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Reagan officials admit the administration’s policy of sponsoring armed insurgencies against Soviet-backed governments in developing nations. This policy is soon labeled the “Reagan doctrine” (see October 1983) (PBS 2000) and credited with helping bring about the fall of the Soviet Union. However, author J. Peter Scoblic will later write that the “Reagan doctrine” never really existed.
Aid to Anti-Soviet Insurgencies Far Less than Generally Thought - It is true, he will observe, that the US under President Reagan gave some assistance to countries with popular uprisings against Soviet-backed governments, but only in one—the “geostrategically insignificant” Grenada—did he send American troops to overthrow a Cuban-backed government and install a puppet government favorable to the US. In other countries such as Afghanistan, Nicaragua, Poland, and Angola, the US supported anti-communist or anti-socialist movements by funding and supplying arms to insurgents. But there is far more going on with these countries than conservatives will acknowledge. In Afghanistan, for example, the anti-Soviet mujaheddin were backed not only by the Carter administration, but by Chinese communists who opposed Soviet expansion into Central Asia. And Reagan’s support is, in Scoblic’s words, “equivocal”; by the time Reagan officials admit their administration’s policy of supporting anti-Soviet insurgencies, it has already rolled back many of the Carter-era sanctions against the USSR even though Soviet troops still occupied Afghanistan. In 1981, when the USSR ordered the Polish government to crack down on the labor movement Solidarity, the US did little except briefly impose economic sanctions on high-tech goods. And though many Reagan officials and conservatives outside the administration called for military intervention against Nicaragua’s Sandinista government, the US never sends troops into that country, even though the idea of Soviet expansionism in Central America—the US’s geopolitical “back yard”—is anathema to most Americans. (Reagan once complained to his chief of staff Donald Regan, “Those sons of b_tches [presumably administration hardliners] won’t be happy until we have 25,000 troops in Managua, and I’m not going to do it.” And it was certainly not in line with conservative thought to sell arms to Iran, even if it was to obtain the release of American hostages.
No Actual Analysis of Support Strategies - Reagan’s National Security Adviser, Robert McFarlane, will later say: “Doctrines are things which come from thoughtful analysis of problems, threats, possible ways of dealing with them.… Not one nanosecond went into any [analysis] associated with the support of pro-democracy insurgent elements through the world.” The Reagan administration reacted to events rather than followed thought-out guidelines laying out a plan of action against Soviet expansionism.
Term Created by Neoconservative Columnist - The term “Reagan doctrine” was actually coined in April 1985 by neoconservative columnist Charles Krauthammer, an obdurate advocate of the Nicaraguan Contras and for escalated US support of anti-Soviet insurgencies. He later explained that he “hoped that a ‘doctrine’ enshrining the legitimacy of overthrowing nasty communist governments would obviate the need for rhetorical ruses… and keep the debate—and the administration—honest.” Scoblic will later write, “In other words, he knew that the administration was not naturally inclined to such an aggressive strategy.”
Policies Aligned with Predecessors - The Reagan policies towards the Soviet Union are actually much in line with those of his predecessors, stretching all the way back to Harry Truman, Scoblic will write. (Scoblic 2008, pp. 145-149)
After Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to the United States (see July 8-10, 1996), US neoconservatives mount an orchestrated push for war against Iraq and an overall reshaping of the Middle East (see July 8, 1996). At first, the offensive takes place in the pages of US newspapers and magazines. William Kristol and Robert Kagan write articles for the magazines Foreign Policy and the Weekly Standard; syndicated columnists Charles Krauthammer and A. M. Rosenthal use their columns to push the idea; Zalmay Khalilzad and Paul Wolfowitz pen op-eds for the Washington Post; “Clean Break” co-author David Wurmser writes op-eds for the Wall Street Journal and publishes a book, Tyranny’s Ally, in which he proposes that the US use its military to literally redraw the map of the Middle East (see Late Summer 1996). Neoconservatives are transforming Christian evangelicals’ argument that Americans are God’s “chosen people” into secular terms, and argue in their op-eds and articles that it is, in author Craig Unger’s words, the US’s “moral duty to project that greatness throughout the world—using American military power, if necessary.” (Unger 2007, pp. 148-149)
Former ambassador Joseph Wilson joins former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger, retired foreign service officer and terrorism expert L. Paul Bremer, and neoconservative columnist Charles Krauthammer at a symposium at the Nixon Center to discuss the impending Iraq invasion. Wilson is dismayed to hear the others “wax… eloquent about how we would reshape the Middle East with our invasion of Iraq.”
