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Campaigning on behalf of conservative Republican candidates in an attempt to have the GOP retain control of the Senate, Ronald Reagan goes on a campaign tour of the South, where he alludes to Republicans’ plans for exerting control of the nation’s court system. Typical of Reagan’s stump speech is the following one he delivers on behalf of embattled Republican incumbent James Broyhill: “Since I’ve been appointing federal judges to be approved by people like Jim Broyhill in the Republican Senate, the federal judiciary has become tougher, much tougher, on criminals. Criminals are going to jail more often and receiving longer sentences. Over and over the Democratic leadership has tried in the Senate to torpedo our choices for judges. And that’s where Jim Broyhill can make all the difference. Without him and the Republican majority in the Senate, we’ll find liberals like Joe Biden and a certain fellow from Massachusetts deciding who our judges are. And I’ll bet you’ll agree; I’d rather have a Judiciary Committee headed by Strom Thurmond than one run by Joe Biden or Ted Kennedy.” Broyhill will be defeated, and Democrats will regain control of the Senate in spite of Reagan’s efforts, in large part because of Southern blacks offended by such speeches. The new Democratic leadership, responding to the voters, will help block the racially questionable Robert Bork’s nomination to the Supreme Court (see July 1-October 23, 1987). (Dean 2007, pp. 140)
The full Senate votes to confirm Clarence Thomas (see July 2-August 28, 1991, October 8, 1991, and October 11-12, 1991) on a 52-48 vote, the lowest margin of victory by any Supreme Court nominee in US history. It is possible that some senators’ votes are influenced by a wash of “fast-action” polls reported by the White House, purporting to show that African-Americans overwhelmingly support Thomas, and a majority of citizens support Thomas’s confirmation. A year later, analysis proves those polls to be completely wrong. (Thomas Hearings Website 8/1997; Dean 2007, pp. 146-153) In 1992, Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, will say: “That last hearing was not about Clarence Thomas. It was not about Anita Hill. It was about a massive power struggle going on in this country, a power struggle between women and men, and a power struggle between minoritites and the majority.” (Thomas Hearings Website 8/1997)
A draft of the Defense Department’s new post-Cold War strategy, the Defense Planning Guidance (DPG), causes a split among senior department officials and is criticized by the White House. The draft, prepared by defense officials Zalmay Khalilzad and Lewis “Scooter” Libby under the supervision of Undersecretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, says that the US must become the world’s single superpower and must take aggressive action to prevent competing nations—even allies such as Germany and Japan—from challenging US economic and military supremacy. (Tyler 5/23/1992; Rupert and Solomon 2005, pp. 122; Scoblic 2008, pp. 165) The views in the document will become known informally as the “Wolfowitz Doctrine.” Neoconservative Ben Wattenberg will say that its core thesis is “to guard against the emergence of hostile regional superpowers, for example, Iraq or China.” He will add: “America is No. 1. We stand for something decent and important. That’s good for us and good for the world. That’s the way we want to keep it.” (Utley 8/24/2001) The document hails what it calls the “less visible” victory at the end of the Cold War, which it defines as “the integration of Germany and Japan into a US-led system of collective security and the creation of a democratic ‘zone of peace.’” It also asserts the importance of US nuclear weapons: “Our nuclear forces also provide an important deterrent hedge against the possibility of a revitalized or unforeseen global threat, while at the same time helping to deter third party use of weapons of mass destruction through the threat of retaliation.” (Tyler 3/8/1992) The document states, “We must maintain the mechanism for deterring potential competitors from even aspiring to a larger regional or global role.” (Tyler 3/8/1992) In 2007, author Craig Unger will write that deterring “potential competitors” from aspiring to a larger role means “punishing them before they can act.” (Unger 2007, pp. 116)
US Not Interested in Long-Term Alliances - The document, which says the US cannot act as the world’s policeman, sees alliances among European nations such as Germany and France (see May 22, 1992) as a potential threat to US supremacy, and says that any future military alliances will be “ad hoc” affairs that will not last “beyond the crisis being confronted, and in many cases carrying only general agreement over the objectives to be accomplished.… [T]he sense that the world order is ultimately backed by the US will be an important stabilizing factor.” (Tyler 5/23/1992) Conspicuously absent is any reference to the United Nations, what is most important is “the sense that the world order is ultimately backed by the US… the United States should be postured to act independently when collective action cannot be orchestrated” or in a crisis that demands quick response. (Tyler 3/8/1992) Unger will write of Wolfowitz’s “ad hoc assemblies:” “Translation: in the future, the United States, if it liked, would go it alone.” (Unger 2007, pp. 116)
Preventing the Rise of Any Global Power - “[W]e endeavor to prevent any hostile power from dominating a region whose resources would, under consolidated control, be sufficient to generate global power. These regions include Western Europe, East Asia, the territory of the former Soviet Union and Southwest Asia.” The document advocates “a unilateral US defense guarantee” to Eastern Europe, “preferably in cooperation with other NATO states,” and foresees use of American military power to preempt or punish use of nuclear, biological or chemical weapons, “even in conflicts that otherwise do not directly engage US interests.” (Gellman 3/11/1992)
Containing Post-Soviet Threats - The document says that the US’s primary goal is “to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival, either on the territory of the former Soviet Union or elsewhere, that poses a threat on the order of that posed formerly by the Soviet Union.” It adds, “This is a dominant consideration underlying the new regional defense strategy and requires that we endeavor to prevent any hostile power from dominating a region whose resources would, under consolidated control, be sufficient to general global power.” In the Middle East and Southwest Asia, “our overall objective is to remain the predominant outside power in the region and preserve US and Western access to the region’s oil.” The document also asserts that the US will act to restrain what it calls India’s “hegemonic aspirations” in South Asia (Tyler 5/23/1992) , and warns of potential conflicts, perhaps requiring military intervention, arising in Cuba and China. “The US may be faced with the question of whether to take military steps to prevent the development or use of weapons of mass destruction,” it states, and notes that these steps may include pre-empting an impending attack with nuclear, chemical or biological weapons, “or punishing the attackers or threatening punishment of aggressors through a variety of means,” including attacks on the plants that manufacture such weapons. It advocates the construction of a new missile defense system to counter future threats from nuclear-armed nations. (Tyler 3/8/1992)
Reflective of Cheney, Wolfowitz's Views - Senior Pentagon officials say that while the draft has not yet been approved by either Dick Cheney or Wolfowitz, both played substantial roles in its creation and endorse its views. “This is not the piano player in the whorehouse,” one official says.
Democrats Condemn Policy Proposal - Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV), an advocate of a reduction in military spending, calls the document “myopic, shallow and disappointing,” adding: “The basic thrust of the document seems to be this: We love being the sole remaining superpower in the world.” Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE) attacks what he sees as the document’s emphasis on unilateral military action, and ridicules it as “literally a Pax Americana.” Pentagon officials will dispute characterizations that the policy flatly rejects any idea of multilateral military alliances. One defense official says, “What is just dead wrong is this notion of a sole superpower dominating the rest of the world.” (Tyler 3/8/1992; Gellman 3/11/1992)
Abandoned, Later Resurrected - Wolfowitz’s draft will be heavily revised and much of its language dropped in a later revision (see May 22, 1992) after being leaked to the media (see March 8, 1992). Cheney and Wolfowitz’s proposals will receive much more favorable treatment from the administration of George W. Bush (see August 21, 2001).
Many Democrats blame third-party presidential candidate Ralph Nader for the election confusion in Florida (see Early Morning, November 8, 2000), noting that had he not run, most of those who voted for him would have voted for Democratic presidential contender Al Gore instead and thus given Gore an unquestionable win. Nader ran on the left-wing Green Party ticket, winning 2,883,105 votes nationwide (2.73 percent of the popular vote), and, more importantly, 97,488 votes, or 1.63 percent, of Florida’s electorate. Chicago Sun-Times columnist Richard Roeper writes, “Ralph Nader is a jerk” who seeks media attention like Pat Buchanan and Jesse Jackson, and “he can match them in the ego department as well.” And “isn’t it great for Ralph that instead of walking around as a nostalgic trivia question from the 1970s—the activist equivalent of [television actor] John Ritter—that he was getting so much attention again. Congratulations. Jerk.” A Boston Globe editorial states, “If Ralph Nader had not been in the race, Al Gore would today be preparing to become president.” The vote for Nader in Florida “was the key to George W. Bush’s” small lead there, and without Nader, “Gore would probably have gained enough of these to defeat Bush unless the latter does extraordinarily well in the recount.” Nationally, Gore “could have earned enough of Nader’s 2,655,233” to win Oregon and New Hampshire “and give him a convincing national plurality.” Though Nader’s supporters “raise serious questions” on several issues, “they chose the wrong campaign to make their point.” The Globe concludes that before this election, Nader “had earned an honored place in US history as a pioneer in consumer safety. If Bush prevails in Florida, Nader will become a footnote as the willful eccentric who denied Gore the political prize he deserved.” Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE) says: “Ralph Nader is not going to be welcome anywhere near the corridors. Nader cost us the election.” Kate Michelman of the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) says: “He cost Al Gore the race. Not only by what happened in Florida, but by making these other states a threat to Al Gore. Not to recognize what was at stake—or to dismiss it if he did—was dangerous and represented a type of arrogance. As a result, he lost a lot of credibility.” AFL-CIO president John Sweeney calls Nader’s campaign “reprehensible,” and says: “As a rule, we really reject the role that Nader played in the political process this time around. I don’t know if there’s any room in a national election for president for somebody who is a message candidate.” Enviro Working Group president Ken Cook says: “The public interest community is going to spend tens of millions of dollars a year for the next four years playing defense. I don’t think [Nader is] going to build a Green Party any more than O.J.‘s out there looking for a murderer,” referring to notorious murder suspect O.J. Simpson, who famously claims to be aggressively searching for the person who supposedly killed his wife and her boyfriend. Miramax Studio chairman and Gore supporter Harvey Weinstein says Nader is a “name that will go down in infamy.” According to writer Harold Evans, President Clinton was “very emphatic about the damage Nader had done to Gore” at a post-election gathering. Former Nader supporter Larry Marx says: “Ralph got tunnel vision and lost sight of progressive goals. People remember those kind of things, and there’s a price to be paid.” Polls show that 80 percent of Florida citizens who voted for Nader would have voted for Gore had Nader not been on the ballot, giving Gore a presumed 77,990 extra votes—far more than the number Gore would have needed to take Florida. Fellow third-party candidate Pat Buchanan notes, “Mr. Nader, I believe, can take credit for having sunk… the Gore candidacy.” Nader himself is defiant, noting that Gore failed to win his own home state of Tennessee or Clinton’s home state of Arkansas, and saying: “The Democrats must find their progressive roots or watch the party wither away, or become a crypto-Republican Party, seeking the same money and voters.… I’ve always said that it was Al Gore’s election to lose, that only Al Gore could beat Al Gore. If Democrats are disappointed with the returns, they need to take a long, close look at their party and the empty campaign waged by Al Gore.” (Leip 2000; National Journal 11/9/2000)
While still campaigning to become president, George W. Bush frequently argued the US should build an anti-ballistic missile shield (see October 12, 2000). After Bush is made president, the development of such a shield and getting out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty the US has signed that would prevent such a shield, becomes the top US security priority (see May 26, 1972 and December 13, 2001). Senior officials and cabinet members make it their top agenda item in meetings with European allies, Russia, and China. Five Cabinet-level officials, including Condoleezza Rice, travel to Moscow to persuade Russia to abandon the ABM Treaty. Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith is there on September 10 to make the same case. (Cirincione 9/5/2004)
Ballistic Missiles 'Today's Most Urgent Threat' - In a major speech given on May 1, 2001, Bush calls the possible possession of missiles by rogue states “today’s most urgent threat.” (New York Times 5/2/2001) In a June 2001 meeting with European heads of state, Bush names missile defense as his top defense priority and terrorism is not mentioned at all (see June 13, 2001). It will later be reported that Rice was scheduled to give a major speech on 9/11, in which, according to the Washington Post, she planned “to promote missile defense as the cornerstone of a new national security strategy, and [made] no mention of al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, or Islamic extremist groups.” However, the speech will be cancelled due to the 9/11 attacks (see September 11, 2001). (Wright 4/1/2004)
Criticism and Controversy - Bush’s missile shield stance is highly controversial. For instance, in July 2001 a Guardian article is titled, “US Defies Global Fury Over Missile Shield.” (New York Times 5/2/2001) Domestic critics suggest the missile shield could start a new arms race and cost over $500 billion. (Ferraro 5/3/2001)
Diverting Attention from Terrorism - Some argue that Bush’s missile focus is diverting attention from terrorism. For instance, Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) tells Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld at a June 2001 hearing that the US is spending too much money on missile defense and not “putting enough emphasis on countering the most likely threats to our national security… like terrorist attacks.” (Cirincione 9/5/2004) On September 5, 2001, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd writes: “And why can George W. Bush think of nothing but a missile shield? Our president is caught in the grip of an obsession worthy of literature” and notes that “sophisticated antimissile interceptors can’t stop primitive, wobbly missiles from rogue nations, much less germ warfare from terrorists.” (Dowd 9/5/2001) On September 10, 2001, Sen. Joseph Biden (D-DE) warns that if the US spends billions on missile defense, “we will have diverted all that money to address the least likely threat, while the real threats come into this country in the hold of ship, or the belly of a plane.” In 2004, a San Francisco Chronicle editorial will suggest that if the Bush administration had focused less on the missile shield and had “devoted more attention, more focus and more resources to the terrorist threat, the events of Sept. 11 might have been prevented.” (Cirincione 9/5/2004)
Congressional Democrats are highly critical of President Bush’s proposal to abandon the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and instead implement a “new strategic framework” for the US’s defense against nuclear weapons (see May 1, 2001). Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) says: “Many in the administration… argue that deploying an ineffective defense can still be an effective system simply because it would cause uncertainty in the minds of our adversaries. That position is based on the flawed assumption that a president would be willing to gamble our nation’s security on a bluff, and that no adversary would be willing or able to call such a bluff. Instead of increasing our security, pursuing a strategy that cannot achieve its goal could leave our nation less secure and our world less stable.” Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE), an acknowledged expert on US defense capabilities, says, “To abandon the ABM with the hope to get that [missile defense] capacity somewhere down the line would damage the security interests of the United States.” Senator John Kerry (D-MA) notes: “If you can’t shoot down 100 percent of them [nuclear missiles], you haven’t gotten rid of mutually assured destruction. And if you can, you set off an arms race to develop a capacity that can’t be touched by a missile defense system.” Perhaps most disparaging is a comment by Representative Neil Abercrombie (D-HI) who says that the new missile defense systems under consideration are “more appropriate to [film studio] Dreamworks and [film director] Steven Spielberg than to actual implementation.” (Nuclear Age Peace Foundation 5/2/2001)
On September 13, New York authorities take into custody ten people of Middle Eastern descent at JFK International and La Guardia Airports, reportedly fearing they intend to hijack aircraft and commit another suicidal terrorist attack on a US target. This leads to all three major New York-area airports—JFK, La Guardia, and Newark—being abruptly shut down, just hours after they reopened for the first time since the 9/11 attacks took place. (Associated Press 9/14/2001; Mittelstadt and Jackson 9/14/2001; Levy and Rashbaum 9/14/2001; Eggen and Slevin 9/14/2001)
Armed and Carrying False ID - According to the Washington Post, the detained individuals are carrying knives and false identification. (Eggen and Slevin 9/14/2001) Four of them are reportedly arrested as they try to board a flight from JFK Airport to Los Angeles, and a woman is held on suspicion of assisting these four. Some of the four are reported as having pilots’ certificates from Flight Safety International in Vero Beach, Florida, where some of the alleged 9/11 hijackers are currently believed to have taken flying lessons. Later on, the other five men are arrested at La Guardia Airport “under similar circumstances.” (Mittelstadt and Jackson 9/14/2001) According to the New York Times, “Law enforcement officials said one of those held was carrying a false pilot’s identification.” Furthermore, several of the detained men “showed up at the airport with tickets for flights canceled on Tuesday [September 11] and tried to use them.” Investigators say they believe one of the men had been among a group of passengers that behaved suspiciously and became aggressive after their aircraft—United Airlines Flight 23—had its takeoff canceled on the morning of 9/11 (see (After 9:19 a.m.) September 11, 2001). New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik says one of the men arrested at JFK Airport “attempted to clear security and he was stopped.” (Levy and Rashbaum 9/14/2001)
Men Released, No Connections Found to 9/11 Attacks - However, the following morning the FBI announces that none of the detainees had any connection to the 9/11 attacks, and all but one of them have been released. Barry Mawn, the head of the New York FBI office, says: “The reporting that has been going on all night, I can definitively tell you, is inaccurate.… [W]e did talk to approximately a dozen individuals. We have only one individual left who is still being questioned by the task force. All other ten have been released.” (CNN 9/14/2001; PBS 9/14/2001) Justice Department spokeswoman Mindy Tucker says that no knives, box cutters, guns, or other weapons were found on the individuals. (Thompson 9/15/2001) After talking to the directors of the FBI and CIA, Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE) tells CNN that the detained men had “no connection whatsoever to what happened at the World Trade towers or the Pentagon, or this organizational network.” He explains: “One guy, an actual pilot, got on the plane, coincidentally had his brother’s identification as well. His brother happened to live in the apartment complex that was one in Boston where some of [the alleged hijackers] had actually been.” Biden adds: “Ten other people were going to a Boeing conference. They had stickers on their bags.… The folks at the airport thought, hey, wait a minute, are they impersonating crew? And they weren’t.” Biden says the one man who has not yet been released “was a screwball who was acting out, you know, acting out and saying and demanding.… Making problems, and they arrested him.” By 11:20 a.m. on September 14, the three New York-area airports are reopened. (Associated Press 9/14/2001; CNN 9/14/2001)
ISI Director Lt. Gen. Mahmood Ahmed, extending his Washington visit because of the 9/11 attacks, meets with US officials and negotiates Pakistan’s cooperation with the US against al-Qaeda. On September 12, 2001, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage meets with Mahmood and allegedly demands that Pakistan completely support the US or “or be prepared to live in the Stone Age” (see September 12, 2001). (Deutsche Presse-Agentur (Hamburg) 9/12/2001; Japan Economic Newswire 9/17/2001; Rind 11/9/2001) On September 13, Armitage and Secretary of State Powell present Mahmood seven demands as a non-negotiable ultimatum. The demands are that Pakistan:
Gives the US blanket overflight and landing rights for all US aircraft.
