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June 4, 2004 PERMALINK
You Can't Be A Fall Guy
If Your Boss Doesn't Blame You For Anything
(posted June 4 12:15 AM ET)

On 2/7/04, the NY Times reported:

George J. Tenet... has agreed to stay in his post at least through the end of the year, according to three people close to him.

Mr. Tenet made the pledge in December after a personal appeal from President Bush, who had learned that the intelligence chief was thinking about stepping down, the people close to Mr. Tenet said.

Mr. Bush even appealed to Mr. Tenet's wife, Stephanie Glakas-Tenet, by telling her that her husband's continued service was important to the country, the people said.

Mr. Tenet, who took office in 1997, has long told friends that he wanted to step down from his post.

But Mr. Tenet has also told friends that he was not eager to leave at a time when the Central Intelligence Agency and the rest of the community are coming under criticism for their role in misjudging Iraq's stockpiles of illicit weapons.

So on one hand, this supports the party-line that Tenet resigned for "personal reasons," as his desire to leave was already well-known.

On the other, Bush and Tenet had an agreement for Tenet to stick around all year, so something happened to change the plan.

(In fact, today's NY Times cites a "person familiar with Mr. Tenet's thinking," which could mean a close aide or Tenet himself, saying Bush once again asked Tenet to "stay through the end of the year," but Tenet insisted this was the right time to go.

Newsweek reports conflicting info, quoting someone "close to Tenet" saying Bush didn't ask him to stay on.)

So what changed?

NYT, Newsweek, and The New Republic all plausibly point to soon-to-be-public reports that are expected to trash the CIA, and Tenet specifically, on Iraq WMD and 9/11.

Does that mean Tenet is now set-up as the Administration's fall guy?

Hardly.

To be a true fall guy, either your former bosses publicly pin blame on you, or you yourself take on the blame.

That way, there's perceived closure, with the public feeling someone has been held accountable.

But if no one takes any blame, then no one's the fall guy.

Yesterday, Bush and Tenet worked in tandem to fight natural tendencies to assume resignation equals blame.

Bush said Tenet did a "superb job," while Tenet offered some self-serving psuedo-candor: "We are not perfect but one of our best kept secrets is that we are very, very, very good."

There isn't even a real change in direction at the top.

Tenet's deputy John McLaughlin is taking over, and he's nearly as tarred by the agency's failures as Tenet.

That's not officially acknowledging the problems of Tenet's tenure. It's ignoring them.

And this resignation is not assigning blame. It's part of the strategy of blame avoidance.

The fact is, if Tenet was going to still be around when these reports hit the table, then Dems would be able to stretch the story out by pushing for his resignation, a la Rumsfeld.

But with Tenet already gone, there will be no easy target for second-day attacks, meaning a greater chance the story fades quickly.

(Tenet need not have been forced out by Bush for this to be the motivation. Tenet himself could have recognized this dynamic, and concluded splitting would be easier on him and Bush.)

However, while this move may make things harder for Dems looking to criticize the Administration's record on intelligence, it doesn't make it impossible.

McLaughlin may not be a household name, but he's still a potential personification of the agency's failures.

When those reports come down, there's nothing stopping Dems from calling for McLaughlin's resignation, and demanding change and competence in our leading intelligence officials.

They won't get it of course. They didn't get Rummy's either.

But putting that pressure on keeps the story alive, keeps Bush on the defensive, and educates the public on what Dems believe is needed in the highest levels of government.

June 3, 2004 PERMALINK
The Cozy Confines of Attorney-Client Privilege
(posted June 3 3 AM ET)

Our nation's leaders are responsible to confront problems, not pass them on to others.

And to lead this nation to a responsibility era, a president himself must be responsible.

And so, when I put my hand on the Bible, I will swear to not only uphold the laws of our land.

I will swear to uphold the honor and dignity of the office to which I have been elected, so help me God.
-- George W. Bush nomination acceptance speech, 8/3/00

...Bush has held discussions with a private attorney about possibly representing him in an ongoing grand jury investigation into who leaked the name of a CIA officer to a newspaper columnist, the White House confirmed Wednesday...

...[White House spokesman Allen] Abney couldn't explain why Bush had talked to an outside attorney[.]

[B]ut the consultation of an outside attorney is likely related to a decision during the Whitewater investigation of the Clinton administration, in which White House attorneys couldn't assert executive privilege if asked about their conversations with the president on a possibly criminal matter.

A private attorney, however, would be able to assert attorney-client privilege.
-- Knight Ridder, 6/2/04

Liberal Oasis has been hard on the Dems for some time for not pushing PlameGate harder.

