OpinionJournal – Best of the Web Today – December 4, 2007

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Best of the Web Today – December 4, 2007

    By JAMES TARANTO

    Today’s Video on WSJ.com: Mary O’Grady on Hugo Chavez’s surprise defeat in Venezuela’s constitutional referendum.

    Doesn’t Iran Matter?
    Yesterday the director of national intelligence released a summary of the latest National Intelligence Estimate’s findings on Iran, which directly contradict the previous NIE’s findings of 2005. The summary helpfully provides, on the final page of the PDF linked atop this article, a table of the differences between the 2005 findings and the 2007 ones.

    In 2005, the authors of the report “assess[ed] with high confidence that Iran currently is determined to develop nuclear weapons despite its international obligations and international pressure, but we do not assess that Iran is immovable.”

    In 2007, they “judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program. Judge with high confidence that the halt lasted at least several years. . . . Assess with moderate confidence Tehran had not restarted its nuclear weapons program as of mid-2007, but we do not know whether it currently intends to develop nuclear weapons.”

    The summary offers the disclaimer (page 5) that “a ‘high confidence’ judgment is not a fact or a certainty, . . . and such judgments still carry a risk of being wrong.” Which seems obvious, given that it is difficult to see any way in which what the NIE says with “high confidence” now is consistent with what it said with “high confidence” two years ago. And of course it’s possible for the intelligence community to err in both directions: It famously overestimated Saddam Hussein’s weapons capacity early this decade after underestimating it in the 1990s.

    Now, consider the response to this document, as reported in today’s Washington Post:

    Critics seized on the new National Intelligence Estimate to lambaste what Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards called “George Bush and Dick Cheney’s rush to war with Iran.” Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.), echoing other Democrats, called for “a diplomatic surge” to resolve the dispute with Tehran. Jon Wolfsthal, a scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, termed the revelation “a blockbuster development” that “requires a wholesale reevaluation of U.S. policy.” . . .

    Presidential candidates responded as well, with Edwards and Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) using the news to tweak Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) for being too willing to support the administration on Iran, an assertion she has rejected. Obama said the report is a reminder that “members of Congress must carefully read the intelligence before giving the president any justification to use military force”–an apparent jab at Clinton, who was briefed on intelligence before the Iraq war but did not read the full report.

    The New York Times covers the story similarly, casting the NIE’s findings as a setback for the Bush administration’s putatively aggressive approach to Iraq. And of course the left-wing commentators and bloggers are crowing.

    Something is askew here. One Democratic congressman hints at it in the Washington Post story:

    Some moderates in Washington expressed concern that this intelligence report’s conclusions will be overinterpreted in one direction, just as past findings have been distorted. Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), chairman of a nonproliferation subcommittee of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said Iran’s uranium enrichment remains worrisome and is not dependent on U.S. intelligence because Tehran has openly acknowledged it.

    The real lesson of the report, he said, is to recalibrate U.S. policy and try more diplomatic and economic levers. “It’s a validation of the middle road,” he said, “between going to sleep . . . and the let’s-bomb-them-now approach.”

    To some extent Sherman is setting up a straw man. One would think the “let’s-bomb-them-now approach” would entail actually bombing them, which of course the U.S. has not done. And to the extent that the NIE undercuts the credibility of the threat of military force, it reduces American leverage over Iran (and over our own allies) and thereby diminishes rather than enhances the prospects for diplomatic success. If indeed Iran stopped its nuclear-weapons program in 2003, is it a coincidence that this was the same year America made good on its threat of military force against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq?

    Here’s what troubles us about the report, though: If one can have high confidence in the NIE findings, then those findings are good news for America. They mean that a regime that has repeatedly shown its hostility toward our country is less of a threat than we had reason to fear. If Iran had nuclear weapons, it could create a humanitarian catastrophe. Or it could use the threat to do so to do all sorts of mischief that would be destructive to U.S. interests in the region.

    But we haven’t seen anyone celebrating the NIE as good news for America. The people who profess to believe it all seem to view it as a partisan document, a weapon to be used in their battle against the Bush administration. To the administration’s domestic foes, it doesn’t seem to matter how much of a threat Iran poses; short-term political gain is more important than the interests of America.

    The administration is vulnerable to the same criticism. By releasing the NIE now, it seems to be signaling that it has decided to throw in the towel on dealing with the Iranian threat, leaving it for the next administration.

    This column does not have high confidence that the NIE is right. But we certainly hope it is, because if it isn’t, its consequences could prove very dangerous.

