TV SoundOff: Sunday Talking Heads
Well, hello everyone, my name is Jason, and welcome to what promises to be an interesting summation of an interesting week in our lives. Ha: kidding! It will probably be an unendurably shallow summation of same, but I like to spend a few minutes pretending.
What a week, right? A few hours after we parted ways on Sunday, the White House was freaking out reporters over a big announcement. And thanks to Twitter, idle speculation ("My fellow Americans, I had the pleasure of seeing an early screening of THOR," and "It's derivative.") gave way to the news that Osama bin Laden was dead, and then an hour later, the news people reported it too, and then President Barack Obama was saying it, and then I imagine he spent the rest of the night bopping around the Oval Office to Ludacris.
And that touched off a week of interesting debates! Is it proper to celebrate the death of a man, even if it's a really bad man? And: should the White House release the photos of bin Laden's perforated remains or not. And then there was a less interesting debate in South Carolina, between mostly ahead-of-time also rans for the GOP nomination. Herman Cain and his patented "tell the people I will have a plan eventually in a confident baritone" platform eclipsed Tim Pawlenty's "make a grovelling apology for that time I was pro-cap and trade...really debase my self on teevee" plan of attack. And Ron Paul is going to buy us all heroin, maybe!
All of which really crowded out the release of the Beastie Boys' Hot Sauce Committee Part Two album. (Sorry, Adam Yauch!) But anyway, welcome again to the fast-typing summary of the stuff I TiVoed about politics. As always, share with each other in the comments, share with me by sending an email, and share in my oversharey crap by following me on Twitter. We're going to be starting at 10:00 am, today, with...
THIS WEEK, with CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR
Osama bin Laden is dead, but will terrible things still happen to people, because other people are evil? We'll find out. Also: Pakistan...come on, dudes!
Christiane Amanpour apparently now doubles as a docent for the Newseum, because she's walking around, showing us various exhibits: here's the antenna from the World Trade Center! And here's Garrett Graff's notebook! Lot of human wreckage, here, at the Newseum, though there is a cool helicopter! Soon they will have the dead flowers from Obama's Ground Zero wreath, and all of Osama bin Laden's home videos.
So, these videos! Apparently bin Laden used to put on his snuggie and flip around the teevee, looking for clips of himself, lingering maybe a bit too long on the JUDGING AMY reruns on the USA network. He dyed his beard! What a loser! And his compound was basically discovered as an episode of Jihadist Hoarders waiting to happen.
Here's Tom Donilon, the National Security Advisor, who we'll probably see again today. He says that OBL was not just a symbolic figurehead, but central to planning the attacks that al Qaeda would carry out. The information recovered in the raid is the largest "cache" of terrorist information ever obtained, and is the size of a "small college library." Like, this compound was al Qaeda's SUNY-Binghamton.
How bad does al Qaeda want to kill us right now? Pretty bad. But they've assessed the threat and have called this a "strategic blow" and a "milestone on the road to strategic defeat."
OBL, he says, "didn't surrender, and moved away from our forces," and was at the time judged to be a threat, and so: bang bang.
Donilon says that yes, the story has changed since initial reports, but says, basically, that that's what makes initial reports initial. He says that the president did receive "divided counsel," in that lots of different ways to proceed were presented as options, but Donilon won't go as far as saying there was "dissention." "The President was well served by the process, and we were well served by his decision."
How about the whole torture thing? Did torture help? Should we bring back the torture? Donilon says no. "No single piece of intelligence led to this success, it was hundreds of pieces of intelligence."
Also, once the mission was over, Obama called Bush. So everyone from the Bush administration can stop being such babies now! (Jesus, it's no wonder we never caught OBL with that gang of whiners in charge. "I want credit! I want my 'I Participated' ribbon." Gah. Someone get Andy Card a pacifier dipped in cinnamon sugar and tell that infant to chill. It's not like they established a rich tradition of credit sharing in that administration. The love you take is equal to the love you make, boys! Can't y'all just be content with the fact that working for the Bush administration has made you all richer beyond your wildest dreams?)
