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saturday, april 17, 2004

Hot Links
 
The hot news today is that Colin Powell warned Bush not to invade Iraq, according to Bob Woodward's new book, Plan of Attack.

It has been well known that Mr. Powell was the most skeptical among Mr. Bush's senior advisers about the wisdom of invading Iraq. But the new details described in the book, at a time when the American occupation has met with new perils, add considerably to a portrait of a secretary of state who expressed private reservations about the administration's policy but never issued a public protest about the administration's course. [Douglas Jehl, "Powell Said to Have Warned Bush Before War, a New Book Says," The New York Times, April 17, 2004]

I'm all out of sympathy for Colin Powell. He could have stopped it, you know, or at least slow it down. A year ago Powell still had some political chops. If he had threatened to resign in protest, I believe the Bushies would have held off the invasion. It would have been worth a try, at least. Instead, he dutifully carried water for the Regime and lied to the UN on Bush's behalf.
 
Also, today in the NY Times the cognitively challenged David Brooks admits "I never thought it [Iraq War] would be this bad." But he goes on to say that "in 20 years, no one will doubt that Bush did the right thing. To his enormous credit, the president has been ruthlessly flexible over the past months and absolutely committed to seeing this through."
 
What's with "ruthlessly flexible"? Am I the only one who thinks this makes no sense? (Or the rest of Brooks's column for that matter ... )
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

12:13 pm | link

Don't Say the V Word
 
The Guardian reports that U.S. troops carried out a massacre in Fallujah:
Let's look at just a handful of the 5% of civilian casualties the Americans concede they have inflicted.

These include the mother of six-year-old Haider Abdel-Wahab, shot and killed while hanging out laundry; his father, shot in the head; Haider himself, and his brothers, crushed but dug out alive after a US missile struck their house. They include children who died of head wounds. They include an old woman with a bullet wound - still clutching a white flag when aid workers found her. They include an elderly man lying face down at the gate to his house - while inside terrified girls screamed "Baba! Baba!" They include ambulance crews fired on by US troops - and four-year-old Ali Nasser Fadil, wounded during an air strike. The New York Times reporter who found the infant in a Baghdad hospital described him lying in bed, "his eyes wide and fixed on a spot in the ceiling". His left leg had been crudely amputated. The same reporter found 10-year-old Waed Joda by the bedside of his gravely wounded father. "American snipers shot at us as we were trying to flee Falluja," said Waed.  [Ronan Bennett, "Who Will Speak Out?" The Guardian, April 17, 2004]

The Bush Ministry of Truth demands that we not equate Iraq with Vietnam, because it "sends the wrong message." What message does the war itself send?

VietnamKimPhuc.jpg

I fervently hope that the reports of a Fallujah massacre are not true, but if it is true, it's important to understand why. First, war is unspeakable brutality, and those who start wars must understand this. Second, it's a fact of nature that soldiers -- young men mostly -- under the terrible stress of mortal danger, 24/7 -- not knowing who the enemy is, not knowing when death will come -- will react. Ultimately, the fault lies not with the soldiers but with those who sent them.

You can't let slip the dogs of war and expect them to heel.

7:46 am | link

friday, april 16, 2004

Caught on Camera
 
An NBC News bulletin showed videotape of Pfc. Keith M. Maupin, 20, now being held captive in Iraq. Pfc. Maupin's family in Batavia, Ohio, has been notified.
 
Pfc. Maupin's family must be in unbearable anguish, knowing his life hangs on the whims of his captors.
 
Bob Herbert writes in today's New York Times about Sgt. Tyler Hall, 23, and his mother, Kim Hall. When the DoD called Ms. Hall to tell her that her son was injured, they said his death was "imminent." It took Ms. Hall several days to get to Germany, where her son was hospitalized. And then she sat by her unconscious son. His hands were burned and disfigured, the lower part of his face mangled, his back broken in three places, a leg had to be amputated. Her baby.

Sgt. Hall will live, and we all hope he lives a meaningful life, but it won't be the same life. Ms. Hall must have thought about the way her own future has changed, how she will be caring for this son for the rest of her life. And in the depths of her heart, I suspect she grieved for the grandchildren she will probably never have.

I think about these things because right-leaning blogger James Lileks wonders why there aren't any good movies about Iraq yet. "There’s been enough time," he writes. "'Wake Island' came out in 1942. 'Bataan' came out in 1943. 'Casablanca' came out in 1942, for heaven’s sake."

Yes, let's keep Bush's War in perspective.

Hollywood hasn't designated me to speak for the film industry, but seems to me an Iraq War film would be an iffy investment. For example, a film about the triumph of taking of Baghdad last year would look damn foolish now.

Remember the Flight Suit?

And we're still arguing about what the underlying theme of our war will be. The warhawks want a glorious little war, World War II in miniature, good for back-slapping and chest-thumping. Others of us see shadows of the national nightmare that was Vietnam. But in the end it'll be up to those with intimate experience of this war, like Pfc. Maupin and Kim Hall, who will write the plot. It's too soon to know what that plot will be. 

Different wars inspire different films. I believe the only World War I films I've seen are "Sargeant York" (1941), "Paths of Glory" (1957), and "All Quiet on the Western Front" (1930). The latter two films are unabashedly anti-war. "Sargeant York," is more sentimental, but does touch on the moral compromises demanded by war (who can forget Gary Cooper on the mountain with his dog and his Bible?). I've never seen "Gallipoli," but I understand it is a fine film that doesn't over-glorify its topic. World War I had a definite "War Is Hell" theme.

World War II, on the other hand, was so glorified in film that I'm sorry I missed it. From "Victory at Sea" to "From Here to Eternity" to "The Longest Day," the theme of World War II was "Our Finest Hour." World War II was an unusually unambiguous war, and consensus settled on a plot while it was still in progress -- brave defenders of democracy battling the fascist forces of evil. As the war waged, Hollywood did its part by churning out films to inspire the nation onward to victory.

