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I must confess to

I must confess to being slightly baffled by James Risen's piece in Wednesday's Times on Doug Feith's Counter Terrorism Evaluation Group, the shop which had Michael Maloof and David Wurmser trying to find ties between terrorist groups across sectarian lines as well as ties between al Qaida and states like Iraq.

Elements of this story have been reported previously, particularly by the Washington Bureau of Knight-Ridder.

But what the Times presents is almost entirely the group's apologia for their own work. One can write a story from various perspectives of course. But from the vantage point of April 2004, the take Risen takes leaves the story a tad incomplete. It's rather like writing a narrative about interagency battles in 2002 in which those claiming the most maximal views about Iraqi WMD are valiantly fighting the forces of bureaucratic fuddy-duddyism to bring the truth to light.

An interesting story, no doubt -- but rather incomplete without some discussion of the fact that the fuddy-duddies turned out to be right.

The article's only clear statement on the underlying facts of the matter is this paragraph ...

The C.I.A. and other intelligence agencies found little evidence to support the Pentagon's view of an increasingly unified terrorist threat or links between Mr. Hussein and Mr. bin Laden, and still largely dismiss those ideas. Foreign Islamic fighters have sought haven in Iraq since the American-led invasion and some Sunnis and Shiites have banded together against the occupiers, but the agencies say that is the result of anger and chaotic conditions, not proof of prewar alliances.


That's quite an agnostic view. Risen seems even to imply that the influx of foreign fighters into Iraq since the war somehow validates the group's pre-war arguments about ties between the secular Iraqi government and al Qaida.

On the other hand, there's choice passages like this ...

"I think the people working on the Persian Gulf at the C.I.A. are pathetic," Mr. Perle said in an interview. "They have just made too many mistakes. They have a record over 30 years of being wrong." He added that the agency "became wedded to a theory," that did not leave room for the possibility that Iraq was working with Al Qaeda, and that "they went to battle stations every time someone pointed to contrary evidence."


So all's not lost.

More in a bit

More in a bit on James Risen's piece in Wednesday paper about the Maloof/Wurmser shop under Doug Feith at OSD. But first, before you do anything else, look at this graphic that accompanies the article.

First, look at the graphic. Later we'll ponder why Feith, et al. still have jobs.

There was an interesting

There was an interesting note a few days ago on Ruy Teixeira's blog, commenting on the recent Ipsos-AP poll. I'd heard there was something like this in the poll. But reading Ruy's post jogged my memory ...

First, consider the question of whether the Iraq war was a mistake. You know when more people than not starting thinking a war was a mistake (remember Vietnam!), the incumbent administration is in real trouble. And Ipsos now has the first example of this. They asked the question: "All in all, thinking about how things have gone in Iraq since the United States went to war there in March 2003, do you think the Bush administration made the right decision in going to war in Iraq or made a mistake in going to war in Iraq?" The response: 49 percent mistake/48 percent right decision. When Ipsos asked the same question four months ago, however, they got a lopsidedly positive reply: 67 percent right decision/29 percent mistake. Quite a change.

Note that this question specifically mentions "the Bush administration"; they also asked the same question with "United States" substituted for Bush administration. That question returns a more positive reply: 57 percent right decision/40 percent mistake. Interesting how the specific mention of the Bush administration apparently moves people toward the "mistake" judgement.


Ruy goes on to note that, at least from this poll, growing numbers of Americans think a) the war was a mistake and b) that it will lead to more <$Ad$>terrorism rather than less.

I've been giving this matter a lot of thought recently. And if John Kerry is going to win this election, he will have to make it, in large measure, an election about accountability.

The president seldom any more makes a positive argument for how things have been handled up till this point. He doesn't admit mistakes, certainly. But what he does and doesn't say is telling.

Most of the president's speeches amount to a) My heart was in the right place and, b) The past isn't what's important. Where we go from here is what's important.

(Look at his ads and you'll see he's making little attempt to make a positive case for himself.)

His partisans chime in with something similar, quickly dismissing any discussion of what's happened up until this point -- all the many mistakes made over expert advice counseling against -- and arguing, militantly, that all the matters now is who has a better plan on where to go from here, etc.

This is certainly true, to an extent. But there's that double matter of accountability. Accountability first, just as a matter of principle. But at some point you have to ask whether the crew that has gotten so much wrong -- making almost every mistake makable in Iraq -- is really the team to get things back on track, to walk the situation back from the precipice. As in so much else in life, we predict the future based on past performance. And if you look at what's happened over the last eighteen months, I think that's a very hard argument for the administration to confront.

Some are now arguing that to point these things out is to engage in a sort of grand Monday morning quarterbacking, judging everything with the benefit of hindsight, the hollow prize reserved for those who don't get 'in the arena' and all that.

