Patterico's Pontifications

6/29/2005

L.A. Times on That Shifting and Retooling

Filed under: Dog Trainer,War — Patterico @ 7:06 am

This morning, the L.A. Times continues to push its pet myth that President Bush hardly said a word about democracy in Iraq until after we failed to find stockpiles of WMD. Moreover, the paper accuses Bush of shifting and retooling his rhetoric, when Bush has been consistent in arguing that we must prevent Iraq from becoming a safe haven for terrorists. The paper is predictably defeatist in attitude, no doubt revealing the anti-war biases of those involved in covering the speech.

Ronald Brownstein’s “news analysis” of the speech is titled As War Shifts, So Does the Message. It begins:

President Bush on Tuesday retooled his original argument for the Iraq war, justifying the U.S. military presence there as the solution to a problem that critics say the war itself caused.

More than two years ago, Bush argued that Saddam Hussein’s control over Iraq could make the nation a haven for terrorists. But in his nationally televised speech, Bush asserted that the tumult that has followed Hussein’s removal created the same threat.

I love the use of the word “but.” With that single, masterful word, Brownstein manages to take a consistent message — we must not let Iraq become a safe haven for terrorists — and make it sound like Bush is “retooling” his argument.

What, exactly, is the “retooling” that is supposedly going on? What is the “shifting” message? Bush said Iraq would become a safe haven for terrorists if we left Hussein in power. Now Hussein is out of power, but his former supporters are fighting a guerilla campaign to wear down American resolve and get back in power. And Bush is saying we have to finish the job or the country will be retaken by Saddam loyalists who hate Americans — and the country may become a safe haven for terrorists.

Does that really sound like “retooling” or “shifting” the argument?

In an effort to bolster the argument that it is, Brownstein retreats to the hoary old idea that Bush hardly mentioned democracy as a goal for Iraq until well after the invasion:

In the lead-up to the war, Bush presented the invasion of Iraq primarily as a means of preventing the Iraqi dictator from providing nuclear, biological or chemical weapons to terrorists.

After coalition forces failed to find evidence of such weapons, and several investigations did not uncover meaningful links between Hussein and Al Qaeda, the president increasingly stressed the possibility that creating a democracy in Iraq could encourage democratic reform across the Middle East.

Other have tirelessly debunked the notion that President Bush barely mentioned the goal of making Iraq a democracy until well after the invasion failed to produce WMD stockpiles. For example, Instapundit collected links here, and asked: “Don’t these guys realize that we have Google?”

I supported the war primarily on the basis of the argument that Iraq had (and was continuing to pursue) WMD, and might give them to terrorists. I suspect most Americans felt the same as I did. But to argue that Bush himself de-emphasized the promotion of democracy before the invasion is just plain wrong. I wish the L.A. Times would stop saying it.

Meanwhile, a companion piece purporting to be a “straight news” story on the speech repeats another tired and discredited canard: the lie that there was no connection between Iraq and Al Qaeda. The passage on this issue starts off accurately:

Although Bush linked the deadliest terrorist attacks in American history with the war in Iraq, a continuous stream of reports has found no such links.

Both a joint congressional inquiry into those attacks and the Sept. 11 commission concluded that there was no operational link between the Al Qaeda plot to hijack four planes nearly four years ago and Saddam Hussein’s former government in Baghdad.

So far, so good. But then the editors have to take that next step, and make it sound like there was no cooperation between Iraq and Al Qaeda on any level:

A year ago this week the staff of the Sept. 11 commission concluded that it had found “no credible evidence” of cooperation between Iraq and Al Qaeda. The commission’s final report, issued July 23, 2004, varied only slightly, concluding that there was no “collaborative operational relationship.”

This is echoed in Brownstein’s piece, which (in a portion quoted above) stresses the alleged failure to find “meaningful links between Hussein and Al Qaeda.”

Of course, the commissioners have repeatedly said that there were all kinds of ties and connections between Iraq and Al Qaeda, particularly in the area of weapons development. (Is weapons development “meaningful”? I’d say so.) The commissioners said this repeatedly; they could not have been more clear. But the L.A. Times has consistently misreported the commissioners’ views on this topic from the beginning — once going so far as to portray certain commissioners’ views on a television program as the exact opposite of what they had said, according to a transcript.

There is one interesting line in the “straight news” story: “the speech signaled no change in strategy, and most of its arguments were similar to those made recently by administration officials.” Yeah? Go tell Ron Brownstein and his headline writer! They think the message is shifting and being retooled.