Dude, Pakistan, what's up, brah? Why you got to play us like that? We totally have downplayed how shot through your ISI was with al Qaeda sympathizers for years. But man, he was right under your nose! Donilon says that "questions are being raised aggressively in Pakistan." I guess! DOnilon says that we need to "work with them" in assessing the evidence obtained at the compound.
Donilon does say that the Pakistanis remain very good at captiring and killing terrorists.
Does this mean that more troops will be withdrawn from the Af-Pak region? "We haven't made those determinations yet."
Now here is Husain Haqqani, the Pakistani Ambassador to the United States, and with a name like that, he probably has already been asked for his long-term birth certificate. Haqqani made news this week when he said: "If Whitey Bulger can live undetected by American police for so long...why can't Osama bin Laden live undetected by Pakistani authorities?"
Bad example, says Tom Scocca:
It's cute of Haqqani to be reading the Most Wanted List for other examples of hard-to-apprehend fugitives. But Whitey Bulger probably isn't the one he wants to discuss.
For the record, James "Whitey" Bulger was able to rule Boston's criminal underworld in large part because he was an informant protected by the FBI--even as he allegedly murdered people. It also didn't hurt that his brother, William Bulger, was the president of the Massachusetts State Senate. When the Justice Department finally moved to arrest Whitey Bulger anyway, he was tipped off by his corrupt contacts in the FBI and the Boston police.
So: enmeshed with the government and protected by the agency that was supposed to be capturing him. If Haqqani really believes bin Laden was the Whitey Bulger of Pakistan, then the ISI has a lot to answer for.
Haqqani categorically denies that any member of the Pakistani government knew about OBL's whereabouts, they would have shut that down. Amanpour -- who has got her Leather Epaulets Of Truth shined to a heady gleam -- wonders why we keep finding all these terrorist masterminds in garrison towns in Pakistan. Haqqani says that basically, they have a hard time dealing with all the terrorist people, and stuff falls through the cracks.
Nevertheless, an investigation is ongoing, one in which Haqqani promises will end in "heads rolling." If there's evidence of incompetence, they will share that with America. If there's evidence of complicity, he says there will be "zero tolerance." "Pakistan wants to put to rest any misgivings," he says. He says that the next time Amanpour has Donilon on her show, he guarantees that he will have good things to say about Pakistan's involvement post-bin Laden.
Would Pakistan be okay with the U.S. conducting another such raid? A little hedgey. He says that Pakistan is definitely "comforted" by the fact that OBL is dead. "What we are offended by is the violation of out sovereignty," he says. "In the futre, we want to be involved in joint operations."
So, al Qaeda! They are pissed off, apparently. Jake Tapper and Martha Raddatz and Pierre Thomas are going to tell us how much, and what we have to worry about.
What is all the intel we recovered telling us? Thomas says there's no specific threat that seem imminent, but that they are worried about "lone wolves" who might head to the malls and start shooting up the Topkapi and what not. Also, al Qaeda in the Arab peninsula remains a strong and viable threat.
We did try to cap Awlaki in Yemen this week, but Raddatz reckons that it wasn't based on some seized intelligence from the raid.
Tapper says the next thing on the White House's agenda is getting the relationship with Pakistan back to a functional place. The White House has to try to convince the Pakistanis from "talking out of both sides of their mouth" and end the "double-dealing," but the fence mending will have to take place away from the public eye.
Thomas points out that an ongoing case will allege that the ISI had a hand in the Mumbai attacks. The ISI are really NOT GREAT PARTNERS in the War on Terror.
Thomas says that part of bin Laden's plan involved altering the behavior of Americans and fracturing society, literally "getting us to look at each other in strange ways," leading to widespread mistrust.
Tapper says that it was amazing that the secret was kept from the White House Press Corps. He also says point blank that since the Bush administration, they've stopped tipping off the Pakistanis about attacks because they kept tipping off the targets of said attacks.
Now here's 30 Rock star Condoleezza Rice to talk about this stuff. So did Pakistan "mess up" or are they "completely unreliable" or "clueless?" Did they "screw the pooch?" Are they "FUBAR?" Literally a gang of terror-loving double agents? Are they like Ron Rifkin's character from Alias? So evil but no necessary? So seductive with their smooth talk and promises that they've changed? And how many times did that show need to reboot itself anyway?
