Welcome back, Joe!

The shabbiest trick in the magic-bag of the left is pretending that anyone who opposes some particular program intended to do good to the poor or some socially marginalized group must be hostile to the interests of the intended beneficiaries, as opposed to dubious about the actual efficacy of the program or concerned about its side-effects.

The corresponding trick on the right is pretending that anyone who doubts some measure taken allegedly in the interests of national security by a right-wing politician must therefore be hostile to American and friendly to its enemies.

Here’s Bill Kristol (*) playing that trick in an especially underhanded way. (And, as it turns out, copying his father’s McCarthyism literally word for word.) (*) [Thanks to Tapped for the pointer.]

During the Cold War era, there was a tiny bit of truth to the assertion that liberals, in general, tended to be somewhat less wholehearted in their opposition to our foes and support for our friends abroad. (When you think about who some of those friends were — Osama bin Laden, for example — that wasn’t entirely to the liberals’ discredit.)

But the assertion that the left is somehow less hostile to Islamofascism than the right really makes no sense at all. Authoritarianism, obscurantism, anti-feminism, and intolerant religiosity: from a left-wing perspective, what’s not to hate? By contrast, some on the right — the entire Bush family, for example — find it very hard to come up with an ill word toward Saudi Arabia, the fountainhead of political Islam. (George W.’s admiration for authoritarians isn’t limited by ethnicity or religion, either: note how chummy he is with Vladimir Putin, the career KGB agent now running Russia with an increasingly dictatorial hand, despite Russia’s having been just as obstructionist as France in the run-up to the Iraq war.)

The fantasy of some of the warbloggers that taking down Saddam was just a prologue to taking on the bani Saud always struck me as far-fetched. But if any doubt on that score remained, the Administration’s insistence on editing the Saudi role in 9-11 out of the Congressional report (on security grounds, you know) should have put an end to it.

The Presidential candidate for the year 2004 least hostile to the nation that most threatens American national security is George W. Bush. Bush can be beaten by any Democrat who can make that case to the voters.

Shhhhhhhhh! It’s a secret!

Dwight Meredith links to, and comments on, a story about the final report of the Joint Intelligence Committee on 9-11. Bob Graham, who has now semi-declared for President, says that an unnamed “sovereign foreign government” — he doesn’t say “Saudi Arabia” — “assisted, not just in financing” the 9-11 mass murders. Graham notes that much of the material is classified, “I think overly-classified.” The obvious interpretation is that naming the country would violate the secrecy rules. [That may also be true of Attorney General Ashcroft’s reticence, of which the Gweilo diarist and I made such fun last month.] Obviously it isn’t Iraq, or all that stuff would have been declassified and spread all over the newspapers.

Two thoughts:

1. The failure of the Bush Administration to keep its promise to make those who paid for 9-11 pay in full is potentially a huge issue. If Bob Graham is smart enough to see that, he may be smart enough to be President, which he seems to want to be, and maybe even smart enough to get to be President.

2. Abuse of the classification system to control public debate is pervasive. Only a subset of classified material would really be of use to a potential enemy. Additional material is properly classified for “sources and methods” reasons: the information itself isn’t sensitive, but revealing that we know it might reveal where the bug is or which attache is selling us secrets. But those two categories together do not exhaust what can properly be classified according to the statute. Any information the release of which would tend to impede the foreign policy of the United States is properly classifiable. So if our current policy is to suck up to the House of Saud, any information, including translations from the Riyadh newspapers, the revelation of which would tend to annoy the Saudis, can be, and almost certainly is being, protected by a “Top Secret” stamp.

When I was young and irresponsible, I worked for the Justice Department, analyzing drug policy. In that capacity, I was put through the full security mumbo-jumbo and received a Top Secret clearance and, on top of that, clearances for various very highly taboo Codeword categories. (The initiation ceremony involves being dipped in the blood of … well, I could tell ya, but then I’d have to kill ya.)

Having been cleared, what did I learn that it would then have been a felony for me to reveal? Nothing that would have helped the Russkis or the narco-bad-guys. But I did learn the names of assorted corrupt high-level officials in various of the Carribean banking havens Jeff MacNelly once lampooned as “Rinky-Dink and Tabasco.” No elaborate spying had been required to learn the names; apparently it was routine cafe gossip in the countries involved. So why, I asked, is this material classified? Not that I had any desire to reveal it, but I was curious.