Gives the US access to airports, naval bases, and borders for operations against al-Qaeda.
Provides immediate intelligence sharing and cooperation.
Cuts all shipments of fuel to the Taliban and stops Pakistani fighters from joining them.
Publicly condemns the 9/11 attacks.
Ends support for the Taliban and breaks diplomatic relations with them.
Stops al-Qaeda operations on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, intercepts arms shipments through Pakistan, and ends all logistical support for al-Qaeda.
Pakistan supposedly agrees to all seven. (Balz, Woodward, and Himmelman 1/29/2002; Rashid 2008, pp. 28) Mahmood also has meetings with Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Secretary of State Powell, regarding Pakistan’s position. (Perlez 9/13/2001; Redden 9/13/2001; Associated Press 9/13/2001; Davies 9/16/2001) On September 13, the airport in Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan, is shut down for the day. A government official will later say the airport was closed because of threats made against Pakistan’s “strategic assets,” but will not elaborate. The next day, Pakistan declares “unstinting” support for the US, and the airport is reopened. It will later be suggested that Israel and India threatened to attack Pakistan and take control of its nuclear weapons if Pakistan did not side with the US. (Rind 11/9/2001) It will later be reported that Mahmood’s presence in Washington was a lucky blessing; one Western diplomat saying it “must have helped in a crisis situation when the US was clearly very, very angry.” (Bokhari 9/18/2001) By September 15, Mahmood is back in Pakistan, and he takes part in a meeting with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and other Pakistani leaders, discussing the US ultimatum. That evening, Musharraf announces that it completely agrees to the terms (see September 15, 2001). However, Pakistan soon begins backtracking on much of the agreement. For instance, just four days after agreeing to the ultimatum, Musharraf fails to condemn the 9/11 attacks or the Taliban or al-Qaeda in an important televised speech, even though he explicitly agreed to do so as part of the agreement (see September 19, 2001). The Pakistani ISI also continues to supply the Taliban with fuel, weapons, and even military advisers, until at least November 2001 (see Late September-November 2001). Pakistani Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar will later describe Pakistan’s policy: “We agreed that we would unequivocally accept all US demands, but then we would express out private reservations to the US and we would not necessarily agree with all the details.” (Rashid 2008, pp. 28)
Four prominent Republican officials make alarming comments about terrorism and especially the use of WMDs against the US:
Attorney General John Ashcroft says on CNN: “We believe there are substantial risks of terrorism still in the United States of America. As we as a nation respond to what has happened to us, those risks may in fact go up.”
White House chief of staff Andrew Card says on Fox News, “I’m not trying to be an alarmist, but we know that these terrorist organizations, like al-Qaeda, run by Osama bin Laden and others, have probably found the means to use biological or chemical warfare.”
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says on NBC’s Meet the Press, “There’s always been terrorism, but there’s never really been worldwide terrorism at a time when the weapons have been as powerful as they are today, with chemical and biological and nuclear weapons spreading to countries that harbor terrorists.” He suggests several countries supporting terrorists either have WMDs or are trying to get them. “It doesn’t take a leap of imagination to expect that at some point those nations will work with those terrorist networks and assist them in achieving and obtaining those kinds of capabilities.” He does not name these countries, but the New York Times notes the next day that the US military had recently identified the WMD programs in Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Sudan as cause for concern.
Representative Henry Hyde (R-IL), the chairman of the House International Relations Committee, also says on Meet the Press that biological weapons “scare” him more than nuclear weapons because they can be brought into the country “rather easily.”
The New York Times reports that there is no new intelligence behind these alarming comments. By contrast, Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, says it is unlikely terrorists are capable of making extremely deadly biological weapons. He says that terrorists might have access to weapons that use anthrax or smallpox, but while “There are those serious things… we can deal with them.” (Dao 10/1/2001) Deputy press secretary Scott McClellan will later observe: “Even the Cheney-driven White House effort to provide all Americans with the smallpox vaccine that was being pushed publicly in the latter weeks of 2002 played into the environment of fear about the Iraq WMD threat. It seems to me a little cynical to suggest that its timing was calculated, but it did not hurt the broader campaign to sell the war.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 138)
Senate Democrats criticize the Bush administration’s decision to unilaterally withdraw from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty with Russia (see May 26, 1972 and December 13, 2001). Joseph Biden (D-DE), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, says the withdrawal will cause an arms buildup not only in Russia but in Pakistan and India, thereby increasing tensions in southern Asia. President Bush’s priorities are “out of whack,” Biden says, and adds that the US should be more worried about terrorists with weapons of mass destruction than countries with long-range ballistic missiles. “September 11 indicated our country is vulnerable,” Biden says. “The thing we remain the least vulnerable to is an ICBM attack from another nation.” Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle warns that the withdrawal could “rupture relations with key countries around the world,” and raises questions about future arms races involving other countries. Bush officials counter that if terrorists get their hands on long-range missiles, they will use them, and the US must be prepared to defend against such an attack. (CNN 12/14/2001)
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says, “How ought security to evolve in [Afghanistan] depends on really two things; one is what the interim government decides they think ought to happen, [the other is] what the warlord forces in the country decide they think ought to happen, and the interaction between the two.” Rumsfeld’s suggestion that the warlords should share power with the government in Afghanistan outrages many leaders in the US and Afghanistan. Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid will later comment that this “gave the Taliban just the propaganda excuse they needed to reorganize themselves. [Afghan President Hamid] Karzai considered Rumsfeld’s comment an insult to all Afghans, and from that time on, he saw [Rumsfeld] as being completely out of touch with reality.” Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE) says a few days later: “America has replaced the Taliban with the warlords. Warlords are still on the US payroll but that hasn’t brought a cessation of violence. Not only is the US failing to reign in the warlords, we are actually making them the centerpiece of our strategy.” (Rashid 2008, pp. 134-135)
FBI Director Robert Mueller testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee, just hours before the testimony of FBI agent Coleen Rowley, whose accusations of FBI malfeasance before the 9/11 attacks have sparked Congressional interest (see June 6, 2002). Mueller promises the committee that Rowley will not be punished for speaking out, and admits that Rowley is correct in some of her assessments, including her insistence that the bureau change to meet the threats posed by loosely organized terrorist groups. “When we looked back, we saw things that we should have done better and things that we should have done differently, but we also saw things that were done well and things that we should do more,” Mueller tells the assembled lawmakers. (CNN 6/6/2002) Some senators take Mueller’s assessments even farther. Herbert Kohl (D-WI) says, “Had the FBI been totally alert and had the FBI used its current capabilities to the best of its ability, there was at least a very good chance that the terrorist plot could have been uncovered.” (Lichtblau 6/7/2002)
Refuses to Answer Questions about Presidential Discussions - Committee member Joe Biden (D-DE) repeatedly asks Mueller whether President Bush consulted with him before the 2001 reorganization of the nation’s domestic security apparatus under the Homeland Security rubric (see September 20, 2001). Mueller refuses to discuss his conversations with Bush. “There is no executive privilege here,” Biden says. “I’m asking you whether you were consulted. I think this is ridiculous.” Law enforcement officials later confirm that both Mueller and Attorney General John Ashcroft were consulted as part of planning for the reorganization.
'Antiquated' Computer System - Democratic senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) questions Mueller about the antiquated computer system used by the FBI (Rowley herself will testify that her agents could not search FBI files for information pertaining to their inquiry into so-called “20th hijacker” Zacarias Moussaoui—see August 21, 2001 and August 23-27, 2001). Mueller confirms that Rowley and agents working with her could not search for terms such as “flight school,” but instead were limited to single-word searches such as “flight” or “school,” which produced masses of irrelevant results. Schumer calls the FBI system “almost laughable,” and adds, “It just makes my jaw drop to think that on 9/11 or on 9/10 the kind of technology that is available to most school kids, and certainly every small business in this country, wasn’t available to the FBI.” Mueller says it will take two or three years to upgrade the FBI’s computers. “I think we are way behind the curve,” he says.
Criticism of Civil Liberties Reductions - Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) criticizes Mueller for his decision, in conjunction with Attorney General John Ashcroft, to loosen restrictions on the FBI that limit the bureau’s ability to investigate and monitor citizen dissidents and organizations. “In particular, I’m troubled by the visa-holder-registration policy announced yesterday,” he says, referring to a Justice Department plan to require that about 100,000 foreigners in the United States be fingerprinted by the government. “Your agency is expending valuable time and resources to recruit these US citizens in our Arab and Muslim communities. And at the same time, the Justice Department is photographing, fingerprinting and registering their law-abiding siblings, cousins, visiting the United States.” (Johnston and Lewis 6/7/2002) “What impact do you think these policies will have on the Arab and Muslim communities in the US if you’re holding job fairs in the morning and fingerprinting them in the afternoon?” Kennedy asks. Mueller responds that the FBI will be careful not to step on anyone’s constitutional rights: “I still believe that we have to protect the freedoms that we have in this country that are guaranteed by the Constitution, or all the work we do to protect it will be at naught.” (Lichtblau 6/7/2002)
After Senator Chuck Hagel learns that the White House counsel has told President Bush that he has the constitutional authority to use preemptive force without congressional approval (see September 25, 2001), he calls White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card and asks, “Andy, I don’t think you have a shred of ground to stand on, but more to the point, why would a president seriously consider taking a nation to war without Congress being with him?” Some time later, Hagel, along with senators Joseph Biden and Richard Lugar, are invited to the White House to discuss the matter. (Gentlemen's Quarterly 1/2007)
In a classified session, George Tenet and other intelligence officials brief the Senate Intelligence Committee on the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq (see October 1, 2002). In his summary of the document, Tenet reportedly says that Iraq attempted to obtain uranium from Niger. Though he mentions that there are some doubts about the reliability of the evidence, he does not provide any details. (Pincus 6/12/2003 ; ABC News 6/16/2003) Tenet also says that the aluminum tubes sought by Iraq (see July 2001) were intended for its nuclear program, that the country has a fleet of mobile biological weapons labs, and that Iraq has developed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that could be armed with chemical or biological weapons for an attack against the US mainland. At one point during the session, a committee staff member slips Senator Joe Biden (D-DE) a note suggesting that the senator ask Tenet what “technically collected” evidence does the CIA have that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction. Biden asks the question and Tenet replies, “None, Senator.” Everyone becomes silent. Biden, apparently annoyed by the answer, asks Tenet, “George, do you want me to clear the staff out of the room,” meaning that if the intelligence is so classified that it shouldn’t be shared with staffers he will ask them to leave. But Tenet says, “There’s no reason to.” When Tenet finishes his testimony, he leaves to attend his son’s basketball game. Other senators also leave. The next witnesses are Carl Ford, Jr., the State Department’s chief intelligence officer, and Rhys Williams, the chief intelligence officer in the Energy Department. Both men say they do not believe that the aluminum tubes sought by Iraq were intended for a nuclear program. But few senators are still in the room to hear these opinions. After the hearing, Peter Zimmerman, the committee’s scientific advisor, asks Robert Walpole the CIA’s national intelligence officer for nuclear weapons, to show him one of the tubes referred to by Tenet. Zimmerman looks at the sample Walpole brought and becomes immediately doubtful. He then grills Walpole on several technical details, who fails to provide any convincing answers. Zimmerman gets the impression that Walpole has little understanding of centrifuges. “I remember going home that night and practically putting my fist through the wall half a dozen times,” Zimmerman later recalls. “I was frustrated as I’ve ever been. I remember saying to my wife, ‘They’re going to war and there’s not a damn piece of evidence to substantiate it.’” (Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 117-119)
Senators Richard Lugar and Joseph Biden circulate an alternative to Bush’s draft congressional resolution, which the two senators explain, “helps the president attract strong bipartisan support in Congress.” Their proposed resolution focuses on the use of force against Iraq as opposed to the entire region and specifies that the disarmament of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction would be the reason for using military force. Bush rejects the suggested alternative outright, complaining, “I don’t want to get a resolution which ties my hands,” instead insisting that Congress pass a resolution that “sends a clear signal that this country is determined to disarm Iraq and thereby bring peace to the world.” Bush says, “My question is, what’s changed [since the Congressional resolution passed in 1998]? Why would Congress want to weaken a resolution?” (Raum 10/1/2002; Borger 10/2/2002; US President 10/7/2002) Saddam Hussein, he continues, is “more of a threat four years later” and “[a]ll of us recognize that the military option is not the first choice, but disarming this man is, because he represents a true threat to the United States.” (Borger 10/2/2002; US President 10/7/2002)
Newsweek reports that hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar may have received money from Saudi Arabia’s royal family through two Saudis, Omar al-Bayoumi and Osama Basnan. Newsweek bases its report on information leaked from the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry in October. (Isikoff 11/22/2002; Isikoff 11/22/2002; Johnston and Risen 11/23/2002; Farah 11/23/2003) Al-Bayoumi is in Saudi Arabia by this time. Basnan was deported to Saudi Arabia just five days earlier. Saudi officials and Princess Haifa immediately deny any connections to Islamic militants. (Serrano, McManus, and Krikorian 11/24/2002) Newsweek reports that while the money trail “could be perfectly innocent… it is nonetheless intriguing—and could ultimately expose the Saudi government to some of the blame for 9/11…” (Isikoff 11/22/2002) Some Saudi newspapers, which usually reflect government thinking, claim the leak is blackmail to pressure Saudi Arabia into supporting war with Iraq. (MSNBC 11/27/2002) Senior US government officials claim the FBI and CIA failed to aggressively pursue leads that might have linked the two hijackers to Saudi Arabia. This causes a bitter dispute between FBI and CIA officials and the intelligence panel investigating the 9/11 attacks. (Johnston and Risen 11/23/2002) A number of senators, including Richard Shelby (R-AL), John McCain (R-AZ), Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), Bob Graham (D-FL), Joseph Biden (D-DE), and Charles Schumer (D-NY), express concern about the Bush administration’s action (or non-action) regarding the Saudi royal family and its possible role in funding Islamic militants. (Reuters 11/24/2002; Johnston and Shenon 11/25/2002) Lieberman says, “I think it’s time for the president to blow the whistle and remember what he said after September 11—you’re either with us or you’re with the al-Qaeda.” (ABC News 11/25/2002) FBI officials strongly deny any deliberate connection between these two men and the Saudi government or the hijackers (Shannon, Zagorin, and Duffy 11/24/2002) , but later even more connections between them and both entities are revealed. (US Congress 7/24/2003 )
Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE) calls Colin Powell and tells him he is hopeful that his upcoming presentation to the UN Security Council will improve the prospect of getting a second UN resolution. Another resolution might force Saddam to capitulate, Biden suggests, or at the very least give an invasion legitimacy. Biden also advises Powell, “Don’t speak to anything you don’t know about.” Powell responds, “Someday when we’re both out of office, we’ll have a cup of coffee and I’ll tell you why.” Biden later says he believe Powell’s comment meant that he wasn’t confident in the information he was going to present. (Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 185)
One day after Secretary of State Colin Powell’s presentation to the United Nations in which he detailed an alleged al-Qaeda-linked training camp in northern Iraq said to be producing chemical weapons (see February 5, 2003), a number of US politicians question why the US has not taken any action against the camp. The camp, located near the town of Khurmal in territory controlled by the Kurdish rebel group Ansar al-Islam, is said to be closely linked to Islamist militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The Los Angeles Times reports that, “Lawmakers who have attended classified briefings on the camp say that they have been stymied for months in their efforts to get an explanation for why the United States has not launched a military strike on the compound…” Sen. Joseph Biden (D-DE) asks Colin Powell in a public hearing: “Why have we not taken it out? Why have we let it sit there if it’s such a dangerous plant producing these toxins?” Powell declines to answer, saying he cannot discuss the matter publicly. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) complains that she has been asking about striking the camp well before Powell’s speech based on intelligence given in private briefings, but, “We’ve been asking this question and have not been given an answer.” Officials have replied that “they’ll have to get back to us.” Representative Jane Harman (D-CA) notes that Powell’s speech could have cost the US an opportunity to prevent the spread of chemical weapons produced at the camp, saying, “By revealing the existence of the camp, it’s predictable whatever activity is there will probably go underground.” One anonymous US intelligence official suggests, “This is it, this is their compelling evidence for use of force. If you take it out, you can’t use it as justification for war.” (Miller 2/7/2003)
At the beginning of 2002, the US, Britain, and other countries around the world made large pledges of aid to Afghanistan (see November 2001-January 2002). But with a new war in Iraq taking considerable focus in the West, those pledges appear to be largely unfulfilled. In February 2003, Sen. Joseph Biden (D-DE) says, “I think [the Bush administration has] already given up the ghost in Afghanistan. They’ve basically turned it over to the warlords.” In December 2002, President Bush signed a law authorizing close to $1 billion a year in aid to Afghanistan for the next four years. But one month later, when Bush submitted his actual budget to Congress, it authorized no money for Afghanistan aid whatsoever. Congress soon authorizes $300 million, but Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) notes that this amount “does not come near” the promise made a short time before. Ahmed Wali Karzai, brother of Afghanistan’s president Hamid Karzai, complains to the press, “What was promised to Afghans with the collapse of the Taliban was a new life of hope and change. But what was delivered? Nothing…There have been no significant changes for people.… [I don’t] know what to say to people anymore.” (Tapper 4/10/2003) As of early 2003, there are only about 3,000 Afghan soldiers who have been trained for the country’s new army, and many of those have quit because they had not been paid in more than six months. By contrast, there are roughly 200,000 fighters controlled by warlords. (Tapper 4/10/2003; Osborne 5/25/2003) A study of post-conflict zones done by Care International estimates that Bosnia is receiving international aid of $326 per person, and Kosovo $288 per person, but Afghanistan is receiving only $42 per person. There is one peacekeeper per 113 people in Bosnia, one per 48 people in Kosovo, but one per 5,380 in Afghanistan (and those are not allowed outside the capital of Kabul). (Osborne 5/25/2003) Only 3 percent of all international aid spent in Afghanistan has been for reconstruction, 13 percent is for emergency aid, and the rest is spent on security. One Afghan minister complains, “We don’t even have enough money to pay [government] wages, let alone plan reconstruction.” (Pilger 9/20/2003) The Independent reports, “Afghans have also listened with astonishment as Americans portray their country’s experience since the overthrow of the Taliban as a ‘success’. Another Western observer summed up his views more acidly. ‘If the Americans think this is success, then outright failure must be pretty horrible to behold’.” (Reeves 2/24/2003)
In the upcoming issue of Vanity Fair, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz admits that the Bush administration chose the issue of Iraqi WMD as its primary justification for war, not because it was necessarily a legitimate concern, but because it was, in the words of reporter David Usbourne, “politically convenient.” Wolfowitz also acknowledges that another justification played a strong part in the decision to invade: the prospect of the US being able to withdraw all of its forces from Saudi Arabia (see August 7, 1990) once Saddam Hussein’s regime was overthrown. “Just lifting that burden from the Saudis is itself going to the door” towards making progress elsewhere in achieving Middle East peace, says Wolfowitz. The presence of US forces in Saudi Arabia has been one of the main grievances of al-Qaeda and other Islamist groups. The most controversial statement by Wolfowitz is his acknowledgement that, “For bureaucratic reasons we settled on one issue, weapons of mass destruction, because it was the one reason everyone could agree on.” Usbourne writes, “The comments suggest that, even for the US administration, the logic that was presented for going to war may have been an empty shell.” He notes that finding a rationale for attacking Iraq that was “acceptable to everyone” may refer to Secretary of State Colin Powell, the most prominent Cabinet member to vocally, if privately, oppose the invasion. Powell relied on the WMD issue in his February presentation to the UN Security Council (see February 5, 2003), which many consider to be a key element in the administration’s effort to convince the American citizenry that the invasion was necessary and justified. (Usborne 5/30/2003)
Democrats: WMD Scare 'Hyped' by Administration - Many Congressional Democrats echo the sentiments of Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE), who says of the administration’s push for war: “I do think that we hyped nuclear, we hyped al-Qaeda, we hyped the ability to disperse and use these weapons. I think that tends to be done by all presidents when they are trying to accomplish a goal that they want to get broad national support for.… I think a lot of the hype here is a serious, serious, serious mistake and it hurts our credibility.” (Sammon 5/30/2003)
British Official: Clear That Rationale for War Was False - Former British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, who quit as leader of the House of Commons to protest the war, says he never believed Iraq had the WMD claimed by US and British government officials. “The war was sold on the basis of what was described as a pre-emptive strike, ‘Hit Saddam before he hits us,’” he says. “It is now quite clear that Saddam did not have anything with which to hit us in the first place.” Former Danish Foreign Minister Niels Helveg Petersen says he is shocked by Wolfowitz’s claim. “It leaves the world with one question: What should we believe?” he says. (Reid 5/30/2003)
Wolfowitz Claims Misquoting - After the initial reports of the interview and the resulting storm of controversy and recriminations, Wolfowitz and his defenders will claim that Vanity Fair reporter Sam Tanenhaus misquoted his words and took his statements out of context (see June 1-9, 2003).
Press Official: Selection of WMD as Primary Focus a 'Marketing Choice' - In 2008, current deputy press secretary Scott McClellan will write, “So the decision to downplay the democratic vision as a motive for war was basically a marketing choice.” Reflecting on this choice, he will add: “Every president wants to achieve greatness but few do. As I have heard [President] Bush say, only a wartime president is likely to achieve greatness, in part because the epochal upheavals of war provide the opportunity for transformative change of the kind Bush hoped to achieve. In Iraq, Bush saw his opportunity to create a legacy of greatness. Intoxicated by the influence and power of America, Bush believed that a successful transformation of Iraq could be the linchpin for realizing his dream of a free Middle East. But there was a problem here, which has become obvious to me only in retrospect—a disconnect between the president’s most heartfelt objective in going to war and the publicly stated rationale for that war. Bush and his advisers knew that the American people would almost certainly not support a war launched primarily for the ambitious purpose of transforming the Middle East.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 131-133)
Congressional Democrats question whether President Bush and White House officials are trying to influence the Plame Wilson leak investigation through their comments. Recently, Bush told reporters that he doubted the person or persons who leaked CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity to the press would ever be identified (see October 7, 2003). While administration officials say Bush was just acknowledging the difficulties such an investigation presents, Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) says his comments threaten to undermine the investigation by lowering expectations. “If the president says, ‘I don’t know if we’re going to find this person,’ what kind of a statement is that for the president of the United States to make?” Lautenberg asks. “Would he say that about a bank-robbery investigation? He should be as indignant as everybody else is over this breach.” Bush, says Lautenberg, “certainly seems far less certain about finding the leaker than he is about finding Osama bin Laden or Saddam Hussein.” Plame Wilson’s husband Joseph Wilson agrees. “This goes far beyond someone identifying my wife,” he says. “This was a breach of public trust, and I would think it would behoove the president to ensure that the appropriate assets are devoted to identifying the leaker.” In contrast, White House press secretary Scott McClellan says that criticism of the investigation “appear[s] to be more about politics than about getting to the bottom of the investigation.” Democrats are also critical of the White House’s vocal opposition to the appointment of a special prosecutor to handle the investigation. And they question McClellan’s recent attempts to exonerate three administration officials—Karl Rove, Lewis Libby, and Elliott Abrams—from any responsibility for the leak (see October 4, 2003 and October 5, 2003). In a letter to Bush, four Democratic senators—Tom Daschle (D-SD), Carl Levin (D-MI), Joseph Biden (D-DE), and Charles Schumer (D-NY)—write that McClellan’s assurances are part of an overall pattern of missteps and errors surrounding the White House’s response to the leak investigation. McClellan lacks the legal expertise to question possible suspects, they note. “The White House has now put the Justice Department in the position of having to determine not only what happened, but also whether to contradict the publicly stated position of the White House,” the senators write. Justice Department spokesman Mark Corallo says that anything White House officials say has “nothing to do with this investigation. The investigation will follow the facts.” (Lichtblau 10/10/2003)
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John W. Warner asks Pentagon officials to testify before his committee. The Army’s vice chief of staff, Gen. George Casey, briefs the committee behind closed doors. Expressing anger at the fact he was not informed earlier of problems at Abu Ghraib, Democratic Sen. Joseph Biden, says: “Accountability is essential. So the question for me is, what did Secretary Rumsfeld and others in the Pentagon know, when did they know it and what did they do about it?” Biden says in a statement. “If the answers are unsatisfactory, resignations should be sought,” referring to Rumsfeld and others. (CNN 5/5/2004)
White House counsel Alberto Gonzales testifies before the US Senate as part of his confirmation as the Bush administration’s new attorney general. Much of the seven hours of testimony focuses on Gonzales’s position on torturing terrorist suspects. He is specifically questioned on the August 2002 Justice Department memo requested by Gonzales that outlined how US officials could interrogate subjects without violating domestic and international laws against torture by setting unusually high standards for the definition of torture (see August 1, 2002). (Goodman and Gonzales 1/7/2005) Arlen Specter (R-PA) asks Gonzales if he approves of torture. Gonzales replies, “Absolutely not,” but refuses to be pinned down on specifics of exactly what constitutes torture.
Equivocating on the Definition of Torture - Gonzales says he “was sickened and outraged” by the photographs of tortured Iraqis at Abu Ghraib prison (see Evening November 7, 2003), but refuses to say whether he believes any of that conduct is criminal, citing ongoing prosecutions. Joseph Biden (D-DE) retorts: “That’s malarkey. You are obliged to comment. That’s your judgment we’re looking at.… We’re looking for candor.” (CNN 1/7/2005) When asked whether he agrees with the August 2002 memo that said, “[F]or an act to violate the torture statute, it must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death,” Gonzales says: “We were trying to interpret the standard set by Congress. There was discussion between the White House and Department of Justice as well as other agencies about what does this statute mean? It was a very, very difficult—I don’t recall today whether or not I was in agreement with all of the analysis, but I don’t have a disagreement with the conclusions then reached by the department.” He says that the standard “does not represent the position of the executive branch” today. Author and torture expert Mark Danner calls the standard “appalling… even worse the second time through.” Gonzales was obviously prepped for this line of questioning, Danner says: “He sat in front of the committee and asserted things, frankly, that we know not to be true.… He was essentially unwilling to say definitively there were no situations in which Americans could legally torture prisoners.… [T]here’s an assumption behind [this performance] that we have the votes. We’re going to get through. I just have to give them nothing on which to hang some sort of a contrary argument.”
Equivicating on Techniques - Edward Kennedy (D-MA) questions Gonzales about what techniques are defined as torture, including “live burial” (see February 4-5, 2004) and waterboarding. Kennedy says that, according to media reports, Gonzales never objected to these or other techniques. Gonzales does not have a “specific recollection” of the discussions or whether the CIA ever asked him to help define what is and is not torture. He also says that in “this new kind of” war against “this new kind of enemy, we realized there was a premium on receiving information” the US needs to defeat terrorists. Agencies such as the CIA requested guidance as to “[w]hat is lawful conduct” because they did not “want to do anything that violates the law.” Kennedy asks if Gonzales ever suggested that the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) ever “lean forward on this issue about supporting the extreme uses of torture?” Gonzales focuses on Kennedy’s phrasing: “Sir, I don’t recall ever using the term sort of ‘leaning forward,’ in terms of stretching what the law is.” He refuses to admit giving any opinions or requesting any documents, but only wanted “to understand [the OLC’s] views about the interpretation” of torture. Danner notes that Justice Department officials have told reporters that Gonzales pushed for the expansive definition of torture in the memos, but Gonzales refuses to admit to any of that in the questioning.
Ignoring the Uniform Code of Military Justice - Lindsey Graham (R-SC) tells Gonzales that the Justice Department memo was “entirely wrong in its focus” because it excluded the Uniform Code Of Military Justice, and that it “put our troops at jeopardy.” Gonzales replies that he does not think that because of the memo the US has lost “the moral high ground” in the world. Danner says, “[Graham] is arguing that these steps weakened the United States, not only by putting troops at risk, but by undermining the US’s reputation in the world, undermining the ideological side of this war… Graham is saying very directly that by torturing, and by supplying images like that one, of… a hooded man, the man with the hood over his head and the wires coming out of his fingers and his genitals which is known far and wide in the Arab world in the Middle East it’s become highly recognizable by supplying that sort of ammunition, you’re giving very, very strong comfort and aid to the enemy in fact.” (Goodman and Gonzales 1/7/2005)
Senate Democrats Joseph Biden (D-DE), Carl Levin (D-MI), and Harry Reid (D-NV) issue a demand for the Bush administration to “provide policy direction for negotiations with North Korea relating to nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, and other security matters,” and to “provide leadership for United States participation in Six Party Talks on the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula” (see September 19-20, 2005). The White House ignores the demand. (Scoblic 2008, pp. 245)
Reactions to President Bush’s commutation of Lewis Libby’s prison sentence (see July 2, 2007) are mixed, and split largely along partisan divides.
