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Leading With The Left
The daily view from the oasis

June 18, 2004 PERMALINK
Read Your Own Damn Report!
(posted June 18 12:30 AM ET)

Yesterday, LiberalOasis said the 9/11 Commission statement about the lack of the Saddam-Osama relationship was "not a license to take the pieces back out of context, and continue to distort."

Well, nobody told some of the Commission members that.

After Dubya's stubborn statement, GOP Commission member John Lehman followed suit, spinning wildly and blatantly contradicting his own report.

From CNN's Inside Politics:

The president is correct. And the commission yesterday said exactly that.

What the commission also said was there was no evidence of collaboration on any of the attacks against the United States...

...But they have collaborated on weapons, technology and so forth over the years.

Read your own report, Lehman.

There have been reports that contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda also occurred...but they do not appear to have resulted in a collaborative relationship.

But Lehman wasn't the only one making nice with Bush.

At a press conference yesterday (excerpts aired on Fox News Special Report with Brit Hume), Dem Vice Chair Lee Hamilton said:

I must say I have trouble understanding the flap over this.

The Vice President is saying, I think, that there were connections between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's government. We don't disagree with that.

So it seems to me the sharp differences that the press has drawn...are not that apparent to me.

This is very selective and misleading.

Yes, both Cheney and the Commission said there were "connections" (technically, the Commission said "contacts," which is slightly less loaded).

But the Commission refused to conclude that they amounted to anything, unlike Cheney.

It was not a unified spin effort though.

Dem Commission member Richard Ben Veniste stuck to the report:

Sure there would have been contacts. The Iraqis would have wanted to know what bin Laden was up to.

But I think it's quite clear that they were in opposition, that the Jihadist movement was certainly no friend of a secular movement in Iraq and I don't think we ought to spend a heck of a lot of time on it.

So while Lehman and Hamilton's comments give the Bushies and the Right a lifeline for their spin efforts, Veniste prevents the two from claiming their view is simply the Commission's view.

And since Lehman and Hamilton can't erase what's on their own pages, it's still unlikely that Bush can put the genie back in the bottle, and get the media to treat Saddam and Osama as partners in crime.

But, Lehman and Hamilton's actions remind us that the 9/11 Commission is very much a mixed bag.

It seems like for every good thing they've done (legitimized criticism of Bush's handling of counterterrorism) there's a bad (failing to properly address the secret post 9/11 Saudi evacuations).

As LO said back in April:

It looks...like they are walking a fine line, between White House accommodation and service to the public, and its leading them to make some bad calls.

June 17, 2004 PERMALINK
Spasm of Delusion
(posted June 17 1 AM ET)

Often, the Right's confidence and tenacity are qualities to be admired, from a sheer political effectiveness vantage point.

But sometimes, when they fail to see the jig is up, it just makes them look like delusional, whiny idiots.

Like today, as they were wholly unable to accept the lack of a Saddam-Osama link, following the 9/11 Commission's conclusion:

Bin Ladin also explored possible cooperation with Iraq during his time in Sudan, despite his opposition to Hussein's secular regime.

Bin Ladin had in fact at one time sponsored anti-Saddam Islamists in Iraqi Kurdistan.

The Sudanese, to protect their own ties with Iraq, reportedly persuaded Bin Ladin to cease this support and arranged for contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda.

A senior Iraqi intelligence officer reportedly made three visits to Sudan, finally meeting Bin Ladin in 1994.

Bin Ladin is said to have requested space to establish training camps, as well as assistance in procuring weapons, but Iraq apparently never responded.

There have been reports that contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda also occurred after Bin Ladin had returned to Afghanistan, but they do not appear to have resulted in a collaborative relationship.

Two senior Bin Ladin associates have adamantly denied that any ties existed between al Qaeda and Iraq.

We have no credible evidence that Iraq and al Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States.

What this passage did was sum up some of the circumstantial evidence that may suggest a link, then put it in context to explain that it really didn't prove anything.

It was not a license to take the pieces back out of context, and continue to distort.

But that's what some tried to do.

The earliest signal to deny reality and stand ground came from the top, as a "senior Administration official" quickly fed the media the line, "We stand by what Powell and Tenet have said."

