Saturday, April 10, 2004

I duck out for dinner and the White House goes and declassifies something. I could have sworn I was on the mailing list...

At any rate, I think what most folks are missing on first blush with the August 6th PDB is the context -- namely, that this document follows months of and months of George Tenet hammering al Qaeda into Bush's brain, and months and months of heightened alert statuses.

Think about it. What would your response have been if you were told that the group you were warned about all summer was actively engaged in "suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York."?

I know mine wouldn't have been to simply sit on my ass and wait.
A depressing must-read on TPM -- a peek from inside Iraq, and from someone who seems to know what they're talking about.
Right-Wing Geniuses on Parade, Part 2: Gregg Easterbrook Goes Off His Medication

E-mail to Easterblockhead:

Just curious, Gregg -- what in your experience makes you think Bush couldn't have built a case for an invasion of Afghanistan within six months if he'd wanted to? He certainly didn't have any trouble doing it with Iraq.

The difference between the two, of course, would have been the existence of actual evidence of plots and links to the Cole bombing and such when it came to an attack on al Qaeda and the Taliban, while the White House had to lie about WMDs to justify their attack on Saddam.

Your entire premise rests on ignoring one of the very skills the Bush administration has demonstrated over the last three years, the ability to mold public opinion. That's just stupid.

Mind you, at least you didn't attribute actions to a dead guy, so you're one up on Cliff May.

Thanks to Roger Ailes, we present another chapter of: Right-Wing Geniuses on Parade!

From Cliff May at NRO:

President Roosevelt waited until after World War II to put in place a commission to investigate what mistakes led to Pearl Harbor.

How is a rocket surgeon like May not employed directly by the Bush White House? Imagine all the good he could do working on a Middle East peace plan with Anwar Sadat, or getting Gandhi to put pressure on Pakistan to help find bin Laden.

(Incidentally, Roosevelt created a commission to investigate Pearl Harbor in December 1941.)
Juan Cole, who along with Bob Dreyfuss is essential Iraq reading, concludes that the Iraqi Governing Council is probably about to disintegrate.

So if there's no longer anyone to hand off power to on June 30, what exactly is Bush going to do?

That's a rhetorical question. It's not like he has any idea.

Where was Bush, incidentally, on Saturday while all this, and more, was going on?

On Saturday, Bush and his father were to go fishing at the ranch's bass pond with a crew from the Outdoor Life Network's "Fishing with Roland Martin."

George W. Bush -- Defending the Freedom of America's Lakes and Streams
Leave it to Drudge to dig up this Washington Post nugget from the summer of 2002:

The top-secret briefing memo presented to President Bush on Aug. 6 carried the headline, "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.," and was primarily focused on recounting al Qaeda's past efforts to attack and infiltrate the United States, senior administration officials said.

Excuse me -- the press knew about this nearly two years ago, and it took until now for it to become public knowledge??!!??

I am going to smack the next person who uses the phrase "liberal media" in a non-ironic fashion.

UPDATE: Credit where credit's due -- Bob Somerby pointed out the earlier WaPo piece on Friday.

Friday, April 09, 2004

I'm not sure what the pundits were watching yesterday -- or what they were on while they were watching it -- but this morning's headline sweep is mostly favorable to Condy:

Rice testimony defends administration -- CNN.com

Rice answers criticism -- Minneapolis Star-Tribune

Tough questioning doesn't shake Rice -- Chicago Tribune

Rice does the job for Bush -- San Jose Mercury News

It's not unanimous, though:

Rice leaves image of detached leaders -- Indianapolis Star

Rice's answers don't resolve questions -- Chicago Sun-Times

More questions than answers -- San Francisco Chronicle

Call to declassify pre-9/11 briefing -- New York Newsday

Please explain to me why the Presidential Daily Briefing entitled "Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States" is not the focus of every headline?

That's rhetorical, by the way. I know the answer, I just don't like it.
While Iraq boils, what's going on in that other shining example of Bush nation-building?

