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Leading With The Left
March 28, 2003 PERMALINK
So Perle quit. Sort of.
But many of the early headlines were wrong. He's not leaving the DPB altogether, just giving up the chairmanship.
Which means he still maintains his security clearance and his access, the tools he needs to leverage more sweetheart deals.
And he also remains bound to the same federal ethics rules.
The step down is no great sacrifice. He has milked all he can out the chairmanship anyway.
He got the war he has long craved, and raised his public profile (and probably his price) along the way.
The one tangible loss was Perle's other announcement, that he would give up his fees for his Global Crossing work and donate them to military families victimized by the war.
But that's merely a cheap way to gain sympathy while trying to duck guilt. You can be sure that wasn't his initial plan for the expected $1.3M payday.
(CORRECTION Mar. 28 10 AM ET -- Please excuse the fuzzy math above. The deal was not for $1.3M, but for $725K, with $600K to be paid only if Global Crossing won the government approval it is seeking. Perle has not confirmed the figures, but said yesterday that he wouldn't take any additional pay if the approval is granted.)
Besides, there's no "charity" exemption to federal ethics rules.
Also, Global Crossing is only one of the three deals Rep. John Conyers wants to investigate. Perle's donation aims to distract attention from the other two.
Self-serving half-measures like these usually fail to quell burgeoning scandals.
Instead, they tend to attract more media attention, more questions and more problems.
Some folks never learn. The way out of scandal is to ╬fess up, fall on the sword and apologize.
But those who have a history of skirting the rules often don't have the humility to do the smart thing.
March 27, 2003 PERMALINK
LiberalOasis spoke too soon.
Last week, Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-SC) scuttled a proposal from Senate moderates to scale back Dubya's really giant $726B tax cut to a merely giant $350B.
Even though most Dems were supportive, LO praised the defeat, since it would keep Dem fingerprints off the inevitable fiscal disaster.
But this week, key moderate Sen. John Breaux (D-LA) played Hollings -- revising the proposal to address one of his key concerns.
Hollings flipped, the Dems went along, and now they're on record supporting an irresponsible tax cut.
But all is not lost.First, this is not the final say. The budget resolution now goes to a House-Senate conference.
The House bill kept the Bush tax cut intact, and conference will be packed with Bush loyalists.
And since two Senate GOP moderates who voted with the Dems have already said they'll vote for whatever comes out of the conference, there's no incentive for conferees to hold the number down.
That means it is probable that the tax cut will end up close to the fat $726B figure, and Dems will most likely vote against the final budget plan.
(Also, note that the Senate Dems voted against the full budget package one day after approving the $350B tax cut provision.)
So the Dems should end up with their hands clean.
Second, the vote further shows that the Dems are willing to stand up to Bush even during a war.
This may have been a misguided manifestation of that defiant attitude, but it still bodes well for future legislative battles.
On two separate occasions, LiberalOasis attributed this Balkans war quote to Trent Lott: "We can support the troops without supporting the president."
But LiberalOasis recently concluded it has no evidence that this quote is accurate, even though it can be found on several web sites.
This week, a reader emailed LiberalOasis looking for a primary source for the quote.
After thoroughly searching Google and Lexis/Nexis, LO came up empty.
Furthermore, the DNC recently released a handy 7-page report of GOP criticism of Clinton during the Kosovo conflict. But the alleged Lott quote isn't there.
Of course, if anyone can send in proof, LiberalOasis will happily retract the retraction.
March 26, 2003 PERMALINK
Predicting anything in the midst of war is a sucker's game.
But LiberalOasis has a baaaad feeling about Basra.
That's what the Bushies wanted to hear. In theory.But at a Rumsfeld briefing yesterday afternoon, a reporter posed an ominous question:
Mr. Secretary, there is reported to be a popular uprising in Basra, but the popular uprising apparently is not only targeting some of the Iraqi forces but also some of the coalition forces... Can you comment...?
Rumsfeld didn't answer directly, but the questioner seems to be on to something.
MSNBC.com quoted a "senior U.S. official" with this assessment:
At this point, it is premature. The nature and extent of [the uprising] remains unclear. You can describe it as chaotic.
Remember that part of the Iraqi Shiite opposition is backed by another leg of the "Axis of Evil" -- Iran.
And an Iraqi Shiite leader, currently in Iran, gave a warning to the US yesterday:
Coalition forces are welcome in Iraq as long as they help the Iraqi people get rid of Saddam's dictatorship, but Iraqis will resist if they seek to occupy or colonize our country.
The world does not approve of any colonialism and occupation and we will take peaceful measures in this respect at the beginning, but we will use force later.