(This might be seen as a cheeky move, as it was the low-approval-rating Cheney who brazenly reiterated the link most recently.

But to lean on a resigned-amidst-controversy official and a humiliated-again-and-again official is not exactly the greatest retort.)

The Administration move sparked among the Right a spasm of 9/11 Commission bashing, liberal media bias charges, and selective memory.

Instapundit had the roundup of right-wing blog hyperventilating.

LO's favorite? This from QandO:

The Center for American Progress weighs in and distorts the case very badly, claiming the Bush administration was saying that "Al-Qaeda and Saddam were working together".

In fact, both Bush and Cheney claimed "ties", but said nothing about cooperation...

...Why is it that the right side doesn't seem to be reading this as selectively as the left?

Perhaps, for the most part, the right side of the 'sphere already believes there was no cooperative operational relationship between Iraq and Al Qaeda, so this story simply reinforces our understanding of the state of affairs.

But ABC World News Tonight smartly aired this Cheney clip from a 10/03 speech to the Heritage Foundation:

[Saddam] also had an established relationship with Al Qaeda, providing training to Al Qaeda members in the areas of poisons, gases, making conventional bombs.

That sure sounds like "working together" and "cooperation," which was clearly rejected by the Commission.

Meanwhile, The Hill scooped up pushback quotes from House GOPers:

The more ridiculous ones came from so-called GOP moderates Ray LaHood ("I don't put much credence in the 9-11 panel.") and Chris Shays ("[Al Qaeda] and Iraq, they're like peas in a pod. They're like-minded.")

Over at Fox News, pundit (and W. Post reporter) Jeffrey Birmbaum spun hard to the point of distortion.

After Brit Hume noted that some in the media were arguably throwing "major new cold water" on White House assertions, Birmbaum said:

I don't think that's true -- that cold water has been poured on anything here.

The Bush Administration did not claim that there was a connection between 9/11 and Iraq...

...What in fact this staff report indicates is that there was considerable interaction between Bin Laden and Iraq.

It may not have produced all that much, but it was clear that they're fellow travelers.

It is true that the Bushies never explicitly made a 9/11 connection. They were slicker than that and only hinted and blurred.

But Birmbaum wantonly distorted the Commission's findings, turning no proof of a "collaborative relationship" into proof of "considerable interaction" and "fellow travelers".

Finally, Dubya's own spokesperson Dan Bartlett tried the most audacious move of the day. From ABC World News Tonight:

There was no specific information tying them to the 9/11 plot, but that is not inconsistent with them having a different relationship or a broader relationship.

(Emphasis added)

So on the whole, it looks like your standard coordinated right-wing media-political spin job.

But this won't have nearly the kind of impact that other like efforts have had.

The Right will cry liberal media bias, but if that were so, the Saddam-Osama link would have been knocked down two years ago, where liberals were making the case.

The Commission is not a liberal entity (despite the Right's attempts to pin it as one), but a bipartisan Establishment elite entity.

And the mainstream media's Establishment bias is very much in effect.

When liberals say it, it's politically motivated and downplayed (regardless of the facts it's rooted in).

When an Establishment entity says it, it's official news, and becomes treated as fact.

And even the right-wing machine is pretty powerless against that.

Fox watchers and Rush listeners will continue to be misinformed about the link, but not the larger public.

If anything, by continuing to overreach, distort and/or lie in the face of reality, the Bushies, and the Right in general, are setting themselves up for a major credibility blow.

(UPDATE 6/17 12:15 PM ET -- USA Today notes that, "In a letter to Congress on March 19, 2003 -- the day the war in Iraq began -- Bush said that the war was permitted under legislation authorizing force against those who 'planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001.'" (Via W. Post's White House Briefing))

June 16, 2004 PERMALINK
Did The Vatican Slap Bush?
(posted June 16 12 AM ET)

As you may know, on Friday the National Catholic Reporter website posted the following:

During his June 4 visit, Bush asked the Vatican to push the American Catholic bishops to be more aggressive politically on family and life issues, especially a constitutional amendment that would define marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

A Vatican official told NCR June 9 that in his meeting with Cardinal Angelo Sodano and other Vatican officials, Bush said, "Not all the American bishops are with me" on the cultural issues.

