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Slime the Messenger

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, October 2, 2007; 12:58 PM

White House Press Secretary Dana Perino yesterday cast aspersions on investigative reporter Seymour M. Hersh and his anonymous sources -- but refused to respond to any of the specific claims Hersh made in this week's New Yorker about White House support for a new path to war with Iran.

All Perino would say was that President Bush is seeking a diplomatic solution -- precisely what the White House claimed as it set the Iraq war in motion in late 2002 and early 2003.

Hersh, who has a history of well-sourced, groundbreaking reporting (he won a Pulitzer Prize in 1970 for his uncovering of the My Lai massacre in Vietnam), writes that Bush is seriously considering limited strikes against Iran, ostensibly in defense of American troops in Iraq. The real attraction of such an approach, Hersh writes, is that Bush and Cheney believe it could be readily sold to the American people.

Plans for broad bombing targeting Iran's suspected nuclear facilities are being replaced with plans for a more limited attack, Hersh writes, after Bush and his aides "concluded that their campaign to convince the American public that Iran poses an imminent nuclear threat has failed (unlike a similar campaign before the Iraq war), and that as a result there is not enough popular support for a major bombing campaign."

At yesterday's press briefing, Perino was dismissive of questions about Hersh's piece from CNN's Ed Henry and CBS's Bill Plante:

Perino: "Look, you know, I'm glad you brought it up. Every two months or so, Sy Hersh writes an article in The New Yorker magazine, and CNN provides him a forum in which to talk about his article and all the anonymous sources that are quoted in it."

Henry: "So the President --"

Perino: "The President has said that he believes that there is a diplomatic solution that we can use to solve the Iranian problem. And that's why we're working with our allies to get there."

Plante: "That's what he said before we went to Iraq, too."

Henry: "But what's the -- can you answer actually on the substance of whether or not the White House asked -- I mean, if it's not true, then you can say Sy Hersh is wrong and CNN was wrong to air it. You could say that, but --"

Perino: "We don't discuss such things, Ed."

Henry: " -- what about the substance of whether we --"

Perino: "We don't discuss such things. What we have said and what we are working towards is a diplomatic solution in Iran. What the President has also said is that as a President, as a Commander-in-Chief -- and any Commander-in-Chief -- would not take any option off the table. But the option that we are pursuing right now is diplomacy."

Henry: "But the article very specifically said that this summer in a video conference -- secure video conference with Ambassador Crocker, the President said that he was thinking about 'hitting Iran' and also --"

Perino: "I'm not going to comment on -- one, I don't know. I wouldn't have been at any -- at that type of a meeting. I don't know. I'm not going to comment on any possible -- any possible scenario that an anonymous source, you know, continues to feed into Sy Hersh. I'm just not going the do it."

Plante: "Why should anybody believe that the President wants diplomatic solutions? He said that before going into Iraq."

Perino: "The President sought a diplomatic solution in Iraq and Saddam Hussein defied the U.N. Security Council 17 times."

Plante: "Some of the history we've learned since suggests otherwise."

Perino: "That the President didn't -- that Saddam Hussein defied 17 U.N. Security Council resolutions?"

Plante: "No, that the President was intent on going to war in Iraq in any case."

CNN's Wolf Blitzer, who had Hersh on his show on Sunday, responded to Perino's attack by inviting Hersh back for another visit yesterday afternoon.

Said Hersh: "Well you know in the beginning when I first began to write those stories, it was la-la land. And now everybody knows this is on the table. This is very serious and you have a lot of people, hardliners like Norman Podhoretz and others saying in print 'We've got to do it. . . . This is an existential threat.' And so I don't think there's any question there's a lot of serious planning going on inside the administration. . . ."

Blitzer: "But have they thought through the consequences of what that could result in?"

Hersh: "You know, I'd like to say yes. My friends on the inside believe that it's a very hard sell to get them to focus on what the bad -- the down side is."

Hersh also spent some time last night with MSBNC's Keith Olbermann.

Hersh: "You heard the White House spokeswoman say today we're interested in a diplomatic track. Well, all [Bush] has to do is start talking to them, and then you get diplomacy. And he's not talking to them. He has no interest in talking to people he doesn't like. He doesn't want to talk to the Syrians, the Iranians, Hamas. . . . If he would talk to them, I could say to you that there was some reason we might not go to war. But the only thing you hear, from inside, is that these guys really want to do it."

