Browsing the blog archivesfor the day Friday, September 29th, 2006.


Be of Reasonably Good Cheer

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Bush Administration

For your late night reading enjoyment — John Dickerson on the potential impact of Woodward’s book

State of Denial is a significant blow to the president both politically and strategically. Politically it comes after the 9/11 anniversary restored some of Bush’s popularity and improved voters’ feelings about his administration’s competency. Democrats jumped on the new revelations, holding a press conference Friday on Capitol Hill to talk about the book before it had even come out, proving that press conferences—like many book reviews—do not require actually reading the book.

As a policy matter, the book undermines Bush’s attempts to strengthen the national will for the long and drawn-out fight ahead. For the last year, the administration has been unsuccessfully trying to get the mix in the president’s public statements right: enough candor to show people Bush is aware of what’s really going on in Iraq but enough optimism to keep Americans behind the fight. “There is a clear distinction between having confidence in your strategy and that ultimate success is achievable while also recognizing it will be extremely difficult to get there,” says a senior White House official. “The president’s speeches during the last year have struck that balance. What was Churchill saying during the middle of the blitz—’have no fear, we’re losing and things won’t get better?’ Hell no; he was honest about the predicament, but confident that they would succeed. By no means am I saying the president is Churchillian, but there is a long history of war-time leaders being optimistic even during the darkest days.”

Woodward’s book undermines the effort to make this pitch. He charges the president has not been straight with the American people about how bad things are in Iraq and how much worse it’s going to get. But his most damning claim—screaming at you right there in the title—is not that Bush is deceitful; it’s that he’s clueless. People many not care if Bush admits reality to the public, but they hope he’s admitting reality to himself. …

… Woodward isn’t going to change minds, but he’ll do something more dangerous: He will confirm the doubts about Bush that a majority of Americans already have.

See also Dan Froomkin.

Righties are dismissing Woodward’s new opus, of course. The Flopping Ace, just to choose one, simultaneously calls the work a “gossip novel” and a retelling of old news. But I have a question about what else the Ace said —

Isn’t funny how just a few days ago we heard all over the news that Al-Qaeda was crying about getting their asses kicked from one side of Iraq to another?

All over which news? Does anyone have a clue what the boy is talking about? Or is this Nooz from the Alternate Universe?

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More News That Isn’t News

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Bush Administration

Bob Woodward’s new book says the White House ignored pleas from an Iraqi adviser that thousands more troops were needed to put down the insurgency. David Sanger writes in today’s New York Times:

The book describes a White House riven by dysfunction and division over the war.

The warning is described in “State of Denial,” scheduled for publication on Monday by Simon & Schuster. The book says President Bush’s top advisers were often at odds among themselves, and sometimes were barely on speaking terms, but shared a tendency to dismiss as too pessimistic assessments from American commanders and others about the situation in Iraq.

As late as November 2003, Mr. Bush is quoted as saying of the situation in Iraq: “I don’t want anyone in the cabinet to say it is an insurgency. I don’t think we are there yet.”

More juicy bits:

The book describes a deep fissure between Colin L. Powell, Mr. Bush’s first secretary of state, and Mr. Rumsfeld: When Mr. Powell was eased out after the 2004 elections, he told Andrew H. Card Jr., the White House chief of staff, that “if I go, Don should go,” referring to Mr. Rumsfeld.

Mr. Card then made a concerted effort to oust Mr. Rumsfeld at the end of 2005, according to the book, but was overruled by President Bush, who feared that it would disrupt the coming Iraqi elections and operations at the Pentagon.

Vice President Cheney is described as a man so determined to find proof that his claim about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was accurate that, in the summer of 2003, his aides were calling the chief weapons inspector, David Kay, with specific satellite coordinates as the sites of possible caches. None resulted in any finds.

One big dysfunctional family. I like Laura Rozen’s comment here:

And what is Cheney’s source for coordinates for nonexistent WMD stockpiles in Iraq? Seriously, if you watched Cheney on Tim Russert the other week, you start to wonder if someone is briefing the vice president on intelligence reports that do not appear to be coming from the known US services. He seems to be being briefed from a totally different stream of intelligence. It’s quite disturbing. He doesn’t seem fully aware even now how much the public analysis of US reports contradicts what he seems to believe is true (for instance, he still seems convinced about Atta in Prague, even though, US intel services that we at least know about contradict that according to the new Senate Select Intel committee Phase II report).

