Along the Tracks

Friday, February 28, 2003

Condensed version

In the Washington Post, E. J. Dionne admits the public’s perception of “patriotism” is a problem for liberals.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer is glad to see the Supreme Court put some limits on RICO prosecutions against protesters.

The Detroit Free Press slams Bush for dreaming big when it comes to a Middle East makeover - and repeats the canard that democracy cannot be “thrust upon” people by military force, ignoring the examples of Germany and Japan that Bush himself cited in his Wednesday speech.

The Ann Arbor News defends a Dearborn high schooler who was forced by the school’s administration to cover a T-shirt he wore to school which had Bush’s photo with the caption, “International Terrorist.”

Finally, giving credit where credit is due, Toledo Blade columnist John Harris makes some great points discussing the women’s basketball player who turns her back on the flag while the national anthem is played - and they aren’t the “gut-reaction” points you might expect.

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Thursday, February 27, 2003

Rather short-sighted

I must say, I entirely disagree with the Tim Graham piece at National Review Online concerning last night’s Dan Rather interview with Saddam Hussein. Apparently, the Media Research Center’s Graham (and, I fear, many in the camp of those favoring military action) believes that the media should not talk to “bad guys” at all. Are such interviews an opportunity for these “bad guys” to spin lies and spout propaganda? Perhaps, but that in itself is no reason to silence them.

Graham displays a conservative version of the left’s penchant to dismiss the public as stupid. Think about it. Daily, Americans read stories about Iraqi weapons, see television news images of Saddam firing a gun in the air, hear radio quotes from Hans Blix of Iraq’s lack of cooperation - not to mention the full, persuasive case for war made by commentators, politicians and administration officials. Americans are not uninformed. They know the score.

What interviews with the “bad guys” provide, in truth, are opportunities for these said “bad guys” to display their own lack of credibility. Take a specific example: Iraq’s possession of biological and chemical weapons. No citizen in the West who has given even cursory attention to the Iraq debate doubts that Saddam has these weapons. The proof is stacked a mile high. Yet, Saddam and his minions constantly claim they have nothing - an insult to the intelligence of citizens in a free society. Effective propaganda is not based merely on a well-constructed message; it’s based on the elimination of facts contrary to the point of view being espoused. Iraqi propaganda will have a difficult time in the rough-and-tumble of Western media - even Western media which are anti-war.

The criticisms of Rather over his “polite” demeanor are unrealistic and overstretched. If Dan plopped down across from Saddam and started with, “So, Butcher of Baghdad - may I call you ‘Butcher’? - how many children’s fingernails did you pull out this morning?” the interview would have had a quick conclusion. The trick in interviewing a difficult subject really comes down to one thing: getting him to talk. The questions asked only set the general topic; the little “prompts,” repeating a portion of the answer, with a quizzical look tossed in, push the interview subject to expand his answer. That’s where he gets off his “talking points” and reveals his thought process, his true nature.

I thought Dan did an excellent job. The subjects covered were softened enough to keep the interview going; the follow-ups sharp enough to draw some unintended revelations and displays of personality, vain and sinister. Falsehoods were rebutted at breaks with well constructed explanations. In the end, Rather had Saddam displaying his snakelike qualities to the nation. That, in my book, is a service to the country.

Conservative critics like Graham are entirely missing the point. Having Bush call Saddam “evil” may be good enough for him, and the uberhawks may feel it should be good enough for everybody else. But American politics doesn’t work that way - and shouldn’t. People want more information, they seek out the “other side,” if only to get a better grasp of the personalities involved. Americans are smart enough to figure it out.

And by all poll indications, they have.

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Condensed version

The Washington Post publishes a detailed defense of its long-standing view that Iraq must be disarmed - by force, if necessary.

The Akron Beacon Journal cries “foul!” against liberal attempts to paint Ohio’s Deborah Cook as a right-wing judicial nominee. The Beacon Journal also notes that Ohio is nearing approval of the 14th amendment (equal protection under the law) to the U.S. Constitution - and only 135 years after it was ratified by two-thirds of the states.

The Detroit News believes direct talks between the U.S. and North Korea are a bad idea.

The Kalamazoo Gazette opposes the plan in some school districts to shut off televisions in high schools if and when a war with Iraq begins.

The Dayton Daily News’ Eddie Roth is fully willing to use force, but sees only positives in delaying the initiation of war a few weeks to increase allied support.

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Wednesday, February 26, 2003

So not about us

Along those lines, could it be any more clear that the Bush administration is trying to strengthen the United Nations through this precedent?

Bush 41 set the groundwork for this process by going through the U.N. in the first Gulf War. In that effort, the U.S. sought a precedent of international responsibility and action in the face of transborder aggression. Unfortunately, no advancement of the concept was made during the Clinton years, when crises in Bosnia, Rwanda, Haiti, Sudan, Afghanistan, Kosovo - and Iraq, multiple times - presented ample opportunity to structure international responses to threats.

With Iraq, Bush 43 is, in this way at least, continuing the job started by his father. He is attempting to achieve the next step in international responsibility for world crises: The precedent of U.N. sanction for elective wars against recalcitrant regimes.

After 9/11, a war with Iraq was inevitable (minus an internal revolution against Saddam) - the regime was just too much of a threat to the United States to allow its continuation. Colin Powell did not merely convince George W. Bush to “follow the U.N. route” with Iraq; no, the gamble was much bolder. Powell convinced Bush to use Iraq (which was going to happen this spring, no matter what) as the catalyst to this new paradigm in international relations. Remember, Powell was there during the first Bush administration, and was a key player in the concepts - the “new world order” - which were being explored. He saw this action as an opportunity to move the ball farther down the field.

Which brings us to this post’s headline: This is so not about the United States. If the “peace activists” understood the precedent a Security Council resolution authorizing force against Iraq would set, they would be at a complete loss for arguments in opposition. Let’s lay it on the line: The United States is demonstrating a willingness to offer a portion of its sovereignty - the ability to use unilateral force against a threatening nation - in an effort to require international approval for all future “elective” (i.e., not self-defensive) wars.

Consider the result of a Security Council vote in favor of the second Iraq resolution when a crisis which does not directly threaten the United States unfolds. Suppose, for instance, Russia’s problem with Chechens based in the Republic of Georgia becomes unbearable. The precedent of the U.S. process regarding Iraq could provide a framework for international scrutiny of any Russian military action. The failure to follow such a process would be met with nearly universal opprobrium. That might not stop Russia from acting without U.N. sanction, but it might put limits on any larger Russian designs, and would at the least force Russia to defend the action to the world - a “globalized” world where opinion does matter. A similar case could be made with China vis-à-vis Vietnam or France and, well, just about any of its former colonies.

Let me make something clear: I am not saying the precedent set by a resolution sanctioning force against Iraq would stop all elective wars without U.N. approval. Rather, it would be one more chain - the chain of world opinion - any aggressor would have to break. Indeed, in the eyes of the world community, any unauthorized attack not in self-defense would be seen as aggression.

The administration’s policy of pre-emption, once considered, is in fact little more than “extended self-defense.” And while the White House has taken pains to point out its policy of forcefully disarming Iraq is not pre-emption, the strategy of following U.N. procedure could be very useful, should a true case of pre-emption become necessary - for instance, with North Korea.

Nevertheless, passage or failure of a resolution authorizing force against Iraq has almost no bearing on American policy regarding military intervention, and none whatsoever regarding Iraq. The U.S. does not engage in military adventures outside present international law. The goal is to set up a system in which the elective use of force by other states is channeled through the United Nations as an international norm.

Whether such a goal is worthy, or realistic, is a discussion for another day.

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In the national interest

The international squabble over Iraq isn’t lacking in moral foundations, but those moral foundations have more to do with national goals than universal human rights.

