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Daily Howler: Did the Bush Admin ''fix the intelligence?'' Liberals keep bungling the info
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DOWNING STREET NO-SHOWS! Did the Bush Admin “fix the intelligence?” Liberals keep bungling the info: // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, JUNE 24, 2005

PARSING KARL: The Fox “all-stars” were parsing hard, trying to make King Karl come out right. What had Rove said that was so wrong? Brit Hume began the segment’s hard parsing:
HUME (6/23/05): Now, it's probably worth noting at the outset here that Rove directed his criticism and his comparison at Democrats as—I mean, at liberals as opposed to conservatives. He never did say “Democrats. Democrats seem to have rushed to make themselves the targets of this attack by Rove and to claim outrage. What's going on?
See there? Karl hadn’t talked about Dems at all! Why were the Dems in such a tizzy? But uh-oh! Next, Kondracke started parsing. And Brit quickly self-contradicted:
KONDRACKE: Look, Karl Rove went over the top, even on the basis of what he said. He should have said “some” liberals. He was referring to, which passed a petition around and is a far-left organization, passed a petition—

HUME: Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa! lies at the heart of the Democratic Party nowadays, doesn't it, Mort?

Uh-oh! First, Karl wasn’t discussing Dems at all. Moments later, just like that, he’d been discussing “the heart of the party!”

And of course, the hard parsing continued. When Mort noted that the vote for war in Afghanistan passed the House 420-1, Fred came around to the view that Karl should have maybe said “some” liberals. (“Mort, you can quibble and say he should have said some liberals, and I agree with that.”) But soon, he had another idea about who Karl must have meant:

BARNES: Wait a minute. Go back to—go back to a week after 9/11 and the Newsweek cover, "Why They Hate Us." It's all about, you know, they have some grounds for hating us. It's not—you know, it's partially America's fault.

LIASSON: No, that's not what that—

BARNES: That's certainly what was implied, if not—

LIASSON: Certainly not. Oh, you think that headline implied that there is reason for them to hate us?

BARNES: Yes. It says here—and the underlying, Mara, is—because you don't remember, I guess—"to dismiss the terrorists as insane is to delude ourselves."

But “George Bush doesn't call them insane” either, Mara said. But watch it, Mara! Watch where you step! When you’re chatting with the “all-stars,” insanity is never all wrong.

At the end, Mara tried to cut through the parsing. Weird, isn’t it? Somehow, she thought that she was seeing a new, improved standard at Fox:

LIASSON: Why does Karl Rove get a kind of textual analysis parsing where, when Howard Dean says “some”—he didn't say Republicans have never worked; he said many of them have never made an honest living in their lives—he does not get a pass? He gets condemned with no nuance allowed or anything. I just think that we should be just as tough on anybody who goes over-the- top, regardless of what party they belong to.
“Regardless of what party they belong to? Mara! Soon, they’ll be calling you insane! Mara! You’re an “all-star” at Fox!

THE TROUBLE WITH DURBIN: We agree with Kevin Drum’s basic assessment; “there was nothing actually wrong with what Dick Durbin said:”

DRUM (6/23/05): For starters, there was nothing actually wrong with what Dick Durbin said. He didn't compare Bush to Hitler, he didn't compare America to Nazi Germany, and he didn't compare Guantanamo to the gulag. He quoted specific cases of prisoner abuse and then pointed out that those specific cases were something you might expect from a totalitarian regime. He said this behavior was unworthy of the United States, and he was right.
We agree with every word Drum says. But there at Andrew Sullivan’s site (Sully stoutly defended Durbin), we found this dissenting e-mail—from a reader who is surely sincere, and who essentially agrees with Durbin:
E-MAILER: I agree with you about Durbin. While ineloquently phrased, the sentiment is true. We don't expect our troops to do the things we hear about them doing in Gitmo. Still, any politician shoud be smart enough to know that comparisons to Nazis, Stalin, Khmer Rouge, et. al. are not only inaccurate, but going to create a terrible shitstorm.
Essentially, the mailer is on Durbin’s side. Durbin’s remark was poorly “phrased,” but his sentiment is true. But uh-oh! Despite that, the mailer can’t escape the idea that Durbin made a “comparison to Nazis,” and that such a comparison, for unexplained reasons, is automatically “inaccurate.”

