June 20, 2004

Ah. A Real Press Corps...

The Philadelphia Inquirer writes an editorial that tells it like it is:

Philadelphia Inquirer | 06/20/2004 | Editorial | Bush and Iraq: A poll of Americans taken in March of this year found that 57 percent of those polled believed that Iraq under Saddam Hussein substantially supported al-Qaeda or was directly involved in the Sept. 11 attacks.

Where did they get that misguided idea? Why, it was from their president, their vice president, their defense secretary, their national security adviser and other key players in the war on terror, of course.

Through assertion, implication and innuendo, the Bush administration - backed by an amen chorus of talk-show babblers and oped writers who filled in the blanks that White House rhetoric artfully left - has labored to plant the notion that invading Iraq was a logical, urgent response to Sept. 11.

What other impressions did the Bush team work to insinuate into public opinion, before and after its preemptive strike at Hussein?

That Iraq had a robust weapons program and was ready and willing to hand off biological or chemical weapons to a terrorist group; and that it would soon have a nuclear bomb.

That the bulk of the Iraqi people would greet Americans as liberators, with cheers and flowers.

That the Bush Doctrine of unilateral and preemptive military action against suspected enemies would make the United States safer and more respected.

That the Abu Ghraib prison abuses were a surprising, inexplicable outburst of evil by a small set of reservists from rural Pennsylvania, Maryland and West Virginia.

Let's review how those claims are faring in the court of reality:

Iraq and al-Qaeda:The Sept. 11 Commission, evenly split by party and led by a Republican, issued this conclusion last week: "We have no credible evidence that Iraq and al-Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States... . There is no convincing evidence that any government financially supported al-Qaeda before 11 September."

Weapons of mass destruction: As you may recall, the top American WMD hunter, David Kay, told Congress in January: "We were almost all wrong" about Hussein's WMD capability at the time of the March 2003 invasion. (That "we" includes this Editorial Board.)

The post-invasion hunt for WMD has produced two finds: one old artillery shell with the nerve agent sarin, another with mustard gas. The President has conceded that the main evidence he cited for Hussein's nuclear program was a forgery.

They love us, they really love us: The appallingly bloody insurgency in Iraq is now more than a year old. At least 70 people died in a wave of car bombings in Iraq last week. The Associated Press reported last week that a poll taken by the Coalition Provisional Authority found that 92 percent of Iraqis polled considered Americans "occupiers." A whopping 2 percent thought of us as "liberators."

The Bush Doctrine: A new group of 27 former military leaders and diplomats, including many Republicans appointed or promoted by President Bush's father, issued a blistering critique of the Bush foreign policy last week.

Calling his policies "overbearing," "insensitive" and "disdainful," the group said, as a result: "Our security has been weakened... . Never in the two and a quarter centuries of our history has the United States been so isolated among the nations, so broadly feared and distrusted."

Abu Ghraib: The administration's attempt to defuse the Abu Ghraib furor by blaming it all on a few low-level miscreants has triggered a flood of contrary evidence. It's clear now that the military and administration had been warned early and often, by multiple sources, about abuses. It's clear that dubious practices at prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan had been debated at high levels in the Pentagon and White House, and that military attorneys of high integrity had opposed efforts to treat the Geneva Conventions as a dead letter in the war on terror.

Ed Koch, when he was the voluble mayor of New York City, used to love to ask, "How'm I doin'?"

Given this sorry roster of fibs, flubs and fantasies, the Bush White House ought to be afraid to ask the American public the same question.

Instead, it has entered full-tilt spin mode. To counter the Sept. 11 panel's flat rejection of its implicit rationale for the Iraq invasion, the President, vice president and their surrogates have split semantic hairs like finicky medieval theologians.

It is true, as the President stressed last week, that he never flat-out said Saddam Hussein helped plan the Sept. 11 attacks.

It is also beside the point.

He said many other things, misleading things, to plant the idea that invading Iraq was a logical extension of - rather than a fatal distraction from - the effort to dismantle al-Qaeda.

In a nationally televised address in October 2002, just days before Congress passed a resolution authorizing force against Iraq, he said: "Iraq could decide on any given day to provide a biologial or chemical weapon to a terrorist group or individual terrorists. An alliance with terrorists could allow the Iraqi regime to attack America without leaving any fingerprints."

In the letter the President sent Congress explaining his decision to invade, he wrote: "The use of armed force against Iraq is consistent with the United States and other countries continuing to take the necessary actions against international terrorists and terrorist organizations, including those nations, organizations, or persons who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001."

What impression was he trying to leave there? We report, you decide.

