Commentary Magazine


Topic: CBS

Widespread Warrantless Wiretapping of the American Media?

Are the internal communications of the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Washington Times, ABC, CBS, and NBC news routinely being intercepted and analyzed without warrants? The shocking answer is probably yes.

These news outfits all regularly collect classified information from the U.S. national- security apparatus. Some of the highly sensitive secrets they gather are put before the public, as when as in 2006 the New York Times disclosed a joint CIA-Treasury program to track al-Qaeda finances. But some secrets, the media decline to publish, making their own judgments that to do so would damage national security or imperil American lives.

But as editors deliberate about such sensitive matters, public officials may well be listening in, trying to uncover exactly what journalists know. Only they are not officials from our government.

In November 1983, Ronald Reagan issued a top-secret directive, which has now been declassified and posted on the web by the Federation of American Scientists. It explained that:

Mobile and fixed communications systems used by key U.S. Government officials in the Nation’s capital and surrounding areas are especially vulnerable to intercept and exploitation by foreign intelligence services. Information transmitted by such systems often is extremely sensitive. Even information which in isolation is unclassified can reveal highly sensitive classified information when taken in aggregate.

And Reagan imposed a solution:

To limit this aspect of the hostile intelligence threat, I direct immediate action be taken to provide secure mobile and fixed official telecommunication systems to support the U.S Government officials in the following categories.

The directive proceeded to list the various officials whose communications were to be immediately secured. We can assume, once this directive was fulfilled, that foreign intelligence agencies found it much harder to conduct electronic surveillance of the U.S. government.

But what about protecting the communications of the press?

Let’s take an editor like Bill Keller of the Times at his word when he says that his paper, in the name of safeguarding American security, only publishes a fraction of the classification information it unearths from the U.S. government.  Even if it is true, it is irrelevant.

For technologically sophisticated foreign spy outfits, like Russian and Chinese intelligence, directing antennae toward the headquarters of the Washington Post or the Washington bureau of the New York Times, or for that matter, the New Yorker — the home of that master liberator of American secrets, Seymour Hersh — would be a perfectly logical and highly fruitful move. What better way to get up-to-date assessments of high-level U.S. government deliberations? And what better way to uncover the occasional highly significant classified fact?

Is such surveillance really going on? Connecting the Dots has no direct evidence that it is. We can only conjecture. And ask knowledgeable readers to help connect the dots.

Are the internal communications of the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Washington Times, ABC, CBS, and NBC news routinely being intercepted and analyzed without warrants? The shocking answer is probably yes.

These news outfits all regularly collect classified information from the U.S. national- security apparatus. Some of the highly sensitive secrets they gather are put before the public, as when as in 2006 the New York Times disclosed a joint CIA-Treasury program to track al-Qaeda finances. But some secrets, the media decline to publish, making their own judgments that to do so would damage national security or imperil American lives.

But as editors deliberate about such sensitive matters, public officials may well be listening in, trying to uncover exactly what journalists know. Only they are not officials from our government.

In November 1983, Ronald Reagan issued a top-secret directive, which has now been declassified and posted on the web by the Federation of American Scientists. It explained that:

Mobile and fixed communications systems used by key U.S. Government officials in the Nation’s capital and surrounding areas are especially vulnerable to intercept and exploitation by foreign intelligence services. Information transmitted by such systems often is extremely sensitive. Even information which in isolation is unclassified can reveal highly sensitive classified information when taken in aggregate.

And Reagan imposed a solution:

To limit this aspect of the hostile intelligence threat, I direct immediate action be taken to provide secure mobile and fixed official telecommunication systems to support the U.S Government officials in the following categories.

The directive proceeded to list the various officials whose communications were to be immediately secured. We can assume, once this directive was fulfilled, that foreign intelligence agencies found it much harder to conduct electronic surveillance of the U.S. government.

But what about protecting the communications of the press?

Let’s take an editor like Bill Keller of the Times at his word when he says that his paper, in the name of safeguarding American security, only publishes a fraction of the classification information it unearths from the U.S. government.  Even if it is true, it is irrelevant.

