While DJ and Host Rumsfeld was busy hosting a Country and Western sing-a-thon to th War; Washington's elite were reading about Bill Clinton's views...apparently pre-campaigning for his wife's bid for the White House.
Clinton's Postwar Critique
By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 16, 2003; 8:43 AM
Bill Clinton is back on the warpath.
You have to wonder about his timing.
Just days after the American victory in Baghdad, one might expect the 42nd president to let his successor have his moment.
After all, Clinton, despite some occasional potshots, supported Bush's tough stance against Saddam. It was Clinton who signed a 1998 law making regime change the official policy of the United States – even though he did little, other than dropping a few bombs, to bring it about.
Not that Clinton can't play the role of constructive critic. But the timing of his latest blast suggests that he just can't stand being off the stage for long.
Frankly, in light of the stunning military victory in Iraq, his comments sound a bit churlish – even though he makes some valid points. Shouldn't the former commander-in-chief be congratulating America's soldiers?
Maybe Clinton is just trying to boost interest in his "60 Minutes" debates with Bob Dole.
With Bush's every utterance – like yesterday's speech on taxes – carried live on cable, the Democratic candidates must be pondering whether Clinton is going to use up much of their remaining oxygen.
The war officially ended yesterday, by the way – not with any White House pronouncement but with the decision by the cable networks to dump out of a Donald Rumsfeld press conference to cover a California coroner talking about missing woman Laci Peterson. Iraq? That was so three days ago. Local crime rules once again.
Here's an AFP report on Yahoo News about Clinton's remarks:
"Former President Bill Clinton blasted U.S. foreign policy adopted in the wake of the September 11 attacks, arguing the United States cannot kill, jail or occupy all of its adversaries.
"'Our paradigm now seems to be: something terrible happened to us on September 11, and that gives us the right to interpret all future events in a way that everyone else in the world must agree with us,' said Clinton, who spoke at a seminar of governance organized by Conference Board.
"'And if they don't, they can go straight to hell.'
"The Democratic former president, who preceded George W. Bush at the White House, said that sooner or later the United States had to find a way to cooperate with the world at large.
"'We can't run,' Clinton pointed out. 'If you got an interdependent world, and you cannot kill, jail or occupy all your adversaries, sooner or later you have to make a deal.'
"He said he believed Washington overreacted to German and French opposition to U.S. plans for military action against Iraq and suggested that the current administration had trouble juggling foreign and domestic issues.
"'Since September 11, it looks like we can't hold two guns at the same time,' Clinton said. 'If you fight terrorism, you can't make America a better place to be.'"
Bush, meanwhile, is trying to pivot from the war to the economy, and he did it with a tactical withdrawal while sounding like he was standing firm on taxes:
"President Bush lowered his target for his tax cuts today to $550 billion, a significant retreat on his economic principles and an admission that his original package worth $726 billion was dead," the New York Times reports.
"But in a speech in the White House Rose Garden, Mr. Bush made clear this morning that the fight was not over and that he would immediately seize on his capital from the victory in Iraq to try to push through Congress as aggressive a tax cut as possible. White House advisers said that they were now on a war footing with Capitol Hill and that the next months would be an important test of the president's political credibility."
Now comes the spin: "White House officials and Republican strategists conceded that it would be difficult for the president to win even $550 billion in tax cuts over 10 years from Congress and that it was likely that the final deal would be closer to a $350 billion limit for tax cuts approved by the Senate. But they said it was imperative for Mr. Bush to be seen as fighting hard for the economy to avoid the fate of his father, who lost the White House after his victory in the 1991 Persian Gulf war in large part because voters viewed him as disengaged from domestic concerns."
To be "seen as fighting"? Actually boosting the economy would be even better.
We've concluded it's no longer possible for reporters to write about Bush without mentioning Poppy. The Philadelphia Inquirer:
"His remarks began a flurry of activity on the president's economic agenda, evidently part of a strategy to avoid his father's fate: President George H.W. Bush's popularity rose after success in the 1991 Gulf War, but he lost reelection in 1992 because of concerns that he wasn't doing enough to fix a stumbling economy."
Los Angeles Times: "His remarks signaled the launch of a new effort to avoid his father's fate – winning a war, but losing reelection over public perceptions that he failed to properly tend the economy."
