Political roundup

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I still have little time to write much. I'll probably be able to contribute something of more significance tomorrow. Until then, here are some links to some important political goings-on during my time of not blogging much that I've collected in the hopes of blogging about some of them. Unfortunately I've not got the time and have still got lots of other ones that I hope I will blog about soon.

Bob Woodward, I assume unintentionally, makes the "Bush lied" crowd look very, very bad. Thanks to Le Sabot Post-Moderne for the link.

Rumsfeld's Iraq plan has come forth. Apparently many of the bad moves have been from Colin Powell's resistance to some great ideas. Who would have expected that? Certainly not anyone who listens to the common wisdom about Rumsfeld as the warmonger who wanted a unilateral U.S. takeover of the entire Middle East or from those suggesting Powell is a figurehead whose program for foreign policy has been virtually ignored in favor of Rumsfeld's. This puts the lie to all that.

The Niger uranium thing? More details now appear. I think this makes Bush look better than most critics were allowing, even though it's not absolutely pretty. The country really was Niger, and the person who met with the Iraqi official (a pretty high one) really did come away thinking it was about a uranium deal. The question is whether he had enough evidence to think that and whether the intelligence community should have probed more into his reasons for thinking that. (In all likelihood, that was what it was about.) If you listen to the "Bush lied" crowd, however, you'd get the impression that no one in Niger talked to anyone with any influence in the Iraqi government about anything at all, and the British simply made it up to make their case stronger.

Patriot Paradox compares the "worst president ever" with a large number of other presidents who did similar things. [For the record, I think FDR was the worst president ever, but I'm not about to defend that here.]

I enjoyed this fairly thorough treatment of Republicans and racism at Back of the Envelope. I believe someone made the argument this historian is responding to at Crooked Timber in the near past, but I'm not going to go try to find the post now. I remember thinking that I didn't have the resources to respond to it but that it wasn't a very historically sensitive argument.

I guess I'll end with a Thomas Sowell quote I stumbled across (well, I found it in a list of Thomas Sowell quotes I was reading through):

Those who pose as the biggest champions of the poor are almost invariably the biggest opponents of means tests. They want bigger government and the poor are just a means to that end. Whether the issue is housing, medical care or innumerable other things, the argument will be made that the poor are unable to get some benefit that the government ought to provide for them. But the minute you accept that, the switch takes place and suddenly we are no longer talking about some benefit confined to the poor but about "universal health care" or "affordable housing" as a "right" for everyone.

I would hesitate to conclude that they want big government and just assume that most of them don't realize that they tend to make bad policies to achieve their ends simply because they believe things are much simpler than they really are. I would also add one further example: affirmative action based on race rather than income (which California now does, I believe, instead of the now-illegal racial version). I'll have more to say on that when I finish the promised affirmative action post that's been stalled for a couple weeks due to piles of grading and multiple missed deadlines to return papers, which just made it worse.

18 Comments

That the Woodward bit shows that Bush didn't mislead us is outrageous. What it actually does is underscore that he did. It shows that Bush himself believed that the evidence was flimsy, and then told us it was foolproof. I cannot see what would be better evidence that he mislead us. This is ridiculous that anybody could somehow connect Bush's doubting of the evidence of WMD's, combined with his firm statements that there was no doubt, as somehow evidence that Bush did not mislead us. Absolutely ridiculous. The analogy here would be this. I tell my wife I have not cheated on her, and never have. I tell my friend that I do, regularly. She finds out I cheated, and calls me a liar. I can merely point out that I told my friend that I did cheat on her, and so did not lie.
How can a supposedly reputable journal be so idiotic to confuse Bush's truthfulness of his doubts as expressed to Tenet as somehow vindicating of his lies to Americans?

That's not even close to the sense I got from reading it. It seemed as if Bush was going out of his way to make sure he wasn't telling anyone anything false, and those who were giving him the information, including George Tenet, were insisting that he wasn't. I just don't see any way to read that as anything other than insistence on the truth and on an air-tight case with perhaps some naivety about whether it was such, trusting the word of a specialist over his initial commonsense reaction.

Cheating on a wife is a bad analogy, because you know if you've done it. Bush was trying to establish whether something was true. He was wondering if the evidence presented to him would convince others. George Tenet insisted that it was an airtight case, and Bush was asking for more proof.

As the piece says, Woodward portrays Bush as a "thoughtful consumer of intelligence" who kept telling Tenet to make sure no one stretched the case. So either he became convinced later, or the constant repetition weakened his resistance. I can't imagine anyone simply giving in and allowing something he strongly opposed to get through on such a key issue without something changing in his evaluation of it. Obviously what we see here isn't the whole story.