Knight Ridder's report indicates the warning and the uprising are related:
Some reports said the uprising was the work of an Iranian-backed group that favored establishing an Islamic republic...
... Many [Shiites] say they are not convinced the United States can oust Saddam or create a democratic Iraq that will protect their rights...
...Other Shiites worry about the impact of Western attitudes in a post-Saddam Iraq. They question whether it is wise to align with the United States, which they fear could occupy Iraq for a long time.
Furthermore, while the Brits were emphasizing that Saddam's army was firing at fellow Iraqis in Basra, locals may also be angry at coalition violence.
Al-Jazeera television quoted Iraqi medics on Saturday as saying 50 people [in Basra] were killed in U.S. bombings.
The...network also broadcast grisly footage of civilian casualties in Basra, including a dead child with a horrible head wound ¸ a picture that aroused anger across the Arab world.
Another potential complication is that the US isn't directly involved with Basra right now. It's just the Brits.
That could explain why Rumsfeld yesterday sent out a mixed message to the Shiites:
I am very careful about encouraging people to rise up. We know there are people in those cities ready to shoot them if they try to rise up.
[But] anyone who's engaged in an uprising has a whole lot of courage and I sure hope they're successful.
While Tony Blair was confident and steadfast:
My message to them is that this time we will not let you down.
Perhaps this is a conscious strategy.
Many in Basra resent the US for turning its back following the 1991 uprising against Saddam, which was brutally put down. The Brits don't have the same baggage.
But the Blair-Rummy divergence could just as well be a precursor to finger-pointing by the US and Britain if Basra turns disastrous.
On top of all that, there's a major humanitarian crisis brewing, with Basra suffering a food and water shortage.
Basra was supposed to be the low-hanging fruit, the easy win that would provide PR fuel for the rest of the campaign.
Now, by falsely assuming how readily America would be embraced, Bush faces the prospect of a fiasco akin to the Bay of Pigs -- if not a military loss, then perhaps a very ugly win.
(UPDATE Mar. 26 6:30 PM ET -- The aforementioned Shiite opposition group now says there was no full-blown uprising, just "disturbances." Via Warblogging.)
March 25, 2003 PERMALINK
Let the quotes speak for themselves today.
Before the war started
VP Dick Cheney, 8/26/02
VP Dick Cheney, 3/16/03
Ken Adelman, member of the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board, 2/13/02
How would it be accomplished? [In part, by] arming the Kurds in the north, Shiites in the south and his many opponents everywhere.[emphasis added]
NY Times, 3/18/03
After the war started
British Captain Patrick Trueman, 3/24/03
But it hasn't quite worked out that way.
There are significant elements in Basra who are hugely loyal to the regime...
...We always had the idea that everyone in this area hated Saddam. Clearly, there are a number who don't.
These are people who have been fed what the regime wants them to hear.
NY Times, 3/24/03
"If they want to go to Baghdad, that's one thing, but now they have come into our cities, and all Iraqis will fight them."...
..."I saw how the Americans bombed our civilians with my own eyes," [medical assistant Mustafa Mohammed Ali] said, and he held up a bloodied sleeve to show how he had dragged them into the ambulances.
"You want to overthrow Saddam Hussein's regime?" Mr. Mustafa asked. "Go to Baghdad. What are you doing here? What are you doing in our cities?"
Unnamed middle-class Iraqi, quoted in W. Post, 3/24/03
We complain about things, but complaining doesn't mean cooperating with foreign governments.
When somebody comes to attack Iraq, we stand up for Iraq. That doesn't mean we love Saddam Hussein, but there are priorities.
There are rumblings of dissent. But these rumblings don't mean: Come America, we'll throw flowers at you.
WH Press Briefing, 3/24/03
FLEISCHER: ...Saddam Hussein still has rather lethal pockets of resistance that have been left behind in different places. And the presence of those forces has still created some fear in the Iraqi people...
... Of course, there was a picture of an Iraqi attacking a picture of Saddam Hussein with a shoe that was widely disseminated around the world. People saw that...
FROM THE MAILBAG
Two readers write in to take issue with different parts of yesterday's column.
One argues that LO mischaracterized the motives of the legion of former military officers now working as TV analysts, when LO said:
They also are not detached observers. They are consciously trying to shape public opinion of the military, and help the Pentagon achieve its PR objectives.
The reader counters:
It is my opinion that one of the thorns in the side of the Pentagon is the fact that this war is going to be interpreted through the eyes of the Clinton military -- the same military that [Dep. Defense Sec. Paul] Wolfowitz et al. have disparaged throughout their tenure at DoD.
