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Weathervane politics

Weathervane politics

November 15, 2005 |

The revisionist-history approach seems to be losing steam, and in fact it seems that Ted Kennedy cut the proponents of the "Bush Lied" argument off at the knees last week, when he said that Democrats to vote against the war.  Of course, Kennedy quotes a pre-war source who says that the taking of Baghdad would be like something out of Saving Private Ryan, when in fact it was anything but.

Meanwhile, Bryan Preston notes that -- which apparently the Democrats and quite a few journalists either can't use or wish we didn't know about -- to explode most of the claims about prewar intelligence.  And Tom Maguire (using Google!) that Rockefeller probably would rather you didn't know about:

There is unmistakable evidence that Saddam Hussein is working aggressively to develop nuclear weapons and will likely have nuclear weapons within the next five years.  And that may happen sooner if he can obtain access to enriched uranium from foreign sources -- something that is not that difficult in the current world.  We also should remember we have always underestimated the progress Saddam has made in development of weapons of mass destruction.......At the end of the day, we cannot let the security of American citizens rest in the hands of someone whose track record gives us every reason to fear that he is prepared to use the weapons he has against his enemies.As the attacks of September 11 demonstrated, the immense destructiveness of modern technology means we can no longer afford to wait around for a smoking gun. September 11 demonstrated that the fact that an attack on our homeland has not yet occurred cannot give us any false sense of security that one will not occur in the future. We no longer have that luxury.

As Maguire notes:  "Now remember, Rockefeller was on the Intelligence Committee."

But he's not looking so intelligent today, as he pushes the "Bush Lied" argument.  Here's Rockefeller interviewed by Chris Wallace, :

SEN. ROCKEFELLER: Chris, there's always the same conversation.  You know it was not the Congress that sent 135,000 or 150,000 troops.WALLACE: But you voted, sir, and aren't you responsible for your vote?SEN. ROCKEFELLER: No.WALLACE: You're not?...WALLACE: My only point sir, and I am trying to be serious about it, is as I understand Phase Two, the question is based on the intelligence you had, what were the statements you made? You had the National Intelligence Estimate which expressed doubts about Saddam's nuclear program, and yet you said he had a nuclear program. The President did the same thing.

But Bush isn't depending on the good will of the MoveOn crowd.  Rockefeller is, and that's why he -- and quite a few other Democratic politicians -- are changing their story now.  Be prepared for lots of Republican political commercials featuring weathervanes.

UPDATE:  Well, there are no weathervanes, but the GOP has rolled out that features Democrats talking about the danger of Saddam Hussein as long ago as 1998.  Expect to see more of this kind of thing.


McCain:  Democrats lying about the war

When I defend the Bush Administration, some e-mailers always accuse me of repeating GOP talking points.  That's false, of course, and this week we've seen that it's the other way around:  The Bush Administration and the Republicans have finally gotten around to saying something that I've been out for a .

What I've been pointing out is that Democratic leaders have been, well, lying about the war — or, more specifically, about the intelligence that led to the war.  John McCain agrees, and he made this clear on CBS's this weekend:

SCHIEFFER: President Bush accused his critics of rewriting history last week.Sen. McCAIN: Yeah.SCHIEFFER: And in--he said in doing so, the criticisms they were making of his war policy was endangering our troops in Iraq. Do you believe it is unpatriotic to criticize the Iraq policy?Sen. McCAIN: No, I think it's a very legitimate aspect of American life to criticize and to disagree and to debate.  But I want to say I think it's a lie to say that the president lied to the American people.  I sat on the Robb-Silverman Commission.  I saw many, many analysts that came before that committee.  I asked every one of them--I said, `Did--were you ever pressured politically or any other way to change your analysis of the situation as you saw?'  Every one of them said no.  Now was there a colossal intelligence failure?  Of course, there was.  Is there still a lot of things that need to be done to improve that?  Are we winning the war on terror?  I think it depends on your parameters.  But to assert that the president intentionally lied to the American people is just wrong.  And could I finally say, every intelligence agency in the world, including the Russian, including the French, including the Israeli, all had--reached the same conclusion, and that was that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.  So I think open, honest disagreement, more discussion, more debate, the more facts that come out, the better off we are, but I would not accept the premise the president lied.

