Back to previous post: More science fun

Go to Making Light's front page.

Forward to next post: Endless religious permutations

Subscribe (via RSS) to this post's comment thread. (What does this mean? Here's a quick introduction.)

January 27, 2003

Pure speculation
Posted by Teresa at 08:41 PM *

As I said to Jim Henley and Patrick when we were down in DC for that antiwar march, our European semi-allies aren’t going to back us up on a war with Iraq if the UN weapons inspectors don’t find anything. Our guys are committed to the idea that they’re going to find something in Iraq, whether they find anything or not. This doesn’t wash with the rest of the world, which thinks that finding something means finding something.

Forgotten, bird-doody-covered boxes of old shells don’t make it. Did you ever see such a PR fiasco? It was pathetic. Portentously suggesting that those might constitute “a smoking gun” just told the rest of the world that some dusty old boxes of shells were the biggest thing the inspectors had found.

Still and all, it’s clear that our guys really have expected to find something. You could hear it in their voices, all up and down the line. John McCain absolutely thought so; and while the Bushies lie so habitually that it takes an effort for them to do anything else, McCain doesn’t do their lying for them.

Tony Blair, that sly sleek bouncy political animal, has just as clearly been expecting that UN inspectors would find something in Iraq. He wouldn’t have committed himself this thoroughly for anything less. The Brits might go to war on our side if UN inspectors found weapons of mass destruction but we didn’t get a UN resolution out of it, or vice-versa; but they won’t do it if they don’t have something to go on.

Besides, it’s not like Dubya to keep upping his bets if he doesn’t think he’s onto a sure thing. He’s never been a risk-taker. He obviously wants a war with Iraq because he wants one, just because; but it’s not like him to put himself in a position where he’ll be personally, objectively shown up as wrong—no excuses, no spin, no safety net—if some real-world development doesn’t come through.

So, what’s the difference between Blair and Britain, on the one hand, and the rest of our Western European semi-allies on the other? The obvious one is that we share more intelligence with them. This doesn’t necessarily mean that Blair knows more than the other European leaders, but it may mean that he thinks he does.

As you know, Bob, the Bush clan has close, deep connections to the CIA, and to a lesser extent with the rest of the intelligence community. Bush Sr. was basically a career spook who became Ronald Reagan’s Vice President, where he built up enough momentum to carry him forward into a single-term Presidency. GHWB’s intelligence background has been a godsend to Dubya, whose earlier career and habits left the kind of stains that require the attention of professional cleaners.

For some years now, giving Dubya what he wants has been a real good career move. And he really does want that war. I’m just wondering now whether somewhere along the line, someone in the intelligence community foolishly decided to give him what he wants. Dubya would believe it without a second thought, of course; and since he’d figure he had a sure thing with this inside information, he’d bet heavily on it. Other leaders to whom he passed on the intelligence, such as Tony Blair, and Congressional leaders like McCain, would believe it too. It would explain a lot.

I’m just asking.

Here’s more on the developing fiasco from Tim Dunlop, proprietor of The Road to Surfdom. Go and read, it’s good stuff.

More and more, Bush & Co. remind me of Jim Macdonald’s definition of the difference between a goat-roping and a clusterfuck—those being occasions of complete fiasco, transcending all degrees of snafu—which is that one is fun to watch, and the other isn’t.

Comments on Pure speculation:
#1 ::: Chip Hitchcock ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2003, 11:12 PM:

There have been massive mistakes of intelligence as it was received in the White House; I've lost track of whether the CIA produced grossly inflated figures on USSR military spending in the 80's or whether they were the ones with the correct figures who got ignored in the rush to claim that the USSR was about to bury us.

The same question came up with yesterday's news about the aluminum tubes, allegedly for uranium enrichment, that turned out to be a standard size for Iraqi missiles and useless for enrichment. Maybe somebody saw A and said Z because he knew the desired answer; maybe Cheney told Dubya what the rebuild-the-Middle-East party wanted Dubya to hear; but it could just as well be like the evaluation joke that's been floating around for a few years (summarized):
engineer: This is a crock of shit.
middle manager: This is strong-smelling fertilizer.
marketing VP: This strong new product will enrich our company's position in the market!

The game "telephone" is funny in grade school; in history, it \might/ be comedy the third time around.

#2 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2003, 01:42 AM:

Or it could be this:

We know what we gave them during the 1980s.
We know what's been logged as destroyed.

Subtracting line two from line one yields what's still there waiting to be found.

#3 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2003, 01:58 AM:

Kinda offtopic, but did anyone at any of the protest marches see anyone carrying a sign saying



Not that I'd expect there to be one, just that it would have been cool. (It's a motto from The Glorious People's Republic Of Treacle Mine Road in Terry Pratchett's latest)

#4 ::: Andrew Brown ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2003, 06:40 AM:

I had lunch with a former nuclear physicist, and later sceince editor, on Sunday. He said "All this talk about WMD is nonsense. There is only one weapon of mass destructio, and that's nukes. If chemical weapons are so wonderful, how come the Iraqi army never reached Teheran?"