The implication was that he hoped the Vatican would nudge them toward more explicit activism.

Soon after, this was picked up by the NY Times and the Boston Globe.

And on Monday, CNN talked to an unnamed Vatican official who was a little more pointed:

The president "complained that the U.S. bishops were not being vocal enough in supporting [Bush] on social issues like gay marriage, and abortion," a Vatican official privy to the discussion said.

(Emphasis added)

Sounds like the Vatican was a wee ticked off that Dubya had the gall to try to pressure the Catholic leadership to help him in the election.

And it made sure the world knew about it.

Why would the Church be upset, when they are on the same side on these social issues?

US News and World Report religion writer (and conservative columnist) John Leo explained the internal church dynamic in this exchange on CNN's Inside Politics yesterday:

JUDY WOODRUFF: How would the Vatican hierarchy look upon such a request or even a suggestion of such a request, do you think?

JOHN LEO: Well, I would expect them to recoil...

...they don't like to mix directly in partisan politics, particularly in election years and the Vatican has distinct problems with President Bush on the Iraq war and capital punishment.

So it would be unusual...

WOODRUFF: ...So are you saying you don't think they would oblige them and actually urge the bishops in the United States?

LEO: No. That's not the way the church likes to operate.

(For the record, Leo did not accept the NCR report at face value, downplaying it as "a very soft report, third or fourth hand," though the subsequent CNN report appears to be first hand.)

Why would the Vatican's exposing of Bush's comments hurt Bush?

Because for all the angst that Dems are on the short end of the "religion gap," recent polls show that Americans still like that good ol' separation of church and state.

From a May ABC/W. Post poll:

Should Religious Leaders Try to Influence Politicians' Positions on the Issues?

Percent saying "No"

All -- 64%
Dems -- 71%
Indys -- 67%
GOPers -- 50%
Catholics -- 65%

A recent Time poll had similar results.

And if people don't like religious leaders telling pols what to do, you can bet they really don't like pols telling religious leaders to tell pols what to do.

June 15, 2004 PERMALINK
Swing State Fearmongering
(posted June 15 1 AM ET)

Are we entering into a new phase of Administration fearmongering? Fearmongering by swing state?

Yesterday, Attorney General John Ashcroft announced the indictment of Nuradin M. Abdi, for allegedy planning to bomb a shopping mall in Columbus, Ohio -- a swing city in a swing state.

Lest anyone overlook that this wasn't some liberal elite Blue State city, Ashcroft said yesterday:

The American heartland was targeted for death and destruction by an al-Qaida cell.

But that's not the only aspect of this announcement that stinks of playing politics.

There's the reluctance to give details. From CNN.com:

Ashcroft declined to offer any specifics about the alleged mall bombing plot

There's the timing of the announcement, which looks like it was delayed to avoid being drowned out by Reagan coverage. From the AP:

Charges in the indictment, originally returned Thursday but kept secret until Monday...

There's hints of sketchy evidence. From ABC World News Tonight:

Investigators believe the alleged plot to blow up a Columbus shopping mall was in the earliest stages.

They said no bomb-making materials have been found, and admit they don't have evidence to prove Abdi went for training in Ethopia.

And there's the admittance that the alleged plot wasn't exactly in a critical stage. From the AP:

FBI officials and prosecutors in Ohio said no specific mall was targeted and there was no imminent threat of an attack when Abdi was arrested.

(UPDATE 6/15 11:30 AM ET -- NY Times has more:

"Law enforcement officials...cautioned that [the alleged plot] appeared not to have advanced beyond the discussion stage."

"The officials expressed doubt that Mr. Abdi had the financial, organizational or technical skills to carry out an attack..."

"The indictment against Mr. Abdi makes no mention of the alleged plot to blow up a shopping mall. That reference was contained in the motion filed by prosecutors to keep Mr. Abdi in custody.")

Now, if this really was a terrorist plot in the making, and the feds nipped it in the bud, that is something worth applauding.

And LiberalOasis is certainly not in the position to assess whether the indictment was warranted with such scant information. It may well have been.

