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Your humble narrator is...
...a research analyst at a think tank in the Washington DC area. Born in Israel, raised in Kentucky, movie fanatic and sports nut.
My first-hand account of the Palestinian divestment conference at the U. of Michigan

:: Friday, September 26, 2003 ::

Not much new here
A few people have linked to this article about Arafat by Ion Mihai Pacepa, the highest ranking intelligence officer ever to have defected from the former Soviet bloc. I don't think it's all that revealing, and it glosses over some important details. Before I get to some of those, I should note that I did a post back in late August about something else this Pacepa guy wrote (I'll link when my archives stop acting up), which was basically a tin-foil-hat account of how Saddam got rid of huge WMD stockpiles right before the war--thanks to a massive (yet completely clandestine!) Russian campaign to help him do so. Not the most credible source, in my view. Yet, in this article, I have little reason to doubt the details he reports, just the emphasis on certain things.

The gist of the article is that Arafat was not much more than a Soviet creation, starting from the time in the late '60s when he took over the PLO. Pacepa seems to believe that Arafat wouldn't have gained much stature at all, either among the Palestinians or around the world, if not for the KGB having invented almost everything about his public persona. Now nobody doubts that Arafat had close ties throughout the Soviet bloc, but he didn't spring fully formed from the minds of the KGB (nor was Nasser a Soviet puppet, as Pacepa contends--Nasser got lots of political and military support from the USSR, but he was a fairly unpredictable figure who was also courted by the US for several years after he gained power). The one thing that Arafat has succeded at throughout his career is maneuvering himself into a position of maximum influence, playing all the various parties in the Middle East off each other whenever necessary. That includes the Arab states, different factions among the Palestinians, Western Europe--and the Soviet bloc, back when it was also a factor. Pacepa portrays Arafat as a useful vessel for anti-American Soviet propaganda, but that relationship didn't just run in one direction, with one party using the other to advance its own aims. It went both ways. More than a decade after the collapse of the Soviet Union, how could Arafat lay claim, as he still clearly can, to be the figure with the most legitimacy among the Palestinians, if he had been little more than a front-man for the KGB?

Pacepa also contends that Ceausescu was able to leverage his influence with Arafat into a massive charade of pretend peace-making with the West, and with Jimmy Carter in particular. Well, not exactly. The article says nothing about Ceausescu's being the only Soviet bloc leader who maintained ties with Israel, nor does it mention the meetings that he had with both Sadat and Begin in 1977 that helped smooth the way for Sadat's historic trip to Jerusalem. Ceausescu was, of course, a brutal dictator who abused his own people. But he did play a positive role in the peace between Israel and Egypt, and had Arafat done something similar, the last 25 years in the Middle East would probably have been a lot less bloody. Pacepa claims that Ceausescu basically handed Arafat the strategy of claiming to want peace while ultimately working against it, but it wasn't that simple.
2:56 PM
:: Wednesday, September 24, 2003 ::
The hole gets much deeper
While expressing some reservations about one shot he fired in his all-out anti-Clark jihad, Andrew Sullivan actually manages to compound his dishonesty by unleashing multiple arguments that are just as ridiculous as the one he made before:
Yesterday, I wrote: "Clark's previous remark that he'd be a Republican if Karl Rove had returned his calls is just a metaphor, or a fabrication, or a dream, or something." Well, Clark claimed that "something" was a joke; and that he was misinterpreted. I take the point and should have mentioned this interpretation at the time. I was a little flip.
OK, so far so good. Here's the excerpt from Howard Fineman's original Newsweek column that caused the commotion:
After Al Qaeda attacked America, retired Gen. Wes Clark thought the Bush administration would invite him to join its team. After all, he’d been NATO commander, he knew how to build military coalitions and the investment firm he now worked for had strong Bush ties. But when GOP friends inquired, they were told: forget it.

Word was that Karl Rove, the president’s political mastermind, had blocked the idea. Clark was furious. Last January, at a conference in Switzerland, he happened to chat with two prominent Republicans, Colorado Gov. Bill Owens and Marc Holtzman, now president of the University of Denver. “I would have been a Republican,” Clark told them, “if Karl Rove had returned my phone calls.” Soon thereafter, in fact, Clark quit his day job and began seriously planning to enter the presidential race—as a Democrat. Messaging NEWSWEEK by BlackBerry, Clark late last week insisted the remark was a “humorous tweak.” The two others said it was anything but. “He went into detail about his grievances,” Holtzman said. “Clark wasn’t joking. We were really shocked.”
Clearly, Clark is simply claiming that his specific remark about having made calls to Karl Rove was a joke--no more or less than that. The column says nothing at all about Clark's confirmation, or denial, about having wanted to work for the Bush administration in some undefined anti-terrorism role. Fineman either didn't ask him about that, or did but didn't report his response. Back to Sullivan:
But don't get me wrong: I don't believe Clark for a minute about this incident. One thing we know about him is that he's phenomenally ambitious and extremely prickly. It doesn't surprise me a bit that he might have wanted to join the Bush team and was pissed when they didn't want him. Howard Fineman's sources, moreover, didn't just make their point by citing the "joke." They say Clark went on at length about his sense of grievance with the Republican establishment.
Notice the problem? That's right--like I pointed out, Clark is not on record in Fineman's column as having said anything about whether "he might have wanted to join the Bush team and was pissed when they didn't want him." When Fineman's sources--the Colorado Republicans who spoke to Clark way back in January (of 2003, I guess)--"make their point" about Clark, they're talking about his alleged desire to join the Bush team after 9/11, which Clark has not denied. "This incident" is about Clark's non-existent phone calls to Rove, period.