As for the White House attack on his credibility? "This was light," Hersh said. "Usually they go after me personally. When I did Abu Ghraib-- stuff on Abu Ghraib -- they had a deputy assistant secretary of defense accuse me, literally, he said, of throwing crap against the wall to see what sticks -- and this is when I had photographs in print. So this is a pretty light response to say: 'How dare you commit journalism?'"

More From Podhoretz

Podhoretz, one of the patriarchs of neoconservatism, reportedly met with Bush several months ago to urge him to bomb Iran.

Now, Thinkprogress notes: "In a C-Span interview that aired this weekend, Podhoretz states his fervent belief that Bush will attack Iran before he leaves office."

Said Podhoretz: "I believe President Bush is going to order airstrikes [on Iran] before he leaves office. Because he has several times said -- at least twice to my knowledge -- that if we allow Iranians to acquire nuclear capabilities, 50 years from now, people will look back at us the way we look back at Munich and say 'how could they have let this happen?'"

Washington Wisdom Gets Set On Its Head

I've written before about the wide gulf in opinion between the Washington punditocracy and the American people when it comes to the war in Iraq. Inside the Beltway, for instance, Bush and General David Petraeus's razzle-dazzle worked its magic last month, buying Bush more time. Outside the Beltway, not so much. Similarly, inside the Beltway, the "middle road" in Iraq involves modest, non-binding limits on Bush's policy. Outside, the consensus is that it's past time Congress demanded a speedy withdrawal.

And what's the one thing that the Washington elite considers absolutely unthinkable? An act of political suicide? Tantamount to coming out against the troops? That would be cutting funding for the war. (Case in point, via the AP: Senate Democrats on Monday helped pass a defense policy bill authorizing another $150 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The vote was 92-3.)

But now, according to the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll, it turns out that cutting funding for the war is supported not just by left-wing moonbats and foul-mouthed bloggers -- but by an overwhelming majority of the American people. That's right: 70 percent.

Rejecting the Bush Agenda -- And Then Some

Jon Cohen and Dan Balz write in The Washington Post: "Most Americans oppose fully funding President Bush's $190 billion request for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a sizable majority support an expansion of a children's health insurance bill he has promised to veto, putting Bush and many congressional Republicans on the wrong side of public opinion on upcoming foreign and domestic policy battles.

"The new Washington Post-ABC News poll also shows deep dissatisfaction with the president and with Congress. Bush's approval rating stands at 33 percent, equal to his career low in Post-ABC polls. And just 29 percent approve of the job Congress is doing. . . .

"Part of the displeasure with Congress stems from the stalemate between Democrats and the White House over Iraq policy. Most Americans do not believe Congress has gone far enough in opposing the war, with liberal Democrats especially critical of their party's failure to force the president into a significant change in policy. . . .

"By a 2 to 1 margin, those who see little accomplishment in Congress's first nine months blame the inaction on Bush and the GOP more than they do the majority Democrats."

One Big Break

E. J. Dionne Jr. writes in his Washington Post opinion column: "Astonishingly, 26 Republican senators broke with President Bush's Iraq policy last week. But you may not have noticed this, and it's not your fault.

"Sen. Joe Biden's resolution calling for a federal solution to the Iraq mess -- sometimes known as 'soft partition' -- got almost no attention, even though it passed, 75 to 23. . . .

"The vote on Biden's proposal to devolve power to Iraq's regions and three major groups could turn out to be a milestone in the effort to end the war. It was also a reflection of how much Republican frustration there is with the Iraqi government and the direction of President Bush's policy."

Presidential Records Watch

Michael Abramowitz writes in The Washington Post: "A federal judge yesterday invalidated part of a 2001 executive order by President Bush that gives former presidents and vice presidents the right to review executive records before they are made public under the Freedom of Information Act.

"The Bush order added layers of review to the process of releasing presidential records, giving sitting presidents the right to delay their release indefinitely while extending review authority to former presidents, vice presidents and their families. . . .

"The order aroused controversy among scholars and journalists, who saw the Bush move as an effort to keep presidential records secret long past the point when most FOIA exemptions expire. Their lawsuit challenged the action as a violation of the 1978 Presidential Records Act and an unjustified expansion of executive discretion."

Here's the ruling by U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly and some background from the National Security Archive, one of the plaintiffs in the case.

Bush Bids Pace Adieu

AFP reports: "President George W. Bush ripped into 'Hollywood values' on Monday, in a surprise attack at the entertainment industry that overwhelmingly backs his Democratic foes.

"Bush's rhetorical broadside came as he paid tribute to the new chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, US Navy Admiral Mike Mullen, noting that his parents were well regarded behind-the-scenes players in the US movie industry.

