More Sizzle Than Pop

When I heard about explosives on a Delta flight to Detroit, my first reaction was the same as Thers:

It means Greater Wingnuttia is going to get the very special happy Christmas they most desire, because what they like best of all is to wet their pants in an ecstasy of hysterical screeching;

I noticed the initial blogosphere reactions to the incident were almost all from the Right. I assume they spent yesterday stuffing Christ back into Christmas, but they took time out to comment on the near-atrocity. However, the reaction from the screechers seems to me a tad toned down from what it would have been two or three years ago. So far, for example, Little Lulu has not devoted even one exclamation mark to the story. Maybe she’s run through her yearly quota.

The incident must have been genuinely terrifying for the passengers. On the other hand, if this is the best al Qaeda can do these days (assuming al Qaeda is involved at all, which I think at the moment is only being assumed) I’d say we’re winning the war on weapons of mass destruction-related program activities, although terror itself still has some of us on the ropes.

Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) is telling people the man with the explosives has “significant terrorist connections.” This would be great news if it were true; it would tell us that significant terrorists are a pretty lame crew these days.

Wingnut Hysteria II

I put this at the end of the “Wingnut Hysteria” post below, but I think I’ll give it its own post so it doesn’t get lost.

One of the running themes of the various Idiots I called out in “Wingnut Hysteria” is that the Tuwaitha yellowcake proves that Joe Wilson lied. For example, Patterico says I am missing the point of the significance of the Tuwaitha yellowcake.

The debate isn’t about if Saddam was on the verge of obtaining nukes or not. Rather, it is about the fact that Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame are liars – something that most of the press refuses to acknowledge. Notably, Mahablog doesn’t mention the Joe Wilson controversy at all.

Please. The yellowcake in Tuwaitha is completely unrelated to Joe Wilson. The Tuwaitha yellowcake had been sitting in those drums, with the IAEA seals, at least since the end of the Gulf War. The IAEA had exhaustively inventoried it and monitored it from 1991 until inspections stopped in 1998, and when they went back in 2003 they found nothing whatsoever had changed — nothing had been added, nothing had been taken away. The same barrels were still there, with the same seals.

Documentation for the IAEA inspections is in my old Tuwaitha posts, and you can also find some of the same documentation on this Iraq Nuclear Verification Office page, which provides summaries of inspections from 1991 to 1998

Wilson’s trip to Niger in 2002 was to investigate an alleged sale of uranium in the late 1990s. The alleged Niger uranium had nothing whatsoever to do with the Tuwaitha uranium.

In fact, one of my arguments all along about the 16 words and the alleged Niger yellowcake was that it made no sense for Saddam Hussein to purchase more yellowcake when he was already sitting on a huge pile of yellowcake that he didn’t have the technology to enrich.

Destroyer of Worlds

There’s an article in the current issue of Harper’s by Jonathan Schell that speaks both to my disgust with the Bush II Administration and my concerns about a potential Clinton II Administration.

In “NOTEBOOK: The Moral Equivalent of Empire” (PDF), Schell discusses nuclear proliferation, and says that during the Cold War the nuclear threat was addressed directly and contained. However,

Since the end of the Cold War, the nuclear threat has had a strange career. At first, it was simply forgotten, apparently in the profoundly misguided belief that the Cold War and the nuclear threat had been one and the same, and that the end of one meant the end of the other.

Schell provides a review of the nuclear challenge during the Cold War, then writes,

Such was the background of the issues faced by the United States when the Soviet Union liquidated itself, and, for a fourth time in the nuclear age, the question of what nuclear weapons were for was put on the table. But now the silence fell. The Clinton Administration announced a “detargeting” agreement with Boris Yeltsin’s Russia, but it was no more than a smoke screen, as the weapons could be retargeted in hours or minutes. Yet no new target was announced. The United States faced what Senator Sam Nunn called a “threat blank.” In the bowels of the Pentagon, some spoke of a counterproliferation role. for nuclear weapons, but such a goal could not even in theory justify arsenals of many thousands of warheads, which entered a sort of policy-free zone. During the Cold War, a sprawling intellectual edifice, centering on the deterrence doctrine, had been built up to justify nuclear arsenals and their use. Nothing of the kind emerged in the post-Cold War era.

In the absence of global leadership or consensus, several nations — including India, Pakistan, Iran, and North Korea — decided to join the privileged circle of nuclear powers. An age of renewed nuclear proliferation was under way. And then came Dubya.

Thus things remained, more or less, until just after September 11, 2001, when George W. Bush launched a full-scale revolution in the nation’s nuclear policies. He gave an answer to the basic questions that had gone unasked since the early 1990s: What were nuclear weapons for? Who, if anyone, should possess them, who should not, and who should decide which was to be which, and make the decision stick? Bush’s answers were simple, bold, clear, and pursued with tenacity. The United States and its allies would possess nuclear weapons, and others–especially “rogue states”–would not. The United States alone would enforce the rules in this double-standard world, and would do so with the application of overwhelming military force, including nuclear force. The threat blank and the policy vacuum were now at an abrupt end. For better or worse, the United States was at last in possession of a comprehensive nuclear policy. …

… Today, almost five years later, this policy is manifestly in ruins. Proliferation ‘has not been checked; it has gained new force and breadth. Existing arsenals still provoke proliferation, and vice versa. North Korea is a fledgling nuclear power, and Pakistan is in the midst of a deep political crisis, raising fears that its nuclear weapons could fall into the hands of Islamic extremists. The mirage of a smoking gun/mushroom cloud in Iraq lured the United States into a disaster that has acquired a dangerous and unpredictable life of its own. Military dominance of the globe by an imperial United States, whether aimed at counter-proliferation or anything else, is a vanished dream. Meanwhile, there are signs of renewed confrontation between the old Cold War nuclear powers, where, after all, the mother lode of nuclear danger still lies. Russia and the United States are sparring over missile defenses that the United State proposes to deploy in Eastern Europe. Putin has likened the Bush Administration to “a madman running around with a razor,” and has threatened to withdraw from nuclear arms-control agreements made during the Cold War

However, Schell argues, the moral is not that the Clinton approach was right and the Bush approach wrong. The Clinton I Administration mostly avoided the nuclear question. It’s understandable why they did so; had they made any serious moves toward nuclear disarmament the Right would have had a fit. (Of course, Clinton could not so much as walk across linoleum without the Right having a fit about it. He might as well have ignored them.)