Rice can't speak to the vagaries of Alias, but found it "remarkable" that OBL was shilling in the suburbs, cold takin' soccer balls from the local youths. Rice says that they were convinced that he was in a cave, or more specifically, a village in the tribal areas, under protection from locaks. Rice basically calls out Pakistan for playing a role in the Mumbai attacks, too!
Roundtable time, with George Will, Liz Cheney, Tom Ricks, and Lawrence Wright.
Will describes Pakistan is a "house divided against itself," and it's unknown whether or not their state is "more healthy than unhealthy," but "the stakes are enormous...because we are only in Afghanistan because it's next door to Pakistan."
Cheney says it's "unclear" whether OBL was getting support from Pakistan, but they need to be held accountable. Citing what Will just said, she says that's indicative of the fact that we "cannot walk away" from the region, but unless he's changed his mind of late and I didn't know it, Will has been more or less advocating that we withdraw from the region.
Ricks says he thinks a major change to U.S.-Pakistani relations needs to happen, that the Lucy-with-the-football stuff needs to end. Whether he's right that this is "to the right of Liz Cheney" is something I don't think I can answer. I think that such a change has been brewing for a long, long, time. I remember reading journalism from 2002-3 that cast the ISI in a bad light. Pakistan, he says, "is acting like an enemy," so why should we give them aid?
Wright says that it boils down to the fact that Pakistan has nuclear capabilities and can engage in "nuclear extortion." But, he notes, it's not like we're actually preventing the spread of that knowledge by being nice to Pakistan.
Will is very, very, very against us staying in Afghanistan. "We're not in there to fight al Qaeda. We say we are, but we're not." Ricks says that the way out is to go Biden: drop down to a small footprint of troops.
Wright says that al Qaeda is still a force, but that this is a "mortal moment." Now, most of the al Qaeda factions have nationalist agendas, not international ambitions.
So, should we start torturing the bejeezus out of people! Ricks says, "I never thought I'd live in a country where we'd debate whether we should debate torture as an official policy. Was some information obtained through torture? Probably, yeah. Could it have been obtained through more professional methods?...Almost certainly yes. We could have gotten it sooner, and better."
Excuse me, while I go get a hat, so I can put it on, so I can tip that mofeaux in Tom Ricks direction, y'all.
Liz Cheney of course, is like, no, man, let's torture people! And she compares interrogations to SERE training. Yes. We put our own people through that, as an exercise in endurance. However, I'm quite sure that no one enters SERE training believing that the trainers might ACTUALLY KILL YOU. And there's also, no transactional element to SERE training: give up this information or the torture will continue.
Also, when American soldiers are captured, and tortured, I'd prefer to reserve the right to be outraged by that, and to be allowed to be able to say that it's immoral and evil to do that to another human being, even if I've no real faith that the torturers pretend to want to serve the ends of their own consciences or a moral authority of any kind. Liz Cheney is sort of stuck in this world, now, where if an American is waterboarded or tortured, she has to say to that person and their loved ones, "Sorry, but that's permissable, now. We changed the rules and made that okay, for Americans to be tortured."
This is just one of the ways that me and Liz Cheney are very different people.
Will pretty much mocks al Qaeda, rightly, for how swept into the dustbin they've become, thanks to the dramatic swings in history. Across the Middle East, democratic forces are brewing, revolution is coming, there's a promise of renewal, and bin Laden is a dude watching his old VHS tape, dreaming of derailing the Acela. He's totally right about that! But this is why you really shouldn't tolerate people overselling the threat of a guy who wants to set his underwear on fire.
I really can't wait for the next issue of that al Qaeda magazine! (Oh, that's right! Al Qaeda still has PRINT MEDIA ambitions. HAHAHA.)
THE CHRIS MATTHEWS SHOW
Today's panel is Richard Stengel (Pick up your commemorative cover of Time magazine featuring an idea they already had, today, please! Please help them!), Elisabeth Bumiller, Helene Cooper and David Ignatius.