Much of the evidence that administration officials cited to back up the claims in that speech and that letter have since been debunked or called into serious question. The Sept. 11 panel said flatly that the plot leader, Mohamed Atta, did not meet in Prague with an Iraqi agent, a favorite canard of Vice President Cheney. The CIA never confirmed Bush's repeated claim that Iraqis trained al-Qaeda members in bomb-making.

Yes, there were contacts between Osama bin Laden and ranking Iraqis a dozen or so years ago.

And the United States helped arm bin Laden to fight the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s; the Sept. 11 hijackers were trained at American flight schools. Does that mean the U.S. government was in league with al-Qaeda? That, of course, is preposterous.

There may well have been, as the Weekly Standard magazine has reported, a "non-aggression pact" between Osama and Saddam. Those who harp on that never answer an obvious question: Why would close collaborators need to be prodded by a third party (Sudan) to agree to a "non-aggression" pact?

The evidence cited of Iraqi-Osama collaboration was always, at its strongest, tissue thin. Now, pieces of it appear to have been, like many of the wilder WMD claims, churned up by the Iraqi National Congress exile group to give the Bush White House the terrifying tales it needed to sell regime change (the INC's goal) to the American public.

Did the President and his top advisers lie to the American people? Or were they themselves deceived, by the INC, faulty intelligence and their own tendency to hear what they wanted to hear?

For now, those questions are unanswerable and essentially besides the point.

What matters is that Americans grasp a central point: The multipronged rationale behind this rushed invasion has been revealed as a house of cards.

(Deposing Hussein always was a legitimate strategic goal, given his history as an aggressor and butcher - but not in this reckless way, with these wrongful justifications.)

Consider the house of cards, and two other glaring facts.

First, preparation for the invasion's aftermath was tragically inept. That easily predictable failure has cost many Iraqis, Americans and others their lives.

Second, the prison abuses, which stem from poor planning for occupation and a bid to place U.S. behavior above international law, have lost America the moral high ground it rightfully occupied on Sept. 12, 2001.

Now, ask yourself, along with those 27 American diplomats and warriors: Have the last two years made America more secure, more respected?

The answer is obvious and appalling. The answer is no.

Posted by DeLong at June 20, 2004 08:29 AM | TrackBack | | Other weblogs commenting on this post

I watched the Cheney interview on CNBC the other day and it was one of the worse example of the press being just a conduit for the administration lies.

When he pulled a paper out of his pocket and read that Saddam had provide AQ a senior officer to train AQ in chemical weapons the reporter did no ask a single follow up question.

She could have least asked if the 9/11 Commission had that document. If not, why not. If they did, why did they ignore it?

Of course, I would have asked about the source and asked why we shouldn't believe this was another piece of disinformation created by the Iranians. But the reporter could have at least asked something to question the realability of the source.

Posted by: spencer on June 20, 2004 08:46 AM


If only this could be reprinted on the front page of every newspaper in the country, once a week from now til Nov.

Posted by: flory on June 20, 2004 09:13 AM


Ye gods, i don't remember the Inquirer as being this good on its editorial page (i grew up outside of Philly). This is Pulitzer Prize material, nothing less.

It's probably worth remembering that the Knight-Ridder chain has produced some of the very best reporting on iraq and the backbone administration....

Posted by: howard on June 20, 2004 09:17 AM


Hammering Bush's credibility is excellent, but the Republicans are going to come back with "Would the Democrats prefer that Saddam were still in power?" The editorial's last four paragraphs move to that next point, which is that in addition to the lying, Bush still can't do things right, and has to be voted out. A subtle distinction perhaps, but one that may become important as the campaign proceeds.

Much the same sort of logic applies to the question of whether his bait-and-switch fiscal policy, and its ridiculous tax cuts, led to the recovery that has in fact belatedly come.
We can't afford this lying stumbler.

Gipper, meet The Gypper

Posted by: Lee A. on June 20, 2004 09:36 AM


Lee A., i believe that you are right that the natural move of the right-wing movement is to pose the "would you prefer Saddam to still be in power" question.

I, personally, not running for president, have no problem with saying "yes," on the simple basis of the Hippocratic Oath - first do no harm.

But here, the logic of Kerry's vote for the war comes clear: he can answer no, and then further answer that there was a right way and a wrong way to remove saddam, and he, kerry, supported the "right" way.

But yes, let there be no doubt that that will be the formulation of the right wing, since will to power, rather than honesty or what's best for america, is its dominant impulse....