But then there was Vietnam. In 1968 John Wayne tried to make a World War II-type movie about Vietnam, "The Green Berets," which had its fans but which was hooted out of theaters. We Boomers were raised on World War II nostalgia, but we knew our war was not our parent's war. The most successful Vietnam films are about stupidity and brutality -- "Apocalypse Now," "Full Metal Jacket," "Platoon," "Good Morning Vietnam."

What Mr. Lileks really wants is a film about 9/11. 

It’s the most dramatic day of modern times. The story lines are clear; it writes itself. You don’t have to make up heroic characters; every minute has a dozen. No Hollywood falsities need intrude – no star-crossed lovers, no cheerful archetypes, no swelling music (take a cue from “A Night to Remember,” which didn’t introduce an orchestral score until halfway through, to great effect.) Just tell the story as it happened that day, and people would cram the theaters by the millions. Just like they went to see “The Passion.” And with the same emotions, I’d bet: from the opening moments the audience would have the same sick clot in their stomachs, the same old throb of dread we all felt during “Schindler’s List” and “Saving Private Ryan.” This wasn’t pleasant, but it was important to see it, and know.

Sorry,  but no. I was there. I saw the WTC towers collapse. No film can capture that experience, the realization that thousands of lives were just snuffed out before one's eyes. Viewing "Saving Private Ryan" was hardly the real experience of landing on Normany Beach under fire. "Schindler's List" couldn't recapture the experience of being herded into a gas chamber to one's death. And don't get me started on "The Passion."

Of course, I'm sure a Peter Jackson or Steven Spielberg could make a 9/11 film to make you laugh and weep and thrill at the special effects. And if Lileks is really lucky, maybe there'll be a 9/11 thrill ride at the Universal Studios Florida theme park. Even better, Lileks could go to Iraq and get himself kidnapped -- now, that would be thrilling.  

5:41 pm | link

Hot Links 7:59 am | link

thursday, april 15, 2004

Band-Aids
The White House is weighing whether to pre-empt the Sept. 11 commission's final report this summer by embracing a proposal to create a powerful new post of director of national intelligence, administration officials said on Thursday.

Under the proposal, management of the government's 15 intelligence agencies, and control of their budgets, would be put under the direction of a single person. That authority is now scattered across a number of departments and agencies.

The plan, drafted more than a year ago by a presidential advisory panel headed by Brent Scowcroft, the former national security adviser, was given little White House attention until now. It is being reviewed, the officials said, as a possible answer to the Sept. 11 commission's preliminary conclusion that the current organization of the government's intelligence agencies has left no one truly in charge on intelligence matters. [Douglas Jehl, "Administration Considers a Post for Intelligence," The New York Times, April 16, 2004]

IMO you don't fix a flaw in bureaucratic structure by adding another layer of bureaucracy, but let's go on ... here's a sentence that lept out at me from the April 13 staff statement of the September 11 Commission:

"Rice and Hadley told us that, before 9/11, they did not feel they had the job of handling domestic security."

Yeah, that's Condi Rice and Stephen Hadley, her deputy. Condi Rice, the National Security Adviser. The National Security Adviser who did not "feel" she had the job of handling domestic security. Instead, upon assuming her position in January 2001, she delegated issues of domestic security to Richard Clarke and his Counterterrorism and Security Group (CSG). But she reduced Clarke's staff and made sure he didn't get to meet with principals, because that was her job.

You see the problem? Condi wasn't interested in domestic security, and because she was playing Queen Bee power games with her staff, she saw to it that those in charge of domestic security had to work in the basement, so to speak, without access to the real decision makers.

I don't care how many layers of bureaucracy you add; as long as flaming incompetents such as Condi are in charge, then nobody's in charge. And you know that as long as Bush is in the Oval Office, the bureaucrat chosen to be "in charge" will be another of Bush's political cronies who can't find his ass unless there's money stuffed in it.

And speaking of President Slacker, the princeling who never had to break a sweat in his life and who doesn't understand that spending 40 percent of his time on vacation is not normal -- Sidney Blumenthal wrote in Salon,

Bush, in fact, does not read his PDBs, but has them orally summarized every morning by CIA director George Tenet. President Clinton, by contrast, read them closely and alone, preventing any aides from interpreting what he wanted to know firsthand. He extensively marked up his PDBs, demanding action on this or that, which is almost certainly the reason the Bush administration withheld his memoranda from the 9/11 commission.

"I know he doesn't read," one former Bush National Security Council staffer told me. Several other former NSC staffers corroborated his habit. It seems highly unlikely that he read the National Intelligence Estimate on WMD before the Iraq war that consigned contrary evidence and caveats that undermined the case to footnotes and fine print. There is no record that he raised any questions about the abuse of intelligence. Nor is there any evidence that he read the State Department's 17-volume report "The Future of Iraq," warning of nearly all the postwar pitfalls, that was shelved by the neocons in the Pentagon and Vice President Cheney's office. "He probably didn't even know of 'The Future of Iraq,'" said a former NSC staffer.

I don't care how many bureaucrats you hire. If they're serving at the pleasure of this waste of human protoplasm of a President, nobody's going to be in charge. And wasn't the "Office of Homeland Security" supposed to fix the problem of miscommunication between the intelligence agencies? Whatever happened to that?

11:09 pm | link

Hot Links, Tax Day Edition
 
Bob Novak has pulled on his miniskirt and boots and has resumed walking the streets:

When George W. Bush faced the nation in a rare prime time news conference, he was responding to a crisis of confidence among his Republican supporters. His recent difficulties in dealing with adversity had planted serious doubts among party leaders. The president's performance Tuesday night eased their anxiety about an imminent loss of support by his base ...

One wonders what they found reassuring. That Shrub didn't pick his nose? That his pants stayed up?
 
But Novak concedes that Republican leaders are worried:

Congressional Republicans I reached, while unwilling to be quoted by name, were harshly critical that the president and his aides had failed to evoke the impression of strong leadership. They could not believe that Bush stuck to his plans to be at his Texas ranch as violence spiked and death tolls mounted in Iraq. They grumbled that there was no effective White House response to rising criticism and that beleaguered Bush spokesman Scott McClellan was a disaster. They cited Bush adviser Karen Hughes, hawking her book on ''Meet the Press'' two Sundays ago, as the only effective voice for the president.

