So here I am last night just trying to mind my own business and get some work done (on Twitter? Shut up) when I see this:
@BillGertz: State Dept. report confirms secret missile defense deal with Russia http://tinyurl.com/3ah4ktwWell! That sounds interesting! Let's go read about a secret missile defense deal! And so I follow the link. There I am: the venerable Washington Times, home to venerable "geopolitics editor" Bill Gertz and the best damned China-hawkery you'll find this side of Air Combat Command. The same "news"paper that referred to Armenia as a "small Central Asian state" in an article last night until I childishly taunted the writer into fixing it with nary an acknowledgement of the mistake in the original, you ask? Yep, one and the very same.
So what's all this about a secret deal with the Russians? I wish I could say it was easy to sort the whole thing out, but Gertz's prose is damned near impenetrable, what with his tenuous hold on grammatical convention, artless overuse of generic identifiers, and general inability to construct clear and meaningful English sentences free of loaded, leading pre-judgment. Here's the lede, largely (and mercifully) free of the sort of advocanalysis and debatable-contention-disguised-as-conventional-wisdom that fills the rest of the piece:
The Obama administration, despite public denials, held secret talks with Russia aimed at reaching a ballistic missile defense agreement that Moscow ultimately rejected in May, according to an internal State Department report.
Disclosure of the report to The Washington Times comes as Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Tuesday pressed for a new anti-ballistic missile treaty, warning that a failure to reach an agreement would trigger a new strategic arms race.
The four-page document circulated on Capitol Hill stated that administration officials held four meetings with the Russians and last spring presented a draft Ballistic Missile Defense Cooperation Agreement (BMDCA) to Russian negotiators.
The internal report contradicts congressional testimony by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates in June denying a missile defense deal was in the works.
As part of the U.S.-Russia talks, the State Department submitted to Congress on May 5 a legal memorandum called a Circular 175 report that is required before reaching treaties and agreements.
"The BMDCA was designed to be a framework agreement under which the United States and Russia could begin missile defense cooperation while not limiting either party's missile defense capabilities in any way," states the report, which is labeled "sensitive but unclassified."
The draft 10-year agreement would have set up a BMD Cooperation Sub-Working Group. The Circular 175 was "approved by Under Secretary [of State Ellen] Tauscher on May 5, 2010," the report said.
The draft missile defense agreement was first reported in The Times on June 16, noting that U.S. officials feared it would limit defenses.
A day later, Mrs. Clinton was asked about The Times report and dismissed the idea of any secret draft agreement to limit defenses. "No. 1, there is no secret deal. No. 2, there is no plan to limit U.S. missile defenses, either in this treaty or in any other way. And No. 3, on that score, the story is dead wrong," she said.
Mr. Gates, appearing with Mrs. Clinton, also denied any draft agreement was being negotiated, stating that "whatever talks are going on are simply about trying to elicit [Russian] willingness to partner with us along with the Europeans in terms of a regional missile defense."
When asked whether the draft agreement was public, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told The Times on June 18 "there is no draft agreement to provide you."
[Senator LEVIN, Chairman:] Secretary Clinton, let me start with you. During the course of the negotiations on the New START, were there any side agreements, any informal agreements, any secret agreements with Russia that are not included in the treaty relative to any limitations on U.S. missile defenses or any other subject?
Secretary CLINTON. No.
Senator COLLINS. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Secretary Clinton, you were very clear in answering the chairman’s first question about whether there was any secret agreement or side deal associated with the negotiations of the New START Treaty that would affect missile defense. And you were very clear in saying that, no, there were not.
There’s a press report that came out last night that claims that the administration is secretly working with the Russians to conclude an agreement that would limit U.S. missile defenses. It goes on to say that the administration last month presented a draft agreement to the Russians. Is this report accurate?
Secretary CLINTON. No. I’m not aware of the report, Senator Collins, but, as Secretary Gates said, we have consistently told the Russians that if they wish to work with us on missile defense we are open to working with them. So maybe there is something lost in the translation here, because we have consistently reached out to them. We would like them to be part of a broad missile defense system that protects against countries like Iran, North Korea, both of which they border, by the way, so it is in their interest.
But Secretary Gates mentioned that in his opening remarks, so if I could ask him to just perhaps add onto what I said.
Senator COLLINS. Yes.
Secretary GATES. Well, I have seen—I have just seen a reference to the newspaper story that you described, and what I emphasized, what I added, frankly, in my opening statement was that whatever talks are going on are simply about trying to elicit their willingness to partner with us along with the Europeans in terms of a regional missile defense.
But there is nothing in the approaches that have been made to the Russians that in any way, shape, or form would impose any limits whatsoever on our plans.
Secretary Clinton must have sensed how eager critics of the treaty were to focus on this bogus "secret negotiations" bugaboo, because she came back to it of her own accord later in the hearing (p. 36). This part's important, because it fleshes out the excerpt that Gertz provides in his piece.
