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Sunday Gasbaggery: Meet The Press: Russert Does Biden v. Gingrich, Bob Novak Riffing on The Wilsons

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Israel Palestinians kid against tank
Can Israel Survive?

Russert sets the context - Crises in the Middle East, what should the US do about the Axis of Evil, (gee, I thought we were doing the Axis of Evil since 9/11, that would make it about five years of doing, Tim)...

Before Biden and Gingrich, (author of yet another new book, "Winning the Future"), are allowed to go at it and each other, we are informed via Richard Engel, from Beirut, and Martin Fletcher, from Haifa, of what happened overnight; suffice to say it's all bad news, except if you are William Kristol, or, as it turns out, Newt Gingrich.


A quick summary of the encounter; Biden held his own, and then bested Gingrich, and in the oddest ending to such a face-off, Gingrich gave signs of recognizing that he’d been bested.

Gingrich begins, his tone serious, but you can sense the exaltation when he corrects Russert's intro; this isn't a five day war, it's a 58 year old war against Israel; Israel's survival is at stake, which means ours is - in fact, current develoments are the beginning stages of WW 3.

What Gingrich was about through-out the interview - scare the beejeezus out of Americans.

Something ludicrous, there was, about the list of scary stuff; North Korea shooting off a bum intercontinental missile; bombs going off in India, (sad yes, but a threat to us?); a war in Afghanistan, with sanctuaries in Pakistan; Saudia Arabia financing a war in Iraq, supplied by Syria and Iran, (Huh?). The British say there are 1200 terrorists in Britain; seven people in Miami are photographed saluting Al Qaeda; 18 are apprehended in Canada with more explosives than used in Oklahoma City, who wanted to blow up Parliament and behead the Canadian Prime Minister; terrified yet? How's this for a capper: news from NY City that people in three different countries were planning to blow up the tunnels in New York?

Get the feeling that Gingrich has given this speech before? A lot? Note the details so ready at hand, cherry-picked for maximum menace.

Biden didn't fall into the trap of trying to point out the half-truths, full lies, and the crazy contexts. He started out by brushing aside the World War 3 nonsense.

On Israel, Biden was, as you would expect, supportive of Israel's right to do what it is doing. When he pointed out he'd been there, as an observer, when Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon, my heart started to sink; Biden's ego is his own worst enemy. But he got hold of that witness-to-history part of himself and pointed out that we are here because of a failure of policy, a failure of preventive policy. On the other hand, he wasn't ready to agree that Israel is over reacting.

Okay, the usual bullshit; no, Biden didn't break any new ground in helping the average American to get a better handle on Israeli culpability in not finding a two state solution, which is the only solution to peace in the Middle East.

However, once he'd paid his dues to AIPAC, Biden was surprisingly effective. In fact, I thought he made mincemeat of Gingrich, and he did it barely engaging him, which is exactly the way to get the best of those Gingrichian torrents of words.

Some highlights - The President doesn't have a Middle East policy. Axis of evil - what was the point of making that statement without a plan to deal with it; every day in every way our problems with that Axis have gotten worse. There's more Iranian influence in Iraq today than there ever was before.

Biden was having none of that "survival of Israel" nonsense - being forced to support Israel won’t necessarily further what should be our goals in the Middle East and around the world; in fact, finding ourselves in this position is rather more than unfortunate. In Iraq - total chaos. We're a long way from being able to leave and leave any stability behind. And the possible emergence of a Shia crescent, stretching from Iran, through Iraq and into Southern Lebanon is one that has only emerged as a result of our invasion of Iraq.

North Korea - ineffectual non-policy while North Korea continues to make plutonium, Iran emboldened by our being tied down in Iraq - and actually taking steps away from what little democracy they had. And with all this there is no plan. We were told that all we had to do was behead the monster, Saddam and everything would fall into place; we are paying the price for that naiveté, and meanwhile, the administration seems to have no other feather in its quiver.

Russert asked Gingrich if the President should "intervene" in this crises?

The answer was quick in coming - NO, no, and NO! What came next was Gingrich's personal brand of verbal swagger - a different style from Wm Kristol - but the same thoughts. These guys have this faith-based, (none of them ever having been anywhere near a war zone), that the way to intimidate your enemies, and your friends, for that matter, is to talk tough, but without ever worrying that you might have to deal, in any way other than a verbal one, with the consequences of your own tough talk. If you are tough enough verbally, you will never be forced to back up your bravado with any concrete action, or suffer any concrete consequences.