How did we get OBL? Stengel says that a lot of people worked together, and it was a "hero or zero operation." Do you like the sound of that? What if we had a "HEROES AND ZEROES" cover? Would you come to a cocktail party, with heroes and zeroes? What if we had the party and we never told the attendees what category they were in and it was just awkward?
Bumiller says it was "painstaking work" involving "following clues." BREAKING. Ignatius says that people had to be patient, and use classic intelligence. "It was a marriage of slow patient leads and gutsy action." (Gutsy action signed a good pre-nup, though.)
Cooper says if anything we're underplaying the patience. Everyone was totally patient. Even the SEAL dog.
What's in the cache of intelligence? OBL had aspirations to attack trains! Bumiller is just a little bit more excited about this that George Will just was. (Or will be! He actually said that after Bumiller, actually.) Cooper says we've already started "rolling up folks." Matthews wants to know what "rolling up" means. Just another day in paradise, people! Cooper says that the drone activity in Yemen was something that the cache led to, but per Martha Raddatz, earier (in the liveblog, actually later in time!) the Yemen strike was independent of the OBL intel yield.
OBL was "being backbriefed" on al Qaeda operations, says Ignatius. He also says they were prepared to commemorate the 9/11 anniversary by attacking commuter trains. He says that a broken up and decentralized al Qaeda could still drive us crazy, with random attacks.
Will we be leaving Afghanistan earlier? So far, Bumiller says, Petraeus hasn't submitted a plan for withdrawal and the Pentagon's attitude is that catching OBL "doesn't change the calculus." Stengel doesn't think Obama will "speed up the timetable unless there's something to be gained." By "gained," he means "politically." Obviously, no one cares about the "gains" we'd make by not spending scads of money and watching people die.
The President did re-affirm this week that "significant reductions" would be taking place in Afghanistan.
For whatever reason, Matthews is replaying the video of Pete Viqueira NOT giving us the news. Then there is a retrospective of newspapers having to "stop the presses." Cooper and Ignatius then discuss their newspapers' printing schedules. Stengel weighs in, saying that he imagines that Americans want to "gather around the hearth" and talk about Time's cover story. Yes, we do want to do that "around the hearth," but first we need to finish cooking the soup and worshipping Hestia! Do you have an iPad app, maybe?
Cooper says that Obama has to do a lot of things at the same time: kill bin Laden, make jokes about Donald Trump, release his birth certificate. Ignatius says that Obama is a "strong silent type," and Matthews compares him to Gary Cooper, and Bumiller says that "this shows how alone you are as the President." BORED.
The mood at the White House, you might want to know is "good," over the whole bin Laden dying thing.
Here are things that Chris Matthews doesn't know. Stengel says that the big bundlers for McCain are waiting for an alternative to Romney -- maybe Huntsman or Daniels. Jeb Bush is not getting in. We learn that Matthews loves the word "craving." O-kay! Bumiller says that Leon Panetta ran the operation, and then went on teevee to talk about it -- that was a "transition into his new role as the Secretary of Defense." Huh? Cooper says that Obama probably not going to visit Pakistan. Ignatius says that Syria's leadership knows that it will have to "distance itself from Iran" in order to survive.
Has the Bush team gotten enough credit for the OBL killing? Stengel says no, but Obama's been gracious. Bumiller says they've gotten enough. Cooper says they should. Ignatius says that Bush has gotten credit, and the reason he didn't go to Ground Zero was because "the photo of [Obama and Bush] together at Ground Zero would have locked re-election for Barack Obama." I guess because that photo would have been SO AMAZING that the distribution of same would have created 15 million jobs and ended the massive unemployment crisis!
MEET THE PRESS
This will be a "special edition" of Meet The Press because of Osama bin Laden, but it won't be very special compared to other shows, except for the fact that after asking all the same questions we've already heard, this group of panelists will likely all come down on the side of torture. So, yay! This won't scar my soul hardly at all.
First Tom Donilon. From bin Laden, we got a large cache. A sweet stash, on drives of flash. Rum, sodomy, and the lash. And this makes the raid so totally worth it, because it will help lead to the strategic defeat of al Qaeda, not just the sad death of a dude sitting around Pakistan dreaming of maybe getting Pong console installed.
