Tuesday, August 08, 2006

An Unhappy Anniversary

Huffington Post
Eric Alterman
An Unhappy Anniversary


Let's all hope that this year, the president doesn't tell his briefer ""All right. You've covered your ass, now," and then spend the rest of the afternoon fishing if handed another memo entitled "Bin Ladin Determined to Strike in US," as he did five years ago, yesterday.

Speaking of which, sometimes Altercation operates like a major Hollywood studio--absent the hookers and the cocaine, alas.

We've got a lot of scripts in development, but we probably wont' have the resources to greenlight all or even most of them, particularly in August. Here's the memo.

1) How "Working the Refs" works:

In this story, titled "9/11 Commissioners Say They Went Easy on Giuliani to Avoid Public's Anger," we learn, "The independent federal commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks did not pursue a tough enough line of questioning with former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani during a hearing two years ago because its members feared public anger if they challenged him, according to a new book written by the panel's leaders.

The commission's gentle questioning of Mr. Giuliani during his May 19, 2004, testimony at the New School University in Greenwich Village was "a low point" in its handling of witnesses at its public hearings." And just what constitutes "public anger."

A) (Republican) John F. Lehman, at the previous day's hearing that New York's disaster-response plans were "not worthy of the Boy Scouts, let alone this great city."

B) The morning of Mr. Giuliani's testimony, (Republican Rupert Murdoch's) New York Post's cover had the single word "Insult" above a photograph of a firefighter kneeling at the World Trade Center site.

Upshot: Public never gets the full truth about 9/11 failures; we are not as prepared as we should be for next time; Rudy is a much stronger contender than he deserves to be; Republicans benefit.

2) History, Get Me Rewrite:

I keep looking for an honest Neocon to praise because I believe in the value of civic discourse and I believe it's necessary to respect one's opponents and his arguments in order to test one's own intellectual honesty. For a while, believe it or not, I tried to go with Bill Kristol. I had to give that up, and I was similarly disappointed after settling on David Brooks.

I could probably settle for Chris Caldwell, whose reporting on Islam in Europe has been uniformly terrific, but Al Franken's chapter in "Lying Liars" on Caldwell's report on Paul Wellstone's funeral takes a continent-sized chunk into Caldwell's reputation as an honest reporter and thinker, and I'm not sure it survived it. My other hope was Bob Kagan. His book on Venus and Mars is smart, albeit wrong-headed. And I was once at a conference where Ed Luttwak behaved extremely badly to Kagan and he was a real gentleman. Plus I really like his father, with whom I studied at Yale. And I never saw him write anything patently dishonest. Until now.

Here's Kagan on Lieberman whom he calls "The Last Honest Man" in The Washington Post.

In the piece, you'll see Kagan treats Lieberman's unequivocal embrace of George W. Bush's dishonest war in Iraq as indistinguishable from Al Gore's position that yes, Hussein is a security concern but, well,...

a) Here is Kagan: "Al Gore, the one-time Clinton administration hawk, airbrushed that history from his record. He turned on all those with whom he once agreed about Iraq and about many other foreign policy questions. And for this astonishing reversal he has been applauded by his fellow Democrats and may even get the party's nomination."

Now take a look at Al Gore's Sept. 23, 2002, speech to the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco, which by the way, was carried by the Washington Post, but you can find the full text here.

GORE: "To begin with, to put first things first, I believe that we ought to be focusing our efforts first and foremost against those who attacked us on September 11th and who have thus far gotten away with it. The vast majority of those who sponsored, planned and implemented the cold-blooded murder of more than 3,000 Americans are still at large, still neither located nor apprehended, much less punished and neutralized. I do not believe that we should allow ourselves to be distracted from this urgent task simply because it is proving to be more difficult and lengthy than was predicted.

"And, I believe that we are perfectly capable of staying the course in our war against Osama bin Laden and his terrorist network, while simultaneously taking those steps necessary to build an international coalition to join us in taking on Saddam Hussein in a timely fashion. If you're going after Jesse James, you ought to organize the posse first, especially if you're in the middle of a gunfight with somebody who's out after you.

"I don't think we should allow anything to diminish our focus on the necessity for avenging the 3,000 Americans who were murdered and dismantling that network of terrorists that we know were responsible for it. The fact that we don't know where they are should not cause us to focus instead on some other enemy whose location may be easier to identify.

