Saturday, January 16, 2010






Turning to London where the Iraq Inquiry heard from Maj Gen Graham Binns and Lt Gen John Reith -- link goes to video and transcript option -- sort of. Reith demanded to testify in private and his wish was granted -- they did publish a transcript of Reith's testimony.

Chair John Chilcot: There are, as you see, no members of the public in the hearing room for this session and it is not being recorded for broadcast. However, after the session, we will be publishing a transcript of the evidence you give, so that, at that stage, your appearance before us will become publicly known. Before the New Year, we heard from a number of military officers involved at senior levels in the planning of operations against Iraq, including the Chief of Defence Staff at the time, Lordy Boyce, and one of your deputies, General Fry. So this session will cover 2002 up to and beyond the invasion, covering the period of your tenure as Chief of Joint Operations. I remind every witness that he will later be asked to sign a transcript of evidence to the effect that the evidence they have given is truthful, fair and accurate. With that, I will hand over to Sir Lawrence Freedman. Sir Lawrence?

Committee Member Lawrence Freedman: Sir, I think the easiest way to start is perhaps if you could just take us through how you became aware of the potential need for planning in -- for military action in Iraq, and your awareness of the American plans. It would probably be best if you just take us through from the start.

Gen John Reith: May I just start by giving you sort of mood music at the time and our situation with the Americans at the time, so you get a better understanding, if that would be helpful?

So he gets to demand that he testify off-camera and he gets to decide how he'll start his testimony? Some call the Iraq Inquiry "the Chilcot Inquiry" -- apparently it should also be called "the Reith Inquiry."

He prattled on and on about his special relationship with US Gen Tommy Franks ("So I forged quite a good relationship with him, and, in fact, he jokingly used to call me his deputy commander, and I was very much seen by the Americans as the UK's global combatant commander.")

Committee Member Lawrence Freedman: Can I just pull you back a bit on that? Because there is a meeting at Chequers, I think just before the Prime Minister goes to Crawford, where Alastair Campbell, in fact, reports in his diaries about Tommy Franks' view from "our military man based in Tampa", which I think was Cedric.

Gen John Reith: It would have been Cedric at the time, yes.

Committee Member Lawrence Freedman: And CDS was there and I think Tony Pigott as well. So what were they reporting on?

Gen John Reith: Cedric never gave me anything relating to Iraq. I presume that Cedric, again, had credibility with Tommy Franks, [redacted] and he may have given an opion, but it would have been a personal opinion, but he never actually raised it at as an issue with me.

The redacted portion is 36 spaces. For all the world knows, he was describing a deep, soul kiss with Tommy Franks. He was obsessed with Tommy Franks.

Gen John Reith: I tended to be very candid with Tommy Franks and I made it clear that there was no commitment from the UK. He used to rib me regularly that he was having to produce two plans, one with and one without the UK, but that he couldn't conceive that America's closest ally wouldn't go with them into Iraq if they went. That was his perspective. So, as we were developing plans --

Committee Member Lawrence Freedman: How did you respond to that?

Gen John Reith: I responded to it. I mean it was all done in a very jocular way, but I responded to it that nothing in this life is certain.

And, yes, that is accurate portrayal of the entire hearing. He did not know about the Crawford, Texas meeting between Bully Boy Bush and then Prime Minister Tony Blair "until somebody mentioned it to me yesterday."

The jaw should drop at that one. Now some may rush to Gen Reith and say, "Well of course he knew his prime minister was in the US at that time. He just means that, until yesterday, he had no idea it was at this meeting that Blair told Bush England would give whatever needed to the Iraq War" (one with no UN approval at that point and that would never get UN approval). You can say that. It's not very likely, but you can say that.

Reality: The Crawford meeting has been big news, BIG NEWS, in England throughout the Inquiry. Don't say, "Oh, yes, yes, with Alastair Campbell this week." No. Not just this week.

The committee members and witnesses have raised it repeatedly. David Manning testified November 30th (see that day's snapshot). In his testimony, he noted:

The first evening, the President and the Prime Minister dined on their own, and when we had a more formal meeting on Saturday morning, which I think was the 6th, it was in the President's study at the ranch. There were, as I recall -- and I may be wrong about this -- three a side. I think it was the President, his Chief of Staff, Andy Card, and Dr [Condi] Rice and on our side, as I recall, it was the Prime Minister, his Chief of Staff, Jonathan Powell, and myself. We convened about half past nine, after breakfast, and began with the President giving a brief account of the discussion that he and the Prime Minister had had on their own the previous evening over dinner. He said that they had discussed Iraq over dinner. He told us that there was no war plan for Iraq, but he had set up a small cell in Central Command in Florida and he had asked Central Command to do some planning and to think through the various options. When they had done that, he would examine these options. The Prime Minister added that he had been saying to the President it was important to go back to the United Nations and to present going back to the United Nations as an opportunity for Saddam to cooperate.

