Wednesday, January 29, 2003

Fisking MoDo - Everybody Else Is Doing It

I stopped reading the NYT editorial writers several years ago. Other than Bob Herbert and William Safire (sometimes), it felt like they each writing the same five columns over and over again. Don't get me wrong - I liked Tom Friedman's five columns a lot, and Maureen Dowd's some - but after a while, it didn't feel like I was reading anything new.

Dowd in particular seems to be using this phenomenon as an excuse to phone in her columns.

Today's column is no exception.

The Empire Strikes First


First, a quick Star Wars lesson, although it should be unnecessary for a pop-culture maven like MoDo. The reason that the Empire was striking back in the movie was that the rebels had struck first, by destroying the Deathstar. (Although some short-lived Imperial critics argued that the "root cause" of the Deathstar attack was the destruction of Alderaan.) Here, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, promised to disarm as a condition of the ceasefire, and has been breaking its promise since day one.

More importanly, if we really were an "Empire", there wouldn't be an Iraq to be violating the cease-fire in the first place. A better title for MoDo's piece might be "The Monstrous Dictatorship Continues to Sponsor World Terrorism and Violate Its Ceasefire Conditions, Until the Republic Finally Loses Patience and Kickes Its Ass for a Second Time."

While I'm discussing Star Wars, it's also worth pointing out that the plot of the current series is that the would-be-authoritarian ruler of a loose republic of soveriegn planets manipulates a series of dictators into causing trouble so that he can assert more authority over the states that make up the Republic. In that metaphor, the villian is either Jacques Chirac or Kofi Annan, each of whom think that the danger Iraq poses means that they should assume control of the US military. (The Naboo situation in particular seems modeled on every helpless population that the UN has watched get massacred in the last 15 years. If the Wookies had just gone and cleaned the Trade Federation's clock on their own, I'm sure Naboo would have been plenty grateful.)

There was no smoking gun last night. There was merely a smoky allusion.

Um, President Bush pointed out that (1) Iraq is preventing Iraqi scientists from speaking to inspectors, in open violation of 1441, (2) is unable or unwilling to account for literally tons of deadly weapons that we know that he had, and (3) has been attempting to get uranium, among other things. What does MoDo think a "smoking gun" is? Does she think that President Bush is going to produce an actual gun?

President Bush tried to sell skittish Americans on a war with Iraq by alluding to the possibility of a link between Saddam and Al Qaeda.

Ah. MoDo has defined "smoking gun" to mean a proven link between Saddam and Al Qaeda. However, we didn't declare war on Al Qaeda, we declared war on terrorism, and rightly so. Al Qaeda isn't the only group engaging in terrorism. For example, Saddam tried to assassinate the first President Bush, and is directly sponsoring the Palestinian suicide bombers. Now it turns out that despite the supposed lack of a link, Europe is in alarm that Islamofacist sleeper agents will attack if we invade Iraq. Well, that sounds like terrorism to me . . .

Outlaw regimes seeking bad weapons, Mr. Bush said, "could also give or sell those weapons to terrorist allies, who would use them without the least hesitation."

Does MoDo agree with this statement? Disagree? Who can tell?

The axis of evil has shrunk to Saddam, evil incarnate. Iran and North Korea were put aside with the dismissive comment: "Different threats require different strategies."

Well, specifically, Bush said:

Different threats require different strategies. In Iran, we continue to see a government that represses its people, pursues weapons of mass destruction, and supports terror. We also see Iranian citizens risking intimidation and death as they speak out for liberty and human rights and democracy. Iranians, like all people, have a right to choose their own government and determine their own destiny -- and the United States supports their aspirations to live in freedom.

On the Korean Peninsula, an oppressive regime rules a people living in fear and starvation. Throughout the 1990s, the United States relied on a negotiated framework to keep North Korea from gaining nuclear weapons. We now know that that regime was deceiving the world, and developing those weapons all along. And today the North Korean regime is using its nuclear program to incite fear and seek concessions. America and the world will not be blackmailed.

America is working with the countries of the region -- South Korea, Japan, China, and Russia -- to find a peaceful solution, and to show the North Korean government that nuclear weapons will bring only isolation, economic stagnation, and continued hardship. The North Korean regime will find respect in the world and revival for its people only when it turns away from its nuclear ambitions.

