Opinion Focus

Eugene Robinson
Washington Post Columnist
Tuesday, June 5, 2007; 1:00 PM

Washington Post opinion columnist Eugene Robinson was online Tuesday, June 5, at 1 p.m. ET to discuss his recent columns and the latest news.

... And Antiwar Voices (Post, June 5) | Discussion Group: Mr. Robinson's Neighborhood

The transcript follows.

Archive: Eugene Robinson discussion transcripts


Eugene Robinson: Welcome, all. First, a shameless plug: Everyone's invited to join my new discussion group on washingtonpost.com -- "Mr. Robinson's Neighborhood" -- which has a handy link at the top of the home page. Later this afternoon, I'll probably start a new thread on Scooter Libby. And speaking of the official Bush administration "fall guy," I'm sure that one of the things we touch on in the next hour will be his 30-month sentence and $250,000 fine. His boss, Dick Cheney, hasn't exactly been there for him during this whole legal process, but maybe the vice president will visit him in the pokey.

In other news, last Friday's column was an answer to those who say Al Gore is too ostentatiously smart to be president -- whoever the next president is, he or she needs to be really smart -- and today's column echoes the question John Edwards posed in Sunday's Democratic candidates' debate: shouldn't Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama be out front, leading the campaign against the Iraq war?


Alexandria, Va.: I thought you posed a good question about leadership among frontrunners Clinton and Obama on the War Issue. Don't you think that their campaign teams are afraid that the Republicans will turn their candidate into George McGovern -- stereotyped as weak on defense, a liberal Democrat unable to be a strong Commander-in-Chief? Don't you think that in a post 9/11 world that that false Republican charge poses problems?

Eugene Robinson: Yes, I think that's what they are worried about. But the way they kept their heads down in the debate and vote over the funding bill seemed too calculated. Not a lot of leadership.


Gulf Shores, Ala.: Thanks for your column today. By my estimates if we continue to lose 130 soldiers a month; for the next 18 months 2,340 more will have died and many more will have been wounded, and these deaths will be because it is politically advantageous to let this be Bush's war. If and when a Democrat takes office, how long will it be before they can get all the troops home? I keep think of John Kerry's statement during Vietnam: "How do you tell the last soldier to die for a failed policy?"

Eugene Robinson: Well said. I understand why Democrats are reluctant to cut off the war's funding -- I see how that would be spun. But I think those politicians and officials who oppose the war have a duty to speak loudly, keep pushing, and do everything they can to end it.


Richmond, Va.: I just read an ABC poll this morning, and was curious about this figure: "Two-thirds of Republicans approve of how Bush is handling the war in Iraq, and 70 percent say the war was worth fighting." Can you explain why, with all of the information that has cascaded about the duplicity of reasons for entering the war, the predictions of a no-win for this war from very credible generals and others, and the increasing number of deaths of our troops, this high percentage of people comes to this conclusion?

Exactly what is it that they are supporting? Is it blind allegiance to Bush? The GOP? Are they more concerned with their party than the country? I cannot figure it out. In addition, with the obverse true (i.e., from Democrats and Independents) how will the country ever come to a consensus about ending this war?

washingtonpost.com: Discontent Over Iraq Increasing, Poll Finds (Post, June 5)

Eugene Robinson: I have a theory. I think there are basically two factors. One is that this administration has convinced some people that there was a link between Iraq and the Sept. 11 attacks; there was no such link, of course, but repeating the untruth has led some people to accept it as true -- I get e-mails from people who are clearly under that erroneous impression. The second factor, I think, is that the White House has framed the war in terms of "victory" and "defeat," when these are not meaningful terms. Victory over whom? Defeat at whose hands?


Vienna, Va.: Paris Hilton is in jail and you reporters are talking about Iraq. What gives?

Eugene Robinson: Sometimes we get lazy and take our eye off the ball. Thanks for the reminder. Isn't that the most glamorous mug shot you've ever seen?


Boston: The oddest thought about these detainees having the charges dropped against them is, what happens after that? They clearly aren't going to then hop on a plane and go on their merry way. "Case dismissed, now back to your cage have a nice day." It goes to show what a mockery of justice all this is.

washingtonpost.com: Charges Against Guantanamo Detainee Set for Trial Dropped Over Limit in Law (Post, June 5)

Eugene Robinson: Kafka would have been embarrassed to write the story of the detainees -- he'd think it was too far-fetched. From the detainees' point of view, nothing happens. Our government has no intention of releasing them. Back to Guantanamo limbo.


Silver Spring, Md.: Isn't Clinton right, though? At this point the war is Bush's war, the Senate and the House do not have the votes to overturn a veto and do not have the votes to really stand up to him. A post-Bush plan must involve classified conversations with the chiefs of staff and the commanders in the theater. Until a Democrat can have those conversations and begin to really plan the way out, anything they say is just a nice idea, not a real way forward.

