Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Economist Under the Microscope

Or, The Economist imitates Reuters

A colleague at work this week forwarded this editorial to me and I couldn't let it pass without a good fisking. Here goes, including a jab at the cartoon that came with it. (Cartoon art by KAL, satirical recomposition by SMSgtMac)

DICK CHENEY has never been a great fan of open government.

His staff refuse to reveal how many people work in his office, let alone what they do there.

On his orders, or was it a general security thing? What? – you don’t know? Ohhh-kaaaay.
He went to court to keep the membership of his energy commission secret.

Yes: all the way to the Supreme Court who found (7-2) for the Cheney argument and more importantly for the Bush Administration. You see, in this land where we have Citizens instead of ‘Subjects’, we also have something called ‘separation of powers’ among branches of government. The Supremes agreed that this issue fell under that Constitutional provision.
You can find the White House and the Pentagon on Google Earth. But the vice-president's official residence is pixellated out.

This has to be the most petty line in the whole editorial. Make no mistake, the author(s) don’t have enough real facts in this hit piece to write a headline, much less an actual ‘article’ on this topic – which is no doubt why we find it where we do, instead of as a cover story.
Are we to believe that Vice President Cheney barked out the orders from some secret command bunker in the dead of night “…and get Blair House off Google this instant so no one will know where I live!”
Which makes the trial of Mr Cheney's former chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, all the more notable.

Step 1: Set up straw man argument. Check!
The defence finally decided against calling Mr Cheney to testify.

‘Finally’? Finally? Was there a deadline to meet, tradition to follow, or perhaps a storyline to complete or something? So….effin’….what?

The deposition, hearing, and trial process is a dance that can make the Flamenco look easy. If the Libby lawyers thought it was absolutey necessary or beneficial to call the VP, they would have put him on the stand.

As it is, this has to be taken as a positive for the Libby side. This trial is, after all, in Washington DC. The denizens (adopting the author(s) use neutral words with negative vibes), as a group are closer to the Democratic Party gravy train than any other city in the country-- and are the most hostile city population in the country to the Republican Party because of it. Things would have to go pretty bad before a competent lawyer would willingly traipse out the second highest Republican authority figure in these circumstances.
But nevertheless the trial, which is now reaching its final stages, has cast a rare shaft of light on the vice-president's dark world. His handwritten notes have been projected on giant screens. His bureaucratic fingerprints have been examined in the smallest detail.

Ooooo -- Lovely use of the words ‘dark’ and ‘fingerprints’ .
It has always been clear that Mr Cheney is an exceptionally powerful vice-president.

How is he exceptionally powerful? I mean other than those powers delegated to him by the President of course.

Oh……and another thing: So what?
He has the largest vice-presidential staff in history (an estimated 14 national security advisers compared with Al Gore's four, for example), and vassals in most branches of government.

Is staff size supposed to be a supporting ‘point’? Is it beyond the author(s) grasp that there might be reasons the President wants the VP to have significant staff support? Heck, it could be put down to management style. Are the author(s) taking away style points?

Highlighting Clinton’s obvious non-reliance on Gore and comparing it with the obvious magnitude of President Bush’s reliance on Cheney since 9/11 is a pleasant (and no doubt unintended) observation on the part of the author(s). I’m surprised Clinton just didn’t give Gore a 1000 piece puzzle and then hid the box for eight yearsto keep Gore busy.

I also imagine almost any one of the VP’s associates would first laugh at the author(s) and then kick then in their shiny, leftist, panty-clad a** if they called them ‘vassals’ to their face.
But the trial has given a sense of how that power operates on a day-to-day basis.

So the Economist thinks it is getting a peek inside the sausage factory (and what a lame transition). So let’s see how sausage is made shall we? Here we go!
The two characteristics that have emerged most clearly are ruthlessness and obsessive attention to detail.

Now who would want somebody in public office at a time of war that was ruthless and paid attention to detail, especially when you have political rivals that would sell out the war effort for their own power gains? Oh yeah…I would.
Mr Cheney was clearly determined to punish Joseph Wilson for casting doubt on some of the administration's claims about WMD.(Mr Wilson wrote an article in the New York Times claiming that, during an official visit to Niger in 2002, he had found no evidence that Saddam Hussein had tried to purchase nuclear material from the country.)

