken off.

    Officials of the International Atomic Energy Agency, fearing that the information could help states like Iran develop nuclear arms, had privately protested last week to the American ambassador to the agency, according to European diplomats who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the issue’s sensitivity. One diplomat said the agency’s technical experts “were shocked” at the public disclosures.

    Early this morning, a spokesman for Gregory L. Schulte, the American ambassador, denied that anyone from the agency had approached Mr. Schulte about the Web site.

    You’ll remember that last March, John Negroponte, Director of National Intelligence, posted a bunch of random documents captured in postwar Iraq and Afghanistan. These were hyped as possibly being the mother lode of proof that Saddam Hussein either had WMDs or was in cahoots with al Qaeda. Righties seized upon these and eagerly began to “interpret” them, often to hilarious results. So far little in them has been news, except to righties.

    Via Oliver Willis, an NPR interview of Michael Scheuer from April on the document dump.

    BROOKE GLADSTONE: Well, clearly, somebody feels it’s in America’s interest. This has been a Republican-pushed release. Would there be some potential benefit for the Republicans?

    MICHAEL SCHEUER: Oh, I think clearly there is, and we’ve already seen their mouthpiece, The Weekly Standard, has already run a couple of articles saying that this proves Saddam did X or did Y, without any [LAUGHING] real knowledge of how the new documents fit into the context of everything else we know. It’s just plain amateurishness – or they know what’s in these documents and they figure it can help them by releasing it.

    Today Thomas Friedmannot the sharpest tack in the box, himself — complained that Bushies think voters are stupid.

    They think they can take a mangled quip about President Bush and Iraq by John Kerry — a man who is not even running for office but who, unlike Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney, never ran away from combat service — and get you to vote against all Democrats in this election.

    Every time you hear Mr. Bush or Mr. Cheney lash out against Mr. Kerry, I hope you will say to yourself, “They must think I’m stupid.” Because they surely do.

    Ah, Mr. Friedman — look at Bush’s base. They really are that stupid, after all.

    Commentary from Smart People:

    Christy Hardin Smith, “NUKE-u-lar MOH-rons.”

    Scott Lemieux , “Charles Johnson, Genius

    Michael Bérubé, “ABF Friday: Special Election Edition!

    Steve Gilliard, ” Taking the pinheads bowling

    Digby, “Secretary of Hack

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    The Course Will Not Be Stayed

    Bush Administration, Democratic Party, Iraq War, Republican Party

    Damnfool David Ignatius actually gets paid to write stuff like this —

    Following Tuesday’s elections, President Bush will face some of the most difficult decisions of his presidency as he struggles to craft a strategy for dealing with the ruinous mess in Iraq. He will have to do what he has sometimes found hardest: make a decisive choice among conflicting recommendations from his advisers.

    Oh, please. Bush is not going to face anything. He’s not going to decide anything. He’s not going to make any policy changes. After all this time, I can’t believe anyone paying attention (I assume Ignatius is paying attention) hasn’t perceived that Bush is not capable of facing difficult decisions or making decisive choices that he doesn’t want to make.

    No matter how the elections turn out, here’s what is going to happen between November 7 and the beginning of the next congressional term, regarding the Middle East:

    The Baker-Hamilton recommendations will be made public. The punditocracy will spend days dissecting them, and any Republican with aspirations to the 2008 presidential nomination will declare them to be a sensible roadmap to an honorable resolution. Bush will make some noises about taking the recommendations under consideration. And nothing more will happen.

    There will be rumbles coming out of the Department of State about a policy shift regarding Arab-Israeli issues. Condi Rice will tell Tim Russert that the President sincerely wants moderate Arabs and American allies in Europe and elsewhere to take a larger role and work together to address these issues. Pundits (like Ignatius) will write columns about how the United States must deal directly with Syria. And they will write that the United States must pressure Israel into making some concessions to the Palestinians. And then some other event or issue will take up most of media’s attention for a few days, and the policy shift will have been forgotten. And nothing more will happen.

