Karl Rove is a hypocrite. I know that’s hard to believe. And you’re going to need a chunk of proof before accepting that conclusion. So let me give it my best shot.
In April, Rove delivered a speech at Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland. Trying to come across as a statesman (instead of a hack political strategist), he urged participants in today’s tough political and policy debates to engage in high-minded discourse. “Most people I know on both sides of the aisle,” he remarked, “believe in the positions they take.” He continued, “Unless you have clear evidence to the contrary, commentators should answer arguments instead of impugning the motives of those with whom they disagree.”
Let’s see how well he takes his own advice. Last night, Rove was interviewed by NBC News’ David Gregory on Hardball. Gregory began the sit-down by asking Rove about the recent vote in the Senate on the John Bolton nomination. Democrats had once again prevented an up-and-down vote because the Bush White House had continued to withhold information they had requested regarding Bolton. Rove replied,
Well it’s sad. I mean they’re putting their commitment to politics above their commitment to doing what’s right for the country.
That sure sounds as if Rove is impugning the motives of the Democrats. Isn’t it just possible that they really do want to see whether Bolton misused classified information or tried to stretch intelligence? Gregory asked, “Why not give the Democrats what they’re asking for. They’re asking for names related to these [National Security Agency] intercepts to answer the question whether Bolton retaliated against criticism of the administration?” Rove did not respond directly. He repeated himself:
I say it shows that their commitment to politics is above their commitment for doing what’s right for this country.
So his first statement impugning the Democrats was no slip. Rove was arguing not merely that the Democrats are wrong in their policy views but that they put politics above national interest. Certainly, it was his perogative to make such a case. And there are times I would argue that Rove and his pupil take actions that serve their political interests more than those of the public. But this exchange with Gregory demonstrated that Rove was not being honest when he addressed those college students. If he was paid an honorarium, Washington College should ask for its money back.
Don’t forget about DAVID CORN’s BLOG at www.davidcorn.com. Read recent postings on Corn’s battle with The Washington Post over Deep Throat stories, Business Week‘s bashing of corporate lobbyists, and Gitmo and Halliburton.
The Rove-Gregory session also contained a number of other illuminating exchanges. When Gregory asked him why most Americans, according to recent polls, now believe the war in Iraq is not worth the cost, Rove–perhaps adopting the reality-denying ways of his boss–refused to accept Gregory’s premise about popular sentiment on the war. He also repeatedly said that Americans do not want to see the United States “turn tail and run,” thus equating calls for setting a timetable for withdrawing US troops with cowardly retreat. (Expect more of this, as talk of withdrawal spreads among members of Congress from both parties.) And when Gregory inquired as to whether Rove agreed with Dick Cheney that the insurgency in Iraq is in “its last throes,” Rove sidestepped the query. Instead, he said,
We know that when a movement like this, a jihadist movement, a terrorist movement, is most dangerous when it is running out of options….So I do believe the vice president said it correct: we will find these jihadists and the Al Qaeda most dangerous when they are at the moment of greatest danger for them.
Huh? Cheney wasn’t saying the insurgency was most dangerous now but that it was close to coming to an end. Also, note how Rove twice defined the insurgents as “jihadists” and connected them to al Qaeda. Though Musab al-Zarqawi, who has affiliated his murderous gang with al Qaeda, has received the most media attention, the prevailing analysis these days is that the insurgency is mostly composed of Sunnis and former Ba’athists. It is not a violent “jihadist” movement but a murderous sectarian campaign. That sure doesn’t make it any less worrisome. But focusing on “jihadists” defines the matter in a manner that is politically beneficial for the Bush White House.
Rove also talked up the US training of Iraqi security forces. He said,
We are systematically both expanding the number of people being trained and increasing the level of training for each unit. We’ve got, I think there are three units now, three brigades that are at the absolute highest level.
He didn’t mention that these three brigades are a rather small percentage of the 107 brigades now being trained.
Gregory turned to the Downing Street memos and noted these documents indicate that the Bush administration engaged in little prewar planning for the aftermath of the invasion. Rove answered,
[R]emember the time frame, it is months and months and months before the balloon goes up in Iraq. And in those intervening months there was plenty of time planning for postwar efforts, vast amounts of planning. You never know exactly how a war is going to plan out. Napoleon once said. Vast numbers of refugees enormous problems with food aid–did not happen. Vast uprising–didn’t happen. That we would see a vast uprising by hundreds of thousands of Iraqis–didn’t happen. War is ugly, but a lot went very well with this effort and in part it was because the United States government and our coalition partners used the months to plan for any eventuality.
Dizzy from the spin? Gregory had asked why the administration didn’t plan sufficiently for the post-invasion period, and Rove replied by noting the terrible things that did not happen. What about what did transpire? The lack of security in the post-invasion period? The absence of any political preparation? There was no plan for what to do with the Iraqi military. There was no plan for managing and reconstructing the Iraqi economy. The administration claimed before the war that Iraqi reconstruction would be financed with Iraqi oil revenues. And we are repeatedly told these days that an insurgency lasting years was not foreseen before the war (though some Middle East experts who were skeptical about the war did predict years of instability and internal conflict.) Yet Rove said the Bush administration used the months before war to “plan for any eventuality.” Too bad there was no studio audience to laugh him off the set. (For my latest take on the Downing Street memos, click here.)
Next up for Gregory was Gitmo, and he asked Rove,
You said after the Abu Ghraib scandal that it will take a generation for the U.S. image to recover. When you hear the accusations about what’s going in Guantanamo, and hear how enemies of the United States are using Guantanamo Bay against the United States, do you worry that the same kind of damage could be being done?
Rove immediately shot back:
You use the right word: accusations. In what we’ve seen about Guantanamo is by and large accusations from dangerous people who were picked up on a battlefield in Iraq and Afghanistan. And it is appalling to me that some public figures seem to put more credence in the views and statements of a jihadist, who has been in many cases instructed by his training to attack the United States, to attack his treatment–they put more credence in those people than in our men and women in uniform.
Here was a not-so-veiled attack from Rove on Democratic Senator Dick Durbin, who has been under fire for comparing practices at Guantanamo to those used by Nazis and the gulag-keepers of the Soviet Union. But Durbin did not base his remarks on the “accusations” of any “jihadist.” He quoted from reports filed by FBI agents who had reviewed the interrogation procedures at Guantanamo Bay. Critics of Guantanamo need not take the word of “jihadists.” An FBI examiner declared US interrogators there were using “torture techniques.” US military officials have noted that interrogators at Gitmo might be subject to criminal prosecution. The Pentagon has acknowledged instances of mistreatment of the Koran. Rove was trying to set up a smokescreen, suggesting that the Guantanamo controversy was merely the product of lies told by “jihadists.”
That was a disingenuous and dishonest reply to a serious question. But let’s not impugn Rove’s motives by accusing him of playing politics with the truth.
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