Let’s make a depressing but critical point. Durbin argued in an if/then format; “if you had read this report without knowing, then you surely would have thought...” What he said strikes us as perfectly accurate—if you read that report without knowing, then you surely would have thought it was conduct from a “mad regime.” But let’s understand the world we live in: As soon as he adopted an “if/then” format, his presentation was too complex for a great many people to follow. Confusion starts setting in at the margins, and the listener becomes easy prey for simpler constructs—constructs provided by spinners. In this case, Sully’s mailer had heard someone say that Durbin had made a“comparison to Nazis.” This idea is simpler than Durbin’s—and it stuck fast in the e-mailer’s head, even though he plainly agreed with what Durbin actually said.

“Man is the rational animal!” This flattering thought has been advanced from the very dawn of the west. But in fact, we humans reason extremely poorly. People like President Bush understand that. He dumbs his presentations way down. No, this doesn’t mean that he’s stupid. It means that he’s very, very smart.

THE TROUBLE WITH DRUM: We agree with Drum on that first point. But in his overall presentation about Durbin, he does exactly the sort of thing career liberals refuse to stop doing. Read through his full presentation, in which he distributes the blame for the humbling of Durbin. He complains that Durbin’s opponents, presumably Republicans, engaged in demagoguery (we agree). He criticizes leading Dems for failing to back Durbin (we semi-agree). He sharply criticizes Richard Daley for his nasty attack against Durbin (we heartily agree). He criticizes Durbin for backing down (no opinion). And he’s amazed that Durbin, an experienced pol, didn’t know this would happen (mega-dittos).

But who doesn’t get any blame from Drum? Of course! He never mentions the mainstream press, who played a key role in this matter! On Sunday, for example, the most influential mainstream scribe of them all rolled over for the attacks against Durbin. Here’s Russert, playing yes-man to a strutting bantam—a bantam every scribe knows to love:

RUSSERT (6/19/05): Your Democratic colleague Dick Durbin of Illinois set off a firestorm when he compared the actions of Americans at Guantanamo to Nazis, Soviet Gulags and Pol Pot. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said that Senator Durbin should be censured by the Senate for those comments.

McCAIN: Well, I think that Senator Durbin owes not only the Senate an apology—I don't know if censure would be in order—but an apology because it does a great disservice to men and women who suffered in the gulag and in Pol Pot's killing fields. Dick Durbin should be required to read Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's "Gulag Archipelago" and I think that he would, may have a better understanding that there's no comparison whatsoever. And it does a great disservice to the majority of men and women who are serving in Guantanamo who are doing the job that they're told to do and they're doing it in a humane fashion. To tar the American servicemen and women with a brush that applies to the gulag or the killing fields is a great disservice to the men and women in the military who are serving honorably down there.

RUSSERT: Should he formally apologize?

McCAIN: Well, I don't know what a formal—but he should certainly apologize.

RUSSERT: Will the Senate take any action against him?

McCAIN: I predict to you that, by the time this program is shown next Sunday, that Mr. Durbin will have apologized.

Like strutting Hitlers the whole world round, McCain gave Durbin a re-education decree, then strutted around his fallen body, measuring out the punishments. (Censure? Apology? Formal apology? So many things to consider!) And what did Russert do in this sequence? He rolled over, playing McCain’s little straight man. By contrast, here’s his description of how he handles his show. Russert explains his instant reaction when he became Meet the Press host:
RUSSERT (Russ & Me, page 308): The first person I called was Lawrence Spivak, the cofounder of Meet the Press and its moderator from 1966 to 1975, to ask his advice. “Learn everything you can about the guests and their positions,” he told me, “and then take the other side on the air. If you do that in a civil way each week, you’ll have a fair and balanced program, you’ll get good answers, and you’ll make news.”
It sounds real good—until a rooster with high approval ratings appears, in which case the high-minded Meet the Press host collapses in abject agreement. (For the record, Russert constantly pimps this account of his approach to his show.)

