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Impearls: 2003-08-03 Archive

Earthdate 2003-08-04

Bill Clinton and the f--king of Howard Dean's 16 Questions

A friend requested that I critique/fisk Howard Dean's now-famous sixteen questions to President Bush for him, asking me, “Which, if any, of these questions do you feel are the most important?  Or do you think they are all missing the point?”

I'm afraid I regard the vast bulk of the present Democratic and leftist hoorah over intelligence leading up to the Iraq war to be, as Prof. Glenn Reynolds recently put it, “hysterical overreach” by critics of the Administration.  I thought Bill Clinton, speaking 2003.07.22 on CNN's “Larry King Live,” put a far saner slant on the situation than most Democrats (Republican ex-Senator Bob Dole also spoke on the program):

Larry King:  Do you join, President Clinton, your fellow Democrats, in complaining about the portion of the State of the Union address that dealt with nuclear weaponry in Africa?

Bill Clinton:  Well, I have a little different take on it, I think, than either side.

First of all, the White House said — Mr. Fleischer said — that on balance they probably shouldn't have put that comment in the speech.  What happened, often happens.  There was a disagreement between British intelligence and American intelligence.  The president said it was British intelligence that said it.  And then they said, well, maybe they shouldn't have put it in.

Let me tell you what I know.  When I left office, there was a substantial amount of biological and chemical material unaccounted for.  That is, at the end of the first Gulf War, we knew what he had.  We knew what was destroyed in all the inspection processes and that was a lot.  And then we bombed with the British for four days in 1998.  We might have gotten it all; we might have gotten half of it; we might have gotten none of it.  But we didn't know.  So I thought it was prudent for the president to go to the U.N. and for the U.N. to say you got to let these inspectors in, and this time if you don't cooperate the penalty could be regime change, not just continued sanctions.

I mean, we're all more sensitive to any possible stocks of chemical and biological weapons.  So there's a difference between British — British intelligence still maintains that they think the nuclear story was true.  I don't know what was true, what was false.  I thought the White House did the right thing in just saying, Well, we probably shouldn't have said that.  And I think we ought to focus on where we are and what the right thing to do for Iraq is now.  That's what I think.

Larry King:  So do you share that view, Senator Dole?

Bob Dole:  Oh, he's exactly right.  Let's put the focus where it belongs.

I never got to be president.  I tried a couple of times.  But President Clinton understands better than anybody that he gets piles and piles of classified, secret, top secret information, and I don't know how many, maybe the president can tell me.  I don't know how much of this goes across your desk every day.  It probably shouldn't have been in the message.  But that's history.  It's passed.  We can't change it.  And we need to focus on the real problem.

Larry King:  What do you do, Mr. President, with what's put in front of you?

Bill Clinton:  Well, here's what happens: every day the president gets a daily brief from the CIA.  And then, if it's some important issue — and believe me, you know, anything having to do with chemical, biological or nuclear weapons became much more important to everybody in the White House after September the 11 — then they probably told the president, certainly Condoleezza Rice, that this is what the British intelligence thought.  They maybe have a difference of opinion, but on balance, they decided they should leave that line in the speech.

I think the main thing I want to say to you is, people can quarrel with whether we should have more troops in Afghanistan or internationalize Iraq or whatever, but it is incontestable that on the day I left office, there were unaccounted for stocks…

Bob Dole:  That's right.

Bill Clinton:  … of biological and chemical weapons.  We might have destroyed them in '98.  We tried to, but we sure as heck didn't know it because we never got to go back in there.

Larry King:  Yes.

Bill Clinton:  And what I think — again, I would say the most important thing is we should focus on what's the best way to build Iraq as a democracy?  How is the president going to do that and deal with continuing problems in Afghanistan and North Korea?

We should be pulling for America on this.  We should be pulling for the people of Iraq.  We can have honest disagreements about where we go from here, and we have space now to discuss that in what I hope will be a nonpartisan and open way.  But this State of the Union deal they decided to use the British intelligence.  The president said it was British intelligence.  Then they said on balance they shouldn't have done it.  You know, everybody makes mistakes when they are president.  I mean, you can't make as many calls as you have to make without messing up once in awhile.  The thing we ought to be focused on is what is the right thing to do now.  That's what I think.

