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December 19, 2003 PERMALINK
If A Man With No WMD Is Put In Jail, Are We Any Safer?
(posted Dec. 19 1:30 AM ET)

Howard Dean certainly has said things in this campaign that, agree or disagree with them, one can understand why they would be controversial.

But saying that Saddam's capture hasn't made American safer isn't one of them.

At least, it's no more controversial than being against the war in the first place.

The whole basis for opposing the war is the argument that Hussein did not pose an imminent threat to America.

If that's your view, why would -- why should -- that change with Hussein's capture?

Wouldn't Dean's opposition to the war be far shakier and far less sensible if he suddenly agreed that the main objective of the war bolstered American security, yet he still opposed the war?

Leading the Beltway Establishment's attack on Dean is the pro-war (don't even try calling them liberal) W. Post editorial board, which said:

The argument that this tyrant was not a danger to the United States is not just unfounded but ludicrous.

They can't find a single weapon of mass destruction.

The man in charge of finding them apparently is so frustrated he wants to quit.

But we're supposed to buy that it's not even debatable that Saddam was a danger to us?

Please.

And most don't buy it, 78% of Americans to be exact, as noted by Interesting Times.

Now of course, Dick Gephardt, John Kerry and Joe Lieberman -- who seem to have belatedly found the fight that was missing at the last debate -- have also attacked Dean along these same lines.

As noted here before, there is little reason to insist that Dems play nice among each other.

Dean could use the tests if he is going to be the nominee, and there's nothing that can be said that Karl Rove can't figure out or dig up on his own.

So you can't blame these guys for trying.

But it looks to LiberalOasis that attacking Dean for essentially maintaining his original position only burnishes his rep as one who sticks to his guns no matter what's the prevailing mood of the moment.

You can decide if that makes him more electable or not.

*** Share your thoughts at The LiberalOasis Soapbox ***

December 18, 2003 PERMALINK
Woolsey on Coddling Saddam: "So What?"
(posted Dec. 18 1 AM ET)
(edited Dec. 18 9:30 AM ET)

It's not just Dubya who is letting the giddiness of the moment lead to inadvertent "truth-telling."

Now, it's Administration member James Woolsey, card-carrying neocon, Richard Perle's comrade on the Defense Policy Board, and Pentagon emissary.

Check out this lovely sentiment reported in yesterday's Baltimore Sun (link via Juan Cole):

The public record is replete with instances of high-ranking American policymakers adopting a soft line toward [Saddam] Hussein, viewing him as the lesser of evils they were confronting at the time...

...Hussein could try to dredge up some of this history during his trial, in an argument that the West was somehow complicit in his actions...

...Former CIA Director R. James Woolsey, a practiced litigator, said such a tactic by Hussein would be "a real reach for relevancy" and doubted that it would seriously embarrass the U.S. government.

"Was it inconsistent to have worked with Stalin during World War II and then to oppose him during the Cold War? So what? That's statecraft," he said.

"So what" if the same Reagan-Bush crowd in charge now propped up The Butcher of Baghdad while he gassed the Kurds, and stood idly by when he brutally put down the Shiites.

Apparently, that's statecraft.

But instead of being morally outraged, and instead of complaining what Fox would say if the same was uttered by Howard Dean, let's just be thankful.

Because Woolsey may have done us a favor.

It would be useful for Dems to have something to say during Saddam's upcoming trial, as Bush tries to milk the public reciting of Saddam's atrocities for all it's worth.

Without a comment like Woolsey's on the record, dredging up the ol' Reagan-Saddam alliance during the trial would come across as out-of-step, stale carping.

But now, it may be possible to use the trial to make a larger foreign policy argument.

Not (overtly) assigning blame for the past, but making the case that the Bushies haven't learned any lessons for the future.

That coddling murderous tyrants for the purposes of "statecraft," can create out-of-control monsters that spark unnecessary wars.

This Administration, through Woolsey, has openly acknowledged it hasn't learned the lesson. And it shows in current Bush policy.

