W Stands for Weenie

Even David Broder gets something right now and then:

… after the fiasco of the Harriet Miers nomination and the other reversals of recent days and weeks, the Alito nomination inevitably looks like a defensive move, a lunge for the lifeboat by an embattled president to secure what is left of his political base. Instead of a consistent and principled approach to major decision making, Bush’s efforts look like off-balance grabs for whatever policy rationales he can find. The president’s opponents are emboldened by this performance, and his fellow partisans must increasingly wonder if they can afford to march to his command. …

… The conservative screamers who shot down Miers can argue that they were fighting only for a “qualified” nominee, though it is plain that many of them wanted more — a guarantee that Miers would do their bidding and overrule Roe v. Wade . But whatever the rationale, the fact is that they short-circuited the confirmation process by raising hell with Bush. Certainly there can be no greater sin in a sizable bloc of sitting senators using long-standing Senate rules to stymie a nomination than a cabal of outsiders — a lynching squad of right-wing journalists, self-sanctified religious and moral organizations, and other frustrated power-brokers — rolling over the president they all ostensibly support.

But the message that has been sent is that this president is surprisingly easy to roll.

Look, people, he’s a weenie. He can swagger and talk tough, but deep down inside he’s a sniveling little cowardly weenie.

The Toronto Star editorialized on this point a year ago; article archived here:

The President of The World is not President of The World for Life, at least not yet.

But is he a weenie?

What evidence is there of Dubya’s weenieness, apart from him chickening out when it came to going up against the filthy Commies in the skies over the Rio Grande during the unpleasantness in Vietnam?

He was afraid to speak to real, live U.S. voters except in situations where everybody had been required to sign a loyalty oath.

He was afraid to speak to the British Parliament.

The thought of being anywhere near Parliament in Ottawa has scared him speechless.

Every American who heckled him during the election campaign got arrested.

But in satellite nations like the United Kingdom, not to mention rogue countries like Canada, it’s out of his hands.

Anybody could holler anything when he’s here next week and get off scot free.

This makes him very, very anxious.

Ron Fournier writes for the Associated Press that Bush appears to have lost his way:

The building blocks of President Bush’s career — his credibility and image as a strong and competent leader _ have been severely undercut by self-inflicted wounds, leading close allies to fret about his presidency. They say he’s lost his way.

These senior Republicans, including past and current White House advisers, say they believe the president can find his way back into people’s hearts but extreme measures need to be taken. Shake up his staff, unveil fresh policies, travel the country and be more accountable for his mistakes — these and other solutions are being discussed at the highest levels of the GOP.

But Bush is too big a weenie for a make-over. As I wrote yesterday, Bush’s little permanent entourage is for him a a coccoon of co-dependency that maintains and protects his mighty ego. He’d be naked and alone without them. Major staff shakeups are out of the question.

He took a stab at a “fresh” policy recently with the bird flu proposals, but as Keith Olbermann pointed out on last night’s Countdown, Congress had already acted on most of his proposals. Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa said,

Many of the points the president just made tracked very closely with what we‘ve already done here. I‘m surprised the president keeps saying he‘s going to ask Congress to do these things. We‘ve already done it. We put the money in there a week ago in the appropriations bill, for our labor health human services appropriations bill, and we addressed all those issues. We put the money in there for global surveillance, for vaccine production, and especially for state and local public health entities.

I‘m glad the president mentioned that because his budget that he sent up this year cut over $100 million from our state and local public health agencies. So I hope he‘ll come up and help us put the money back in there for that.

Well, OK, maybe he’ll come up with another fresh policy proposal.

Travel the country–he traveled the country on the recent Bamboozlepalooza Tour, did he not? And see how that turned out! And as for being more accountable for his mistakes–he said he took responsibility for Katrina mishaps, although you know he didn’t mean it. As Nancy Gibbs and Mike Allen recently wrote in Time, these days Bush seems to be blaming everybody but Laura and himself for recent White House problems. Fournier writes,

Bush accepted responsibility, but the belated and reluctant nature of his mea culpa did not go over well with Americans who like their leaders to be buck-stops-here accountable.

“I think it’s hard for the president to admit mistakes,” said Chris DePino, former chairman of the Connecticut GOP. “It would be better if he did.”

So the “highest levels of the GOP” can talk about reversing Bush’s downward spiral all it likes; Bush doesn’t have it in him to make the kind of changes that are necessary.