(End quote.)  That's what I think too.

I'll now try to answer Dean's sixteen questions.  I should say up front in advance, however, that I find Dean's general accusatory tone (and that of so many of the other Democrats who've jumped into this affair) to be completely out of line in this situation.  Certainly there's very little evidence, from what I can see, to support that “BUSH LIED!!!!” — to use all the CAPITAL LETTERS and EXCLAMATION POINTS!!! that so many foaming-at-the-mouth propagandists are screaming to the stars.

I must admit that the present fuss reminds me of nothing so much as the aftermath of a battle nearly 2,500 years ago, during the Peloponnesian War, when the Athenians, after winning a brilliant naval victory over the Spartans, executed the generals who had achieved their victory — because they were accused of failing to rescue survivors in stormy seas afterwards.  (There's an aphorism about “the perfect being the enemy of the good”….)

On to Howard Dean's “sixteen questions”:

1.  Mr. President, beyond the NSC and CIA officials who have been identified, we need to know who else at the White House was involved in the decision to include the discredited uranium evidence in your speech, and, if they knew it was false, why did they permit it to be included in the speech.

Right away there's disagreement over the premises in the question.  The material presented in Bush's State of the Union speech is not “discredited uranium evidence” because to the extent that any “uranium evidence” is “discredited,” it concerns only the African country of Niger, whereas Bush's speech referred to Hussein's attempts to procure uranium from African countries, and there's far more to Africa than just Niger.  (From what I understand there're four candidate nations in Africa from which Saddam might have sought to obtain such fissionable material.)  Beyond that, as Bill Clinton (and numerous others have) pointed out, Bush in his speech said British intelligence believed Saddam had made such an attempt — which is perfectly true.  British intelligence still believes this (which they, in turn, learned from the French).  So Dean's first question, basically, on examination entirely disappears.

2.  Mr. President, we need to know why anyone in your Administration would have contemplated using the evidence in the State of the Union after George Tenet personally intervened in October 2002, to have the same evidence removed from the President's October 7th speech.  (The Washington Post, Walter Pincus and Mike Allen, 7/13/2003)

Somebody screwed up?  Frankly, I don't even care about the answer to this question.  It's just too boring.  As I said before, technically there's nothing wrong with what Bush said even now.  And the idea that those 16 words were integral to the case Bush was making to the U.N. (much less the American people, as the case to them had been made, long since, the previous October) is frankly ludicrous.

3.  Mr. President, we need to know why you claimed this very week that the CIA objected to the Niger uranium sentence “subsequent” to the State of the Union address, contradicting everything else we have heard from your administration and the intelligence community on the matter.  (The Washington Post, Priest, Dana and Dana Milbank, 7/15/2003)

Ditto, in spades.  (And to repeat myself, there is no “Niger uranium sentence” in Bush's speech.  There is, on the other hand, an “Africa uranium sentence” — which still stands today, undiscredited.)

4.  Mr. President, we urgently need an explanation about the very serious charge that senior officials in your Administration may have retaliated against Ambassador Joseph Wilson by illegally disclosing that his wife is an undercover CIA officer.  (The Nation, Corn, David, 7/16/2003)

We're starting to get more interesting here.  I must admit I don't know much about this allegation, though I've heard that she isn't an “undercover CIA officer” at all but rather is merely a CIA employee.  (And while I respect David Corn, I don't — much — The Nation.)  I'd tend to consider this a slip-up, if indeed there's anything to it at all.  Certainly, this is not the stuff of which great scandals are made.

UPDATE:  I've learned a bit more about this particular case.  On the one hand, its potential for turning into a sizable scandal may be larger than I'd thought, but on the other, the affair seems to be so murky that even as more details come out, I still doubt it'll really go anywhere.  Here's a wrap-up with pointers to more information on the case.

5.  Mr. President, we need to know why your Administration persisted in using the intercepted aluminum tubes to show that Iraq was pursuing a nuclear program and why your National Security Advisor, Condoleezza Rice, claimed categorically that the tubes were “only really suited for nuclear weapons programs,” when in fact our own government experts flatly rejected such claims.  (CNN, 9/08/2002, Knight Ridder News Service, 10/04/2002)

I believe there's considerably more controversy in regard to this topic than Dean flatly states.  (One could even argue that Dean is “LYING!!!!” here — if one were inclined to be uncharitable.  Of course, nearly all of Bush's critics are uncharitable in this regard.)