Take Uzbekistan. As Mother Jones reported earlier this year:

...after Sept. 11...the US began casting about for allies in its war on terror.

Suddenly, Uzbekistan and its pariah strongman, Islam Karimov, were being courted by the likes of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and touted as a linchpin of US operations in the region.

In return for huge increases in American aid, Uzbekistan offered bases for US troops...

...Karimov's jails are packed with thousands of political prisoners -- many of whom were guilty only of wearing an Islamic-style beard, or praying at a mosque unsanctioned by the state, which is attempting to bring all religion under its control...

...Even more horrific, researchers turned up evidence that prisoners had been boiled to death last year.

(Also, Counterspin Central has been admirably pressing the Uzbek issue for some time, and provided the above link.)

Why not, when the time is right, throw Woolsey's remark back in his face?

That World War II could have been averted if Hitler was not appeased.

That both Gulf Wars could have been averted if Saddam wasn't coddled and enabled.

And that a Democratic presidency will seek to preclude such bloody conflicts, by recognizing that you can't successfully defeat terrorism without using American's superpower influence to champion human rights and oppose tyranny.

Unlike the current Administration.

*** Share your thoughts at The LiberalOasis Soapbox ***

December 17, 2003 PERMALINK
Bush on Phantom WMD: "What's The Difference?"
(posted Dec. 17 1 AM ET)

Last night, ABC News aired an hour-long interview of Dubya by Diane Sawyer.

A fair amount of it was the typical softball questions we have come to expect.

But for about five minutes, Sawyer pressed Dubya on the question of the Phantom WMD harder than anyone has, perhaps harder than anyone has pressed him on anything since 9/11.

And in response, Dubya was defensive and evasive, clinging tightly to his talking points.

Judging from the wire reports of the interview, it doesn't look like anyone in the mainstream media is going to pick up on the fact that when faced with such questions, Bush has no good direct response.

The wires focused on Bush's call for the death penalty for Saddam, and his remarks on gay marriage, which had varying interpretations.

That's not surprising. In both those cases, Bush said something new, hence it is "news" by traditional standards.

Evading questions with old talking points doesn't meet that standard.

(UPDATE Dec. 17 2 PM ET -- A late night AP writeup, that was mostly about the death penalty remark, did also touch upon Dubya's WMD remarks.)

Since the full transcript of the interview does not seem to be available on the internet anywhere, below is an extended excerpt (with a few helpful observations in parentheses) of the WMD portion of the interview.

(UPDATE Dec. 17 11:45 AM ET -- ABC's site now has a more complete transcript posted, in three parts.)

This is the transcript of what the ABC audience saw. The interview appeared to be edited, and video clips and graphics were interspersed throughout.

It's long, but worth reading. And more commentary to follow.

SAWYER: 50 percent of the American people have said that they think the Administration exaggerated the evidence going into the war with Iraq -- weapons of mass destruction, connection to terrorism.

Are the American people wrong? Misguided?

BUSH: No, the intelligence I operated on was good sound intelligence, the same intelligence that my predecessor operated on.

The -- there is no doubt, uh, that Saddam Hussein was a threat. Uh, the -- otherwise, the United Nations, by the way, wouldn't have passed, y'know, resolution after resolution after resolution demanding that he disarm.

I first went to the United Nations, September the 12th 2002, and said:

"You've given this man resolution after resolution after resolution. He's ignoring them. You step up, and see that he honor those resolutions. Otherwise you become a feckless debating society."

And so for the sake of peace, and for the sake of freedom of the Iraqi people, and for the sake of security of the country, and for the sake of the credibility of international institutions, a group of us moved.

And the world is better for it.

(Bush shows look of self-satisfaction)

SAWYER: When you take a look back --

(Video clip of Dick Cheney saying, "There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons -- ")

SAWYER: -- Vice President Cheney said there is no doubt Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction. Not programs, not intent.

(Shot of Bush shifting in chair, looking a bit annoyed.)

SAWYER: There is no doubt he has weapons of mass destruction.