But it is worth asking this:

Would Ashcroft have starred in a press conference -- pushed back to a media-friendly day -- for an alleged plot that didn't even have a target picked out, if it didn't involve a swing state?

Of course, it's extremely tricky, politically speaking, to go after the Administration on this subject.

It is very easy to be painted as overly conspiratorial, and unserious about fighting terror.

However, Ashcroft, and the Administration as a whole, is slowly building a rep for excessive politicization and general incompetence.

The growing sense that the Jose Padilla case is weak, and holding him without charge and without counsel was wholly unwarranted.

Last month's wrongful arrest of Muslim lawyer Brandon Mayfield.

This month's failed case against Idaho grad student Sami Al-Hussayen (who remains incarcerated while his family fled the country).

Ashcroft's roundly criticized claim that plans for an Al Qaeda attack on America are "90 percent" complete.

And, of course, the phony State Department report that said we're winning because terror attacks were down worldwide, when in fact they're up.

That kind of record helps Dems make a plausible case that the Bushies hype terror developments for political gain, at the expense of the terror war.

Still, the time may not be right for a reflexive attack on Ashcroft for politicizing the Abdi case.

There are enough lines of attack against Bush right now (torture memos, Halliburton, etc.).

And a hasty attack on Ashcroft could give the Bushies an opportunity to turn the tables and make a "soft on terror" counterattack.

But we should keep an eye on a possible Battleground Fearmongering strategy.

And after one or two more overly hysterical Ashcroft pressers about sketchy cases in swing states, and he should be hit hard.

Because we can't allow Bush to scare America into keeping him in power.

QUICK HIT

Meet The New Shah

Former W. Post Middle East bureau chief Thomas Lippman, made this comment in a washingtonpost.com live chat yesterday, arguing that the Saudi government is in a stronger position than the Iranian government of the late 70s:

The Shah of Iran was perceived by the Iranians to be an illegitimate ruler -- a usurper, installed on his throne by the CIA -- and a secularist who valued Iran's pre-Muslim Persian culture more than he valued Islam.

Hmm. What country does that sound like?

June 14, 2004 PERMALINK
The Sunday Talkshow Breakdown
A weekly feature of LiberalOasis
(posted June 13 11:30 PM ET)

Bill Kristol, Hypocrite Extraordinaire

Fox News pundit Bill Kristol has a slightly different view on how pols should handle Reagan's death, compared to Paul Wellstone's.

Here's Kristol yesterday on Fox News Sunday:

KRISTOL: I think [Ronald Reagan] could have an impact if the Bush campaign has the nerve to make it have an impact.

John Kerry said at the 1988 Democratic convention, speaking on behalf of his fellow Massachusetts liberal Democrat Michael Dukakis,...that the Reagan presidency was a period of "moral darkness".

Now...no one wants to politicize the death of a recent president.

But you know what? The Bush campaign should.

And they should, in my view, they should go up with an ad next week...a very respectful ad about President Reagan and say:

"We have a disagreement. George W. Bush was a Reaganite. John Kerry thought that the Reagan presidency was a period of 'moral darkness'."

And here's Kristol on the 10/30/02 edition of Fox News' On The Record With Greta Van Susteren, debating The Nation's David Corn:

KRISTOL: Look, Paul Wellstone was a very political guy, and I suspect he would have liked his own memorial service, if I can put it that way.

And the fact it was a little over the top, and some of us maybe found it a little distasteful and a little too partisan.

Paul Wellstone was a tough, partisan politician, a man of the left, a proud man of the left.

There's a big tradition on the left of turning funeral services into political rallies.

If you go back and look at the early days of the, you know, Socialist Party here, and of course, abroad, as well...

...It was a somewhat -- I mean, I say this in a nice way, I think, but it was a -- it was a Wellstone-like memorial service.

CORN: But you know...if anything had happened to Jesse Helms in the last week, there'd be a service in North Carolina.

And people would be calling for Elizabeth Dole, who's running for his seat, to carry forward the Jesse Helms legacy.

There was nothing surprising about that service.