For technologically sophisticated foreign spy outfits, like Russian and Chinese intelligence, directing antennae toward the headquarters of the Washington Post or the Washington bureau of the New York Times, or for that matter, the New Yorker — the home of that master liberator of American secrets, Seymour Hersh — would be a perfectly logical and highly fruitful move. What better way to get up-to-date assessments of high-level U.S. government deliberations? And what better way to uncover the occasional highly significant classified fact?

Is such surveillance really going on? Connecting the Dots has no direct evidence that it is. We can only conjecture. And ask knowledgeable readers to help connect the dots.

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Michael Scheuer Watch #2: Osama bin Laden’s Favorite Pundit

Osama bin Laden’s latest video is very peculiar, and not only because he is sporting a fake beard.

One of the oddest moments comes when he recommends that Americans read the works of two authors, Noam Chomsky and Michael Scheuer. Scheuer, who ran the CIA’s al-Qaeda unit from 1996 to 1999, has been making a great name for himself as a counterterrorism expert since leaving the agency in 2004. Among other high-visibility perches, he serves as a “consultant” to both CBS and ABC News and is cited frequently by leading journalists.

The question is: is bin Laden’s endorsement of Scheuer’s books good for this pundit’s career? Although one should never underestimate the media’s lack of curiosity, my own guess is that it is going to hurt, and hurt badly.

Bin Laden’s endorsement is not the direct reason. Rather, the increasing attention it will bring him will also bring him increasing scrutiny. And scrutiny is not something Scheuer will easily withstand.

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Osama bin Laden’s latest video is very peculiar, and not only because he is sporting a fake beard.

One of the oddest moments comes when he recommends that Americans read the works of two authors, Noam Chomsky and Michael Scheuer. Scheuer, who ran the CIA’s al-Qaeda unit from 1996 to 1999, has been making a great name for himself as a counterterrorism expert since leaving the agency in 2004. Among other high-visibility perches, he serves as a “consultant” to both CBS and ABC News and is cited frequently by leading journalists.

The question is: is bin Laden’s endorsement of Scheuer’s books good for this pundit’s career? Although one should never underestimate the media’s lack of curiosity, my own guess is that it is going to hurt, and hurt badly.

Bin Laden’s endorsement is not the direct reason. Rather, the increasing attention it will bring him will also bring him increasing scrutiny. And scrutiny is not something Scheuer will easily withstand.

Along with a number of others, Scheuer has endorsed the findings of John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt about the extraordinary influence wielded in the United States by the “Israel Lobby.” But Scheuer, explicating his views on a show called Antiwar Radio, goes much further than even they do. He believes that the machinations of the Israel Lobby are supplemented by the efforts of Israeli intelligence, which is “very active in the United States.” In fact, Israeli spies are “popping up all over” and they “do whatever they want inside of America and no one carries them to task for it.” Indeed, because both the Democratic and Republican parties are “owned by AIPAC,” the U.S. government “consistently tries to suppress any kind of publication” of information pertaining to the Israeli espionage.

This is already lunatic-asylum territory, but there is more. According to Scheuer, there is an ongoing “Israeli covert-action program” under way to silence defenders* of the Mearsheimer-Walt book. The results, says Scheuer, have been “stupendous.” In public, the Israelis didn’t have to raise a word—that’s the way covert action works, he helpfully explains—but the result of their behind-the-scenes manipulation is clear: in the attacks on Mearsheimer and Walt, “Americans are savaging other Americans in defense of a foreign country.”

I have previously written about Scheuer’s bizarre ideas and behavior in the pages of COMMENTARY. In the latest Weekly Standard, I examine how the CIA’s own Inspector General has evaluated Scheuer’s work as a counterterrorism operative. It turns out that as the CIA officer charged with the principal responsibility for countering Osama bin Laden, Scheuer was a walking calamity.

Osama bin Laden has a collection of excellent reasons, it would seem, for praising this American spy turned pundit.

*Corrected.

A complete guide to other items in this Michael Scheuer Watch series can be found here.

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Bookshelf

• What did Leonard Bernstein, Victor Borge, Dave Brubeck, the Budapest String Quartet, Johnny Cash, Noël Coward, Miles Davis, Doris Day, Bob Dylan, Vladimir Horowitz, John Gielgud, Glenn Gould, Michael Jackson, Marshall McLuhan, Albert Schweitzer, Frank Sinatra, Bruce Springsteen, Igor Stravinsky, and the original casts of Waiting for Godot and West Side Story have in common? They all recorded for Columbia. Gary Marmorstein’s The Label: The Story of Columbia Records is a breezily written primary-source history of the company whose artistically serious, technically innovative approach to the making of records—it was Columbia’s engineers who invented the long-playing record album in 1948—left a permanent mark on the history of American music.

