Browsing the blog archivesfor the day Sunday, December 11th, 2005.


Do Not Miss

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blogging

AMERICAblog: “Chris Wallace is an idiot.”

Newsweek: “Bush in the Bubble

Frank Rich: “It Takes a Potemkin Village

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Bedfellows

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criminal justice, Karl Rove, News Media, Valerie Plame

Viveca Novak’s account of what she told Bob Luskin about the Plamegate investigation is up at Time. And it reveals much about why what passes for “jounalism” is clueless.

Washington “journalists” and Washington “government officials” and their “attorneys” are all one big happy family. They have drinks together. They meet for dinner. They go to the same parties. They bump into each other at posh vacation spots. And loyalty to one’s source-buddies comes first — before employer, nation, or truth itself.

This has been apparent of the television “punditocracy” — Cokie et al. — for years. But after the Judy Miller, Bob Woodward, and now Viveca Novak episode, it is apparent more humble print reporters have crawled into the same compromised bed.

As Jeralyn, Kevin, and Jane point out, the impact of Novak’s testimony on Karl Rove’s future depends a lot on what other information Patrick Fitzgerald might have. But the corruption of journalism is crystal clear. I sincerely hope that every working reporter covering Washington politics — and politics elsewhere — is doing some heavy-duty soul searching right now.

Greg Mitchell writes at Editor & Publisher:

Where will it end, and when will reporters pay with their jobs? First we learn that Bob Woodward failed to tell his editor for years about his role in the Plame/CIA leak case. Today, we find out that Time reporter Viveca Novak not only kept her editors in the dark about her own involvement, but even had a two-hour chat with the special prosecutor about it well before telling her superiors.

At the end of her first-person account at Time online today, we are told in a brief editor’s note that she is by ”mutual agreement” now on a “leave of absence.” Has she been taken to the woodshed and, if not, why not?

Swopa writes,

… as it turns out, just for the sake of stalling Rove’s indictment for a month or two, Luskin has torched Novak’s career with Time (which notes as the end of her article that she is on a mutually agreed “leave of absence”). It seems that Viveca didn’t tell her bosses about her chats with Luskin to begin with, nor even when she first was interviewed by Fitzgerald — and when she did admit her involvement after being asked to testify under oath, they weren’t happy.

There should be an object lesson there for Washington, D.C. reporters playing the “access journalism” game … the sources who you’re covering up for even as they give you lies and personal smears will burn you in the blink of an eye if it helps them in the slightest.

Then again, that seems to be a larger message that the Bushites are all too happy to send to the media. What the latter thought was merely an occasionally distasteful exchange of information was really a blackmail ring. In the Corleone administration, reporters aren’t expected to keep quiet out of duty to the First Amendment — they’re expected to do so because they’ll be destroyed by any means possible if they don’t.

Reporters, please note: “Sources” are not “buddies.” And sources who try to use you to manipulate news, by feeding you lies and smears, are not worthy of protection. Got that?

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Hopeless and Getting Worse?

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Bush Administration, Iraq War

Here’s another chapter in the continuing saga, “How We Screwed the Pooch in Iraq” —

Peter Baker and Robin Wright write in today’s Washington Post that while President Bush refuses to consider a withdrawal timetable for Iraq, he has been rigidly following a timetable for building a democratic government in Iraq.

When U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer transferred sovereignty to Iraqi authorities in June 2004, he left behind a script with hard-and-fast deadlines for drafting a constitution and forming a government, a script that culminates Thursday with another election for a permanent parliament.

The story of the 18-month process that unfolded after Bremer left Baghdad was one of steadfast fidelity to the script, as well as a costly period of U.S. inattention and endless frustrations with squabbling Iraqi leaders, according to a wide array of Bush advisers, Iraqi politicians and others involved in the effort. While Bush refuses to set a timetable for military withdrawal, he has stuck doggedly to the Bremer political timetable despite qualms of his staff, relentless violence on the ground and disaffection of Iraq’s minority Sunni Arabs.

Bush’s deadline democracy managed to propel the process forward and appears on the verge of creating a new government with legitimacy earned at the ballot box. His approach resulted in a constitution often described as more democratic than any in the Arab world. Yet by pushing forward without Sunni acceptance, the Bush team failed to produce the national accord it sought among Iraq’s three main groups, leaving a schism that could loom beyond Thursday’s election. And the Sunni-powered insurgency that was supposed to be marginalized by an inclusive democracy remains as lethal as ever.

The Bremer timetable was not the administration’s first choice. Rather, it was forced on Bremer and his staff by the Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the spiritual leader of Iraq’s majority Shiites. The idea behind the timetable — a reasonable idea, IMO — was to allow the Iraqis to take the lead in the democratization process. And, Juan Cole writes,

The article neglects to mention a key factor in holding the Jan. 30 [parliamentary] elections on time, which was that they had been demanded by no later than that date by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani. He would not have accepted a delay, and would have brought the Shiites out into the street to protest if one were attempted. Bush could not afford to alienate Sistani at a time when the Sunni Arabs were already in revolt.

But the rest of the Bremer schedule — the August 15 deadline for completing the constitution, the October 15 deadline for a national referendum on the constitution, and the Dec. 15 deadline for yet another parliamentary election — could have been adjusted. Juan Cole continues,

In my view, though, it was crazy to attempt to write a permanent constitution in only a couple of months, and the Aug. 15 deadline should have been extended for 6 months. As it was, the drafting process became very messy toward the end; people barely knew which language they were voting for in the referendum; and the Sunni Arabs rejected the constitution almost to a person. It was a very bad outcome, and if Iraq breaks up we will almost certainly trace the break-up to the rush to get the constitution drafted and the way in which the Kurds and Shiites stacked it with goodies for themselves at the expense of the Sunni Arabs.

