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June 19, 2005

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Hands up kids. How many really, really want to see Bolton confirmed?

Yup. Thought so.

The failure to buy, beg, or steal every last scrap of fissionable material on the planet, is my candidate for the highly competitive position of Worst Bush Blunder. It's just sooooooooo inexplicable, to my limited perception anyway; doubtless the Medium Lobster could make it all clear.

Do Bush and Rove actually think that an A-bomb in an American city would be a Republican plus, even under a Republican prez? Sort of a super-9/11? I mean, ordinarily I hate to give these guys credit for being smart enough to have conspiracies like that, but how many other explanations are there? (You are about to find out, Anderson says that little voice.)

(And how many urban areas are full of Blue State voters anyway? Obligatory Calvin & Hobbes quote: "It's not like lives depend on it. And even if they did, it would depend on whose they were.")

Rest assured, if someone gets hold of nuclear materials and uses them to make a bomb and take out a piece of the US, the neo-cons will put the blame squarely where it belongs: on liberals generally, and the Democratic Party specifically.

Because, the same way our little problem with torture and murder didn't really exist until those damn liberal Democrats starting talking about it, our problem with not actually following through on our non-proliferation responsibilities wouldn't actually exist if those damn liberal Democrats hadn't opposed John Bolton's nomination to the UN.

the neo-cons will put the blame squarely where it belongs: on liberals generally, and the Democratic Party specifically.

This in itself doesn't bother me, just because it's so predictable they'd do it. What bothers me is that they would actually sell it to a majority of Americans (as opposed to the good and faithful Hindrakers).

I agree (of course) with most everything in hilzoy's post. I do wonder though whether the US would be bin Laden's first target if he got his hands on a nuclear weapon.

The more crucially apropos political point is that so many professionals are willing to come out from the woodwork to condemn Bolton as ineffectual, incompetent, and ideological. The gray bureaucrats are waging war, and I sincerely hope that the administration listens to them. Privately, I declared 2003 the year of the bureaucrat, admiring the chutzpah of UN and US civil servants willing to put their futures on the line to defend their professional opinions against political pressure. They were right, largely, and I would hope that the gray bureaucrats still in office who are waging this whispering campaign gain some traction.

During this last spring, I finally overcame my prejudices and read some classic Vietnam history. (I grew up in Berkeley post-Vietnam; perhaps you have to have similar experiences to understand my early, visceral loathing of most things 1960s and 70s.) What I retain most clearly from Halberstam's The Best and the Brightest, besides, of course, the invective directed at Ivy League culture, was the systematic purging of the experienced hands who didn't pass a ideological purity test. Since the standards for such tests were derived from political Washington, and since experienced hands tended at least to understand the perspective of the native cultures and their political aspirations, the DC system ended up firing its honest bureacrats and promoting its naive ideologues. According to Halberstam: ergo Vietnam.

So. "Sour grapes" makes no more sense to me than do "rotten apples." I like law, responsibility, and professionalism, and I expect such from my gray bureaucrats and from my visible politicians. Frankly, it's a sad day when a US citizen trusts the gray unelected more than the festooned representatives. Can we try to set this right?

Right after 9/11, I was obsessed with doing anything I could to ensure that no nuclear bomb ever exploded on nuclear soil. I was going to quit my job, sign up with some brach of the government, burnish my Russian language skills, what have you. It only took a short while to realize that instead of taking the extraordinary but, I thought, necessary measures to combat this threat, the official polcy was closer to "why stop nuclear missiles? We have a magic space shield! Now can we focus on R&D so we can get some awesome nukes we can actually use?"

Even a lot of conservatives note, in their own guarded way, that Bush's only call to national service being to go out and spend money did a lot of damage. But he also has a tendency to get you where you live.

Er, American soil, though it would be nuclear shortly thereafter.

The system works.

Anderson: I think the explanation is more mundane. John Bolton is (we know) reflexively hostile to any international anything that could possibly be construed as placing constraints on US action. In practice, any time you cut any kind of a deal with anyone, you place some constraints on your action: if you give something up, you give up the right to use it at will (or at all), for instance.

In everyday life, it's obvious that we accept constraints on ourselves in the context of making deals all the time. Leaving aside such obvious examples as the obligations I incurred when I accepted my job, or took out my mortgage, I give up some freedom of action when I buy a Coke, since 75 cents (or whatever) that I might previously have deployed at will is now no longer mine to dispose of. Ah, my lost freedom! But the alternative is, of course, to have no job, no house, no nothing; and if I should happen to have something anyways, I never get to use it.

In making deals internationally, you normally give something up in order to get something you value more. Giving up the right of American contractors to be free from liability for their premeditated actions seems to me to be a small price to pay in exchange for securing a lot of nuclear material. But as best I can tell, it's pretty close to true of John Bolton that no such constraints are ever OK, and that the enormity of the possible gains of accepting small constraints (securing Russian fissile materials, preventing North Korea from going nuclear) does not get in the way of this at all.

(About N. Korea: I use this example since Bolton seems to have blocked all sorts of negotiations that might have helped with this, at a time when he had no reason to be certain that they would not have prevented N. Korea from going nuclear, and as best I can tell he did this just because they were negotiations. What his alternative is, I have no idea.)

Jackmormon: I do wonder though whether the US would be bin Laden's first target if he got his hands on a nuclear weapon.