Sigh.

And of course, both pieces hammer home time and time again the notion that opposition to the war is increasing. In the news story alone, we are reminded that the speech is “part of a major weeklong public relations offensive by an administration struggling to bolster sagging support”; that “polls have shown that many others doubt that the effort to install a stable new government in Iraq will protect the United States”; that Bush “has been under pressure to explain to Americans the strategy and future of the persistently violent conflict in Iraq”; that we are in a “time when critics have accused him of painting too rosy a picture of the conflict”; that “[p]olls have been indicating support for the war is at its lowest level since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003.”

Okay. The war is increasingly unpopular. The war is increasingly unpopular. The war is increasingly unpopular. We get it.

Some context is necessary, of course. But am I wrong to sense a barely contained glee in the way the point is drummed home, time after time after time after time after time?

With all of the other distortions in the two pieces, I don’t think I am.

I have a final question for you. Of all the various layers of writers and fact-checkers involved in these two stories . . . how many do you think support the war?

Is it that obvious?

Yes. Yes, it is.

UPDATE: In case you think it’s simply an accident of sloppy language that the paper claims Iraq had no connection to Al Qaeda (as opposed to no connection to the 9/11 attacks by Al Qaeda), or that the context makes it clear that the article means “no connection” only in the sense of the 9/11 attack — then read this morning’s editorial. It says, without context or caveat, “Saddam Hussein’s Iraq had no connection to Al Qaeda.”

That’s just flatly incorrect. But I understand the editors’ mistake: they relied on their own paper to get the news.

UPDATE x2: Interesting that, where the L.A. Times sees “sagging support,” the Washington Post finds that “a majority of Americans — 53 percent — now say they are optimistic about the situation in Iraq, up seven points from December.” And where the L.A. Times says “polls have shown that many others doubt that the effort to install a stable new government in Iraq will protect the United States,” the recent Washington Post poll says:

A narrow majority — 52 percent — believes that the war has contributed to the long-term security of the United States, a five-point increase from earlier this month.

It’s all in the spin, baby.

19 Responses to “L.A. Times on That Shifting and Retooling”

  1. http://patterico.com/2003/02/21/41/for-what-its-worth-big-time/#comments

    [Croche: you got me! Except . . . you didn’t. I was complaining about what seemed to me to be slow progress toward Iraqi self-governance shortly after the war. I was unhappy with the idea of a months-long American-run interim government, a concern Andrew Sullivan and I shared.

    That is an entirely different question from the question whether Bush used the promotion of democracy as a justification for the war — which he most assuredly did. It wasn’t the reason *I* supported the war, but it was, without a doubt, a justification that Bush repeatedly offered before the war — as the Instapundit links demonstrate beyond all doubt.

    So, you have missed the point. Again.

    By the way, whether Sullivan and I were too unrealistic/uncharitable is a debatable point. Suffice it to say that, when the elections did come, many on the left argued (in my view incorrectly) that they were being held too soon.– Patterico]

    m.croche (8e3bfc)

  2. Probably the same folks who picked today’s editorial cartoon.

    Kevin Murphy (6a7945)

  3. It seems that you are equating the “safe havens” argument and the “Iraqi democracy” mission. In fact they are very different, especially when viewed in the context that were presented.

    It’s true that the rhetorical emphasis from pre-emption/exigency to Iraqi democracy was gradual, but it took place entirely AFTER the Senate vote to authorize in October 2002. If I’m wrong let me know, but the Instapundit quotes are some of the earliest mentions of nation/democracy-building, and they are from early 2003.

    The first incarnation of the “safe havens” argument was as a matter of strategic self-defense, with little or no mention of the Iraqi people except as the victims of Saddam’s brutality (as a means of showing what Saddam would/could do to us).

    The original “safe havens” argument was: Al Qaeda and other terrorists are in Iraq, learning to make bombs and chemical weapons and generally permitted to function. It made a great segue into: Saddam’s murder of his own people, his hatred of the U.S., his attempted purchase of nuclear materials, his nuclear weapons program, his “manned and unmanned aerial vehicles” (like, planes?), the terrorists’ willingness to take it to our turf, the terrorists’ hatred of freedom, invocation of 9/11…

    This dance of language, parroted by the media in every permutation, made people think Saddam was responsible for 9/11 in some way. The only way Bush mentioned democracy at that time was that the terrorists hated freedom.