Secretary Powell --

(Video clip of Powell at UN saying, "Iraq today has a stockpile -- ")

SAWYER: -- said a hundred to five hundred tons of chemical weapons.

And now the inspectors say that there's no evidence of these weapons existing right now.

(Video clip of Bush at the State of the Union address saying, "significant quantities of uranium --")

SAWYER: The yellowcake in Niger. George Tenet has said that shouldn't have been in your speech.

(Graphic of Tenet and the quote "This was a mistake." Cut to Bush cocking his head, still annoyed.)

SAWYER: Secretary Powell talked about mobile labs, again the intelligence, the inspectors have said they can't confirm this, they can't corroborate.

(Video of Bush at the SOTU again, saying, "suitable for nuclear weapons production -- ")

SAWYER: "Nuclear" suggested that he was on the way on an active nuclear program.

(Bush's right leg starts to bounce anxiously)

SAWYER: David Kay: "We have not discovered significant evidence of an active -- "

BUSH: Yet. Yet.

SAWYER: Is it, "yet?"

BUSH: But what David Kay did discover was he had a weapons program. And had that knowledge --

SAWYER: Missiles.

BUSH: Let me finish for a second. No, it was more extensive than missiles.

Had that knowledge been, uh, examined by the United Nations, in other words, had David Kay's report been placed in front of the United Nations, he, Saddam Hussein, would have been in breach of 1441, which meant it was a casus belli.

And, uh, look --

(Bush's voice begins to rise)

BUSH: -- There's no doubt that Saddam Hussein was a dangerous person. And there's no doubt we had a body of evidence proving that.

And there is no doubt that the president must act, after 9/11, to make America a more secure country.

(Look of self-satisfaction returns.)

SAWYER: Um, again I'm just trying to ask -- and these are supporters, people who believed in the war --

BUSH: Heh-heh-heh.

SAWYER: -- who have asked the question.

BUSH: Well you can keep asking the question, and my answer is going to be the same. Saddam was a danger, and the world is better off because we got rid of him.

(Raised voice cracks a bit on "rid." A pause, then Bush shoots Sawyer an exasperated look as if to say "Get it?", though with a bit of a smile.)

SAWYER: But stated as a hard fact, that there were weapons of mass destruction, as opposed to the possibility that he could move to acquire those weapons still --

BUSH: So what's the difference?

(Smile's gone.)

SAWYER: Well --

BUSH: The possibility that he could acquire weapons. If he were acquire weapons [sic], he would be the danger. That's the -- that's what I'm trying to explain to you.

A gathering threat, after 9/11, is a threat that needed to be dealt with.

And it was done after 12 long years of the world saying, "the man's a danger." And so, we got rid of him.

And there's no doubt the world is a safer, freer place as a result of Saddam being gone.

SAWYER: But, but again some, some of the critics have said this, combined with the failure to establish proof of elaborate terrorism contacts, has indicated that there's just not precision, at best, and misleading, at worst. [sic]

BUSH: Y'know, uh, look (shakes head). What (chuckle) what we based our evidence on was a very sound National Intelligence Estimate.

SAWYER: Nothing should have been more precise?

BUSH: I -- I -- I -- I made my decision based upon enough intelligence to tell me that the country was threatened with Saddam Hussein in power.

SAWYER: What would it take to convince you he didn't have weapons of mass destruction?

BUSH: Saddam Hussein was a threat. And the fact that he is gone means America is a safer country.

(Pause, as both smile.)

SAWYER: And if he doesn't have weapons of mass destruction --

BUSH: You can keep asking the question. I'm telling ya, I made the right decision for America.

Because Saddam Hussein used weapons of mass destruction, invaded Kuwait.

But the fact that he is not there, is uh, means America is a more secure country.

So what can we take away from this, practically speaking?

That Bush doesn't have good enough talking points to withstand serious questioning on this issue.

Now, Karl Rove may be compelled to tinker with them as a result. But until there's evidence of that, the issue should be treated as a vulnerability.

