Saturday, December 03, 2005

And you will know us by the piles of bull...

Disclaimer: This article is ridiculously long and political. Before you engage in any reading below, you must click here before proceeding! When you click that link, you will go to the most important article on Hurricane Radio this month. Do it now!

We now continue with our long winded broadcast.

Here’s something I haven’t done in a while.

First of all, I’d like to say that there is a big difference between media as opinion and media as reporting cited facts. That line is quite blurry these days, but it just didn’t seem to be this way back when I was in high school. Back then, I felt that I could trust the news, and generally believe that what people were saying had a basis in fact somewhere easily accessible. You could often find these facts and independently verify a great many observations relatively quickly. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems that more people, especially those in the media, used to check facts a little bit more back then.

Maybe it’s just me, but it seems that more people would come out and holler ‘shenanigans’ anytime someone was trying to pull something over on us.

Maybe I just yearn for the good ole days of long hair, steel-toed boots and the sure faith that came from already knowing everything.

I received an email several months ago, defending the war in Iraq. It said that liberals (like me) don’t like the war because America isn’t supposed to go to war with other countries that haven’t attacked us directly. The email goes on to state that one loser of a Democratic President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, took us to war with Germany, even though Germany never attacked us – Japan did. Aren’t liberals (like me) stupid for such a string of argument? This email came to me from a very intelligent family member.

I had to remind her that the 3rd Reich issued a Declaration of War upon the United States of America before our nations commenced hostilities. I believe it was on December 11, 1941, actually. You don’t have to be attacked if a hostile nation is kind enough to send you a statement of purpose.

I was thought of that email when I visited the Townhall site this evening.

It was there that I saw this little gem by Larry Elder. He is the conservative columnist that apparently pulled the “administration dishonesty apologist” card this week. Read that right, he has the less than admirable position of going before an audience and defending the Administration on the credibility issue. The line of reasoning is interesting to watch, if less than credible itself.

He hedges in the intro by stating, “The White House -- finally -- began pushing back against irresponsible charges that Bush "lied" to the American people.” (He of course then makes fun of Senators Kennedy and Kerry, ‘cause the rest of us really believe those two are definitions of the moral high ground, wink-wink.) Then he goes on to ask “If Bush "lied," did former President Clinton "lie" about Kosovo?” What an interesting logical twist. If X then Y. Suddenly, we’re not talking about the current administration’s credibility issues at all, we’re talking about the Clinton Administration’s credibility issues. This guy is either a verbal magician or he can’t defend the Bush Administration’s credibility at face value.

We all know that Clinton had credibility issues about many things, but Mr. Elder’s contention is that Clinton lied to get us into a war with Yugoslavia over Kosovo.
But what about Clinton's assertion of the displacement of "over a million Kosovars"? According to USA Today on July 1, 1999, "Many of the figures used by the Clinton administration and NATO to describe the wartime plight of Albanians in Kosovo now appear greatly exaggerated as allied forces take control of the province. . . . Instead of 100,000 ethnic Albanian men feared murdered by rampaging Serbs, officials now estimate that about 10,000 were killed.
"But is the 10,000 number accurate?
"The Orange County Register, in a Nov. 22, 1999, editorial, said, "Months after the bombing has ceased, United Nations and European Union investigations have bolstered what critics had argued: NATO's estimates of Serbian genocide against the Kosovars were greatly overblown. Many observers now think the inflated numbers simply were part of the U.S.-led propaganda effort to build support for the war.
" . . . The latest evidence suggests that fewer than 3,000 Kosovars were murdered -- horrifying, yes, but not many more than the number of Serbs who were killed by NATO bombing attacks on Yugoslavia, roughly estimated between 3,000 and 5,000 soldiers and civilians."
Does this mean that Clinton "lied, people died"? The intelligence turned out to be wrong, very wrong.
But intelligence failures, bad intelligence or failing to properly analyze the intelligence is a far cry from accusing a commander in chief of deliberately and intentionally misleading the American people.

First of all, I am urged to point out that this statement, standing alone, is a misrepresentation. Mr. Elder questions Clinton’s “assertion of the displacement of over a million Kosovars.” Then he calls Clinton a liar because a million Kosovars didn’t die in Kosovo, only a few thousand did.

However, Clinton didn’t say ‘a million Kosovars died,’ Clinton said a million Kosovars were displaced. Not only does Mr. Elder not know how to count, he doesn’t seem to know the difference between a displaced person (refugee, person still alive but not living in their home) and a dead person (corpse, person not alive or living).

