Sunday, February 08, 2004

State of the Meet the Press Address
George W. Bush Makes a Big Mistake

Watching today's (8 February 2004) edition of Meet the Press, during which Tim Russert interviewed (transcript via NY Times) George W. Bush, I had the distinct impression that I was watching a monologue, soliloquy, speech, address, whatever; except that Bush kept getting interrupted with pesky questions.  Mr. Russert, unfortunately, was somewhat hampered by the tradition of trying to respect the President of the United States of America.  After watching, I looked through some of the international news sites to see what the reaction was overseas.  It turns out, there wasn't much (at least by 8 PM EST).  One foreign article I did find was from the BBC; it turned out to be a pretty dry rehash of the interview.  The French news agency, AFP, had a few quotes from Bush, but did not quote any of the questions by Russert.  It was a mildly slanted against Mr. Bush:

President Bush; photo from  Agence France-PresseWASHINGTON (AFP) President George W. Bush insisted in an interview that the Iraq invasion was a "war of necessity" amid growing signs the failure to find unconventional weapons there has hurt his credibility before the November election.

Public opinion surveys point to a close race between Bush and the Democratic frontrunner, Senator John Kerry, and a CNN/Time magazine poll released Sunday just 44 percent of those queried believe the president is "a leader they can trust."

As part of an orchestrated counterattack, Bush told NBC television's "Meet the Press" program that ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein "had the capacity" to make weapons of mass destruction.

The article in China View (news.xinhuanet.com) was more directly critical:

Bush's remarks represented a major shift in his rationale he used to go to war with Iraq last March. He cited existing stockpiles of biological and chemical weapons to justify his war decision then.

The United States has failed to find any weapons of mass destruction since the war broke out, raising question over the credibility of the Bush administration.

An article (link found via World Press Review) on the website of the UK paper, The Guardian, was not really a recounting of the interview; nor was it an analysis of the interview; rather, it was an article about his reelection prospects and strategy.  The article was prompted by the interview, apparently, but the interview was not the main topic:

 Bush in TV bid to halt poll slump

Paul Harris in New York and Luke Harding in Berlin
Sunday February 8, 2004
The Observer

President George Bush will launch a determined media campaign today to reverse a slump in the polls and defend his administration against charges that officials manipulated intelligence on weapons of mass destruction.

With his approval rating falling below 50 per cent for the first time, Bush, who rarely gives one-on-one interviews, suddenly agreed to appear on this morning's Meet the Press programme.

The move was widely seen as the beginning of a counter-offensive for an administration that has appeared increasingly besieged and rudderless.

'This is a signal that the President is going to go back on offence,' former Republican Party chairman Rich Bond told yesterday's Los Angeles Times. 'It's what he does best, personality-wise.'

Of course, bloggers got right on the case.  They were quicker to post actual analysis as opposed to rehashes.  Prominent sites such as The Daily Kos, Matthew Yglesias, Talking Points Memo, and Brad DeLong posted interesting views.  I noticed that Kos has a straw poll, the results of which indicate that most of the respondents thought Bush's performance was uneven, but not disastrous.  Calpundit (link found via Brad DeLong)  took the time to round up some conservative views.   Although the selection is limited to what was found on the National Review Online site, they were uniformly very negative.  Although this couldn't be more unscientific, it indicates that the relatively liberal readers of Daily Kos were less harshly judgmental that the relatively conservative writers at NRO.  What does this mean? ...

Of course, I would like to make a point.  This may be the biggest mistake Bush made during the interview.  At one point, Mr. Bush stated that he would release any relevant records to substantiate his claim that he served his time in the National Guard properly.  Tim Russert then asked, adroitly, "But would you allow pay stubs, tax records, anything to show that you were serving during that period?"  Mr. Bush indicated that he would consent to such a release.  I am not sure he realized the implications of this.  His refutation of the charges that he was AWOL is based, in part, on the fact that no one so far has found records to prove that he missed some part of his service.  But, that refutation is based only upon military records, most of which are missing.  His bank statements and IRS returns, as far as I know, have not been examined.  I read on someone else's blog that National Guard pay is taxable, so it should show up in IRS records.  Also, the soldier is paid every time he reports for duty, so Bush's bank records should reflect this. (I hate to make an unattributed reference to it, but I can't remember where I read this, and I was not able to find it today. If whoever made this point reads this, let me know who you are, please so I can give you credit.) If his tax returns do not show income from the National Guard, then Bush is either a liar, or a tax evader.

Astonishing Article Found While Looking for Something Else

The headquarters of the government's electronic eavesdropping centre, GCHQ, at CheltenhamBritain spied on UN allies over war vote

Security Council members 'illegally targeted' by GCHQ after plea from US security agency

Martin Bright and Peter Beaumont
Sunday February 8, 2004
The Observer

Britain helped America to conduct a secret and potentially illegal spying operation at the United Nations in the run-up to the Iraq war, The Observer can reveal.

The operation, which targeted at least one permanent member of the UN Security Council, was almost certainly in breach of the Vienna conventions on diplomatic relations, which strictly outlaw espionage at the UN missions in New York. [emphasis mine]

Translators and analysts at the Government's top-secret surveillance centre GCHQ were ordered to co-operate with an American [emphasis mine] espionage 'surge' on Security Council delegations after a request from the US National Security Agency at the end of January 2003. This was designed to help smooth the way for a second UN resolution authorising war in Iraq.

The information was intended for US Secretary of State Colin Powell before his presentation on weapons of mass destruction to the Security Council on 5 February.

If substantiated, this could prove to have been a really, really big mistake.