To me this exemplifies the pattern shown in the Clinton I Administration that Hillary Clinton has continued in her Senate career — going along to get along. Caution and political expedience are the primary directives; their “bold, new” policies amount to wonky tweaks of the status quo.

Bush, on the other hand, did respond to nuclear proliferation with an audacious, comprehensive doctrine on a scale appropriate to the problem. What the Bush Doctrine offered was a Hobbesian response to a serious issue.

Peace in this scheme was not a casualty of dominance but the product of it. From early modem times down to the present, these tenets have been embodied in the concept of sovereignty, which rests on the idea that in every political system there must be a single, unified power whose decisions are final because it possesses a monopoly on the means of force. (The proponents of absolutism, then as now, have never lacked cogent arguments.)

With remarkable consistency, the Bush doctrine proposed this logic for our time. In this thinking, the idea of global dominance is to today’s world what the idea of national sovereignty was to the time of the foundation of nation-states. It would amount to a system of something like Earth-rule by one nation. In a very real sense, Bush was proposing the United States as a benign global Leviathan. (His unprecedented assertion of presidential powers at home, under the doctrine of the “unitary executive,” , would make the president a kind of sovereign over the United States as well.) In such a system, a double standard, in regard to nuclear weapons and much else, is not a flaw but a first principle and a necessity, as all consistent absolutists know. Whether in: the context of nation-state formation half a millennium ago or of international order today, as large a gap as possible in both rights and power between the lord and the vassals is essential, for it is precisely on this inequality that the system, promising law and order for all, relies. If there is no double standard, there will be no dominance; and if there is no dominance, there will be no peace; and if there is no peace, there will be nuclear anarchy; and if there is nuclear anarchy, there will be nuclear war. And is it wrong to suggest that today, in a widening sphere, the business of the world, going far beyond the management of nuclear danger, must be dealt with on a global basis or not at all?

That’s exactly how the Bushies and neocons think, isn’t it? And after seven years it still seems stunning. We think Bush is being a hypocrite, or just plain delusional, when he calls himself a man of peace, but in his own mind that’s exactly what he is.

Please note that Schell is not saying that the Bushies did the right thing. He’s very clear that this approach has been a disaster.

In the early modern age, an alternative to dominance was proffered at the national level. It was the conception of the state based on law and, the will of the people embodied in the long tradition of democratic consent. … In responding to the universal danger posed by nuclear proliferation, the United States therefore had two suitably universalist traditions that it might have drawn on, one based on consent and law, the other based on force. Bush chose force. It was the wrong choice. It increased the nuclear danger it was meant to prevent. It engendered pointless—and unsuccessful—war and destruction. It set
back democracy at home and abroad. It degraded the United States, and disgraced it in the eyes of the world. It launched the world on a vicious, escalating cycle of violence that could not succeed yet could not, as long as the doctrine was pursued, be abandoned. It collided head-on with the deep-seated conviction of peoples everywhere who, whatever else they may want, are firmly resolved not to bend the knee to any imperial master.

Yet to invoke the tradition of consent and law is not to name a solution to the nuclear dilemma, for obviously none yet has been initiated. Bush has been taken to task for the stubborn willfulness of his leadership as well as for the ambition and audacity of his doctrine, but those qualities are to his credit. They correspond to the immensity and urgency of the task at hand. In this respect, Bush is a model. If such is not granted, the ruin he has brought will not be repaired—it can only be compounded, though possibly at a slower pace. It will be of no use to revive the tepid measures, vacillating and half-hearted, of the Clinton years, which created the vacuum that Bush so disastrously filled with his imperial doctrine. The deeper tragedy of our times is that no comparable ambition, no comparable audacity, no comparable will, has been mustered by the exponents of the tradition of consent and law. On the contrary, they fearfully offer only half a loaf of their prescription, or, worse, watered-down Bushism, or something in between. Their failing has been as great as his, and more contemptible, since they are the guardians of the path that in all likelihood alone offers hope for delivery from the multiplying perils of our day.

I don’t know if any of the Democratic presidential candidates would have the guts to lead us in a new direction. All I do know is that a Clinton II Administration would likely “manage” the nuclear problem, as in keep their wonky little fingers in the holes in the dike. But that’s about it.

Elsewhere on the Harper’s site I found this article by Scott Horton. Horton quotes President Bush saying that he is being divinely guided.

Of course, looking back on Bush’s divinely inspired works, one wonders about the identity of the deity with whom Bush is conversing. That he was the God of Abraham seems highly improbable. Cartoonists in the United States have regularly given Bush’s God the bodily manifestation and voice of a Yale dropout and retired corporate executive named Dick Cheney. But this lacks imagination. No one doubts the involvement of Dick Cheney in this orgy of blood and destruction, but he himself is merely a mortal vessel serving the god of war and destruction. I’m zeroing in on the Godhead in question, and I’m increasingly convinced that he’s a denizen of the South Asian subcontinent, and in particular the Lord Shiva. He’s famous for a dance of destruction, creating the way for Lord Brahma, the creator. But no doubt about it, Bush is in the gallery of presidents a tremendously potent destructive force. Lord Brahma may, of course, follow in his wake. But I wouldn’t count on it.

You might remember that when physicist Robert Oppenheimer saw the first nuclear mushroom cloud, he quoted the Bhagavad Gita — “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” The destroyer of worlds is Shiva. Scott Horton may be on to something.

He Knew

Sidney Blumenthal writes that President Bush knew Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction before the invasion of Iraq. Or, at least, he was briefed on this but chose to disregard the briefing.

