Monday, November 12, 2007

A Deficit of Reading Comprehension Skills

Cernig has what I think is a very important post up today called "Reading Comprehension." The reason I think it's important is because it speaks to a phenomenon on the right that is so common, it seems to be part of what it means to be a right-wing blogger; namely, finding meanings or statements or conclusions in a piece of writing that simply are not there. In the instance Cernig highlights, it happens with a response by Little Green Footballs' Charles Johnson to an opinion piece published in The Philadelphia Inquirer:

How is it possible to read this?
Khalilzad repeated the formulation about Iran that has been expressed many times by many Bush administration voices. "Given the record of this regime, the rhetoric of this regime, the policies of this regime, the connections of this regime, it cannot be acceptable for it to develop the capability to produce nuclear weapons." It was a wearyingly familiar argument. Our assessment of the character of the Iranian regime determines whether we will permit it to pursue a nuclear "capability."

But on the same day that Khalilzad spoke, America's good friend Egypt announced that it intended to build several nuclear power plants over the next several decades. Washington was quick to indicate that it did not disapprove. "Any country that fulfills its obligations under the NPT and follows proper IAEA safeguards will have a program that is perfectly acceptable to us," said Casey (emphasis added). "They're fully within their rights to go that way."

The two remarks are well worth parsing. It is true that Iran, illegally, kept many nuclear activities secret from the International Atomic Energy Agency for many years. It is a matter of some debate whether Tehran is fully cooperating with the IAEA now.

But the Bush administration's standard for Iran has never been simply that it must fully cooperate with the IAEA. It demands, instead, that Tehran cease all uranium enrichment - the crucial element for the development of both nuclear power and nuclear weapons.

Had Khalilzad said "develop nuclear weapons" instead of "develop the capability to produce nuclear weapons," he would perhaps not have found himself on such thin ice. But the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty forbids its non-nuclear signatories from acquiring nuclear weapons, not from acquiring the enrichment capabilities that can be used for both nuclear power and nuclear weapons. On the contrary, Article IV explicitly acknowledges that all parties possess an "inalienable right" to pursue nuclear energy, "without discrimination." It is becoming increasingly apparent that Article IV was a flaw in the NPT itself, a flaw that many hope will someday be corrected in a nuclear weapons convention requiring universal abolition. But that flaw is hardly Iran's fault.

It may well be that Tehran does ultimately aspire to produce not just nuclear electricity, but also a few nuclear weapons to deter the aggression that others keep threatening to launch. But no one claims that it is doing so now. Indeed, the day before Khalilzad and Casey spoke, IAEA head Mohammed ElBaradei told CNN: "Have we seen Iran having the nuclear material that can readily be used into a weapon? No. Have we seen an active weaponization program? No."

So, contrary to Casey's declaration, the U.S. government is hardly conceding that "any country" meeting his stated criteria is acting in a manner "perfectly acceptable to us." The Bush administration, instead, subjectively and unilaterally, is assessing the "record, rhetoric, policies and connections" of both Egypt and Iran, and pronouncing, in our wisdom, that the one may proceed down the nuclear road while the other may not.

No other possible conclusion can be drawn, since Iran, in pursuing, so far at least, merely a nuclear "capability," is in fact in accord with its obligations under the NPT.

They're fully within their rights to go that way.

And come away with this?
Nobel Peace laureate Tad Daley, a writing fellow with International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, has a piece in the Philadelphia Inquirer arguing that Iran has a right to seek nuclear weapons.

It’s a glimpse into the bizarre mental contortions necessary for a “peace activist” to openly support a radical Islamic state’s “right” to the ultimate weapon. He even seems to realize that Iran is lying about their “peaceful intentions”—but his hatred and distrust of the West, and especially President Bush, trumps everything else. Daley is a nuclear freeze advocate who’s in favor of Iran having nuclear bombs; a non-proliferation activist who sees nothing wrong with this kind of proliferation.

I suspect it takes a great deal of deliberate effort. Or bizarre mental contortions.

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