Monthly Archives: October 2005

It's the War, Stupid!

As usual, the Wall Street Journal gets to the heart of what the CIA “leak” scandal is all about:

Mr. Wilson’s original claims about what he found on a CIA trip to Africa, what he told the CIA about it, and even why he was sent on the mission have since been discredited. What a bizarre irony it would be if what began as a politically motivated lie by Mr. Wilson nonetheless leads to indictments of Bush Administration officials for telling reporters the truth.

Mr. Fitzgerald’s original charge was to investigate if anyone had violated the 1982 Intelligence Identities Protection Act. But as we and others have repeatedly written, to violate that law someone must have deliberately and maliciously exposed Ms. Plame knowing that she was an undercover agent and using information he’d obtained in an official capacity. Ms. Plame was surely not undercover, and her own husband had essentially made her “outing” inevitable when he exploited his former CIA consultant status (that she had helped him obtain) to inject himself in the middle of a Presidential campaign.

Mr. Fitzgerald may have recognized this problem early, because in February 2004 he asked for permission for much broader investigative authority.

…Media reports say Mr. Fitzgerald is also exploring violations of the 1917 Espionage Act, for leaking classified information. This law has rarely been enforced, and if leaking classified information was routinely prosecuted half of Washington would be in jail. That September 2003 story about the CIA referral to Justice to investigate the Plame “leak” was itself a disclosure of classified material. You could hardly pick up a paper in 2004 without reading selectively leaked details from classified documents leading up to the Iraq War–an obvious attempt to discredit the war and elect John Kerry. An indictment based on this statute would be an egregious case of selective prosecution.

Yes, that still leaves the possibility of a “coverup,” and we don’t know all that Mr. Fitzgerald knows on that score. But the evidence that is so far public has revealed nothing like Watergate or even the Clinton campaign-finance scandals. It is also hard to believe that a seasoned lawyer like I. Lewis Libby, Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff, would be so foolish as to lie to a grand jury. The press is full of reports of discrepancies in accounts of who told what to whom. However, an obstruction of justice charge against senior officials ought to require more definitive evidence.

The temptation for any special counsel, who has only one case to prosecute, is to show an indictment for his money and long effort. But Mr. Fitzgerald’s larger obligation is to see that justice is done, and that should include ensuring that he doesn’t become the agent for criminalizing policy differences. Defending a policy by attacking the credibility of a political opponent–Mr. Wilson–should not be a felony

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Hollywood History

There they go again. The Oliver Stone historians strike again.

The Dignity of Barbarism

The Palestinians’ taste for violence.

Cat Fight!

What is going on at the New York Times? First they run a story about editor Bill Keller’s regrets over how he handled the Judy Miller-Valerie Plame “leak” case. Then somebody allows the ever-bitchy Maureen Dowd to unload on Miller by, among many other unkind cheap shots, suggesting Miller ought to be fired.

“I’ve always liked Judy Miller,” she purrs, before inserting the knife:

The traits she has that drive many reporters at The Times crazy – her tropism toward powerful men, her frantic intensity and her peculiar mixture of hard work and hauteur – have never bothered me. I enjoy operatic types.

Once when I was covering the first Bush White House, I was in The Times’s seat in the crowded White House press room, listening to an administration official’s background briefing. Judy had moved on from her tempestuous tenure as a Washington editor to be a reporter based in New York, but she showed up at this national security affairs briefing.

At first she leaned against the wall near where I was sitting, but I noticed that she seemed agitated about something. Midway through the briefing, she came over and whispered to me, “I think I should be sitting in the Times seat.”

It was such an outrageous move, I could only laugh. I got up and stood in the back of the room, while Judy claimed what she felt was her rightful power perch.

She never knew when to quit. That was her talent and her flaw. Sorely in need of a tight editorial leash, she was kept on no leash at all, and that has hurt this paper and its trust with readers. She more than earned her sobriquet “Miss Run Amok.”

Judy’s stories about W.M.D. fit too perfectly with the White House’s case for war. She was close to Ahmad Chalabi, the con man who was conning the neocons to knock out Saddam so he could get his hands on Iraq, and I worried that she was playing a leading role in the dangerous echo chamber that Senator Bob Graham, now retired, dubbed “incestuous amplification.” Using Iraqi defectors and exiles, Mr. Chalabi planted bogus stories with Judy and other credulous journalists.

Even last April, when I wrote a column critical of Mr. Chalabi, she fired off e-mail to me defending him.

When Bill Keller became executive editor in the summer of 2003, he barred Judy from covering Iraq and W.M.D. issues. But he acknowledged in The Times’s Sunday story about Judy’s role in the Plame leak case that she had kept “drifting” back. Why did nobody stop this drift?

Judy admitted in the story that she “got it totally wrong” about W.M.D. “If your sources are wrong,” she said, “you are wrong.” But investigative reporting is not stenography.