Democrats: Commutation 'Disgraceful,' 'Tramples' on Principle of Equal Justice - Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) calls the decision “disgraceful” and says history will judge Bush “harshly” for it. Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), a 2008 presidential contender, says, “This is exactly the kind of politics we must change so we can begin restoring the American people’s faith in a government that puts the country’s progress ahead of the bitter partisanship of recent years.” Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY), another presidential candidate, says Bush’s decision shows that “cronyism and ideology trump competence and justice.” Former Senator John Edwards (D-NC), another presidential contender, says, “Only a president clinically incapable of understanding that mistakes have consequences could take the action he did today.” Senator Joe Biden (D-DE), another presidential hopeful, states, “I call for all Americans to flood the White House with phone calls tomorrow expressing their outrage over this blatant disregard for the rule of law.” Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) says: “As Independence Day nears, we’re reminded that one of the principles our forefathers fought for was equal justice under the law. This commutation completely tramples on that principle.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) says Bush has “abandoned all sense of fairness when it comes to justice.… The president’s commutation of Scooter Libby’s prison sentence does not serve justice, condones criminal conduct, and is a betrayal of trust of the American people.” House Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers (D-MI) says that “until now, it appeared that the president merely turned a blind eye to a high ranking administration official leaking classified information. The president’s action today makes it clear that he condones such activity.”
Republicans: Commutation 'the Right Thing' but Political Damage May Be Severe - While most Republican lawmakers do not issue public comments, House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-MO) says: “President Bush did the right thing today in commuting the prison term for Scooter Libby. The prison sentence was overly harsh, and the punishment did not fit the crime.” Former Senator Fred Thompson, also a 2008 presidential hopeful and a long-time supporter of Libby’s (see After October 28, 2005 and March 7, 2007), says Bush should issue a full pardon for Libby, adding, “This will allow a good American who has done a lot for his country to resume his life.” Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani calls the commutation a “reasonable” and “correct” decision. (Allen 7/2/2007; CNN 7/2/2007; Goldstein 7/3/2007) But other Republicans are not so sanguine. “The dirty little secret is that in his own way, Bush has shown as much contempt for the law as [former President Bill] Clinton did,” says Curt Smith, a speechwriter for President George H. W. Bush. An unidentified Washington Republican says, “We have now witnessed the evisceration of the Bush presidency by its own hand.” A senior Republican operative observes: “Thirty months in jail was absolutely excessive, but zero is offensive to the average American. Commuting to 60 days in jail would have made this a lot more palatable to the average person.” (DeFrank 7/8/2007)
Wilson: Libby a 'Traitor' Who 'Endangered ... Country's National Security' - Joseph Wilson, a former ambassador and vehement war critic whose wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, was exposed as a covert CIA agent by Libby, says both he and his wife are “deeply disappointed” by Bush’s decision. “The president’s actions send the message that leaking classified information for political purposes is acceptable,” Wilson says. “Mr. Libby not only endangered Valerie and our family, but also our country’s national security.” Asked if he has anything to say to Libby, Wilson says with apparent anger: “I have nothing to say to Scooter Libby. I don’t owe this administration. They owe my wife and my family an apology for having betrayed her. Scooter Libby is a traitor.”
Law Professor Calls Commutation 'Hypocritical and Appalling' - Law professor Douglas Berman says the commutation is “hypocritical and appalling from a president whose Justice Department is always fighting” attempts by judges and lawmakers to lower the punishment called for under federal sentencing guidelines. Berman says Bush’s message amounted to “My friend Scooter shouldn’t have to serve 30 months in prison because I don’t want him to.” Most polls show overwhelming public support for Libby’s jailing. (Allen 7/2/2007; CNN 7/2/2007; Goldstein 7/3/2007)
Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE), a presidential candidate and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, says that President Bush deliberately misled the American people over the danger posed by Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and that if Bush initiates an attack on Iran without the approval of Congress, he will call for Bush’s impeachment. Biden tells reporters, “After all we’ve been through, for this president to knowingly disregard or once again misrepresent intelligence about an issue of war and peace, I find outrageous.” Biden is referring to the faulty and deceptive intelligence presented by the Bush administration to justify invading Iraq. The US intelligence community recently released a National Intelligence Estimate (see December 3, 2007) that concluded Iran shut down its nuclear program in 2003, and Bush has asserted that he himself only learned about the shutdown in late November (see December 3-4, 2007). Biden doesn’t believe Bush’s tale of ignorance: “Are you telling me a president who’s briefed every single morning, who’s fixated on Iran, is not told back in August that the tentative conclusion of 16 intelligence agencies of the United States government said [Iran] had abandoned their effort for nuclear weapons in 2003?” Biden says if Bush’s assertion of ignorance is true, then he and his staff are thoroughly incompetent. “You cannot trust this president,” Biden states. (Wheeler 12/4/2007) Biden is joined by other Democratic presidential candidates, although they use less “heated rhetoric” than Biden. Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) says, “I think we do know that pressure on Iran does have an effect. I think that is an important lesson. But we’re not going to reach the kind of resolution that we should seek unless we put that into the context of a diplomatic process.” And Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) notes that Bush “continues to not let facts get in the way of his ideology.… They should have stopped the saber rattling; should have never started it. And they need, now, to aggressively move on the diplomatic front.” (CNN 12/5/2007)
The White House confirms that President Bush was told in August 2007 that Iran’s nuclear weapons program “may be suspended,” the conclusion of the recently released National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) (see December 3, 2007). The White House’s admission is a direct contradiction of Bush’s assertion that he only learned of the NIE in late November (see December 3-4, 2007 and November 26-28, 2007). Press secretary Dana Perino says Bush was not told in August of the specifics behind the information about Iran’s nuclear program. Perino says that Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Mike McConnell told Bush in August that the new information might cause the intelligence community to revise its assessment of the Iranian program, but analysts still needed to complete their review before making a final judgment. However, Perino says there is no conflict between her statement and Bush’s insistence that he knew nothing about the substance of the intelligence assessment until late November, because Bush “wasn’t given the specific details” of the revised estimate. Perino’s account raises questions about why, if Bush knew the intelligence community believed Iran’s nuclear weapons program was in abeyance, two months later, he was still giving dire warnings about Iran being a threat to cause “World War III” if not halted (see October 20, 2007). Perino offers an explanation of those warnings, saying, “The president didn’t say we’re going to cause World War III. He was saying he wanted to avoid World War III.” Perino says it is unfair to question Bush’s veracity: “If anyone wants to call the president a liar, they are misreading the situation for their own political purposes. The liar is [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad [the president of Iran], and he has a lot of explaining to do.”
Reaction - Joseph Biden, a Democratic presidential candidate and the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, calls Bush’s explanation unbelievable. “I refuse to believe that,” Biden says. “If that’s true, he has the most incompetent staff in modern American history, and he’s one of the most incompetent presidents in modern American history.” (CNN 12/5/2007) Four former CIA officials call Bush’s claim of ignorance about the Iran intelligence “preposterous.” Melvin Goodman, a 24-year CIA veteran, calls Bush’s claim “unbelievable.” He is joined by Ray McGovern, another CIA veteran who routinely briefed George H. W. Bush during his two terms as vice president; Larry Johnson, the former deputy of the State Department’s Office of Counter Terrorism; and Bruce Riedel, a former National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asian offices. McGovern is almost contemptuous of Bush’s claim: “The notion that the head of National Intelligence whispered in Bush’s ear, ‘I’ve got a surprise for you and it’s really important, but I’m not going to tell you about it until we check it out’—the whole thing is preposterous.” Riedel says that Bush “either chose to ignore what he heard or his director of national intelligence is not doing his job.” He doubts McConnell failed to do his part. “To me it is almost mind boggling that the president is told by the DNI that we have new important information on Iran and he doesn’t ask ‘what is that information?’” Riedel adds. It is not McConnell’s responsibility to tell Bush to “stop hyperventilating about the Iranian threat,” he says, but instead the job of National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and Bush’s other policy advisers to keep “their eye on the intelligence and to take into account new information as it comes along.” Johnson says that the information used in the NIE would have been available months before it was released to the public, and would have automatically been included in the Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB). Bush would have been told of the intelligence findings, as would Vice President Cheney, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Goodman and McGovern agree with Johnson’s statement. (Edsall and Follmer 12/5/2007) A deconstruction of Bush’s own statements over the last several months indicates that Bush changed his wording in early August, most likely because he was informed about the intelligence findings over Iran (see December 5, 2007).
Some US lawmakers indicate they may support the appointment of a special counsel to look into the CIA’s destruction of videotapes (see December 6, 2007), in addition to various other inquiries that are launched at this time (see December 7, 2007 and Shortly After).
Initially, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) indicates he will support a special counsel if the Bush administration impedes a congressional probe and an investigation initiated by the Justice Department: “The CIA, the Justice Department, the Bush White House and every American should know that if these investigations encounter resistance or are unable to find the truth, I will not hesitate to add my voice to those calling for a special counsel.” (Marre 12/11/2007)
Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE), who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, backs the call. (Marre 12/11/2007)
After some lawmakers begin to question whether the Justice Department will properly investigate the scandal (see December 14, 2007), Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) expresses some support for a special counsel: “I am concerned whether we are going to get to the real facts… [Because the inquiry is] being very closely held, the question is whether the American people will have a sense that this investigation is on the level. Unless you bring the FBI in, and unless you bring in the possibility of a special prosecutor as they had in Watergate, I am not sure we’ll get to that point.” (Rowley 12/14/2007)
However, a special prosecutor is opposed by some, such as Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV). (Marre 12/11/2007) Attorney General Michael Mukasey calls such appointment “the most hypothetical of hypotheticals.” (Jordan 12/11/2007)
President Bush, speaking to the Israeli Knesset in Jerusalem on the 60th anniversary of Israel’s founding, accuses Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, and other Democrats of favoring “appeasement” of terrorists in the same way some Western leaders “appeased” Nazi Germany’s Adolf Hitler in the days before World War II. Bush does not name Obama or any other official specifically, but White House aides soon acknowledge Bush intended the remarks to apply to Obama. Bush tells the Knesset: “Some seem to believe we should negotiate with terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared, ‘Lord, if only I could have talked to Hitler, all of this might have been avoided.’ We have an obligation to call this what it is—the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.… There are good and decent people who cannot fathom the darkness in these men and try to explain their words away. This is natural. But it is deadly wrong. As witnesses to evil in the past, we carry a solemn responsibility to take these words seriously. Jews and Americans have seen the consequences of disregarding the words of leaders who espouse hatred. And that is a mistake the world must not repeat in the 21st century.” CNN calls the remarks “a not-so-subtle attempt to continue to raise doubts about Obama with Jewish Americans,” and a follow-up to similar remarks made by Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, who has charged that Obama enjoys the support of Islamic fundamentalist group Hamas. Obama called McCain’s Hamas allegation a “smear” and says of Bush’s remarks: “It is sad that President Bush would use a speech to the Knesset on the 60th anniversary of Israel’s independence to launch a false political attack. It is time to turn the page on eight years of policies that have strengthened Iran and failed to secure America or our ally Israel.… George Bush knows that I have never supported engagement with terrorists, and the president’s extraordinary politicization of foreign policy and the politics of fear do nothing to secure the American people or our stalwart ally Israel.” Obama’s campaign says Obama favors “tough, direct presidential diplomacy with Iran without preconditions, and is willing to meet with the leaders of all nations, friend and foe.” Obama has never said he favors talks with any radical group such as Hamas, which both he and the US State Department have labeled a terrorist organization. (CNN 5/15/2008)
Angry Responses from Democratic Lawmakers - The response from Democratic lawmakers, Bush administration critics, and Democratic supporters is quick and angered. One of the harshest responses is from Senator Joe Biden (D-DE), the head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a former presidential contender himself. Biden minces few words by saying: “This is bullsh_t, this is malarkey. This is outrageous, for the president of the United States to go to a foreign country, to sit in the Knesset… and make this kind of ridiculous statement.” Of Bush, Biden says: “He is the guy who has weakened us. He has increased the number of terrorists in the world. It is his policies that have produced this vulnerability that the US has. It’s his [own] intelligence community [that] has pointed this out, not me.” He also notes that Bush’s Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have both suggested opening dialogues with their enemies. “If he thinks this is appeasement, is he going to come back and fire his own cabinet?” Biden asks. “Is he going to fire Condi Rice?” Biden later says he regrets the use of the profanity, but then says that Bush is engaging in “long-distance swiftboating” of Obama, referring to Bush’s 2004 campaign strategy of telling false stories about his Democratic challenger Senator John Kerry (D-MA) and Kerry’s Vietnam service. Kerry says that Bush “is still playing the disgusting and dangerous political game Karl Rove perfected, which is insulting to every American and disrespectful to our ally Israel. George Bush should be making Israel secure, not slandering Barack Obama from the Knesset.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) says: “Not surprisingly, the engineer of the worst foreign policy in our nation’s history has fired yet another reckless and reprehensible round. For the president to make this statement before the government of our closest ally as it celebrates a remarkable milestone demeans this historic moment with partisan politics.” For a brief time, the White House attempts to deny that Bush was referring to Obama, a denial that Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) does not believe. “There is no escaping what the president is doing,” he says. “It is an attack on Senator Obama’s position that we should not be avoiding even those we disagree with when it comes to negotiations and diplomacy.” Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY), also a Democratic presidential contender, says: “President Bush’s comparison of any Democrat to Nazi appeasers is both offensive and outrageous on the face of it, especially in light of his failures in foreign policy. This is the kind of statement that has no place in any presidential address and certainly to use an important moment like the 60th anniversary celebration of Israel to make a political point seems terribly misplaced. Unfortunately, this is what we’ve come to expect from President Bush. There is a very clear difference between Democrats and Republicans on foreign policy and that difference will be evident once we take back the White House.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) says that Bush’s remarks are “beneath the dignity of the office of the president and unworthy of our representation” at the celebration of Israel’s 60th anniversary. Referring to McCain, Pelosi says, “I would hope that any serious person that aspires to lead the country, would disassociate themselves from those comments.” House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (D-IL) says: “The tradition has always been that when a US president is overseas, partisan politics stops at the water’s edge. President Bush has now taken that principle and turned it on its head: for this White House, partisan politics now begins at the water’s edge, no matter the seriousness and gravity of the occasion. Does the president have no shame?” (Politico 5/15/2008; Politico 5/15/2008; Politico 5/15/2008)
