It didn’t get much attention beyond a couple of vague statements urging Iraqis to stay calm and renounce violence, but the President of the United States did yet another of his series of Big Speeches about the War on Terror to the American Legion yesterday. I really urge you to slog your way through this long speech for what it says and leaves unsaid about the administration’s basic concept of the War on Terror more than four years after 9/11. Remarkably, given the major controversy of last week, and Bush’s extraordinary threat to use his first-ever presidential veto of any legislation that might interfere with a foreign government lease of major U.S. ports, there’s not a word in the Legion speech about port security or anything even vaguely related to such crucial ancillary issues as U.S. efforts to keep nuclear materials out of the hands of terrorists. Instead, the whole thrust of Bush’s speech revolves around two propositions: (1) the familiar if bizarre claim that we’ve succeeded in bottling up every al Qaeda operative in the world in Iraq, guaranteeing our safety against another 9/11, even if it’s at the expense of the agony of Iraqis; and (2) the March of Freedom and Democracy is irresistably destroying terrorism around the world, except for a few speed bumps like Hamas’ election win in Palestine. I won’t even bother to address the first claim, but the second is a fine example of Bush’s tendency to harness entirely solid principles to the goal of spinning his administration’s most obvious failures. I couldn’t agree more than opening the Arab Middle East to political, civic and economic freedom is the long-term key to victory in the war against Jihadist terrorism. But the idea that this administration’s policies in Iraq have given its people freedom and democracy, with the only residual question being whether they are willing to accept these gifts, is ludicrous and offensive. Iraq’s agony right now is the direct result of a whole host of Bush administration mistakes. Indeed, just this week, Lawrence Kaplan of The New Republic suggested the most urgent reason for maintaining U.S. troop levels in Iraq is that the bungled “reconstruction” of the country has produced a failed or at least failing state in chaos. It would not only be refreshing if someone in the administration actually admitted this situation; it might even help convince Americans that an immediate withdrawal from Iraq could produce terrible results. But so long as the president himself acts as though the glass is not half-empty or even half-full, but nearly full, and that Americans should ignore the evidence before their eyes that Iraq is a mess, then no one should be surprised if support for further military engagement in Iraq continues to erode. Ultimately, people know when they’re being cynically spun.
TDS Strategy Memos
Latest Research from:
By Ed Kilgore
This year’s big media narrative has been the confirmation saga of Neera Tanden, Biden’s nominee for director of the Office of Management and Budget. At New York I wrote about how over-heated the talk surrounding Tanden has become.
Okay, folks, this is getting ridiculous. When a vote in the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on the nomination of Neera Tanden was postponed earlier this week, you would have thought it presented an existential threat to the Biden presidency. “Scrutiny over Tanden’s selection has continued to build as the story over her uneven reception on Capitol Hill stretched through the week,” said one Washington Post story. Politico Playbook suggested that if Tanden didn’t recover, the brouhaha “has the potential to be what Biden might call a BFD.” There’s been all sorts of unintentionally funny speculation about whether the White House is playing some sort of “three-dimensional chess” in its handling of the confirmation, disguising a nefarious plan B or C.
Perhaps it reflects the law of supply and demand, which requires the inflation of any bit of trouble for Biden into a crisis. After all, his Cabinet nominees have been approved by the Senate with a minimum of 56 votes; the second-lowest level of support was 64 votes. One nominee who was the subject of all sorts of initial shrieking, Tom Vilsack, was confirmed with 92 Senate votes. Meanwhile, Congress is on track to approve the largest package of legislation moved by any president since at least the Reagan budget of 1981, with a lot of the work on it being conducted quietly in both chambers. Maybe if the bill hits some sort of roadblock, or if Republican fury at HHS nominee Xavier Becerra (whose confirmation has predictably become the big fundraising and mobilization vehicle for the GOP’s very loud anti-abortion constituency) reaches a certain decibel level, Tanden can get out of the spotlight for a bit.
But what’s really unfair — and beyond that, surreal — is the extent to which this confirmation is being treated as more important than all the others combined, or indeed, as a make-or-break moment for a presidency that has barely begun. It’s not. If Tanden cannot get confirmed, the Biden administration won’t miss a beat, and I am reasonably sure she will still have a distinguished future in public affairs (though perhaps one without much of a social-media presence). And if she is confirmed, we’ll all forget about the brouhaha and begin focusing on how she does the job, which she is, by all accounts, qualified to perform.