Krauthammer: Iraq Will Provide Evidence for Further Efforts to Democratize Middle East - In Wilson’s description, Krauthammer is particularly voluble, telling the other participants that the US must invade and conquer Iraq for three reasons: weapons of mass destruction, American credibility, and the democratization of the Arab world. US credibility is at stake, Krauthammer says, because if the US does not invade after the months of increasingly belligerent rhetoric from the White House and its allies, “I think there will be a tremendous collapse of everything we had achieved by the war in Afghanistan. That would be a great strategic setback. And it would have negative effects on the region, especially on the war on terrorism.” As for the enforced democratization of the Arab states, Krauthammer likens it to “what [America] did in Germany and Japan” after World War II. “It’s about reforming the Arab world,” he says. “I think we don’t know the answer to the question of whether the Arab-Islamic world is inherently allergic to democracy. The assumption is that it is—but I don’t know if anyone can answer that question today. We haven’t attempted it so far. The attempt will begin with Iraq. Afterwards, we are going to have empirical evidence; history will tell us whether that assumption was correct or not.” Wilson will describe himself as “stunned by the unabashed ambition of this imperial project, by the willingness to countenance a major military engagement and lengthy occupation in order to ‘attempt’ to reform the Arab world, to remake it to our liking. What hubris, to put American lives and treasure at stake in order to gain empirical evidence to test an assumption.” Krauthammer concludes by giving what Wilson will call a “chilling comment that we needed to go to war soon, before the antiwar movement coalesced—in other words, before Americans woke up to the fact that this war was not at all about combating the publicly proclaimed grave and gathering danger posed by Saddam [Hussein].”
A US 'Imperial War' - Wilson retorts that Krauthammer’s neoconservatives remind him of Napoleon’s generals “as they sat around the table and listened to his plans on the eve of the march on Moscow”—the ill-fated assault that led to the French emperor’s ultimate failure. After some back-and-forth, Krauthammer says that he is reminded, not of French imperialist ambitions, but of the US on the eve of World War II’s D-Day invasion of Normandy, which led to the downfall of the Nazi empire and the liberation of France. Wilson will later reflect: “If the advocates of [Krauthammer’s] vision in the symposium had their way, we really were going to try to bring Jeffersonian democracy to the Arab world on the coattails of an American military conquest. We were going to be waging an imperial war, pure and simple.” (Wilson 2004, pp. 309-312)
Neoconservative columnist Charles Krauthammer, whom author and media critic Frank Rich calls “a reliable unofficial spokesman for the [Bush] administration’s foreign adventures,” confidently declares that only 33 artifacts were looted from Baghdad’s National Museum, not the 170,000 originally reported stolen or destroyed (see April 13, 2003) or even the 2,000 or 3,000 now considered lost (see June 13, 2003). Krauthammer never explains how he arrives at the conclusion that 33 artifacts were taken, and does not mention the figure in subsequent columns. He does take the opportunity to lambast war critics such as Rich, who decried the looting, as indulging in “narcissism” and “sheer snobbery” typical of “Upper West Side liberalism.” Krauthammer writes that since the looting has been revealed to be less endemic than originally reported, leftist war critics have “simply moved on to another change of subject: the ‘hyping’ of the weapons of mass destruction.” (Krauthammer 6/13/2003; Rich 2006, pp. 86)
The liberal news publication CounterPunch profiles the “Rumsfeld Group,” a government public relations group put together after the 9/11 attacks to manipulate the media’s reporting of the Bush administration’s war on terror (see Late May 2001). One noteworthy aspect of the profile is the success the “Rumsfeld Group” has had in working with the press to spread its message.
Benador Associates - One of the most effective “perception managers” for the Bush administration is Elena Benador, the media placement expert who runs Benador Associates. She oversees the Middle East Forum, an organization CounterPunch reporter Jeffrey St. Clair calls “a fanatically pro-Zionist paper mill,” and has close connections with some of Washington’s most influential hardliners and neoconservatives, including Michael Ledeen, Charles Krauthammer, Alexander Haig, Max Boot, Daniel Pipes, Richard Perle, and Judith Miller. Benador is given the task of getting these pro-war hawks on the air and in the press as often as possible. She does an excellent job in both getting the placements and crafting the message to ensure that they all make the same points. “There are some things, you just have to state them in a different way, in a slightly different way,” Benador explains. “If not, people get scared.”
Washington Post Particularly Compliant - Many press and television news outlets help promulgate the Pentagon’s story, but, St. Clair will note, few are as reliable or as enthusiastic as the Washington Post. He mentions the example of Private Jessica Lynch, whose story was fed for weeks by an over-the-top report from the Post that was fueled entirely by PR flacks from the Pentagon’s Combat Camera operation (see April 1, 2003 and April 3, 2003). In the months leading up to the Iraq invasion, the Post’s op-eds ran 3 to 1 in favor of attacking Iraq. St. Clair notes that in 1988, the Post shrugged off reports of Saddam Hussein gassing Iranians and his own Iraqis as “a quirk of war”; at that point, the US wanted close relations with the Hussein regime, and wanted to play down Hussein’s depredations. The Post echoed the government’s lack of interest.
