Thursday, May 15, 2008

Lies, all damned lies.

Let's start with the obvious one: President Bush on giving up golf. In an interview with that was also carried as a video feed on (where I first saw it), Bush talked about how he'd stopped playing golf in recent years due to his feeling that it "sends the wrong signal" for the mothers of deceased Iraq War veterans to see him playing golf while we're at war. He characterized this as an act of solidarity with those mothers of veterans and anyone else who has suffered as the result of said Iraq War. When asked when he had made this decision, Bush pointed to the Aug. 19, 2003 bombing in Baghdad that killed U.N. envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello as his reason, saying that he was informed about it while on the golf course and, at that point, decided "it just wasn't worth it anymore."

OK, the obvious question raised by all this, that I thought of as soon as I heard it: why wouldn't Bush have trumpeted this sacrifice during his first term? Sure, he didn't bring it up, and it might have been awkward if he had. But considering that, back in 2003, he had Jeff Gannon operating within the White House press room, and undoubtedly had other ways (Fox News, perhaps?) to get softball questions lobbed to him that he could knock out of the park, it seems that he had every opportunity to advertise this "sacrifice" back when it could have helped him, when he was running for re(?)-election in 2004. But that didn't happen. And I found myself wondering--why? Why are we just hearing about this now, after five years?

Well, there's an easy answer, one I first heard about from Keith Olbermann in his special comment from last night's episode of "Countdown": Bush was lying. First, by saying that his decision to stop playing golf happened in the wake of the De Mello killing: there's ample reportage to indicate that he played golf at least twice after the De Mello killing, as recently as Oct. 13, 2003, two months later. And the second part of the answer is even more damning. Olbermann mentioned it, and Al Kamen of the Washington Post confirms it: In late 2003, President Bush was plagued by a persistent knee injury that forced him to undergo surgery, after which he had to permanently give up running. No one can be absolutely sure that his post-surgery recovery program also forced him to give up golf, but considering that the De Mello-related explanation has been proven incorrect, and that only two months separate Bush's last recorded golf game and that knee surgery, it's entirely possible that this was the culprit. Furthermore, as has been pointed out in many places, Bush's commitment to solidarity with the troops has not stopped him from taking more vacation time than any other president in U.S. history. So obviously, it's not just his concern for the troops that keeps him from playing golf. After all, once he's on vacation, who cares what exactly he's doing with it? Is sitting in the afternoon sun drinking a mint julep on the veranda in Crawford (not that I can prove Bush has ever done THAT either) somehow easier for the mother of a deceased veteran to see?

So the question remains, why would Bush say the whole thing in the first place? After all, the fact that he either didn't remember when he stopped golfing or remembered but chose to lie about it should indicate that it wasn't an incredibly planned-out response. And knowing how Bush typically operates--not in a smart way, but definitely in a manner that indicates a certain amount of animal cunning--I'm thinking he just got a surprising question and decided to think on his feet and come up with a way to spin the answer in his favor. It could have worked, too, if it weren't for those pesky, meddling AP cameras. Makes you wonder how many other times he's done this same sort of revisionist history on other actions and motivations of his at other points during his presidency.

Let's talk about another lie, while we're here: this one from John McCain. Plagued throughout his presidential campaign by a tossed off remark that came during a New Hampshire campaign stop in which he proposed staying in Iraq for up to 100 years, McCain has apparently grown tired of being hammered about this point. Today, in a policy speech that basically amounted to a bunch of vague bullshit about what he's gonna do in his first term (without boring anyone with a single pesky detail about how he's actually gonna accomplish any of this), McCain proposed that major U.S. combat forces will come home from Iraq by 2013. Now, let's leave aside the fact that this sounded an awful lot like a timetable--I don't even want to imagine what Mitt Romney screamed at his TV when he saw it--and talk about what this actually represents: John McCain moving to the left in order to defuse the favorability of his Democratic opponents. After all, didn't he just give a speech about solving the problem of climate change a few days ago? The ramifications are unmistakable--McCain has realized that, if he wants to win this election, he's going to have to at least attempt to defuse some of the biggest Democratic talking points.

But listen, just between you and me? I think he's lying. Maybe not about the climate change thing; McCain has always been pretty outspoken about this particular issue, and I guess it's believable that at least one political stance that he held during his "maverick" period actually stuck around. But about the Iraq war thing--oh, definitely lying. First of all, he seems to think (and said as much in the speech) that we can maintain a presence in Iraq that is small and not involved in combat operations--presumably similar to our current presence in South Korea. Now, I'm hardly the only one out there who finds this plan to be unworkable, to say the least. Plenty of people seem quite aware that any ongoing U.S. troop presence in Iraq is going to be subject to constant attacks by insurgents or terrorists or whatever you want to call them. Think Northern Ireland in the 70s, if you're having trouble conceptualizing what I'm talking about.

