Chatology: Defining Victory Down
This Sunday's shows undertook a major military operation. Between the anniversary of the invasion of Iraq and "Operation Swarmer," talking heads all but saluted. Russ Feingold managed to grab some of the spotlight, and his motion to censure President Bush gave Bill Kristol another chance to rock Chris Wallace's world: Feingold "is smarter than the Democratic congressional leadership" and "deserves credit for taking a principled stand, and I honestly think he's winning this debate." That sound you heard is Nancy Pelosi's head exploding. Dick Cheney did "Face the Nation" but did not make much news beyond the world's most awesome Freudian slip: "Most of my predecessors spent a good part of their time as President--Vice President running for President.
Also, debuting this week on ABCNews.com was "The Green Room," a brave attempt to wring every possible bit of hot air from the "This Week" panel while they stand around uncomfortably after the show wraps in the nondescript, motel-ish decor of ABC's DeSale St. digs. Personally, I have always found pre-show green room chatter more interesting (everyone's trying out their lines) and the whole thing strikes me as an empty attempt to show us another side of people who are basically one-dimensional, but I applaud this Taylorite approach to news content and hope that less practiced pundits do something stupid and/or inspired backstage in the future.
Top topics: Iraq, Feingold's censure motion and by extension the NSA wiretap program.
One-hit wonders: Boston College's Sweet Sixteen chances ("Meet the Press"); Joey Cheek, humanitarian ("This Week"); Mark McClellan, TREKKIE ("Fox News Sunday")
Quotes to live by:
• Dick Cheney admits that shooting someone in the face is "one of those situations that's difficult, that generates controversy."
• Chris Wallace, SUPER GENIUS: "It seems to me that the Senators who are most critical of [the NSA wiretapping] program are the ones who know the least about it."
• George Will lays it out: "We need to define victory down."
• Sam Donaldson is totally high: "Russ Feingold threw the long ball... but it might connect, as the Washington Redskins learned in the mid-70s."
Also, Shorter Chris Matthews Show: David Gregory observed that "George Bush is the George Clooney of Washington... but that's a little bit of a patina." Wha?
Full rundown appears after the jump.
Face the Nation
DICK CHENEY! On Face the Nation! Shoots-in-the-Face-Nation!
First of all: Nice tie. Red but with a subtle tone-on-tone check. But that's not what Bob Schieffer is asking about. He's asking about civil war in Iraq. BREAKING: DICK CHENEY DOES NOT THINK THERE IS CIVIL WAR IN IRAQ. In fact, though the terrorists would LIKE us to believe there's a civil war, the very desperation of their acts of violence MEANS THERE IS NO CIVIL WAR. Hottt.
Perhaps optimistic statements have made people become more skeptical? "There's a constant perception because what's newsworthy is the car bomb in Baghdad, not all the progress." Because there is not much progress.
"It took us A LOT longer to put together an effective government together 200 years ago." Some would say that's not a fair comparison, given that the colonists were working in a much more primitive time. But the Iraqis are also ERECTING THEIR NEW NATION without electricity and running water. Cheney points out that "Saddam used chemical weapons against his own folks." Wow, HIS OWN PARENTS? That is bad.
People who question the need to be at war in Iraq have a "pre-9/11 mentality." An INGENIOUS talking point. They should consider using that one more. Also, Ted Kennedy is the "last man I would go to for guidance on national security." What, not Tenet?
Schieffer offers up the Ambien theory of presidential incompetence: "Is it possible they're suffering a little fatigue here?" Cheney: "These are tough jobs, but we've got some very talented people and the country is being well-served." When Schieffer asks if Cheney has ever thought of resigning, Cheney's permasmirk almost blossoms into a full blown maniacal evil laugh. No, he has not considered it.
Their good cop-bad cop routine is not intentional, but then quite the Freudian slip: "Most of my predecessors spent a good part of their time as President--Vice President running for President." Schieffer offers the hypothesis that maybe Cheney would step down a year before 2008 in order to let someone interested in running for President be Veep: "No, no one's ever mentioned that to me."
FACE SHOOTING TIME: Could it have been handled better? Says Dick, "It's one of those situations that's difficult, that generates controversy." As opposed those other not-difficult, non-controversy-generating shots to someone's face. Quotes Gridiron show. Notes, "We can laugh about it now." Oh, it was pretty funny then, too. Of the notification controversy: "Strikes me as something of a tempest in a teapot." It strikes me as shooting someone in the face.