    But I digress, slightly…

    Bush’s goals began to expand, I think, as he realized the scope of the undertaking. This wasn’t a mere international weapons bust, but a larger mission. He needed a greater mission to justify the inevitably longer haul for which we would be in Iraq.

    I don’t completely discount Bush’s sincerity in espousing this goal. But his sincerity now isn’t the point, nor can it, on its own, justify policy. It became apparent that American lives would be lost, and that the whole operation would be far more than just a series of missile strikes ans skirmishes, at roughly the same time that most of the claims of Saddam’s nuclear capabilities and the direct link to 9/11 were becoming transparently false.

    Thus, from what I can see the new rationale was born. If you read the speeches you can see it happen: we were going to turn Iraq from a “safe haven for terrorists” (old, pragmatic, fact-based rationale) into a democratic nation (new idealistic, beliefs-based rationale). This was the bridge for two VERY different goals.

    But at the time of the vote to authorize, all the eggs were in the WMD/9/11 (or self-defense/retribution) basket. And those eggs were rotten – maybe not 100%, but mostly. And the Democrats were stupid.

    When Bush first came into office in 2001, the intelligence reports of the White House national security team and the Pentagon placed Iraq at least five years away from developing WMD capabilities. Six months later, the same officials reported that Iraq was two to three years away. Soon after 9/11, the Senate was told that Iraq was less than a year away. By the time the Iraq resolution was in motion to approach a vote these same officials told him that Hussein could develop WMD any minute. This was all a “reassessment” of the EXACT SAME intelligence.

    That’s why, more than anything, I smelled a rat then, and still do. The democracy rationale is tainted by how pivotal it was in saving face for the administration.

    And the beauty (for the admin) of that rationale is that, unlike the nukes and the AQ connection, it can’t be disproven. The downside of it is that people don’t really want to pay, and lose their loved ones, for such a gamble, for such a prize. THAT’S why this rationale was never presented prior to the vote to authorize, and unveiled only in stages as it became necessary.

    biwah (f5ca22)

  4. As for your LAT criticism, I try to avoid the “news analysis” of any paper except to read it out loud to a friend for a chuckle. But you have to admit, it’s an easy target.

    biwah (f5ca22)

  5. biwah,

    You say:

    It’s true that the rhetorical emphasis from pre-emption/exigency to Iraqi democracy was gradual, but it took place entirely AFTER the Senate vote to authorize in October 2002. If I’m wrong let me know, but the Instapundit quotes are some of the earliest mentions of nation/democracy-building, and they are from early 2003.

    I think that’s wrong.

    The joint resolution was passed in October 2002. The President’s remarks to the U.N. General Assembly, linked by Instapundit, are from September 2002, according to the date of the press release on the White House site.

    Also, in the preamble of the resolution authorizing the use of force is this language:

    “Whereas the Iraq Liberation Act (Public Law 105-338) expressed the sense of Congress that it should be the policy of the United States to support efforts to remove from power the current Iraqi regime and promote the emergence of a democratic government to replace that regime;”

    as well as this:

    Whereas members of al-Qaida, an organization bearing responsibility for attacks on the United States, its citizens, and interests, including the attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, are known to be in Iraq;

    Whereas Iraq continues to aid and harbor other international terrorist organizations, including organizations that threaten the lives and safety of American citizens;

    It’s just not right to claim that this all came up after the fact.

    Patterico (9698b8)

  6. Fan Mail

    I received a comment to the George Bush speech post from a frequent visitor named “godessaradia”. I assume that she is a she, if not then he can inform me. Here is the comment:

    Mark in Mexico (59ce3a)

  7. He also lied. “But in his nationally televised speech, Bush asserted that the tumult that has followed Hussein’s removal created the same threat.”
    I saw the speech. W did *NOT* say that.
    What he said was that Iraq *CONTINUES* to be a *POTENTIAL* threat.
    Again I say the LAT has had no integrity since the Big O took over.

    Rod Stanton (7b6143)

  8. One more interesting thing I noticed in today’s L.A. Times was the number of times they felt complelled to remind us of Dick Cheney’s comment last week that the insurgency was in it’s “last throes.” Would you belive four times??!! In the main news article, Ron Brownsteins so-called “news analysis”, the Times TV critic, Paul Brownfield’s article, and in the lead editorial on the opinion page. They are like a dog with a bone when the Republicans hand them a little sound bite that they think disparages the Bush administration.

