Opinion Focus

Eugene Robinson
Washington Post Columnist
Tuesday, March 27, 2007; 1:00 PM

Washington Post opinion columnist Eugene Robinson was online Tuesday, March 27, at 1 p.m. ET to discuss his recent columns and the latest news.

The Multipolar Presidency (Post, March 27)

The transcript follows.


Eugene Robinson: Hello, all. I promise that unlike Alberto Gonzales's senior counselor, Monica Goodling, I will not take the Fifth Amendment and refuse to answer questions on grounds of possible self-incrimination. (Easy for me to say, since I get to pick the questions.) Aside from the administration's self-inflicted scandal -- autoscandal? -- about the fired U.S. attorneys, a lot of the news has been medical: Elizabeth Edwards' cancer, and now Tony Snow's.


San Francisco, California: Mr. Robinson, what are the odds that a person named Monica would be (again!) central to a crisis in the Presidency? Is it a more common name than I realized among the thirtysomething set, or is Fate playing a cruel trick? I refer to Monica "Taking the Fifth" Goodling, the Justice Department's White House Liason.

washingtonpost.com: Bush's Monica Problem (washingtonpost.com, March 27)

Eugene Robinson: It's possible to calculate the odds, but you'd probably have to know how many baby girls born in certain years were named Monica, or how many Monicas live within 50 miles of the White House, or something.


Arlington, Va.: Mr. Robinson, this question might be a little off-topic today what with the Attorney General having been recently revealed to be Mr. Magoo and all, but I wanted to take a shot at getting your thoughts on this. Is the administration line that we can't set a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq because then "the terrorists" could just "wait us out" incredibly silly, or is it just me? It occurs to me that these people live there. If we stay for a thousand years, they'll be there "waiting us out" for a thousand years and a day. It's not as if all the bad actors will one day throw down their arms and give up because they get sick of waiting for us to leave so that then, and only then, will they be free to "follow us home."

Eugene Robinson: Very well put. Yes, the Shiites and the Sunnis and all the others who live in Iraq REALLY LIVE THERE, and intend to stay. I am as mystified as you are as to how we could possibly avoid their "waiting us out."


Vienna, Va.: Whats your take on the Iranians' decision to detain 15 British sailors? It seems like a clear escalation of a very tense diplomatic situation. I can't understand what they hope to gain out of it, other than upsetting the British.

Eugene Robinson: You got me. There may be some other explanation, but it looks to me like a calculated provocation, one designed to provoke some sort of limited response. But maybe it's about defining or redefining territorial waters. With two U.S. aircraft carrier groups in the region, the possibility exists that things could get out of hand. I doubt it, though. Doesn't feel like the beginning of a war to me.


Los Angeles: Thanks for taking questions. I've yet to see an article probing how New Yorkers felt about Giuliani as Mayor prior to 9/11 -- he was considered overly authoritarian and confrontational by many. Also, the country may not have seen him walking the streets of new York immediately after 9/11 attacks were it not for the fact that his emergency command center was in the World Trade Center, a move he was counseled against but ignored. I think his stature is more myth than reality and would love to know your thoughts on this.

Eugene Robinson: Giuliani was a controversial and pretty unpopular figure in New York before 9/11 -- praised for having cleaned up the city, villified for having trampled rights in the process. He's known as prickly, irascible and impatient. It will be fascinating to see whether his poll numbers hold up as more of the country gets to know him.


Raleigh, N.C.: Good opinion pieces start outside of the writer's beliefs, they start with an understanding of the facts around the issue. What kind of research do you do for your columns? Do you like to stay in your "comfort zone" of issues, or do you prefer saying, hey, this seems interesting, let me spend some time reading up on it and see if I can get a column out of it? Do you run your columns by people with an opposing political philosophy, someone who can play "devil's advocate"?

Eugene Robinson: All of the above. There's no standard way for a column to come together. The one common factor is my good friend, Mr. Deadline.


Arlington, Va.: From the Social Security Administration's Web site: "Monica" was a top 100 name among girls between 1964 and 1997. I'm not sure how old Ms. Goodling is, but if you go back to 1956, it's been in the Top 200 until the past three years.

Eugene Robinson: I knew someone would look that up, and by the end of the hour someone else probably will have calculated the odds.


Washington: Isn't hypocracy wonderful? Liberals whine and complain when conservatives criticize people loyal to liberal intrests when they protect themselves by citing the Fifth Ammendment. Now the shoe is on the other foot, and liberals are doing the same thing that conservatives did ten years ago. In light of what happened to Mr. Libby, isn't saying nothing the right thing to do in any investigation these days? If not, why don't we just call a spade a spade and repeal the Fifth Ammendment?

Eugene Robinson: Listen, I have nothing against the Fifth Amendment. If I were in Monica Goodling's situation, I might take the Fifth too. But you have to admit that when a Justice Department official goes up to the Hill and has to take the Fifth, the administration is not having a particularly good week.


Pittsburgh: On the fate of Alberto Gonzales, I have seen several comments blaming the Democrats' partisanship and media bias for all the hot water he seems to be in. I'm thinking he's in worse trouble with his own agency and the U.S. Attorneys that remain. Hasn't he really lost the support of his own employees and caused a collapse in confidence in the surviving U.S. Attorneys? There have been high-profile calls for our U.S. Attorney to resign.

Eugene Robinson: Gonzales has been spending time trying to reassure the U.S. attorneys and regain their confidence. I think his bigger problem is with Republicans on Capitol Hill, who keep telling the White House "no more surprises" and then within 24 hours: "Surprise!"