President Clinton, in his March 24, 1999 address to the nation about why we were sending planes into harms way for Kosovo did not mention a number of dead Kosovars. But don’t take my word for it, you can read his entire speech for your self. Perhaps President Bush should read this speech as an example of how to clearly explain reasons, geography and complex situations to other human beings. Perhaps Mr. Elder should read this speech, period, before he starts talking about it.

You can also read how the press reported President Clinton’s speech. Here’s where things get really interesting, especially if you examine the sidebars. The Democratic Party’s response, as quoted from Rep. Martin Frost (D-Texas), was to say that they wanted President Clinton “to do a prime time broadcast when people are watching. He does need to explain this to the American people." Arizona Senator John McCain (R) said, “the main question is what the policy's exit strategy will be. ‘Everyone wants to know what Plan B is.’

Starting to sound familar?

I will get back to the rhetoric in a moment. First, I want to really just crush Mr. Elder’s idea of fact finding and mathematics.

He suggests that President Clinton was lying by saying there were a million displaced Kosovars. Since I’ve already established that President Clinton wasn’t talking about dead people, I’ll give you some of the numbers concerning ‘displaced people’ or ‘refugees.’

The BBC reported on March 27, 1999 – just three days after President Clinton’s speech – that there were already around 30,000 refugees fleeing Kosovo. 10,000 per day.

The numbers became confusing because of the sheer numbers and the speed at which the humanitarian crisis escalated. The International Red Cross/Red Crescent appraised the situation thusly:

UNHCR: Kosovo refugee crisis (1999). The evaluation of UNHCR’s preparedness and response in Kosovo identified critical weaknesses in early warning, contingency planning and management systems. UNHCR had only 20 emergency response staff available and was prepared for a maximum outflow of 100,000 people when half a million refugees fled Kosovo in the space of two weeks. Official communications warning of possible ‘massive outflows’ went unheeded....And the size and rapidity of the crisis were of a scale seen only twice before: in northern Iraq/Turkey in 1991 and in the African Great Lakes region in 1994. UNHCR was not alone – few if any agencies were prepared for the scale and scope of the Kosovo crisis. However, given that Kosovo is unlikely to be the last humanitarian emergency of this magnitude, donors and agencies need to invest far more in improving response funds and structures – before the next disaster strikes.

But here’s the big dog. The United Nations High Council on Refugees official report on the situation (page 6 of 159, and you can read the whole thing on PDF), “Within nine weeks of the beginning of the air strikes, nearly 860,000 Kosovo Albanians fled or were expelled to Albania (444,600), FYR Macedonia (344,500) and Montenegro (69,900).” That’s the first 9 weeks, this thing lasted quite a few more.

(Conservative Point of Note: The rest of the paper is actually highly critical of NATO and the United States for intervening. It always fascinates me that the same world community that will criticize us for no intervention is the exact same one that will excoriate us when we do...)

So, Mr. Elder’s contention that President Clinton misled us about the numbers of displaced Kosovars is patently untrue. 860,000 refugees can sure look like a million when you’re on the receiving end. Not quite the ‘intelligence failure’ that one’s made out to be.

How much further should I go? Mr. Elder uses those stalwarts of media integrity, the Orange County Register and the USA Today, from whence to get his figures of dead people. His contention? Less than 3,000 Kosovars killed and 3,000-5,000 Yugoslavian civilians dead.

The first fact is only refutable because we haven’t stopped digging up the bodies and we still haven’t found all the mass graves. Those numbers are a little hard to come by. Mr. Elder makes the contention, I wish I’d had a source to verify that with. There was simply no cohesive answer I could find on the net this evening.

But the Yugoslav civilian dead, that’s another story. I pulled these figures from the reasonably credible Human Rights Watch. Some of the highlights:

-Human Rights Watch concludes that as few as 489 and as many as 528 Yugoslav civilians were killed in the ninety separate incidents in Operation Allied Force. (NATO claims those incidents were between 20 and 30, but that may be a definition based distinction. Emphasis added by me for effect.)

-the number of confirmed deaths is considerably smaller than both U.S. and Yugoslav public estimates. The post conflict casualty reports of the Yugoslav government vary, but coincide in estimating a civilian death toll of at least some 1,200 and as many as 5,700 civilians.

-The most dramatic losses of civilian life from the NATO offensive in Kosovo came from attacks on fleeing or traveling refugees confused with military forces.

-Moreover, there is a question as to whether NATO's extraordinary efforts to avoid casualties among its pilots precluded low-flying operations that might have helped to identify targets more accurately.

Dang! If those numbers can be trusted, that sounds like one really tight run ship.

I’ll leave you with some other sites to visit, NATO’s Kosovo Force Homepage, and NATO’s official background information on the Kosovo conflict.

Oh yeah, President Clinton’s ‘mission accomplished’ speech.