Eugene Robinson: There are senators, representatives and staffers on Capitol Hill who have good enough relationships with the Pentagon -- including back-channel relationship -- that they can get a pretty good idea of what's happening on the ground. Clinton is certainly right that Bush is unlikely to be deterred by anything Congress says or does. My point is that those who ask for the opportunity to lead the country have an obligation to lead on important issues, and they all say the war is of great importance.


McLean, Va.: Eugene: I think Richard Cohen's column today was a good beginning to debunking the myth of Fred Thompson. This attempt by Republicans to compare him to Reagan makes them look like kids in the '70s who saw their older siblings go crazy for the Beatles and decided to do the same thing ... for the Bay City Rollers. My prediction is that the best day of Thompson's campaign will be the first day.

washingtonpost.com: Can He Find His Motivation? (Post, June 5)

Eugene Robinson: It's certainly a great column. We'll see about Thompson. If he is as unenthusiastic about long hours and grinding workloads as former colleagues say he was in the Senate, his star could fade quickly.


Baltimore: Mr. Robinson, in your column today you stated that "Clinton was right when she said that this is George W. Bush's war, not anybody else's." With all due respect, there is much evidence that Hillary knew exactly what her vote would mean, and that she furthered the idea of a connection between Iraq, 9/11 and weapons of mass destruction. Certainly letting her and other Democrats off the hook so easily may be considered revisionist history.

Eugene Robinson: I'll split the difference with you. Yes, it's true (as I tried to point out in the column) that Democrats who voted for the resolution authorizing the war are asking us to believe that they handed George W. Bush a loaded gun and never imagined he would use it. Was there anybody who didn't know that Bush was dead-set on invading Iraq? That said, come on, it is George Bush's war. He wanted it, he got it, he botched it, he's escalating it...


Re: Leadership: I cannot speak for either of them, but I will say this. I agree that it is Bush's war. I also agree that the war needs to end. I am unsteady on the issue of cutting off funding, even though I lean towards cutting it off. Both of them cast their votes, knowing it never would happen. But they did it, and I appreciate that. I think that vote showed leadership, and willingness to put their necks out. I think it's very easy for Edwards to speak up, given that he did not need to cast a vote. And Obama is right, Edwards helped to enable this whole mess that Obama now faces.

Eugene Robinson: All true, but weren't they excessively cautious in waiting until the last minute to cast their votes, each trying to make sure the other didn't do something unexpected? And what if there had been a chance that an actual cutoff would happen? Would they have supported it then?

And yes, Edwards didn't have to weigh a vote. But at this point the country is anti-war and the Democratic party is really anti-war. It's not like coming out against motherhood and apple pie.


Rochester, N.Y.: Although I fully understand the desire and need for minority groups to stick together at all costs, is there any positive reason for the Congressional Black Caucus to oppose a Jefferson expulsion, or at least suspension, until the accusations are dealt with one way or another? I agree that there is a presumption of innocence, and maybe even that there was illegal seizure of evidence, but suspicion plus $90,000 plus no good explanation surely shines an accusing light fairly on Mr. Jefferson. How can the Dems make any campaign against corruption if this is not approached with some honesty? Otherwise the hypocrisy of the Republicans is being equaled.

Eugene Robinson: I started a discussion thread on Mr. Robinson's Neighborhood last night about this very issue, so please join in. There is no reason for the Congressional Black Caucus or anybody else to stand in solidarity with Bill Jefferson at this point, in my opinion. No, he hasn't been convicted of anything, but come on. I pointed out in my Neighborhood post that never in the history of money, or in the history of refrigeration, has there ever been a legitimate reason to stash $90,000 in the freezer. Yes, he enjoys the presumption of innocence, but it's time to cut him loose.


Washington: Why do you think Joe Biden's plan for Iraq hasn't caught on with Americans? Biden seems to be the only candidate with a specific plan, while the other candidates speak in the abstract. It doesn't take a genius to see that the Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds would rather die than live together.

Eugene Robinson: Biden's plan is concrete and very well thought-out. I was skeptical at first -- I thought the Turks never would accept even a semi-independent Kurdistan -- but events may be heading in the direction of Biden's vision anyway. The Bush administration and its war policies remain committed to the idea of a unitary Iraq -- no matter what's happening on the ground. Biden's idea of three basically autonomous mini-states ought to get more attention.