Posted by: howard on June 20, 2004 10:03 AM


The "well, you wouldn't rather than Saddam was still in power?" straw-man argument is the most ridiculous argument I have heard. Yet, not a single member of the liberal press has called anyone on it.
Here's an analogy: our weekend house was infested with rats, and my wife asked me to do something about the problem. So I took a few gallons of gasoline, and a match, and the rat problem was history. When my wife complained about my tactics, I simply responded, "you wouldn't rather that we still had a rat problem would you", and then proceeded to register as a Rebupblican. My wife just doesn't get it.

Posted by: oneangryslav on June 20, 2004 10:42 AM


I again ask, when was the requirement of a class in basic logic for a degree in economics suspended? It shouldn't be necessary to point out that the question of connections between al Qaeda and Iraq has nothing to do with Abu Ghraib or the plans for the post-invasion security in Iraq--whatever the merits or demerits of those arguments. To mix those things into this editorial is a sure warning sign of "logical fallacy ahead" (would you like a little sauce with your red herring?).

If you can't--and no one has yet--find Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld et al, saying they know Iraq was in on the planning of 9-11, or the African embassy attacks, or the USS Cole bombing, then you're dead.

So far, you've got a sentence taken wildly out of context from a staff report of the 9-11 Commission that actually AGREES with Bush and Cheney that there WERE such contacts. When that is exposed for what it is, the back up evidence is another sentence taken wildly out of context from a letter from Bush to Congress complying formally with a congressional resolution authorizing the invasion of Iraq.

But keep it up, because if Kerry is stupid enough to follow your lead, he's toast in November.

Posted by: Patrick R. Sullivan on June 20, 2004 11:02 AM


oneangryslav wrote, "The 'well, you wouldn't rather than Saddam was still in power?' straw-man argument is the most ridiculous argument I have heard. Yet, not a single member of the liberal press has called anyone on it."

Yes, many of us here would agree with you.

The problem, however, is that these debates are being conducted in the real world, with the "rally 'round the flag" effect, which seems to be a biological invariant of the human species.

As Schiller said, "Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain."

Doesn't mean we shouldn't try, of course...first step is to "work the refs," as Eric Alterman said, and which Brad is trying---nobly---to do.

Posted by: liberal on June 20, 2004 11:07 AM


I suggest you read today's NY Times week in review. They list a series of quotes of several administration officials that tie Saddam closely to AQ and leave the very strong impression that they were allied.

At least what I read into the quotes goes along with my memory. They selected the words very carefully to leave an impression that Saddam was closely tied to 9/11 without actually saying so.

It goes back to the meaning of contacts. During the 1980s and 1990s the US government had extensive contact with the Saddam regime. But they does not mean we were working with Saddam.
But they used the term contact clearly to leave the impression that they were working together.

But in the interview I watched Cheney do on CNBC he said that Sadam sent a senior officer to teach
AQ about chemical weapons. That is a claim that I have not seen before.

Posted by: spencer on June 20, 2004 12:13 PM


Patrick, your continued residence in fantasy land is a matter for you and your family to address, but as a matter of substantive reality, your 11:02 posting is nought but babble.

First off, let's note that George Bush didn't just "comply formally;" he wrote the exact words that you are denying that he used. All by itself, this renders your position silly and meaningless.

Second of all, words were not taken out of context: the report says that there was no operational relationship because there was no operational relationship, despite the continued efforts of the bush administration to string together words that suggested otherwise.

As for those words, pro-war spencer ackerman and his iraq'd column has assembled a nice cross-section of these efforts (which you suggest haven't been made) here:


You can't fool all of the people all of the time, much as the bush administration has tried, but you can fool some of the people all of the time, including Patrick....

Posted by: howard on June 20, 2004 01:22 PM



"A poll of Americans taken in March of this year found that 57 percent of those polled believed that Iraq under Saddam Hussein substantially supported al-Qaeda or was directly involved in the Sept. 11 attacks."

Two questions:

1. Why does the Bush administration want Americans to believe something that isn't true?

2. Why do you?

Posted by: Tom Marney on June 20, 2004 02:46 PM


Citizen Kane?

Posted by: El Gringo on June 20, 2004 04:35 PM


howard wrote, "Patrick, your continued residence in fantasy land is a matter for you and your family to address,..."

Once Patrick wrote (in sci.econ on USENET) "Speaking of things for which there is no proof." in response to the question "By the way, do you think Pinochet should be prosecuted in the US for his role in the murder of a US citizen, on US soil?" [allusion to the Moffitt/Letelier murder]

Posted by: liberal on June 20, 2004 04:36 PM


The article from the Inquirer is riddled with errors and misstatements.