That doesn't add up by a longshot. This isn't some replay of the 'Best and the Brightest', a case where the most experienced minds and the best ideas took us off in some foolish direction. These goofs weren't just predictable but quite clearly, widely and volubly predicted (the Wolfowitz-Shinseki set-to was repeated endlessly across the board). What happened was the folks with their hands on the levers thought they knew better; only they were wrong.

Making that argument requires some rhetorical dexterity. And the opposition -- i.e., Kerry -- does have to show that they, or rather he, could do better. But given what we've seen, that really should not be that hard.

Perhaps someone can help

Perhaps someone can help me with this.

Based on this article which ran today in Salon and emails I've exchanged today with veterans who are familiar with what these records should look like, apparently President Bush didn't release his complete military service records even though the White House repeatedly said he did.

What gives?

I fear this is becoming another example of my press colleagues' deep-seated corruption.

Ive never quite understood

I've never quite understood all the arcana of the Bush Air National Guard story, so I never know quite what to make of new reports. But there's an article out in Salon on Tuesday which makes a pretty straightforward case that the 'complete' service record the White House released last February, actually wasn't complete at all.

Here are the key grafs ...

The president and his staff are doing a very good job of convincing the public he has released all of his National Guard records and that they prove he was responsible during his time in Alabama and Texas. But the critical documents have still not been seen. The mandatory written report about Bush's grounding is mysteriously not in the released file, nor is any other disciplinary evidence. A document showing a "roll-up," or the accumulation of his total retirement points, is also absent, and so are his actual pay stubs. If the president truly wanted to end the conjecture about his time in the Guard, he would allow an examination of his pay stubs and any IRS W-2 forms from his Guard years. These can be pieced together to determine when he was paid and whether he earned enough to have met his sworn obligations.

...

Unlike lawyers, journalists pay little attention to concepts like chain of custody for evidence. In the case of the president's Guard records, whoever possessed them and had the motive and opportunity to clean them up is a critical question. When Bush left the Guard about a half year early to attend Harvard Business School, his hard-copy record was retained in a military personnel records jacket at the Austin offices of the Texas Guard. Eventually, those documents were committed to microfiche. A copy of the microfiche was then sent to the Air Reserve Personnel Center in Denver and the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis. Those records are considered private, and they cannot be released to anyone without the signature of the serviceman or woman. The White House has never indicated that Bush has signed the authorization form. And this is what prompts unending suspicion.

The documents given to Washington reporters were printed from one of those two microfiches. According to two separate sources within the Guard who saw the printout and spoke with me, the microfiche was shipped to the office of Maj. Gen. Danny James, commander of the Air National Guard Bureau in Arlington, Va. James' staff printed out all of the documents on the film and then, according to those same sources, James vetted the material. Subsequent to being scrutinized by James (who commanded the Texas Guard and was promoted to Washington by Bush,) the records were then sent to the White House for further scrutiny prior to release to the news media.

This is a considerably different process from what was practiced by Sen. John McCain during the 2000 presidential campaign ... McCain signed a release form, and his entire record, a stack of papers more than a foot tall, was made available to reporters without being vetted by the campaign.


Needless to say, the aforementioned <$Ad$>James is the same James who is accused of assisting in scrubbing the paper copies of the president's record back in 1997 -- a charge that is of course roundly denied, but which is also discussed at some length in the Salon piece.

Now, as I say, I just don't know the details of all this well enough any more to make a judgment about these various claims and accusations.

But why exactly can't the president just release his records the way McCain did?

And, is that story about James getting a chance to go over these files true? If it is, I'd say some scribblers in town got suckered.

Big time, as the vice president would say.

So what to make

So what to make of this new Iraqi flag that the IGC apparently sprung on the country today -- to near universal disapproval?

The big complaint on the streets of Baghdad seems to be that a) it looks too much like the flag of Israel --- you can see the old and new Iraqi flags along with the Israeli flag down on the right hand side of this article in the Post --- and b) that the words "Allahu akbar" were removed.

Frankly, looking at the thing (and, again, you can see it here) I have to wonder whether the biggest problem isn't that it's just one of the lamer flags I've ever seen. But, I suppose, let's stick to substance.

If there weren't so much blood and history and human tragedy on the line with all this, the stuff these characters come up with would almost be funny. I mean, what were they thinking? Truth be told, it does look like the Israeli flag. I don't think there's any getting around that, especially when viewed in context.

In an ideal world, of course, maybe that wouldn't be a problem. But people's difficulty getting it through their heads that we don't live in an ideal world has already gotten us into a fair amount of trouble in the country. True, they didn't replace "Allahu akbar" with the 'Sh'ma'. So I guess we can be grateful for small favors. But we're not exactly dealing with a receptive audience here, now are we?

In any case, back to the flags ...

If you look at the flags of the various Arabic-speaking countries (scroll down on this page to see), they're strikingly uniform. Most have some mix of green, red and black. Some lack one of more of those three colors. But overall they're quite uniform.

