• May 6, 2004 | 9:30 PM ET
ODDS AND ENDS
I have a cold, which may limit the coherence of this entry. It's times like this that make me glad there are so many worthwhile blogs out there to fall back on.
Here are a few other perspectives on current events that are worth your attention:
You can't talk about Iraq right now without talking about the prisoner abuse scandal. These columns by Austin Bay and James Lileks are worth reading. Here's what I wrote on Friday, and I have more recent takes here, and here.
This timeline of events notes that the investigation was underway in January, and the commanding general had already been relieved, long before 60 Minutes got into the game.
Donald Sensing is critical of Rumsfeld but nonetheless thinks that the lynch Rummy movement is misguided, to say the least:
Deceptive because Rummy is taking the fire, but Bush is the target. A more purely partisan, crass, politically-motivated campaign I have never seen. And yes, I include the Ken Starr investigation.
The Dems' hot rhetoric will backfire, I think. Look for Kerry's numbers to drop.
Jeff Jarvis agrees. We'll see. The press is certainly doing all it can to fan the flames.
But that's not all that's going on in Iraq. As a report from the New York Times' John F. Burns notes, the Marines' get-the-Iraqis-involved approach seems to be working in Fallujah and Najaf.
And that ought to remind us that -- while in America far too many politicians and journalists are positioning themselves politically -- there's still a war on, in Iraq and elsewhere. That should encourage the degree of seriousness and restraint that is customary in wartime, but I'm afraid that the current generation of politicians and journalists isn't very good at self-restraint. Much less seriousness.
• May 4, 2004 | 10:10 PM ET
John Kerry's campaign hasn't been going very well. Some Democrats see Kerry as Al Gore, the sequel:
It's a recurring nightmare for Democratic strategist Tony Coelho — the party's presidential candidate portrayed as a flip-flopping opportunist, ill-served by a strife-torn staff. It happened in 2000, when Coelho ran Al Gores campaign. Now, it's happening to John Kerry.
Democratic leaders fear he's getting "Gored."
"What the Kerry people don't understand is, it's succeeding," Coelho said....
"No question, it's a rerun of 2000," said Donna Brazile, campaign manager for the former vice president's 2000 race.
Other Democrats say that Kerry has failed to find a theme for his campaign.
But that's not quite right. Kerry's most visible theme -- so much so that it's become the stuff of late-night television jokes -- is that he served in Vietnam. That's certainly the centerpiece of the new commercials he's rolling out.
Now Kerry may wish he hadn't brought that up. Fellow Swift Boat Commander John O'Neill writes in the Wall Street Journal:
Like John Kerry, I served in Vietnam as a Swift Boat commander. Ironically, John Kerry and I served much of our time, a full 12 months in my case and a controversial four months in his, commanding the exact same six-man boat, PCF-94, which I took over after he requested early departure. Despite our shared experience, I still believe what I believed 33 years ago--that John Kerry slandered America's military by inventing or repeating grossly exaggerated claims of atrocities and war crimes in order to advance his own political career as an anti-war activist. His misrepresentations played a significant role in creating the negative and false image of Vietnam vets that has persisted for over three decades. . . .
Today, America is engaged in a new war, against the militant Islamist terrorists who attacked us on our own soil. Reasonable people may differ about how best to proceed, but I'm sure of one thing--John Kerry is the wrong man to put in charge.
Ouch. And today group of Swift Boat veterans held a press conference and released a letter saying that Kerry is unfit to be Commander-in-Chief.
The Los Angeles Times reports:
Preparing to unveil a sharply worded letter today to Kerry from more than 200 veterans, the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth claims to represent a majority of Navy officers and enlisted men who served on the patrol boat detail that Kerry joined for nearly five months in 1968 and 1969. . . .
The anti-Kerry group coalesced in recent weeks around a former admiral who had been Kerry's commander in Vietnam and another Swift boat veteran who publicly debated Kerry in 1971 after he joined the antiwar movement.
Leaders of the group flew to Washington on Monday and planned to rebuke Kerry for his 1971 Senate testimony that referred to American "atrocities" in Vietnam and urge him to sign a waiver authorizing the release of his military records. . . .
Others involved in the anti-Kerry group include former Rear Adm. Roy F. Hoffmann, who commanded the swift boat operation that Kerry joined as a Navy lieutenant, and former Lt. Grant Hibbard, who briefly supervised Kerry during his perilous stint in Vietnam's Mekong Delta. Hibbard recently questioned whether Kerry deserved the first of three Purple Hearts he was awarded, suggesting that a shrapnel wound Kerry received in December 1968 was no more than a scratch.
The Kerry campaign has found itself on the defensive about a heroic military record that would have seemed to be a prime campaign asset.
