Thursday, November 17, 2005

Fisking Mr. Cohen

posted by Rob at 9:02 AM

Standing in for Jenny Finch today is the Washington Post's Richard Cohen. I'll be playing the role of Albert Pujols. The game is headlined "Ignoring the Facts."

Here's the pitch:
In one of the most intellectually incoherent major speeches ever delivered by a minor president, George W. Bush blamed "some Democrats and antiwar critics" last week for changing their minds about the war in Iraq and now saying they were deceived.
Nice dig there, describing as "minor" a man who helped liberate two countries and dozens of millions of Muslims, continued his party's electoral dominance in D.C. and beyond, and reshaped the country's highest court in a conservative image. "Minor," indeed.
"It is deeply irresponsible to rewrite the history of how that war began," the president said. Yes, sir, but it is even more deeply irresponsible to rewrite the history of how history was rewritten in the first place.
At least he's admitting that history was "rewritten in the first place." Don't want to remember any of this, do we?
It is the failure to acknowledge this -- not merely that mistakes were made -- that is so troubling about Bush and others in his administration. Yes, the president is right: Foreign intelligence services also thought Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Yes, he is right that members of Congress drew the same conclusion -- although none of them saw the raw intelligence that the White House did. And he is right, too, that Saddam Hussein had simply ignored more than a dozen U.N. resolutions demanding that he reopen his country to arms inspectors. When it came to U.N. resolutions, Hussein was notoriously hard of hearing.
Okay. I count one, two, three rights, though one came with a silly caveat. While it may be true that Congress was not able to see "the raw intelligence that the White House did," it is journalistic malpractice to not add that according to the Robb-Silverman Commission "evidence for war was more dramatically presented to the president than it was to Congress." Yet even with that diluted message Democrats - or at least the the no more than six senators and a handful of House members who read the 92-page National Intelligence Estimate beyond the five-page executive summary - echoed the president.
We can endlessly debate the facts of the Iraq war -- and we will. More important, though, is the mind-set of those in the administration, from the president on down, who had those facts -- or, as we shall see, none at all -- and mangled them in the cause of going to war with Iraq. For example, the insistence that Hussein was somehow linked to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 -- a leitmotif of Bush administration geopolitical fantasy -- tells you much more than whether this or that fact was right. It tells you that to Bush and his people, the facts did not matter.
Journalistic malpractice sin No. 2 - where is the evidence that Bush pimped the "geopolitical fantasy"? Two days after the 9/11 attacks a Washington Post poll found 78 percent of Americans thought it likely that Saddam "was personally involved in the September 11 terrorist attacks."

So is Cohen arguing that - in less than two days time - this "minor" man was able to brainwash most of the country into believing a "geopolitical fantasy"?

Now, let's review his "as we shall see" - all two so-called examples of it:
It did not matter that Mohamed Atta, the leader of the Sept. 11 terrorists, never met with Iraqis in Prague, as high-level Bush officials claimed.
Actually, the Czech government "claimed" the two met. And, actually, according to a investigation, they did meet, though it's unlikely they discussed 9/11 plans - just another terrorist attack. (I apologize for the shocking revelation that there may have been a al Qaeda-Iraq relationship).
It did not matter that Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, was finding no evidence of an Iraqi nuclear weapons program.
FYI - this is the same Mohamed ElBaradei who is now headed to Iran to try and convince them to stop their nuclear weapons program. FYI II - This is the same nuclear program of which there is no proof, according to Cohan's own paper. FYI III - Isn't that ironic, don'tcha think?
None of that mattered to Vice President Cheney, who warned of a "reconstituted" nuclear weapons program, promoted the nonexistent Prague meeting and went after legitimate critics with a zealousness that Tony Soprano would have admired: "We will not hesitate to discredit you," Cheney told ElBaradei and Hans Blix, the other important U.N. inspector. ElBaradei recently won the Nobel Peace Prize. Cheney's gonna have to wait for his.
Wow. Cohen plays the Nobel card, that high-minded pristine prize eternally lofted above partisan geopolitical politics and given to such saints of peace as the thankfully late Yassar Arafat.

What is even more annoying is that Cohen - who characterized Bush as "minor" - uses as an insult that Cheney threatened to "discredit" those who disagreed with him. Kettle, meet pot.

Why is it when a Republican disagrees with anyone - even so-called "legitimate critics" - a mafia metaphor springs to keyboard? And shouldn't Cheney be considered a "legitimate critic" of ElBaradei and Blix? If not, who would be? Are Republicans ever allowed to be "legitimate critics" of anyone?
Nobody has been repudiated by Bush for incompetence and dishonesty regarding Iraq. Instead, some -- former CIA director George "Slam-Dunk" Tenet comes to mind -- have received presidential medals.
I'll give Cohen a strike here, though it's off a foul tip. Where is the proof of "incompetence and dishonesty"? If the collection of what was later deemed faulty intelligence is deemed "incompetence and dishonesty," then most of the world's intelligence bodies need to be repudiated. Please note that a lot of what was later deemed faulty intelligence was collected prior to Bush/Cheney.
What's more, there's evidence aplenty that the sloppy thinking, false analogies and bad history that led to the Iraq war remain the cultural style of the White House. The president's recent speech, for instance, conflates all sorts of terrorist incidents -- from Israel to Chechnya -- neglecting that they are specific to their regions and have nothing to do with al Qaeda. Every bombing somehow becomes an attack on Western values "because we stand for democracy and peace." Oh, stop it!
Yeah! Stop it! Stop the complaints that Bush's "illegal war" has increased the number of terrorist and terrorist attacks in the world, then complain when said increases are put into the context of an attack on Western values.

