Politics & Policy

A Not-So-Beautiful Mind

Visit, if you dare, the isolated workshop in Paul Krugman's head.

Paul Krugman — America’s most dangerous liberal pundit — began his most recent op-ed in the New York Times by recounting the plot of the 1997 film, Wag the Dog:

An administration hypes the threat posed by a foreign power. It talks of links to Islamic fundamentalist terrorism; it warns about a nuclear weapons program. … The war drives everything else — including scandals involving administration officials — from the public’s consciousness. … If you don’t think it bears a resemblance to recent events, you’re in denial.

Recent events? Maybe it’s just me, but Wag the Dog evokes nothing but memories of that time in August 1998 when Bill Clinton deployed cruise missiles against what turned out to be a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan. If you remember, that deployment came on the same day Monica Lewinsky delivered her most damning testimony.

But Krugman’s column itself evokes another movie altogether — and the parallels are truly eerie. Remember that most horrifying scene in A Beautiful Mind when we learn that John Nash — the Princeton-based economist! — is descending into madness? His long-suffering wife throws open the doors of Nash’s isolated workshop and discovers a room papered floor to ceiling with magazine and newspaper clippings. It’s a many-layered collage, connected by yarn and push-pins — the encoded evidence, in Nash’s disturbed brain, of a vast plot to destroy America. If you don’t think Krugman’s latest column is that room, then you’re in denial.

Follow the Krugman Truth Squad as we decode Krugman’s latest column. Moving from clipping to clipping, we can see how Krugman’s not-so-beautiful mind collected the “evidence” that the war in Iraq was a Wag the Dog fake staged by the Bush administration.

First there was the completely unsubstantiated accusation that the war’s “Kodak moments — the toppling of the Saddam statue, the rescue of Pfc. Jessica Lynch — seem to have been improved by editing.” TimesWatch, a Krugman Truth Squad partner, conjectured that

Krugman appears to rely on an April 9 column by cartoonist and left-wing columnist Ted Rall. (Rall has also wondered if Minnesota Sen. Paul Wellstone, who died in a plane crash, was assassinated by the Bush administration.) Krugman’s Lynch rescue allegation apparently rests on a now-discredited BBC report.

Follow the yarn to the next push-pin — this one suspending a clipping from the Financial Times. As I’ve pointed out (here and here on my blog, The Conspiracy to Keep You Poor and Stupid), the FT has been on an anti-Bush shooting spree. Krugman now loves to quote it:

It’s now also clear that George W. Bush had no intention of reaching a diplomatic solution. According to The Financial Times, White House sources confirm that the decision to go to war was reached in December: “A tin-pot dictator was mocking the president. It provoked a sense of anger inside the White House,” a source told the newspaper.

Why is anyone surprised? President Bush himself had already declared his military resolve way back in September, in his address to the United Nations. And the May 26 FT story that Krugman cited does not contend that subsequent diplomatic efforts were fraudulent, as Krugman suggested.

And Krugman suggested even more than that when he pulled the “tin-pot dictator” line from the FT story. He tried to make it seem as though Bush just plain old lost his Texas temper, and that the commitment to war was nothing more than personal pique. But go read the whole story, and you’ll see that Krugman pulled that quote out of context. The tactic is a vicious one, but it’s becoming common on the op-ed pages of the New York Times. Krugman’s colleague Maureen Dowd was just as vicious in her infamous May 14 column when she elided a quote to make it seem that the president was boasting that al Qaeda had been completely eliminated.

In the FT story, the “tin-pot” quote Krugman pulled was directly preceded by this paragraph:

Mr Bush was briefed on the contents of Mr Hussein’s 12,000-page declaration responding to the charges of possessing, or attempting to produce, chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. The president’s advisers said it was ‘not even a credible document’. Mr Hussein, they concluded, had made a ‘strategic decision’ not to co-operate.

The “mocking,” then, is Saddam Hussein’s abrogation of the diplomatic process — and the White House showed “anger” because Saddam left it no choice but to pursue costly and hazardous military options.

Krugman pulled his next clipping from an as-yet-unpublished issue of Vanity Fair. The issue contains a seemingly damning quote that suggests the Bush administration was insincere about its belief that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction:

Administration officials are now playing down the whole W.M.D. issue. Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy defense secretary, recently told Vanity Fair that the decision to emphasize W.M.D.’s had been taken for “bureaucratic reasons … because it was the one reason everyone could agree on.

