This morning, the Washington Post and the New York Times disclosed that members of the Tinner family, who were part of the notorious A. Q. Khan nuclear smuggling ring, possessed advanced warhead designs. The concern is that the Tinners may have marketed the plans to the ring’s customers, including North Korea and Iran. The ring is known to have sold blueprints for a 1960s-era Chinese device to Libya.
Did any other country buy warhead technology? “These advanced nuclear weapons designs may have long ago been sold off to some of the most treacherous regimes in the world,” wrote nuclear expert David Albright, in a draft report summarized in this morning’s papers. At this point, investigators do not know if the Tinners actually sold the plans to any party. Yet we do know that the advanced warhead, which is of Pakistani origin, is a type that can be mated to Iran’s Shahab missile, which is derived from a North Korean model.
If Iran stopped its efforts to build a nuclear weapon in 2003, as the American intelligence community believes, it may be because the country had all the plans it needed for the weapon itself. The information released today, therefore, reveals that the Iranians could be close to acquiring every bit of technology needed to build a sophisticated nuclear device. We know they possess both plans to shape uranium metal for warheads and fit warheads to missiles. Today’s revelations show they could have bought the plans for the nuclear device itself. All they need, in all probability, is the fissile material, which they are at this moment enriching at their facility in Natanz.
Should we engage, contain, or attack Iran? The debate rages, but now we know that we will need an answer in months, not years.
When it was confirmed that Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would visit Rome, three weeks ago, to attend the FAO summit on food security on June 3, the Italian daily, Il Riformista launched an appeal to the country’s leadership to shun the man who calls for Israel’s destruction while seeking a nuclear weapon to fulfil that threat. The newspaper published the appeal, alongside support for the initiative from both Italy’s foreign minister, Franco Frattini, and the shadow foreign minister, Piero Fassino, as well as an article calling on the Mayor of Rome to embrace a symbolic measure to embarrass Iran’s leaders: rename the Iranian embassy’s address (Via Nomentana 361) after an Iranian student was recently imprisoned for five months and condemned to an additional 10 floggings for having endangered the country’s security. His crime? Having spoken out against Ahmadinejad.
The student, Ali Nikou-Mesbati, actually heard about the initiative and wrote to the newspaper, thanking them for the support and suggesting that, instead, the street be renamed “9 of July Street” after the date of the Iranian student protest, when students took to the street to protest for democracy. The ensuing repression caused hundreds of casualties and arrests–and it took place under the watchful eye of then reformist president, Mohammad Khatami.
And just yesterday the mayor of Rome has endorsed the initiative. Which means that every time Iran’s president wants to send a postcard to his ambassador in Rome, he’ll be reminded of the fact that not everyone in Iran shares the repressive, intolerant and, frankly, weird vision of the world that Ahmadinejad wishes to impose on his own country.
Everyone from Karl Rove to scattered op-ed columnists is mulling over the other Barack Obama VP vetter problem, Eric Holder. It is not merely that Holder helped facilitate the Marc Rich pardon — that would have been bad enough. What makes it especially egregious is that Holder himself had a conflict of interest – sending Rich’s lawyer to Jack Quinn, whom Holder was hoping would help him land an attorney general spot in the Gore administration and making a “neutral to leaning positive recommendation” for Quinn’s client. In short, is this really the guy to spot ethical problems in a potential running mate?
But the chances that Holder will get the heave ho now are minimal, barring further revelations. And that may be just fine with the McCain team which gets to remind voters that the New Politics looks a whole lot like the Old Politics.
Others have written that Tim Russert’s trademark and legacy was the “gotcha” — the art of using a guest’s own words to contradict his current position on an issue or some more recent utterance. This was really the journalistic equivalent of a deposition. Unlike law, in the world of politics it is a mixed blessing.
On one hand, Russert asked hard, specific questions which did not allow politicians to blather and filibuster past him without an equally specific answer. This is a good thing and entirely too rare. How many journalists have asked tough specific questions of Barack Obama and John McCain . It is not a question of being nasty or aggressive, but of forcing the interviewee to defend his own views. (I think back to Russert’s interview of Fred Thompson, where he deftly exposed Thomspon’s underlying views on abortion, which turned out to be a rather bold defense of federalism, albeit a stance unacceptable to many staunch social conservatives.)
But in its worst form it has transformed campaigns themselves into the search for the opposing candidate’s inconsistencies, however slight, to be used to claim advantage. At times it seems the substance is lost and we have embarked on an endless journey to prove the other fellow or gal is an unprinicpled flip-flopper. The non-stop drumbeat of “Ah, ha!” opposition research now dominates much of what campaigns turn out. In essence they all want to be Russert.
