Right Hook

The Weekly Standard insists Saddam helped al-Qaida; Den Beste says U.S. now more likely to use nukes. Plus: Conservatives beat down Abercrombie's "porn for kids."

By Mark Follman
Published December 4, 2003 12:19AM (EST)

"Case (sort of) Closed"
The editors of the Weekly Standard, led by Washington neocon William Kristol, think the White House is missing a golden opportunity to reaffirm Saddam's links to al-Qaida. On Nov. 24, the Standard published an article by Stephen F. Hayes titled "Case Closed," which quoted at length a recent, secret memo from the Pentagon to the Senate Intelligence Committee that allegedly contained 16 pages of evidence corroborating Saddam's partnership with the terror network. But several mainstream news outlets questioned the validity of the report's analysis and source material, and the Department of Defense itself called the Standard story and other news reports "inaccurate." On Monday, the Standard declared that the Times, the Post and Newsweek were biased in their coverage -- a curious argument from a magazine that makes little pretense of objectivity. Though the memo was leaked to the Standard from the office of Pentagon hawk Douglas J. Feith -- and while no other media outlet has been allowed to see the leaked document -- the Standard continues to push it as a blockbuster.

"The story [detailing the leaked memo] generated lots of discussion on talk radio and on the Internet, but the establishment media did their best to take a pass. The New York Times and the Washington Post wrote brief articles about the memo that focused as much on the alleged 'leak' of the information as they did on the substance of the intelligence. Newsweek, in an article on its web site, misreported several important elements of the memo and dismissed the article as 'hype.' As we went to press, the memo had received nary a mention on the major broadcast networks ...

"Whatever the reason, we're not surprised by bias among the mainstream media. And we rarely complain about it, since we take it for granted. But we do have a complaint about the Bush administration. The administration says, repeatedly, that 'Iraq is the central front in the war on terror.' They produce a memo for the Senate Intelligence Committee laying out the connections between Osama and Saddam. We obtain the memo, and make public those parts that don't endanger intelligence sources and methods. But now the administration -- continuing a pattern of the last several months -- shies away from an opportunity to substantiate its own case before the American people and the world ..."

The Standard editors speculate there might be a credibility problem dogging the White House:

"Perhaps the Bush administration is still spooked by its mishandling of the Niger-uranium-Joe Wilson-State of the Union fiasco earlier this year. Perhaps they didn't want to appear to be exploiting a 'leaked' memo ... "

And oddly enough, they conclude that the rationale for invading Iraq did not depend on evidence of Saddam's al-Qaida connections anyway. At least, not entirely.

"We at the Weekly Standard have long believed that the war in Iraq was, indeed, central to the broader war on terror. This argument never depended on particular connections of Saddam and al Qaeda, but such connections are certainly relevant. Based on all the evidence we have seen, we believe that such connections existed. Does the Bush administration agree, or doesn't it?"

Will America use nukes to fight terror?
Steven Den Beste, a conservative blogger who studies military history and strategy, says we may have no choice. In a recent lengthy, sober analysis on his site USS Clueless, Den Beste argues that a WMD terror attack on the U.S., or the need to fight multiple wars at once, could make nuclear strikes part of "formal" U.S. policy.

"It's a matter of record that al Qaeda had attempted to acquire nuclear weapons or refined fissionables with which to make them, as well as having done at least some work at attempting to create chemical weapons. Saddam tried to develop nukes, and Iran is trying (and is suspected by some as having succeeded). Saddam also had and used chemical weapons. The chance that a militantly hostile regime might sell, or leak, such weapons to a terrorist group can't be ignored ... the threshold for use of nuclear weapons has been lowered, which is to say that there's an increased likelihood now that they'll be used, either by our enemies or by us....

"In the runup to the war in Iraq, I was asked what we'd do if other nations decided to take advantage of the interval when we had a large part of our forces in the Gulf to stir up trouble. Some worried that North Korea might take that opportunity to attack south. Others worried about a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, or other kinds of problems elsewhere. Could we fight a six front or ten front war?

