Today's Blogs

Ready for Prime Time

Last night’s televised Oval Office address capped weeks of presidential efforts to shore up support for the war in Iraq, and it set off contentious debate among bloggers over the possibility of, and best strategy for, victory there. Also, bloggers are still buzzing about last week’s revelation that the National Security Agency has been spying within U.S. borders without warrants.

Ready for prime time:In a televised address from the Oval Office Sunday night, President Bush declared the Iraq war winnable, said that great progress was under way despite considerable difficulty, and asked Americans to be patient.

“All in all, a respectful, smart, and Presidential speech,” assesses conservative favorite Ed Morrissey, live-blogging the speech at Captain’s Quarters. “It’s the kind of address we should have heard on a quarterly basis all along—and then perhaps we would not have had the difficulties we have today. Part humble, part visionary, the obvious message here was that we are winning the war and defeatism makes no sense at this point at all.”

At the New Republic’s staff blog The Plank, Jonathan Chait was surprised to find himself heartened by a segment of the speech. “It was the part where he addressed opponents of the Iraq war, said he understand their passion but asked that they think of the stakes of defeat now that the war had happened and asked that they not give in to despair,” he writes. “This may be easy for me to say because I supported the war and oppose withdrawal. But even Bush’s prior pro-war speeches mostly struck me as simplistic, ugly and demagogic, reminders that I supported the war despite the administration rather than because of it. But this moment in his speech tonight really struck me as some kind of symbolic or emotional break from the past for Bush—a genuine attempt to unify Americans rather than polarize them.”

Other liberals are less impressed. “The speech was, like everything else Bush has said on the topic, a nice object lesson in the rhetorical possibilities of the straw man and the false dilemma,” writes Matthew Yglesias at liberal salon TPM Cafe. “As an effort to smear the opposition, it’s good work. As a serious argument, it’s patronizing and insulting.” The Nation’s David Corn believes that the essence of Bush’s overture, that domestic criticism undermines the war effort while patriotic support bolsters it, is, at this stage, false. “Bush’s PR—even if it’s improved—is not going to have any impact on what happens in Iraq,” he writes. “His words cannot determine whether or not the new government there is run by theocratic, pro-Iranian Shiites looking to develop a Shiite super-state in the south. They cannot stop the rising sectarian violence under way in Iraq.”

Some supporters of the president, however, believe the speech needn’t affect the course of progress in Iraq, since that country is moving steadily, perceptibly forward, independent of American domestic politics. “In this national televised speech, Bush went out of his way to take responsibility for the war,” writes stalwart libertarian law professor Glenn Reynolds at InstaPundit. “He repeatedly talked about ‘my decision to invade Iraq,’ even though, of course, it was also Congress’s decision. He made very clear that, ultimately, this was his war, and the decisions were his. Why did he do that?” Reynolds asks. “Because he thinks we’re winning, and he wants credit.” At Gateway Pundit, Jim Hoft agrees. “This war is good and over!” he declares. “The only thing left is for the media to catch up.” Dog Pundit and California Conservative are among the conservatives hounding the perceived media bias.

Read more about the address.

Domestic surveillance:Last week, the New York Times reported that, in 2002, President Bush authorized the NSA to eavesdrop on the international conversations of American citizens and foreign nationals within the United States without the customary court-issued warrant for wiretaps.

Liberal muckraker Joshua Micah Marshall has been spearheading the story at Talking Points Memo. He writes that the FISA Court, whose jurisdiction in these matters the executive order circumvents, was established expressly for speedy and obliging delivery of warrants; that, before 2002, the attorney general could already order wiretaps without a warrant, so long as he quickly applied for one; and points out that the logic offered by those supporting the order and criticizing the leak suggests the program was designed to authorize more wiretaps, not merely deliver the same wiretaps more quickly. At academic collective Crooked Timber, sociologist Kieran Healey writes that the defenses offered by the administration and its supporters are indistinguishable from those used to justify extralegal detention and interrogation of terrorist suspects since 2001.

At the National Review’s raucous conservative caucus The Corner, however, Mark Levin suggests the public outcry is much ado about nothing. “What is clear is that this is not some Watergate-type rogue operation, as seemingly hoped by some,” he writes. “In addition to repeated congressional notification, the program has been heavily lawyered by multiple agencies, including the Department of Justice and NSA and White House, and is regularly reviewed. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Secretary of State Condi Rice have both insisted that program is legal. The fact that some might disagree with whatever legal advice and conclusions the president has received does not make them right or the program illegal.”

Many on the right charge the Times with overhyping the story. Conservative columnist Michelle Malkin points out that the program is restricted to international communications, was initiated to exploit valuable intelligence many believed would soon expire, and has already uncovered at least one significant terrorist plot. At JustOneMinute, Tom Maguire writes that Congress was repeatedly briefed on the issue and suggests the failure to block the program amounts to effective congressional approval.  

In fact, law professor Ann Althouse says that it’s up to Congress, not the courts, to determine whether the president should have such powers. “The legal question whether separation of powers has been violated at this point is complicated and interesting, but there is no reason for any court to answer it, when Congress is able to go on record about whether it wants the President to be able to do these things or not,” she writes. Slate contributor Eric Umansky thinks that, contrary to prevailing liberal opinion, spying to diffuse threats posed by foreign powers might very well be considered constitutional.

Read more about the NSA story.