November 17, 2005

The Other View

Commenter Dan Larsen, disagreeing with some of my posts immediately below, writes:

I have to disagree with you....that Bush and Cheney should stay above this. The "lies" propaganda peddled by the Democrats has taken such root in the public's consciousness that the efforts of Ken Mehlman and Congressional attack dogs would be utterly impotent against it. Fifty-seven percent--57%!--of Americans believe that Bush "deliberately misled" the country into war, according to recent polling (WSJ-NBC). The administration is facing a credibility crisis over this issue (well, they're facing one in general for plenty of reasons, but this is at the root of a good deal of it, and, I think, the most dangerous part of it). Assigning Ken Mehlman and other people most Americans have never heard of to fight the Democrats on this issue would be like assigning a handful of men with fire extinguishers to fight a forest fire. They simply wouldn't be able to move the numbers in a meaningful way. Restoring the Administration's credibility and Bush's personal resputation begins with convincing the American people that the most important decision of Bush's presidency was not built on a conspiracy of intentional deception. Only Bush and Cheney have any chance of being able to do this.
Posted by Gregory at November 17, 2005 06:04 AM | TrackBack (0)
Comments

...and they will have to do it without ever taking real questions on the subject, because that will expose them even more.

The big problem they have seems to be that they deliberate misled people into war. It will be very suprising if that 57% does not grow.

The other thing that they have to contend with is that they have up to now (or recently at least) dealt with a very compliant press corps that reported their versions uncritically. The Plame story has exposed the press corp, which was very reluctent to second guess the administration in the run up to war, and many of the administrations PR techniques, which worked very well (including very blatant lying[McClellen declaring that Rove and Libby were not involved] ), have now been exposed, and the press is going to be much less likely to whitewash their deliberate misinformation.

Posted by: theCoach at November 17, 2005 04:05 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I'm with Dan, Greg. Bush is where he is because of his own lack of regular, consistent and coherent communication with the American people about where we are with Iraq and where we intend to go. I'm been ragging about this for over a year. Rather than a Great Communicator, or even a Barely Adequate Communicator, Bush is an Occasional Communicator, and the chickens have come to roost. The worst thing he can do now is speak up for a news cycles and then hunker down in the White House for another month. Bush also needs a better rapid response team. They should never have let it get this far. Bush needs to speak, himself, front and center, because he has the unique advantage of the bully pulpit. He's singularly able to drive the debate in the direction he chooses, a built-in benefit of his office. Too bad he so seldom uses it.

I agree with you about Bush's dowdification of Levin, but that doesn't mean Bush shouldn't speak up, it means he should speak up better.

Posted by: Charles Bird at November 17, 2005 04:56 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I'm with Larsen on this one, too. This is the same argument, albeit in different clothes, about Public Diplomacy. The leaders need to be out there, not just the munchkins. If there is a message that needs to be told, a position that needs to be defended against erroneous interpretation, then that effort has to start with the top, continue with the top, and finish with the top.

Sending the troops out to marshall the message is all well and good, but it is not sufficient if it's not also clear that the leadership is putting itself out there, too.

Posted by: John Burgess at November 17, 2005 10:33 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Gak.

Posted by: Sissy Willis at November 18, 2005 02:07 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Charles is right in that Bush doesn't communicate with the public anywhere near enough. But I still think GD's broader point is more significant: the president ought to be above today's inane "debates" on pre-war rhetoric from three years ago. The president should be out there talking about what America is doing right *today*, not what some irrelevant congressmen claimed in 2002.

For that matter, the Democrats would have a hell of a lot more credibility if they too would lay off the claims about what the administration said in the past, and talk about what needs to be done in the future. Get over it and get on with it.

Posted by: Bitter at November 18, 2005 02:14 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The Pres and VP don't need to convince people that they can fight Dems, they need to convince people that they can win the war in Iraq.

Maybe they do need to convince people they can fight Dems to hold popularity above 35%. They can't get over 40% with that, though.

I agree that Mehlman isn't going to convince people we can win the war in Iraq. I agree with GD, however, that nearly no one outside the faithful cares a bit about the Dems in this discussion. The Admin has to stop campaigning and start governing. If it knows how.

Posted by: CharleyCarp at November 18, 2005 05:30 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

There's also the huge problem of running a public relations capaign for the proposition that everyone had the same knowledge in October 2002. Even if true -- and it isn't -- no one had the same knowledge in early March 2003 that was widely shared in October 2002.

In March, the IAEA announced that the Iraqi nuclear program was non-existent. The VP went on television soon thereafter and said, more or less, that IAEA was wrong, and that he knew better. From that moment, before the war, the 'everyone was wrong together' argument was lost to the Admin. Right there in front of all of us, the Admin decided that it knew better. It didn't, and it ought to be adult enough to face up to it.

Posted by: CharleyCarp at November 18, 2005 05:36 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Bush's answer to the accusation "Bush lied to the American people" is apparently "Congress had the same intelligence." In other words, Bush is trying to reframe the debate -- but its not about what Congress knew, or did not know --- its about the sense of betrayal that Americans feel now that they realize that THEY (not Congress) were lied to.