"The answer is that we can fight a ten front war, but we'd have to fight at least eight of them with nuclear weapons. If we are given time to prepare and to use the forces and weapons we have, right now the US is overwhelming in conventional ground war. But we don't have enough troops and other military assets to fight ten such actions simultaneously ...

"If an American city were nuked by a smuggled bomb ... we'd no longer have the luxury of time [to pursue diplomacy, and we would have to enforce nuclear non-proliferation] by directly using the nuclear threat ... Any nuke in the hands of any untrustworthy government anywhere would be a direct threat to us, and would not be tolerated."

Declare war on the whole Middle East?
On the heels of President Bush's top-secret visit to Baghdad to rouse the troops on Thanksgiving, Michael Ledeen of the right-wing think tank American Enterprise Institute is blasting the Bush administration for playing election-year politics with war in the Middle East. Dispense with the photo ops and "pretend diplomacy," barks Ledeen, and focus on crushing terrorists across the entire region.

"It seems that the administration has decided to 'manage' Iraq until Election Day, and then take stock of the situation. That is a suicidal conceit, for no matter how marvelous our armed forces are, it gives the entire initiative to our enemies ...

"Managing Iraq, which means taking it easy on Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia, also means condemning lots of people to death who could be saved if we waged war against our enemies ...

"No amount of presidential bravery, no number of magnificent speeches, can save the lives of our people and of our allies, and give the Middle East a hope for real peace, if we insist on 'managing' the terrorist war and play pretend diplomacy, which is what we're doing these days. The terror masters know they must drive us out of Iraq. They know they must split off our allies. They believe the best way to do this is to kill more and more Americans, Italians, Spaniards, Japanese, South Koreans, Turks, Poles, and Iraqis.

"They are not running for reelection, and they are not trying to be loved. They want to be feared."

According to Ledeen, the proper course of action is to make enemies of governments from Tehran to Damascus to Riyadh, though he outlines no specific plan beyond that for tracking down and destroying terrorists.

"Welcome to Mexiamerica"
Former right-wing GOP presidential candidate and veteran xenophobic agitator Pat Buchanan is marking the 10th anniversary of NAFTA by blaming Mexicans for at least half a dozen of America's woes. In his latest column for right-wing news site World Net Daily, he rants that freer-flowing trade and human traffic from Mexico are responsible for recent outbreaks of hepatitis A, a recurrence of tuberculosis, a new disease called "Chagas" that threatens the U.S. blood supply, and a surge in illegal hard drugs and violent crime. (For good measure, he takes a shot at immigrants from the Middle East, too, where West Nile virus "apparently originated.") And there's still more to the free-trade deal: According to Buchanan, illegal aliens from south of the border were largely behind the 1992 L.A. riots:

"Another byproduct of open borders is violent crime. In the Los Angeles riot of 1992, worst in our history, thousands of arrestees turned out to be illegal aliens who had joined in the mass looting, pillaging and burning of America's greatest Western city."

And apparently the bursting of the dot-com bubble and fiscal mismanagement had little to do with imploding the California state budget -- it was the Mexicans, who are scaring off all the taxpaying white folks (who've inhabited California for at least a century and a half now) and are cashing in on the welfare state:

"In the Golden State, where one in three illegal aliens from Mexico settles, native-born Californians have begun a mass exodus. During the 1990s, the white population fell for the first time since the gold rush. As middle- and upper-income taxpayers depart, and poor immigrants, legal and illegal, arrive, the burden on social services, from clinics to courts to schools, soars. This is a primary cause of the budget crisis Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected to solve.

"But how can it be solved if the tax-consuming poor continue to arrive in huge numbers, while the middle class continues to depart, taking the tax base with it?

"According to the Federation for American Immigration Reform, 2.8 million new immigrants, half of them illegal, arrived in the last two years. By 2010, America will be home to 45 million, a nation within a nation.

"'A country that cannot control its borders isn't really a country any more,' said Ronald Reagan. Welcome to Mexiamerica."