Schieffer's final word has to do with the stumbling progress of lobbying reform. "Congress is drowning in a sea of corruption," he says. And, unfortunately, they're waving, not drowning.
Fox News Sunday
First up, live from Baghdad, is Commanding General of Iraq's multinational forces, George Casey, whose cube-like head and linebacker shoulders make him an easy favorite for Sunday Chat Show Guest Who Could Whip All Other Guests' Asses. However, that he is wearing a visible gun holster does not make me feel confident about stability in Iraq.
Chris Wallace: "Is the war going well or badly?" Casey: "I think we -- the Iraqi people are making great progress."
In some provinces, there are "six or less incidents of violence a day"... so it's not "awash" in sectarian violence.
Last year, Casey said that they'd start troop draw-down if everything continued to go well. So? Apparently, the reductions have already started. Because things have continued to go so well. He does not want to get hung on a number. Chris has a number for him: With over a hundred thousand American troops fighting and dying in Iraq, the fact that the government is still haggling and dickering, why shouldn't Americans be outraged?
Casey says forming a new government is "very, very hard."
Dem Sen. Dick Durbin will now agree with that. You will be surprised to learn that Durbin supports the troops, but that "I think the political leaders in Washington have failed." Okay, sure, says Chris: "Be very specific, what is the Democratic plan?" This is very disappointing because Durbin actually starts to sound like there is one; he mentions numbers! But then we hear something about "they must form a unified government." On Feingold's censure resolution: it was caused by "the utter frustration that Republican senators refuse to ask hard questions of the administration."
Chris: "It seems to me that the Senators who are most critical of this program are the ones who know the least about it." Well, that is the fucking problem, isn't it? They are criticizing the administration's refusal to tell them about it. Hey, the people who are most critical of being lied to are the ones who were lied to! Please just save your criticism until we decide to tell you enough about what we're doing so that you can criticize it... and even then, don't! BECAUSE THAT WILL MEAN YOU WILL HATE FREEDOM.
Unfortunately, Durbin does not respond with incredulous outrage. It is not on his talking points. Oh, wait, a little flash of anger: Republican behavior on this issue "has become a partisan cover-up operation."
Is the censure motion the leading edge of impeachment proceedings? No. But "I can't rule it out until the investigation is complete... We need more information about this program."
Chris: "You're not ruling out the idea that he has broken the law?" Durbin: "We have a responsibility to see if the President broke the law... I'm waiting for more information, and you'd think this information would be forthcoming." Gotta say, I admire Durbin for not backing down on this one.
Chris then announces that the panel will discuss whether the censure investigation is "good for Democrats or Republicans," which does not exactly seem the most pressing issue. That would be: DID THE PRESIDENT BREAK THE LAW? Jesus.
Panel is: Brit Hume, Mara Liasson, Bill Kristol, Juan Williams. Chris says he was "genuinely surprised" about Durbin admitting that they could possibly impeach the President. Hume: "By not ruling it out, he has come as close as anyone has to admitting that [the plan to do so] is there." That is a literally true statement, but it also doesn't take into account the fact that Bush MAY HAVE BROKEN THE LAW? What if he did? What should Durbin have said? "No, of course we won't impeach the President! No matter what he did! George W. Bush is the kindest, bravest, warmest human being I've ever met."
OMG WHAT IS MARA LIASSON WEARING?!?!?!? SHE IS A GIANT PLUM. A PURPLE PEOPLE EATER. HELP! RUNNNN AWAAAYYYY!!!!
Chris asks her why Durbin left the door open to impeachment, Mara says that she can't explain it. Here, I can: BECAUSE THE PRESIDENT MIGHT HAVE BROKEN THE LAW.
Kristol says Feingold "is smarter than the Democratic congressional leadership" and "deserves credit for taking a principled stand, and I honestly think he's winning this debate." Points out that their sitting around discussing the censure resolution is a victory for Feingold, because "who's defending the President's NSA action? Suddenly everyone's talking about it... saying it's fair to question what he's done." Wallace's world has, yet again, been rocked: "You're saying this is helping the Democrats and hurting Republicans?" Kristol is unphased by the world-rocking, and you know I think he happens to be right: "As long as the charge is out there, and is not rebutted, it helps ... Feingold is making his case coherently, he is an impressive politician." Brit Hume is about to leap over the table and suck out Kristol's eyes.
