It's up to you not to heed the call-up ...

››› ››› ERIC ALTERMAN

I'm still recovering from yesterday's computer crisis. A virus forced me -- or, actually, the really nice guys who work for Petey -- to replace my entire operating system and therefore everything else -- which almost never works well at first, even if you get it mostly right, which they did. In any case, I've got a new "Think Again" column here on the continuing oddity of ignoring pundits' records when giving them prominent spots on TV and a new Nation column on "The Race Beat," here.

The McCain Suck-Up Watch continues, here and here.

An extremely rare Altercation dart to Stephen Colbert, for sucking up to Henry Kissinger by calling him "Dr." three times on the show last night. Anthony DeCurtis has a Ph.D. So, I assume, does that fellow from NYU. But did Colbert call them "Doctor." Not once. For shame, sir, for shame.

As warbloggers continue to search for a scapegoat to explain the Iraq debacle, they've set their sights on the Associated Press, insisting the global news org employs local stringers with terrorist ties who spread insurgent propaganda, i.e., they create the illusion of a civil war in Baghdad. The attacks are ugly, but they also make no sense, considering insurgents are killing journalists, including AP reporters, at an alarming rate.

At least Rich Lowry gets it when he writes, "Many conservatives lost touch with reality on Iraq."

Warbloggers, Lowry's looking at you.

From the Committee To Protect Journalists:

Violence in Iraq claimed the lives of 32 journalists in 2006, the deadliest year for the press in a single country that the Committee to Protect Journalists has ever recorded. In most cases, such as the killing of Atwar Bahjat, one of the best-known television reporters in the Arab world, insurgents specifically targeted journalists to be murdered, CPJ found in a new analysis. Worldwide, CPJ found 55 journalists were killed in direct connection to their work in 2006, and it is investigating another 27 deaths to determine whether they were work-related. Detailed accounts of each case are posted on CPJ's Web site.

More here.

From Think Progress, on the White House Briefing, here:

22: Number of questions on Laura Bush's skin cancer.
18: Number of questions on Iraq.
3: Number of questions on Iran.
1: Number of questions on North Korea.

The Altercation Book Club:

Khrushchev's Cold War: The Inside Story of an American Adversary by Aleksandr Fursenko and Timothy Naftali (W.W. Norton and Co.)

Eric notes: I've chosen this book this week, in part because it's worthwhile history, but also because the more things change the more they stay the same. The media, particularly the punditocracy, like to talk tough with little thought to the consequences. It is true regarding "Iraq" and the so-called "War on Terror," and it was true during the Cold War. The actual enemy is almost irrelevant. Anyway, here is one such episode. (That was quite a day, that January 14, 1960, no?)

Dwight Eisenhower probably would have flashed one of his trademark grins had the CIA been able to report that Khrushchev now wanted to "knock the bragging" out of Soviet military hawks. For years Khrushchev had been the biggest braggart of them all about the alleged military superiority of the Soviet Union. Since Sputnik those claims always involved the rate of production of missiles that could reach the U.S. mainland. In February 1959 Khrushchev had reported to Communist Party officials from across the USSR that "serial production of intercontinental ballistic rockets has been organized." Then, in November 1959, he had told journalists that "now we have such a stock of rockets, such an amount of atomic and hydrogen weapons, that if they attack us we could wipe our potential enemies off the face of the earth. ... [I]n one year, 250 rockets with hydrogen warheads came off the assembly line in the factory we visited."

President Eisenhower had seen through these claims. "They also said that they invented the flying machine," he told a group of journalists with tongue in cheek, "and the automobile and the telephone and other things." For Eisenhower it was essential not to become an alarmist on the subject of Soviet power. "If we react violently to every new development such as Sputnik," he later advised the Kennedy administration, "then we're licked." From his long military service, Eisenhower understood how much militaries cost, and he refused to let fear force the United States to overspend just because Moscow had been the first to fire a long-range missile. What mattered was whether the Soviets had the actual missiles to back up these claims. Everything he had seen from the CIA and other sources failed to prove to him that they did. Eisenhower had a fine grasp of the trade-off that his adversary faced. In early 1959 he had taken time to look closely at Khrushchev's seven-year plan and the demands that it would make on the Soviet economy. The CIA pointed out to him that the Kremlin's projected rates of economic growth were unrealistic. Labor productivity was "a big problem," and apparently Moscow could not acquire the fertilizer and machinery that would make Soviet agriculture efficient enough to satisfy the plan. The only way for Khrushchev to achieve greater food production would be to redirect investment to agriculture and increase labor productivity or to increase the number of workers. Eisenhower understood better than anyone in his administration that it would be impossible for the Kremlin to pursue this domestic agenda while simultaneously building the huge nuclear force predicted by Washington doomsayers and bragged about by Khrushchev.