    Honorary American
    NewsBusters.org reports on an exchange that occurred last week on “The View,” which apparently is a daytime TV show featuring a panel of mostly ditsy female celebrities:

    Whoopi Goldberg: Now in the Sudan, there’s a British teacher who is possibly going to be stoned or lashed. . . . Because, in her class they had some teddy bears and she, one of the kids wanted to name . . . his teddy bear Muhammad and she said “fine.” Apparently, other children complained to their parents, which is how it ended up in the hands of the religious leaders, and the religious leaders are very very upset. . . .

    Sherri Shepherd: I think it’s like it’s sacrilegious to name a stuffed toy Muhammad. But you know, you would think that with her being in Sudan, she would know the rules and customs. Because I know I performed stand up in Turkey, and they gave me a big thick packet on the customs, and what you could and could not do, and how you would offend people. So I’m surprised that she didn’t know it might be offensive.

    Goldberg: Yeah, because you’d think if you’re going overseas, I mean, we had this discussion yesterday about people coming to America and learning the customs and knowing what is cool, and what isn’t cool. But I find that maybe we are not–and I say we just as European and American, we’re not as anxious to learn the customs before we go places. It’s just one of the reasons we’re called the ugly Americans.

    NewsBusters’ Justin McCarthy is rightly appalled at the ladies’ blasé attitude toward the Sudanese threat to beat or execute an innocent woman. Goldberg’s comment gives an insight as to why. Note that she characterizes the teacher, Gillian Gibbons, as being among “the ugly Americans,” notwithstanding that she isn’t American at all. The view here really seems to be that the enemy of my country is my friend–that the “customs” of Sudan’s fanatics are worthy of respect because they are based in hatred of America and the West.

    Laurie David vs. the Earth
    Back in April, we noted a Puffington Host post by Laurie David and Sheryl Crow, who boasted of having harassed Karl Rove, then the White House deputy chief of staff, at the White House Correspondents Dinner:

    In his attempt to dismiss us, Mr. Rove turned to head toward his table, but as soon as he did so, Sheryl reached out to touch his arm. Karl swung around and spat, “Don’t touch me.” How hardened and removed from reality must a person be to refuse to be touched by Sheryl Crow?

    Unfazed, Sheryl abruptly responded, “You can’t speak to us like that, you work for us.” Karl then quipped, “I don’t work for you, I work for the American people.” To which Sheryl promptly reminded him, “We are the American people.” At that point Mr. Rove apparently decided he had had enough.

    Like a groundhog fearful of his own shadow, he scurried to his table in an attempt to hibernate for another year from his responsibility to address global warming.

    ABC News reports on the latest threat to the environment:

    Households in which a divorce occurs have a greater negative impact on the environment in terms of efficient use of resources than the households of married couples, according to research that will be published this week by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    The reason is simple–it’s all about efficiency, says Jianguo Liu, lead author of the study who has the Rachel Carson chair in ecological sustainability at the university’s department of fisheries and wildlife.

    “In the divorced households, the number of people is smaller than in married households,” Liu told ABCNEWS.com. “The resource efficiency used per person is much lower than in married households.”

    In June, the New York Post‘s Page Six reported: “The inconvenient truth for Laurie and Larry David is that their marriage is over.” Inconvenient in more ways than one! As for Sheryl Crow, she is 45, has never married, and, according to the Internet Movie Database, last year broke off her engagement to marry boyfriend Lance Armstrong.

    If Crow and Mrs. David are unwilling to make a few lifestyle sacrifices for the sake of the planet, what business do they have making demands of Karl Rove and the rest of us?

    Essay What?
    Yesterday we noted Hillary Clinton’s bizarre attack on Barack Obama over ambitions Obama purportedly entertained as a toddler. Reader Michael Garrett raises a good question:

    You missed it, but maybe you don’t have kids. Hillary Clinton, author of “It Takes a Village” and a mother herself, has no excuse:

    What kind of kindergartners write essays?

    I am the father of a first-grader, and I am still working on getting her to write in complete sentences. It’s not easy, because she doesn’t know spelling very well.

    I am only a few years younger than Sen. Obama, so I won’t buy the argument that standards were higher where and when he went to kindergarten. I attended a very elite (and elitist, but that’s another matter) private school, and I don’t remember writing essays until fourth or maybe fifth grade.

    In kindergarten (remember, these are 5-year-olds) creative writing means completing a sentence the teacher has begun. The kid will answer and the teacher then has to transcribe the response.

    We don’t remember our elementary school days well enough to know if Garrett is right, although we do seem to recall that we were considered precocious because we had begun reading before kindergarten. Perhaps other readers can shed light on whether it is plausible that Obama wrote essays in kindergarten or third grade, as news organizations have quoted one teacher from each of those years as saying. One factor that may bear on this is that Obama was educated overseas.