Firing of Donahue - St. Clair points to MSNBC’s firing of liberal talk show host Phil Donahue on the eve of the Iraq invasion (see February 25, 2003) as another example of the Pentagon’s reach into the mainstream US media. At the behest of the Pentagon’s PR officials, MSNBC fired Donahue and replaced him with a pro-war broadcast called Countdown: Iraq. While MSNBC blamed “poor ratings” on the firing, in reality Donahue’s ratings were MSNBC’s highest. Instead, the network did not like what it called Donahue’s propensity to have “anti-war, anti-Bush” voices on his show. (Clair 8/13/2003)
Showtime broadcasts a “docudrama” about the 9/11 attacks and the White House’s response, entitled DC 9/11: Time of Crisis. According to New York Times author and media critic Frank Rich, the film drastically rewrites history to portray President Bush as “an unironic action-movie superhero.” In the movie, Bush—portrayed by actor Timothy Bottoms, who played Bush in Comedy Central’s satiric That’s My Bush!—is shown overruling his Secret Service detail and ordering Air Force One to return to Washington immediately, an event which never happened (see (10:32 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (4:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). “If some tinhorn terrorist wants me, tell him to come and get me!” the movie Bush shouts. “I’ll be at home, waiting for the b_stard!” The movie Bush has other lines that establish his desire to get back to Washington, including, “The American people want to know where their damn president is!” and “People can’t have an AWOL president!” In one scene, a Secret Service agent questions Bush’s demand to return to Washington by saying, “But Mr. President—” only to be cut off by Bush, who snaps, “Try ‘Commander in Chief.’ Whose present command is: Take the president home!” In reality, most of the orders on 9/11 were given by Vice President Dick Cheney and counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, but in the movie, Bush is the man in charge. “Hike military alert status to Delta,” he orders Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. “That’s the military, the CIA, foreign, domestic, everything,” he explains. “And if you haven’t gone to Defcon 3, you oughtta.” To Cheney, he barks: “Vice? We are at war.” The White House team are, in Rich’s words, “portrayed as the very model of efficiency and derring-do.” (Farhi 6/19/2003; Stanley 9/5/2003; Rich 2006, pp. 25-26) New York Times reviewer Alessandra Stanley notes that Bush is the unquestioned hero of the film, with British Prime Minister Tony Blair portrayed as “not very eloquent” and Cheney depicted as “a kowtowing yes-man.” (Stanley 9/5/2003)
Conservative Pundits Influenced Script - The movie is produced by Lionel Chetwynd, whom Rich calls “the go-to conservative in B-list Hollywood.” For the movie script, Chetwynd was given unprecedently broad access to top White House officials, including Bush. He also received the assistance of conservative Washington pundits Charles Krauthammer, Morton Kondracke, and Fred Barnes, who cover the Bush White House for such media outlets as Fox News, the Weekly Standard, and the Washington Post. Rich later writes that much of the film seems based on Bob Woodward’s “hagiographic [book] Bush at War (see November 25, 2002).” (Farhi 6/19/2003; Rich 2006, pp. 25-26)
Propaganda Effort? - Before the movie airs, Toronto Sun columnist Linda McQuaig called the film an attempt to mythologize Bush in a fashion similar to Hollywood’s re-creation of the Wild West’s Wyatt Earp, and wrote that the film “is sure to help the White House further its two-pronged reelection strategy: Keep Americans terrified of terrorism and make Bush look like the guy best able to defend them.” Texas radio commentator Jim Hightower added that the movie would present Bush as “a combination of Harrison Ford and Arnold Schwarzenegger.… Instead of the doe-eyed, uncertain, worried figure that he was that day, Bush-on-film is transformed into an infallible, John Wayne-ish, Patton-type leader, barking orders to the Secret Service and demanding that the pilots return him immediately to the White House.” Chetwynd himself has acknowledged that he is a “great admirer” of Bush, and has close ties to the White House. In late 2001, Bush appointed him to the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. “This isn’t propaganda,” Chetwynd insisted during the shooting of the movie, adding: “Everything in the movie is [based on] two or three sources. I’m not reinventing the wheel here.… I don’t think it’s possible to do a revision of this particular bit of history. Every scholar who has looked at this has come to the same place that this film does. There’s nothing here that Bob Woodward would disagree with.… It’s a straightforward docudrama. I would hope what’s presented is a fully colored and nuanced picture of a human being in a difficult situation.” (Farhi 6/19/2003) Rich will later write that the film is “unmistakably a propaganda effort on behalf of a sitting administration.” (Rich 2006, pp. 25-26)
Blaming the Clinton Administration - Perhaps most questionably, Stanley writes, the film “rarely misses a chance to suggest that the Clinton administration’s weakness was to blame for the disaster.” Bush, she notes, is portrayed as a more decisive leader than his predecessor: in the film, he tells Blair over the telephone: “I want to inflict pain [on the attackers]. Bring enough damage so they understand there is a new team here, a fundamental change in our policy.” (Stanley 9/5/2003)
9/11 Widow Unhappy with Film - Kristen Breitweiser, who lost her husband in the attack on the World Trade Center, calls the film “a mind-numbingly boring, revisionist, two-hour-long wish list of how 9/11 might have gone if we had real leaders in the current administration.” She adds: “It is understandable that so little time is actually devoted to the president’s true actions on the morning of 9/11. Because to show the entire 23 minutes from 9:03 to 9:25 a.m., when President Bush, in reality, remained seated and listening to ‘second grade story-hour’ while people like my husband were burning alive inside the World Trade Center towers, would run counter to Karl Rove’s art direction and grand vision.” Breitweiser questions numerous aspects of the film: “Miscellaneous things that surprised me included the fact that the film perpetuates the big fat lie that Air Force One was a target. Forgive me, but I thought the White House admitted at the end of September 2001 that Air Force One was never a target, that no code words were spoken and that it was all a lie (see (10:32 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and September 12, 2001-March 2004). So what gives?… Not surprisingly, there is no mention of accountability. Not once does anyone say, ‘How the hell did this happen? Heads will roll!’ I was hoping that, at least behind closed doors, there were words like, ‘Look, we really screwed up! Let’s make sure we find out what went wrong and that it never happens again!’ Nope, no such luck.” (Breitweiser 9/8/2003)
The White House responds aggressively to comments made the previous day by former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke (see March 24, 2004), who accused the Bush administration of doing little about terrorism prior to 9/11 (see March 21, 2004). Author Philip Shenon will characterize the situation at the White House following the comments as a “near panic” and “genuine alarm,” because Clarke’s allegations are “a direct threat to [President] Bush’s reelection hopes.”