Also, please stop ignoring the fact that terrorism has a history in a region long-tainted with hatred for the Great Satan. Stop ignoring all the terrorist attacks against said Satan prior to 9/11 which needed - but never were - sufficiently addressed.

The 9/11 attacks raised the stakes and demanded a reponse (uh-oh, here he goes blaming Iraq for 9/11!) No, I am not. I am arguing - and Cohen ignoring - the plain fact that America has been at war with militant Islamists years prior to 9/11 and that war needed to be taken to the aggressors. Iraq, which had a relationship with terrorists, was in defiance of the Persian Gulf War ceasefire and several UN resolutions. It was also actively engaged in hostile fire with the US and international military.

One of the primary pre-war arguments was whether the U.S. would allow Iraq to grow into a formidable source for continued anti-Western terrorist attacks. Our - and the world's - best guess estimate at the time was that Iraq was poised to become just that. Bush decided to act.

What am I missing that Cohen so well sees?
It would be nice, fitting and pretty close to sexually exciting if Bush somehow acknowledged his mistakes and said he had learned from them.
This is Cohen's real complaint. That damn Bush just won't admit a mistake, an admission Cohen and his ilk could endlessly repeat as they giggle amongst themselves about a "minor president" who admitted he screwed up something big. They'll leave out the part where Bush refuses to give up and retreat like they wish he would, thus making meaningless the sacrifice of more than 2,000 Americans lost in battle there (they'd ridicule him for such even more so than they do now).

For Cohen, it's all about domestic politics and not the pursuit of freedom and peace.
But more important -- far more important -- is what this would mean for the conduct of foreign policy from here on out. Repeatedly in his speech, Bush mentioned Syria, Iran and North Korea -- Syria above all. If push comes to shove there, it would be nice to have absolute confidence in American intelligence and the case for possibly widening the war. If we are to go to the mat with North Korea or the increasingly alarming Iran, then, once again, it would be wonderful to have the confidence we once had in the intelligence community -- as imparted to us by our president. Is there or is there not a threatening nuclear weapons program on the horizon?
It's amazing that Cohen seeks the "confidence we once had in the intelligence community." When has such confidence ever been earned?

Even Bush-critic Carol Brightman admits:
During the Cold War, the CIA fed policymakers incorrect information about target states and groups all the time. Not that analysts knew the facts were wrong -- they both did and didn't. ... What matters in such instances isn't necessarily the truth. "Intelligence," Gen. Richard Myers reminds us, "doesn't mean something is true." What matters is whether the intelligence advances a nation's security strategy and the policies that flow from it.
Cohen refers to the "increasingly alarming Iran" yet his own paper reported two months ago that "a recent U.S. intelligence estimate found that Iran is further away from making bomb-grade uranium than previously thought." Keep in mind that Iran's president recently made a public call for Israel to be "wiped off the map" and warned leaders of Muslim nations who recognized the state of Israel that they faced "the wrath of their own people."

Is Cohen making an argument that Iran could become an imminent threat though there is little evidence or international agreement that Iran has a nuclear weapons program? Surely he wouldn't. That would make him a "minor" columnist.
At the moment, no one can have confidence in the Bush administration. It has shown itself inept in the run-up to the war and the conduct of it since.
If he'd replace the phrase "Bush administration" with "national mainstream media," he may have a stronger point.
Almost three years into the war, the world is not safer, the Middle East is less stable, and Americans and others die for a mission that is not what it once was and cannot be what it now is called: a fight for democracy.
I wish Cohen could define what he means by a "safer" world. Would it be "safer" to proclaim that an individual is hell bent on threatening "the world with nuclear arms, poison gas or biological weapons" and then do nothing of substance to combat that threat other than - my goodness the horror - SIGN A BILL!!?

I also wish he'd define how the Middle East is "less stable." I guess life was better there before those dirty sand people achieved freedom, participated in elections and moved into land long-sought.
It would be nice, as well as important, to know how we got into this mess -- nice for us, important for the president. It wasn't that he had the wrong facts. It was that the right ones didn't matter.
Again, Cohen neglects to identify the "right" facts to which he refers (it's like Bush is hiding in his desk an intelligence report from 2001 saying in bold, 105-size font "There Are No Weapons In Iraq"). No real surprise, I guess. Bush is on the ropes. His polls suck. Somehow, out of nowhere, his party failed to win elections in always-competitive New Jersey and, as the New York Times calls it, the "reliably Republican state" of Virginia.

It's never been so easy for a liberal columnist to nip at a Republican's cuff, especially a minor one.


Blogger naz said...

Bush is an idiot.

4:14 PM, November 17, 2005  
Blogger Jehangir Unwalla said...

Only and idiot glorifies another idiot when the ground realities are different. Ever read the news on the number of people dying for a lie. I guess it doesnt matter for Bush after all is god send. He and Cheney have blood on their hands.

5:13 PM, November 17, 2005  

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