Instead of facing up to his problems, Bush is going to run away. At the Guardian, Simon Tisdall notes that Bush is not exactly taking a stand:

When the going gets rough, American presidents leave the country. Ronald Reagan used cold war summitry to bury the Iran-Contra scandal. Bill Clinton embraced Middle East peacemaking instead of Monica Lewinsky. And the much-berated George Bush is following suit.

After a dinner tomorrow for Charles and Camilla, Mr Bush is off to Latin America and a summit in Argentina. Later this month he will visit Japan, South Korea and China. A trip to Mongolia, where sheep matter more than Lewis Libby, Karl Rove or Dick Cheney, may provide welcome relief from Washington’s rancorous ruminations.

The flaw in this plan is that Mr. Bush’s foreign policy agenda is an even bigger mess.

Complaining of US indifference, Latin American countries have moved broadly left during his tenure; and tensions with Bolivarist Venezuela and communist Cuba have sharpened. Last year Mr Bush became the first US president to see his candidate for secretary general of the Organisation of American States fail to be appointed.

Another set of problems awaits Mr Bush in Asia, ranging from export, currency and security-related disputes with China and rising anti-Americanism in South Korea to the supposedly nuclear-armed North Korea.

These tough regional agendas do not take into account other international friction points, notably accelerating US confrontations with Iran and Syria, the ongoing conflict in Iraq, and fraught world trade tariff reduction negotiations in Hong Kong next month. On all these fronts, perceived presidential weakness is certain to be exploited.


Nowhere to run to, baby, nowhere to hide …

Government of Sadists

They may not be much use in a hurricane and they’re a tad sloppy with intelligence, but when it comes to torture the Bush Administration will not be held back.

In today’s Washington Post Dana Priest writes that Porter Goss’s CIA is holding and “questioning” prisoners in secret prisons.

The CIA has been hiding and interrogating some of its most important al Qaeda captives at a Soviet-era compound in Eastern Europe, according to U.S. and foreign officials familiar with the arrangement.

I like the part about the “Soviet-era compound.” Are we filling a niche vacated by the fall of the Soviet Union? And do we want to think real hard about what that niche might be?

Priest continues,

The secret facility is part of a covert prison system set up by the CIA nearly four years ago that at various times has included sites in eight countries, including Thailand, Afghanistan and several democracies in Eastern Europe, as well as a small center at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba, according to current and former intelligence officials and diplomats from three continents.

The hidden global internment network is a central element in the CIA’s unconventional war on terrorism. It depends on the cooperation of foreign intelligence services, and on keeping even basic information about the system secret from the public, foreign officials and nearly all members of Congress charged with overseeing the CIA’s covert actions.

And if that pesky Red Cross is kept out also, so much the better.

The existence and locations of the facilities — referred to as “black sites” in classified White House, CIA, Justice Department and congressional documents — are known to only a handful of officials in the United States and, usually, only to the president and a few top intelligence officers in each host country.

It doesn’t say if our president knows the locations, notice. But I bet he has a secret stash of really good torture videos stuffed in some White House closet.

The CIA and the White House, citing national security concerns and the value of the program, have dissuaded Congress from demanding that the agency answer questions in open testimony about the conditions under which captives are held. Virtually nothing is known about who is kept in the facilities, what interrogation methods are employed with them, or how decisions are made about whether they should be detained or for how long.

Stalin would have been proud.

The prisons must be kept overseas because secret prisons are illegal in the U.S. However, they are also illegal in several of the “host” countries. And Parliaments in Canada, Italy, France, Sweden and the Netherlands are looking into allegations that the CIA secretly captured their citizens or legal residents and shipped them to who knows where.

The secret detention system was thrown together hastily after September 11. One senior intelligence official said the system is entirely reactive; no one ever sat down and worked out a “grand strategy” for dealing with prisoners of the War on Terror.

The idea of holding terrorists outside the U.S. legal system was not under consideration before Sept. 11, 2001, not even for Osama bin Laden, according to former government officials. The plan was to bring bin Laden and his top associates into the U.S. justice system for trial or to send them to foreign countries where they would be tried.

“The issue of detaining and interrogating people was never, ever discussed,” said a former senior intelligence officer who worked in the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, or CTC, during that period. “It was against the culture and they believed information was best gleaned by other means.” …

… The agency set up prisons under its covert action authority. Under U.S. law, only the president can authorize a covert action, by signing a document called a presidential finding. Findings must not break U.S. law and are reviewed and approved by CIA, Justice Department and White House legal advisers.