Rice Leads Response - White House chief of staff Andy Card will say that the most upset person is Clarke’s former boss Condoleezza Rice, who takes the lead in responding. She appears on several television shows, claiming—in what Shenon calls a “remarkably angry tone”—on 60 Minutes: “Dick Clarke just does not know what he’s talking about.… Richard Clarke had plenty of opportunities to tell us in the administration that he thought the war on terrorism was moving in the wrong direction, and he chose not to.” Vice President Dick Cheney says that Clarke has a “grudge” against the administration because he did not get a position at the Department of Homeland Security that he wanted, adding that Clarke “wasn’t in the loop, frankly” and “clearly missed a lot of what was going on.” Shenon will comment, “Cheney’s remarks had unintentionally proved exactly what Clarke was saying—that his authority was so diminished in the Bush administration that he had no ability to reach the decision makers in the White house when threats emerged.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 277-279)
Having It Both Ways? - “You can’t have it both ways,” adds retired General Wesley Clark, the former commander of NATO forces in Bosnia. He was “either the counterterrorism czar and was responsible and knew what was going on, or the administration gave him a title and didn’t put any emphasis on terrorism and that’s why he wasn’t in the loop.” (Rich 2006, pp. 114-119)
Surrogate Smears - Surrogates try dirty tactics, for example conservative columnist Robert Novak suggests that Clarke is motivated by racial prejudice against Rice, a “powerful African-American woman,” and conservative commentator Laura Ingraham asks why “this single man” is such a “drama queen.” Although Clarke anticipated attacks, he is surprised at their ferocity. (Shenon 2008, pp. 277-279) Former White House communications director Karen Hughes interrupts her book tour to criticize Clarke for supposedly promoting his own book, Against All Enemies. Right-wing bloggers, perhaps given direction by White House officials, begin swapping lascivious and baseless rumors about Clarke’s sexual orientation. (Rich 2006, pp. 114-119) The Washington Times accuses Clarke of being “a political chameleon who is starved for attention after years of toiling anonymously in government bureaucracies.” Neoconservative columnist Charles Krauthammer calls Clarke “a partisan perjurer.” At the extreme edge of the attack is conservative author Ann Coulter, who with no evidence whatsoever, accuses Clarke of racism: she portrays him as thinking of Condoleezza Rice, “[T]he black chick is a dummy” whom Bush promoted from “cleaning the Old Executive Office Building at night.” (Pinkerton 3/29/2004) Senator John McCain (R-AZ) calls the attacks “the most vigorous offensive I’ve ever seen from the administration on any issue.” (Allen 3/28/2004)
Clarke's Counters - Republican leaders also threaten to release testimony Clarke gave in 2002, and Clarke says he welcomes the release. The testimony remains classified. (Shrader 3/26/2004; Associated Press 3/28/2004) Clarke calls on Rice to release all e-mail communications between the two of them before 9/11; these are not released either. (Goldenberg and McGreal 3/29/2004) Despite the attacks, Clarke’s partners in a consulting business stick with him, as does ABC News, which recently hired him as a terrorism consultant. (Shenon 2008, pp. 277-279)
Mishandled Response? - According to Reuters, a number of political experts conclude, “The White House may have mishandled accusations leveled by… Clarke by attacking his credibility, keeping the controversy firmly in the headlines into a second week.” (Elsner 3/29/2004)
No Evidence of Contradiction - However, a review of declassified citations from Clarke’s 2002 testimony provides no evidence of contradiction, and White House officials familiar with the testimony agree that any differences are matters of emphasis, not fact. (Pincus and Milbank 4/4/2004)
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is accused of racism following remarks he makes about Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas on NBC’s Meet the Press. Asked by moderator Tim Russert if he could support conservative Justice Antonin Scalia as chief justice, Reid says Scalia’s ethics problems are troubling and that he disagrees with most of his positions, but adds that Scalia “is one smart guy.” Asked if he could support Thomas, Reid says: “I think that he has been an embarrassment to the Supreme Court. I think that his opinions are poorly written. I don’t—I just don’t think that he’s done a good job as a Supreme Court justice.” (NBC News 12/5/2004) Conservative pundits are quick to accuse Reid of racism, though he never makes