[Secretary CLINTON:] Mr. Chairman, if I could, just on a follow-up to your last questions, which I very much appreciate. I want to ensure that the record is clear on one additional point. Senator Collins raised a certain press report about a U.S.- Russia deal to limit U.S. missile defenses and I want to be as clear as I possibly can. Number one, there is no secret deal.
Number two, there is no plan to limit U.S. missile defenses, either in this treaty or in any other way.
Number three, on that score the story is dead wrong. I want to be very clear about that because I don’t want anyone using what is yet again another inaccurate story to argue against this treaty. As Secretary Gates and I have both said, we will continue to explore missile defense cooperation with Russia, but the talks are not secret and there is nothing on the table or even in the wildest contemplation that would involve any limits on our missile defense. Instead, we’re seeing to see whether they can be expanded with additional capabilities for our security.
Where could the confusion be coming from here? How is it that Gertz is now claiming a win, telling "arms control wonks who argued my June 16 scoop was wrong: you're wrong," arguing that the newly-revealed "internal State Department report" shows that "Hillary misled Senate"? Well, yet again we're going to have to dig around and speculate; it's not easy to do in a 1,000-word article in a publication that one would assume has editors, but Gertz steadfastly refuses to apply clear thinking and narrative structure to make his point in any kind of meaningful way. So let's go back to the original piece that asserted secret negotiations, the one published the day before the hearing, and see how Gertz characterized the matter:
The Obama administration is secretly working with Russia to conclude an agreement that many officials fear will limit U.S. missile defenses, a key objective of Moscow since it opposed plans for a U.S. missile defense interceptor base in Eastern Europe, according to American officials involved in arms control issues.
According to the officials, the administration last month presented a draft agreement on missile defenses to the Russians as part of talks between Ellen Tauscher, undersecretary of state for international security and arms control, and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Rybakov.
The secret talks and possible agreement have triggered alarm among pro-missile defense advocates who are concerned that the administration, in its effort to "reset" ties with Moscow, will make further concessions constraining current and future missile defenses.
Let's try to sum this up, shall we? On June 16th, Bill Gertz writes that the U.S. and Russia are working toward a "secret agreement" that he alleges has some U.S. officials worried about possible limitations on missile defense. On June 17th, Secretaries Clinton and Gates both deny that any secret agreements to limit missile defense have been negotiated, and assert that while the U.S. seeks to cooperate with Russia on this matter, the administration will not accept any provisions that limit missile defense. (Oh yeah, and the U.S. side decided unilaterally to insert a statement in the treaty's preamble that yet again insists that missile defenses are not subject to the treaty, and also to include more than $10 billion for missile defense in its FY11 budget request.) On June 18th, P.J. Crowley responds to Gertz's question about whether the "secret draft agreement" is public by telling him that there is no such agreement. Then at some point in the intervening months, it emerges that there was in fact a draft agreement on missile defense cooperation that was not secret, was not concerned with limiting missile defense, and was not ultimately agreed to -- a draft agreement that seems instead to have been focused on precisely what the SECDEF stated before Congress was the object of ongoing discussions with Russia, which was to "elicit willingness to partner with us as well as the Europeans in terms of a regional missile defense" -- and somehow Gertz claims that this revelation "contradicts congressional testimony" by Gates and Clinton "that a missile defense deal was in the works" and feels vindicated for his earlier assertion that there was a "secret draft agreement to limit defenses." Except that 1) THERE STILL IS NO REASON TO BELIEVE THAT THERE WAS EVER A "SECRET DRAFT AGREEMENT TO LIMIT DEFENSES," 2) BOTH SECRETARIES INSIST THAT THERE NEVER WAS SUCH AN AGREEMENT, AND 3) THEY EACH TESTIFIED TO THAT EFFECT. Neither even briefly addressed the existence of a possible missile defense cooperation agreement except to indicate that such an agreement would be consistent with the administration's overall goals and policy.
So I am being totally serious when I ask: is Bill Gertz a liar, or is he just incredibly stupid?
UPDATE: Courtesy of Blake Hounshell on Twitter, here's the fact sheet the State Department issued this morning on the subject of Missile Defense Cooperation with the Russian Federation. Some highlights:
So yeah, pretty much what I said (/boom).
There are no “secret deals” with Russia on missile defense. The Administration has repeatedly communicated to the Russian Government at the highest levels that the United States will not agree to any limitations or constraints on U.S. ballistic missile defenses, and that the United States intends to continue improving and deploying BMD systems to defend the U.S. against limited missile launches, and to defend our deployed forces, allies, and partners against regional threats. The Administration has repeatedly made clear that it is pursuing missile defense cooperation with Russia. As one example, at a June 17 hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Secretary Gates stated: “Separately from the treaty, we are discussing missile defense cooperation with Russia, which we believe is in the interests of both nations. But such talks have nothing to do with imposing any limitations on our programs or deployment plans.” The Obama Administration believes that missile defense cooperation with the Russian Federation is in the national security interests of the United States, as did the Bush Administration. Restrictions or limitations on U.S. missile defense capabilities are not under discussion in any forum.