Browsing the blog archivesfor the day Thursday, March 8th, 2007.


Dems: 120 Days?

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Congress, Democratic Party, Iraq War

This afternoon Dems in the House and the Senate announced an Iraq redeployment plans.

David Stout writes in the New York Times,

House Democratic leaders intensified their debate with President Bush over Iraq today as they announced legislation that would pull American combat troops out of Iraq before the fall of 2008.

“Only then can we refocus our military efforts on Afghanistan to the extent that we must,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said. She said the Iraq withdrawal deadline would be attached to legislation providing nearly $100 billion requested by the Bush administration for the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns and money to expand health care for veterans.

Representative David R. Obey of Wisconsin, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said the leadership’s proposal “will essentially redirect more of our resources to the war against Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, fighting the right war in the right place against the people who attacked us and who are giving Al Qaeda sanctuary.”

Sounds good to me, although I suspect the GOP will find some way to make the attachment to the veteran health care appropriation seem unethical, somehow. Watch for it.

Stout goes on to say the provision has little hope of passage, since Republicans are united against it.

Indeed, the Republican minority leader, Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, practically invited his Democratic colleagues to bring the measure to the floor.

“Can you defeat this bill?” Mr. Boehner was asked at a Capitol news conference.

“Oh, we can,” he replied.

Fine. Bring it on, Boehner. I would like the provision enacted. But if there’s no hope, It’s good to see the Dems put forth a tangible, workable plan, even if the Republicans knock it down. Then they can go to the American people and say, look, we have a plan, but the Republicans block it.

Stout writes that Dems are split on the provision, because conservative Dems say it goes too far and liberal Dems say it doesn’t go far enough.

Ms. Pelosi refused to concede that the proposal’s chances are dim, even as a questioner noted that as many as 70 House Democrats want the United States out of Iraq by the end of 2007. “We will come together and find our common ground,” she said.

I firmly believe in not allowing perfect to become the enemy of good. At the moment, it seems more important for the Dems to present as much of a united front as possible.

Now for the Senate — this is from a news release

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid today joined Assistant Democratic Leader Dick Durbin, Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer, Democratic Conference Secretary Patty Murray, Senator Russ Feingold, and Senator Evan Bayh to announce a new Joint Resolution to revise U.S. policy on Iraq. Iraq has fallen into a bloody civil war, and as conditions on the ground have changed so must U.S. policy change to meet them.

The Reid Joint Resolution builds on the longstanding Democratic position on Iraq and the Levin-Reed Amendment: the current conflict in Iraq requires a political solution, Iraq must take responsibility for its own future, and our troops should not be policing a civil war. It contains binding language to direct the President to transition the mission for U.S. forces in Iraq and begin their phased redeployment within one-hundred twenty days with a goal of redeploying all combat forces by March 31, 2008. A limited number of troops would remain for the purposes of force protection, training and equipping Iraqi troops, and targeted counter-terror options.

Sen. Russ Feingold released this statement:

“Senator Reid has worked hard to rally the caucus in support of binding legislation to reject the President’s failed policies in Iraq and require redeployment of most U.S. troops from Iraq. While the legislation doesn’t go as far as I would like, it is a strong step toward ending our involvement in this misguided war. I will continue to push for Congress to use its power of the purse to end our involvement in this war.”

If Russ can live with it, so can I. Other opinions?

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Better Than Churchill

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Bush Administration

The beginning of this Sidney Blumenthal column is jaw-dropping:

As witnesses were trooping to the stand in the federal courthouse in Washington to testify in the case of United States v. I. Lewis Libby, and the Washington Post was publishing its series on the squalid conditions that wounded Iraq war veterans suffer at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center while thousands more soldiers were surging into Baghdad, President Bush held one of his private book club sessions that Karl Rove organizes for him at the White House. Rove picks the book, invites the author and a few neoconservative intellectual luminaries, and conducts the discussions. For this Bush book club meeting, the guest was Andrew Roberts, an English conservative historian and columnist and the author of “The Churchillians” and, most recently, “A History of the English-Speaking People Since 1900.”