(Waving arm) I know! I know! He’s got a reverse polarity tin foil hat that detects thought waves that bounce off the moon and channels them directly into his brain!

Sanger points out that Woodward’s other books give a different impression.

Mr. Woodward’s first two books about the Bush administration, “Bush at War” and “Plan of Attack,” portrayed a president firmly in command and a loyal, well-run team responding to a surprise attack and the retaliation that followed. As its title indicates, “State of Denial” follows a very different storyline, of an administration that seemed to have only a foggy notion that early military success in Iraq had given way to resentment of the occupiers.

As Steve M. says, “When you’ve lost Bob Woodward, there’s no where else to go but down.”

I like these bits from David Sanger, too.

Mr. Woodward writes that in the weeks before the Sept. 11 attacks, Mr. Tenet believed that Mr. Rumsfeld was impeding the effort to develop a coherent strategy to capture or kill Osama bin Laden. Mr. Rumsfeld questioned the electronic signals from terrorism suspects that the National Security Agency had been intercepting, wondering whether they might be part of an elaborate deception plan by Al Qaeda.

On July 10, 2001, the book says, Mr. Tenet and his counterterrorism chief, J. Cofer Black, met with Ms. Rice at the White House to impress upon her the seriousness of the intelligence the agency was collecting about an impending attack. But both men came away from the meeting feeling that Ms. Rice had not taken the warnings seriously.

Hmm, where have we heard this before

If you’ve never read “Blind Into Baghdad,” James Fallows’s Atlantic Online article from 2004, I suggest you go ahead and read it now. If there’s a subscription wall at Atlantic Online you can read the article here. In a nutshell, before the invasion, the Administration got tons of advice from experts that anticipated every bad thing that would happen. Every one.

Tomorrow CNN will be running a documentary on Rumsfeld in which Rummy says, “Well, I think that anyone who looks at it with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight has to say that there was not an anticipation that the level of insurgency would be anything approximating what it is.” In fact, all kinds of people anticipated that the force Rummy sent into Iraq would be inadequate to keep the peace. Rummy just wouldn’t listen to them.

Anyway, at the end of this essential piece Fallows speculates why the Bushies are such flaming idiots that they didn’t think they needed to worry about the occupation:

How could the Administration have thought that it was safe to proceed in blithe indifference to the warnings of nearly everyone with operational experience in modern military occupations? Saying that the Administration considered this a truly urgent “war of necessity” doesn’t explain the indifference. Even if it feared that Iraq might give terrorists fearsome weapons at any moment, it could still have thought more carefully about the day after the war. World War II was a war of absolute necessity, and the United States still found time for detailed occupation planning.

The President must have known that however bright the scenarios, the reality of Iraq eighteen months after the war would affect his re-election. The political risk was enormous and obvious. Administration officials must have believed not only that the war was necessary but also that a successful occupation would not require any more forethought than they gave it.

It will be years before we fully understand how intelligent people convinced themselves of this. My guess is that three factors will be important parts of the explanation.

One is the panache of Donald Rumsfeld. He was near the zenith of his influence as the war was planned. His emphasis on the vagaries of life was all the more appealing within his circle because of his jauntiness and verve. But he was not careful about remembering his practical obligations. Precisely because he could not foresee all hazards, he should have been more zealous about avoiding the ones that were evident—the big and obvious ones the rest of the government tried to point out to him.

A second is the triumphalism of the Administration. In the twenty-five years since Ronald Reagan’s rise, political conservatives have changed position in a way they have not fully recognized. Reagan’s arrival marked the end of a half century of Democrat-dominated government in Washington. Yes, there has been one Democratic President since Reagan, and eventually there will be others. But as a rule the Republicans are now in command. Older Republicans—those who came of age in the 1960s and 1970s, those who are now in power in the Administration—have not fully adjusted to this reality. They still feel like embattled insurgents, as if the liberals were in the driver’s seat. They recognize their electoral strength but feel that in the battle of ideology their main task is to puncture fatuous liberal ideas.