Why not mention that Joe Wilson had lied extensively throughout the process as documented here, here, here and more recently here. And the 'no evidence' claim eventually gets changed (see below).

Is there any mystery to the author(s) as to why such lies should be countered? And characterizing the Administration as ‘determined to punish’ is a complete misrepresentation: the attempt was to squash the lies not (unfortunately) the liar.
And from the moment he cut Mr Wilson's article out of the New York Times and scrawled notes all over it, Mr Cheney devoted a striking amount of energy to the administration's offensive against him.

‘Scrawled’? Another evil sounding word, eh? The Economist seems to have one or more frustrated novelists on the payroll.
Devoted a “striking” amount of energy? Hmmmmm. The VP Checklist:
1. Cut out article that looks like it was written to undermine the Administration and the war effort using what you believe are distortions or fabrications and that could also involve criminal leaks of national security information,
2. Put notes in the margins,
3. Task some people to look into it,
4. Place article on desk as a reminder for you to ‘followup”.
Yep. Positively Eeeeevil MBA damage control techniques.
According to Mr Libby and a former PR aide, he dictated talking points for press officers to use. He discussed the case several times a day with Mr Libby, told him to deal directly with selected reporters, and instructed him to leak a sensitive document.

Hint: Press officers are hired to tell the side of the story of those who hired them. Is this news to the Economist?

And NO. Not ‘leaked’: au-tho-rized. Authorized, get it? Geez I get tired of people who don’t know squat about the role of classifying and declassifying AUTHORITIES who also go mouthing off about ‘leaks’.
Mr Libby's leaks are what landed him in trouble: he disclosed that Mr Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, was a CIA agent, which is potentially a crime, though he is being tried not for that but for giving misleading evidence when questioned.

Really? I thought it was Armitrage who actually leaked.

Since the criminal grounds by which revealing Valerie Plame’s identity did not(and do not) exist, the use of the word “potentially” is a real stretch. It is akin to me stating "potentially I’m an NBA center because if I was eight feet tall I could be".

Please do try to be accurate: he is being tried for allegedly giving misleading information. Even if a hostile jury convicts him, it will be appealed and the conviction will almost certainly be thrown out at the next level.
Why was Mr Cheney so obsessed with Mr Wilson? Mr Wilson was a retired ambassador who had been peddling the story of his trip to Niger around town for months. Mr Cheney's office had difficulty in getting chosen reporters to tune into its arguments; indeed, but for Mr Cheney worrying at it like a dog at a bone, Mr Wilson's article would have been long forgotten.

Again, Wilson was peddling a lie with a negative impact. Watch and wish it away and it will go away eh? Well, at least that is consistent with a lot of people’s view of the the Islamist threat. And nice use of an unsubstantiated “so obsessed”.
One possible explanation is that Mr Cheney knew that the administration's claims about WMD were false. But it seems unlikely. Mr Cheney continued to argue that Saddam possessed WMD long after Mr Bush had backed down. His problem was not that he was lying, but that he was so convinced that Saddam possessed WMD that he could not see evidence to the contrary.

‘False claims’ seems an ‘unlikely’ cause eh? Would that be because the claims about Saddam attempting to acquire Niger Uranium were true? (Unless Joe Wilson is lying now instead of then!)

And so the Economist selectively ignores evidence so they can use the word ‘contrary’.

Is it the Economist’s view that because we did not find thousands or more WMDs, that there therefore were none?

Does the Economist maintain this pose even though we actually found many hundreds of weapons as well as a large body of evidence that Saddam Hussein was working hard to reconstruct his WMD programs

Is this the Economist’s view, in spite of the possibility many of these weapons may have made it to Syria according to the WMD survey team leader?

The other, more probable, explanation is that Mr Cheney was engaged in a personal vendetta, and that this was vicious inside-the-Beltway politics,not grand trickery.
Why is it more probable, and are we about to be given an answer? Answer: ‘Not really’.

Indeed, one of the most striking things about the trial is that it demonstrates just how much of a creature of Washington Mr Cheney really is. He may present himself as a plain-spoken son of Wyoming who eventually went on to become the no-nonsense CEO of a global company.
Yeah, it is amazing how he’s been able to navigate the waters of Washington off and on for all these years without losing his soul.

