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Daily Howler: We agree--McCain won't ''sell his soul.'' We're less sure with Klein and Ignatius
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LIVES OF THE SAINTS! We agree—McCain won’t “sell his soul.” We’re less sure with Klein and Ignatius: // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, MAY 5, 2006

WHEN RUMMY MET DRUMMY—PLUS POWELL: Did McGovern nail Rumsfeld during yesterday’s session? At first blush, we’d deliver a split decision. We’d have to say McGovern embellished a tad when he paraphrased Rummy’s (semi-contradictory) statement (from 9/02) about “al Qaeda in Iraq.” And Rummy’s past statement on WMD? Back in July 2003, George Stephanopoulos asked Rumsfeld about the very statement which McGovern cited yesterday. In the following transcript, we highlight Rummy’s original statement, which he made on This Week in March 2003. Meanwhile, here’s what he said when he was asked about it in July of that year—four months later:
STEPHANOPOULOS (7/13/03): On the broader subject of weapons of mass destruction, the last time you appeared on the show I think was March 30th. We you talked about why no weapons had been found yet—it was about three weeks into the war. And here's what you said. I want you to take a look at it.

RUMSFELD (videotape, 3/30/03): The area in the south and the west and the north that coalition forces control is, is substantial. It just happens not to be the area where weapons of mass destruction were, were dispersed. We know where they are. They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and, and east, west, south and north somewhat.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You said, “We know where they are.” Have those sites where you thought the weapons of mass destruction were, have those been inspected now?

RUMSFELD: I probably—should have said we know where they were instead of we know where they are. At that moment the intelligence community said these are X number of suspect sites, meaning we have reason to believe that they might be in these various locations, numbers of hundreds.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But at that time on March 30th, you believed the weapons were there?

RUMSFELD: Exactly. We did believe that. And, and they may have been there. We have been out looking at those sites and—some of those sites—and have gone through some fraction of them. It takes a long time...

“We did believe that,” Rummy told Steph. Yesterday, he said the same thing. “We believed he had those weapons,” Rummy told Mack, under fire.

For the record, McGovern was wrong on one implied point. “Why did you lie to get us into a war?” he asked Rummy. But that original statement by Rumsfeld, highlighted above, played no role in the march to war; it was made after the war had begun. At any rate, in this later session with Stephanopoulos, Rumsfeld said that his statement should have been a bit different. We know where the weapons were, he now said, presumably suggesting that they might have been moved. Yesterday, he took a different tack. “It appears that there were not weapons of mass destruction there,” he simply told McGovern.

McGovern suggested that Rumsfeld was lying when he made his original statement. Our side, of course, will applaud every word, displaying our reverence for truth. But even as McGovern jumped Rummy, our analysts returned to the words of Big Drummy—Tyler Drumheller, new Hero of Liberal Blog Labor. Drummy said this on Hardball just last week, speaking with guest host David Gregory (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/28/06):

GREGORY (4/25/06): So, bottom line, summer of 2002, Saddam does not have a nuclear weapon. Does he have an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction?

DRUMHELLER: No. And the biological weapons that were described to us as basically a chemistry set-type of capability, that was all destroyed after the first Gulf War.

GREGORY: But nothing that could threaten U.S. troops, nothing that could threaten our allies, nothing that could threaten the United States.

DRUMHELLER: There was no immediate threat to U.S. troops. There were chemical weapons that he described as gas, but they were distributed through the political leaders around the country. And so—and the army, the military didn’t have access to them. And those were not found after the war, so we don`t know what happened.

Did Iraq have chemical weapons? Drummy differs from Rummy—but not by much. According to Drummy, Iraq did have chemical weapons at the time of the war—weapons which were never found. One difference: Drummy said the Iraqi army didn’t have access to these weapons. Yesterday, Rummy described precautions by the U.S. army, implying that the U.S. army was making a different assumption (text below).

So let’s see. Rummy said he believed that Iraq had weapons—and Drummy said he believed the same thing. But one is a hero—and one is a liar! Moral of the story? Yes, the Bush Admin embellished widely in the move to war in Iraq. But we liberal gumshoes aren’t always real good at pointing out where this occurred.