The time was past due for Bush to go to the nation. For a president who only twice previously in more than three years had held a prime time televised news conference, Tuesday's venue seemed odd. Dropping in the polls while Iraqi insurgents launched a shooting war, Bush chose to face predictably harsh questions from an unsympathetic press corps. Congressional Republicans asked why he did not go public with a full-length prepared speech. It was too late for that, it was decided at the White House. Now, Bush had to face news media questioning that he detests.

For a comparison, click here and browse through transcripts of President Kennedy's press conferences. Then reflect on Shrub's pathetic effort that the GOP found reassuring, and weep.

Eric Rauchway is sitting in for Eric Alterman at Altercation:

My heart sank when the President said, "I'm sure something will pop into my head here in the midst of this press conference, with all the pressure of trying to come up with [an] answer, but it hadn't yet."  Has ever a President uttered more demoralizing words in the course of seeking to reassure Americans and the world?  ("I am not a crook," maybe.)  ... the President cannot even come up with an answer to a question he said, mere seconds before, he has "oftentimes [thought] about" over the last couple of years:  "You've looked back before 9-11 for what mistakes might have been made.  After 9-11, what would your biggest mistake be, would you say, and what lessons have learned from it?"  The President replied, "I wish you'd have given me this written question ahead of time so I could plan for it."  And then he then explained about the pressure of press conferences.

Honestly, I was truly astonished to feel so saddened at that moment.  I hadn't supposed any appreciable confidence in the President's ability remained in me.  But it turns out I am enough of a Pollyanna to have held out some secret hope, at least till then.  There are more worldly people out there; apparently a Sky News reporter drily remarked of the President's answer to this question, "By his standards this was a relatively assured performance."

David Broder softened his recent tone on Bush a bit by praising his "genuine idealism," but then goes on to explain why, in the end, Bush's Iraq "plan" will fail. See also Joe Hagen's excellent commentary on the "press conference" in The New York Observer and "Bush Blows the Press Conference Show" by Richard Goldstein in The Village Voice ("His remarks made Casey Stengel sound like Lincoln.").

Bush rips up the road map.  I rarely comment on Israeli-Palestinian issues because, frankly, I think both sides are wrong and suspect the only solution would be to convert the lot of them to Buddhism. But I understand that's not practical.

However, I suspect Bush's announcement yesterday during a joint press conference with Ariel Sharon may prove to be, um, bad.

President George Bush swept aside decades of diplomatic tradition in the Middle East yesterday, saying it was "unrealistic" to expect a full Israeli withdrawal from lands occupied during the 1967 war or the right of return for Palestinian refugees.

In a significant policy shift, Mr Bush relaxed Washington's objections to Jewish settlements in the West Bank, and attempts by Israel to dictate the terms of a final settlement with the Palestinians. ...

Israeli embassy officials said the US had backed a plan requiring Israel to withdrawal from only four token settlements in the north-west sector of the West Bank with a total of 500 settlers.

They said diplomats had prepared four versions of withdrawal proposals, only for Washington to accept the initial one, which was least generous to the Palestinians.

The agreement is bound to ignite anger in the Arab world, especially Mr Bush's rejection of a Palestinian right of return, which will have a direct impact on countries such as Jordan, Syria and Lebanon which have substantial populations of refugees. For many, the right of refugees, and the descendants of refugees from the 1948 war, to return to what is now Israel is a sacred tenet. [Suzanne Goldenberg, "Bush Rips Up the Road Map," The Guardian, April 15, 2004]

I'm sure they're rejoicing over at Little Green Footballs, a site dedicated to the pleasures of roasting Palestinian children on spits. But considering the impact this decision will have on an already dicey Middle East -- what the hell was in Shrub's head?

My guess is that Bush and his handlers decided to support Sharon as a pander to Bush's base, both the religious nutters who want to pave the way for the Second Coming of Christ and the anti-Muslim bigots who want to roast Palestinian children on spits. And of course, as Dana Milbank and Mike Allen write in the Washington Post, Bush's "Move Could Help Bush Among Jewish Voters."

For more and better commentary on this issue, see Josh Marshall and Billmon.

And speaking of rips, Fred Kaplan rips Bush a new one in Slate:

National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice has made a big point of the fact that Tenet briefed the president nearly every day. Yet at the peak moment of threat, the two didn't talk at all. At a time when action was needed, and orders for action had to come from the top, the man at the top was resting undisturbed....

Someone might have added 2 + 2 + 2 and possibly busted up the conspiracy. But the president was down on the ranch, taking it easy. Tenet wasn't with him. Tenet never talked with him. Rice—as she has testified—wasn't with Bush, either. He was on his own and, willfully, out of touch.

Lots of juicy stuff in this article; please read it all the way through. Then read Robert Scheer:

Why won't they just admit they blew it? It is long past time for the president and his national security team to concede that before the Sept. 11 attacks, they failed to grasp the seriousness of the al-Qaida threat, were negligent in how they handled the terrorist group's key benefactors, and did not take the simple steps that might well have prevented the tragedy. While they are at it, they might also explain why, for more than two years, they have been trying so hard to convince us that none of the above is true.

Most recently, we learned that President Bush decided to stay on vacation for three more weeks despite receiving a briefing that told him about "patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks" by Osama bin Laden's thugs, who were described as determined and capable enough to pull off devastating attacks on U.S. soil. We also now know that the Bush administration coddled fundamentalist Saudi Arabia and nuclear-weapons-dealing Pakistan, the only nations that recognized the Taliban, both before and after the Sept. 11 murders.

But what is perhaps even more astonishing is that, because the Bush administration's attention was focused on the "war on drugs," it praised Afghanistan's Taliban regime even though it was harboring bin Laden and his terror camps. The Taliban refused to extradite the avowed terrorist even after he admitted responsibility for a series of deadly assaults against American diplomatic and military sites in Africa and the Middle East.

But Bush did not act, possibly because he was so weary of swatting flies ... see also Joe Conason, "Bush Must Explain Why Washington Slept" in The New York Observer.

