Saturday, October 18, 2003
Gregg Easterbrook, anti-semitism, and ESPN
Despite yesterday's post about the Malaysian Prime Minister's graceless remarks, I don't blog all that much about anti-Semitism. Alas, this will have to be the second post in the last 48 hours on the subject.
I just learned about the accusations of anti-Semitism against Gregg Easterbrook for his tirade against Miramax, Quentin Tarantino, and "Kill Bill" on his TNR blog.
Having read the controversial post, I concluded:
What genuinely puzzles me is that Easterbrook is hardly a novice in his writings on religion. He is, however, a novice blogger, which might be the best explanation. Andrew Sullivan phrases it nicely in his Inside Dish:
Eric Alterman makes a similar argument:
[Easterbrook should have taken your advice!--ed. Well, that post also recommended blogging about religion, so maybe he did.]
As a big fan of Easterbrook's writings in general, and his Tuesday Morning Quarterback column for ESPN in particular, I've never come across anything else in his voluminous set of writings that even hinted at anti-Semitism. When someone without a track record of these utterances apologizes, I tend to think that's the end of it.
However, according to Roger Simon, Easterbrook has been fired from ESPN for what he wrote on his blog. Glenn Reynolds has a collection of responses across the blogosphere, as well as ESPN.com's Orwellian response. Meryl Yourish -- who has been unrelenting in flogging Easterbrook for his screw-up -- thinks ESPN has screwed up.
I tend to agree. This situation is not analagous to Rush Limbaugh's. Easterbrook's gaffe does not appear to have been on ESPN, and he's apologized. Limbaugh made his statements on ESPN, did not really apologize, and then refused to appear on Sportscenter to defend himself.
[A side note: the above graf is based on Glenn Reynolds assertion that this decision was, "especially bizarre given that the whole flap was about something that wasn't even published at ESPN." I'm not completely sure that's true -- a lot of Easterbrook's initial posts at Easterblogg appeared in his Tuesday Morning Quarterback posts. However, since ESPN has erased all of his posts, I can't check on my own and will assume that what Reynolds says is true. UPDATE: I just found the cached version of the last two TMQ columns at Google -- and "Kill Bill" is not mentioned in either of them.]
Think ESPN screwed up? Let them know about it.
The post-war debate about the pre-war rhetoric -- the final chapter!!
I'm putting Holsclaw's reply first because it's shorter -- to go straight to Schwarz, click here.
Now to Holsclaw:
As the debate comes to a close, I realize that I have said most everything I wanted to say. Schwarz came up with his best quotes, and I showed that in context they were not arguments for an imminent threat. Barring quotes that I haven't been able to respond to, the case that Bush was arguing for an imminent threat is amazingly sparse considering that the Bush administration was making its case for more than a year. So, for a change, I'll try to make a brief summary. The question is did the Bush administration argue that Iraq was an imminent threat. They clearly participated in arguments where people like Kennedy and Byrd thought that the question of imminent threat was important. They did not however present imminent threat as their own argument for the war. From the very beginning, questions of imminent threat were used by opponents of the war, because everyone understood that an imminent threat threshold was too high to justify a war against Iraq.
Again and again the Bush administration argued that Saddam was a serious threat because of his past behaviour. Constantly the Bush administration argued that Saddam was a growing threat because of the impossibility of indefinitely sustaining an inspection regime. Bush always argued that Saddam was an important threat, a threat that would get worse with time, and a threat which ought not be left to fester. 'Imminent threat' however was a term with a very specific meaning in the debate. Bush understood that his administration couldn't meet the burden of 'imminent threat'. That is the reason why he resisted Byrd's attempt to add 'imminent threat' to the Senate's authorizing language. Link
A complete fabrication does not have to be wrong in every single particular. If I said about Howard Dean: "He is a man with no real experience in government, who wants to surrender to our enemies and destroy the engine of our economy," this would be a complete fabrication even though certain parts are totally true. He is a man. His formal position is not exactly the same as stated, though Roget's thesaurus says that 'surrender' is synonymous with abandon. He has no experience in federal government. Parts of the statement have some association with the truth, but the statement as a whole is a complete fabrication.
Bush did not argue that Iraq was an imminent threat. Even with the cherry picked quotes which Schwarz uses it is apparent that the administration was arguing for a serious threat but not an imminent one. This is even more true if you analyze the debate as a whole.
Bush in fact, during the most public possible speech on the subject, specifically argued that the imminent threat standard was an inappropriate standard for choosing whether or not to wage war against Iraq.
It is a fabrication to characterize this as Bush's administration arguing that Iraq was an imminent threat.
And now to Schwarz:
1. I'll begin my final post with an excerpt from the official National Security Strategy of the United States, signed by George Bush on September 17, 2002:
Given this, there are only two possible interpretations of the Bush administration's case for invading Iraq:
(A) The Bush administration was arguing that, by its own definition, Iraq fell under the concept of an imminent threat;
By this point I wouldn't be surprised if some people would endorse the second possibility, as preposterous as it is. But in any case, this clearly invalidates Sebastian's claims about how imminent should be defined for this bet.
For much, much, much more, see below.
2. To be honest, I wish I hadn't felt I had to cite a thesaurus. The reason I did is because debate about this issue seems to have an Alice in Wonderland quality, in which words have no agreed-upon meaning. "Moptop" really embraces this beautiful Humpty Dumpty spirit in his comment, "Gathering does not mean Imminent no matter what the thesaurus says."
