Friday's must-reads


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Geraldine Sealey
April 9, 2004 4:38PM (UTC)

More questions than answers
The major newspapers weigh in today with assessments of Condoleezza Rice's testimony before the 9/11 commission, and the verdict is mixed. Rice was a "skilled" speaker, exuded "confidence" and gave a "strong defense" of the president, some have observed. But her testimony raised new, troubling questions for the Bush administration, the Baltimore Sun's analysis says, especially about "how attentive her boss was to the threat of a terrorist attack and whether he is following the right strategy for defending the country by waging war in Iraq."

The Sun's Mark Matthews writes: "Bush didn't have to read beyond the title of an intelligence document he received while on vacation in Texas on Aug. 6, 2001, to know that Osama bin Laden's ambition went beyond overseas attacks -- which were the focus of most of what Rice said was the terrorist threat information received up to that point. The title, revealed by Rice under questioning by commission member Richard Ben-Veniste, was 'Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States.'"

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"As she had in previous media interviews, the national security adviser described the document as lacking specifics. But the title appeared at odds with her claim that the memo 'did not warn of attacks inside the United States' and that it was 'based on old reporting.'"

(Indeed, as quoted by 9/11 commissioner Bob Kerrey on Thursday, the PDB told Bush, as he vacationed on his ranch in Texas, that "the FBI indicates patterns of suspicious activity in the United States consistent with preparations for hijacking." The White House says it is moving to declassify the PDB, which has already been provided to the 9/11 panel.)

Matthews wrote: "The panel will doubtless want to question Bush about his reaction to the document when members interview him and Vice President Dick Cheney in private. Rice gave no indication that the memo triggered any alarm on the president's part or prompted him to launch a counterterror initiative."

A passive approach to threats
During her testimony on Thursday, Condi Rice described herself as a "student of institutional change," but as the Los Angeles Times writes in its analysis of her performance, the national security adviser described the highest levels of the Bush administration as passive in its approach to dealing with counterterrorism. Rice "described a White House inner circle that spent its time on broad strategy and left it up to the bureaucracy to decide how to meet the escalating threat, with no real follow-up from the White House," writes Maura Reynolds.

"At one point, asked about a memo written to her by White House counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke warning that the parochial interests of the agencies would thwart action unless the White House kept the pressure on, Rice said she thought Clarke was just trying to 'buck me up.' "

"'The problem for Dr. Rice in her testimony,' as Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, put it, 'is that the concept of bureaucracy she offers is essentially a passive, not an active concept.' The question is, Jamieson said: 'Would it have made a difference if they had a different concept?'"

"In a sense, it came down to two concepts of how a president should operate: the Bush team's view that the chief executive should delegate authority, and the view espoused by Clarke and others that the White House should actively work to ensure that effective action is taken -- including 'shaking the trees' to move sometimes-hidebound government agencies."

Condi the cog
Howard Fineman of Newsweek went a step further than most in his critique of Rice's performance, concluding that she just isn't that good at her job. "A self-proclaimed expert at understanding 'structural' change in large institutions, Rice wasn't aware -- may still not be aware -- that the nature of her job had changed by the time she took over as national security adviser in January 2001. Reared in the Cold War era, she saw herself following in the footsteps of Henry Kissinger. 'National security' was largely a matter of global state-to-state diplomacy."

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"In fact, as her predecessor in effect warned her when he was turning over the keys, the model was no longer so much Kissinger as it was, say, Elliott Ness or J. Edgar Hoover. If, as she said, we had been at war with terrorism for 20 years; if, as she said, the terrorists are determined to attack America, then the NSC chief has to be a ruthless hunter for clues around the world -- and on American soil."

"Asked at the hearing why she hadn't pressed the FBI more closely about what it knew, or didn't know, about domestic terrorist threats, she acted as though the question was an odd one: It wasn't her job. Well, in retrospect, it was and now certainly is."

