Washington: a city of denials, spin, and political calculations. The Nation's former DC editor David Corn spent 2002-2007 blogging on the policies, personalities and lies that spew out of the nation's capital. The complete archive appears below. Corn is now the DC editor at Mother Jones.
It's as if Bruce Springsteen rounded up the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, gospel legend Clara Ward, and Bill Monroe and His Blue Grass Boys, took them to an undisclosed hideaway (perhaps a juke joint in the backwoods), tossed them old vinyl of Pete Seeger's songs, and said, "This is what we'll be playing." Then he recorded the results for his new album, The Seeger Sessions: We Shall Overcome.
When Springsteen's operation first disclosed in March that his next project would be a collection of songs identified with the folk-singing legend, it was easy to assume that Springsteen was about to release an overly earnest set of ballads, perhaps stripped down in the style of his just-me-and-my-guitar-alone-at-night Nebraska disc. Was he an aging rocker returning to the noble and elegant simplicity of folkie roots? And if so, why was he reaching back to Seeger? Why not Woody?
But in celebrating Seeger, Springsteen concocted not a post-Mighty Wind effort to birth yet another folk revival. Instead, he cooked up an amalgamation of American musical styles that places Seeger and the folk tradition he has tirelessly served for decades in the center of a much larger (and more rollicking) universe. It was an intriguing calculation. This ain't your father's Pete Seeger.
Springsteen took the old-timey songs that Seeger popularized--some that are known to us from nursery school sing-alongs, some from protest marches--and cast them in wide-sweeping arrangements that mixed bluegrass, gospel, New Orleans jazz, R&B, and rock. Explaining why he focused on Seeger, Springsteen told The New Yorker, "Pete's library is so vast that the whole history of the country is there....Everything I wanted, I found there." But Springsteen has taken that songbook and thrown it into a blender with an assortment of American musical elements.
Folk purists--and you know who you are--might cringe. This is not Springsteen strumming along the path that Seeger and others strummed. This is not Springsteen abiding by one of the old rules of folk music: performers should make music the way their listeners could do at home with their own friends and kin. He has pumped up and orchestrated these saved-by-Seeger classics. That might cause some offense. Seeger always said the song was the deal, not the singer. The musician was merely the medium through which a living song--embodying the spirit of those who had sung it before--was passed along to the next generation. A critic could perhaps charge Springsteen with overpowering these songs--juicing them up too darn much with all those guitars, fiddles, banjoes, crashing cymbals, drums, organs, a horn section, and big-voiced background singers. But that would be a question of taste. I'd happily sign up for any choir that believes that keeping a song alive by making it swing is indeed a public interest endeavor. And these real-time, one-take, jam-session recordings--especially the gospel-infused "Jacob's Ladder" and "O Mary Don't You Weep"--do swing. A preservationist ought to get points for that.
Springsteen's song selection (of Seeger's song selection) emphasizes the range of folk songs: ballads, reels, spirituals. There are silly songs ("Old Dan Tucker" and "Froggie Went A Courtin'") storytelling tunes ("Jesse James," "John Henry") and serious numbers ("We Shall Overcome"). Springsteen, who has written topical songs of his own ("American Skin," "Streets of Philadelphia," "The Ghost of Tom Joad," "Youngstown"), recorded and performed protest songs ("War," "This Land Is Your Land"), and campaigned for one presidential candidate (John Kerry), doesn't overdo the political-preaching side of folk music. He focuses, as Seeger often did, on its communal nature--the transmission of stories and voices, not necessarily overt messages. It's true that Seeger cannot be separated from his politics; he sang to make people feel empowered. And he was persecuted for being a communist and prosecuted for refusing in 1955 to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee about his political views and affiliations. Refusing to invoke the Fifth Amendment, he said to the committee, "I will be glad to tell what songs I have ever sung, because singing is my business...But I decline to say who has ever listened to them, who has written them, or other people who have sung them." Seeger was sentenced to a year in jail for contempt of Congress. In 1962 the verdict was overturned; he remained blacklisted for years. But years before that, he and the Weavers had a number-one pop hit with the toe-tapping and unradical "Goodnight Irene," and his children's songs have helped out many a parent for decades.
With the Seeger Sessions, the Boss gets in a few send-a-message licks. On "Mrs. McGrath," a 19th century Irish song about a war amputee--that is, about a mother's sorrow for the missing legs of her son--Springsteen, singing as that mother, declares, "Oh, foreign wars, I do proclaim/leave only blood and a mother's pain/I'd rather have my son as he used to be/than the King of America and his whole Navy." That's certainly not how the Irish Republicans sang this tune (which originally focused on the Peninsular campaign of the Napoleonic Wars.) His version of "We Shall Overcome" avoids "Kumbaya"-like sentimentality and comes across as a prayerful lullaby--not a tune of idealistic optimism, but one of cautious hope, a rendition for these days not the 1960s. His "Eyes On the Prize" is a quiet, gritty and growling declaration of defiance--again, an arrangement appropriate for the present moment. Springsteen purposefully eschewed "If I Had a Hammer," believing any version of this well-known classic would overwhelm the other cuts.
In the end, the album is not so much a tribute to Seeger the performer and musician as it is to the history of American song and its assorted stylings. (It could have been called The American Song Sessions.) One could argue that by focusing so much on Seeger, Springsteen distracted from his larger goal. Still, choosing the 86-year-old Seeger as the common thread in this crazy quilt is a brilliant homage.
Rock music, in its essence, is about yearning, and Springsteen the rocker frequently captured that fundamental. Folk music, in a way, is about becoming. To be corny about it, America becoming America--whether it's a song chronicling a specific slice of the nation's history (say, the era of the barge workers of "Erie Canal") or a song capturing the stories and sentiments that gripped the imagination and hearts of Americans who lived in earlier times (say, the longing for home of "Shenandoah"). Seeger has devoted much of his life to preserving and promoting this social history. Springsteen, with this album, has, yes, earnestly pursued a similar mission. But he's not taking dictation. He allowed Seeger's songs to inspire him, as he brewed a bastard's mix of American music.
There is a clash of titans underway at the filing room of the federal courthouse in Washington. Now that special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald and Scooter Libby's defense team are in the thick of pretrial motions, every week or so one side or the other files a motion, a counter-motion or a counter-counter-motion, and these documents are providing sporadic glimpses into what happened in the weeks that led up to the Plame/CIA leak in 2003. For instance, it was a Fitzgerald filing that revealed that Libby had testified that Dick Cheney had authorized him to leak selective portions of the National Intelligence Estimate on WMDs in Iraq to New York Times reporter Judith Miller and that this had happened after George W. Bush approved releasing (or leaking) slices of the NIE.