The French have their own interests. The Germans have their own interests. The Russians have their own interests. That is all true.

What’s not often said is the British have their own interests. The Spanish have their own interests. The Italians have their own interests. Each country, whether aligned with the U.S. or opposed to it, has its own interests in mind as it considers the question of Iraq. Each must weigh short- and long-term outcomes in deciding that, yes, military force is justified against Baghdad and deserves international sanction or, no, a war is not necessary and sanctioning it would cause future problems for the country debating the choices.

That is such an important point, and constantly overlooked. France may very well find chronic U.S. difficulties with Saddam are in France’s interests, and therefore seek to extend those troubles. Ditto for other outspoken opponents of war - most notably, Syria, Iran, Libya and other international renegades. North Korea also comes to mind.

Right now, representatives on the U.N. Security Council are balancing their own countries’ interests in deciding whether it is better to have America “looking over its shoulder” at Iraq or to have a regional and potentially world threat eliminated.

In fact, leaks of the discussions indicate the Bush administration is putting the decision more sharply into international terms. “War is inevitable” they are telling the diplomats, so the choice is really whether a) to set a precedent of international sanction of force as the final response to a dangerous, unrepentant rogue state or b) to withhold the legitimacy international sanction would bring, and leave decisions on military responses to perceived threats entirely to each individual nation.

Which future, each must ask, is in our own national interest?

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Condensed version

In the Washington Post, Robert Samuelson reminds foreign critics that “Americans are people too.”

The Akron Beacon Journal calls Republican lawmakers to task for entertaining the idea of a variety of new gambling options to cover some of Ohio’s red ink.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer thinks it is unseemly for governors to go begging for more federal dollars, but also unfair for Congress to pass unfunded mandates to the states.

In the Dayton Daily News, Martin Gottlieb worries that the costs of war with Iraq may be too high for the advantages gained by Saddam’s ouster.

Finally, the Toledo Blade takes an editorial ball bat to the SUV - forgetting, apparently, that one of Toledo’s largest employers (supported in its expansions by The Blade) is Jeep.

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Tuesday, February 25, 2003

Condensed version

In the Washington Post, Richard Cohen pulls no punches on Dennis Kucinich and the anti-war movement’s unthinking acceptance of lies.

The Akron Beacon Journal praises Sen. George Voinovich for slipping into recent legislation a ban on gas and oil drilling under Lake Erie and slams Gov. Bob Taft for not doing so, as he promised, sooner - but continues to avoid any compelling argument as to why such a ban is necessary.

The Cincinnati Post wonders what the mission will be for nearly 2,000 troops sent to the Philipines, now that the Filipino government has said they will not be used in combat.

The Lima News surprisingly takes its stand against war with Iraq, and asks a series of questions it says the president needs to answer before commiting troops to combat.

Finally, the Cleveland Plain Dealer looks for ways to plug the “brain drain” sucking well-educated young people from northeast Ohio.

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Monday, February 24, 2003


Have a drink on me! (You'll need to scroll down to learn about the "sweet taste of victory.")

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Condensed version

In today’s Washington Post, Robert Kagan looks at the Napoleanic vision of European leadership displayed by Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin and the French leadership.

The Detroit News says President Bush should stick to his guns on Medicare reform.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer praises the government’s terrorism-preparedness site, “”

The Lima News also thinks it’s a good idea to “be prepared,” but hopes the new Homeland Security secretary and staff have more to do with their $40 billion budget than develop an informative website.

Finally, in the Indianapolis Star, guest columnist Pierre M. Atlas, a local political science professor, attempts to explain differences in Bush policy toward Iraq and North Korea based on “rational-choice” theory, but his injection of politics leaves the reader more confused than ever.

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Friday, February 21, 2003

Pollack’s revelation

Maybe the 2000 election controversy overwhelmed the story, but am I the only one who does not recall hearing about Saddam’s Syrian gambit in October 2000, as described in an op-ed by Kenneth Pollack in the New York Times today?

The information comes in the eighth paragraph on the second page of the extensive argument Pollack makes against trusting containment of Iraq. Apparently, in October 2000, Saddam moved five armed divisions to the western Iraq border, where they awaited Syrian approval to cross that country’s territory (which it seems had initially been given) and set up shop on the Golan Heights - which Israel occupies. According to Pollack, only a combination of “diplomatic intervention with Syria, combined with the Iraqi military’s logistical problems, quashed the adventure.”

This is stunning news to me. How on earth did we allow those troops to get so close to their aggressive target? Why did we not obliterate them immediately? Why do we allow anti-war critics and overseas governments to continue with this farce that Saddam has been “kept in his box,” when in fact, just over two years ago, he showed he could march right out of his box any time he wants?

First, this makes the case for immediate intervention all the stronger. It is clear that as soon as Saddam thinks he might get away with an aggressive act, he will move. And next time, he could have a nuclear weapon, or make a pre-emptive attack on surrounding troops with chemical and biological weapons to disrupt their defense, or have his agents stationed inside the U.S. make a chemical or biological assault to stop or at least slow any American response. Giving Saddam the initiative of choosing his time and place for what is an inevitable confrontation invites slaughter of our friends and ourselves.

Second, I’m not sure how much more disgusted I can be with Clinton’s foreign policy disasters, but this is one more log on the fire. By Pollack’s count, there were two instances during Clinton’s watch where Saddam courted the destruction of his regime: the 1993 assassination attempt on former President Bush and the 1994 threat to attack Kuwait yet again. Pollack doesn’t even count the 1998 expulsion of the inspectors (resulting in the Desert Fox bombing) or the just revealed abortive assault on Israel - but I do. That’s four provocative actions by Saddam which should have resulted in his removal by American force, all during the Clinton years.

Pollack calls these examples evidence of Saddam’s penchant for miscalculation. I would only say that, while Clinton was in office, Saddam’s calculations proved correct.

P.S. - The October 2000 movements may very well have been prompted by Israel’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon - as was Arafat’s rejection of the Camp David offer by Ehud Barak (who ordered the withdrawal), as was the intefadah, as was the assault of suicide bombers that still continues. That well-meant but poorly-thought-out show of weakness by Israel elicited a cascade of trouble.

UPDATE: After doing some research on this story, it appears that, while there were a few stories noting Iraqi troop movements in October 2000, the situation was largely dismissed as a "show of solidarity with Palestinians" as the uprising started. Pollack's more complete explanation makes the situation in retrospect far more threatening than what was reported at the time. Pollack may have even more in his book, The Threatening Storm. Guess I better read it.

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Condensed version

In the Washington Post, Richard Cohen rolls his eyes at what American pop culture hath wrought: Zora and Evan (or Joe?).

The Cleveland Plain Dealer tears into the Ohio legislature for passing a “budget fix” which leaves much of the deficit intact.

The Cincinnati Post draws parallels between the United Nations and defunct League of Nations to point out the dangers of diplomatic eloquences backed by inaction.

The Detroit News praises the Bush initiative to develop a Western Hemisphere free-trade zone, but notes one major obstacle is American subsidization of agriculture.

The Toledo Blade - one of America’s worst newspapers - chooses today to print a diatribe against military contractor “offset agreements” with foreign countries, calling them “bribes,” and complaining they cost jobs (“4,200 manufacturing jobs ... during the 1990s”) even though the contractors say that, without overseas purchases, they would most likely lay off thousands on lines that would otherwise be unneeded.

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Thursday, February 20, 2003

France still sleeping

Over at National Review Online, Jonah Goldberg defends his interpretation of French policy on Iraq as “appeasement.” And of course (as usual), Jonah’s right: It is appeasement.

But after reading his column and a fair volume of other dissections of French policies, I’m beginning to see there is an assumption everyone makes about France - and other nations, for that matter - which may not be accurate: We all assume the French have as a fundamental foreign policy goal avoiding “their own September 11.”