"Nevertheless, President Bush is telling us that America's most urgent requirement of the moment right now is not to redouble our efforts against Al Qaida, not to stabilize the nation of Afghanistan after driving his host government from power, even as Al Qaida members slip back across the border to set up in Afghanistan again.

"Rather, he is telling us that our most urgent task right now is to shift our focus and concentrate on immediately launching a new war against Saddam Hussein. And the president is proclaiming a new uniquely American right to preemptively attack whomsoever he may deem represents a potential future threat.

"Moreover, President Bush is demanding, in this high political season, that Congress speedily affirm that he has the necessary authority to proceed immediately against Iraq and, for that matter, under the language of his resolution, against any other nation in the region regardless of subsequent developments or emerging circumstances.....

"Now, here's another of the main points I want to make: If we quickly succeed in a war against the weakened and depleted fourth-rate military of Iraq, and then quickly abandon that nation, as President Bush has quickly abandoned almost all of Afghanistan after defeating a fifth-rate military power there, then the resulting chaos in the aftermath of a military victory in Iraq could easily pose a far greater danger to the United States than we presently face from Saddam. ...

"I believe that we can effectively defend ourselves abroad and at home without dimming our core principles. Indeed, I believe that our success in defending ourselves depends precisely on not giving up what we stand for. We should have as our top priority preserving what America represents and stands for in the world and winning the war against terrorism first."

Upshot: For that speech, Gore was called "crazy" by Washington Post columnists, including particularly Charles Krauthammer. Now, in the most Orwellian manner conceivable, Kagan is seeking to portray Gore as having changed his mind, when in fact, his was a lone, brave voice, against this catastrophe. Shame on Kagan for that and shame on me for ever thinking him to be an honest man.

b) But wait there's more. Gore was right from the start. Few Democrats were. But remember, Bush was misleading the nation about the nature of the threat, based on phony intelligence, deliberately misrepresented. Many of those who supported the war did so because they foolishly believed George W. Bush would not purposely lie to Americans about so serious a subject. (I didn't, Gore didn't. Ted Kennedy didn't. Robert Byrd didn't. But a lot of people did.) A number of them, including John Kerry and John Edwards have, however belatedly, admitted the error of their ways in trusting this dishonest president.

Remember, as is reported in the Times the Republicans are still keeping secret the (probably whitewashed) investigation into the purposeful manipulation of pre-war evidence. Kagan purposely ignores this phenomenon when he writes "Politicians have twisted themselves into pretzels to explain away their support for the war or, better still, to blame someone else for persuading them to support it." But of course it does not require a "pretzel," merely a lying president and a Congressional majority helping to cover it up. Another definition for "honest" in Kagan's Lieberman apologia, and for "strength" in the Washington Post endorsement of Lieberman over Lamont, as well as Broder, Cokester, (see below) etc, is "unwilling to admit a mistake no matter how many people continue to die needeless for your stubborn, intellectual dishonesty."

(And John-Boy, I tried to warn you.)

3) The word "elitist." David Broder, Cokie Roberts, and everybody they represent refer to the Lamont insurgency as "elitist." But Lamont's position on the war is supported by a majority of Americans. And this is true despite the fact that half the country is still as clueless as ever about the WMD deception. Meanwhile, Lieberman's pro-war position is a majority only within Republican extremist circles and by the insider Washington elite. So what does "elitist" mean? Does this remind anyone of 1998. All the pundits whined that the Democrats were finished because Clinton had so upset "the children." Just before the election, on the "McLaughlin Group," John McLaughlin said the GOP would gain 13 House seats; Pat Buchanan, 12; Michael Barone, 8; former Gingrich spokesman Tony Blankley, 7; and Eleanor Clift, 6. On ABC's "This Week," George Will said 6 to 20 seats, Kristol said 15. On CNN's "Capital Gang," Al Hunt and Robert Novak both saw the Republicans picking up five Senate seats. Instead the Republicans lost six seats.

4) Speaking of Kristol, who now wants to involve us in two more wars, because, one assumes, Iraq has turned out so well, was this sentence in which he argues "what's under attack is liberal democratic civilization" deliberately intended to echo this one, 24 ago, by Norman Podhoretz, in Commentary in which he accused everyone who who dissented from Israel's catastrophic invasion of Lebanon, "of faithlessness to the interests of the United States and indeed to the values of Western civilization as a whole."