By the way, what made Russert’s performance especially striking? Immediately before the discussion of Durbin, McCain told Russert how troubling it is that Guantanamo prisoners aren’t getting trials. But wait a minute! Is it also troubling that they’re chained to the floor? Russert forgot to ask. And immediately after the Durbin discussion, Russert asked about Bill Frist’s remarks on the Schiavo case—and McCain refused to judge him. “I don't want to criticize Bill Frist,” the strutting solon slickly said. “He obviously had very sincere feeling feelings about this issue.” But wait a minute! Didn’t Dick Durbin have sincere feelings, too? Russert—by now, a pool of jelly—forgot to ask that one, too.

“I agree with Atrios,” Drum writes. “[T]he way the whole Dick Durbin thing has played out is disheartening for liberals. Let's count the ways.” But when he does count out the ways, he omits the role of the mainstream press! Of course, career liberals have been playing this game for years—and playing you for rubes in the process. Kiss kiss kiss kiss kiss kiss kiss! Don’t you get tired of buying it?

TOMORROW: Yes, we still plan to get around to that ludicrous PBS chit-chat.

Special report—Downing Street info!

PART 4—DOWNING STREET NO-SHOWS: Uh-oh! A few weeks after the Downing Street memo, Vice President Cheney began scaring the country about Saddam’s non-existent nukes. And yes, he was vastly overstating the intel—in line with the Downing Street memo’s suggestion. Surely, you recall that famous memo—the one with that tantalizing line?

DOWNING STREET MEMO (7/23/02): C reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The NSC had no patience with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime's record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.
Ever since the memo appeared, various scribes have tried to figure what that highlighted phrase really meant. Did it really mean that the Bush Admin had plans to “fix” (misstate) the intelligence? Scribes have tried to puzzle this out by staring long and hard at the memo. But sadly, the memo can’t interpret itself. By contrast, though, real events—real information—can shed light on the matters at hand.

Did the Bush Admin start to misstate the intel shortly after the Downing Street memo? Of course they did, as becomes quite clear reading Plan of Attack, Bob Woodward’s much-ballyhooed, little-read book. About a month after that Downing Street memo, Cheney made a major speech; in it, he mildly misstated the general intel—but he grossly misstated the existing intelligence about Saddam’s frightening nukes (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/23/05). And this was the start of a “harm offensive” in which a string of major Bush Admin players went out there and pimped Saddam’s nukes. Cheney made two August speeches; in each, he grossly misstated the intelligence. Then, the Admin pimped a tale to the New York Times about those troubling aluminum tubes; the story hit the front page on September 8, but turned out, in the end, to be bogus. And uh-oh! That same day, Condi Rice went on CNN and flatly misstated the existing intelligence about the scary aluminum tubes; they could only be used for nukes, she said, although the intel said something quite different. By October 7, as a matter of fact, Bush himself was scaring us blue about the threat of a nuclear war. This offensive began a couple of weeks after that suggestive Downing Street memo. What did that phrase from the memo really mean? It’s hard to tell, and we don’t have a tape of what “C” really told Tony Blair. But if you know how to read a book, it’s easy to see that the Bush Admin was “fixing the intelligence” soon after that memo. And by the way, it wasn’t just the nukes that were being “fixed.” On September 26, 2002, Bush restated his “new unequivocal charge” about WMD—the one he’d adopted, for the first time, two weeks after the Downing Street memo. And when the great war leader spoke, he pimped another phony tale, too. Treat yourself to a mordant chuckle as Woodward gives Tenet’s reaction:

WOODWARD (page 189): Repeating the new unequivocal charge about Iraq’s WMD programs he had adopted three weeks earlier, Bush said, “The Iraqi regime possesses biological and chemical weapons. The Iraqi regime is building the facilities necessary to make more.” Ratcheting up another notch, he added, “And according to the British government, the Iraqi regime could launch a biological or chemical attack in as little as 45 minutes after the order were given.”