It is plain that one of Saddam's WMD strategies was utilization of “dual use” technologies, which can be quickly turned almost at a moment's notice from acceptable civilian use (e.g., pesticides) to the production of deadly toxins and weapons.  The controversial aluminum tubes fit neatly into that paradigm.  Is it true in this particular case?  Maybe not — but it's almost certainly true in many other cases.

6.  Mr. President, we need to know why Secretary Rumsfeld created a secret intelligence unit at the Pentagon that selectively identified questionable intelligence to support the case for war including the supposed link to al-Qaeda while ignoring, burying or rejecting any evidence to the contrary.  (New Yorker, Seymour Hersh, 5/12/03)

Sounds positively black-helicopterish, doesn't it?  A “a secret intelligence unit at the Pentagon that selectively identified questionable intelligence....”  Oooh!  Call in the rectum scrappers!

The only problem is that intelligence services generally are (and have to be) “secret,” and it's the job of “secret intelligence units” to “selectively identify intelligence” — which is to say, separate out the wheat from the chaff.  There's always a blizzard of “intelligence” — i.e., information, good and bad — saying all manner of things, much of it contradictory, and the task of an intelligence service is to identify what's pertinent and what's not, with full knowledge that it's an imperfect art to say the least, and mistakes are always possible.

September 11, 2001 ought to have clued us that overlooking or not putting together crucial pieces of intelligence information is a pathway to disaster.  Critics of the Administration like to portray its handling of the lead-up to September 11 as too timid in this regard, a viewpoint I tend to support.  But post the Iraq war, in my view, critics can't then have it both ways and rake the Bush Administration over the coals for being too aggressive.  It's clear that aggressively putting together intelligence clues (whether conclusive in their implications or not) is absolutely imperative in this new environment where private entrepreneurs can attack us with weapons of mass destruction.

As for the supposed non-existence of links between Saddam and Al Qaeda, I find it (sardonically) amusing that the left is so confident the Baathist Party and Al Qaeda are so ideologically opposed to each other that even when attacked by the greatest superpower (hyperpuissance, as the French like to say) in history, they'll hold to their ideals and go down in defeat by their hated enemy rather than deign to cooperate with each other.  Even the antiwar movement itself isn't that idealistically pure, in that they're often perfectly willing to form alliances with groups that'd like to destroy our entire civilization (references provided on request).

Here's what left-leaning (but pro-liberation) columnist Christopher Hitchens had to say recently on the subject of cooperation between Baathists and Al Qaeda:

And on the al-Qaida link, it seems to me [the press] are just not doing their job at all.  There are innumerable links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida that have been demonstrated very many times.  And now every broadcast and every utterance by the Ba'ath Party is as if it was written by Osama bin Laden, and half the fighters in Iraq, half the bandits there, are imported from outside jihad forces.  This relationship did not begin yesterday.  They are, in effect, now a fusion of those who believe in the one party and those who believe in the one-God state.  But the press does a very bad job of reporting that — and I go by, let's say, The New York Times; we can't [use] “the press” too generically as David knows, but The New York Times refers to that kind of gangsterism as the “Iraqi resistance”… and it refers to the American presence in the country as the “American occupation.”  Now just tell me what you think the subliminal effect of those two terms is&hellip.  I think you and I could both agree that we know a mentality when we see one.  I would say even during the war, when I was partly in the south of Iraq and mainly in Kuwait, I could tell what the press corps thought in general when — remember that slight sag in the first few days of the campaign? — it looked as if the Rumsfeld plan wasn't quite working.  There was practically no one in the press, I'd say, that wasn't pulling for that happen.  They all wanted to be able to report a quagmire, a defeat, a disaster; either some of them for ideological reasons or some of them because it's a better story."  — Christopher Hitchens, on CNBC (July 24, 2003)

Back to Dean's questions:

7.  Mr. President, we need to know what the basis was for Secretary Rumsfeld's assertion that the US had bulletproof evidence linking Al Qaeda to Iraq, despite the fact that U.S. intelligence analysts have consistently agreed that Saddam did not have a “meaningful connection” to Al Qaeda.  (NY Times, Schmitt, Eric, 9/28/2002, NY Times, Krugman, Paul, 7/15/2003)

I for one am hardly inclined believe assertions by the New York Times, maybe even especially Paul Krugman, about what U.S. intelligence analysts “have consistently agreed” in this regard.  Indeed, I doubt very strongly that American intelligence services have reached a consensus that there was no such contact (see above).  It's sad that it's gotten to that point vis-a-vis the New York Times.

8.  Mr. President, we need to know why Vice President Cheney claimed last September to have “irrefutable evidence” that Saddam Hussein had reconstituted his nuclear weapons program, an assertion he repeated in March, on the eve of war.  (AP, 9/20/2002, NBC 3/16/2003)

Probably because Saddam has done so.  Notice that Cheney said Saddam had “reconstituted his nuclear weapons program” rather than that Saddam has nuclear weapons.  Many commentators are getting that wrong, implying Cheney said Hussein has nuclear weapons now.  Dean got that part right, but is still trying (as with all these questions) to make political points with it.  We know from the aftermath of Gulf War I, however, that Hussein was then only a few months away from completing his nuclear bomb.  At that time he had (and therefore still has) the exact design for such a weapon, and I'm convinced he has all the actual parts prepared for a number of such bombs (probably buried in people's gardens, like the fissionable-isotope concentrating centrifuge that an Iraqi scientist recently turned in, buried for the last dozen years in his garden), waiting only for a supply of fissionable material to be complete.

And, given the looseness of controls on fissionable materials in places like the former Soviet Union, I wouldn't be blasé about Saddam's managing to acquire such material almost at any time, even now when out of power, much less while still in control of a California-sized, oil-rich nation!  (The left's supreme ennui to, if not positively hoping for, such an occurrence I find positively frightening.)

9.  Mr. President, we need to know why Secretary Powell claimed with confidence and virtual certainty in February before the UN Security Council that, “Iraq today has a stockpile of between 100 and 500 tons of chemical weapons agent.  That is enough agent to fill 16,000 battlefield rockets.”  (UN Address, 2/05/2003)

This is no mystery, and Dean should know the answer, if he's not dissimulating (or incompetent).  The U.N. inspectors documented the existence of all the stuff themselves, before they were kicked out by Saddam in 1998 (as they effectively were kicked out, contrary to allegations by the left).  Once again, it appears Dean's trying to score political points with readers who don't know any better.

10.  Mr. President, we need to know why Secretary Rumsfeld claimed on March 30th in reference to weapons of mass destruction, “We know where they are.  They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat.”  (The Guardian, Whitaker, Brian and Rory McCarthy, 5/30/2003)

I'd have to see the context before I could determine what Rumsfeld is actually saying here.  It sounds like he's saying “they're in Iraq, probably areas where Hussein is strong politically,” which should hardly be very controversial, I would think.  I'd say this isn't a very important point, in any case.

11.  Mr. President, we need an explanation of the unconfirmed report that your Administration is dishonoring the life of a soldier who died in Iraq as a result of hostile action by misclassifying his death as an accident.  (Time, Gibbs, Nancy and Mark Thompson, 7/13/2003)

An “unconfirmed” report?  “Dishonoring”?  It seems Dean is merely trying to fill out his “16 questions” here.  (And why does Howard Dean need exactly 16 questions?  Obviously because of Bush's “16 words.”  Didn't I say this was just a political ploy?)

12.  Mr. President, we need to know why your Administration has never told the truth about the costs and long-term commitment of the war, has consistently downplayed what those would be, and now continues to try to keep the projected costs hidden from the American people.

Hah!  The Administration throughout the war has said it didn't know what those costs would end up being.  Now, maybe they were to some degree trying avoid wallowing in those kind of unpleasant issues until after the war was actually over, but on the one hand, that's hardly unusual for politicians, and on the other, it's absolutely correct: they didn't know until recently how much it was going to cost.