KABUL, Afghanistan — More than 600 fighters loyal to powerful Afghan warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum seized control of the northern provincial capital of Maymana on Thursday, forcing the U.S.-backed governor to flee, Afghan Interior Minister Ali Jalali said.


The clash demonstrates how difficult it is for Afghanistan's central government to curb the power of the warlords, who have been accused of reaping billions of dollars through extortion and the heroin trade.

It also raises the question of whether Afghanistan's national elections, scheduled for September, will be free of violence and intimidation.

The Taliban is active in the south and east, while in the north and west the warlords are still uppity, in no small part because most of the US troops left in the country are on the Pakistani border looking for Osama. If they take a cue from the co-operation of the Sunni and Sh'ia in Iraq, the interim government in Kabul is probably toast.
Jeff Greenfield is on CNN This Morning putting the lie to the "Dick Clarke said 9/11 couldn't have been prevented" crap. There's one more pundit who's kicked his Kool-Aid habit...

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Fineman (Fineman?) hits the nail dans la tete: what Condy's testimony today illustrates perfectly is that she didn't do her job.

I'd disagree with him that the NSA position has evolved past Kissinger though. The players might be different, but the job was the same. If anything, Rice's approach to her duties was pre-Kissinger -- she actually seems to think her only responsibilities as National Security Advisor was to advise, not make things happen on her own.

Heck, maybe in Li'l Bushie's White House her job was only to advise. But then that begs the question -- if it wasn't her job description, then whose was it?

Paging Mr. Cheney... Mr. Cheney to the witness stand...
Department of "Brahmin Intifada" Dept.:

Q Scott, how do you now respond to Senator Kerry's assertion yesterday that the June 30 date is an arbitrary one set for domestic political reasons here in this country?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think the campaign has already responded to some of the comments he's made. But let me go back to what I said earlier. There are some minority extremist elements that want nothing more than to derail the transition process and prevent the Iraqi people from realizing a free and democratic future. And it is no coincidence that as we get closer and closer to the June 30th timetable for transferring sovereignty, that we are seeing these relatively small number of extremist elements try to undermine the democratic process.

So, err, it's the White House's position that the Democratic nominee for President is a "minority extremist element" then, Scottie?

Because otherwise your response makes no freakin' sense.
Scottie Mac's Wednesday briefing has some great stuff.

For instance, the insurrection in Iraq has grown from "one individual" the day before to "a relatively small number of extremist elements."

Wow, these guys must breed like rabbits! At that rate of growth the country will be over-run by baddies by next Tuesday.
Department of "The Contrast is Striking" Dept.:

Here's how George W. Bush acts when he is 'on point':

...the President participated in a secure video conference with his National Security Council. The call also included Ambassador Bremer and General Abizaid. That first meeting lasted for a little bit over an hour, probably about an hour and 15 minutes. And then later in the morning, I guess early afternoon Eastern time, the President participated in a second National Security Council secure video conference with the same individuals. And in both discussions, the President received an update on the operational activities underway in Fallujah and some other parts of Iraq. He received the updates from General Abizaid, himself.

And here's how he acts when he isn't.

Any questions?
As Atrios points out:

August 6, 2001: Bush gets briefing titled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US."

August 7, 2001: Bush begins month long vacation in Crawford, TX.

This is funny. Blitzer is talking to Bob Franken (no relation, as far as I know) and keeps trying to push one story, while Franken basically ignores him and focuses on Kerrey's "swatting flies" line, and the August 6 memo.
Kean's post-game commentary focuses on Rice's continued reference to structural issues.

Hamilton just says how great it was to see her, and how great a witness she was.

The press on the ground brings up the August 6 memo again. Despite what Wolf thinks (or was told) the controversy would be, that will obviously be interest point #1.
And afterwards? Wolf focuses on her "no silver bullet" statement. Jeff Greenfield echoes it.

And yet... even Thomson has problems with the fact that there was no response to the Cole, and wonders what might have been had al Qaeda been hit in March 2001.

Rice's response was that she, and Rummy et al, thought that a response would "embolden" al Qaeda.