The consequence is that Republicans are less used to exposing their own ideas to challenges than they should be. Today’s liberals know there is a challenge to every aspect of their world view. All they have to do is turn on the radio. Today’s conservatives are more likely to think that any contrary ideas are leftovers from the tired 1960s, much as liberals of the Kennedy era thought that conservatives were in thrall to Herbert Hoover. In addition, the conservatives’ understanding of modern history makes them think that their instincts are likely to be right and that their critics will be proved wrong. Europeans scorned Ronald Reagan, and the United Nations feared him, but in the end the Soviet Union was gone. So for reasons of personal, political, and intellectual history, it is understandable that members of this Administration could proceed down one path in defiance of mounting evidence of its perils. The Democrats had similar destructive self-confidence in the 1960s, when they did their most grandiose Great Society thinking.

The third factor is the nature of the President himself. Leadership is always a balance between making large choices and being aware of details. George W. Bush has an obvious preference for large choices. This gave him his chance for greatness after the September 11 attacks. But his lack of curiosity about significant details may be his fatal weakness. When the decisions of the past eighteen months are assessed and judged, the Administration will be found wanting for its carelessness. Because of warnings it chose to ignore, it squandered American prestige, fortune, and lives.

Ah, but Fallows wrote that in 2004. The nation has learned so much more since … oh, wait …

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Canada Probably Doesn’t Want Us, Anyway

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big picture stuff, blogging, Canada, liberalism and progressivism

This seems a good time to plug Bill Scher’s new book, Wait! Don’t Move to Canada!. Bill is the very smart guy who runs Liberal Oasis. You might have caught him on Tucker Carlson’s show on MSNBC last night. You probably didn’t, because I can’t imagine many of you actually watch Tucker, but maybe some of you do. (If so, why? I’m sure you could find a Law & Order rerun if you flipped channels.)

In the last post I wrote that it’s time to decide if the nation is salvageable or not. Lots of people have decided it isn’t. As I said, these people may be right. But if you think it’s too late to fight, then please step out of the way. Some of us haven’t given up yet.

Wait! Don’t Move! is a handbook for liberals who want to fight but aren’t sure how. Thankfully, Bill moves beyond cheery little checklists reminding you to write your congressperson. Suggestions for action are presented within a Big Picture framework. It’s not just about defeating Republicans, but about making America safe for liberalism again. Throughout, Bill challenges readers to be clear about what we want. Instead of just reacting to the Republican agenda, we should be showing the nation an alternative way to look at issues. We should fight from a position of clarity and purpose rather than defensiveness. We should not, for example, try to counter the Religious Right with our own public displays of religiosity, but instead promise to preserve religious liberty by keeping government out of religion.

And, anyway, if we cede the U.S. to Republicans, sooner or later they’ll invade Canada. Might as well stop them here.

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Choices

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Congress, Democratic Party

Glenn Greenwald reads my mind.

… everyone has to answer for themselves these questions: (1) do you believe that the incalculable damage imposed on this country by the Bush administration and its followers (including in Congress) can be impeded and then reversed and, if so, (2) how can that be accomplished? For those who have given up and believe the answer to question (1) is “no,” then, by definition, there is nothing to discuss. You’ ve decided that there is no hope, that you’re done fighting and trying to defend any of your beliefs and principles, and you’re ready to cede the country to those who are in the process of destroying it.

And may I interject, if your answer is no, you may be right. Time will tell. But until time has told, I’m proceeding with yes. That’s the choice I’ve made. If your choice is no I’m not going to say you are wrong, but you might as well stop reading, because the rest of this post is devoted to yes options. And if all you have to add to the comments is no — don’t bother.

But for those who believe that the answer to question (1) is “yes” (and I believe that emphatically), then the answer to question (2) seems self-evidently clear. The most important and overriding mandate is to end the one-party rule to which our country has been subjected for the last four years. Achieving that is necessary — it is an absolute pre-requisite — to begin to impose some actual limits on the authoritarian behavior and unchecked powers of this administration — because, right now, there are no such limits.

And, independently, killing off unchallenged Republican rule is the only possible way to invade the wall of secrecy behind which this administration has operated and to find out what our government has actually been doing for the last five years. Shining light on the shadows and dark crevices in which they have been operating is vitally important for repairing the damage that has been done. If nothing else, a Chairman Conyers or a Chairman Leahy, armed with subpoena powers, will accomplish that.