My point was that we're seeing an imbalanced picture if we conclude that Bush was willing to let anything at all justify going to war. He apparently wasn't. The question is how he got from the point of questioning it to accepting it. That's what this article doesn't say. Your uncharitable interpretation doesn't seem to me to be the only one, and it doesn't seem to me to be the best one during the period before we see anything else.

I guess there's one other element here. We keep getting conflicting reports of what Bush's problems are. Any such report is supposed to undermine our confidence in him as a trustworthy and reliable leader. Yet these reports are such different pictures of him that they can't all be true, even as tendencies. He can't be both a puppet of Cheney without independent thought and a careful evaluator of intelligence. See Jonah Golberg's expansion on this theme.

My conclusion is that we can't trust these reports if they can't even agree on whether Bush is a mere puppet who does whatever he's told or an absolutely controlling figure without giving any of his advisers room for independent thought. I think they're both drastically false pictures, and I think there's evidence for that. What I think can be absolutely shown is that those who want to criticize him want both to be simulataneously true, and yet the two pictures undermine each other, shedding much darkness on the reliability of any of their reports.

Hey, sorry about the somewhat harsh tone of that, it was late, I was tired, and the WSJ pissed me off (and my analogy is bad). Let me explain, the description of Bush in that passage from the Woodward book speaks not at all to the case of whether or not Bush misled us. All it can do is support interpretations gotten to by other means. If you already believe that Bush has misled us, which he did, then the Woodward passage just underscores how, while being careful in private, and wanting the best evidence possible, was willing to prevaricate and dissemble when necessary. That Bush knew himself that the evidence wasn't good enough just reinforces the idea that he misled us, since he didn't express this doubt to US, vs. Tennet, he expressed to us how foolproof the evidence was.
That this passage can somehow help point out how Bush didn't mislead us only makes sense if you already believed he didn't mislead us, since there is nothing in this passage that speaks to what Bush told the American public.
BTW, I do agree that there are many liberals out there who inconsistently denigrate Bush. At times, he is a puppet, other times, by the very same pundits, he is the puppet-master. I say we decide on how to consistently denigrate him, in the most strong and fair manner.

"My conclusion is that we can't trust these reports if they can't even agree..."

The existence of multiple, conflicting reports in no way means that the reliability of all of them is suspect. Clearly, some must be wrong, but to claim that all become unreliable is absurd.

Case in point, there are dozens of conflicting reports on the life of Christ (i.e. gospels). But despite these multiple, conflicting reports, we do not consider all of them to be untrustworthy. Far from it. Insead, we consider four of these reports to be supremely trustworthy.

It may be the case that none of the reports regarding Bush are trustworthy. I consider it more likely that some are trustworthy, while others, obviously, are not. (The other alternative is that Bush has no detectable weaknesses--an unlikely scenario for all persons besides Christ.) The trouble is determining which reports are actually trustworthy, and which are not.

"What I think can be absolutely shown is that those who want to criticize him want both to be simulataneously true, and yet the two pictures undermine each other..."

Not true. For example, a man can be domineered by his wife, and be domineering towrads his children. Both descriptors (domineering, and dominated) are true of the man, though seemingly contradictory.

I am not here attempting to show that Bush is both puppet and puppet-master, but I do not think that "conflicting" descriptors equals contradiction. Thus, these descriptors do not necessarily "undermine each other" (though they certainly can). They may simply point to a more complex picture of a man with complex and multiple flaws.

Such conflicting descriptors does present difficutly for the opposition party which, as all parties an modern elections do, seeks to paint a simple, sound-byteable, negative picture of the opponent. Sound-bytes allow little space for complexity or nuance. (A fact that Bush has used to good effect when charging Kerry of waffling on every position. Kerry, in many of the examples brought up, has a clear, consistent, nuanced reasoning for those positions, but they don't get accross well in a sound-byte culture.)

I think the puppet and puppet-master terms are supposed to be about the same people, including his top advisors. I do think these reports are wildly conflicting, unlike the gospels. It's closer to the different portraits of Jesus given by the Jesus Seminar. Some want him to be a pacifist, others a revolutionary. Both miss the real point. I do think that goes on with most of Bush's critics. I'm planning a post on this exact sort of thing when it comes to his Christianity.

We don't know which people giving the reports are trustworthy, and I'm inclined to suspect that all of them are to some degree untrustworthy. They all do have an agenda, and I think the fact that there are so many conflicts suggests that the agendas are driving a lot of what they're saying. The truth is somewhere in there too, but I'm witholding judgment on any of it until I can see a decent way to sort through all of it.