The most recent Libby filing did not contain such a blockbuster disclosure. But here are a few interesting portions:
When the issue of Valerie Wilson's employment is viewed in its proper context, and the full story is revealed, it will be clear that Ms. Wilson's role was a peripheral issue. If the press stories surrounding the governments NIE disclosure illustrate anything, it is that this case is factually complex and that the government's notion that it involves only Mr. Libby and the OVP [Office of the Vice President] is a fairy tale.
Hmmm, does this mean that there was a wide-ranging White House effort to undercut Joe Wilson's credibility that involved others than Libby and went beyond trying to depict Wilson trip to Niger as a boondoggle orchestrated by his wife, a CIA officer? Libby's lawyers keep hinting that they will suck the rest of the White House into the case to defend their man. But this is puzzling, for if Libby goes too far down that road, won't he hurt his standing as a deserving recipient of a presidential pardon? Many White House fans are raising millions of dollars for the Libby defense fund and a conservative think tank has put him on the payroll. So how many grenades can Libby throw at Bush, Cheney and Karl Rove?
The defense is likely to call Mr. Rove to provide testimony regarding Mr. Libby's conversations with Mr. Rove concerning reporters' inquiries about Ms. Wilson, as expressly discussed in the indictment.
Rove on the stand, being examined by Fitzgerald? Neither Rove nor the White House can want that. Fitzgerald has not indicted Rove, and his exact role in the leak remains murky--though he reportedly was the second source for the Bob Novak column that disclosed Valerie Wilson's CIA employment. And he was the firt source for Matt Cooper of Time. If he hits the witness stand, Fitzgerald can ask much. What exactly did Rove do before the leak? What did he say to Novak? How did he learn about Valerie Wilson's CIA status? Who else knew? Did he talk to Bush about this? After the leak investigation began--and Bush publicly said he wanted to know who the leakers were--did Rove inform his boss that he had been one of leakers? If so, why did Bush not keep his promise to fire anyone who had leaked classified information? This could be a rather dramatic moment in the Libby trial. Will Libby really put Rove (and the White House) through this? Or are his lawyers merely bluffing for now--in order to burden Fitzgerald with various documents requests? For his part, Fitzgerald has said he has no plans to call Rove as a witness.
In addition, Mr. Libby plans to demonstrate that the indictment is wrong when it suggests that he and other government officials viewed Ms. Wilson's role in sending her husband to Africa as important. We need the requested documents to prepare this crucial aspect of his defense.
Fitzgerald's indictment of Libby notes that Cheney--weeks before the Plame leak happened--told Libby that Valerie Wilson worked for the Counterproliferation Division of the clandestine service of the CIA, the operations directorate. Why was Cheney himself seeking out--and passing to Libby--information on Valerie Wilson if he did not view her role as potentially significant? Perhaps Cheney can answer that on the stand.
Further, Mr. Tenet is a likely witness.
Should this happen, Fitzgerald, unfortunately, is not going to examine former CIA chief George Tenet on how the agency screwed up much (though not all) of the prewar intelligence. He won't grill Tenet on why the CIA director did not say anything when Bush and other administration officials overstated the CIA's intelligence. That's not part of Fitzgerald's case. But it would be rather interesting to hear Tenet discuss the conflict that raged between the CIA and the White House at the time of the leak, when it was becoming increasingly likely that no WMDs would be found in Iraq and when the agency and the Bush crew were pointing fingers at each other. Tenet, who oversaw one of the biggest intelligence screw-ups in the CIA's history (two, if you count 9/11), has snagged a presumably lucrative book contract. American citizens should not have to pay $30 each to receive Tenet's explanations of what went wrong. They deserve this information (even if it is self-serving) for free. But none of the Republican-controlled congressional committees have called Tenet to testify publicly and extensively about the prewar intelligence disaster. Perhaps Fitzgerald can slip in one or two questions.
Imagine the spectacle if Libby's attorneys are right in their pretrial assertions: Rove, Cheney and Tenet on the stand. The trial is not scheduled to begin until next January. Republicans fretting about the coming congressional elections should at least be happy about that.
I'M A DECIDER-MAKER. On Tuesday, Bush once again came to Donald Rumsfeld's rescue--and he did so with that patented Bush eloquence:
I say, I listen to all voices, but mine is the final decision. And Don Rumsfeld is doing a fine job. He's not only transforming the military, he's fighting a war on terror. He's helping us fight a war on terror. I have strong confidence in Donald Rumsfeld. I hear the voices, and I read the front page, and I know the speculation. But I'm the decider, and I decide what is best. And what's best is for Don Rumsfeld to remain as the secretary of defense.
Ladies and gentlemen, your president--who hears voices and reads the front page (anything on the inside?), and who is the "decider" who decides "what is best." This should really help him in the polls.
On March 31, I posted a piece that compared two accounts of a January 31, 2003 meeting between George W. Bush and Tony Blair. During this Oval Office session, the American president and the British prime minister discussed various war-related subjects six weeks before the invasion of Iraq. One account was the description of the meeting in Bob Woodward's best-selling book, Plan of Attack. The other was a recently disclosed secret memorandum written by a Blair aide who attended the meeting. The memo, I noted, showed that Woodward's insider source(s) who had told him about this conversation had "left out the best and most important stuff." I wrote, "This goes to show that Woodward is only as good as his sources and that those insiders are not always so good when it comes to disclosing the real story." After the article was posted, Woodward called to complain (passionately) that the piece was "immensely dishonest" and "unfair." He urged me to reconsider what I had written. He demanded an apology. I offered him as much space as he would like for a response, and he accepted that invitation. Below is his reply--and mine to his.
To David Corn:
I was genuinely shocked to read your recent column "Woodward and Reality." The column is thoroughly dishonest and represents another low for journalism. Apparently facts don't matter to you if you think you can score a point.
You allege that I "left out the best and most important stuff" in my book Plan of Attack about a January 31, 2003 meeting between President Bush and Prime Minister Blair. You draw your conclusions from a memo written by David Manning, Blair's foreign policy adviser, who attended the meeting. The memo was recently described in The New York Times.
Because Plan of Attack, which was published two years ago, covers the meeting in just over a single page (pp. 297–298), you say this is rare opportunity to "fact check" me. You then cite all these revelations in the memo and suggest they were not in the book at all. However, as I mentioned to you on the phone, a reader of Plan of Attack would already know most of this in vastly greater detail by the time he or she got to page 297. The whole thrust of your column is that I missed important elements of the story and presented a "tilted" account. The book itself proves you wrong.
