Sunday, February 06, 2011

Face The Press

Dona: Firing Line. The Firing Squad. This and other titles were proposed for this feature. We're going with "Face The Press" -- a) to avoid gun imagery and b) to give a nod to Monthy Python -- who I grew up watching on my local PBS station. So what is Face The Press? Years ago, Meet The Press' format was a little different than it is today and more similar to that of a William Buckley show called Firing Line. In it, a moderator asked questions in a more formal setting than the roundtable's that the chat & chews now feature on Sunday mornings. I'm moderating, we're tape recording this and will type it up as a rush transcript piece as well as allow excerpts to go into the audio version of Hilda's Mix. Our panelists are The Third Estate Sunday Review's Ava; C.I. of The Common Ills and The Third Estate Sunday Review; Kat of Kat's Korner (of The Common Ills); and Wally of The Daily Jot. This is a piece focusing on the Iraq War and the four are the panelists because they attended two Senate hearings last week that will be the focus of the bulk of my questions. For Thursday's hearing you can see C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot," Ava's "In appreciation of Lindsey Graham (Ava)," Wally's "It's a bi-partisan hole (Wally)" and Kat's "John McCain, Kelly Ayotte and Jim Webb"; for Tuesday's hearing you can see C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot," Ava's "The forgotten covert wars on Latin America (Ava)," Wally's "It's a boom economy!" and Kat's "Senate Foreign Relations Committee." Wally, the two Senate Committees were which ones and what was the big difference for you between the two?

Wally: Tuesday the Senate Foreign Relations Committee met. That is chaired by John Kerry. Thursday the Senate Armed Services Committee met and the chair of that one is Carl Levin. Appareing before both committeees were the same two witnesses: James Jeffrey who is the US Ambassador to Iraq and General Lloyd Austin who is the top US commander in Iraq. Tuesday was a total disaster and I'm not sure where to start there. John Kerry's opening statement? Before he offered his many lies on Iraq -- he outdid Bully Boy George W. Bush for Iraq spin on Tuesday -- he had to offer a lengthy editorial on Egypt. As if Iraq's not imporant enough for a hearing? He was so embarrassing. He supports the illegal war now. What's the big change? That a Democrat's in the White House.


Dona: Jumping in to ask, this was contrasted -- John Kerry was -- how in the Thursday hearing?

Wally: Well Carl Levin knew what he was talking about. Kerry was yammering on about some fantasy Iraq whereas Levin was noting in his opening statements the reality on the violence, the reality that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki still hasn't formed a complete Cabinet, the attacks on various minority groups and much more. John Kerry was as embarrassing Tuesday as Joe Lieberman was in 2002. I'm making that comparison because both men were on the national ticket -- Lieberman as Al Gore's running mate and John Kerry as the top of the ticket, in 2000 and in 2004 -- and both now speak like anything but the average Democrat. They're too far from their own party.

Dona: Listening to Wally's comments, if I wanted to grab a simplistic take, it would be, "Oh, John Kerry preached the Iraq War should continue and Carl Levin advocated against it." That's not correct, is it, Kat?

Kat: No. I'm not really seeing anyone objecting in the Senate to continuing the illegal war. Ava did a piece Thursday night where she offered some kind words for Republican senator Lindsey Graham. Graham wants the illegal war to continue, obviously Ava doesn't. So why the kind words? Because Graham was one of the few dealing in realities. Carl Levinson was another dealing in realities. Forget their positions on the war, our issue, as we sat through those hearings, was whether or not they were being honest, not what their position on the war was. Or, as Wally noted in his Thursday post, what their position had been.

Dona: Wally, let me go to you then to explain that.

Wally: Jack Reed is a senator who voted against the war authorization in 2002. For that he deserved praise. However, since Barack was elected president and continued the illegal war, you'd be hard pressed to find a bigger war booster or a big liar on the war than Jack Reed. I was especially offended by his using the Senate hearing to explain to Jeffrey how he could best argue for government money and ensure that he got all he was asking for.

Dona: Okay. Ava, Kat's talking about your post as well. Your reporting on Lindsay Graham. First off, you largely rely on transcript in that post. C.I. took the notes, I know that. I'm not asking that. I'm asking why you presented it in transcript format?

Ava: We were all aware that there would be big doubts about the hearings. We were afraid they wouldn't get covered -- and beyond AP and The Hill, they largely weren't. I believe Walter Pincus -- C.I.'s nodding -- Okay, Walter Pincus covered it. In terms of non-traditional media, it received some coverage at as well. But on certain aspects of the hearing, we were all agreed that key quotes needed to be included. One of the key moments Thursday was Lindsey Graham's exchange with Jeffrey and Austin. C.I. was attempting to cover a great deal in that day's snapshot and she didn't have room for Graham. She suspected that going in. When that was the case, I quickly said I'd grab it. I was going to summarize and offer a few key passages. But then I read over the transcript and realized how much work Graham was doing in that questioning. It was a really important section of the hearing and I didn't think it could be captured accurately any other way.