Apparently Vanity Fair sent out a press release last week announcing an interview with Paul Wolfowitz by reporter Sam Tannenhaus. I haven’t been able to obtain the actual press release, but it seems the Wolfowitz quote was presented just that way — ellipsis and all. At least that’s how it was picked up last Wednesday in USA Today, which may be where Krugman found it. But instead of just reporting on the media reporting on the media, he should have checked his sources. By Thursday, the day before Krugman’s column was published, the Pentagon had posted the entire 9,999-word Wolfowitz interview. And — surprise, surprise, surprise! — that quote was both inaccurately transcribed and taken entirely out of context. The mangled excerpt completely reversed Wolfowitz’s intent. [For more on this, see “Vanity Unfair,” by NRO’s James Robbins.]

Tannenhaus admitted that “I type as we speak, which is one reason I’ll want to see the transcript just so I don’t make errors. I’m reliable, but I’m not a letter-perfect typist.” He must not have bothered to follow through, or perhaps he liked his version better — but here’s that same sentence, according to the Pentagon’s transcribed recording:

The truth is that for reasons that have a lot to do with the U.S. government bureaucracy we settled on the one issue that everyone could agree on which was weapons of mass destruction as the core reason, but … [Wolfowitz broke off mid-sentence to take a phone call]

In the official transcript Wolfowitz did not confess that the hunt for WMDs was just an institutional expedient. Rather he spoke about the process of complex institutional decision-making. But more important is this sentence’s context. The conversation before and after it concerned several other reasons for action against Iraq, including links to terrorism, the cruelty of Saddam’s regime, and the desirability of being able to withdraw U.S. troops from Saudi Arabia. Wolfowitz was hardly “playing down the whole W.M.D. issue” — he was saying that it is the key issue about which everyone could agree! And elsewhere in the interview Wolfowitz made it clear that he fully believed that Saddam had WMDs — to Wolfowitz, the only mystery was why Saddam didn’t use them in the war.

But for Krugman, it was simply an established fact that “No evidence of the Qaeda link has ever surfaced, and no W.M.D.’s that could have posed any threat to the U.S. or its allies have been found.” Krugman Truth Squad member David Hogberg refuted that on his blog, Cornfield Commentary:

The only serious response to the charge of “no evidence of the Qaeda link” is “HUH!?!?” How about the capture of an al Qaeda terrorist in Baghdad on April 28? Or the capture Iraqi official Farouk Hijazi who has admitted that he met with Osama bin Laden in 1994 (and may have met with him in 1998)? For more on those links, see this article by Stephen Hayes.

Wolfowitz — in a part of the interview naturally not seen as fit to print by Krugman — added that U.S. forces had “killed 100 or so of an al Qaeda group in northern Iraq in this recent go-around.” Back to Hogberg:

As for WMDs, Krugman might consider taking a look at the news stories about the two mobile bio-labs that have been discovered. Or other stories showing that of the 1000 potential WMD sites, only the “most likely” — about 100 — have been searched thus far.

Or we could just follow the yarn back to a Krugman column published just two weeks ago, in which he blamed the Bush administration for “an orgy of looting — including looting of nuclear waste dumps that, incredibly, we failed to secure. Dirty bombs, anyone?” Now is it just me, or does a dirty bomb sound like something that could pose a “threat to the U.S. or its allies”?

Inevitably, the tangled yarn led to a clipping from Krugman’s favorite source for war news — the BBC.

This week a senior British intelligence official told the BBC that under pressure from Downing Street, a dossier on Iraqi weapons had been “transformed” to make it “sexier” — uncorroborated material from a suspect source was added to make the threat appear imminent.

But it turned out that Krugman’s version of the BBC story was uncorroborated — by the actual content of the BBC story, that is. Hogberg found out that John H. Hinderaker of the Power Line blog tracked down the BBC story, “Iraq Weapons Dossier ‘Rewritten.’” Hinderaker wrote that

Even the BBC’s own anonymous source concedes that ‘Most things in the dossier were double source.’ In fact, there is only one fact stated in the dossier that the BBC’s anonymous official questions: the statement that Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction could be ‘ready for use within 45 minutes.’ This statement was based on information from only one source, who was not considered reliable by the BBC’s informant. That’s it. Everything else in the British dossier is conceded to be correct: “[T]he official said he was convinced that Iraq had programme to produce weapons of mass destruction, and felt it was 30% likely there was a biological weapons programme. He said some evidence had been “downplayed” by chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix.

Why does Krugman proceed like this — clipping his clippings, linking them together, and searching endlessly for the key to the secret code that will at last reveal the truth about the Bushie plot to hijack America? Is he just plain nuts? Or does he think if he follows in the footsteps of John Nash that someday he will also receive the Nobel Prize in economics?

If that’s his plan he’s going to learn that there are a couple of very real differences between the minds of Paul Krugman and John Nash. First, Nash made a fundamental contribution to the science of economics. Second, Nash lived out his paranoid delusions in private — not every Tuesday and Friday on the pages of the New York Times.


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