The British memo says, "The start date for the military campaign was now penciled in for 10 March." You suggest I did not report that Bush had decided privately to go to war while publicly asserting otherwise: "Read Woodward's account and you get the impression that Bush...was willing to stick with the United Nations a little longer. Read the Times's account of the memo and you see that Bush had already set a date for war."
This is flat out wrong. Plan of Attack describes in detail that Bush decided well in advance of the January 31st meeting that he was going to war. Just to bore you with some examples:
* I report that in early January 2003 (p. 254), either the Thursday or Friday after New Year's, Bush told Condoleezza Rice, "Probably going to have to, we're going to have to go to war." The book adds, "In Rice's mind, this was the president's decision on war. He had reached the point of no return." The book summarizes, "Bush was now enveloped in a contradiction: he had privately decided on war, but publicly he was continuing the diplomacy."
* A few pages later (p.262), still in early January, I report that "Cheney had come to realize that the president had made his decision."
* Most elaborately, I describe how from January 11 to January 13, two weeks before the Blair meeting, Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld told Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar and Secretary of State Powell that Bush had decided on war. (pp. 263-74)
* I report that on January 11, 2003, Cheney summoned Bandar to the White House to assure him the U.S. was going to war in Iraq. Rumsfeld, who was there, told Bandar, "You can count on this. You can take that to the bank. This is going to happen." I report that Cheney added, "once we start, Saddam is toast."
* Two days later, January 13, I report that Bandar met with President Bush because Bandar said he needed to hear the decision directly from Bush. Bush asked Bandar if he had understood the previous day's briefing. "This is the message I want you to carry for me to the crown prince," Bush said. "The message you're taking is mine, Bandar."
* Later on January 13, I report that Powell met with Bush, and Bush told him of the decision. I write, "The President said he had made up his mind on war. The U.S. should go to war." A few paragraphs later, I reemphasized it: "The fork in the road had been reached and Bush had chosen war."
When my book was released, the fact that Bush had made up his mind earlier than he was publicly asserting was one of the most well covered parts. In a front-page story April 17, 2004, The New York Times reported on Plan of Attack as the book was being released, and noted in the second paragraph of its story that Bush told Powell on Jan. 13 that he had decided on war and quoted from my account of the meeting.
* Plan of Attack reports that Feb. 15, 2003 was the first potential start date of the war (p. 319), nearly a month earlier than the "penciled in" Mar. 10 cited in the British memo. (The war started Mar. 19).
* The British memo says that both Bush and Blair acknowledged no WMD had been found. This was, in part, because four days earlier on Jan. 27 U.N. weapons' inspector Hans Blix had reported this to the United Nations. My book also noted that I had written a story for The Washington Post on January 28 that said: "Sources said U.S. intelligence agencies have not traced or located a large cache of prohibited weapons or ingredients used in the making of chemical or biological weapons. They said the U.S. government still lacks a smoking gun." (p. 294) The book also quotes General Tommy Franks telling Bush how they had been looking for WMD for 10 years "and haven't found any yet so I can't tell you that I know that there are any specific weapons anywhere." (p. 173) That is from a September 6, 2002 meeting, nearly five months before the Bush-Blair meeting.
* The British memo says Bush and Blair discussed the possibility of assassinating Saddam but provides no detail. Plan of Attack reports this later when it was discussed at an NSC meeting and describes how a Middle Eastern intelligence service planned "to send an emissary to see Saddam, ostensibly for the purpose of negotiation but with the real mission of assassinating the Iraqi leader." (p. 316)
* The British memo says "arms would be twisted" to get a second U.N. resolution and you suggest I present a different picture. I report in Plan of Attack (p.297) that Bush told Blair "we will go flat out" to get a second resolution--the same point.
* The British memo says that there was some tension between Bush and Blair over the legal arguments for war and you suggest I make no reference to this in the book. Plan of Attack presents this theme in many Blair-Bush meetings. For example, in August 2002 British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, following conversations between Bush and Blair, told Powell, "If you are really thinking about war and you want us Brits to be a player, we cannot be unless you go to the United Nations." (pp. 161-162) Also, I report that "for Blair the immediate question was, Would the United Nations be used....It was critical domestically for the prime minister to show his own Labour Party, a pacifist party at heart, opposed to war in principle, that he had gone the U.N. route." (p. 177) On the next page Blair gives Bush his word that he will support military action and Bush tells Blair's aides, "Your man has got cojones." (p.178)
* The British memo says the two leaders discussed the post-war period, including detailed planning on food and medicine. Plan of Attack covers this post-war planning in exhaustive detail in a Jan. 15 NSC meeting. (p. 276-278)
There were several items mentioned in the British memo which I was not aware of such as Bush's alleged proposal to use a U-2 spy plane as a provocation. As I have always said no account is complete and more information hopefully comes out. The sad fact is that if you had reminded your readers that most of the essential elements contained in the British memo were covered in Plan of Attack, you would have had no column. There is no way someone writing a book could or would attempt to recap all the decisions previously made in a single meeting.
I was very surprised in our phone conversation yesterday when you said you had read Plan of Attack. I also see that you wrote about the various revelations when the book came out ("George Bush, Self-Deluded Messiah") in which you said the book was "in several ways more disquieting" than others on the Bush White House. In addressing the new information in the book, you wrote:
The disclosure that appears to unsettle the White House the most is Woodward's assertion that in mid-January 2003 Bush decided to proceed with the invasion of Iraq....
[A]ccording to Woodward, Bush was already leading the nation to war, having made the decision on January 11. National security adviser Condoleezza Rice--who has become the administration's explainer-in-chief--suggests that Bush was merely thinking aloud at the time. But Woodward's account is pretty strong, noting that the Saudis were informed before Bush bothered to tell his secretary of state.
Did you forget? If you'd checked you would have found that the most specific and authoritative account of Bush's early decision, and the discussion around it, comes from Plan of Attack. The New York Times story of April 17, 2004 is but one example.
I want to make two more points. What was the Bush-Blair meeting of Jan. 31, 2003 really about? It was about political survival--Tony Blair's political survival. He was going to face a vote of confidence in the House Commons at some point (he did six weeks later) and he needed a second UN resolution to prove he had not given up on diplomacy. Bush agreed to try for the second resolution which was soon abandoned, but he was so worried that Blair's government would fall that on Mar. 9, 2003--ten days before the start of the war--he phoned Blair and offered to let Britain drop out of the coalition and not send combat troops (p. 338). As I said to you on the phone, I think you are naive about the political stakes--those were the issues for the leaders and this is my focus in reporting the meeting because it was their focus. Bush had already decided on war, Blair knew it, and even a casual reader of Plan of Attack would have known it.
