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Pakistan and the Serious People, One

I’m going to do a series on Pakistan–and how the blindness of the "serious people" got us into big trouble there. I’m going to use Matt Bai’s inaccurate slam on me as a foil to show how the serious people allowed themselves to get distracted from a brewing crisis that carries real consequences. I’ll start, then, by showing you the slam, and explaining what Matt got wrong. MissLaura (who wrote an insightful review of this exchange) sent along this excerpt from Matt’s book; I haven’t read the book, so if you have, let me know if there’s more to this. [Update: This exchange happened at a post-keynote bloggers chat with former VA Governor and likely future VA Senator Mark Warner.]

Marcy Wheeler, who blogged as "emptywheel" on Daily Kos, jumped infirst.  Why, she wanted to know, had Warner pointed to Iran as such abig threat to national security?  Wasn’t Pakistan a bigger problem?After all, they already had nukes.

Warner had been spending hours in private tutoring sessions on foreignpolicy, and he talked confidently about Iran’s president, MahmoudAmahdinejad, and his "whole approach toward regional hegemony."  Thismade him dangerous, Warner said.

"On what grounds?" Marcy demanded.  She had short hair and glasses anda serious demeanor.  She reminded me, strangely, of Marcy fromPeanuts.  I wondered if she got that a lot.

Warner mentioned Ahmadinejad’s explicit threat to Israel.

"I’ve heard Pakistan described as Iran in 1978, except it’s Iran with anuclear bomb," Marcy retorted, as if she’d just stepped off a planefrom the region.  There were nods and murmured assents all around. "Maybe I’m crazy."

"I hope you’re crazy," Warner said testily.  This had caught himcompletely off guard.  He had just given the most confrontational,partisan speech he knew how to give, and he had expected the bloggersto appreciate it.  Instead, he was getting hammered on Iran.  Why werethey seizing on this one line?  What he didn’t understand was that thiswas the one place in his speech where he had agreed with Bush onsomething, and thus it had to be probed.  To the bloggers, if Bush saidthe sky was blue, then it was green.  If he said the world was round,it had to be flat.  And if Bush thought Iran was the most seriousthreat out there, then no Democratic candidate could think that too. Warner was clearly buying into the right-wing spin.[my emphasis]

Now, compare Bai’s description with my own description.

I asked the first question, which went something like:

I’mgoing to ask the Iran question, but I’m going to get at it sideways.You said that Iran is the biggest WMD threat out there. But Pakistan isa tremendously unstable country right now. And if Musharraf fell, AlQaeda could get the bomb within 6 weeks. And al-Baradei has just saidthat Iran does not now have the bomb. So why is Iran the biggest threat?

Hethen listed several reasons why Iran was a threat: Ahmadenijad’snuttiness, a "regional strategy," support for terrorism. I pointed outthat none of those things were WMDs.

Do you see what Matt left out? Warner had called Iran the biggest WMD threat–not the biggest threat, as Matt inaccurately reported it. And I’m not sure (I’m still looking for a video), but I believe I effectively agreed with Warner’s assessment of why Iran was a threat–Ahmadinejad’s threats, Iran’s hegemonic pretensions, and Iran’s support for Hezbollah. My point was not that Iran wasn’t (and isn’t) a threat. My point was that Warner was claiming it was a WMD threat, even while the three things he pointed to to support that argument had nothing to do with WMD.

Matt rewrote the story to transform my challenge to Warner from a serious critique of his logic into a frivolous objection to his agreement with Bush. While Matt’s move is clearly shitty reporting (though it served his narrative well), I believe it captures the blindness of the serious people quite well.

Oh, and for the record, Matt? No, I never get comparisons with Marcie from Peanuts.

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