Tuesday, November 22

Republicans back down from Murtha-Gate

Oh, what a difference a week makes.

Last week President Bush was railing about Democrats throwing out "baseless and false charges" concerning the War. Dick Cheney quickly followed suit claiming that Democrats were "making a play for political advantage in the middle of a war." The criticism, Cheney said, threatens to undermine the morale of U.S. troops while "a few opportunists are suggesting they were sent into battle for a lie."

This week, after seeing his great ship of state run aground by the swift-boating of Rep. John Murtha, Bush takes (almost) all of it back.

story.bush.china.jpgAfter fiercely defending his Iraq policy across Asia, President Bush abruptly toned down his attack on war critics Sunday and said there was nothing unpatriotic about opposing his strategy. "People should feel comfortable about expressing their opinions about Iraq," Bush said, three days after agreeing with Vice President Dick Cheney that the critics were "reprehensible."

The president also praised Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), as "a fine man" and a strong supporter of the military despite the congressman's call for troop withdrawal as soon as possible.

. . . Thousands of miles from home, Bush and other White House officials have not let a day go by without a tough counterattack against Democratic critics of the president's Iraq policies. But the president replaced the no-holds-barred approach with a softer tone Sunday. "I heard somebody say, `Well, maybe so-and-so is not patriotic because they disagree with my position.' I totally reject that thought," Bush said.

"This is not an issue of who's patriotic and who's not patriotic," he said. "It's an issue of an honest, open debate about the way forward in Iraq."

An honest debate, wherein the first thing you do is attack the honesty of your opponents - followed quickly by eating your words with a side of crow? Indeed.

story.cheney.jpgEven Cheney has softened his blows.

Cheney stopped short of joining those Republicans who have questioned the patriotism and courage of Rep. John Murtha, D-Pennsylvania, calling him "a good man, a Marine, a patriot." Cheney's subdued comments about Murtha followed those of President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

Still he did cling to the primary party line:

"The flaws in the intelligence are plain enough in hindsight. But any suggestion that prewar information was distorted, hyped or fabricated by the leader of the nation is utterly false," Cheney said in a speech to the American Enterprise Institute.

This defense of course leaves open the possibilty that those other than the "Leader of the nation" were responsible for the distortions -- quite possibily even Cheney himself. He was clearly involved in the discussions of "how to handle Wilson", as well as took numerious personal trips down the CIA to talk directly with analysts. and according to State Department Chief of Staff Lawrence Wilkerson had a virtual Cabal with Donald Rumsfeld and actually attempted to block some papers from being included in the Senate Intelligence report.

As I've repeatedly said - the question depends on whether the President himself was made aware via his Daily Briefings that the DIA suspected that al-Libi was lying about links between Saddam and al-Qaeda, that "Curveball" was lying about Iraqi WMD programs, and whether had anything to do with suppressing the DOE and INR's doubt about the Iraqi Nuclear program just as they attempted to squash Joe Wilson's dessent on the Niger Uranium - and George Tenet and/or Condolezza Rice told the British government that the "facts were being fixed around the policy".

Whether Bush was personally aware or not his repeated claims that those in Congress "had the same intelligence" has been thoroughly debunked by not just the WashingtonPost(‘Bush and his aides had access to much more voluminous intelligence information than lawmakers, who were dependent on the administration to provide the material.’), John Kerry ("...the only people who are trying to rewrite that history are the President and his Republican allies."), but also former Sen. Bob Graham who pointed out that the unclassifed version of the pre-war National Intelligence Estimate provided to most congressmen did not include many of the serious doubts about the veracity of claims regarding a renewed Iraq Nuclear program from both the State Department and the Department of Energy.

So disastrous has been the Murtha incident for Republicans that even the Colonel who was allegedly the source for Rep Jean Schmidt's comments has disavowed them.

From the NY Times

Colonel Denies Disparaging Murtha

By The New York Times

WASHINGTON, Nov. 21 - A colonel in the Marine reserves has taken issue with how his views were represented in a Republican attack last week on Representative Murtha.

Speaking on the House floor on Friday, Representative Jean Schmidt, Republican of Ohio, asserted that the colonel had "asked me to send Congressman Murtha a message: that cowards cut and run, marines never do."

But a spokeswoman for the colonel, Danny R. Bubp, said Ms. Schmidt had misconstrued their conversation.

While Mr. Bubp, a Republican member of the Ohio House of Representatives, opposes a quick withdrawal for forces, "he did not mention Congressman Murtha by name nor did he mean to disparage Congressman Murtha," said Karen Tabor, his spokeswoman. "He feels as though the words that Congresswoman Schmidt chose did not represent their conversation."

Asked to respond on Monday, the congresswoman's office said only, "Mrs. Schmidt's statement was never meant to disparage Congressman Murtha."
And just to make matters even worse, Donald Rumsfeld on Face the Nation with Bob Schieffer this weekend claimed that the U.S. will begin drawing down at least 20,000 troops in Iraq following the successful completion of this Decembers elections - which is exactly the plan that was suggested by John Kerry over a week ago.

Senator John Kerry introduced in the Senate his plan to succeed in Iraq and bring the vast majority of our combat troops home in a reasonable timeframe tied to specific, responsible benchmarks to transfer responsibility to Iraqis – beginning with the draw down of 20,000 U.S. troops after successful Iraqi elections in December. These additional troops are in Iraq only for the purpose of providing security for the upcoming elections. If they remain in Iraq after that benchmark is achieved, it only exacerbates the sense of American occupation.
With Rumsfeld now lining up with John Kerry on troop withdrawals it should be interesting to see what's happens to the rhetoric of the right-wing when they can no longer use their favorite slur after "Liberal" -- "Traitor".

Then again they could always pitch a bitch about some irrelevant black "X" over Dick Cheney's face on CNN.


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