New York: Regarding Giuliani -- why not ask someone in the know? "He was considered overly authoritarian and confrontational by many." No, he was considered that only by radical activists like Al Sharpton, and other race hustlers who took offense to aggressive policing, and mafiosos who took offense to him cleaning up the Fish Market and San Genero festival. The fact is the Rudy cleaned up a broken city -- and to do it he battled the powerful unions and welfare state. He was enormously effective and most all New Yorkers thank him to this day!

Eugene Robinson: Well, I do recall that Ed Koch -- no wild-eyed liberal, and no bosom buddy of the Rev. Sharpton -- wrote a book about Giuliani entitled "Nasty Man," didn't he?


Re: Bushisms: Any idea what "catapult the propaganda" is supposed to mean?

Eugene Robinson: I think the translation is "work to get your message across," or something like that.


Philadelphia: While I can't believe I'm coming to defense of the current Iraq policy, a response should be made to the earlier question about "waiting them out." The concept behind counterinsurgency, if I'm not mistaken, is to increase troop presence, reduce the opportunities for chaos, increase economic development -- so that while the insurgents are "waiting it out," they're more likely to get a job, realize that there's a more productive life out there (i.e. it's not like they're on a stable track currently), maybe fall in love, have a kid and go mainstream. Yes, they'll always be there, but they may not live their lives under the same set of assumptions.

Eugene Robinson: True, but if this is indeed the kind of "classic" counterinsurgency strategy that the administration is trying to pursue (leaving aside, for the moment, whether it works), then we're being cynically misled with the president's focus on a "surge" of 30,000 troops. The very word "surge" implies a temporary increase, but the waiting game implies a lot more troops for a lot of years.


Falls Church, Va.: That's funny -- because the President of the United States of America stands on principal and ignores the polls and savage, daily partisan attacks, he somehow has a mental disease? What motivates these articles Robinson? I just can't believe the level of abject hate and disrespect that you have for our president!

Eugene Robinson: He's my president too, and he's also the president of the great majority of Americans who oppose the war, who bemoan this administration's trampling of privacy rights, who are appalled by torture and secret prisons... also the president of the many thousands still unable to go home to New Orleans and the rest of the Gulf Coast...

But for the record, I didn't accuse anyone of having a mental disease.


Pittsburgh: In assessing whether the "surge" is working, will Americans be satisfied if violence is reduced in Baghdad but U.S. soldiers and marines are dying at the same rate as before? ICasualties.org reports that 76 U.S. troops have died during March compared to 80 in February. Will this escalation be evaluated on Iraqi casualties or U.S. KIAs?

Eugene Robinson: Good question -- how do you measure the "surge"? If violence abates in Baghdad but increases elsewhere, have you accomplished anything? The administration's argument is that you have to pacify Baghdad before you can have any hope of accomplishing anything.


Berkeley, Calif.: I almost feel bad for Monica Goodling -- a 33 year-old kid should not be in a position to make such consequential decisions. When the government (or CPA for that matter) is staffed by young political loyalists, it should not be surprising when there are catastrophic errors in judgment. When Karl Rove, Scooter Libby or Ari Fleischer obfuscate, mislead and lie to cover their tracks, you have to think they knew exactly what they were doing. When this, ahem, child lied to cover her tracks, I just don't know. She definitely screwed up, but was it just an error of youth, inexperience and zealotry? In any case, she never should have been in a such a position. The people who put her there ought to feel ashamed for needlessly subjecting this kid to a life-shattering experience. No question in there. Thoughts?

Eugene Robinson: Only that this was supposed to be an administration of mature adults, and it has proved to be anything but.


Brooklyn, N.Y.: By the time I finished reading your column on the Edwards' situation, I had a lump the size of a basketball in my throat. Rarely recall being so touched by any column in any newspaper.

washingtonpost.com: Choosing to Live (Post, March 23)

Eugene Robinson: Thanks so much, Brooklyn. Today my heart goes out to Tony Snow for the news he just received. Cancer is apolitical. It sucks.


Washington: Why should the Attorney General be fired? He broke no law! Why are people so obsessed with image and the appearence of wrongdoing when zero exists? If I were being called to testify in the overheated rehtoric of a Democratic Congress, I would take the Fifth too! Sen. Durbin admitted that he wants to ask questions far, far beyond the eight legally fired U.S. Attorneys!

Eugene Robinson: The attorney general has no one to blame for his problems but himself. He keeps telling Congress things that turn out not to be true, and as I said earlier, his big concern now should be that Republican senators and representatives have had it up to here with surprise-of-the-day from Justice.


Sewickley, Pa.: During Senate questioning of FBI Director Mueller today, I believe Sen. Schumer mentioned that Secretary Gates recommended Gitmo be closed but was opposed by Gonzales. Perhaps The Post should have a pool on the closing date for the prison -- what would be your guess?

Eugene Robinson: George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Alberto Gonzales seem to be adamantly opposed to closing Guantanamo. My guess is that they know they can't take the detainees to any other country, since there would be an uproar, so they would have to bring them to the United States. They are worried (continuing to surmise here) that the courts would almost inevitably have to take another look at the detainees' rights if they were on unambiguous U.S. soil.


Richmond, VA:"Eugene Robinson: Very well put. Yes, the Shiites and the Sunnis and all the others who live in Iraq REALLY LIVE THERE, and intend to stay. I am as mystified as you are as to how we could possibly avoid their "waiting us out."

One example of 'waiting it out' would be Northern Ireland. The British basically made the point that they weren't going anywhere, and at long last progress is being made. This does show us the sort of time frame that is necessary for sustained counterinsurgency (i.e. 40-plus years).

washingtonpost.com: N. Ireland Foes Reach Accord (Post, March 27)

Eugene Robinson: Well, Northern Ireland is part of Great Britain, and the erstwhile combatants are British citizens. Iraq is not the 51st state.


Eugene Robinson: Thanks, everyone. My time is up. See you again next week.


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