Just Above Sunset
Volume 5, Number 10
March 11, 2007

Where's the Surprise?

 The world as seen from Just Above Sunset -

"Notes on how things seem from out here in Hollywood..."

Where's the Surprise? - Everyone Expected Something

In positioning for the November 7th midterm elections there was no October surprise. Karl Rove didn't come up with anything at all. Luckily John Kerry had, with his gaffe, provided something at which to point and say, see, the other guys hate the troops, so vote for us. But that was only good for a few news cycles - everyone realized John Kerry wasn't running for anything himself, and wasn't that well-respected among the Democrats anyway, and he apologized, and finally even the White House seemed to realize to making him out to be "the evil Republicans must defeat" was making them look a little silly. Saying "you certainly don't want John Kerry as your president" has its problems - no one on either side wants him to run again, and he's not running now. It seemed a bit over the top.

But, for the Republicans, an October surprise, even in November, would have been nice - something to change the dynamics. But the end of the week flurry of news items wasn't changing a thing. Friday, November 3, 2006, Congressman Ney of Ohio, one of those caught up in the Abramoff scandal, resigned. He had denied it all, then pled guilty and was sentenced, but was hanging on to "clean up some staff matters" at his office before reporting into whatever low-security high-comfort prison was his next stop. He was supposed to resign after the elections, after voters had cast their ballots, so this wouldn't be another "example" folks could trot out about corruption and all. But the guy resigned late in the afternoon the Friday before the voting. Maybe he didn't get the memo. Well, he has a lot on his mind.

And there was this - "US officials rejected allegations that a US agency which has exposed numerous instances of corruption and mismanagement of American reconstruction efforts in Iraq was being shut down ahead of schedule."

The New York Times had reported that Republicans in Congress had quietly slipped a minor provision into a gigantic military spending bill that will close the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) in October 2007. Our own Duncan Hunter from out here had engineered that - the session to reconcile the House and Senate versions of the spending bill was held behind closed doors with just a few guys and they didn't tell anyone they'd slipped that particular item in the fine print. They just didn't tell anyone. The reconciled bill was passed, and signed by the president. And now people notice. It's too late.

This special inspector general, Stuart Bowen, had come up with all sorts of embarrassing revelations that sent a few US occupation officials to jail on bribery and conspiracy charges and exposed absurd mismanagement of projects by Halliburton and the like. Now he's gone. Hunter, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said the idea was to get us off a war footing - we didn't need anyone "special" anymore - State and Defense could investigate this or that if they felt like it.

That didn't play well. See CNN's "everyman," Jack Cafferty explode over this. He seems to have a problem with the "get off a war footing" gambit. Too many of our kids are still dying over there.  It sems like a war to him, and we're still in it.

Worst of all, the end of the week brought key neoconservatives turning on the president -

    A leading conservative proponent of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq now says dysfunction within the Bush administration has turned U.S. policy there into a disaster.

    Richard Perle, who chaired a committee of Pentagon policy advisers early in the Bush administration, said had he seen at the start of the war in 2003 where it would go, he probably would not have advocated an invasion to depose Saddam Hussein. Perle was an assistant secretary of defense under President Reagan.

    "I probably would have said, 'Let's consider other strategies for dealing with the thing that concerns us most, which is Saddam supplying weapons of mass destruction to terrorists,'" he told Vanity Fair magazine in its upcoming January issue.

Just after the Iraq war started Perle had lectured the Brits - yep, the war was almost certainly illegal under any interpretation of international law, but the United States was above that law (previously discussed here). And now this.

The White House reaction was predictable - spokesman Gordon Johndroe said, "We appreciate the Monday-morning quarterbacking, but the president has a plan to succeed in Iraq and we are going forward with it." Maybe he should tell someone what the plan is.

And in the same item Kenneth Adelman, who served on the independent Defense Policy Board that advised Bush, said he was "crushed" by the performance of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. Perle added that was fine, but "you have to hold the president responsible" because he didn't recognize "disloyalty" by some in the administration. He's all over the National Security Council, then run by Condoleezza Rice - she and her crew didn't serve Bush properly. As for Adelman, he was one of those who the whole enterprise would be a "cakewalk." Now he's he knows he was mistaken - "They turned out to be among the most incompetent teams in the postwar era. Not only did each of them, individually, have enormous flaws, but together they were deadly, dysfunctional."

Oh great. The weekend before the election this is not helpful.