This may not be true.

Now, I’m not saying the French want to see 3,000 of their own citizens die; I’m saying they do not see this as a real danger, and in any case, not a subject to which foreign policy initiatives offer any direct answers. Germany is clearly on the same policy page. Both of these nations, along with others outspoken against attacking Iraq (or the war on terrorism in general), have a passive, largely-domestic policy when it comes to terrorism - arrest the active agents, maybe freeze some assets, but that’s about it. In world affairs, they see terrorism as a criminal enterprise, similar to smuggling or opium production. Conferences to coordinate law enforcement efforts are about as “multilateral” as these nations seek to be on the issue. Remember, prior to 9/11, the U.S. policy was almost indistinguishable from that presently exercised by the French.

Britain’s leaders have been largely convinced of the futility of treating terrorism as a law enforcement problem (although, judging by polls, the British public has not) without having to suffer their own large-scale attack directly. The same can be said for other members of the “coalition of the willing.” For France and Germany, the idea of stopping major terrorist plots through application of military force has not been accepted. Indeed, if there is a foreign policy advantage related to terrorism which these two hope to exploit, it is that the anger from Islamists and their apologists now is focused on the U.S., U.K., and their coalition. By making opposition to these anti-terror allies an open policy, the French and Germans hope to redirect any planned attacks away from their borders.

But this really is a secondary consideration. The primary objective of this opposition is to solidify French-German leadership in the European Union and advance French-German leadership on the world stage. To the Franco-German axis, 9/11 is not a harbinger, it is history, and they have “moved on.”

The “wake up call” of 9/11 did not awaken everyone.

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Condensed version

The Dallas-Fort Worth Star Telegram (noticed by Glenn Reynolds, thanks!) features Molly Ivins in her, er, unique style defending the French against the recent (and rather mild) popularity of “frog-bashing.” (Side note: Ivins has at least one “stunner” in each column. This week’s candidate is that colonialism was “a greater horror than Stalinism or Nazism.”)

The Akron Beacon Journal wishes George Bush was more like Tony Blair.

The Detroit Free Press criticizes the Republican welfare reform bill for lacking increased funding, even though far fewer people are receiving benefits.

The Lima News would rather see no tax hike to balance Ohio’s budget, but if one must come, it would prefer a temporary sales tax increase.

Finally, in the Indianapolis Star, Tim Swarens says today’s peace protesters are just as wrong as those who marched against Roosevelt’s efforts to aid Britain prior to America’s official entry into World War II.

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Got their priorities straight

Twenty-one people die in a stampede from a nightclub (under court order to be closed) after “security guards” shower a crowded dance floor with pepper spray and block the exits. Now, people are “innocent until proven guilty” and all that, but on the face of things, the owners and management and security guards would seem to be the ones properly held accountable for these deaths, right? Nope. “Black leaders” have formed a wall of defense around the club owner because of his wealth, family connections and skin color. The charge being made is that the deaths are the responsibility of - you guessed it, local Chicago officials. It was their job to catch the club owner disobeying the court order, their job to stop him from running an illegal (and deadly) enterprise. The city’s inspectors were negligent for not showing up during the evenings when the illegal upstairs club was open. The city’s building codes weren’t strict enough. Liquor enforcement (the owner was in the process of losing his liquor license for violations) was too slow. Police are to blame for not providing extra officers to combat violence around the dance club which wasn’t supposed to be open in the first place. The owner may not have done a very good job, to be sure, but it’s the city’s responsibility to discover his inadequacies and stop him.

First, this perfectly illustrates whom the “black leaders” - most visibly Jesse Jackson - actually care about: themselves, and the sewer pipe of money which flows into their cesspools. Twenty-one dead African-Americans is apparently a small price to pay for the opportunity to receive hush money from a negligent, but rich, black “entrepreneur.”

Second, if the narrative above sounds familiar, it should be. It’s the same as the one currently used by those who place the responsibility of Iraqi disarmament on the United Nations inspection process, rather than the “proprietor” of the weapons, Saddam Hussein. And when those weapons are used and people die, you can be sure that the United States will be held to blame for not “supporting the inspections.” It’s never the responsibility of the criminal to these people; it’s always the responsibility of the cop.

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Wednesday, February 19, 2003

Condensed version

In the Washington Post, Zbigniew Brzezinski blames the Bush administration for losing worldwide good will after 9/11 and calls for a slowed, step-by-step U.N. process toward Iraq’s disarmament or, failing that, war.

The Akron Beacon Journal politely dissects the career and positions of northeast Ohio “populist” Dennis Kucinich.

In the Dayton Daily News, Martin Gottlieb offers an insightful explanation of the terms “liberal” and “conservative.”

The Cleveland Plain Dealer considers the “what if” scenarios of an Iraq war.

Finally, the Toledo Blade praises the pro-Saddam, er, “peace” marchers of last weekend for standing against “carpet bombing” innocent civilians, as if that is the war plan.

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Tuesday, February 18, 2003

Condensed version

In the Washington Post, David Ignatius provides a peek into the Zimbabwean cloak room as rumors of a coup against Mugabe swirl.

The editors of the Cleveland Plain Dealer don’t offer many specific criticisms of the PATRIOT Act or the proposed “Enhancement” legislation - but they are dead set against both.

The Cincinnati Post wonders why Secretary of Transportation Norm Mineta has been hiding his medical condition.

The Detroit Free Press has noticed a superpower nobody talks about: Mother Nature.

Finally, the Toledo Blade, maintaining its reputation as one of America’s worst newspapers, hammers Congress for the late passage of this fiscal year’s budget and blames it on Republican control - even though the Democrats controlled the Senate (where the budget was blocked) last year, when it was supposed to have been completed.

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Monday, February 17, 2003

China syndrome

Tom Friedman (thanks for the link, Andrew) had an open letter to China in Sunday’s New York Times, putting into fine prose what many of us have been wondering: Why is China not being more helpful on the world scene?

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Condensed version

In the Washington Post, Gertrude Himmelfarb takes the occasion of Presidents’ Day to call for a return to teaching American history - and through it, building patriotism.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer tells the Bush administration not to leave North Korea on the backburner, but admits the policy options are rather limited.

The Akron Beacon Journal fears (correctly, I’m sure) Statehouse Republicans will attempt to “balance” (while not quite making up the gap) Ohio’s budget on the backs of colleges and universities.

The Detroit News wants Osama’s head - NOW!

Finally, the Toledo Blade - one of America’s worst newspapers - proudly trumpets Alan Greenspan’s (rather minor) hesitance toward the Bush tax and accuses the administration of threatening his job!

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Friday, February 14, 2003


I can't think of a better word to describe the conciliatory attitude taken by the U.N. weapons inspectors in the face of Iraqi delay tactics. From today's report:

"With the resolution of the problems raised by Iraq for the transportation of minders into the no-fly zones, our mobility in these zones has improved. We expect to increase utilization of the helicopters.

"The number of Iraqi minders during inspections has often reached a ratio--had often reached a ratio as high as five per inspector. During the talks in January in Baghdad, the Iraqi side agreed to keep the ratio to about 1:1. The situation has improved."

Get that? The Iraqis get to send "minders" along on each inspection, and have demanded so much "space" that the inspectors have been unable to use those much-ballyhooed helicopters. When they do finally use them, the Iraqi "minders" can call ahead and give the facility a heads up. So much for "surprise."

Nevertheless, even with such acquiescence, the unavoidable conclusion is clear:

"The declaration submitted by Iraq on the 7th of December last year, despite its large volume, missed the opportunity to provide the fresh material and evidence needed to respond to the open questions.

"This is perhaps the most important problem we are facing. Although I can understand that it may not be easy for Iraq in all cases to provide the evidence needed, it is not the task of the inspectors to find it. Iraq itself must squarely tackle this task and avoid belittling the questions."