But hey, let's put that aside too. Let's look more at the fact that McCain follows his assertion that the Iraq war will be won by 2013 with the assertion that Osama Bin Laden will be captured or killed. I guess it's not beyond the realm of possibility; after all, the reason George W. Bush didn't ever capture Bin Laden is because he blatantly didn't try. By October 2002, he claimed in a press conference that he "didn't think about him [Bin Laden] anymore"--how's that for some Bush-style solidarity with the 9/11 victims and their families? Cute, huh? So granted, if McCain makes an honest effort, he just might be able to capture and/or kill Bin Laden, despite his 7-year head start (Hint: he's in Pakistan). But the important thing to understand here is that McCain isn't talking in this speech about what he THINKS he can accomplish in his first term. This speech is about what he HOPES to accomplish. What we're seeing here is John McCain's own personal letter to Santa, done up all in ribbons and bows and presented to the United States of America as if the letter requesting the presents is the same as the presents themselves. Well, I for one am not buying it. To me it all sounds like, in the words of Perry Farrell, "a big fat fucking lie."

One more lie, and we're back to Bush for this one: "Some seem to believe we should negotiate with terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: 'Lord, if I could only have talked to Hitler, all this might have been avoided.' We have an obligation to call this what it is -- the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history." President Bush said that today to Israel's parliamentary body, the Knesset. And we all know what he's implying--that Obama's desire to reach for a diplomatic solution to our current conflict with Iran is the same as Chamberlain's meeting with Hitler in 1938. Which is, of course, bullshit. Joe Biden came out and called it as such, saying that Bush's comments were "outrageous, for the president of the United States to go to a foreign country, to sit in the Knesset and make this kind of ridiculous statement." And damn if Biden isn't right smack dab on the money, especially considering that Bush chose to violate Godwin's law in perhaps the least appropriate place in the whole world--Israel, the country that was created at least partly as an apology from the civilized world to the Jewish people. I doubt the Israeli people will speak as one on this issue, but I can't imagine that at least some of them were more appalled at Bush's tossing around of loose talk about the perpetrator of the Holocaust in connection with a partisan political dispute in his own country, half a world away. As Biden further pointed out tonight in an interview on Chris Matthews' "Hardball", both Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates also believe that diplomacy with Iran should be attempted, and attempted NOW. By calling this sort of thing "appeasement", Bush equally dismisses Senator Obama and members of his own cabinet. Of course, when later asked during a press conference, White House Press Secretary Dana Perino denied that the remark was intended to reference Obama, a chickenshit move if there ever was one, not to mention a further lie (because Ms. Perino, none of us were born yesterday). Meanwhile, John McCain was at least not afraid to say what Perino wouldn't come out with. Here's a bunch of bullshit on the issue from McCain: "This does bring up an issue that we will be discussing with the American people, and that is, why does Barack Obama, Senator Obama, want to sit down with a state sponsor of terrorism? It shows naivete and inexperience and lack of judgment to say that he wants to sit down across the table from an individual who leads a country that says Israel is a stinking corpse, that is dedicated to the extinction of the state of Israel. My question is, what does he want to talk about? [...] Peace through strength is the way we achieve peace in the world. That's the point. I will debate this issue with Senator Obama throughout this campaign." This article doesn't have the full quote, but I saw it on TV and McCain referenced Neville Chamberlain by name. On "Hardball" tonight, Chris Matthews had a rather ugly screaming match with a conservative talk radio guy, I forget his name (and I'm not looking it up--this entry has too many hyperlinks as it is), who could not explain what it was about Chamberlain's appeasement of Hitler that was wrong. Eventually, Matthews explained it himself--Chamberlain gave away half of Czechoslovakia to Hitler--and used this to make a very valid point: that the problem that can occur with talking to enemies is when you give in too much to their demands. As Obama has often pointed out, his talking to Iran is merely a first option, not a last resort. If talking is not enough to reach an acceptable agreement, then fine, we move towards other, more militaristic options (if that is what becomes necessary). But by refusing to try any talking (other than propagandistic sabre-rattling in speeches that the Iranian leaders watch on TV just like we do), we eliminate a possible solution without ever testing its viability. As Joe Biden pointed out elsewhere in that "Hardball" interview, what Bush is denouncing with respect to Obama and Iran is something that he used to very beneficial results in discussions with Libya and North Korea during his time in office. So what makes the difference? What is it about the Middle East that incites only sabre-rattling from Republicans (including John McCain--or did you think that "peace through strength" meant something other than using threats of war to avoid war?)? I don't know, but I don't personally believe that these separate sets of rules for different regions of the globe serves anyone's purpose.

Unless, of course, there's oil in Iran.

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