Because of the Dems' sporadic approach, the story has not had the constant drumbeat of the Clinton-era teapot tempests, and has become more of a back-page, Beltway story.

In turn, yesterday's major development merited only a Page 6 story in today's W. Post.

Of course, the weak Dem strategy is just part of the reason why.

The other part is the immense weight of all the other news that's going on.

The front of the W. Post trumped Plame with the latest on Chalabi-Iran and the Army's "stop-loss" quasi-draft policy.

Not exactly stuff that will make Rove relax and rejoice.

On the other hand, this news environment forces John Kerry to make tough strategic decisions every day.

With so many scandal stories (we haven't even mentioned the ongoing prison scandal, and the Dem call yesterday for a Halliburton probe, which only scored a news brief in the W. Post), Kerry has to select what to emphasize each day.

He can't simply talk about everything. He essentially gets one headline each day, be it hitting Bush or touting his own story.

So to best manage his exposure, he needs to pick and choose.

And even then, he can't always single-handedly drive news if his comments aren't echoed by surrogates (see his overlooked Saudi comments last week).

Having said all that, how should this latest Plame development fit in?

LO is not hopeful it will fit in much at all, even though this scandal has the potential to be the fatal blow to Bush.

The Dems have laid relatively low so far, probably thinking (short-sightedly) that if the investigation touches Bush or any other White House official, it will do its own damage with or without Dem help.

There's no reason to think that will change now, not with so many other things to talk about, and not until more concrete info surfaces.

But George "Tort Reform" Bush's decision to duck behind a lawyer instead of simply coming clean with whatever he knows could be used to tie up all of the percolating scandals.

And in doing so, attack Bush at his foundation, his perceived integrity.

In essence, Dubya's legal move is the capper of the Administration's continual avoidance of responsibility and accountability.

That is the thread that runs through all of the current flaps.

No acceptance of responsibility for propping up Chalabi, for shoddy war planning, for favoring Halliburton, for egregious detainee policy.

And now, when his own ass could be on the line in a criminal matter, Dubya goes running for the cozy confines of attorney-client privilege.

(The DNC did hit that specific point yesterday.)

Far from leading a nation into a "responsibility era" as promised, he has created a culture of plausible deniability and blame-shifting.

That's the kind of comprehensive attack LO would like to see executed in a sustained way.

But the Dems appear to have chosen against such a tack a while ago.

And, in fairness, Kerry has lots of other fodder to sift through and work with.

June 2, 2004 PERMALINK
Meet The New Figureheads
(posted June 2 2 AM ET)

I had no role in picking, zero.
-- Dubya, 6/1/04

Iraqis, U.S. Cut Deal on President...
-- Reuters headline, 6/1/04

Bush's contention that he didn't handpick the latest interim Iraqi government was seemingly bolstered with the naming of Governing Council member Sheik Ghazi al-Yawar as President.

The media, including foreign outlets such as The Guardian and Al-Jazeera, portrayed Yawar as independent and, at times, critical of the US.

(Though Al Jazeera, in its mostly positive Yawar profile, still reported, "there are still Iraqis who regard him as a puppet of the US-led occupation authorities".)

Furthermore, it was widely reported that Yawar was not America's first choice. A different Sunni, Adnan Pachachi, was.

And the W. Post said that Pachachi was formally offered the position, but that he refused because he lacked support from the GC.

That supposedly paved the way for Yawar, the GC's choice.

But Reuters reported a slightly different version:

After two days of bitter confrontation, the United States and U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi finally accepted Yawar in the largely ceremonial role of head of state after their preferred candidate, elder statesman Adnan Pachachi, turned down the job.

But in return the...Governing Council agreed to dissolve itself with immediate effect and accepted a cabinet line-up...that featured many fewer of its own members than it had wanted...

...In a face-saving maneuver, the...Governing Council initially dropped its objection to Pachachi.

Then, within minutes, [Pachachi] renounced the post and Brahimi declared that Yawar would become head of state...

...Officials then announced that the Council, whose members U.S. officials had accused of trying to cling to power by claiming positions in the new government, was being wound up.

Several things, some conflicting, could be read into all that.

But if nothing else, it indicates that we were integrally involved in the Yawar choice.

Even if he was not the first choice, he was (at minimum) an acceptable choice.

If Yawar wasn't someone the Bushies thought they could do business with, they would have never let his selection proceed.

Or put him on the GC in the first place.In fact, the pro-war W. Post editorial page went as far as to say that Brahimi was directly undercut by the GC and the US working in tandem:

In the end, hemmed in by hovering U.S. officials and their present and former Iraqi allies, Mr. Brahimi acquiesced to a cabinet led by the same former exiles and Kurdish politicians who populated the discredited Iraqi Governing Council.