Although Columbia was founded in 1889, it wasn’t until a half-century later, when it was bought by CBS, that it began its rise to cultural power. To an insufficiently appreciated extent, the label was soon reinvented in the image of one man, an aspiring classical composer turned record-company executive named Goddard Lieberson, whose wit, elegance, and unshakable self-assurance set the tone for Columbia’s postwar activities. Lieberson is more than deserving of a full-length biography of his own, but The Label offers the most detailed portrait to date of this spectacularly improbable character. A polymath who wrote a string quartet and a comic novel, Lieberson stole one of George Balanchine’s wives and used the profits raked in by such Mitch Miller-produced exercises in sugar-frosted pop banality as Rosemary Clooney’s “Come On-A My House” (as well as the Lieberson-produced original-cast albums of such Broadway musicals as South Pacific and My Fair Lady) to underwrite the recordings of the complete works of Stravinsky, Bernstein, Aaron Copland, and Anton Webern.

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• What did Leonard Bernstein, Victor Borge, Dave Brubeck, the Budapest String Quartet, Johnny Cash, Noël Coward, Miles Davis, Doris Day, Bob Dylan, Vladimir Horowitz, John Gielgud, Glenn Gould, Michael Jackson, Marshall McLuhan, Albert Schweitzer, Frank Sinatra, Bruce Springsteen, Igor Stravinsky, and the original casts of Waiting for Godot and West Side Story have in common? They all recorded for Columbia. Gary Marmorstein’s The Label: The Story of Columbia Records is a breezily written primary-source history of the company whose artistically serious, technically innovative approach to the making of records—it was Columbia’s engineers who invented the long-playing record album in 1948—left a permanent mark on the history of American music.

Although Columbia was founded in 1889, it wasn’t until a half-century later, when it was bought by CBS, that it began its rise to cultural power. To an insufficiently appreciated extent, the label was soon reinvented in the image of one man, an aspiring classical composer turned record-company executive named Goddard Lieberson, whose wit, elegance, and unshakable self-assurance set the tone for Columbia’s postwar activities. Lieberson is more than deserving of a full-length biography of his own, but The Label offers the most detailed portrait to date of this spectacularly improbable character. A polymath who wrote a string quartet and a comic novel, Lieberson stole one of George Balanchine’s wives and used the profits raked in by such Mitch Miller-produced exercises in sugar-frosted pop banality as Rosemary Clooney’s “Come On-A My House” (as well as the Lieberson-produced original-cast albums of such Broadway musicals as South Pacific and My Fair Lady) to underwrite the recordings of the complete works of Stravinsky, Bernstein, Aaron Copland, and Anton Webern.

In addition to writing about Lieberson, Miller, and John Hammond—the producer-talent scout who spent much of his celebrated career recording jazz and pop for Columbia—Marmorstein depicts a cast of lesser-known backstage characters equally worthy of recognition. George Avakian, who brought Louis Armstrong, Dave Brubeck, and Miles Davis to Columbia and recorded some of their best-remembered albums, is given his due, as is Deborah Ishlon, the master publicist who first spread the word about Glenn Gould, and talked Stravinsky into writing his “conversation books.”

To write consistently well about a company that recorded everyone and everything from Liberace to Don Juan in Hell demands a degree of cultural competence not possessed by the average human being. While Marmorstein has done his homework—to the point of having read Lieberson’s forgotten novel 3 for Bedroom C and Ishlon’s equally obscure roman à clef Girl Singer: A Two Part Invention—he does not exhibit a complete knowledge of classical music. (Somebody at Thunder’s Mouth Press should have told him that the Brahms First Symphony isn’t a piano concerto.) But the small errors that disfigure The Label do not diminish its effectiveness as journalism, and Marmorstein’s breathless summary of Columbia’s significance is in no way overstated:

In the overlapping epochs of the 78-rpm platter, the 33-rpm vinyl disk, the cassette tape, and the compact disk, Columbia Records seemed to be everywhere. That ubiquitousness was true for no other record label. . . . Decade by decade, Columbia launched the careers of our most seminal recording artists and deposited their sound prints onto the permanent record.

