Good Mother Bad Mother Politics

It is hard to imagine what the impeccably dressed Condoleezza Rice feels when she has to defend a President that she must now know deep down is a tremendous disappointment. She endured hours of Senate grilling including a bravura performance from Senator Barbara Boxer :

BOXER: October 19th ’05, you came before this committee to discuss, in your words, how we assure victory in Iraq, and you said the following. In answer to Senator Feingold, “I have no doubt that as the Iraqi security forces get better — and they are getting better and are holding territory, and they are doing the things with minimal help — we are going to be able to bring down the level of our forces. I have no doubt” — I want to reiterate — “I have no doubt that that’s going to happen in a reasonable time frame.” You had no doubt, not a doubt. And last night, the president’s announcement of an escalation is a total rebuke of your confident pronouncement.

Now, the issue is who pays the price, who pays the price? I’m not going to pay a personal price. My kids are too old, and my grandchild is too young. You’re not going to pay a particular price, as I understand it, within immediate family. So who pays the price? The American military and their families, and I just want to bring us back to that fact.

NPR has done a series of interviews with families who have lost kids. And the announcer said to one family in the Midwest, “What’s changed in your life since your son’s death?” The answer comes back, “Everything. You can’t begin to imagine how even the little things change, how you go through the day, how you celebrate Christmas”…

RICE: And let me just say, you know, I fully understand the sacrifice that the American people are making, and especially the sacrifice that our soldiers are making, men and women in uniform. I visit them. I know what they’re going through. I talk to their families. I see it.

I could never — and I can never — do anything to replace any of those lost men and women in uniform, or the diplomats, some of whom –

BOXER: Madame Secretary, please, I know you feel terrible about it. That’s not the point. I was making the case as to who pays the price for your decisions. And the fact that this administration would move forward with this escalation with no clue as to the further price that we’re going to pay militarily — we certainly know the numbers, billions of dollars, that we can’t spend here in this country.

The exchange has been called a “flash point” by the NYT and has been the talk of the blogsphere with many like Rush Limbaugh accusing Boxer of “hitting below the ovaries”. Rice said in a later interview that Boxer has “set back feminism” with her comments:

“I thought it was okay to be single,” Ms. Rice said. “I thought it was okay to not have children, and I thought you could still make good decisions on behalf of the country if you were single and didn’t have children.”

The anti-feminist line is of course a furphy. Boxer’s emotionalism highlights something essential that is missing from the public debate. The orchestration of the war and Rice’s own quibbling over words – such as whether Bush’s new plan is a “surge” “escalation” or her latest obfuscation: “an augmentation” – abstracts the reality of war’s mortality. That Bush and Rice are put under personal notice of their complicity in the deaths of not just US troops but of thousands of Iraqis is only right in what has become their personal crusade. A crusade where they have repeatedly ignored the advice of their own experts. Bush and Rice have no option but to continue to defend the fantasy and it is up to people like Boxer to puncture the plausibility this fantasy with the real stories of those being affected.

Andrew Sullivan says that Boxer’s statement “was the kind of cheap shot that makes substantive discourse impossible. Boxer was questioning Rice as a senator questioning a secretary of state. Their family relationships are utterly irrelevant to the point at hand, i.e. the current Iraq strategy.” This is typical of those that imagine that “substantive discourse” must remain in a Habermassian rational mode. Neither Bush nor Rice produce “substantive discourse” on Iraq their statements are littered with emotional appeals very similar to Boxer’s. This is merely a clash of stories and sits uncomfortably because it is clearly emotive where as Bush and Rice’s rhetoric is often cloaked more carefully.