Tenet and the CIA had warned the British not to make that allegation, which was based on a questionable source, and almost certainly referred to battlefield weapons—not ones that Iraq could launch at neighboring countries, let alone American cities. Tenet referred privately to this as the “they-can-attack-in-45-minutes-shit.”

So according to Woodward, Bush was soon out there talking “shit” about this other scary matter! By the way, where was Bush’s National Security Adviser while all this lunacy was occurring? Oh yeah! She was also out there talking “shit” too, about those scary aluminum tubes. None of this is any big mystery. You just have to read Woodward’s book.

These are some of the simple facts about the Bush Admin’s “fixing of intel.” Liberals who want the truth to be known should be reciting these points almost constantly; instead, they’ve spent their time in the past six weeks staring at the Downing Street memo, trying to mind-read its pithy constructions. But then, liberals and Democrats have constantly failed to make a good case about this theme—about the way the Bush Admin went out there and faked the intelligence. At this time, your liberal and Democratic elites are almost impossibly inept when it comes to framing messages. And this unfortunate trait has been on display when it comes to the faking of intel.

Did the Bush Admin fake the intel in the wake of the Downing Street memo? Of course they did; they began to scare us silly about Saddam’s nukes, grossly misstating the intel to do it. But this is not what liberals say when they discuss this theme on TV, where voters might actually learn from their work. Here at THE HOWLER, we gave up on the lib/Dem elite when one of our favorites, Naomi Wolf, did The O’Reilly Factor last fall. Bush lied us into war, she asserted. But watch how quickly her case broke down in the face of an obvious rejoinder:

WOLF (9/23/04): If American women were looking at how a thousand young people, someone's son, someone's daughter, have died in the war in Iraq that [Bush] prosecuted while lying to the American people—

O'REILLY: Lying about what?

WOLF: The weapons of mass destruction.

O'REILLY: OK, but don't you get—you haven't been following the news lately, with the CIA, and the MI6, and the Russian intelligence, and Egyptian, and Jordan all, and Bill Clinton, all telling the president they were there? Did you miss that?

WOLF: I have no idea what you just said. It's not clear to me. So it's probably not clear to your audience.

O'REILLY: It's very clear to the audience. All the intelligence agencies in the world, including Bill Clinton's administration, told President Bush WMDs were there.

Sadly, Mr. O was right—his argument was very clear to the audience. Indeed, they had seen this discussion a hundred times—with liberals constantly losing. Bush lied about the WMD, Wolf said. And O’Reilly offered the obvious rebuttal—everyone, including Bill Clinton, had said there were WMD in Iraq! But Wolf, like so many mainstream liberals, was flummoxed by this obvious point:
WOLF (continuing directly): Oh, so now he's (UNINTELLIGIBLE)—

O'REILLY: Yeah, that's right.


O'REILLY: He's saying that the intelligence was bad, I made the decision on bad intelligence. But that's not a lie.

WOLF: Look, sending Colin Powell out to say that those trailers, to say to the UN (UNINTELLIGIBLE) that those trailers were concocting—

O'REILLY: Right. And you thought that was a lie. Both Powell and Bush lied on purpose?

WOLF: I think absolutely Bush has been lying to the American people.

O'REILLY: You do.

WOLF: There's no question about that.

O'REILLY: That's such an extreme—all right, one more thing: Laura Bush.

WOLF: Yes, sir.

Finally, Wolf got around to a semi-specific—Powell’s statement about “those trailers.” But she didn’t seem eager to discuss that either, and the discussion moved on.

When we saw this segment last fall, we threw up our hands and surrendered. We think of Wolf as being smarter than most liberal spokesmen, but she too fell straight down the well, like so many liberals before her. Bush lied about WMD, she had said—but she wasn’t prepared to say what she meant, and the world’s most obvious rebuttal left her virtually helpless. But then, this one-round knock-out of liberal spokesmen has been widely aired in the past several years. Three months earlier, for example, our friend David Corn had gone down in flames on Hannity & Colmes, making the same hapless argument (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/18/04). “George Will, the conservative columnist, has asked George Bush to fess up to the misstatements—I call them lies, other people call them untruths—that he made about weapons of mass destruction before the war,” Corn said. Moments later, Hannity went for the kill. We’ll show you the bulk of the slaughter:

HANNITY (6/17/04): Here's my problem with you, David...Here's the problem. You go out there with your books. You accuse the president of being a liar regularly. And here's the problem. You mentioned it here tonight. "Well, the president lied when he said he had weapons of mass destruction."
Bill Clinton said it. John Kerry said it in 2003.
The French told us; the U.N. told us. Everybody! But the only one that's a liar is George Bush. Wait a minute! You know what this proves to me? Is that you have a political agenda to hate the president. You are one-sided, and you're biased and you're so fundamentally unfair you can't even see it.
There it was—the same obvious (and sensible) objection. Bush had said there were WMD—but Clinton and Kerry had said the same thing! And sure enough—like Wolf, Corn went down in flames. Force yourselves to watch this:
CORN: Your, your point was, everybody said he had weapons of mass destruction.

HANNITY: But you only called one of them a liar. Only George Bush gets called a liar.

CORN: No, no, no, no. Listen. I'll sit here until you get a chance to talk. Can I make my point?

HANNITY: Answer my question. Answer it. Why do you only call one person a liar?

CORN: Well, he happens to be the president of the United States. He happens to be the person who launched a war based on this justification.

HANNITY: Are you going to vote for Kerry? What about Kerry?

CORN: Whatever, whatever John Kerry and Clinton said about the threat posed by Saddam Hussein, neither of them advocated the war. Let me finish, Sean.

HANNITY: Wait a minute. Wait a minute—you can't see your hypocrisy. You're going to vote for a guy that's saying the same thing you're telling us is a lie.

CORN: He's not—listen, you go back and look at John Kerry's statements about the threat posed by Saddam Hussein. And look at what Bill Clinton said. And they didn't come up with the same prescription that George Bush did.

Struggling, fumbling, thrashing and flailing, Corn agreed with Hannity’s factual point—a long string of major Dems had said there were WMD too! They had said the same thing as Bush—the thing Corn was calling a “lie!” And why was Corn calling Bush a “liar?” Because he had decided on war! Could there be a better way for liberals and Dems to flame out on cable? But liberals and Dems won’t stop making this “argument.” As you’ll recall, Howard Dean crashed and burned with the same presentation on Meet the Press just last month (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/26/05):
DEAN (5/22/05): I don't hate Republicans as individuals. But I hate what the Republicans are doing to this country, I really do...I hate the dishonesty, you know, the idea that you'd put a program through Congress without telling people what it costs, I think that's wrong. Some of the things that the president said on our way into Iraq, they just weren't true, and I don't think that's right. So—

RUSSERT: Such as?

DEAN: Such as weapons of mass destruction, which we have all known about, but the—

RUSSERT: Well, you said there were weapons of mass destruction!

DEAN: I said I wasn't sure, but I said I thought there probably were. But the thing that really bothered me the most, which the 9-11 Commission said also wasn't true, is the insinuation that the president continues to make to this day that Osama bin Laden had something to do with supporting terrorists that attacked the United States...

Dean hates Bush—for saying something that he himself said! If there’s a way to look dumber on network TV, the mind of man hasn’t invented it.

We can’t explain why our current lib/Dem elites are so intellectually lazy. It has now been several years, but they keep repeating this hopeless meme—and going down in flames when they do. The conversation is hopeless but constant. Here is the way it works:

LIBERAL/DEMOCRAT: Bush lied when he said there were WMD!

MODERATOR: But Clinton/Gore/Kerry/Dean all said the same thing.

LIBERAL/DEMOCRAT: Yes, but what I really hate is when Bush or Powell said [move on to different complaint]...

We gave up when we saw Wolf do it. When Howard Dean did it eight months later, enthusiastic e-mailers wrote us, saying how brilliant he’d been.