What I find most disturbing is that you knew it also but that fact just did not fit your disfiguring story line. So what did you do? You just left it out. You really ought to be embarrassed. It is just not sound to take one scene from, say, a movie and criticize it for not having all the information in some of the earlier or later important scenes. It is the same for a book. Plan of Attack has stood the test of two years because it was carefully reported from a variety of sources and documents. Almost daily I read an article or a new book that draws heavily from it. At the same time, more information comes out, and I certainly did not have it all.
You wrote a book, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception. So, is your approach to adopt the methods and techniques of those you criticize? Has it reached that point? Should deception be matched with deception? Is that the way to straighten out American political dialogue? You owe me but more importantly your readers an apology.
April 4, 2006
And now my reply:
Bob Woodward has a point. I should have mentioned that in Plan of Attack he had reported that Bush had already decided to go to war before meeting with Blair on January 31, 2003. That's an important element of the book. As I noted in the original column, "Woodward does capture some (maybe even most) of what occurred" in the run-up to the war. But the fact that Woodward revealed Bush's mindset in passages prior to the pages covering the Bush-Blair meeting does not settle the case here. In Woodward's account, Bush comes off as magnanimous. Blair told him that for political coverage back home he desperately needed a second UN resolution that would authorize military action against Iraq. Bush was opposed to going back to the UN, Woodward wrote, but he conceded and agreed to try. And Woodward inserted a quote from an interview he conducted with Bush, who discussed this very meeting: "And so [Blair's] got a very difficult assignment. Much more difficult, by the way, than the American president in some ways." The bottom line: Blair requested help; Bush put aside his reservations and said yes.
The Manning memo shows that much else was going on. But let's stick with the issue of the second resolution for a moment. Imagine that Woodward's source(s) had informed him--and he had subsequently reported--that Bush had told Blair, If you need a second resolution, I will help, but I'm dead-set on war and have already picked March 10 as the likely date for its start. Would that be a significant change in the account? My view is that the addition of that information would have changed the tenor of Woodward's version.
I don't want to nit-pick, but none of the bullet-points Woodward provides above have Bush establishing a specific date--though one notes that February 15 was the "first potential start date of the war." The February 15 date appears in the section of Plan of Attack covering events in mid-February 2003 (after the January 31 meeting, obviously). And Woodward wrote, "February 15 had been a potential start day for war if the inspections had gone according to plan and exposed Saddam. Now the endgame was not clear." [My emphasis.]
Not to diminish Woodward's considerable reporting talents and the many scoops he does present in the book, but reporting that February 15 had at some point been a potential start date if inspections had "exposed Saddam" (without saying whose start day it was) is not a substitute for reporting that Bush gave Blair a "penciled in" date of March 10.
The March 10 disclosure was not the only Manning memo element missing from Woodward's account of the Bush-Blair meeting--and perhaps not the most significant element absent from Woodward's rendition. The once-secret memo also noted that Bush and Blair had acknowledged that no WMDs had been found in Iraq; that Bush had raised the possibility of provoking a confrontation with Saddam Hussein; that Bush had discussed the possibility of assassinating Saddam; that Bush had said that it was "unlikely there would be internecine warfare between the different religious and ethnic groups"; and that Blair had agreed that sectarian warfare was improbable.
Woodward maintains that Plan of Attack in prior sections had covered most of this. But some of his examples are not fully on point. The fact that Blix had told the UN that no WMDs had yet been found and that US intelligence sources had told Woodward the same makes for a different story than Bush saying to Blair that no unconventional weapons had been unearthed and suggesting they might stage an event to convince the public that war was warranted. According to the Manning memo, one idea Bush had was to paint UN colors on an American U-2 spy plane that would fly over Iraq and (Bush hoped) draw fire from Iraqi forces.
Woodward notes in his reply that he had not been aware of the U-2 proposal. He sensibly reminds us that "no account is complete and more information hopefully comes out." But he adds, "The sad fact is that if you had reminded your readers that most of the essential elements contained in the British memo were covered in Plan of Attack, you would have no column." Here's the essence of our disagreement. He claims that the significance of the meeting--what it was "really about"--was Blair's political survival. And he explains, "this is my focus in reporting the meeting because it was their focus." The "their" refers to Bush and Blair.
But is "their" focus the only, or the most appropriate, focus for a historian or journalist writing about this meeting? The meeting was important because of the politics--though ultimately the second resolution fizzled and Blair had to make do with an invasion not explicitly authorized by the United Nations. But the meeting was also important because it revealed that Bush was so eager to go to war he was considering--in the absence of WMDs--contriving an incident to start it. The Manning memo--the full contents of which have not yet been disclosed--also is significant in that it shows Bush and Blair dismissing the prospect of sectarian violence in post-invasion Iraq. (Woodward's reply does not direct us to a portion of his book in which Bush makes a similar comment.)
I presume that had Woodward's source(s) informed him about the provocation proposal, he would have decided that the "focus" of the meeting was not solely Blair's political needs and he would have included this proposed provocation scheme in his account and claimed it as the scoop it would have been. But my original point was that his source(s)--and that includes Bush--had not shared this information with him, that they (not Woodward) had "left out the best and most important stuff." Perhaps our dispute is over whether the politics of the meeting was more important than Bush's demonstrated willingness to consider concocting an incident to rally support for the war. That's an editorial call, and I'm happy to let others weigh in. In my mind, a president discussing such a stunt with another foreign leader is stop-the-presses stuff.
Had I noted that Woodward's book made clear that Bush had decided on war before January 31, 2003, there still would have been a story here. The Manning memo indicates that the United States has a president who considered resorting to subterfuge to justify a war. Woodward's account does not contain this information. And I assume its absence is due to the reluctance of Woodward's insider sources to share with him the full truth. Next time Woodward interviews Bush, he might want to ask the president why Bush did not tell him about the provocation proposal when the two discussed the January 31, 2003 meeting.
Pointing all this out is no act of deception. As Woodward notes, I have no problem commending him for his work and citing it. By working those insiders, he does bring us important stories. But in this instance, the limitations of his methodology--and that of all source-based reporting (which I and every other journalist practice)--were revealed. The Manning memo is a reminder of how even the nation's most renowned reporter can have the ultimate access and still miss an important part of the tale.