Marie Cocco: Tough Talk

Richard Cohen: America's Ayatollah

Molly Ivins: Oh, the Memo They'll Write

Joan Vennochi: Bush's Deepening Dilemma

Katrina vanden Heuvel: President on Probation

Sidney Blumenthal: Bush Faces a Revolt from the Military

7:07 am | link

wednesday, april 14, 2004

No Cure
The event felt more like an intervention, with a psychoanalytic press corps trying to goad the president into admitting that he had made a mistake, if not in the run up to 9/11, then in his administration’s cheerful prediction that coalition forces would be met with cheers or that there’d be weapons of mass destruction turned into ploughshares when the U.S. pulled into Baghdad. They tried to make the press conference a presidential 12-step program. But Bush wasn’t going to go down that road. Sure, he said he’s thought about what he might have done differently. But when my colleague John Dickerson asked the president if he could think of any mistake he’d made since September 11, a tongue-tied Bush couldn’t think of one. “Maybe I’m not as quick as I should be,” he said. [Matthew Cooper, "Sizing Up Bush Press Conference," Time (web), April 14, 2004]

It was a bit like watching adults questioning a child, wasn't it? "Jeffrey, did you eat the last cookie?" "Now, Jeffrey, are you sure you didn't eat that last cookie?" "Jeffrey, the cookie is gone and there are crumbs on your face. What do you have to say?"

The question is, when someone states something that clearly is contrary to fact, how do you know if that person is psychologically compromised or just stupid? This fellow, for example, may just be stupid:

President Bush was too smart to fall into the trap of apologizing or admitting to mistakes. He struck the right tone and gave important information to the American public. Too bad reporters did not rise up to his standard. [Jeff Crouere, "Bush Press Conference Passes Test, Reporters Fail," Louisiana Bayou Buzz, April 14, 2004]

Information? Like this:

QUESTION: Mr. President, who will we be handing the Iraqi government over to on June 30th?

BUSH: We'll find that out soon.

Bush's deadline is two and a half months away, and we still don't know who will be taking charge of the Iraqi government? If we don't know, doesn't this mean we don't have a plan? And if we don't have a plan, how do we know a plan can be carried out on June 30?

This is Bush's pattern, btw. His idea of "governance" is to state a lofty goal and expect the little people (i.e., those who are not Bush) to make it happen. He doesn't know how to actually do anything.

But back to the crazy vs. stupid question. It's difficult for us laypeople to tell the difference. And sometimes the answer is, neither. For example, let's look at Fred Barnes of the Weekly Standard:

WATCHING PRESIDENT BUSH'S PRESS CONFERENCE Tuesday night, you could see why he drives the press crazy. No matter what they asked, his answer was invariably the same: We're staying the course in Iraq. It's important to gaining freedom for Iraqis and winning the war on terror.

Not only that, he began the session with reporters by gobbling up 17 minutes of time they consider theirs. He devoted it to an opening statement--it was actually a speech--in which he said basically one thing: We're not flinching in Iraq. He was heroically on message, relentlessly repetitive, but effective in his own way.

This is what's called "putting lipstick on a pig." Deep down inside, Barnes may know that's what he's doing. If he doesn't, however, then he's just nuts. Or stupid. Or both.

12:48 pm | link

One More
 
You've got to read William Saletan's reaction to the "press conference" all the way through. It's dead on.
 
And then after you've read Saletan, go to this page describing Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

9:19 am | link

Comments
The question that really appeared to stump Mr Bush, however, was: "After 9/11, what would your biggest mistake be, would you say, and what lessons have you learned from it?"

Whatever was flashing through the visibly disconcerted president's mind, he could not come up with a direct answer.

After an agonising wait, Mr Bush appeared to admit defeat, saying: "You know, I just - I'm sure something will pop into my head here in the midst of this press conference, with all the pressure of trying to come up with an answer, but it hadn't yet." [George Wright, "Media Turn Heat on Bush Over 9/11," The Guardian, April 14, 2005]

Four times during his prime-time press conference Tuesday, George W. Bush was asked whether he has made any mistakes in his presidency, whether there was anything -- his decision to invade Iraq on what turned out to be false pretenses, his failure to take decisive action in response to a memo that warned of terrorist attacks in the United States -- for which he might apologize.

Three times, Bush gave rambling responses that addressed everything but the questions presented. The fourth time, the president took a deep breath, blew it out, looked at the ground, looked at the ceiling, stalled for time, then said: "You know, I just -- I'm sure something will pop into my head here in the midst of this press conference, with all the pressure of trying to come up with an answer, but it hadn't yet."

It apparently never did. While Bush has found time to visit his ranch in Crawford 33 times in the last three and a half years, he has given only 12 solo press conferences. Tuesday night, it was easy to see why. The president -- who won't testify before the 9/11 commission unless he can do it in private and only if his vice president can come with him -- presided over a press conference that left him looking like a high school kid surprised by a pop quiz on a book he didn't read.

Bush had words to say -- "tough week," "historic opportunity," "free Iraq" -- and he said them so often that he began to sound like one of those tape-loop parody songs that make the rounds on the Web. What he didn't have was answers. [Tim Grieve, "Not Ready for Prime Time," Salon, April 14, 2004]

Did you notice how after the president refused to answer Mike Allen's question about why he and vice-president insist on appearing together before the 9/11 Commission he waived off a bunch of other questions saying "I've got some must-calls. I'm sorry."

He then called on Bill Sammon (of the Washington Times and Fox News) who rewarded the president by helping him regain his balance with this laughable strawman question: "You have been accused of letting the 9-11 threat mature too far, but not letting the Iraq threat mature far enough. First, could you respond to that general criticism?"

Clearly a must-call. [Josh Marshall, Talking Points Memo, April 14, 2004]

But his responses to questions were distressingly rambling and unfocused. He promised that Iraq would move from the violence and disarray of today to full democracy by the end of 2005, but the description of how to get there was mainly a list of dates when good things are supposed to happen.