That would mean either US support of the rejected candidates for Prez (and Prime Minister) was just for show, and/or rifts in the Bush Administration confuse reporters trying to simplify and sum up the official US position.

The point is that those that closely follow and report the news can get caught up in the who's up-who's down personality game, then forget that US policy remains the same regardless of how the chairs are shuffled.

As said here two weeks ago after the Chalabi raid:

...even if Chalabi is no longer Bush's chosen figurehead, it doesn't mean Bush doesn't have other figureheads in mind.

Fact is, Bush had a whole GC of figureheads to choose from.

May 31, 2004 PERMALINK
It's The Security, Stupid
by Sam Seder
(posted May 31 2:45 AM ET)

It is being argued in some circles that Bush's flip-flop on an Iraq strategy hurts Kerry by leaving him with an exit plan indistinguishable from Bush's.

In reality, Bush hasn't changed his "Iraq for American corporate interests only" plan, just his rhetoric, and when you look at Kerry's plan it is a real exit strategy, which calls for real internationalization.

But as discussed in this space last week, any perceived similarities between the Bush and Kerry plans don't matter because this is Bush's war.

His flip-flop shows that his people know he's screwed the pooch and it is becoming more and more apparent that he hasn't a clue as how to fix it.

But even if, by the election, Bush could find a way to minimize US casualties and minimize the ominous news coming daily from Iraq, he'd still be in trouble.

The Bush plan has failed the central justification for his Iraq excursion -- no, not a Wal-Mart in every holy site -- US security.

No matter how quickly we exit from Iraq, it is now generally accepted that the invasion and occupation of Iraq has failed to make us safer from terrorists.

In fact, when you consider its cost and what that means for domestic security, most people would agree Bush's Iraq vacation has not only failed to make us safer -- it's made us less safe.

After 9/11, Bush had his first mandate, not just from the American people, but also from the world.

Congress pledged its full support and practically gave him a blank check to go after Al Qaeda (which the Bushies secretly re-appropriated for their Iraqi endeavor) and secure our domestic vulnerabilities.

Three years later, Bush has squandered billions of dollars, while leaving Al Qaeda at-large, a terrorist friendly vacuum in Afghanistan, domestic security and first responders unfunded, a civil rights-infringing Patriot Act that supposedly needs to be extended, and a new terrorist breeding ground in Iraq.

If it is actually possible to wage a "War On Terra", then Bush is "losing".

Kerry has recently begun to make this point and now he has to outline what a victory in this "war on terrorism" will look like.

He should make it clear that we will know we are winning this war when our domestic security and first responders are not suffering for lack of funds, when our international partners are on board and watching our backs, when we no longer are forced to support regimes that foster American animosity and when the daily news does not bring us reports of new found hatred of America.

The Sandbox
Humor Column by Alexander Pierre Luboknovich

Purple Hearts

It is not well documented in the United States, however, I am writing now to reveal to my audience that Luboknovich, like John Kerry, has three purple hearts.

You see, my hearts were not granted based on some wonderful military achievement, nor have they recently been questioned by any New England media source.

On the contrary! The prestigious New England Journal of Medicine recently named me "Medical Oddity of the Year: 2003" (December 2003) and "An anomaly to watch" (March 2002).

You see, my purple hearts are literal hearts!

Yes, that's correct. My body cannot operate on the one heart granted to most people. Instead, I need three.

My condition is the result of a serious palimony mutation known as Pulmonary Equestrians Triadic Conglomerated Ovation (PETCO).

I did not ask for these hearts, nor was I thrilled when I received them.

You see, they are the result of extreme stress induced by divorce proceedings with my late wife Kirstie Alley.

The more she irritated me, the purpler my heart grew. I soon grew two new hearts once my body determined that my original heart was not strong enough to sustain me. However, I experienced so much stress that each of the new hearts turned purple as well.

Fortunately, my three defective hearts, when working together, are sturdy enough to keep me going.

Born in 1957 in Byelorussia, Alexander Pierre Luboknovich, a Soviet in exile, is a political commentator, water comedian, diplomatic impersonator, and importer of international wives. He is currently at work on a book of essays entitled "Power to the Peephole: Lewd Propositions for a New Sexual Revolution" and is an associate fellow at the Ruzzzivixxxxxxen Importing Co., Brighton Beach, NY. He is one of the leading practitioners of the high Russian art of "water comedy" and a regular columnist for LiberalOasis.

**************

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