Granted, this issue isn't going to be put to Bush directly very often in the near future, as he already exposes himself very little to serious questioning.

And he signaled to Sawyer he has a bit of a Rose Garden strategy in mind for the campaign:

...early in the process there'll be all kinds of pressures to respond to this, or respond to that...

...and I just want to warn you, I'm going to do my job. I got a lot to do. As we say, the dance card is quite full these days.

But if the eventual nominee starts to push the issue -- say, in springtime advertisements -- Bush may yet find himself under uncomfortable pressure.

Surely, there are downsides in flogging issues of "the past", as pundits will complain you're not talking about Iraq's future.

But getting under your opponent's skin has its benefits, taking off some of that commander-in-chief sheen.

And if Diane Sawyer can do that, think of the possibilities.

*** Share your thoughts at The LiberalOasis Soapbox ***

December 16, 2003 PERMALINK
The Limits To The Bounce
(posted Dec. 16 12:30 AM ET)

Bush received a decent job approval bounce in the quickie Sunday polls, up 4 to 57% in the ABC/W. Post poll, up 6 to 58% in the NBC/WSJ poll.

Decent, but unsurprising, for polls taken during an intense dose of unequivocally good news.

What was more interesting was this poll response from Gallup:

Which of the following comes closest to your view:

You were planning to vote to re-elect President Bush even before the capture of Saddam Hussein. (45%)

You were not planning to vote to re-elect President Bush before now but the capture makes it more likely that you will. (3%)

Or you were not planning to vote to re-elect President Bush and the capture of Saddam Hussein doesn't change your mind? (43%)

That tiny 3% potential shift in attitude was within the +/- 4% margin of error. Also, "no opinion" registered 8%.

That really shows how hardened, and split, people's attitudes are about Dubya, and how small the competitive swing vote probably is.

Furthermore, people's views on the war didn't change much either, which would indicate that, unlike much of the media, people understand that a development in war doesn't necessarily affect the war's underlying rationale.

Gallup asked:

All in all, do you think the situation in Iraq was worth going to war over, or not?

Worth it
Dec. 14 -- 62%
Dec 5-7 -- 59%

The ABC/W. Post wording appears to draw out more ambivalence. But like Gallup, it showed little shift in attitude:

All in all, considering the costs to the United States versus the benefits to the United States, do you think the war with Iraq was worth fighting, or not?

Worth it
Dec. 14 -- 53%
Nov. 16 -- 52%

Of course, other dramatic news in the future, good or bad, could have a larger impact on the polls than this news did.

But it's quite plausible that the nation's polarization is so pronounced that this stubborn 50-50 Nation dynamic will persist into November.

Particularly if the economic and Iraq situations appear muddled by next fall, and don't clearly break in one direction.

In that scenario, 2004 could turn on things like how the swing takes to candidate personas, or conversely, how well the campaigns turn out their respective bases.

*** Share your thoughts at The LiberalOasis Soapbox ***

December 15, 2003 PERMALINK
What The Capture Means
About Iraq, And Osama
(posted Dec. 14 10:30 PM ET)
(edited Dec. 15 12 PM ET)

Let's dispense with the weekly Sunday Talkshow Breakdown, and instead, offer two key points on the capture of Saddam.

1. After Uday and Qusay were killed in July, LiberalOasis noted that getting Saddam could well be around the corner, but:

...if we do get Saddam, but the Iraqi people continue to chafe under occupation, and the guerrilla attacks persist, then Dubya will be out of talking points and out of excuses.

That still holds true today.

Granted, since then, the Bushies have been smarter and have not pinned the end of the insurgency to the end of Saddam.

But they have still heavily leaned on the notion that Iraqis are afraid of Saddam's return to explain why they were not getting all the help they need.

Now, there's no more crutch.

More than ever, Bush owns Iraq. And the expectations of Americans to stabilize the country and protect the lives of US soldiers will be even higher.

2. The capture of Saddam should be a wake-up call to leading Dems on another front: it's time to revamp the main arguments about Osama.