The president's cool response was in no way representative of public attitudes in the United States toward national security. Despite the positive aspects of the Khrushchev visit, nerves first frayed by Sputnik remained sensitive to evidence of U.S. military vulnerability. For many Americans, even those friendly to Eisenhower's defense posture, the entire balance of power in the late 1950s hinged solely on the number of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) in each country's arsenal. The administration had opened itself to criticism by deciding as a cost-cutting measure to try to leapfrog missile technologies. The military had purchased fewer Atlas and Titan missiles in favor of waiting for the solid-fuel Minuteman, a more efficient ICBM, to be developed. The deployment of the first Minuteman was not expected until 1962, leaving a few years when it was feared the Soviets would have many more missiles than the United States. The White House's decision not to buy more Atlas missiles had been especially controversial with the Convair division of the General Dynamics Corporation, the primary contractor for the Atlas, which wasted no opportunity to try to influence the public debate and compel lawmakers to overturn Eisenhower's penny-pinching.

The wisdom of waiting for the Minuteman missile seemed to rest on how many missiles the Soviets were expected to have by 1961. Eisenhower's problem was that his critics were vocal and influential and professed to have the answer to this all-important question. Within the government, the air force's Strategic Air Command (SAC), which was responsible for the country's fleet of intercontinental bombers and ICBMs, was leading the fight for additional appropriations for Atlas, Titan, and Minuteman missiles. SAC believed that by 1961 the Soviets would have 150 ICBMs, exactly the number needed to destroy all thirty SAC bases in the United States as well as twenty other key military and civilian targets, including Washington, D.C. SAC made a point of letting influential hawks, such as the syndicated newspaper columnist Joseph Alsop, know these calculations. In a letter to his friend retired General Lucius D. Clay, who had directed U.S. operations during the Berlin blockade, Alsop wrote approvingly that senior members of the SAC staff "do not think, and I do not think[,] that it is at all certain that the national estimates are wrong. They only believe, as I most firmly believe[,] that there is a considerable margin of possible error which gives one chance in three, or four, or five of the dreadful result I have described."

[...]

As Khrushchev had hoped, he grabbed the Eisenhower administration's attention with his announcement of unilateral troop reductions at a public meeting of the USSR Supreme Soviet on January 14, 1960. The announcement impressed Eisenhower as serious and positive. Not all of the president's advisers agreed. But Eisenhower was confident that Khrushchev was trying to lessen international tensions. When Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) Allen Dulles downplayed the significance of the speech at a meeting of the National Security Council (NSC) on the same day of the speech, Eisenhower contradicted him. "[This was a] very tough speech," the president insisted, "especially from the military point of view." In Eisenhower's eyes, Khrushchev's dramatic move was an act of real disarmament that was consistent with the ideas that the Soviet leader had described at Camp David. It had to be viewed as a constructive first step. In Eisenhower's eyes, Khrushchev's dramatic move was an act of real disarmament that was consistent with the ideas that the Soviet leader had described at Camp David. It had to be viewed as a constructive first step.

Within a week the CIA came around to the view that Khrushchev's initiative was an act of significant disarmament. From its monitoring of public speeches by Kremlin officials in the wake of the Khrushchev's announcement, the agency detected significant opposition within the Soviet military. At least 250,000 officers were about to be retired early, and many were displeased. At the NSC meeting on January 21, DCI Dulles went even further. He informed the president that they were possibly witnessing a sea change in the Cold War. Khrushchev's decision to push ahead with these deep conventional cuts, he argued, "seems to exclude general war as a deliberate Soviet policy." Khrushchev's statement also forced the agency to revise downward its estimates of the Soviet Army's size. For three years the intelligence community had refused to accept published Soviet numbers for its conventional forces, which it considered too low. But given the data the agency had acquired in and around Khrushchev's speech, it appeared that he was cutting 1.2 million from a smaller base than had been assumed. Moscow could not hope to occupy Europe with a force this size.