Given the apparently intentional nature of some, this article is propaganda.

I would suggest that if you don't see the problem with the article you have entered the fantasyland where there is no distiction between what you would like to be true and what is.

Posted by: John Lederer on June 20, 2004 05:52 PM


I hate to point out the obvious, but not enough to actually not do it...

Well, gee, the Bush administration's various rationales for the war have been "riddled with errors and misstatements," too. Which would put the Bush administration and the editorial board of the Philadelphia Inquirer on the same moral footing. That is, as long as you set aside the deaths, destruction, and trashing of our nation's credibility as a result of-- oh, hell, why bother?

No, I don't see the problem with the article...

Posted by: Tom Marney on June 20, 2004 06:18 PM


John Lederer wrote: "The article from the Inquirer is riddled with errors and misstatements."

Then you should have absolutely no trouble actually citing some of those errors and misstatements? We eagerly await your wisdom.

Posted by: PaulB on June 20, 2004 08:19 PM


PaulB, here are two misstatements:

"The Sept. 11 Commission, evenly split by party and led by a Republican, issued this conclusion last week: 'We have no credible evidence that Iraq and al-Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States... . There is no convincing evidence that any government financially supported al-Qaeda before 11 September.'"

1. The "Sept. 11 Commission" did not issue that conclusion at all. It's something the staff came up with, and some of the commissioners are angry about it (witness yesterday's Meet the Press).

2. Afghanistan's Taliban is "any government", and ANY support they gave al Qaeda frees up finances for terror attacks.

Posted by: Patrick R. Sullivan on June 21, 2004 08:32 AM


Patrick, the 9/11 commission includes its staff, and "financial" support means "financial" support.

Shall we now list the many, many, many backbone administration statements that fit this definition of "misstatement?" I've got a few hours....

Posted by: howard on June 21, 2004 09:00 AM


"Now, ask yourself, along with those 27 American diplomats and warriors: Have the last two years made America more secure, more respected?

The answer is obvious and appalling. The answer is no."

I'm asking myself where in the piece are the answers to these questions. Saddam's gone and we are significantly less secure because...there are bombs blowing up in Baghdad? Moral high ground we enjoyed among..."the Arab street"? or was it France? Or Kofi? We are supposed to believe this because...a magical number of 27 officials came out with it? It truly is an enchanted world.

Posted by: walons on June 21, 2004 10:55 AM


(Well, twenty-seven IS three, cubed...)

Our insecurity is perhaps temporary, but still dangerous:

(1) We've shown our enemy the tactical limitations of our military capability for dealing with their sort of threat--an embarrassment not yet behind us, since now we're going to be the muscle for our puppets.

(2) Our military, undermanned and a little exhausted, is incapable of dealing with a similar military threat, elsewhere. None is on the horizon, hopefully, but still...

(3) Similarly, we are probably running out of useful intelligence sources as the terrorists get more organized, and see how we find them.

(4) We've probably increased terrorist recruitment and determination, with no clear strategy or "metrics" (love that one!)--as even Rumsfeld has said, twice or thrice now.

(5) Hatred of America is up across the board, and even seasoned world travelers tell me they're hesitant to go to many places, including many places not related to Islam or Arabs.

(6) Similarly, the Torture Story has increased the personal danger to our soldiers captured alive in this and other military actions, into the distant future.

(7) Our diplomatic word is greatly devalued, even with our allies, while our allies' publics suspect our motives--impinging in a myriad of ways upon security.

(8) Our budget deficit is going to put us at the mercy of a run on the dollar, the next time we do something the rest of the world doesn't like, while still expecting them to help pay for it.

(9) Widening distribution of income and the military draft, which are developments not unrelated to the above, are going to cause more political stresses in this country. Perhaps a lot more.

Well, that's for starters, and I'm running out of time...

All in all, greatly reduced security; a very big challenge. We can deal with it--but we need new leadership!!

Posted by: Lee A. on June 21, 2004 11:50 AM


It also should be pointed out that there aren't just 27. There's O'Neill, Clarke, Zinni, the Army War College, Lugar and almost all of the Senate, Scowcroft, Bush's own father Bush, maybe half of the Republican Party...

But not to worry! Allawi & the Puppets are singin' our tune, so it'll be off the front pages for a while--and more burger-flippin' jobs are on the way!

Posted by: Lee A. on June 21, 2004 12:06 PM



The point was, the editorial didn't make your points. It moved from relating Iraqi problems to grandiose claims about overall security of the US.