War president may go down with Iraq
A Los Angeles Times analysis of the increasingly chaotic situation in Iraq says President Bush could find his re-election prospects in serious jeopardy, even if the economic news gets better.

"The sights and sounds emanating from Iraq in the last few days have begun to echo those of the Vietnam era, as the body count grows and generals talk of a need to send more U.S. troops to fight an increasingly fierce guerrilla war ... The invasion -- or liberation -- of Iraq was supposed to underscore the post-9/11 resolve that transformed his presidency and sent his approval ratings to unseen heights. Success there was also supposed to offset the dramatic loss of American jobs since Bush took office nearly 3 1/2 years ago."

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"But current events demonstrate just how volatile this extended general election season has become. Just a few days ago Bush was touring the country, touting the creation of 300,000 jobs last month as a long-awaited sign that the nation's hiring drought was finally over ... By Wednesday, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld was forced to share a split TV screen during a Pentagon briefing with pictures of American soldiers blazing away at insurgent fighters across Iraq and a map with arrows pointing to spots where U.S.-led forces are under siege."

Scalia orders tapes confiscated
The Los Angeles Times has yet another must-read today (Guess they didn't win five Pulitzers this week for nothing.) The paper reports that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia ordered a deputy U.S. marshal to confiscate and erase recordings made by two reporters invited to hear the justice speak at a high school gym.

The Times says: "[First Amendment] experts questioned not only Scalia's practice of barring recordings of remarks made in public, but also whether the seizure may have violated a federal law intended to shield journalists from having notes or records confiscated by officials."

"... Alone among the justices, Scalia forbids television cameras when he speaks in public, and he usually tries to clear the room of reporters. He strictly insists, usually in advance, that his words not be recorded. On Wednesday afternoon, however, no warning of his rule was given to event hosts or reporters when Scalia spoke at Presbyterian Christian High School in Hattiesburg, Miss."

"Soon after Scalia entered the gym, a marshal told a TV reporter to stop recording. The justice spoke to the assembly of students, faculty and parents about the importance of the Constitution. The Constitution protects the rights of all, he said, according to a reporter's account. It is a 'brilliant piece of work. People just don't revere it like they used to,' he said."

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"Near the end of the talk, Deputy U.S. Marshal Melanie Rube, who works in the Hattiesburg area, confronted two reporters who were recording Scalia's comments. 'She came up and demanded the tapes,' Konz said. 'She told us that Scalia did not want the speech to be tape-recorded.' When Associated Press reporter Denise Grones balked, 'the marshal grabbed the tape recorder,' Konz said, and erased the digital recording."

"Experts in 1st Amendment law say it is generally understood that officials -- including judges -- cannot confiscate or destroy notes or records that journalists obtain in public events. 'This is a major embarrassment. And it is unsupportable as a matter of law,' said Jane Kirtley, a law professor at the University of Minnesota and an expert on press law."

Carter: Why the Christian Right is wrong
In a Q and A with The American Prospect, former President Jimmy Carter, the first evangelical Christian in the White House, explains what isn't Christian about the Christian Right.

Carter says: "When I was younger, almost all Baptists were strongly committed on a theological basis to the separation of church and state. It was only 25 years ago when there began to be a melding of the Republican Party with fundamentalist Christianity, particularly with the Southern Baptist Convention. This is a fairly new development, and I think it was brought about by the abandonment of some of the basic principles of Christianity. First of all, we worship the prince of peace, not war. And those of us who have advocated for the resolution of international conflict in a peaceful fashion are looked upon as being unpatriotic, branded that way by right-wing religious groups, the Bush administration, and other Republicans."

"Secondly, Christ was committed to compassion for the most destitute, poor, needy, and forgotten people in our society. Today there is a stark difference [between conservative ideology and Christian teaching] because most of the people most strongly committed to the Republican philosophy have adopted the proposition that help for the rich is the best way to help even poor people (by letting some of the financial benefits drip down to those most deeply in need). I would say there has been a schism drawn -- on theology and practical politics and economics between the two groups."


Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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