On Sept. 18, 2002, CIA director George Tenet briefed President Bush in the Oval Office on top-secret intelligence that Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction, according to two former senior CIA officers. Bush dismissed as worthless this information from the Iraqi foreign minister, a member of Saddam’s inner circle, although it turned out to be accurate in every detail. Tenet never brought it up again.

Note in particular (emphasis added):

Nor was the intelligence included in the National Intelligence Estimate of October 2002, which stated categorically that Iraq possessed WMD. No one in Congress was aware of the secret intelligence that Saddam had no WMD as the House of Representatives and the Senate voted, a week after the submission of the NIE, on the Authorization for Use of Military Force in Iraq. The information, moreover, was not circulated within the CIA among those agents involved in operations to prove whether Saddam had WMD. …

… In the congressional debate over the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, even those voting against it gave credence to the notion that Saddam possessed WMD. Even a leading opponent such as Sen. Bob Graham, then the Democratic chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who had instigated the production of the NIE, declared in his floor speech on Oct. 12, 2002, “Saddam Hussein’s regime has chemical and biological weapons and is trying to get nuclear capacity.” Not a single senator contested otherwise. None of them had an inkling of the Sabri intelligence.

Apologists for the Administration still insist that Bush’s judgments on WMD were no different from everyone else’s. Just two days ago Republican mouthpiece Ron Christie said on MSNBC’s “Hardball”:

Let me tell you something. This is a man who takes his responsibility his—again, as I said, his responsibility as commander in chief far more seriously than you can imagine when you‘ve never had the opportunity to talk to him and see exactly the deliberation that he goes through.

Let me take that a step further. For you to suggest without knowing what the commander in chief looks at, by way of intelligence—let‘s go back to the Clinton administration, let‘s go back to the previous administrations, people who were convinced that there were weapons of mass destruction, and, in fact, Senator Clinton, many others in the Democrat side of the aisle, believed that Iraq posed an imminent threat to the United States.

This stirring usage of the “Clinton did it too” dodge leaves out the part about Bush withholding intelligence from Congress, doesn’t it? And regarding the Clinton Administration — it’s true that President Clinton suspected Saddam Hussein of having WMDs, which is one reason why he ordered an air strike of WMD targets in Iraq in 1998. In 2004, weapons inspector David Kay (reluctantly) admitted that the Clinton bombing had effectively destroyed much of Iraq’s remaining chemical weapons program. (See also Fred Kaplan.)

Back to Blumenthal:

On April 23, 2006, CBS’s “60 Minutes” interviewed Tyler Drumheller, the former CIA chief of clandestine operations for Europe, who disclosed that the agency had received documentary intelligence from Naji Sabri, Saddam’s foreign minister, that Saddam did not have WMD. “We continued to validate him the whole way through,” said Drumheller. “The policy was set. The war in Iraq was coming, and they were looking for intelligence to fit into the policy, to justify the policy.”

Now two former senior CIA officers have confirmed Drumheller’s account to me and provided the background to the story of how the information that might have stopped the invasion of Iraq was twisted in order to justify it. They described what Tenet said to Bush about the lack of WMD, and how Bush responded, and noted that Tenet never shared Sabri’s intelligence with then Secretary of State Colin Powell. According to the former officers, the intelligence was also never shared with the senior military planning the invasion, which required U.S. soldiers to receive medical shots against the ill effects of WMD and to wear protective uniforms in the desert.

Instead, said the former officials, the information was distorted in a report written to fit the preconception that Saddam did have WMD programs. That false and restructured report was passed to Richard Dearlove, chief of the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), who briefed Prime Minister Tony Blair on it as validation of the cause for war.

You’ll remember Richard Dearlove, of Downing Street Memo fame. It was Dearlove who said “Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.”

Both the French intelligence service and the CIA paid Sabri hundreds of thousands of dollars (at least $200,000 in the case of the CIA) to give them documents on Saddam’s WMD programs. “The information detailed that Saddam may have wished to have a program, that his engineers had told him they could build a nuclear weapon within two years if they had fissile material, which they didn’t, and that they had no chemical or biological weapons,” one of the former CIA officers told me.

On the eve of Sabri’s appearance at the United Nations in September 2002 to present Saddam’s case, the officer in charge of this operation met in New York with a “cutout” who had debriefed Sabri for the CIA. Then the officer flew to Washington, where he met with CIA deputy director John McLaughlin, who was “excited” about the report. Nonetheless, McLaughlin expressed his reservations. He said that Sabri’s information was at odds with “our best source.” That source was code-named “Curveball,” later exposed as a fabricator, con man and former Iraqi taxi driver posing as a chemical engineer.

I bet you remember Curveball, too. German intelligence tried to tell the Bushies that Curveball was nuts, but the Bushies weren’t listening.

The next day, Sept. 18, Tenet briefed Bush on Sabri. “Tenet told me he briefed the president personally,” said one of the former CIA officers. According to Tenet, Bush’s response was to call the information “the same old thing.” Bush insisted it was simply what Saddam wanted him to think. “The president had no interest in the intelligence,” said the CIA officer. The other officer said, “Bush didn’t give a fuck about the intelligence. He had his mind made up.”

But the CIA officers working on the Sabri case kept collecting information. “We checked on everything he told us.” French intelligence eavesdropped on his telephone conversations and shared them with the CIA. These taps “validated” Sabri’s claims, according to one of the CIA officers. The officers brought this material to the attention of the newly formed Iraqi Operations Group within the CIA. But those in charge of the IOG were on a mission to prove that Saddam did have WMD and would not give credit to anything that came from the French. “They kept saying the French were trying to undermine the war,” said one of the CIA officers.

Those French. Can’t trust ’em.

The CIA officers on the case awaited the report they had submitted on Sabri to be circulated back to them, but they never received it. They learned later that a new report had been written. “It was written by someone in the agency, but unclear who or where, it was so tightly controlled. They knew what would please the White House. They knew what the king wanted,” one of the officers told me.