That was the take-away from Manning's testimony and the press (the British press) were covering it like crazy. You can refer to Ruth Barnett (Sky News -- link has text and video), Jason Beattie (Daily Mirror), Kevin Schofield (Daily Record), Richard Norton-Taylor (Guardian), David Brown (Times of London), Gordon Rayner (Telegraph of London) and Jonathan Steele (Guardian) just to start with. And this wasn't the first time it dominated the news cycle for the Inquiry. That was the week before when Christopher Meyer testified about Blair and Bush's agreement "signed in blood" (it really wasn't signed in blood, he was using that expression) and that got a huge amount of attention from the press.

Where has Reith been throughout all of this? If he's not even able to follow the headlines in the last weeks, how on the ball is he? It's just as likely -- some might say more likely -- that he's being dishonest. I don't know but it doesn't make sense and those who feel he may have been less than honest can refer to his exchanges with Committee Member Roderic Lyne where even the most basic questions (Lyne lays his questions out very clearly) were met with evasions and stumbles. Lyne would have to repeatedly clarify after a respone (usually in this form, "But . . . ") and the question he'd just asked was completely clear.

Maj Gen Graham Binns was much more straighforward and forthcoming with his answers. We'll note this passage on Basra.

Maj Gen Graham Binns: The security situation was difficult for us. Every move outside our bases required detailed planning and was high-risk. I thought that we were having limited effect on improving the security situation in Basra. 90 per cent of the violence was directed against us, politically there was no contact between us and the local provincial government, and coaltion-sponsored reconstruction had almost ceased.

That was how things were when he arrived but he credited his predecessor with putting in place a plan that allowed for some improvements. How much of an improvement? Asked how things were when he left, he replied, "So -- but I think it is fair to say that the security situation was such that we spent a lot of our time protecting ourselves."

Turning to US politics and the decade ended. A friend asked that we note Katha Pollitt -- a friend at The Nation -- from part one of her two part piece. From Part one:

Sonia Sotomayor joined the Supreme Court. Before that, Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin showed how far we've come--and how far we haven't. Between them they normalized forever the idea of a woman running for president and withstood a ridiculous amount of sexist garbage, from nasty cracks (from both sexes) about Clinton's legs, clothes, voice and laugh to tinfoil-hat accusations that Palin's baby was actually her daughter's.

Good for Katha for decrying the sexism aimed at Palin -- a first for The Nation -- and for bringing up the nasty and disgusting rumors about Trig. Better if she'd named the pig who glommed on them in the fall of 2008 and continues to repeat them to this day -- at The Atlantic. What she won't scrawl across the women's room stall, we will: ANDREW SULLIVAN. That's the pig. For many years Anne Kornblut worked for the New York Times, she's now at the Washington Post. She has a new book out Notes from the Cracked Ceiling: Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin and What It Will Take for a Woman to Win and she weighs in on the campaigns at wowOwow:

Covering the 2008 campaign day-to-day, it rarely felt as if Clinton or Palin was having a harder time of it than the male candidates Рwho were also under constant scrutiny. I was as skeptical as anyone of Clinton's claim, after one of the Democratic debates, that all the male candidates were engaging in the "politics of pile-on." Really? She was a woman under siege? She had been the frontrunner for nearly a year, raising record-breaking amounts of money. Later on, I was among the reporters who challenged the McCain campaign's complaint that Obama was referring to Palin when he talked about putting "lipstick on a pig." Really? Wasn't he using a common clich̩ to describe a policy proposal?
When I went back after the campaign was over, however, and read through all the transcripts, columns and stump speeches, interviewing dozens of campaign
aides who advised the candidates and prominent women who watched the race from the sidelines, there was just too much evidence pointing to the influence gender had on the race to pretend that it had been otherwise. Clinton was often reluctant to talk about being a woman, and worked so hard to compensate for the perceived shortcoming of being female that she came off looking, to many, too tough. "She didn't get there on her own," was a refrain I heard repeatedly, which although factually true failed to take into account the fact that she had, just a decade earlier, been criticized for not being enough of a housewife. Here she was taking heat for being too much of one.
Palin failed to prepare for the extra layer of questions that women get – as mothers, as wives, as candidates who are sometimes perceived as being less qualified – and was shell-shocked after her daughter's pregnancy was revealed, and when critics called her inexperienced despite her tenure as governor. She shouldn't have been so surprised; female candidates across the country had been through similar ordeals. But Palin and the McCain team learned the hard way that crying "it's not fair" is not a winning political strategy.