With no admission that, in retrospect, that might have been 100% wrong.
And here's Big Jim Thomson to the rescue!

Thomson: "I'm going to feed you some talking points, and you just nod your pretty little head, Condy."
Roemer: "If August 6 wasn't a warning to you, then what is?"
Roemer is asking nasty (for Condy) questions too.

First up: In her opening statements Rice said "The terrorists were at war with us, but we weren't at war with them." Roemer asks, basically, who was responsible for that failure, and why it didn't cost them their jobs.

Second: The first guy Rice called for the morning of 9/11 was Dick Clarke. He was THE counter-terrorism guy. Why wasn't he allowed to brief the president prior to 9/11? Why didn't the president ask to be briefed by him?

Third: He completely doesn't understand why the principals didn't meet about terrorism with the heightened threat level.

Now he's clashing with her about that August 6 PDB, and asks point blank if she would like it declassified so they can discuss the matter in full.

And now he's essentially calling her a liar with regard to the FBI being "tasked" about al Qaeda. He's pointing a finger straight at her, and she keeps passing the buck -- the CSG, the FBI, Andy Card, for the love of God anybody but me!

Rice is toast.
Another historical revision: Rice says the US hasn't been attacked on its own territory in 200 years.

So the first WTC attack and Pearl Harbor, among others, never happened.

And technically it wasn't a state at the time, but the Alamo was less than two centuries ago too...
I didn't get to it a few minutes ago, but Kerrey also savaged the White House's selective declassification of info. There may be some fall-out from that, if in fact (as seemed to be the case) he actually read from the classified bits of one of the important memos. I don't think that's a case the White House will really want to pursue, though...
Lehman is getting into the nitty-gritty of some of the inter-agency problems, specifically with regard to INS -- and Saudi Arabia!

Rice: "I didn't know... I didn't know... I wasn't aware of that until after 9/11... we've learned a great deal about that since 9/11..."

That was not a good sound bite for Condy.
When Kerrey point-blank asks her what follow-up she had after the July meeting with the FBI that contained specific al Qaeda cell information -- specifically in the context that "everyone in Washington" knows that the FBI and CIA don't talk -- she says she went to Dick Clarke's group.

But Dick Clarke had no authority! He wasn't Cabinet-level anymore. Rice was the one that had the authority to do something.

And I don't know if anyone caught it, but after her tussle with Kerrey (which she lost), she was grinning, and seemed to wink at him. So at least they're still friends after he helped sink her career.
Rice, on inter-agency communication: "There were legal impediments..."

That's a running theme with this White House. "Legal impediments" didn't stop you from testifying today, though, did it Condy?
Rice is trying to make nice with Kerrey by referring a "brilliant" speech he gave saying the correct response to the Cole attack might have been to deal with Saddam Hussein. His response: "Are you saying you didn't respond to the Cole because of a speech I gave? That if I hadn't given that speech you would have done something?"

Kerrey -- "Please don't filibuster me. It's not fair." This in response to the January 25 memo not being a "plan". And the sad thing is -- she calls it the Delenda Plan, and says that the Clinton administration didn't adopt it, but then says she wasn't presented with a plan.
Kerrey starts off with -- I greatly admire you and am moved by your life story, so I apologize in advance if I rip you a new asshole.

Kerrey also slams the Iraq action, re-iterating Clarke's point about it helping al Qaeda, it and asks the crowd not to applaud him for it with real emotion.

Oh, wow. Kerrey is asking Rice about Zelikow, and what his involvement was with the transition!

And now -- "Can you give me one example of President Bush swatting a fly with regard to al Qaeda?" And tying that back in with the lack of action after the Cole. "Why didn't we swat that fly?"
Gorton's giving her a breather, lobbing some softballs about Afghanistan so she can get her feet under her again.

