Thursday, September 30, 2004

The Interim Ventriloquist

This story reported in the Washington Post (via the ever vigilant Legal Fiction), contains some very troubling elements:

The Bush administration, battling negative perceptions of the Iraq war, is sending Iraqi Americans to deliver what the Pentagon calls "good news" about Iraq to U.S. military bases, and has curtailed distribution of reports showing increasing violence in that country.

The unusual public-relations effort by the Pentagon and the U.S. Agency for International Development comes as details have emerged showing the U.S. government and a representative of President Bush's reelection campaign had been heavily involved in drafting the speech given to Congress last week by interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi. Combined, they indicate that the federal government is working assiduously to improve Americans' opinions about the Iraq conflict -- a key element of Bush's reelection message.

But administration officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the prime minister was coached and aided by the U.S. government, its allies and friends of the administration. Among them was Dan Senor, former spokesman for the CPA who has more recently represented the Bush campaign in media appearances. Senor, who has denied writing the speech, sent Allawi recommended phrases. He also helped Allawi rehearse in New York last week, officials said. Senor declined to comment.

The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and British Foreign Service officials also helped Allawi with the text and delivery of his remarks, said administration officials who were involved. The State Department and officials elsewhere in the government took the lead in booking Allawi's interviews. Administration officials said that the Iraqi Embassy in Washington consists of just a few officials and has only a dial-up Internet connection, so was incapable of preparing for the high-profile tour.[emphasis added]
The implications of this decision by the Bush administration to exploit Allawi's appearance, going as far as to help draft his speech and coach its delivery, are deadly serious. Allawi's credibility, popularity and legitimacy in Iraq were low to begin with. Upon his coronation as the interim Prime Minister, suspicions abounded of his ties to the American intelligence community, having received funding and logistical assistance from the CIA for his anti-Ba'athist activities through much of the past two decades. Regardless of these ties, any candidate so strongly endorsed by the United States, especially compared to the tepid endorsement he received from UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, would be viewed by many in Iraq as a tool of the Bush administration.

That Bush's team, so obsessed with re-election, would actually resort to influencing the writing of Allawi's speech so as to synergize its content with the Bush campaign's message is reckless beyond words. When this story breaks in Iraq, Allawi's credibility will be decimated. His words, literally put into his mouth by Bush's team, will carry little if any impact.

Conservative bloggers were quick to malign those in the Kerry camp who were troubled by the similarity in Allawi's speech and the Bush campaign talking points. Glenn Reynolds of
Instapundit had this to say in reaction to press accounts of the Kerry camp's reaction:

Democrats moved quickly to fuel skepticism, denouncing Allawi's message in unusually pointed terms.

While Kerry was relatively restrained in disputing Allawi's upbeat portrayal, some of his aides suggested that the Iraqi leader was simply doing the bidding of the Bush administration, which helped arrange his appointment in June.

"The last thing you want to be seen as is a puppet of the United States, and you can almost see the hand underneath the shirt today moving the lips," said Joe Lockhart, a senior Kerry adviser.

This is behavior that is absolutely unacceptable coming from a Presidential campaign in wartime, and it's not an isolated incident but part of a pattern of such behavior. Joe Lockhart should apologize for these remarks, and Kerry should fire him. Otherwise you're going to hear a lot of people questioning Kerry's patriotism. And they'll be right to. [emphasis added]
In reality, however, it is not the words or statements by any member of Kerry's campaign team that represent "behavior that is absolutely unacceptable coming from a Presidential campaign in wartime." It is the decision to disregard the sensitivity of the situation in Iraq, and endanger the mission, by so thoroughly compromising Allawi's credibility in such a manner as this. Mr. Reynolds, will Americans now be "right" to question President Bush's patriotism?

Right-leaning blogger
Gregory Djerejian had this to say in response to Lockhart's comments:

Remember, Kerry may need to work with this so-called "puppet" in the future. Regardless, this is astonishingly irresponsible campaign rhetoric from a key member of the challenger's campaign team. To malign the serving PM of Iraq as appearing a "puppet" plays right into the handbook of insurgents operating in Iraq. I'm truly shocked Kerry would ostensibly authorize such an inflammatory statement (ie., not in the Casablanca 'shocked, shocked' kinda way).
If Djerejian is shocked that someone would "malign" the serving Prime Minister in Iraq as appearing like a puppet, imagine his reaction when he finds out that the Bush team so thoroughly undermined Allawi's credibility and made him out to actually be a "puppet" for partisan campaign reasons. Will he find this to be an "astonishingly irresponsible campaign" decision? In fairness to Djerejian and Reynolds, they may not have known of the actual influence that the Bush administration had in crafting Allawi's speech when they posted these pieces. I eagerly await their re-directed outrage at the "astonishingly irresponsible," "absolutely unacceptable" and downright unpatriotic actions of the commander in chief.

Whether this dubious decision by the Bush team "plays right into the handbook of insurgents operating in Iraq" remains to be seen. But it is fairly certain that this story will receive a lot more attention in Iraq than some comments made by John Kerry or his campaign staff. In Iraq, Allawi will come to be known as Bush's mouthpiece because that is what Bush has made him into, not because some people in the Democratic Party observe the reality that is before their eyes. Remember, don't shoot the messenger.

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