Friday's must-reads


Geraldine Sealey
April 23, 2004 5:26PM (UTC)

Filling the memory hole
The Seattle Times covers the Air Force's reluctant release of hundreds of photos of soldiers' coffins to First Amendment activist Russ Kick, who FOIA'd them and posted the images on his Web site on Thursday. Another photo of coffins ran in the Seattle Times on Sunday and led to the firing of amateur photographer and contract worker Tami Silicio and her husband.

"Release of the more than 360 photographs [to Kick] further erodes a 13-year-old ban on the media taking photos of the transport of coffins from overseas battle zones to Dover, site of the military's largest mortuary. Pentagon officials said yesterday the intent of the ban is to prevent photos of coffins returning home from war from being published without the consent of grieving families. Pentagon officials say the policy is consistent with the wishes of the families and the Pentagon has no intention of changing it."

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"The often-emotional public discourse that ensued has played out in newspapers and on TV, radio and the Web. And it comes at a difficult time for the nation as the April casualty count in Iraq climbs to more than 100 soldiers."

"Air Force officials yesterday acknowledged they cannot control what Kick now does with the images. But they say they have put a hold on further release of the Dover photos until word from the Office of the Secretary of Defense. ... In an interview, Kick said he believes the public has a right to see the pictures, and that they are respectful to grieving families. 'I would make the argument that trying to hide the photos of these people who gave everything for their country is actually dishonoring them,' Kick said. 'They went over there in all of our names and died, and then when they come back home, they're hidden behind a curtain. I think that's wrong.'"

McCain: We must send more troops
Knight-Ridder reports that John McCain made the strongest call yet from any lawmaker to send more troops to Iraq. "The president must make clear to the American people the scale of the commitment required to prevail in Iraq," McCain said. "He needs to be perfectly frank: Bringing peace and democracy to Iraq is an enormous endeavor that will be very expensive, difficult and long."

In a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations, "McCain called Iraq 'our biggest foreign-policy test in a generation' and one that should serve as a 'wake-up call' for Washington policymakers. McCain also called on the United States to seek troop contributions from other countries. But the 'fundamental truth,' he said, 'is that we face the security task mostly alone.' There are about 135,000 American troops in Iraq. Another division would add 20,000."

"'It's painfully clear that we need more troops,' said McCain, noting that former Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki had told Congress before the war that several hundred thousand would be needed to stabilize postwar Iraq."

Kerry's Navy record withstands scrutiny
The Washington Post examined Kerry's Navy record, and supplemented by interviews with the candidate, his crewmates and some skeptics, the paper "found little to undermine Kerry's portrayal of his service" in Vietnam.

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"[Kerry's] record has become both an asset and an issue as he seeks the presidency. The senator from Massachusetts has used it to define his qualifications for the office, his experience in foreign policy, his leadership -- and, regarding the conflict in Iraq, his firsthand knowledge of war. But critics have cited it as evidence that he was opportunistic and have questioned whether he deserved one of his medals."

"With few exceptions, those who fought by his side, and the other veterans who support him today, are startled that anyone would question his valor ... But a group of Vietnam veterans, some of them partisans, portray him as an ambitious young officer who attempted to collect undeserved Purple Hearts for minor injuries and used those medals to cut short his tour. A military policy allowed those who received three Purple Hearts, regardless of the extent of their injuries, to leave Vietnam. Kerry could have requested to stay but did not. A Web site is dedicated to raising questions about his record and reminding voters that he returned home to become a leader in the antiwar movement, which critics allege demoralized the very troops he fought beside."

The Bandar effect
The Associated Press wonders whether the president's close ties to Saudi officials will have an impact at the ballot box.

"Bush's Democratic opponent on Thursday accused him of being too cozy with Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar bin Sultan to insist that the oil-rich Saudis do more to help lower the cost of gasoline in America. The Bush camp and Bandar himself deny any undue influence. Bandar said he has talked about oil with Bush just as he has with Bush's predecessor, Bill Clinton, and other U.S. presidents going back to Jimmy Carter."

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"The U.S. dependency on foreign oil -- and the fact that Saudi Arabia has more crude than anyone else -- has compelled all presidents to befriend the Middle Eastern country. As Bandar told CNN earlier this week, 'Oil prices and Saudi Arabia and American politics are intertwined.' That, precisely, is why Kerry's gambit could prove effective, said Saudi Institute analyst Ali al-Ahmed. 'Any association between the Bush family and the Saudi royal family is only going to undermine the credibility of the president,' al-Ahmed said. 'I think Bush either has to dance around it somehow, or join Kerry in his rhetoric -- especially if Kerry is going to receive support from many people in the United States who do not like Saudi Arabia very well.'"

Polls get second look
Ruy Teixeira at Donkey Rising combs through the week's polling hype and concludes that the news isn't all rosy for Bush after all.

"The recent Gallup and ABC News/Washington Post polls have gotten a lot of Democrats worried about how well Bush is apparently doing.... I know many are worried that Bush's ads in the battleground states have worked and that, to be doing so well in general, he must be making serious progress in those contested states."

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"To which I say: wrong! The Annenberg election survey results I reviewed earlier showed that Kerry's favorabilty rating remained unchanged in the battleground states and that persuadable voters were uninclined to drink the Republican Kool-Aid about Kerry flip-flopping, believing Bush, more than Kerry, exhibited that behavior. And now check out these just-released findings from the same ABC News poll that contributed to Democrats' anguish about Bush being ahead. According to data in The Hotline (I can't find any link yet on a public website, but I'm sure one will eventually appear), Kerry is ahead of Bush by 4 points in the battleground states (50-46). He's even ahead of Bush by 2 points in these states with Nader thrown into the mix and drawing a ridiculous 7 percent."

"Note also that Bush's approval rating in the battleground states is 49 percent, 2 points under his national rating and that his approval rating on the economy in these states is just 41 percent, 3 points under his national rating."

In a New York Times op-ed, Ryan Lizza adds more perspective. "In none of the polls this week that purported to show the Bush surge does the president have majority support. Any politician running for re-election sweats when a poll shows him under 51 percent. Voters who say they are undecided almost always end up opposing the incumbent -- they know him well, and if they were going to vote for him, they would have already decided. Thus support for Mr. Bush should be seen more as a ceiling, while support for Mr. Kerry, the lesser-known challenger, is more like a floor."

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On the same op-ed page, Josh Marshall has another take. "The new numbers do suggest a paradoxical question: could escalating national security crises be bolstering the president's support -- even if they are crises of his own making? If Americans decide that Iraq is a disaster, why do they not see him as the cause of the problem? Why has support for the president bounced back (up four points in one poll) even as approval of his handling of Iraq has fallen (down three points in the same poll)? The pattern may not hold, and voters tend to react differently to the outbreak of a crisis than to sustained bad news. Still, there is a theory that might explain these apparently contradictory poll results. In wars abroad, Americans don't want their presidents to fail."


Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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