Devil In The Details


The conquering fabricator has returned. On November 9, Ahmad Chalabi, the notorious Iraqi exile who fed a hungry Pentagon and hungrier press corps fantastic tales of Saddam Hussein's bristling arsenal of weapons of mass destruction and joint ventures with Osama Bin Laden, was greeted as a hero at Washington's most influential pro-war think tank.

Escorted by a phalanx of Secret Service officers and D.C. police, Chalabi, once president of the dissident Iraqi National Congress and now deputy prime minister of Iraq, strode triumphantly into his den of true believers. Chalabi-fest at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) was about to begin.

Inside the plush conference center, a beaming Michael Rubin, AEI fellow and former aide to Iraq viceroy Paul Bremer, bounced around like a 6-year-old at Hanukkah. Fellows Danielle Pletka and Reuel Marc Gerecht stood on the side of the room exchanging smiles. And over by the cookie table, Laurie Mylroie, the terrorism expert and certifiable wing nut who believes that Hussein was behind the Oklahoma City bombing, was overheard telling a colleague, The problem is, there are so few people with real knowledge of the Middle East.

Praising Chalabi for his misinformation might tax a lesser institution, but not the AEI. Institute President Christopher DeMuth said his friend did more than any other man to advertise to anyone who would listen the horrors of the Saddam Hussein regime, its clear and present dangers to those beyond Iraq's border, and the urgent necessity of removing Saddam from power. Chalabi, taking the podium, returned the compliment: Before many people recognized the need of the Iraqi people for change of government, AEI did. And they provided for us a forum from which to launch our political campaign.

The only grumpy people in the room seemed to be the journalists. Chalabi's lecture left little time for questions at the end, and many hands were left raised. Nonetheless, at the tail end of the Q & A session, a reporter from the Cox News Service sneaked in one final so whatever happened to those weapons of mass destruction you promised us? jab, to which Chalabi replied, This question is pregnant with implications.

Odd imagery, that -- but at least for once I knew he was telling the truth.

-- Mark Leon Goldberg

Naval Gazing

Every neighborhood has its own target demographic. By the exit of the Metro station near my house in a predominantly African American area of D.C., we've got posters for 50 Cent's new movie, Get Rich or Die Tryin', and BET's show Ultimate Hustler. At Farragut North, near the Prospect's offices downtown, a series of Charles Schwab ads exhort me to Ask Chuck all my financial-planning questions. Further east, at the Capitol South station, the billboards feature this year's must-have accessory for congressional staff: the latest in offshore-intimidation naval weaponry.

Opposite a sign informing onlookers that Indian Gaming Plays by the Rules (if you need an ad saying you do, you probably don't) a white ship cruises past a wooded shoreline above the mysterious slogan This is What Littoral Dominance Looks Like.

At first glance, littoral dominance looks a bit like one of those tacky yachts bound to draw complaints from the wind-powered WASP old guard down at the club. In fact, littoral means near the shore. As for dominance, the Pentagon's Joint Vision 20/20 report, released in May 2000, proclaimed full-spectrum dominance to be the goal of the U.S. military. Since then, all procurement projects must be justified as leading to dominance of something or other. The ship that ensures our littoral dominance carries the rather unimaginative name Littoral Combat Ship (LCS). And the ad touting the ship is a window not only into Washington's unique marketing culture but into the Navy's postSeptember 11 intellectual crisis.

Since 9-11 defense spending has gone up, but the burdens of combat operations have overwhelmingly been borne by the Army and the Marine Corps, forcing the Navy to craft novel rationalizations that justify why it should continue to be the best-funded branch of the service. Since nobody will agree to fight us on open seas, littoral dominance is how we prepare for offshore warfare, and the LCS will also preview new technologies designed to be deployed on the still-in-the-works -- and even more expensive -- DD(X) destroyer.

The intended enemy for all this is China, though what our troops are supposed to do after disembarking on the Chinese coast is a bit unclear. Robert Kaplan's June 2005 Atlantic opus How We Would Fight China hypothesized that the LCS might be used indirectly, given the variety of dysfunctional Pacific Island republics that are strengthening their ties with Beijing.

The Navy's seafaring brethren in the Coast Guard may have hit upon a superior approach. Ads in the same Metro station for the Guard's new Deepwater System simply note that it's built in 41 different states, guaranteeing 82 Senate votes and a steady funding stream without the need to start invading any islands.

-- Matthew Yglesias

Dana Rohrabacher, Auteur

On November 4, the Los Angeles Times reported that Orange County Representative Dana Rohrabacher had opened Capitol Hill doors to a movie producer, Joseph Medawar, interested in ginning up political support for a proposed TV series about the Department of Homeland Security. The news that Medawar is now facing a 23-count indictment for defrauding investors on this apparently bogus project may embarrass Rohrabacher; the news that Medawar won Rohrabacher's assistance after having paid him $23,000 for an option on a screenplay the conservative Republican had written may just endanger him. Watchdog groups dutifully cried foul and called for investigations into this apparent quid pro quo.

