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Caveat lector

SULLYING CLARK! What did Clark say about Iraq? Someone—not Sully—should tell us:


THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF FISKING: There’s plenty to criticize, critique and assess when it comes to those Dem Hopeful views on Iraq. But just how lightweight is our discourse? At the New Republic web site, Andrew Sullivan “fisks” statements by Kerry and Clark at last Sunday’s Dem debate. But alas! Regarding one key statement by Clark, he offers a tired assessment:

CLARK: I’ve been against this war from the beginning. I was against it last summer, I was against it in the fall, I was against it in the winter, I was against it in the spring. And I'm against it now. It was an unnecessary war. There was no imminent threat.

No member of the administration used the term “imminent threat” to describe Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. No one. In his 2003 State of the Union, the president based his argument for war on the notion that we should not wait until the threat is imminent before we take measures to defend ourselves. Clark is repeating a lie that has been thoroughly exposed on the Internet and elsewhere, a lie that even “The New York Times” has stopped repeating.

A “fisking,” of course, is supposed to be a close, careful reading of somebody’s text. But just how closely does Sully read Clark? In his rebuttal, Sullivan types a Standard Formulation: “No member of the administration used the term ‘imminent threat’ to describe Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. No one.” It feels very good to type such scripts, although this script is a pointless misdirection (see below). But in what way does Sullivan’s statement serve as a rebuttal of Clark? In his statement, Clark said nothing—nada; zilch—about what Bush or Bush spokesmen have said. He merely said the war was “unnecessary” because “there was no imminent threat.” He made no claim about what Bush said. But Sully—responding to a statement not made—rushes to say that Clark “lied.”

Alas! The desire to type familiar, canned spin is pervasive among modern “journalists.” In the passage presented above, Sully has fifty words to “fisk.” But even in reading a mere fifty words, Sullivan simply can’t stop himself from “rebutting” a claim that isn’t there.

Two comments are worth appending:

First (again): It is simply inane to keep insisting that no one in the Bush Admin ever used the words “imminent threat.” During the fall of 2002, Bush and others made repeated presentations that could only be understood one way; Saddam posed a threat to the United States, and that threat was immediate. In his high-profile speech in Cincinnati, for example, Bush said that Saddam could strike us “on any given day.” School kids know what words like that mean. But high-profile typists do not.

Yes, the Admin described an immediate threat. Why must their spinners deny it?

Second: There would probably be a lot to gain from a full examination of Clark’s past statements. What did Clark say about Iraq last fall? Surely, few Americans know. In fact, Clark warned that force should be “a last resort,” but many Dems might be surprised by what he seemed to mean by such statements. For example, here’s how he finished an essay in Time:

CLARK (10/14/02): The key issue about Iraq has never been whether we should act if Saddam doesn’t comply with U.N. resolutions and disarm. Rather, the problems are how we should act, and when. As for the how, the answer is clear—multilaterally, with friends and allies, with every possible effort to avoid the appearance of yet another Christian and Jewish stab at an Islamic country, with force as a last resort, and with a post-conflict plan in place to assure that the consequences of our action do not supercharge the al-Qaeda recruiting machine. As for the when, let’s take the time to plan, organize and do the whole job the right way. This will only take a few more weeks, and it’s important. It’s not just about winning a war—it’s also about winning the peace.
What were General Clark’s actual views? Americans gain from actual knowledge. But they’re hobbled by what they’re handed instead: Light-weight spin from tired old spin-shops, accompanied by dark claims of “lying.”