It was January 31, 2003. George W. Bush was moving toward war in Iraq, and he was meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair in the Oval Office to discuss various war-related matters. Last week, The New York Times disclosed portions of a secret memo--written by Blair's senior foreign policy adviser, David Manning--that summarized what the two leaders covered at this session, which Manning also attended. Blair, according to the memo, wanted Bush to fight for a United Nations Security Council resolution authorizing military action against Saddam Hussein. Bush agreed to try for such a resolution, but he told Blair that the start date for the war, win or lose at the UN, would be March 10. Bush also proposed provoking a confrontation with Saddam's regime that would justify attacking Iraq. The pair chatted about postwar Iraq, agreeing that sectarian violence was unlikely.
And according to a previously undisclosed portion of this memo--a passage obtained by The Nation--Bush and Blair discussed what to do about Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was opposed to a war in Iraq. Bush told Blair he had come up with a possible solution: send Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to lecture Putin on free-market economics.
In the weeks prior to the Bush-Blair meeting, Putin had been calling for a diplomatic resolution regarding Iraq. And Russia mattered. Moscow could veto a second resolution in the Security Council--which the previous November had passed a resolution that had demanded that Saddam disarm and that had revived weapons inspections in Iraq.
With Bush aiming to invade Iraq in six weeks, Putin was far from ready to sign on to a war on Iraq. On January 27, Putin spoke with Blair on the telephone and told the British prime minister that weapons inspections should continue, and Russian foreign minister Igor Ivanov said that day that there was "practically no chance" that the UN Security Council would support the use of force. On January 28, Putin publicly insisted that the Iraq problem be resolved through the United Nations and not by U.S. military action. Two days later, he called for "international and diplomatic efforts" to deal with Iraq. And Ivanov dismissed one of the Bush administration's chief rationales for invading Iraq: "For the time being, neither Russia nor any other country has information about ties between Iraq and al Qaeda."
How could Bush get Putin on board--or at least persuade him not to veto a Security Council resolution authorizing an invasion of Iraq? Berlusconi was Bush's answer, according to the Manning memo.
Berlusconi, the conservative businessman leader of Italy, was a firm backer of Bush's position on Iraq. He had already agreed to allow US forces to use Italian airbases for an assault on Iraq. On January 30, he met with Bush in the Oval Office and pledged his support to the president. That day, he and the prime ministers of England, Spain, Portugal, Hungary, Poland and Denmark released a statement that asserted that the "Iraqi regime and its weapons of mass destruction represent a clear threat to world security" and that called on the Security Council to take action. Berlusconi was due to visit Putin in Moscow on February 3.
During his White House meeting with Berlusconi, Bush tapped the Italian to win over Putin by teaching him about fundamental economics. The Manning memo--according to sources who reviewed parts of the document and took notes--records how Bush described this idea to Blair the next day:
For Putin, the problem was oil. He had convinced himself, quite wrongly, that military action against Iraq would lead to the collapse of the oil price. Bush had encouraged Berlusconi to go and explain a thing or two to Putin about the laws of supply and demand.
Did Bush truly believe that oil was Putin's primary concern--not, say, American unilateralism--and that a lecture from Berlusconi on economics would turn around the Russian leader? How did Berlusconi react to Bush's suggestion? How did Blair respond to this "explain a thing or two" strategy? The memo says nothing else about this part of the Bush-Blair conversation.
On February 3, Putin and Berlusconi did meet in Russia. (The two enjoyed a close relationship; the previous year Putin's daughters had vacationed with the Berlusconi family in Italy.) After their talks, there was no sign that Berlusconi had made much progress with Putin. The Russian did say that "a meaningful part of the responsibility" for the crisis "lies on the Iraqi side," but Putin also maintained that the UN weapons inspectors should be given more time: "Are the inspectors working? They're working. Have they found anything? No, they haven't found anything yet." As for a second resolution that might authorize military action against Iraq, he was noncommittal: "We'll think about it--so far there is no need, but I do not rule it out." A Russian television correspondent noted, "It is possible that Berlusconi will leave with an impression of Russian hospitality but with empty hands." The next day Ivanov was unambiguous: "There is no basis for using force against Baghdad."
The major media coverage of the Putin-Berlusconi talks did not indicate whether Berlusconi had acted upon Bush's suggestion, discussed the political economy of the global oil industry with Putin, and explained a thing or two to the Russian leader.
Had Berlusconi accepted Bush's assignment? Had the controversial Italian media baron, one of the richest people in the world, attempted to persuade Putin to go along with a war in Iraq by laying out the laws of supply and demand? Or had he ditched Bush's suggestion?
Berlusconi faces elections on April 9 and 10. An enterprising Italian reporter might want to ask him and his aides about this episode. It could turn up an interesting anecdote--perhaps one about the American president and his simplistic assessment of Putin's position. Maybe there's even a separate memo about the Berlusconi-Bush meeting.
After reading the below piece, Bob Woodward called to tell me that he thought that the article was "dishonest" and "unfair" and that I owed him an apology. During a calm but passionate conversation, I promised to print as long a reply as he would care to write. He said he would send something along soon. So watch this space....
Bob Woodward writes insider accounts of wars and the policymakers who wage them. He does so by talking to the most senior Bush administration insiders, who--obviously--tell him what they wish to tell him. No doubt, Woodward does capture some (maybe even most) of what occurred. But what happens when the insiders try to spin Woodward or share with him a rather selective rendition of an important event? Does he buy it and sell it (literally) to the rest of us? The leak of a British memo recounting a January 31, 2003 conversation in the White House between George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair affords Woodward's readers a rare opportunity to factcheck the fellow who imbues his behind-the-scenes storytelling with an omniscient tone.
The Bush-Blair meeting came as Bush was moving closer to launching the invasion of Iraq. UN weapons inspectors were back in Iraq--thanks to a resolution passed by the UN Security Council the previous November--but the hawks of the Bush administration, including Bush himself, were by this point eager to declare the inspections a failure and to get on with the show. At issue was whether the Bush administration needed a second resolution from the UN that would authorize military action against Iraq. Blair wanted one. The prospect of war was unpopular in England; he needed the cover of a second resolution. Bush and his senior officials were not enthusiastic about going back to the UN once more. Bush had just delivered a State of the Union address that lay out the WMD case for war, and Colin Powell was about to make a more detailed presentation at the United Nations on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and purported ties to al Qaeda. With the war preparations picking up speed, Bush and Blair met at the White House.
