By Dan Froomkin
August 13, 2008
The mission is a humanitarian one, but by choosing to put
This morning, however, Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili took to the American airwaves to accuse Russian forces of moving deeper into his country. And he scolded Bush for his passive response.
"Well, frankly, some of the first statements from
In a hastily scheduled Rose Garden statement a few hours later, Bush repeatedly expressed concerns about Russian actions, then announced he was sending in military planes and ships with humanitarian and medical shipments. He also said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is headed to the Georgian capital.
This time, his comments had some elements of a dare: "We expect
Nothing to Crow About
The agreement that Bush administration officials last night were so proud of basically gave the Russians everything they wanted.
Andrew E. Kramer and Ellen Barry write in the New York Times: "The presidents of
"Whether the agreement holds or not,
Borzou Daragahi writes in the Los Angeles Times that Saakashvili had been forced to agree to "terms that some described as humiliating to his small, proud nation. . . .
"[A]nalysts said the peace proposal, backed by France and the European Union, left no doubt that
Ian Traynor and Luke Harding write in the Guardian: "The Kremlin last night dictated humiliating peace terms to
But Karen DeYoung writes in The Washington Post: "The Bush administration suggested yesterday that an apparent cease-fire in Georgia came about because Moscow feared it would be banished from Western-dominated international economic and political institutions if it did not stop its 'aggression' in the former Soviet republic. . . .
"[A] senior administration official said . . . [m]embership in institutions such as the World Trade Organization and the Group of Eight major industrialized nations 'is what is at stake when Russia engages in behavior that looks like it came from another time.' . . .
"Although President Bush warned late Monday that
On the ABC World News last night, Charlie Gibson asked Rice about possible consequences for
By contrast, Matthew Lee writes for the Associated Press that "with scant leverage in the face of an emboldened Moscow, Washington and its friends have been forced to face the uncomfortable reality that their options are limited to mainly symbolic measures, such as boycotting Russian-hosted meetings and events, that may have little or no long-term impact on Russia's behavior, [administration] officials said Tuesday."
Peter Grier writes in the Christian Science Monitor: "
And Jonathan S. Landay writes for McClatchy Newspapers that "the United States needs Russia's help on a range of issues, from tightening U.N. sanctions against Iran for refusing to suspend its uranium enrichment work to ensuring that North Korea abides by an agreement to eliminate its nuclear weapons program.
"'There is no question that the Bush administration will want to . . . express it's disapproval and to downgrade the relationship,' said Charles Kupchan, a former White House advisor on European affairs now with the Council on Foreign Relations. 'But at the same time, the
Helene Cooper and Thom Shanker write in the New York Times that "around
"In a flurry of briefings intended to counter the critics and overcome the impression of having been caught flatfooted, senior Bush administration officials tried to paint a portrait of American reason and calm in the midst of hot tempers in what several called 'a hot zone.' . . .
"Bush administration officials have been adamant in asserting that they warned the government in
"But . . . the accumulation of years of mixed messages may have made the American warnings fall on deaf ears.
"The United States took a series of steps that emboldened Georgia: sending advisers to build up the Georgian military, including an exercise last month with more than 1,000 American troops; pressing hard to bring Georgia into the NATO orbit; championing Georgia's fledgling democracy along Russia's southern border; and loudly proclaiming its support for Georgia's territorial integrity in the battle with Russia over Georgia's separatist enclaves. . . .
"In recent years, the
Julian E. Barnes and Peter Spiegel write in the Los Angeles Times: "A senior
"'We have consistently, and on Thursday also, urged the Georgians not to move their forces in. We were unambiguous about it,' said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity when discussing private talks with the Georgians. 'Saakashvili had always told us he could not stand by while Georgian villages were being shelled, and we always knew this was a point of pressure. We always told him that he should not give in to the kind of provocations we knew the Russians were capable of.'
"But [David L. Phillips, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council] said he believed that even if the State Department was warning the Russians, the Georgians heard a different message."
And where, oh where, might those mixed signals be coming from?
"'I think the State Department was assiduous in urging restraint, and Saakashvili's buddies in the White House and Office of the Vice President kept egging him on,' Phillips said."
Indeed, Barnes and Spiegel write: "[T]here are increasing signs that administration hard-liners are using the crisis to reassert their view that
"Vice President Dick Cheney's declaration Saturday that 'Russian aggression must not go unanswered' was seen by some experts as the first salvo of what could be a new battle over administration policy.
"Some conservatives believe the administration has not been tough enough with
The Wall Street Journal editorial board writes: "
"President Bush finally condemned
"By trying to Finlandize if not destroy
Cover Up Watch
Eric Lichtblau writes in the New York Times: "Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey on Tuesday rejected the idea of bringing criminal charges against former Justice Department employees who improperly used political litmus tests in hiring decisions, saying he had already taken strong internal steps in response to a 'painful' episode. . . .
