Josh Marshall

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A few thoughts on the Bush AWOL issue.

Ed Gillespie, RNC Chairman, accused DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe of leveling a "demonstrably false and malicious charge that would be slanderous under any ordinary circumstance" when he accused the president of going AWOL while he was serving in the Air National Guard in the early 1970s. The charges made McAuliffe into the "John Wilkes Booth of character assassination" in Gillespie's words.

Now, interestingly, today's Washington Post says that administration officials are telling reporters that "former senator Bob Kerrey, a Nebraska Democrat who is president of the New School University, [is] the sort of nonpartisan statesman they are seeking" for the new Iraqi WMD commission.

But those officials may need to rethink their praise for the other Senator Kerrey since back in November 2000 he told the Boston Globe that then-candidate Bush "need[ed] to explain where he was when he was supposed to be fulfilling his military obligation. If he is elected president, how will he be able to deal as commander in chief with someone who goes AWOL, when he did the same thing?"

Presumably, Gillespie will confer with his colleagues at the White House and work that one out.

Does that mean that Kerrey is out for the commission? Or maybe that McAuliffe is now eligible? Who knows?

In any case, back to the president's record from back in the day.

In an excellent sum-up piece in The New Republic this week Spencer Ackerman summarizes the key period of delinquency ...

Less than two years after finishing his initial pilot's training, Bush was offered a job in Alabama with the 1972 Senate campaign of former U.S. Postmaster General Winton Blount. Bush asked Guard officials in May of that year if he could fulfill his continuing duty obligations by serving with a mail squadron based in Montgomery, but they turned him down, noting the unit's lax drilling schedule. Bush left Texas anyway--with his Guard responsibilities unresolved--joining the campaign in Alabama that month. In August, he failed to take his annual flight physical, which meant losing his flight status. A month later, he requested and received permission to perform his fall Guard duty with the 187th Tactical Recon Group in Montgomery before returning to Houston's Ellington Air Force Base after the election. But he apparently never showed up: The Globe investigation found that Ellington had no record of Bush performing service in Alabama. In fact, the 187th's commander--Bush's commander--William Turnipseed told the paper, "Had he reported in, I would have had some recall, and I do not. I had been in Texas, done my flight training there. If we had had a first lieutenant from Texas, I would have remembered." His memory was corroborated by Bush's discharge papers, which showed neither any service in Alabama nor any training by Lieutenant Bush at all after May 1972.

Bush was supposed to return to Houston after Blount's losing race. But, by May 1973, his commanding officers in Texas noticed that they could not write his annual performance evaluation for the simple reason that Bush wasn't there. "Lt. Bush has not been observed at this unit during the period of this report"--May 1, 1972, to April 30, 1973--his evaluation reads. This was a serious charge: Delinquent guardsmen could be inducted into the Army ...

Now, over the course of the day I've gotten a number of letters from current and former members of the Guard in various states who've told me that this was the standard policy. One tells me that he himself processed one deliquent guardsman on to active duty and on to Vietnam.

Now, these are just e-mails over the transom. In themselves, they don't settle the issue. But clearly many guys who were lucky enough to get a slot in the Guard, but screwed up once they were there, found themselves shipped off to Vietnam. (That appears to have been the prescribed punishment -- though we're trying to track down if there were any relevant emendations -- for those who "failed to serve satisfactorily" in the Guard under Executive Order 10984 of 1961.)

A lot of those guys must be out there -- at least the ones who weren't killed during their service. A lot of the commanding officers who blew the whistle on them must be out there too. It would be interesting to do some reporting and find some guys who didn't get cut any slack and got shipped off. Seems like a national news organization could shed some light on that question with a little reporting.

When I look at the federal investigation being launched into the Janet Jackson boob incident, I realize what I like about this administration: they believe in accountability.

And speaking of accountability, the signs from the president's 'independent' inquiry aren't looking too good either.

According to this article on the front page of today's Post (I've started reading the paper paper again) the president seems inclined to take full advantage of his self-appointed power to appoint all the members of the commission (safe Dems, Republican ringers and militant Iraq hawks). And while there's no mention that the panel will be given any brief to look at White House's use of intelligence data, it will be instructed to look at CIA's intelligence shortcomings on Iran, North Korea, Libya and India -- perhaps they'll take another look at that whole Pearl Harbor thing too.

When we actually eyeball the executive order I fully expect we'll see it contains instructions to get to the bottom of why Joe Wilson has been making so many press appearances.

This commission may not quite fail the laugh test. But, boy, is it lousy with giggles. When do some of the press bigs call out this Potemkin Panel for the joke that it seems likely to be?