There was still no clear description of exactly who will accept the sovereignty of Iraq from the coalition on June 30. "We'll find out that soon," the president said, adding that U.N. officials are "figuring out the nature of the entity we'll be handing sovereignty over" to. In Mr. Bush's mind, whatever happens next now appears to be the responsibility of the United Nations. That must have come as a surprise to the U.N. negotiators and their bosses, who have not agreed to accept that responsibility and do not believe that they have been given the authority to make those decisions. ["Mr. Bush's Press Conference," The New York Times, April 14, 2004]

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (Del.), ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was outspoken in expressing his disappointment at Bush's performance. He said the president had offered "platitudes every American agrees with, yet there wasn't one hint that I could detect of a plan of how to accomplish the goal."

In a telephone interview, Biden continued, "This is a guy who doesn't pass the buck, right? Yet he waits for the general to tell him whether he needs more troops. He's waiting for Brahimi to tell him who to turn over power to. He's waiting for the U.N. to tell him whether he needs a new resolution. He's got to lead." [Dan Balz, "President Is Long on Resolve but Short on Details," The Washington Post, April 14, 2004]

But there is a jarring disconnect between the world as George W. Bush sees it and the world as it is. It seems increasingly unlikely that Mr. Bush will be able to will a democratic government to life in Iraq. And instead of making Americans more secure from terror, the war in Iraq has stirred up anti-American feeling around the world and left an American army vulnerable to the guerrilla attacks of terrorists and nationalists. ... it seemed as though Mr. Bush was simply stating and restating the same tenuous argument over and over again. The president almost seemed out of touch when he continued to hold out the possibility that weapons of mass destruction might still be found in Iraq.

After repeatedly declining entreaties that he apologize for not moving more strongly against al-Qaida before Sept. 11, 2001, Mr. Bush was unable to think of a mistake he had made as president. The sound of dozens of camera shutters was audible as the president searched his memory for a single mistake. He brought this uncomfortable interlude to an end by saying, "I don't want to say I haven't made a mistake." ["George W. Bush: Wishful Thinking," The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 14, 2004]

Bush has sought to change the question from his competence to his intent. "Had I had any inkling whatsoever that the people were going to fly airplanes into buildings," he said at his press conference last night, "we would have moved heaven and earth to save the country." But of course no serious person is saying Bush deliberately ignored the threat. It's as if former Boston Red Sox manager Grady Little responded to questions about his baffling failure to relieve Pedro Martinez in Game 7 against the Yankees by insisting that of course he wanted to win the game. [Jonathan Chait, "Tragicomedy," The New Republic (web only), April 14, 2004]

Long on goals and short on means, his performance left even some supporters wondering whether he had found a formula to reassure the growing number of Americans expressing doubt in polls about his course.

"I was depressed," said conservative strategist William Kristol, one of the war's most vocal proponents. "I am obviously a supporter of the war, so I don't need to be convinced. But among people who were doubtful or worried, I don't think he made arguments that would convince them. He didn't explain how we are going to win there." [Ronald Brownstein, "Looking Past Means, Focusing on Ends in Iraq," The Los Angeles Times, April 14, 2004]

Unfortunately, much of the president's prime-time rhetoric was the same historic indictment of Saddam Hussein's ills that Bush offered before going to war. Too many questions have been raised since for pat responses.

If Bush wants the mantle of "war president" he adopted in a televised interview earlier this year, he needs to be more forthcoming with the American people about how he plans to win the war, not just say that it will be won. Missing, too, was an explanation of how Iraq will be ready to take its own reins on June 30. ["Bush Answers," The Detroit Free Press," April 14, 2004

 So the Emperor went in procession under the rich canopy, and every one in the streets said, “How incomparable are the Emperor’s new clothes! what a train he has to his mantle! how it fits him!” No one would let it be perceived that he could see nothing, for that would have shown that he was not fit for his office, or was very stupid. No clothes of the Emperor’s had ever had such a success as these.  

“But he has nothing on!” a little child cried out at last. “Just hear what that innocent says!” said the father: and one whispered to another what the child had said. “But he has nothing on!” said the whole people at length.

That touched the Emperor, for it seemed to him that they were right; but the thought within himself, “I must go through with the procession.” And so he held himself a little higher, and the chamberlains held on tighter than ever, and carried the train which did not exist at all. [Hans Christian Andersen, "The Emperor's New Clothes"]

Bush's Plea of Ignorance

Bush's Secret Tax on Democrats

Bush's Lies About Kerry's Record

Bush's Tax Cuts Pay Off--for Bush

Bush's Press Conference, Condensed

Bush's (Backward) New World Order

Bush's Apologist Sean Hannity Is an Idiot

7:05 am | link

tuesday, april 13, 2004

Our National Embarassment
 
So the "President" stumbled through a news conference, and once again I am stunned at how clueless he is. Two quick reactions -- the boy clearly is unable to admit to a mistake, indicative of a personality disorder. Second, he and Condi and probably others have been saying lately that "we can no longer expect the oceans to protect us." How weird is that? The oceans haven't "protected" us since the 19th century.
 
And what's with the mustard gas on a turkee farm?

9:41 pm | link

One more
 
Thank you Doran for this link to a first-person account of Tom Delay's comeuppance by some uppity women. Whoo-hoo!

11:00 am | link

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Attorney General "Crisco John" Ashcroft is about to be grilled by the 9/11 commission. Ashcroft has been saying he had no idea there had been warnings of terrorism within the U.S. before 9/11. Yet CBS news reported on July 26, 2001, that Ashcroft was flying exclusively on leased aircraft within the U.S. because of an FBI "threat assessment." Hello?
 
Analogies. I understand that Christopher Hitchens used to have a functional brain. Maybe, but he sure as hell doesn't now.
 
Hitch writes in Slate why Iraq is not Vietnam --

Here is the reason that it is idle to make half-baked comparisons to Vietnam. The Vietnamese were not our enemy, let alone the enemy of the whole civilized world, whereas the forces of jihad are our enemy and the enemy of civilization. ... In any case, there never was any question of allowing a nation of this importance to become the property of Clockwork Orange holy warriors.