    Also, as we all heard yesterday during commentary after the speech, the soldiers in attendance were warned to keep their reaction very low-key. Brownfield attempts to portray that as bored indifference. So honest and forthright are these Times reporters.

    Jackie Warner (95d9f3)

  9. Twisting The Truth

    In the end, this is just the same ole crapola from the liberal MSM. They are twisting the truth to suit their opinions, plain and simple.

    Flopping Aces (59ce3a)

  10. Speaking of WMD, http://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/world/iraq/salman_pak.htm is the first link at MSN Search for “Salman Pak.” The side bar links are interesting, considering the kerfuffle over the “Downing Street (rewritten) Memos” that the left wingnuts are so excited about.

    Charles D. Quarles (593219)

  11. The LAT is a liberal rag. They attack Bush at every turn. They use every trick in to book to besmirch Bush. I have long since quit reading the LAT.

    Btw, Mohamed Atta and his suicide buddy Marwan al Shehhi had ties to Saddam. The two met with Saddam security forces. The Atta and al Shehhi were tutored by master terrorist Abu Nidal. Abu Nidal was a guest of Saddam for a long time -until he became a liability. After 9/11 Saddam killed him. Saddam’s security men paid him a visit where he committed suicide “by two gun shot wounds to the head.” One would guess one gun shot to the head would have been enough (but, two were used). That sealed Abu Nidals lips for ever – and the link between Saddam and the 9/11 attacks.

    see: SoCalPundit for more details

    Ledger Plus (538936)

  12. Patterico: responded yesterday to you but the comment was “cached”, and hasn’t shown up.

    In a nutshell:

    You have a point, with the preamble to the Resolution, but as a lwyer you know the Whereas’ are for backdrop more than anything, and the resolution basically covered every potential angle. I’m not saying democracy wasn;t a potential angle at that point. It just wasn’t being held out to the public as a justification.

    On the U.N. address: I was wrong about the date, sloppy of me. However, that line is in paragraph 35 of 40, and the purpose of that paragraph is to reassure the General Counsel that we are not after the Iraqi people, in fact we’d love to see them free…from Saddam. But nothing about democracy, and no expression of our commitment to creating or enforcing the liberty that we are so in favor of.

    The undeniable (says me) focus and bulk of that speech relates to the menace and intractability of Saddam, not to the democracy-building aspect. Again, there were cues that the latter was on the horizon, but they were pretty much latent in the public addresses.

    But you may be winning this argument by default, in that I’m just not sure the public justifications in 02 and 03 matter right now. Let history decide that, and let us focus on the current situation now.

    biwah (f5ca22)

  13. biwah says:

    On the U.N. address: I was wrong about the date, sloppy of me. However, that line is in paragraph 35 of 40, and the purpose of that paragraph is to reassure the General Counsel that we are not after the Iraqi people, in fact we’d love to see them free…from Saddam. But nothing about democracy, and no expression of our commitment to creating or enforcing the liberty that we are so in favor of.

    Nothing about democracy? Here’s a quote from that speech:

    If we meet our responsibilities, if we overcome this danger, we can arrive at a very different future. The people of Iraq can shake off their captivity. They can one day join a democratic Afghanistan and a democratic Palestine, inspiring reforms throughout the Muslim world. These nations can show by their example that honest government, and respect for women, and the great Islamic tradition of learning can triumph in the Middle East and beyond. And we will show that the promise of the United Nations can be fulfilled in our time.

    Patterico (04c95a)

  14. Okay. That is a mention of Iraqi democracy. I still think that Bush’s primary theme in the speech, and the one he spends most of it building towards, is that

    “With every step the Iraqi regime takes toward gaining and deploying the most terrible weapons, our own options to confront that regime will narrow.”

    and that the prospect of a democratic Middle East is held out there more gauzily, as a projected good outcome to all of this – something that the Council doubtlessly wanted to know.

    So I will concede two points. Bush was talking about democracy in the Middle East at that point, but as a potential benefit of, and not the impetus for, war. And his logic, which I quoted, was sound. One problem is that those “most terrible weapons” weren’t there, which propelled the democratic angle to the forefront a little quicker, probably, than planned.