KRISTOL: No, no, no! Wait, wait!...When Rick Kahn said, "We can redeem the sacrifice of Paul Wellstone's life if you help win this election with Walter Mondale," that's a little crazy.

I mean, you can't redeem the sacrifice of Paul Wellstone's life by electing Walter Mondale.

So there's a kind of...politicization of things like death, which is a little weird.

...

For the left, the personal is political. And I think you did see that in this memorial service.

The rank hypocrisy speaks for itself.

Colin Powell, Evader Extraordinaire

Powell was sent to ABC's This Week, NBC's Meet The Press and Fox News Sunday to talk up the Iraq handover and downplay reality.

Much of his spin was all too revealing.

But, as usual, the so-called interviewers rarely bothered to call him on anything.

So we'll try. Some choice examples:

The State Dept.'s phony terror report

From This Week:

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Last month, you put out a report about global terrorism that claimed that terrorist incidents had declined in 2003, and had actually reached their lowest levels since 1969, I believe.

But two professors... found that that wasn't true. And here is what they wrote...

"The number of significant terrorist acts increased from 124 in 2001 to 169 in 2003 -- 36 percent.

"The only verifiable information in the annual reports indicates that the number of terrorist events has risen each year since 2001, and in 2003 reached its highest level in more than 20 years."

Now, when the original report came out, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said: "This is clear evidence that we're prevailing in the war on terror." ...

...Are these new numbers clear evidence that we're not?

POWELL: The numbers that were in the report were in error and we are analyzing where the errors crept in.

There is a new Terrorist Threat Integration Center that compiles this data under the CIA.

And we are still trying to determine what went wrong with the data and why we didn't catch it in the State Department.

A pretty deft misdirection there by Powell.

By getting points for being candid (after being caught) about the basics, he is able to deflect attention from the damning question, for which there is no face-saving answer.

And Stephanopoulos, after initially doing his job and asking the pointed question, completely failed to follow-up and force Powell answer it.

(Powell similarly avoided follow-ups on this topic on MTP as well.)

As a result, Powell never explained how if State claimed the (made up) declining numbers meant we're winning, then why doesn't the skyrocketing numbers mean we're losing?

On how being accountable to the public is so tiring

From MTP:

TIM RUSSERT: As you try to oversee our foreign policy, the President oversee the war in Iraq, this is the Gallup poll about U.S. attitudes on war.

Whether the war was just: World War II, overwhelmingly, 90 percent to seven percent; Iraq 49 to 49.

How much does that affect your ability to conduct policy?

POWELL: It makes it more difficult.

Because we have to explain to the American people, explain to the world, why it was a just war and what it's all about and what we're trying to accomplish.

Whip out the tiny violins.

So sorry Colin that so many people actually bother to question government policy, and force you to spend all this extra time trying to marginalize them.

Democracy can be so inefficient, eh Colin?

Lucky for Iraq that you're not really going to give them one.

Speaking of that...

On the prison abuse scandal

From This Week:

STEPHANOPOULOS: The [Iraqi] President...said that he would prefer if an international group, like the Red Cross, came in to investigate the whole scandal at Abu Ghraib.

Wouldn't that be the best way for the United States to convince the world that we have nothing to hide?

POWELL: Well the ICRC [the Red Cross] is not an investigatory body, in the sense of looking over -- looking at a total situation.

They have a unique role to play, and they play it very well.

We have a number of investigations underway within the Pentagon, and I think we should let all of those investigations proceed.

Congress is providing an oversight function, and let it continue to do that, and I think all of the facts and the truth will be clear and will come out.

Hmm. Isn't this the correct answer?

"Well, Iraq has full sovereignty, so if its government wants to make such a request of the ICRC, they are free to do so."

Instead of that, Powell sent a signal to the Iraq government: don't even think about it.

(And for good measure, told the Red Cross what its own mandate was! How humble.)

Earlier, LiberalOasis noted that if Ghazi al-Yawar wasn't Bush's first choice for President, he surely was an "acceptable" choice as someone he can do business with.

The fact that Yawar would publicly suggest bringing in the Red Cross shows why he wasn't Bush's first choice.

The fact that, in all likelihood, nothing will come of this suggestion shows why he is an acceptable choice.

