Faith Based Reporting from the NYTimes

October 21, 2004

Multiple friends sent me links to this hit-piece by Ron Susskind in the New York Times Magazine. It made them feel like they were fact-based people but that the crazy regligious guy who runs our country doesn’t. Unfortunately, they do not appear to recognize that it is they are who the victims here.

After reading the first page and realizing that it was simply a hit-piece, I decided to skip randomly around to look for any actual facts, evidence, etc. I started in the middle of page 6 and found:

Looking back at the months directly following 9/11, virtually every leading military analyst seems to believe that rather than using Afghan proxies, we should have used more American troops, deployed more quickly, to pursue Osama bin Laden in the mountains of Tora Bora.

Of course, anyone who actually pays attention to these things knows that Suskind basically reprising Kerry’s lies from the debate. Here is Gen. Tommy Franks on the issue:

On more than one occasion, Senator Kerry has referred to the fight at Tora Bora in Afghanistan during late 2001 as a missed opportunity for America. He claims that our forces had Osama bin Laden cornered and allowed him to escape. How did it happen? According to Mr. Kerry, we “outsourced” the job to Afghan warlords. As commander of the allied forces in the Middle East, I was responsible for the operation at Tora Bora, and I can tell you that the senator’s understanding of events doesn’t square with reality.

Follow the link to read his reasoning or you can read comments from others e.g. here or here. But, of course, (via JustOneMinute, Kerry was “for the Tora Bora plan before he was against it.. From CNN:

CALLER: Hello. Yes, I would like to ask the panel why they don’t use napalm or flamethrowers on those tunnels and caves up there in Afghanistan?

KING: Senator Kerry?

…KERRY: Well, I think it depends on where you are tactically. They may well be doing that at some point in time. But for the moment, what we are doing, I think, is having its impact and it is the best way to protect our troops and sort of minimalize the proximity, if you will. I think we have been doing this pretty effectively and we should continue to do it that way.

But having given this response to my friends demonstrating that the article itself was not a piece of fact-based analysis and implicitly charactertizing their belief in its conclusions as faith-based, I got a “It’s unfortunate that you didn’t feel it worthwhile to review the core points. It’s not an attack ad – it outlines a personal operating style and thinking methodology.” So, I decided to plunge back in for another random sample and found this one:

One congressman — the Hungarian-born Tom Lantos, a Democrat from California and the only Holocaust survivor in Congress — mentioned that the Scandinavian countries were viewed more positively. Lantos went on to describe for the president how the Swedish Army might be an ideal candidate to anchor a small peacekeeping force on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Sweden has a well-trained force of about 25,000. The president looked at him appraisingly, several people in the room recall.

”I don’t know why you’re talking about Sweden,” Bush said. ”They’re the neutral one. They don’t have an army.”

Lantos paused, a little shocked, and offered a gentlemanly reply: ”Mr. President, you may have thought that I said Switzerland. They’re the ones that are historically neutral, without an army.” Then Lantos mentioned, in a gracious aside, that the Swiss do have a tough national guard to protect the country in the event of invasion.

Bush held to his view. ”No, no, it’s Sweden that has no army.”

So here we are to believe that the President is an idiot because he can’t tell the difference between Sweden and Switzerland… Except here is what the CIA World Factbook has to say about Sweden:

A military power during the 17th century, Sweden has not participated in any war in almost two centuries. An armed neutrality was preserved in both World Wars.
[…]
Military expenditure: $4.395B
Military as % GDP: 2.1%

And here is Switzerland:

Switzerland’s independence and neutrality have long been honored by the major European powers, and Switzerland was not involved in either of the two World Wars
[…]
Military expenditure: $2.548B
Military as % GDP: 1%

So, it turns out they are BOTH neutral and neither has a substantial military capability (both spend less than 0.25% of what the US spends on its military). Certainly Kerry supporters lack the standing to claim that Bush was wrong here. After all, tiny Poland turns out to have a comparable military, but Kerry does not consider it substantial enough to be worthy of the alliance on Iraq:

M ilitary expenditures: $3.5B
Military as % GDP: 1.71%

And it turns out that, not only is Bush’s grip on the facts turns out to be pretty good, but he does his homework. The article itself notes:

A few weeks later, members of Congress and their spouses gathered with administration officials and other dignitaries for the White House Christmas party. The president saw Lantos and grabbed him by the shoulder. ”You were right,” he said, with bonhomie. ”Sweden does have an army.”

Of course, in denying that Suskind’s article is really a hit piece, my friends failed to note the paragraph that immediately follows:

This story was told to me by one of the senators in the Oval Office that December day, Joe Biden.

I wonder if that is the same Senator Joe Biden who happens to bea Kerry campaign supporter/official. Hmm.

But here is Suskind’s spin about this story:

This is one key feature of the faith-based presidency: open dialogue, based on facts, is not seen as something of inherent value.

To me, this is one key feature of the articles anti-Bush spin. Failing to research facts and failing to understand the political context in which the discussions it cherry-picks are taking place. Would it have been appropriate for Bush, in that conversation, to have launched into a discussion on the merits about international peacekeepers? I don’t know, but I see no reason not to give the participants in the conversation the benefit of the doubt. The facts are not really even at issue here — no one appears to have had them or theyare a judgement call about available military
capabilities in country with military spending less than 0.3% of ours. But, Suskind didn’t bother to do the 5 minutes of
homework I just did to find that out.

Faith based reporting. Feh.

Update: One friend who had previously sent me a Suskind link, then decided he changed his mind on hearing Al Gore’s speech on what truly motivates this administration. For interested people, I recommend this.

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If Bush had not invaded Iraq

October 20, 2004

From SunnyBlog via TrinPundit, a possible Kerry campaign speech:

There can be no doubt of Saddams ties to our terrorist enemies. We know that in 1998, after bin Laden issued his public fatwa against the United States, two al Queda members went to Iraq where they met with Iraqi intelligence. Within weeks, an Iraqi delegation traveled to Afghanistan to meet with bin Laden and extend to him safe haven in Iraq. Bin Laden remained with the Talaban, but the invitation from Saddam was always there. Al-Zarqawi has long received refuge in Iraq. The terrorist Forouk Hijazi is known to train his forces there. Abu Nidal has safe haven in Baghdad as he plots murders. Abu Abbas, who planned the hijacking of the Achille Lauro, lives in safety in Iraq. And at Salman Pack, just south of Baghdad, terrorists train using the fuselage of a commercial jet airline. The trail of evidence revealing Saddam Husseins ties to terrorists is self-evident to all but those in the White House.