For ourselves, we’d guess that Bush did think he would find some WMD in Iraq (see text from Fred Kaplan below). Indeed, Woodward directly asserts that Tommy Franks did believe there would be WMD. But a simple reading of basic texts show us how the Admin talked “shit” in the wake of the Downing Street memo. Yes, Clinton and Gore and Kerry did say that they thought there were WMD in Iraq. (Gore said it a few weeks after the Downing Street memo. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/3/04.) But they didn’t go out and lie through their teeth about the state of Saddam’s scary nukes. They didn’t go out and pimp those tubes in ways that were plainly inaccurate. They didn’t go out and talk that “shit” about the 45-minute attack. They didn’t go out and fake the intel about those scary unmanned aerial vehicles (Woodward, page 246) or about those scary trailers (Woodward, page 247). Nor did they talk about uranium from Niger, whatever you’ve decided to think about that. Did George Bush say there were WMD? Duh! So did every major Dem! For this reason, this is the weakest case against Bush—but lib and Dems just love to push it.

Yes, Cheney/Rice pretty much lied through their teeth. To us, they “fixed the intel” but good. But alas! Your current liberal/Dem elites are too inept, too lazy to prove it. Basic texts, like Woodward’s, spell out the facts. But that would require a whole lot of reading—a treatment that Woodward’s book never got. When it comes to spreading some real info, your lazy, languorous liberal elites have performed like the Downing Street no-shows.

TOMORROW—PART 5: Using Plan of Attack to pimp Bush!

THOSE LAZY LIBS: What makes libs so intellectually lazy? We don’t have the slightest idea, but this lazy, Bush-lied-about-the-WMD theme has been everywhere on the liberal web in reaction to the Downing Street memos. No one seems able to get beyond it; no one seems willing to flesh out the memo’s apparent charge with information from the most basic sources—from the Woodward book, for example, or from the Judis/Ackerman TNR piece. Here is Fred Kaplan at Slate, for example, utterly missing the point in all this. Kaplan has already said that the Downing Street memo shows that Bush wanted war by July 2002:

KAPLAN (6/15/05): In other respects, though, the memo doesn't make as strong a case against Bush as some have claimed. Read in conjunction with the six other British documents, the case weakens further. The memos do not show, for instance, that Bush simply invented the notion that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction or that Saddam posed a threat to the region. In fact, the memos reveal quite clearly that the top leaders in the U.S. and British governments genuinely believed their claims.

For instance, at one point during the July 23 meeting, the British ministers are discussing some of the risks of going to war. Saddam might "use his WMD on Kuwait," one official cautions. "Or on Israel," adds the defense secretary...

The implicit point of these passages is this: These top officials genuinely believed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction—and that they constituted a threat. They believed that the international community had to be sold on the matter. But not all sales pitches are consciously deceptive. The salesmen in this case turned out to be wrong; their goods were bunk. But they seemed to believe in their product at the time.

As we’ve said, we’d guess that the Bush Admin did believe that Saddam had some WMD. But that has almost nothing to do with the actual question at hand: Was the intel being “fixed” in the wake of the Downing Street memo? The answer to that is fairly clear: The nuclear intel was massively faked—and the American public deserves to be told that. Unfortunately, liberals would rather hear memorized tales than establish some real information. They’d rather stare at the Downing Street memo than establish some Downing Street info.

Dubya lied about WMD! The claim is lazy, weak, inept—but your liberal/Dem elites luvv to make it! Lazy liberals think it’s enough to make this pleasing claim about Bush. In the process, voters get cheated out of the chance to acquire some real Downing Street info.

NUANCE: Kevin Drum gives the WMD claim some nuance, saying what seems to be true—that the Bush Admin probably believed Saddam had WMD, but “deliberately exaggerated the strength of their evidence and deliberately concealed known uncertainties.” Fairly clearly, this is Woodward’s view—a claim that is backed by the evidence. But alas! Corn, Wolf and Dean weren’t prepared to make this nuanced presentation. They collapsed just as soon as they were challenged.

Of course, even when the point is made in this nuanced fashion, it’s a relatively weak claim against Bush. Yes, they overstated their certainty about WMD—but they probably did think they existed, just like Clinton, Gore and Kerry. In our view, the pimping of nukes is much more dramatic, and much more appalling. In our view, it’s the place where a liberal should start in examining the “fixing” of intel.