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Sunday Gasbaggery: Meet The Press: Russert Does A Bolton, Ricks Does Bush "Fiasco" in Iraq

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Lebanon  Injured Tyre Tyler Hicks NYTimes
This Sunday in Tyre Lebanon
Image courtesy of Tyler Hicks, NYTimes

No, not the Bolton with the big, bushy mustache.

Josh Bolton is George Bush's clean-shaven, intelligent, softly-spoken chief-of-staff, but like all members of this administration, however intelligent, however conversant with facts, he is all talking points, all the time, which makes him boring to listen to, of course, but far worse, dangerously deficient in the area of reality-testing.

Thus, quite a perfect spokesperson for this administration. BTW, this was Bolton's first network interview since taking over for Andrew Card, an exclusive for Timmeh.

Nothing exclusive about the topics up for discussion, and God knows, nothing exclusive about what the Bush administration has to say on any of them - damn those talking points.


The context for Russert's opening questions were two reports by NBC correspondents from Israel and Lebanon;that's where Russert began.

Would the US be "open" to an international force on the Israeli-Lebanon border?

Yes, as Secretary Rice has indicated, we would...BUT...the purpose of any such proposals, and all other proposals, as was repeated repeatedly, has to be a sustainable cease-fire.

Sustainable solutions based on getting at root causes - that's our policy, and until we get that...well, remember Israel has a right to defend itself.

Hello? Has anyone noticed that while this administration goes after their version of root causes, an actual war is going on?

The overall feeling Bolton projected was one of calm self-assurance on the part of the administration; clearly, they seem to think that their going to reap a political benefit from their wise decision to let Israel do what it will.

What about talking to Syria, which has indicated a willingness to talk?

Bolton wished to leave that up to Condi, but the administration talked to Syria during the first term; they were not satisfied with the results. You'll be interested to know, also, that we're the ones who get credit for Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon - our pressure on them; so much for the Cedar revolution.

Americans need to be aware that this administration is not anti-diplomacy; diplomacy's going on like mad; we're talking to our friends and allies. Thank-God.

Even Timmeh wondered if diplomacy meant to solve problems doesn't need to take place between our non-allies and us, too?

In a word, "no;" unless, of course, either Syria or Iran would like to withdraw their support from Hezbollah and Hamas, and do exactly what we say they should do.

Russert asked several questions meant to divine if there was a dime's worth of difference between Israeli policy and ours - for instance, what about the Israeli UN ambassador's statement that Hezbollah had to be "totally eliminated?"

Bolton gave one of those droning answers; it's the President's view that Israel has a right to defend itself, and in support of that right, the administration would be insistent that UN Resolution 1559 be honored; pressed by Russert about that total elimination of Hezbollah, Bolton allowed that it would be great if that were to happen; then no more threat to Israel from the south of Lebanon? Who could object?

Gee, I can’t think of anyone in the world who might. Can you?

Yes, but aren't we encouraging Israel to eliminate Hezbollah - specifically, what about the speed-up of weapons to Israel, what about those bunker-busting bombs?

Well, heavens to Betsy, no surprise there - they are our allies.

Bolton betrayed some faint hint of nervousness that anyone think Israel is leading this administration around by the nose; we've always been supporters of Israel, and let's remember that this whole war erupted for one reason and one reasons only - Hezbollah did a bad, terrorist thing, and, as we all know, Israel has a right to defend itself....

Russert wanted to know if Lawrence Kaplan, writing in TNR is right - is this a proxy war with Iran?

Bolton didn't think so; this is just a case of Israel trying to live in peace with its neighbors, although Iran bears some responsibility for Hezbollah's despicable behavior.

But this is day 12 of a war, Russert pointed out, with no call for a cease-fire from any official of this administration.

Bolton reiterated; Israel has a right to defend itself; on the other hand, don't let anyone forget that we've encouraged them to use restraint, to minimize civilian causalities and damage to civilian infrastructure. That's part of what Rice is going to be talking about on her whirlwind trip to the region - how to get that sustainable cease-fire, any humanitarian problems, and eventually, money for reconstruction of Lebanon.