Let's think about this, Mr. Hitchens. If, as you say, the Vietnamese were not our enemy, then why were we fighting them? Because, sir, we saw the forces of Communism as our enemy and the enemy of civilization, and we were there to stop it from spreading to the rest of Asia and then the world. The idea was that we were not fighting the Vietnamese, but Communism. So in that regard the analogy is pretty damn accurate.

Now, as to your second sentence, about not allowing a nation of this importance to fall to the jihadists -- the difference between Iraq and Vietnam is that much of Vietnam already was under the control of Communists, whereas Iraq, although hospitable to some anti-Israeli militants, was not at all a hotbed of anti-American jihadists until we made it so. Indeed, if our actual goal was to prevent Iraq from becoming the property of Clockwork Orange holy warriors, then our smartest move would have been to leave the secularist dictator Saddam Hussein in place, but on a short leash.

And it could have been done, you know. Before the invasion Iraq was under heavy survelliance by the UN inspectors. As long as that was true, Saddam couldn't have gotten away with much in the way of oppressing his own people or creating WMDs. But nooooo, Bunnypants had to invade ...

In the 1960s we saw all communists as being part of one big international conspiracy to take over the world and treated all communists as equals. Looking back, we realized that not all communist governments were hellbent on the destruction of democracy. Indeed, many knowledgable people believe Ho Chi Minh could have been a friend of the West had we not made him our enemy.

And now we are treating all Islamic militants as being part of one big international conspiracy to take over the world, without making distinctions between those who were not (until the invasion of Iraq) interested in fomenting terrorism against the U.S. and those who were.

Before the invasion, not all Islamic militants were enemies of the U.S. But they sure as hell are now.

The analogy between Vietnam and Iraq is not perfect, but it's damn close. Both were/are wars that not only could have been avoided, our engagement in those wars/is actually counterproductive to our national interests. And you've got to be a flaming idiot not to see that.
 
For a more intelligent analysis of the ways Iraq is and is not like Vietnam, please read Richard Cohen's article in today's Washington Post, "Blind in Baghdad."  Also in today's WaPo, John Kerry writes "A Strategy for Iraq." (I haven't read it yet; will do so later.)
 
In other news -- I was struck by a headline in the New York Times, "Bush Sees Need for Reorganizing U.S. Intelligence." Excuse me, but -- how long have people been saying this? And wasn't that supposed to be part of the raison d'etre of the Office of Homeland Security, now nearly two years old?
 
No More Mister Nice Blog has been sharp as a tack for the past several days. Be sure to visit.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Jonathan Alter: Some Humility, Please

Marie Cocco: Bush Was Out of the Loop

Who Helped the Saudis Evacuate After 9/11?

8:10 am | link

monday, april 12, 2004

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Note: I've been meaning to do a round-up of the many ways the Right Blogosphere is deluding itself on Bush's failure to act on terrorism before 9/11, but Glenn Reynolds does it for me. Click here or here. And for some sheer pathology in the print media, click here.
 
Also today, newspapers throughout America are headlining Bush's excuse that the August 6 memo wasn't specific. No, it wasn't, but it sure as hell was alarming. And who's job was it to follow up, to demand that it become more specific? Hmmmmm?
 
See also "Bush Upheld al Qaeda Warnings from Ashcroft, FBI," in Capital Hill Blue.
Attorney General John Ashcroft never saw the August 6, 2001 Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB) warning of an Al Qaeda attack inside the United States because President George W. Bush, with his penchant for secrecy, restricted the distribution of the PDB to just seven national security officials.

Ashcroft didn't make the cut.

On July 12, Ashcroft was been briefed by temporary FBI director Tom Pickard about the rising number of Al Qaeda threats abroad. But when Ashcroft inquired, "Do you have any information indicating a threat to the continental United States?" Pickard responded no.

Yet Bush apologists insist there was absolutely nothing the President could have done to try to prevent 9/11. Unbelievable.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

7:55 am | link

Where's Bob?
 
An observation of something that may or may not be important -- Bob Novak's column has been remarkably subdued for the past several days. Granted, I haven't caught his act on TV for awhile. But it seems odd to me that in his column he hasn't focused on the 9/11 commission or the Iraq insurgency or anything else that has dominated headlines. The April 8 column on low troops levels in Iraq is worth reading and damning of Rummy and Shrub. Since then Novak has written about Arlen Spector and the mishandling of military mail. No Condi, no 9/11 commission, no popular uprising stories.
 
A rat preparing to abandon the sinking ship, perhaps? Or is he just at a loss?

I've long believed that Novak, unlike most of his colleagues, does understand that what we loosely call the "Bush Administration" or the "White House" is just a facade for a seditious gang of criminals. Not only does he know it; he's one of them, although not part of their inner circle. But his columns of late have avoided addressing the White House and its shenanigans directly. Could it be that the White House is in such a mess that even the mighty Novak can't spin it? (Although, of course, I'm sure he shills as loudly as usual on TV...)

7:32 am | link

sunday, april 11, 2004

Does Broder Get It?

This is a section of the transcript from this morning's "Meet the Press." Note in particular what David Broder says. Is it possible a light has dawned? 

MR. RUSSERT:  And we are back.

Welcome all.  Whether or not the 9-11 Commission hearings, the release of the presidential daily briefing, the situation if Iraq is going to play a role in the presidential campaign seems to be some indication that in the latest Newsweek polls, let's all take a look at them, John Kerry now has jumped into a lead, 50 to 43 over President Bush.  Satisfied with the way things are going in the U.S.?  Yes, satisfied, 36; no, dissatisfied, 59.  Bush's handling of the economy, approve, is at 41, disapprove is 55.  Handling of the war in Iraq, approve 44, disapprove 51.  And Bush's handling of terrorism and homeland security, still strong number for the president, 59 to 35.

David Broder, what can we learn from this sampling of American public opinion?

MR. DAVID BRODER:  Well, it's been a terrible week or 10 days for this country and therefore for the administration.  But I think compounding it has been the fact that of all moments, the president chose this moment to disappear.  At a time when the country really needs to hear from a president, from its president, and the world needs to hear from the president, he's gone silent on us, and it's inexplicable to me.

