July 18, 2003

Coalition of the Rational Katrina

Coalition of the Rational

Katrina vanden Heuvel wants to set up a "Coalition of the Rational" to "take back our country from this radical rightwing Administration."

Some suggested charter members? Our good friends at Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity. For more on these estimable folks go here or here.

Ms. vanden Heuvel must have been hard-pressed to find charter members of the "Coalition of the Rational" as she lists VIPS and then, separately, one of its founding members the (aptly named) Ray McGovern.

McGovern is steamed about the Niger/uranium story. Fair enough. But is it fair for him to write as follows:

"But where was the evidence? It is now clear that the only thing available at that time was the so-called argument about aluminum tubes. There had been reports of Iraq's trying to procure them from abroad, and those eager to please the White House offered instant analysis that the tubes were for Iraqs nuclear program. Thus, Rice on Sept. 8, 2002, told CNN's Wolf Blitzer that "Saddam Hussein is actively pursuing a nuclear weapon. We do know that there have been shipments into Iraq of aluminum tubes that really are only suited to nuclear weapons programs."

But when the engineers and scientists at U.S. nuclear labs were consulted, their conclusion was that the tubes were not suitable for a nuclear application. So that line of argument turned out to be as weak as the chemical and biological weapons evidence about which DIA analysts were so suspicious."

O.K, Condi Rice should have phrased her sentence differently on Wolf Blitzer's show. The aluminum rods, per various Administration analyses, were certainly not judged to be solely for nuclear weapons program use. But McGovern merely compounds the error from the other side of the fence by stating that the "conclusion was that the tubes were not suitable for a nuclear application."

Let's look at that old Spence Ackerman article (from TNR) that is favorable to McGovern's view on this matter:

"These judgments were tested in the spring of 2002, when intelligence reports began to indicate that Iraq was trying to procure a kind of high-strength aluminum tube. Some analysts from the CIA and DIA quickly came to the conclusion that the tubes were intended to enrich uranium for a nuclear weapon through the kind of gas-centrifuge project Iraq had built before the first Gulf war. This interpretation seemed plausible enough at first, but over time analysts at the State Department's INR and the Department of Energy (DOE) grew troubled. The tubes' thick walls and particular diameter made them a poor fit for uranium enrichment, even after modification.That determination, according to the INR's Thielmann, came from weeks of interviews with "the nation's experts on the subject, ... they're the ones that have the labs, like Oak Ridge National Laboratory, where people really know the science and technology of enriching uranium." Such careful study led the INR and the DOE to an alternative analysis: that the specifications of the tubes made them far better suited for artillery rockets. British intelligence experts studying the issue concurred, as did some CIA analysts. But top officials at the CIA and DIA did not." [my emphasis]

As I've blogged about before, there were differing analyses in the government about the prospects that these tubes could be used for centrifuges. Ackerman writes that the particular diameter of the tubes, even after modification, made them a "poor fit for uranium enrichment." But some folks at Defense and CIA believed, for reasons that no one has definitively shown to be injudicious or purposefully deceptive, that the tubes might be "cut down" or "reamed out" in a manner that would allow them to be used as centrifuges. The CIA, the lead agency on these matters, ultimately judged that the rods could be used to enrich uranium.

McGovern and VIPS might not like this assessment, they might feel the intel was politicized, they might be pissed off about it--but they are not in a position to definitively state that the rods could not be used for uranium enrichment full stop. Relatedly, as Andrew Sullivan has repeatedly pointed out, most recently here, the burden of proof on such matters:

"must be on those who counsel inaction rather than on those who urge an offensive, proactive battle. Does it matter one iota, for example, if we find merely an apparatus and extensive program for building WMDs in Iraq rather than actual weapons? Or rather: given the uncertain nature of even the best intelligence, should we castigate our leaders for over-reacting to a threat or minimizing it? Since 9/11, my answer is pretty categorical. Blair and Bush passed the test. They still do."

Indeed.

Ms. vanden Heuvel also writes as follows:

"And there are scores of others inside and outside the Administration; in Establishment circles; in military and business organizations, who are alarmed by the White House's radical extremism. At off-the-record meetings at the Council on Foreign Relations, for example, prominent figures regularly express shock (and no awe) at how this Administration is undermining America's security--and reputation in the world."

Hmmm. Surely she wasn't talking about this CFR meeting. But this one was on the record. Shock at this Administration's woeful irrationality is doubtless being aired regularly and vociferously at the Harold Pratt House off-the-record.

Doubtful. Look, our reputation has taken a hit in large swaths of the globe. But why? For reasons, ultimately, that are mostly related simply to the unparallelled hard and soft power America wields. A massive hyperpower is often destined to be resented, feared and distrusted in various locales around the globe. A passing acquaintance with great power politics over the centuries goes a long way towards showcasing this reality.

Of course, we should and can do better in terms of our reputational stock by doing our best to show humility and a "listening" posture with other nations as best we can. We need to show less disdain for certain international treaties like Kyoto by at least anteing up alternatives when we appear to dismiss treaties out of hand.

Nor should we gallivant about issuing diktats to a Turkey or Germany on having them support our policy goals just because we judge them to be in our interests. We need to persuade people on the merits. But we often do just that. Thus Bush's September 12, 2002 speech to the U.N or the later unanimous UNSC council resolution on Iraq that Powell achieved.

So don't believe that assorted CFR heavies are regularly expressing shock at how the Bushies are "undermining America's security--and reputation in the world."

Regarding U.S. security, vanden Heuvel's dig is even more unfair. 9/11 was just shy of two full years ago. No subsequent attack has occurred on U.S. soil to date. Al-Qaeda's operational capacity has taken some major blows. The mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, KSM, has been apprehended.

Sure al-Qaeda remains a pressing threat. But note they haven't pulled off a mega-terror attack on the scale of a 9/11 since that horrible day. This is surely partly a result of aggressive prosecution by the Bush Adminisration of the war on terror.

So John Kerry might try to pull a Reaganesque turn of phrase and substitute "are you better off than you were four years ago" with are you "safer than you were three years ago."

But voters aren't dumb. They see the transparent politiking behind such a comment. And, unlike Reagan's interrogatory, most Americans answer the question with a stolid yes. And most CFR members, for what it's worth, I wager, answer the interrogatory in the affirmative as well.

Posted by Gregory at July 18, 2003 09:45 AM
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