This is a point I’ve tried to make many times, and it’s nearly always countered by a chorus of whining about how Dems are wusses and they always will be wusses and only idiots support them. Listen, nobody could possible be more frustrated with Dems than I am. But if we’re operating on the assumption of yes, we need the Dems, like it or not. And here’s why:

First, you cannot ignore parties. Political parties are intrinsic to how Congress functions. It matters enormously which party is the majority and which party gets to choose committee chairpersons and set agendas.

What about third parties? Bucking the two-party system isn’t an idea somebody came up with last week. Americans started complaining about the two-party system back when the two parties were the Democrats and the Whigs. Since about the 1830s vast numbers of Americans have worked their butts off to create viable national third parties. They have always failed. I don’t see a 180-year trend reversing itself in the next six weeks.

The reason third party candidates can’t win has to do with how we run elections, in particular the “winner take all” system in which whoever gets the most votes gets the prize. Countries with viable multiple parties have runoffs if nobody gets a majority, and that makes a world of difference. Go here and play with the demonstrations if you don’t understand why this is true.

Even if you could elect a third-party candidate, that person would be helpless to accomplish anything unless he became a de facto member of one of the two parties. And, frankly, even if we could scrape the Dems out of the picture entirely and start over with a dream party of fired-up progressives, given our poisoned political culture our dream party would end up being just like the Dems. We’re not going to get the party we want until we change the political culture, and we won’t get even a chance to do that until we break one-party Republican rule.

I know the Dems are flawed. But here’s an analogy: Let’s say you’ve got a job to do that ought to be done with a hammer. But you don’t have a hammer; all you have is a wrench. You can do the job with a wrench, but it’s going to take longer and the results will not be perfect. But without some kind of tool you can’t do the job at all.

In the real world you might choose to put off doing the job until you can get your hands on a hammer. But let’s say your life depends on doing this job right now. By the time the hardware store opens it will be too late. So are you still going to sit passively until you get a hammer, or do you wrench away?

I see a Dem takeover of Congress this November as a stopgap measure. Even if Dems take both houses of Congress we face enormous challenges to pull the nation back from the brink and restore our pathological political culture to something approaching health. But if the Republicans keep control of both houses of Congress, the task of saving our nation may become impossible.

Time is short. We cannot afford to sit on our hands and wait for the Messiah Candidate to come and save us. We’ve got to work with the tools we have. Once we’ve pulled back from the brink of disaster we can take steps to get better tools.

Here’s another analogy: Imagine you are stranded on your roof in rising floodwaters. Sooner or later you’re going to drown if you aren’t rescued. Yet you refuse to be rescued in an old rowboat because it might be leaky and you are waiting for a helicopter.

Well, folks, the Dems are the rowboat, and there ain’t gonna be a helicopter.

… a desire to see the Democrats take over Congress — even a strong desire for that outcome and willingness to work for it — does not have to be, and at least for me is not, driven by a belief that Washington Democrats are commendable or praiseworthy and deserve to be put into power. Instead, a Democratic victory is an instrument — an indispensable weapon — in battling the growing excesses and profound abuses and indescribably destructive behavior of the Bush administration and their increasingly authoritarian followers. A Democratic victory does not have to be seen as being anything more than that in order to realize how critically important it is.

If at this point you are still thinking you’d rather eat bugs than support the Democrats — fine, but if you answered yes, what options can you offer?

I’ve been reading through the comments on Glenn’s site. One person after another writes no way; Dems cave in time after time; how are they different from Republicans? But none of them can offer an alternative, other than armed rebellion. That amounts to a concession that the nation already is dead. Maybe it is. But armed rebellions are nasty and bloody, and armed rebellion likely would not bring the old government of 1787 back, no matter who wins. There’s no way to predict what will be left standing when the dust settles. I’d rather not go there, thanks.

In the real world, one has to either choose between two more years of uncontrolled Republican rule, or imposing some balance — even just logjam — on our Government with a Democratic victory. Or one can decide that it just doesn’t matter either way because one has given up on defending the principles and values of our country. But, for better or worse, those are the only real options available, and wishing there were other options doesn’t mean that there are any. And there are only six weeks left to choose the option you think is best and to do what you can to bring it to fruition.

That pretty much says it. If you still aren’t persuaded then — Canada is north.

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