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Naming the Civil War

As GWB steadfastly resists calling the conflict in Iraq a “civil war” despite the pronouncements of many of his own current and ex-military advisers, media outlets also grapple with the nomenclature. E&P reports that starting Monday The Los Angeles Times, NBC and MSNBC, will all be using that troublesome phrase to describe what is going on in Iraq. More interestingly the Washington Post seems to be stuck in a precautionary loop. Leonard Downie, Jr., the Post’s executive editor told E&P:

“We just describe what goes on everyday. We don’t have a policy about it. We are not making judgments one way or another. The language in the stories is very precise when dealing with it. At various times people say it is ‘close to a civil war,’ but we don’t have a policy about it.”

This is typical disingenuous strategic objectivity. The obvious question is how and when does ‘close to civil war’ become simply ‘civil war’? How can a media outlet make ‘very precise’ judgments about such matters? The Post’s top reporter Dana Priest is more revealing:

“Well, I think one of the reasons the President resists that label is because it equates almost with a failure of U.S. policy. I will say for the Washington Post, we have not labeled it a civil war. I have asked around to see why not or see what’s the thinking on that — and really our reporters have not filed that. We try to avoid the labels, particularly when the elected government itself does not call its situation a civil war. I certainly — and I would agree with General McCaffrey on this — absolutely the level of violence equals a civil war.”

Priest’s comments reveal that the Post’s caution derives not from some grand commitment to journalistic objectivity it is in fact a text book example of “official source” theory and Stuart Hall’s argument that one of the subtle but highly influential ways official sources hold power over media portrayals is that they are usually the ones that define the language that is used. Hall argues that it is incredibly difficult for other “secondary definers” to move through this initial textual definition of the issue. A classic quote from Hall:

“The more one accepts that how people act will depend in part on how the situations in which they act are defined, and the less one assumes either a natural meaning for things or a universal consensus on what things mean, then the more socially and politically important becomes the process by means of which certain events get recurrently signified in certain ways.” (Rediscovery of Ideology 1982)

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Incestuous Amplification

The wisdom from political commentators last night seemed to be that Rumsfeld would be given a reprieve in spite of the election results. The history of the Bush regime shows heel digging as a common response to critique. But maybe the decider has just had enough this time. He admitted to reporters today that he lied when asked about Rumie last week because it was the only way to get them to go onto the next question in pre-election week. No one has made much of this admission – it seems that it is suddenly acceptable for the president to lie to reporters when it is politically expedient.

The rules of the political-media game used to be that you could obfiscate and avoid but never lie. But Bush seems quite happy to admit to this lie and expects everyone to understand its necessity.

Lying in politics takes different forms it is not often presented as blatantly as this. One of its forms is what John Stauber calls “incestuous amplification” – the repetition and reinforcement of political spin by a tight cadre of players. WMD is the prime example. But a lot of the talk during Rumsfeld’s resignation today is similar, even people like McCain who have had huge disagreements with him over war strategy felt the need to compliment him.

Rumsfeld himself, of course, praised the President:

“The great respect that I have for your leadership, Mr. President, in this little-understood, unfamiliar war– the first war of the 21st century. ” Rumsfeld said. “it is not well-known, It was not well-understood. It is complex for people to comprehend, and I know with certainty that over time the contributions you’ve made will be recorded by history”

The first draft of such history is already being written and as we all know is no where near as complimentary. I am currently reading Woodward’s State of Denial and “dysfunctional” – the word that everyone is using – does not even cover the half of it. Rumsfeld comes across as a deeply neurotic control freak and George – I go with my gut – Bush as something like the Moousketeer-in-chief.

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TIME.com on the NIE

TIME.com: Why the Fight Over the NIE Report May Be a Wash:

Mark M. Lowenthal, president of the Intelligence & Security Academy, in Arlington, Va., supervised the preparation of National Intelligence Estimates from 2002 to 2005, when he was vice chairman of the National Intelligence Council. Lowenthal tells TIME that such estimate always allow people “to pick and choose to find whatever you want.”

“The Administration is smartly pointing out that there has not been another major attack in five years,” Lowenthal said. “You can argue whether that’s an accurate portrayal of how much progress we’ve made. But it’s more likely to resonate with people than something in the sixth paragraph of an NIE.”

