Another Vietnam? Maybe a bad analogy.

Al Kamen
Columnist February 21, 2012

Some analogies are perhaps best avoided.

Take, for example, Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper’s appearance last week before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. View Archive

Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D- Mich.) told Clapper he was “concerned by recent news reports that the latest National Intelligence Estimate, or NIE, reflects a difference of views between the intelligence community and our military commanders over the security situation in Afghanistan.”

The dissenting views were signed by Gen. John R. Allen , head of U.S. forces there; Ambassador Ryan Crocker ; Gen. James Mattis , head of the Central Command; and Adm. James G. Stavridis , the supreme allied commander in Europe — not exactly a group you want to trifle with.

Are the news reports accurate? Levin asked.

Well, yes, Clapper said, those officials “took issue with the NIE on three counts having to do with the force structure, didn’t feel that we gave sufficient weight to Pakistan and its impact as a safe haven and generally felt that the NIE was pessimistic” about the situation in Afghanistan and “the prospects for post-2014,” when troops are to withdraw.

Clapper tried to ease Levin’s concerns. “If you’ll forgive a little history, sir,” he began. “I served as an analyst briefer for General Westmoreland in Vietnam in 1966.” Clapper said he learned there that it’s typical that the “operational commanders sometimes don’t agree” with the intelligence team’s assessment of their efforts.

Gen. William Westmoreland, we recall, was notorious for predicting victory in Vietnam, telling an enthusiastic Congress in 1967 that, with time, “we will prevail in Vietnam over the Communist aggressor.”

Maybe might want to leave comparisons to Westmoreland out of it? Not a confidence-booster, after all.

The best defense . . .

Press-bashing is an important staple of any candidate’s repertoire, in part because it’s so easy and always useful.

Former House speaker Newt Gingrich made excellent use of it when, in a televised debate, he went after CNN’s John King for daring to ask about his second wife. Some say it may have given Gingrich the boost to win the South Carolina primary.

More recently, former senator Rick Santorum used the “double standard” feint to excellent effect to deflect criticism of a backer’s now-infamous “aspirin between her legs” observation on women and contraception.

“Look, this is what you guys do,” he told CBS News’s Charlie Rose . “You don’t do this with President Obama. In fact, with President Obama, you . . . defended him” after the Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s pyrotechnic sermons were revealed, he said.

“It’s a double standard, this is what you’re pulling off,” he said, “and I’m going to call you on it.” Seemed to work well.

We recall the Rev. Wright controversy was huge news at the time, and the constant media pounding forced Obama to make a big speech on the issue, but whatever.

Pols would do well to be guided by the master on handling the media, President Richard M. Nixon .

Our colleague Karen Tumulty reminds us of a June 2, 1971, memorandum Nixon wrote to his chief of staff Bob Haldeman, before Haldeman’s Watergate resignation.

“I hope you will note the next time you are talking to [press secretary Ron Ziegler and other aides] that in this first press conference . . . after the White House Correspondents Dinner, where I played the ‘good sport’ role, the reporters were considerably more bad-mannered and vicious than usual. This bears out my theory that treating them with considerably more contempt is in the long run a more productive policy.”

Advice to be pinned on the wall of everyone who ever runs for office.

Just don’t ‘reply all’

Much like the airing of dirty laundry, the public release of once-private e-mails can be embarrassing.

In messages revealed as part of the investigation into the Justice Department’s “Fast and Furious” operation — and brought to our attention by our eagle-eyed colleague Sari Horwitz — Arizona’s former U.S. attorney called the department’s public affairs officials “chuckleheads” for criticizing a news release from his office and then took a veiled dig at Michelle Obama’s obesity campaign.

According to the electronic missives, Dennis Burke, who has since resigned, had approved a January news release in which his office described “Mexican drug lords . . . shopping for war weapons in Arizona.” In a quote from the release, the head of the state’s field division used the phrase “the ongoing Mexican drug war.” That phraseology, apparently, didn’t sit well with Washington.

“OPA didn’t like me using ‘war,’ ” Burke complained in an
e-mail to U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman of New Jersey. “30,000 people are dead in Mexico. Sounds like war to me.”

Then Burke referred to the anti-obesity campaign championed by the first lady. “Ok to have a ‘War on Obesity’ but not regarding Mexico,” the e-mail said.

In a similar e-mail to Preet Bharara, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, Burke expressed frustration at the public affairs shop’s criticism. “So the chuckleheads at DoJ OPA called my office to complain that I used the word ‘war’ about the current circumstances in Mexico,” he wrote.

Bharara responded with sympathetic solidarity. “Don’t listen to them,” he replied in an
e-mail. “Thanks for the heads up, because now I will use ‘war’ constantly.”

The electronic exchanges were made public after Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, subpoenaed the Justice Department to provide them as part of his panel’s probe into Fast and Furious.

This wasn’t Burke’s first brush with cringe-inducing e-mails. Messages contained in a previous batch of records released as part of the probe reportedly show Burke calling staffers for Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) “willing stooges for the Gun Lobby.”

Personnel notes

We’re hearing that Tony West, assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s civil division, is in line to fill the shoes of Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli, the department’s No. 3 official. Perrelli announced a few weeks ago that he would leave his post in March.

It’s not a done deal, but we’ve heard the phrase “almost certain.”

No word yet on who would replace West.

In other Justice Department revolving-door news, Michael DuBose, former chief of the Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section, has joined the Kroll consulting firm. DuBose is managing director and leader of the cyber-investigations practice for the company, which specializes in risk management.

Elsewhere, the White House has nominated Carlos Pascual to be assistant secretary for energy resources at the State Department. Pascual is a former ambassador to Mexico and serves as special envoy and coordinator for international energy affairs.

With Emily Heil

The blog: washingtonpost.com/
intheloop. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

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