She probably needs it. Up next: Bob Kerrey.
Rice has mentioned WMD's two or three times today, by the way. Not exactly a good way to build up credibility.
Gorelick points out the contradictions in Rice's defense: none of the threat alerts were about a domestic attack, but Rice has said that she and the president were worried about a domestic attack. Begging the question, why didn't she press the FBI etc., about their hints of a domestic plot?
Gorelick picks up the ball and runs with it, painting Rice in so many words as an intelligence bottleneck.

Rice is done after today. Whether Big Media picks up on it or not, Rice is done.
Fielding's next. His focus, based on the "We don't want to wake up and find bin Laden's attacked up" interview, is whether -- if she knew prior to 9/11 that there were structural problems -- what she had done to alleviate them.

Her response is that it didn't get done during the transition. Well, duh.

She continues to paint the picture of systemic disconnects in the intelligence community, seemingly oblivious to the fact that she was the one in the best position, and with the authority, to force this kind of stuff in absense of a process to do it naturally.

Which part of National Security Advisor did she not understand?

After her smiling description of the great progress that the Dept. of Homeland Security has made on that front, Fielding as much as says that the commission didn't think it was close to enough. D'oh!

And again, he's now referring back to the foiling of the Millenium Plots as a contrast to what the White House did during the summer of 2001. And again, Rice deliberately misses the point, talking about how the 2001 threats were all about foreign attacks.

Either intentionally or unintentionally -- and she's too smart not to realize how her testimony is coming across -- she's falling on her sword this morning. Instead on holding daily principals meetings as in 1999, she's saying she was the one in constant contact with the principals.

That sort of narrows down what the problem is, doesn't it?
Ben-Veniste is going after her hard, pointing out that he has limited time and telling her to just answer his questions -- which are, specifically, about the August 6 memo about al Qaeda cells in the States.

Rice is now acknowledging that the FBI was pursuing the case, and that she doesn't remember discussing it with the President.

Hee! Ben-Veniste is being a hard-ass, and got her to admit that the title of that PDB was "Bin Laden Plans Attacks Within US."

Now he's talking about the Millenium Plots, and tying that to her knowledge of the cells, and whether the FBI had in fact told her that the cells were acting in preparation for hijackings.

He's killing her, just pointing out that the memo isn't declassified in full. Wow.

And the crowd is applauding every hit he scores. Double wow.

He won't let her claim that the memo is simply full of historical info, and challenging her to declassify the whole thing so people can make up their own minds about its contents.

And NOW he's going after Bush, asking Rice if he was alarmed or took any action upon seeing the PDB -- in Crawford, by the way, as it was during his vacation.

Rice's defense on the whole: there was nothing actionable in the PDB, and no specifics, so what were we supposed to do? While Ben-Veniste's questions have all been designed to point out that just maybe they should have taken the initiative based on it, rather than sitting back and waiting for the FBI to finish its investigations.

I don't think Rice even realized how badly she's hanging herself with this "The FBI and CIA were doing everything they could" stuff, when she's being asked about the White House's own initiatives.

"We had a structural problem". I'll say, and its name was Dr. Condoleeza Rice.
Hamilton just finished up with a softball, asking her about "getting to the source" of the terrorism problem -- something she mentioned in her opening remarks. Ugh.

Mind you, that forces her to talk about bringing freedom to Iraq, and using it as an example of a functioning, multi-ethnic Middle Eastern democracy.

In the long run, of course.
Hamilton is leading with the "urgency" issue, and laying out point by point -- from Woodward's book to the one meeting in 100 about terrorism -- the criticisms. But he has no real question, and just lets Rice offer her rebuttals.

Re: Woodward. Rice falls back on Karen Hughes' spin that the response was actually about killing bin Laden, not al Qaeda in general. Her quote also contains a Bushism -- "what's the word... 'bring him to justice' ". Points for authenticity, at least.

Re: the 100 meetings. She says White House records show 33 meetings, not 100, and three of them were about terrorism in general (if not al Qaeda specifically). Umm, shouldn't those records have been provided to the commission, Condy?

Re: "back burner". She basically says that Shelton wasn't in the loop, although she's nicer about it tahn Cheney was.
"Not a single one of his senior advisors advised doing anything against Iraq."