Yes, they have learned nothing from the last five years, except that Bush let them down, turned out to be swagger-challenged, and was insufficiently ready to threaten to invade or bomb more countries.

With whose military is one of those details they always fail to address, these big picture guys.

Gingrich's rant went something like this: Israel withdrew from Lebanon and was rewarded by rocket attacks; it withdrew from Gaza to give Palestinians a chance to build a decent society for themselves and a soldier is kidnapped. The focus should not be on Israel. (Else how could I misstate history with such assurance) Yes, we've failed to help Lebanon build its army (Biden's point) The focus should be on Syria and Iran, who should be told in no uncertain terms to cease and desist, or face the consequences. We have to do somethng about Syria and Iran.

Asked by Russert what "do something about" means, Gingrich is forced to rely on a supposition; what if Iran decides to reinforce its 400 guards in Iraq, something mentioned earlier; no idea what Gingrich means. What if Syria decides to engage Israel; you could practically hear Newt's inner child screeching "if only, if only."

Russert insists, okay, what do you do.

Well, first thing you do is say you're not going to have any over-flight privileges. Huh?

The second thing you do...Gingrich never got to that, instead he was reminded that he'd given a speech three years ago at the American Enterprise Institute in which he predicted that all this being nice to Syria wasn't going to work.

Who has been being nice to Syria? You tell me. Gingrich didn't get around to it. But he was sure we have all sorts of levers to put pressure on Syria. "I think by any reasonable standard, trying to be nice to the Syrians, trying to understand the Syrians, is a dead loser as long as this dictatorship is there, because the planning meetings with Hamas and Hezbollah occurred in Damascus with the Iranian and Syrian ministers." (That's pretty close to a transcription of what he said. You tell me what he’s talking about. )

Notice that Gingrich still hasn't said what he meant by we have to do something about Syria and Iran. So, Russert asks if Gingrich is saying that a Syrian or Iranian attack against Israel is a strike against the US.

Yes, that was it. Absolutely! And what would that mean in practical terms? It would mean that "we would reinforce the Israelis and others in doing what is necessary. And I think we have—clearly have the capacity to do something. I’m not describing going—widening a war. I’m saying the first step has to be to understand, this is an alliance- -Syria, Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas—and you can’t deal with it in isolation." (again, transcribed by me)

Talk about your paper tiger. This guy is a fucking joke, a joke on us, these United States of America.

Russert reads a quote from the front page (not the editorial one) of the WSJ, that paints a grim and pessimistic picture of what has been achieved by Bush's foreign policy - including the possibility that this flare-up in the Middle East will be seen as a significant setback for that policy, especially when viewed next to the extravagant claims made for our invasion of Iraq, with Israel safer, the Middle East more stable, Iran isolated, Al Qaeda weakened and Iraq a fledgling Democracy; instead, the exact opposite has happened.

Okay, it was a setup for Biden, but he hit all the bases as he rounded for home.

Natually he agreed with the quote and reminded the audience of that favorite neo-con saying that the road to peace in the Middle East is through Baghdad; That was wrong, Biden always thought so, because the road to peace in the Middle East is through Jeruselum. In other words, you can't deal with our rotten relationship with the Arab and Muslims worlds without solving the Israeli-Palestenian conflict.

Biden also pointed out that we've dug a hole for ourselves in Iraq, with 9 of 10 divisions bogged down there - which means that nobody anywhere in the world takes seriously any threats we might make about opening up a land war anywhere else.

Biden was for intervention all right, but a different kind of intervention - diplomacy. And he pointed out how our reduced reputation in the Middle East keeps us, for instance, from bringing together the Sunni powers that, in fact, with all their oil money—are scared to death of Hezbollah and the increased influence of Iran.

He went on to insist that we should be putting pressure on the powers in that part of the world to put the pressure on Syria, without us having to go to war with Syria. (Clearly a dig at the implications in Gingrich's pose of toughness) Syria is an isolated state, not a powerful one; it's been driven from Lebanon. None of these alternatives are possible because people around the world doubt our judgment, not our military might. Other nations are understandably reluctant to join us - we've isolated ourselves.

On Iraq - Biden was crystal clear; we are not winning this war or this occupation. The reason, we do not have a political solution to the conflict there, and that is the only solution that is going to work. Three steps talked about endlessly, but as yet not taken; Giving the Sunni's a real stake in putting down their arms, a real stake in a Democratic Iraq, which means reassuring them about their share of oil, their ability to function as a minority. The militias have to be disarmed, on both sides. And the third problem we have yet to help Iraqis solve - they don't have a functioning government - a functioning civil society that can get things done for its people.