MR. RUSSERT:  Ron Brownstein?

MR. RON BROWNSTEIN:  Well, especially given how much they are trying to emphasize his identity as a decisive wartime leader as the core of the argument for re-election.  What those numbers tell you, Tim, is that this election is primary a referendum on President Bush and his performance.  The country seems to be judging him on three different variables.  The economy, he has some good news, but his ratings on that are poor and may take some time to improve.  Terrorism, he's under increased pressure and will be as the commission report continues, obviously, with the release of the daily briefing.  But because we haven't been attacked since September 11th, his ratings on that have been strong and are likely to stay strong.  And Iraq is sort of a wild card or a tipping point.  The country's view of how Iraq is going and how the president is handling it is much more volatile than either of those other issues, the economy or terrorism.  Very sensitive to contemporary events.  It has plummeted over the last few weeks.  It's brought down his approval rating with it, and when that happens, John Kerry moves into the lead.

MR. RUSSERT:  I sense if there's anxiety about Iraq and anxiety about jobs and the economy, then an incumbent president has to worry?

MS. LISA MYERS:  Oh, absolutely.   I mean, especially one of the things the pollsters watch most closely are right track, wrong track, whether the country's at--in the right or wrong direction.  And clearly this is a profound switch to find so many people who find what's going on in this country heading in the wrong direction, and that tends to be a referendum on the incumbent. But I talked to a lot of senior Republicans with a lot of political experience in the last 48 hours, and they're concerned primarily about a couple of things.  They think the images coming out of Crawford are just terrible.  It doesn't look like the president is in charge it.  It doesn't look like he's concerned.  They're particularly concerned that he doesn't seem to be showing more empathy for the families and for the troops in Iraq.  And no one's suggested that the president doesn't care, but it's not being conveyed to the American people.  I did notice the White House has added a visit to the wounded...

MR. RUSSERT:  This morning.

MS. MYERS:  ...to the president's schedule, and I think they're hearing a lot from Republicans around the country, "Hey, this has got to stop.  You've got to get your act together and you've got to convey that you are in charge." ...

[Discussion of the August 6 memo; Russert asks Broder's opinion.]

MR. BRODER:  Tim, what strikes me about this is that the two White House officials who briefed reporters yesterday when this was released were asked: What did the president do when he got this memo?  And they said, "Well, we can't discuss the president's response."  That's stunning to me because it fits into what I'm afraid has been a pattern of passivity on the part of President Bush in dealing with this whole question of terrorism, a pattern that continues even today when we don't know where the president is in his thinking about what's happening now in Iraq, what's happening with the 9-11 Commission.  The country needs a president at moments like this.

MR. RUSSERT:  Condi Rice said that President Bush had us at our battle stations during this period, Ron Brownstein.

MR. BROWNSTEIN:  And that's why--the point David made is just going to be so important.  I mean, from this brief, you're probably going to see two lines of argument spin out over the course of this week.  One is the question of whether Condi Rice was accurate in the way that she described it and was candid in the way she described it to the commission.  She's already in a tangle with them over whether she received a report, a plan from Dick Clarke on how to combat al-Qaeda.  She says it wasn't a plan, it was a set of ideas. You know, kind of a fine distinction.

The second and perhaps larger issue is what did the president do in response, the point that David made.  We do not know.  Richard Ben-Veniste asked her last week at the hearings, Condi Rice, whether the president asked to meet with the director of the FBI as a result of this report and she said she didn't know, she would get back to him.  But I think there's going to be a lot of focus--the president was on vacation.  He stayed on vacation.  That doesn't mean he couldn't have been working on it, but I think people are going to want to know did this ring any alarm bells with him, and if it did, did he take any action?

[Discussion of Iraq]

MR. RUSSERT:  But the president has to convince the American people Iraq is a centerpiece in the war on terror, because they support him on the war on terror.  If they think it's a foolish, "side venture," then he does...

MR. BROWNSTEIN:  Not only a side venture, but more people are making the argument that it's actually counterproductive.  I mean, there's an argument out there saying, A, that he's diverted resources, the Dick Clarke argument, or, B, that he is allowing al-Qaeda to recruit, is becoming a recruitment tool for them to recruit Islamic extremists.  So that is a threat to him, no doubt.

MR. BRODER:  And the calendar works against the president at this point on Iraq because he is insisting on that June 30 hand over-date.  And when you asked Ambassador Bremer, "To whom are you going to hand power," his response was, "That's a good question, Tim."  That is not a good answer.  And when we do not know--and not only don't we in the press know, not only does Tim Russert not know, but we've had the leading members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Lugar and Senator Biden, say, "Nobody in the administration is talking to them about what we think will happen or what we want to happen in Iraq after June 30th." ...

It's worth reading the entire "roundtable" section, but these snips interested me in particular. Until recently Broder was steadfastly giving Bush many benefits of many doubts, like the rest of the media whores. But today and in some of his recent columns he appears to have realized that Bush really is an empty suit. For example, this is from his April 1 column:

When the effort to shoot the messenger failed to halt the political erosion, Bush did what he never should have done: He threw Rice to the commission. And, worse, he failed to do what he could have done long before: Offer the American people and the world a clear, coherent and detailed account of his own activities and state of mind in the months leading up to the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Instead of acting as the man in charge and saying to the commission, "No, you may not put my national security adviser on the mat, but I will answer to the public for what happened," he did just the opposite. He gave up Rice and then turned on his heel and walked out of the briefing room even as reporters were trying to ask him questions.

At a time when the American people -- and the world -- desperately need reassurance that the government was not asleep at the switch, Bush has clenched his jaw and said nothing that would ease those concerns. Instead, he has arranged that when he answers the commission's questions in a yet-to-be-scheduled private session, he will not face it alone. He and Vice President Cheney will appear together. It will be interesting to learn who furnishes most of the answers.

Can't you just feel the disgust? I'll be looking closely at future Broder columns to see if he truly has come back from the Dark Side.