And there were other nuggets -

    "The decisions did not get made that should have been. They didn't get made in a timely fashion, and the differences were argued out endlessly," Mr Perle told Vanity Fair, according to early excerpts of the article. "At the end of the day, you have to hold the president responsible."

    Asked if he would still have pushed for war knowing what he knows now, Mr Perle, a leading hawk in the Reagan administration, said: "I think if I had been delphic, and had seen where we are today, and people had said, 'Should we go into Iraq?', I think now I probably would have said, 'No, let's consider other strategies for dealing with the thing that concerns us most, which is Saddam supplying weapons of mass destruction to terrorists'."

    … [Adelman] too takes back his public urging for military action, in light of the administration's performance. "I guess that's what I would have said: that Bush's arguments are absolutely right, but you know what, you just have to put them in the drawer marked 'can't do'. And that's very different from 'let's go'."

    … Mr Adelman said the guiding principle behind neoconservatism, "the idea of using our power for moral good in the world", had been killed off for a generation at least. After Iraq, he told Vanity Fair, "it's not going to sell".

And there's David Frum, the Bush speechwriter who gave us the Axis of Evil concept, with this -

    I always believed as a speechwriter that if you could persuade the president to commit himself to certain words, he would feel himself committed to the ideas that underlay those words. And the big shock to me has been that although the president said the words, he just did not absorb the ideas. And that is the root of, maybe, everything.

Try Kevin Drum's shorter version -

    I used to think Bush was such an empty vessel that if I could just get him to parrot the words I wrote, they'd bounce around in his skull and become actual ideas for lack of any competition. Later, though, I finally realized why his skull was empty of serious ideas in the first place.

None of this was very helpful in the final days before the election that seems to be a referendum on the war and on the president.

Nor was this -

    The Rev. Ted Haggard said Friday he bought methamphetamine and received a massage from a male prostitute. But the influential Christian evangelist insisted he threw the drugs away and never had sex with the man.

    Haggard, who as president of the National Association of Evangelicals wielded influence on Capitol Hill and condemned both gay marriage and homosexuality, resigned on Thursday after a Denver man named Mike Jones claimed that he had many drug-fueled trysts with Haggard.

    On Friday, Haggard said that he received a massage from Jones after being referred to him by a Denver hotel, and that he bought meth for himself from the man.

    But Haggard said he never had sex with Jones. And as for the drugs, "I was tempted, but I never used it," the 50-year-old Haggard told reporters from his vehicle while leaving his home with his wife and three of his five children.

    Jones, 49, denied selling meth to Haggard. "Never," he told MSNBC. Haggard "met someone else that I had hooked him up with to buy it."

    Jones also scoffed at the idea that a hotel would have sent Haggard to him.

    "No concierge in Denver would have referred me," he said. He said he had advertised himself as an escort only in gay publications or on gay Web sites.

    Jones did not immediately return calls from The Associated Press on Friday.

Ted Haggard sounds like Bill Clinton - "I did not inhale." No more Monday morning political strategy calls with the president. And his own Church tossed him out Saturday - he seems to be lying a bit.

How do the evangelicals vote now? Do they vote at all?

There has to be some recovery from this. It's time for a surprise. And the end of the week flurry of news offered something, sort of - the right side of the media was buzzing with the news that Saddam Hussein really did have nuclear weapons, sort of, so we did go to war for a really good reason. It's all it how you look at it.

Of course some conservatives always believed there is evidence out there, somewhere, that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and actively collaborated with al Qaeda before the our invasion - we just didn't look hard enough. And earlier this year they persuaded Congress to take a vast trove of documents relating to Iraq and post them online. Given enough eyeballs, the argument went, we could find those WMD. The effort was call the Army of David - all the right wing bloggers and Bush fans would go over this all with a fine tooth comb, even if everything was in Arabic. They find the proof and all those who t=hought we'd blown it would hang their heads in shame and slink away, and so on and so forth.

Nothing much came of it - and it wasn't the Arabic problems. There was much there. There was a document that happened to be about al Qaeda, but on a closer look, it no connection to Iraq, and a lot of the Army of David was embarrassed (but not that much).

Then on Friday, November 3, just before the elections, the New York Times reported there was something there - "detailed accounts of Iraq's secret nuclear research before the 1991 Persian Gulf war." Experts say these documents could prove extremely helpful to anyone out there trying to figure out how to make a homemade bomb - not to guys on the street of course, but to most governments.

This is not good. The entire file has now been pulled from the site. Much was no doubt copied to hard drive in labs around the world - but what's done is done.

