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A TPM reader TW

A TPM reader (TW) writes in with a thoughtful critique of the article about Israel, Iraq & the United States I wrote yesterday in Salon.

He says I miss the point in criticizing the Bush administration's muscling of Iraq. If, as a result of our muscling, the other Arab states get together with Iraq and get the Iraqis to behave, that isn't a failure of US policy, but rather a success. I couldn't agree more.

For some time I've been skeptical of the criticism of the Bush policy on Iraq, even as I myself am critical of it. What if, at the end of the day, Bush's belligerence got the Iraqis to readmit weapons inspectors, perhaps with a brief even more robust than their previous one? Who could say the president's bluster wasn't successful? Where would that leave the critics? Or what if it spurred a change of regime in Baghdad? That's something I see as far less likely. But what if ...?

Here is why I think what happened in Beirut a couple days ago doesn't fall into that category. The Iraqis put little or nothing on the table in terms of complying with international resolutions -- as this article in the Times makes clear. Yet they have gotten the other Arab states to place themselves on the side of defending, rather than attacking the Iraqis. At least for now.

The error here -- as I see it -- is that the administration really wasn't pursuing a bluster strategy. It was pursuing a military strategy. Or at least it's focus was so solely on a military strategy that it undermined the bluster strategy. Rather than moving deftly and making the Iraqis worry that we might be successful in isolating them, the administration moved cavalierly and got the Arab states to preempt us.

The potency of our bluster is now rather diminished. As is our ability to use threats to get the weapons inspectors back in. At least that's how it seems right now. If your response is to tell me that our strategy has always been military and that that's exactly how it should be, well ... that's fine. But how does our military position look to you now?

Under the influence of Brooks and other conservative worthies, the president is trying to shape himself in the TR mold. And the White House has thought it was talking loudly and carrying a big stick. For the moment though I think we've been revealed to be all talk and no stick. And a bit foolhardy to boot.

A month and a

A month and a half ago I razzed Newsweek's Howard Fineman about a comically fawning article he wrote about George W. Bush and the war on terrorism ...

He’s the Texas Ranger of the World, and wants everyone to know it. He’s the guy with the silver badge, issuing warnings to the cattle rustlers. He will cut deals when necessary — his history shows that — but, as a matter of inclination and strategy, he’s the toughest talker on his team.

The article appeared at the MSNBC/Newsweek website. But now it's no longer online and there's no record of it on the Nexis database. What gives? Why is this gem down the memory hole?

Cant wait to read

Can't wait to read Josh Green's article on the Bush polling operation? Your wait is over! Here it is.

As I once noted

As I once noted in the context of the bogus White House vandalism story, the stories that really get traction aren't so much the ones that are true as they are the ones that resonate with journalists' preexisting prejudices and assumptions.

Case in point: Bush and polling.

The reigning assumption in DC is that Bush makes little use of pollsters or doesn't pay much attention to them if he does. Even many reporters think the president's pollster is Matthew Dowd. None of these points turns out to be true. But until now no one took the time to ask the obvious question: who's the president's pollster?

No one, that is, until Josh Green -- esteemed TPM associate -- decided to take up the challenge. As Josh discovered, Bush's pollster is a guy named Jan van Lohuizen. Bush and Rove hooked up with him back in 1991 when Rove hired him to work on a campaign to raise the local sales tax in Arlington, Texas, to help pay for a new baseball stadium for Bush's team, the Texas Rangers.

Here's one fun snippet from his soon-to-be-published article in the Washington Monthly ...

Like previous presidential pollsters, van Lohuizen also serves corporate clients, including Wal-Mart, Qwest, Anheuser-Busch, and Microsoft. And like his predecessors, this presents potential conflicts of interest. For example, van Lohuizen polls for Americans for Technology Leadership, a Microsoft-backed advocacy group that commissioned a van Lohuizen poll last July purporting to show strong public support for ending the government's suit against the company. At the time, Bush's Justice Department was deciding to do just that. Clinton pollster Mark Penn also did work for Microsoft and Clinton took heat for it. Bush has avoided criticism because few people realize he even has a pollster.

The White House has gone to great lengths to keep its polling operation and its pollster under wraps. And pretty much everybody in the DC press corps decided this was cool by them.

Of course, the fact that Bill Clinton's pollsters got so much more attention might have something to do with the fact that his post-1994 pollsters (Greenberg's cool by me) were both fabulously cartoonish blowhards. But let's not make this post more complicated than it needs to be.

I'll be linking to the story tomorrow.

Ralph Nader has a

Ralph Nader has a new book out on his 2000 presidential bid, Crashing the Party. Here's my review of it in the new issue of the Washington Monthly.

Here's a snippet from the review:

The mood of the book is unmistakably "onward and upward with activism." And, for those inclined to be thus inspired, that mood will likely prove inspiring. For others not under the spell, however, the mix of cliché, nostalgia, and reunion will likely have a quite different effect. For them, much of the book, particularly the first half, will have the feel and cadence of one of those early '80s TV movies where the cast of some '60s-era sitcom reassembles for one last adventure. Picture a graying Gilligan flying from city to city pitching the professor, Mary Ann, and other worthies on some quixotic quest to save the Island.

More on going-ons in

More on going-ons in Taiwan, Hong Kong and other places. As we reported last night, there is a major scandal brewing in Taiwan, which will almost certainly lead to at least some embarrassment for various political officials in the United States. But there's also more here than meets the eye. Is some of this being ginned up by pro-Beijing forces in Hong Kong in order to embarrass the Bush administration for its extremely supportive stance toward Taiwan? More on that later.