Weirdly, in Sebastian's remarks about thesauruses he takes us further down the rabbit hole -- since he contends that synonyms are merely a "range of somewhat similar meaning words."
I'm sorry, this is just not so. I hate to have to do this, but here are four definitions of "synonym":
The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition
Cambridge International Dictionary of English
If we are going by the dictionary meaning of synonymous, it cannot be argued that the Bush administration did not use words having the same or nearly the same meaning as "imminent threat." Therefore, if we are going by thesauruses and dictionaries, it is not a complete fabrication that the Bush administration argued Iraq was an imminent threat.
3. To be fair, of course, this is not the main sense of Sebastian's argument. Rather, he is explicitly arguing that in the context of the debate regarding Iraq, everyone agreed that "imminent" was being used with a non-standard, particularly narrow definition.
He writes, "phrases have different meanings in different contexts." In a direct email to me, he fleshed out this point:
This could, in theory, be a good argument -- if everyone discussing Iraq had in fact agreed that we were all using a "specific," "ridiculously narrow" definition of imminent.
Obviously, this is not the case at all. First of all, Sebastian provides no evidence of any kind that opponents of the war were using a special, ridiculously narrow definition. Here are the relevant quotes from the sources he cites:
Even more significantly, of course, none of the available evidence about what the Bush administration meant by imminent indicates they were using an unusually narrow definition. In fact, exactly the opposite: it indicates they were using an unusually broad definition of imminent.
As I initially cited, Bush's official National Security Strategy states: "We must adapt the concept of imminent threat to the capabilities and objectives of today’s adversaries."
Next, here is Condoleezza Rice, speaking about Iraq and the new National Security Strategy on October 1, 2002: "new technology requires new thinking about when a threat actually becomes 'imminent.'"
Here is Donald Rumsfeld being interviewed on November 14, 2002. Note that Rumsfeld himself here uses "immediate threat" as a synonym for "imminent threat":
Here is Paul Wolfowitz speaking on November 15th of last year:
Here is Donald Rumsfeld answering a reporter's question on this issue -- the day after the State of the Union address:
Since we're talking about context, let's closely examine the context of this. George Bush had said in the one of the most high profile speeches on earth that Iraq might "bring us a day of horror like none we have ever known." The very next day, Rumsfeld explained that the meaning of imminence "changes depending on the potential lethality of the act."
Finally, since Sebastian brought up Just War theory, it's worth noting that the Bush administration invited Michael Novak to come to the Vatican and present an address arguing that an invasion of Iraq was in accordance with Just War doctrine.
So, to repeat: Sebastian argues that when discussing Iraq everyone had agreed upon a non-standard, very narrow definition of "imminent threat." Yet not only does he provide no evidence that this was the case, the Bush administration explicitly argued for a broad definition of imminent.
This leaves us with the State of the Union address. I think it would be justified to ignore Sebastian's remarks about it, since the context in which Bush was using the term "imminent" was nothing at all like the one Sebastian claims.
Nonetheless, I think it's worth examining, because Sebastian's parsing of its meaning is such pure gobbledygook. First, he agrees it's "correct that Bush states that we cannot know whether the threat is imminent." Then he writes that Bush was equating a threat that has fully emerged with a threat that is imminent: "[Bush says] that if we permit the threat to fully emerge, if we allow the threat to become imminent, we have waited too long."
In other words, by Sebastian's logic, Bush meant that even at the point when a threat has "fully and suddenly emerged" and "all actions, all words, and all recriminations" are too late -- which can only mean the point when the terrorists and tyrants have struck and an attack has actually occurred -- we may be unable to perceive it. Somehow we may not notice "a day of horror like none we have ever known."
I suggest it is this rhetoric of Sebastian's which is tortured, not mine. Let me therefore repeat and elaborate on my straightforward, commonsense interpretation of Bush's statement:
Bush was not using an extremely narrow definition of imminent. He wasn't equating an "imminent threat" to a threat that had fully and suddenly emerged and about which it is too late to do anything. Rather, he was saying that Iraq could be an imminent threat for a period of time without our perceiving it as imminent -- as we were unaware in August, 2001 that Al-Qaida would soon destroy the World Trade Center. Then the threat from Iraq might fully and suddenly emerge, just like the Al-Qaida attacks fully and suddenly emerged on September 11th. So Bush wasn't saying that imminence was not the correct standard to use -- ie, that we should still invade Iraq even if we knew it wasn't an imminent threat.
To sum up: Sebastian has provided no basis in reality for his claim that we should be employing a "specific," "ridiculously narrow" definition for imminent threat. Indeed, reality points in precisely the opposite direction.
So, we can use the meanings found in thesauruses and dictionaries. Or we can use the more expansive definition of imminent suggested by the Bush administration. Either way, the idea that the Bush administration argued that Iraq was an imminent threat is absolutely not a complete fabrication.
4. I hate to go into any more detail, but I feel like I have to.
Sebastian's treatment of the Fleischer quotes exacerbates my feeling we're in a situation in which words can mean anything at all.
For instance, Sebastian states that in both quotes, the "imminent threat" portion of the reporters' questions was a "mere preface to the substance of the question."