When Bremer left Iraq in June 2004, after the “transfer of sovereignty,” he was replaced by John D. Negroponte. Negroponte chose to take a back seat in the democratization effort — not an unreasonable decision, given that our official position was that Iraqis were now in charge of Iraq. But in fact the democratization process sputtered and stalled once the U.S. was no longer driving it. And after Negroponte left Iraq in March 2005 to become national intelligence director, four critical months went by before President Bush got around to appointing his successor. This was in spite of the fact that news stories from March 2005 were already naming the likely successor, Zalmay Khalilzad. Khalilzad didn’t get to his new job in Baghdad until July 2005, just a month ahead of the deadline for writing a constitution.

… the Afghan-born envoy had to get up to speed and found a jumbled situation as constitutional negotiators bogged down.

Under the Bremer timetable, they had until Aug. 15 to forge a compact resolving the most divisive issues in the new Iraq, such as the role of Islam and rights of women. Sunnis wanted the constitution to preserve a strong central state, while Shiites and Kurds were determined to carve out or preserve autonomy in their regions. But the Sunnis had no cohesive organization; Khalilzad would receive a list of demands from one faction, then a contradictory list from another.

As the deadline approached, Bush and his advisers meeting at his Texas ranch once again were consumed with the same debate as in January — whether to break the schedule to craft a deal that would satisfy the Sunnis.

Bush, who instinctively dismisses doubters and abhors changing course, again stuck to the plan. “We’ve got to keep the deadline there to force the parties to make the hard decisions to reach compromise,” Bush told advisers, according to Hadley.

With Khalilzad shuttling between parties, Bush delved into the talks personally, calling Shiite leader Abdul Aziz Hakim. “You’ve got to agree to some things that the Sunnis need to come into the process,” Hadley remembered Bush telling Hakim.

This time the deadline passed without agreement. The interim Iraqi parliament just before midnight amended the transitional law to allow more time. It took two more weeks, but over gallons of tea at late-night sessions, the Shiites and Kurds did reach a deal — bypassing the Sunni Arabs.

Those four lost months seem critical now. Why were they not critical then? Can anyone remember what was going on in March, April, May, and June that prevented Bush from making a timely appointment? Oh, wait … the Bamboozlepalooza Road Show was going strong until the first of May. But in May and June his schedule didn’t seem so challenging that he couldn’t have found time to pick up a phone and order Khalilzad to Baghdad. But even though he failed to make a timely appointment, Bush insisted that everyone else stick to the schedule.

To keep to the script and preserve the sense of momentum, the Bush administration had finessed the deadlines, punted the hard choices to the future and gambled that the Sunnis would continue to participate.

“The one single worst mistake was the rigid, shortsighted adherence to the August 15 deadline,” said Jonathan Morrow of the U.S. Institute of Peace, who advised constitutional drafters. That “had consequences for Sunnis buying into the constitutional text. . . . It’s a hopeless situation and it’s progressively more difficult to remedy.”

Juan Cole writes,

Personally, I don’t see any signs at all that this political process has had an impact on the Sunni Arab guerrilla war. And in the Shiite provinces, it has so far ensconced the Shiite religious parties and their paramilitaries (leading to a certain amount of torture and assassination by the security agencies, which are infiltrated by militiamen.)

The parliamentary election scheduled for Thursday will elected a (hopefully) permanent government in Iraq. Indications are that more Sunnis will participate than in January, and if that turns out to be the case the Bushies will whoop it up and call it a major success. It will be a long time before we know how big a success it was, of course. And if violence in Iraq continues, American voters probably won’t see much success at all.

Steve Holland reports for Reuters
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Euphoria over past elections has quickly evaporated in a cloud of violence. Experts said a decrease in Iraqi violence was more critical than elections in turning around American opinion.

Marina Ottaway, senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said the January and October elections did not lead to a higher degree of approval for Bush and doubted Thursday’s elections will do so either.

“There will have to be something much more tangible on the ground,” she said.

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Return of the Sixteen Words

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Bush Administration, Iraq War, Weapons of Mass Destruction

Tom Hamburger, Peter Wallsten and Bob Drogin write in the Los Angeles Times,

More than a year before President Bush declared in his State of the Union speech that Iraq had tried to buy nuclear weapons material in Africa, the French spy service began repeatedly warning the CIA in secret communications that there was no evidence to support the allegation.

The previously undisclosed exchanges between the U.S. and the French, described by the retired chief of the French counter-intelligence service and a former CIA official during interviews last week, came on separate occasions in 2001 and 2002.

How many variations of this story have we seen so far? Newly undisclosed documents reveal that X warned the Bush Administration that intelligence Y wasn’t true, but the Bush Administration went ahead and used Y in their arguments for invading Iraq.

The repeated warnings from France’s Direction Generale de la Securite Exterieure, DGSE, did not prevent the Bush administration from making the case aggressively that Saddam Hussein was seeking nuclear weapons materials.

It was not the first time a foreign government tried but failed to warn U.S. officials off of dubious prewar intelligence. In the notorious “Curveball” case, an Iraqi who defected to Germany claimed to have knowledge of Iraq’s biological weapons. Bush and other U.S. officials repeatedly cited Curveball’s claims even as German intelligence officials argued that he was unstable, unreliable and incorrect.

Yeah, but Bill Clinton believed Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction back in 1998, so that means the invasion was kosher. Somehow.

Gawd, I’m tired of this.

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