Political Animal

IRAQI WMD….Whatever other misgivings I

IRAQI WMD….Whatever other misgivings I entertained during the runup to war, one thing I never really doubted was that Iraq did indeed have proscribed WMDs and that Saddam did indeed covet more. But as time goes by I’m beginning to wonder about this on a couple of different levels. Here’s the current military perspective quoted in the Saudi Gazette:

“Efforts are ongoing. We had some preliminary examinations that occurred that did not prove to be weapons of mass destruction, we found some things that were potentially agricultural,” Brigadier General Vincent Brooks said Tuesday. But he said he was certain that “we are going to find something as time goes on.”

General Tommy Franks, commander of US forces in Iraq, has no doubts either. “Whether we’ll turn out at the end of the day to find them in one of the two or three thousand sites that we already know about, or whether contact with one of these officials who we may come in contact with will actually tell us there’s another site I’m not sure, but I am sure there are weapons in the country, yes,” he said in a television interview Sunday.

Now, I know that Iraq is the size of California and we can’t search it all at once, but before the war we insisted that we had irrefutable intelligence about Iraqi WMD. We couldn’t reveal it to anybody, of course, because that would compromise our sources, but we did know.

But if that’s the case, then (a) surely we can reveal everything now, since there are no longer any sources to compromise, and (b) even if we can’t do that, surely we can go straight to the sites containing all the WMD. After all, there are no Iraqis around anymore to quickly hide it all as soon as they see us coming.

And yet, so far there’s nothing. No sign of nuclear development, which is very hard to hide, and not even any sign of chem or bio weapons yet. Since our case for war was predicated on the notion that Iraq posed an imminent danger, one that required immediate action instead of allowing the inspectors more time to work, surely there ought to be enough of this stuff around that we should be finding it by now. After all, we don’t want it to fall into the wrong hands, so locating it and securing it ought to be a top military priority.

If we don’t find it quickly, this indicates that our intelligence operations were wildly ineffective. If we don’t find it at all, it means we were lying through our teeth. Neither one is an appealing prospect.

I gotta say that I really don’t relish the idea of watching Jacques Chirac a year from now crowing about how he was right the whole time. This stuff better show up.

POSTSCRIPT: And if anybody says that it used to be around but since September it’s all been moved to Syria, I’m going to scream.


DEMOCRATIC CATTLE CALL….I was over at Daily KOS last night and read through the comments on his weekly cattle call for the Democratic race. I left a comment myself, and then decided I should expand on it a bit so that a year from now I can remember what I was thinking way back in mid-2003.

At the moment I know almost nothing about the candidates, but paradoxically I think that’s a plus. Eventually I’ll get to know every little thing about them, and this will change my thinking, but the fact is that the vast majority of voters ? even in November ? are pretty much like me right now: they have only a vague idea of what the candidates stand for. So for a brief period I probably represent the typical moderate liberal who sorta cares about politics but, you know, not really all that much.

So, then, here are my predictions for the top contenders. As you can see, they are all predicated on the idea that national security is by far the most important issue for any candidate:

  1. John Edwards. I think that in the end it’s going to take a reasonably hawkish candidate to win next year, and Edwards has been reasonably hawkish. He’s also an attractive candidate, probably fairly appealing to Reagan Democrats, thinks well on his feet, and obviously knows how to raise money. The fact that he’s only been a senator for four years is a minus, but W had only been a governor for four years when he started running, so who knows?

  2. Joe Lieberman. Yeah, he’s too conservative for a lot of Democrats, and his preachiness turns off some people too. On the other hand, he’s got name recognition, his actual voting record isn’t really that horrible, he can raise money, and he’s got good hawkish credentials. Definitely a contender.

  3. Bob Graham. His national security cred is good, he’s popular in Florida, and he seems to be fairly well liked among the Democratic faithful. Being an ex-governor is a plus. On the other hand, the fact that he announced his candidacy over a month ago and still doesn’t have a website isn’t a very comforting sign. He also might be a little too old.

