Friday's must-reads


Geraldine Sealey
April 16, 2004 4:51PM (UTC)

Rummy surprised at Iraq death toll
The Houston Chronicle reports that "Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld admitted Thursday that he has been surprised by the heavy toll in blood inflicted on American forces in recent days. The pugnacious Pentagon chief, asked at a news briefing whether he had made any mistakes concerning the war in Iraq, came close to a rare admission of miscalculation, conceding that he failed to foresee the level of resistance facing U.S. forces in Iraq a full year after the fall of Baghdad."

"'If someone had said, 'Would you, a year ago, have expected you would be where you are at the present time?' one would not have described where we are,' Rumsfeld said. 'I certainly would not have estimated that we would have had the number of individuals lost that we have in the last week.'"

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"Rumsfeld also said he regretted having to break a promise to some soldiers and extend their tours in Iraq beyond a year. He told reporters that about 20,000 troops scheduled to depart Iraq would stay in the country to battle a deadly insurgency."

Apparently Rumsfeld didn't get the memo about Republicans not admitting mistakes.

Bush's secret war plan
Worried that his rush to war would cause an uproar, President Bush had Donald Rumsfeld draw up a secret plan to invade Iraq while the war in Afghanistan was far from finished and as Osama bin Laden remained at large. The AP got its hands on a copy of Bob Woodward's new book "Plan of Attack," and runs excerpts today.

"Bush feared that if news got out about the Iraq plan as U.S. forces were fighting another conflict, people would think he was too eager for war ... 'I knew what would happen if people thought we were developing a potential war plan for Iraq,' Bush is quoted as telling Woodward. 'It was such a high-stakes moment and ... it would look like that I was anxious to go to war. And I'm not anxious to go to war.'"

"Woodward's account fleshes out the degree to which some members of the administration, particularly Vice President Dick Cheney, were focused on Saddam Hussein from the onset of Bush's presidency and even after the terrorist attacks made the destruction of al-Qaida the top priority. Woodward says Bush pulled Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld aside Nov. 21, 2001 -- when U.S. forces and allies were in control of about half of Afghanistan -- and asked him what kind of war plan he had on Iraq. When Rumsfeld said it was outdated, Bush told him to get started on a fresh one. The book says Bush told Rumsfeld to keep quiet about it and when the defense secretary asked to bring CIA Director George Tenet into the planning at some point, the president said not to do so yet. Even Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, was apparently not fully briefed. Woodward said Bush told her that morning he was having Rumsfeld work on Iraq but did not give details."

"In an interview two years later, Bush told Woodward that if the news had leaked, it would have caused 'enormous international angst and domestic speculation.' The Bush administration's drive toward war with Iraq raised an international furor anyway, alienating long-time allies who did not believe the White House had made a sufficient case against Saddam. Saddam was toppled a year ago and taken into custody last December. But the central figure of al-Qaida, Osama bin Laden, remains at large and a threat to the west."

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"The book says Gen. Tommy Franks, who was in charge of the Afghan war as head of Central Command, uttered a string of obscenities when the Pentagon told him to come up with an Iraq war plan in the midst of fighting another conflict."

Bad ad regurgitated
Last month, Bush-Cheney '04 test-ran an ad in West Virginia questioning John Kerry's commitment to U.S. troops. Now, the president's re-election team is revamping "Troops" (debunked here) and springing it on 18 battleground states, the New York Times reports.

"Its reintroduction comes at a time of anxiety at the White House caused by two weeks of heavy American casualties in Iraq and hearings at which a bipartisan panel has questioned administration officials about their reaction to warning signs before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001."

"The spot seemed intended at least in part to prevent Mr. Kerry from taking advantage of the environment by raising questions about Mr. Bush's wartime leadership, a central theme of the president's campaign. In the commercial an announcer points out that Mr. Kerry had voted against Mr. Bush's $87 billion package for Iraq and Afghanistan despite his support for the war and says he is 'wrong on defense.'"

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"But the spot's nationwide introduction this week also marks a shift in tone in the president's advertising campaign. So far the campaign has included a mix of spots attacking Kerry and trumpeting the president's positive vision for the future. For the next week, at least, viewers will see only an attack spot, a sign, Democrats said, that Mr. Bush's advertising campaign has not worked as well as his advisers had hoped."

BC '04 is actually cutting ad spending overall even as the tone of the ads get nastier. The Washington Post reports that John Kerry will begin his own advertising blitz in the next two weeks "to introduce himself to voters." Kerry (D-Mass.) sees the coming weeks as the unofficial beginning to his general election campaign ... With internal polls and focus groups showing that voters know little about his candidacy, Kerry plans a new ad campaign based on findings that voters are receptive to his military risumi and 'New Democrat' message of fiscal restraint and national security might."

"'A lot of people don't really know who I am,' Kerry told party donors yesterday at a breakfast fundraiser in New York. "Their goal is to define me and make me unacceptable. . . . Our goal has to be to keep that acceptability.'"

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GOP's Southern strategy
Ron Brownstein in the Los Angeles Times reports that "Republicans opened a potentially significant new front Thursday in their battle with Democrat John F. Kerry, launching their first broad assault against his views on abortion, gun control, gay marriage, the death penalty and other social issues."

"Since Kerry effectively clinched his party's presidential nomination in early March, President Bush's campaign and the Republican National Committee have challenged him almost entirely over his record on taxes and national defense. But a study released Thursday by the RNC also targeted the Massachusetts senator on cultural concerns, such as his opposition to banning a procedure some call partial-birth abortion and his vote against a measure that allowed states to disregard gay marriages performed outside their borders."

"The study highlights Kerry's views on issues politically potent in the South, and it surfaced on the eve of a gathering of Southern Republicans that begins today in Miami. 'The portrait that emerges is that Kerry, on every issue -- economic, national security and values -- is out of the mainstream in the South and, I would argue, nationally,' said Ralph Reed, the Southeast regional chairman for Bush's reelection campaign."

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Tactical shift on Israel
The Chicago Tribune reports that while the president's shift "favoring large, lasting Israeli settlements in the West Bank will be felt most directly in the Middle East, it also could have political echoes this fall in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Cleveland and Miami." (And in Pennsylvania, for one, pollsters say the Philly suburbs could win or lose the state.)

"The Bush campaign is hopeful that one indirect product of the president's strong backing of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will be to pull enough Jewish votes in battleground states to ensure his re-election. The White House, of course, spoke of no political motive, and even some prominent Jewish Democrats applauded the president's announcement as good policy. Several analysts said, however, that they were skeptical that the surprise announcement would have lasting impact politically."

"'A lot of these events are not transformative in terms of vote choice,' said Terry Madonna, director of the Keystone Poll in Pennsylvania, one of the states expected to be the most heatedly contested in the presidential race. 'Even in this environment where we all agree there are a relatively small number of genuinely undecided voters in a highly polarized environment, a lot of events will push and pull on the undecideds, [until November],' Madonna said."

"Exit poll data showed that Bush received about 19 percent of the Jewish vote in 2000, a year in which Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), an observant Jew, was the Democratic vice presidential candidate. In comparison, Ronald Reagan received about 38 percent of the Jewish vote in 1980."

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Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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