Six days after the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush signed a sweeping finding that gave the CIA broad authorization to disrupt terrorist activity, including permission to kill, capture and detain members of al Qaeda anywhere in the world.

Tim Golden and Eric Schmitt write in the New York Times that some people in Washington want to adopt language from the Geneva Conventions for Defense Department guidelines.

The document under discussion, known as Department of Defense Directive 23.10, would provide broad guidance from Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld; while it would not spell out specific detention and interrogation techniques, officials said, those procedures would have to conform to its standards. It would not cover the treatment of detainees held by the Central Intelligence Agency.

Enter the allegedly “maverick” do-gooder, John McCain:

The behind-the-scenes debate over the Pentagon directive comes more than three years after President Bush decided that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to the fight against terrorism. It mirrors a public battle between the Bush administration and Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, who is pressing a separate legislative effort to ban the “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment” of any detainee in United States custody.

After a 90-to-9 vote in the Senate last month in favor of Mr. McCain’s amendment to a $445 billion defense spending bill, the White House moved to exempt clandestine C.I.A. activities from the provision. A House-Senate conference committee is expected to consider the issue this week.

And in the other corner–Dick “the Dick” Cheney:

Mr. Cheney and some of his aides have spearheaded the administration’s opposition to Senator McCain’s amendment; they were also quick to oppose a draft of the detention directive, which began to circulate in the Pentagon in mid-September, officials said.

I really like this part:

A central player in the fight over the directive is David S. Addington, who was the vice president’s counsel until he was named on Monday to succeed I. Lewis Libby Jr. as Mr. Cheney’s chief of staff. According to several officials, Mr. Addington verbally assailed a Pentagon aide who was called to brief him and Mr. Libby on the draft, objecting to its use of language drawn from Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.

“He left bruised and bloody,” one Defense Department official said of the Pentagon aide, Matthew C. Waxman, Mr. Rumsfeld’s chief adviser on detainee issues. “He tried to champion Article 3, and Addington just ate him for lunch.”

I assume the official was speaking figuratively.

An editorial in yesterday’s USA Today argues that torture is wrong

Forget, for a moment, the legal and moral questions surrounding government-sanctioned torture and consider the practical one: Does it produce useful information?

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who was tortured repeatedly during his 5½ years of solitary confinement in North Vietnam, answers no: The tortured will say anything to stop the pain.

McCain’s insight offers lessons for U.S. conduct in the war on terror: Abusing prisoners elicits intelligence of questionable worth. It also unquestionably undercuts American values and produces international revulsion.

McCain and a majority of senators from both parties understand this. The Bush administration still doesn’t get it.

To clear up confusion about the treatment of prisoners and what the United States stands for, McCain is pushing an amendment to a military-spending bill that would ban “cruel, inhuman and degrading” interrogations. The Republican-controlled Senate passed the amendment, 90-9. The version of the bill in the House of Representatives contains no such amendment.

Senate and House negotiators are scheduled to meet this week to try to resolve the differences, and the White House is working behind the scenes to scuttle McCain’s amendment or, at a minimum, carve out an exception for the CIA. President Bush has even threatened to cast his first veto if the administration doesn’t get its way.

You’d think that after the abuse cases in Iraq and Afghanistan and at the military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Bush would recognize the damage to the United States’ moral standing, particularly in the Muslim world. But the White House continues to hew closely to the dubious “few bad apples” theory to explain the abuses at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison and elsewhere.

The theory doesn’t hold up to even minimal scrutiny. Early last month, Capt. Ian Fishback of the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division came forward with evidence of routine abuse that occurred in Iraq in 2003 and 2004. Superior officers in Iraq repeatedly told soldiers that the Geneva Conventions governing prisoner treatment do not apply in Iraq, Fishback reported.

The editorial argues that the United States “should not sink to the level of its enemies.”

Now, considering that it is widely believed torture is not the best way to gain intelligence, and the secret prisons and torture practices are not exactly helping us with international diplomacy, you’ve got to wonder why secret prisons and torture are so important to Bushies like Dick Cheney, not to mention David Addington, who rhetorically assaulted and cannibalized the unfortunate Mr. Waxman. The only explanation that makes sense to me is that these people are sadists. Torture is something they want to do. They get off on it.

Update: See also Eric Alterman.

Cross-posted on The American Street.