Kerry's problem is that his war record seems entirely honorable, but his postwar conduct -- including unofficial meetings with Vietnamese negotiators in Paris and false charges of atrocities against his fellow soldiers -- tends to undercut its political value.
As someone who was learning to ride a two-wheeler when Kerry was in Vietnam, this seems like old news to me. And it probably would seem that way to a lot of people if Kerry hadn't been bringing it up constantly for over a year. Which makes me wonder why he's been doing that. It's important for a campaign to have a theme, but you want a theme that helps you.
Reminding people of Vietnam hasn't been a good move for Democrats since I could ride without training wheels.
• May 3, 2004 | 9:59 PM ET
MORE BAD NEWS FOR THE UNITED NATIONS
The bad news just keeps coming for the U.N. Even while there's some talk about getting the U.N. more involved in Iraq, its already rather unimpressive record in Kosovo is looking even worse:
In the days since the first reports of the crime were received, more details have emerged, which make what was already a scandal for the United Nations in Kosovo even more alarming. First and most disturbing is that the dead assailant, Ali, is being investigated for connections with Hamas, the Palestinian terror organization. Second is that the same Ali had visited the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, home of the Wahhabi Islamic sect that produced al Qaeda, only a month before he was sent to Kosovo in March.
More thorough descriptions of the incident are horrendous. The group of Americans, along with some Turkish personnel, were leaving a prison in the northern Kosovo town of Mitrovica when the attack began. It was their first day on the job. According to the Associated Press, they were "trapped between a locked gate and Ali's assault rifle."
The Palestinian carried an M-16, from which he apparently discharged 400 rounds, leading NATO investigators to examine whether his four colleagues in a Jordanian detachment assigned to guard the prison had helped him by feeding his weapon as he fired. All four were detained after the bloody events, but three have now been released, while one of them, whose name has not been disclosed, remains under arrest as a possible accomplice, and his immunity from prosecution has been revoked.
Like the "UNScam" oil-for-food scandal, this hasn't gotten a lot of big-media attention. (Nothing like what the massacre of Arabs by an American soldier would have gotten, I suspect.) But the U.N.'s record in Kosovo is generally bad, with this incident just the latest failure.
But don't expect a lot of whistleblowers to come forward, as the United Nations isn't very friendly to those who expose its failings:
The United Nations has threatened to fire two officials who wrote an expose of sleaze and corruption during its peacekeeping missions of the 1990s.
Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary-General, is understood to have favoured an attempt to block publication of the memoir, Emergency Sex and Other Desperate Measures, a True Story from Hell on Earth, due to be published next month.
Still reeling from the Iraqi oil-for-food scandal, officials in the upper echelons of the UN are alarmed by the promised revelations of wild sex parties, petty corruption, and drug use - diversions that helped the peacekeepers to cope with alternating states of terror and boredom.
And oil-for-food isn't going away. In fact, if you read this transcript from Meet the Press, you'll see Tim Russert mousetrapping Kofi Annan:
MR. RUSSERT: Someone also very close to you has alleged involvement in this scandal. This is how The San Diego Union Tribune wrote about it. "What particularly troubles are revelations that several hundred individuals, political entities and companies from more than 45 countries profited from doing illicit business with Saddam, accepting his oil contracts and paying the murderous dictator secret kick-backs. That included, according to Iraqi Oil Minister records, U.N. Assistant Secretary General Benon Sevan, executive director of the oil-for-food program, who received a voucher for 11.5 million barrels of oil through the program, enough to turn a profit as much as $3.5 million."
Now, Mr. Sevan has denied that allegation.
SEC'Y-GEN. ANNAN: Yes, sir.
MR. RUSSERT: But NBC News has obtained this letter that was sent on his stationery on April 14. This is just two weeks ago. "I refer to your e-mail ... regarding a request by 'a Governmental Authority' for reports ... relating to the Oil-for-Food Programme. ... While we understand Saybolt's"--that's a company--"desire to be cooperative with bodies looking into the Programme ... we would ask that Saybolt address any further requests for documentation or information concerning these matters to us ..."
So Mr. Sevan, who's being investigated, is telling a company that's also being investigated, "Don't cooperate with government authorities unless you clear it with me." Why is he still involved in the investigation?
SEC'Y-GEN. ANNAN: Right. No, I wasn't aware of this confess for--Benon has worked with the U.N. for several decades, and I will be surprised if he's guilty of these accusations.
This is especially interesting because Sevan was allegedly on vacation at the time.
Critics of the Bush Administration say that it's not up to the task or promoting democracy and fighting terror worldwide. Maybe not. But if it isn't, we're in big trouble -- because the U.N. certainly doesn't look like it's ready to take up the slack.
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