So why are the Democrats peddling this line?  Because, as I've noted, Democratic politicians voted for the war, but their activist donor base opposes it.  They're boxed in, and claiming that they were misled seems like a way for them to explain away the contradiction while going on the offensive against Bush.

There are only two problems with this approach.  First, as McCain notes, it's a lie.  Second, it's a lie that's damaging to the country.

In response, some have said that President Bush is tarring all critics of the war as unpatriotic.  That's a lie, too.  And the people making this claim are making it, I think, because they hope a general claim that people are calling all war critics unpatriotic will obscure the specific ways in which their own behavior is, in fact, unpatriotic.  But while anti-war people are trying to erase that distinction, pro-war people are not.

President Bush made that clear in his , which is worth quoting at some length:

While it's perfectly legitimate to criticize my decision or the conduct of the war, it is deeply irresponsible to rewrite the history of how that war began. (Applause.) Some Democrats and anti-war critics are now claiming we manipulated the intelligence and misled the American people about why we went to war.  These critics are fully aware that a bipartisan Senate investigation found no evidence of political pressure to change the intelligence community's judgments related to Iraq's weapons programs.They also know that intelligence agencies from around the world agreed with our assessment of Saddam Hussein.  They know the United Nations passed more than a dozen resolutions citing his development and possession of weapons of mass destruction. And many of these critics supported my opponent during the last election, who explained his position to support the resolution in the Congress this way: "When I vote to give the President of the United States the authority to use force, if necessary, to disarm Saddam Hussein, it is because I believe that a deadly arsenal of weapons of mass destruction in his hands is a threat, and a grave threat, to our security."  That's why more than a hundred Democrats in the House and the Senate — who had access to the same intelligence — voted to support removing Saddam Hussein from power. (Applause.)The stakes in the global war on terror are too high, and the national interest is too important, for politicians to throw out false charges. (Applause.) These baseless attacks send the wrong signal to our troops and to an enemy that is questioning America's will. As our troops fight a ruthless enemy determined to destroy our way of life, they deserve to know that their elected leaders who voted to send them to war continue to stand behind them. (Applause.) Our troops deserve to know that this support will remain firm when the going gets tough. (Applause.)

Criticizing the war effort isn't unpatriotic.  Peddling damaging falsehoods about how we went to war in order to cover one's political rear is.

I don't think this strategy will work, although I understand why Democratic politicians think they have to pursue it.  But as blogger notes, it seems dubious:

Left unexplained - how the Democrats' unrelenting focus on the use of pre-war intelligence is going to substitute for a plan to resolve the situation in Iraq.  Was it really only two weeks ago that Harry Reid forced the Senate into a closed session to discuss that?Perhaps Sen. Reid was simply intending to commemorate the second anniversary of the of the explaining how the Democrats could politicize the Senate Intelligence Committee hearings for maximum benefit.  This political posturing by the Dems is understandable - their party is pretty well united around the desire to have a mulligan on the decision to go to war against Iraq.However, on the slightly more topical question of where we go from here, the problem that crippled John Kerry continues to vex the Democrats - their anti-war base wants to declare Bush beaten and leave Iraq, while many of their leaders continue to argue that defeat is not an option. This conflict leads to such spectacles as the Sheehan v. Clinton showdown....And my point is what? Bush did what he believed in, Democrats chose to vote expediently rather than lead, and here we are. Three years later Bush is still doing what he believes in, and Democrats are still looking to evade the Iraq issue.

They certainly are.  A better strategy for the Democrats would probably be to get the war over with, at least as a political issue, since every time they bring it up they remind people why so many don't trust the Democratic Party to take matters of national security seriously.  I think that has it right:

Instead of looking backward to question why we're at war, Democrats should focus on winning by increasing the size of the military, portraying a positive message, supporting not just the troops, but also their mission, and showing the world a united homefront in the midst of war.There's precedent for this counterintuitive approach--1992. When Bushes win victories abroad, the focus returns quickly to their failures at home. And as far as many Republican voters are concerned, there are domestic deficiencies aplenty in this Bush administration. Just as there were in his father's.So, Democrats, stop running against the war. You serve only to unite an otherwise disenchanted Republican base. If you take the war off the front page by winning it, Republicans will have to depend on their domestic record for victory. And, unfortunately, there's little there to rally the base.

