Thursday, July 14, 2005

The liberal CIA
Jesse over at Pandagon points out that Hugh Hewitt thinks the CIA is a lefitist organization. I wish I had known that when I as a teenager. It would have saved me 35 years of paranoia believing the CIA didn't like leftist organizations.

Hewitt makes this point by ascribing some strawman beliefs to "the left" and then boldly demolishing them.
THERE IS A STRANGE PAIRING of positions on the left.

The first is that Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda were not connected.


Exactly the opposite approach to facts and evidence is emerging on the left's claim that Iraq is a breeding ground for terrorists.

As is usual with strawman arguments, his whole idea making a certain line of thought characteristic of one group is simplistic and inaccurate. In this case, the ideas he singles out for scorn are held by a far wider sector the populace than just "the left." For example, the CIA throws its weight behind both of these ideas.

Hewitt declares victory over the first "leftist" belief with this:
The work of Stephen F. Hayes and Thomas Joscelyn in THE WEEKLY STANDARD, which is supported by other serious investigative reporters such as Claudia Rosett has already established beyond any reasonable doubt that there was a web of connections, but the combination of the left's indifference to inconvenient facts and the international version of the soft bigotry of low expectations--an Arab dictator couldn't have had a sophisticated intelligence service capable of hiding such matters--make it an article of faith among Bush haters that there was no connection.

This flies in the face of the long established CIA position:
Before the U.S. invasion, the CIA said Saddam Hussein had only circumstantial ties with several al Qaeda members. Osama bin Laden rejected the idea of forming an alliance with Hussein and viewed him as an enemy of the jihadist movement because the Iraqi leader rejected radical Islamic ideals and ran a secular government.

It's all in the nuance. Over the years, some of bin Laden's people had contacts with some of Saddam's people. They regularly checked each other out for possible alliances, just as all countries, corporations, co-workers, and school kids do constantly. None of the alliances ever materialized. They were just too different to trust each other. The "web of connections" that Hewitt and his Weekly Standard friends see as proof positive were no more than "circumstantial ties" according the CIA (who must not be serious, according to Hewitt). Through a rousing game of "six degrees of seperation" anyone on the planet can be tied to anyone else on the planet. Most of those links go into the so-what file. Finding too many paterns in the links is generally considered a sign of mental illness.

As a quick digression, can we call a language moratorium on conservative pundits using the word "serious?" This constantly annointing people who agree with them as the only serious people really has gotten old. I forget who made this observation, but can't you picture a bunch of them at lunch piously announcing to each other that "serious people order the cobb salad" and "serious people would never drink pinot gris with salmon." Just a suggestion.

Hewitt doesn't spend a lot of time on his first point, it's the second "leftist" idea that really has his panties in a bunch.
"Breeding ground" means something quite different from "killing ground." The term conveys the belief that had the United States and its allies not invaded Iraq, there would be fewer jihadists in the world today--that the transition of Iraq from brutal dictatorship to struggling democracy has somehow unleashed a terrorist-breeding virus.

The fact that foreign fighters are streaming across Syria into Iraq in the hopes of killing America is not evidence supporting the "breeding ground" theory. "Opportunity" to act is not the same thing as "motive" for acting. There is zero evidence for the proposition that Iraq is motive rather than opportunity, but the "motive" theory is nevertheless put forward again and again.


As the bloody toll of the Islamist movement grows and its record of horrors lengthens from Bali to Beslan to Madrid to London, the incredible cost that can only be attributed to the Afghanistan metastasis that went unchecked from the time of bin Laden's return there in 1996 until the American-led invasion of 2001 becomes ever more clear. That was the true "breeding ground" of the world's menace, not the Sunni triangle, where jihadists are continually under pressure and increasingly desperate. The long years ahead in the global war on terrorism will be spent trying to undo the damage done by allowing the Islamist radicals a safe haven from which to export their ideology and to train and deploy their converts.

The CIA gave it's support to the "leftist" breeding ground idea last January.
Iraq has replaced Afghanistan as the training ground for the next generation of "professionalized" terrorists, according to a report released yesterday by the National Intelligence Council, the CIA director's think tank.

Iraq provides terrorists with "a training ground, a recruitment ground, the opportunity for enhancing technical skills," said David B. Low, the national intelligence officer for transnational threats.


Bush described the war in Iraq as a means to promote democracy in the Middle East. "A free Iraq can be a source of hope for all the Middle East," he said one month before the invasion. "Instead of threatening its neighbors and harboring terrorists, Iraq can be an example of progress and prosperity in a region that needs both."

But as instability in Iraq grew after the toppling of Hussein, and resentment toward the United States intensified in the Muslim world, hundreds of foreign terrorists flooded into Iraq across its unguarded borders. They found tons of unprotected weapons caches that, military officials say, they are now using against U.S. troops. Foreign terrorists are believed to make up a large portion of today's suicide bombers, and U.S. intelligence officials say these foreigners are forming tactical, ever-changing alliances with former Baathist fighters and other insurgents.

Hewitt seems to be saying that all of the available terrorist positions had been filled before 9-11 and that no new terrorists have been created since then. The CIA responds, "not so." Why is it so important to Hewitt that most of the terrorists be in place before 2001? The significance of that year is not September; it's January. That's right, Clinton made the terrorists.

Having made his predictable, but logical argument, Hewitt reverses himself and finishes by saying the terrorists are no one's fault.
The killers are killers because they want to kill, not because the coalition invaded Iraq, or Afghanistan, or because there are bases in Saudi Arabia, or because Israel will not retreat to the 1967 borders.

It's a classic conservative stance (in the Lakoffian sense). The Lakoffian conservative believes that morality is inate and usually unchangable. Bad people are just born bad (this used to be called the bad seed theory). Environmental factors, such as society or parents are not to blame for their badness, except in that they may have missed the opportunity to beat the badness out of their wicked children.

The bad seed argument absolves both Clinton and Bush, both liberals and conservatives of blame. Hewitt just can't bring himself to choose between two conservative impulses, the bad seed and Clinton is the source of all evil. His inability to choose undermines his own arguments even before the CIA arrives to contradict him.

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