This is just not true. In the first Fleischer quote, the "imminent threat" portion is not a mere preface, but an absolutely critical part of the question the reporter is asking. Without it the reporter's question makes no sense whatsoever. And Fleischer answers in the affirmative:
The meaning of Fleischer's statement is not a mystery. The only plausible interpretation is that he means: Yes, the president has been saying the threat is so imminent that we have to act now. The president is acting now to make sure there are inspections that aren't thwarted. If there are inspections that aren't thwarted then the threat may diminish. Without inspections, or with inspections that are thwarted, the threat will remain imminent.
In the second Fleischer quote, the "imminent threat" portion again is not a "preface to the substance of the question." Indeed, again, it is the substance of the question:
It's beyond me how Sebastian can claim that Fleischer is not here agreeing that the U.S. said "these weapons were a direct and imminent threat to the United States." To understand how ridiculous this is, let's imagine a parallel question and response:
Sebastian would then argue that it was a complete fabrication that Fleischer confirmed that "we said that these beanie babies were really cute and we wanted them."
Lastly, I note again the contradiction between Fleischer's behavior and Sebastian's claim that the Bush administration "strenuously avoided labeling" Iraq as an imminent threat. Here's another example in which exactly the opposite happened:
Yup. Fleischer told a reporter: "You have your judgment [that there is no imminent threat from Iraq] and the president has others."
Contrast this to what happens when White House press secretaries truly are strenuously avoiding labeling a country an imminent threat. On those occasions there's no question what they mean:
5. Regarding Radio Free Europe, Sebastian is incorrect when he says we are not talking about third party characterizations. It's true they don't have a bearing on what the Bush administration argued, but they do on the issue of "complete fabrication." A quick Nexis search shows there were dozens if not hundreds of articles before the war saying the Bush administration was claiming Iraq was an imminent threat. Yet, Sebastian claims (1) everyone had agreed upon and was using a specific, narrow definition of imminent, and (2) this was a definition of imminent that Bush had not invoked. So to win this bet, Sebastian must argue that all of these news outlets, including one funded by the U.S. government itself, quite consciously engaged in a complete fabrication.
6. Regarding Rumsfeld's "immediate threat" statement, I'd first like to note that Sebastian writes that "we suspected Saddam had biological and chemical weapons at the very time of Rumsfield's report." I think a better way of putting this would be that "we stated over and over and over there was no doubt whatsoever that Saddam had biological and chemical weapons."
In any case, as I noted above, Rumsfeld himself when talking on another occasion about the danger posed by Iraq used "immediate threat" as a synonym for "imminent threat." So Sebastian is arguing that it is not only a complete fabrication to go by the standards of dictionaries and thesauruses, it is a complete fabrication to go by Rumsfeld's own usage.
7. Regarding Bush's Cincinnati speech, Sebastian does not address the fact that Bush said Iraq was "a threat whose outlines are far more clearly defined" than Al-Qaida's were on September 10, 2001. I think he's wise to avoid this -- because unless Al-Qaida wasn't an imminent threat on September 10, the only meaning of Bush's words is that Iraq was an imminent threat.
Sebastian of course acknowledges Bush said Iraq could choose "any given day" to help terrorists attack the U.S. But, says Sebastian, Bush would only have meant this was an imminent threat if he'd stated "we have intelligence reports showing that Saddam is about to give some of his longstanding stocks of chemical weapons to terrorists."
This is an interesting standard to require. Because in that very same speech, Bush said, "We've learned that Iraq has trained al Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases."
At last, something on which he and I can agree.
Friday, October 17, 2003
The state of Islam -- 2003
Post -- 9/11, there's been a lot of gnashing of teeth about the role that Islam plays in the promotion of terrorism and general hostility to the West. It is often stressed that Islam encompasses more than the Arab Middle East, and should not be conflated with the ideology of Osama bin Laden or his cronies. Surely, true Islam is not fundamentally anti-Semitic, for example?
So, let's go to what outgoing Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad said yesterday in his welcoming speech:
When the European Union -- which knows from anti-Semitism -- declares that the speech is anti-Semitic, you know a line has been crossed. [UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan points that the French weren't that upset]
A few thoughts:
The scary and pathetic thing is, Hamid Albar is correct -- relative to a lot of Muslims, Mahathir's position is moderate. He's not advocating the use of violence to exterminate the state of Israel. He's advocating the use of brainpower -- to exterminate the state of Israel.
Mahathir embodies the moderate face of Islam. To his credit, he was at the helm as his country indistrialized. He was smart enough to appreciate the importance of the rule of law and the role of markets in fostering economic growth. He bucked the IMF's advice and imposed capital controls during the Asian financial crisis and lived to tell the tale. He pursued a number of policies designed to ameliorate ethnic tensions between the poorer but more numerous Malays and the wealthier ethnic Chinese. These feats are not easy for a developing country leader to pull off.
And yet, this man, the best that moderate political Islam has to offer, is rotten with flaws. Mahathir subverted his country's democratic traditions to suit his political purposes. He jailed his anointed successor for having the temerity to question whether the IMF might actually be correct. And the anti-Semitism is hardly new -- he blamed the Jews, specifically George Soros, for causing the Asian financial crisis.
There is actually a powerful critique of Islamic fundamentalism in this passage -- but over means and not ends.
What Mahathir wants is for Islamic countries to embrace modernization without Westernization and its tacky "Jewish" traits of human rights and democracy. However, it's no coincidence that the peak of Islam's power and influence came at a time when the religion was tolerant to scientific and religious views outside of the Quran. Although Samuel Huntington and Benjamin Barber disagree, I side with Jonathan Rauch in believing that it's impossible to embrace modern science without embracing the tolerance for free thought that is at the core of Western liberal thought.