"'Many people are surprised when told about the admiral's show business roots. After all, he is humble, well-grounded and filled with common sense. Not exactly what one thinks about when they think of Hollywood values,' said Bush."

The line came during Bush's speech at a farewell tribute for Mullen's predecessor, Gen. Peter Pace.

Nancy A. Youssef writes for McClatchy Newspapers: "Navy Adm. Michael Mullen and Marine Gen. Peter Pace offered different visions of U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan on Monday at the ceremony that marked Mullen's ascendancy to the top U.S. military post and Pace's retirement from it.

"Mullen, in his first act as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke of the day the United States will leave Iraq and Afghanistan and said the United States must 'be ready for who and what comes after.'

"Pace, who sworn Mullen in as his last official act as chairman, defended his controversial tenure, saying the United States was in two wars because 'the enemy . . . has declared war on us.'

"Mullen, the former chief of naval operations, has criticized the military's performance of the war at times and has fretted publicly about the strain that two wars have put on an all-volunteer military. Pace, who wasn't reappointed because of objections in Congress, has steadfastly backed the military's performance."

Bubble Watch, Part I

Bush is holding one of his signature "town hall meetings" tomorrow, this one on the budget, in solidly Republican Lancaster County, Pa.

It's not exactly hostile territory, and just to make sure the audience is super-friendly, the event is only open to members of the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce and representatives from the hosting organization, a fast-growing marketing and fulfillment company called The Jay Group.

Tom Murse writes for the Lancaster New Era: "About 70 members of the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce & Industry, which is hosting the president, lined up outside its South Queen Street office as early as 4 a.m. today to get one of only 100 tickets available."

But hold on, White House advance team! You may want to keep a rally squad available to surround this guy: "Manheim Realtor Gerry Beane, 59, was the first to secure a ticket. He said he wants to hear Bush address the numerous problems facing the United States, specifically the state of the housing market, the economy and the Iraq war.

"'I'd ask him when he's going to finally acknowledge the public's opinion on Iraq and react appropriately,' said Beane, who is opposed to the war and wants the troops brought home."

Bubble Watch, Part II

Robin Wright writes in The Washington Post: "After the controversial appearance of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at Columbia University last week, an Iranian university yesterday invited President Bush to travel to Iran and speak on campus about a range of issues, including the Holocaust, terrorism, human rights and U.S. foreign policy, the Fars News Agency reported yesterday.

"The invitation from Ferdowsi University in the northeastern city of Mashhad asked Bush to answer questions from students and professors 'just the same way' that Ahmadinejad took questions 'despite all the insults directed at him.'

"The White House said yesterday that Bush would be willing to travel to Iran, but under different circumstances.

"'President Bush looks forward to traveling to a democratic Iran, an Iran where its leaders allow freedom of speech and assembly for all of its people and an Iran where the leaders mourn the victims of the Holocaust, not call for the destruction of Israel,' National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said."

Me, I'd settle for Bush visiting Columbia University.

The Son-in-Law

Libby Copeland writes in The Washington Post: "Henry Hager, 29, who was engaged to Jenna Bush, 25, in August, hails from a world of good breeding and foregone conclusions. His parents, who live in the West End of Richmond, are staples of their society. Like the Bushes, with their prominent forebears and their best schools, the Hagers are a Good Family, in the old sense of the phrase."

Live Online

I'll be Live Online Wednesday at 1 p.m. ET, eager to respond to your questions and comments.

Late Night Humor

Charlie Savage, author of "Takeover: The Return of the Imperial Presidency and the Subversion of American Democracy," was a guest on Comedy Central's Colbert Report last night.

Savage argued that Bush has seized unprecedented powers. Colbert shot back: "But there are checks and balances in our present form of government. The president tries to get as much power as possible. It's up to Congress to check him. If they can't get it up to stop him, that's not his fault!"

And after hearing some of Savage's concerns, Colbert concluded: "Well you say this is bad for America. I say: This is good for America, let's wait a while, see how history judges, and come back during Bush's third term and we'll decide."

Colbert also praised the Senate for its recent overwhelming vote on an anti-Iran amendment from Sens. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.).

"But not everyone supports our troops enough to give them the job security a war with Iran would provide," Colbert said. "People like Sen. Jim Webb, who voted against the amendment, calling it 'Dick Cheney's fondest pipe dream.' Well, that is completely unfair. Everyone knows Dick Cheney's fondest pipe dream is driving a bulldozer into the New York Times while drinking crude oil out of Keith Olbermann's skull."

Cartoon Watch

Mike Luckovich on the proud papas -- and their next monster.

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