Mourning In America

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

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Thursday, March 18, 2004
Cinderella, Bay-beeee! The 12th-seeded Manhattan College Jaspers, the 2004 Official College Basketball Team of Mourning in America (Ed. Note: Wow. Don't hurt yourself grabbing ahold of that bandwagon), also became the NCAA tournament's First Potential Cinderella Story, upsetting the fifth-seeded University of Florida, 75-60 in their first-round game today.

The team can look ahead to a second-round matchup with either Wake Forest or Virginia Commonwealth.

Quick Takes Today's NY Times reports that:

Bush Glad to Be in the Campaign Fray and Not Above It

I'm sure he is. Beats governing.

Unforeseen Obstacles Afghan President Hamid Karzai is warning that elections could slip past their scheduled June date because of problems in voter registration. Why?

Voter registration has been hampered by rugged terrain, poor security, bureaucracy and cultural constraints on women's participation in public life. So far about 1.5 million of an estimated 10 million eligible voters have been registered. [emphasis added]

I'm telling you, boss -- those mountains came out of nowhere!

Wednesday, March 17, 2004
Friedman Channels Russert Those of you who, like me (and, judging by the ratings, something like 99% of the rest of America), missed last Sunday's Face the Nation need to watch this ad (first noted on TPM).

In it, the NY Times' Tom Friedman silences Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld when he launches into the Bush administration's standard argument that they never portrayed the threat from Saddam Hussein as imminent. Friedman employs NBC Washington bureau chief Tim Russert's classic tactic of throwing the guest's own words back at him.

Schieffer actually set the snare subtly, by asking Rumsfeld why Iraq posed an "immediate" threat to the nation. Administration critics typically use the phrase "imminent threat." It's a semantic distinction, but no one has been able to find evidence of a high-ranking administration official saying "imminent," so they've been able to deny using that term without lying.

But if he noted the distinction, Rumsfeld disregarded it, plunging headlong into the administration's stock line. SNAP! Friedman was there to spring the claws.

The ad is mostly clips directly from the show. It's short, understated and powerful. But if you lack the patience, here's the transcript:

SCHIEFFER: Well, let me just ask you this. If they did not have these weapons of mass destruction, though, granted all of that is true, why then did they pose an immediate threat to us, to this country? [emphasis added]

Sec. RUMSFELD: Well, you're the--you and a few other critics are the only people I've heard use the phrase `immediate threat.' I didn't. The president didn't. And it's become kind of folklore that that's--that's what's happened.


Sec. RUMSFELD: If you have any citations, I'd like to see 'em. [emphasis added]

Mr. FRIEDMAN: We have one here. It says `some have argued that the nu' -- this is you speaking -- `that the nuclear threat from Iraq is not imminent, that Saddam is at least five to seven years away from having nuclear weapons. I would not be so certain.'

Sec. RUMSFELD: And--and...

Mr. FRIEDMAN: It was close to imminent.

Sec. RUMSFELD: Well, I've--I've tried to be precise, and I've tried to be accurate.

Mr. FRIEDMAN: `No terrorist state poses a greater or more immediate threat to the security
of our people and the stability of the world than the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq.
' [emphasis added]

After a pregnant pause, Rumsfeld changes the subject, falling back on the similarly well-worn "we might still find something" defense.
Sec. RUMSFELD: Mm-hmm. It--my view of--of the situation was that he--he had--we--we believe, the best intelligence that we had and other countries had and that--that we believed and we still do not know--we will know. David Kay said we're about 85 percent there. I don't know if that's the right percentage. But the Iraqi Survey Group--we've got 1,200 people out there looking. It's a country the size of California. He could have hidden his--enough chemical or biol--enough biological weapons in the hole that--that we found Saddam Hussein in to kill tens of thousands of people. So--so it's not as though we have certainty today.
But what--think what happened. There were 17 UN resolutions. There was unanimous agreement that he had filed a fraudulent declaration. The final opportunity was given with the last resolution, and he didn't take it. He chose war. He didn't do what Kazakhstan did. He didn't do what South Africa did. He didn't do what Ukraine did. He--he didn't say, `Come in and look and see what we have.' He was engaged in active deception. We'll ultimately know a great deal about what took place.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004
Hey, You! Mr. Leader-of-the-Free-World Don't you have a day job?

