Thursday, May 21, 2009

How To Succeed in Bosnia without Really Lying

I love the smell of sniper fire in the morning.
My new favorite prognosticator of cooked-up Obama administration controversies,, is now seething over a report that Vice President Biden, in speaking to the parliament of Bosnia-Herzegovina, recalled being fired upon during a 1993 visit to the capital, which was then under siege.

According to a reporter at the speech, Biden "recalled his trip to the country in 1993, and how, flying in at the time, his plane was fired upon, and bombed-out homes with snipers inside could be seen." And the eyes reflexively roll. Ah, Joe -- always out with something ridiculous.

What's funny though is that the statement doesn't sound like one of Joe Biden's typical gaffes. Biden just doesn't deliver the Hillaryesque landing-under-sniper-fire embellishments that start with a basis in reality and add on something unbelievable. No, his semantic seizures usually tend to be dumbass mistakes like telling a guy in a wheelchair to stand up, or reveal his inner unvarnished hick, such as when he said that you can't go into a 7-11 in Delaware without hearing an Indian accent. But making stuff up out of whole cloth? That's not really him.

And in fact the White House prepared statement doesn't mention Biden being shot at. Now maybe he mentioned having his plane shot at in a departure from his prepared statement. Maybe he made a joking reference to Hillary's famous remarks. Maybe the reporter simply misheard him -- or maybe the account is accurate. Since no video is currently available, the Times account can't be verified, nor can Biden's actual speech be viewed or understood in context. But the FoxNation folks haven't let that stop them -- expect this to be a right-wing meme, whether true or not, for a while.

Oh, and there's one more thing. Biden, in a moment of bracing diplomatic bluntness, told Bosnia-Herzegovina's assembled lawmakers that their best bet was to knit themselves into the European community, but that they were still on the wrong path to doing that. This forwardness is the privilege of Biden's being engaged in the region for almost two decades; and his pragmatic advice has the credibility of the diplomacy that culminated in the Dayton accords. But don't expect Republicans to notice that -- they're too busy trying to make tea party hors-d'oeuvres out of the crumbs of a successful foreign policy.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Chatter and Verse: Donald Rumsfeld's Bible-Themed Propaganda as an Art Form. A Bad, Tendentious, Horrible Art Form.

In the latest bit of surprised-but-not-quite-shocked news, photographic evidence has emerged that while he was defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld used to decorate his briefings to President Bush with tasteful warrior photos captioned with Bible verses.

GQ, of all sources, released the information that Secretary Rumsfeld “appreciated” the cover designs. One might assume that Rumsfeld condescendingly figured Dubya would more readily agree to a plan, no matter how harebrained, as long as a Biblical verse was affixed to it. Having to explain why the Iraq situation was getting worse after six years probably went down a lot easier when the president saw a picture of American soldiers kneeling in prayer with an accompanying reassuring verse from Isaiah – these challenges are meant to test us, and let us not lose our resolve, came the message. The subsequent and detailed bad news was probably drowned with syrup, butter and small talk.

And yet the overwhelming reaction on viewing the images is that they’re just craptacular. Let’s be honest – if you’re going to put together a spirited, patriotic, Jesus-referencing, crying-eagle-on-a-rock type of cover, you could do much better than this slop. Henceforth are some suggestions.

Ol’ Ecclesiastes was the liberal elite of his generation – always talking pretty and making the impetuous and belligerent look stupid. He hated America waaaay before it was cool, so he’d be into this. Is there a time for war crimes tribunals?
Samuel was pretty much the Bismarck of his time – on the cusp of forming a nation. Unfortunately the nation was being built on the remains of the people who lived there before, so Israel’s various neighbors had to go. Since we don’t have that excuse in Iraq, maybe we should invoke a pointless biblical parallel instead and hope for the best.

“Let’s be honest here. I don’t know what Daddy did or why he did it, but I promise I’ll do more of it. Except anything that Reagan wouldn’t have done. And then some. But you’re not gonna believe that shit. Just hold on to your britches.”

Which makes me appreciate all the more what some of the newer briefings might look like:

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Pete Hoekstra’s Vapid Attack

Well it’s happening again. The Republicans, beset on many fronts by the successes of the Obama administration and torn from within by arguments over whether their party should try to live in the present or just close the curtains and pretend every day was Januay 19, 1989, have opted to attack when the situation calls for retreat and have thrown a bucket of mud on Nancy Pelosi – specifically, Representative Pete Hoekstra (R – MI) released a document on May 8 that he said proves the speaker of the House is lying about when she knew the administration was practicing torture: “The bottom line is she and her key staff, they all knew about it,” Hoekstra said.

The only problem, however, is that a reasonable person looking at the document sees no terribly compelling proof. The alleged record is an image of a spreadsheet, with names and dates and often just the vaguest summary of what took place at a meeting. The relevant briefing in question is described, in its entirety, as “Briefing on EITs* including use of EITs on Abu Zubaydah, background on authorities, and a particular desciption of the EITs that had been employed.” Yet it has no author, no date of publication, no sources, and offers no proof of anything. There are no signatures or initials of attendees and not even a mention of how long the meetings lasted. It looks like the world’s most-hastily-assembled CYA memo.

Even the Director of Central Intelligence, Leon Panetta, refuses to vouch for its authenticity. In a cover letter that was often mentioned in articles but surprisingly hard to track down, Panetta declares that “this information, however, is drawn from the past files of the CIA and represents MFRs** completed at the time and notes that summarized the best recollections of those individuals. In the end, you and the Committee will have to determine whether this information is an accurate reflection of what actually happened.” Basically this is the CIA’s best guess at the past.

And it’s apparently not much of a guess, either. Already Pelosi has cast doubt on the sweeping conclusion that Hoekstra derived from the meeting summary’s single sentence. She has insisted that while torture techniques were discussed, they weren’t mentioned as actually having been used, only approved for use, and that waterboarding wasn’t mentioned at the briefing she attended. In addition, Senators Jay Rockefeller and Bob Graham have both come forward disputing the content of the report with respect to briefings where they are mentioned. Graham says that waterboarding wasn’t mentioned in his briefing, and Rockefeller didn’t attend his briefing at all.

If the accuracy and credibility of this report weren’t questionable enough, there remains the fact that regardless of what was disclosed to Pelosi, there was very little she could do about it – she wasn’t allowed to take notes or consult a lawyer about the briefing. To argue that this redress-bereft acceptance of knowledge represents complicity requires a Madoffian level of intellectual accounting.

The final insult, of course, lies in the fact that Representative Hoekstra implied with his accusation of Pelosi: that to be told a fact, after the fact, implies a shared responsibility that would cause the speaker to back down from pushing any torture investigations. As though her role is so similar to the John Yoos and Jay Bybees and Alberto Gonzaleses of this episode to give her some pause. As though she wouldn’t know the difference between the criminals and the witnesses.

The hearings should be very clarifying, Mr. Hoekstra.

*EIT stands for Enhanced Interrogation Technique – or, as I like to call it, Elsewhere It’s Torture.
**Memorandum for the Record.