August 25, 2006
Five No-Tool Players

You gotta hand it to these Cheney administration guys, they’re five no-tool players.

Baseball players are often considered in terms of the number of tools they possess. Can the player hit? Run? Field? Throw? If so, he’s a four-tool player. If he’s also a leader, then he’s got five tools. Which leads to occasional talk of the mythical six-tool player.

The Cheney crowd is a sort of bizarro-world version, as usual. Do these guys have brains? Honor? Courage? Skill? Not a bit of it. Turns out they’re also void of shame.

Some senior Bush administration officials and top Republican lawmakers are voicing anger that American spy agencies have not issued more ominous warnings about the threats that they say Iran presents to the United States.

Some policy makers have accused intelligence agencies of playing down Iran’s role in Hezbollah’s recent attacks against Israel and overestimating the time it would take for Iran to build a nuclear weapon.

Which officials and policy makers are we talking about — the same old war-mongering crowd from the last go-round?

The criticisms reflect the views of some officials inside the White House and the Pentagon who advocated going to war with Iraq and now are pressing for confronting Iran directly over its nuclear program and ties to terrorism, say officials with knowledge of the debate.

The dissonance is surfacing just as the intelligence agencies are overhauling their procedures to prevent a repeat of the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate — the faulty assessment that in part set the United States on the path to war with Iraq.

Which is presumably the problem. Even considering their well-known antipathy to the intelligence agencies, the Cheney crowd likes what the agencies did in the run-up to Iraq more than they would like any system that prevented the 2002 NIE.

In another shocking development, it turns out that our old friend Peter Hoekstra, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, better known in some circles as Mr. Calm and Rational, is the aforementioned policy maker. His committee has issued a report saying, basically, that the Republicans are in deep-dish sheep dip cherry-stone pie electorally speaking, and they’d better come up with another one of their patented October Surprises or some of them are headed to jail. What it actually says is that, given the fact that Iran is a threat, these fine Congresspersons cannot for the life of them figure out why the spooks hate America so much that they cover up that threat. Where the intelligence committee members came by this fact was not specified in the article.

Republicans are quite aware of the basic conclusions of the committee with respect to the danger of defeat in November. Even those among them who are occasionally rational are off the deep end on this one.

The consensus of the intelligence agencies is that Iran is still years away from building a nuclear weapon. Such an assessment angers some in Washington, who say that it ignores the prospect that Iran could be aided by current nuclear powers like North Korea. “When the intelligence community says Iran is 5 to 10 years away from a nuclear weapon, I ask: ‘If North Korea were to ship them a nuke tomorrow, how close would they be then?’ ” said Newt Gingrich, the former Republican speaker of the House of Representatives.

Can’t fault that logic. Of course, that means every country in the world is a mortal danger to us. But, hey, it keeps the economy going. Especially the economy in Newt’s district.

You have to say one thing about the Democrats’ duck-and-cover strategy for winning in November: it’s probably going to work. If they can avoid looking like corrupt idiots they’ll take the House, and I’ve been feeling for a while like the Senate could easily swing as well. A surprising number of people here in Kentucky are pissed at the President. Their governor has avoided court only because he’s immune while in office; he’ll probably spend his first day out of the office with lawyers. Across the river in Ohio, Blackwell, the leader of the gang that stole Ohio in 2004, was said to be 20 points behind — to which his campaign replied that their internal polls had him only eleven points behind.

Republicans are going down in the heartland. Not all of them, by any means, and that’s a good thing. Unfortunately I expect a few of the decent ones will get mashed in the upcoming wave, and probably several indecent ones will survive. But it does feel to me like surf’s up. The Republicans fear a political bloodbath, and, from my point of view, with good reason. They’ve caused a physical one.

So, what can we expect from them between now and November? Osama’s head on a platter? More 9/11? Newt?

“The intelligence community is dedicated to predicting the least dangerous world possible,” [Gingrich] said.

That’s how it functioned in the Cold War, isn’t it? I don’t recall any scare-mongering or witch-hunts back then, no predictions of imminent destruction by some weak and ill-understood enemy. No gaps of any sort, bomber, missile, or otherwise. Turned out to be right once, by chance perhaps or perhaps from experience, in Iraq, and the Republicans are embarassed: even the CIA understood the world better than they did.

But after all, if you’re working at the simple symbolic level these guys revel in, danger is coin of the realm.

Some veterans of the intelligence battles that preceded the Iraq war see the debate as familiar and are critical of efforts to create hard links based on murky intelligence.

“It reflects a certain way of looking at the world — that all evil is traceable to the capitals of certain states,” said Paul R. Pillar, who until last October oversaw American intelligence assessments about the Middle East. “And that, in my view, is a very incorrect way of interpreting the security challenges we face.”

If a series of signs from one source all turn out to be false alarms, people tend to stop buying it. I have the feeling a lot of Americans will not be buying Republican this fall, and that could lead to some healthy re-examinations. We can hope, at least.

Another thing that happens after signs from one direction turn out to be false alarms is that, at least for a while, a lot can happen in that direction without drawing much attention. And there are many kinds of war profiteering, all of which flourish in those shadows.

The Bush agenda is about to take a big hit in November. But the Bush family enterprises will be skulking around for a while longer.

Posted by Chuck Dupree at August 25, 2006 01:33 PM
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My letter to the New York Times:
You report Newt Gingrich, the former Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, as saying, "When the intelligence community says Iran is 5 to 10 years away from a nuclear weapon, I ask: 'If North Korea were to ship them a nuke tomorrow, how close would they be then?"
If North Korea were to ship Uruguay a nuke tomorrow, how close would Uruguay be then? If North Korea were to ship Nepal a nuke tomorrow, how close would Nepal be then? If North Korea were to ship Kenya a nuke tomorrow, how close would Kenya be then?
Going by Mr. Gingrich's logic, we must preemptively attack every nation-state in the world that does not yet own nukes in order to assure America's safety, security, and peace.
In reality, to try to regain some semblance of safety, security, and peace, we need a change of administration, the sooner, the better, and bring some grownups in to run our government.

Posted by: Joyful Alternative on August 26, 2006 3:20 PM

Joyful, i look forward to reading your letter again in the paper / heh

Posted by: Katherine Hunter on August 27, 2006 5:02 PM

Why, thank you, KH. WaPo loves me, as do Newsweek and US News, but not NYT and Time. I know Time hates me because I keep volunteering to be the "liberal columnist" it lacks, but I don't know what the gray lady has against me. Maybe I lack proper respect for my betters.

Posted by: Joyful Alternative on August 28, 2006 7:58 AM
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