Monday's must-reads


Geraldine Sealey
April 19, 2004 4:57PM (UTC)

Kerry: Replace Bush, fix Iraq
On "Meet the Press" on Sunday, John Kerry went after President Bush for lying about his record and being "stunningly ineffective" in diplomacy, saying replacing Bush could bring stability to Iraq. The Boston Globe covers Kerry's interview with Tim Russert -- one that also seems to add fuel to the GOP-orchestrated rap on Kerry that he changes his positions when it's politically suitable.

The Globe writes: "In a wide-ranging, nationally televised interview, Kerry also distanced himself from a series of statements he made in the past, acknowledging that he no longer agreed with his 1971 contention about 'atrocities' committed during the Vietnam War, 1995 remarks in which he proposed changes in Social Security, and ways to improve US relations with Cuba, which he broached in 2000."

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"During the NBC interview, for example, Kerry was shown a quote from a 1970 Harvard Crimson interview in which he, freshly returned from the Vietnam War, said he would like to see US troops dispersed in the world 'only at the direction of the United Nations.' Kerry replied, 'That's one of those stupid things that a 27-year-old kid says when you're fresh back from Vietnam and angry about it.'"

"Host Tim Russert also played a tape of the senator's first appearance on the program, in April 1971, during which Kerry, clad in fatigues, said he and other soldiers in Vietnam had committed 'atrocities' in following US policies instructing the burning of villages and training heavy machine guns on crowds. During that appearance, Kerry also said at the time that the architects technically could be considered 'war criminals.' When the camera returned to Kerry, Russert asked, 'You committed atrocities?' Kerry smiled and said with a chuckle, 'Where did all that dark hair go, Tim? That's the big question for me.'"

"Turning serious, the gray-haired senator replied: 'You know, I thought a lot, for a long time, about that period of time, the things we said, and I think the word is a bad word. I think it's an inappropriate word. I mean, if you wanted to ask me, 'Have you ever made mistakes in your life?' -- sure. I think some of the language that I used was a language that reflected an anger. It was honest, but it was in anger. It was a little bit excessive."

The "slam-dunk" case
The latest installment of Bob Woodward's "Plan of Attack," running today in the Washington Post, depicts CIA Director George Tenet as a yes-man assuring the president of a "slam-dunk" case that Saddam possessed WMDs -- and Bush as a stickler for an air-tight case, demanding that no evidence be stretched. But this excerpt also says Tenet found the president without doubts once his mind was made up, and as the CIA sought to build a case against Saddam, Tenet's boss was fishing for reasons to topple the Iraqi dictator.

"When [Tenet] took problems to Bush, the president asked, Well, what's a solution? How do you fix it? How do you take the next step? How do you get around this? It was a new ethos for the intelligence business. Suddenly there seemed to be no penalty for taking risks and making mistakes ... On Dec. 19, 2002, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice asked Tenet and McLaughlin how strong the case was on weapons of mass destruction and what could be said publicly. The agency's October national estimate that had concluded that Saddam Hussein has chemical and biological weapons had been out for more than two months; the congressional resolutions supporting war had passed by nearly 3 to 1; and the U.N. Security Council, where a weapons inspection resolution had passed 15 to 0, was actively engaged in inspections inside Iraq. Still something was missing. Even Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz had commented recently on the inconclusive nature of judgments about Hussein's WMD."

"Two days later, Tenet and McLaughlin went to the Oval Office. The meeting was for presenting 'The Case' on WMD as it might be presented to a jury with Top Secret security clearances. There was great expectation. In addition to the president, Cheney, Rice and White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. attended ... When McLaughlin concluded, there was a look on the president's face of, What's this? And then a brief moment of silence."

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"'Nice try,' Bush said. 'I don't think this is quite -- it's not something that Joe Public would understand or would gain a lot of confidence from.' ... Bush turned to Tenet. 'I've been told all this intelligence about having WMD and this is the best we've got?' From the end of one of the couches in the Oval Office, Tenet rose up, threw him arms in the air. 'It's a slam-dunk case!' the director of central intelligence said. Bush pressed. 'George, how confident are you?' Tenet, a basketball fan who attended as many home games of his alma mater Georgetown University as possible, leaned forward and threw his arms up again. 'Don't worry, it's a slam dunk!'"