So back to the

So back to the burgeoning scandal in Taiwan and how it might make it to Washington, DC. At this point the details remain murky. But here's some of what's been reported.

According to reports in Hong Kong's Sing Tao Daily and the South China Morning Post, three years ago James Kelly -- now Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and the Pacific -- helped high-ranking members of the Taiwanese government use secret slush fund money to take care of a friendly Japanese politician, Masahiro Akiyama, after he had been forced to resign from the government. Akiyama had helped Taiwan leverage its way into a proposed US Theater Missile Defense.

(This article in Singapore's Straits Times says the Taiwanese also paid off Masahiro and then-Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto for their assistance helping Taiwan on Missile Defense.)

What's being alleged about Kelly is very specific. So I'm just going to quote at length from the relevant passage in the article in today's South China Morning Post:

The documents said Mr Lee [former Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui] in February 1999 authorised the NSB [the National Security Bureau] to pay US$100,000 (HK$780,000) to the Pacific Forum at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington think-tank with close ties to the US military establishment, to support former Japanese vice-minister for defence Masahiro Akiyama's two-year study at Harvard University after his forced resignation in October 1998 in a defence contracting scandal. Mr Kelly was then Pacific Forum president.

The report alleges the funds served as a payback for Mr Akiyama's work with Taiwan and US military officials in pushing for Taiwan's possible inclusion in the Theatre Missile Defence System provision in the Japan-US Joint Declaration on Security treaty of 1998.

In the secret document dated December 15, 1999, then NSB director Ting Yu-chou authorised the NSB to give US$100,000 to Peng Run-tzu, president of the Taiwan Transport Machinery Corporation and a close personal confident of Mr Lee, to transfer to CSIS. Mr Peng allegedly deposited the US$100,000 into a CSIS account on December 20.

In another document dated February 2, 2000, Mr Ting confirmed the transfer occurred after Mr Kelly met Mr Peng in January 15, 2000, in a Los Angeles restaurant to confirm the deposit.

More to come...

Taiwan is being rocked

Taiwan is being rocked by a big-time slush fund scandal. Is the scandal about to hit the Bush administration too?

For the last week or more, Taiwan has been in the throes of the early stages of a major, perhaps a watershed, political scandal.

Here's the essence of it: the Taiwanese government had a slush fund -- operated through part of the state security apparatus -- which the Taiwanese leadership used to pay off, support, and assist friends and allies in other countries who were friendly to Taiwan. Oh, and also for overseas lobbying and espionage.

The existence of these funds is hardly a surprise to those familiar with Taiwanese politics. But last week a collection of documents relating to the slush fund were leaked to the Taiwan press. And that's when, well ... that's when the you-know-what hit the fan.

The government of President Chen Shui-bian reacted by seizing copies of one magazine which was publishing the documents and banning the publication of a newspaper which reported the story. Protecting national security has been the justification for these actions. And charges of treason are even a possibility.

All of this may be only a matter of passing concern unless you're a devotee of Taiwanese politics. But the scandal is now spilling over onto several senior political appointees in the Bush administration. And, truth be told, it could reach quite a bit further into the American political system.

The Bush administration connection coming later tonight ...

Theres a serious political

There's a serious political scandal brewing in Taiwan centering on illegal slush funds used to lobby and patronize political figures in and outside of Taiwan. And the South China Morning Post (the major English language daily in Hong Kong) is apparently set to publish an article (likely tomorrow, which means later today in North America) tying a senior political appointee at the US State Department to the scandal.

Weve been sitting for

We've been sitting for a couple weeks on our latest addition to the TPM Document Collection. So let me just introduce it now, though only with a minimal introduction. The new dossier is our first installment of the foreign agent's registration for Richard Schechter and Wyatt Stewart on behalf of Bogoljub Karic and the Karic companies.

Karic was a big-time crony of Slobodan Milosevic who made billions of dollars in the uneven, jagged privatization of the Yugoslav economy.

This filing illustrates an extremely common practice in the foreign agency game: foreign leaders who don't want to hire DC representation themselves will often get a businessman crony to do it for them. In this case what Karic et al. wanted was very clear: they were trying to get sanctions lifted.

Schechter is a lawyer and apparently something of a real estate developer. Stewart, meanwhile was pretty clearly brought on board because of the juice he had with Republican heavies in Washington, DC. Stewart is a storied DC Republican political operative who was with the National Republican Congressional Committee back into the mid-1970s. Here's Republican uber-insider Rich Galen calling Stewart the man "whom Washington insiders know as the man who, for all intents and purposes, invented the use of direct mail in politics."

I'm still working over these documents to get a handle on precisely what was going on. But the basic outline is pretty clear. Schechter and Stewart were trying to work the Contract-With-America-era Republican power structure to make the Yugoslav sanctions into a partisan issue and hopefully get them lifted.

Here you can see how one part of the deal was that Schechter was supposed to set up a front group called the "International Committee for Peace in the Balkans" in Washington, DC.

Here you can see how he's supposed to hook Karic up with Ted Turner and Larry King.

Here you can see how Schechter was trying to pitch Karic on some hot real estate properties in Texas.

And, finally, here you can see how Schechter and Stewart were trying to convince Karic that their "very substantial relationships with the large fruit companies active in South America" could help him set up some other lucrative venture. (Sort of sounds like a set-piece for a lefty college course on Latin America, doesn't it?)

More on this soon.