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.

Then and now

As you cruise the back alleys and mean streets of Bloggerville, you may run across a recurrent meme, which compares the current anti-war movement to that of the Vietnam days, and finds the former lacking, particularly vis-à-vis the support and enthusiasm of today’s college students. The intent, of course, is to paint anti-war activism as some sort of pathetic apatosaurus, hopelessly trying to lumber out of the tar pit of outdated liberalism in which it is ensnared.

Two quick thoughts on this. First: the war hasn’t even started yet and we’re seeing protest marches draw hundreds of thousands of ordinary Americans into the streets of our nation’s capital. It took the Vietnam-era peace movement years to reach this point.

And secondly, as for the college students: this seems so obvious, it’s almost an insult to the reader’s intelligence to have to mention it, but, um, there’s no draft. No disrespect intended to the previous generation, but let’s face it: nothing focuses political awareness like the prospect of getting one’s own ass shot off in the service of a dubious foreign policy. Try reinstating mandatory service and let’s see how popular the war becomes on campus.

Feeling secure yet?

From PBS, via August:

ATTORNEY GENERAL ASHCROFT TESTIFYING BEFORE CONGRESS, 12/6/01: In this manual, Al Qaeda terrorists are now told how to use America’s freedom as a weapon against us.

DEBORAH AMOS: But what Ashcroft did not point out: these manuals show Osama bin Laden’s foot soldiers how easy it is to buy assault weapons in American gun stores and gun shows.

Al Qaeda and other terrorists organizations have exploited numerous loopholes in American gun laws — loopholes that exist because of consistent lobbying by the powerful National Rifle Association to stop any restrictions on gun purchases. Since September 11th, critics say, the U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft has chosen to side with the NRA at the expense of the war on terrorism.


I saw some Republican talking head on one of the endless parade of cable news shows I half-watch all day while I work, talking about the Louisiana runoff election and explaining that the Republicans were so concerned about this one, despite their current Senate majority, because, um, you know, it never hurts to have an extra seat.

This seems to be a more plausible explanation. (Via Cursor.)

A trip down memory lane

It’s been a long time, at least in terms of dog years and American memories, but some of you may recall a little overseas adventure which has subsequently been re-christened, so to speak, the war for the liberation of Afghanistan.

Turns out — get this — the war hasn’t been such an unambiguous success after all. In fact, a lot of things that crazed left-wing peaceniks warned about at the time are coming to pass.

From Time magazine:

If the U.S. has won the war in Afghanistan, maybe somebody should tell the enemy it’s time to surrender. The bad guys are still out there, undetectable in the rocky, umber hills of eastern Afghanistan — until they strike, which they do with growing frequency, accuracy and brazenness. These days American forward bases are coming under rocket or mortar fire three times a week on average. Apache pilots sometimes see angry red arcing lines of tracer bullets rising toward their choppers from unseen gunners hidden in Afghanistan’s saw-blade ridges. Roads frequented by special forces are often mined with remote-controlled explosives, a new tactic al-Qaeda fighters picked up from their Chechen comrades fighting the Russians. With phantom enemy fighters stepping up attacks and U.S. forces making little headway against them, General Richard Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, felt compelled to acknowledge last week, “We’ve lost a little momentum there, to be frank.”

From the LA Times:

Given enough political and economic willpower, the U.S. could rebuild the main roads, sink thousands of new wells and help revitalize the devastated school and university systems. Instead, the U.S. is training a much-needed national army but turning a blind eye to broader reconstruction.

We did it for Germany, but Afghanistan is yesterday’s problem. American statesman George Kennan foresaw the problem during World War II, when he was assigned one summer to Baghdad. “Our government is technically incapable of conceiving and promulgating a long-term consistent policy toward areas remote from its own territory,” he wrote. The problem, he added, is that “our actions in the field of foreign affairs are the convulsive reactions of politicians to an internal political life dominated by vocal minorities.”

It was that lack of a long-term policy that led us to walk away from Afghanistan in the early 1990s, after we had pumped the country full of weapons to defeat the Soviets, leaving it in chaos and eventually to Mullah Mohammed Omar and Osama bin Laden. Now we are again moving on to other things, such as Iraq.

From USA Today:

Other Afghans also say life here is different — and far more dangerous — than they expected a year ago:

* The U.S.-backed government of Hamid Karzai has little control outside of Kabul, the capital. And the new government is racked with dissension.
* Warlords continue to control much of the countryside. Already, several factional power struggles have broken out.
* Extremists, in hiding outside the well-protected capital, wait for an opportunity to strike. Taliban and al-Qaeda forces lurk in the mountains. U.S. troops on patrol in search of terrorists in eastern Afghanistan face almost daily hostility and attacks.

“The fundamentalists and the warlords are in charge. The gunmen have the authority and the power, and actual rights the government says we have are not given,” Mujahed says.

But apart from all that, how did you enjoy the play, Mrs. Lincoln?

All via Cursor.