"It was unusual for Tenet to be so certain. From McLaughlin's presentation, Card was worried that there might be no 'there there,' but Tenet's double reassurance on the slam dunk was memorable and comforting. Cheney could think of no reason to question Tenet's assertion. He was, after all, the head of the CIA and would know the most. The president later recalled that McLaughlin's presentation 'wouldn't have stood the test of time.' But, said Bush, Tenet's reassurance -- 'That was very important.'"

"The president told Tenet several times, 'Make sure no one stretches to make our case.'"

Powell's candor unwelcome at White House
It is clear that Secretary of State Colin Powell cooperated with Bob Woodward for his new book, and the New York Times reports that the White House doesn't appreciate having his insights and recollections -- especially those appearing to second-guess Bush's judgments about the Iraq invasion -- aired.

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"Mr. Powell's apparent decision to lay out his misgivings even more explicitly to the journalist Bob Woodward for a book has jolted the White House and aggravated long-festering tensions in the Bush cabinet. Moreover, some officials said, the book has created problems for the secretary inside the administration just as the situation in Iraq is deteriorating and President Bush is plunging into his re-election drive."

" ... Critics of Mr. Powell in the hawkish wing of the administration said they were startled by what they saw as his self-serving decision to help fill out a portrait that enhances his reputation as a farsighted analyst, perhaps at the expense of Mr. Bush. Several said the book guaranteed what they expected anyway, that Mr. Powell will not stay as secretary if Mr. Bush is re-elected."

Woodward: Saudis agree to rig oil prices
In Bob Woodward's appearance on 60 Minutes last night -- transcript here -- he told Mike Wallace that the Saudi ambassador to the U.S., Prince Bandar bin Sultan, who was let in on the early war planning for the Iraq invasion, whose family is close to Bush's, and who "enjoys easy access" to the Oval Office, "promised the president that Saudi Arabia will lower oil prices in the months before the election -- to ensure the U.S. economy is strong on election day."

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"Woodward says that Bandar understood that economic conditions were key before a presidential election: 'Theyre [oil prices] high. And they could go down very quickly. That's the Saudi pledge. Certainly over the summer, or as we get closer to the election, they could increase production several million barrels a day and the price would drop significantly.'"

Gorelick's life threatened
Democratic 9/11 commisssioner Jamie Gorelick said this weekend her life was threatened after conservatives, including Tom DeLay and Rush Limbaugh, "alleged that her former work in the Justice Department may have contributed to failures leading to the attacks" and called for her resignation from the panel, CNN reported. The right-wing storm around Gorelick started last week when Attorney General John Ashcroft claimed a memo Gorelick wrote while an official in the Clinton Justice Department hamstrung anti-terror investigations before 9/11. The memo regarded the "wall" separating law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

"'I can confirm that I've received threats at my office and my home,' Gorelick told CNN on Saturday. 'I did get a bomb threat to my home.' She added, 'I have gotten a lot of very vile e-mails. The bomb threat was by phone.'"

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Gorelick wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post over the weekend defending herself and straightening out the record --- the "wall" did not begin with her, the concept dates back to the Reagan administration, was reaffirmed by Ashcroft's own deputy, and her memo actually sought, if anything, to weaken the wall.

Rural voters turning on Bush
The Los Angeles Times reports that while rural voters tend to identify with the president's values, economic worries are making them reconsider their allegiance to Bush.

"From places like Sherman County to Montcalm County, Mich., and Mahoning County, Ohio, some Republicans are so concerned about crop prices and high unemployment that they're considering voting Democratic for the first time ... For Bush, winning the rural vote looms more important than ever -- especially in such swing states as Oregon, Minnesota, Michigan and Ohio. In 2000, rural voters overwhelmingly backed him over Democrat Al Gore, giving Bush the boost he needed to win in some states. Although analysts predict the president this year will again capture the majority of votes in outlying communities, they say he must win by a decisive margin to remain in the White House."

"A recent Los Angeles Times poll showed that among rural voters, Bush leads Democrat John F. Kerry, 47% to 41%. But the president's support has slipped down from 55% in November for reasons ranging from the troubled economy to growing dissatisfaction over the war in Iraq. Perhaps Bush's greatest strength with rural voters is an emotional bond based on cultural values. They view him as someone who thinks like they do a president who speaks their mind on issues like property rights, abortion and gay marriage."

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Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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