While some Dems talked about Dubya not getting Saddam, the protracted manhunt was never the Dem's biggest complaint about Iraq.

The criticisms have been based more on internationalization, post-war planning, the overall insurgency, and profiteering.

In turn, while Saddam's capture gives Dubya a political victory lap, it is not forcing the Dems to each much crow.

However, the Al Qaeda front is different. Right now, "Osama bin Forgotten" is the entire argument.

And if Bush does manage to capture or kill bin Laden, the Dems will be stuck with praying for a change of subject.

Moreover, the truth is bin Laden isn't the root cause of the terrorism scourge.

Go back to LO's interview with Jason Burke, author of "Al Qaeda: Casting a Shadow of Terror," where he said:

The biggest myth is that all the various incidents that we are seeing are linked to some kind of central organization.

One of the reasons the myth is so prevalent is that it's a very comforting one.

Because if you clearly get rid of that central organization, if you get rid off, particularly bin Laden...and a few score, a few hundred people around him...then the problem would apparently be solved.

Unfortunately, that idea is indeed a myth and bears very little resemblance to what's happening on the ground...

...if were talking about the phenomenon of modern Islamic militancy, within which the threat that we all face is rooted, you have to look beyond bin Laden.

Burke goes on to say that while the war on terror had weakened bin Laden and his inner circle, it also had strengthened the broader militant Islamic movement.

The fact is, bin Laden's freedom has been a useful symbol of Bush's neglect of the true threats to American and global security.

But the actual problem is far larger than Osama's ability to elude justice.

And while it may be difficult to walk away from a useful symbol, smart policy and forward-thinking politics demand it.

It's time to start stressing that the problem of radical Islamic terrorism is bigger than just one man.

It's time to start criticizing the Administration for losing the hearts and minds of the Islamic people.

And it's time for the Dems to articulate their own long-term, comprehensive strategy for winning those hearts and minds, based on multilateralism, real democratic reform, and improving the quality of life for all in the Muslim world.

The urgency of this may be politically motivated.

But as Karl Rove likes to say, "good policy is good politics."

*** Share your thoughts at The LiberalOasis Soapbox ***

The Sandbox
Humor Column by Mark Spittle

The New American Devil's Dictionary: Part 2

ABORTION: The only form of murder condemned by those who endorse capital punishment, carpet bombing, vigilantism and lynching.

CAPITALISM: The ancient alchemical formula for turning other people's lead into one's own gold without expending one's own energy. Despite it defying the laws of physics, the formula is attempted by many learned men in today's society, with often dubious results. See also URI GELLAR.

COLLAGEN: The means by which the ugly gain confidence in their grotesque appearance.

COMMUNISM: A doctrine that proposes revolution against the wealthy employer class due to the suffering that class causes in society. Once thought of as an evil philosophy, the view has now been given new life as a result of Paris Hilton, whose father must be punished for the crime of releasing his daughter on the world.

DEMOCRATS: The name given to the group of white men who maintain power through the frequent invocation of black women.

DYNAMITE: A type of inexpensive microphone used by fanatics whose enthusiasm exceeds their funds.

EDUCATION: The process of passing on knowledge from one person to another, but doing so in a way that ensures the student never knows more than the teacher, thereby ensuring the eventual extinction of the species.

ELECTORAL COLLEGE: Not an educational institution, but rather a social fraternity comprised of those who failed to graduate.

FREEDOM: An ancient word, the meaning of which is now lost but still widely debated. Commonly suspected as having something to do with feminine hygiene products.

GOVERNMENT: A term with multiple meanings depending on the dialect of the user. To the Conservative, it is a word given to mean a system of bureaucracies that must be dismantled only to the extent that one's own bureaucracy is unaffected. To the Liberal, the word is used to describe a tool used for personal punishment through self-induced public humiliation, typically utilized as a means to fulfill one's hidden, masochistic desires. See also SELF-FLAGELLATION.

HASTERT: A contemporary form of the word HASTEN, but opposite in meaning: typically, one who frustrates progress through the placement of obstacles.