any mention of Thomas’s race. On December 6, Charles Krauthammer tells a Fox News audience: “In the end, you’ve got to ask yourself, why Scalia, good, Thomas, bad in the eyes of a man like Reid. I say it’s the liberal plantation mentality, in which if you’re a man on the right and white, it’s OK. If you are the man on the right and you’re African-American, it’s not.” The same day, Clifford May tells a CNN audience: “Look, Justice Thomas is African-American and he’s conservative. Some people [like Reid] will never forgive that and think that’s an open opportunity to insult him.” During his daytime radio broadcast, talk show host Rush Limbaugh tells his audience: “[I]t’s not a new page in the playbook but it’s certainly not as old as the playbook itself. But it’s been around awhile. That is conservative blacks are inept, a la Clarence Thomas.… You notice how easy it is for these people to be critical of blacks.” Wall Street Journal columnist James Taranto writes that since Reid did not provide examples of Thomas’s “poorly written” opinions, “[i]n the absence of such examples, one can’t help but suspect that the new Senate Democratic leader is simply stereotyping Thomas as unintelligent because he is black.” That evening, Sean Hannity, co-host of Fox’s Hannity and Colmes, tells his listeners that Democrats routinely attack minority conservatives such as Thomas, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and federal judge nominee Miguel Estrada, and adds: “What I see is Democrats oppose African-Americans that are conservative, but yet they claim to support minority rights. And what I’m saying here is, why, if you’re for the advancement of minorities, why do you oppose every conservative African-American or Hispanic American? Why is this pattern emerging?” On December 7, African-American conservative Armstrong Williams says on Fox’s Hannity and Colmes: “Did you hear those racist remarks from Senator Harry Reid about Justice Thomas?… Harry Reid’s the one—he said Thomas was an embarrassment. He said he cannot write. That is racism.… That is racism, only because of the hue of his skin.… Read his [Reid’s] words. He was a racist.” On December 8, Taranto writes in another Wall Street Journal column, “To try to make Republican judges seem menacing, the Dems could call them ‘extremist’ or ‘out of the mainstream’ (and if the judges happen to be black, add that their opinions are ‘poorly written’).” (Pierce 12/6/2004; Media Matters 12/8/2004) Conservative columnist Ann Coulter will include Reid in her much wider attacks against what she calls “liberal racism” (see December 8, 2004).
After President Bush successfully places conservative judge John Roberts as chief justice of the Supreme Court (see September 29, 2005), he names White House counsel and personal friend Harriet Miers to replace the retiring Sandra Day O’Connor on the Court.
Firestorm of Criticism - The media reacts adversely to this; Miers is said to be insufficiently qualified for the position and to have been chosen because of her loyalty to Bush. Her nomination is further derailed by opposition from hard-line conservatives, who do not believe she is conservative enough in her beliefs, particularly on abortion. Miers is certainly a weak choice from most viewpoints—she has no constitutional law experience and lacks a reputation as a strong legal thinker. She has never been a judge, nor even published an academic law journal article. Even conservative stalwart Robert Bork, who is still a center of controversy from his failed Court nomination (see July 1-October 23, 1987), calls Miers’s nomination “a disaster on every level.” When a letter Miers had written Bush for his birthday in 1997 is published in the media—in which Miers gushed over Bush in breathless, almost schoolgirlish prose, calling him “cool!” and “the best governor ever!”—the derision hits a fever pitch. When she submits a questionnaire to the Senate Judiciary Committee listing her background and qualifications for the job, a questionnaire almost devoid of pertinent and specific information, the ranking members of the committee threaten to have her do it over, a humiliation she avoids by withdrawing her name from consideration.
Trumped-Up Dispute over Executive Privilege - The Senate asks to see Miers’s White House memos to judge the quality of her legal work, and the White House refuses, citing executive privilege. Many view the dispute as a trumped-up conflict designed to allow the Bush administration to save what little face it can in the debacle; neoconservative columnist Charles Krauthammer had suggested engineering just such a “conflict” to stage “irreconcilable differences over documents” that would allow the Bush White House to withdraw Miers’s nomination over the issue.
