Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Franken States it Plain

I just finished reading Al Franken's excellent new book The Truth - With Jokes. I especially liked this paragraph:


This war cannot be about partisan politics. But for George W. Bush and Karl Rove and Dick Cheney, nothing but partisan politics exists. Man's genetic relationship to apes is a partisan political issue. The effect of atmospheric carbon on the Earth's absorption of heat from the sun is, to them, a partisan political issue. The likelihood of Terri Schiavo joining the Rockettes is a partisan political issue. And on this, the most solemn duty of a commander in chief, war, they still can't reach past politics and touch reality. They will not die in battle. Their children will not die in battle. Short of a Congress with a backbone, there is nothing that will shake them from the fantasy that they're winning this war. And that the only battle that requires attention is the battle of perception. As we lose the hearts and minds of Iraqis day after day, the White House's obsession remains the hearts and minds and future votes of Americans. (Page 263)


Well said.

There are many people in this country who think they are clever and above it all for saying that the two parties are equally bad. Those people are wrong. The Republicans are worse. Much, much worse.

I'll be interested in reading reviews of Franken's book in conservative media outlets. My prediction is that they will spend a lot of time smearing Franken as a partisan, without actually addressing any of his arguments. They will not find any significant errors of fact, though they will probably find some nits to pick. Finally, they will spend much of their space bashing Clinton.

21 Comments:

At 2:43 PM, Anonymous Fred said...

You know what's worse than Republicans not giving full weight to the problems with Iraq? The glee that the Democrats exhibit as they proudly trumpet that the US death toll in Iraq is at 2000. They treat it like some kind of Jerry Lewis telethon. Hooray!!! We've reached our goal!!!! Rejoice!!!

I vote with the person, not the party, but I think the Dems have such a tough time because they're seen as the obnoxious kid in school whose only retort in an argument is "nuh uh!" And their entire platform these days seems to be based on poking holes in the Republicans, rather than actually offering any actual plan.

It's a lot like the ID folks believing that if they find faults with evolution it proves them right, instead of proving they're right by, well, actually proving something.

 
At 3:25 PM, Anonymous paulc said...

Hooray!!! We've reached our goal!!!! Rejoice!!!

Really, you can point to even a single example of someone outside of al Qaeda "proudly trumpet[ing]" the death toll? I've heard plenty of disgust, fear, and shame, but no pride in these numbers.

You know what's worse than Republicans not giving full weight to the problems with Iraq?

I dunno, is it self-styled contrarians doing their "pox on both houses" schtick?

 
At 7:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If John Kerry had been elected, there would be even more troops in Iraq. And where are the democrats calling for withdrawal? I don't hear them.

The Republicans may be "worse" in some ways—that they are incompetent fuckwits is beyond question—but I'm not sure that a Democratic administration would be better for, say, the Iraqi people.

Maybe Democrats in power would be better for the domestic population in some way... Maybe...

 
At 9:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"You know what's worse than Republicans not giving full weight to the problems with Iraq?"

How about: Telling lies to convince Americans to invade Iraq instead of focusing on Al Quaida?
VKW

 
At 1:25 AM, Anonymous Rob said...

"There are many people in this country who think they are clever and above it all for saying that the two parties are equally bad. Those people are wrong. The Republicans are worse. Much, much worse."

This is everything I've ever said about centrists and independents who think they are "above" partisanship summed up into one short passage.

 
At 4:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Anonymous [above] said...
If John Kerry had been elected, there would be even more troops in Iraq."

Wrong, there would be no American troops there. Iraq did not provoke attack- Junior entered office already provoked. See Paul O'Neil's and Richard Clarke's books.

 
At 4:59 AM, Anonymous wolfwalker said...

One of the reasons I dislike most Republicans is that every time they try talking about any issue to do with science, they inevitably wind up talking out an orifice other than the normal one. The C/E debate is the worst example, but far from the only one. Global climate change, pollution, endangered species, disease prevention, the list goes on and on. Ask the average Republican a question about any scientific topic, and inevitably their answer will be based in whole or in part on false facts and bad assumptions.

OTOH, one of the reasons I dislike most Democrats is that when they try talking about any issue to do with anything other than science, they all-too-often wind up talking out an orifice other than the normal one. And Democrats really ought to know better, because Democrats have the example of "Republicans on science issues" to learn from.