Sound familiar, anyone? Why don't we save ourselves a bunch of bucks and not encourage anyone with bombers to engage in these kinds of military actions, supposedly meant to deal with root causes; does anyone out there think this kind of force is going to be any more effective here than it was in Iraq?

Bringing up the home-grown political implications of this new eruption in the middle east, Russert deserves credit for this next one.

Ken Mehlman, head of the RNC, gave a speech this last week to some organization called "Christians United for Israel, in which Mehlman said that "we stand for Israel because their war is our war; today we are all Israelis." Then Russert asked, does the president believe that this is our war?

Bolton's answer: the President believes all freedom-loving people deserve our support, especially those willing to stand with us against terrorism, and for freedom - essentially the same boilerplate generalities we've heard from this administration in response to every unmet challenge in Iraq.

Russert wasn't satisfied - what does it say to Muslims around the world to hear the head of the Republican Party say that 'we are all Israelis."

The message it should send is that we support all freedom-loving people who reject terrorism.

Is an attack on Israel an attack on us? Well, generally yes, Bolton burbled, that's the nature of alliances - same holds true of our alliances with Arab countries.

Is the president comfortable with the language Mehlman used? Bolton hadn't talked specifically to the President about it...but the president is surely comfortable with the notion that we support our allies.

Good as he was today, what you'll never hear from Russert - of course the President is comfortable with that language - we've heard him use it himself continuously.

Isn't this administration saying, "let Israel finish the job?"

I'll say this for Bolton; he remained calm. On the other hand, maybe that's exactly what is wrong with this administration; it is a calmness based on talking points, which almost never have much to do with the actual reality this country is facing. Thus, his answer was - sustainable cease-fire, support for Israel's right to defend itself...and then at one point, Bolton added, empowering the Lebanese government to be able to disarm Hizbollah.

Good God, do these guys really believe that being bombed is an empowering experience?

Oh lord, don't let us empower this young democracy Lebanon was beginning to grow for itself, the way we've empowered Iraqis.

Russert finally got around to the other Bolton, John, that would be, who has remarked that you can't negotiate a cease-fire with terrorists.

Savor that for a moment, folks; we're in a puddle of trouble if that is true, because after we've let Israel crush that cedar revolution, we'll have to take on Syria and Iran.

Gee, can't hardly wait. What about you?

The question produced a moment of stuttering, but then Bolton recovered the "empowering Lebanon" talking point.

But the Lebanese Minister has called Israel's bombing "criminal." Well, replied Bolton, what can you expect from a Prime Minister whose country is being bombed? Exactly.

Not to worry; Condi will use her magic powers of diplomacy and make everyone happy again.

As we know from close observation, the Bush administration believes that there are never any negative, long-range consequences of war - but damn, you gotta watch out for those cease-fires.

I fear I haven't caught the utter fatuity of Bolton's comments - think weak, cold, days-old herb tea.

There was one additional moment that's worthy of some discussion.

Apparently, this Friday, the White House Communication Office, in an effort to "set the record straight," sent out a factoid entitled: "Conservatives Stand Behind The President’s Policies." Various such neo-con voices are quoted in the paper; Russert read this from Max Boot:

"It’s time to let the Israelis take off the gloves. To secure its borders, Israel needs to hit the [Syrian] Assad regime. Hard. If it does, it will be doing Washington’s dirty work. Our best response is exactly what" President "Bush has done so far—reject premature calls for a cease-fire and let Israel finish the job."

Hit Syria, Russert wondered?

No, no, no, for heaven's sake, the communiqué was only meant to show that there is support for the President among neo-cons; Condi and the President will be the ones to decide who gets to hit Syria or Iran, and when.

The only other guest was Thomas Ricks talking about his book on Iraq, which is called "Fiasco." Ricks was definitive in his explication of the details and larger dimensions of our on-going failure there.

What was interesting, and a bit disheartening, Russert's failure to relate any of our mistakes in Iraq to the present situation "in the region," as the diplomats like to say.

For another perspective on Ricks, and why the administration managed to get away with their incompetence for so long, before the SCLM was forced to notice, check out Billmon, writing at Whiskey Bar.

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