Why Oh Why Can't We Have Less Ignorant Right-Wing Webloggers?
Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (Yet Another New York Times Edition)

This Week's Highlights of Spencer Ackerman Weekly

As I have said, my $60 for a two-year subscription to Spencer Ackerman Weekly has proven to be a very good investment:

You imagine that David Ignatius once had a mind, Spencer?

toohotfortnr: David Ignatius has lost his mind:

Bush's "state of denial," as Bob Woodward rightly called it, has officially ended. He actually spoke the words "We're not winning" last week in an interview with The Post, coupling it with the reverse: "We're not losing." But in truth, he cannot abide the possibility that Iraq will not end in victory. So a day after his "not winning" comment, he half took it back, saying: "I believe that we're going to win," and then adding oddly, as if to reassure himself: "I believe that -- and by the way, if I didn't think that, I wouldn't have our troops there. That's what you've got to know. We're going to succeed."

Wow, does it s--- when your material rebels against the frame you try to force it into.

Funny Ignatius-related story. In April of 2003, I went home to my mother's for Passover. Ignatius was in Iraq, and he needed to reach Kanan Makiya. He knew I had Kanan's number, so he rang me from Baghdad. Unfortunately, I was out cold, so my mother answered. "It's David Ignatius calling," he told my mom. "I'm very important." My mother was furious and woke me up. Now, I maintain to this day that the guy must have said "It's very important," since no one would ever call up a total stranger and announce his own inherent value, and after all, the guy was calling from 8,000 miles away. But still, my mother holds Ignatius in high contempt. (My father likes his spy novels.)

Spencer Ackerman on James Jesus Angleton:

Saw The Good Shepherd with Matt and Tom last night. They didn't really like it much; I did. DeNiro -- who for some reason named the Wild Bill character Sullivan instead of Donovan -- basically made Spookfellas. I see Kurt Loder contended that the film doesn't have a story so much as it presents a "corporate biography." That's not really right. The James Jesus Angleton character, Edward Wilson, takes us through the development of This Thing Of Ours and through his descent, we see what the dark side does to us as a country -- we become shortsighted, parochial, paranoid, craven, brutal. It's not unlike how Henry Hill took us through Goodfellas.

This is all underscored by a brief but hilarious scene with Joe Pesci in which Pesci, a vulgar, family-oriented mafioso, expresses fear and impotent hatred of Matt Damon's Wilson.

One quick thing about counterintelligence master James Jesus Angleton. (One of his handles was "the Good Shepherd.") If we're to view the Wilson character as Angleton, DeNiro presents a remarkably subtle and often sympathetic portrayal of Angleton. Wilson is presented as, at worst, moderately paranoid. Angleton believed Henry Kissinger was a Soviet agent. Wilson dips his toe into domestic spying. Angleton was the architect of a massive spying campaign targeting elements within the antiwar movement, which is what led to his downfall. In short, if Wilson really is Angleton, he starts off and ends up with way too much of a soul. Indeed, Angleton's excesses make Michael Ledeen's enthusiasm for the man appear all the more... eccentric, I believe, is the nice word.

Spencer Ackerman on Even the Neoconservative New Republic:P

Merry Christmas, I don't want to fight tonight:

Dear Jon [Chait],

A long time ago, we used to be friends. My best wishes go out to you, Robin, Joanna & Benjy for a happy and prosperous New Year. You remain one of the brightest lights of American liberalism, and for that, we owe you a debt of gratitude. Please believe me when I say I'm being sincere.

That said, I read your column with some dismay. The points you make about neoconservatism playing itself by its association with Bush on the Iraq war apply with greater force to, well, The New Republic. After all, the Standard et. al. had something to gain by the pact they made -- their emergence as the court philosophers of the administration. The magazine, and yourself, had no such investment. You, better and earlier than anyone else, pointed out that the central fact about Bush is that he's a liar. And yet, for a variety of reasons, you and the magazine bought the war.