Case in point: Franken thinks the Iraq war has been a failure? Based on what? On the way the mainstream media has reported it? Well, I know a bunch of people both online and in real life who have actually been to Iraq, or who have family or friends serving in Iraq, and the consensus among them, who have been there, is that the mainstream media reports are basically a pack of lies. We are indeed winning in Iraq. Slowly, clumsily, with lots of false starts and mistakes, but we are winning. Terrorist attacks are down. Deaths of Iraqi civilians are down. Places that were not safe six months ago are safe, or at least safer, now. The Iraqi security forces are improving steadily in training and skill and battlefield effectiveness. The terrorists are losing support, largely because they're killing more Iraqis than Americans, and have been for more than a year. A successful election in January, a successful constitutional referendum two weeks ago, a real campaign starting for the upcoming parliamentary elections, and even radical religious leaders are starting to suggest their followers are better off fighting the Western way -- with ballots, not bullets.

If this is a failure, I'd hate to see what Franken considers a success.

 
At 6:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wolfwalker, it takes a practiced eye to see the situation in Iraq as improving. Last month was the deadliest for our troops since "Mission Accomplished."

The press may distort "human interest" stories; but it is hard to say they distort the fact that massive bombs go off regularly in Baghdad.

Al Qaeda now operates out of Iraq, they never did so before our invasion. Is that an inprovement?

 
At 8:10 AM, Anonymous wolfwalker said...

"Al Qaeda now operates out of Iraq, they never did so before our invasion. Is that an inprovement?"

See, this is what I meant: your question is based on misinformation. Al-Qaeda was operating out of Iraq for years before the invasion, with Saddam's tacit approval. The group Ansar al-Islam, based in northern Iraq before the war, was an affiliate of al-Qaeda. There's a good bit of evidence that Saddam had regular contacts with senior leaders of al-Qaeda. It's known Saddam was involved in the first World Trade Center bombing, which was an al-Qaeda operation. There's even a hint -- unconfirmed, unreliable, of unknown truth-value, but still a hint -- that Iraqi agents were peripherally involved with the 9/11 atrocities.

What al-Qaeda wasn't doing before the war was operating in Iraq, using bombs and bullets to murder innocent Iraqis. While I mourn the loss of innocent lives, I consider that a victory because now Iraqis are seeing the evil of terrorism first-hand, and are therefore more inclined to reject it and the murderous, hate-filled ideology that lies behind it.

 
At 8:30 AM, Anonymous kb5zhh said...

But Northern Iraq was the part over which saddam had no control. The opperation of the camps was unstoppable by Saddam. Oddly enough, it was stoppable by Bush, but he declined to stop those camps.

 
At 11:15 AM, Blogger Michael "Sotek" Ralston said...

" It's known Saddam was involved in the first World Trade Center bombing, which was an al-Qaeda operation."

Bull. It was repeatedly IMPLIED by Bush that that's the case - but it has never been explicitly stated.

Perhaps you have some evidence that outweighs the simple fact that Saddam and Al-Qaida were from very different branches of Islam, and they preached against him, too?

 
At 12:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wolfwalker said: "There's even a hint -- unconfirmed, unreliable, of unknown truth-value, but still a hint -- that Iraqi agents were peripherally involved with the 9/11 atrocities."

Richard Clarke, who was the best-informed person on the topic, doesn't buy this. Former UN arms-inspector Scott Ritter makes the strong case that Saddam and bin Laden were deep seated adversaries.

Regardless, it is not worth one life to act on "a hint -- unconfirmed, unreliable, of unknown truth-value[.]"

 
At 12:51 PM, Anonymous kevin said...

"We are indeed winning in Iraq."

What? What are we winning?

Winning by killing a bunch of dirt-poor red-necks after we envaded and occupied their country?

Winning by establishing a theocracy for radical islam?

Or is it by winning our war for more oil? or causing the overthrow of arab governments? or by expanding the war to Syria and Iran?

Bin Laden hated Saddam and Saddam liked to do nothing better than kill off those religous hoople-heads...and you know what? the US was very happy to supply sadamm with weapons and intel during the iran-iraq war just because he was good at killing off shiites.

At the end Saddam had no chemical, biological or neculear weapons. None. No capcacity to make any...no wmd-related programs...nothing...we went to war for a lie...no no no a lie...for many lies told over and over...this bush regime was illegitimate at the start and is completely financially and morraly corrupt

 
At 1:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I actually live in Iraq, and I have to objectively disagree that 'we' are losing it.

I came here firmly believing Iraq was a lost cause, and it was on the verge of collapse, based solely on the news coverage.

I've seen nothing but improvement in the last year. There are spikes and surges of violence and casualties, but there are moments of complete progress that are hard to comprehend in person and impossible to relay in writing.