But incidents of Republican congressional corruption are a dime a dozen these days. What sets Rohrabacher apart from his peers isn't his influence peddling but his artistic inclinations. The former journalist and Reagan speechwriter has penned several screenplays over the years, any one of which would surely provide an antidote to the standard left-wing Hollywood fare if ever a producer not facing the possibility of lifetime imprisonment saw fit to bring it to the big screen.

The script Medawar bought is an action adventure called Baja centering on a Mexican archeological mission carried out, according to the L.A. Times, by the film's conservative Gulf War veteran hero and his antagonist, a liberal graduate student. Rohrabacher has said that the story symbolizes the anti-war, pro-war divide in our country, and indeed, meditations on war and peace recur throughout the congressman's filmic output (that is, unproduced scripts). In the 1980s he shopped around a romance set during the French Resistance called The French Doctoresse, which raised a few eyebrows for its oddly positive depiction of Adolf Hitler. (The führer generously releases the doctoresse's imprisoned husband in the climactic scene, then lightens the mood by making her the guest of honor at a French-style dinner.)

A 15-page treatment for a third Rohrabacher script popped up, of all places, in the John Roberts papers released by the White House prior to the judge's Senate confirmation. The Killing Zone is a Cold War thriller featuring an American journalist in Prague named Bob Turner. By story's end, following healthy doses of commie fighting and randy sex with an Eastern European starlet, heroic pro-American Czech dissidents have managed to puncture Turner's tough exterior and rekindle his inner idealism. And Rohrabacher makes sure to include some subtle-yet-pointed swipes at the decadent American press. We believe you now understand the value of freedom, the plucky dissident leader tells Turner. This world needs more journalists who have such an appreciation. So true.

-- Sam Rosenfeld

Drug Beneficiary

With the new Medicare prescription-drug benefit proving an ever more byzantine boondoggle, one would understand if AARP, the bill's most important supporter when it was enacted, wanted to guide its members through this thicket. But AARP seems to have decided that the current mass confusion provides the perfect setting to turn a quick buck.

The intrepid Internet explorer who discovered this scheme was Graham Walker, a third-year student at Stanford University's School of Medicine and proprietor of the blog Over My Med Body. Interested in geriatrics and concerned by the bewilderment of his father and grandmother, the social-policy-major-cum-doctor decided to puzzle through the new Medicare drug benefit's structure himself.

Googling Medicare part D, Walker was relieved to find an AARP Web site tacked atop the results. was brightly colored, clearly written, and attractively laid out. It was also wholly misleading.

Walker noticed something awry when the Learn page on the site turned out to be a pitch for one particular drug plan, which made no reference to the myriad other plans now rushing to market. As the program's ostensible raison d'être is to provide consumers a choice among competing providers, this seemed a bizarre omission for an educational page.

Turns out, though, that this No. 1 Google page is not an educational page -- it's not even AARP's page. In fact, AARP sold its name to United HealthCare Insurance Group, which then created a Web site and paid for it to be the first entry on Google. So it is that seniors (or their more tech-savvy descendants) searching for information on the new Medicare expansion are greeted by a familiar name affixed to a Web page that deliberately obscures the nature of the program in order to sell visitors on a particular plan. It was only by downloading a PDF from the Web site that I could find any mention of consumer choice at all.

So, to recap: AARP provides the crucial support for a plan that establishes choice, then it explains the plan to its members by mischaracterizing it as a single-payer option, and the payer whose plan it touts forks over a tidy sum in return.

Phew! And people complain about the oil companies & .

-- Ezra Klein


George W. Bush, Veterans Day Speech, November 11: While it's perfectly legitimate to criticize my decision or the conduct of the war, it is deeply irresponsible to rewrite the history of how that war began. Some Democrats and anti-war critics are now claiming we manipulated the intelligence and misled the American people about why we went to war. These critics are fully aware that a bipartisan Senate investigation found no evidence of political pressure to change the intelligence community's judgments related to Iraq's weapons programs. & The stakes in the global war on terror are too high, and the national interest is too important, for politicians to throw out false charges. These baseless attacks send the wrong signal to our troops and to an enemy that is questioning America's will.

Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman, NBC's Meet the Press, November 14: It's fine to dissent, it's fine to object. But to make politics your bottom line in this critical war on terror, in the central front in the war on terror, sends the wrong message to our troops, to the Iraqi people, and to the terrorists.

National Security Council Chairman Stephen Hadley, CNN's Late Edition, November 13: And it is unworthy and unfair and ill-advised, when our men and women in combat are putting their lives on the line, to relitigate an issue which was looked at by two authoritative sources and deemed closed. We need to put this debate behind us. It's unfair to the country. It's unfair to the men and women in uniform risking their lives to make this country safe.