I could very well be wrong, however. This is the trillion-dollar bet for the West for the next century. The state of Islam in 2003 does not make me sanguine.
I partially agree with the Egyptian Foreign Minister -- the speech should be read it in its entirety.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Words I never thought I would write -- Drezner gets results from the New York Times editorial page.
My last baseball post for a while
Well, it looks like I'm going to have to follow my own advice. So....
Congratulations, New York Yankees. You showed a lot of grit in Game 7, coming back against the toughest pitcher in the American League. By the smallest, but most crucial of fractions, you were the better team last night.
[That's it?!! No venting about how the Sox choked?--ed. But they didn't choke, no matter what the Boston Globe says. They won Game 6 when everyone thought they would lose it. Pedro Martinez outpitched Roger Clemens in Game 7. The Sox committed no baserunning or fielding errors -- indeed, the much-maligned defense of Todd Walker kept the team in it for two innings. Even the New York Post said, "The Sox provided the heroics where they were needed." Yes, one can certainly question Grady Little for leaving Martinez in for so long. But remember that Little also had the guts to go against conventional wisdom and have Derek Lowe pitch to Adam Melhuse rather than walk him in the deciding game of the division series against Oakland. Had Little not done that, it's entirely possible that the Sox don't make it to the ALCS. No, the Sox played the 2003 regular season and playoffs with grit and poise. I'm proud to call myself a Red Sox fan.]
Even as the game ended, the impartial spectator in me was also pleased that baseball has had such a great playoff season, in terms of the increased TV ratings and, more important, the caliber of the games themselves.
Of course, the partial spectator in me found this to be cold comfort. But after the game was over, I turned off the television and lookied in on the parts of my life that matter in a more profound way than games played by boys in stadiums. And all was well.
Well, there's always next year.
Thursday, October 16, 2003
Drezner gets results from the Philadelphia Inquirer
The bureaucratic politics meme scores another news story. Somehow, I have to think that Joseph L. Galloway and James Kuhnhenn were giggling hysterically when they wrote the first few grafs of this story:
OK, I don't care what your partisan affiliation is, that last graf is just damn funny.
These paragraphs, on the other hand, should prompt more concern:
The post-war debate on the pre-war rhetoric, part IV
Sebastian's claim that the Bush administration "strenuously resisted labeling" Iraq an imminent threat is misleading.
The Bush administration rarely addressed the question using this specific language.
On some occasions, they skirted around the issue, neither saying Iraq was an imminent threat, nor that it wasn't, nor that it might be but we couldn't know for sure:
On some of these occasions when they were directly asked using this specific language, as I noted, Ari Fleischer happily assented that the administration claimed Iraq was an imminent threat.
On another occasion, the State of the Union address, the administration (as I also noted) did not, as Sebastian claims, "specifically reject a need for an imminent threat before attacking Saddam's regime." Bush did not say "Iraq doesn't need to be an imminent threat for us to attack it." Rather, he rejected the idea that we could accurately perceive whether the threat was imminent.
Therefore, a more accurate description of what happened is this:
During the runup to the war, many people questioned whether Iraq was an imminent threat to the United States. However, except on a few occasions, the Bush administration avoided engaging the issue using this exact language. Instead, they made many extremely alarming claims that used synonymous language and terms. When the exact "imminent threat" language was used, the administration sometimes agreed that Iraq was an imminent threat; sometimes didn't address the question; and sometimes said we couldn't know whether or not it was an imminent threat.
It is speculation, but (I believe) quite plausible, that the Bush administration was trying to have it both ways. It was difficult for them to claim that Iraq in fact was an imminent threat to the U.S., and they certainly did not want to have to assert explicitly that it was an imminent threat in order to wage war. But they also couldn't say straightforwardly that Iraq was not an imminent threat, because it would undercut support for a war. Hence a frequent avoidance of the exact language, combined with repeated references to the "clear peril" and "gathering danger" that was "more clearly defined" than Al-Qaida and could strike on "any given day."
Is it about the schools?
Josh Marshall vents his spleen on whether the reconstruction of Iraq is going well of not. At the end of the post, he says:
As fate would have it, John Sviokla and Marvin Zonis have a Chicago Tribune op-ed today that says we should be in Iraq to reopen schools. The highlights:
To be fair to Marshall, he ends his post with, "to come soon on this issue of the schools." I'll be sure to update this post when Marshall explains himself more fully.
The substance of academic style
Here's a link to the actual Hamermesh and Parker paper.
A few serious and not-so-serious thoughts on this:
Wait a minute -- an N of 6 on judging looks?!! On matters as subjective as attracyiveness, I'm going to want to see a larger number of raters -- get these style mavens on the task, stat!!
Should professors care about this? Damn straight. Teaching is all about capturing the attention of the student. Every little bit helps. [So, you're advocating that professors should dress like this to keep the students focused?--ed. Obviously, that would be distracting. However, a proper sense of style can attract attention without it morphing into something inappropriate.]
Adam Smith's advice to Cubs fans
What can one say? Surprisingly, for someone who knew nothing about baseball, Adam Smith gives some pretty good advice on this subject in his other classic, The Theory of Moral Sentiments:
Tough words to live by, I must confess.
He's still right, though.
UPDATE: For those who find Smith of little comfort, Julia Keller has a nice article in the Chicago Tribune. The highlights:
Indeed. Andrew Sullivan's boyfriend can relate.