Scott Rosenberg at SALON is unhappy -

    So the right's efforts to score political points have resulted in dangerously detailed nuke-building information being broadcast over the entire Internet. Instead of feeling chagrined, the conservative blogosphere is instead dancing a bizarre victory jig this morning: The presence of bomb recipes, the cry goes, proves that Saddam had dangerous nuclear information after all!

    But no one ever argued that Saddam didn't have dangerous information about how to build nuclear weapons. The whole point of the U.S.-backed and U.N.-operated anti-proliferation regime was to prevent him from using that information to build bombs. We now know that that program successfully hobbled Saddam's WMD ambitions - until the Bush administration decided to dismantle it in favor of a regime-changing invasion.

    The documents in question date back before the 1991 Gulf War, at a time when liberals and conservatives alike agree that Saddam had nuclear ambitions. Recognizing that they are dangerous and should not be public proves nothing about the threat Saddam did or didn't pose to the U.S. in the post-9/11 era. Nor, despite what Glenn Reynolds says, does taking these documents seriously prove anything about the importance or authenticity of any of the other documents in the file.

    The straw man being held aloft by the National Review's Jim Geraghty and others is that antiwar liberals never took the threat Saddam posed seriously, yet now we know he had a nuclear cookbook. But the real story here is that conservatives now believe that attempting to prove they were right about Saddam should take priority over keeping nuclear know-how out of terrorist hands.

    House Intelligence Committee chairman Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., who led the release-the-documents move, blames the director of national intelligence for failing to censor the sensitive nuclear information. But Hoekstra says he's "pleased that the document release program continues to stimulate public discussion of these issues." I'm sure that bomb makers with Internet connections are equally pleased.

As for Hoekstra, the whole sad history of this business can be found here - Hoekstra and Rick Santorum, with Pat Roberts in the Senate, push for all these tens of thousands of documents to be posted to the net - for everyone to see. The CIA and all the other intelligence agencies are appalled - they say this is madness. The new head of all national intelligence, John Negroponte, tell these three to forget it, as it's dumb and dangerous. They whine publicly and visit the president. He overrules Negroponte and the agencies, and the stuff goes up.

Now we have a problem. Arms control experts around the world are aghast - the world has suddenly become far more dangerous. The Army of David on the right is saying that may be so, but this information - on triggering devices, with production notes, with notes on workarounds for this technical puzzle or that - prove the president was right, is right, and always will be right. Yeah, the documents are all from 1991 or earlier, and Saddam Hussein may have been forced to give up the effort late in 1991 - but, the argument goes, this proves there was an immediate threat justifying preventative war. You just have to play around with that word "immediate." The mistake of posting the sensitive stuff was worth the now much more likely prospect of six or ten or twenty penny-ante countries getting their own thermonuclear bombs. We made the end of the world much more likely - but we proved the president right. Heck, the posted documents may help Iran and North Korea tremendously, or have already. But the president was right.

So this is the overdue October surprise? Will votes now shift and the Republicans win every seat everywhere in a landslide?

A mainstream reaction that might be instructive is that of the careful Andrea Mitchell at NBC in this video -

    Mitchell: Peter Hoekstra in fact said, Quote: "Let's unleash the power of the Internet on these documents to see if there was a smoking gun on WMD's" - the intelligence experts were reluctant to release these documents. Skeptics at the time said that all this was being done by conservative bloggers and others on the Intelligence committees to try and bolster their argument that the war was in fact justified in the first place. These specific dozen documents - they did have a blueprint for making bombs and those technical documents could have been helpful to terrorists… The net affect would likely be that it would hurt the administration because it shows that they - once again - were the gang that couldn't shoot straight! - they forced the Intelligence community to do something that the experts didn't want to do and the President himself overruled John Negroponte on.

She, of all people, calls them the gang that couldn't shoot straight? Oh my. This will hurt the administration? That could be.

Bur perhaps no one now is changing his or her mind, or potential vote. There will be no other overdue October surprise. Or maybe there will be.

The odd thing is that if there is, no surprise will matter. We've reached the limits of spin. No one buys it either way. And when Portugal announces they have the bomb, then Upper Volta, we're in real trouble, even if the president was right three years ago, sort of, depending on how you look at it.

This item posted November 5, 2006

[Where's the Surprise?]

Last updated Saturday, March 10, 2007, 10:30 pm Pacific Time

All text and photos, unless otherwise noted, Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 - Alan M. Pavlik