That report contained a false preamble stating that Saddam was “aggressively and covertly developing” nuclear weapons and that he already possessed chemical and biological weapons. “Totally out of whack,” said one of the CIA officers. “The first [para]graph of an intelligence report is the most important and most read and colors the rest of the report.” He pointed out that the case officer who wrote the initial report had not written the preamble and the new memo. “That’s not what the original memo said.”

And all this time, Secretary of State Colin Powell and his staff were being kept completely out of the loop by everybody.

How much of this was deliberate and conscious lying, and how much stemmed from the fanatic’s absolutist faith in his own version of Truth, is anyone’s guess. And maybe one is not really different from the other, as Digby says

Is it the final straw? Probably not. But it is impossible for anyone anymore to pretend that Bush wasn’t lying about the infamous 16 words. As for Bush lying to himself…it won’t wash. He knew. By the time Tenet briefed Bush about Sabri, two things prevented Bush from behaving like a sane human being. First, he was in too deep. By September ’02, Bush had geared up the country for war – the vote in Congress to come, the UN and the inspections, they were just meaningless diversions. The die was cast and nothing would stop Bush from going to war, let alone something as trivial as contradictory and credible intelligence that there wasn’t even the shadow of a casus belli.

Second, by 2002, Bush’s psychopathic personality was at its most floridly deranged. Riding incredibly high opinion polls, convinced God was speaking to him, having gotten away with stupendous lies and irresponsible behavior throughout his entire career, Bush was incapable of anything but lying when he dismissed the report from Tenet. But simply because he was at the height of mania, don’t make the mistake of thinking he didn’t know where the truth lay. Oh, he knew, all right.

But some people don’t learn. Today righties are complaining because Dems are already dismissing the Petraeus report.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi is pointedly referring to the Petraeus testimony as “the Bush report presented by General Petraeus,” as opposed to an independent assessment by the top military man in Iraq that has been billed for months now. “Progress is not being made,” Pelosi insisted in a Capitol presser this afternoon, no matter how some people might want to “cherry pick” stories of success. “The plural of anecdotes is not data,” she added.

It’s no secret the White House plans to “tweak” the report, in the same way they “tweaked” the pre-invasion intelligence. (Update: See also “Experts Doubt Drop In Violence in Iraq.”) However, this is a point lost on closet Maha admirer the Confederate Yankee:

Harry Reid, Dick Durbin, Chuck Shumer and Democratic Senators/Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were among those Senators who voted to confirm General Petraeus to his position as commander of American forces in Iraq without a single objecting vote, 81-0, on January 26, 2007.

They did not question the capability of the 1974 West Point graduate and Princeton PhD when they had their chance to reject him. Nor did they denounce or even raise serious doubts about allegiences or partisanship then, when they easily could have stated their disgreement with a simple “no” vote.

What a difference 223 days and the fear of success makes.

General Petraeus did have a sterling reputation within the military — which, unfortunately, is going the way of Colin Powell’s reputation. If Petraeus were allowed to make his assessments and report independent of the White House, I’d be inclined to listen to him. However, he isn’t, and I’m not. Fool me once, shame on … well, you know how that goes.

North Korean Uranium: Never Mind

Do you remember back in October 2002, when the Bush Administration threw a major hissy fit over the “discovery” that North Korea was processing uranium? And do you remember how this “discovery” touched off a spasm of hysteria on the Right, along with a collective denunciation of Bill Clinton’s handling of North Korea, most especially a 1994 agreement negotiated by Jimmy Carter that stopped North Korea from processing plutonium? I rant about this from time to time.

In today’s New York Times, David Sanger and William Broad write that the U.S. might have been, um, wrong about the uranium.

For nearly five years, though, the Bush administration, based on intelligence estimates, has accused North Korea of also pursuing a secret, parallel path to a bomb, using enriched uranium. That accusation, first leveled in the fall of 2002, resulted in the rupture of an already tense relationship: The United States cut off oil supplies, and the North Koreans responded by throwing out international inspectors, building up their plutonium arsenal and, ultimately, producing that first plutonium bomb.

But now, American intelligence officials are publicly softening their position, admitting to doubts about how much progress the uranium enrichment program has actually made. The result has been new questions about the Bush administration’s decision to confront North Korea in 2002.

The 2002 hissy fit, and President Bush’s decision of November 2002 to stop oil shipments to North Korea (per the 1994 agreement), destroyed years of careful diplomatic efforts by many nations to minimize the threat posed by North Korea and its military capabilities. In December 2002, North Korea notified the International Atomic Energy Agency that it was re-starting its plutonium reactors, which had been idle since 1994. And last October, North Korea tested a plutonium bomb. This timeline from the Arms Control Association can walk you through some of the background. See also “Rolling Blunder” by Fred Kaplan (Washington Monthly, May 2004) and my own
Blame Bush for North Korea’s Nukes” archive.

So now the administration is acknowledging that the “intelligence” about uranium in 2002 was questionable and probably wrong. The Sanger & Broad article linked above suggests that this admission might “be linked to North Korea’s recent agreement to reopen its doors to international arms inspectors.” Was the concession part of the deal? Did Kim Jong Il stipulate that the Bushies admit their mistake about the uranium before he allowed weapons inspectors back in to North Korea? (Not everyone in the Bush Administration is conceding the mistake, so maybe I’m reading too much into this.)

In 2002, Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly claimed that a North Korean official, Kang Sok Ju, had admitted there was an ongoing uranium weapons program. But Kang Sok Ju has denied this all along. The recent disclosure suggests that Kelly was fibbing.

And all this nonsense is tied in to Iraq. The hysteria ginned up by the Bushies in 2002 was part of their “regime change” saber rattling. The Bushies held up North Korea as an example of how Bill Clinton’s and Jimmy Carter’s wussy diplomacy had failed. A confident Condi Rice made the rounds on cable TV politics talk shows and declared that the Bush Administration knew just how to handle North Korea. Eventually, of course, the Bushies would depend on China to take the lead in negotiations and clean up the mess they had made.