The Chicago Tribune: "Bush, mindful of his father's fate, is stepping up the time he spends on the economy to demonstrate that he considers domestic problems just as important as the war abroad. Former President George Bush lost a second term in 1992 after his high popularity emerging from the 1991 Persian Gulf war evaporated amid a sinking economy."
Yup, we were right.
The Boston Globe invokes the comparison from the opposition's point of view:
"Dick Gephardt remembers the days when Democrats were unwilling to take on the first President Bush, whose approval ratings were astronomically high after a successful military mission in Iraq. They sat on their hands for months until the postwar euphoria subsided. That was 1991.
"Yesterday, with the second President Bush basking in military victory and his highest approval ratings in more than a year, Gephardt stood before a group of voters in Manchester, N.H., and declared: 'Bush was handed the best economy we've had in 50 years. He came in and squandered the surplus. I am furious at him and I am furious at the Republicans.'
"He is not the only Democrat skewering Bush on the economy. From the presidential trail to the halls of Congress, Democrats have already decided that Bush's military success in the Iraq war will not translate into political strength at home. They are ready to attack the administration's economic record and fight against Bush's tax-cut proposal in Congress."
The wheels of democracy are turning in Iraq – sort of:
"The first meeting of Iraqi political and religious leaders on forming a government to replace Saddam Hussein's regime ended yesterday with modest achievements – an agreement to meet again in 10 days and a vow by the United States not to rule Iraq," reports USA Today.
"The session, closely overseen by U.S. officials, appeared to meet the their objectives: It took place without a major incident, and another meeting will be held."
Hey, we can think of whole months when Congress doesn't do much more.
"The meeting underscored both the promise and the difficulties of the U.S.-led coalition's task of creating an Iraqi government. The main exiled Shiite group refused to participate."
The Los Angeles Times says that those returning to Baghdad are not exactly thrilled with their American liberators:
"While they were coming to terms yesterday with the new reality, many were seething – quick to blame the Americans for everything that had befallen them and all that awaited them when they reached their homes.
"When a pair of American journalists stopped to talk with the returnees along the Abu Ghraib highway that connects the capital with western Iraq, they were soon enveloped in a swarm of people, shouting complaints and invective.
"'No good Bush!' shouted Assad Saleh, a 37-year-old electrical company worker. 'He doesn't stop the looting, he only protects the oil. There are no salaries. No companies left. We can do nothing. There is no gasoline. There is no security. They said they wanted to give us freedom, but we are free only to have this situation.'"
Syria? Bah. It's already being touted as "Cakewalk II":
"Bashir Assad must know that the Syrian military is no match for even a lightweight U.S. assault, should Bush decide to launch one," declares Slate's Fred Kaplan.
"On paper, Assad's armed forces seem formidable. His army has 215,000 soldiers with a similar number in the reserves. It includes eight armored divisions and three mechanized divisions, equipped with 4,700 tanks, 4,500 armored personnel carriers, 850 surface-to-air missiles, and 4,000 anti-aircraft guns. His air force consists of 40,000 personnel and 611 combat planes. By these measures, the Syrian military may appear to have more firepower than Saddam's did. However, in real life, it is burdened with at least as many shortcomings. . . .
"But quite apart from the numerous political, economic, diplomatic, and humanitarian reasons for not plunging into a war on Syria, there is one military caveat as well – Syria really does have weapons of mass destruction, probably more than Iraq ever had, and its whole military strategy is geared to using them if necessary."
Sounds like fun.
OpinionJournal's Dorothy Rabinowitz doesn't like the postwar coverage:
"There is no inadvertence in the ill-concealed hostility now coming from the antiwar camp--only a kind of awkward pretense to give credit to the American and British forces that won so swift a victory. And grudging credit it is, replete with arguments that, of course, everyone knew they would win overwhelmingly. That assurance did not, of course, keep this crowd from issuing their dire predictions the first day or two of the war, about the 'quagmire' and new Vietnam.
"The latest entry in the grudging acknowledgments department comes from Saturday's New York Times editorial that first pays tribute to the great skill of the American forces, credits Mr. Rumsfeld's push for a smaller more agile force, and then goes on to the main point: whether the victory could really be attributed to U.S. military excellence. The Iraqis, it notes, fought poorly and ineptly--perhaps this was simply 'a lopsided fight.'