The President’s friends and advisers say that his most critical mission is to leave his successors the tools to fight and win a multigenerational war on terror. If the trends described by the report materialize, that fight may be at least as harrowing for them as it has been for him.

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Spy Agencies Say Iraq War Worsens Terror Threat

Finally what was bleeding obvious is now official. The New York Times reports on a new US Intelligence Estimate that comes to terms with the other effect of the Iraq war:

A stark assessment of terrorism trends by American intelligence agencies has found that the American invasion and occupation of Iraq has helped spawn a new generation of Islamic radicalism and that the overall terrorist threat has grown since the Sept. 11 attacks.

The classified National Intelligence Estimate attributes a more direct role to the Iraq war in fueling radicalism than that presented either in recent White House documents or in a report released Wednesday by the House Intelligence Committee, according to several officials in Washington involved in preparing the assessment or who have read the final document.

The intelligence estimate, completed in April, is the first formal appraisal of global terrorism by United States intelligence agencies since the Iraq war began, and represents a consensus view of the 16 disparate spy services inside government. Titled “Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States,’’ it asserts that Islamic radicalism, rather than being in retreat, has metastasized and spread across the globe.

An opening section of the report, ”Indicators of the Spread of the Global Jihadist Movement,“ cites the Iraq war as a reason for the diffusion of jihad ideology.

The report ”says that the Iraq war has made the overall terrorism problem worse,“ said one American intelligence official.

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Bush’s Black and White Ball – he’s threatening to take it on home.

A lot of stuff in the press – news, analysis and opinion – about opposition to Bush’s wiretap and torture plans from leading Republicans like Colin Powell. It is interesting though that even when these pieces seek to address substantive issues they nearly always end up analysing policy as posture rather than policy as content: Bush as defiant or Bush as backed into a corner.

Bush Untethered – New York Times Editorial:

Watching the president on Friday in the Rose Garden as he threatened to quit interrogating terrorists if Congress did not approve his detainee bill, we were struck by how often he acts as though there were not two sides to a debate. We have lost count of the number of times he has said Americans have to choose between protecting the nation precisely the way he wants, and not protecting it at all.

On Friday, President Bush posed a choice between ignoring the law on wiretaps, and simply not keeping tabs on terrorists. Then he said the United States could rewrite the Geneva Conventions, or just stop questioning terrorists. To some degree, he is following a script for the elections: terrify Americans into voting Republican. But behind that seems to be a deeply seated conviction that under his leadership, America is right and does not need the discipline of rules. He does not seem to understand that the rules are what makes this nation as good as it can be.

Analysis: Bush Sees Fewer Policy Options – Washingtonpost.com:

WASHINGTON — When President Bush addresses world leaders at the United Nations this week, he will have fewer options and lower expectations on almost every major foreign policy front than a year ago.

The United States is relying more readily on international institutions and alliances for help in Iran, Lebanon, North Korea, Sudan and elsewhere. Yet, according to analysts, the Bush administration has less room to maneuver. Bush and his foreign policy advisers have tried with some success to dispel the caricature of Bush abroad as a Texas cowboy riding alone and herding the U.S. into an unpopular war in Iraq.But the war, now in its fourth year, devours resources and energy for other global objectives and feeds mistrust about U.S. intentions, experts say.

“I’m not sure they have changed their mind about to what extent to proceed unilaterally and how much to use military force so much as they have run out of options,” said Richard Stoll, a political science professor at Rice University who studies foreign policy and national security.

With Bush nearly halfway through his final term, time is dwindling for him to accomplish his signature goals of confronting terrorism and spreading democracy, and he faces more distractions at home, said Andrew Bacevich, a professor of international relations at Boston University.

When the president speaks to the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday, he plans to carry a strong message, “based upon hope, and my belief that the civilized world must stand with moderate, reformist-minded people and help them realize their dreams.