I should revise my conclusion. This exchange shows nothing about whether Bush misled us. What it does do is refute one of the most common stories about how he misled us, assuming it's a trustworthy account.

Fair enough. Your new conclusion is far more defensible.

Don't forget, agendas (is that the correct plural?) don't necessarily make an account untrustworthy either. If I witness someone I hate commiting a crime, my eyewitness account should not be tossed away simply because I have an agaena (I hate the guy).

Of the accounts what criticise Bush, I am most inclined to believe the ones that don't follow the Democratic Party line (in this case, "Bush misled us"), and those voices so far have been Woodward and Clarke.

Sure they have agendas (sp?), but it is not the typical "I'm a democrat and want a democrat elected at all costs" agenda. From what I can tell, they are motivated by something else completely (though I may not be sure what).

Actually, 'agendum' is the singular, and 'agenda' is the plural, if you want to go back to the Latin, but usage has shifted to the point where no one knows that. I think it's hard to argue that standard written English requires something that almost no one is aware of.

I'm aware that having an agenda isn't necessarily bad. It's not so much the mere presence of the agenda but what the agenda might be (selling lots of books, getting revenge on someone who fired you, simply making a political opponent look bad no matter the cost to the truth) that worries me. It wouldn't surprise me at all if something like this is going on with both Clarke and Woodward. It may well not be, but it wouldn't surprise me.

The differences between the way Clarke told the story earlier how the book tells it, and the way he testified at the 9-11 commission send me a clear signal that he shapes his comments to the audience in a way that sometimes hides the bigger picture. I don't know enough about Woodward to say anything about him.

"It's not so much the mere presence of the agenda but what the agenda might be"

For me, it is not so much what the agenda might be as much as how much the person is willing to distort the truth for the sake of the agenda. Even the worst agenda can present a valid truth.

I find it odd that Republicans during this political cycle (I haven't paid attention to any others...is this a trend or a new thing? I don't know.) have attempted to discredit every book critical to Bush by claiming that the agenda of the book writer is to sell lots of books.

Well, yeah. Everyone who writes a book has that as one of their agenda. But that is not a valid criticism in and of itself. The accusation and implication are that this agenda has filled the books with untruths. But is there proof to back up such accusations? Hard to say because people quickly make up their minds that the authors are discredited without hearing any proof and the news cycle moves on before proof can be analyzed.

(Interestingly, I've never heard a Republican attempt to discredit Coulter or O'Reilly by saying that their agenda is to sell books. If one is really consistent about the "selling lots of books is a bad agenda" idea, then shouldn't they be discredited too? Shouldn't that argument work for both sides of the aisle? The answer: no. It shouldn't work for either side of the aisle.)

I'll wait to defend Woodward and Clarke till I can prepare a proper post, and that will have to wait until after my final exam tomorrow.

People say it about O'Reilly all the time. I think even Al Franken has said it about him (despite the existence of his own books that he's trying to sell). People usually reserve harsher comments for Ann Coulter. I can't say she doesn't invite it by hiding her arguments behind insults. As for why this election rather than others, I think it's just that there's so much more media coverage now than there ever has been.

My problem is when someone knows that someone will want to hear something and says it only for that reason to make money. People did give a reason for saying this about Clarke, having to do with his changing story. Why else would there be such drastic changes in his evaluation of something during a time when he didn't really change in terms of what information he knew? Some of their claims about this sort of thing might be explained, but there were a lot of them, and some of them seemed to me to be seriously different from his previous evaluations. Opportunism seemed a strong possibility to those wondering about this, though mere vengeance was another explanation. Either could be done so easily while sacrificing the truth, and given the changing story there was reason to suspect this.

I think this depiction of who is buying which books shows quite clearly that the books on each side are not being bought by the other side. I'm sure there are books on both sides that are largely honest. Still, I'd be a little more trusting of the very few books in the middle than I would of the books on either side, at least on matters that I know very little about. Bob Woodward's book, interestingly, isn't even being bought by this small crossover population, so it's not in that group that I'd be more likely to trust.

I probably shouldn't have brought O'Rielly and Coulter into this. Suffice it to say that I think such a spurious argument shouldn't apply to them either.

Again, I'll save my defense of Clarke and Woodward for a full post to come with a few days.

That chart is really interesting. Though not entirely surprising (sadly enough). There were a few surprises, which I will include in my later post.

At any rate, I was just trying to challenge your epistemology. I am frequently frustrated with people's reasons for dismissing agruments or dissenting voices. It is rarely based on the issues of truth directly, but on more peripheral matters like "is the speaker a criminal?", or "does the speaker have an agenda?", or "does the audience want to hear what the speaker is saying?", or "is the speaker making money off of what he/she is saying?" none of which actually has a direct bearing on the truth of what the speaker is saying.