Resolution 1441 was clear in its detail and in its threat. Saddam has failed. All that's left is for France (and tagalongs Germany, Russia and China) to decide if the United Nations will fail as well.

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Beware: Long leftist hatchet job ahead

Over at The Nation, Jonathan Schell takes a seven-page stab at ripping apart Bush foreign policy, and in particular, the concept of pre-emption. While its length overwhelms, its arguments do the opposite.

Let’s start with the most obvious problem: Iraq is not an example of pre-emption as laid out in Bush policy documents. Saddam Hussein is a boil allowed to fester for over a decade. There is no peace treaty in place from Gulf War I, and the ceasefire agreement has been fully and repeatedly violated. The “U.N. path” taken by Bush is the strongest proof that this is not pre-emption. Iraq’s disarmament has been a stuttered process which began in the Security Council after Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait. Bush merely pushed the problem up on the agenda, hoping to “wrap it up” before Saddam has a chance to take more lives. You can’t “pre-empt” a war which has been on slow burn for 10 years.

Another difficulty in Schell’s piece is the mingling of two terms best kept separate: “pre-emption” and “preventive war.” These are not in any way the same thing. “Pre-emption” is a military strike to stop a declared enemy from acquiring the capability of inflicting a first strike, where delay would allow the threat to establish. “Prevention” is more ambiguous. It indicates a willingness to use force before there is any indication of a real threat. Let’s show how these terms contrast through a fictional example: If, by some strange twist, Mexico’s government were overthrown by Islamofascists, and the U.S. immediately attacked, that action could be considered a “preventive war,” an effort to remove a potential long-term threat to security. A “pre-emptive war,” however, would be further down the pike. If, after a decade of icy relations with an Islamic Republic of Mexico, intelligence indicated the Mexicans were close to building an atomic bomb, and we immediately struck the facility and removed the usurpers from power, that would be a “pre-emptive war.” For the term pre-emption to apply, the threat does not need to be imminent, just inevitable if not stopped.

Schell hammers the administration for inconsistency in its responses to “axis of evil” members - and other nations. This is one of the weakest lines of thought the left chooses to follow. The stated policy of “pre-emption” indicates that such action might be taken if no other options were available to remove the threat. Yet, Schell and like-minded leftists basically argue: pre-empt one, pre-empt all. Again, Iraq is not an example of pre-emption, but let’s change the scenario a bit. Suppose there was no Gulf War, and Kuwait was now Iraq’s 13th Province. No American troops in the Gulf, no Saudi air bases. Further suppose that new intelligence indicated Saddam had developed chemical and biological weapons, some medium range missiles, and was working on nuclear capability. Suppose also that he seemed to have some loose ties with al Qaeda. If all those things were true, and the U.S. attacked Iraq, it would be a case of pre-emption.

In light of that “pre-emption” scenario, should the U.S. immediately begin military action against North Korea? Some might say yes, some might say no. But all honest thinkers would hold the same positions on North Korea whether Iraq is a case of pre-emption or not, because each threat must be dealt with on its own merits, not on parallels drawn with other threats. This would seem to be obvious, particularly to critics who regularly berate the president for using “black and white” distinctions in a world drawn in “shades of gray.” The stated policy of pre-emption merely informs adversaries of one tool the U.S. is explicitly keeping in its arsenal, a cautionary note to aggressors. It is not an order to fuel up the bombers every time a potential enemy makes a disturbing move.

Schell claims the “war” has already been lost, because North Korea has a nuclear capability and a variety of other unsavory states are proliferators and terror-dealers. For this reading of the present situation to be true, a few assumptions must be made. First, we must assume the goal of the war is to deny all enemies or potential enemies the ability to manufacture and use WMDs. That is a most worthy foreign policy goal; it is not, however, the goal of any “war” I have heard about. Indeed, if Saddam changes heart tomorrow and lays bare his arsenal for inspection and destruction, the “war” so far will have involved a routing of the Taliban and a few dangerous but effective police actions, none of which were directly aimed at weapons of mass destruction. Assumption one proven false.

A second assumption is that we are hereby stuck in a world with a nuclear North Korea. There are two problems with this assumption. First, North Korea was just as “nuclear” in 1993 (or earlier) as it is today. So this would appear to be an ex post facto indictment of the Bush policy - you can’t “pre-empt” something which already exists. Second, who says the North Korea situation is permanent? The Kim regime is creaky, as well as cranky. We could yet make a deal with Kim where he allowed the removal of all nuclear materials in return for aid or, if the danger becomes intolerable (heaven forbid), we could take out his regime. It’s a little early to call the North Korea situation a “defeat.”

Schell drifts into hyperbole (aside - thanks, Toastmasters!) both in trusting Saddam (he thinks he is “deterrable” despite the evidence to the contrary) and in questioning what Bush will do (nuking Iraq is Schell’s expectation) should Iraq use the chemical or biological weapons Schell doubts Saddam has. He accuses Condoleeza Rice of “threatening genocide” by repeating long-standing policy that use of WMDs would result in “national obliteration” - a “threat,” perhaps, but one meant to prevent slaughter by giving pause to the field commanders who would order the use of such weapons.

It seems a left-leaning critic can hardly say “Iraq” without tossing out the accusation that any war’s hidden motive is “oil.” Nothing new is added by Schell, so I’ll leave the fact that he made the ludicrous claim as its own rebuttal.

The next Schell criticisms involve any “forced democrotization” of the Arab world, starting with Iraq. Schell cannot bring himself to admit this would be an improvement for the people of the region (other than to say of a benign, pluralistic government, “can we have one here?”), instead focusing on the “empire” supposedly required to establish such a regime. Let’s see, years of expense and building, all to give the Iraqi people freedom and the right to choose their own directions, including the distribution of oil wealth we wrested from their oppressor then handed over to them. Some empire.

After flaying the “democratization” advocates, Schell turns and states that Bush won’t democratize anyway. This claim is based on administration “silence” over postwar plans for Iraq and a long historical listing of non-democratic regimes with which America has done business. First, the question of Iraq’s postwar dispostion has been ignored by an antiwar movement to focused on conjecture and conspiracy in an attempt to derail Saddam’s removal. The administration has not been “silent” on the issue - the left hasn’t been listening. Second, just because America has done and continues to do business with unpalatable regimes does not mean it is our preference, or that we would not help a nation where we held influence democratize. It won’t happen overnight in Iraq, as it didn’t happen overnight in any other “nation-building” example, but Schell would have a hard time listing countries America once occupied which are not democracies or at least headed down that path. Schell carries this leaky bucket a block too far, though, when he posits this scenario: What would America do if a free Iraq’s people voted to build nuclear weapons because “their enemy” Israel already has them. Ah, yes, those damn Zionists again. It does not occur to someone like Schell that a free and democratic people might have no interest in being the bitter enemy of another free and democratic people. Schell also makes it quite apparent that he considers the Non-Proliferation Treaty as little more than a ploy by the declared nuclear powers to keep the Third World down. Here he lets slip more overtly a subtext of the entire piece: Possessing weapons of mass destruction is among the sovereign rights of any nation, and a policy which attempts to deny this is anathema to international relations. The “two-tiered system” Schell decries is exemplified, in his rationale, by America’s claimed right of pre-emption; its policy of blocking proliferation; and its intention to maintain its military strength above the point where any other power might consider challenging it.

While waxing eloquent on “democracy,” Schell redefines its bases of authority and its execution in individual state actors and across international lines. Thus, the United Nations contains the “representatives of the world’s peoples” despite the fact half these “representatives” are the faces of nondemocratic governments. Yet, opinion polls across boundaries count in deciding the foreign policy where America is concerned, since most oppose a war with Iraq. Sovereignty for them, but not for us, I guess.