The Soviet announcement had no perceptible effect on the intense public debate over the supposed missile gap. In fact some of the other sections in Khrushchev's January 14 speech may actually have hurt his case. In announcing the troop cuts, he had reaffirmed his belief in nuclear deterrence and boasted of the Soviet Union's superior missile technology. A careful reader of his speech would have also seen that he was now saying that a successful first strike was impossible in a world where both sides had missiles and bombers. A careful analyst might also have understood that the language was designed to smooth any domestic feathers ruffled by this surprise unilateral cut. But the missile gap lobby in the United States looked past that and ignored the conventional cuts altogether.

From Khrushchev's perspective the most unnerving development in the missile gap debate that he saw played out in U.S. newspapers was the start of a highly influential series of articles by Joseph Alsop that seemed to wrap all the prevailing missile gap lore together with a bow. Over six columns starting on January 23, Alsop laid out the case for believing the Soviets were well ahead in missile development. He built his argument on Power's premise that with 150 ICBMs and 150 intermediate-range missiles firing on European targets, the Soviets could destroy all of NATO's nuclear weapons. He then set out to explain that if the Soviet missile factories were as efficient as the factory that produced SAC's Atlas rockets, then Khrushchev would have 150 ICBMs in ten months. Alsop charged the Eisenhower administration with playing Russian roulette in refusing to accelerate the arms race because of lack of firm proof that the Soviets had as many missiles as they could have. "[N]o intelligence service on earth can be absolutely certain that the closed Soviet society, using all the resources of the Soviet economy, has not produced a number of weapons equal to a mere ten months of capacity production in a single American factory." In the absence of certainty about an enemy's capabilities, Alsop believed that one had to assume the worst about both his capabilities and his intentions. Unfortunately for the country and the world, Alsop's thesis proved to be more persuasive than President Eisenhower's calm.

For more, please go here.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: mb
Hometown: Jackson, MS

In noting the recent record violence in Iraq, you mentioned that the gov't numbers really cannot be trusted since the ISG had found persistent underreporting. This has been a pattern of this administration going back to the very beginning -- even before 9/11. Whether it's terrorist stats or global warming data, they have tried to fudge, scrub or otherwise manipulate data that is essential to accurately evaluating the progress of events.

Future social scientists would be wise to be skeptical of conclusions drawn based on government data from the Bush era. Perhaps there should be a practice of placing an asterisk after any data this government has had a hand in collecting or recording.

You know, there's an old saw about "figures don't lie, but liars can figure." Whoever coined that aphorism didn't expect to have the liars in charge of the figures.

Name: Todd Hedley
Hometown: San Antonio

Dr. A;

One thing I found missing from the New York Times article concerning White House efforts to censor the writings of CIA agent Flynt Leverett was a rather critical fact.

As noted on Steve Clemons' blog, the "confidential" information that Leverett discussed was identical to things written by Kenneth Pollack. Yet the White House chose not to censor Pollack. Why? Pollack was a supporter of the Iraq travesty.

Not hard to see why the WH lets Pollack publish yet censors Leverett. But why did the "liberal" NYT omit this rather critical piece of info from their story?

Here's what Leverett wrote Clemons (& others in an open letter):

The White House is demanding, before it will consider clearing the op-ed for publication, that I excise entire paragraphs dealing with matters that I have written about (and received clearance from the CIA to do so) in several other pieces, that have been publicly acknowledged by Secretary Rice, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, and former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, and that have been extensively covered in the media.

These matters include Iran's dialogue and cooperation with the United States concerning Afghanistan in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and Iran's offer to negotiate a comprehensive "grand bargain" with the United States in the spring of 2003.

There is no basis for claiming that these issues are classified and not already in the public domain.

For the White House to make this claim, with regard to my op-ed and at this particular moment, is nothing more than a crass effort to politicize a prepublication review process -- a process that is supposed to be about the protection of classified information, and nothing else -- to limit the dissemination of views critical of administration policy.

Within the last two week, the CIA found the wherewithal to approve an op-ed -- published in the New York Times on December 8, 2006 -- by Kenneth Pollack, another former CIA employee. This op-ed includes the statement that “Iran provided us with extensive assistance on intelligence, logistics, diplomacy, and Afghan internal politics."