But in reality he is the quintessential Washingtonian.
He started his career as a failed academic, dropping out of Yale after a few terms and never completing his PhD at the University of Wisconsin. But he flourished when he came to Washington: attracting the attention of Donald Rumsfeld, rapidly climbing the greasy pole, and becoming Gerald Ford's chief of staff at the age of 34. He had found his perfect milieu.
Quintessential Washingtonians are usually failed academics who graduate from an Ivy league school, so thank goodness Cheney left before that happened. Imagine that, a go-getting idea man who decided not to finish his Doctorate. What are the odds?

Conspiring and manoeuvring
(A Bold Header! –unsupported by evidence, but presented through innuendo in various ways below. Tautology. Tautology. Tautology!

During his years as an insider he has acquired the typical habits of mind of veteran Washingtonians: an obsession with spin and gossip, including an over-inflated sense of the importance of newspaper articles; a hyper-sensitive nose for threats; and, it would appear, a determination to destroy his enemies by whatever means necessary.
Ah-ha!. In other words, he is an astute politician with lots of people who can’t go toe-to-toe with him. Why didn’t the author(s) say so? Oh, right, the Economist has that Eeevil ‘film-noir’ feel going and didn’t want to break the mood.
He began his career in the White House by conspiring with Donald Rumsfeld to sideline the vice-president, Nelson Rockefeller, and to rein in Henry Kissinger (who then combined the jobs of secretary of state and head of the National Security Council). If Mr Libby's evidence is anything to go by, he has been conspiring and manoeuvring ever since.

Nice use of ‘Conspiring’. Proof please. Not innuendo, not accusations. Evidence. Lots of evidence that removes reasonable doubt. Can’t find it? That’s all right neither could I. I would like the proof so I can finally know who I need to send the thank you note to for the Kissenger ‘rein-in’.

It was also during the Ford administration that Mr Cheney seems to have acquired a profound distrust of the CIA. He became convinced that the CIA was underestimating the Soviet military build-up. He lent his support to something called “Team B”, a group of foreign-policy experts who made it their business to second-guess the CIA over the Soviet threat.

Wow. He ‘lent his support’… “Team B”. It is amazing how the left has monopolized and rewritten the history of Team B since it happened, so the Economist can be forgiven for grasping at this piece of history. But they cannot be forgiven for forgetting the fundamentals of National Security or latching on to such a weak argument as ‘he supported’. Hot tip: Intel is hard. When national survival is at stake you can only afford to be wrong through being overly pessimistic.
Mr Cheney's distrust of the CIA grew even stronger in the 1990s, when he concluded that the agency had misjudged Saddam's military capabilities in the run-up to the first Gulf war. He relied on his own intelligence sources—the latter-day equivalent of Team B—and made repeated visits to the CIA headquarters in Langley to interrogate officers there on their intelligence.

So he thought the CIA failed earlier and he had the audacity to not trust them as much without a little verification and some confidence checks? Shocker!

[Actually all SecDefs rely on their DIA people and intel wherever they can get it. It’s why we call people like the VP and SecDef ‘decisionmakers’ and intelligence services, “services”.]

In any case this is the REAL blockbuster headline: "SecDef with people’s lives on the line wants confidence in the intel.” Gives one the vapors.

Mr Wilson was thus a ready-made target for Mr Cheney: an Iraq war sceptic who had been sent to Niger by a notoriously soft agency and who tried to ventilate his views in the newspapers.
Read: …a liar who had been sent to Niger… (Start of a good limerick?)
All this still leaves the biggest question unanswered. Where did Mr Cheney get his fervour from? The average Washington insider is a consummate trimmer. Mr Cheney comes across as a man firmly in the grip of an ideology. It will take more than the Scooter Libby trial to explain him fully. But at least Americans have learned a little bit more about the power behind King George's throne.

Fervo[u]r? Maybe Cheney just doesn’t like lying troublemakers mucking up National Security for political points.

Perhaps if more Britons in government had a rational ‘ideology’, it wouldn’t be so shocking to the Economist to find people with ideologies over here. (Also nice gratuitous dig at President at the very end: real professional journalism there!)

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