9:29 pm | link

Too Good to Be True?
 
If anyone out there can shed some light on this, please speak up.
 
The Right Blogosphere remains supremely confident that the majority of Iraqis remain grateful to George W. Bush and the American occupiers. The insurgents, rightist bloggers say, are a tiny minority of die-hards who hate America.
 
As evidence, they link to bloggers who claim to be Iraqis speaking for the majority.
 
Little Green Footballs has a new blogroll of these blogs, which are widely linked to on the Right Blogosphere but unknown on the Left:
 
 
Alaa of The Mesopotamian has some more:
 
 
My problem with these sources of information is that, as far as I know, there is no way to know if they are coming from Baghdad or Bismarck, North Dakota. So my question is twofold: One, is there a technical means to trace the origins of these blogs? And second, if they are legitimate, do they really reflect a majority opinion?
 
While I'm here -- Little Green Footballs reports on an Insurgence Solidarity March in San Francisco.  If the LGF report is accurate, I say this march represents the same kind of juvenile crap that persistently undermined the antiwar movement of the Vietnam era and maintained support for Richard Nixon. (And I will call it juvenile even though the fellow in the photograph has gray hair.)
 
As big as a mistake I believe the Iraq invasion was, as long as our soldiers are dying at the hands of those insurgents, I will not be claiming "solidarity" with them, and I am furious with any American who does.
 
If this same kind of nonsense goes on in the streets of New York City during the Republican National Convention, we can count on four more years of the Bush Regime.

See also the March 23 Mahablog.

1:43 pm | link

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In fairness to Condi, we can see now where the 70 separate FBI investigations came from -- it was in the August 6 memo.
 
I'm listening to the Sunday morning talking heads make excuses for the Bush Administration's failure to follow through on this memo. You've heard them, I'm sure -- the political climate wasn't right, the threat was not specific, hindsight is 20/20, blah blah blah. Bottom line is that the President was told there was an imminent danger, and he and his administration did nothing.
 
Roger Ailes discusses the latest battle in the war on straw, courtesy of Easterbrook and Kitty Parker. In their world the only possible response to having awareness of a possible attack by al Qaeda was to carpet bomb Afghanistan. Therefore, all the people who are criticizing the Bush should just shut their pie holes, because there's no way they would've supported such a thing in 2001.
At the risk of being called a Saddam-loving French Islamofacist, might I point out that more measured, and rational, responses to the information Bush possessed -- like heightened precautions at airports and more careful review of existing information -- might have solved the immediate problem, whereas the responses imagined by our fantasizing friends -- "the bombing of Afghanistan" and "an all-out attack on alleged terrorist camps in Afghanistan" -- likely would not have.
The issue isn't, of course, that Bush failed to stop 9/11 - it's that he apparently failed to do anything to try and stop 9/11.
Meanwhile, events in Iraq are moving so fast the headlines can barely keep up. The downing of an Apache helicopter earlier today has already scrolled down the Google News page, replaced by the ongoing hostage crisis.
 
And the President who remained on vacation while al Qaeda prepared its attack is -- on vacation.
The Iraq crisis forced President Bush to skip a fishing outing for a television show Saturday, but he caught a big bass for the camera the previous afternoon.
He took the biggest one of the day,'' a bass that weighed nearly four pounds, said Roland Martin, host of the Outdoor Life Network's ``Fishing With Roland Martin.''

Bush, who is spending a week at his ranch, had planned to fish Saturday with his father for Martin's show. He stopped by Friday to chat as the crew was filming at the ranch pond and said he had time to ``make a couple casts," Martin said. They ended up fishing for about 1 1/2 hours.

When Martin returned to the ranch around 6:30 a.m. Saturday, Bush was already in conferences in the ranch house. ``He said, `Hey, Roland, sorry it didn't work out,' '' Martin recalled. ``He said, `I've been busy, all these crises.' ''

The Associated Press story quoted above goes on to say that the President really is sensitive to the perception that he is fiddling while Iraq burns. So, the White House released photographs of the President meeting with his national security team on Saturday.
 
Whoop-di-doo.
 
David Broder had some really sharp things to say about Bush and his vacation on Meet the Press; I'll try to find a transcript later today.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Richard Reeves: Fire Them All

U.S. Errors Created Iraq Crisis

Military Families Question Bush

David Broder: Incurious George

Memo Raises Credibility Question

Joe Klein: The Problem With Condi

Maureen Dowd: No-Can-Do Nation

JImmy Breslin: Waistlines as Frontlines

9/11 Panel to Document Lost Opportunities

Thomas Oliphant: Facts Don't Fit Rice's Picture

9:43 am | link


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The War Prayer

I come from the Throne -- bearing a message from Almighty God!... He has heard the prayer of His servant, your shepherd, & will grant it if such shall be your desire after I His messenger shall have explained to you its import -- that is to say its full import. For it is like unto many of the prayers of men in that it asks for more than he who utters it is aware of -- except he pause & think.

"God's servant & yours has prayed his prayer. Has he paused & taken thought? Is it one prayer? No, it is two -- one uttered, the other not. Both have reached the ear of Him who heareth all supplications, the spoken & the unspoken....

"You have heard your servant's prayer -- the uttered part of it. I am commissioned of God to put into words the other part of it -- that part which the pastor -- and also you in your hearts -- fervently prayed, silently. And ignorantly & unthinkingly? God grant that it was so! You heard these words: 'Grant us the victory, O Lord our God!' That is sufficient. The whole of the uttered prayer is completed into those pregnant words.

"Upon the listening spirit of God the Father fell also the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen!

"O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle -- be Thou near them! With them -- in spirit -- we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe.

"O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended through wastes of their desolated land in rags & hunger & thirst, sport of the sun-flames of summer & the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave & denied it -- for our sakes, who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask of one who is the Spirit of love & who is the ever-faithful refuge & friend of all that are sore beset, & seek His aid with humble & contrite hearts. Grant our prayer, O Lord & Thine shall be the praise & honor & glory now & ever, Amen."

(After a pause.) "Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak! -- the messenger of the Most High waits."

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