Mourning In America

A New York Democrat on politics, journalism, and the Mets

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Thursday, February 12, 2004
If This Be Winning... For some time, people who support the Bush Administration's efforts to tie the Iraq War to the global struggle against terrorism have contended that the attacks against our troops in Iraq are a worthwhile cost for the nation to bear, because they distract the terrorist forces from civilian targets at home.

The best expression of this opinion was in the President's famous exhortation to "bring 'em on!" But it's still in the talking points -- New York's "Governor" George Pataki, during his visit to Baghdad this week, said it was good that "this war on terror is being waged on the streets of Baghdad instead of by the firefighters on the streets of Brooklyn."

There's no real argument with Pataki's logic. But is it a reflection of reality? There's evidence that the administration itself doesn't really believe its story. Check out this exchange from yesterday's CPA briefing in Baghdad:

MR. SENOR: Mr. Zarqawi says in the memo, to your second, Paul--Mr. Zarqawi says in the memo that if the Iraqis assume effective control of their own government, the terrorists, the al Qaeda elements, will lose their quote-unquote, "pretext" to wage terror in this country--and that he says they will literally have to pack up and go somewhere else, find another battle.

We hope he's right, because that's the path we're on; we are on the path towards handing over sovereignty and we are on the path towards defeating these terrorists. The two are inextricably linked.

The Bush supporters' position only makes sense if you believe we are defeating the terrorists in Iraq. Merely forcing them to "pack up and go somewhere else" is not progress. And where exactly do we think they're going to go? [CPA citation via TNR blogger Spencer Ackerman, who raises a different issue -- the statement's implications for our chances of bringing stability to Iraq].

Wednesday, February 11, 2004
Safire in the Spider Hole Will somebody please deliver a copy of David Kay's testimony regarding the absence of bio-weapons programs in Iraq to William Safire's desk? It could prevent future statements like this one:
Of the liberation's three casus belli ... The third was a reasoned judgment that Saddam had a bioweapon that could wipe out a city; in time, we are likely to find a buried suitcase containing that, too.

Tuesday, February 10, 2004
If Only Accountability Was This Easy This morning's San Francisco Chronicle carries this headline on a story about the California Youth Authority:
Moratorium Urged for CYA

Sunday, February 08, 2004
Eh. Just finished watching the tape of the Russert-Bush interview. The reaction to the whole is not much different than my observation below. Either Bush and his handlers are not on their game politically, or their game is weaker than Columbia's.

At least I think that's what happened. There is an alternative reading -- Bush and his handlers may simply feel that the vast majority of the electorate is uninformed enough about the issues that they won't think twice when Bush mirepresents things in order to minimize his administration's responsibility. For people who follow things closely, the administration's lack of accountability is one of its most infuriating characteristics. For those who don't, it might look like teflon.

We'll see in the polls, but first, some high/lowlights:

  • I think most people with even a passing knowledge of David Kay's report and comments know that Bush used his name in vein to defend himself and his administration.
    Kay says the weapons did not exist. "Clearly, the intelligence that we went to war on was inaccurate, wrong."

    Bush says they could "have been destroyed during the war. Saddam and his henchmen could have destroyed them as we entered into Iraq. They could be hidden. They could have been transported to another country, and we?ll find out."

    Bush, knowing that Kay is credible (hell, the administration hired him!), won't say he's wrong -- he just deliberately misrepresents what he said.

  • I think most people with even a passing knowledge of the budget Bush proposed earlier this week know that the "halving the deficit" claim is silly, both because it excludes things (like any spending for the missions in Iraq and Afghanistan past this October) that Bush clearly wants and expects to happen, as well as the fact that a one-year snapshot of 2009 proves nothing, given that the longer-term projections show deficits getting worse and worse, largely due to the still-unimplemented provisions of Bush's tax cuts.

    A great Russert follow-up on Bush's chest-beating about his ability to halve the deficit by 2009 would have been: "Are you saying you'd be satisfied that the nation's economy and safety are secure if Congress passes this budget as-is?"

  • I was glad to see that we finally have an answer as to why George Tenet still has a job? Because "he comes and briefs me on a regular basis about what he and his analysts see in the world." Is that all it takes?

  • Generally, Russert did fine, I thought -- never better than with this question: "Every president since the Civil War who has gone to war has raised taxes, not cut them ... Why not say, I will not cut taxes any more until we have balanced the budget? If our situation is so precious and delicate because of the war, why do you keep cutting taxes and draining money from the treasury?"

    Bush fell back on his platitudes about not raising taxes while the economy is recovering, never dealing with the idea that wartime requires sacrifices. In fact, the word sacrifice appears only once in the transcript, with regard to the casualties in Iraq. Tom Friedman presciently made that point in this morning's NY Times:

    "The whole burden is being borne by a small cadre of Americans -- the soldiers, their families and reservists -- and the rest of us are just sailing along, as if it has nothing to do with us. And what bothers me even more is that this dichotomy is exactly what the Bush team wants."

  • While I wished Russert had asked some other follow-ups, the one place I thought he was pretty soft was when Bush claimed he had fulfilled all of his responsibilities to the Alabama National Guard. Bush said, "There may be no evidence, but I did report; otherwise, I wouldn?t have been honorably discharged." However, there is evidence that Bush was grounded, because he failed to show up for his physical. Russert should have asked why that happened.

    Eager Anticipation This morning's Meet the Press, with Tim Russert interviewing the president live for an hour, should provide an interesting assessment of whether the vaunted Bush political machine really is getting its act together in preparation for the election, or whether the wheels are still falling off. Evidence of the latter comes from the utterly uninspiring State of the Union, and Bush's amazingly unsure, almost whiny performance at the press conference announcing the panel to study the Iraq intelligence on Friday.

    The administration (if not the Republican Party itself) has long lived by the motto of, "if we say it often enough, it doesn't matter if it's true." But to make that work, you have to say it like you mean it. Bush used to be good at that. The strong jaw. The clipped Texas-twanged declarative sentences. Lately, he hasn't been able to pull it off, probably reflecting a deeper uncertainty.

    Interview Preview Yesterday, the NY Times quoted White House staffers saying Bush had not spent much time preparing for the interview. While I'll reserve final judgement until after I view it (which will be after Toddler swim class at the White Plains Y), the early returns are not good.

    In an excerpt aired during the Today show earlier, Bush was asked whether the American loss of life was justified in light of the failure to find Weapons of Mass Destruction. Bush stumbled badly, shaking his head repeatedly (as though he didn't understand why he was being asked the question), saying at least twice that "it's important that the families understand," then bobbling through multiple justifications that still tried to render Saddam an imminent threat -- but never finding the one strong talking point -- that improving the lives of Iraqis, and making an effort at bringing Democracy to the Middle East is worth it.