The subject of Winston Churchill inspired Bush’s self-reflection. The president confided to Roberts that he believes he has an advantage over Churchill, a reliable source with access to the conversation told me. He has faith in God, Bush explained, but Churchill, an agnostic, did not. Because he believes in God, it is easier for him to make decisions and stick to them than it was for Churchill. Bush said he doesn’t worry, or feel alone, or care if he is unpopular. He has God.

Blumenthal doesn’t say how he knows what Bush said at the book salon, and I would like to know that. I would hate to think Blumenthal just made this up, à la Peggy Noonan.

But if Bush said it, what might one infer about Bush’s approach to religion? Does he think God is an almighty rabbit’s foot? Because he “has God” (which is troubling, theologically speaking, in itself) he can’t make mistakes?

Even as Scooter Libby sat at the defendant’s table silently wearing his fixed, forced smile, and Vice President Dick Cheney was revealed by witnesses as the conductor of the smear campaign against former ambassador Joseph Wilson, Bush and Rove felt free to hold forth in their salon, removed from anxiety. Rove had narrowly escaped the fate of Libby by changing his grand jury testimony just before he might have been indicted for perjury. Bush, who proclaimed that he would fire any leaker found in his administration, is apparently closer to Rove than ever. The night before the Libby verdict, the president had dinner at Rove’s house, and Rove sent to the reporters shivering outside a doggie bag filled with sausage and quail wings.

As I said in the last post, I would be extremely surprised if Libby is pardoned. Bush doesn’t do anything that doesn’t glorify Bush. I think he and Karl have already flushed Libby and moved on.

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Pardon?

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Bush Administration, criminal justice, News Media, Valerie Plame

I will be surprised if President Bush pardons Scooter Libby. As Ezra says, Bush’s famous “loyalty” only goes one way —

It’s long been his M.O to cut loose even the most faithful of servants after they outlive their usefulness. And Scooter Libby has definitely outlived his usefulness. To pardon him would refocus the blame onto the presidency, make it clear the administration felt indebted to an underling doing their bidding. That’s all true, of course, save for the indebted part. Libby was doing their bidding and now it is done. End of transaction.

Well, almost. Peter Baker and Carol D. Leonnig report for the Washington Post:

President Bush said yesterday that he is “pretty much going to stay out of” the case of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby until the legal process has run its course, deflecting pressure from supporters of the former White House aide to pardon him for perjury and obstruction of justice.

Scooter’s lawyers plan to seek a new trial. As long as there is even a possibility of more litigation, the White House can continue to use the “ongoing legal proceeding” excuse not to answer questions about Libby. That’s another reason I don’t believe we’ll see a pardon at least until after the 2008 elections.

Much is being made of Libby juror Ann Redington‘s desire to see Libby pardoned. I watched the Hardball segment in which she said this. My impression was that she was still thinking with Juror’s Mind, striving mightily to be fair and impartial. I’d be more interested in what she has to say about six months from now.

So Redington didn’t bother me nearly as much as Kate O’Beirne, sitting next to her, did. Kate thinks the jury tried its best but came up with the wrong verdict. Libby is, of course, innocent, no matter what the jury says. Just as Bill Clinton is guilty, even though Paula Jones lost her suit against him. See, courts are irrelevant. All you need to know to judge guilt or innocent are the political leanings of the accused. Anyone Kate judges to be one o’ hers must be innocent.

Hardball producers could save wear and tear on Kate if they just keep an inflatable Kate doll handy. Inflate it, stuff it into a chair, and play prerecorded talking points. ‘Twould be no better or worse than the real Kate. In fact, they might be doing that already.

At this point I don’t much care if Scooter sees jail time or not. If he were pardoned, it would not be like the pardons of Richard Nixon or Caspar Weinberger, whose pardons saw to it they were never tried. Avoiding those trials amounted to a cover up. But we’ve had Scooter’s trial; we know what happened. And Scooter’s just a factotum. It’s his masters I’m interested in.

Speaking of factotums (factoti?), David Brooks broods over the Libby trial today. He begins —

Three years ago I said some pessimistic things on TV about the war in Iraq. Scooter Libby called the next day. Methodically, though with a touch of wryness in his voice, he ran down a list of the hopeful developments he thought I was ignoring. Then as we were signing off, he interrupted himself and said: “Anyway, that’s the positive spin. I can do the negative spin just as well.”

Of course, Brooks was content with the positive spin.

