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Department of Faint Hearts

Department of Faint Hearts and Narrow Escapes. Commentary is such an inherently assertive form of communication that it's a good thing to find ways to have fun at your own expense when possible.

As many of you know, I spend a good bit of time working at a Starbucks near my home in Dupont Circle in Washington, DC. And this morning I was in one of my normal seats, talking on the phone to a colleague, when I noticed a group of police surrounding the building with that yellow 'emergency' tape they use to cordon of areas or for crime scenes or whatever.

So I watched this out of the corner of my eye for a bit. And as they started to seem more intent about it, I got off the phone and went over to the front door where a few employees had congregated and were looking out seeing what was going on.

I asked what was up and was told, in a fairly nonchalant way: "Suspicious package outside, no one can come in or leave."

I didn't like the sound of that. And when I looked over and saw the package about three feet from the side of the building I liked it even less. Cover the war on terror? Yes, but not that close. And in any case I thought to myself, I've seen this miniseries before. And I'd really prefer to leave now in my accustomed unitary form.

So after a few moments of haggling with the Starbuckians (I've got a meeting! I simply must go!), they unlocked the door and I skedaddled out past the yellow tape perimeter and then scrambled home.

A short time later, with a bit, but not all, of my manhood recovered, I ventured back with my camera to see what was going on. It seemed the cops having coffee and donuts handed out among them probably meant that things weren't too far gone.

A bomb expert did various tests on the box and, a short time later, the package-formerly-known-as-suspcious was whisked away never to be heard from again.

In case you havent

In case you haven't seen it, take a look at Peter Bergen's list of nine questions that should be asked of Condi Rice when she appears before the 9/11 Commission. It ran on the Times OpEd page on Sunday.

Think of it as a sort of aspirational playbill for tomorrow's show.

I don't have time to write at length on this as I've got an editor (justifiably) breathing down my neck over a late article draft. But when considering tomorrow's testimony, bear in mind that few people across the ideological spectrum believe that Rice has been an effective National Security Advisor.

People on the (relative) left like Powell's team at State; those on the right prefer Rumsfeld and the neocons at DOD. The Strangelovians go for Cheney at OVP. But across the board people fault her managerial competence.

Every administration has its interagency antagonisms, often between the National Security Advisor and Secretary of State. But this one's in a class by itself on pure disorganization and factionalism.

Think how many problems this administration has had which deal with one hand not knowing what the other is doing, contending factions pursuing contrary policies simultaneously. That's what the National Security Advisor is there to ride herd over.

Sometimes if no one is completely happy it means you must be doing something right. Other times, it just means everyone can see you're not doing your job.

Sigh ... Is it

Sigh ... Is it immediately clear to you who this statement is about?

"They have concluded he was so surrounded by sycophants he had no real idea of what was happening in [Iraq]."

[ed. note: Special thanks to TPM reader JML for the tip.]

Ages and ages ago

Ages and ages ago we told you how Undersecretary of Defense Doug Feith ran the office charged with doling out Iraqi reconstruction contracts. And we told you how Feith's law partner, Marc Zell -- amazingly contravening the law of averages -- had happened to set up a special lobbying shop to lobby for companies looking for sweet Iraq contracts.

And then, because we didn't want to leave out any details, we noted that Zell had opened that new operation with Salem Chalabi. And, yes, Salem is Ahmed's nephew.

Now it turns out that in addition to his entrepreneurial activities, Salem is also in charge of setting up the Iraqi war crimes tribunals, which will eventually try Saddam Hussein.

All of which should reassure you that as messy as things may be at the moment, we're at least freeing this sad land from corrupt dynasticism and clan rule.

Several readers were kind

Several readers were kind enough to tell me <$NoAd$> that on his radio show today Al Franken mentioned TPM. That put me in the mind of this brush with greatness I had a little earlier in my career, which I recounted in a reporter's notebook item I wrote while on assignment for Salon covering the impeachment of President Clinton in January 1999. It was my first time in Washington as a reporter ...

Maybe the funniest impeachment moment came from comedian Al Franken, who was attending the trial with one of the prized yellow impeachment tickets as a guest of some senator -- he wouldn't say which one. After a few minutes of conversation, Franken and I and a few others were shooed out of the hallway by a Capitol police officer, and we took the elevator back up to the Senate gallery. Before I knew it, Franken and I were sitting together in one of the rooms where senators give press conferences.

Sen. Phil Gramm had just bounded into the room to do a little damage control about Sen. Robert Byrd's proposed motion to dismiss. Apparently one of the first rules of the Senate is that no one can ever criticize Bob Byrd about anything, and Gramm did his best to comply. He told us he'd just spoken to Trent Lott, and he made a strained argument about how it would be wrong to cut the trial short, even if it was clear the House didn't have much of a case. Franken raised his hand and asked Gramm whether he would have voted for the articles of impeachment if he were in the House, knowing what he now knew. Gramm seemed to have no clue who Franken was and proceeded to ignore the question and pipe on about justice being a process, not a verdict.

