Joe Conason's Journal

Bush has accused Dean of "shooting from the hip" -- a phrase that aptly describes what the Pentagon did today.

By Salon Staff
Published December 11, 2003 10:02PM (EST)

Shooting from the hip, cleaning up the mess
From time to time, a pair of front-page stories will line up like stars in the sky to send a deeper message. Both the New York Times and the Washington Post today examine the attitudes of senior Bush political advisors toward Howard Dean, the Democrat they believe most likely to win his party's presidential nomination. Although the Bush strategists expressed some concern about Dean's grassroots strength, they didn't conceal their contempt for him as a potential opponent. As the Times notes:

"Karl Rove, Mr. Bush's senior adviser and political strategist, was reported by The Washington Post this summer to have exhorted the crowd at his neighborhood Fourth of July parade to cheer for marchers wearing Dean T-shirts and carrying Dean signs. People close to Mr. Bush, who prides himself on his personal and political discipline, describe Dr. Dean as a sloppy candidate who gets himself in trouble too often by shooting from the hip and who is slow to clean up messes."

The Washington Post took the same approach, with additional color, recalling how Rove himself had chanted, "We want Howard Dean!"

But this wasn't the best of days for such swaggering, because the president and his aides were preoccupied with trying to "clean up" an embarrassing international mess caused by "shooting from the hip" at the Pentagon. Just as Bush was dispatching James A. Baker III to renegotiate loans owed by Iraq to several European nations, the Pentagon announced that those same countries would be ineligible to bid on Iraqi reconstruction contracts for "security" reasons. Although White House officials were furious by the bad timing of the Pentagon announcement, posted on its Web site, they had to admit that they had approved the restrictive policy. (The "security" insult may have been an artistic Pentagon touch.)

Remember, these are the national security sophisticates -- the "grown-ups" who, unlike the hapless Democrats, really know how the world works and how to run it.

Bush added his own folksy touch to this fiasco while chatting to the press this afternoon, when he explained that the situation was "very simple." The "friendly coalition folks" deserved the contracts, while the war's opponents in France, Germany, Russia and Canada do not. Asked about the policy's possible conflict with American treaty obligations under international law, he replied cutely but cluelessly: "International law? I better call my lawyer ... I don't know what you're talking about, about international law. Better consult my lawyer."

Maybe he meant his old lawyer Jim Baker, who once helped him out of a very messy situation in Florida.

Second thoughts?
The essays condemning Grover Norquist as a "fifth columnist" have suddenly vanished from David Horowitz's Front Page Web site. I could find no explanation on the site for their sudden disappearance. But a Norquist associate told me yesterday that Horowitz admitted he hadn't "fact-checked" the voluminously detailed charges made by Norquist's would-be nemesis, Frank Gaffney.
[2 p.m. PST, Dec. 11, 2003]

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