Strange bedfellows

From a column by Doug Bandlow, a senior fellow at the right-leaning Cato Institute (via Joe Conason, who asks why the anti-war right gets a free pass from the otherwise hysterical patriotism police):

Warns CIA Director George Tenet: “al-Qaeda is in an execution phase and intends to strike us both here and overseas.” An Italian investigator told Time magazine that al-Qaeda terrorists now “are better organized than at any point in the past year.” Muslim hatred of the West continues to grow. Palestinians and Israelis are at war. Islamic fundamentalists made dramatic electoral gains in Pakistan.

Why, then, the administration’s focus on Baghdad? Obviously Saddam is a monster. But Turkey treats its Kurds no better than does Iraq and Christian women are worse off in Saudi Arabia.

Baghdad has attacked its neighbors, but today is contained and constrained, far weaker than in 1990. Yes, Iraq deployed chemical weapons against Iran in war and maybe against the Kurds in civil war. But Saddam only used these weapons against defenseless adversaries. In contrast, the United States possesses thousands of nuclear warheads.

Baghdad is trying to develop an atomic bomb; so is North Korea, however. Brazil’s new leftist president-elect has expressed an interest in doing so. Islamic Pakistan already possesses nukes.

* * *

To not attack Iraq is “appeasement” and “moral cowardice,” charges Nile Gardiner of the Heritage Foundation. Washington’s critics are against us and “with our enemies,” says Frank Gaffney of the Center for Security Policy.

In fact, opposition to the administration’s dangerous aggressiveness is simply good sense.

There is no more fundamental duty for government than to protect its people from outside threats. Yet President Bush admits, “We’ve got a long way to go” to defeat al-Qaeda. Making war on Iraq will make that defeat even more distant.

A change’ll do you good

We’re switching this site from Blogger to Movable Type. I’m vastly appreciative of the service Blogger has provided — I’m not sure I would have ever gotten this site off the ground, in its present format, without the ease-of-use their templates provided. But the glitches and the delays finally got to me, so here we are. If we’ve done this right, you shouldn’t even notice a change, but if there are any problems, please let me know. We should also have the blog archives (which have not been working properly for about two months) up to speed soon.

Another voice in the wilderness

When I threw my hat into the ring a year ago, the blogs were mostly dominated by a conservative/libertarian axis. These days, the ideological spectrum seems a whole lot more balanced (even if the journalists who keep writing those “gee whiz check out this blogging thing” articles haven’t caught up to the fact yet).

And here’s yet another unabashedly left-wing blog: Rantomatic, newly-launched by my friend and animation partner Harold Moss. Go give him a hearty welcome.

There’s a virus going around

Once again, I’m starting to get weird “returned” email which I never sent out. Last time this happened, the brain trust brought me up to speed on the Klez virus, or worm, or whatever, and I’m guessing that’s what’s happening again: someone who had my email in their address book got infected and their computer is sending out messages which spoof my return address. (Given that I’m running Netscape on a Mac with firewall and anti-virus constantly running, my understanding is that this is unlikely to have originated from my own computer.) Not much I can do about this, but if you get an email from me with some weird subject line about the Spice Girls or some Great New Software or something equally unlikely, you should delete it posthaste.

UPDATE: common sense rule of thumb suggested by Frank Lynch — beware attachments. I don’t send out unexpected attachments (and I delete any attachment that I’m not expecting).

Watching the watchers

A reader informs me that this cartoon has been given the Spinsanity treatment (I’m not bothering to cut and paste the links here, you can visit their site for those):

In his newest syndicated cartoon, Tom Tomorrow purports to set the record straight on the circumstances under which United Nations weapons inspectors left Iraq in 1998. But, like many liberals making this point, he presents the situation out of context.

In the strip, a character whose opinions are presented as authoritative states that inspectors “weren’t kicked out [by Saddam in 1998] — they were ordered to withdraw by chief U.N. weapons inspector Richard Butler”. But as Josh Marshall pointed out on Salon last week, this is a deceptive summary of what happened.

While Tomorrow is right to point out that inspectors were not technically expelled by Saddam — as a number of media outlets have inaccurately reported — he and others omit crucial context when they imply that the inspectors simply withdrew of their own accord. After repeated instances of Iraqi non-compliance with the inspection regime, the US and Great Britain decided to launch a series of retaliatory airstrikes against Iraq in December 1998. As a result, Butler withdrew the inspectors, saying “we can’t adequately do our jobs under these circumstances” and that it “made logical sense therefore to pull our people out.” After the strikes, Saddam did not allow the inspectors to return.

Give the importance of this issue to the current debate, both sides must take care to present what happened accurately.

Well, yes. And in the interest of presenting what happened accurately, let’s take a little trip in the Wayback machine, back to that distant, mythical era, of which so little historical record apparently survives: 1998. Those of you with exceptionally long memories may recall what Spinsanity and Josh Marshall apparently do not: Saddam justified his lack of cooperation with the UNSCOM inspectors because, according to him, they were being used to spy on him. And you know what? They really were being used to spy on him. “United States officials said today that American spies had worked undercover on teams of United Nations arms inspectors,” the New York Times acknowledged on January 7, 1999. And according to the Washington Post, the U.S. “infiltrated agents and espionage equipment for three years into United Nations arms control teams in Iraq to eavesdrop on the Iraqi military without the knowledge of the U.N. agency.” (You can also read the cartoon I did at the time here.)

Whether or not you think it was a good idea to use the UNSCOM team to spy on Iraq is irrelevant to this discussion — it was in direct contravention of the UN mandate which allowed them access, meaning, unfortunately, that Hussein had every right to refuse them cooperation. The Washington Post quoted a UN source at the time: “The United Nations cannot be party to an operation to overthrow one of its member states. In the most fundamental way, that is what’s wrong with the UNSCOM operation.” (Also, a side note, for what it’s worth: not only did Butler pull his team out, he did so without the approval of the UN Security Council.)

Spinsanity’s confusion is understandable, at least if they’re relying solely on current newspaper and cable news accounts — as FAIR notes, “facts that (the major media’s) own correspondents confirmed three years ago in interviews with top U.S. officials are being recycled as mere allegations coming from Saddam Hussein’s regime.” But still. If you’re going to lash someone with a limp noodle for not providing proper context, you need to be sure you’re not doing the same thing. Because I agree with them on one point absolutely — this is an incredibly important debate, and misinformation doesn’t do anyone any good.