Other Responses - Democratic columnist and political strategist Paul Begala writes: “George W. Bush is unworthy of the presidency. He is a disgrace to himself, our nation, and the high office he holds.” Bush “dishonor[ed] himself”, Begala continues, “by using one of the world’s most important pulpits to launch a false and vicious political attack against Barack Obama.” Begala notes that he is a staunch supporter of Israel, and writes: “It is especially appalling to supporters of Israel that Mr. Bush would stand on a hilltop in Jerusalem to invoke the Holocaust in order to make a cheap and deeply dishonest political point. I am a person of faith, so it is especially galling that a man who calls himself a brother in faith would stand in the Holy Land and violate one of the Commandments God gave to Moses: ‘Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.‘… As an American I am ashamed that such a man represents me.” (Begala 5/15/2008) The Boston Globe publishes an editorial accusing Bush of breaking “an unwritten rule against partisan politicking on foreign shores. He also displayed confusion about his own policies—and about the cause of his calamitous foreign policy failures.” Like others, the Globe notes that Bush officials have engaged in talks with Iran, and says that by overthrowing Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, the Bush administration has done a great deal “to enable Iran.” The Globe compares Obama’s foreign policy to the “tough and prudent statecraft in the mold of Bush’s father and his secretary of state, James Baker.” The Globe concludes: “Maybe the worst thing about Bush’s Knesset attack on Obama is that it shows how oblivious Bush still is to his own failings. His unilateral military ventures, his disdain for international treaties and organizations, his refusal to negotiate with Iran when the regime in Tehran was eager to cut a deal with the United States—these mistakes produced the disasters that Obama or another successor will have to overcome.” (Boston Globe 5/16/2008) Columnist Will Bunch of the Philadelphia Inquirer writes: “President Bush went on foreign soil today, and committed what I consider an act of political treason: Comparing the candidate of the US opposition party to appeasers of Nazi Germany—in the very nation that was carved out from the horrific calamity of the Holocaust. Bush’s bizarre and beyond-appropriate detour into American presidential politics took place in the middle of what should have been an occasion for joy.” As others observe, Bunch writes that Bush crossed a line that previous presidents have tried to avoid: criticizing members of the opposing party on foreign soil. He writes: “As a believer in free speech, I think Bush has a right to say what he wants, but as a president of the United States who swore to uphold the Constitution, his freedom also carries an awesome and solemn responsibility, and what this president said today is a serious breach of that high moral standard.… [W]hat Bush did in Israel this morning goes well beyond the accepted confines of American political debate. When the president speaks to a foreign parliament on behalf of our country, his message needs to be clear and unambiguous. Our democracy may look messy to outsiders, and we may have our disagreements with some sharp elbows thrown around, but at the end of the day we are not Republicans or Democrats or liberals or conservatives. We are Americans.” (Bunch 5/15/2008)
Republican Responses - Few Republicans speak publicly regarding Bush’s comments. One who is willing to do so is Ed Gillespie, an advisor to the White House. He attempts to deny that Bush meant the remarks to apply to Obama—a denial soon contradicted by other White House officials—then claims that Bush and the White House want to stay out of the presidential campaign. Instead, Gillespie says: “The president is stating American policy and his policy toward Iran and toward Hezbollah and toward al-Qaeda.… We are happy to allow for Senator Obama and others to express their own points of view on these things.” McCain refuses to distance himself from the remarks, and instead attacks Obama for expressing a willingness to open talks with Iran. McCain does not note that Bush administration diplomats have held three rounds of discussions with Iranian officials in the last year. (Henry 5/16/2008)
Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK), the Republican candidate for vice president with presidential contender John McCain (R-AZ), learns of a recent CNN report about her ties with the secessionist Alaskan Independence Party (AIP—see October 14, 2008) and the Salon.com article that sparked the report (see October 10, 2008). Palin is on a campaign jet en route to New Hampshire when she sees part of the segment, along with a graphic on the bottom of the screen touting “The Palins and the Fringe.” The segment discusses her husband Todd Palin’s former membership in the AIP, and her own videotaped message to the 2008 AIP convention (see March 2008). During a rally this afternoon, someone on the rope line shouts a question about the AIP. Palin determines that the campaign is not working hard enough to downplay her connections to the AIP, and quickly sends an email to Steve Schmidt, the campaign’s chief strategist, and to campaign manager Rick Davis and senior adviser Nicolle Wallace. The email, titled simply “Todd,” reads: “Pls get in front of that ridiculous issue that’s cropped up all day today—two reporters, a protestor’s sign, and many shout-outs all claiming Todd’s involvement in an anti-American political party. It’s bull, and I don’t want to have to keep reacting to it.… Pls have statement given on this so it’s put to bed.” Palin is worried in part because her vice-presidential debate with Democratic contender Joseph Biden (D-DE) is coming up in hours, and she has no desire to delve into the Palins’ associations with the AIP during it. Five minutes after Palin sends the email, she receives a reply from Schmidt, saying: “Ignore it. He [Todd Palin] was a member of the aip? My understanding is yes. That is part of their platform. Do not engage the protestors. If a reporter asks say it is ridiculous. Todd loves america.” Palin is unsatisfied, sending another email to the three original recipients and cc’ing it to five other campaign staffers, including her personal assistant. CBS News will later report: “Palin’s insertion of the five additional staffers in the email chain was an apparent attempt to rally her own troops in the face of a decision from the commanding general with which she disagreed. Her inclusion of her personal assistant was particularly telling about her quest for affirmation and support in numbers, since the young staffer was not in a position to have any input on campaign strategy.” Palin writes: “That’s not part of their platform and he was only a ‘member’ bc independent alaskans too often check that ‘Alaska Independent’ box on voter registrations thinking it just means non partisan. He caught his error when changing our address and checked the right box. I still want it fixed.” Palin is misrepresenting the nature of Alaskan voter registration documents: they contain the full name of the Alaskan Independence Party, not “Alaska independent,” as she seems to assert. Schmidt sees Palin’s second email as an attempt to mislead the campaign and sends a longer response about the AIP, which says: “Secession. It is their entire reason for existence. A cursory examination of the website shows that the party exists for the purpose of seceding from the union. That is the stated goal on the front page of the web site. Our records indicate that todd was a member for seven years. If this is incorrect then we need to understand the discrepancy. The statement you are suggesting be released would be innaccurate. The innaccuracy would bring greater media attention to this matter and be a distraction. According to your staff there have been no media inquiries into this and you received no questions about it during your interviews. If you are asked about it you should smile and say many alaskans who love their country join the party because it speeks to a tradition of political independence. Todd loves his country[.] We will not put out a statement and inflame this and create a situation where john has to adress this.” CBS will call Schmidt’s pushback against Palin’s insistence on a correction “particularly blunt in that it implicitly questioned her truthfulness. Furthermore, his unwillingness to budge an inch on the matter was a remarkable assertion of his power to pull rank over the candidate herself.” Palin does not respond to the email. (CBS News 7/1/2009) The McCain-Palin campaign will issue a brief statement denying that Palin was ever a registered member of the AIP. “Governor Palin has been a registered Republican since 1982,” campaign spokesman Brian Rogers will say. “As you know, if she changed her registration, there would have been some record of it. There isn’t.” AIP chairperson Lynette Clark will confirm Rogers’s statement. (Tapper 9/1/2008; Alaskan Independence Party 9/3/2008)
Senior Bush administration officials meet in secret together with Afghanistan experts from NATO and the United Nations to brief advisers from the presidential campaigns of John McCain and Barack Obama on the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan. The meetings take place over two days and are held at an exclusive Washington club a few blocks from the White House. The briefing is part of an effort by the departing Bush administration to smooth the transition to the next team, according to a New York Times report. At the meetings, Bush administration officials reportedly press the need for the incoming president to have a plan for Afghanistan ready before taking office. The sessions are unclassified, but the participants agree not to discuss the content of the briefings or discussions publicly. Some participants, however, will later disclose some meeting details to the Times. Among issues reportedly discussed are:
Negotiating with the Taliban; and
Expanding the war in Pakistan.
The meetings are organized by New York University professor Barnett Rubin, an expert on Afghanistan. Participants include John K. Wood, the senior Afghanistan director at the National Security Council; Lieutenant General Karl W. Eikenberry, a former American commander in Afghanistan who will later become the next US ambassador to Afghanistan (see April 29, 2009); and Kai Eide, the United Nations representative in Afghanistan. The Obama campaign sends Jonah Blank, a foreign policy specialist for Senator Joe Biden, and Craig Mullaney, an Afghanistan adviser to Obama. The McCain campaign is represented by Lisa Curtis and Kori Schake, two former State Department officials. The New York Times suggests that the briefing on Afghanistan and Pakistan appears to have been the most extensive that Bush administration officials have provided on any issue to both presidential campaigns. It further notes that both Obama and McCain have promised to increase the number of American troops in Afghanistan. (Mazzetti and Schmitt 10/30/2008)
The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism releases a study that finds that, by and large, the media coverage for Republican presidential candidate John McCain has been more negative than that for his opponent, Democrat Barack Obama. The Center writes: “Press treatment of Obama has been somewhat more positive than negative, but not markedly so. But coverage of McCain has been heavily unfavorable—and has become more so over time.” The study also finds: “Much of the increased attention for McCain derived from actions by the senator himself, actions that, in the end, generated mostly negative assessments. In many ways, the arc of the media narrative during this phase of the 2008 general election might be best described as a drama in which John McCain has acted and Barack Obama has reacted.” The study also notes that coverage for McCain’s running mate, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, “had an up and down trajectory, moving from quite positive, to very negative, to more mixed. What drove that tone toward a more unfavorable light was probing her public record and her encounters with the press. Little of her trouble came from coverage of her personal traits or family issues. In the end, she also received less than half the coverage of either presidential nominee, though about triple that of her vice presidential counterpart, Joe Biden. The findings suggest that, in the end, Palin’s portrayal in the press was not the major factor hurting McCain. Her coverage, while tilting negative, was far more positive than her running mate’s.” (Pew Research Center Project for Excellence in Journalism 10/22/2008) The progressive media watchdog site Media Matters will call the study “arguabl[y] flaw[ed]” and will note that it does not include conservative talk radio, whose coverage of the presidential campaign has amounted to what the site calls “an all-out effort to foment hate and suspicion of Obama among their listeners, promoting the most baseless and farfetched of smears and advancing falsehoods—including about Obama’s religion and background—that have taken hold among a substantial percentage of the electorate” (see July 9, 2008, August 1, 2008 and After, and November 10, 2008). (Media Matters 11/6/2008)
Alan Keyes (R-IL), the unsuccessful presidential candidate who ran under the American Independent Party banner, files a petition, Keyes v. Bowen, with the Superior Court of California in Sacramento. The action is filed by Gary Kreep of the United States Justice Foundation on behalf of Keyes, along with well-known “birther” lawyer Orly Taitz. Two California electors, Wiley S. Drake and Markham Robinson, are also named with Keyes in the action. Keyes’s “Petition for Writ of Mandate” claims that President-elect Barack Obama (D-IL)‘s US citizenship is unproven (see (see June 13, 2008, June 27, 2008, July 2008, August 21, 2008, and October 30, 2008) and therefore he must be stopped from taking office until it is proven one way or the other. “Should Senator Obama be discovered, after he takes office, to be ineligible for the Office of President of the United States of America and, thereby, his election declared void,” the petition states, “Petitioners, as well as other Americans, will suffer irreparable harm in that (a) usurper will be sitting as the President of the United States, and none of the treaties, laws, or executive orders signed by him will be valid or legal.” The petition requests that Secretary of State Debra Bowen be prevented “from both certifying to the governor the names of the California Electors, and from transmitting to each presidential Elector a Certificate of Election, until such documentary proof is produced and verified showing that Senator Obama is a ‘natural born’ citizen of the United States and does not hold citizenship of Indonesia, Kenya, or Great Britain.” It continues with a request for a writ barring California’s electors from signing the Certificate of Vote until documentary proof is produced. The defendants include Bowen, Obama, Vice President-elect Joseph Biden (D-DE), and the 55 California electors. The petition uses a fraudulently edited audiotape (see October 16, 2008 and After) as primary evidence that Obama was born in Kenya and is therefore ineligible to be president. Referring to the tape’s transcript, and a previously dismissed lawsuit by Philip Berg (see August 21-24, 2008) currently using the same audiotape to justify an appellate reversal, Keyes writes, “Mr. Berg provided documents [to the Supreme Court] to the effect that Senator Obama was born in what is now Kenya… and that his paternal grandmother was present at his birth.” The petition states as a “fact” that Obama’s paternal grandmother stated that “she was present during [his] birth… [she] affirmed that she ‘was in the delivery room in Kenya when he was born Aug. 4, 1961.’” The suit asks that the court issue an immediate injunction prohibiting California’s 55 electors from voting for Obama in the upcoming Electoral College vote on December 15, 2008, which would prevent Obama from being officially declared president. Keyes’s writ asks that documentary proof be received and verified by the California secretary of state that the allegations are false and that Obama is affirmatively proven to be a “natural born citizen” by a series of tests not required of any previous president-elect. Investigative blogger Greg Doudna will speculate that Keyes’s extraordinary actions have been sparked in part because he has now been twice defeated by Obama in elections; Obama defeated him in an Illinois election for US Senate in 2004. (Keyes et al v. Bowie et al 11/13/2008 ; Unruh 11/14/2008; Sacramento Union 11/15/2008; Greg Doudna 12/9/2008 ) After filing the lawsuit, Keyes tells a reporter: “I and others are concerned that this issue be properly investigated and decided before Senator Obama takes office. Otherwise there will be a serious doubt as to the legitimacy of his tenure. This doubt would also affect the respect people have for the Constitution as the supreme law of the land. I hope the issue can be quickly clarified so that the new president can take office under no shadow of doubt. This will be good for him and for the nation.” (Sacramento Union 11/15/2008)
'Pure Garbage' - An Obama spokesperson tells WorldNetDaily: “All I can tell you is that it [the petition] is just pure garbage. There have been several lawsuits, but they have been dismissed.” (Schilling 11/13/2008)
Affidavit from Phony 'Computer Graphics Expert' - Self-described “computer graphics expert” “Dr. Ron Polarik,” a conservative blogger, records a video (that blurs his face and disguises his voice) explaining how the actual Obama birth certificate was forged using Photoshop. Polarik submits an affidavit in support of the filing, but because he signs it “XXXXXXXXXXX,” the affidavit is inadmissible. Kreep later tells a reporter, “If it ever comes down to it, we’ll use his real name.” (Weigel 7/24/2009) The Berg lawsuit also used material supplied by Polarik. Computer forensics expert Dr. Neal Krawetz later determines that Polarik’s analysis is a clumsy fraud perpetuated by an amateur with no real expertise. (Neal Krawetz 11/25/2008; Weigel 7/24/2009; Hacker Factor 2011) Libertarian lawyer Loren Collins later traces a timeline of what he will call Polarik’s “ever-changing resume,” and questions Polarik’s claims to his several doctorates and areas of expertise. (Loren Collins 7/7/2009) Collins later discovers that “Polarik” is actually a man named Ronald Jay Polland, who holds a doctorate in instructional systems, has experience conducting surveys and statistical reports, operates a one-man consulting firm in Florida, and describes himself on his MySpace page as an “[e]xpert advisor on relationships, romance, and… dating.” Polland’s resume, unlike “Polarik’s,” claims no expertise in document forensics, computing systems, or graphics. (Loren Collins 7/29/2009) Krawetz will learn that Polland claimed to use a pseudonym on the Internet because “he fears threats from Obama supporters.” (Neal Krawetz 11/25/2008)
Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemns a US attack that he says killed 16 civilians in eastern Afghanistan. Hundreds of Afghan villagers protested the raid, which the US military says killed 15 Taliban militants. Karzai says no Taliban were killed, but among the civilian dead were two women and three children. Karzai says killing innocent Afghans “is strengthening the terrorists” and requests that Afghanistan be given more oversight of US military operations in the country. Vice President Joseph Biden says that the situation in Afghanistan will not improve any time soon. “We’ve inherited a real mess,” Biden says. “We’re about to go in and try to essentially reclaim territory that’s been effectively lost. All of this means we’re going to be engaging the enemy more now.” (Kennedy 1/26/2009) In 2008, Human Rights Watch condemned the US and NATO for killing hundreds of Afghan civilians, mostly in impromptu “rapid response” airstrikes (see September 7, 2008). Casualties in 2008 were higher than ever, according to a UN report (see September 16, 2008).