If these exit poll numbers from hold up, John Kerry is set to have some smashing victories tonight. But John Edwards may have some life left in him after all.

Why didn't this get reported more widely? And is it related to what happened yesterday on the Hill?

From a January 9th report from CBS and the AP ...

The FBI on Thursday offered a reward of up to $100,000 for information leading to an arrest of anyone responsible for leaving a package containing the deadly poison ricin at a post office in October.

A letter inside the package said the author could make much more ricin and will "start dumping" large quantities of the poison if new federal trucking rules went in effect, according to information released by the FBI and other federal agencies Thursday.

The letter, which was found at a post office in South Carolina, was signed "fallen angel" and the sender identified himself as "a fleet owner of a tanker company."

A nice little detail about the quality of the numbers in the new budget.

This from Knight Ridder ...

Noticeably absent from next year's [budget] request is money for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. White House budget director Joshua Bolten estimated that another $50 billion would be needed to cover those costs next year. The White House expects to cover the war costs with supplemental funds after next fall's elections.

And why isn't that fifty billion included in the deficit number?

Finally the Democrats start getting a sense of how this works. After various Democratic candidates and their surrogates have pressed the issue of the president's blowing off his military service in the early 1970s, The Washington Post puts together a piece reviewing what we know about the president's time in the Texas Air National Guard.

The Post piece bends over backwards to give plenty of benefits of the doubt. But it makes clear that the president jumped to the head of the line to get into the Guard because of political connections. And then, after he'd been given a comparatively easy way to get out of getting shot at or killed in Vietnam, he proceeded to blow off his service for substantial periods of time while in the Guard.

The Post points out that there is no definitive proof of Bush's non-attendance. But there is an utter lack of any documentation for his showing up for service and the officer he was supposed to report to during the key period in question continues to insist that he never laid eyes on him.

In the president's defense are a) the president's word, b) the memory of some friends who say "they recalled Bush leaving for Guard duty on occasion", and c) the fact that the aforementioned officer, when contacted yesterday by the Post, couldn't specifically remember how often he was on the base at the time.

I strongly recommend reading the article because there are various ins-and-outs that I've just summarized here. And the details are important. But the long and the short of it is that all the strong evidence points to the conclusion that the president blew off a lot of his service in the Guard, while there's enough flimsy and self-serving evidence to believe that he might have actually been there if you really, really, really want to believe he did.

A couple weeks shy of turning thirty-five myself, I'm old enough to understand that the president was pretty much a kid when at least some of this stuff happened -- 22 when he signed up. But if the president is going to run this campaign covering himself in martial glory then this stuff is more than fair game -- especially if he's not coming clean about it.

And the probable Democratic nominee was a kid too -- and he took a different path.

Sometimes you're left zigging when word comes down from <$NoAd$> headquarters that it's time to zag.

Here's a clip from the liner notes of Bush vs. the Beltway: How the CIA and the State Department Tried to Stop the War on Terror by Laurie Mylroie, chief ideologist and intel maven of the Iraq hawks ...

Combining important new research with an insider's grasp of Beltway politics, Mylroie describes how the CIA and the State Department have systematically discredited critical intelligence about Saddam's regime, including indisputable evidence of its possession of weapons of mass destruction. She reveals how major elements of the case against Iraq -- including information about possible links to al Qaeda and evidence of potential Iraqi involvement in the fall 2001 anthrax attacks -- were prematurely dismissed by these agencies for cynical reasons.

The Agency made them do it? Let's get our stories straight, shall we?

David Brooks' column in tomorrow's Times has a more nuanced and literary version of the 'CIA sold the president a bill of goods' line.

What we need, says Brooks, isn't less nudging and hammering from politicians, but more. Game-theory, bureaucratic thinking, and hyper-rationalism aren't the answer to the nimble, quick-on-its-feet, lickety-split irrationalism and nihilist violence of the early 21st century terrorist threat.

There's probably a lot of truth in that (though if you read histories of the early CIA you'll see that quite a number of the luminaries were, shall we say, more than a bit in touch with the irrational.)

But I don't know how Brooks gets past the fact that these politicians were pushing for conclusions (and putting them in the president's speeches) three or four times more erroneous than those offered up by the latter-day Von Neumanns at Langley.

And, after reading his column, I don't think Brooks does either.

A question. Going back over the last decade, name me the Democratic president, presidential nominee, or primary frontrunner whom my friend Mickey Kaus has not diagnosed with a ‘character problem’?