In the Arena


  • Share
  • Read Later

I figure it was only a matter of hours before George W. Bush’s enraptured deputy propaganda minister Pete Wehner took a whack at me for writing a column about the obscene waste of the Iraq war. And sure enough, the pious janissary has come through on schedule…and for the umpteenth time he resurrects something I said on Face the Nation that seems favorable toward the President’s macho aircraft carrier stroll:

Well, that was probably the coolest presidential image since Bill Pullman played the jet fighter pilot in the movie Independence Day. That was the first thing that came to mind for me. And it just shows you how high a mountain these Democrats are going to have to climb. You compare that image, which everybody across the world saw, with this debate last night where you have nine people on a stage and it doesn’t air until 11:30 at night, up against Saturday Night Live, and you see what a major, major struggle the Democrats are going to have to try and beat a popular incumbent president.

Now, I could defend myself by pointing out that I was asked by Bob Schieffer about the image–Bob called it really cool–and I allowed that, yes, it was–sarcastically adding the bit about Bill Pullman. Wehner also catches me in the commission of a truth: given the apparent success in Iraq, Bush was going to be hard to beat in 2004.

So, yeah, I stand by all that. But it’s interesting to put it in context. Here’s what I was actually writing about the Bush presidency and the war in Iraq that week:

Indeed, the very week that Wehner claims I was slavishly praising the President, I was raising some major doubts about the Iraq project after watching Paul Wolfowitz’s not very convincing testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Here are a couple of excerpts, but I urge you to read the whole thing:

Wolfowitz added that complaints about the postwar mess reminded him of the fleeting wartime controversy over troop levels and strategy. He may be right. The situation in Iraq could improve. But there is a larger problem that Wolfowitz refused to acknowledge: we are involved in a long-term occupation of a country that detests non-Muslim occupiers…

Wolfowitz acknowledged that it will be years before a fully functioning national government is elected. “When is the President going to tell the American people that we’re likely to be in the country of Iraq for three…six, eight, 10 years with thousands of forces and billions of dollars?” Joe Biden of Delaware asked…

Wolfowitz replied, mildly, that it’s difficult to predict such things. True enough, but I also sense a certain presidential reluctance to tell us what our Federal Government is facing in Iraq — or to admit that his Federal Government may have hyped what this was all about in the first place.

So, yet again, Propaganda Pete is trying to convey a false impression about what I was actually thinking at the time. This is Rove 101.
One other thing: Pete accuses me of not valuing the courageous service of our troops. Anyone who reads me regularly–and who knows that I’ve reported at length, from the front lines, about what our troops are doing downrange–knows that this is yet another Roveian smear. The troops have performed brilliantly despite being asked to perform an unnecessary mission in Iraq. They have sacrificed enormously. Lives have been wasted. Families shattered. Only a glorified p.r. guy like Wehner, personally unacquainted with the sacrifices he attempts to exploit for political gain, would lack the humility and common sense to raise the loss of life and limb in this unnecessary and counterproductive war as a bloody flag.