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June 29, 2003

I thought you brought the potato salad. From Time, June 29, 2003:
Meeting last month at a sweltering U.S. base outside Doha, Qatar, with his top Iraq commanders, President Bush skipped quickly past the niceties and went straight to his chief political obsession: Where are the weapons of mass destruction? Turning to his Baghdad proconsul, Paul Bremer, Bush asked, “Are you in charge of finding WMD?” Bremer said no, he was not. Bush then put the same question to his military commander, General Tommy Franks. But Franks said it wasn’t his job either. A little exasperated, Bush asked, So who is in charge of finding WMD? After aides conferred for a moment, someone volunteered the name of Stephen Cambone, a little-known deputy to Donald Rumsfeld, back in Washington. Pause. “Who?” Bush asked.
[10:30 PM]
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Comments on I thought you brought the potato salad.:

Avram ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2003, 10:52 PM:

Heh. He isn't even bright enough to figure out that his question is really "I've got a massive shitpile of blame here; who wants to take delivery?".

Andy ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2003, 11:35 PM:

Thank you Patrick for the funniest thing I've read today, and yes I have a bleak sense of humour.

Ron Bell ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2003, 11:42 PM:

I agree with Patrick-- but it is an odd question isn't?

If the administration really is looking for WMDs--and I believe that they are--it's startling that the president wouldn't know who is leading the effort.

And if they aren't looking for WMDs, given the political realities isn't it startling that the president wouldn't be able to point to someone who is *allegedly* leading the effort?

Greg van Eekhout ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2003, 11:46 PM:

Every day, I expend a great deal of energy trying to conceal my ignorance, stupidity, and foolishness. I envy Bush his freedom.

Hal O'Brien ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2003, 11:58 PM:

The Administration already knows -- and has known, for quite some time -- that Iraqi WMD don't exist. So it actually makes perfect sense that some second-tier flunky that few can name is in charge... It's not an important project in this Administration's priorities.

As to "political realities"... so far, the lack of WMD hasn't cost the Administration anything. All the reactions -- from Allies, the military, domestic political friends and foes -- have been of degree, not kind.

So, again... Of course Bush couldn't point to anyone. It's not important enough for the specifics to be on his radar. Which should tell you all you need to know about how much of a threat WMD are considered by this Administration, literally or politically.

(Yes, I being a devil's advocate here -- I think the lying about WMD will catch up with them eventually. But I don't think the Administration thinks so.)

Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: June 30, 2003, 02:14 AM:

"The Administration already knows -- and has known, for quite some time -- that Iraqi WMD don't exist."

I think that the Administration genuinely thought they existed. We're talking about masters of doublethink. They pulled the wool over their own eyes; they believed their own yes-men; they drank their own Kool-Aid.

* * *

Bush's behavior, as described in this anecdote, reminds me of something: The behavior of old-school IBM execs at PC-era trade shows.

They're used to running things from boardrooms and corner offices. Business deals are made in bars and hotel suites, exec to exec. As for the product . . . our people can talk to your people if the details are important, but you're talking to IBM, you know.

At COMDEX '89, the story is different. The competition is young and smart and actually designed the product they're selling. (How did those rude punks have the time to get both an EE degree AND an MBA? How do they find time to golf?)

Suddenly the good ol' boy has to actually *know* something about his business, and on the trade show floor frantically tries to find the name of the geek answer the question he needs to seal an important deal . . .

Andrew Brown ::: (view all by) ::: June 30, 2003, 03:18 AM:

Hang on. The idea that they believed WMDs existed and were ready for use and deployment has one big strike against it: they went ahead and invaded anyway. From this it's obvious that Saddam had no credible deterrent. What's a credible deterrent? Something that could reach Tel Aviv with unpleasant effects. They quite deliberatly pushed Saddam into a corner where he had nothing left to lose. This would not have happened if they had believed he could retaliate in any significant way.

Indeed, the more sophisticated, Ken Pollack argument was that Saddam would in the future gain these weapons, not that he had them now.

But Blair will sufffer for this long before Bush does.

Idiot/Savant ::: (view all by) ::: June 30, 2003, 04:13 AM:

For some reason I'm reminded of The Princess bride here. Maybe Prince Cheney said he'd send his "five fastest ships" after the WMD?

