Tuesday, January 13, 2004


William Safire should be read occasionally to show why doing so regularly is a bad idea.

On Monday in The New York Times, the insufferable trickster said our “pre-emptive policy” in Iraq was working to decrease “the spread of dangerous weaponry in antidemocratic hands” and cited seven examples, of which three are automatically invalidated.

Why? Well, Iraq isn’t an example of how well the policy is working for the same reason that “Seinfeld” can’t be on a list of “shows influenced by ‘Seinfeld’”; North Korea doesn’t work because what Safire’s actually talking about is how China is helping broker an agreement -- as though China somehow fears we’re going to invade it pre-emptively?; and the choice of Iran is an outright farce in that its Islamist leaders just drove out out more than 8,000 reformists seeking election. Not that the action has anything to do with weapons in the first place.

Furthermore, Iran was headed toward an easing of its fundamentalism before Bush’s counterproductive “Axis of Evil” speech, and so was another country on the list, Libya, despite Safire’s assertion that “The notion that this terror-supporting dictator’s epiphany was not the direct result of our military action ... is laughable.” In fact, Libya and Moammar Gadhafi were seeking redemption long before the United States attacked Iraq.

So now the list is down to Syria, the West Bank and Afghanistan -- yes, Afghanistan, which we invaded, gave an interim leader and began rebuilding long before taking on Iraq militarily.

Safire’s reasoning is just slightly less specious on Syria and the West Bank, but someone who’d mislead so egregiously on five of seven examples hardly deserves the benefit of a doubt on the remaining two. Notable is Safire’s belief that Saddam was able to exert pressure on Syria by threatening to “choke off illicit oil shipments” to it.

That’s absurd. Syria has been producing more oil than Iraq since 1991, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, everyone else and common sense. Iraq’s oil production capabilities are a wreck, remember? And they have been since before the Iraq war. That’s why it’s going to take so much work and money to get the country to the point where it can “pay for its own reconstruction,” despite our protection of Iraqi oil fields.

And, tellingly, Saudi Arabia gets only the most glancing of mentions.

On the domestic front, federal judges are buying the U.S. argument that giving the names of detainees suspected of terrorism “would give terrorist organizations a composite picture of the government investigation” -- despite the fact that only 129 of 1,000 are facing criminal charges.

The terrorists are operating one of two ways. Either they have control over each agent, in which case they’ve long known who was arrested and have already extrapolated how, or they operate as decentralized cells, in which case the names of people who’ve been arrested would be largely meaningless to other terrorists, even those in the same organization.

Apparently, two out of three federal judges are ... well, why get personal?

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