Now let's turn to Woodward. This is how he described the conversation between Bush and Blair in his book Plan of Attack:
Blair told Bush that he needed to get a second UN resolution. He had promised that to his political party at home, and he was confident that together he and Bush could rally the UN and the international community.
Bush was set against a second resolution. This was a rare case in which Cheney and Powell agreed. Both were opposed. The first resolution had taken several weeks, and this one would be much harder. Powell didn't think it was necessary....
But Blair had the winning argument. It was necessary for him politically. It was no more complicated than that, an absolute political necessity. Blair said he needed the favor. Please.
That was the language Bush understood. "If that's what you need, we will go flat out to try and help you get it," he told Blair. He also didn't want to go alone, and without Britain, he would be close to going alone. The president and the administration were worried about what Steve Hadley termed the "the imperial option."
So they were back in the briar patch as far as Cheney was concerned.
That's a rather straightforward description of a significant meeting. Earlier this week, New York Times correspondent Don van Natta Jr. published a front-page piece disclosing portions of a classified British memo that summarized this particular discussion. The memo was written by David Manning, Blair's chief foreign policy adviser at the time and one of two Blair aides who were in the meeting. According to this document--which was stamped "extremely sensitive"--a different sort of conversation had occurred. Here are some of the key points in the memo:
* Manning wrote, "The start date for the military campaign was now penciled in for 10 March. This was when the bombing would begin."
* Both acknowledged that no WMDs had been found in Iraq. Bush raised the possibility of provoking a confrontation with Saddam Hussein. One idea he proposed was placing UN colors on an American U-2 spy plane that would fly over Iraq and draw fire from Iraqi forces. Bush also discussed the possibility of assassinating Saddam Hussein.
* Bush did say that he would help Blair win a second UN resolution--and "would twist arms and even threaten," as the memo put it--but that if that effort failed he would still invade Iraq.
* There was tension between Bush and Blair over what might be a legitimate legal argument for going to war and what would be accepted by other nations.
* The two leaders talked about post-invasion Iraq, and Bush said that it was "unlikely there would be internecine warfare between the different religious and ethnic groups." Blair agreed.
* Blair asked Bush about planning for the postwar period. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, who was in the meeting, assured Blair that much work had been done on this. Bush, the memo noted, "said that a great deal of detailed planning had been done on supplying the Iraqi people with food and medicine."
Read Woodward's account and you get the impression that Bush was doing all he could to help a buddy and that Bush was willing (more so than Cheney or Powell) to stick with the United Nations a little longer. Read the Times' account of the memo and you see that Bush had already set a date for war--despite saying in public that he hoped to avoid war--and that he had raised the prospect of staging an event to make it easier to sell the war. (Does a fellow looking to avoid a war talk about what could be done to provoke a war?) The memo also indicates that Bush and his aides were not fully prepared for the postwar challenges and that Bush and Blair had misjudged the sectarian divides within the Iraqi population.
Woodward likes to say that his best-selling books--which are good reads--are the first drafts of history. That's true. But they can also be tilted drafts--especially when his high-level confidential sources have an interest in tilting the facts. Whoever gave him the details of this Bush-Blair session--Rice, perhaps?--left out the best and most important stuff. The net result was a less-than-full but Bush-positive account of the event. This goes to show that Woodward is only as good as his sources and that those insiders are not always so good when it comes to disclosing the real story.
Please check out David Corn's personal blog at www.davidcorn.com.
The White House doesn't seem to understand the meaning of the term "fresh blood." It usually refers to new blood that is introduced into an anemic entity--not blood taken from one organ of an unhealthy body and placed in another organ of that unhealthy body.
But that's what the surgeons at the White House have done in the transplant operation that removed Andrew Card (a former lobbyist for the automobile industry) as White House chief of staff and replaced him with Joshua Bolten, the White House budget director. George W. Bush did not select someone who might have a slightly different perspective on his administration. Bolten has been in the White House since Bush was first inaugurated. Moreover, he has overseen one of the larger disasters of the Bush presidency: its fiscal policy. Here's how those radicals at The Washington Post editorial board recently described the situation:
President Bush has presided over a 46 percent increase in the federal debt, from about $5.6 trillion [to about $8.8 trillion]. By contrast, during President Bill Clinton's two terms, the debt grew from less than $4 trillion to $5.6 trillion, a 28 percent increase -- and during the last few years of his presidency, Mr. Clinton actually began to pay down the country's "real" debt....
Mr. Bush has managed to rack up more new debt during his five years in office than the entire debt amassed by the United States through 1988. And there is more to come: The president's budget envisions the debt rising to $11.5 trillion by 2011. This means that an increasing share of an increasingly tight budget must be devoted simply to paying interest -- an estimated $220 billion this fiscal year alone. Remember: This is the president who entered office promising to pay off $2 trillion in debt held by the public over the next decade.....
[A]s the debt ceiling approaches $9 trillion, it's time to pause and consider the unabashed recklessness of the Bush administration's fiscal policies and its unwillingness to alter its tax-cutting course to accommodate new budgetary realities. "Future generations shouldn't be forced to pay back money that we have borrowed," Mr. Bush said in March 2001. "We owe this kind of responsibility to our children and grandchildren." Where is that responsibility now?
Of course, Bush is most responsible for that lack of responsibility. But sharing the responsibility for being that irresponsible is Bolten. And his office has done its best to hide the true impact of Bush's budget decisions. So says the Center on Budget Policy and Priorities in its analysis of the White House's last proposed budget:
A standard part of the President's budget each year is a summary table that shows the impact of the Administration's proposed policies on the deficit. (See Table S-12 on page 364 of last year's budget.) This year, however, the Administration has eliminated that table from its budget publications, presumably to deflect attention from the deficit-increasing impact of its proposals.
Not just the liberals at CBPP believe Bolten's Office of Management and Budget at the White House has been dishonest. The centrist budget hawks of Concord Coalition have also complained:
Bush's budget fails to account for policies the Administration clearly and repeatedly has staked out as goals policies that would significantly increase the short-term and long-term deficit. In addition, the budget resorts to a familiar combination of unrealistic assumptions and scorekeeping gimmicks that understate likely expenses, overstate likely revenues and hide the costs of certain initiatives. Lastly, the budget's five-year window and limited goal of cutting the 2004 deficit in half by 2009 serve to divert attention from the fact that current policy is unsustainable over the long-term.