Bring on the brass knuckles
In a recent blog post, nationally syndicated radio host and TV commentator Hugh Hewitt scoffs at a recent spate of media coverage on the rise of hostile partisan politics in Washington, calling a recent New York Times Op-Ed on the subject an "embarrassing hand-wringer." In fact, Hewitt wants to see the gloves come off altogether:

"My God, people, it is a war. Tempers had better be short. Voices ought to be raised. I think the Democrats are recklessly minimizing threats to the people of the United States and barking lies 24/7 because they are losing their political grip on the country -- so, yeah, I hope the Republican electeds answer back with some choice words ...

"The folks demanding civility seem to be asking that truth be avoided when unpleasantness has to follow in its wake.

"Howard Dean and the also-rans have been employing the sort of rank language reserved for the nutty reaches of their party. Fine. It is going to be a brass-knuckled year because the stakes are high and the Democrats are proposing a series of schemes that would mark a retreat in the war on terror. It could get sharp. I suspect and hope that it will."

The Democrats are responsible for the rising hostility anyway, says Hewitt -- not because they believe the stakes are high during wartime, but because they are sore losers with no plan to fight terror or boost the economy:

"Can we just agree that Democrats hate being shut out of power and their collective whining is making everyone edgy?

"The Democrats always had at least partial control of D.C. until January 2001, and they got it back in May of 2001 when Jeffords jumped. 2003 is the first full year since the early '50s when the Democrats controlled nothing. They don't like it. They complain. Add to that the deep disagreements on the war and on almost every other major issue and the recipe for partisan division is complete.

"That division is a good thing because the Democratic vision is wrong and dangerous ... Democrats know that the country is moving away from them and they are unhappy. Too bad. I'd rather win the war against the terrorists and have the economy grow while listening to the Democratic whining than satisfy Dean and Daschle et al and get whacked again."

Mall mentality
Just before the Thanksgiving shopping rush, clothing retailer Abercrombie and Fitch yanked its provocative, sexually explicit "Christmas Field Guide" from stores, under the threat of nationwide boycott. (The quarterly catalog, featuring young nude models and describing, among other things, a brief history of group sex, had been available for purchase for $7 by customers ages 18 and up.) In the National Review Online, Virginia writer Anne Morse says "the mainstreaming of porn is nothing new," but that A&F went way too far with a catalog that in past editions has "featured pictures of Santa in sadomasochistic poses with his elves, drinking tips, [and] advice on seducing everyone from teachers to nuns." Morse applauds the strong-arm tactics of conservative leaders who led the campaign to censure A&F:

"Pressure on A&F may also have come from ... corporations that own other stores. Bill Johnson, president of the American Decency Association, says that his group had come up with a unique new strategy for getting a Grand Rapids, Michigan A&F to not only stop selling its raunchy quarterly, but also to get rid of the huge photographs of naked models that decorate the walls of every A&F store.

"Discussions with Abercrombie and the manager of the Rivertown Crossings Mall in Grand Rapids had gone nowhere. So Johnson sent a letter to the managers of all 120 mall stores expressing concerns about what children visiting the mall were being exposed to. He enclosed several photos from A&F's quarterly. Police yourselves, he warned, or we'll urge people to boycott the entire mall -- right at the start of the Christmas shopping season.

"Johnson immediately heard from two stores, including the manager of one of the mall's largest department stores. In the last two weeks there have been, Johnson says, 'significant discussions' between the corporation that owns the department store and Abercrombie, leading the ADA to agree to agree to delay the boycott ..."

While porn might be OK for grizzled perverts, Morse says, stubborn CEOs who want to market steamy sex appeal to America's youth must be beaten down:

"What outrages many parents is that Abercrombie is deliberately aiming its porn and damaging lifestyle advice, not at dirty old men, but at kids ...

"A&F's CEO Mike Jeffries has for years sneered at those who complained about his quarterly's filth. Asking him softly to clean up his act didn't work, but [using a] big stick evidently did."

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Read more of "Right Hook," Salon's weekly roundup of conservative commentary and analysis here.

Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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2004 Elections Al-qaida Iraq Middle East Terrorism