WHERE THIS OCCURRED: Our analysts emitted mordant chuckles when Rummy hid behind Saint Powell:

RUMSFELD (5/4/06): Well, first of all, I—I haven't lied. I did not lie then. Colin Powell didn't lie. He spent weeks and weeks with the Central Intelligence Agency people and prepared a presentation that I know he believed was accurate. And he presented that to the United Nations.
Because Saint Powell can never be wrong, he does make an excellent “heat shield.” But did he believe his U.N. presentation? As we’ve noted, Bob Woodward’s Plan of Attack paints an embarrassing portrait of Powell’s preparation for that session. Repeatedly, Woodward describes Powell throwing shaky intel into his speech—intel Powell knew to be shaky. But because Saint Powell can never be challenged—and because we don’t always pursue the best targets—this embarrassing portrait came and went with amazingly little discussion.

Powell appeared at the U.N. on 2/5/03—seven days after Bush’s “16 words.” One presentation was vastly significant in the public debate about war. The other presentation was barely noticed—and due to its logic, can’t quite be proved wrong. On which presentation have we focused so hard? Readers! Do we really have to ask?

THE LATEST LIBERAL RUBE-RUN: Here’s what Rumsfeld told McGovern about pre-war belief in chemical weapons:

RUMSFELD (5/4/06): It's easy for you to make a charge, but why do you think that the men and women in uniform, every day, when they came out of Kuwait and went into Iraq, put on chemical weapon protective suits? Because they liked the style? They honestly believed that there were chemical weapons. Saddam Hussein had used chemical weapons on his own people previously. He'd used them on his neighbor, the Iranians. And they believed he had those weapons. We believed he had those weapons.
“They believed he had those weapons. We believed he had those weapons.” But how does Atrios play this statement? Simple. He forgets to post what Rumsfeld said, then tells you that Rummy was blaming the troops! (“As always.”) To see this latest liberal rube-run, you know what to do: Just click here.

Special report—Punditry lost!

ENJOY EACH PART OF OUR CURRENT SERIES: Joe Klein’s new book is definingly daft—and Peter Beinart rushed to praise it! For links to all parts of this week’s report, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/4/06.

BONUS! LIVES OF THE SAINTS: If you thought that script might be going away, you had another think comin’. Wednesday morning, this headline topped David Ignatius’ column in the Washington Post:

A Man Who Won’t Sell His Soul
And that could only be one man—the great solon, Saint John McCain. Sure enough, Ignatius typed the same old column for what, the ten, the twelve thousandth time? And verily, just as it has been written, every failing of the saint just had to be smoothed and sand-blasted:
IGNATIUS (5/3/06): Some people (Bill Clinton comes to mind) have a knack for making easy compromises on the road to election, but McCain isn't one of them.

"I don't want it that badly," McCain says. "I will continue to do what is right. I will continue to pursue torture, climate change. If that means I can't get the Republican nomination, fine. I've had a happy life. The worst thing I can do is sell my soul to the devil." He explains: "Every time I did something because I thought it would be politically helpful, it turned out badly." As an example, he cites his waffle during the 2000 South Carolina primary, when he said flying the Confederate flag at the state capitol was a state issue.

“I will continue to do what is right,” McCain was willing to admit to Ignatius. And then, Ignatius grabbed the sand-blaster, describing McCain’s 2000 stance on the South Carolina flag issue. It was a “waffle,” Ignatius politely said. We don’t think John McCain sold his soul—but in real time, here’s how the Post described that particular episode (reporter, Terry Neal):
NEAL (4/20/00): Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) returned to South Carolina today to declare that he had impugned his own integrity by failing to tell the American public during his presidential campaign that he believes the Confederate flag should be removed from atop the statehouse here.

...McCain said he was afraid at the time that he would lose the Feb. 19 South Carolina primary if he revealed his true feelings. So instead, he joined George W. Bush in saying that it was up to South Carolinians alone to decide whether to do away with the flag. He lost the state primary anyway.

“As I admitted, I should have done this earlier when an honest answer could have affected me personally," McCain said in his speech to the South Carolina Policy Council, a conservative think tank. "I did not do so for one reason alone. I feared that if I answered honestly, I could not win the South Carolina primary. So I chose to compromise my principles. I broke my promise to always tell the truth.”