President Obama names Earl Devaney to head the new Recovery Act Transparency and Accountability Board, a new agency designed to oversee the allocation and spending of the $787 billion economic stimulus plan. Devaney is a former Secret Service agent who, as the inspector general of the Department of the Interior, helped expose lobbyist corruption there; he will work closely with Vice President Joseph Biden, who will coordinate oversight of the stimulus spending. Devaney helped expose Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff’s dealings with the Interior Department, and helped finger former Deputy Interior Secretary Steven Griles, who later pled guilty to charges of lying to Congress over his acceptance of bribes. Devaney also led an investigation of workers at the Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service, where he discovered what he called a “culture of substance abuse and promiscuity” at the Denver and Washington offices of the service. (Associated Press 2/22/2009)
Fox News anchor Martha MacCallum, host of Fox’s “straight news” show The Live Desk, airs clips of Vice President Joseph Biden taken during a September 2008 campaign event to falsely imply that Biden is contradicting the Obama administration’s current stance on the economy. MacCallum tells viewers that “after weeks of economic doom and gloom, the Obama administration is now singing a slightly different tune. Take a look at what was said in recent interviews this weekend.” Fox then airs a clip of Biden telling an audience, “The fundamentals of the economy are strong.” The clip is not from an interview held over the weekend, but from a campaign event held seven months before. MacCallum does not inform her viewers of the timing of the clip, nor does she note that Biden was criticizing Republican presidential candidate John McCain’s economic views, which he characterized as unrealistically rosy. Instead, she goes on to claim that the administration has fundamentally, and dishonestly, shifted its views on the economy from a positive campaign outlook to a more “doom and gloom” viewpoint. In the September 2008 campaign rally, Biden told a Michigan audience: “I believe that’s why John McCain could say with a straight face, as recently as this morning—and this is a quote, ‘The fundamentals of the economy are strong.’ That’s what John says. He says that ‘we’ve made great progress economically’ in the Bush years.… I could walk from here to Lansing, and I wouldn’t run into a single person who thought our economy was doing well, unless I ran into John McCain.” Alongside the Biden clip, Fox also airs footage of Austan Goolsbee, a member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers. On March 15, Goolsbee told a Fox News Sunday audience that “the core strength of the economy is middle-class workers.” Fox airs that clip immediately after the Biden clip. What it does not air is Goolsbee’s statement just after the broadcast statement, in which he said, “Over the last eight years, before this president came into office, we saw an unbelievable squeeze on the middle class like nothing we have seen in decades.” MacCallum uses the clips to accuse the Obama administration of “singing… a bit of a different tune” now than during the campaign. (Media Matters 3/16/2009) The next day, MacCallum apologizes for asserting the seven-month-old clip was recent. She tells viewers that Fox News “inadvertently used a piece of video of Vice President Biden saying that, quote, the fundamentals of the economy are strong. This video was from the campaign trail, when the vice president was a candidate, and was actually quoting Senator John McCain. When we get something wrong, we admit it. We did so yesterday, and for that, we apologize” (see October 13, 2009). (Media Matters 3/17/2009)
Some Democratic politicians accuse Republicans of organizing “angry mobs” to disrupt town hall meetings around the country (see June 30, 2009, July 6, 2009, July 25, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 31, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 4, 2009, and August 5, 2009). Conservatives retort that the protests are spontaneous outbursts of anger and concern from ordinary citizens who oppose the White House’s health care reform proposals. According to a Democratic National Committee (DNC) ad, Republicans “have no plan for moving our country forward, so they’ve called out the mob.… [D]esperate Republicans and their well-funded allies” are trying to “destroy President Obama.” Senator Arlen Specter, who took part in a contentious town hall three days ago (see August 2, 2009), says: “I think that a fair amount of the activity was orchestrated. I think a fair amount of it was involved individuals who came without being orchestrated. But it was a battleground.” And White House press secretary Robert Gibbs says some of the anger from the crowds is manufactured: “In fact, I think you’ve had groups today, Conservatives for Patients Rights [CPR], that have bragged about organizing and manufacturing that anger” (see August 4, 2009). In return, CPR spokesman Brian Burgess says, “The White House is desperate for a scapegoat to blame for their failure to convince Americans to let the government take over health care.” A Democratic organization with connections to the Obama administration, Organizing for America, is planning strategy for upcoming events, including a Michigan appearance by Vice President Joe Biden. An e-mail from the organization encourages Michigan Democrats to “stand with the vice president and against the angry mobs being directed by Republican operatives in Washington to disrupt events throughout the month of August.” DNC spokesman Brad Woodhouse says that mobs of right-wing activists are being transported from one rally to another by “well-funded, highly organized groups run by Republican operatives and funded by the special interests who are desperately trying to stop the agenda for change the president was elected to bring to Washington.… This type of anger and discord did not serve Republicans well in 2008—and it is bound to backfire again.” Republican National Committee (RNC) spokeswoman Gail Gitcho responds: “In a remarkable example of callousness, the White House and Democrats have reduced the concerns and opinions of millions of Americans to ‘manufactured’ and have labeled them as ‘angry extremists,’ for voicing their opposition to President Obama’s government-run health care experiment.… Are Democrats so out of touch that they are shocked to learn that Americans are concerned about their $1.6 trillion government-run health care experiment?” CNN political analyst Bill Schneider observes: “On issues like this, intensity of opinion matters as much as numbers. Opponents of the president’s health care reform seem to feel more intensely about it than Obama’s supporters.” (CNN 8/5/2009) Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, says he believes the use of intimidation and extreme tactics—including displays of overtly Nazi symbols and hanging representatives in effigy—will “backfire in a big way” because their aim is to keep people from talking about health care. “When you’ve got people shouting and hanging members of Congress in effigy,” he says, “most people are going to react badly to that. I think most people want to have a civil discussion.” Van Hollen says that House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) and other Republican leaders “are actively involved in sort of fueling the fire of these disruptions. They’ve got to be careful what they ask for here.… If Republicans want to continue to ally themselves with these fringe groups, it will continue to discredit them.” National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Ken Spain counters: “Democrats have gone from blaming Republican obstruction, to the insurance industry, to Matt Drudge, and now they are even blaming the voters who are registering their opposition at town halls across the country. At what point are they going to get the message that people simply don’t want a government takeover of health care?” (Bendery and Kucinich 8/5/2009)
Representative Joe Wilson (R-SC), who shouted “You lie!” at President Obama during his speech to a joint session of Congress earlier in the evening (see September 9, 2009), apologizes publicly for his behavior during the speech. In an e-mail to reporters, he writes: “This evening, I let my emotions get the best of me when listening to the president’s remarks regarding the coverage of illegal immigrants in the health care bill. While I disagree with the president’s statement, my comments were inappropriate and regrettable. I extend sincere apologies to the president for this lack of civility.” He also apologizes to White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel. (Thrush 9/9/2009; Thrush 9/9/2009)
Slammed by Republicans and Democrats - Before Wilson makes his apologies, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) calls his actions “totally disrespectful,” and adds, “There is no place for it in that setting, or any other, and he should apologize for it immediately.” Vice President Joe Biden, a longtime senator, says the next morning: “I was embarrassed for the chamber and a Congress I love. It demeaned the institution.” Representative Eric Cantor (R-VA) says after the speech: “Obviously, the president of the United States is always welcome on Capitol Hill. He deserves respect and decorum. I know that Congressman Wilson has issued an apology and made his thoughts known to the White House, which was the appropriate thing to do.” Cantor spent much of the speech ostentatiously texting on his Blackberry, and later claimed to be taking notes on the proceedings. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) says angrily upon leaving the House chambers: “I’ve been here for 35 years. I’ve been here for seven presidents. I’ve never heard anything like that.… It strengthens the president, because it demonstrates what he is facing. Most people have respect for the president.” Wilson’s fellow South Carolinian James Clyburn (D-SC) says the outburst is just another in a long line of political attacks by Wilson. “Joe Wilson took our state’s reputation to a new low,” he says. “I thought [Governor] Mark Sanford had taken it as low as it could go, but this is beyond the pale.” (Sanford is under fire for having a long-term affair and spending state tax monies on visiting his paramour in Argentina.) “To heckle is bad enough, but to use that one word, the one three-letter word that was not allowed to be used in my house while I was growing up, is beyond the pale.” Representative Maxine Waters (D-CA) says of Wilson’s outburst: “It was just something that nobody had ever witnessed before. We all felt embarrassed.” Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) predicts Wilson’s outburst will have political consequences: “The person who said it will pay a price. I think the average American thinks that the president and the office deserve respect, and that was a disrespectful comment. They’ll pay a price in the court of public opinion.” (Thrush 9/9/2009; Associated Press 9/10/2009; Kellman 9/10/2009; Scherer 9/10/2009)
Acceptance - The White House quickly accepts Wilson’s apology. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi agrees, saying, “It’s time for us to talk about health care, not Mr. Wilson.” (Kiely 9/10/2009)
Resolution of Disapproval - House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) says the House may call for a rebuke of some sort against Wilson. “There’ll be time enough to consider whether or not we ought to make it clear that that action is unacceptable in the House of Representatives,” he says after the speech. “I’ve talked to Republican members who share that view.” (Associated Press 9/10/2009) On September 15, the House will pass a “resolution of disapproval” against Wilson, with only six Republicans voting for the resolution. (Rosen 10/4/2009) The resolution is brought in part due to Wilson’s refusal to apologize to either Obama or to the House of Representatives on the floor of the House. (Kiely 9/10/2009)
Using Wilson's Outburst against the GOP - The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent writes that Democratic strategists will use Wilson’s outburst to portray the Republican opposition to reform “as obstinate, angry, and irrevocally hostile towards Obama and his agenda.” (Sargent 9/10/2009) In the weeks after the speech, the Republican Party will use Wilson’s outburst as the centerpiece of a fundraising effort around the nation. The National Republican Congressional Committee will call Wilson a “national figure” who is raising important concerns about health care reform. The House Democratic campaign organization will respond, saying of Wilson and his Republican supporters, “[T]he very liars who heckled President Obama for calling them out are raising millions of dollars off of their rude, dishonest attack.” (Fox News 9/26/2009) Salon’s Joan Walsh asks: “How is it that Obama hasn’t faced a single heckler in his own health care town halls, but he’s not safe from the angry, uninformed mob when he speaks to Congress? The next time you see an important Republican leader claim the town-hell hecklers are just fringe elements and bad apples, remind them of Rep. Wilson.” (Walsh 9/9/2009)
Raising Millions - In the days after the speech, Wilson will send e-mails to his supporters claiming to be the target of “liberals who want to give health care to illegals” for his outburst, and asking for donations. Wilson’s campaign will claim that it raises over $1 million in donations in the first 48 hours after the speech. (CNN 9/12/2009) By the time the September 30 deadline passes, Wilson and the challenger for his House seat, Rob Miller (D-SC), a retired Marine, will have raised over $4 million between them. Wilson will attend fundraisers as far afield as Michigan and Missouri. When Wilson boasts of being given “hundreds of invitations” to appear with Republicans in other states, Miller will retort: “He’s out there on his ‘thank you tour.’ He should be doing an apology tour. He should be apologizing to every teacher, every law enforcement official, every man, woman, and child in South Carolina for being disrespectful to the president.” (Rosen 10/4/2009)
Following a reassessment by top US Army Allied Commander General Stanley A. McChrystal, and on the advice of Vice President Joe Biden and White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, President Obama reconsiders the military endeavor that might modify US strategy in Afghanistan. The result is a scaling back of political and economic development reforms in the strife-torn zone. During recent television news program appearances, Obama seemed to question the primary assertion that the current US approach is the proper means for achieving the US goal of hunting down al-Qaeda and its close allies.
Scaling Back Military Operations - In what White House officials call a “strategic assessment,” Obama seems to be favoring scaled-down attacks utilizing small Special Operations teams and armed Predator drones, thus averting the need for additional troops, according to US officials and experts. The renewed debate is said to have shocked some, while leaving military officials scrambling to estimate how drastic the changes could be. The shift in the White House position is said to have also come about after Obama ordered 21,000 additional US troops to help with last month’s Afghan national election, a ballot broadly seen as counterfeit. However, Obama has also questioned McChrystal’s counterinsurgency strategy, asking whether it is worth committing extra troops. Reports indicate that the administration might opt for a narrower objective that primarily focuses on disrupting al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and other extremist groups, a strategy that would require fewer than the 68,000 troops presently approved for the war. During a recent appearance on CNN, Obama asked, “Are we pursuing the right strategy?” while on NBC’s Meet the Press, he stated he would only expand the counterinsurgency endeavor if it aided the goal of defeating al-Qaeda. “I’m not interested in just being in Afghanistan for the sake of being in Afghanistan… or sending a message that America is here for the duration,” Obama said. It is unclear how many additional troops McChrystal’s counterinsurgency strategy would require, and the dissenting view advocating a more limited Afghanistan mission not only has been strengthened by Afghan election irregularities but also growing doubts about the war among Congressional Democrats as well as the US citizenry.
'Buyer's Remorse' - During a recent meeting with the Canadian prime minister, Obama signaled that a deeper administration review was in progress. “It’s important that we also do an assessment on the civilian side, the diplomatic side, the development side, that we analyze the results of the election and then make further decisions moving forward,” he said. A defense analyst and regular military adviser speaking on condition of anonymity says the Obama administration is suffering from “buyer’s remorse for this war.” (Barnes 9/22/2009)
President Obama sharply criticizes the recent Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court, giving corporations and unions the right to give unlimited and anonymous donations to organizations supporting or opposing political candidates (see January 21, 2010), during the annual State of the Union address. Obama gives the address to a joint session of Congress, with three Supreme Court members in attendance. “With all due deference to the separation of powers,” Obama says, “last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests—including foreign corporations—to spend without limit in our elections. I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests or, worse, by foreign entities. They should be decided by the American people. And I urge Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps correct some of these problems.” Democrats in the chamber applaud Obama’s remarks, while Republicans do not. In his response, Justice Samuel Alito, one of the five conservatives on the Court who joined in the majority decision, shakes his head and mouths, “Not true, not true” (some lip readers will later claim that Alito says, “That’s not true”). It is highly unusual for a president to so directly criticize a Supreme Court ruling, especially in a State of the Union address. The next day, Vice President Joe Biden defends Obama’s remarks in an appearance on Good Morning America. Biden says: “The president didn’t question the integrity of the court. He questioned the judgment of it. I think [the ruling] was dead wrong and we have to correct it.” Supreme Court expert Lucas A. Powe says, “I can’t ever recall a president taking a swipe at the Supreme Court like that.” Experts say that the closest precedent they can find is President Franklin Roosevelt’s 1937 criticism of the Court in his address to Congress. Yale law professor Jack Balkin says, “The important thing to me is that the president thinks the Citizens United decision is important enough that he would include it.” Reactions are split along ideological lines. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) calls Obama “rude” to criticize the Court’s verdict. Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) calls Alito’s reaction “inappropriate.” Legal expert Barbara A. Perry of Sweet Briar College says both Obama and Alito were in the wrong, calling the interaction “an unfortunate display for both branches.” White House deputy press secretary Bill Burton says: “One of the great things about our democracy is that powerful members of the government at high levels can disagree in public and in private. This is one of those cases.” Alito refuses to comment. Alito and Obama have a contentious history. As a senator, Obama was one of the most outspoken voices against Alito’s confirmation as a Supreme Court justice (see October 31, 2005 - February 1, 2006), saying then of Alito, “[W]hen you look at his record—when it comes to his understanding of the Constitution, I have found that in almost every case, he consistently sides on behalf of the powerful against the powerless; on behalf of a strong government or corporation against upholding American’s individual rights.” For his part, Alito snubbed the formal visit paid by Obama and Biden to the Court. (Nagraj 1/28/2010; Barnes 1/28/2010) Months later, Obama’s warning will be proven to be correct, as a media investigation will show the US Chamber of Commerce using foreign monies to fund attack ads and other political activities under the cloak of the Citizens United decision (see October 2010).