Then Juan brings the energy down by bringing up Clinton and Hume catches his breath, says "this is good politics." Points out that the program itself is very popular. Juan, God bless him, says, "You're confusing the popularity of this program with its legality." Back to Bill Kristol for a final word: "Republicans cannot go to 2006 mid-terms saying, 're-elect a Republican Congress to protect the President from impeachment.' They need to make a substantive case for the President's policy." The program's popularity isn't the point, "You don't get into politics only to play at issues where you have public opinion on your side."
Brit goes out on a limb: "ALL of the President's problems have to do with Iraq." Kristol drops another bomb: "Reading Donald Rumsfeld's op-ed in the Washington Post makes me even more amazed that President Bush has not replaced him... He has for three years tried to move to post-war Iraq, without winning the war in Iraq...We can win the war, I just wish we had a Secretary of Defense interested in winning it." Ow. Brit Hume cites Ralph Peters saying he didn't see civil war. Well, if one journalist in a country the size of California can't find civil war, it must not exist.
Power Player of the Week: Mark McClellan, the less whipped-puppy-like McClellan brother. He does not take the press corps' "savaging" of his brother personally. Admits that he "went to the occasional" Star Trek convention. Wow.
George Stephanopoulos leads with sobering Iraq stats. Was it worth fighting? Chuck Hagel zen: "We are where we are." A "political settlement" is the key to the future. Sen. Jack Reed says we need to not just "encourage" but to "insist" that the Iraqis get it together. I know those two words mean different things but am confused about how well the distinction will translate.
Hagel: "We need to stop this talk about 'we're not going to leave until we've achieved victory.' What does victory mean? Saddam's gone, they have an elected government. We'll never be out of there."
Rumsfeld, on the other hand, is in something of a quagmire: "the Secretary has a difficult assignment to assign some credibility to the current policy... we have a responsibility to think about consequences... not just the high cost of lives, but in our national credibility... i think we need to talk to the Iranians... this is a time for some wide view and intense thinking."
On civil war in Iraq: "Our own generals have told me that. So that's a fact."
Jack Reed: "If we're in a civil war, we need to protect our forces... it might become just like Lebanon, we won't be the ones to decide if we stay or go.... [Rumsfeld] should have thought about [postwar Germany] before we sent too few troops."
And now, the most random panel of authors with books about Iraq ever assembled. You thought not possible, but really, what do Michael Gordon, Christopher Hitchens, Jackie Spinner have in common? Begins with Hitch (whom he calls "Chris"), asks about second thoughts. And I, for one, think that this will be the moment that Hitch chooses to say, "You know what? Total fuck up. Nevermind."
Turns out he does not say that.
Michael Gordon says that the military does have second thoughts. I would like to see Gordon interview Hitch directly. "People can debate if it was a just war or not, but the costs were disproportionately high for the United States and Iraqis."
Hitch then says, "Do you mind if I make a point for Mr. Gordon?" Uh, sure... Then he spins out a theory that the the insurrection after the fall of Baghdad is actually the same thing that would have happened under Saddam. So the reason we invaded was...?
Spinner says Iraqis used to want running water and electricity. Now, "they just want the violence to stop."
George to Hitch: "You seem not to agree."
Pause to note how awesome Hitch looks: the light khaki jacket and week's worth of beard could not make him look more like a debauched colonialist unless he was. Oh, wait...
Hitch just justified the war as a training exercise. "Don't tell me we're not going to need those kinds of fighting skills in the future."
And the panel is AN alumni reunion: George Will, Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts. Lead in with opinion poll breakdown (bad for President). Will just says it: "We need to define victory down." On to Republicans and budget doubletalk and uselessness of line-item veto. Will says that a line-item veto would just make Congress think that all budgetary restraint lies with the President.
Censure discussion leads with Pelosi saying she doesn't understand why anyone would censure at this point. "Couldn't even get Nancy Pelosi," says George S. Donaldson stumbles through Feingold's name to get to weirdest metaphor of the say: "Russ Feingold threw the long ball... but it might connect, as the Washington Redskins learned in the mid-70s." Will says that "Feingold's point was to please the blogosphere."