The problem for the Democrats is that for too many of their activists, being "against the war" (in some sort of leftover Vietnam-era reflex in which it hardly matters what war you're against) is at the core of their identity.  It's a social, aesthetic, and generational statement, not just a political or military position.  That's made it hard for Democratic politicians, but I don't think that efforts to revise history are going the help them.

I think that Democratic Gov. Mark Warner of Virginia agrees, because later in the same program he :

I heard Senator McCain earlier, and I, you know, have tremendous respect for Senator McCain.  But I think the Democratic Party ought to get over refighting how we got into the war and, again, continue to press the president on what he hopes to do in terms of how we will finish the job....I think we ought to focus again how we finish the job, not go back and refight how we got there in the first place.

Warner gets it. Will the national Democratic Party catch on, too?

November 11, 2005 | 1:36 AM ET

Lame politics, left and right

Democratic politicians who voted for the war continue to push the "Bush Lied" argument so that they can cozy up to their activist fundraising base, which has always been antiwar. :

Among the many distortions, misrepresentations, and outright falsifications that have emerged from the debate over Iraq, one in particular stands out above all others. This is the charge that George W. Bush misled us into an immoral and/or unnecessary war in Iraq by telling a series of lies that have now been definitively exposed. What makes this charge so special is the amazing success it has enjoyed in getting itself established as a self-evident truth even though it has been refuted and discredited over and over again by evidence and argument alike. In this it resembles nothing so much as those animated cartoon characters who, after being flattened, blown up, or pushed over a cliff, always spring back to life with their bodies perfectly intact. Perhaps, like those cartoon characters, this allegation simply cannot be killed off, no matter what.

He goes on with a lengthy and well-documented evisceration of this quite demonstrably false argument.  But although it's demonstrably false, it's also very, very useful.  And the Democrats can count on the media to have short memories and no real willingness to explore the matter.

Meanwhile, the Republicans are dropping the ball on the economy.  As writes:

Why Republicans don't say more about the tax-cut related economic expansion is beyond me.  And whether Tuesday's disappointing election results provide a wake up call for the GOP remains to be seen. But they need a wake up call. Young Turks in the House like Mike Pence, Jeff Flake, and Marsha Blackburn should be represented in the House leadership.  Ideas matter.  Dick Armey was a great idea man.  Speaker Dennis Hastert doesn't seem to be a great idea man.  The Tom DeLay period is probably over.  New blood in the leadership is essential. And speaking of new blood, where exactly is the White House proposal for budget cutting?  Last week Bush said he was open to deeper budget cuts. But no new budget-cutting list has so far been unveiled by the OMB. The White House is not using the bully pulpit to lead the effort. The public is clamoring for exactly this kind of budget (and tax) crusade. A specific budget proposal from the West Wing would be very helpful. The lack of one offers more evidence of Bush fatigue. Failure to provide a specific Social Security reform plan was a key reason for the downfall of this reform. Likewise, failure to publish a specific budget-cutting plan, which could energize the whole congressional process, may lead to the downfall of a significant budget cut this year. Specific policies will beat inertia. But without specifics, the Democrats will gain more ground simply because the Republicans now running government are failing to meet taxpayer expectations.

Kudlow is right.  And the Republican failure is likely to do them more harm than any amount of "Bush Lied" propaganda.  It seems to have escaped the Democrats' notice, but Bush isn't running for President in 2008.  The Republicans can survive any amount of anti-Bush press -- but they can't survive a lousy record in Congress.  And a lousy record is precisely what they're going to have if they don't start changing things fast.

It's even worse for the Republicans than that, because while the Republicans are failing to put forth any sort of coherent economic program, Democrats are getting their act together. President Clinton's National Economic Adviser, Gene Sperling, has a new book out entitled .  (I've written more on Sperling's book .)