"As last month's report from the inspector general acknowledged, the hiring abuses by former Justice Department officials represented a violation of federal Civil Service law, but not of criminal law, he said.
"'That does not mean, as some people have suggested, that those officials who were found by the joint reports to have committed misconduct have suffered no consequences,' Mr. Mukasey said. 'Far from it. The officials most directly implicated in the misconduct left the department to the accompaniment of substantial negative publicity.'"
Carrie Johnson writes in The Washington Post: "Mukasey said that the hiring system at Justice had broken down and that department leaders had failed to supervise the behavior 'of those who did wrong.' But the attorney general stopped short of agreeing to weed out lawyers and immigration judges who won their jobs based on faulty criteria."
Indeed, as Johnson points out: "The attorney general has been criticized for signing paperwork to promote immigration judge Garry D. Malphrus to a seat on the prestigious Board of Immigration Appeals even as investigators completed their blistering report. Malphrus is a former GOP aide on the Senate Judiciary Committee. He also had been associate director of the White House Domestic Policy Council and had taken part in the 'Brooks Brothers Riot' -- chanting at
"Separately, an official in the Justice Department Office of Professional Responsibility said the unit has notified bar associations of its findings against five lawyers singled out in reports thus far."
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy issued a statement in response to Mukasey's speech: "Attorney General Mukasey's blanket conclusions appear premature based on the facts and evidence that congressional investigators and the Inspector General have uncovered so far. The White House stonewalling continues, with aides refusing to comply with congressional subpoenas and testify about their role in the politicization of the Department of Justice. The Attorney General, the nation's top law enforcement officer, seems intent on insulating this administration from accountability. We must continue to pursue the truth and facts, and hold any wrongdoers accountable."
The New York Times editorial board writes: "Mr. Mukasey made no mention of the role played by his predecessor, Alberto Gonzales, and other members of President Bush's inner circle. There is by now strong reason to believe that they were involved in plans to fire
"The department has never properly pursued the bad actors. It has shown no real concern for the victims. Mr. Mukasey's cynical remarks shrugging off the whole scandal should prod Congress to pursue it even more vigorously. . . .
"Mr. Mukasey should have said that based on the recent reports he is going to personally and vigorously pursue allegations of politicization in the department, no matter where they lead. . . .
"He should also have vowed that he would do everything in his power to see that President Bush's chief of staff, Joshua Bolten, his former White House counsel, Harriet Miers, and former top political adviser, Karl Rove, all comply with Congressional subpoenas to testify in public and under oath.
"As the nation's top law enforcement officer, Mr. Mukasey should demand that they tell what they know -- particularly about the firing of the
Scott Horton blogs for Harper's: "Prior to his confirmation, Michael Mukasey fessed up, in a written response to Senator Dick Durbin, to a meeting the White House arranged with a group of movement conservatives. The team he met with had a simple agenda: They wanted his assurance that he would not appoint special prosecutors to go after administration figures involved in serious scandals at the Justice Department, including the
"This didn't 'just happen.' It was the result of a careful plan for partisan entrenchment at Justice -- consciously pursued in defiance of the law. A serious investigation would have focused on the senior figures responsible for this program."
Al Qaeda Watch
Joby Warrick writes in The Washington Post: "Al-Qaeda has exploited recent political turmoil in
"Despite the loss of key leaders to U.S. strikes, Osama bin Laden continues to enjoy a haven in the border region and has managed to deepen alliances with a wide range of Islamist groups from South Asia to the Middle East, said Ted Gistaro, the national intelligence officer for transnational threats and an al-Qaeda expert."
Mark Mazzetti writes in the New York Times: "There is also a growing recognition among senior officials that the Bush administration for years did not take the Qaeda threat in
Aluf Benn writes in Haaretz: "The American administration has rejected an Israeli request for military equipment and support that would improve
"The Americans viewed the request, which was transmitted (and rejected) at the highest level, as a sign that
"As compensation for the requests it rejected,
"Senior Israeli officials had originally hoped that U.S. President George Bush would order an American strike on
Another tidbit from the Haaretz story: "Two weeks ago, [Defense Minister Ehud] Barak visited
State Secrets Watch
Steven Aftergood reports on his secrecy blog: "A new report from the Senate Judiciary Committee examines the use of the state secrets privilege by the executive branch.
"'In recent years, the executive branch has asserted the privilege more frequently and broadly than before, typically to seek dismissal of lawsuits at the pleadings stage. Facing allegations of unlawful Government conduct ranging from domestic warrantless surveillance, to employment discrimination, to retaliation against whistleblowers, to torture and 'extraordinary rendition,' the Bush-Cheney administration has invoked the privilege in an effort to shut down civil suits against both Government officials and private parties. Courts have largely acquiesced,' the report states.