In South Carolina, McCain thought he might lose the election—so he didn’t tell voters the truth. But then, he also baldly misstated—more frankly, he lied—about his telephone campaign against Bush in that year’s Michigan primary. Out on the trail, he constantly told a false story—he lied—about that vile Al Gore. And man alive, did he flip on abortion! We chuckled when Ignatius typed this:
IGNATIUS: [McCain] says liberals need to understand that he's not a man of the left, or even the center. "I haven't changed. My record is the same on all issues, which is that of a conservative Republican. Not a liberal Republican, not a moderate Republican." But in the next breath, he lists all the positions he has taken that have made him the darling of centrist Republicans and Democrats, from torture to ethics reform to climate change.
He hasn’t changed? During Campaign 2000, McCain flipped on abortion so many times that no one had any idea where he stood. But that’s when he was running as a moderate. Today, he’s running as a conservative—and tools like Ignatius, typing from Brussels, know how to smooth out the facts.

Did McCain “sell his soul” when he lied in Michigan, lied about Gore, withheld on the flag, and fudged on abortion? No, he didn’t “sell his soul”—but Big Dems don’t typically “sell their souls” either. Al Gore never sold his soul, and Bill Clinton never sold his soul either. But when childish pundits type childish scripts, all McCain’s past flaws must be sanded. This brings us back to Politics Lost, Joe Klein’s vastly childish new book.

How foolish is Klein on McCain? Let’s start as Klein gets “neutered” during Campaign 2000.

“McCain’s honor was a rare, vestigial military thing and quite unrelenting,” Klein swoons and gushes in Politics Lost. “I’d never seen it in a candidate—entirely sincere and yet politically brilliant, with the effect of neutering many arguments that could be made against him.” But then, arguments weren’t the only things getting “neutered” by McCain at this time! As Klein continues, he describes his own gelding:

KLEIN (page 168): In one fairly dramatic example, McCain told me, unbidden, that the breakup of his first marriage was all his fault: “I’ve lived a very, very flawed life. I don’t think people would think so well of me if they knew more about that part of it.”
We don’t know why Klein would have found this surprising. In fact, the story of that breakup is somewhat unflattering, and every reporter surely knew this (it had been widely described in biographies). But Klein was willing to play it semi-dumb, just as he still does today:
KLEIN (continuing directly): McCain let that drop during one of our few formal interviews—most of the time we were just spritzing—in an airplane headed to New Hampshire. I wasn’t sure how to react. There was no way I was going to ask him, “What do you mean, specifically?” In fact, I was so embarrassed that we had wandered onto such personal turf that I stopped taking notes, and then—incredibly—tried to comfort him. “There aren’t many of us who haven’t done things we’re ashamed of over the past twenty-five years,” I said.
The word “incredibly” captures that nicely. Klein seems unashamed of his lack of professionalism (“most of the time we were just spritzing,” he brags), and we’re clearly supposed to think it’s cute when he starts trying to “comfort” poor McCain. (“Why are you so hard on yourself?” he describes himself asking McCain moments later.) Only in a fallen “press corps” could such nonsense ever have happened. And only in a childish press corps would a scribe ever type it on up.

Neutered then—and neutered today! We’ll let you skip some details as Klein describes McCain’s 2000 campaign. But here’s his account of that Dixie flag flap. As Klein sand-blasts the solon’s conduct, please note who makes this “mistake:”

KLEIN (page 170): McCain was complicit in another mistake his consultants made, which also dishonored his campaign: he agreed to make a statement supporting South Carolina’s right to fly the Confederate battle flag atop the state capitol.
Good lord! Clearly, McCain wasn’t “selling his soul;” in Klein’s telling, this was just “another mistake” made by McCain’s consultants! No doubt it was also bad staff work when McCain lied in Michigan, lied about Gore, and told those three hundred tales on abortion. (Of course, we don’t know how Klein explains those mistakes because they’re disappeared from his book.) By contrast, he’s willing to lie in your face about Gore, inventing non-existent “dreadful moments.”

Neutered then, and neutered today, these childish scribes keep refining their scripts. John McCain “won’t sell his soul?” We’ll stipulate that about McCain—less so with Klein and Ignatius.

VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: Joe Klein told this tale in real time. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/1/00.