I am not in the military, and have no military affiliation. I work directly with Iraqis. These are proud and brave people, willing to risk their lives to work with US contractors to make a better life for their children and their country.

Their strength and perserverance is something to behold, and it really puts to shame the general attitude of the US populace. I mean, the excitement on the days leading up to the last referendum, they were excited JUST TO VOTE, no other reason. Contrast that with the total contempt or indifference most Americans put into the thought of voting.

It is a stark contrast.

OTOH, I don't disagree with any of the rest of the article, just the Iraq part.

 
At 2:37 PM, Blogger Jason said...

Anonymous-

Your service in Iraq is commendable, but you should realize that other people have come back from Iraq with very different impressions from what you dsecribe. The idea that things are going badly in that country is not a media creation from nothing. It is based in large part on the first-hand reporting of people, like you, who have been there.

It's hard for someone on the other side of the world to get an accurate impression of what is going on in Iraq based on a few localized news reports. But you can't ignore the fact that U. S. fatalities in October were higher than in any month since January. Surely that puts a damper on your statement that things are objectively getting better.

The part of the Franken quote I had really intended people to focus on was the idea that partisan politics is all the Republican leadership seems to care about, even on scientific issues like evolution and global warming. I also think it's undeniable that the administration was very dishonest in its claims about Iraq leading up to the war, and their lack of planning and general incompetence led to far more chaos and death than needed to have occurred. One thing Franken does very well is document how all of the problems we are facing in Iraq now were predicted by various government agencies, but that the Bush administration, in their arrogance, igrnored these warnings.

It is possible that, despite this, the war was justified anyway. I'm an agnostic on that question. I have no moral qualms about invading a foreign country to depose a brutal dictator, especially one who is arguably a threat to US interests. But it seemed clear to me that the Bush administration was not playing straight during the build-up to war, and it seemed equally clear that they were not competent to oversee so massive a project as trying to put in place a democrcacy in Iraq. For practical reasons, I think the war was a bad idea.

 
At 7:02 AM, Anonymous wolfwalker said...

I'm not going to try to answer all the anti-Iraq War claims; suffice only to say that if one reads non-liberal blogs (and no, I don't mean "conservative" blogs; no one who reads them could call people like InstaPundit "conservative"), one gets a very different view of things. The comparisons between the liberal view of the Iraq War and the creationist view of evolutionary theory are uncanny: the data is out there in all kinds of source documents, but antiwar people are so utterly certain they're right that they unconsciously refuse to even recognize the data that says they're wrong.

Jason, you specifically wrote: "The part of the Franken quote I had really intended people to focus on was the idea that partisan politics is all the Republican leadership seems to care about, even on scientific issues like evolution and global warming."

Indeed, in some cases the Republicans make things partisan when they don't have to. OTOH, in other cases it's Democrats who are at fault, and in still others the issue is naturally partisan from the start. Is there anyone reading this who does not see C/E as primarily a partisan struggle? Well, you'd be surprised just how many "conservatives" agree with us pro-evolution types, and think creationism shouldn't be in public school science classes. I don't think anyone here will deny that National Review is a conservative magazine -- but if you read their blog The Corner, you'll see that none of the regular staff are anti-evolution or pro-creationism in public schools.

You also wrote: "I also think it's undeniable that the administration was very dishonest in its claims about Iraq leading up to the war, and their lack of planning and general incompetence led to far more chaos and death than needed to have occurred."

The lack of planning for the postwar period was indeed a failure of leadership, and should have been done better. On the other hand, your claim about "administration dishonesty leading up to the war" is still another example of reasoning from bad information. If what you've read in the regular media, which is what you've used to form that opinion, was correct, then your opinion would also be correct. But the information is wrong. For example, did you know that:

* as of Jan 1, 2003, Saddam was known to have purchased tens of tons of the chemicals required to make VX nerve gas, and those chemicals were unaccounted for? VX is so toxic that a few grams of it can kill dozens of people, and Saddam seemed to have enough raw materials to make tons of it.

* as of Jan 1, 2003, Saddam was known to have large quantities of bacterial growth medium suitable for breeding anthrax and other bioweapon-quality microbes?

* after the invasion, American troops found factories that were actively engaged in making liquid rocket fuel -- the kind of fuel used only by Scud-B ballistic missiles. Saddam was supposed to have gotten rid of all his Scuds and destroyed all technology related to them after the Gulf War.

* more than a year after the invasion, at least one IED was found by American troops that included production artillery rounds of a type known as "binary chemical rounds:" that is, an artillery round with a compartmented warhead, so that two reagents are kept separate while the shell is stored, then when it's fired they mix to produce a lethal gas weapon. Saddam never admitted to having any binary chemical rounds, yet this IED included production chemical rounds. Production rounds imply a production line.