In December 2002 the Bushies tried to tie North Korea to Iraq. At the request of the U.S., Spanish warships stopped the North Korean freighter So San. Its cargo of Scud missiles and unidentified chemicals were bound for Iraq, the Bushies claimed. This claim quickly fizzled, and the U.S. turned the cargo over to its rightful owner, Yemen.

Sanger and Broad continue,

The disclosure underscores broader questions about the ability of intelligence agencies to discern the precise status of foreign weapons programs. The original assessment about North Korea came during the same period that the administration was building its case about Iraq’s unconventional weapons programs, which turned out to be based on flawed intelligence. And the new North Korea assessment comes amid debate over intelligence about Iran’s weapons.

The public revelation of the intelligence agencies’ doubts, which have been brewing for some time, came almost by happenstance. In a little-noticed exchange on Tuesday at a hearing at the Senate Armed Services Committee, Joseph DeTrani, a longtime intelligence official, told Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island that “we still have confidence that the program is in existence — at the mid-confidence level.” Under the intelligence agencies’ own definitions, that level “means the information is interpreted in various ways, we have alternative views” or it is not fully corroborated.

“The administration appears to have made a very costly decision that has resulted in a fourfold increase in the nuclear weapons of North Korea,” Senator Reed said in an interview on Wednesday. “If that was based in part on mixing up North Korea’s ambitions with their accomplishments, it’s important.”

Get this — part of the 2002 claim was based on aluminum tubes!

Outside experts, including David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, a private group in Washington that tracks nuclear arms, have suggested in recent days that something similar happened in North Korea’s case. “The evidence doesn’t support the extrapolation” to the judgment that North Korea was making crucial strides in its uranium program, Mr. Albright said in an interview. “The extrapolation went too far.”

He said administration analysts were right in thinking that Dr. Khan had sold North Korea about 20 centrifuges. Gen. Pervez Musharraf, the Pakistani president, confirmed that in a memoir published last year. But, Mr. Albright said, intelligence agencies overstated whether North Korea had used those few machines as models to construct row upon row of carbon copies.

His report zeroed in on thousands of aluminum tubes that the North Koreans bought and tried to buy in the early 2000s. The C.I.A. and the Bush administration, the report said, pointed to these tubes as the “smoking gun” for construction of a large-scale North Korean plant for the enriching of uranium. It was assessments about the purpose of aluminum tubes that were at the center of the flawed Iraq intelligence.

In the North Korea case, intelligence analysts saw the tubes as ideal for centrifuges. But Mr. Albright said the relatively weak aluminum tubes were suitable only for stationary outer casings — not central rotors, which have to be very strong to keep from flying apart while spinning at tremendous speeds.

Moreover, he added, the aluminum tubes were “very easy to get and not controlled” by global export authorities because of their potentially harmless nature. So that purchase, by itself, Mr. Albright added, was “not an indicator” of clandestine use for nuclear arms.

In the January/February 2005 issue of Foreign Affairs, Selig Harrison questioned the Bush Administration’s claims and wrote that it was doubtful North Korea had the capacity to produce weapons-grade uranium. And about the aluminum tubes —

The limited evidence that has, in fact, been provided to South Korea and Japan does confirm that North Korea has made efforts to buy equipment that could be used to make and operate centrifuges. This equipment includes electrical-frequency converters, high-purity cobalt powder for magnetic-top bearing assemblies, and high-strength aluminum tubes.

In most of these cases, however, it is not clear whether the purchases were ever made and, if so, how much North Korea bought. For example, in April 2003, French, German, and Egyptian authorities blocked a 22-ton shipment of high-strength aluminum tubes to North Korea, the first installment of an order for 200 tons. But no evidence has been presented to establish that any of the order was delivered. Similarly, a U.S. Department of Energy intelligence study reported a North Korean “attempt” to buy two electrical-frequency converters from a Japanese firm in 1999. But the report concluded that “with only two converters, [North Korea] was probably only establishing a pilot-scale uranium enrichment capability.”

Again in 2003, Japan blocked a renewed North Korean effort to buy frequency converters, this time three. But as a careful study by the International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS) observed, “hundreds” of such converters would be required for a production-scale enrichment facility equipped with enough centrifuges to make weapons-grade enriched uranium. The IISS study concluded that such “failures in Pyongyang’s procurement efforts suggest that North Korea may still lack key components,” especially a special grade of steel for rotors and caps and rotor bearings.

The Sanger & Brooks article says,

The strongest evidence for the original assessment was Pakistan’s sale to North Korea of upwards of 20 centrifuges, machines that spin fast to convert uranium gas into highly enriched uranium, a main fuel for atom bombs. Officials feared that the North Koreans would use those centrifuges as models to build a vast enrichment complex. But in interviews this week, experts inside and outside the government said that since then, little or no evidence of Korean procurements had emerged to back up those fears.

Not everyone in the Bush Administration is admitting the mistake.

The continuing doubts prompted the Office of the Director of National Intelligence on Wednesday to declassify a portion of the most recent, one-page update circulated to top national security officials about the status of North Korea’s uranium program. The assessment, read by two senior intelligence officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity in a joint interview, said the intelligence community still had “high confidence that North Korea has pursued a uranium enrichment capability, which we assess is for a weapon.”

It added, they said, that all the government’s intelligence agencies “judge — most with moderate confidence — that this effort continues. The degree of progress towards producing enriched uranium remains unknown, however.”

In other words, while the agencies were certain of the initial purchases, confidence in the program’s overall existence appears to have dropped over the years — apparently from high to moderate.

Unfortunately, thanks to the Bushies, North Korea’s plutonium weapons capabilities went from low to high. Very high.

Also: See Josh Marshall, Hilzoy, Kevin Drum.

Update: Captain Ed still refuses to acknowledge that the 1994 Agreed Framework was aimed at stopping plutonium production. The distinction between uranium and plutonium is significant, but the Right still brushes it aside.


