Questions Worth Asking

07.22.2004 | David L. Steinhardt | International Affairs | 1 Comment
For years, scientists and dog enthusiasts argued over when and how humans started keeping wolves as pets. New work by forensic anthropologists suggests a reframing of the issue: Humans didn’t initiate the relationship. Most likely, smaller wolves, lesser hunters, started sniffing around camp. Some figured out that poaching food was less effective than acting coy and waiting for giveaways. The wolves, already expert in group dynamics, cooperation, and the difference between feigned and actual aggression and submission, took the lead in training humans to be their providers.

How often do we ask wrong questions? How long do we argue about questions that have no answers, because the questions themselves have little meaning? How often do we let naïve, self-aggrandizing assumptions fog-machine our reality?

— Did Nader lose the 2000 election for Gore?

Let’s get my favorite out of the way first: Wouldn’t it be better to ask, as the new documentary Outfoxed suggests, whether Bush’s cousin’s calling the election for him on Fox News was the de facto coup de grace? Gore, the clear popular vote winner and potential electoral champion, had to fight uphill after Fox’s bold call, because the networks — another wolfpack that trains its feeders — never called him “President-Elect.”

Had the networks offered Gore that unofficial title (a reasonable call, given the convincing exit poll numbers for Gore in Florida), the Bush camp might not have gotten away with slipping in military absentee ballots that had been mailed as late as November 15, or organizing a riot to prevent one of the more inconvenient recounts — votes uncounted till the comprehensive journalistic recount (the release of which was scheduled for 9/11/01, remember?).

In other words, if we’re going to discuss what went horribly wrong with the 2000 election, the Great Ralphy’s towering influence over the American voter is simply not the locus of what Confucius would call the correct question.

Which instead would be: How many ways did Republicans and GOP agents convince the American public and legal authorities to subvert the will of the voters? With bonus points for why Gore’s operatives failed to play hardball back.

— Were the “16 words” in the 2003 State of the Union really true?

Venerable word dancer Bill Safire weighed in this week that new hearsay proves the President right about his assertion that British officials believed Iraq sought uranium from Niger. Not that more uranium — Iraq had some already — would have done Iraq much good, what with a padlocked nuclear program.

None of which even addresses the fabrications Colin Powell fobbed off to the United Nations.

The better question is: Did the President know his statement to be true when he made it?

— But what about when Saddam Hussein gassed his own people?

If there’s one old photo every American should see, it’s the one of Reagan emissary Don Rumsfeld shaking Saddam’s hand before calling him “friend.” His mission: to tell Saddam that while the U.S. would officially condemn his gassing of the Kurds, we still considered Saddam our boy against Iran.

The obvious question is: Mr. President, when you use the “gassed his own people” line over and over and over, do you ever reflect on the irony that your Defense Secretary was the very man the US sent to wink at it at the time?

— Will we get Osama bin Laden?

The Bush Administration, happy to use rogue asteroids as our enemy of choice pre-9/11, has now successfully created a mother lode of enemies for the US to spend our tax billions against.

Al Qaeda — fanatics from the flotsam of our dirty proxy wars against the Soviets — now needs bin Laden no more than the Yankees now need Paul O’Neill (either one: the retired slugger or the former Treasury Secretary).

Inspired by the success of the 9/11 attacks, enraged by our conduct in war, and financed by anyone with an extra ten thousand bucks in his khafiya, our enemies are myriad and will survive that most invisible of foes: a six-foot-four Arab who can never be too far from a dialysis machine. (If the feds can spot the infrared signature of hemp plants, wouldn’t you think they could get a bead on two-ton artificial kidneys?)

— Should we have invaded Iraq?

We did, right? Some say no, Bush says yes, and that’s the tootsie-roll center of that tootsie pop.

How about this one: Should we have invaded Iran?

They humiliated the U.S., via diplomatic hostages, from November 1979 to January 1981; they conspired with the incoming Reagan Administration; they double-dealt with their buddies in that Administration, taking more hostages than they released, while North and Poindexter overcharged them for huge shipments of weapons; and now it turns out — surprise! — they’ve been playing us like the chessmen they invented:

They’ve infiltrated and made monkeys of our spy agencies; duped us with phony intelligence; supplied us with their own agent, the still powerful Ahmed Chalabi, to goad us into softening up Iraq for them; and now we learn they were key players in 9/11.

(Given how the U.S. murdered Iran’s democracy in the 1950s and installed a draconian monarch for the third quarter of the last century, it’s easy to understand why they’d expend such energy to take us down. And why much of the world won’t shed a tear for our losses in this rivalry.)

Thus another good question: If we’re looking for an enemy who’s actually threatened us, consistently, isn’t it odd how Iran is always near, but never quite makes, the list of countries on which America’s gonna open a can o’ whup-ass?

And that question’s inevitable corollary: Are policy makers in our government subject to Iranian blackmail, and thus de facto Iranian agents themselves?

The Iranians who held up the release of the hostages to the instant of Reagan’s inauguration are mostly still alive. Some of the Americans who convinced them to delay that release are also alive.

I’m just guessing, but I bet those Iranian chess players know how to take advantage of an opening like that.

But we won’t know unless the correct questions get asked more often. Then we can figure out who’s wagging whom.

Feel free to post your own wrong and right questions below. I much prefer chiming in and sharing ideas, as opposed to arguing about one writer’s opinions. By sharing ideas we expand our thinking. By shunning others’, we don’t.

Offered without comment, a few grafs from a Newsweek piece:

"During the trial of another alleged Hamburg cell member, Abdelghani Mzoudi, prosecutors produced a last-minute witness, Hamid Reza Zakeri, who said he was a former officer of the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security. Zakeri testified there was a meeting at an airbase near Tehran on May 4, 2001, between top Iranian leaders?including supreme religious leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and ex-president Hashemi Rafsanjani?and one of Osama bin Laden's elder sons, Saad, at which plans for 9/11 were discussed.

"Zakeri also reportedly claimed he had earlier helped arrange security for a January 2001 meeting between Saad bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden's principal deputy. He also claimed that he met with a CIA officer at the U.S. Embassy in Baku, Azerbaijan, in July 2001 and passed on a warning to the United States about the forthcoming 9/11 attacks.

"U.S. and German authorities have never been able to corroborate Zakeri's claims about the involvement of top Iranian officials, and some officials have questioned his credibility."

OK, one comment: those last 6 words are absolutely priceless.
07.22.2004 | Tim Marchman

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