Probably this doesn't do much for recruiting. "Join al Qaeda and one day you can lead an anonymous life with no internet in Pakistan! Burn your trash!"
Donilon: "Can't consider al Qaeda defeated...not a leaderless group, per se, but it's a strong blow."
What about Pakistan? Bush said that "if you harbor a terrorist, or feed a terrorist, or sell a subscription to Marie Claire to a terrorist, you are a terrorist (or a magazine marketer who has run out of potential subscribers)." So, okay: Pakistan. Straight up harboring terrorists, right? Donilon says he hasn't seen evidence "that would indicate they had foreknowledge" of OBL's existence, but it needs to be investigating.
What are the consequences if it's determined that Pakistan did harbor bin Laden. What are the consequences? Donilon won't say, and wants to learn more. "We need to act in our national interest," Donilon says, and that means that we should continue working with Pakistania.
And what about torture? Did torture help? And are the torturers vindicated? Is it time to throw torture parties and give torture all the Nobel Prizes? Because maybe it's time to face facts and come to terms with the fact that your son and daughter may go off to serve the country and get subjected to a form of torture that the Khmer Rouge perfected, for humanitarianism, and no one will be allowed to be outraged because the United States told the world that a sovereign nation is allowed to torture Americans if it's in their national interest to do so.
Donilon says that the intelligence that was brought to Obama was part of hundreds of intelligence. But did torture help? Donilon says no single piece helped. Gregory won't let it go, Donilon's last parry is to say that there's been no partisanship in building the mission. Which to me suggests the answer is yes,
Donilon reiterates that while the story of the raid has been "refined," the overall arc of the story is true.
[CORRECTION: When I originally typed this, for some reason, I got it in my head that Michael Hayden was Michael Mukasey. Couldn't tell you why, I'm just stupid, I guess! Anyway, credit Ray Oliver and Marc Fourneau for looking out for all of us and letting me know I'd screwed up. It's not corrected. Sorry about that, everyone.]
Now we have Michaels Chertoff and Hayden, who both work for the Chertoff Group, where they lobby for full body scanners at the airport. And Rudy Giuliani, who also runs some consulting firm, who is considered to have "foreign policy experience" for reasons no one ever explains. I understand the current Mayor of New York directed the NYPD to perform a daring late-night raid on Max Fish on the Lower East Side, where they no doubt obtained a lot of valuable intel. Anyway, lotta bald headed bros on my teevee screen.
Hayden says that the trove of info will hopefully reveal imminent threats, locational information, and materials that can form an "encyclopedia" of intel on the terrorist organization. He says that the intel is "big and it's new." Chertoff explains that there remain capable lieutenants under bin Laden, and that now, there's much to be learned about the way they operate tactically.
Giuliani says that killed Osama is like "removing a Hitler or a Stalin" but it's now a deathblow.
Steve Coll, in an earlier interview, maintained that al Qaeda, as an organization, is neither growing nor spreading, and while they're capable still of carrying out attacks that "get our attention," they are so far and far between that it "needs not be the basis for organizing every aspect of our national life our our national defense."
Chertoff doesn't agree that al Qaeda isn't spreading. But says that now that bin Laden's gone, the organization may go through stylistic changes: smaller attacks instead of grandiose statements.
Hayden isn't concerned about the fact that OBL wasn't captured alive -- has he been in our custody, it would have made the news everyday, and inspired attacks.
What about waterboarding? Hayden says that a "key thread" same from the torture, and that Panetta says so -- it doesn't mean it couldn't have been obtained another way, he says. In Giuliani's estimation, torture played a big role. So torture forever!
Chertoff says that the real hero here is that over two administrations de-stovepiped the national security and intelligence apparatuses to the extent that intelligence could be shared and action could be taken.
Hayden says that Pakistan has a "lotta splainin to do," Giuliani offers some not-at-all-banal points: "Pakistan is a critical country," and they "have nuclear weapons."
What now? Hayden says that the al Qaeda gets more dispersed but potentially "more agile."