* The final postwar report issued by the American weapons inspectors listed at least a dozen WMD programs Saddam was working on. The only thing that wasn't found after the invasion was large quantities of ready-for-use biological and chemical weapons. Just about everything else we suspected was there, we found: plans to reactivate the A-bomb program, plans for building armed UAVs, plans and prototype equipment to manufacture chemical and biological weapons...

* the Senate report on prewar intelligence concluded that the CIA screwed up in the data and analyses it supplied to the White House. Put simply, Bush was misinformed by the intelligence agencies that he inherited from previous presidents.

* interrogations of former Iraqi generals revealed that they were lying to each other and to their superiors about what they actually had in the way of chemical and biological weapons. The data that our intel agencies got on Saddam's WMD program status was mainly derived from SigInt -- signal intelligence, or intercepting communications between Saddam and his underlings. There was no second source that could be used to verify that data. If the source data was corrupt because the people involved were lying to each other, any analysis based on that data would be flawed.

* The last reports Saddam made to answer UN demands for compliance with the WMD-inspection program, in December 2002, included known lies.

* I've seen claims that certain foreign intelligence agencies went so far as to forge information about Saddam's WMD programs and then pass those to American agents as genuine, with the specific intent of deceiving and embarassing the Bush administration.

* Finally, never forget that every intelligence agency in the Western world also believed Saddam had WMD programs ongoing in January 2003.

All of this is material I've seen in various official and semiofficial sources I've seen on the Web. I'd provide links if I could, but it can be hard to go back and find the primary source for something I read two years ago.

See what I mean? There's a lot more going on behind the scenes than most people ever know, and what looks from the outside like "the info was obviously wrong and Bush himself personally knew that and lied about it" becomes much murkier when you know the whole story. Maybe Bush did lie. But it's equally probable -- more probable, if you ask me -- that he was misled and deceived and just plain failed by the people he trusted to give him good information.

 
At 9:31 AM, Blogger Jason said...

wolfwalker-

On the creation/evolution issue, it is certainly true that there are many conservatives who reject creationism. But it is equally true that the Republican leadership is four-square behind teaching creationism in some form, and hostile to evolution. Meanwhile, there are no prominent Democrats who have supported teaching creationism or ID. In every state legislature where this has become an issue it is Republicans who are supporting it. Every major conservative magazine (National Review, The Weekly Standard, The American Spectator, Commentary), not to mention websites like Town Hall, routinely bashes evolution and suppors ID. No liberal magazine that I know of has supported teaching creationism and several (The American Prospect, The New Republic, The Progressive) have explicitly come out against it. National Review listed Darwin's Black Box as one of the hundred best nonfiction books of the twentieth century. Evolution/creationism is clearly a partisan political issue, even though it clearly should not be.

Left out of your impressive litany of facts about Saddam Hussein's weapons programs was any mention of the reconstituted nuclear program Dick Cheney warned us about, or the looming mushroom cloud Bush told us to fear. You say the only thing we haven't found were large collections of ready to use biological and chemical weapons. But that is precisely what Bush told us they had. We also know that many of the specific facts alleged by Colin Powell in his speech to the U.N (aluminum tubes and the like) were false. We know from Richard Clarke that the administration was looking for an excuse to invade Iraq from the time they took office, and we know from the Downing Street memo that they were trying to fit the intelligence to policy.

The centerpiece of the Bush case for war was not VX nerve gas or bacterial growth medium. It certainly wasn't little bullets with two compartments for keeping chemicals separate.

It was the threat of nuclear weapons and the implication (occasionally made explicit) that Saddam Hussein was in some way responsible for 9/11. Those were the claims, repeated over and over again by every administration official, that were manifestly dishonest.

We were told that the urgency for the war, the reason we could not wait to pursue more diplomatic solutions, was that Hussein was an immediate threat to us. Every one of the facts you listed shows that to be false.

Do you think that if Bush had based his case for war on bacterial growth agent, VX rocket fuel, and SCUD missiles that the polls would have shown such high support for the war? Most (perhaps all) of the facts you listed have been reported in mainstream venues, but since they have little to do with the case Bush made in the lead-up to the war they justifiably do not receive much attention in discussions of this issue.

The business about every foreign intelligence service believing that Hussein had WMD is an especially annoying talking point, since we do not know the basis for that agreement. In other words, did each of these intelligence services independently arrive at the same conclusion about Hussein, or were they simply accepting the data and conclusions Bush presented to them.