As opposed to ... Tel Aviv? He didn't crash any jetliners there. In OBL's eyes, not unlike Hitler's, any American target will be full of Jews anyway.

Hilzoy is of course almost certainly right, but the question does remain why something of first importance to the security of the U.S. was left in the hands of a loser like Bolton. The administration's blindness to the defects of its officers is quite amazing, to the point of the incredible.

I read somewhere that moving Bolton to the UN was an attempt (by Rice maybe?) to get him somewhere less important where he'd do less damage to our national security. Sounds like that might be the plan and it might be working. Classic case of failing upward in an administration full of that particular phenomenon.

The administration's blindness to the defects of its officers is quite amazing, to the point of the incredible.

I would have said "criminal", but I think we've already had this argument ;)

The thing that I still don't understand about Bolton is what his alternative plan is, either in the Russian nukes matter or in handling of North Korea. It almost seems like he wants to cause trouble, to provoke escalation of conflicts. There are other major players in the administration who I disagree with, but at least I have a sense of the underlying worldview and objectives they have, and how these things drive their actions. With Bolton there I have no clue. Is he just profoundly disconnected from the realities of international politics?

Well, this simply makes sense. Bolton's "strong point" according to conservatives is that he will be a wrecking ball against that corrupt UN. So being an obsructionist to any sort of squishy international agreement is GOOD! And we can be sure he'll keep up his stellar record in the UN. That's what the conservatives want -- American hegemony accomplished through force and fear, so that freedom can be on the march. Bolton is ideal for that agenda.

And yes, Rush is already announcing that any further terrorists attacks will be the fault of the left -- just another part of the standard lie that fuels right-wing thought.

Hello, Anarch, I was thinking of you ... did anyone ever link to the ever-temperate Brian Leiter's critique of four law profs' arguments whether Bush can be impeached over the D.S. memos? You should take a look.

(I continue to be unpersuaded; any theory of constitutional interpretation that includes "Who cares what James Madison (or George Mason) thought?" is not one that I can sign onto, reactionary that I apparently am. The author isn't quite so dead as all that.)

Call me a cynic, but I tend to think that if OBL had one good-sized nuke (10 to 20 kiloton yield, in the range of the Hiroshima/Nagasaki devices), he'd use it to nuke Mecca and try to frame the U.S. for it (say, by kidnapping a couple of U.S. soldiers a few days before the attack and leaving their bodies to be found at the edge of the blast area). Maximum anti-US anger from the Muslim world, minimum sympathy directed at the US from abroad (since US casualties wouldn't be an issue). Hopefully, someone in the government has thought of this and has a scenario planned for if it happens.

M. Scott: he'd use it to nuke Mecca and try to frame the U.S. for it

Can't speak to OBL's thinking, naturally (it seems implausible; whatever else, he thinks he's a very devout Muslim) but that is one humdinger of a good thriller.

Hopefully, someone in the government has thought of this and has a scenario planned for if it happens.

We are still referring to the Bush administration, yes? They might have thought of it - who knows? - but planning ahead, as we all know, is not what they do.

Can't speak to OBL's thinking, naturally (it seems implausible; whatever else, he thinks he's a very devout Muslim) but that is one humdinger of a good thriller.

In form, though not specifics, it's basically the plot of Frederick Forsythe's The Fourth Protocol (Soviets plot to detonate tactical nuke next to U.S. military base in England just before an election to create a surge of anti-American sentiment).

As for OBL being devout, I'm sure he could convince himself that it was the will of Allah that he nuke Mecca in the name of inflaming the faithful to rise up against the infidels.

I would have thought Riyadh, myself. But NYC or DC would be likely enough contenders that even if I only worried about the safety of the US, I wouldn't think it worth taking the risk.

"We are still referring to the Bush administration, yes? They might have thought of it - who knows? - but planning ahead, as we all know, is not what they do."

Posted by: Jesurgislac


Sure - blast FAXes to AM radio propagandists, Fox News, various talking heads (i.e., 'columnists'), to get the spin on the same page. Use to justify the next round of tax cuts; blame Social Security for the attack. Award high-pork contracts to their cronies.

What this has to do with protecting the USA is left as a (futile) exercise for the reader.

Hello, Anarch, I was thinking of you ... did anyone ever link to the ever-temperate Brian Leiter's critique of four law profs' arguments whether Bush can be impeached over the D.S. memos? You should take a look.

I shall, thanks. I should clarify before I do so, though -- because if I do it afterwards that it would be cheating ;) -- that I don't think that Bush could be convicted purely based on the contents of the DSMs; I do think, however, that there's enough material there to a) justify an independent prosecutor and b) convince me that such a prosecutor will be able to find evidence sufficient for a conviction.

M. Scott: I'm sure he could convince himself that it was the will of Allah that he nuke Mecca in the name of inflaming the faithful to rise up against the infidels.

I think you misunderestimate the importance of Mecca to even not-particularly-devout Muslims.

It's about as likely as Ariel Sharon nuking Jerusalem.

Hello, Anarch, I was thinking of you ... did anyone ever link to the ever-temperate Brian Leiter's critique of four law profs' arguments whether Bush can be impeached over the D.S. memos?

Sort of apropos of that, has anyone seen this? Seriously, this one belongs in my WTFO open thread. Some interesting points in comments here, including (the very first comment) where Leiter's made a rather embarrassing error. Of course, he ought to be much more embarrassed by his obsession with Juan non-Volokh.

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