President Bush is changing the subject to the Patriot Act, and the Beltway buzz is still about Howard Dean, but I think the most fascinating debate out there involves Gitmo.
A campaign to shutter the detention facility that critics say has become a symbol of American abuse started in the press and spread to key Democrats. And I expected it to go nowhere fast. The Bush administration, which doesn't like to admit error, taking advice like that? The Bush administration, which fervently believes that the examples of abusive treatment at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib are aberrational exceptions, following the liberal agenda? The Bush administration, which above all wants to project strength in the war on terror, taking a step that could be viewed as backing off in the face of "gulag" accusations? Not bloody likely.
So when Bush was asked about Gitmo in a Fox News interview, I figured he wouldn't give an inch. Instead, he said, "We're exploring all alternatives as to how best to do the main objective, which is to protect America." Exploring all alternatives? The White House had to know that would be played as leaving-the-door-open to a Gitmo phaseout. That doesn't mean it will happen -- Rummy is knocking it down and McClellan is in nothing-really-new mode -- but it does suggest that the dialogue has shifted.
The botched Newsweek story, after all, was followed by official confirmation of several instances of Koran abuse, including the suspicious whizzing-on-the-holy-book incident that was supposed to be an accident.
The campaign began nearly two weeks ago with this Tom Friedman column (no link because it will cost you $49.95 to check out NYT columnists):
"Shut it down. Just shut it down. I am talking about the war-on-terrorism P.O.W. camp at Guantanamo Bay.
"Just shut it down and then plow it under. It has become worse than an embarrassment. I am convinced that more Americans are dying and will die if we keep the Gitmo prison open than if we shut it down. So, please, Mr. President, just shut it down. If you want to appreciate how corrosive Guantanamo has become for America's standing abroad, don't read the Arab press. Don't read the Pakistani press. Don't read the Afghan press. Hop over here to London or go online and just read the British press! See what our closest allies are saying about Gitmo. And when you get done with that, read the Australian press and the Canadian press and the German press."
A rebuttal here, from Heather MacDonald | http://www.nationalreview.com/comment/mac_donald200506091006.asp in National Review:
"You gotta admire the liberal media's modesty. For the last three years, it has been promoting the story that the Bush administration has a policy of torturing terror detainees. Now, such mouthpieces of the anti-administration Left as the New York Times are calling for the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility on the ground that its reputation for prisoner abuse is jeopardizing the war on terror. Take some credit, guys! It may be true that Guantanamo Bay has become synonymous with lawlessness throughout vast swathes of the Western and Muslim worlds. But no one is more responsible for that reputation than the New York Times, Newsweek, the Washington Post, and other mainstream media outlets, which have never encountered a prisoner-abuse story that they didn't find credible and worthy of broadcast.
"This recent campaign for shuttering Guantanamo, which has been joined by former president Jimmy Carter and Senator Joe Biden, began with a column by New York Times pundit Thomas Friedman on May 27, 'Just Shut It Down.' Friedman claimed that it was 'obvious' that the 'abuse at Guantanamo and with the whole U.S. military prison system . . . is out of control.' His evidence? Headlines in Western newspapers about abuse and the claim that 'over 100 detainees have died in U.S. custody.' 'How is it that" such deaths occurred? he asks sarcastically. 'Heart attacks?'
"Well, no, most of those deaths were in military self-defense or were accidental, and most occurred at the point of capture -- razor close to the heat of battle, if technically considered 'in detention.' I don't know where Friedman comes up with his "over 100" number. As of March 16, the Army was reporting 68 detainee deaths. Of those, 24 were confirmed or suspected criminal homicides, but again, a full 15 of those homicides occurred at point of capture in Iraq and Afghanistan. Do 24 criminal homicides out of the over 50,000 detainees taken as of September 2004 represent a criminal abuse of power? How many enemy soldiers died at the hands of their captors in previous wars? What proportion of al Qaeda captives survive detention? Friedman doesn't bother to ask."
Max Boot | http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/la-oe-boot9jun09,0,2396170.column?coll=la-home-headlines also fires back in the LAT:
"All the headlines about 'Abuse of the Koran at Gitmo' are absolutely accurate. Brig. Gen. Jay Hood's internal investigation has uncovered some shocking incidents. On at least six occasions, Korans were ripped up. They were urinated on three times, and attempts were made to flush them down the toilet at least three other times.Why aren't millions of Muslims rioting in response to these defilements? Because the perpetrators were prisoners, not guards. As John Hinderaker notes on weeklystandard.com, the most serious desecrations of the Koran at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility were committed by the Muslim inmates themselves.