Sorry, this too is not the stuff out of which great scandals are made.

13.  Mr. President, we need to know why you said on May 1, 2003, that the war was over, when US troops have fought and one or two have died nearly every day since then and your generals have admitted that we are fighting a guerrilla war in Iraq.  (Abizaid, Gen. John, 7/16/2003)

Bush said the major fighting was over — and it was.  A soldier's being shot down every day or so (lamentable though it is) is not major fighting.  I wonder what Dean would have thought of the aftermath of the conquest of Germany in 1945, with millions of starving displaced persons along with thousands of unreconstructed Nazis scouring the country?  Something of a “guerrilla war” went on for two years in Germany after 1945, yet most people would consider the postwar occupation (and democratization) of Germany to have been a success.

By speaking of “guerrilla war” Dean is attempting to raise the Vietnam!!! Quagmire!!! specter in people's heads.  But the situation in Iraq is hardly like Vietnam, which went on for ten years and cost 58,000 lives.  In Iraq, almost four months after the fall of Baghdad, some four dozen soldiers have been killed.  Notice the major discrepancy between those figures?  Twenty American soldiers a day over a decade died in Vietnam.  It would take a century at this rate to mount up in Iraq a Vietnam War sized death toll.

Personally, I'm convinced things will change radically in Iraq much sooner than that.  For one thing, Baathists have much less popular support in Iraq than Nazis did in postwar Germany, while the Baathists enjoy no powerful external patron backing them up like the Viet Cong had vis-a-vis North Vietnam.  Weed out the Baathist fascist holdovers, and they're gone!

Beyond that, we really have a very powerful fifth (sixth?) column operating in our favor in Iraq: all the many, many decent people who desperately wish for and will work towards their country's ceasing being a megalomaniacs' playground and international pariah state and joining the modern world.  The extraordinary sales of satellite TVs in Iraq since the war show how that message is avidly sought after.

14.  Mr. President, we need to know why your Administration had no plan to build the peace in post-war Iraq and seems to be resisting calls to include NATO, the United Nations and our allies in the stabilization and reconstruction effort.

Dean says the Administration had “no plan to build the peace in post-war Iraq”?  That's frankly nonsense.  The Administration's initial plans for the aftermath of the war perhaps (partially) didn't work out, so now they're upgrading and changing the plan.  Ever hear the saying, “the most brilliant battlefield plan never survives contact with the enemy”?  It's necessary to be able to improvise, and I believe the Administration is doing that in Iraq.  Kudos to them.

As for “resisting calls to include NATO, the United Nations and our allies in the stabilization and reconstruction effort,” this is pure spin.  What the Administration is resisting, and rightly so, in my opinion, are calls to go crawling back to the United Nations, begging them to deign to take over the entire postwar reconstruction and development effort.  Not only would the U.S. basically have to suck up to the U.N. and people like the French, admitting it was in the wrong going into Iraq (which I believe it emphatically was not), but the U.N. would want and require control of the entire effort.

I don't buy the assertion commonly heard that the United Nations is the world's best handler of the reconstruction of failed states; in my view, its record is poor at best.  Especially since the U.N. seems to have a strong predilection towards statism and socialism, against democracy along with capitalist economic development, I think they'd be a terrible choice for building the future democratic, capitalistic Iraq that is vital if the Middle East is to be reformed and ultimately join the modern world (in other words, so that we can "win" the war on terror).  No, I think a better model than the U.N.'s efforts in places like Bosnia and the Congo is the reconstruction of Germany and Japan undertaken by the United States at the end of World War II.  Thus, I believe the best choice for us is to, yes, let the U.N., NATO, and other redevelopment agencies into Iraq — but on our terms.

15.  Mr. President, we need to know what you were referring to in Poland on May 30, 2003, when you said, “For those who say we haven't found the banned manufacturing devices or banned weapons, they're wrong.  We found them.”  (The Washington Post, Mike Allen, 5/31/2003)

Dean appears to be being deliberately dense if not deceptive (LYING!!!?) here, as the news article he refers to says explicitly what Bush is talking about: the mobile biological laboratory trailers found a couple months back.  And I must say, from what I can tell, they certainly do seem to fit the bill!