”I believe that’s the call of the 21st century,“ Bush told reporters Friday.

ABC News: Bush and Congress Butt Heads

In the Rose Garden Friday, President Bush was loud and clear: If Congress doesn’t agree with him, the hunt for terrorist plots will be crippled.

”The bottom line is simple,“ he said. ”If Congress passes a law that does not clarify the rules, if they do not do that, the program is not going forward.“…

”The world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism,“ Powell wrote to lawmakers. Redefining the Geneva Conventions ”would add to those doubts“ and ”put our own troops at risk.“

The president dismissed that argument — and some attempts from reporters to ask him about it.

”But sir, this is an important point,“ NBC’s David Gregory said in one exchange.

”The point I just made is the most important point,“ Bush replied.

President Bush was feisty and confident. Experts say his attitude is sure to bolster the mood at the White House.

Ana Marie Cox, Time.com’s Washington editor, commented on the White House’s strategy.

”I think they’re banking on the American public liking to see that strong president, liking to see someone be decisive,“ she said.

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OpinionJournal – Jack Bauer Insurance

Can CIA agents be sued for protecting America with too much vigor?:

Tuesday, September 12, 2006 12:01 a.m. EDT

What would Jack Bauer do? If he worked at the CIA in real life today, the anti-terror hero of Fox’s “24” would apparently be buying insurance in case the ACLU or John Kerry decided to sue or subpoena him for protecting America with too much vigor.

The Washington Post reported yesterday that more CIA counterterrorism officers are signing up for private insurance that would pay for civil judgments and legal costs if they are sued or charged with a crime. These are the agents who interrogated Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah and other jihadis, using what President Bush last week called methods that were legal but “tough.” Those methods succeeded in breaking these men into divulging information that led to the arrest of other al Qaeda bigs, and to the foiling of plots that could have killed thousands.

“ ‘There are a lot of people who think that subpoenas could be coming’ from Congress after the November elections or from federal prosecutors if Democrats capture the White House in 2008,” wrote the Post, quoting a retired intelligence officer close to the CIA’s Directorate of Operations, which conducted the interrogations. This is not paranoia. We reported yesterday how Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat, is blocking Bush nominees simply for having been mentioned in passing in emails about Guantanamo. Some of us also remember the infamous Frank Church hearings of the 1970s that pilloried the CIA and weakened it for decades.

Though the government pays the premiums for this kind of insurance, it is a sorry spectacle that these agents must now fear partisan retribution for having done precisely what the country asked them to do. The story is one more reason Congress should follow through on Mr. Bush’s request to put its stamp of approval on such interrogations, including ex post facto immunity for these CIA officers.

Intelligence is the front line of this anti-jihadi conflict, and the danger from the current political second-guessing is that CIA officers will go back to the FBI’s law enforcement mentality of reading terrorists their Miranda rights that failed the country leading up to 9/11. The country needs Jack Bauer insurance, too.

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In Latest Push, Bush Cites Risk in Quitting Iraq – New York Times

In Latest Push, Bush Cites Risk in Quitting Iraq – New York Times:

“The war we fight today is more than a military conflict,’’ Mr. Bush said in a speech to veterans at an American Legion convention here. ”It is the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century.’’…..

At the same time, he placed various factions of terrorists — Sunnis who swear allegiance to Al Qaeda, Shiite radicals who join groups like Hezbollah and so-called homegrown terrorists — under one umbrella.

Experts said that might be overstating the facts.

“ ‘Network of radicals’ suggests they are actually connected in some practical fashion, and that’s obviously not the case,’’ said Steven Simon, a State Department official in the administrations of President Bill Clinton and Mr. Bush’s father.

But the comparison is central to Mr. Bush’s message, said Ken Mehlman, chairman of the National Republican Committee, who has played an integral role in developing Republican strategy for the midterm elections.

”I thought linking together the different elements of this ideological movement was important to do, and was effective,’’ Mr. Mehlman said.

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