I ask because Kristol likes to do this kind of thing, as a kind of code for the well-read in Neocon history. Remember back during the election of 2004, he attacked the foreign policy pronouncements of then-Democratic presidential candidate, Richard Gephardt, by writing, "But the American people, whatever their doubts about aspects of Bush's foreign policy, know that Bush is serious about fighting terrorists and terrorist states that mean America harm. About Bush's Democratic critics, they know no such thing."

Wrong-headed and McCarthyite to be sure, but what was most interesting about Kristol's unfair attack on Gephardt was that it perfectly echoed a famous defense of Senator McCarthy that appeared in Commentary magazine in 1952. "For there is one thing that the American people know about Senator McCarthy; he, like them, is unequivocally anti-Communist. About the spokesman for American liberalism, they feel they know no such thing." The author? "Godfather" of neoconservatism and father of William Kristol, Irving Kristol. I wrote about that on "Altercation" the day it happened (no archives) and later here.

What the hell was Kristol thinking when he chose to associate himself with his father's defense of the disgraced McCarthy and to equate the war on terrorism with red-hunting hysteria? I spent an hour with him in the Green Room of the New Yorker festival a couple of years ago but dammit, I forgot to ask him. I'm still curious.

That's all the scripts for today, but don't miss the resolution passed Friday by the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) which is the leading professional body for academics in journalism and media studies. (I am a member.) It was brought to the floor of the annual convention by David Mindich of St. Michael's College, author of Tuned Out: Why Americans Under 40 Don't Follow the News (Oxford, 2005).

The key passage is: "The membership of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication urges the Bush administration to abandon its anti-press policies." The resolution identifies 10 troubling practices involving secrecy, propaganda and the control of information. It recognizes that there is always tension between presidents and the press. "This tension is both unavoidable and generally salutary: When each side conducts its duties with honesty and integrity, both hold the power of the other in check."

The motion was endorsed by the Resolutions Committee and the Standing Committee on Professional Freedom and Responsibility. AEJMC director Jennifer McGill said this is the first major statement against the policies of a president since the Vietnam War. Attached for reference is a resolution by the Boston University journalism faculty condemning fraudulent use of video news releases by the Bush Administration. It was passed in March of 2005. -- J.R. It's all here.

Also don't miss this incredible Los Angeles Times story about documents "that detail 320 alleged incidents that were substantiated by Army investigators -- not including the most notorious U.S. atrocity, the 1968 My Lai massacre.

Though not a complete accounting of Vietnam war crimes, the archive is the largest such collection to surface to date. About 9,000 pages, it includes investigative files, sworn statements by witnesses and status reports for top military brass.

The records describe recurrent attacks on ordinary Vietnamese -- families in their homes, farmers in rice paddies, teenagers out fishing. Hundreds of soldiers, in interviews with investigators and letters to commanders, described a violent minority who murdered, raped and tortured with impunity.

Abuses were not confined to a few rogue units, a Times review of the files found. They were uncovered in every Army division that operated in Vietnam."

Here's a high/lowlight:

"On Oct. 8, 1967, after a firefight near Chu Lai, members of his company spotted a 12-year-old boy out in a rainstorm. He was unarmed and clad only in shorts.
"Somebody caught him up on a hill, and they brought him down and the lieutenant asked who wanted to kill him," Henry told investigators.

"Two volunteers stepped forward. One kicked the boy in the stomach. The other took him behind a rock and shot him, according to Henry's statement. They tossed his body in a river and reported him as an enemy combatant killed in action."

This is war people; and it's one more reason that going into Iraq was criminally stupid.
A selection of documents used in preparing this report can be found at latimes.com/vietnam.

Good news from Vanity Fair: "Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele, the longtime, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporters who lost their jobs at Time Inc. a few months ago, have taken the leap from mass to class and are joining Vanity Fair."

They are the best in the business and their loss was a scandal. But why in the world would a fellow journalist, in this case put the hire in these terms: "Here are a couple of questions for the magazine's new sleuths: Why did those advertisers leave? And will more investigative reporting bring them back?"

Since when do journalists think that the only thing that matters in journalism is profits?

I have no comment on the Cokester's comments over the weekend here except to say, I thought we drove a stake through that vampire's heart. How the hell did she get back on "This Week?"

Nice, thoughtful, un-bloglike piece by Josh thinking about Israel/Lebanon coverage. Interesting perspective on Hezbollah, here.