Over the years, we had two lunches and about a half-dozen phone interviews, and he was more discreet each time. I would sit there — learning nothing — and think, We know the Bushies are not like us Jews because they’re willing to appear less knowledgeable than they really are, but can Scooter Libby be like this, too? [emphasis added]

Is that or is that not a damn weird thing to have written?

Yet it was hard not to like the guy — for his intelligence, his loyalty and his meticulous attention to ethical niceties. (At lunch he wouldn’t let me pick up the tab. He’d lay a $20 bill on the table to cover his half.)

Brooks goes around buying lunches for government officials? (I started to write “cheap lunches,” but I guess that shows I’ve lived in New York City too long.)

Yet that doesn’t begin to cover the sadness that this trial arouses, for the proceedings have revealed the arc of what the administration was and could have been.

Cue the violin music.

When you think back to the White House of 2003, the period the trial explores, you will discover a White House consumed by a feverish sense of mission.

Staff members in those days went to work wondering whether this would be the day they would die. There was a sense that any day a bomb might wipe out downtown Washington.

Hold that thought.

Senior officials were greeted each morning by intense intelligence briefings. On June 14, 2003, for example, Libby received a briefing with 27 items and 11 pages of terrorist threats. Someone once told me that going from the president’s daily briefing to the next event on Mr. Bush’s schedule, which might be a photo-op with a sports team, was like leaving “24” and stepping into “Sesame Street.” No wonder administration officials were corporate on the outside but frantic within.

The White House culture was also defined by the staff’s passionate devotion to the president. Bush’s speeches after 9/11 inspired a sense of intense connection, and the emotional bonds were kept perpetually aroused by the onset of war, by the fierce rivalries with the State Department and the C.I.A., and by the administration’s core creed, that everything it does must be transformational.

It was a time, in short, of grand goals but also of discombobulating and repressed emotion. [emphasis added]

But those intense emotions, especially the fear, not to mention a stew of underlying character pathologies, were driving the “grand goals.”

Today, the White House culture is less intense. The staff’s relationship to the president has simmered down, from devotion to mere admiration.

How precious.

Today, the White House staff is less disciplined but more attractive. There is no party line in private conversations. The trick now is to figure out what administration policy really is, because you can now talk to three different people and get three different versions on any topic. There’s more conversation and more modesty. The vice president has less gravitational pull, and there has been a talent upgrade in post after post: Josh Bolten as chief of staff, Henry Paulson at Treasury. If Bob Gates had been the first defense secretary, the world would be a much better place today. [emphasis added]

Then in the next paragraph, Brooks writes,

The administration has also lost its transformational mind-set. After cruel experience, there’s a greater tendency to match ends to means, and to actually think about executing a policy before you embark upon it.

Wow, thinking. Just imagine anyone in the White House actually thinking. But they can’t be thinking real hard, since no one has any idea in hell what Bush’s policies actually are.

There’s much more tolerance for serious freethinkers — the Johns Hopkins scholar Eliot Cohen was just hired at State.

In his book Fiasco, Thomas Ricks identified Eliot Cohen as a supporter of Paul Wolfowitz. (See p. 16.) He was one of the military experts assembled in December for the purpose of telling Bush the Iraq War is still “winnable” and that it was OK to ignore the Iraq Study Group recommendations. So much for serious freethinking. The Bushies are drawing the same tainted water from the same old well.

In short, this administration’s capacities have waxed as its power has waned. And you can’t help but feel that today’s White House would have been much better at handling the first stages of the war on terror. But that’s the perpetual tragedy of life: the owl of Minerva flies at dusk. Wisdom comes from suffering and error, and when the passions die down and observation begins.

I picture Brooks with a three-day beard, crying into a gin bottle in some seedy Washington watering hole. How tragic it is — the Bush White House, after six years of bleeping up the planet, is finally getting its act together, even though no two of them can agree on what the act is. If only they’d done it sooner. Like six years ago. But now that they have embarked on the serious mission of governing — thinking about it, even — it’s too late, and the owl of Minerva has flown off with the mouse of accomplishment in its beak. And Brooks has the sorry task of having to write a column about it. Where be your gibes now? your gambols? your songs? your flashes of merriment, that were wont to set the table on a roar?

Yes, so tragic. Pass the gin.

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