  4. Howard Dean. Dean is the John McCain of the 2004 Democratic race: iconoclastic, straight-talking, and a media darling. Unfortunately, even if he’s popular with the base, history shows that these media darlings never even get nominated, let alone elected. I just don’t see him holding up.

  5. John Kerry. This is just a gut feel, but I don’t think Kerry has legs. All politicans like to straddle issues so as to piss off the fewest possible voters, but Kerry is wishy-washy in a way that seems wishy-washy, and I think that’s a death sentence. Plus he’s a northeastern liberal, and that hasn’t exactly been a winning combination for the past 40 years.

And Wesley Clark? Please. He might be a good running mate, but it’s a joke to think of him heading the ticket.

I didn’t mention anything about these candidates’ positions on domestic issues, and that’s because I really don’t know where any of them stand. In any case, there’s no telling at this point which domestic issues will magically become important by this time next year, so it’s impossible to say anything intelligent about it.

And who am I going to vote for? Beats me. As usual, I imagine that the nomination will be all but sewn up by the time the California primary is held, so I won’t have any say in the matter anyway. I’ll just wait to see what the rest of y’all do and then vote for our guy in November.

PHYSICS AND SPORTS….Dan Drezner points

PHYSICS AND SPORTS….Dan Drezner points today to a series of short articles in the University of Chicago magazine about the unexpected pursuits of some of Chicago’s researchers. He likes this one about the inequities of men’s and women’s toilets, and I also liked this one, which confirms a longstanding suspicion I’ve had about wine drinkers.

However, I think I’ll choose to highlight this article about John Milton, who is researching how the body handles tasks that it really shouldn’t be good enough to do well:

He?s demonstrating his unexpected discovery about the body?s nervous system: it generates random ?noise? to handle tasks?like balancing a dowel or standing still without falling?that require response in less time than it takes for a signal to travel to the brain and back (100?200 milliseconds for the stick, 250?500 milliseconds for standing). ?If the nervous system can only make a correction every 200 milliseconds,? he asks, ?what?s it doing the other 199??

Sports enthusiasts take note: it takes a full tenth of a second (or more!) for a signal to travel to the brain and back. This is one of those facts of nature that almost no sports enthusiast believes.

Tennis players, for example, universally believe that they respond to the ball hitting the racket by consciously making tiny adjustments. If it feels like the ball is going a little long, for example, you make an extra effort to pull the racket over the ball and keep it from lofting up.

But it ain’t so. Tennis balls stay on the racket strings for only a few milliseconds and are several feet away by the time a signal from your hand can travel to your brain and back to generate a correction. So it feels like you’re making a correction, but you aren’t, and this is why practicing proper strokes is so important: the only thing that matters is that the stroke is correct right up to the point of impact. After that there’s nothing you can do to fix things: it’s all physics.

The same is true for driving a golf ball or making a jump shot, but sports enthusiasts mostly can’t bring themselves to believe it, insisting instead that they just know all these little adjustments are happening and only killjoy researchers ? who have probably never taken off their coke bottle glasses long enough to engage in a good game of hoops ? might think otherwise.

Ah, well, at least we can still take solace in purely mental things like, say, the fact that sometimes we feel like we’re on a hot streak. We all know those are for real, don’t we? I mean, we can just feel it when we’re hot. Right…..?

JESSICA LYNCH….I haven’t blogged about

JESSICA LYNCH….I haven’t blogged about the whole Jessica Lynch thing before, mainly because I was waiting around to see what the real story would turn out to be. We still don’t know all the facts, I think, but this story in the London Times certainly indicates that the story presented by the military at the time bears little resemblance to reality. I suppose we’ll never find out for sure, but once again I’m left perplexed by the desire of people in power to make up a better story when the real one is actually quite good enough. What’s the point?