"The most noteworthy specimen to date, though, must be the lead Talk of the Town item in the April 14 New Yorker, in which Hendrick Hertzberg writes: 'By the end of last week--even though American troops who, by all accounts, have fought honorably and without undue cruelty, were at the gates of Baghdad--it was too late for the rosy scenario of the cakewalk conservatives.' We may take it, from that 'undue cruelty' reference, that Mr. Hertzberg is willing to credit American troops mainly because they failed to perpetrate war crimes."
In Salon, Jalal Ghazi floats an alternative theory of the U.S. stroll into Baghdad:
"Arabic media are speculating that a 'safqua' – Arabic for a secret deal – was arranged between the United States and Iraq's Baath regime to hand over Baghdad. Although nobody can pinpoint the exact terms, there are three clear outcomes. First, the lives of many American and British forces as well as most senior Baath officials were spared. Second, Baghdad itself did not turn into the blood bath widely anticipated by military experts. Third, the war was shortened dramatically, saving the region – especially Saudi Arabia – from catastrophic consequences.
"The following clues, gleaned from Arabic and U.S. media, suggest why the fall of Baghdad was premeditated.
"None of the seven rescued POWs was hurt. On the contrary, all seven were found in good condition. All were found dressed in pajamas rather than the standard uniforms for prisoners of war, indicating that they were being treated as guests rather than as POWs. Usually, Arabs give pajamas to guests who sleep over in their houses. . . .
"None of the senior Baath officials has surrendered to date, with the exception of two high-level scientists. Instead, tens of thousands of Baath operatives managed to disappear without a sign of internal divisions. This strongly suggests that the departure of the Baath regime was ordered from the most senior levels and was highly organized. It also explains why most of the Iraqi forces, including the Republican Guards, were nowhere to be found when U.S. forces entered Baghdad."
That's one scenario. The other is that they were scared out of their wits.
National Review's Victor Davis Hanson says one postwar story is being hyped by the press:
"The jubilation of liberating millions from fascism and removing the world's most odious dictator apparently lasted about 12 hours. I was listening to a frustrated Mr. Rumsfeld last Friday in a news briefing as he tried to deal with a host of furious and crazy questions – a journalistic circus that was nevertheless predictable even before the war started. . . .
"Rather than inquiring how an entire country was overrun in a little over three weeks at a cost of not more than a few hundred casualties, reporters instead wail at the televised scenes of a day of looting and lawlessness."
Magazines love to zig when everyone else is zagging. So Steven Landsburg defends looting in Slate:
"In Iraq, the main looting ended when the coalition troops arrived. Sure, there's been some pilfering of food, appliances, medical supplies, and historical relics. But by the standards of a country whose rulers have routinely expropriated billions in oil revenue and seized whatever property struck their fancy, walking off with a jar of peanut butter and a fridge is more petty mischief than looting.
"Even if you insist on calling it 'looting' – in which case, I have no idea what word you'd use for the depredations of the old regime – the question remains: What, exactly, is wrong with it? . . .
"Does anybody want to argue that if only they hadn't been out stealing, the citizens of Baghdad would have been reporting to work, producing goods and services for distribution in smoothly functioning markets? The fact is that in the (hopefully brief) chaos of liberation, there probably aren't a whole lot of useful tasks for Iraqis to do. From an economic point of view, that means their time has very little value – so they might as well spend it stealing."
On the campaign front, two little words uttered by Howard Dean may be coming back to haunt him:
"Having lost most of the arguments about the war in Iraq, the anti-war movement is now trying to denigrate the U.S. victory by saying our enemy was a 'paper tiger.' Or they pooh-pooh the consequences of it," says David Yepsen of the Des Moines Register.
"Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean said that 'I suppose that's a good thing' to get rid of Saddam Hussein. Suppose? Tell that to the men who were tortured or the women who were raped by Saddam's agents during a quarter-century of rule. How do you'suppose' they feel today – if they are still alive?"
Finally, the media have gotten bamboozled again, according to London's Sun:
"The 'Stay Lucky' soldier pictured wearing a helmet riddled with bullet holes was playing a PRANK, The Sun in Britain can reveal.
"Comical commando Eric Walderman and his comrades fooled Gulf War II newsmen by pretending he had escaped death by inches when he was shot at while fighting Iraqis.
"In fact his Kevlar helmet was just lying on top of his pack when it was peppered by fellow Marines trying to hit an unexploded anti-tank weapon.
"Eric, 28, then popped it on his head and posed for photographers travelling with 40 Commando before they took Umm Qasr in southern Iraq. He gave no interview but he and his pals did nothing to stop journalists jumping to conclusions."