For weeks, Republicans and pundits have been moaning about the need for change at the White House. On Monday, Sally Quinn, the grand-dame of Georgetown, had an "essay" in The Washington Post that was an open letter to Laura Bush, calling on her to save her husband's presidency by forcing a shake-up at the White House. (The First Lady knows staff changes: she is on her second chief of staff, her second policy director, her second social director, and her third press secretary.) Quinn even mentioned bouncing Card--but in favor of some Washington poohbah with credibility on Capitol Hill and among the commentariat.
That's not Bolten. He is merely another Bush loyalist, whose stewardship of the administration's budget policy hardly inspires confidence in his integrity. Couldn't the White House get a better donor for the needed transfusion? I suppose David Gergen wasn't available. Fred Thompson is too busy making television shows and raising money for Scooter Libby's defense fund. And James Baker? Well, Bush the Younger may still be smarting over his dad's secretary of state's opposition to the invasion of Iraq.
Anyway, the problem at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is not who's managing the staff. The problem is the combination of policies, priorities and visions of the fellow who lives there. The mess in Iraq cannot be undone by better staff work. Nearly $12 trillion in debt cannot be erased by a more effective communications strategy. Bush cannot be removed from the bubble of his own policies--and certainly not by a Bush lieutenant. This staff change is not about new blood. It's just the recycling of thin blood already low on oxygen. And the patient remains the same.
In his Tuesday press conference, President Bush delivered the good news:
But I believe -- I believe the Iraqis -- this is a moment where the Iraqis had a chance to fall apart, and they didn't. And that's a positive development.
Not falling apart. That's hardly the prewar view of post-invasion Iraq Bush sold the American public three years ago. But "positive" has become a rather relative term regarding Iraq.
When asked whether he was concerned by the growing number of Americans who, according to the polls, are "questioning the trustworthiness of you and this White House," Bush replied,
I believe that my job is to go out and explain to people what's on my mind. That's why I'm having this press conference, see. I'm telling you what's on my mind. And what's on my mind is winning the war on terror.
Is that supposed to reassure Americans--or Iraqis? Such a remark prompts a larger question: why does Bush and the White House believe that sending him out to give a seemingly endless series of speeches on Iraq--and his plan for victory there--is going to change anything at this stage? This is the guy who said the war was about WMDs and who said virtually nothing when senior members of his administration before the war made it sound as if the post-invasion period would be a breeze. With that history, is sharing what's on Bush's mind about Iraq an effective strategy?
Asked about Senator Russ Feingold's bill to censure him for approving warrantless wiretapping conducted by the National Security Agency, Bush replied,
I think during these difficult times -- and they are difficult when we're at war -- the American people expect there to be an honest and open debate without needless partisanship. And that's how I view it. I did notice that nobody from the Democrat Party has actually stood up and called for getting rid of the terrorist surveillance program. You know, if that's what they believe, if people in the party believe that, then they ought to stand up and say it. They ought to stand up and say the tools we're using to protect the American people shouldn't be used. They ought to take their message to the people and say, vote for me, I promise we're not going to have a terrorist surveillance program.
No needless partisanship? It's not needless partisanship to accuse the Democrats of being opposed to a "terrorist surveillance program"? This was a good example of the White House's Rove-ian response to criticism of the wiretapping program: equate the controversial (if not illegal) wiretapping with all surveillance conducted of terrorist suspects, including that which occurs lawfully under the authority of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and is monitored by the FISA court established by that law. No Democrat puts forward the "message" that "we're not going to have a terrorist surveillance program." The only issue is whether wiretapping can be done outside of the FISA law--which Bush claims is permissible and which others (including assorted legal scholars) argue is illegal.
Dick Cheney took this counteroffensive one step further the day before Bush's press conference. Speaking at a GOP fundraiser at the Spread Eagle Tavern and Inn in Hanoverton, Ohio--pop. 388--he blasted Feingold and other critics of the warrantless wiretapping, by saying, "This outrageous proposition that we ought to protect al Qaeda's ability to communicate as it plots against America poses a key test for the Democratic leaders."
So here Cheney was not only whacking Democratic critics for being opposed to what Bush calls "a terrorist surveillance program." He assailed these Democrats for protecting al Qaeda's "ability to communicate."
Is not such rhetoric a tad partisan--and demagogic? He is accusing Dems of helping the mass murderers of 9/11. But since the Bush administration decided not to extend its "terrorist surveillance program" to domestic communications of terrorism suspects (and limited the warrant-free wiretapping to communications involving at least one overseas party), couldn't the same be said of the Bush-Cheney administration--that the president and the vice president are protecting the ability of al Qaeda suspects to communicate within the United States? It certainly could--if you were willing to engage in needless partisanship.
As for a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq, Bush did set something of a negative timetable. "Will there come a day--and I'm not asking you when, not asking for a timetable--will there come a day," a reporter asked, "when there will be no more American forces in Iraq?" Bush answered:
That, of course, is an objective, and that will be decided by future Presidents and future governments of Iraq.
In other words, three more years of US troops in Iraq--at least. Now that sounds like a no-spin-answer.
Doesn't the Republican chairman of the House intelligence committee read? In a Washington Post article by Walter Pincus in Friday's edition, Representative Peter Hoekstra, who has succeeded in pushing the Bush administration to start releasing some of the 2 million documents captured in Iraq, said,
Whether Saddam Hussein destroyed Iraq's weapons of mass destruction or hid or transferred them, the most important thing is that we discover the truth of what was happening in the country prior to the war.
Conservatives and war-backers have been howling for the release of all these documents because they believe--or hope--that they will contain a smoking-gun memo showing that Saddam had oodles of WMDs or was buddy-buddy with bin Laden. But so far, no soap. At least not from the first nine documents posted by the military. One actually shows that Iraqi intelligence in August 2002 was looking for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq. This suggests Zarqawi was not given office space in Baghdad by Saddam, which is what some war supporters practically have claimed.
Back to Hoekstra. He's suggesting that that wily ol' Saddam destroyed his WMDs or sent them to Syria minutes before the US invaded. But if Hoekstra had bothered to read either the report from David Kay or the one from Charles Duelfer--the two pro-war fellows who headed the postwar search for WMDs--he would know that both concluded there were no significant amounts of WMDs in Iraq before the war and that Iraq's WMDs program were moribund. So there was nothing to hide or destroy. But let's wish Hoekstra well as he looks at each and every one of the two million documents for killer evidence to support the discredited prewar case for war.