The North Korea link archive:

Selig Harrison, “Did North Korea Cheat?Foreign Affairs, January/February 2005

Eric Alterman, “Blaming Success, Upholding Failure

Rachel Weise, “North Korea Nuclear Timeline

Hilzoy, “Do You Feel Safer Now?

Joe Conason, “Wagging the Big Dog

Fred Kaplan, “The Slime Talk Express

Rosa Brooks, “A Good Week for the Axis of Evil

Fred Kaplan, “Rolling Blunder

The Mahablog North Korea posts (most recent first):

Bush Hides Behind China’s Skirts

Blame Everybody (But Bush)

More Bombs


Happy Talk

Bolton Lies; Righties Confused

And finally,

Blame Bush for North Korea’s Nukes


Jeralyn’s explanation of what the Libby jury might be thinking gave me flashbacks to The Dumbest Trial of the Century. Here Jeralyn explains what some of the “dumbest trial” commenters were too thick to grasp:

Scooter Libby is not required to prove he didn’t lie or obstruct justice. All he has to do is raise a reasonable doubt in the mind of the jurors that he did.

The test for reasonable doubt is not a simple weighing of the evidence, after which the jury decides which side to believe more. That’s the test in a civil case where the standard of proof is a mere “preponderance of the evidence.”

In layman’s terms, in a criminal case, if both sides’ theories and arguments sound plausible, that alone is a reasonable doubt and the jury should acquit.

To which a commenter astutely replied,

… in the end, a trial is not about “what is the truth” but rather what limits are there on the power of the state to take away liberty.

Toward the end, the “dumbest trial” comment thread devolved into my trying to explain “burden of proof” to an impossibly stupid commenter. In a criminal trial, the burden of proof is on the prosecution (the government, a.k.a. “the people”). The “dumbest trial” judge explained to us that, strictly speaking, the defendant didn’t have to prove anything. Further, criminal trials usually require a unanimous verdict. Obviously, the reason for this is to discourage the government from throwing citizens into jail on phony charges. In other words, it’s to put limits on the power of the state to take away liberty.

(The defendant’s lawyer in the “dumbest trial” demonstrated that at least some of the evidence against the plaintiff had been fabricated by one of the detectives. This screamed “reasonable doubt” to eleven of us jurors. Essentially, the guy who hung the jury was unable to wrap his head around the concepts of “reasonable doubt” and “burden of proof.”)

Jeralyn says that she wouldn’t be surprised if the jury acquits, because she could see how they might decide they have “reasonable doubt” of Libby’s guilt. And, of course, if the jury acquits, the Right will conclude the entire Joe Wilson Saga was a fantasy of the Left.

But, of course, this trial wasn’t about Joe Wilson or Valerie Plame Wilson or the Iraq War or the weapons of mass destruction. It was about whether whether Scooter Libby lied to FBI agents and the grand jury and thereby obstructed justice.

However the jury decides, I agree with Jane that the testimony had vindicated Murray Waas. If you want a roundup of the real issues, read Waas’s two most recent reports for National Journal: “CIA Leak Probe: Inside The Grand Jury” (January 12) and “Cheney’s Call” (today).

In brief: Dick the Dick is the instigator of the whole mess. Scooter was just following orders.

See also:For Liberal Bloggers, Libby Trial Is Fun and Fodder.”

Giant Bloodsucking Worms

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

News That Isn’t News

North Korea has plutonium. This is not news. North Korea has had plutonium for many years, enough for at least five or six nuclear weapons, probably more. They had it before Bill Clinton became president. From 1994 to 2003, the plutonium was stored in fuel rods in a concrete-lined pool of water in Yongbyon. In 2003, North Korea un-froze its plutonium weapons program and began working on making plutonium bombs.

The plutonium in the bombs North Korea is testing was processed since 2003. On Bush’s watch.

North Korea also has had uranium, and lots of it, for many years. In 2002 the Bush Administration stirred up an international whoop-dee-doo by claiming North Korea was processing uranium to make nuclear weapons. I do not believe there was ever any firm confirmation that NK was enriching uranium for military use and not industrial use. There is some question whether North Korea is capable of enriching uranium for military use — it takes a lot of time, energy, and technical whizbangs (such as 1,300 high-performance centrifuges) to get sufficient bomb material out of uranium. Worst-case, North Korea eventually might have made one or two uranium bombs.

In contrast to uranium, plutonium is nearly plug-and-play, so to speak. That’s why plutonium is a bigger worry than uranium. That’s why the 1994 Agreed Framework was negotiated — to get North Korea to freeze its plutonium program. And North Korea kept this agreement until the Bush Administration trashed it.

Robert Farley writes

This is utterly unsurprising; the parallel uranium program that North Korea had developed in the 1990s was never capable of producing much in the way of bomb material. This reinforces the conclusion that the key diplomatic moments came in 1994, when the North Koreans agreed to substantially scale back their nuclear ambitions in return for aid, and in 2002 when they gave up on this agreement. … [T]he Bush administration in 2002 faced two unfortunate but clearly distinguishable realities; one in which North Korea had the material required to make one or two bombs, and one in which [North Korea] had the capacity to make nearly a dozen. Because of its diplomatic ineptitude, ideological commitment, and obsession with Iraq, the administration had neither the interest in dealing with North Korea nor the capacity to carry out any threats.

For reasons explained very well and clearly in the articles linked below, North Korea’s decision to un-freeze plutonium production is entirely the fault of the Bush Administration.

The North Korea link archive:

Eric Alterman, “Blaming Success, Upholding Failure

Rachel Weise, “North Korea Nuclear Timeline

Hilzoy, “Do You Feel Safer Now?