As to the substance of your remarks, I see that we have greatly reduced our security by 1) being embarrassed about not being able to catch every nutcase in a country of 20 some million, 2) not being able to meet threats that aren't on the horizon, 3) and 4) PROBABLY making them smarter (presumably concurrently with us becoming CERTAINLY dumber and dumber), 5) seasoned travellers' hesitation to go to places. The rest is even bigger drivel: dollar, income inequality, suspicious public in Canada, France or Cameroon? Give me a break. Only point 6) is kind of valid, but it concerns the security of our captured soldiers, not the security of the country as such.

If that's your best, it's a good thing you ran out of time before I had to see the rest.

Posted by: walons on June 21, 2004 01:11 PM


Awesome work, Lee A., to which i can only add:

10. Woefully inadequate attention to the hardening of domestic targets and the improvement of first responders;

11. A DHS that is nothing but a bureaucratic nightmare;

12. The still-real possibility that some supplies of chemical and biological materials disappeared from iraq in the "fog of war" and now are - who knows where?

13. The extreme likelihood that Iraq is on its way to being a failed state, with massive reprecussions....

Posted by: howard on June 21, 2004 01:11 PM


I never knew the Philadelphia Inquirer had it in it...This is news, someone and his/ her editor at the Inquirer will be fired by end -of-week for even "thinking" this- yet alone publishing it

How unpatriotic of them, they have to get on board with the stars & stripes motiff blowing around elsewhere!

Posted by: Dave S on June 21, 2004 01:43 PM


ad "(2) not being able to meet threats that aren't on the horizon"

So, if it were necessary, how likely would the US take military action as Iran threatens to step up its nuclear weapons program? (Was Saddam really a greater threat than that?!?)

Posted by: konrad on June 21, 2004 02:24 PM



You answered PaulB's question but not mine. My feelings are hurt.

OK, I asked two questions. Will you answer one of them? Your choice as to which one...

Posted by: Tom Marney on June 21, 2004 02:31 PM


"The rest is even bigger drivel: dollar, income inequality..."

ah, yes drivel like the dollar. in case you can't read he said "run on" said dollar. why don't you ask argentina how a run on their currency worked out for them? it was drivel - tastic!!


Posted by: drew on June 21, 2004 04:09 PM


In the mid 80s, the dollar lost about 50% against major currencies. I don't think the US became noticeably less secure. A real run on the dollar--say 90% drop--is about as likely as the US becoming Argentina (I know Krugman thinks we are already there, but I'm not quite convinced). So I stand by my verdict: DRIVEL.

Posted by: walons on June 21, 2004 05:37 PM



“The U.S. federal budget is on an unsustainable path... The scale of the nation’s projected budgetary imbalances is now so large that the risk of severe adverse consequences must be taken very seriously, although it is impossible to predict when such consequences may occur... Under the conventional view, the costs imposed by sustained deficits tend to build gradually over time, rather than occurring suddenly... The adverse consequences of sustained large budget deficits may well be far larger and occur more suddenly than traditional analysis suggests, however. Substantial deficits projected far into the future can cause a fundamental shift in market expectations and a related loss of confidence both at home and abroad. The unfavorable dynamic effects that could ensue are largely if not entirely excluded from the conventional analysis of budget deficits. This omission is understandable and appropriate in the context of deficits that are small and temporary; it is increasingly untenable, however, in an environment with deficits that are large and permanent...”

--from Robert E. Rubin, Peter R. Orszag, and Allen Sinai, “Sustained Budget Deficits: Longer-Run U.S. Economic Performance and the Risk of Financial and Fiscal Disarray”, January 2004.

Go to:


And click on the PDF in the right column...

Posted by: Lee A. on June 21, 2004 06:29 PM


Lee A,

I thought we--like the op-ed--were talking about Iraq and traditionally understood security, such as borders, enemies, ability to project power, and so on. You may mention deficits (about which I'm none too happy myself) to round off your loathing of the current administration, but that's changing the topic.

Posted by: walons on June 21, 2004 07:25 PM


walons: Fair enough. But it has been my belief all along that a more internationalized effort would have shared the cost of Iraq and its reconstruction, which we now shoulder almost entirely, to date to the tune of $200 billion (does anybody know a good figure on this?) and going up...

(And of course, it's another thing about which Bush has been less than forthcoming. Is it even in the budget projections?)

So there's that part about the deficit. And the other part is doing stupid things in foreign policy, when we are as financially exposed as Rubin-Orszag-Sinai maintain. Their short paper is worth reading, for what it doesn't say, too.

Should we call it a "secondary" security fall-out from the war?

But economics IS INCLUDED in Military Studies. They study EVERYTHING.

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