16.  Mr. President, we need to know why you incorrectly claimed this very week that the war began because Iraq would not admit UN inspectors, when in fact Iraq had admitted the inspectors and you opposed extending their work.  (The Washington Post, Priest, Dana and Dana Milbank, 7/15/2003)

Assuming that the brief quote from Bush wasn't taken completely out of context, it may be that he partially misspoke himself here (misspeaking is not unknown for him, after all!).  It's inappropriate, however, in my view for the President to be interrogated in a kind of a Star Chamber by people of the supercilious ilk of Howard Dean whenever he does so, and beyond that, there is a very real sense in which what Bush said is perfectly true.

Although the U.N. weapons inspectors were allowed to enter physically enter Iraq, Saddam and his government did not provide the kind of pro-active, positive cooperation that United Nations Resolution 1441 (passed unanimously by the U.N. Security Council) explicitly in no uncertain terms demanded.  Resolution 1441 made clear that Saddam was not merely to open doors for the inspectors and let them inspect whatever they wanted, he had to provide them with all the information up front: tell them where to go and what to do to find the banned weapons, not keep mum and hope they can't figure it out.  Hussein manifestly did not provide the active cooperation required, and lacking it, the kind of you-hide-it and I'll-try-to-find-it game (played out so much in the past between Saddam and the inspectors) is exactly what Bush very forthrightly refused to get into this time — and that game is precisely what Dean is approvingly aiming at when criticizes Bush for “opposing extending their [the inspectors'] work.”  Bravo for Bush, I say!  (Who says who is stupid?)

My old friend had a couple of closing questions.  “You mentioned a site where questions are being suggested that you think are more important.  Do you remember the address?”

Try this piece, by the inimitable Glenn Reynolds.

Finally, my friend asked:  “Also, do you feel any Dem will be able to unseat Bush?”

Theoretically, yes.  Practically, though, the Democrats' problem, as I see it, is complicated by the fact that the Democratic (mostly leftist) base appears to be rushing, pell-mell, into a strongly antiwar, position of extreme (I would say vitriolic) criticism of Bush — during time of an important war.  Moreover, this war, the War on Terror, was forced on us, not voluntarily entered into, as a result of the savage murder of 3,000 Americans on 2001.09.11.  Thus, the nearest historical counterpart to the current Democratic and leftist barrage of criticism of Bush is to be found, I believe, in the Republican Isolationists' hatred for and attacks on Franklin D. Roosevelt during World War II — another war vital for preservation of the future of Western liberal-democratic civilization against a murderous fascist cultural malignancy.  I think it's safe to say at this historical remove (Pat Buchanan's macabre viewpoint not withstanding) that the Isolationists' opposition to the Second World War was very much mistaken, and not a model to be emulated in such a circumstance.

As a result of the Democrats' growing antiwar fixation, I'd say probably only an antiwar candidate (and not someone like Joe Lieberman) will be able to win the 2004 Democratic primaries to become the Demo. candidate.  Unfortunately for the Democrats — but fortunately, I'd say, for the nation — I think a large majority of Americans won't be able to accept such a candidate in the general election.  Thus, as a centrist Democrat, Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana, put it the other day, the Democratic Party appears that to be in the process of committing “assisted suicide” (the Republicans are quite willing to do the “assist” part) with regard to the upcoming election.

I'll close by reiterating that I've never voted for Bush; I opposed him vigorously in the 2000 election, and was appalled by the aftermath in Florida and the Supreme Court.  Nonetheless, Bush certainly is President now.  Beyond that, I very much do not agree with many of the things Bush stands for or against, from provisions of the Patriot Act to stem cell research.  I recognize, however, as do many others in this country, that the War on Terror is real, not a “metaphorical war” as the left likes to allege, and that victory in this war is vital not only to the continued existence of the United States and the lives and well-being of its inhabitants, but also to the continued life of the “liberal democratic” (in the old, historic sense of the terms) Enlightenment values which have always stood at the core of what it means to be an American, in America and around the world.  Such intellectual and institutional treasures for the future of mankind (America's crown jewels) are worth defending, indeed worth dying for, and I support vigorously, enthusiastically, appreciatively, Bush's radicalism in defense of liberty.


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