Now, TNR's editorial position, which I shared at the time, was that there was a broader democratization project that the war advanced, and despite the demonstrated venality of Bush, the project was worth supporting. You didn't buy this, and much to your credit. Your arguments had to do instead with what you believed about Saddam Hussein, WMD and the world order. The trouble with this, as you would probably concede at this point, is that it reduced in late 2002 in significant ways to believing Bush. What I mean by that isn't simply a matter of accepting Bush's statements about WMD. I mean as well that one needed to buy -- or at least suspend disbelief about -- Bush's contentions about the jolly outcomes of removing Saddam. You point out in your column that the Standard and others had coherent reasons to disbelieve that the mission was feasible given the size of the military. But they went along, for the bargain described above. Why did you?

You might object that this is a matter of score-settling, pursued by a disgruntled ex-TNR employee who in any case went along with the war himself. Fine. But I don't mean it like that.... Decent and well-intentioned people can believe widely divergent things about the way Iraq will look after a U.S. withdrawal. However, I would ask that you consider whether your thinking about this question is implicated in the same self-suckering dynamic you identify in your column. Because you're too smart and too good for that...

Spencer Ackerman watches the U.S. arrest Iranians in Iraq:

An international incident in the making. Iranians detained by U.S. forces in Iraq, despite the wishes of the (sovereign!) Iraqi government. One "Western official" helpfully explains to the New York Times that the detentions are "based on information." It just gets better and better!

In the raids, the Americans also detained a number of Iraqis. Western and Iraqi officials said that following normal protocol, the two Iranian diplomats were turned over to the Iraqi government after being questioned. The Iraqis, in turn, released them to the Iranian Embassy. An Iraqi official said his government had strained to keep the affair out of the public eye to avoid scuttling the talks with Iran that were now under way....

All in the car were detained by the Americans. The mosque’s imam, Sheik Jalal al-deen al-Sageir, a member of Parliament from Mr. Hakim’s party, said the Iranians had come to pray during the last day of mourning for his mother, who recently died. He said that after the Iranians left, the Iranian Embassy phoned to say that they had not arrived as expected. “We were afraid they were kidnapped,” Sheik Sageir said.

But he said he was later informed that the diplomats, whom he said that he did not know well, were in the custody of Americans. “I had nothing to do with that,” Sheik Sageir said. “I don’t know why the Americans took them.”

The predawn raid on Mr. Hakim’s compound, on the east side of the Tigris, was perhaps the most startling part of the American operation. The arrests were made inside the house of Hadi al-Ameri, the chairman of the Iraqi Parliament’s security committee and leader of the Badr Organization, the armed wing of Mr. Hakim’s political party.

Another helpful U.S. official calls this a "clarifying moment" and explains that "It's our position that the Iraqis have to seize this opportunity to sort out with the Iranians just what kind of behavior they are going to tolerate." So, if we understand this correctly: We're going to force the Iraqi Shiites to deliberately insult Iran in order to compel a choice between us and them. We're going to do this at a time when we're trying to use Abdul Aziz al-Hakim as a wedge to gain Shiite support and marginalize Moqtada Sadr.

Now, if I'm Hakim, I seize this opportunity. I denounce the U.S. aggression, demand the release of all Iranian detainees, proclaim my desire for a new era of peaceful coexistence with Iran, etc. Maybe I even demand an American apology. Through the other side of my mouth I tell Washington not to worry; and that if they're for-reals about promoting me as an alternative to Moqtada, I need this to gain some street cred. And if any Sunnis are upset about my closeness with Iran -- well, fuck the Sunnis; they don't vote for us anyway.

But if Bush really wants to "clarify" that he has a willing Shiite vassal, then ignore the above paragraph. On the lounge chair next to the couch, Matt suggests, probably correctly, that the history of imperialism holds that this was probably a spur-of-the-moment decision by some low-level official with no coordination with Washington, and now it's all gone pear-shaped. I buy that for now. Now, Bush and Hakim might in fact be able to use this to their advantage, but it would require a degree of cleverness and prioritizing that's been altogether absent from the occupation so far. So expect the worst! It'll probably happen.