CIA Director Leon Panetta informs President Obama that Osama bin Laden may be living in a certain compound in Pakistan that is being monitored. (Some accounts say Obama is informed in August, but most say September, and one account specifies September 1.) (Goldman 5/2/2011; CNN 5/2/2011; New York Times 5/3/2011; Cole 5/19/2011; Gorman and Barnes 5/23/2011) Many of Obama’s top aides are at the top secret meeting as well, including Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Panetta describes the compound and the intelligence leading to it in great detail. An unnamed administration official at the meeting will later say: “It was electric.… For so long, we’d been trying to get a handle on this guy. And all of a sudden, it was like, wow, there he is.” (Mazzetti, Cooper, and Baker 5/2/2011) The evidence is so tantalizing that the US decides not to say anything about the compound to the Pakistani government, or to even close US allies like Britain or Canada, for fear that intelligence leaks could let bin Laden slip away. (Goldman 5/2/2011)
The anti-abortion advocacy organization American Life League (ALL) releases another in a series of “Deadly Dozen” ad campaigns. The first, in 1995, targeted a dozen abortion and health care providers, and was subsequently blamed for a spate of deadly violence against those named in the ads (see 1995 and After). In 2003, ALL launched a second “Deadly Dozen” campaign, this time targeting US senators (see January - April 2003). The current round of ads features a poster listing a dozen Catholic lawmakers, including members of Congress and of the Obama administration. The list includes Vice President Joseph Biden (D-DE); Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis; Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius; Interior Secretary Ken Salazar; Senators John Kerry (D-MA), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Barbara Mikulski (D-MD); and Representatives Ginny Brown-Waite (R-FL), Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Rosa DeLaurio (D-CT), and Mike Castle (R-DE). As with ALL’s 2003 campaign, the current campaign calls on the named lawmakers’ community bishops to deny them communion. The ad concludes with the slogan, “You can’t be Catholic and pro-abortion!” A blogger in Delaware reports seeing the poster in the vestibule of his church. (Jay Anderson 9/13/2010)
US Vice President Joseph Biden calls Wikileaks founder Julian Assange a “high-tech terrorist” on NBC’s Meet the Press. The interview was taped two days previously, but is broadcast on this day. Asked if he sees Assange as closer to a hi-tech terrorist than the whistleblower who released the Pentagon Papers (see March 1971) in the 1970s, Biden replies: “I would argue it is closer to being a hi-tech terrorist than the Pentagon Papers. But, look, this guy has done things that have damaged and put in jeopardy the lives and occupations of people in other parts of the world.” Biden adds: “He’s made it more difficult for us to conduct our business with our allies and our friends. For example, in my meetings—you know I meet with most of these world leaders—there is a desire now to meet with me alone, rather than have staff in the room. It makes things more cumbersome—so it has done damage.” Asked if the administration could prevent further leaks, Biden comments, “The Justice Department is taking a look at that.” Biden goes on to suggest that if Assange facilitated the leak of the documents by colluding with the whilstleblower who provided them, thought to be former intelligence analyst Bradley Manning, he could be open to prosecution. “If he conspired to get these classified documents with a member of the US military that is fundamentally different than if someone drops on your lap… you are a press person, here is classified material.” Biden’s comments show an increased level of annoyance in the administration with Wikileaks. For example, the day before this interview was taped, Biden had expressed different sentiments. “I don’t think there’s any substantive damage,” he had commented then. (MacAskill 12/19/2010)
A report on a psychological study conducted and written by Eric Hehman of the University of Delaware and published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology finds that race plays an intrinsic role in many voters’ perceptions of President Obama, and plays a powerful role in whether or not Americans believe Obama is a US citizen. Although definitive proof of Obama’s US citizenship has long been publicly available (see June 13, 2008, August 21, 2008, and October 30, 2008), for many, especially on the right, the issue remains either unsettled or, for some, settled against Obama, whom they firmly believe to be either a foreign citizen or some sort of “illegal alien.” Hehman’s study concludes that racial prejudice plays a strong role in the continued refusal by some to accept Obama’s citizenship. The study compares voter perceptions of Obama with his vice president, Joseph Biden, whom Hehman calls “the most comparable target” with Obama.
Major Disparity between 'High-Prejudice,' 'Low-Prejudice' Whites - Behman writes: “The influence of racial prejudice in contemporary US society is typically manifested in subtle, indirect forms of bias. Due to prevailing norms of equality, most whites attempt to avoid appearing biased in their evaluations of blacks, in part because of a genuine desire to live up to their egalitarian standards, but also because of concern regarding social censure. As a consequence, whites’ prejudice is more likely to be expressed in discriminatory responses when these actions can be justified by other factors.” The study asked 295 people, both black and white, to evaluate the performance and “Americanism” of the two politicians in late 2009. It also included six questions, widely used in psychology, to gauge whether folks are more or less prejudiced against blacks. The study finds, “Overall, as expected, white participants tended to view Obama as less American,” and as a direct result they judge him as “worse-performing” as a national leader than Biden. “Moreover, whites higher in prejudice rated Obama as less American and as performing more poorly as president.” “Low-prejudice” whites tend to see Obama as higher-performing and either “as American” or “more American” than Biden: “Why low prejudice whites perceived Obama as higher in Americanism and performing better than Biden is not entirely clear. One possibility is that people see presidents, as the primary national leader, as more prototypical of the group and thus more American than vice presidents. Alternatively, the differential response of low prejudice whites to Obama and Biden may reflect their concern with appearing nonprejudiced, particularly during a period when the election of a black president was lauded as a sign of progress for not only blacks but America more generally.” The study examines the “prejudice scores” of the study participants, and finds “higher prejudice predicted whites seeing Obama as less American, which, in turn, predicted lower evaluations of his performance.” Blacks tended to rate Obama’s performance higher than Biden’s, but do not view their “Americanism” as significantly different. Hehman finds: “Overall, the results support our hypothesis that negative evaluations of Obama by white participants may be racially motivated. Whites are guarded about openly endorsing the view that blacks are less American than whites, which may suppress overall mean differences in performance ratings and perceptions of Obama being un-American. However, bias in viewing blacks as less American than whites appeared to implicitly underlie whites’ negative evaluations of his performance. Also, consistent with previous research, blacks did not demonstrate such a relationship, nor did Americanism mediate the relationship between prejudice and performance evaluations when Vice President Biden acted as target for either whites or blacks. Whereas previous work has linked white prejudice with negative perceptions of Obama, the current work reveals a mechanism that may be largely responsible for this effect, Obama’s non-prototypicality (largely in terms of his race) and thus reduced perceptions of his Americanism.” Hehman notes that media speculations that the “birther” controversy is fueled by racial prejudice are “sadly the case. As the United States approaches important decisions regarding issues such as economic reform, health care, and overseas military interventions, the intrusion of racial attitudes in the evaluation of political leaders’ performance is ironically inconsistent with what many believe to be ‘American.’”
Response to 'Long Form' Certificate Release - USA Today will report on Hehman’s study on April 27, the same day that Obama releases his “long form” birth certificate in an attempt to put an end to the controversy over Obama’s citizenship (see April 27, 2011). Reporter Dan Vergano will ask Hehman for his response to the release in the context of the study, and Hehman will respond via email: “While I can’t speak to the birther movement specifically, this controversy and others like it are what initially sparked my interest and led to the recent publication [of the study]. President Obama has consistently faced a number of controversies that are, frankly, not based on fact. We thought that his critics’ persistence in pursuing these fantasies, such as Obama’s birth in a foreign nation or being a Muslim, in the face of facts saying otherwise, might be indirectly rooted in racism. Our research investigated whether people who held racial prejudices might be more likely to see Obama as ‘un-American,’ presumably because of his race. Indeed, this is what we found. Whites who were prejudiced against blacks were more likely to see Obama as un-American, and in turn, evaluated Obama as performing more poorly as president. Whites who were not prejudiced, and blacks in general, did not do so. Additionally and importantly, this relationship was only found with Obama, as prejudiced whites did not see Vice President Joe Biden as un-American, despite the fact that Obama and Biden share political party affiliation and agenda.” He will conclude: “The April 27 release of Obama’s long-form birth certificate is a situation where President Obama and the White House eventually had to exert effort to quell a controversy that should never have been an issue. Our research indicates that one reason it may have initially become an issue at all has more to do with his race than his place of birth. We find that racial prejudice can, in part, influence evaluations of an elected leader, a phenomenon which is quite ‘un-American.’” (Vergano 4/27/2011)
An Associated Press report examines the issues surrounding President Obama’s birth certificate in the wake of Obama releasing his “long form” certificate for public scrutiny (see April 27, 2011) and finds racial overtones to the controversy. Writer Rachel Rose Hartman observes that while the controversy surrounding Republican presidential candidate John McCain’s birth status was short-lived and resolved by a single announcement from a set of lawyers (see March 14 - July 24, 2008), the controversy surrounding Obama’s birth status has carried on for nearly three years (see July 20, 2008, August 15, 2008, October 8-10, 2008, October 16, 2008 and After, November 10, 2008, December 3, 2008, August 1-4, 2009, May 7, 2010, Shortly Before June 28, 2010, Around June 28, 2010, March 23, 2011, March 24, 2011, March 27-28, 2011, March 28, 2011, and April 5, 2011). Hartman writes that Obama “has faced a relentless campaign questioning his US citizenship—and thereby the legitimacy of his presidency—that has disregarded the facts” (see June 13, 2008, August 21, 2008, and October 30, 2008). After Obama released his “long form” certificate, “birther” lawyer Orly Taitz quickly announced her disbelief in the form, saying that the listing of Obama’s father as “African” cast doubt on the veracity of the document; she said that in 1961, the term that would have been used was “Negro” (see April 27, 2011). Hartman notes that many “birther” critics believe the movement’s “core tenets—and its stubborn resistance to evidence disproving those beliefs—can be traced to racial hostilities. The fundamental birtherist conviction, these critics say, is that an African-American can’t have legitimately won the presidency—and that his elevation to power therefore has to be the result of an elaborate subterfuge.” History professor Peniel Joseph says: “There is a real deep-seated and vicious racism at work here in terms of trying to de-legitimate the president.… This is more than just a conspiracy. I think this is fundamentally connected to white supremacism in this country.” Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. has called “this birther nonsense” “profoundly racist claptrap” (see April 1, 2011), Michael Tomasky has written in the British newspaper The Guardian that the birther conspiracy “had to be the only explanation for how this black man got to the White House.… And if you think race isn’t what this is about at its core… you are delusional” (see April 27, 2011). The Reverend Jesse Jackson noted yesterday that billionaire Donald Trump’s “birther” campaign is rooted in race, saying: “Any discussion of [Obama’s] birthplace is a code word. It calls upon ancient racial fears.” Trump, he said, “is now tapping into code-word fears that go far beyond a rational discourse” (see April 26, 2011). Trump has recently leveled allegations that Obama was only accepted into Columbia and Harvard Universities because of his race (see April 26, 2011). Hartman notes that while “[b]irthers emphatically deny such criticism… it’s difficult to apprehend the ongoing resistance to proof of Obama’s citizenship without crediting racial fear as a significant factor.” For years, the “birther” movement has insisted that the release of the “long form” certificate would settle the issue, but now that the document has been released, the same “birthers” either refuse to accept its validity or are insisting that Obama release a spate of other documents to prove his identity and citizenship, “a level of scrutiny that neither McCain nor Obama’s 43 predecessors in the Oval Office were expected to face” (see April 27, 2011). Trump and others are calling for Obama to release his college transcripts (see April 26, 2011), have alleged that Obama did not write his own memoirs, and, despite all evidence, continue to insist that he is a “closet Muslim” (see October 1, 2007, December 19, 2007, Before October 27, 2008, January 11, 2008, Around March 19, 2008, and April 18, 2008). Jackson and Peniel both note that never before has a sitting president’s nationality been questioned. A recent study found that racially biased whites are far more likely to view Obama as “less American” than Vice President Joe Biden, a white man. That assessment correlates with a profoundly lower view of Obama’s performance as president (see March 2011). National polls continue to find that almost half of Republican voters do not believe Obama was born in the US, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, who has blamed Obama for the “birther” controversy, says the issue is irrelevant. (Hartman 4/27/2011)
The news Web site Politico reports that many Democrats are worried that the “flat-out” opposition of President Obama to super PACs, including the one supporting his re-election, will cripple the Obama campaign’s re-election campaign for 2012, especially in the face of enormous corporate donations for Republican-supporting super PACs. The super PAC that supports Obama, Priorities USA Action, has been in operation since 2011, but has so far raised relatively little—around $5 million—in comparison to Republican super PACs and other such organizations. The super PAC supporting Republican contender Mitt Romney (R-MA), Restore Our Future (ROF—see June 23, 2011 and July 12, 2011), has raised $12 million so far, and other groups such as American Crossroads and its “nonprofit” affiliate, Crossroads GPS, have raised far more. Former South Carolina Democratic Chairman Dick Harpootlian, a member of the Obama campaign’s national finance committee, says: “I don’t think the president is just ambivalent about his super PAC. He’s flat-out opposed to it.… I was at the national finance committee in Chicago, and these are the people with these connections, and nobody was talking, even behind the scenes, about writing checks to the super PAC. That’s a problem. We didn’t make the rules. The president has called out the Supreme Court on Citizens United to their faces (see January 21, 2010, January 24, 2010, and January 27-29, 2010).… But it’s the state of play now, and we have to look at what Romney’s PAC did to [Republican primary challenger Newt Gingrich] in Iowa (see January 3, 2012). It’s dangerous. We can’t unilaterally disarm.” So far, Obama’s campaign has pledged that neither Obama nor his top aides will raise money for super PACs, but the campaign says it realizes the magnitude of the threat posed by the wide-open fundraising from the GOP. In a concession, Obama’s senior campaign staff will allow their top bundlers to ask wealthy contributors for donations to Priorities USA Action. Vice President Joseph Biden has already spoken before a meeting of major donors in November 2011, hours after those donors heard fundraising pitches from Priorities USA Action and other Democratic groups. Democratic strategist Paul Begala, who is helping the Obama campaign reach out to donors, says: “Super PACs are like guns. In the right hands, a gun is useful, essential for defending your country and perfectly acceptable. In the wrong hands, they kill people.… My goal is to make sure the president doesn’t get outgunned.” Obama campaign advisor David Axelrod says of the organizations lining up behind Romney: “They’re talking upwards of half a billion dollars in negative ads aimed at the president from interest groups who don’t disclose and who can raise unlimited amounts of money. That is a very, very concerning thing to me.” (Thrush and Vogel 1/18/2012)
Journalist Ari Berman, of the liberal magazine The Nation, writes that presumptive Republican presidential Mitt Romney (R-MA) seems to be relying on a large number of neoconservatives to help him formulate his foreign policy stance for the election. Berman believes it is safe to assume that Romney will appoint many of his neoconservative advisors to powerful positions in his administration should he win the November election. Berman writes: “Given Romney’s well-established penchant for flip-flopping and opportunism, it’s difficult to know what he really believes on any issue, including foreign affairs (the campaign did not respond to a request for comment). But a comprehensive review of his statements during the primary and his choice of advisers suggests a return to the hawkish, unilateral interventionism of the George W. Bush administration should he win the White House in November.” Conservative Christian leader Richard Land has said that Romney could shore up his sagging credibility with conservatives by “pre-naming” some key Cabinet selections: former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) as Attorney General, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) as US ambassador to the United Nations, and former State Department official John Bolton as Secretary of State. Berman calls the prospect of those appointments “terrifying” and “more plausible than one might think.” Neoconservative blogger Jennifer Rubin recently wrote for the Washington Post that “[m]any conservatives hope” Bolton will accept “a senior national security post in a Romney administration.” For his point, Bolton has endorsed Romney, and has campaigned on his behalf. Romney is not well versed in foreign policy affairs, Berman writes, noting that in 2008 the presidential campaign of John McCain (R-AZ) found that at the time “Romney’s foreign affairs resume is extremely thin, leading to credibility problems.” Romney suffered the criticism of being “too liberal” in 2008, and in 2011-12 attempted to refute that criticism by publicly aligning himself with Bolton and other neoconservatives. Brian Katulis of the liberal Center for American Progress has said, “When you read the op-eds and listen to the speeches, it sounds like Romney’s listening to the John Bolton types more than anyone else.” (Rucker 3/13/2012; Berman 5/21/2012)
The Project for the New American Century - Bolton and seven other Romney advisors are signers of a letter drafted by the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), an influential neoconservative advocacy group (see June 3, 1997 and September 2000) that urged both the Clinton and Bush administrations to attack Iraq (see January 26, 1998, February 19, 1998 and May 29, 1998). (The PNAC is defunct, but was replaced by a similar advocacy group, the Foreign Policy Initiative, or FPI—see Before March 25, 2009). PNAC co-founder Eliot Cohen, who served as counsel for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice from 2007-2009, wrote the foreward to Romney’s foreign policy white paper, entitled “An American Century.” Cohen has called the war on terror “World War IV” (see November 20, 2001), and helped push the Bush administration into going to war with Iraq after the 9/11 bombings. In 2009, Cohen reiterated his 2001 call for the US to overthrow the government of Iran (see November 20, 2001). Another PNAC co-founder, FPI’s Robert Kagan, a longtime advocate for widespread war in the Middle East (see October 29, 2001), helped Romney formulate his foreign policy. Romney’s foreign policy stance is based largely on negative attacks on the Obama administration, which it accuses of kowtowing to foreign governments, and a massive military buildup. (Rubin 10/9/2011; Berman 5/21/2012)
Bush Administration Officials' Involvement - Many former Bush administration officials are involved with Romney’s foreign policy. Robert G. Joseph, a former National Security Council official who is primarily responsible for having then-President Bush claim that Iraq had tried to buy enriched uranium from Niger (see January 26 or 27, 2003), former Bush administration spokesman and FPI founder Dan Senor (see October 2, 2005), and former Defense Department official Eric Edelman (see July 16-20, 2007) are prominent members of Romney’s advisory team. Preble says of Romney’s foreign policy advisors: “I can’t name a single Romney foreign policy adviser who believes the Iraq War was a mistake. Two-thirds of the American people do believe the Iraq War was a mistake. So he has willingly chosen to align himself with that one-third of the population right out of the gate.” Edelman, like others on the Romney team, believes that the US should attack Iran, a position Romney himself apparently holds. Senor serves as a conduit between the Romney campaign and Israel’s far right, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Recently, Senor posted the following on Twitter: “Mitt-Bibi will be the new Reagan-Thatcher.” Lawrence Wilkerson, the chief of staff for then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, has said the Republican Party “has not a clue” how to extricate the US from its “state of interminable war,” and apparently little appetite for such extrication. “In fact, they want to deepen it, widen it and go further, on Chinese and Japanese dollars.” The influence of far-right neoconservatives “astonishe[s]” Wilkerson. Christopher Preble, a foreign policy expert for the Cato Institute, says that neoconservatives have remained influential even after the Iraq debacle because they have rewritten history. “They’ve crafted this narrative around the surge (see January 10, 2007), claiming Iraq was, in fact, a success. They’ve ridden that ever since.”