Wednesday, October 15, 2003
The post-war debate about the pre-war rhetoric -- part III
Holsclaw responds to Schwarz:
First, I would like to dispose of the thesaurus arguments. Do we really have to stoop to this? A thesaurus gives you a contextless range of somewhat similar meaning words. In the context of the debate about the war against Saddam the words 'imminent threat' were used by opponents of the war to set an extremely high threshold of intelligence about Iraq. This is not a context that allows 'imminent' to be freely exchanged with words like 'gathering threat'. This is especially not a context where 'immediate' is interchangeable with 'imminent'. The French have an immediate capability to attack us with nuclear weapons, but no one in their right mind would argue that the French nuclear capability is an 'imminent threat'.
This disagreement is about the actual content of the administration argument about the war. One of the most public and most forceful administration arguments about the war is the 2003 State of the Union Address . I hate to belabor it, but I really don't think I can overstate the importance of such a publicized speech to a disagreement about the administration’s case.
Your rhetoric regarding these paragraphs is tortured. You are correct that Bush states that we cannot know whether the threat is imminent. But the conclusion you draw from that is not supported by the actual text, nor is supported by the context of the debate about war against Saddam. He is arguing that the concept of imminent threat is inapplicable to the problem of Iraq. He is saying that we cannot know if the threat is imminent, but that given what we do know about Iraq, it doesn't matter. He then immediately goes to show why it doesn't matter by saying that if we permit the threat to fully emerge, if we allow the threat to become imminent, we have waited too long. He then mentions that Saddam has already used such weapons on his own people--a fact which has no bearing on an imminence question, but which is deeply important if your case for war is not concerned with an imminent threat. You attempt to divert the discussion into a question of knowledge. You seem to indicate that Bush might be saying that the threat is imminent. Bush brings up the problem of knowledge to show that an imminent threat analysis leaves you too exposed to the imperfections of the intelligence networks. He is arguing against the whole 'imminent threat' way of looking at things because it foolishly assumes perfect intelligence about Iraq. You focus on the fact that Bush neither confirms nor denies an imminent threat. You seem to think that Bush might secretly suspect that there is an imminent threat. Perhaps he did have such a secret suspicion. But he argued that we should act even without an imminent threat. The administration argument is what is in question.
If the imminence of the threat was in fact part of the administration case, I would have expected you to find far better quotes than the ones you have:
Point One, regarding the State of the Union Address, I dealt with above.
Point two is a context-free thesaurus reading exercise.
Points four and six, the Fleischer quotes, are responses to reporter questions in which the 'imminent threat' portion of the question is a mere preface to the substance of the question which Mr. Fleischer answers. In your point four, Fleischer is clarifying the US demands about UN Inspector access. In your point six, Fleischer is responding that one of the reasons for going to war was worry about weapons of mass destruction. Construing his yes to a substantive question about one issue as an affirmative administration argument in favor of an incidental reporter declaration of 'imminent danger' is exactly how one engages in a good fabrication. You take things that are near the truth, and change them into something else entirely. The other problem with point six is that much of it relies on third party characterizations. We are not talking about third party characterizations. The question is: what did the administration argue? Radio Free Europe's funding does not transform its characterizations into administration arguments.
Point Seven is an argument well after the fact. The Bush administration knows that the idea of 'imminent threat' is important to some people. If they believe that they can win these people over by showing evidence of an imminent threat after the fact, that is just good politics. That says nothing however about the administration’s arguments before the war.
That leaves us with only two points that are even remotely relevant to the discussion.
Point three is the Rumsfield quote. Rumsfield says two things. First, he says that intelligence is uncertain. Once again he is pointing out a problem with waiting for intelligence of an imminent threat. He offers some evidence for those to whom an imminent threat argument is important, but he does not argue that such a threat is necessary. He then goes on to talk about the biological threat. In this context 'immediate threat' means that we suspected Saddam had biological and chemical weapons at the very time of Rumsfield's report. The threat isn't imminent, because Saddam has had those weapons for years and you wouldn't talk about a 15-year imminent threat. It was an important threat because he was a self-declared enemy who had actually used such weapons against his enemies before. He was a scary threat because he was Saddam and not Chirac. But none of that constitutes an argument that Saddam is an imminent threat.
Point 5 suffers exactly the same problems. Cheney points out the capacity of Iraq to cause trouble because it has a long history of causing trouble. 'On any given day', refers to its present capacity. It means that if Saddam chose to do so, he had the capability to cause a great amount of mischief. This isn't an imminent danger of the 'we have intelligence reports showing that Saddam is about to give some of his longstanding stocks of chemical weapons to terrorists'. This quote points out Saddam's capability, and our knowledge about Saddam's willingness to use such capabilities makes it disturbing that he should continue in power indefinitely. This speech was made in the context of the prospect of an indefinitely long UN inspection period so it makes perfect sense in that context.
The problem at this point is that you equate all arguments that Saddam was a threat as if they were arguments that Saddam was an imminent threat. Of course Bush argued that Saddam was a threat. But he never fell into the trap which Kennedy and Byrd tried to set when they wanted an authorization predicated on an 'imminent threat'. Bush and his administration argued that Saddam was threat that would get worse over time. They argued that he was a threat that could not be deterred forever. But they did not argue that he had something in mind to attack us right now, they did not argue he was an imminent threat.