Gen. Clark and his compatriots, while still possessing "esprit de corps," also have an incentive to prove that their cautious strategies are the correct course of action in future conflicts.
The Rumsfeld group has rejected the advice of the career military men, and this gives them every reason to point out the flaws in the war plan.
Another reader criticizes LO for agreeing with Rumsfeld that putting POWs in front of the camera violates the Geneva Convention:
It is supposedly "humiliating" to be shown as a captive, goes the argument. But if you buy into that, the definition of what constitutes as "humiliating" starts to get fuzzy.
...It might also be construed as 'humiliating' to make the POWs do the dishes or take dictation.
Also, if merely broadcasting the reality that some unfortunate individuals are POWs, isn't it also humiliating to mention it in the print press?
...I think it would be more responsible to stick to traditional definitions of what constitutes 'humiliating' treatment re: the Geneva Convention. Media reportage, despite Anna Nicole Smith, doesn't really meet the definition.
March 24, 2003 PERMALINK
Sunday was a nothing less than a sharp reality check, as the talkshows discussed POWs, the grenade attack, friendly fire incidents, and renegade Turks.
But first, it's important to review how all the coverage has been so far.
The US media is essentially providing "hometown" coverage.
It is not quite functioning as a government mouthpiece.
But it is taking everything the Pentagon says at face value.
It has been extremely reluctant to show footage of civilian casualties, or any blood that would upset the American public.
The journos who have "embedded" the military have clearly become personally close to who they are covering, and much of their coverage is free PR.
At the same time, the military has "embedded" the media, with dozens of retired officers acting as analysts.
They also are not detached observers.
They are consciously trying to shape public opinion of the military, and help the Pentagon achieve its PR objectives.
Psyching Out Saddam
For example, the US media has repeated, over and over, the US line that Saddam may be dead or alive, and may not have full control of his government and military.
That is open-ended enough not to be a lie.
But there clearly is an underlying motivation for saying it. Sow confusion. Force Saddam and others above ground so they can be targeted.
There's nothing wrong with that as a goal. This is a war after all.
And to break the regime early might preclude the need for large-scale combat.
But the media's goals should not be the same as the Pentagon's. The media should be in the fact business, not the winning business.
In this case, the media can, and should, be offering more perspectives why Saddam may want to stay underground.
But the military analysts mostly, if not only, reiterate US propaganda.
And the news anchors are completely deferential to their decorated analysts.
The Umm Qasr Botch
Another example of US media tunnel vision is the initial reporting on the battle for Umm Qasr.
On Friday, the US media widely reported that the US was in control of Umm Qasr, in part because of this statement from Defense Sec. Rumsfeld:
The regime is starting to lose control of their country.
Yesterday the Iraqi information minister declared that the port of Umm Qasr is "completely in our hands," quote, unquote. Quote, "they," the coalition forces, "failed to capture it," unquote.
In fact, coalition forces did capture and do control the port of Umm Qasr and also a growing portion of the country of Iraq. The confusion of Iraqi officials is growing.
Their ability to see what is happening on the battlefield, to communicate with their forces and to control their country is slipping away.
Yet the BBC did not completely accept Rumsfeld's statement on its face, reporting on Friday that there still was Iraqi resistance.
And, also on Friday, Al Jazeera aired this assessment from a former Egyptian military officer:
...we see controversy over the landing in Umm Qasr where the Americans say they're in control of us all in Umm Qasr which is different than saying that they occupied it.
I can determine that maybe part of those two areas are under American control, but there's still a part that is under Iraqi control.
By Sunday, the US media realized that things were not so simple, and the talkshows asked their guests questions on Umm Qasr's status.
Chemical Ali: Dead or Alive?
A third example is the status of the top Iraqi official known as "Chemical Ali," for his role in the gassing of the Kurds.
On Friday, US intelligence officials told ABC that Ali was dead.
But the same day, Australia's Sydney Morning Herald reported that Ali was alive and commanding troops from Nasiriyah.
Now, US intelligence has backtracked.
Again, by not doing their own verification, the US media became, in effect, a mere conduit of propaganda.
All three examples show how the US media has been too quick to accept the US take.
Yes, there is a fog of war. It is foolish to think the media won't get anything wrong.
But that is all the more reason to not blindly trust anyone's line on anything, and to do more real reporting.
This is not to say that "hometown" coverage means the media are flat out taking orders from the Pentagon at all times.
The incident of an American soldier attacking his own with grenades at Kuwait's Camp Pennsylvania is a story that the Pentagon surely would have preferred to cover up.