I think it is quite clear that Saddam wants nukes and that the only real justification for the war is that Bush and the Likudniks are determined that he shall not have them. So this war is being fought to prevent him from ever making any. Tht might be a popular cause, if it were genuinely internationalist. If the war were sold as an attempt to make things like the nuclear non-proliferation treaties binding, Europe would, I'm sure, sign up. But that would be a war for real treaties, binding on all their signatories, including Mr Bush. Kyoto, anyone? ICC?

#5 ::: Kip ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2003, 08:31 AM:

"The nuclear weapons are in the nation next door."
"There is no nation next door."
"Then let's build one!"

#6 ::: Barry ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2003, 09:21 AM:

Chip, IIRC, the CIA overestimated the soviet economy and military spending. There was a 'hawk' group ('committee on the present danger'?) which claimed that the CIA was underestimating. IIRC, Rumsfield and Wolfowitz were involved. They got Congress to grant a 'team B' access to CIA data, to make their own estimates. These estimates were substantially higher than the CIA's overestimates.

In accordance with the 'history repeats as farce', I've seen articles stating that Rumsfield recently set up his own team B in the Pentagon , to produce intelligence analyses that favor his position.

These articles didn't mention if there were ex-Arthur Anderson accountants involved, but I'm sure that they're available.

And that sort of work would be right up their alley.

#7 ::: John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2003, 09:40 AM:

The problem I have with the "Bush-CIA" connection is
this. If they're just another part of the family, why, as Safire writes, has the CIA been dragging it's feet about proven Iraq support for Al-Qaeda? To make it easier for Bush? You wouldn't think so....

Note that this doesn't mean you're wrong about Bush wanting the war because he just wants it. I just have my doubts about the CIA's status as a subsidiary of the Bush family.

BTW, although I don't have any links on hand, I don't think the CIA was much more useful for the Clintons either....

#8 ::: Bill Altreuter ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2003, 10:11 AM:

I'm sure that Bush wants the war because he wants it. I also suspect that there is some deeper reason ("War for Oil" seems to me a trite over- simplification, but I don't doubt that that's part of it.) What really bugs me is the gnawing thought that it isn't Bush that's driving this. Sure, it is convenient that this is something he wants anyway, but, like Reagan, I realy think that this president is a mouthpiece for a cabal of economically powerful interests who are using this event to distract from what it is they are really up to. Gosh, that sounds paranoid, doesn't it? But who believes that Bush is smart enough to engineer this? Not that it is taking much engineering-- mostly it seems to be just ramming it down everyone's throat.

My point, if I have one, is that looking to Bush to understand the motive for this war is probably looking in the wrong place. Sure, he wants to do it, but I suspect that his motive is not what ultimately matters.

#9 ::: Chip Hitchcock ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2003, 10:41 AM:

Jim: do you think we should take such arithmetic seriously? It's my understanding the U.S. military can't keep track of all its inventory; if so, why should the Iraqi military be different?

John: I'm being dim this morning. Do you think anyone has proven a link between the secular Baathists and the religious fanatics of Al Qaida, or should "proven" have been in quotes in your comment? Bush has been claiming this for a while now, with no evidence I can recall seeing. (Of course, with Ari Fleischer telling us two days ago that the President is supposed to know more than citizens, who expects to see evidence?)

#10 ::: John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2003, 11:15 AM:


My point was to question the CIA's supposed subservience to the Bushies, not so much to affirm proof of the connection. Nevertheless, as far as proof goes, I can't answer for anyone else, but I sure find Safire convincing:

The Kurds induced the captives and some defectors to reveal that the Ansar cell of Al Qaeda had begun producing poisonous chemicals for export. One product was reported here to be a cyanide cream being smuggled through Turkey. The operation was set up by a man with a limp, the informants said, a key bin Laden lieutenant, Abu Musaab al-Zarqawi. ( I misspelled that name a few weeks ago.)

The C.I.A. continued to pooh-pooh any connection between Ansar and Saddam. But reporter Jeff Goldberg of The New Yorker and more recently C. J. Chivers of The Times went into Iraq and interviewed some of the captured terrorists. Such reporting eroded the "no clear link" line put out by opponents of action against Saddam.


On Oct. 8 of last year President Bush made public a little more of what we learned. "Some Al Qaeda leaders who fled Afghanistan went to Iraq," he told a Cincinnati audience. "These include one very senior Al Qaeda leader who received medical treatment in Baghdad this year, and who has been associated with planning for chemical and biological attacks."

That was Zarqawi. Long sought in Jordan for terrorist attacks (most recently the assassination of the U.S. diplomat Laurence Foley in Amman), he joined bin Laden in Afghanistan. After the Taliban defeat, Zarqawi slipped out of that country through Iran and made his way to a Baghdad hospital, where his injured leg was treated or amputated, certainly with the knowledge of Saddam's mukhabarat secret police. He was then dispatched to Al Qaeda's Ansar cell in Iraqi Kurdistan, reported the captives who worked with him in the mountains, to create the terrorist poison laboratory.