Our nation and the world must learn the lessons of the Korean Peninsula and not allow an even greater threat to rise up in Iraq. A brutal dictator, with a history of reckless aggression, with ties to terrorism, with great potential wealth, will not be permitted to dominate a vital region and threaten the United States.

That doesn't sound like shrinking the Axis of Evil to me. It sounds like Bush acknowledging that Iran doesn't pose as much of a threat today as Iraq does, and that Korea is a whole different kettle of fish altoghether. Ironically, Korea is (almost) too strong to attack, in that it has the potential to devastate South Korea, and (almost) too week, in that its government is unlikely to survive much longer. Also, Korea is largely supported by China, which can be discretely threatened with the possibility of the US pulling out of South Korea and encouraging South Korea and Japan to go nuclear.

The state of the union is skeptical.

. . . of MoDo's ability to mindread the rest of the country.

At a moment when Americans were hungry for reassurance that the monomaniacal focus on Iraq makes sense when the economy is sputtering, Mr. Bush offered a rousing closing argument for war, but no convincing bill of particulars.

The bill of particulars is coming February 5, which will presumably offer MoDo another chance for snarkiness. I didn't hear a "bill of particulars" on prescription drugs or AIDS in Africa either, and I don't think that's what an SotU is about.

Republican senators tried to back up the president. While admitting that there was no evidence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction yet, John Warner told reporters that an attack was justified "if you put together all the bits and pieces that are out there right now."

This is tough to respond to, since I can't find the actual quote. (Reuters has an abbreviated quote, but I'd like to see the transcript.) Still, I'd like to point out that the "bits and pieces" are pretty conclusive, since they include the facts that (a) Saddam can't or won't account for literally tons of WMD, (b) is actively blocking the inspectors from doing their job, and (c) could end the sanctions and get back to the business of oppressing his people if he would just cooperate. More importantly, I'd like to point out that Warner wasn't "backing up the President" because his quote was made at least several hours before the SotU.

Americans will never understand the Bush rationale for war if they simply look at the bits and pieces of physical evidence.

How will we understand the Bush rationale for war, pray tell?

They will understand the Bush rationale for war only if they look at the metaphysical evidence, the perfect storm of imperial schemes and ideological stratagems driving the desire to topple Saddam.

Ah, the war is really about personality. How can MoDo tell?

Well, first, she has "metaphysical evidence." If I could think of any intelligible meaning for that phrase, I would write a joke here, but as far as I can tell, it's abolutely meaningless.

Second, of course, to MoDo, everything is about personality and nothing is about whether we and the people of Iraq would like to die by chemical weapons.

The Bush team thinks the way to galvanize the public is with fear, by coupling Saddam to 9/11 and building him up into a Hitler who could threaten the world, as the White House chief of staff, Andy Card, told Tim Russert last Sunday, "with a holocaust."

Does MoDo disagree? Does she think Saddam would be responsible with his nuclear weapons, black plaugue, and nerve gas? Or does she think that use of those weapons wouldn't be a holocaust? If so, why not say it?

But their reasons for war predate 9/11. The conservatives have wanted Saddam's head for a dozen years.

How long has Saddam been violating the cease-fire and hiding WMD? Oh, a dozen years. When did Clinton announce that he was dropping more bombs on Iraq than we did during the entire 1991 campaign because the only way to preserve the safety of the world was to drive Saddam from power? December 16, 1998. Those conservatives . . .

Dick Cheney; his chief of staff, Scooter Libby; and the Pentagon official Paul Wolfowitz also think Saddam is the perfect lab rat on which to test their new pre-emptive "empire strikes first" national security strategy, which Mr. Wolfowitz and Mr. Libby first drafted back in 1992, during the Bush 41 administration, when Mr. Cheney was defense secretary.

I take it the "Empire Strikes First" quotes are MoDos. Of course, there's no way to tell . . .

The first President Bush found the ideas too far out. But now his son has put them into play. Bush 43, former prep school football yell leader, is reputed to be the author of the phrase in the new national security strategy that sums up the policy: "We recognize that our best defense is a good offense." (Didn't Sunday's Super Bowl prove that the best defense is a good defense?)

Actually, the best defense is a good offense and a good defense, which explains why, President Bush has been trying to shut down North Korea's air game for years, an initiative that "good defense" MoDo presumably supports . . .