Hal O'Brien ::: (view all by) ::: June 30, 2003, 05:22 AM:

"Maybe Prince Cheney said he'd send his "five fastest ships" after the WMD?"

Something like that.

Recall that back in... damn, I just googled for it, but back in August 2002 or thereabouts, one may recall that the US was dragging its feet like mad about sending UN inspectors back in. Much more so than the Iraqis. And Cheney had a quote at the time along the lines of, "The Iraqis are the masters of deception. There's no point in sending inspectors back in." That's not exact.

But it sounded like Cheney was trying to spin the situation in advance before the inspectors did go in and find nothing. Almost as if he knew in advance what the result would be.

Then we kept framing the debate not on the basis of the evidence we had in hand, but on the demand that Iraq prove a compound negative -- that it had disarmed. If one knew in advance that the Iraqis were already not armed, one would also know this was an impossible request.

Then we sent in the troops in such a way as to invite WMD use against them, if such weapons existed. Unless, of course, one already knew in advance that there was no such danger.

Then we allowed the alleged WMD sites to be looted, quite possibly in such a way as to disperse the WMD to all kinds of Evildoer Organizations, States, and other entities... unless, of course, one already knew in advance there was nothing dangerous for the looters to find.

There was also the dog-not-barking-in-the-night in the form of the Israelis, who would almost certainly be the prime target of WMD if Iraq had them, and have proven they're willing to strike pre-emptively against Iraq if they feel genuinely threatened. Not a peep of concern from them. From that shy, retiring flower, Arik Sharon.

Perhaps someone in the Administration really believed Iraq had WMD... But no one's been acting like they did.

cd ::: (view all by) ::: June 30, 2003, 05:55 AM:

Oh yeah, while we're (more or less) on the subject of looted WMD sites: Greenpeace seems to be doing some good with the looted barrels from Al-Tuwaitha (the nuclear facility -- the looted nuclear facility -- that you may remember. Or not).

Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 30, 2003, 07:17 AM:

From Stefan Jones,

Hal O' Brien
"The Administration already knows -- and has known, for quite some time -- that Iraqi WMD don't exist."


"I think that the Administration genuinely thought they existed. We're talking about masters of doublethink. They pulled the wool over their own eyes; they believed their own yes-men; they drank their own Kool-Aid."

I have to say that from where I sat, getting briefed on what to expect (with an eye to the Intel side of exploiting things) no one in the MI community thought there was any credible threat of weapons being used. Even if he had them (and the amounts/types we thought likely were small and limited) there were no effective delivery systems.

Then there were other indicators, the lack of plans to get family out, the lack of NBC gear for the toops, the last minute movements of paramilitary types into the areas where gas would have been useful.

All the indicators before hand said we didn't really buy it (but we prepared for the possibility) and all the stuff during screamed that he wouldn't use it.


Barry ::: (view all by) ::: June 30, 2003, 07:20 AM:

cd, that would be the reactor which should have been #1 on the Big List o' WMD Sites to Secure Right Friggin' Now, on the wall of General Franks' war room? And which was mysteriously left unsecured for a week or so, after US troops moved through the area?

To me, that's a data point which says that the administration didn't believe that there were WMD's in Iraq, and didn't care.

James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 30, 2003, 11:16 AM:

Meanwhile, in other news, media darling Senator McCain has this:

Efforts to capture Saddam are more important than the pursuit of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, said Sunday.

This is because:

1) Osama bin Laden has attacked the USA, and
2) Saddam Hussein hasn't.

Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: June 30, 2003, 01:54 PM:

Gaw. It sounds like what I imagine one of the Roman emperors a bit after Augustus saying.

Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: June 30, 2003, 06:18 PM:

I think that Fred Kaplan's piece in Slate last Friday (which right now is getting banner treatment) is an important read on this issue. He is drawing paralells between Bush/WMD's and JFK/missle gap. For those of you too young (oh that makes me feel decrepit) to remember, this was a intelligence problem that affected the 1960 Presidential election:

It started in 1957, when the CIA's annual top-secret National Intelligence Estimate stated that the Soviets could deploy 100 intercontinental ballistic missiles by the end of 1960 or, if they built them on a crash basis, even the end of '5997500 by the end of 1961 or '62. Not only would such an arsenal greatly outnumber the U.S. missile force, it would also be large enough to wipe out America's entire nuclear arsenal in a surprise first-strike.