In the latter half of the essay, Schell turns to questions of proliferation, arguing (now) ostensibly that, yes, non-proliferation would be a good thing. But the problem is, as always in the eyes of the left, laid at the feet of America. We gave in to our fears that Hitler would develop a bomb, and built one, then used it, ourselves. Schell is correct that the Cold War policy of deterrence “taught” the world the value of possessing WMDs, and particularly, nukes. Get one, and you can deter anybody. Yet rather than taking the next step to say that, in an age of multiple (and often irrational) state and non-state actors versus the two sides of the Cold War, deterrence has become untrustworthy and obsolete, Schell slips into dreamland, arguing for a “comprehensive solution” in which WMDs face “universal prohibition.” No discussion of how that might be enforced, even if all the present possessors were to bring the weapons all forward for a big bonfire. This is the classic utopianists failure: Imagine a world where X does not exist - but don’t think one step further, the step where a nascent Saddam or Osama or Stalin or Hitler decides to sneak off to a corner, make a big bomb, then threaten to use it. Either a) a new dictator gets to oppress everyone in his reach, or b) proliferation and deterence begins anew.

Why does the left never see this inevitable result of utopianism? Because the left doesn’t “believe” in evil. It’s an obstacle these “thinkers” cannot overcome. But, as the world today shows, evil does indeed exist. Weapons of mass destruction are just one manifestation of the results of evil. Successful eliminate them, and a new evil will arise. The “war” against this foe never ends.

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Arafat easing out?

The London Independent also has this little news-tremor: Yassir Arafat has agreed to step down from the day-to-day operations of the Palestinian Authority, opening the path to his sidelining and the PA’s compliance with Bush’s statement of last summer, i.e., that Arafat would no longer be considered a partner in talks.

Now, Arafat may be attempting to put up a “figurehead” prime minister and maintain control - he is, after all, a survivor, if a bloody one. But this public acquiescence to U.S. and Israeli demands has to be seen as Arafat's admission of defeat, not least importantly by his own people. He is unlikely to be able to keep control of the levers of power if those in the PA see him as unalterably weakened. This may be the most important breakthrough - at least the early stages of a breakthrough - in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in at least a decade. If Arafat is indeed sidelined, it will be the biggest breakthrough since Camp David.

Carl Levin: Rogue senator

Today’s London Independent (link courtesy of Drudge) has a story about Michigan Sen. Carl Levin’s accusation of CIA “sabotage” of the U.N. inspectors in Iraq. What we have here is, once again, an effort to redefine the “success” of the inspectors as “finding a smoking gun.” What Resolution 1441 clearly states the goal is Iraqi disarmament - and the inspectors are merely the mechanism used to judge Iraqi compliance. Therefore, the inspections are a success. They have brought forward solid evidence that Iraq is not complying with its requirements, whether it be lack of cooperation, hiding banned substances, possessing banned munitions or maintaining banned weapons programs.

When anti-war Democrats attempt to redefine the inspectors’ mission, they are in fact guilty of “sabotage” - sabotage of American foreign policy. Levin apparently is willing to sacrifice a few Iraqi informants (and rest assured, they would be tortured and killed), all so the inspectors can find a chemical weapons bunker or Scud missile. Then, of course, Levin would claim the inspections were “working” - even though disarmament still would not be happening.

Senator, Saddam is the one who has “sabotaged” the inspections. Putting the responsibility on the administration is disgustingly partisan. I’ll wait to hear your apology, but I won’t hold my breath.

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Condensed version

The Washington Post points out the very countries demanding a “U.N. route” to disarming Iraq are rebuffing the Bush administration’s efforts at multilateralism on the North Korea issue.

Meanwhile, Michael Kinsley sharply criticizes the double standard expressed by some Republicans on the right to know the judicial views of nominees - but fails to mention the nomination controversy which started the era of the “stealth” nominee: The Robert Bork fiasco.

The Findlay Courier challenges Gov. Bob Taft to cut his hallmark Ohio Reads program, which costs $25 million annually and studies indicate has no positive effect on test scores.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer calls for France and Germany to take part in an open, constructive debate over Iraq in the U.N. Security Council.

The Battle Creek Enquirer has the jitters over the revelation that North Korea has a missile which could hit the U.S., but hopes the Security Council can resolve the issue.

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Thursday, February 13, 2003

Blame game

The Democrats are trying to filibuster the vote on the Miguel Estrada nomination, but the Associated Press (in the New York Times) says it’s the GOP that's playing ‘hardball.’

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Condensed version

Some editors are beginning to take their roles as public instructors seriously. The Washington Post today presents some of the history of terrorism and America's past responses (negotiation and retreat, generally) - and why President Bush is right to follow a new paradigm of breaking up the network, using force where necessary.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer notes how great the danger of terrorism inside our borders remains.

On a related note, the Cincinnati Post defends the politically-correct cancellation of "Paradise," a play about two teen-age girls - one Jewish, one Palestinian - and how their lives intersect in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Akron Beacon Journal uses the latest bin Laden tape to press its claim cities need more federal money for counterterrorism.

The Toledo Blade looks at federal recommendations for home preparedness (in case of terror attack) with skepticism, but admits such suggestions are better than nothing.

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Wednesday, February 12, 2003

Liberally translated

Did you catch this from a Reuters story on the reaction of lawmakers to the NATO split?

“One would think that the French, of all people, would be quick to understand the high price of appeasement,” said Rep. Steve Chabot, an Ohio Republican angry about his French name.” (My italics.)

I’m guessing that bit was a lame joke placed in the story which was missed by the editor, but it says something about Reuters and reporter Jonathan Wright - a case of the curtains opened on liberal press bias, I’d say.

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Interesting overview

Take a look at the comments in the BBC’s Talking Points section today, and you will see a theme developing: The latest bin Laden tape is a fraud created by the United States to whip up war support. Most of the writers with this opinion indicate the earlier audio tapes were fakes as well. No mention is made that terrorist attacks followed both of those releases last fall. Addresses vary, with the largest portion from Britain (understandably) but substantial numbers from Canada and the U.S. Why?

If you think I’m going to chime in with the “American image abroad” crowd saying we are not winning the propaganda war, you’re sadly mistaken. These are all writers from free democracies who should not need any “propaganda” efforts from the U.S. I lay the blame squarely on the liberal leadership of each nation. You don’t like the Bush administration’s policies? Fine. You vehemently oppose action against Iraq? That can be justified. You want to exercise all your political might to stop a war? That’s your right. But when you start encouraging mistrust, conspiracies and a complete untethering from the real world to energize activists, you are betraying your responsibilities as a political leader. Here in the states, we have Democratic senators who vote in favor of a war resolution on Iraq, then come out claiming Bush hasn’t “made the case” for war. How much more cynical can you get? Other Democrats slyly question the authenticity of administration intelligence and openly scoff at clear-cut ties between Saddam and al Qaeda from multiple sources, including liberal journalists who have investigated the stories themselves. This encourages those whose fires burn hot but dim to jump on any event as evidence of the Bush administration’s “duplicity.” If America is really “creating” bin Laden tapes and falsifying evidence of Iraqi chemical and biological weapons, how much farther of a leap is it to believe America knew about 9-11? Assisted in 9-11?

These ridiculous fantasies aren’t the result of anything Bush or America in general has done, they are the fruits of irresponsible leadership on the left, a leadership which apparently believes it can’t win the debate on the facts or morality, so instead it sinks into the delirium of conspiratorial paranoia.

A question to leaders of the left: If, indeed, you cannot make a strong, sensible case against the war on terrorism based on principle and truth, do you suppose that maybe - just maybe - you are wrong?

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Condensed version

In the Washington Post, David Broder offers his explanations to a series of questions about Iraq policy in his dry style, never explicitly giving his opinion, yet closing with the observation that Bush believes this is the right thing to do - and implying Broder does too.