The best entertainment news of the weekend had nothing to do with the Oscars (though kudos to George Clooney, who picked up a statuette as best supporting actor, for defiantly defending Hollywood's out-of-touchness by hailing its ahead-of-the-curve support for civil rights and AIDS research). No, the most interesting showbiz 411 was the announcement that Bruce Springsteen next month will be releasing an album, We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions, featuring thirteen traditional songs associated with Pete Seeger, the writer, performer, preserver and champion of folk music.
With this disc, Springsteen continues as a pop culture-political force. It's an intriguing move for him. In the 2004 campaign, he spearheaded the anti-Bush and pro-Kerry Vote for Change tour--which also included R.E.M., Pearl Jam, the Dixie Chicks, Jackson Browne, Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds, Bright Eyes and John Fogerty. Toward the end of the presidential campaign, Springsteen appeared with Kerry at huge rallies, in which he excited crowds but--unfortunately--highlighted the real gap between himself and the supposed star of these events. From identifying with Kerry's well-intentioned though poorly presented conventional liberalism to celebrating Seeger's gritty authenticity and radicalism--that's an intriguing pivot.
Seeger has had a decades-long career that has combined promoting traditional folk music and practicing political activism. The latter led him to being called before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1955, where he was grilled on whether he was a communist. Seeger declined to talk about his political associations or ideas, but offered to tell the committee what songs he had sung in public. The committee was not amused. He was sentenced to one year in jail for contempt of Congress, but the verdict was overturned. Still, Seeger ended blacklisted and banned from performing on network television.
Springsteen's album is not an act of rehabilitation. That's hardly needed. Seeger long-ago transcended those ugly days. His neverending devotion to traditional music and activism outlasted his foes. But what Springsteen is doing is reaching beyond his roots to honor a historian of American song--for Seeger's mission has been to keep alive a certain slice of homegrown American music. The new album will include renditions of "John Henry," "Eyes on the Prize," "Shenandoah" and "We Shall Overcome."
Springsteen started out as a fast-singing wordsmith who obviously had been influenced by Bob Dylan and bar-band rock of the 1960s. But the Dylan who hovered over Springsteen's first album, Greetings From Asbury Park, was not the early, political Dylan but the next-generation Beat/literary-fantasist Dylan, who threw together images and plot lines to create impressions, not manifestoes. In fact, Springsteen's career path flipped Dylan's arc. Dylan dropped the politics as his star rose; Springsteen expanded his range to include politics as his catalogue grew. It was after his Born to Run breakthrough that he began to identify with causes, perhaps first with his participation the No Nukes concerts of 1979. His songwriting, too, began to examine the plight--that is, stories--of living-on-the-edge Americans. "Born in the USA" was not a jingoistic anthem, as columnist George Will and Ronald Reagan falsely described it. It was a haunting tribute to veterans who had been screwed twice: first by the Vietnam War, then by the deindustrialization. The Ghost of Tom Joad, released in 1995, was a quiet-but-angry, Woody Guthrie-flavored look at the down-and-out of America. (Years earlier, Springsteen had started performing "This Land Is Your Land" during concerts.)
While Springsteen clearly made a conscious attempt to connect with Guthrie (as Dylan had done in his salad days), one might not have associated his decades of rock-driven work with Seeger. But by nobly nodding to Seeger in this way, Springsteen not only closes a circle, he advances it. This disc is a generous gesture. Fans of both men ought to hope the execution is as grand as the idea.
I first posted this at www.davidcorn.com....
We all know how much this White House cherishes self-examination and accountability. So it was safe to assume that its just-released report on Hurricane Katrina would be a no-holds-barred, blistering, tell-all account of what went wrong--from the streets of New Orleans all the way to the Oval Office. But--can you believe it?--the report somehow managed to miss the missteps that occurred at the White House. There's no accounting of why George W. Bush, Dick Cheney or Andrew Card didn't move quickly to supervise the federal response to Katrina. Perhaps a chapter was lost on the way to the printer. I've done a word search on the main body of the 228-page report. Looking for the phrase "White House," I found six pages on which the White House is mentioned; four of those are in the recommendation section and describe how the White House can be involved in a better response next time.
Here are the other references to the White House (the bold emphasis is mine):
* p. 36 -- [A]s late as 6:00 PM EDT that day [August 29, the day Katrina made landfall, the DHS Homeland Security Operations Center (HSOC) reported to senior DHS and White House officials that, "Preliminary reports indicate the levees in New Orleans have not been breached, however an assessment is still pending."
....At 6 PM EDT aboard a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter, Marty Bahamonde, a FEMA Public Affairs Official, observed the extent of the flooding and was "struck by how accurate" the earlier local reporting was of the levee breaches. He then called FEMA Director Michael Brown and other FEMA officials with his eyewitness account at approximately 8 PM EDT that day. Director Brown has testified that he subsequently called the White House to report the flooding information he received from Bahamonde. Following the calls, Mr. Bahamonde arranged a conference call with State, regional, and FEMA officials to recount what he had seen. An HSOC report marked 10:30 PM EDT, but not received at the White House until 12:02 AM EDT the next day, summarized the conference call and reported Mr. Bahamonde's observations on the extent of flooding throughout New Orleans.
* p. 49 -- These [faith-based groups] groups succeeded in their missions, mitigated suffering and helped victims survive mostly in spite of, not because of, the government. These groups deserve better next time. Jim Towey, Director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, said these folks were the foot soldiers and armies of compassion that victims of Katrina so desperately needed.
Did Bush do anything wrong? Apparently not. Well, to be fair, the report does gently suggest that he apparently failed to act on his vision. The foreword notes,
Hurricane Katrina prompted an extraordinary national response that included all levels of government--Federal, State, and local--the private sector, faith-based and charitable organizations, foreign countries, and individual citizens. People and resources rushed to the Gulf Coast region to aid the emergency response and meet victims' needs. Their actions saved lives and provided critical assistance to Hurricane Katrina survivors. Despite these efforts, the response to Hurricane Katrina fell far short of the seamless, coordinated effort that had been envisioned by President Bush when he ordered the creation of a National Response Plan in February 2003.
So Bush had done the appropriate pre-disaster work. He had "envisioned" a "seamless, coordinated effort." Yet somehow that envisioned response did not happen on its own--while Bush was playing guitar at a Navy base in San Diego the day after Katrina hit. Well, shouldn't Bush have fired whoever was responsible for not putting his vision into practice? I supposed that would not be too compassionate.
And here's an interesting comparison. The House report on Katrina (written by Republicans) was titled, A Failure of Initiative. Bush's report is called Lessons Learned. Its not called Lessons Learned Quickly, for there still is no director of FEMA (to replace Michael Brown)--just an acting director.