All that came to an untimely end when Columbia was bought by Sony in 1987, a transaction that led in short order to the dumbing-down of the classical and jazz divisions that had been Columbia’s pride. Now that the entire recording industry has been devastated by the rise of Web-based new media, younger music lovers are largely unaware of the role that Columbia Records played in the shaping of postwar American culture. Kudos to Gary Marmorstein for telling them what they missed.

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Is an al-Qaeda Nuclear Suitcase Bomb On the Way?

Norman Ornstein has an alarming piece on the Washington Post op-ed page this morning about the failure of our government to prepare to maintain continuity in the event of a devastating surprise terrorist attack with a weapon of mass destruction. This follows a June 12 op-ed in the New York Times by William J. Perry, Ashton B. Carter, and Michael M. May, stating that “the probability of a nuclear weapon one day going off in an American city cannot be calculated, but it is larger than it was five years ago.”

Building a nuclear bomb would be a formidable challenge for a terrorist group. Obtaining one would be a much easier route. How worried should we be? How real, in particular, is the loose nuclear-suitcase-bomb problem?

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Norman Ornstein has an alarming piece on the Washington Post op-ed page this morning about the failure of our government to prepare to maintain continuity in the event of a devastating surprise terrorist attack with a weapon of mass destruction. This follows a June 12 op-ed in the New York Times by William J. Perry, Ashton B. Carter, and Michael M. May, stating that “the probability of a nuclear weapon one day going off in an American city cannot be calculated, but it is larger than it was five years ago.”

Building a nuclear bomb would be a formidable challenge for a terrorist group. Obtaining one would be a much easier route. How worried should we be? How real, in particular, is the loose nuclear-suitcase-bomb problem?

I’ve long been skeptical that these things could be floating around. States that build nuclear weapons are well aware of their destructive potential and go to extraordinary lengths to keep them under control.

To be sure, there have been reports pointing in the other direction. In 1997, General Aleksandr Lebed, a Russian national security adviser, told CBS’s Sixty Minutes that the Russian military had 250 such weapons and had lost track of more than 100 of them. But was Lebed in a position to know? As James Kitfield pointed out in National Journal, other Russian authorities have asserted that the KGB was in charge of these devices, which would explain why the Russian military could not offer an accurate accounting of their numbers and whereabouts.

In his 2000 book, Bin Laden: The Man Who Declared War on America, Yossef Bodansky stated that “there is no longer much doubt that bin Laden has finally succeeded in his quest for nuclear suitcase bombs.” But this claim was unsourced and seems difficult to credit. Although bin Laden has openly expressed interest in getting the bomb, and also obtained a fatwa from a Saudi cleric giving him divine permission to use one against American civilians, presumably, if he already had one in the 1990’s, we would have seen or heard it go off by now.

Still, the fact that there has been some sensationalist reporting does not mean there is no reason to worry. Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal remains a chief concern. The country hemorrhaged nuclear-weapons technology for years when its atomic-energy program was being run by A. Q. Khan, who remains a national hero. Even if Khan is no longer in the loop, other elements within the Pakistani military and nuclear establishment might well offer to supply one to al Qaeda either for cash or to earn a place in heaven.

George Tenet adds significantly to our anxieties on this score. Although there are many things wrong with his recent memoir—and I point out some of them in The CIA Follies (Cont’d.) —what he writes about this problem seems credible. Immediately after September 11, it turns out, the U.S. government was uncertain whether or not al Qaeda already had such a device:

In late November 2001, I briefed the President, Vice President, and National Security Adviser on the latest intelligence. . . . I brought along with me my WMD chief, Rolf Mowatt-Larsen, and Kevin K., our most senior WMD terrorism analyst. During the ensuing conversation, the Vice President asked if we thought al Qaeda had a nuclear weapon. Kevin replied, “Sir, if I were to give you a traditional analytical assessment of the al-Qaeda nuclear program, I would say they probably do not. But I can’t assure you that they don’t.”