Meanwhile, Michael Kelly has a devastating overview of the career of German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, a man who in his early career was more intimately connected with terrorism than Saddam Hussein.

The Akron Beacon Journal blames the NATO dustup on ... yawn .... oh, where was I? Right, right - blames it on Bush’s unilateralism.

The Detroit Free Press sees it just the opposite, saying while the U.N. is for debate, NATO is for defense and members must uphold their obligations.

In its usual anti-Bush tizzy, the Toledo Blade - one of America’s worst newspapers - blames the obvious bureaucratic bungling which is holding up compensation for the family of assassinated diplomat Lawrence Foley on “compassionate conservatism.” (Aside: Particularly galling is the Blade’s reference to Foley’s death as a “martyrdom,” echoing the phrase used by Islamic terrorists describing suicide operations. Nice touch, editors.)

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Tuesday, February 11, 2003

Condensed version

The Washington Post blasts France and Germany for their unilateral campaign against NATO and the United Nations.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer sees the NATO flap over protecting Turkey as confirmation that the Cold War-era alliance has indeed lost its purpose for existence.

In a meandering editorial, the Dayton Daily News credits the French and Germans with “sincerity” in their position, argues Bush’s war talk may have forced in Saddam a change of heart, and finally lands squarely on the fence, saying whether it is force or containment, we should do it with allies.

In the Detroit News, George Weeks attempts to decipher Sen. Carl Levin’s position on Iraq.

Across the hall in the Detroit Free Press, Arsalan Tariq Iftikhar of the Council on American-Islamic Relations says the heightened terror alert is not to protect against terrorism, but to attack Islam itself.

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Monday, February 10, 2003

Condensed version

In the New York Times, Bill Safire notes the shift from “Old Europe” to “New Europe” may be more than just words, as Germany’s Chancellor Schroder falls in the polls and the U.S. discusses reducing troops and moving their bases to newer NATO members.

The Detroit Free Press sticks to its PC guns on Title IX reform.

The Lima News takes a shot at developing a North Korea policy, proposing a “quiet” agreement to remove American troops from the South if the North agrees to “behave” - yikes!

The Cincinnati Post praises signs the Bush administration is starting reconsider its dismissal of deficit dangers.

In arguing against the public’s “complacency,” the Toledo Blade - one of America’s worst newspapers - focuses attention on American “weapons of mass destruction” sitting “poised” around Iraq, “waiting for the order to attack.”

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Friday, February 07, 2003

Iraq’s last chance came last summer

In the sheer force and volume of Colin Powell’s Wednesday indictment of Iraq, something I believe is important has received scant attention: The United States was offering Iraq a path out of its dilemma as late as last summer.

I’m speaking of the revelation that the U.S., through a “third party intelligence service,” requested the arrest and extradition of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the senior al Qaeda agent who had escaped to Baghdad for medical treatment. The Iraqis, Powell said, were given specific information which would have made the arrest simple - especially in a police state like Iraq. Saddam Hussein’s refusal may have been his true “last chance,” as far as President Bush was concerned.

Remember, the discussion of action against Iraq really gained steam in late July-early August of 2002, and in August, Powell convinced Bush to follow the U.N. route to action against Iraq. Those meetings last August loom larger than ever now; our last olive branch to Saddam had been rebuffed, so the principles gathered at the Bush ranch to decide not whether action against Iraq was necessary, but which course to follow. The resulting U.N. route has been window dressing for the military preparation. I’m not saying the administration has not maintained a sincere hope the Iraq issue could be resolved peaceably; rather, I’m saying they were ultimately realists. After all, if Saddam would not take the chance to quietly assist us while maintaining his rule, why on earth would he back down under public threats?

The October assassination of the American diplomat in Jordan by Zarqawi’s Baghdad cell was proof positive that, not only was Iraq harboring terrorists, it was complicit in their operations against Americans - something far too dangerous to allow.

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Smooth move, Mr. President

I won’t win many friends by saying this (I might even lose a few), but ... I told you so!

After the elections last November and on into December, when politicians were demanding that unemployment benefits be extended for all the people who were about to run out (right after Christmas, as I recall), I wrote that an extension would artificially maintain high unemployment rates, because people naturally accept money for not working as long as they can. Once a deadline appears, they have to go out and get a job, so they do - voila, unemployment falls.

I have never personally been laid off (fortunately), but have had many friends who have spent time on unemployment. Invariably - invariably - they followed this formula: An intensive search for “the perfect job” for about a month (occasionally successful), followed by four-and-a-half months of minimal searching. As the cutoff deadline approached, they all had a sudden attack of reality, then found and accepted “good enough” jobs (often jobs substantially better than their old ones). In cases where the government extended unemployment eligibility, it always - always - resulted in an extended stretch of unemployment for my friends until the benefits ran out. This may be anecdotal evidence, but it displays something liberals always ignore in their policy initiatives: human nature. Assuming the government is paying me enough to survive without working, why exactly should I look for a job? I am not criticizing those who follow the above pattern - I’m quite certain I’d follow it myself - merely observing it. Most of my friends actually accomplished a great deal during these extended jobless periods (house repair, writing, assisting parents, education, etc.). My point is they were not going to look for a job until they actually had to.

Bush was pretty shrewd on this one, quietly nixing any benefit extension until after the new year. Bush took a little heat on the issue, but it was hard for Democrats to burn him, since he said he favored the extension, but wanted it on his terms - and so Congress never agreed on anything. Once the deadline passed and “thousands lost their benefits,” it was safe to let an extension pass - a large percentage of those workers would now be employed and ineligible anyway. Democrats hammered the “cruel Republicans” for delaying the extension until the new year, but now the figures are out and, sure enough, unemployment claims plummeted in January.

I’ll make another prediction, based on Bush (and Karl Rove) Machiavellianism: The huge tax cut proposal was just a “confidence booster,” meant to induce a placebo effect, of sorts. Bush needed to show he was “concerned” about the economy last month, while things still looked weak, so consumers and businesses would regain their confidence. As the spring unfolds, with employment rising and “war anxiety” replaced with “victory relief,” the tax cut as a package will dwindle away to a few targeted code changes that shore up middle-income voters, along with, perhaps, an effort to move up some of the cuts already passed and make others permanent. By June, Bush will be signing this much reduced, yet much ballyhooed, package. Added to the oil price crash after the war, it will be all the stimulus needed to get things roaring again. I expect the second half of 2003 to have growth in the 5 to 6 percent range. Mark it down.

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Condensed version

Amid war talk, slow economy and the shuttle tragedy, the Washington Post offers some much needed perspective - “Cheer Up!”

The Cleveland Plain Dealer sees the Feb. 14 report by Hans Blix as the turning point in the U.N. debate from inspectors to force - and expects invasion shortly thereafter.

The Akron Beacon Journal has a pointed defense of judicial nominee Deborah Cook of Ohio, who was painted by Senate Democrats as a “shill for companies.”

After looking through the details, the Cincinnati Post thinks the president’s proposed tax cuts are a little too bold.

Finally, the Detroit Free Press rails against the new FBI order to count the number of mosques and Muslims inside each field office district in an effort to judge how its anti-terror assets are distributed - racial profiling, says the Freep.

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Thursday, February 06, 2003

North Korea demanding more attention

The conservative Free Republic site has an interesting “scoop,” obtained from a Japanese news service, of some documents which it claims were smuggled from North Korea. The report blasts officials for their failure to maintain social control and lists a variety of ways in which Western influences are causing the breakdown.

Assuming the report is real (and there’s no reason not too, based on its claims and implications), the entire North Korea situation seems more understandable, if no less dangerous. Kim Jong Il and his thugs are beginning to lose control of their people, which means they are losing power. What we are witnessing may be the death throws of this deadly regime.