Yet the story was reported, even though it is not a positive story for the US.
It is, however, a US story. And that's what "hometown" coverage gets you. Everything from one side. Little from the other.
Back to Sunday
It's impossible for LiberalOasis to report and analyze every noteworthy element of the Sunday shows. There's just too much.
Overall, the tone of the shows showed a shift from what the round-the-clock coverage had been, with more acknowledgement of the realities of war.
George Stephanopolous even mentioned Iraqi civilian casualties, though no talkshow aired any footage.
The biggest story of the day was the POWs.
The story came in fast and furious during the morning, and further showed the "hometown" nature of the US media.
CBS' Face The Nation threw up Al Jazeera footage of American POWs as the news came in, in the middle of an interview with Rumsfeld.
At first they showed some POW footage unaltered, with one prisoner giving his name.
Rumsfeld had the basic talking point down -- the Iraqis must follow the Geneva Convention and not parade POWs on TV.
Neither FTN, nor any other talkshow, mentioned that Saturday's NBC Nightly News had reporter Kerry Sanders point a camera at three Iraqi POWs, stand next to them and describe their treatment.
Later in the FTN broadcast, the Al Jazeera footage was shown again, but this time the faces were obscured and sound was off, perhaps because Rumsfeld exerted some pressure off camera.
(UPDATE Mar. 24 11 AM ET -- It wasn't Rumsfeld exerting the pressure, but DoD spokeswoman Torie Clarke.)
Afterwards, Rumsfeld went on CNN to publicly, yet subtly, pressure the media, and got a little pushback from Wolf Blitzer:
RUMSFELD: ...the Geneva Convention makes it illegal for prisoners of war to be shown and pictured and humiliated. And it's something that the United States does not do.
[On Meet The Press, Rumsfeld said it is something the US "avoids" doing.]
And needless to say, television networks that carry such pictures are, I would say, doing something that's unfortunate.
BLITZER: On the other hand you could argue...that at least their family members are seeing them alive even if they are not in the best of condition.
They could get some comfort from seeing these videotaped pictures.
RUMSFELD: You can make that argument if you wish.
BLITZER: What I hear you saying is that you're urging all worldwide news organizations...not to broadcast these images of these American POWs.
RUMSFELD: What I'm saying is that it's a violation of the Geneva Convention for the Iraqis to be -- if in fact that's what's taking place -- to be showing prisoners of war in a humiliating manner.
Later on CNN, at several points, different anchors mentioned that Al Jazeera footage showed killed as well as captured Americans, and then said:
These pictures and the interviews were disturbing. CNN has made a decision not to show the video of those killed and will instead use this single image, with no identifiable features.
After that, at the mid-afternoon briefing from the coalition's Central Command, Lt. Gen. John Abizaid publicly shamed an Al Jazeera reporter for showing the POW pictures.
That indicates this is a coordinated strategy to try to prevent such pictures airing ever again.
And it appeared to influence other US stations not to air the footage at first.
Later in the evening, at least NBC and CNN stated policies that brief snippets of POW footage would be shown if their family members were notified in advance.
That came about after one POW's mother said she saw him on a Filipino station and felt somewhat comforted.
Let's be clear. The parading of POWs on TV is wrong and appalling. It is a war crime, rightly so.
But it also is news. If it happens the American people should not be shielded from it. Period.
The rest of the world is seeing these unvarnished images in full, as they have many others already.
It is not a flawless media outlet. But it is showing the true nature of war.
Furthermore, there was no criticism of the US military following NBC's segment featuring Iraqi POWs.
That shows this is all just "working the refs" (to steal from Eric Alterman) on a grand scale by the US. There is no moral consistency here.
Of course, "working the refs" works, at least in America. The rest of the world's free media is not so easily cowed.
That's why relying on American TV as your sole source of news will give you a limited perspective on what is happening.
There are many alternatives. One obvious one is the BBC, which streams continuous live video coverage on its web site.
And many PBS stations air BBC news nightly.
Also, check out the websites in LiberalOasis' "Get Iraq" section at the top-right of this page.
If we Americans are going to pay for war, then we have an obligation to know what it is we are paying for.
These are our soldiers in harm's way. We, as a democratic people, will participate in future decisions whether to send them into other wars. We all need to know and understand what that really entails.
Or as CNN's Nic Robertson put it on Saturday, responding to a Larry King question on why he chose his line of work:
Pursuit of the truth, Larry. It's really simple. I think that people, not only want it, they should have access to it, the truth about any situation.
Were CNN, and its brethren, listening?
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