"You'd never know this from the news coverage, which pounced on Hood's finding of five confirmed incidents of Koran abuse as proof that Newsweek was on to something with its phony-baloney report about guards flushing a Koran down the toilet."
Andrew Sullivan | http://www.andrewsullivan.com, by the way, doesn't think much of the Fox sitdown:
"Neil Cavuto seems to have conducted this interview with knee-pads on. But my favorite piece of slobbering sycophancy is the following attempt to get at why the president's campaign for social security reform has not won much public support. Over to the man who makes Larry King look like an interrogator at Bagram:
"CAVUTO: But in the meantime, the news channels then hear what you're saying, and then later on, we have this Michael Jackson update. I mean, his trial and his ongoing saga has gripped the nation for the past four-and-a-half, five months as you've been on this campaign.
"CAVUTO: I know this is a little outlandish, Mr. President...
"BUSH: No, that's all right, Neil.
"CAVUTO: Do you think that the focus on Michael Jackson has hurt you?
Turning now to the screaming over Dean, the New York Times | http://nytimes.com/2005/06/10/politics/10dean.html sets the scene as the doctor paid a house call to the Hill:
"Just four months into his tenure as chairman of the Democratic Party, Howard Dean has found himself on unforgiving - if familiar - terrain. As he visited Capitol Hill on Thursday, he faced a growing number of critics and received a private scolding from leading members of his party for several derogatory remarks he has made about Republicans in recent weeks.
"Republicans have attacked him with glee for those remarks, which they have described as 'below the belt,' while Democrats have struggled to defend him yet have quietly acknowledged that Dr. Dean was showing signs of being as polarizing as they once feared. . . .
"Besieged by a scrum of reporters crammed into a tiny room with him and Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic minority leader, Dr. Dean dismissed the consternation. 'You know, I think a lot of this is exactly what the Republicans want, and that's a diversion,' Dr. Dean said. 'We haven't had any discussions about what's going on in the media circus and all that stuff in the last two weeks,' he said."
At least one New Republic staffer, Keelin McDonell | http://www.tnr.com/etc.mhtml, isn't standing by the ex-Vermont governor:
"Barney Frank, Joe Biden, and John Edwards have all criticized Dean's overblown rhetoric. They're right, of course. But they still shouldn't have said anything. It's bad enough that Dean spouts off a never-ending stream of inappropriate comments. When Democrats whine to the media about it, though, they only draw attention to fractures and weaknesses in the party. Dean's screams alone are not sustainable news; it's the party's public wincing afterward that makes them interesting.
"There's no doubt Dean needs a serious talking-to about his behavior, but let's hope that happens behind closed doors. He can do all the impressions he wants there."
Hugh Hewitt | http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/005/702xyogg.asp is a very provocative conservative blogger and radio host, but I think he's a bit overcaffeinated in this Weekly Standard post. One sentence from my recent column on Dean got his motor going:
"On the other hand, journalists should thank their lucky stars that they have a colorful chairman [Dean] to cover, as opposed to another strictly-on-message Ken Mehlman type."
Now I could spoil the fun here by explaining what I meant, but let's let Hugh get in his licks:
"This is a give-away, a truly candid aside that tells us a great deal about mainstream media. That the media love an easy story is no big surprise, but that they love a loudmouth, vulgar, and easily excitable small-state pol is interesting. But what is really revealing is Kurtz's contempt for Mehlman, who along with Karl Rove is one of the few political geniuses to come along in the past generation.
"I have interviewed Mehlman perhaps a hundred times, and have rarely known how he would answer a question. Just last week we tangled over whether Lincoln Chafee ought to be reelected--I don't think so, but Mehlman does--and he marshaled surprisingly convincing arguments on Chafee's behalf....
"Mehlman is never not full of facts, and facts of the sort that political reporters ought to love, like the number of total contributors to Bush-Cheney in 2004, and the average dollar contribution of those donors. Mehlman can quickly and accurately summarize every key race in 2006, and update you as well about the state demographics of the battlegrounds. He's a volcano of facts, just not the sort of facts that interest many in the mainstream media. In short, Mehlman's a great source, but Howard Kurtz thinks journalists are better served by Dean because he's 'colorful.'"
Where to start? First, I have no "contempt" for Ken Mehlman. I interviewed him a number of times during the campaign and found him to be a straight shooter. He is a very disciplined man who answers questions the way he wants to answer them, which in politics is usually considered a compliment.
Second, my line was meant to be tongue in cheek. News flash: Journalists like controversy! Look how many stories and columns (not to mention blog posts) have been written about Dean in the last few days. They particularly like dissension within a party about an outspoken figure (see McCain, John, Republican of Arizona).