It’s kind of fortuitous that this report (if true) has come out - I was just about to try once again to explain the Bush administration’s policy on North Korea, which frankly is no easy task. I’ve been in the “they’re putting Kim off until after Iraq” camp, but the provocations (transport of fuel rods, startup of reactor) are just getting too big. As I wrote last week, moving those fuel rods was a red line we had always said could not be crossed without “serious consequences,” and now that it has been crossed, the clock is ticking on Kim’s effort to start a nuke production line. We may have a month or so until the first one from this batch of plutonium is done. So, why are we still mumbling about “diplomacy”? What’s going on?

Perhaps - I don’t know, I’m really just speculating here - perhaps the administration has the kind of detailed intelligence on North Korea that Colin Powell demonstrated yesterday with Iraq. Perhaps things are getting pretty dicey for Kim. Perhaps the administration knows enough about Kim’s nuclear capabilities to be confident he cannot develop a usable bomb or bombs, or refine and sell fissile material, before he falls from power. In other words, this crisis is being created by Kim for internal, and in particular, military consumption, to get everyone busy doing something other than notice how destitute they are and how much they’d like to see Kim gone. Kim’s gamble is the West (America) will pay him off and he can regain control by giving his people a little more bread and his military a lot more money and hardware. In the meantime, the crisis itself tends to unite erstwhile dissenters as they face a common foe.

Unfortunately for Kim, Bush has not been playing along very well. The diplomatic dance has been little more than glances across an empty floor. Bush has okayed just enough talking to make it look like we are talking, always delaying and shifting when something substantial might be about to break (the Richardson talks; a Security Council resolution; dialogue through China, then South Korea, then China, South Korea, Japan and Russia, now maybe an eight-way conference). This has frustrated Kim, so he has stepped up the pressure to the point where he even has gone past the “red line.” Today, reports are he is talking about a “pre-emptive” strike against the American forces slowly building in South Korea and Japan and the nearby waters.

This is where the Bush plan of waiting for the dead fruit to drop gets dicey. Kim’s next step will be a missile test over Japan - count on it. That will come just as we begin the war in Iraq. The U.S. will condemn the act, of course, then do a lot of nothing about it. As the Iraq war continues and internal Korean pressure builds, Kim will look for ways to “take advantage” with even more provocative acts. How far will he go? Who knows. You’d think he realizes anything which initiates combat will ultimately result in his demise and the end of the North Korean state - but he seems pretty crazy, like most dictators, so maybe he really believes he’d get another cease-fire line kind of agreement after both sides tired of the bloodshed. The war itself, he might believe, would strengthen his internal position, which is all he cares about anyway.

It’s scary stuff, no doubt about it. In the end, Bush may have to give in to the blackmail and seek another way to take out Kim. But I don’t see Bush agreeing to anything which keeps nuclear material and potentially bombs in place in North Korea, with or without monitoring and inspectors.

What a dangerous world.

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Condensed version

The Washington Post opens with the stunner of the morning: Colin Powell’s presentation has convinced Mary McGrory that war may be the only option!

The Detroit Free Press was also impressed by the “reluctant warrior,” and has moved from against military force to a call for an endorsing resolution from the U.N.

The Cincinnati Post, previously on board for military action, adds that Powell’s detailed indictment is a crossroads for U.N. relevance.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer also sees the presentation as a challenge to the United Nations’ commitment to its own resolutions.

Finally, the Toledo Blade - one of America’s worst newspapers - must have not only missed Powell’s presentation yesterday, but the entire past week of allies lining up behind the United States, claiming its “the United States and maybe the United Kingdom” versus the world on the war issue, all while musing about where Saddam might be willing to go into exile (Toledo, the editors say, is “too cold”).

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Wednesday, February 05, 2003

Powell lays it out

The address was exactly the tour de force everyone expected. Leaks over the past few days made real “surprises” few in kind; rather the sheer volume and specificity was the cold splash of water here.

Hide and seek. Taped conversation after taped conversation left absolutely no doubt Saddam has illegal weapons, because his people are going to so much trouble to hide them. As Powell said in his opening, these are inspectors, not detectives, and Iraq’s deceptions are precisely what the Security Council sought to end with Res. 1441. Proof of their continuation is, in itself, a material breach. P.S. - I’ll bet the “Iraqi legislature” is busy passing a ban on cell phones even as I write.

On the road again. Shuffling around banned materials can be tough, with loading and unloading and loading again. One solution has been for Saddam’s agents to load up a vehicle, then hit the road and just keep driving, on and on and on, so the weapons are never “stored” at a site. For the sake of civilians, I hope these guys are good drivers.

Smile, boys! The satellite photos were excellent - about as close to “missiles on trucks” as you can get when searching for chemical and biological weapons. The pix showed what Powell called “signature items” betraying what a bunker contains. First, there was a small service building which has detection equipment, looking for any chemical leaks. Then there is a truck parked along side, which is a decontamination vehicle, in case of an accident. Bunkers without chemicals inside don’t have these two “signature items” because they don’t need them. And if you’ve gotten rid of all your gas-filled weapons, you shouldn’t need detection facilities and decontamination vehicles at all. Case closed. Powell also tied this to the “hide and seek” effort, showing how one bunker was under an intense detox operation right up until December 22, when they packed up everything and moved out. That day, the U.N. inspectors showed up. Which leads to ...

Spies among us. As Powell said, the clear and “worrisome” implication is the Iraqis knew well ahead of time (days, at least) that the inspectors would visit that bunker, and apparently even the date the visit was scheduled. That is an affront to the inspection teams and the Security Council, more of an emotional point to make in an effort to win allies. Nice job, General!

Honesty and imagination. Powell’s points about Iraqi efforts to move equipment at 30 or so sites well known to the U.N. were understated for effect. We know they suddenly brought in trucks, just before inspections were to resume. We know the trucks were loaded. We know the trucks then took off with cargo, and activity at the sites returned to normal. We don’t know what was put on those trucks. So I ask you, Security Council skeptics: What do you think Saddam’s minions were loading up and hauling off before inspectors arrived? Use your imagination.

Land of the dissappeared. The threatening, replacing and hiding of scientists - proven in part by foreign intelligence, again for effect - showed another clear material breach but also was meant to demonstrate Iraq’s disrespect of the inspectors. More ally building.

On the road again, pt. 2. Powell said intelligence indicates Iraq’s mobile biological agent production systems are capable, in just a few months, of making as much biowarfare material as Iraq claimed to have in total back in the mid-’90s. In other words, even if Iraq really did destroy its previous arsenal - and it’s provided no proof it did - the country’s production capability today, through mobile systems, could reconstitute (or perhaps, has already reconstituted) that arsenal in under a year. This point was aimed at scoffers who say “a few mobile labs” aren’t really a threat to international security. Powell said we know of 18 trucks which combine into seven weapons factories. Eighteen trucks have the capability of producing the huge amounts of biological weapons we know Iraq had in the 1990s, all in a matter of months.

Pen ink today, mustard gas tomorrow. Powell gave a brief outline of how Iraq has reconstituted its chemical production capabilities with inspections in mind. Dual-use facilities run a legitimate product one day, then switch over to illegal chemicals the next. These systems, designed to be inspected, avoid suspicion and hard proof by producing items which help “cover” their more devious chemical agents. I think this point helps explain the discovery of thiodiglycol. Yes, the chemical - albeit banned from Iraq by the U.N. - can be used for legitimate purposes. Therefore, its discovery at a facility is not technically a “smoking gun” if that term is limited to actual chemical weapons. But after the inspectors leave, the production team just shuts off the mixers putting thiodiglycol in with ink, and sends the chemical into another mixer that starts the hydrolytic reaction which results in mustard gas. That mixer is carefully sealed and hidden, to avoid detectability. That’s why the Bush administration says precursors and dual-use chemicals are so important.