(and, of course, any defense that blitzes the other team's quarterback before he gets a chance to throw the long bomb is also OK in my book.)

After removing the super-rat, Mr. Wolfowitz, Mr. Libby and their fellow hawk Richard Perle can turn his country into a laboratory for democracy in the Arab world — creating a domino effect to give Israel more security. Once they have planted Athenian democracy on Mesopotamian soil, they envision orchestrating more freedom throughout the Middle East — as long as the region plays ball with the new sheriff. They'll put pressure on Syria and Iran to abandon their support for terrorism. And then, with an American spigot, the oil will flow free — except to the French, who will pay dearly.

This actually makes me quite angry, and is the reason I wrote this whole piece. As MoDo sees it, starting a "domino effect" of "democracy in the Arab world" is morally wrong, because any democratic country is part of the American empire. This is so ass-backward I don't know where to start. How's this. If we were an empire, we wouldn't spread democracy and freedom!!! Remember the Roman empire? How about the Klingon empire? The Soviet empire? Right. Empire =/= Freedom.

Appearently MoDo is opposed to "more freedom throughought the Middle East," or, at the very least, thinks that "giving Israel more security" is too high a price to pay for freedom. So, if I understand it, in MoDo-world, Israel is in danger because the people of the Middle East are being held hostage by a group of dictators and religious maniacs who want to brainwash their children into dieing to kill Jews. Although freedom is normally a good thing, if the people of the Middle East had more freedom, Israel would also be more secure. The horror!

Finally, we are apparently going to make the French "pay dearly" for Iraqi oil. How, exactly, does MoDo think we're going to do that? Are we going to establish a "French price" and a "rest-of-the-world price" for oil? Is MoDo aware that oil is a fungible commodity? If we lower the world price for oil by allowing the Iraqi government to sell oil, then the French could buy oil from any other country at the world price, even if we did something so monumentally goofy as refusing to sell them Iraqi oil. (And if we hate the French so much, why don't we refuse to sell them Texan oil? Are we preventing the Afghans from selling Afghans or heroin to the French? I doubt it.)

Mr. Rumsfeld sees a war with Iraq as a chance to exorcise American ambivalence about the use of force left over from Vietnam, and the "pinprick bombings" of the Clinton years. And Mr. Cheney sees it as an opportunity to exorcise all the ghosts of the 60's and the feel-good Clinton era — the loss of moral authority and the feeling that America is in decline or in the wrong.

MoDo the mindreader strikes again. If the Clinton era caused "the feeling that America is in decline or in the wrong," why is it a "feel-good" era?

Hopefully, MoDo will do a little bit more mind-reading and explain how Cheney came to the conclusion that war in Iraq will put an end to the feel good Clinton era. I mean, nobody liked the idea of overthrowing Saddam as much as Clinton.

While she's mind-reading, she could also check why Rumsfeld is concerned about "Vietnam-era ambivalence" in this country after our experiences with the 1991 war and the grueling Afghan winter . . .

The vice president jumped up last night to cheer brawny unilateralism when Mr. Bush said: "The course of this nation does not depend on the decisions of others."

Did anyone else jump up? Did Cheney "jump up to cheer brawny unilateralism" when Bush proposed a (unilateral) effort to combat African AIDS? We'll never know. Welcome to MoDo's world. Anyway, what the President actually said was:

In all these efforts, however, America's purpose is more than to follow a process -- it is to achieve a result: the end of terrible threats to the civilized world. All free nations have a stake in preventing sudden and catastrophic attacks. And we're asking them to join us, and many are doing so. Yet the course of this nation does not depend on the decisions of others. Whatever action is required, whenever action is necessary, I will defend the freedom and security of the American people.

What part of this does MoDo disagree with? Does she really believe that we shouldn't have fought in WWII because the Axis didn't want us to?

Despite its fixation on Saddam, the administration hasn't completely forgotten about Osama. The Economist ran an ad this week that said: "For over 100 years Arab-Americans have served the nation. Today we need you more than ever. . . . For additional information and to apply online, please visit our website at"

The C.I.A. is seeking Arabic-speaking agents.

Now they get around to that?

See if you can spot the logical flaw . . .

The New York Times Online has placed an ad offering to hire "editors, producers, Web designers, systems professionals and quality assurance engineers."

Now they get around to that?