Monday, February 17, 2003

I have a walkman that pulls in TV audio, which kept me yesterday from missing Condi Rice on the Sunday Morning Follies, a/k/a Meet the Press. It's nice to know that there's still at least one administration official with enough shame to follow up a whopper like "The problem is that in this country and in the countries that are there on television one has the right to protest," by mumbling, after an embarrassed-sounding pause, "which is a very, very, very good thing."

But there were a few other odd remarks. Reviewing the transcript, I was struck, for example, by her response to a quote from UNSCOM head Hans Blix. Colin Powell had previously described some truck movements at Iraqi munitions dumps as evidence of some kind of coverup, and Blix had responded by saying it could just as easily have been routine activity. Now Rice:

Well, one would have to believe that at as many as 30 different sites, they were just engaged in routine activity. I think, frankly, that just gives the Iraqis a benefit of the doubt that they do not deserve.

By that standard, any activity at all at a site associated with the Iraqi military is prima facie evidence of a WMD coverup. That certainly takes some of the complexity out of interpreting satellite photos. For more fun, watch the rhetorical sleight of hand in this next bit (with emphasis added):

MR. RUSSERT: There is a CIA analysis which said that if Saddam's back is against the wall, he becomes more dangerous, that it would increase the likelihood of terrorist acts here in the United States and that he very well may have a pre-emptive attack of his own of chemical weapons against U.S. soldiers. Do you concur with that?

DR. RICE: We cannot rule out, of course, that Saddam might try, in some kind of desperation, to use the chemical or biological weapons. But you have to do everything that you can in the following way. First of all, to prepare militarily to deal with the ways that he might deliver that, to send a very strong message, as the president has done, to Iraqi soldiers and officers who have to carry out those orders that carrying out those orders on behalf of a dictator who will be defeated will put them at personal risk, and therefore, deterring them from doing it. We are prepared...

MR. RUSSERT: Will we use a nuclear bomb against them?

DR. RICE: The president, like every other president, is not going to talk about what his options might be. But very clearly, we are working to deter any Iraqi use.

Now, it's very interesting, for somebody who doesn't have weapons of mass destruction, to threaten to use them. I just want to say on the terrorism piece, Tim, it did not take potential conflict with Iraq for al-Qaeda to carry out 9/11. It did not take potential conflict with Iraq for them to carry out attacks in Bali. It did not take a conflict with Iraq for a poisons network to spread through Europe. The terrorists are going on their own operational time line to try and hurt us.

Note how an evaluation of Saddam by a CIA analyst, in Russert's first question, becomes transmuted into a threat from Saddam himself, in Rice's second response. Note also how, when pushed on the point, she starts talking about terrorist attacks from al-Qaeda, even though the administration has at best thin and tangential evidence that Iraq has been any help at all to them in the past --- as opposed to the bounteous help which they and their fellow Islamic radicals have received from our allies in, say, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

(Oh, by the way, she also threatened to nuke Iraq. But compared to some of the other stuff in that passage, that's almost rational).

It's also interesting to note that at times even the Bush administration has high praise for multilateral approaches --- if only to problems that they just don't want to be bothered with:

Dr. RICE: ... North Korea we are dealing with through multilateral means. We know that what the North Koreans want most is for this to become a bilateral crisis between the United States and North Korea. We refuse to let that happen, because the United States has interest here, but so do South Korea and China in particular and Russia and Japan. Everybody has to pull their weight here. It was a positive step that this was referred to the Security Council the other day.

MR. RUSSERT: But we have to stop them.

Dr. RICE: It is absolutely the case that the North Koreans should not continue up this ladder of escalation, but it is not just the responsibility of the United States to make sure that that happens. It is the responsibility of North Korea's neighbors and the responsibility of the world.

But the most downright peculiar thing from the interview wasn't any of those things. It was this:

... we are in a diplomatic window here but a diplomatic window that frankly cannot last very much longer because the uncertainty is unfair to states in the region. The uncertainty is unfair to the Iraqi people.

So, if the governments in the region that are madly trying to arrange some kind of diplomatic alternative get preempted by an unheralded blitz attack from American troops, their leaders can comfort themselves with the thought that we're only doing it to be fair to them.

Professional diplomacy, folks. Don't try this at home.


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