I think there are only two members of the Arab League whose flags have any blue -- Djibouti and Somalia. And Somalia isn't even an Arabic-speaking country, at least not primarily.

In any case, judged against the flags of pretty much all the other Arab states, this one sticks out like a sore thumb -- or mabye a pale blue thumb, but same difference.

The Associated Press gets it pretty much right when it says, "The new design not only abandons the symbols of Saddam's regime. It also avoids the colors used in other Arab flags: green and black for Islam and red for Arab nationalism."

But, really, why would worry about that, since Islam and nationalism don't seem to have very big audiences over there anyway?

An outside investigation into

An outside investigation into the Senate memo-snooping case? The DOJ has asked David Kelley, the acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, to investigate what happened with those Democratic staff memos pilfered by GOP Senate staffers.

Dick Cheney goes to

Dick Cheney goes to Westminster College, the site of Winston <$NoAd$>Churchill's 'iron curtain' speech, and embarrasses himself by sandbagging the University President who accepted Cheney's request to speak at the college.

Here's the first graf of an email President Fletcher M. Lamkin sent to faculty, students and staff this afternoon ...

I would like to thank each and every one of you who were so courteous and respectful to Mr. Cheney during his visit and speech. Frankly, I must admit that I was surprised and disappointed that Mr. Cheney chose to step off the high ground and resort to Kerry-bashing for a large portion of his speech. The content and tone of his speech was not provided to us prior to the event -- we had only been told the speech would be about foreign policy, including issues in Iraq. Nevertheless, I was extremely proud of the students, staff, and faculty who represented the College so well during the organization of the visit and during the speech itself -- inside and outside of the gym.


More background in this AP article.

And to think he had to leave Washington to find an institution whose leadership had the temerity to say they didn't like being used.

ABC News is currently

ABC News is currently running a web headline which reads: "Medal Dispute, EXCLUSIVE: Did Kerry lie about Vietnam War medals?"

Here's a question. Can someone tell me the last time ABC used the "L" word about President Bush? Or is it always 'exaggeration' when it's President Bush?

And yes, I noticed Chris Vlasto's name too.

Late Update: As of 2:54 PM, the headline now reads: "Medal Dispute, EXCLUSIVE: Why did Kerry change story about Vietnam medals?

That, and why did ABC change its headline?

Would you like to

Would you like to read on-location TPM coverage <$NoAd$>from the Democratic and Republican conventions?

Well, here's your chance.

TPM's readership is more than twice the size it was last October when we last did this. So newer readers won't remember. But we first did this last October 26th when we put out a call for reader contributions to fund a reporting trip to New Hampshire. The funding part of the experiment was overwhelmingly successful and ... well, you have to be the judge, but I thought the reporting part of it went well too.

(You can see most of the results from the TPM archives of the third and fourth weeks of January.)

In any case, the pitch this time is really pretty much the same as last time. So let me quote from that post from October 26th ...

The normal way to do this would be for me to go to one of the publications I write for, get them to pick up the tab (hotel room, transportation, etc.), and write it up for them.

But that would mean saving most of the reporting for some magazine or website or newspaper and not doing much or any of it for TPM. And, frankly, I think blog coverage is much better suited to covering something like the New Hampshire primary than magazines or newspapers. Because it’s really about moment-to-moment reports, running commentary, and a lot of other stuff that doesn’t easily fit into the rubrics of conventional journalism. Besides, you want to know what’s happening while it’s happening, not in a lazy summing-up a week after the votes have been counted ... I want to dedicate this trip entirely to blog coverage so I want to fund it with reader support, reader subscriptions. That’ll be part of the experiment too --- whether this kind of independent journalism can come up with the resources to fund high-quality on-the-ground play-by-play reporting.

‘Subscription’ in this case doesn’t mean anything exclusive. TPM will be freely available to anyone and everyone who wants to read it, whether they’ve contributed or not, just like always. (And of course many readers have already generously contributed to the general upkeep of the site.) Here I’m using the term in a somewhat old-fashioned sense to refer to putting some money up, not for the general support of the site, but to fund a specific project you’re going to make use of or benefit from.


Now, conventions aren't like primaries. We know who's going to be nominated, more or less precisely what time in the evening, on what day, and so forth. But the party conventions are also the only time in four years and certainly the only time during the campaigns when, if not the whole party, then at least most party professionals and activists, get together in one place. So it's a unique opportunity to get a read on where people are at, how enthused they are, how confident or demoralized, scattered or focused they are just before the race moves into the home stretch.

So there it is. The Democratic National Convention in Boston on July 26th - 29th and the Republican National Convention in New York on August 30th - September 2nd. Travel, basic expenses, accommodations, perhaps a bodyguard for the Republican convention. You get the idea.

We'll be following up with more details. But if you'd like to contribute and make this possible, you can click here to make a contribution through paypal.

Come on board. I think it’ll be exciting. More details to come soon …

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