To really summarize, Mr. Elder got many things confused, and decided he would talk about President Clinton’s credibility when it came to war. If he was dealing with a society less intelligent than ours, I bet there are a lot of folks who would buy into his ‘logic.’ I bet folks would confuse President Clinton’s very real credibility failings with his very real military successes in Europe. He certainly didn’t lie to get us into Kosovo. I guess that kind of article is the best Mr. Elder can produce, based on his deadlines and stuff. No sir, those are nothing but opinions hiding behind the veneer of fact. If that’s the best defense of the Bush Administration’s credibility those smart folks over at Townhall can offer, you really don’t have to wonder why Mr. Bush has a credibility gap.

Post Scriptum

In the course of researching for this article, I came across some very interesting things concerning war rhetoric. Now, I’ve just given you a breakdown of President Clinton’s Kosovo intervention. I can never remember having any doubts about our mission in Kosovo, nor any lack of faith that we didn’t know what we were doing, nor any doubts about why we were there. I thought the Kosovo intervention, with a few minor glitches, was pretty much the textbook case on ‘how to handle unruly dictators when they get out of hand.’ I don’t even remember many folks speaking out against the Kosovo intervention, because when even Democrats are interested in a foreign policy objective, you know some bad stuff had to be happening. I always kind of expected the Republicans, the ‘hawk’ party if you will, the neocon party, to be gung ho for any show of American power to protect lives and liberty and engage the enemies of both when called upon by the nation and the world to do so.

How naive I must have been.

I’ve already touched on this a little bit before. But we’ll just review: Kosovo; American involvement with air power; Allies including all of NATO; diplomatic support from Russia; UN Security Council support; clearly stated reasons; clearly stated strategy; clearly stated end game; resounding military success; short timeframe; impossibly low casualties.

So why in the world did the right wing hate Kosovo so much?

We started this string with Larry Elder giving a scenario for a President lying our way into a war and then giving outrageous casualty figures. Back in 1999, the Republicans sounded a lot like the Democrats do today.

-At least Speaker Hastert was reasonable when he said "I would hope that the president would come forward on a timely basis and do two things: Lay this out to the Congress and the American people, and also come forward with a plan for how we're going to pay for it." I don’t know why Democrats are excoriated today for asking the same thing.

-And when then Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, who opposed the Kosovo intervention, said "Whatever reservations about the president's actions in the Balkans, let no one doubt that the Congress and the American people stand united behind our men and women who are bravely heeding the call of duty," no one accused him, as people accuse the Democrats today, of secretly wishing for our troops to loose in Kosovo.

-Those are much better than the way the RNC Chair Jim Nicholson treated Clinton. Mr. Nicholson urged the President to cancel visits to fundraising events. “Mr. President, have some respect for the men and women risking their lives to follow your orders," Nicholson said. "I ask you to have the decency to suspend your relentless foraging for campaign cash while our troops are in harm's way." Could you imagine anyone saying the same thing to Mr. Bush today?

If today, someone tried to sue Mr. Bush to end the war, I’d say they were just a bunch of crazy, misguided hyper-liberal moonbats taking their cues from the Sheehan crowd. Back in 1999, we called most of these people Republican House Members. And Joe Scarborogh? Not Joe! I read that dude’s stuff all the time!

And what would be said about the Senate, if they refused to give the President the power to wage war?

And if you click on the “Interactive” toolbar to the right, you can see that then Governor George W. Bush said this about Kosovo: “Bush's initial reaction to the airstrikes was slow to come and when it finally did it was very cautious, saying that he doesn't "have access to all the information and military intelligence available to the commander in chief."

I don’t quite think I could add anything to that statment.

Charles Krauthammer, on the other hand, deserves a new paragraph entirely. His opinion on the Kosovo matter earns him the “Michael Moore of the Right” award. As a matter of fact, he ought to sue Big Sparty for plagarism.

History repeating itself? Sure is easy when the only thing you do is trade scripts.


patsbrother said...


Your ability to compile past news stories and lay them out cogently is impressive. I must also say this post has reentrenched my admiration for Clinton and my feelings of umbrage for certain political celebrities.

However, I believe you have misread the focal column of your post. You appear to have assumed the worst about its author's intentions and proceeded accordingly.

"But what about Clinton's assertion of the displacement of 'over a million Kosovars'? According to USA Today on July 1, 1999, "Many of the figures used by the Clinton administration and NATO to describe the wartime plight of Albanians in Kosovo now appear greatly exaggerated as allied forces take control of the province. . . . Instead of 100,000 ethnic Albanian men feared murdered by rampaging Serbs, officials now estimate that about 10,000 were killed.'"