HEAVEN: A Utopian world view disproved by contemporary economists as naēve and misguided in that it fails to comprehend the base nature of Man. Today, largely thought of as the fictional promise of Marxists.

IMMIGRANT: One who moves from a place he is welcome to a place he is not; often confused with EMIGRANT, which is a person who moves in the opposite direction. The correct spelling of the word on one's transit documentation may often mean the difference between deportation and a consulship.

JUDGE: (n) One who makes decisions in order to provide a precedent on which other men will base their decisions. (v) The act of proclaiming someone guilty of a crime regardless of evidence, in an attempt to appease an angry public and thereby save fifteen minutes on the commute home.

KENNEDY: The name given to those who partake in debauchery and bacchanalia, but do so with such flare and bombast as to resemble royalty.

LABOR UNION: An organization devoted to the inconveniencing of oppressors.

LIMBAUGH: A clear, odorless but highly addictive substance affecting most particularly the ignorant, upon whom it causes irrational rage, frothing of the mouth and paranoia.

NATIONAL INTEREST: A rate of return on a commodity of any origin owned by one in government; typically such interest provides a far greater return than those of conventional savings or investment plans.

NATIONAL SECURITY: The sense of psychological warmth citizens get when their leaders decry the values of other countries.

O'REILLY: One who masks the silence of his morality with the volume of his voice.

PARTISAN: A word used to describe one's opponent during a disagreement on the floor of the US Senate. Considered a most foul epithet, the origin of the word is from "parisian," but was mispronounced when first used by a Senator with false teeth, and the current pronunciation has remained in use.

PARTY: (a) A group of dull, witless opportunists gathered to discuss their inability to lead effectively, (b) The name given to the entertainment generated by observing (a).

PRIME MINISTER: The leading figure in a group of ill-mannered foreigners.

PROGRESSIVES: Those whose political views are forward-looking, resulting in a limited field of view that allows Conservatives to shove things up their asses.

PROTESTANT: A Catholic prone to whining over minutiae.

QUAGMIRE: A sticky substance left over from the accidental blending of gunpowder, blood and petroleum, often becoming exponentially more tacky when exposed to a power vacuum.

REAGANOMICS: An economic pump that siphons the wealth of swimmers into a pool to which they are disinvited.

RÉSUMÉ: A work of art that improves over time, especially when exposed to government.

RIGHT WING: An aerodynamic structure composed of a bent leader, a rigid, inflexible main body, and a crooked trailing edge, used primarily to cut through resistance and thereby lift itself to new heights. Typically built of lightweight materials that have little substance.

RUMSFELD: An often hilarious showman whose erratic behavior and comedic antics are mistaken for serious philosophy.

SATAN: A rock thrown across one's path on the journey towards Heaven, usually tossed by someone in the passing lane.

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: A contemporary shortening of the term "Secretary of the Defense Industry."

SECRETARY OF STATE: Until 2000, the term was used to define a position within the government tasked with overseeing matters of state. After 2000, the term is used to define one overseeing matters of secretaries.

SLAVERY: A term used to define the most advanced state of worker productivity attainable. The concept has been generally accepted as good practice, with the exception of WHITE SLAVERY, which has been globally denounced as barbaric.

SUPREME COURT: A group of hand-picked, non-elected judges who preside over the laws of a democratic nation that otherwise abhors hand-picking and non-electing.

TAXES: The means by which those who fight against government fund their insurgencies.

TERRORIST: A word which has undergone radical change in the past two years, it now is taken to mean any frightening character, such as nontraditional enemy combatants, militant protesters, or egg-wielding trick-or-treaters.

TROTSKYITE: A form of kryptonite lethal only to Stalinists.

VICE PRESIDENT: (a) Old meaning: one who does no presiding, but is granted a title in exchange for his silence. (b) Contemporary meaning: the ruler of the free world; see also VENTRILOQUIST.

WEALTH: What one gets when one votes inappropriately, or steals the votes of those that hadn't.

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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