Back to more dissembling and self-contradiction from Sullivan:
The point about Clark's flakiness stands. And it's not improbable. He's not exactly a partisan Dem, is he? He voted for Reagan and Nixon. And he was dissed by the Clinton administration. What better revenge than returning in glory to help run a war?
What about this demonstrates "Clark's flakiness"? Sullivan's inability to understand the difference between the specific point of Clark's alleged phone calls to Rove and the broader point of his being mad at the Bush administration for rebuking his offers to help? Then we get into the partisanship point. OK, Clark says he voted for Nixon and Reagan, but now he's a Dem--does that make him flaky? Only if Ronald Reagan could be called flaky for having become a Republican after voting four times for FDR. Then there's the point about wanting "revenge" on the Clinton administration by "returning in glory to help run a war"--what? That makes no sense whatsoever. Anyone who's read anything about what happened to Clark after the Kosovo war knows that he was pushed out of his job by the higher-ups at the Pentagon and the Joint Chiefs. The White House, by practically all accounts, was more or less snookered into it. So how would joining the next administration count as "revenge"? I don't get that at all.

Finally, there's this over-arching point that's worth making. Sullivan constantly accuses Democrats of playing politics with terrorism, hating Bush more than Saddam, wanting America to fail, etc. Now a story emerges about a Democratic presidential candidate having wanted to join the Bush administration's war on terror--and Sullivan cites that as evidence of said candidate's "flakiness" and "ego-centrism"! Partisan hackery often descends into classic Freudian projection, but this must be close to a record on that count.
3:32 PM
:: Monday, September 22, 2003 ::
The Joe Cabot presidency
It's mystifying that I didn't think of this at least 8 or 9 months ago, but I just realized that one of the most famous lines from Reservoir Dogs can stand in for quite a lot of the Bush administration's public justification of their policies. In the final scene of the movie, Joe Cabot, the crime boss who organizes the jewel heist that the movie revolves around, identifies one of the other characters as an informer for the police. When another character challenges him for proof, Cabot says:
You don't need proof when you have instinct!
Now think about probably the most common administration response to questions about a "smoking gun" in Iraq: "We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud." In other words:
Q: You say there are lots of WMD in Iraq that Saddam could give to al-Qaeda on any given day, and that Saddam and al-Qaeda are the same thing--where's the proof?

A: You don't need proof when you have instinct!
It works for tax cuts, too. From Lexis/Nexis, here's Republican Senator Robert Bennett of Utah complimenting Bush's advocacy of the 2003 tax cut:
"The president looks at the economy and looks at the electorate and grasps that the electorate wants to see someone doing something. They don't care about the details. So here is Bush with the political smarts to understand that the best medicine is to be seen as a leader making bold strokes, moving out on an issue where others are temporizing..."

"By the force of his personality," Mr. Bennett said, "he stepped into the squabble between the House and the Senate and brought everyone into the room and said, 'You're going to get this done before Memorial Day.' Clinton would have stood at a board with a Magic Marker and worked through the details. Bush was more interested in getting a bill than he was in what was in the bill."
In other words, Clinton would have tried to prove that his plan was the best thing to do, but now Bush is president, and you don't need proof when you have instinct!
11:09 PM
No surprises here
Via Talking Points Memo, I see this story indicating that a familiar strategy appears to be at hand for Bush's speech at the UN this week:
Unbowed by arguments with allies, President Bush will challenge the United Nations with a call to action for money and troops in Iraq and Afghanistan despite lingering differences and a reluctance by many countries to make major contributions.

Bush, addressing the General Assembly on Tuesday, will argue just as he did last year that the United Nations needs to meet its global responsibilities or risk being irrelevant.
Any bets on this becoming an annual ritual? Let's see, what will Bush use this year to threaten the UN with irrelevancy...

I thought it made sense last year to use language that tough regarding Iraq, since there was such a long string of Security Council resolutions that had been violated by Saddam and met with little more than additional resolutions. It worked, to the extent that Resolution 1441 passed unanimously. At this point, with the US calling all the shots in Iraq, it makes no sense whatsoever to use the same language (never mind the obvious contradiction of threatening the UN with irrelevancy once again when the administration's logic of last year dictates that it already confirmed its irrelevancy by "failing to act" before we went to war). The message of "enforce your own resolutions or become irrelevant" made sense, since the appeal was based on the UN's own self-defined role in that situation, not just what the US wanted to do. But this year, it's about coming to a consensus about what to do in Iraq where no UN blueprint exists yet. Threatening "irrelevancy" in this situation is the thinnest possible disguise for "our way or the highway," based on nothing more than "we're right and you're wrong." There are probably worse ways to conduct diplomacy, but I can't think of many right now.

Update: I doubt that the speech itself indicates much of a change in policy. But contrary to the story linked to above, the threat of "irrelevancy" from last year was not invoked this time.
12:05 AM

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