No offense to Anne but what women cried sexism -- or men for that matter -- with either campaign? While the campaigns were going on? Give me some names. Because as I recall it, sexism was fine and dandy and no one objected. Bill Moyers, for example, willfully and happily engaged in sexism on the tax payer dime and PBS airwaves (which, thankfully, he's now leaving). As I recall the same Bill Moyers couldn't stop screaming "racism!" One ism was to be called out, the other to be ignored or (in Moyers' case) added to. I appreciate what Anne's saying and I think her book's a strong read that many will enjoy but the above excerpt does not fully capture the landscape (which is difficult to capture in so short a space) and this goes to what we value and what we don't (see last night's entry) and how a pedophile can be busted twice and still be treated as a 'good guy' and trusted voice. His third bust? Strange, Amy Goodman couldn't stop bringing the pedophile on her show but she hasn't found time in her headlines to note he Pig Ritter just got busted a third time. Or take FAIR -- allegedly Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting -- allegedly a media watchdog. One that didn't bark at sexism in 2008. Every week, the hosts of FAIR's radio show (Counterspin) noted real and imagined racism in the press that was harming St. Barack. Every damn week. Let's go to May 25th when Ava and I noted Counterspin's finally noting sexism against Hillary Clinton:

Last week, we noted that FAIR's radio program CounterSpin is happy to ignore sexism and, at the top of Friday's show, they appeared bound and determined to prove us wrong.Peter Hart: One of the most disturbing features of the media coverage of the Democratic presidential race is the way racism and sexism have been expressed. CNN viewers were treated to one pundit explanation that people might call Hillary Clinton a bitch because well isn't that just what some women are. Not everyone's so out in the open. MSNBC host Chris Matthews opened his May 18th show wondering how Barack Obama would connect with regular Democrats? Obviously code for working class Whites. This would seem to make the millions of Obama voters so far irregular. But then consider the May 14th op-ed by Washington Post Writers Group Kathleen Parker. She wrote about 'full bloodness' and the patriot divide between Obama and John McCain offering that there is "different sense of America among those who trace their bloodlines through generations of sacrifice." This makes Obama less American than his likely Republican rival and his success part of a larger threat "There is a very real sense that once upon a time America is getting lost in the dash to diversity." Well thanks to The Washington Post, Parker's rant appeared in newspapers around the country including the Baltimore Sun and Chicago Tribune. We're not sure what those papers used for a headline but one blogger suggest [nonsense] would do. Parker's attack wasn't even new. Before in the pages of The Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan wondered if Obama had ever gotten misty thinking about his country's rich heritage. John McCain by contrast "carries it in his bones." There's an appetite in corporate media for such repellent ideas as Editor & Publisher's Greg Mitchell recalled, Noonan's column was praised by NBC's anchor Brian Williams as Pulitzer worthy.

And that was it. 25 words. Counterspin's ENTIRE 'coverage' of the sexism aimed at Hillary during her lengthy campaign for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination. Even when they finally noted sexism (one example of it), notice that (a) they didn't tell you who made the remark, (b) they didn't tell you what program it was made on and (c) when they finally give (limited) time to sexism, they offer 25 words while providing -- in the same news item -- over 230 words on racism. But you do that and you note who said it and where when it's something that actually matters to you. When it doesn't really matter to you, you just toss out 25 words and pretend like you did a damn thing worthy of note. To provide some more context, if Keith Olbermann had said someone needs to take Barack into a room and only one of them comes out alive, FAIR would have screamed their heads off, but when he said about Hillary? Not a peep. Not a protest. That's how it went. Over and over throughout 2008. The sexism never ended, many of the 'left' took part in it and media watchdogs repeatedly looked the other way. Repeatedly? Maybe, like Barack, I should say "periodically"? Barack: "I understand that Senator Clinton, periodically when she's feeling down, launches attacks as a way of trying to boost her appeal." Or when he said "the claws come out"? One of the strong women (there were a few) in 2008 was Marie Cocco and we'll make the time now to note how she wasn't silent. Marie Cocco "Misogny I Won't Miss" (May 15, 2008, Washington Post).