In reality, this isn't even about the lies --- Americans are perfectly happy to accept lies on National Security matters, as long as things turn out okay. We know that the President can't tell us everything he knows, and that what is known has to be presented in a way that leads to the same conclusions that one would arrive at if one knew what the President knows.

That willingness to accept "lies" from the President is, however, only half of the equation. It comes with an absolute obligation for the President to ensure that the lies he is telling are stand-ins for facts that cannot be disclosed. Even more critically, it comes with an absolute obligation to ensure that the policies that these lies are promoting are completely and competently thought out.

No one would care about the lies about WMDs and Iraq-al Qaeda links if things were going swimmingly in Iraq. An the investigation into the lies are not motivated by partisan concerns -- they are motivated by the need for Americans to understand the context in which calls for "timetables" and "withdrawal" are taking place.

That context is that George W. Bush is neither competent nor trustworthy, and that the odds are overwhelming that the longer we stay in Iraq under his leadership, the worse things will get for America's long term interests.

Questions about what Bush's strategy should be with regard to the manipulation of intelligence are besides the point. There is no appropriate strategy, because the underlying issue is Bush's integrity and competence, and Bush cannot afford to confront those issues.

Posted by: lukasiak at November 18, 2005 03:05 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Bush's personal resputation begins with convincing the American people that the most important decision of Bush's presidency was not built on a conspiracy of intentional deception

Oh but it was, and it sucks for them now that the public has figured it out.

Now that they have to answer for there statements of the last 4 years there scrambling around with about a half dozen different talking points. All of it spin to get them off the hook.

Posted by: Joseph at November 18, 2005 07:13 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I would ask if Luka and his fellow travellers have some evidence that Congress and US public was intentionally misled by the Bush admin that they either produce it or stop stating opinions as fact

Posted by: Pogue Mahone at November 18, 2005 08:04 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Pogue:

You have asked for evidence, so I'll take a crack at it. In late 2002 Dick Cheney went on a number of news programs, Meet the Press being one, and stated that there was "no doubt" that Iraq had reconstituted it's nuclear program. At the same time the IAEA was saying that they had determined that Iraq had no nuclear program. It is not believable that the Vice President did not know this. Now, Cheney may have thought they were wrong, but saying there was "no doubt" was just not true. The same goes for the meeting between Mohammed Atta and Iraqi intelligence in Prague. The VP continued to publicly state that that meeting took place when our own FBI and CIA were saying otherwise. When he was questioned on that statement, he denied ever having made it. C'mon Dick, it was broadcast on TV for crying out loud!

Condi Rice said that the aluminum tubes that Iraq had ordered could be used only for uranium enrichment. But the US Dept. of Energy had already reported that the tubes were unsuitable for such use. Rice had to have known that. When Richard Clark told Condi Rice that he had found no evidence of Iraq being involved with Al Qaeda, she told him to save his breath; that the president had already made up his mind. At that time the President was publicly saying that he had not.

Congress and the public were told that Saddam had unmanned drones that were to be used to attack the US mainland. That is preposterous on it's face. Our own military does not have the capability to fly unmanned drones across the Atlantic to attack. Not to mention that in speeches, various members of the administration never missed a chance to conflate Iraq with 9/11; so much so that at one point over 50% of those polled thought that Saddam was directly involved with the attacks. Now where did those people get that idea? They were misled by the administration.

These are just a few examples off the top of my head. You can also see this site:
http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/archives/individual/2005_11/007556.php

for a few other examples.

Posted by: Kilfarsnar at November 18, 2005 09:06 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I would ask if Luka and his fellow travellers have some evidence that Congress and US public was intentionally misled by the Bush admin that they either produce it or stop stating opinions as fact

I would submit that the "White Paper" based on the NIE represents intentional misleading of the American public. As bad as the NIE was, its presentation of conclusions was at least not categorical, and somewhat qualified. The White Paper presented those conclusion in a categorical, unqualified manner that allowed for no debate or discussion.

Posted by: lukasiak at November 18, 2005 09:24 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

This is also the point former Sen. Graham makes in The Post today.

At the root of the administration's problem with this discussion is that the President and his key associates have never been able to bring themselves to admit that what they expected and planned for in Iraq was considerably different from what happened, and that they bear some responsibility for this. In the short term the course they have taken rallies the President's most fervent supporters and spares him some embarrassment, but in the long run it will reinforce the growing public view that Bush and his people have made a mess of things in Iraq and won't own up to their mistakes.

Now, it's fair enough for Republicans to claim that Democrats are focused on the run-up to war three years ago because they have little to say about how it is being run now, and for commentators like Greg to counter that it is up to the administration to set forth over and over again its strategy for victory. But suppose it doesn't have one? I mean, I think Amb. Khalilzad and senior military commanders are laying out a course that could give Iraqis a chance to form a reasonably stable government. How good that chance will be I cannot say. But is it really Bush's strategy, or just a program of steps to which he will acquiesce while pursuing his primary interest, which is preserving the political standing of George W. Bush?

One hates to be cynical but we did already go through this with Paul Bremer and the CPA.

Posted by: JEB at November 20, 2005 05:51 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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