    If Democrats take back at least one house of Congress, I expect Bush to make some speeches in November and December declaring that he won’t let the Dems dictate Iraq policy. He will use the words strategy and victory a lot. If the Lords of Diebold allow the Republicans to retain control of Congress, Bush will interpret this as a “mandate” for the continuation of his Iraq policies, and he will dig in even more stubbornly. Bush’s speechwriters will be challenged to come up with a new way to say “stay the course” other than, you know, “stay the course.”

    What happens after January is a much more interesting question. And what happens may or may not depend on who controls Congress, because politicians of both parties will be under pressure to force Bush to change the course. Ron Hutcheson writes for McClatchy Newspapers:

    Voters rank the war as their top concern, and polls consistently show that they want their leaders to come up with a better plan to bring the troops home. There’s no consensus on what to do, but pressure for change is building in both political parties.

    How President Bush responds probably will define his final two years in power.

    A recent Gallup poll found that nearly 60 percent of Americans favor a new strategy for Iraq. Only 7 percent want to stay the course.

    “The public absolutely wants something to be done about Iraq – overwhelmingly. They want their leaders to do something about Iraq that is different,” said Frank Newport, Gallup’s editor in chief. “They’re not expert enough to know what to do, they just want something done.”

    No one suggests that the election could lead to a quick withdrawal or even a dramatic shift in tactics. Bush will retain his power as commander in chief, no matter which party runs Congress. At this point, the policy options for Iraq seem to range from bad to worse: add troops, withdraw troops, stay the course.

    But analysts say the president can expect growing dissent and more pressure for change from lawmakers of both parties and the American people if the situation fails to improve.

    Any party or politician who wants to win elections in 2008 is going to have to at the very least put some distance between himself and Bush’s War. (This will set up a situation in which a whole lot of Republicans were for the war before they were against it, but of course they will bristle with indignation if any Dem points that out.) Republicans in Congress — especially those outside the South — ought to realize that they cannot continue to echo Bush’s rhetoric and support Bush’s every cough and be assured to keep their jobs (or get a better one, like being president) after 2008.

    This is not to say that they won’t try the Saint McCain strategy of appearing to oppose the President while letting him have everything he wants. And if the Republicans do better than expected on Tuesday, many of them might conclude that they only need to shore up Diebold and gerrymander a few more districts to keep themselves out of voters’ reach. And many of them might be right. But the loss of a substantial number of seats might shock enough of them into considering the possibility that democracy in America isn’t completely dead yet. And in that case, Washington might see a rebirth of genuine bipartisanship.

    If Dems take back the House as expected, at the very least they’re going to have to make a big, loud, highly visible, splashy effort to force Bush to change his policy. Everyone in America should see them fighting their butts off to get Bush to change his policy. Holding a few hearings and passing a couple of resolutions won’t be enough. Even if they fail, they must show the public that it’s Bush’s War, and that the failure is Bush’s fault.

    Nearly 75 percent of voters think the Dems will either end of scale back the U.S. involvement in Iraq if they take back Congress. If Dems take back Congress but can’t deliver on Iraq, the public had better see them get bruised and bloodied trying.

    But I think it’s possible enough Republicans will want to get on that bandwagon that there might actually be a veto-proof majority with the constitutional power to override Bush.

    For the next couple of years Republicans are likely to be in the very uncomfortable position of trying to protect the Bush Administration from, you know, investigations and scrutiny and oversight and such, because a lot of them are complicit in whatever he’s been up to. If he goes down, so will they. But at the same time, they’re going to have to oppose his unpopular policies, particularly on the Iraq War, or they’ll be toast in 2008.

    Democrats, on the other hand, for once have the advantage of clarity. Finally, as Joan Walsh says, they stand for something, which is change in Iraq. Republicans will have to waffle and equivocate; Dems can pound the podium and say the course will not be stayed. I think, with only a couple of exceptions, even Dems who voted for the 2002 resolution ought to be able to to draw a clear, bright line between themselves and a lying, incompetent Bush. And there may be some Republicans about to conclude that they’d better draw that same line.

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