    That is the shift in rationales – not a bait-and-switch, but just that – a shift.

    biwah (f5ca22)

  15. http://patterico.com/2003/02/21/41/for-what-its-worth-big-time/#comments

    [Croche: you got me! Except . . . you didn’t. I was complaining about what seemed to me to be slow progress toward Iraqi self-governance shortly after the war. I was unhappy with the idea of a months-long American-run interim government, a concern Andrew Sullivan and I shared.]

    Why lie, Patterico? Your piece was dated Feb. 21, 2003.

    m.croche (8e3bfc)

  16. Oh, bite me, Croche. I was unhappy with the idea of a months-long American-run interim government. The fact that I expressed that unhappiness before the war, in response to the Bush plan for what would happen after the war, is completely irrelevant. The point, which you continue to miss, is that my concern regarding the speed with which democracy would be implemented does not indicate — as you dishonestly suggest — that I was claiming Bush had not used the promotion of democracy as a justification for the war.

    Patterico (3c83b7)

  17. I take issue with this point:

    In an effort to bolster the argument that it is, Brownstein retreats to the hoary old idea that Bush hardly mentioned democracy as a goal for Iraq until well after the invasion:

    [quoted LAT article text removed]

    Other have tirelessly debunked the notion that President Bush barely mentioned the goal of making Iraq a democracy until well after the invasion failed to produce WMD stockpiles. For example, Instapundit collected links here, and asked: “Don’t these guys realize that we have Google?”

    The reason why I disagree is the text of the resolution (linked by one of Renyold’s readers) authorizing the war (or not, depending on how you read it) mentions spreading democracy in only one paragraph, Whereas clause number 17:

    17.) ‘Whereas the Iraq Liberation Act (Public Law 105-338) expressed the sense of Congress that it should be the policy of the United States to support efforts to remove from power the current Iraqi regime and promote the emergence of a democratic government to replace that regime;’

    Which references only a “sense of Congress” in using that justification. Out of 23 clauses devoted to making the case for authorizing the war in Iraq, I believe it’s fair to say that at the time WMD and connections to terrorists were the “primary” justification for the war. To that I add the argument that, legally speaking, paragraph 17 cited above does little or nothing to add to the legality of the war as authorized by this resolution. Despite what anyone said in public, this is the legal basis for the war. And that rests almost entirely upon supporting the U.N. in its mission to enforce Iraq’s compliance with its resolutions and protect U.S. national security. Incidentally, the resolution nowhere mentions the argument that a “democratic” Iraq would be any more peaceful or friendly to the U.S. than Hussein’s Iraq, and therefore link that objective to protecting U.S. national security.

    Node of Evil (b11f31)

  18. I don’t understand your complaint. The text of the resolution is one of many links cited in Reynolds’s post, in which democracy was mentioned. The post isn’t talking about legal authority or focusing only on the resolution. I think you need to be clearer about what, exactly, you are disputing.

    If it makes you feel any better, I agree with this statement: “I believe it’s fair to say that at the time WMD and connections to terrorists were the “primary” justification for the war.” In fact, it’s the reason I supported the war. But then, I said that in the post.

    Patterico (20b04a)

  19. I particularly object to this statement:

    ‘to argue that Bush himself de-emphasized the promotion of democracy before the invasion is just plain wrong.’

    Perhaps you believe that Bush’s motives are divorced from those espoused by the resolution authorizing the war. I, however, think that he would have pushed for stronger language in the resolution authorizing the war if democracy really was one of his primary aims in Iraq. The lack of supporting language in the resolution indicates that while he may have mentioned democracy a few times (the number and tenor of which are far outweighed by his other statements about WMD, terrorism, and Iraq’s continuing threat to U.S. national security), it wasn’t in his mind to ensure that more than a passing reference to a “sense of Congress” become part of the resolution.

    Implied by my argument is that now the President feels establishing “democracy” in Iraq has supplanted the importance of WMDs and terrorism in justifying the war in Iraq. I see your point vis-a-vis linking his current position (democracy in Iraq will prevent it from becoming a safe haven for terrorists) to his previous position (we must attack Iraq because, among other things, Hussein may assist terrorists). However, that doesn’t change the fact that the role democracy plays in all this has shifted from a peripheral to a central goal of the policy and from a peripheral to a central justification for the war itself. Bush is offering the democracy argument as a replacement for the original justifications, which are enumerated in the resolution. In that sense he has changed his position; if the resolution were to be rewritten today using what we know now it would say much more about democracy and nothing about WMD.

    Node of Evil (b11f31)


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