Friday, January 02, 2004

Washington Week in Review tells you what not to think about:

Last week (26 Dec 2003) PBS' Washington Week in Review had a year end round-up to examine the significant events of 2003. They covered four topics: Bush's foreign policy, Democratic presidential candidates, the economy, and domestic issues (Medicare, gay unions). We were surprised at the breezy treatment of Bush's foreign policy - which was mostly about the Iraq war. We reproduce the exchange on foreign policy below with the text highlighted in RED when the panel discussed Bush's unsupported claims of WMD and terrorist connections, and general mismanagement (e.g. disbanding the Iraqi army, Haliburton contracts).
GWEN IFILL, host: Every year at this time, we take a look back, and we never fail to be shocked at how much has actually happened. So much this year centers on the war in Iraq. In September, nearly five months after the president declared major combat operations over, he was still evoking the memory of 9/11 and reassuring the American people that it was all worth it.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: Two years ago, I told the Congress and the country that the war on terror would be a lengthy war, a different kind of war fought on many fronts in many places. Iraq is now the central front. Enemies of freedom are making a desperate stand there, and there they must be defeated.
IFILL: So, Michael, looking back on this year, it becomes clear that George W. Bush staked his entire presidency on foreign policy.
Mr. MICHAEL DUFFY (Time Magazine, Washington Bureau Chief): Yeah, and it's also clear that the way the year ends with so many surprises, and the way it began with so much anxiety about how the war would turn out, we've learned that the president has discovered that he's got a lot more tools in his foreign policy toolbox at the end of the year than we thought he had at the beginning. And it may be that the use of war as an instrument of foreign policy has given him the confidence, may have given him the confidence to use some of these other tools they didn't even know they had. The--the invasion of Iraq is the signature event of the year. The president took a small coalition and a maximum foreign--you know, preemptive foreign policy overseas. He invaded the country. He tossed out the dis--dictator. And they're beginning the long, hard work of trying to, you know, rebuild the country physically and psychologically. And that's going to be the--what puts him in the history books for good or for ill. It's going to be what probably determines whether he's re-elected or not.
   But we also learned that it's not the only--preemptive war is not the only tool the administration has discovered. This year, we saw them go take on North Korea in a different way than we had expected in the first year. They have begun to work multilateral negotiations with the North Koreans with countries we didn't--he wasn't thinking of before, Chinese, the Russians. And--and the same what happened last week with Libya, something of a surprise, secret negotiations, bilateral negotiations. So we've disc--one of the things that I think we've--one of the things he has learned or they have learned and we've seen is that they realize now there are lots of different ways to skin these cats if weapons of mass destruction is what you're worried about.
Mr. ALAN MURRAY (CNBC Washington Bureau Chief): Yeah, I mean, Libya happened late at night. It didn't get--on a Friday night, not too late. You cut it on your show, I'm sure, but...
IFILL: Yes, we did.
Mr. MURRAY: But it didn't get as much attention as it might have if it had happened earlier. But if invading Iraq means that you have more leverage in dealing with Libya, in dealing with North Korea, in dealing with Iran, then history will look at this in a very different way than people are--have been looking at it this year.
Mr. DUFFY: All right. They didn't think of that when they started thinking about invading Iraq. That may be--this may be a byproduct even they didn't anticipate. But then, there's no question that there are things about the whole Iraqi invasion that are far from cleaned up yet. I mean, they--you know, they're going to have a long year still, maybe several years, putting this country back together. The--the clean-up work is huge. They still haven't figured out how they're going to organize this government. The Iraqis haven't figured out how they're going to do it. But they have seen, I think that there are lots of different ways to get results overseas, either because or despite what they've--what's taken place in Iraq. And--and that--that--that seems to have been one of the thing's he's trying to tell us, too, without saying it in the last couple of weeks.
Ms. ALEXIS SIMENDINGER (National Journal White House Correspondent): To the extent that this year has shown the president's ability to make mid-course corrections or to make adjustments in addition to the kinds of initiatives he takes, where do you think that is going to take 2004 in terms of this being the test that the president has set himself, Iraq, for his own presidency?
Mr. DUFFY: There have been so many different mid-course corrections on Iraq since the shooting stopped, I mean...
Mr. DUFFY:'s a little hard. You'd have to have a really big piece of paper just to graph that, `OK, we're going to go down this road. Now we're going to--we're going to go back and do this.' Lots of different changes about whether to reconstitute the Army or not, yes, no, yes. We're back at yes. How far, you know, to de-Ba'athify this country, yes, no, we're back, `Oh, well, maybe we won't worry about that so much anymore.'
   He's got problems in other places where he's going to need to do a lot of work in this fourth year. He's going to have to do something about Pakistan. This is a country that is clearly one of our great allies in the war on terror with Afghanistan. We can't really find Osama bin Laden without the Pakistanis' help, yet it turns out they're one huge nu--nuclear proliferator. They may be the--the king of the hill in that department. He's going to have to do something there. That's going to require some big change.
   He's going to have to also go back to Europe, I think, in that--in 2004. A lot of mending and fixing to be done there. This is not--this is a--this is a part of the world that has about given up on the United States. And--and he's going to have to spend some--decide whether he wants to now fix that or kind of keep going down the road he was going. So there's lots of work to be done there, too.
Mr. RICHARD BERKE (The New York Times Washington Editor): But haven't we learned how perilous foreign policy is for this president? I mean, right now, the way you're describing it, it's pretty rosy, and things are looking good for the president, for the country. But before Saddam was caught, not long ago, we were talking about casualties. We were talking about a situation where the president did not want to go to the funerals of a lot of the--the--the killed soldiers in Iraq, because why bring attention to the tragedy of--that was going on day after day there. So it seems like things have switched back and forth and up and down. It's been a real roller coaster, and who's to say that couldn't change again?
Mr. DUFFY: This is riskiest way to--to run your for--your presidency, to--to turn it on foreign policy, but that's a decision he has made. I--I'm struck by how there are lots of advantages you get when you--when you go down this road, when you make foreign policy the--the heart and soul of your presidency. You get to organize your whole government around something that's--that can have--that has clarity. You get to put yourself at the center of it. And I'm--it's not to say that everything's rosy, but I--I--I think they got lots of challenges ahead.
IFILL: Well, and among those challenges are mending relations--mending and fixing relations abroad as well.
Mr. DUFFY: Everywhere. I--I think he's got, as I said, particularly in Europe, a lot of work to do. And...
Ms. SIMENDINGER: Or Jim Baker does.
Mr. DUFFY: Yeah, that's right, yes, in--in terms of--of getting the--the--the debt fixed up. And--and--and Iraq and Afghanistan are not done. These--these are ongoing multiyear projects which the--you know, we may have reached some sort of emotional high at times. There are going to be lows coming in the following year, too.
Hardly any text in red? Apparently they decided not to talk about Bush's mendacity. Except for a few tepid noises about the post-invasion events, the viewer was treated to a discussion about how premtive invasion is just another tool of foreign policy. That's "liberal" PBS for you.


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