Speaking of pleasing the blogosphere, there is apparently a new feature at ABCNews.com: "The Green Room." Please supply your own bad coffee.
Showbiz segment: Joey Cheek and Darfur awareness, the only good thing to come out of the Olympics besides Bode Miller's humiliation.
Meet the Press
Ah, it's Gen. Casey again, making his square-jawed pitch for progress in Iraq. Now taking bets on how long it is before Tim Russert asks about Time.com's "Operation Swarmer failed to live up to hype" piece.... Too late, he asked! Casey simply denies accuracy of Time article and then Tim does the thing that makes me grind my teeth when people talk about his "tough" interviewing style: HE DOES NOT FOLLOW UP! Time runs a piece that devastates both the rationale and supposed outcome of the "largest air assault in Iraq since 2003," the general denies it and then: NEXT QUESTION, which is simply, "Will there be any more major combat operations in Iraq?" Guess he didn't have any more long quotes on title cards to offer. Sheesh.
Wait, wait, perhaps that was a clever set up. Casey's response about major operations is that "it depends on the enemy and where they've massed to meet us." Which is not a "no." AND YET -- roll tape -- doesn't that phrase "major combat operation" sound familiar? Then Casey just denies that Swarmer was a major combat operation.
I see where Tim is going with all this but Jesus is this really the point?
On to government building and the sense that it's not going so well: "People need to not think so much about what they've seen on television," says Casey. Basically they should think about what Casey says. There is no civil war, troops are fine, the problem is getting a government set up, but, really, it's all going better than you'd think! Unless you thought only about what I tell you to think about, in which case, you'd know how well things are going. Also, timetables aid the terrorists, but "benchmarks" don't!
Okay, I take it all back about Tim for this priceless, when-did-you-stop-beating-your-wife question: "Did you imagine the insurgency would be as bloody and robust as it is?" Casey sputters. BRAIN FREEZE. ADMIT PROBLEMS? NOT IN TALKING POINTS! SHIT! Then, finally, "I did not think it would be as robust as it has been." I thought it would be soft annd warm and fuschia-colored.
"Last week, I went out and drove around Baghdad for three hours just to get my own sense of what the people are feeling." It is a good sign that the head of the allied forces in Iraq has three hours to kill? And then there's what he saw: "There's a lot of bustle, Tim.... and the traffic cops are wearing white shirts and ties, not armored vests." Fuck, OUR TROOPS don't have body armor.
Tim: "Can you continue to conduct a war without the consent of the American people?" Uhm, apparently.
Now we turn to John Murtha, who declares, "This is George Bush's war." They have "mishandled and mischaracterized it," and jokes "they said they were going to hand over a majority of the country to Iraqi control. Well, I flew over desert for hours and hours and that must be the part that Iraqis control because they don't control the Sunni triangle."
Murtha says his vote for the war "was a mistake, a bad mistake." Says we can go back but we have no business being there now. "We've lost the hearts and minds of the people... we have to give them the incentive to take over their own country." Just noting: If 80 percent of the people don't want us there anyway, isn't that a huge incentive? He believes Rummy should resign and if you could fire a vice president, well... He's actually pretty good, asking for specific metrics of progress: employment, battalions, electricity. And boy, is he mad: "They're using American helicopters! You think they fool the Americans when they say that? They say 75 percent of the control will be under control of Iraqis, well, 75 percent of the country is desert!" Also my favorite: "Is it going to be a civil war? IT IS A CIVIL WAR!"
Oh and I kinda zoned out and then: A disembodied voice interrupted Tim and Murtha to say, "Last week, on the West Wing," followed by garbled fake Mamet prose under the jabbering of Tim/Murtha. Wait, it's still happening! Technical snafu or AWESOME SUBLIMINAL MARKETING? I so want to watch the "The West Wing" now. Also: I cannot wait for the moment when all the nets start broadcasting their entertainment programing across their Sunday-show broadcasts. "FNS" would be so much more endurable with "King of the Hill" and "Simpsons" dialogue in the background. And "This Week" would be so much less soporific with "Desperate Housewives" humping within hearing range.
In his final words, Tim continues to pretend that being a sports fan somehow makes you more likable: "How about those Boston College Eagles? On to the Sweet Sixteen" -- holds up fist in mild pumping gesture -- "Go Eagles." Ah, we may be fucking up the Middle East, but we