Tenet continues for many pages laying out precise intelligence about al Qaeda’s continuing efforts to obtain a nuclear bomb from Pakistan and from Russia. Whatever his flaws as a CIA director, Tenet was in a position to know all that can be known about this issue. His memoirs show that we do have reason to be afraid. But we shouldn’t be quivering in our boots. Rather, even as we work to avert a disastrous vacuum from forming in Iraq, we should be prosecuting the war against al Qaeda and allied Islamic terrorists with a vigor commensurate with what is at stake.

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Lieberman’s Vision

It seems to be about 40 years too late for Joseph Lieberman to run for President as a Democrat, the 1960’s being the last time that hawks were dominant within the party’s ranks. But there is time yet for him to become Vice President or Secretary of State under a Republican President. (One or the other would seem a sure thing if his good friend John McCain wins the White House.) He certainly deserves nothing less for his consistent willingness to say and do the right thing on national security matters, regardless of which way the political winds are blowing.

He has, most notably, remained a stalwart supporter of the war effort in Iraq in the face of its increasing unpopularity among the public at large and among almost all of his Democratic colleagues on Capitol Hill. (Joshua Muravchik has already reported on the great speech Lieberman gave in Prague laying out the stakes in Iraq and the broader Middle East.) Not only does Lieberman want to take the war to the jihadists in Iraq, but he is also breaking the great taboo in Washington by proposing to take the war to their sponsors in Iran.

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It seems to be about 40 years too late for Joseph Lieberman to run for President as a Democrat, the 1960’s being the last time that hawks were dominant within the party’s ranks. But there is time yet for him to become Vice President or Secretary of State under a Republican President. (One or the other would seem a sure thing if his good friend John McCain wins the White House.) He certainly deserves nothing less for his consistent willingness to say and do the right thing on national security matters, regardless of which way the political winds are blowing.

He has, most notably, remained a stalwart supporter of the war effort in Iraq in the face of its increasing unpopularity among the public at large and among almost all of his Democratic colleagues on Capitol Hill. (Joshua Muravchik has already reported on the great speech Lieberman gave in Prague laying out the stakes in Iraq and the broader Middle East.) Not only does Lieberman want to take the war to the jihadists in Iraq, but he is also breaking the great taboo in Washington by proposing to take the war to their sponsors in Iran.

The consensus view in the capital seems to be that while Iran makes war by proxy on the U.S., we are supposed to make nice with Iran. That was the recommendation of the Iraq Study Group. But Iran continues to flaunt the can’t-we-all-get-along approach through shipping potent mines and rockets to anti-American fighters in Iraq and Afghanistan, refusing to end its nuclear-weapons program, and its recent seizure of innocent Iranian-Americans as purported spies, among other offenses. The Bush administration reacts largely with rhetorical bluster, backed up by some sanctions and the movement of aircraft carriers into the Persian Gulf.

Lieberman quite rightly points out that our pressure has been insufficient to make Iran change its behavior and that stronger medicine may be in order. On CBS’s Face the Nation this past Sunday, he declared:

I think we’ve got to be prepared to take aggressive military action against the Iranians to stop them from killing Americans in Iraq. And to me that would include a strike into—over the border into Iran where I—we have good evidence that they have a base at which they are training these people coming back into Iraq to kill our soldiers. . . . They can’t believe that they have immunity for training and equipping people to come in and kill Americans. It’s just—we cannot let them get away with it. If we do, they’ll take that as a sign of weakness on our part, and we will pay for it in Iraq and throughout the region, and ultimately right here at home.

This has earned Lieberman yet more rebukes, such as this bombastic article in the New York Observer, entitled “Lieberman’s Iranian War Fantasy.” In prose that almost parodies State Department thinking, the author, Niall Stanage, concludes: “Dialogue and diplomacy do not make for especially magnetic rallying calls. But they are a much more sensible idea than the dangerous chimera of a short sharp shock to Iran proposed by Mr. Lieberman.”

Stanage is right that the idea of using force against Iran—given its potentially serious repercussions—needs more careful study. But it is his own call for “dialogue and diplomacy” with mullahs who plainly reject both that is the “fantasy” here. Lieberman is willing to face up to the unpleasant reality of the Middle East today, while most of Washington prefers to look the other way as Iran makes war on us.