Sperling realizes that the Democrats can't capture the White House without an economic program that the American people trust.  I wonder how long it'll take for the Republicans to figure that out, too?

November 10, 2005 | 11:01 AM ET

I've blogged about in the past, but things continue to look bad.  Here's a from autoblog The Truth About Cars:

For over 30 years, Maryann Keller's kept tabs on The General. The auto industry analyst has watched GM lose billions in overseas investments, surrender great chunks of market share to its rivals and sacrifice shareholder value in an endless pursuit of The Next Big Thing.  According to Keller, GM's inability to face-up to its structural weaknesses is nothing new.  Nor are the excuses coming from RenCen.  "It's one big idea after another," Keller said.  "This time it's crossovers. Well, they've used that 'there's a new product in the pipeline' routine for years. GM's problems are NOT temporary." OK, but are they terminal? Like most observers, Keller's brain balks at bankruptcy. For one thing, The General is sitting on an estimated $30b cash pile-- which will grow by another $12b or so when GM jettisons controlling interest in its GMAC mortgage and financing business. For another, Keller says bankruptcy would have a cataclysmic effect on GM's business. "Customers would disappear," Keller says. "They'd think, who's going to pay for my warranty claims? What will my car be worth? And what bank would write a loan for a car sold by a bankrupt company? Would fleet customers do business with them? I don't think so. The long-term damage to GM would be incalculable." That said, there's no doubt in Keller's mind that GM's current situation is extremely bad, and getting worse.

Read the whole thing.  General Motors isn't "too big to fail," but it's too big to fail without some rather unpleasant consequences for the marketplace.

I just bought a new car, and I would have preferred buying an American vehicle.  Ford (with the Escape Hybrid) and Chrysler (with the Pacifica) at least gave me something to consider, but my doubts about their reliability kept me from looking very hard.  GM, on the other hand, didn't even give me anything to consider.  They just don't bring much to the table, and the reliability and interior fit-and-finish problems that they suffer from mean that a lot of people are likely to feel that way.

Bad cars, though, aren't even their biggest problem.  Their real problem is in bad management and bad union contracts.  I hope they can turn things around, but I've got my doubts.

November 7, 2005 | 12:32 PM ET

Hook, line and sinker

So the press has once again fallen for a :

Among his claims:Marines fired on and killed peaceful Iraqi protesters.

Americans shot a 4-year-old Iraqi girl in the head.A tractor-trailer was filled with the bodies of civilian men, women and children killed by American artillery. Massey's claims have gained him celebrity. Last month, Massey's book, "Kill, Kill, Kill," was released in France. His allegations have been reported in nationwide publications such as Vanity Fair and USA Today, as well as numerous broadcast reports. Earlier this year, he joined the anti-war bus tour of Cindy Sheehan, and he's spoken at Cornell and Syracuse universities, among others. News organizations worldwide published or broadcast Massey's claims without any corroboration and in most cases without investigation. Outside of the Marines, almost no one has seriously questioned whether Massey, a 12-year veteran who was honorably discharged, was telling the truth. He wasn't.Each of his claims is either demonstrably false or exaggerated - according to his fellow Marines, Massey's own admissions, and the five journalists who were embedded with Massey's unit, including a reporter and photographer from the Post-Dispatch and reporters from The Associated Press and The Wall Street Journal.

So much for any plans to run for President in 30 years, like John Kerry did.

Ron Harris of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wonders to swallow Massey's stories.  He offers a variety of reasons, but I can't help but feel that part of it stems from a combination of Vietnam nostalgia — stories that fit the Vietnam template tend to get ink regardless of whether they're true, while stories that don't tend to be ignored regardless — and general anti-Bush sentiment, heavily larded with ignorance regarding military matters.

The editors are wondering why, now:

That Massey wasn't telling the truth should have become obvious the more he told his stories, said Phillip Dixon, former managing editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer and currently chairman of the Howard University Department of Journalism.Dixon examined dozens of newspaper articles in which Massey told of the atrocities that Marines allegedly committed in Iraq."He couldn't keep his story straight," said Dixon, who has also been an editor at The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times.  "First it was a 4-year-old girl with a bullet hole in her head, then it was a 6-year-old girl."Editors at some papers look back at the Massey articles and are surprised that they ran them without examining whether the claims were true or without ever asking the Marine Corps about them."I'm looking at the story and going, 'Why, why would we have run this without getting another side of the story?'" said Lois Wilson, managing editor of the Star Gazette in Elmira, N.Y.