Well, that's a bald-faced lie, unless she doesn't consider Donald "No good targets" Rumsfeld a senior advisor.
Rice is being asked almost right away about her "no one could have imagined a plane being used as a missile" nonsense.

She just said that the previous intelligence was never briefed to her -- passing the buck to the intelligence community for not filtering the info properly. Her position: she saw no memos on the subject.

And Kean doesn't follow up! Aaaagh!
Bob Somerby points out that the commission changed the rules for Rice, so as to try and not appear partisan. Huh?
Ummm... Rice's opening statement is trying to put the pre-9/11 period in a historical context, saying that the US didn't immediately declare war on Germany in WW I when the Lusitania was sunk, for instance.

Psst, Condy -- while Americans were killed when the Lusitania was sunk, the ship was British.

Great start, Condy!
Well, here we go. Condy's about to make her appearance...

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Sully dreams a little dream about so-called 'landslide' counties:

Maybe it's the country that's polarizing the politicians and the pundits, not the other way round.

So the leaders follow, and the followers lead? Good one Andrew!
Oh yeah, they're just about ready to govern themselves...

"We have to live here, so we're not going to go up against the Mahdi army [the militia loyal to the radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr],'' says a detective at the Habibiya police station in Sadr City, who would only identify himself as Abu Kassem. "We're in an incredibly dangerous and difficult position."

UPDATE: Of course I mean that in a logistical, political sense, not a "the little brown people need a minder" sense.
According to the Jerusalem Post, some Syrians were captured by the Marines in Fallujah.

Now, if this is an isolated case I'm not going to worry about it. The story doesn't say how many were captured, for instance, and heck, an American was captured in Afghanistan. Plus you have to consider that the JPost might just have a teensy bit of an interest in getting the Yanks riled up against Syria.

But with all that said... if this does become a trend -- if Sadr is starting to gather militant Muslims to his side from all over the Middle East, not just in Iraq -- the awful events of the last few days could be nothing compared to what follows.

Some good news that wasn't just transparant White House spin would be nice right about now.
Unbelievable. Apparently the White House has decided that public speeches are 'confidential'.

This goes beyond showing contempt for the 9/11 Commission, and the public. Like the idiotic insistance that Rice not testify a couple of weeks ago, the only rationale behind this can be pure fear.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Given Scottie Mac's normal verbal effluvium during the press briefings, I thought this exchange:

Q Is Sadr being supported by Iran? Do you know?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't have any information on that.


Q Are you suggesting that Sadr is acting independently? Are you suggesting that he doesn't have any foreign assistance or support in this current situation?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't have any information to share with you on that.

in this morning's gaggle spoke volumes.

This is a White House that considers talking points one of the fundamental building blocks of any successful action. And Scottie has nothing to say about Iranian involvement with Sadr?

The Christian Science Monitor can find something to say:

The US military will need to be careful about how it confronts or catches Mr. Sadr (he's wanted for the murder of a rival moderate cleric last year). His real danger lies less in possibly spreading violence than in the potential appeal of his brand of Islam, which is modeled after the father of the Islamic revolution in Iran, the late Ayatollah Khomeini. Sadr is the protégé of Ayatollah Kadhem Husseini Haeri, an ultraconservative Iraqi based in Iran who may well be one of Tehran's tools in influencing events in Iraq.

Heck, the Financial Times even offers some reason to think Sadr isn't taking cues from Tehran:

...the feud with the elderly Mr Sistani has continued. Mr Sadr's followers deride the Ayatollah for his Iranian stock and heavy Persian accent, which they say precludes him from interference in Iraq affairs.

But Scottie Mac has nothing. Which means the White House has nothing. Which means this isn't something they anticipated. At all.

Keep it in mind, folks -- what's happening in Iraq isn't an intelligence failure, in that we had bad intel before the invasion. It's an intelligence failure, in that the White House doesn't use theirs.

Monday, April 05, 2004

The meme that will not die: McCain as Kerry's VP.