But people find it easier to discredit the speaker than to discredit the particular words that the speaker is saying. This is particularly maddening in the fast-news-cycle slander-ridden election season this year. When absolutely every source on both sides is discredited in such a manner, then on what basis can we possibly make a decision?

We must actually return to the slow process of evaluating issues on their actual merits instead of on who says them. After careful examination we can then build up a new list of who are generally trustworthy, while recognizing that even the untrustworthy ones can still contribute true and useful information to a debate.

(By the way, if you would care to email me a link to documentation of the "drastic changes in his evaluation of something during a time when he didn't really change in terms of what information he knew?" that wuld be really handy for when I write my post defending Clarke.)

My epistemology? I was presenting possible scenarios and asserting none. What I think has gone on in the cases I've seen is that someone can't think of any possible motivation to say such things except that it's merely to make money or merely to bring down a political official, with no regard for the truth. They then abbreviate it to the thing you say doesn't affect the truth on its own. I think it's uncharitable to take them as saying that, though.

I don't have access to whatever led me to my conclusion about Clarke. I can give you what seem to me to be the best sources about Clarke that I can find with a simple Google search and some searches of sites I like. I haven't carefully evaluated any of these, but it's worth looking at them if you're going to try to refute the charge.

http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,115099,00.html
http://www.cnn.com/2004/ALLPOLITICS/03/24/clarke.bush.binladen/index.html
http://www.instapundit.com/archives/014732.php
http://www.tblog.com/templates/index.php?bid=noguru&static=136754
http://www.worldmagblog.com/archives/002291.html

I'm not sure how that has anything to do with my post, which was merely a link to some specific proposals Rumsfeld had that didn't happen. How slimy and weasely Chalabi is seems to be another topic entirely.

Well, the link in your post was to another blog that quoted at length an article in the National Review by Chalabi sympathizer Barbara Lerner who makes an argument that "Rumsfeld's plan was to train and equip � and then transport to Iraq � some 10,000 Shia and Sunni freedom fighters led by Shia exile leader Ahmed Chalabi and his cohorts in the INC, the multi-ethnic anti-Saddam coalition he created." Furthermore, she goes on to talk about how this plan would have given hope for a new Iraq and Middle East, and how the failure to implement is the central failure in post-war Iraq. She places the blame at the feet of the State Dept and CIA, long time skeptics of Chalabi.

Traditionally, the CIA has placed a high level of of distrust on information from political refugees such as Chalabi because of obvious political motivations that may color the resulting analysis. The counter-charge to those who think as Ms. Lerner does is that such distrust was never placed on any information that Chalabi or his agents in the INC provided to the DOD policy wonks who drafted the original post-war plans ( or passed along pre-war WMD information he provided as an acceptable rational for war in the first place). These included alleged "fairy tales" about how easy it would be to establish a liberal government and bring together various Sunni, Shia and Kurdish factions without alienating Iran and all the while building a peace with Israel that would not require conceding any land to the Palestinians. Instead, the information was accepted uncritically and post-war plans centered around economic revitalization of the Iraq oil industry and other matters, leaving political questions, alternate scenarios and contingency plans woefully underprepared. That, at least as I understand it, is the counter-charge.

What is interesting is that the same week that Ms. Lerner publishes her piece in the National Review, undoubtedly with information from DOD, stories appear elsewhere about what a double crossing snake Chalabi is, undoubtedly from sources within State/CIA. Or another way to look at it is that both sides of an internal Bush administration argument/power struggle over post-war Iraq are leaking stuff to the press to cover their rears over the mess that now exists. Who is right and wrong? I have no clue, but I lean towards State/CIA as taking the more cautious and proper approach. The more power is shifted away from the DOD over Iraq and towards State and the UN, the more I think that failures are ultimately a result of failed DOD policy, (although probably not as horrid as some accounts tell it).

I provided links to the websites above because regardless of what is really going on, and I am sure that very few really do know what is going on, it is an extremely complex and messy story. One that I think deserved a more full telling then a brief link and comment. More importantly, the story points to failed leadership at the highest levels, unable to bring together different factions within the administration. As a result, what emerged was a confused policy with real costs and consequences for America.

OK. I was just unsure what connection you were trying to draw. Your explanation cleared it up. I was unfamiliar enough with Chalabi's name that I didn't connect the links you gave about him with the fact that he was also listed among the people Rumsfeld wanted to have lead the way in a northern assault on Iraq.

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