In what alternative universe is it a good idea for President Bush to be challenging John Kerry to name names among the foreign leaders Kerry claims are supporting him? Isn't this what he has a campaign staff for? And if they're not competent enough, the White House press office has shown that it can take on the job if necessary.

Has the Kerry campaign's early success gotten that deeply inside Bush's head? We know the re-election campaign is off-balance, trying and dropping message after message, from Mars to steroids, all mixed with a heavy dose of "dark-skinned, but non-arabic" actors portraying terrorists. But no one thinks it will stay that way -- unless Bush gets scared and starts calling his own plays, rather than listening to the "Mayberry Machiavellis" who got him here.

The national media already was seeing weakness in Bush's decision to abandon the incumbent's traditional "Rose Garden" strategy and launching his attack ads early in the campaign. The fact that Bush got drawn in personally here makes it seem like he is obsessing over the comments.

Even if it was all right for Bush to get in the batter's box, he whiffed on the pitch. As Josh Marshall points out in The Hill -- the problem with Kerry's quote (for both sides) isn't that Kerry told a lie, it's that what he said is so obviously true.

The way to play this is to tell the American voters that it's not of France's business who they elect as U.S. President -- the Bushies know something about playing to the American people's basest, jingoistic instincts. This is right up their alley. Asking Kerry to name names just sounds whiny and vindictive.

Blame Spain! NY Times designated right-wing op-ed columnist David Brooks says he's "trying not to think harshly of the Spanish" for electing a Socialist government in the wake of the Madrid terror attacks.

But he doesn't seem to be trying very hard.

Brooks' column today begins by asking "what's the Spanish word for appeasement?" Then he segues into this:

I do know that reversing course in the wake of a terrorist attack is inexcusable. I don't care what the policy is. You do not give terrorists the chance to think that their methods work. You do not give them the chance to celebrate victories. When you do that, you make the world a more dangerous place, for others and probably for yourself. [emphasis added]

Let me make sure I've got the Brooks doctrine straight. In the wake of a terrorist attack, a nation is to first suspend democracy (Brooks says it was "crazy to go ahead with an election a mere three days after the Madrid massacre."), then blindly rally around the flag? If that's the rule, what incentive would incumbents ever have for suppressing violence? Jeez. Wait until the conspiracy theorists who believe Bush is cynically using 9/11 to justify an ongoing state of war as part of his re-election strategy get ahold of that one!

Keep Reading The second half of Brooks' column does get better, although he doesn't appreciate the importance of what he wrote. He contends that the election results will widen the rift between the U.S. and Europe, observing that "it really does appear that Americans are from Mars, Europeans are from Venus."

Now he's getting somewhere, although he gets the characters wrong. It's not a matter of Americans and Europeans, it's a divide between those who believe that the fight in Iraq is central to fighting Islamic terrorism and those who believe it's a distraction. For those who believe it's a distraction, al Qaeda won nothing this week -- the new prime minister's pledge to withdraw troops from the U.S. coalition in Iraq while still making terror his top priority is a consistent and reasonable position.

Either way, I think it's a mistake to credit the attacks in Madrid solely to Spain's participation in Iraq. Bin Laden is at war with the West. As Scott Atran points out in another Times op-ed, bin Laden has specifically mentioned "the loss of southern Spain to Christianity in 1492" as a motivator. And there's no question that his network has glommed onto any "anti-West" sentiment it can find to justify its violence, from the presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia (they're gone, he's not), to the Palestinian issue. Sitting out the war in Iraq wouldn't have saved Spain, but an aggressive, international effort to target the real terrorists might have.

More Political Ineptitude Even as a supporter of the Bush policies, Brooks belatedly recognizes (in the second-to-last paragraph) that the administration could have done more to help its cause (and its allies):

Nor is America itself without blame. Where was our State Department? Why hasn't Colin Powell spent the past few years crisscrossing Europe so that voters there would at least know the arguments for the liberation of Iraq, would at least have some accurate picture of Americans, rather than the crude cowboy stereotype propagated by the European media? Why does the Bush administration make it so hard for its friends? Why is it so unable to reach out?

When will our nation's leaders recognize that bringing justice to those who would attack us will require "a sort of global spider web -- a set of international and interfaith alliances bonded by mutual trust and purpose," as Atran puts it. When will we hold al Qaeda accountable for its actions?