Withdrawal - Miers indeed asks Bush to withdraw her nomination, and Bush cites the documents dispute in announcing the decision to pull Miers from consideration: “It is clear that senators would not be satisfied until they gained access to internal documents concerning advice provided during her tenure at the White House—disclosures that would undermine a president’s ability to receive candid counsel,” Bush says. “Harriet Miers’s decision demonstrates her deep respect for this essential aspect of the Constitutional separation of powers—and confirms my deep respect and admiration for her.” Bush settles on another nominee, Samuel Alito, to replace O’Connor (see October 31, 2005 - February 1, 2006). (Savage 2007, pp. 262-266; Dean 2007, pp. 155)
Staunch Advocate for Expanded Executive Power - In 2007, reporter and author Charlie Savage will write that, in his view, the Bush administration chose Miers for a simple reason: she is a staunch advocate for the continued expansion of presidential power. “Miers… could be counted on to embrace Bush’s expansive view of presidential powers,” he will write. Miers is quite loyal to Bush “and, through him, the institution he represented.” Miers’s adoration of Bush on a personal level would further guarantee her “solid support for any presidential claim of power that might come before the Court,” he will write. “Like Roberts before her, she was an executive branch lawyer who identified with the task of defending the prerogatives of the president.” On the questionnaire she submits to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Miers writes that as White House counsel, she has gained significant constitutional experience in “presidential prerogatives, the separation of powers, executive authority, and the constitutionality of proposed regulations and statutes.… My time serving in the White House, particularly as counsel to the president, has given me a fuller appreciation of the role of the separation of powers in maintaining our constitutional system. In that role, I have frequently dealt with matters concerning the nature and role of the executive power.” (Savage 2007, pp. 265-267)
President Obama gives his first interview after assuming the presidency to the Dubai-based satellite broadcaster Al Arabiya. He tells interviewer Hisham Melhem that Americans are not the enemy of the Muslim world, and wants Israel and the Palestinians to resume peace negotiations. (Al Arabiya 1/27/2009) Melhem, Al Arabiya’s Washington bureau chief, originally believes he was slated to interview the newly named US envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell (see January 22, 2009). Melhem believed there was some discussion among White House officials on whether it was the right time for Obama to grant an interview to the Arab media. The selection of Al Arabiya is deliberate, as that channel is considered more moderate and Western-friendly than, for example, Al Jazeera. (MacLeod 1/28/2009)
Intent to Reopen Talks between Israel, Palestinians - Obama intends to resume negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, and says the US will open up new talks by listening to the two sides instead of immediately issuing demands. “[W]hat I told Mitchell] is start by listening, because all too often the United States starts by dictating—in the past on some of these issues—and we don’t always know all the factors that are involved. So let’s listen. He’s going to be speaking to all the major parties involved. And he will then report back to me. From there we will formulate a specific response. Ultimately, we cannot tell either the Israelis or the Palestinians what’s best for them. They’re going to have to make some decisions. But I do believe that the moment is ripe for both sides to realize that the path that they are on is one that is not going to result in prosperity and security for their people. And that instead, it’s time to return to the negotiating table.” The larger peace plan for the Middle East recently proposed by Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah will play an important role in the negotiations, Obama says.
'A Language of Respect' - Language matters, Obama notes. “[M]y job is to communicate the fact that the United States has a stake in the well-being of the Muslim world that the language we use has to be a language of respect,” he says. “[T]he language we use matters. We cannot paint with a broad brush a faith as a consequence of the violence that is done in that faith’s name.”
Restoring Relations with the Muslim World - Melhem asks Obama about tensions between the US and the Islamic world, inflamed by demagogues and extremists on both sides. Obama says: “Well, I think that when you look at the rhetoric that they [extremists]‘ve been using against me before I even took office… what that tells me is that their ideas are bankrupt. There’s no actions that they’ve taken that say a child in the Muslim world is getting a better education because of them, or has better health care because of them.” Obama reminds Melhem, and the viewers, that he lived for a time in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim country, during his childhood. He learned through his experiences in Indonesia and other Muslim countries that everyone, regardless of differences in culture or faith, has similar hopes and aspirations. “My job to the Muslim world is to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy,” he says. “We sometimes make mistakes. We have not been perfect. But if you look at the track record, as you say, America was not born as a colonial power, and that the same respect and partnership that America had with the Muslim world as recently as 20 or 30 years ago, there’s no reason why we can’t restore that.”
Dealing with Iran - Wrapping up the interview, Melhem asks if the US is prepared to “live with a nuclear Iran.” Obama responds: “I said during the campaign that it is very important for us to make sure that we are using all the tools of US power, including diplomacy, in our relationship with Iran.… Iran has acted in ways that’s not conducive to peace and prosperity in the region: their threats against Israel; their pursuit of a nuclear weapon which could potentially set off an arms race in the region that would make everybody less safe; their support of terrorist organizations in the past—none of these things have been helpful. But I do think that it is important for us to be willing to talk to Iran, to express very clearly where our differences are, but where there are potential avenues for progress.” (Al Arabiya 1/27/2009)