Digging in the dirt. When a chemical production or transfer facility has a contamination problem, the inspectors are sure to find it with all that super-dooper equipment they’re using, right? Not if Iraq disassembles all the buildings then literally digs up and hauls away the surrounding earth, replacing it with “clean dirt.” That’s what one of the photos showed, along with corroberating evidence from an Iraqi source.

Guilty plea. If the other evidence wasn’t enough, how about the Iraqis’ own words? The intercept from just a few weeks ago between Iraqi Republican Guard officers talking about “nerve agents,” with one scolding the other to not mention “these horrible agents” by name, in case anyone is listening, was nothing short of a confession, if accidental.

Too-good tubes. I’m personally glad Powell slapped down this criticism of the administration’s case. The Iraqis and their apologists keep claiming all these aluminum tubes - which Iraq isn’t allowed to acquire in the first place - are just to replace old, corroded rocket-launcher tubes. From the first time I recall hearing about the tubes (last September, I think), it was pointed out that they were suspicious because they were built to very specific metal strengths and precisions. Yet this is constantly ignored by a complacent media and excuse-making war opponents. Powell brought the attention back:

“I am no expert on centrifuge tubes, but just as an old Army trooper, I can tell you a couple of things: First, it strikes me as quite odd that these tubes are manufactured to a tolerance that far exceeds U.S. requirements for comparable rockets.

“Maybe Iraqis just manufacture their conventional weapons to a higher standard than we do, but I don't think so. Second, we actually have examined tubes from several different batches that were seized clandestinely before they reached Baghdad. What we notice in these different batches is a progression to higher and higher levels of specification, including, in the latest batch, an anodized coating on extremely smooth inner and outer surfaces. Why would they continue refining the specifications, go to all that trouble for something that, if it was a rocket, would soon be blown into shrapnel when it went off?”

Powell added evidence of Iraqi attempts to acquire other uranium enrichment centrifuge equipment, to demonstrate why America and her allies believe the tubes are for nuclear weapons production. It’s like finding all the parts to a gun in a suspected murderer’s car, and the suspect claiming he just uses the barrel to smoke dope.

Add it all up, and you’ve got Iraqi contempt for Res. 1441, for the inspectors and for the Security Council. As they say, the money graf:

“The issue before us is not how much time we are willing to give the inspectors to be frustrated by Iraqi obstruction. But how much longer are we willing to put up with Iraq's noncompliance before we, as a council, we, as the United Nations, say: ‘Enough. Enough.’”

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Condensed version

In the Washington Post, Anne Applebaum, in an unfortunately titled op-ed (“Listen to Germany”) considering the heated debate on Iraq, sharply points out some potentially troubling rumblings coming from the Continental powerhouse, and notes that context will be important in discerning Germany’s response to action in Iraq.

The Detroit News notices the drag inflicted on the auto industry by President Bush’s decision last year to impose tariffs on some imported steel, and calls for a repeal.

The Detroit Free Press is ready to end the NASA investigation and declare the loss of Columbia was caused by ... a lack of funding.

The Lima News thinks the shuttle disaster - and the limited budget room for NASA - may be the impetus to begin commercial exploration of space.

The Toledo Blade - one of America’s worst newspapers - cites consistent calls for Saddam’s removal by Bush advisers long before George W. became president as the impetus behind American efforts to disarm Iraq (so much for a “rush to war”), and claims 9/11 was just “an excuse” for Bush to give the “hawks” free rein.

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Tuesday, February 04, 2003

Condensed version

The Washington Post posits the important “morning after” questions raised by the Columbia disaster.

The Akron Beacon Journal appears guilty of its own headline, “Blinded by the Hype,” in an its-not-such-a-big-deal defense of high school basketball star LeBron James’ flouting of amateur eligibility rules.

The Cincinnati Post is highly critical of the Bush budget’s embrace of long-term deficits.

The Indianapolis Star is more sanguine, defending the deficits as the unavoidable result of recession and war.

The editors of the Toledo Blade notice - finally - that the Columbia crashed, and come out four-square against any “back-to-business” hopes expressed by NASA before a full investigation - setting up a false choice they can criticize.

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Monday, February 03, 2003

Space shuttle fatality rates

There seems to be a lot of mistaken impressions over how “dangerous” a vehicle the space shuttle is. Many are calling for an end to the program, based on these impressions. Gregg Easterbrook’s column on Time Magazine’s web site is just the most noted of these “throw in the towel” opinions. But let’s look more closely.

The space shuttle has now lost 14 astronauts in two accidents - painful, tragic losses, each one. If we can set emotions aside for a moment, however, we might note that the shuttle fleet has traveled 375,203,627 miles (as off last April - the latest precise figures I could find). It has been surprisingly difficult to track down how many astronauts have ridden on shuttles (I’ll keep trying and update once I find the numbers) but, for argument purposes, lets just say an average of five astronauts per flight (most likely a low-ball estimate).

When comparing transportation system fatalities, one of the commonly-used statistics is “fatalities per 100 million passenger miles.” For the space shuttle program, there have been 14 fatalities over approximately 200,733,940,445 passenger miles. (Again, this is a rough estimate - but remember, automobile traffic fatalities per passenger mile are also by necessity based on estimates.)

That breaks down to one fatality per 14,338,138,603 passenger miles - or about 0.007 fatalities per 100 million passenger miles traveled. By comparison, the automobile fatality rate for 1999 was approximately 1.5 fatalities per 100 million passenger miles - far higher than that of the space shuttles.

There are a few caveats, not the least of which is the fact each astronaut racks up an incredible number of miles on a single mission, greatly increasing the odds of an accident for that astronaut - just as long-haul truckers and commercial passenger plane pilots increase their individual odds of fatal accidents by traveling greater miles. And again, let me say every loss of these pioneering heroes is a sobering tragedy. Still, this statistical breakdown is a great credit to NASA and its efforts at safety, and should be a clear rebuttal to those who think the space shuttle program is “too dangerous” to continue.

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Thiodiglycol addendum webmaster Alec has written back in answer to my question, Why does the U.N. consider thiodiglycol to have “little or no use” except as a chemical weapon precursor?:

This smacks of political pressure rather than scientific evidence to me. If you look in any decent industrial chemical resource, like the Kirk Othmer Encyclopedia of Science and Technology, you’ll find a large entry on thiodiglycol and its uses. This is perhaps an effort to tighten the noose around Iraq.”

I have no doubt that is true - but remember, the U.N. passed its resolutions on banned substances a decade ago, when details of the Iraqi weapons program began to be revealed. The U.N. ban is, by its very nature, a political document, removing sovereignty from a nation which had regularly violated international law and standards, according to the Security Council.

Nevertheless, the U.N. listing makes it clear thiodiglycol is banned without a special exemption, which Iraq apparently never sought. Therefore, I think defining the discovery of a “laboratory amount” of thiodiglycol a “material breach” still stands.

Condensed version

Reflecting on the loss of Columbia in the Washington Post, Max Boot, without diminishing Saturday’s tragedy, notes the earlier “Age of Exploration” in the 15th and 16th centuries was far more dangerous to the explorers, but offered rewards in many ways similar to those sought today.

The Lima News points out space travel as routine, and gives a tribute to each of the fallen astronauts.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer calls for the resurrection of the Space Launch Initiative, seeking a safer and more efficient means of carrying humans to the space station.

Mike Wendland of the Detroit Free Press looks at how the Internet provided a forum - for good and for ill - for people to discuss and understand the tragedy as it unfolded.

Ever late to opine on the topics of the day, the Blade - one of America’s worst newspapers - has no comment on the Columbia disaster, but does find space to hammer President Bush for not spending more money on homeland security, without bothering to specify where and how the money should be used.

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