The Sandbox
Humor Column by Mark Spittle

Things To Do With Chalabi Now That The Pentagon Is Done With Him

Many Americans awoke a few days ago with the heartbreaking news that Iraqi exile and Iraqi National Congress founder Ahmed Chalabi is a "con man."

Those of us who read the occasional dissident press of the Europeans knew --- as far back as pre 9/11 days --- that Chalabi had been convicted of bank fraud in Jordan and sentenced in absentia for 22 years, and that his word was less than trustworthy.

Now, thanks to our state-run me... erm, I mean "aggressive free press," all Americans have finally been told about Chalabi's dark past.

That the release of this news to the American press coincides with the White House's reversal of position on Chalabi is, I suppose, just a really, really weird coincidence.

But pity poor Chalabi! Here was an Iraqi leader who had been supported by the Pentagon for decades and thought he was going to take the place of the last Iraqi leader who was supported by the Pentagon... but, alas, the twists of Fate are meandering, thorny brambles.

I did some poking around, though, and found a lot of people still have a warm place in their hearts for our little bean-headed buddy from Baghdad.

Assuming Chalabi escapes without a chemical glow stick inconveniencing his posture in any way, let's look at some future career possibilities for Iraq's prodigal son.

1) TELEVISION

CBS executives have already been trying to get communications over to Chalabi's office, asking him to host their new reality television series, "I'm A Former Dictator, Get Me Out of Here!"

The premise of the show is that various nefarious international leaders (Hussein, Pinochet, Kissinger) are abandoned on a desert island until only one remains. The winner will get to rule Burkina Faso.

CBS feels Chalabi "has the right stuff" for hosting the show, seeing as how he "has unprecedented experience in handling rulers of various nations across the world."

It's also thought that Chalabi may "add some excitement" to the program by enticing the dictators to do various ratings-enhancing stunts, like resorting to cannibalism or (worse yet!) denouncing conservatism in exchange for chocolate.

2) POLITICS

There may yet be a role for Ahmed Chalabi in the Bush administration!

Sure, his international street cred may be in tatters, but that takes nothing away from his ability to sway policy makers with only the most scant bits of evidence and huge gobs of deception.

Such traits would do him well on the Bush/Cheney 2004 campaign team, where the American people will occasionally need to be convinced that destroying Iraq, alienating the UN, polluting the US Constitution with discriminatory amendments, ignoring the Geneva Convention and ruining the US economy are actually "compassionate" deeds, making the nation better than it was under that evil sicko Clinton.

If anyone can spin Bush's record to the general public, it's the guy who convinced Colin Powell that an abandoned Iraqi trailer park was an active nuclear weapons facility.

3) FINANCE

With his Bush family connections, Ahmed can probably turn his Jordanian conviction to his advantage.

After all, Dubya had problems with Harken, Arbusto and the Texas Rangers. Jeb caused the Florida S & L collapse. Neil had the Silverado Savings & Loan debacle. And Poppy Bush topped them all with the BCCI scandal.

If anything, Chalabi's work is downright quaint compared to his patrons.

Given that, perhaps Chalabi could put his white collar criminal past to good use and gain a position of power like the Bushes... perhaps replacing Dick Grasso at the NYSE?

4) CARTOONS

Ahmed Chalabi left Iraq at age 12, studied at Chicago University and MIT --- but he still has that funky, broken-English accent!

How's that, you ask? Unbeknownst to many, Chalabi is a skilled voice actor.

In fact, a Freedom of Information Act request discovered that Chalabi's vocal talents have been heard on The Simpsons (he's Dr. Nick), Batman (he's Alfred the butler) and Kim Possible (he's Kim.)

He's even overdubbed quite a few Asian films, including a new release of Kurosawa's Seven Samurai (he was the ugly ronin) and Godzilla vs. Megaguiras (he was the old scientist.)

With this impressive resume already on his record, is there any question that he won't take advantage of what he once called "an amusing hobby" and turn it into a lucrative career?

The producers of Toy Story 3 are already sending offers, I'm told.

Mark Spittle is one half of the political satire duo Spittle & Ink. He is a former Washington lobbyist and congressional assistant.

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