Let me engage in the kind of psychological “analysis” that Maureen Dowd regularly employs in her columns, a technique that allows her to avoid travelling to messy places like Iraq where it’s very difficult to find a good manicurist. As she alleges about Judith Miller, Modo also has a “tropism toward powerful men,” namely she can’t stand that they have power. Her whipping boy in Iraq is Ahmad Chalabi who, she alleges on the basis of no hard evidence, knew that Saddam had no wmd and yet “conned the neo-cons,” meaning the Jews who advised those always credulous gentiles in the administration, to go to war.

So MoDo was “right” about Chalabi and Miller was “wrong.” The old Prima Donna is dead, long live the new Prima Donna. What’s left out of this is that everyone – the French, the Germans, the Israelis, the Egyptians, the Jordanians- believed that Saddam Hussein possessed wmd. Is it not reasonably plausible that Chalabi, who was exiled from Iraq, believed the same? Are we to believe that only MoDo, who only leaves Washington to travel to New York or LA or maybe London to promote a book, knew the truth about Chalabi and wmd?

Judith Miller may have a tropism toward powerful men, but she knows infinitely more about the world’s trouble spot and weapons of mass destruction than Maureen Dowd whose expertise runs to movies, tv, clothes and celebrity gossip.

Dowd’s column, I suspect, is a first; I can’t remember any columnist at the Times directly attacking another Times colleague. Clearly the powers that be at the Times have decided to whack Judith Miller to soothe their anti-war feelings and repair their street-cred among the herd of independent thinkers who make up the liberal media.

Ben and Jerry's: The Liberals' Dilemma

Want to clog up your and your children’s arteries while increasing global warming? Buy and eat Ben and Jerry’s ice cream.

Nadagate

In a New York Times column available online to subscribers, John Tierney sums up the Wilson, Libby, Rove case:

This case, if you can remember that far back, began with accusations that White House officials violated a law protecting undercover agents who could be harmed or killed if their identities were revealed. But it now seems doubtful that there was a violation of that law, much less any danger to the outed agent, Valerie Wilson.

The case originally aroused indignation because the White House appeared to be outing Wilson as part of a campaign to unfairly discredit her husband, Joseph Wilson, who accused the administration of ignoring his 2002 report debunking evidence that Iraq was trying to acquire material for nuclear weapons. But a Senate investigation found that his report not only failed to reach the White House but also failed to debunk the nuclear-material evidence – in fact, most analysts concluded the report added to the evidence.

So now the original justifications for the investigation have vanished, which is why I think of this as the Nadagate scandal. But the prosecutor has kept at it for two years. Besides switching to the vague law against disclosing classified information, he might indict Libby or Rove for perjury or obstruction of justice – crimes that occurred only because of the investigation.

Perjury, of course, was the charge that Kenneth Starr accurately pinned on Bill Clinton, but the public didn’t buy it. People realized that whatever the affair and the cover-up said about Clinton’s character and judgment, the scandal was not a crime.

Unless Fitzgerald comes up with something unexpected, neither is Nadagate. For now, it looks as if the outing of Valerie Wilson was done by officials who didn’t think it was illegal and believed they were replying truthfully to a partisan who had smeared them. Hardball politics isn’t pretty, but it’s not criminal, either.

Give War a Chance

The United Nations massacres the Smurfs.

Iraqis Invest While the Media Fiddles

Iraqis seem optimistic about the future while Western liberals seem to hope that Iraq falls apart.

An excerpt from a Wall Street Journal op-ed column by Michael Rubin:

The referendum capped a constitutional drafting process over which Western commentators and diplomats had been quick to panic. They misunderstand that with freedom comes politics. The same U.S. senators who debated the “nuclear option” for judicial nominees failed to recognize political brinkmanship among their Iraqi counterparts.

Many U.S. policy makers worry that disgruntled Sunnis may turn to violence if their demands aren’t met. But there is no evidence to support the conventional wisdom that insurgent violence is tied to the political process. Insurgents have not put forward any platform. By denying the legitimacy of the state, pan-Islamic rhetoric is a greater affront to Iraqi nationalism than the presence of foreign troops on Iraqi soil. It is no accident that Iraqi Sunnis have started killing foreign jihadists.

Nevertheless, implying violence to be the result of demands not met is an old Middle East game. And in this game, Iraqi factions have played the Western media and policy makers like a fiddle.

…Other indicators suggest Iraqis have confidence in their future. The Iraqi dinar, freely traded in international currency markets, is stable.

When people fear for their future, they invest in gold; jewelry and coins can be sewn into clothes and smuggled out of the country. When people feel confident about the future, they buy real estate. Property prices have skyrocketed across Iraq. Decrepit houses in Sadr City, a Shiite slum on the outskirts of Baghdad, can easily cost $45,000. Houses in upper-middle-class districts of Mansour and Karrada can cost more than 20 times that. Restaurant owners spend $50,000 on top-of-the-line generators to keep open despite the frequent blackouts. In September 2005, there were 40 buildings nine stories or higher under construction in the Kurdish city of Sulaymani. Five years ago, there were none. Iraqis would not spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on real estate if they weren’t confident that the law would protect their investment.