The essence of fabrication about someone's political position is to take a kernel of truth and apply so much distortion as to turn it into a lie. That is exactly what is going on here. Those who are engaging in this fabrication take Bush's position that Saddam was a threat and twist it through the anti-war rhetoric of Senators Kennedy and Byrd. Then they contrast this mischaracterization against the lack of evidence that Saddam was an imminent threat and use this contrast to suggest that Bush lied about Saddam's imminent threat. A fabrication is asserted as true, when it in fact is not true. It is not true that Bush's administration argued for the invasion of Iraq by saying that Iraq was an imminent threat. The very few quotes you can find which come even close to that all stress that Saddam is a dangerous threat, but none of them approach the level of 'imminent threat', especially as used in the very real debate about the war against Saddam. Phrases have different meanings in different contexts. 'Pro-choice' and 'Pro-Life' have much narrower meanings in the context of the abortion debate than they do in other situations. That is why it always sounds so silly when people say 'how can you be pro-life and eat meat?', or 'how can you be pro-choice and support a ban on cocaine?' In the context of the debate about the war against Saddam, 'imminent threat' became the anti-war phrase which set an extremely high burden of proof for an attack. Instead of trying to meet that burden, Bush argued that it was an inappropriate burden, and that we should attack Iraq on other grounds. To characterize this anti-'imminent threat' position as arguing that Saddam posed an imminent threat, is to twist the argument so far as to make it the opposite of what it actually was. That is why I feel free to characterize such a position as a fabrication.
The post-war debate about the pre-war rhetoric -- part II
Jonathan Schwarz's opening statement on the question: "It is a complete fabrication that the Bush administration argued in the runup to the war that there was an imminent threat from Iraq."
"It is a complete fabrication that the Bush administration argued in the runup to the war that there was an imminent threat from Iraq."
Jonathan will be arguing in the negative:
I concede that no Bush administration official ever said -- as far as I'm aware -- the precise words "Iraq is an imminent threat." However, the evidence clearly shows that the idea that the Bush administration argued there was an imminent threat from Iraq is not completely fabricated. (Indeed, I believe any fair reading of Bush administration statements shows that indeed they did clearly claim Iraq was an imminent threat. However, for the purposes of this bet, I need merely show that the idea that they argued Iraq was an imminent threat is not made up out of whole cloth.)
For easy reference, I've numbered the parts of my argument below.
1. First I'd like to address the most frequently-cited evidence that the statement at issue is true. That is this section from the most recent State of the Union address:
Some, such as Charles Krauthammer, claim this means that "in his 2003 State of the Union address, Bush plainly denied that the threat was imminent".
This is incorrect. Bush here did not deny that Iraq was an imminent threat. Rather, he was making the argument that we could not know whether or not Iraq was an imminent threat. In other words, the implication of what Bush was saying was that indeed Iraq might be an imminent threat.
(While this is somewhat off-topic, my speculation is that Bush's speechwriters wrote this section of the State of the Union as they did because they were in a difficult position. They knew people were claiming that we should only attack if Iraq were an imminent threat to the US, and that that idea had a great appeal to many people. And they knew that the idea that Iraq was an imminent threat to the US might appear far-fetched. But at the same time, it wasn't politically feasible to say explicitly that Iraq wasn't an imminent threat. So they finessed it, while elsewhere trying to make the threat sound as alarming as possible.)
2. Next, let's turn to Bush administration claims on other occasions before the war -- claims that clearly show that the idea that they argued Iraq was an imminent threat are not completely fabricated.
On June 6, 2002, Dick Cheney referred in a speech to the "gathering danger" of Iraq. At the United Nations last year on September 12, Bush himself stated that "Saddam Hussein's regime is a grave and gathering danger".
According to Roget's Interactive Thesaurus, "gathering" is a synonym of "imminent."
3. In testimony before Congress on September 18 last year, Donald Rumsfeld stated that:
Here Rumsfeld says that he cannot rule out the possibility that Iraq may be an imminent nuclear threat. More significantly for our purposes, he states that Iraq has biological weapons and that they are an "immediate threat."
According to Roget's Interactive Thesaurus, "immediate" is also a synonym of "imminent."
4. On October 16 last year, the following exchange with Ari Fleischer took place at a White House press briefing:
I believe this speaks for itself.
5. During an October 7 speech last year in Cincinnati, Bush stated that:
Later, in the State of the Union, Bush said that terrorists armed by Iraq could "bring a day of horror like none we have ever known."
In other words, Bush was arguing that Iraq could on any given day help terrorists bring the U.S. a day of horror like none we have ever known -- and that Iraq was a danger comparable or greater than Al-Qaida, which everyone would agree is an imminent threat to America.
6. Next let's examine three significant interpretations of the Bush administration's Iraq claims.
Radio Free Europe's headline after Bush's speech was "Iraq: Bush Tells Americans Saddam Is An Imminent Threat". Many other news outlets made such claims, but Radio Free Europe's is particularly noteworthy because it is funded by the U.S. government itself.
After the war on this past June 8th, William Kristol -- obviously one of the prime journalistic supporters of the war -- stated on Fox News Sunday that "Bush and Blair certainly articulated" "the case for urgency".
Also after the war, Ari Fleischer was again asked whether the United States claimed Iraq was an imminent threat. Again he agreed:
7. Finally, the blog on the official Bush/Cheney reelection campaign website approvingly cites columnist Kathleen Parker's "judgment that Kay’s report does indeed prove that conditions in Iraq posed an imminent threat to the United States and the world."