To keep this brief, the fight over this esitmate (the Air Force liked it, everyone else came to distrust it) leaked out to the press and the "Missle Gap" became a key part of JFK's barely sucessful campaign. The problem was that when Kennedy was able to see the secret information that Eisenhower had kept out of the campaign, it was clear that there was only four operational Soviet ICBM's and no missle gap at all.

The apparent difference between Kennedy and Bush was that Kennedy thought that finding out where the "Missle Gap" went was important. After the Cuban Missle Crisis, he commissioned a study of the issue, which is now publicly available. Kaplan ends with a call for a similar inquiry:

At his Cabinet Room meeting in December 1962, Kennedy said of the officials who created the missile-gap myth, "There are still people of that kind in the Pentagon. I wouldn't give them any foundation for creating another myth." It is extremely doubtful that George W. Bush is currently saying anything like this about his own Pentagon officials97likewise "emotionally guided but nonetheless patriotic individuals"97who, at the very least, exaggerated claims about Iraqi chemical, biological, and nuclear programs. But Congress might consider following Kennedy's example by doing its own study. Call it, "But Where Did the WMD Go?"

At this point Bush et all are still digging through the manure pile, sure that they will find a pony. That better change.

Thersites ::: (view all by) ::: July 01, 2003, 12:53 AM:

I was never told to bring the potato salad, Aunt Nancy. That's why I brought the anthrax. And the peach cobbler.

Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: July 01, 2003, 01:18 AM:

I think they're currently tossing the manure in the air, hoping that if they shovel enough of it, people will think there's a pony somewhere behind it.

Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: July 01, 2003, 06:47 AM:

Damm. There's nothing like looking at your own post from some time before and finding you forgot to add a link to your source. Well, for historical purposes, Kaplan's piece is here.

Barry ::: (view all by) ::: July 01, 2003, 09:59 AM:

I felt that Kaplan's comparison wasn't very good. Finding missile construction in the USSR, with late-1950's technology would be hard. Finding WMD operations in 1990's Iraq, with:

1990's technology,
in a smaller country,
which is more dependent on imported tech,
which was bought from countries who are cooperative with the US,
with UN inspectors (incl. CIA agents) roaming the country through 1998, destroying what they could, and collecting lots of ground-level data to match against the remote methods data,

should be far, far easier.

Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: July 01, 2003, 03:21 PM:

I agree, Barry, it would be hard not to, with a couple of caveats. Missle construction is inherently heavy tech, pretty much of a piece with aircraft construction, requiring just oodles of clean, climate controlled space for good results. Consider that the world's largest industrial building is an aircraft factory (Boeing Everett). Also, space launch and missle test facilities are almost impossible to hide, particularly while in use.

Now, nuclear weapons materials production can take up a great deal of space as well, depending on the technology you use. Gaseous diffusion for isotope separation or reactor production both require large structures which are very easy to recognize even from 1950's and 60's surveillance technology. (Actually, if one had the access, a fast pass by a recon Spitfire would work just fine). The facility that Boeing Everett took the prize for biggest industrial building from was Oak Ridge Plant Y, the WWII era isotope separation plant. And reactor buildings by their very nature have a design that is dominated by their function. That's why there has been no doubt about the purpose of Tuwaitha. Chemical/biological facilities tend to look a great deal like similar civilian facilities. What tips one off is a combination of analysis of overall demand for civil production, tracking (often covertly) what equipment is imported, enhanced security around the facilities, and associated field test facilities that do not have civilian paralells. That's how we spotted Salman Pak -- but it is much easier to hide these facilities if you don't need to produce much. Hence the problems in the 1990's in Iraq until a defector (Hussein Kamel) pretty much spelled out what was going on. Unfortunately for the Bush team he also told IAEA and the UN that the programs had been shut down.

I think the key issue that Kaplan pointed out was that there was information indicating the true state of affairs (the number of launches from ICBM launch facilities) that indicated that there could not be anywhere near 100 operational ICBM's in 1960. The problem was not information, but the interpretation of it. Consider that the by the time of the election, everybody but the Air Force rejected the 100 ICBM number. The Air Force just wanted those missles to be there more.

Josh Marshall has a good take on this, and supplies a wonderful phrase for it (crediting Chris Nelson): faith based intelligence analysis. I like it.

Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: July 01, 2003, 05:26 PM:

"Onward, faith-based missiles..."