“Q: Admiral, how [are] the Chinese reading those memos from the secretary as far as the military-to-military relations with China? Is this kind of a warning to the Chinese from the U.S. that you better behave in the future?
“Quigley: No, I wouldn’t interpret it that way at all. What you’ve got is a misinterpretation of the secretary’s intentions yesterday by a member of the OSD [Office of the Secretary of Defense] staff, and it simply misinterpreted the secretary’s intentions and his guidance. So this was an honest misinterpretation, nothing more, nothing less.
“Q: But how did it come to the secretary’s attention that his guidance had been misinterpreted?
“Quigley: Reporters started calling yesterday afternoon. Somebody had gotten a hold of the original memo. And we started taking queries here on the news desk from reporters, and then that brought it to our attention, and we started working it here internally and –
“Q: But it was not complaints from the White House or the State Department?
“Quigley: No, not at all. Not at all. “
– May 3 Defense Department press briefingconcerning a Pentagon directive banning all military-to-military contacts between the U.S. and China. The policy was hastily altered to require such contacts be approved on a case-by-case basis.
“White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said yesterday that after seeing the reports about the suspension of military relations, White House officials he would not identify had called the Pentagon and said: ‘This seems inconsistent with what we know the secretary’s policy is. Can you look into this?’”
–“Calls Led To Pentagon Reversal” by Mike Allen in the May 4 Washington Post.
“John W. Warner, the Republican of Virginia who is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he had spoken with Mr. Rumsfeld about suspending contacts with the Chinese military and heartily endorsed the tougher line that it suggested.
“‘I strongly support his action for the following reasons,’ Mr. Warner said. ‘That has been a very valuable series of contacts for China. It gives them stature in the eyes of the other militaries of the world. They learn from it. I’m not suggesting secrets. But they learn about how a professional military is run. And China did not handle, from beginning to end, the tragedy of this forced downing of our aircraft in a professional manner.’ “
– “Rumsfeld’s Office Reverses China Ban”by Steven Lee Myers in the May 3 New York Times.
“A Pentagon spokesman, Bryan G. Whitman, said today that Mr. Rumsfeld had never discussed the specific issue of contacts with the senator.
“In a second interview today, Sen. Warner said he misspoke and had not in fact discussed this with Mr. Rumsfeld. ‘If there is an error,’ he said, ‘it is mine, and I accept it.’”
– “In Moving To Shun China, Bush Team Trips Over Itself Again”by David E. Sanger and Steven Lee Myers in the May 4 New York Times.
Commentary: There’s an outside possibility that Rumsfeld really was on the case when the White House called to complain and that Warner really was wrong in initially remembering that he’d discussed the ban with Rummy. But wouldn’t it be odd for Warner to mistake what the policy was in precisely the same way that the now disavowed memo mistook what the policy was? Warner’s ownership claim to this whopper almost certainly is meant to show he’s a team player and is probably itself a whopper. Unless it’s a Clintonian evasion. Note the conditional, “If there is an error.”
Bonus: Beltway Metaphor Pileup Of The Week
“Rumsfeld’s biggest problem is he didn’t allow anyone on the Hill to buy into this plan, so when this thing comes falling out of the sky like some frozen turkey, there’s no one on the Hill who’s willing to run out there and catch it. This is a very, very serious problem and one that Warner has taken up with Rumsfeld in private talks.
“They want change, and so do we, but any defense bill is a cooperative effort, and we’re not sure they understand that. Our bottom line is every rice bowl he’s trying to break has a got a strong defender up here and unless we are stroked, massaged, cajoled, and flattered, we have no reason to support breaking any rice bowls. If they continue to get it wrong, it increases the likelihood that Congress will attack the plan like piranhas on a cow carcass.”
–Senate aide quoted anonymously in May 4 Defense Daily International
Got a whopper? Send it to email@example.com. To be considered, an entry must be an unambiguously false statement paired with an unambiguous refutation, and both must be derived from some appropriately reliable public source. Preference will be given to newspapers and other documents that Chatterbox can link to online.
April 27, 2001: Ben Affleck
April 20, 2001: South Carolina state legislator Chip Limehouse
April 13, 2001: Gray Davis
April 6, 2001: Sumner Redstone
March 30, 2001: Spencer Abraham
March 23, 2001: George W. Bush, Rep. Jennifer Dunn, and/or the Treasury Department
March 16, 2001: George W. Bush
March 9, 2001: Russ Freyman, spokesman, National Association of Manufacturers
March 2, 2001: Paul O’Neill
Feb. 23, 2001: Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton
Feb. 16, 2001: Oscar spokesman John Pavlik
Feb. 9, 2001: Lynne Cheney
Feb. 2, 2001: Bobby Thomson
Jan 26, 2001: Denise Rich