Joe Conason, “Wagging the Big Dog

Fred Kaplan, “The Slime Talk Express

Rosa Brooks, “A Good Week for the Axis of Evil

Tom Teepen, “Bush’s newest N. Korea policy: Blame Clinton

Fred Kaplan, “Rolling Blunder

The Mahablog North Korea posts (most recent first):

Blame Everybody (But Bush)

More Bombs


Happy Talk

Bolton Lies; Righties Confused

And finally,

Blame Bush for North Korea’s Nukes


Well, folks, North Korea claims it tested a nuclear weapon last night. Chalk up another achievement for the Bush foreign policy. David Sanger writes in the New York Times:

North Korea said Sunday night that it had set off its first nuclear test, becoming the eighth country in history, and arguably the most unstable and most dangerous, to proclaim that it has joined the club of nuclear weapons states.

Yesterday I dug up a four-year-old news story in which Condi Rice told Wolf Blitzer that the Bush Administration knew just how to handle Ki Jong Il; it was Saddam Hussein people should be worried about.

Rice said Iraq’s history shows the Baghdad regime is harder to contain than North Korea.

“These are not comparable situations,” she said. “They’re dangerous, both of them dangerous. But we believe that we have different methods that will work in North Korea that clearly have not and will not work in Iraq.”

Meanwhile —

The North Korean disclosure comes as the Bush administration faces a possible military confrontation with Iraq over its efforts to develop nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.

U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, D-Florida, told CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday that he considered North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and missile capability a bigger threat to the United States than Iraq.

Graham, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, urged the White House to rethink its priorities.

[Update: Please note that Senator Graham, who is now retired, said this in 2002, while the Bushies were busy whipping up hysteria over Saddam Hussein.]

So far, has the Bush foreign policy team gotten anything right? If they have, I don’t remember what it is.

I’ve already spent considerable blog time and bandwidth explaining why the current, um, challenge posed by North Korea is George W. Bush’s doing, and not Bill Clinton’s and/or Jimmy Carter’s, as righties would have you believe. See this post for the short explanation, and “Rolling Blunder” by Fred Kaplan and the Blame Bush for North Korea’s Nukes page from The Mahablog archives if you want more detail. I’m not going into all that again this morning, except to say that any troll who is dumb enough to repeat the “it’s Clinton’s fault” propaganda here without reading my long and carefully documented proof that it isn’t will be mercilessly ridiculed. Mercilessly, I say.

Here’s something I don’t believe I’ve said before, although others have — at Huffington Post, David Wallechinsky wrote,

The North Koreans and the Iranians looked around the world and saw that countries that had nuclear weapons, like Pakistan and China, were not in danger of being invaded by George Bush, while Saddam Hussein, who didn’t have a nuclear weapons program, was in prison and being tried for war crimes. If you were the leaders of North Korea or Iran, what would you do to ensure that your country would not be invaded by the United States? Easy call: you build nuclear weapons, which is exactly what both of them are doing. Nice going, Mister President.

From the Arms Control Association, in a review of At the Borderline of Armageddon: How American Presidents Managed the Atom Bomb by James E. Goodby.

In an excellent chapter on George W. Bush, Goodby characterizes the current president’s mindset as believing that “the time had finally come to scrap the old order.” To date, he has been quite successful in this objective. Goodby notes that other presidents helped build up the international nonproliferation and arms control regimes that they saw as supporting U.S. national security. Yet, Bush clearly believes that the United States, as the only remaining superpower, should be prepared to shape the international order unilaterally and has rejected treaties that would in any way restrict U.S. freedom of action. To this end, he withdrew from the ABM Treaty, despite strong Russian objections, and replaced the unratified START II with the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT). Also known as the Moscow Treaty, SORT lacks verification provisions, and its limits on future U.S. strategic forces are effectively toothless.

Although Bush has given high priority to preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons to perceived U.S. enemies, his actions have either been ineffectual or counterproductive. At the beginning of his term, he overruled the decision of Secretary of State Colin Powell to continue very promising negotiations that the Clinton administration had begun with North Korea, thus spurring Pyongyang to advance its nuclear weapons program. Disregarding the precedent followed by previous presidents, he initiated a preventive war against Iraq on the false grounds that it was illegally developing nuclear weapons. Most recently, he has agreed to negotiate a civilian nuclear cooperation agreement with India, despite long-standing U.S. and Nuclear Suppliers Group policy to deny such aid to Pakistan, India, and Israel because they have not signed the NPT and are known to have nuclear weapons.

Today, confronted with the difficult problem of Iran’s potential nuclear weapons ambitions, Bush has made clear that all options are on the table if Iran refuses to terminate its uranium-enrichment program. Because UN agreement on effective sanctions is unlikely, rumors abound that Bush is seriously considering military actions in another preventive war. Given the international hostility that his policies have created, it is clear that any such action would have to be carried out unilaterally, with disastrous results to long-range U.S. security.

I take it from the review that Goodby approved of policies by Eisenhower, Nixon, and Reagan (as well as Kennedy and Johnson), but he had a little disagreement with Carter and was downright ambivalent about Clinton. So you can’t say the guy dislikes Bush just because he’s partisan.

(Off topic, but I got a kick out of this bit about LBJ:

President Lyndon B. Johnson, despite his growing preoccupation with Vietnam, rejected out of hand the use of nuclear weapons there. His view of nuclear war was brought home to me by his reaction at the final meeting in 1965 on the military budget to an item listed as DUCCS. In response to his question as to what this was, he was told it stood for Deep Underground Command and Control Site, a facility that would be located several thousand feet underground, between the White House and the Pentagon, designed to survive a ground burst of a 20-megaton bomb and sustain the president and key advisers for several months until it would be safe to exit through tunnels emerging many miles outside Washington. After a brief puzzled expression, Johnson let loose with a string of Johnsonian expletives making clear he thought this was the stupidest idea he had ever heard and that he had no intention of hiding in an expensive hole while the rest of Washington and probably the United States were burned to a crisp. That was the last I ever heard of DUCCS.

What do you want to bet some version of DUCCS has been resurrected by the Bushies?)

Anthony Faiola, Glenn Kessler and Dafna Linzer write for the Washington Post

The announcement [by North Korea] brought a hailstorm of swift international denunciations … South Korean officials said they detected a significant man-made explosion in the barren northeast of the peninsula, and were substantiating the Pyongyang government’s claim. The test would make the Stalinist state the world’s eighth proven nuclear power, as well as its most volatile.