Huge Spending Increases for Defense, Possible Recession - If Romney follows his current statements, a Romney administration under the tutelage of his neoconservative advisors would usher in a new era of massive defense spending increases. He advocates spending a minimum of 4 percent of the nation’s GDP (Gross Domestic Product) to increase spending on defense, which would increase the Pentagon’s budget by over $200 billion in 2016. That is 38% more than the Obama administration plans to spend on defense. Romney would pay for that increase with severe cuts in domestic spending. Fiscal Times columnist Merrill Goozner has written: “Romney’s proposal to embark on a second straight decade of escalating military spending would be the first time in American history that war preparation and defense spending had increased as a share of overall economic activity for such an extended period. When coupled with the 20 percent cut in taxes he promises, it would require shrinking domestic spending to levels not seen since the Great Depression—before programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid began.” Goozner wrote that Romney’s spending plan “would likely throw the US economy back into recession.” The proposed huge spending increases are in part the product of the Defending Defense coalition, a joint project of the FPI, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), and the Heritage Foundation. (Goozner 3/7/2012; Berman 5/21/2012)
Cofer Black and Enhanced National Security - Romney’s counterterrorism advisor is J. Cofer Black, a former CIA operative and Bush-era security official. Black presented a plan to invade Afghanistan two days after the 9/11 attacks, and claimed that al-Qaeda could be defeated and the world made secure from terrorism in a matter of weeks (see September 13, 2001). Black was fired from the CIA in 2002 for publicly criticizing the Bush administration’s failure to capture or kill Osama bin Laden (see May 17, 2002). In 2005, Black became a senior official for the private mercenary firm Blackwater (see February 2005). He has been a Romney advisor since 2007 (see April 2007). Black advised Romney not to consider waterboarding as torture, and has touted his CIA experience with that agency’s illegal “extraordinary rendition” program, which sent prisoners to foreign countries for abuse and torture. Romney relies on Black for security assessments of security assessments of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Egypt and Iran, including Iran’s nuclear program. Preble says, “Romney’s likely to be in the mold of George W. Bush when it comes to foreign policy if he were elected.” Berman writes that “[o]n some key issues, like Iran, Romney and his team are to the right of Bush.” Berman goes on to write that if Romney adheres to his statements on the campaign trail, “a Romney presidency would move toward war against Iran; closely align Washington with the Israeli right; leave troops in Afghanistan at least until 2014 and refuse to negotiate with the Taliban; reset the Obama administration’s ‘reset’ with Russia; and pursue a Reagan-like military buildup at home.”
Moderates Sidelined - The moderates on Romney’s team have been shunted aside in favor of the hardliners. Mitchell Reiss, Romney’s principal foreign policy advisor in 2008 and a former State Department official under Powell, no longer enjoys favored access to the candidate. In December 2011 Romney publicly contradicted Reiss’s advocacy of US negotiations with the Taliban, instead advocating the total military defeat of the Taliban and criticizing the Obama administration’s plan to “draw down” US troops from Afghanistan. Vice President Joseph Biden has said that Romney and his neoconservative advisors “see the world through a cold war prism that is totally out of touch with the realities of the twenty-first century.” Romney began tacking to the right during the early days of the Republican primaries, aligning himself with candidates such as Gingrich, Herman Cain (R-GA), and Michele Bachmann (R-MN), and away from moderate candidate Jon Huntsman (R-UT) and isolationist candidate Ron Paul (R-TX). Heather Hurlburt of the centrist National Security Network says: “The foreign policy experts who represent old-school, small-c conservatism and internationalism have been pushed out of the party. Who in the Republican Party still listens to Brent Scowcroft?” (see October 2004). Wilkerson says moderate conservatives such as Powell and Scowcroft are “very worried about their ability to restore moderation and sobriety to the party’s foreign and domestic policies.” Berman writes, “In 2012 Obama is running as Bush 41 and Romney as Bush 43.” (Berman 5/21/2012)
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney (R-MA) criticizes President Obama’s foreign-policy stance while preparing for a trip to Great Britain, and an unnamed Romney advisor tells a British reporter that Obama does not understand the US’s and the United Kingdom’s shared “Anglo-Saxon heritage.” Critics accuse the advisor of making a racially insensitive remark. Romney accuses Obama of “appeasing” the enemies of the US, and his advisors tell reporters that if elected, Romney will abandon what they call Obama’s “left-wing” coolness towards the UK. One advisor says: “We are part of an Anglo-Saxon heritage, and [Romney] feels that the special relationship is special.… The White House didn’t fully appreciate the shared history we have.” In a speech to a Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) assemblage in Nevada, Romney says: “If you do not want America to be the strongest nation on earth, I am not your president. You have that president today.” Romney says he will preside over a new “American century” in which the US acts as the world’s policeman and will not hesitate to “wield our strength.” He adds, “I will not surrender America’s leadership in the world.” Two Romney advisors augment his remarks to a collection of British reporters. “In contrast to President Obama, whose first instinct is to reach out to America’s adversaries, the governor’s first impulse is to consult and co-ordinate and to move closer to our friends and allies overseas so they can rely on American constancy and strength,” one says. The other says: “Obama is a left-winger. He doesn’t value the NATO alliance as much, he’s very comfortable with American decline and the traditional alliances don’t mean as much to him. He wouldn’t like singing ‘Land of Hope and Glory.’” The two advisors reference the criticism from some on the right about Obama’s removal of the bust of Winston Churchill from the Oval Office (see June 29, 2009), saying Romney would seek to restore the bust. One says Romney sees the replacement of the bust as “symbolically important,” and the other adds that the restoration would be “just for starters.… He is naturally more Atlanticist.” Some in Great Britain’s government view the Obama administration as less receptive to British concerns than the previous Bush administration. However, when reporters press Romney’s advisors as to what specific changes to US policy Romney would make as president, they are unable to respond. One says, “I’m not sure what our policy response is.” They cite Romney’s opposition to Islamist terrorism and Iran’s supposed intention to build nuclear weapons as examples of Romney’s focus as president. Romney’s advisors speak on the condition of anonymity because Romney campaign officials have asked that they not criticize Obama to representatives of the foreign media. When a Romney advisor attacked Obama in an interview by the German press last month, Obama reminded the Romney campaign that “America’s political differences end at the water’s edge.” (Swaine 7/24/2012)
Romney Campaign Denies Making Remarks - The day after the remarks are made public, the Romney campaign attempts to distance the candidate from the remarks, including issuing denials that the remarks were not actually made. Romney’s press secretary Andrea Paul disputes that the comments were made as reported, and says such remarks do not reflect Romney’s beliefs: “It’s not true. If anyone said that, they weren’t reflecting the views of Governor Romney or anyone inside the campaign.” CBS News reports, “Saul did not comment on what specifically was not true.” (The Washington Post and the National Journal cite Romney spokesperson Amanda Hennenberg, and not Saul, as issuing the denial. CBS and The Guardian report that it is Saul who issues the denial.) Romney attacks Vice President Joseph Biden for being critical of the remarks (see July 25, 2012), saying that Biden should not have given credence to the remarks and accusing him of trying to “divert voters’ attention with specious shiny objects.” Romney spokesperson Ryan Williams says in a statement: “Today, the race for the highest office in our land was diminished to a sad level when the vice president of the United States used an anonymous and false quote from a foreign newspaper to prop up their flailing campaign. The president’s own press secretary has repeatedly discredited anonymous sources, yet his political advisors saw fit to advance a falsehood. We have more faith in American voters, and know they will see this latest desperate ploy for what it is.” After the remarks were reported, Daily Telegraph reporter Jon Swaine posted on Twitter identifying the comments as coming from a “member of [Romney’s] foreign policy advisory team.” The Washington Post’s Rachel Weiner says the Telegraph has a “looser” policy on anonymous quotes than most American press outlets, and often prints “rumors and blind quotes.” However, the Telegraph stands by its reporting. Al-Monitor reporter Laura Rozen notes that conservative British commentator Nile Gardiner is the co-chair of Romney’s Europe Working Group, has close connections to the Telegraph, and frequently uses the term “Anglo-Saxon.” Gardiner denies being the source of the comment, and says when Telegraph reporters contacted him for an interview, he referred them to Romney’s communications team. (Madison 7/25/2012; Weiner 7/25/2012; Gabbatt 7/25/2012; Reinhard and Miller 7/25/2012) The liberal news Web site Talking Points Memo reports that according to the Telegraph, no one from the Romney campaign has asked the newspaper to retract its reporting. And the Romney campaign refuses to answer questions about what specifically it believes to be false, i.e. whether the quote itself was fabricated or the sentiment expressed by the advisor was inaccurate. (McMorris-Santoro 7/25/2012; Reinhard and Miller 7/25/2012) The Atlantic Wire’s Connor Simpson writes that he believes the Romney campaign will soon fire the advisor who made the remark. (Simpson 7/25/2012)
Critics accuse an unnamed advisor to the Romney campaign of making a racially insensitive remark to British reporters when the advisor accused President Obama of not understanding the shared “Anglo-Saxon” heritage of the US and the United Kingdom (see July 24-25, 2012). Obama’s father was Kenyan, and many of Obama’s critics have accused Obama of not being sufficiently American (see October 1, 2007, January 16, 2008, October 16, 2008 and After, Around November 26, 2008, February 10, 2009, March 9, 2009, March 18, 2009, March 25, 2009, March 27, 2009, March 30-31, 2009, March 31, 2009, April 1, 2009, April 1-2, 2009, April 3-7, 2009, April 6, 2009, April 6-7, 2009, April 9, 2009, June 2, 2009, June 5, 2009, June 25, 2009, June 29, 2009, July 23, 2009, August 1-4, 2009, August 6, 2009, September 17, 2009, October 2, 2009, October 13, 2009, November 17, 2009, December 3, 2009, December 17, 2009, May 7, 2010, June 11, 2010, Shortly Before June 28, 2010, August 4, 2010, August 19, 2010, September 12, 2010, September 12, 2010 and After, September 16, 2010, September 18, 2010, September 23, 2010, October 22-23, 2010, March 28, 2011, April 7, 2011, April 27, 2011, April 27, 2011, May 23-24, 2011, June 10, 2011, January 13-20, 2012, and June 20, 2012) and of not working hard enough to bolster relations between the US and the United Kingdom. Critics also accuse Mitt Romney of trying to create a division between the US and the United Kingdom where none exists. Romney’s campaign is denying the remarks were ever made. (Stanley 7/25/2012)
Vice President, Obama Campaign Advisor Respond - Vice President Joseph Biden is quick to lambast the Romney campaign for the comment. “Despite his promises that politics stops at the water’s edge, Governor Romney’s wheels hadn’t even touched down in London before his advisors were reportedly playing politics with international diplomacy,” he says in a statement, “attempting to create daylight between the United States and the United Kingdom where none exists. Our special relationship with the British is stronger than ever and we are proud to work hand-in-hand with Prime Minister Cameron to confront every major national security challenge we face today. On every major issue—from Afghanistan to missile defense, from the fight against international terrorism to our success in isolating countries like Iran whose nuclear programs threaten peace and stability—we’ve never been more in sync. The comments reported this morning are a disturbing start to a trip designed to demonstrate Governor Romney’s readiness to represent the United States on the world’s stage. Not surprisingly, this is just another feeble attempt by the Romney campaign to score political points at the expense of this critical partnership. This assertion is beneath a presidential campaign.” Obama campaign advisor David Axelrod calls the comments “stunningly offensive” in a Twitter post, which states, “Mitt’s trip off to flying start, even before he lands, with stunningly offensive quotes from his team in British press.” (Madison 7/25/2012; LoGiurato 7/25/2012; Gabbatt 7/25/2012)
British Historian Questions Perception of 'Divisions' between Two Nations - British historian Tim Stanley says the perception of “divisions” between the US and the UK is overblown, and that many British citizens “love [Obama] because they see him as an antidote to the misdirected machismo of the Bush years. Few of us are keen to revive an alliance that led to the bloody mess of Iraq and Afghanistan.” More directly, the advisor’s “Anglo-Saxon” reference is obsolete and easily interpreted as racist. “Both countries are more multicultural than ever before, and both have forged alliances with countries that are decidedly un-Anglo-Saxon: the US is part of a trading bloc with Mexico and the UK is trapped in the engine room of the [European Union] Titanic,” Stanley writes. “Many will therefore interpret the choice of words as a clumsy attempt to play the race card, exploiting the impression that Obama is anti-British because he is of African descent.” Stanley writes that the advisors seemed more interested in painting Obama as a “left-winger” who lacks an understanding of the relations between the two nations than trying to make a racially insensitive remark, but he predicts the media will fasten onto the remark and label the Romney campaign, and perhaps Romney himself, as being racist to some degree. (Stanley 7/25/2012)
British Columnist: Romney Should Not 'Cast Us All Back into the Dark Ages' - Ian Vince, a columnist with The Guardian, asks what exactly the Romney campaign might mean by stating a desire to restore “Anglo-Saxon” relations between the two nations. Vince notes the thousand years of culture and heritage contributed by the Normans, the Romans, the Danish Jutes, and the Vikings, among others, and the huge number of non-“Anglo-Saxons” who consider themselves proud British citizens. He concludes by observing, “Mitt Romney would be wise not to cast us all back into the Dark Ages.” (Vince 7/25/2012)
Liberal News Site: Comments Part of Larger Attack on Obama's Heritage, Patriotism - Judd Legum of the liberal news Web site Think Progress says the comments are part of a much broader series of attacks on Obama’s heritage and patriotism by the Romney campaign. Legum calls the comments “the latest attack by the Romney campaign on Obama’s multi-cultural heritage.” Last week, Legum reminds readers, Romney campaign co-chair John Sununu told reporters Obama has no understanding of the “American system” because he “spent his early years in Hawaii smoking something, spent the next set of years in Indonesia,” and said Obama needs to “learn how to be an American.” Later that day, Romney himself called Obama’s policies “extraordinarily foreign.” (Legum 7/25/2012)
Neoconservative Magazine: Story Not Believable, Romney's Denial Should Settle Question - However, Alana Goodman of the neoconservative Commentary magazine says she did not believe the story from the moment it was reported. She says the story hinges entirely on a single unnamed source (the Romney advisor, who spoke on condition of anonymity), and accuses the Obama campaign of “scrambling to pump air into” the controversy surrounding the comments. She concludes, “Unless a reporter is able to verify who said this and what his role is in the campaign, Romney’s denial should put this story to rest.” (Goodman 7/25/2012)
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