Responses - In Pakistan, Obama’s interview is widely viewed, and receives what CNN calls “a generally positive response from analysts there.” Islamabad author and journalist Imtiaz Gul says, “It’s a good sign of an attempt to reconcile with the Muslim world, to say America wants to reach out to them and not to consider them as an enemy.” (CNN 1/27/2009) Egyptian student Omar Youssef, who has joined in protests against the Israeli war in Gaza, says of Obama: “He’s a man of diplomacy and speaks well. Bush, Arab people hate him. But the world needs a man like Obama.” Another student, Ahmed Mahmoud, adds, “Maybe if he can solve the problem between white and black people in America, he can also solve the problem between Arab and Jewish people here.” (MacLeod 1/28/2009) Melhem, who has long criticized US policies towards the Middle East, later says he was touched by Obama’s conciliatory tone and references to his Muslim roots. “You can feel the authenticity about him,” he says. “The interview was his way of saying, ‘There is a new wind coming from Washington.’ Barack Obama definitely sees the world differently from a man named George W. Bush.” (MacLeod 1/29/2009) Al Arabiya General Manager Abdul Rahman al-Rashed says: “What he did campaigning in the US he is trying to do in the Middle East, convincing people that he is on their side. He is telling Muslims that he is proud of his Muslim roots. This is being received positively.” And Jordanian news columnist Jamil Nimri writes, “The language of force, conceit, and threat has totally disappeared.” (MacLeod 1/28/2009) Neoconservative columnist Charles Krauthammer disputes Obama’s implication that the Bush administration treated Islam with any disrespect, saying: “[S]omehow he is implying that somehow the Obama era is a break with the American past. Somehow it is undoing a disrespect of Islam that had somehow occurred under the previous administration.… We have no need to apologize. Extend a hand, yes, but to imply that there was a disrespect of Islam in the last administration, I think is unfair and fictional.” (Fox News 1/28/2009)
Neoconservative columnist Charles Krauthammer advises fellow Republicans not to use racial or gender-based attacks against Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009). Noting that barring an unforeseen incident, she will be confirmed to the high court, Krauthammer writes: “What should a principled conservative do? Use the upcoming hearings not to deny her the seat, but to illuminate her views. No magazine gossip from anonymous court clerks (see May 4, 2009). No ‘temperament’ insinuations (see May 27, 2009). Nothing ad hominem (see May 26, 2009, May 26, 2009, May 27-29, 2009, May 27, 2009, May 28, 2009, May 28, 2009, May 28, 2009. May 29, 2009, June 2, 2009, and June 3, 2009). The argument should be elevated, respectful, and entirely about judicial philosophy.” The debate should focus “on her statements about the inherent differences between groups, and the superior wisdom she believes her Latina physiology, culture, and background grant her over a white male judge (see October 26, 2001). They perfectly reflect the Democrats’ enthrallment with identity politics, which assigns free citizens to ethnic and racial groups possessing a hierarchy of wisdom and entitled to a hierarchy of claims upon society.… Vote Democratic and you get mainstream liberalism: a judicially mandated racial spoils system and a jurisprudence of empathy that hinges on which litigant is less ‘advantaged.’” (Krauthammer 5/29/2009)
Bill Sammon, the Washington managing editor for Fox News, sends an internal email instructing his journalists and producers not to use the commonly accepted phrase “public option” to describe a proposed government-run health insurance agency. The so-called “public option” is shorthand for a proposed health insurance plan offered by the federal government primarily for uninsured citizens who have trouble affording private health care coverage. Instead, Sammon requires reporters and news anchors to use terms such as “government option”—terms identified by Republican pollster Frank Luntz as being more negative and more likely to turn viewers away from supporting such an effort. (Ironically, a month ago, Sammon sent an email reminding his staff that Fox News “reports” the news as it happens, and that their function is that of “dispassionate observers”—see September 12, 2009). The liberal news watchdog Web site Media Matters will compile a number of instances from “straight news” broadcasts on Fox News that seem to follow Sammon’s instructions, particularly on the network’s evening flagship news program, Special Report with Bret Baier. Inside sources will tell Media Matters reporter Ben Dimiero that Sammon regularly uses his position as managing editor to “slant” Fox News’s “neutral” news coverage to the right. Dimiero will write, “Sammon’s ‘government option’ email is the clearest evidence yet that Sammon is aggressively pushing Fox’s reporting to the right—in this case by issuing written orders to his staff.” In August 2009, Luntz appeared on Sean Hannity’s Fox News opinion show, and told Hannity to use the term “government option” instead of “public option.” Luntz explained that “if you call it a ‘public option,’ the American people are split,” but “if you call it the ‘government option,’ the public is overwhelmingly against it.” He went on to say that the program would be “sponsored by the government,” and falsely told Hannity that such a program would be “paid for by the government.” Hannity told Luntz that “it’s a great point, and from now on, I’m going to call it the government option.” The night before Sammon’s email, Baier used both “public option” and “government option” in describing a proposed inclusion by Senate Democrats, as did correspondent Shannon Bream. The next morning, Sammon sends his email, which is titled “[F]riendly reminder: let’s not slip back into calling it the ‘public option,’” and reading in part, “Please use the term ‘government-run health insurance’ or, when brevity is a concern, ‘government option,’ whenever possible. When it is necessary to use the term ‘public option’ (which is, after all, firmly ensconced in the nation’s lexicon), use the qualifier ‘so-called,’ as in ‘the so-called public option.’ Here’s another way to phrase it: ‘The public option, which is the government-run plan.’ When newsmakers and sources use the term ‘public option’ in our stories, there’s not a lot we can do about it, since quotes are of course sacrosanct.” Fox News’s senior vice president for news, Michael Clemente, concurs in a follow-up email and tells news staff that he prefers Sammon’s phrasing “[t]he public option, which is the government-run plan.” After Sammon’s and Clemente’s emails, Baier and others will no longer use the phrase “public option” without using Sammon’s qualifiers. Dimiero will write that Sammon’s title wording of a “friendly reminder” indicates that similar instructions had been issued previously. Indeed, during a September 3, 2009 broadcast, Baier repeatedly interrupted his guest, NPR’s Mara Liasson, to “correct” her phrasing of “public option” as the “government-run option of health insurance.” Liasson, along with conservative guests Charles Krauthammer and Steve Hayes, agreed to use Baier’s phrasing. And during Baier’s broadcast, on-screen chyrons described the idea as “Government Option.” Dimiero will write: “Fox executives regularly defend the network by claiming that the right-wing propaganda on Hannity and its other opinion shows is entirely separate from its news programming, which they insist is objective. But Sammon’s email gives credence to allegations that news from Fox’s Washington bureau is being deliberately distorted to benefit conservatives and the Republican Party.” Sammon will tell media reporter Howard Kurtz that he prefers the phrasing “government option” because it is “a more neutral term,” and the phrase “public option” is “vague, bland,” and “undescriptive.” He will deny any knowledge of “what the Republicans were pushing.” (Dimiero 12/9/2010)
The reclusive but highly influential Charles Koch, of the Koch brothers oil empire (see 1977-Present, 1979-1980, 1997, 1981-2010, 1984 and After, Late 2004, May 6, 2006, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, November 2009, December 6, 2009, April 2010 and After, and July 3-4, 2010), holds a private meeting with some 200 wealthy financial and political figures at the exclusive St. Regis Resort in Aspen, Colorado. The meeting is designed to bring the participants together to combat what Koch calls “the threats posed to American freedom and prosperity” by Democrats and the Obama administration. To that end, many of the sessions in the two-day event target methods and plans to influence and manipulate the upcoming 2010 midterm elections. The meeting is highly secretive, with participants warned not to discuss the proceedings with anyone, especially members of the media, but in August, the liberal news Web site Think Progress will obtain a copy of a September 2010 memo from Koch that contains the June 2010 event program. The various events include:
a seminar on “The Bankrupting of America”;
a seminar on the “regulatory assault” on environmental concerns and how to further business goals by defeating environmental regulations;
a seminar on how to influence universities and colleges to “advance liberty”;
a seminar on how to “micro-target” the electorate in order to win elections for conservative Republican candidates;
a seminar on “The Threats to American Freedom and Prosperity” conducted by Koch himself;
“Understanding the Threats We Face,” a seminar moderated by Wall Street Journal reporter Stephen Moore (see May 6, 2006), Ramesh Ponnuru of the National Review, Phil Kerpen of Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see Late 2004), and Peter Wallinson of the far-right American Enterprise Institute (AEI);
a seminar on “An Integrated Strategy to Face These Threats,” moderated by Koch’s senior assistant Richard Fink;
an evening address, “Is America On the Road to Serfdom?” by former Fox News talk show host Glenn Beck;
a seminar, “We’re Spending Too Much,” on how to lower government spending, conducted by Russ Roberts of the far-right libertarian Mercatus Center;
a seminar, “Understanding This Year’s Electorate,” by journalist and AEI fellow Michael Barone;
a follow-up seminar on how to “Fram[e] the Debate on Spending” for the elections, moderated by members of AEI and the Mercatus Center;
a seminar, “Mobilizing Citizens for November,” featuring Tim Phillips, the head of AFP (see August 6, 2009) and Karl Crow, the head of Themis, the Koch-funded computer database being used in “micro-targeting” voters (see April 2010 and After);
a seminar hosted by Arthur Brooks of AEI on how to frame the “fight” as one between “free enterprise and Big Government”;
a seminar on how best to target participants’ philanthropic gifting;
a seminar on “reforming” K-12 public and charter schools;
a seminar on impacting judicial elections in several key states;
a seminar on transitioning from the 2010 elections to the 2012 presidential elections and how “supporters of economic freedom” can “start planning today” for that election;
a final evening address, “What’s Ahead for America?” by noted neoconservative columnist and Fox News pundit Charles Krauthammer.
The event features David Chavern, a senior official at the US Chamber of Commerce, one of the entities contributing the most funding to conservative political organizations (see August 2, 2010, September 13-16, 2010, and October 2010). Think Progress’s Lee Fang will write: “In an election season with the most undisclosed secret corporate giving since the Watergate-era, the memo sheds light on the symbiotic relationship between extremely profitable, multi-billion dollar corporations and much of the conservative infrastructure. The memo describes the prospective corporate donors as ‘investors,’ and it makes clear that many of the Republican operatives managing shadowy, undisclosed fronts running attack ads against Democrats were involved in the Koch’s election-planning event.” Many of the “investors” listed as attending or participating in the events include executives from health care corporations; executives from fast-food and other food-industry executives who have fought against providing health insurance to their employees; an array of banking and financial executives; and a number of energy industry executives. Fred Malek, who serves as the top fundraiser for a $56 million attack ad campaign against Democrats (see Mid-October 2010), attends, as does Heather Higgins of the Independent Women’s Forum, another organization that has spent millions opposing health-care reform. Many of the election-focused seminars address how to take advantage of the Citizens United ruling that lifted restrictions on corporate election spending (see January 21, 2010). The Aspen meeting, as with earlier meetings, is managed by Kevin Gentry, a Koch Industries executive and Washington lobbyist. (Fang 8/23/2010; Koch 9/24/2010 )
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