But perhaps more importantly than anything else, Russert understood that the interviewee, not Russert, was the center of attention. He rarely interrupted, his questions were not speeches and he realized that his opinions were not what voters needed to hear to make informed decisions. That’s a far cry from what 90% of cable news delivers and from the mean-spirited non-reporters who now run wild in the mainstream media.
So at bottom, the goal which we would hope his successor at Meet The Press aspires to is simple: make the newsmaker explain himself. Russert made it seem so simple we forget how hard it is.
Speaking of Gore Vidal, Emanuele, he is interviewed in today’s New York Times Magazine. According to him, we are all being duped by McCain–not on policy, but on the presidential candidate’s own history:
And what about Mr. McCain? Disaster. Who started this rumor that he was a war hero? Where does that come from, aside from himself? About his suffering in the prison war camp?
Everyone knows he was a prisoner of war in North Vietnam. That’s what he tells us.
Does anyone else find this completely insane? There are arguments for and against McCain’s policy platform, his Senate record, and his political vision for America. But calling his long imprisonment (which was extensively documented by both his captors and the international news media) false is absurd. Deborah Solomon, the interviewer, fawningly names Vidal “one of America’s last public intellectuals.” I guess that means he has the profound intellect necessary to figure out that McCain not only faked his captivity, but broke both his arms and his knee himself–all for some nebulous future political gain.
In a reversal of Sally Field’s much-derided “You love me, you really, really love me” burst of enthusiasm, the Democrats have taken to celebrating how much they think the world hates us. They seem downright gleeful. David Frum gamely defended America and tried to debunk some of the polling at a recent hearing. And there is good reason to see that in fact some of the trend lines are improving.
But if Democrats were concerned about America’s image in the world, they could, after all, do something about it. They might stop vilifying America publicly. If we bash ourselves for being everything from arrogant to environmentally wasteful, it’s no wonder others join in. They might step up efforts to communicate our positive actions to the world — a Voice of America refashioned for the 21st century. And they might ask how effectively the State Department is handling public diplomacy in foreign countries. ( Rudy Giuliani was, I believe, the only candidate this entire presidential cycle to raise this last issue.)
But that would be utterly irrelevant to the purposes of the Democrats. For if they were to work on improving our image (and by the way, where have they been on this issue for the last decade?) we would not, as his media fan club constantly reminds us, need the Great Change Agent to charm the world and lead us to a new and brighter future.
It’s a small story on an inside page. But its length and placement were out of all proportion to the amount of aggravation this New York Times article caused me: “Iraq Troops Mass for Assault in South” by Andrew E. Kramer. What annoyed me was the opening paragraph (or, in newspaper parlance, “lede”):
Aiming at a power base of a rival Shiite leader, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki sent troops into the southern city of Amara on Saturday.
That makes it sound as if there is something illicit about this offensive. In fact, it is merely a continuation of the operations that Iraqi security forces have mounted in recent months to clear Shiite militants out of Basra and Sadr City and Sunni militants out of Mosul. Critics initially cast the Basra assault in the very terms now employed by Andrew Kramer: as a political move by Maliki to weaken Moqtada al Sadr in advance of upcoming provincial elections. That interpretation was invalidated when it emerged that Maliki’s offensive was welcomed not only by other Iraqi political factions but also by the people of Basra who had been held hostage by Sadr’s thugs for too long. Far from being partisan political moves, these operation are now seen by most Iraqis as exactly the kind of law enforcement operations that the democratically elected government of Iraq should be undertaking against violent militias. Only it seems that Mr. Kramer has not gotten the news. He is still writing as if this were a case of President Bush sending Delta Force into Hyde Park to seize Barack Obama’s campaign staff.
In a rather odd article, the Los Angeles Times asserts that the NRA has lost its clout because it has achieved its agenda. No, really. Acknowledging that Barack Obama has a problematic record on the Second Amendment and that a key Supreme Court case is due out shortly, the report nevertheless insists guns are a non-issue in the presidential race. Wait a second. The public and elected leaders have accepted the NRA agenda, a candidate who has taken the opposite view (and denigrates gun owners to boot) is running for President, and the Supreme Court is about to issue a landmark decision which highlights this issue, and somehow this isn’t a problem for Obama?
Only in the world of media excuse-making–a parallel political world where no bad facts exist for Obama–could this thesis hang together. So I’m sure the Times will soon be assuring us that abortion is a non-issue and that efforts to portray John McCain as a threat to the constitutional pro-choice status quo are just noise, right?