"'While there is some debate over the extent to which this represents a quantitative or qualitative break from past practice, '[w]hat is undebatable . . . is that the privilege is currently being invoked as grounds for dismissal of entire categories of cases challenging the constitutionality of Government action,' and that a strong public perception has emerged that sees the privilege as a tool for Executive abuse.'"
Bryan Walsh writes for Time: "Thanks to the Endangered Species Act (ESA) -- the 1973 law that requires the federal government to protect endangered species and plan for their recovery -- iconic animals like the bald eagle, the peregrine falcon and the gray whale have rebounded to healthier numbers. It is one of the real success stories of the green movement.
"If the Bush Administration has its way, however, those protections may soon be endangered themselves. The White House on Aug. 11 proposed a sweeping regulatory overhaul of the ESA, virtually eliminating the independent scientific evaluation of the environmental impact of federal actions. . . .
"[I]t's difficult to avoid the conclusion that the White House is simply trying to dismantle as much of the nation's framework for environmental protection as possible in its last months in office. The Bush Administration had tried in the past to push similar changes to the EPA through Congress, but was defeated. The new regulations, which do not require the approval of Congress, seem to represent a last-minute end run around that opposition."
The New York Times editorial board writes: "[M]any property owners and commercial interests, including developers and loggers, hate the act because, in their view, it unreasonably inflates costs.
"The Bush administration has tried hard to accommodate their interests. It has gone to great lengths to circumnavigate the clear language of the law by rigging the science (in many cases ignoring their own scientists), negotiating settlements favorable to industry and simply refusing to obey court orders. This time, however, the administration means to rewrite the law itself, albeit through regulatory means. . . .
"The Bureau of Reclamation likes to build dams; the Department of Transportation likes to build highways. Protecting endangered species is not their priority. Other agencies, like the Office of Surface Mining or the Bureau of Land Management, have shown themselves far too vulnerable to pressure from the very industries, like mining, they are meant to regulate."
Valerie Plame Watch
Kenneth R. Bazinet writes in the New York Daily News: "Another court said Tuesday that outed ex-CIA spook Valerie Plame can't sue Vice President Cheney, ex-Bush political guru Karl Rove or ex-Cheney senior aide Lewis (Scooter) Libby over the disclosure that she was an operative for the spy agency.
"The U.S. Court of Appeals in
Matt Apuzzo writes for the Associated Press: "It was an unusual case and even some on Plame's legal team acknowledged the case was an uphill fight from the start."
Amanda Terkel of thinkprogress.org wonders if White House officials will finally be forced to comment on their role in the leak.
Last year, after Libby announced he would not appeal his conviction, I noted that Bush, Cheney and their mouthpieces had promised that once Libby's legal options were exhausted, they would answer questions about the CIA leak case. But then -- surprise -- spokeswoman Dana Perino suddenly remembered there was a civil suit pending as well.
Ronald Brownstein writes for The Atlantic: "American voters nearly always elect a president who responds to the flaws they have found in his predecessor. Jimmy Carter was more honest than Richard Nixon; Ronald Reagan tougher than Carter; George H.W. Bush 'kinder and gentler' than Reagan; Bill Clinton more in touch than Bush; George W. Bush more morally upright in his personal life than
He concludes: "Bush's failure has highlighted the fact that, ultimately, presidents who divide rarely conquer, and it has created an enormous opportunity for his successor to reshape the contours of American politics. . . . The opportunity to build a lasting majority would be greater for Obama than for McCain, because of the damage Bush has done to the GOP's image. But either man could strengthen his party by redefining it as more flexible, inclusive, and practical than it is seen to be today. More important, he could remind Americans, as Theodore Roosevelt once put it, that their 'common interests are as broad as the continent.' And that could be the key to progress on all of the problems -- from health care and energy to the economy and national security -- that will await the next president in January 2009."
Late Night Humor
Stephen Colbert hosted author Jane Mayer last night: "My guest tonight says that
Colbert: "There's nothing in the constitution that says, 'don't torture.' The words 'don't torture' do not appear."
Mayer: "There is that little part, though, that talks about how you shouldn't have cruel and unusual punishment. . . . "
Colbert: "Let me point out that it says, 'cruel and unusual.' What we're doing may be cruel, but it is no longer unusual for us to do it, OK?"
Colbert also criticized Mayer for having "a problem with the term 'enhanced interrogation.'"
Mayer: "Enhanced interrogation is a euphemism for hurting people on purpose. . . . "
Colbert: "You're making it sound bad when -- when the term itself is meant to make it sound good."
And Colbert mocked the title of Mayer's book, "The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How The War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals."
Said Colbert: "If we had never known that the government was doing this -- the way the government didn't want us to know -- our ideals would still be intact. But people like you want to harm our ideals by letting us know what it is we're doing on the dark side. Aren't you part of the problem?"
When this column was launched in January of 2004, I wasn't sure how long I could keep it going. But there's never been a dull moment. And today's column, by my count, is my 1,000th.