Chinese authorities immediately condemned the test. North Korea “has ignored the widespread opposition of the international community and conducted a nuclear test brazenly on October 9,” China’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement on its Web site. “The Chinese government is firmly opposed to this.”

Yet the reaction from the U.S. was more subdued.

The White House did not immediately confirm the test, but spokesman Tony Snow said in a statement: “U.S. and South Korean intelligence detected a seismic event Sunday at a suspected nuclear test site in North Korea. A North Korean nuclear test would constitute a provocative act, in defiance of the will of the international community and of our calls to refrain from actions that would aggravate tensions in northeast Asia. We expect the Security Council to take immediate actions to respond to this unprovoked act.”

Billmon predicted:

Tony Snow will step out tomorrow to tell us it’s really not such a big deal — the North Koreans and Kim Jong-il being ever so much nicer and more rational than those genocidal Iranians and their power-crazed dictator, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

This is followed by an update — a bit of transcript of Tony Snow tap dancing furiously to distract reporters from White House ineptitude. Pathetic and hilarious at once.

Via Memeorandum, a quickie survey of Right Blogosphere reactions indicates the Official VRWC Spin: It probably didn’t happen; if North Korea keeps testing, it will run out of weapons soon and we won’t have to worry about them; it’s Clinton’s and Carter’s fault.

I like this one:

I claim some credit for calling the timing just before the election [although I don’t claim to have predicted, one way or another, whether they’d go through with this]. I think this was an enormous miscalculation on North Korea’s part. The Republicans will be gleeful that no one will be talking about Mark Foley next week. The national conversation will be back to national security, and the Republicans will have the chance to do what they do best — act tough on such issues.

The operative word is, of course, act. But I’d be very surprised if North Korea’s test registers more than a blip in the national consciousness, and I’d be extremely surprised if it drives the Foley sex scandal off cable news. In the Nooz Biz, the operative word is, of course, sex.

President Bush will probably have no choice but to ignore the counsel of State Department doves who had nearly unopposed control of Bush’s North Korea policy until last August.

Yeah; until last August, he was doing a heck of a job.

Now, he’ll most likely use many of the options he didn’t use after North Korea’s July missile tests. I would expect some very severe sanctions and a move for a U.N. arms embargo.

He’s going to run to the UN for help? My, how the child has fallen.

I’m going to predict that in the next few days the Bush Administration will be taking a back seat to China and other world powers in dealing with North Korea. The Bushies might try some saber-rattling to impress the home folks (and distract reporters from Dennis Hastert), but the world knows Bush is running low on sabers to rattle. In truth, the only options Bush has, other than run to the UN, are embargos and sanctions, which is what Condi was talking about back in 2002. And embargos and sanctions just don’t have the sex appeal that war has.

For a more intelligent analysis of what Bush might do, see emptywheel.

For a different view, see Bill Scher:

As LiberalOasis has noted several times in the last four years, the Bush Administration never was interested in a negotiated deal to prevent North Korea from getting nukes.

The neocons want regime change in North Korea, in an attempt to constrict the rise of China. And they see any deal as helping the North Korea dictator remain in power.

After initially suspending talks with North Korea, and unraveling the diplomatic progress made by the Clinton Administration, the Bushies then agreed to “six-party” talks.

But the move was not intended to make new diplomatic progress. It was intended to make the Bushies look like they tried diplomatic avenues, when in fact, they made no serious proposals.

We can now see the results of this so-called “hard-line” strategy. A nuclear North Korea. A greater risk of more nuclear proliferation. A more unstable world.

Also, Glenn Kessler’s analysis in the Washington Post is pretty good, although it doesn’t clarify the uranium versus plutonium issue.

Update update: Josh Marshall has a good analysis, too, but the permalink isn’t working. You’ll have to scroll down to “(October 09, 2006 — 02:00 AM EST // link)” to read it.

More updates in the next post.

Bush and North Korea

North Korea’s missile tests — which included tests of a long-range missile capable of striking the United States — stand as one more reminder of the Bush Administration’s failure to come up with a rational national security strategy.

The long-range test failed, and we are assured by several sources that North Korea does not pose an immediate military threat to the United States. Yet it’s pretty darn certain that Kim Jung Il wants to pose a military threat to the United States. If we were to apply the same rationale to North Korea that we applied to Iraq, we’d have invaded North Korea already.

In February 2005 I wrote a series of posts explaining the many ways in which the Bush Administration took a serious but managable situation in North Korea and turned it into an intractable crisis. The posts are archived here; after Part I scroll down past the adstrip for the remainder. It’s a long series, but in a nutshell, shortly after Bush became president in 2001 he destroyed years of careful international diplomacy with North Korea just by being the asshole that he is. Since then the Bushies have stumbled through one blunder after another, making the situation worse.

For example, in 2002 National Security Adviser Condi Rice said that the North Korean situation would be easier to manage than Iraq, and that Kim Jing Il could be made to behave if the U.S. stopped shipments of fuel oil and applied economic sanctions. Two years after oil shipments stopped, North Korea announced it had nuclear weapons. See how well that worked?

Note: Please don’t presume to argue with me on this point until you’ve read the series. In particular, do not try to blame the mess on Jimmy Carter and Madeleine Albright until you’ve read the series. Pay close attention to the difference between “uranium” and “plutonium.”

Colossally stupid rightie comment of the day by someone who clearly doesn’t know history from turnips: “North Korea is also a prime example of why Truman should not have relieved General MacArthur of his command and finished the Korean War.” Someone should explain to this genius that MacArthur was not only insubordinate to Truman, MacArthur was getting his ass whipped in North Korea. MacArthur’s replacement, General Ridgway, stabilized the mess MacArthur had made and managed a good counter-offensive, taking back some of the territory MacArthur had lost. And the cease-fire was negotiated on President Eisenhower’s watch.