Giuliani says that the President made a risky decision, and that the firefighters that he and the president dined with this week felt that an emotional burden had been lifted. He gives credit to Bush and Obama. Gregory asks him twice if he's going to run for president, and Rudy begs off answering. We can thank these momentous events for the fact that Gregory didn't ask him 4 more times.
Panel time with Mike Murphy and Katty Kay and Doris Kearns Goodwin and Bob Woodward and hopefully, a fluffernutter topped with whipped Diazepam.
What does Bob Woodward know, now that he didn't know before. "It was a triumph of middle-management and the culture of persistence." SUCK ON THAT, GREAT MAN THEORY! Now, we've scored a battle in the "psychological war," and that hiding in the suburbs was a "middle finger" raised to America. (It's that quest for a superiority complex that leads most people to the suburbs.)
Robert Kagan -- who's never ever wrong! -- is excited that the American people know that Obama "can kill." (OR CAN HE? SHOW SARAH PALIN THE PHOTO'S, KENYAN!) This leads Goodwin to compare this to Teddy Roosevelt's "stick." It's all about getting that rise in your Levis, apparent -- when a President pulls off something risky, it gives them confidence. I was sort of hoping to hear Goodwin use the term "swag," but to no avail.
Also, "America feels better again!" How long will it last? (Until America wakes up Monday with no "job" to go to.
Murphy says respect is due all around for the operation, and respect frankly, is due back to him, for his stylin' bow tie.
Katty Kay says that no matter how many photos are released, there will always be people who doubt them, and, le sigh. Thya can't be helped.
Gregory reminds us all that way back when, Obama said that we would go into Pakistan if needed. Woodward says that Obama has made ramping up in Pakistan a central part of the strategy, and the belief is that working there will bring the wars to an end faster.
Why are we still in Afghanistan, then? Goodwin says that there's certainly more leeway to act, and potentially withdraw. Murphy predicts that the politics of Afghanistan are primed to "collapse on both sides," and thinks that the war will get debated in the GOP debates. (Jobs will remain the major focus of voters, though). Murphy points out something pretty obvious in the internals of the polls -- like Bush 41, foreign policy success has driven up approvals in the short term, but there's a lingering level of discontent the way the White House has led on the economy that will mek rel-election difficult.
What can Obama do to help the Arab Spring? Woodward says, "It's a crap shoot, you just don't know," and that "good news is rarely followed by better news."
He adds, "Presidential elections are won on character, and the character that has emerged here, is nerve. Nerve matters in the presidency." If Obama can "tranfer that nerve" to the economic decisions he faces he could succeed in 2012.
Goodwin points out that the problem is that it's too easy to threadjack the national conversation, "Trump is gone, now," she says, pointing out that week ago, no one could go without talking about him."
Now there's generic agreement that the election will hinge on economic issues, and that Obama's got about a year or so to make his case or get fired. There's some debate as to whether 2012 is a blank referendum (Murphy, "You have to be able to convince people you can run the economy or they will fire you.") or a choice (Kay, "Obama is vulnerable, but that's why it's amazing that the GOP haven't identified a choice to run against him yet.)
I guess Meet The Press has gotten so unsure of the impact they are having on the discourse that they are now going to rerun a few minutes from earlier in the show in order to insist that it was important and people are talking about it. They rerun Tom Donilon, saying the things he had said on THIS WEEK earlier in the day. Sigh. Anyway, WOW, REMEMBER THAT TIME TOM DONILON WAS ON MEET THE PRESS, A HALF HOUR AGO!
And now here's the part of the show where David Gregory asks the camera to pan to the gigantic Tweetdeck they have on the wall. You sort of wish someone would come running into the room to smash it with a sledgehammer.
Murphy says Giuliani will not be the GOP nominee. He says that Huntsman could "catch on in New Hampshire" and with the media, but he isn't sure he'll move from the "top of the second tier."
And I am done! I hope this was good for you? Now, go call your mom, if you know what's good for you! Have a great week!
[The Liveblog will return next week. While you're waiting, here's Tom Scocca tearing apart a ridiculous article in the WSJ, Abe Sauer with the latest in Target's relationship with the LGBT community, Chris Lehmann on David Brooks, and a gorgeous set of time-lapse videos of North American cities after dark.]