Dona: In that exchange, he pins down the witnesses on what exactly?

Ava: Well, for one thing, via his questioning of Jeffrey, Graham pins down that US troops, if they remain in Iraq under control of the State Department, will be doing largely what they are doing now under the Defense Department. With regards to Austin, he estblishes that Austin doesn't think the US military should leave Iraq.

Dona: That's an interesting conclusion to make. C.I., do you agree with Ava's conclusion?

C.I.: Yes, I do. Six times in a row, Graham asked Austin whether he -- Austin -- believed the US needed to maintain the military in Iraq past 2011? Six times Austin refused to answer. That is an answer. At one point, Austin told Graham that he'd prefer to "avoid speculating." But that's all his testimony was. He was insisting that if the State Department got the money they were requesting, they would be fine in Iraq. That is speculation. And speculation is why he was brought before the Senate which wanted to hear his opinions. I really found it insulting not that he refused to answer the question but that he attempted to pretend that answering it would somehow be different than everything else he was doing before the Committees.

Dona: You're speaking of the general in the Thursday hearing. In the Tuesday hearing, you largely ignored him and noted you were doing so. Explain why that was?

C.I.: He thought he could get away with lying. Lying on basic things. Wednesday morning, one of the two morning entries noted him because there was a question similar to what you're asking. An e-mail came in saying that I'd said he was spinning and lying and they didn't see how that was different from Jeffrey. It was a difference in degrees. Austin's lies were so outrageous. For example, his little "opportunity" reply to the question about the violence of the previous two weeks. He was asked that on Tuesday. There had been a wave of bombings -- with big death tolls -- going on for two weeks prior to his appearing before the committee. His response was that it was "opportunity." He thought he was so cute with that and telling them he could answer in a one-word answer. He then elaborated that the religious holiday -- which requires a lengthy pilgramige -- provided opportunity. Well that same opportunity existed last year because this is a religious holiday which is celebrated every year. And although the opportunity existed last year, last year did not see the bombings. That's just such an insulting lie.

Dona: Explain any difference -- if there is any -- between Lloyd Austin and former top US commanders in Iraq David Petraeus and Ray Odierno.

C.I.: Me? Okay. He's a great deal -- Austin -- like Petraeus. He's going to tell any and every lie to Congress. I had no respect for David Petraeus because he showed no respect to Congress. I say "had" because he's no longer involved in Iraq so I don't cover him anymore. Ray Odierno had a point of view and was going to express it. But he also placed some value on the truth as evidenced by his testimonies to Congress. After the hair splittling and lies of Petraeus, Odierno was a huge relief. Now we've got Austin and if Tuesday was an example of what we can expect, I don't expect much from him as a witness. I will note he was slightly better on Thursday.

Dona: Kat, Wally covered the Tuesday hearing by emphasizing the money. How important do you think the money aspect of it is?

Kat: I think that's very important. We don't have needed money to provide for our domestic needs. And yet we're going to give the State Department up to 4 billion this year alone for Iraq alone? That's insane. The Barack voters thought they were voting for an end to the illegal war. Spending $4 billion this year and something like $30 billion over the next five or so years is not ending the Iraq War. We have schools and libraries in this country that are suffering. We have a record number of people on food stamps. It's beyond irresponsible to continue to pour billions into the Iraq War.

Dona: Wally, does the war end in 2011?

Wally: No. Not at all. In fact, in addition to the two hearings we covered, C.I. also reported at length on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee report which people like 'antiwar' Barbara Boxer signed off on. Not only does it advocate for the extension of the SOFA to allow US troops to remain in Iraq, it also proposes that, if there is no extension, the troops be shifted to State Department supervision so that they can remain in Iraq. The war is not ending and it's appalling that there has been so little coverage of these hearings. You really have to wonder about the people at The Progressive and The Nation as they continue to ignore these developments.

Dona: Ava, what did you think of the press turnout?

Ava: For the Tuesday hearing, the turnout -- press and otherwise -- was much smaller. Thursday, we saw a much bigger gathering at the Senate Armed Service Committee hearing. I do believe it got written up. Tuesday's hearing, by contrast? The press on it was largely, beyond AP, people pulling from the opening statements which were distributed before and after the hearing. There was nothing in various reports that I read on Tuesday's hearing -- except Walter Pincus and the AP -- which indicated the person had been present for the hearing since all comments and quotes were from opening statements.

Dona: And what do you think of the lack of coverage from our so-called independent media?

Ava: Like Wally, I find it appalling. If the Iraq War is going to continue -- and both Senate hearings addressed how that was going to take place -- it seems to me that the so-called independent media is required to cover that. Instead, they covered everything but that. Possibly because after two years of lying about the Iraq War, to tell the truth was far too much for them.

Dona: Thank you. And that's going to be it for this piece.
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