Iraqis now see the fruit of foreign investment. A year ago in Baghdad, Iraqis drank water and soft drinks imported from neighboring countries. Now they drink water bottled in plants scattered across Iraq. When I visited a Baghdad computer shop last spring, my hosts handed me a can of Pepsi. An Arabic banner across the can announced, “The only soft drink manufactured in Iraq.” In August, a Coca-Cola executive in Istanbul told me their Baghdad operation is not far behind. Turkish investors in partnership with local Iraqis have built modern hotels in Basra.

Cameras and reporters do not lie, but they do not always give a full perspective. Political brinkmanship devoid of context breeds panic. Beheadings and blood sell copy, but do not accurately reflect Iraq. Political milestones give a glimpse of the often-unreported determination that Iraqis and longtime visitors see daily. Bombings and body bags are tragic. But they do not reflect failure. Rather, they represent the sacrifice that both Iraqis and Americans have made for security and democracy. The referendum, refugee return, real estate and investment show much more accurately–and objectively–Iraq’s slow but steady progress.

A Combination of Banality With Evil

Christopher Hitchens, in a Wall Street Journal op-ed column available online to subscribers, demolishes the Nobel peace and literature prizes along with this year’s literary prize winner, Harold Pinter:

…any thinking person knows precisely why [Pinter] was this year’s Laureate at a moment when a person of even average literacy might have lit upon Rushdie, Roth or Pamuk. Just as with the selection of Jimmy Carter for the “Peace” Prize, where the judges chose to emphasize the embarrassment they hoped thereby to visit on the Bush administration, the ludicrous elevation of a third-rate and effectively former dramatist is driven by pseudo-intellectual European hostility to the change of regime in Iraq.

Mr. Pinter’s work, according to the clumsily-phrased Nobel citation, “uncovers the precipice under everyday prattle and forces entry into oppression’s closed rooms.” Let us agree that his early plays — he has not produced anything worth noticing since the 1960s — do indeed show an uneasy relationship between the banal and the evil. But let me offer you a stave from a poem he wrote in January 2003, titled “God Bless America”: “Here they go again,/ The Yanks in their armored parade/ Chanting their ballads of joy/ As they gallop across the big world/ Praising America’s God.”

This, and other verses like it, were awarded the Wilfred Owen prize by a group of English judges. When re-reading Owen on “the pity of war,” I invariably find that it is difficult to do so without tears. When scanning Mr. Pinter on the same subject, I cannot get to the end without the temptation either to laugh out loud or to throw up. The sheer puerility of the stuff is precisely a combination of banality with evil: a preference for dictatorship larded with obscenity and fatuity. (And scrawled, I might add, by a man who helped found the International Committee for the Defense of Slobodan Milosevic.) One has had more enlightenment, and been exposed to more wit, from the walls of public lavatories, such as those featured so morbidly in Pinter’s early effort “The Caretaker.”

The Nobel committee allowed Borges and Nabokov to go to their graves unrecognized, while choosing writers who it is difficult to remember without wincing. Last year’s selection, of a mediocre Austrian Stalinist named Elfriede Jellinek, caused a few winces even in Stockholm. And Dario Fo? What can one possibly say — except that the theater of the absurd is apparently always on the road. Jose Saramago can certainly write — just as Frau Jellinek can certainly not — but one is compelled to suspect that without his staunch post-1989 membership of the unusually degenerated Portuguese Communist Party he would not have been considered. As with the Peace Prize, the award of the laureateship for literature has come to approximate the value of a resolution of the U.N. Special Committee on Human Rights. The occasional exceptions — I would want to instance Sir Vidia Naipaul in spite of his own toxic political views — only throw the general sinister mediocrity into sharper relief.

And sinister mediocrity has become Mr. Pinter’s stock-in-trade. Is it really believable that a conclave of righteous Scandinavians should have honored a man who said, in loud terms, that the mass murder in New York in September 2001 was a justified “retaliation”? A man who described the genocidal war-criminal Milosevic as the true leader of the “Yugoslavia” he had subverted and cleansed and destroyed? A man who said that George Bush and Tony Blair were “terrorists,” while Saddam Hussein was not?

…A luxurious literary/political salon, established by Mr. Pinter and his noble wife Lady Antonia Fraser to protest the Gulag-like character of the Thatcher regime, is often said to have dissolved because of unkind media ridicule. To the contrary: I know many people who used to attend that “salon,” and I can tell you that it dissolved because of the irrational rages and hysterical harangues of its host, now garlanded for his services to the high calling of letters.

The best I can say for Pinter is that he is not as big (or small) a nonentity as the usual recipients of the Nobel literature prize.

The Elders of Zion

Those sneaky Jews, uh, we mean neocons.