It's worth examining the implications of this closely. George Bush's official website is promoting the idea that David Kay's findings prove that Iraq was an imminent threat. Yet what Kay found was far, far less than the unequivocal claims by the Bush administration before the war -- that Iraq possessed biological and chemical weapons and was actively pursuing nuclear weapons.
Therefore, by the Bush campaign's own standards of what constitutes an imminent threat, it logically follows that the Bush administration was arguing that Iraq posed an imminent threat. After all, Iraq could hardly have been more of a threat with what Kay has discovered than it would have been with what the Bush administration said they definitely had.
In conclusion, let me summarize what Sebastian must argue:
Yes, Bush and Cheney did state that Iraq posed a "gathering danger," which is a synonym for "imminent threat." Yes, Rumsfeld did state that Iraq's biological weapons were an "immediate threat," which is a synonym for "imminent threat." Yes, the President's press secretary agreed when asked, both before and after the war, that the Bush administration claimed Iraq was an imminent threat. Yes, Bush said Iraq was as much of a threat as Al-Qaida and could on any given day give terrorists the means to bring us a day of horror like none we've ever known. Yes, a news organization funded by the U.S. government believed Bush was saying Iraq was an imminent threat, and William Kristol understood Bush to mean that the case for war was urgent. Yes, according to the standards of Bush's own official website, the Bush administration argued that Iraq was an imminent threat.
Nevertheless, it is a complete fabrication that the Bush administration argued in the runup to the war that there was an imminent threat from Iraq.
I believe this cannot be judged to be a tenable argument -- and that therefore I have won this bet.
UPDATE: Holsclaw responds.
Tuesday, October 14, 2003
The post-war debate about the pre-war rhetoric -- part I
I've been asked to referee a debate among two frequent commentors at Calpundit -- Jonathan Schwarz and Sebastian Holsclaw -- on the following question: "It is a complete fabrication that the Bush administration argued in the runup to the war that there was an imminent threat from Iraq."
The winner gets $100 from the loser. [Why are you the referee?--ed. According to Schwarz, they both respect my "intellectual integrity and judgment." Suckers!! So you already have an opinion formed?--ed. Let's just say I'm open to having my mind changed. If you want to know what my take on this question has been in the past, click here, here, here, here, and here]
Holsclaw -- who will argue in the affirmative -- gets the first shot:
In light of our failure to find large scale evidence of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs), there has been much talk about Bush's administration lying about Iraq's imminent threat. It is certainly disturbing that we have not found WMD in Iraq. But those who want to accuse Bush of lying about the Iraq's 'imminent threat' are confusing their own rhetoric with the case actually put forth by the Bush administration.
Here is the charge:
There is a major problem with this charge. The Bush administration did not in fact argue that there was an imminent threat. In fact they strenuously resisted labeling it as such.
In 2002 there was a Senate debate on the authorization of war against Iraq. Senators Kennedy, Byrd and Kerry all argued that war could not proceed against Iraq without an imminent threat. Kennedy, Byrd, and Kerry (saying that he wouldn't vote for an authorization without an imminent threat right before he does in fact vote for such an authorization.) In fact Byrd offered an amendment which would have replaced the actual language of the authorization, "the continuing threat posed by Iraq", with an authorization only allowing attack if there was an imminent threat. These deliberations and wranglings were widely reported with the 'imminent threat' argument repeated in news stories and op-eds across the country. The actual resolution requested and obtained by the Bush administration does not refer to an imminent threat despite numerous attempts by opponents of the administration to include it.
Kennedy and Byrd wanted us to wait until our intelligence services could verify that Saddam was just about to gain nuclear weapons before we acted. Considering what we now know about our intelligence activity in Iraq, that proposition looks even more ridiculous now than it did then. Considering the failure of our intelligence services in discovering the North Korean nuclear capability before it was active, it was silly even then.
The 'requirement' for an imminent threat lost out in the 2002 debate. But Bush himself continued to address the argument. In his 2003 State of the Union Address, an address which is one of the most widely reported speeches in the free world, he said:
Here, in one of the most widely reported speeches in the world, Bush specifically rejects a need for an imminent threat before attacking Saddam's regime.
He also argues the humanitarian case for destroying Saddam's regime.
Kennedy, Byrd, and many of the opinion writers in the nation argued that an imminent threat was required to attack Iraq. It certainly did not escape their notice that the US did in fact attack Iraq. They seem to believe that they won the debate about 'imminent threat' and that since Bush attacked Iraq, he must have argued that there was an imminent threat. This quite simply a fabrication, or at best a self-imposed illusion. They lost the debate in 2002. They had their theory specifically repudiated by Bush in the most public speech available. Bush did not lie about an imminent threat because he absolutely did not argue there was one.
UPDATE: Part II is now available.
The difference between Red Sox conservatives and Cubs conservatives?
Well, to tell the truth, I became a Red Sox fan because, even as an eight-year old, I believed in balancing behavior. Everyone else in my family pulled for the Yankees, so I started instictively pulling for the Red Sox. The rest is history. Painful and gut-wrenching history.
I generally don't think there's any correlation between political persuasion and favored sports teams. However, George Will thinks otherwise.
The Chicago Tribune has an amusing story about the Emil Verban Society, a DC-based organization of Cubs fans whose namesake epitomizes the dilemma of the Cub fan: In 2,911 career at-bats, Emil Verbanhad only one home run.
