WEDNESDAY, JUNE 25, 2003
ACCEPT NO SUBSTITUTES: What actual questions have critics raised about the Bush Admins pre-Iraq conduct? The questions are listed by Judis and Ackerman in their seminal TNR piece (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/24/03). Here are a few of those questions:
Question: Why did Cheney keep saying Saddam had nukes when intelligence agencies seemed to think otherwise?These are some of the actual questions which reflect real concerns of the actual critics. Of course, some of these questions may prove hard to answer. Which helps explain why some people want to substitute other questionsquestions which are easy to handle.
Consider Robert Kagan, for example. On June 8, Kagan published a strange op-ed in the Washington Post, just as concern about these questions was beginning to crystallize. The headline was ominous: A Plot to Deceive? Here was his opening paragraph:
KAGAN (pgh 1): There is something surreal about the charges flying that President Bush lied when he claimed Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Yesterday The Post continued the barrageAccording to Kagan, people were charging that Bush had lied when he claimed Saddam had WMDs. Even the Post had made this charge, Kagan said. And Kagan fingered the New York Times too. According to Kagan, Bushs critics were really trying to prove a strange proposition:
KAGAN (pgh 2): [T]he critics real aim is to prove that, as a New York Times reporter recently put it, the failure so far to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq may mean that there never were any in the first place.Could that possibly mean what it says? According to Kagan, critics really wanted to prove that the failure to find WMDs in Iraq may mean that there never were any in the first place. Of course, this would be a strange thing to prove, since everyone knows that it just isnt true. Everyone knows that Saddam Hussein did have WMDs in the past. Maybe Kagan really wanted to say that Saddam had WMDs at the time of the recent war. Of course, few Bush critics have denied that possibility. But no matter! Ambiguity informing every sentence, Kagan sent his straw man flying:
KAGAN (pgh 3): The absurdity of this charge is mind-boggling. Yes, neither the CIA nor the U.N. inspectors have ever known exactly how many weapons Hussein had or how many he was building. But that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and the ability to produce more? That has never been in doubt.Straw man established, straw man destroyed. Apparently hoping to keep you from knowing what Bushs critics were actually saying, Kagan said they were saying something absurd. Then he condemned their absurdity.
Maybe Kagan was just having a bad day. But readers need to be very careful as the debate on this matter unfolds. Bush-shill pundits will work quite hard to keep you from knowing what critics are saying. Theyll try to bury the actual questions. Instead, theyll substitute their own preferred questionsquestions few critics are raising. Theyll keep you from knowing what the real questions are, and shoot down their silly replacements.
For example, consider the roundtable panel discussion on this weeks Fox News Sunday. First, Tony Snow showed Senator Graham saying this: This administration has had a pattern of deception and deceit of the American people. Snow made no attempt to explain the specifics of Grahams charges. Instead, he simply asked for the panels reactions. Charles Krauthammer was soon saying this:
KRAUTHAMMER: I think, in fact, Democrats are going out there on a limb, and I think theyre going to get it sawed off.According to Krauthammer, Dems were essentially saying that the weapons didnt exist. Like Brit Hume and Mara Liasson before him, Krauthammer mentioned none of the actual questions which Bushs real critics have actually raised. Instead, he gave the impression that critics were saying that Saddam never had WMDs.
Very few Dems have made that charge. As well see tomorrow, Graham has clearly said something quite different. But be careful! Various pundits will misdirect youlead you away from the actual questions. Did Bush pretend that Saddam had nukes? Did Bush pretend Saddam was tied to al Qaeda? Those are the questions the critics are asking. But certain pundits dont want you to know that. Careful! Theyll try to mislead.
TOMORROW: The Press Corps New Standards.
SEE KAGAN QUOTE: Most charitably read, Kagan was trying to reinforce the claim that Saddam had WMDs through the start of the war. He quoted UN officials to support that claim. Here was his first such citation:
KAGAN: Go back and take a look at the report Hans Blix delivered to the U.N. Security Council on Jan. 27. On the question of Iraqs stocks of anthrax, Blix reported no convincing evidence that they were ever destroyed. But there was strong evidence that Iraq produced more anthrax than it had admitted and that at least some of this was retained.Clearly, Kagan wanted to convince his readers that Saddam had anthrax as of January 2003. (Few critics have asserted that he didnt.) But ironically, Kagan seemed to be willing to goose up a quotethe same conduct charged against Bush. Here at THE HOWLER, we did review that Blix report. Here is the fuller text from which Kagan crafted his excerpt:
BLIX (1/27/03): I have mentioned the issue of anthrax to the Council on previous occasions and I come back to it as it is an important one.The anthrax might still exist, Blix saidimplying that it might not exist, too. Did Saddam have anthrax? We dont have a clue. But this statement by Blix was hardly conclusive. Kagan clipped it down well.
Meanwhile, another Kagan quote grabbed our attentionthe one from that New York Times reporter. Again, here was the passage in question:
KAGAN: [T]he critics real aim is to prove that, as a New York Times reporter recently put it, the failure so far to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq may mean that there never were any in the first place.Had a Times reporter really made such a statement? Frankly, we were dubious. We couldnt find the quote in various archives, so we asked Kagan who said itand a Kagan rep fingered David Stout. We were told that the statement appeared on-line, not in a hard-copy edition.
Were still in the weeds on the matter. NYT archives did record a June 4, on-line piece in which Stout made this perfectly accurate statement:
STOUT: Critics of the war have asserted that the Baghdad regimes supposed links to terrorists were never proved, and that the failure so far to find weapons of mass destruction may mean that Iraq no longer has them.Clearly, Stout is reporting what others have said, a point Kagan renders ambiguous. But beyond that, the highlighted phrase is different from the phrase Kagan quoted. According to Kagan, someone was claiming that the failure to find WMDs may mean that there never were any in the first place. Kagan swatted this odd claim down. But in the piece we found on-line, a much more sensible claim was reported. In Stouts rendering, the failure to find WMDs may mean that Iraq no longer has them.
Did the Kagan quote ever appear? In the past several days, weve sent e-mails to three different NYT editors, asking that question. It would seem like a simple matter to resolve. Magisterially, they have chosen not to answer. Stout has offered several replies, but hasnt quite nailed it down either.
On, the travails of the media hound! But in fact, Bushs critics have rarely said that Saddam didnt have anthrax or other WMDs. They have made a long list of serious charges. Bush shills dont seem to have heard.