Third, Dean has actually had quite a contentious relationship with the press because he generally refuses to play their game and doesn't waste much time schmoozing reporters (I just saw him on the tube saying he's not going to let the Republicans or the press set the agenda). The press built up Dean in 2003 and helped tear him down in early 2004, with an intensity I thought was unfair (although Dean provided some of the ammunition). So I'm not saying reporters are "better served" by Dean, just explaining how such political figures are covered.
Fourth . . . well, that's enough.
New York's WINS | http://1010wins.com/topstories/local_story_154141940.html radio found a Republican who likes something about Dean enough to, well, steal it:
"For a week, Bret Schundler's campaign Web site showed the fiery Republican primary candidate in a suit with a crowd of cheering supporters behind him.
"The problem? They actually were rallying behind fiery Democratic candidate Howard Dean.
"Schundler's image was used to digitally replace that of a smiling Dean in the picture, and the former Jersey City mayor's name was superimposed over both a 'Howard Dean for America' sign and a Dean cap worn by one of his supporters at a Great Falls, Va., rally last year."
Hey, why get grass-roots support when you can import someone else's grass?
Jann Wenner | http://www.huffingtonpost.com/theblog/featuredposts.html#a002399 is the latest big name on the Huffington Post, and he likes Dean:
"Karl Rove, Ken Mehlman, and Tom DeLay don't even have to bother attacking Howard Dean anymore; their work is being done for them by the stalwarts of what's left of the Democratic Party establishment.
"Dean says that the Republicans are essentially a party that is by, for, and of the white Christians, which we all know is fundamentally true -- though clearly not the most nuanced description of the long-standing economic, racial, and social divisions that the GOP draws its strength from -- and all of a sudden we have Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi chiding him for one reason or another. And today it's reported that Hillary Clinton's spokesman also thinks Dean is speaking too boldly.
"However they choose to phrase it, the bottom line effect of all this sniping is to marginalize and shame Dean for speaking a truth that the Republicans do not wish spoken or given credence. Our guys are doing the work of the so-called GOP Echo Machine.
"And it's not like this is the first time this has happened. The party elite jumped on Dean when he said white guys who drive pickup trucks with Confederate flags should be voting Democrat because voting Republican was against their own interests. But Dean was right. We were letting Bush and company fool these good folk, and we turned our backs on a voting bloc that helped cost us the election.
"Dean also said the US wasn't any safer for the capture of Saddam. And he was criticized instead of supported. But he was right. Again."
Peggy Noonan | http://www.opinionjournal.com/columnists/pnoonan/?id=110006794 is truly appalled by Dean and a certain former first lady:
"Hillary Clinton is likely the next Democratic nominee for president. Mr. Dean is the head of the Democratic Party. They are important and powerful. They may one day run the country. It is disturbing that they speak as they do.
"How do people who are not part of the Democratic base react to their statements? I think something like this: What's wrong with these people? Don't they understand they lower things with their name calling and bitter language? If this is how they feel free to present themselves in public, what will they do and say in private if they ever run the country?
"If Mr. Bush ever spoke this way, most Republicans would feel embarrassment. I would be among the legions who would denounce his statement. Democrats are half the country; it is offensive to label them as hateful, it's wrong. Even though we're torn by disagreements, there is an old and unspoken tradition that we're all in this together, we're all citizens together. It is destructive to act against this tradition.
"One assumes all the media, especially the MSM, would treat the speech as if it were an epochal event in the Bush presidency, and the beginning of the end. They would say he was unleashing the dark forces of division; they would label his statement as manipulative, malevolent, immature. And they'd be right."
Liberal bloggers appear to be split, according to my unscientific survey. Atrios | http://atrios.blogspot.com/2005_06_05_atrios_archive.html#111827900831183126 passes the hat:
"I've been resisting the idea of encouraging people to donate to party orgs for various reasons. But, the Democrat insider attacks on Howard Dean are, frankly, an attack on all of us . . . So, if you're a wee bit unhappy with the way the spoiled brat Dem insiders are behaving, go give Howard Dean a few bucks."
But Billmon at Whiskey Bar | http://billmon.org/archives/001885.html uses a baseball analogy, casting the pitcher as Dizzy Dean:
"Unfortunately -- or maybe fortunately, considering the team -- the Democratic Party doesn't have a manager with the power to decide whether to yank Howard Dean out of the game. I don't even know how the party would go about firing a DNC chairman, but I imagine it's a pretty painful process.
"Still, the question still has to be asked: Is it time for the Dems to get something going in the bullpen? As much as I hate to say it, unless Dean can settle down and get off his gaffe-a-day treadmill, maybe it would be best if he hit the showers."
But who's in the bullpen? Dean blew away all his rivals when he won the job.