But this has been the pattern all along, and after each big embarrassment — like RatherGate, or the press's duping by another phony anti-war veteran, , who turned out not to have ever served in the Rangers as he claimed — they go right back to be duped again.  Is it bias?  In part, yes.

But the single biggest reason why the press falls for this kind of thing is that so few reporters and editors have military experience themselves.  Stories that a veteran would count as implausible pass right by those without the experience to know better.

When it comes to covering minority groups, or specialty professions like law or medicine, the press tries to have people with firsthand experience.  But there doesn't seem to be a similar interest in hiring people with military experience to write about military affairs.  It seems to me that doing so would be a good idea.


Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right

I'm not the only one who thinks that the strategy of historical revisionism -- however effective it is as a fundraising tool -- is a bad idea.  Marshall Wittman writes at the Democratic Leadership Council-sponsored blog :

It is good for the Republican majority to be hornswaggled once and a while.  The Democrats also forced the Republicans to move on the delayed intelligence report.  And the dramatic maneuver brightened the spirits of the frustrated Democratic base.But, alas, the Senate action raises the question - does the Democratic Party really want to re-litigate the arguments to go to war?  Maybe so, but keep in mind that many Democrats voted to grant authority to the President to go to war.  And most still stand by that vote.This author argues that while the Bushies went to war with insufficient troop levels and mishandled the post war situation, it was inevitable and just that Saddam was removed. In the post-9/11 environment any American Administration would have erred on the side of vigilance concerning Saddam's threat.  That may not have been wise, but it wasn't a case of lying and massive deceit. The Moose does not have to trust George W. Bush to hold that view.  He believes Tony Blair. For that matter, most of the Clinton national security team was convinced that Saddam posed a threat to American interests and security.  It was hardly a vast neo-con conspiracy that brought us to war.Will the American people have faith in and trust a party that claims that it was gullibly duped, or as George Romney claimed about another war - that it was "brainwashed"?  Moreover, should the objective be re-fighting the reasons to go to war and making the Democrats the official anti-war party or should the goal be achieving reasonable success in Iraq?

Too many, alas, would rather see a failure in Iraq that they could blame on George Bush.

But although the Republicans are better -- for the most part, they at least think America is worth defending -- some of them are pretty dumb, too.  How about the campaign by "pro-family" groups against a vaccine that might prevent cervical cancer -- because removing the threat of cervical cancer might lead to, shudder,

I think the best take was :  "What kid do you know that stabs themselves with rusty nails just because they've been vaccinated against tetanus?"

This isn't playing well even among Christian bloggers: Over at we read:  "Remember, vaccines don't kill people - cancers that attack the lining of the cervix do."

Yes.  On left and right, too many people are worried about scoring points -- and stoking their direct-mail efforts -- to do the right thing.

UPDATE:  It's gotten so bad that Jimmy Carter is accusing President Bush of lying because he agreed with him!

Here's what Jimmy Carter is saying :

The Bush Administration's prewar claims that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction were "manipulated, at least" to mislead the American people, former President Jimmy Carter said Wednesday.

But here's what Jimmy Carter was :

He obviously has the capability and desire to build prohibited weapons and probably has some hidden in his country.

Carter was against invading then, of course, but not because he didn't think Saddam lacked weapons of mass destruction.  Yet now he's accusing Bush of lying -- for saying the same thing that Carter said.

I agree with Wittman -- this isn't going to persuade many people that the Democratic Party is ready to take responsibility for national security.  (Via ?).


WMDs make Harry Reid's head explode

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid can't stand it.  He was hoping that special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald would bring down the Bush Administration for him, but all he got was a lame indictment of Scooter Libby.

He showed his pique today by taking the Senate into closed session and of prewar intelligence.