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Learning To Love the Islamic Bomb

As I noted in my previous post, George Tenet: CIA or CYA?, much of what is contained in the former CIA director’s new memoir is a self-serving attempt to dodge responsibility for the monumental intelligence failures that occurred on his watch. But as a matter of formal logic, just because In the Center of the Storm contains false statements—see Andrew McCarthy’s analysis at NRO for chapter, verse, hook, line, and sinker—not every statement uttered by its author is always untrue.

Appearing on CBS’s Sixty Minutes to flog his book, Tenet noted that Osama bin Laden has been seeking nuclear weapons since 1993, and proceeded to raise the alarm: “Is it going to happen? Look, I don’t know, but I worry about it because I’ve seen enough to tell me there is intent and when there is intent the question is when does the capability show up?”

In the aftermath of September 11, whether Tenet’s worries are based upon slam-dunk intelligence is irrelevant. Even more so than was the case with Iraq, this is not a matter on which we can gamble. But how would Osama bin Laden go about obtaining a nuclear bomb?

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As I noted in my previous post, George Tenet: CIA or CYA?, much of what is contained in the former CIA director’s new memoir is a self-serving attempt to dodge responsibility for the monumental intelligence failures that occurred on his watch. But as a matter of formal logic, just because In the Center of the Storm contains false statements—see Andrew McCarthy’s analysis at NRO for chapter, verse, hook, line, and sinker—not every statement uttered by its author is always untrue.

Appearing on CBS’s Sixty Minutes to flog his book, Tenet noted that Osama bin Laden has been seeking nuclear weapons since 1993, and proceeded to raise the alarm: “Is it going to happen? Look, I don’t know, but I worry about it because I’ve seen enough to tell me there is intent and when there is intent the question is when does the capability show up?”

In the aftermath of September 11, whether Tenet’s worries are based upon slam-dunk intelligence is irrelevant. Even more so than was the case with Iraq, this is not a matter on which we can gamble. But how would Osama bin Laden go about obtaining a nuclear bomb?

Building one from scratch is out of the question; major states spend years and billions of dollars acquiring the expertise and the materials, especially the fissionable elements for its explosive core. Conducting such an enterprise on a shoestring budget while on the run from cave to cave is not a likely prospect.

Far more worrisome is that al Qaeda will seek out a bomb from Pakistan, which now has perhaps as many as 25 to 100 such devices in its arsenal. There would be two ways to lay one’s hands on such a heavily guarded apparatus.

The first would be to foment a revolution in unstable Pakistan that brings Islamists into power. Toward that end, Al Qaeda and its affiliates have been waging a campaign of terror inside Pakistan designed to topple the government of General Pervez Musharraf. In the most recent attack this past Saturday, a suicide bomber killed 28 people in a failed attempt on the life of Pakistan’s interior minister.

A second approach would be to find a sympathizer inside Pakistan’s military or nuclear establishment. Given recent history, this might well be the easier route. After all, the head of Pakistan’s nuclear-bomb-making project, Abdul Q. Khan, now under house arrest in Islamabad, found it convenient and profitable to trade nuclear secrets and materials to a host of aggressive anti-American, terror-supporting states, including Iran, Libya, and North Korea.

How many others are there like Khan inside the Pakistani establishment, and can they be stopped? That is a question that every presidential candidate should be compelled to ponder, especially because a swelling chorus of voices in the liberal-Left foreign-policy establishment is now all of a sudden telling us that nuclear proliferation is not the fearful thing we have long believed.

The latest entry is a new book called the The Atomic Bazaar: The Rise of the Nuclear Poor, by William Langewiesche, a correspondent for Vanity Fair, whose considered opinion is that the “spread of nuclear weapons, even to such countries as North Korea and Iran, may not be as catastrophic as is generally believed,” and certainly not bad enough to justify “the pursuit of preemptive wars” of the kind we are now fighting in Iraq and contemplating against Iran.

On the contrary, suggests Langewiesche, we should recognize that we live in a “new reality in which limited nuclear wars are possible, and the use of a few devices, though locally devastating, will not necessarily blossom into a global exchange.” Overall, he concludes, since the end of the cold war, “the risk of an apocalypse may have been reduced.”

Perhaps Langewiesche is right. Or perhaps he is wrong. On the basis of his experience writing for Vanity Fair, should we just take his word for it? I prefer to side with the tainted Tenet in the view that we should do our utmost to stop such a thing from happening. And I find it fascinating, and profoundly disquieting, that a growing chorus of voices is telling us that we should not worry about something so worrisome, a case of defining deviancy down if there ever was one. 