"I won't miss reading another treatise by a man or woman, of the left or right, who says that sexism has had not even a teeny-weeny bit of influence on the course of the Democratic campaign."

Marie Cocco's "Obama's Abortion Stance When 'Feeling Blue'" (Washington Post Writers Group July 8, 2008).

Obama says that these women should not be able to obtain a late-term abortion, because just "feeling blue" isn't the same as suffering "serious clinical mental health diseases." True enough. And totally infuriating. During the recent Obama pander tour -- the one in which he spent about a week trying to win over conservative religious voters -- the presumptive Democratic nominee unnecessarily endorsed President Bush's faith-based initiative, a sort of patronage program that rewards religious activists for their political support with public grants. Then in a St. Louis speech, Obama declared that "I let Jesus Christ into my life." That's fine, but we already have a president who believes this was a qualification for the Oval Office, and look where that's gotten us.Obama's verbal meanderings on the issue of late-term abortion go further. He has muddied his position. Whether this is a mistake or deliberate triangulation, only Obama knows for sure. One thing is certain: Obama has backhandedly given credibility to the right-wing narrative that women who have abortions -- even those who go through the physically and mentally wrenching experience of a late-term abortion -- are frivolous and selfish creatures who might perhaps undergo this ordeal because they are "feeling blue."

And when the sexism was aimed at Palin, Cocco didn't play dumb or didn't go silent.
Marie Cocco, "Sexism Again" (September 16, 2008, Washington Post Writers Group):

This has a lot to do with a graphic image of Palin I just saw in which she is dressed in a black bustier, adorned with long, black gloves and wielding a whip. The image appeared in the Internet magazine Salon to illustrate a column titled: "The dominatrix," by Gary Kamiya. Kamiya calls Palin a "pinup queen," and says she not only tantalized the Republican National Convention with political red meat, but that her "babalicious" presence hypercharged the place with sexual energy, and naughty energy at that. "You could practically feel the crowd getting a collective woody as Palin bent Obama and the Democrats over, shoved a leather gag in their mouths and flogged them as un-American wimps, appeasers and losers." That's some sexual mother lode. Dare I point out that I have never -- ever -- in three decades of covering politics seen a male politician's style, even one with an earthy demeanor, described this way? Salon editor Joan Walsh says she agrees the "dominatrix" piece had a "provocative cover,'' and that her columnists enjoy great freedom. "One day Gary (Kamiya) called Palin a dominatrix, the next day Camille Paglia called her a feminist." The magazine exists, Walsh says, to "push the envelope."No sooner did Walsh give me this explanation than another Salon contributor, Cintra Wilson, pushed that envelope again. Wilson described Palin as follows: an "f---able ... Christian Stepford wife in a 'sexy librarian' costume" who is, for ideological Republicans, a "hardcore pornographic centerfold spread." That is, when Palin is not coming across as one of those "cutthroat Texas cheerleader stage moms." What is it about a woman candidate that sends the media into weird Freudian frenzies?

Related, at Women's eNew, Lisa Nuss calls out the bad makeover that turned high powered attorney and board member Michelle Obama into June Cleaver:

During Barbara Walters' interview with Michelle Obama last month, I never heard Walters say why she chose the first lady as the most fascinating person of the year.
I dug up the transcript, watched the video and confirmed that Walters never said why.
Michelle Obama did a lot that was fascinating before 2009.
After bootstrapping her way to an elite college and law school where she was outspoken about racism, she left corporate law for high-profile policy work in politics and health care and won a powerful corporate board position.
All the while she battled her husband to pick up his slack on the parenting and insisted on her own demanding career after his election to the U.S. Senate. She told Vogue in 2007, "The days I stay home with my kids without going out, I start to get ill." She said she loved her work challenges "that have nothing to do with my husband and children."
Am I the only one who misses that formidable woman?

As Ava and I observed of Barbara Walters' special, "Michelle Obama was the person of the year. Now that had us wondering because, outside of Lady Gaga and Sarah Palin, we were having trouble grasping what the women did in 2009 that made them fascinating? Gosselin is apparently fascinating because her marriage ended. The wife of a governor was termed fascinating by Barbara Walters because . . . her husband cheated on her? And she lived through it? (Was she supposed to commit suicide? After the special was broadcast, the woman announced she was divorcing the governor.) Silly us, we would have thought a person (male or female) actually had to do something in order to qualify as 'fascinating'."

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