Russert moved to Iran, quoting Richard Perle, who, like Gingrich, is incapable of personal embarrassment, to the effect that after declaring that Iran must not have nuclear weapons, Bush had blinked. Did Gingrich agree?

In a word, "yes," said potential presidential candidate Gingrich. He got all tough again, describing the larger context of understanding Iran, which boiled down to Gingrich's wordier and slightly more sophisticated version of an axis of evil - not only are North Korea and Iran linked, but there is now a statue of Simon Bolivar in Teheran, thus pulling in Chavez of Venezuela.

At that point, I was laughing too hard to take coherent notes. I did notice that Gingrich, like all Republicans, insists on lying about the fact that there was no production of nuclear weapons or fissionable material on Cinton's watch; par for the course, of course.Gingrich did cite that op ed by William Perry and Ashton Carter, exploring the possibility of a cruise missile strike to destroy a ready to launch North Korean missile.

After Gingrich had run through his repetoire of creepy fears we should all have about North Korea, Biden brought the discussion back to some kind of recognizable reality. Gingrich had imagined NK hitting Seattle. We're not anywhere near having to worry about that. On the other hand, we're looking at a situation in which Japan could be come nuclear, out of fear of our inability to deal with N. Korea, and China could be forced to increase its nuclear arsenal. Is that going to make us safer?

Russert to Newt; isn't the lesson of Iraq it’s easier to start a war than to finish it?

Time for Newt to perorate again: all those commissions and hearings after 9/11; bad intelligence, lack of imagination. So Newt gave as the benefit of his wondrous imagination; a Panamaian tanker is sitting in NY Harbor; on board, a small nuclear device; North Korea announces it has the remote control; we are effectively blackmailed, subject to Jong’s every whim. At that point, people will start to realize that we'd been insane not something about North Korea? Not sure exactly what Newt's point was. When we don't have complete intelligence, we should assume the worst and prepare for it. Hmm. The one percent doctrine.

Boy, we're going to be a busy little country, aren't we.

I'm being unfair; Newt did have some specific things we could do better than we are.

For instance, do you know how many hours of VOA programs we pipe into North Korea. Only 90 minutes a week. Wow. I'll bet you didn't know that either. Think what we could do if we moved to sent them 90 hours a week. Same with Iran - riots at their universities, and yet we've made no headway in Iran.

Here was the best moment in the whole show.

Russert to Gingrich; Has our position in Iraq limited our ability to deal with Iran and North Korea.

Gingrich: Only in our minds.

Russert asked Biden the same question. His answer, yes, of course we're limited by Iraq. Then, Biden did something really smart. He went back to that bomb in the rusty hull of a Panamanian tanker, and reminded the audience of what Democrats have been screaming about for years now, and yes, that Biden remembered he'd talked about on Meet The Press, three and a half years ago - We’ve done nothing in terms of homeland security. Instead we decided to give a $53 billion tax cut to people making over a million bucks a year. Our priorities are backwards.

Biden went on to advocate face to face talks with North Korea; what the hell are we afraid of? Let Jong know face to face where we stand, what we're willing to do, and not do. And yes, Biden would give a pledge to Jong that we do not plan to attack him or his country.

Then an odd but fascinating thing happened.

Russert changed the terms of Biden's suggestion to one of being willing to tell Iran and North Korea that we would guarantee the continued existence of both regimes. That's not the odd bit.

Gingrich jumped in to defend his friend, Biden, by pointing out that what Joe meant was only that we wouldn't attack or otherwise try and depose either regime by force. Which was precisely right; that was what Biden meant.

Odder still, Gingrich changed his tune, without missing a beat, and with no acknowledgment that he had. No longer the bristling hawk, Gingrich observed that no one in their right mind would suggest we attack North Korea, and we aren't going to. But if they thought we might...

My impression; Gingrich knew he'd been beaten by Biden and decided he needed to erase the hard line he'd tried to draw between their two positions.

The rest of the show was Bob Novak.

The only thing of interest to report - the respect that Russert showed the old codger. You could see why Novak gets away with all that he gets away with, which was demonstrated through-out the interview, including several lies, or misapprehensions about both Wilsons.

However, since Media Matters does such an outstanding job on this kind of stuff, and since they may already have their corrected version of the interview speeding to your mailbox, or on their website, I will end here.

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