A nuclear device supplied by a rogue element in Pakistan and detonated by al Qaeda at Four Times Square, where the offices of Vanity Fair are located, would almost certainly destroy the offices of COMMENTARY as well, even though we are located a few blocks north and across town. A global apocalypse during the cold war would no doubt have been awful. “Locally devastating” in the post-cold war would be bad enough.
 

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How Bad is Robert Gates?

America’s twenty-second Secretary of Defense came to prominence in the world of intelligence, having risen up through the ranks of the analytical division of the CIA. To anyone familiar with the intractable problems besetting that side of that agency, this was a background that at the very minimum raised questions about whether Gates would be a yes-man, a timid bureaucrat, or an empty suit.

But back in mid-February, Max Boot gave Gates a favorable review here, citing his handling of himself at a gathering of defense officials in Munich. We’ve now had another month of our new SecDef. It is time to ask again: how is he shaping up?

The war is issue number one. Prior to getting his job, Gates served on the Iraq Study Group led by James Baker, which counseled begging Iran and Syria for assistance—“dialogue” was the code word for this used in the report—in extricating ourselves from the conflict and abandoning Iraq to the wolves: the U.S. “must adjust its role in Iraq to encourage the Iraqi people to take control of their own destiny.”

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America’s twenty-second Secretary of Defense came to prominence in the world of intelligence, having risen up through the ranks of the analytical division of the CIA. To anyone familiar with the intractable problems besetting that side of that agency, this was a background that at the very minimum raised questions about whether Gates would be a yes-man, a timid bureaucrat, or an empty suit.

But back in mid-February, Max Boot gave Gates a favorable review here, citing his handling of himself at a gathering of defense officials in Munich. We’ve now had another month of our new SecDef. It is time to ask again: how is he shaping up?

The war is issue number one. Prior to getting his job, Gates served on the Iraq Study Group led by James Baker, which counseled begging Iran and Syria for assistance—“dialogue” was the code word for this used in the report—in extricating ourselves from the conflict and abandoning Iraq to the wolves: the U.S. “must adjust its role in Iraq to encourage the Iraqi people to take control of their own destiny.”

But Gates was on CBS’s Face the Nation with Bob Schieffer yesterday and made a convincing case for national patience with another direction entirely—the current troop surge:

The way I would characterize it is so far, so good. It’s very early. General Petraeus, the commander out there, has said that it’ll probably be summer before we know whether we’re being successful or not. But I would say that the Iraqis are meeting the commitments that they have made to us. They have made the appointments, the troops that they have promised are showing up, they are allowing operations in all neighborhoods, there is very little political interference with military operations. So here, at the very beginning, the commitments that have been made seem to be being kept.

On Face the Nation, Gates was also exceptionally deft in disarming Democratic calls for withdrawal, as called for in a bill before the House of Representatives. His posture here was disarmingly respectful—even as it threw a punch.

I believe everybody involved in this debate is patriotic and looking for the best thing for America. I think most people agree that, across the political spectrum, that leaving Iraq in chaos would be a mistake, a disaster for the United States, and so we’re all wrestling with what’s the best way to bring about a result that serves the long-term interests, not only of the Iraqi people but of the United States. . . . With respect to the specific bill in the House, the concern I have is that if you have specific deadlines and very strict conditions, it makes it difficult, if not impossible, for our commanders to achieve—to achieve their objectives. And frankly, as I read it, the House bill is more about withdrawal, regardless of the circumstances on the ground.

Then there was a side issue that, to judge by the intensity of Schieffer’s questioning, was to CBS not a side issue at all. Last week, General Pace, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said that homosexual acts are immoral. Gates was pressed hard about this by Schieffer: “a lot of gay people are saying that that is a slur on thousands of people who are serving in the military right now”; and shouldn’t the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy be revised?

Gates got a bit testy answering this, but acquitted himself well:

Look, I’ve got a war in Iraq, a war in Afghanistan, challenges in Iran and North Korea and elsewhere, global war on terror, three budget bills totaling $715 billion. I think I’ve got quite a lot on my plate.

What Gates said about progress in the war on Iraq can be said about him: “So far, so good. It’s very early.”

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