Mr. Elder does not here appear to collude Clinton's reference to the displaced with an assertion of the murdered. He is referring to the information then used to cite that number, and then, in discussing varying accounts of the number murdered, providing an example of how that information could be flawed (albeit confusingly).

However, at no point does Mr. Elders aver Clinton lied. He actually argues the opposite:

"Does this mean that Clinton "lied, people died"? The intelligence turned out to be wrong, very wrong. Something like this always warrants a serious examination of intelligence failures. But intelligence failures, bad intelligence or failing to properly analyze the intelligence is a far cry from accusing a commander in chief of deliberately and intentionally misleading the American people."

Mr. Elder is not arguing: pay no attention to the man currently in the White House; focus on its previous tenant, who lied! Lied! He is instead arguing: flaws in intelligence do not equate to presidential deceit. Let's move beyond this issue.

You are a remarkably intelligent person, paT, as evidenced by your current post. Don't let hasty inferential missteps mar that credibility.

Patrick Armstrong said...

Thanks, I think.

I encourage you to go and read some columns at Townhall and get a context. I guess the article could be read the way you do. It can also be read the way that I do.

That's one major contention I have for the way right wing punditry conveys their message; it can be taken several ways and they can always be 'correct' because 'oh, that wasn't what we were saying.'

You may also want to do a google search for "Clinton" and "Kosovo" and examine the lines taken by right wing punditry.

Mr. Elder's statement that Clinton used "flawed intelligence" is one that I think I pretty much blew out of the water there.

But going back and looking at it, I think I may have read too much into the article to think that Mr. Elder had a point at all.

Things he did say, or seemed to:

1. People say Bush lied to get us into war. This is true, there are people who say that.

2. Bush didn't lie to get us into war. He may not have, this is his opinion.

3. Senators from Massachusetts are dumb and silly looking. I'm not going to argue that point.

4. If Bush lied, did Clinton lie? This is the wierd logic contention; If X then Y. We all know, however, that Clinton was convicted of lying about something completely different than foreign policy.

5. Clinton's intelligence was wrong. I think I proved that wasn't really the case.

6. Clinton said their were a million refugees. That number was between 850K and 900K actual as projected by Human Rights Watch, the United States of America, the United Nations and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. I guess Clinton was factually inaccurate on this point, but refugees did actually exist, and our intelligence organizations were able to accurately pinpoint where many of them were.

7. My research says that not nearly that many were killed. The old switcheroo. This is a well documented debating tactic, quote a number and then refute it with numbers that have only a small amount of relevance to the first number. His numbers for Kosovars and civilains killed, however, were also factually inacurate, as I also proved.

So what was his point? Intelligence fails from time to time so let's move on? How does our intervention in Kosovo, one of the most successful worldwide police actions in world history, support that argument? He says Clinton's intelligence was wrong when it wasn't really that far off.

I still haven't seen any convincing evidence of WMD's in Iraq since 1991 that have come from any real and credible source.

So I guess you could read it your way - and yes I do believe that the folks who write columns over at Townhall have an agenda.

Mr. Elder may be able to wiggle out of intended efforts to support Bush's waning credibility, smear Clinton and NATO's intervention in Kosovo, and take pot shots at the Massachusetts Senators in ways very similar to your defense of this article. But I will not argue the semantics of this. I believe I have adequately shown that, no matter what Mr. Elder's point was, it will not stand up to review in the face of facts.

patsbrother said...

Once again, unless you are referring in part to another article altogether, Elder's has not attempted to "smear" Clinton. That is something you are reading into the article. Elders was citing analogous precedent for a President to act on misinformation. There is no reason for him to argue: though Bush did x, which is okay, Clinton did x as well, which is bad. That Clinton was justified in acting on what turned out, in Elder's assessment, to be bad information supports Elder's case; "smear"ing Clinton would work against that.

To address a new topic, I reprint one of your statements: "I still haven't seen any convincing evidence of WMD's in Iraq since 1991 that have come from any real and credible source."

Neither have I. However, though it appears the air strikes carried out during the Clinton administration destroyed any ability Iraq may have had to produce or pursue WMDs, I find it important to note that William Jefferson Clinton himself has said he believed Saddam still had WMDs at his disposal or retained some ability to manufacture them, and has tried to mitigate the "Bush lied, people died" line of reasoning. While there are a lot of points on which I oppose the current administration, when the only Democrat since FDR to win two Presidential elections, arguably the most intelligent President of the past century, looks at the same intelligence and comes to the same conclusion (Saddam had WMDs or the ability to make them) as the sitting, Republican President, I give that man the benefit of the doubt. More is needed to convince me of fraudulent behavior than: "gosh, this isn't what the idiot said exists/would happen, he must have lied". Especially when bonehead incompetence so easily explains the situation.