Franken and I chuckled about Gramm's refusal to answer the question, and suddenly two spindly arms reached across me and grabbed Franken and started to pull him out of his chair. It was a woman from the Senate press office, barking, "You have to leave. You're not press." Franken pointed to me and said, "But I'm with someone from the press" as he was being rushed out of the room. But he stayed in character through the whole thing, laughing as he got tossed out. That really drove the woman crazy. She mustered up her schoolmarm best and scolded him: "It's not funny!"

I rushed out of the press room after Franken got the boot. But by the time I got out into the hall, he'd already slipped back into the Senate gallery -- where celebrities, but not the press, are allowed to roam free.

Those were the days.

This short piece on

This short piece on the BBC website is the first I've seen to suggest a small hint of how this situation in Iraq might be walked back. Will alone solves nothing. With will and guile, there's at least a chance.

Bag the Clausewitz and try the Liddell Hart.

Wow that is a

Wow, that is a good line, and a very true one too. Courtesy of Atrios, comes this line from Harold Meyerson's column today in the Post ...

The only unequivocally good policy option before the American people is to dump the president who got us into this mess, who had no trouble sending our young people to Iraq but who cannot steel himself to face the Sept. 11 commission alone.

We have backed ourselves into a very narrow <$Ad$>and very bleak set of options here. What's astonishing is how blindly the White House seems to have stumbled into it.

I don't want to get into a silly conversation about who's 'responsible' for what's happening in the South or who 'caused' it in some deep sense. But we do seem to have triggered it -- by shutting down Sadr's newspaper and arresting his deputy.

One might argue that that was a proper strategy. Sometimes a looming crisis needs to be brought to a head. But if that's so, we seem to have done little to prepare for the reaction. Where's the White House's strategy? Where is it now, three days later?

All we seem to be hearing are hollow assertions of a vacant will.

From the White House's advocates we hear logic puzzles about appeasement in which the fall-out from the president's screw ups become the prime argument for continuing to support them.

At the critical moment the president has the toxic mix of the bulldog will of a Winston Churchill and the strategic insights and imagination of a Neville Chamberlain.

He has no plan. And will without policy just equals death.

The gap between the reality in Iraq and the White House's Potemkin village version of it is closing rapidly, like an upper and lower jaw about to shut tight. And the White House's penchant for denial is being squeezed between the two.

Oh well ...When Rep.

Oh well ...

When Rep. Henry Bonilla (R-Tex.) took charge <$NoAd$>of an independent political fund called American Dream PAC in 1999, he made clear that its mission was "to give significant, direct financial assistance to first-rate minority GOP candidates."

Since then, only $48,750 -- or 8.9 percent -- of the $547,000 the southwest Texas congressman has raised for his political action committee has gone to minority office-seekers while more than $100,000 has been routed to Republican Party organizations or causes, including a GOP redistricting effort in Texas, a legal defense fund for House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (Tex.) and Bonilla's reelection campaign. Most of the remainder of the money went to legal fees, fundraisers in Miami and other cities, airline tickets, hotels, catering services, consultants and salaries.

The piece is in tomorrow's Post.

This is really extraordinary.

This is really extraordinary. Finally we have an example of White House stonewalling of the 9/11 Commission in which all the dross of bogus national security flimflam and the impurities of dishonest classification mumbojumbo have been burned away to reveal the pure, hard nugget of political scamliness and antipathy toward letting the public know the truth.

You'll remember a few days ago I posted a few comments about the speech Condi Rice was scheduled to give on September 11th, 2001 -- a speech endorsing National Missile Defense as the cornerstone of a new national security policy as well as a response to a speech by then-Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joe Biden the day before.

Obviously, the speech is a sore matter for the White House since on the very day the country was hit with what was arguably the worst foreign attack on American soil in the country's history, Rice was scheduled to endorse a new defense strategy and technology which would have done nothing whatsoever to prevent it.

Not surprisingly, the Commission would like to see the speech, only parts of which the Washington Post was able to get access to in their article last week.

But the White House is saying 'no': the speech is 'confidential'.

But you have to ask, why?

Confidential work product?

Unless the argument is that we can't let our enemies know the depth of the poor judgment displayed by the president's national security team it is searchingly hard to fathom what possible national security issue could be implicated by handing over the speech since it was -- do we have to say it? -- a speech! A speech for public consumption.

Like almost all the other restrictions the White House has placed on the Commission, this is just so they won't be embarrassed politically. They don't like the Commission. Again and again they display open contempt for its work. They didn't want it created in the first place. And they've tried to obstruct its work at almost every turn.

All that's different here is that the political nature of the obstruction is undeniable.