Honestly, if you are looking for a bipartisan choice to drive a stake through Bush/Cheney's heart once and for all, isn't Colin Powell the obvious pick? The public, for the most part, sees McCain as a loose cannon. Powell has flushed a lot of his credibility with educated liberals down the drain the last four years, but most folks still see him as Gen. Powell, honorable as all hell and fighting the good fight.

Add to that the damage he could do confirming everything Clarke, O'Neill etc. said about the Bush administration, and it's a slam dunk.

Of course the real slam-dunk choice would be Bush's pappy, but let's not get crazy here.

I almost think the identity of the person doesn't matter. The country desperately needs a show of bipartisanship. If a McCoy chooses a Hatfield as his running mate -- any Hatfield -- it would blindingly illuminate how ugly Bush has made the political discourse in the US. And that should be priority #1 for Kerry.
Add Tom Blackburn to the list of people who get it.
I have been pondering the tempest in a piss bucket that is the furor over Kos' "Screw 'em!" comment.

To play catch-up: Kos, in a comments thread to someone else's post on his site, expressed little sympathy for the mercenaries -- and I don't care what the Geneva Convention says, they were mercenaries -- killed at Fallujah. Inspired by Glenn "Instapundit" Reynolds the right-wing bloggers howled for blood, calling for advertiser boycotts of Daily Kos and delinkings.

John Kerry's blog complied.

First off: Reynolds is a disingenuous hack. He denies that he led the campaign against Kos, but contrast his mischaracterization of the comment ("gloating", "America-hatred") with what Kos actually said. He preached to the choir, and touched off exactly the shitstorm he was hoping to create.

Second: the Kerry blog people should know better. Big Left Al called this Kerry's "Sister Souljah" moment, but I have to disagree. In 1992 everyone knew who Public Enemy was. In 2004, if you aren't a blogger you don't know Kos from Costco. Big Media doesn't want to acknowledge that blogs have any impact at all, much less do things that invite comment or action from presidential candidates. This isn't a story that's going to catch fire. No one outside the blogosphere is going to pay any attention at all. All Kerry's blog people have done is piss off, and alienate, a group that has done nothing but push his candidacy and help fill his coffers.

In fact Atrios has already struck back:

People can advertise with or not, and link to or not, any blog they want. But, if we haven't grown up enough to realize that one stupid retracted comment posted by a blogger in the comments section of someone else's diary post on that blog deserves absolutely no official written response by a campaign - no matter how offensive it is - then I don't think we're grown up enough yet to have blog/campaign complementarity. The Kerry campaign is now operating on the standard that they are responsible for the comments made by any blogger they link to, and in fact will allow themselves to be forced into commenting on any transgressions. They're trying to get their guy elected, and they're going to do what they think is necessary (I'll let others judge the wisdom), but it shows they're not ready to really have a blog and interact with the rest of the blog world. They should just pull down all their links.

Third: Kos was right.

Look at what Kos actually said, between his original comment and subsequent explanation. Aside from the emotional reaction brought on by his personal history (grew up in a warzone, served in Bush 41's Gulf War), here were his main points:

- he was upset that the deaths of mercenaries were getting more play than the deaths of actual soldiers
- he was upset that mercenaries are being used in Iraq at all
- "Nobody deserves to die. But in the greater scheme of things, there are a lot of greater tragedies going on in Iraq (51 last month, plus countless civilians and Iraqi police). That those tragedies are essentially ignored these days is, ultimately, the greatest tragedy of all."

As above, so below. The right-wing bloggers target the messenger because they have no rebuttal for the message. Sound familiar?

The worst lie George W. Bush ever told: "I'm a uniter, not a divider." Under his watch he has turned America into a nation of Hatfields, McCoys and horrified bystanders. In fact, from this moment on I am retiring "Pub" and "Dem" in favor of "Hatfield" and "McCoy". I will not be consistent in which is which, because it doesn't matter. You'll simply have to deduce which party I'm talking about through context.

Despite their rhetoric the president's team acts as though no battle is as important as the one for the White House.

They are horribly, horribly wrong.

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