Sewickley, Pa.: I think the polling done by the Post and others shows the American people are against the war and opposed to the track the Bush administration has put the country on. However, there is no strong consensus on whether to withdraw entirely, conduct a phased redeployment or to defund the whole project. Democrats have been beat about the head shoulders for three election cycles on war and security issues. I'd like to see more profiles in courage but I can understand why Democrats are conflicted. So is the public.

washingtonpost.com: Discontent Over Iraq Increasing, Poll Finds (Post, June 5)

Eugene Robinson: What you say is right. I wish somebody would try to build a consensus antiwar position that people could rally around -- and that's something the presidential candidates could attempt to do.


Silver Spring, Md.: Interesting the different tone Bush used today in describing authoritarian regimes in Belarus, Zimbabwe, etc. and those countries who theoretically are allies in the war against terror (e.g. Pakistan, Saudi Arabia). As far as I know, he did not mention another dictatorial ally, Kazakhstan. It was actually funny to read that Bush said he would use U.S. influence to push Russia towards democracy. Where has that worked? More likely, his words will be used by Putin as, ostensibly, proof that outsiders are plotting against the country (as Chavez and Mugabe have done).

washingtonpost.com: President Criticizes Moscow for Having 'Derailed' Reforms (Post, June 5)

Eugene Robinson: I'll believe that George W. Bush really intends to push "allies" Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt toward democracy when I see it. So far, intermittent lip service and nothing more.


Oskaloosa, Iowa: I thank you from the bottom of my heart for reading my mind and saying it better than I ever could, re: your column about a president with brains. I had to move halfway across the country to get away from Bush worshipers in my own family! I would like a president smart enough to laugh at Stephen Colbert is front of the press -- drunk or not -- and smart enough to quit making up scatological nicknames for unfortunate-yet-well-paid staff. Thank you, Mr. Robinson.

washingtonpost.com: An Egghead for the Oval Office (Post, June 1)

Eugene Robinson: Thanks, and I hope your family comes around.


Miramar, Fla.: Eugene, you claimed in your last column that "I happen to believe that those cultural issues are a crock and that recent Latino immigrants are strengthening this nation." Oh really? Why I don't doubt that there are many hardworking, law-abiding (besides entering illegally) Latinos, did you know that Hispanics have a 50 percent out-of-wedlock birth rate and the lowest high school graduation rate of any ethnic/racial group? Please explain to me how those characteristics "strengthen our nation"

Eugene Robinson: The same way poorly educated Italian immigrants strengthened it, and culturally distinct Eastern European immigrants strengthened it, and "papist" Irish immigrants immigrants strengthened it. You should read what was being written about immigrants at the beginning of the 20th century.


New York: One reason there are so many Republicans supporting the war is they actually believe in "we fight them over there so we don't fight them over here." However, support from the conservatives is evaporating quickly (e.g. Gingrich, Peggy Noonan, etc.).

Eugene Robinson: True, and that's kind of what I meant when I talked about the phantom link between Iraq and Sept. 11. But yes, it's amazing to see how disillusioned conservatives are.


Maryland: So, what do you think Libby's fellow inmates (if he ever spends a night in jail) will think when they find out his nickname is "Scooter"?

Eugene Robinson: It would not be a good idea to let that get around the cellblock.


Miramar, Fla.: Eugene, you and other columnists repeatedly have made the claim that we can't logistically and morally deport 12 million people. Okay, fine. But since when are deporting them and immediately legalizing them (as this bill would do -- a "Z" visa gives one probationary legal status) the only two options available? Why don't we work on stopping the flow of illegal immigration first (both at the border and by overstays) with security measures and workplace enforcement measures before we decide how to deal with the 12-20 million that are here illegally?

Eugene Robinson: The White House obviously believes -- and may be right -- that the only way to get legislation giving a path to citizenship for the illegal immigrants already here is to insist that it be a part of an overall bill that also strengthens security. It's a political calculation.


Colorado Springs, Colo.: Other than the fact that you have to file X number of words per day, and the TV reporters have to turn in so many feet of tape per day, what difference does any of this posturing and rhetoric really make?

Eugene Robinson: It lowers my blood pressure -- I can get everything off my chest. As a side benefit, people are sometimes informed, provoked, annoyed, amused. Those are differences.


Egghead in Washington: I've been saying what you said for many years (we need a smart president, not an average Joe or Jane), so of course I agree with you. But there's more: Cheney is smart, Rumsfeld is smart, Wolfowitz is smart -- smart isn't enough. That also is a big challenge, finding someone who is smart-plus. (Sorry, no question.)

Eugene Robinson: True. My competitor Maureen Dowd of the New York Times had a great line about Wolfowitz a week or so ago. She was imagining his resume, and one job description for his pre-Bush years was "Demented Ideologue." Maybe we should specify that the next president has to be smart, but not a demented ideologue.

And on that note, my time is up. Join me again next week, and drop in on Mr. Robinson's Neighborhood.


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