Buried in the story is this little nugget from George Will:
Will all due respect to George Will, I'm a conservative but I derived a different philosophy rooting for the Red Sox. While life can indeed be nasty, brutish, and short, the worst sin is to respond to the cruelties of existence by giving up hope. The spectre of defeat is ever present and must be acknowledged. However, the optimism that comes with the prospect of next season is never extinguished for the true Red Sox fan. And only by nurturing such optimism can one truly appreciate the joy that comes from the occasional triumph.
On the other hand, maybe baseball has nothing to do with politics -- the most optimistic conservative of them all was also a Cubs fan and proud member of the Emil Verban society.
UPDATE: Well, David Brooks disagrees with me as well:
To which I say, what the f#$% does Brooks know? If he ain't going to declare which team he's rooting for, I have no use for him on this subject except to admire his prose style from a bemused distance.
UPDATE: Reader A.M. e-mails an interesting point -- that even if there is little correlation between political and sports affiliations in the United States, there is a strong correlation in other parts of the globe:
Monday, October 13, 2003
Why the Red Sox should win it all this year
In my last Red Sox post I confidently predicted a World Series victory this year for Boston's team -- and got an earful from myriad Sox fans convinced I was jinxing them. So, I had silently vowed to stay mum on the subject until the Red Sox actually won.
Well, I'm sticking to that vow -- but I must link and quote others who comment on this topic. First, there's Seth Stevenson's hysterically funny Slate essay explaining why the Red Sox deserve to win the World Series more than the Cubs. It starts as follows:
Yeah, that's about right (though, to be fair, Williamson was pitching his third straight day on the game in question).
What's really funny, though, is Stevenson's last few grafs:
Living in Chicago, there's no way I can entirely endorse Stevenson's amusingly blinkered logic, but to quote Chris Rock, "I understand."
In contrast to either the Cubs or the Red Sox, consider what Jay Drezner has to say about being a Yankees fan:
Yeah, life really sucks for my brother the Yankee fan.... grumble, grumble.
[C'mon, you're not going to comment on the Game 3 incidents?--ed. No, but I will link to David Pinto and say that even as a Red Sox fan, I agree with most of this statement:
Rob Neyer offers a counter to Pinto, but this issue is almost besides the point. The key to this year's Red Sox team has been their ability to overcome the distractions created by Pedro and Manny while exploiting their prodigious talents. As this Providence Journal story indicates, the team realizes this:
Drezner gets results from the Washington Post
The management of bureaucratic politics that I touched on in my last TNR essay is the subject of a page one story in yesterday's Washington Post (link via Patrick Belton). Greg Djerejian and Atrios have additional commentary.
Everyone interested in U.S. foreign policy should read the whole thing, but I'll highlight two sections from it. First, on the process:
Three thoughts on this:
The second part of this story sends a shiver down my spine:
If I was oh, let's say, a Democrat running for president, this would be my angle of attack on the President's foreign policy. Forget the WMD question -- ask the president to articulate U.S. policy towards the other members of the Axis of Evil. Oh, wait.....
Bob Blackwill is the man for the job, but he's got his work cut out.
For a cogent rebuttal, check out Jonathan Rauch's latest in Reason. I think Rauch is making a virtue out of a clear vice, but I hope I'm wrong and he's right.
One-stop shopping for the Plame Game
Alex Parker has managed to assemble the major news stories over the past five months about the Plame Game. It's not comprehensive -- Paul Krugman's July essay is not included -- but it hits all of the high notes.
Go check it out. If you think something's missing, e-mail Alex with the link.
Sunday, October 12, 2003
What do Iraq and the Democratic Party have in common?
When a policy is perceived as not working out, there are two explanations usually given:
However, as Matt Bai points out in today's New York Times Magazine, the Democratic Party is undergoing a similar debate about it's own future. The story discusses former White House chief of staff John Podesta's efforts to create a liberal think tank to rival the right-wing triumvirate of the Heritage Foundation, Cato Institute, and American Enterprise Institute. The key grafs:
So, is the Democratic Party's problem that it needs to fix media misperceptions or that it needs to generate new policies?
Bai seems to answers his own question at the end of the piece:
As a member of the opposition who nevertheless truly wants to see this project succeed in part (click here for why), I'd suggest that Podesta may be aiming too high. Part of the reason the right-wing think tanks have thrived is not just their willingness to take on the Republican establishment, but to take on each other. Cato and Heritage hardly see eye-to-eye on all matters, and I'm sure that there are different strands of the Democratic party that feel the same.
The key is not just to fund the construction of new ideas -- it's to encourage competition among new sets of ideas.
My advice to Podesta -- one think tank can't house every strand of the Democratic party -- aim for ideological coherence first, and then try to wipe the floor with other think tanks that lean Democratic.
What Nicholas Kristoff said
Of all the New York Times op-ed columnists, I've found Nicholas Kristoff to be the most unpredictable. I disagree with Bob Herbert 99% of the time, Krugman and Dowd 75% of the time, Brooks and Friedman only 33% of the time. Kristoff is at the 50% level -- I either think he's hit the nail on the head or I find him to be dead wrong.
Yesterday he hit the nail on the head:
Indeed (link via Tom Maguire).
UPDATE: Today's Washington Post story has more info. Most important, the key source behind September's revelations makes a new appearance:
So, this doesn't change my "nasty and partisan, but not intentional or malevolent" theory of events.