In the end I don't think Bush deserves the benefit of the doubt. Everything in Bush's history tells us he's completely ruthless in the pursuit of his political goals, and he surrounds himself with equally ruthless people. Why do you find it implausible that he would be deliberately dishonest on these issue?

 
At 12:46 PM, Anonymous Kevin said...

"* as of Jan 1, 2003, Saddam was known to have large quantities of bacterial growth medium suitable for breeding anthrax and other bioweapon-quality microbes?"

errr no,

"In its final report to the Security Council, UNSCOM determined that Iraq had not accounted for 520 kilograms of yeast extract growth medium specifically for anthrax"

meaning like the rest of Iraq's programs they were riddled through with incompetence and waste. NO one "knows" where that crap was.

"as of Jan 1, 2003, Saddam was known to have purchased tens of tons of the chemicals required to make VX nerve gas, and those chemicals were unaccounted for?"

well if you start counting in 1987 yes he did but a bunch of stuff. But the respected Federation of American Scientists provide a detailed account dated 11/1998 that provides a good explaination of what happened: http://www.fas.org/nuke/guide/iraq/cw/program.htm

"Iraq stated in 1995 that it produced a total of only 10 tons of choline from the di-isopropylamine and ethylene oxide and approximately 3 tons of methyl thiophosphonyl dichloride from the phosphorous pentasulphide and methyl phosphonyl chloride. From this, Iraq states that it produced experimental quantities of VX (recently increased to 260 kg from 160 kg). Iraq has recently admitted that three 250-gauge aerial bombs had been filled with VX for experimental purposes.

Iraq claimed that further attempts to produce VX were unsuccessful and the programme was finally abandoned in September 1988. According to Iraq's account, the remaining choline from the 10 tons was burned in early 1988 and the remaining 247 tons of phosphorous pentasulphide was discarded in 1991 "

and you know what ... Iraq's disfunctional weapons program fell apart from its own mistakes and corruption.

and I'm sure all the other listed points are false or mis-represented.

 
At 10:05 AM, Anonymous wolfwalker said...

Jason, you asked, "Why do you find it implausible that he would be deliberately dishonest on these issue?" (meaning, the reasons for the Iraq War)

There are several reasons:

1) all of the prewar data on Iraq's alleged WMD programs, and support for terrorism, was developed under a different president, much of it as a result of the UNSCOM inspections program following the 1991 Gulf War. Much of that data showed a consistent tendency for Western intel agencies to underestimate the extent of Saddam's weapons programs. We discovered that he was much closer to a nuke in 1991 then previously thought. We didn't even suspect he had a bioweapons program until 1995, and when we found out about it we were shocked at how advanced it was. And so on.

2) much of what we know now about the status of Saddam's WMD programs simply wasn't known in 2002, when Bush was making the case for war. You can argue if you like that "Bush did know and lied about it," but then you run into the next reason:

3) if he was lying, why did he do it in such a stupid and obvious and certain-to-be-discovered way? It would be impossible to conceal the deception after Saddam's regime proved to have no WMDs. Surely if he's smart and corrupt enough to have planned and carried out such an enormous deception, he'd be smart and corrupt enough to foresee the results of the deception being discovered, and take steps to make sure it wasn't discovered! So why didn't he arrange to plant real WMD's in Iraq for the inspectors to "find" postwar? A CIA that could get accurate information out of Saddam's Iraq could certainly handle the job of planting a few real WMDs.

4) Finally, as an amateur military historian I know something of how the intel game is played, and something of how past wars have gone. I also know something about the levels of infighting and just plain incompetence that riddle the US intelligence agencies. Given what I know, the hypothesis that Bush was telling the-truth-as-he-knew-it and got blindsided by reality is more plausible than the hypothesis that he knew all along the data was wrong. Such blunders happen all the time in intelligence. In fact, it's harder to find a case where the intel got everything right than where they got significant things wrong.

 
At 11:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wolfwalker said: "much of what we know now about the status of Saddam's WMD programs simply wasn't known in 2002"

Actually, Scott Ritter (chief UNSCOM weapons inspector) points out that the paot-invasion discoveries were in accord with what UNSCOM reported pre-war.

Ww asked: "if [Bush] was lying, why did he do it in such a stupid and obvious and certain-to-be-discovered way?"

That question is a no-brainer. He was on a mission from God. When the truth came out, he would just do what he has been doing: "Too bad about all the dead people; but, somehow, I was right."

 
At 11:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In my previous note- "paot-invasion" should be "post-invasion."

 

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