Well, okay -- but then the investigation needs to go way back before the war, to 1998, when a Democratic President, with the support of many Congressional Democrats, passed the , which that:

(1)  On September 22, 1980, Iraq invaded Iran, starting an 8 year war in which Iraq employed chemical weapons against Iranian troops and ballistic missiles against Iranian cities.(2)  In February 1988, Iraq forcibly relocated Kurdish civilians from their home villages in the Anfal campaign, killing an estimated 50,000 to 180,000 Kurds.(3)  On March 16, 1988, Iraq used chemical weapons against Iraqi Kurdish civilian opponents in the town of Halabja, killing an estimated 5,000 Kurds and causing numerous birth defects that affect the town today....(9)  Since March 1996, Iraq has systematically sought to deny weapons inspectors from the United Nations Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM) access to key facilities and documents, has on several occasions endangered the safe operation of UNSCOM helicopters transporting UNSCOM personnel in Iraq, and has persisted in a pattern of deception and concealment regarding the history of its weapons of mass destruction programs.(10)  On August 5, 1998, Iraq ceased all cooperation with UNSCOM, and subsequently threatened to end long-term monitoring activities by the International Atomic Energy Agency and UNSCOM.(11)  On August 14, 1998, President Clinton signed Public Law 105-235, which declared that `the Government of Iraq is in material and unacceptable breach of its international obligations' and urged the President `to take appropriate action, in accordance with the Constitution and relevant laws of the United States, to bring Iraq into compliance with its international obligations.'...It is the sense of the Congress that once the Saddam Hussein regime is removed from power in Iraq, the United States should support Iraq's transition to democracy by providing immediate and substantial humanitarian assistance to the Iraqi people, by providing democracy transition assistance to Iraqi parties and movements with democratic goals, and by convening Iraq's foreign creditors to develop a multilateral response to Iraq's foreign debt incurred by Saddam Hussein's regime.

Then there are statements like :

"One way or the other, we are determined to deny Iraq the capacity to develop weapons of mass destruction and the missiles to deliver them. That is our bottom line." - President Bill Clinton, February 4, 1998 "If Saddam rejects peace and we have to use force, our purpose is clear. We want to seriously diminish the threat posed by Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program." - President Bill Clinton, February 17, 1998 "We must stop Saddam from ever again jeopardizing the stability and security of his neighbors with weapons of mass destruction." - Madeline Albright, February 1, 1998 "He will use those weapons of mass destruction again, as he has ten times since 1983." - Sandy Berger, Clinton National Security Adviser, February 18, 1998 "[W]e urge you, after consulting with Congress, and consistent with the U.S. Constitution and laws, to take necessary actions (including, if appropriate, air and missile strikes on suspect Iraqi sites) to respond effectively to the threat posed by Iraq's refusal to end its weapons of mass destruction programs." Letter to President Clinton. - (D) Senators Carl Levin, Tom Daschle, John Kerry, others, October 9, 1998 "Saddam Hussein has been engaged in the development of weapons of mass destruction technology which is a threat to countries in the region and he has made a mockery of the weapons inspection process." - Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D, CA), December 16, 1998 "Hussein has ... chosen to spend his money on building weapons of mass destruction and palaces for his cronies." - Madeline Albright, Clinton's Secretary of State, November 10, 1999

The anti-war fundraising base of the Democrats -- as exemplified by organizations like -- is powerful enough to require Democratic politicians like Harry Reid to pretend that all the WMD stuff began with President Bush. That is, not to put too fine a point on it, a gross and partisan lie.

Reid owes the President an apology. He owes another to the Democratic Party, whose credibility he is destroying, day by day.

UPDATE:  Perhaps Reid should look at on Iraqi WMD, which found that errors in intelligence on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction didn't stem from White House pressure, but from groupthink and systematic failure within the Intelligence Community:

The Committee found significant short-comings in almost every aspect of the Intelligence Community's human intelligence collection efforts against Iraq's weapons of mass destruction activities, in particular that the Community had no sources collecting against weapons of mass destruction in Iraq after 1998.  Most, if not all, of these problems, stem from a broken corporate culture and poor management, and will not be solved by additional funding and personnel.

1998.  Was Bush President then?