The senior security guy in the Criminal Division set me straight: Yes, everyone knew that the Rinky-Dink-and-Tabascanese Finance Minister, or Central Bank president, or whatever it was, was crookeder than a dog’s hind leg. He knew, we knew, the Prime Minister knew, the Prime Minister knew we knew, we knew he knew we knew, ad infinitum. Maybe the Rinky-Dink-and-Tabascanese voters didn’t know; that was their lookout.

But it was our policy to make nice to Rinky-Dink and Tabasco (honest, I forget which contrylet we were talking about). If it were revealed publicly that the US Government had knowledge that Mr. So-and-so was on the take, that would embarrass the Rinky-Dink-and-Tabascanese government, thus impeding U.S. foreign policy. Ergo, properly classified.

There’s a story Khruschev used to tell, back when he was General Secretary of the CP-USSR (i.e., dictator). In the story, an Old Bolshevik goes crazy, and runs through the halls of the Kremlin shouting “Khruschev is a fool! Khruschev is a fool!” Naturally, he’s promptly arrested, charged, tried, convicted and sentenced, to twenty-three years’ corrective labor: three years for insulting the Party Secretary, and twenty for revealing a state secret.

An enormous amount of classified information consists of state secrets of the Khruschev-is-a-fool variety. And the incumbent administration is completely free to decide that revealing any given bit of information would be consistent with our foreign policy, and reveal it. As Henry Kissinger used to say, “I never leak. I de-classify.” This is a huge problem, and an excellent reason not to have anything resembling an Official Secrets Act.


The Saudi terror money story has ’em, and the Bushies are ducking for cover.

Please remember this the next time someone proposes to make it a crime to reveal classified information. Not only was this stuff classified, it was no doubt properly classified. The standard is that that information can be classified not only if it reveals intelligence sources and methods but also if revealing it would tend to damage the foreign policy of the United States. Since it’s our current policy to roll over and play dead for the House of Saud, and since this information makes it harder to pursue that policy, the information is legitimately Top Secret. It isn’t even a close call.


My question about the warbloggers is answered. Glenn Reynolds is all over the story (here and here and here).

Glenn hopes the Administration “is pursuing a one-terror-supporting-nation-at-a-time strategy that will address Saudi Arabia later.”

Much, much later, I’d guess. About the Twelfth of Never.

If the administration had any long-term plans vis-a-vis the Saudis other than saying “How high?” when they say “Jump!” it would at least be admitting that the facts mean what they say rather than inventing reasons they couldn’t be true.


[Bill Quick at the Daily Pundit is also on the case, and reports that other warbloggers have it too. But the warblogosphere doesn’t seem to me to be confronting the hard choice: Iraq first or Saudi Arabia first, particularly if in practical terms “second” is the same as “never.”

[Glenn Reynolds expresses some surprise that I should be expressing bellicosity, because I’ve been a skeptic about war with Iraq. But one of the strongest arguments against war with Iraq is that setting up for it means having to make nice to the Saudis, along with the Pakistanis, the Russians, and the Chinese. I don’t think the position “I support the President on invading Iraq, though I wish we’d do Saudi Arabia first” is really a coherent one.]

Royal Saudi connection,     complete with White House cover-up

According to Michael Isikoff of Newsweek, Princess Haifa al-Faisal, daughter of the late Saudi King and wife of Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi Ambassador to the US, seems to have been funnelling money to two of the “advance men” for the 9-11 mass murder. Supporters of civil liberties will be glad to know that the Bush Administration has finally found a case on which it doesn’t want to rush to judgment: they’ve decided that making nice to the Saudis is part of the price of war with Iraq. (Note that Isikoff, a first-rate reporter, is hardly a partisan Democrat: he was last seen chasing the semen-stained dress.)

The New York Times has a story about the draft report from the Congressional committee investigating the performance of the FBI and CIA in connection with 9-11, which mentions a Saudi funding connection, and the FBI”s lassitude about investigating it, but not that it was Prince Bandar’s wife. Of course we knew that Saudi money supported al-Qaeda. But having the royal family involved in paying for 9-11 is a different level of involvement, and a clear casus belli. (Imagine, for a moment, that this were the wife of the Iraqi Ambassador.) The Times story makes pretty clear what Isikoff is more coy about: the source of the stories must be the committee staff.

No wonder the Bush folks were so determined to kill a bi-partisan investigating commission about 9-11.

Thanks to Atrios for the link. It will be fascinating to see whether this story has any legs in the mainstream press, and whether it shows up in the warblogs. (Little Green Footballs has it already, but LGF is generically anti-Muslim rather than specifically in favor of war with Iraq.)