Similar statements by me have been deleted from my draft op-ed by the White House. But Kenneth Pollack is someone who presented unfounded assessments of the Iraqi WMD threat -- the same assessments expounded by the Bush White House -- to make a high-profile public case for going to war in Iraq.

Mr. Pollack also supports the administration's reluctance to engage with Iran, in contrast to my consistent and sharp criticism of that position. It would seem that, if one is expounding views congenial to the White House, it does not intervene in prepublication censorship, but, if one is a critic, White House officials will use fraudulent charges of revealing classified information to keep critical views from being heard.

I expect this kind of juvenile pettiness from the Bu$hies, and sadly, I am coming to expect this kind of shoddy journalism from the NY Times as well. Does Judy Miller still work there?

Name: Bill Strachan
Hometown: Enfield, CT

So many have commented about comparisons, domestically, of Iraq to Vietnam who were not present in that era, I just had to slip a word or two in here.

The supreme irony of it all is that it was a Senator from Texas who spoke up on the Senate floor during debate about intervening on the side of France (of all people) in Vietnam at the request of the Eisenhower administration. This Senator asked, where were our NATO allies in this matter? If they were not with us we should not go into Vietnam. That question prevented our involvement in Vietnam in the 50's. The Senator was Lyndon Johnson.

Johnson's Great Society had some mixed results but overall had many achievements. But launching such a broad domestic program coupled with escalating the Vietnam War left us with runaway inflation in the 70's.

The whole protest movement of the '60s and early '70s was as much against the strident anticommunist/anti-left ideologues of the then American Right (Republican) as anything else. It was a challenge to government authority and the blind obedience of a lockstep anti-communist "Greatest Generation."

The Pentagon Papers revealed the deception of the Gulf of Tonkin incident and subsequent other propaganda campaign lies, distortions, and fabrications that had led us into Southeast Asia.

What was not widely reported was that, again ironically, Ho Chi Minh admired FDR & America. He had hoped that the U. S. would aid in preventing the European colonial powers, i.e. France, from retaking their former colonies after WWII. After FDR died and Truman took over the government, Ho Chi Minh got his answer as the French returned to "Indochina" wearing American-made uniforms and carrying American-made weapons.

All the lies, obfuscations, deceptions, propaganda, and delusions would not overcome the nightly news footage of the ongoing carnage in Vietnam.

It was that coverage that has brought us the current "embedded" (read controlled and/or censored) coverage of Iraq. It is also why we do not see the flag-draped coffins of our dead nor do we see limited if any coverage of the tens of thousands of wounded Americans in our hospitals and Veterans centers.

The MSM have truly been and continue to be lapdogs to this radical right-wing administration and its political allies. After all, they represent Corporate America (Enron, Halliburton, Bechtel, WorldCom, ATT, etc.) at its controlling best.

Ike was so right when he warned of the Military Industrial Complex. Here, with the Bush administration and the Bush Family, Inc., we see the marriage of the Military Industrial Complex with Big Oil and the Intelligence community.

That marriage, with its unconstitutional wiretapping and data mining, is something worth protesting.

With so much power concentrated in the hands of so few, is it any wonder the public is cowed.

At least we have the Internet to express our outrage -- at least for now!

Name: Dave Richie
Hometown: Birmingham, Al.

Dr. A.,

Thanks so much for sharing your religious views. My, in such mine fields you choose to tread!

But, no, I don't believe He gives a flying whatever about our "history" nor does He play a significant role. He does not come down here (I think, down) and visit miracles upon us in violation of His own natural laws. The maladies we suffer we bring entirely upon ourselves, i.e., the election of Mr. Bush or the selection of John Kerry.

For Him to interject Himself in these processes would undermine the concepts of intellect and free will. We can neither blame Him for our predicaments nor credit Him with the solutions. It is for us to use His gifts to figure it out for ourselves.

The unholy right wing in this country has chosen to inject God into our public debate from time to time and it has cost them votes, including mine. I have had many of my friends come to call themselves "conservative democrats until these idiots get out of my bedroom!"

I believe you have nailed the lunatic right wing in this country. But, be careful. On the same page you claim "moral superiority." Too tempting to go there, was it not?

Appreciate your courage.

From the ever shrinking Red States,

Name: Bill Dunlap
Hometown: Lake Oswego, Oregon

Speaking of God, Eric, isn't it telling that no one who claims to know God's will or hear God's voice ever hears the Almighty say, "No, no, no don't do that. For My sake, please don't do that."

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