British intelligence believes the limping terrorist took one of his products, ricin, to Algerian contacts in Turkey. This is a poison that can be delivered in warheads and one well known to Iraqi chemists, who cannot speak to U.N. inspectors. Two weeks ago, a British detective, Stephen Oake, was killed arresting Algerians suspected of making ricin in North London.

American "counterterrorism officials" are still in angry denial about the pattern they refused to see that connects Qaeda terrorists in hiding with Iraqi terrorists in power.

I will not argue with anyone here who thinks the CIA has its head up its ass.

#11 ::: Jim Henley ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2003, 10:22 PM:

Terresa: It's a stretch to call GHWB a career spook, isn't it? I think the only job he ever had with CIA was DCI: he was a failed electoral politician who got a political appointment. Probably his time as ambassador to China was as helpful in giving him the patina of gravitas that helped him into his next two jobs.

Andrews: "But that would be a war for real treaties, binding on all their signatories, including Mr Bush. Kyoto, anyone? ICC?"

Way it works here, a treaty is binding after ratification by the Senate. That don't happen, the US ain't a party. If I had more free time, I'd use it to thank god the Senate never ratified the two you mention, but that's not the point. The point is that treaties bind those who freely enter into them and we have not, by law, entered.

#12 ::: Simon Shoedecker ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2003, 01:24 PM:

I think it's been revealed that Bush Sr. did some contract spying for the CIA when he was in the awl bidness, didn't he? But it was on the level of them asking him, "Hey, you're a patriotic American businessman, you're going on a foreign trip, look out for some things for us and give us a report when you get back, why don't ya?"

Certainly "career spook" is a vast exaggeration. On that level, Ronald Reagan was an FBI agent. Bush was never a regular CIA employee, and it would've been pretty impressive for him to maintain a whole secret life as a spy while serving in Congress, ambassador to the UN and China (where his subordinates would be in a much better position to spy), and then parachuted in as a political appointment as DCI for about a year.

Maybe the CIA and the Bush clan are really tight, but if so it's not because Dad was "a career spook." Or maybe the intelligence agencies would happily manufacture evidence for any president, or at least any president they liked.

#13 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2003, 05:59 PM:

Bill, it does sound paranoid, but that doesn't protect us from the possibility that it's true. As I've said before (having as I do a finite number of political opinions, which does lead to the occasional repeat), much of what passes for public politics strikes me as distracting yet evanescent noise and froth, mere surface phenomena. Money matters, and power, and the working structures of government and law.

Simon, Jim Henley, you're right; I ought not call him a career spook. I do continue to wonder who cleaned up so effectively and consistently after Dubya's youthful indiscretions, and who owes whom for doing it.

And I have to say that the events surrounding Fortunate Son struck me as extremely odd, and still do. At the time, I couldn't put my finger on any one thing, but it felt like the pacing was off; like the initial response to the book was too big and too fast-moving, and sorted itself out far too quickly. The story was born full-grown. There wasn't enough of the kind of alongside circumstance, accident, and awkward bits you normally see in a story that's still pulling itself into shape. And when did journalists start accepting it as gospel that what an ex-convict says is untrue, without even checking?

Mr. Hatfield's panicked flight was also peculiar. I'd be the last to put a limit on what a writer might do. But usually, when their books are questioned or attacked, their impulse is to reply. Look how many of them respond to bad reviews, which they know perfectly well is a bad move. And defensiveness and over-long attention spans are practically the identifying marks of auctorial sockpuppets in online discussions.

Hatfield had written an arguable book, one that could be attacked and defended on the strength of its individual sections. I could more easily have seen him taking off if the book he'd written had been a fraud from start to finish, like (say) a forged diary. But he hadn't. It was defensible, but he didn't defend it.

I also found it passing strange that an author, at that moment, would run off to a motel where he wouldn't get his reviews, mail, e-mail, news reports, phone calls, and all the other responses to his book. You're writers. Think about that.

I remember a conversation I had at the time with a bunch of industry people -- a couple of other editors, some authors, and an agent. This was long before Mr. Hatfield's revelations about his sources. We all agreed that the episode smelled funny to us, and that if you wanted to kill the story about Dubya taking cocaine, it certainly was an effective way to do it.

I've wandered far afield here. My point is that too many oddly tidy, convenient, thorough hands have been at work on Dubya's history. I have no patience with vulgar conspiracy theory, but I do think he's had the help of professionals, and I wonder how he got it.

#14 ::: Simon Shoedecker ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2003, 06:05 PM:

Perhaps the weirdest thing about Fortunate Son is the way that, having been repressed, disappeared, unpublished, struck off the list, it reappeared and is now openly for sale. What's with that? Is this a new cocaine-free edition, or what?

Smaller type (our default)
Larger type
Even larger type, with serifs

Dire legal notice
Making Light copyright 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 by Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden. All rights reserved.