    At Least They’ll Know Where to Find Them

  • “Clinton, Obama Take Gloves Off in What Could Be ‘Fun’ Fight to Iowa Finish Line”–headline, FoxNews.com, Dec. 3
  • “CMU Student Creates Web Site for ‘Collection and Hopeful Reunion of Pittsburgh’s Lost Gloves’ “–headline, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Dec. 1

‘Eventually Confessed’
Yesterday we noted the Idaho Statesman‘s report that various men have made unproven claims that Sen. Larry Craig flirted or had various forms of sexual contact with them. Here is how the Statesman describes one of those men:

Mike Jones is a former prostitute who told the world he had sex with the Rev. Ted Haggard last year. The former Colorado Springs evangelist at first denied it but eventually confessed. Jones says Craig paid him for sex in late 2004 or early 2005.

The statement that Haggard “eventually confessed” is not quite an outright falsehood, but it is highly misleading. The Statesman’s wording implies that Haggard confessed that Jones’s claim was true–that is, that the two “had sex.” In fact, what he confessed to was something less, according to an Associated Press account from November 2006:

Haggard, 50, had acknowledged on Friday that he paid Mike Jones of Denver for a massage and for methamphetamine, but said he did not have sex with him and did not take the drug.

A March 2007 Los Angeles Times account is consistent with this:

Jones had come forward with allegations that Haggard had been paying him for sex regularly for three years and had used methamphetamine in his presence. After Jones produced voice-mail messages from Haggard, the pastor admitted he had visited the prostitute–only for a massage, he said–and said he had purchased drugs but never used them.

Deciding whether to believe Mike Jones or Ted Haggard is like rooting for one side to win the Iran-Iraq war, so we will maintain our steadfast indifference on the matter. But the Idaho Statesman is in the peculiar position of exaggerating the confession of a disgraced televangelist in order to bolster the credibility of a male prostitute. That is a situation most journalists do not envy.

For Today, It’s ‘Every Man for Himself’
” ‘Law & Order’ Returns Wednesday”–headline, Associated Press, Dec. 4

How Did It Hold the Gun?
“Turkey Shoots at Jones Hunting Preserve”–headline, “Today’s Events,” Kingsport (Tenn.) Times-News Web site

Breaking News From 1992
“First Negative Ad Against Clinton”–headline, Associated Press, Dec. 3

News You Can Use

Bottom Story of the Day
“No News on Consolidation From Delta Exec”–headline, Associated Press, Dec. 4

In the Ball Pork
The Allentown (Pa.) Morning Call brings us this news from the wide world of sports:

When Guillermo Lopez picked up his newspaper Sunday morning, he froze at the sight of a prominent headline, alongside a photo of a fuzzy, human-sized pig.

There, in bright red ink, was the name of the IronPigs new mascot: PorkChop.

The word brought back uncomfortable memories of Lopez’s time working at Bethlehem Steel, where he said racism was overt.

“If someone wanted to talk to me in a derogatory way, they’d call me ‘pork chop,’ ” said Lopez, whose family came from Puerto Rico to the Lehigh Valley in the 1940s to work at Bethlehem Steel.

“If my parents were alive, they’d be having fits. It meant much more to them than it does to Puerto Ricans now in the Lehigh Valley,” he said.

A handful of complaints from Lopez and others, as well as a steamed online community, prompted team officials to change the name of the mascot for the Triple A affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies to Ferrous.

Who knew “pork chop” was a racial slur? UrbanDictionary.com actually says it’s an affectionate term for Portuguese. Anyway, we suppose it could have been worse. At least they didn’t call the mascot Muhammad.

(Carol Muller helps compile Best of the Web Today. Thanks to Michael Segal, Ed Lasky, Rod Pennington, Chris Scibelli, Jane Vawter, Dan O’Shea, Ethel Fenig, Don Stewart, Bruce Goldman, Jimmy Infante, Rod Prudhomme, Edwin Thompson, James Gallagher, James O’Toole, Jeff Dobbs, Charles Seay, Kyle Olson, Kyle Kyllan, David Bockstanz and Thomas Mayer. If you have a tip, write us at opinionjournal@wsj.com, and please include the URL.)

URL for this article: http://www.opinionjournal.com/best/?id=110010944

Today on OpinionJournal:

  • Review & Outlook: Venezuela’s voters have earned the U.S.’s attention–and its active support.
  • Bret Stephens: Russians voted away their freedoms, and Venezuelans almost did. Why?
  • Brian Sobel: A visit to the relics of the USS Arizona.

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