Geez, I leave town for a week and everyone goes nuts! What's up with that?
The big news, of course, was that Alberto Gonzales finally resigned -- with little or no explanation, though various administration officials applied various spins to the decision.
Not that it really matters. I don't care if he wants to "pursue other options" or "spend more time with his family" or simply "make more money in the private sector." I don't care if he was forced out or jumped or fell. All I can say is, "at last." It was too long in coming.
His resignation won't bring an end to the myriad Congressional inquiries into his actions and those of his subordinates. But it might take some of the bite and energy out of them.
His temporary replacement will be Solicitor General Paul Clement. A permanent replacement will be hard to find, for several reasons: Bush's diminished influence, the mess Gonzales leaves behind, and the fact that "permanent" means a little more than a year at the end of a dying presidency. It would essentially be a caretaker role, not a platform for grand initiatives.
If Bush is smart, he'll find someone of impeccable integrity who can spend the year cleaning up the department and restoring its morale and reputation -- an endeavor that, if successful, might erase the memory of Gonzales in time for the 2008 elections. But it could take quite a sales job to persuade the right person to take on that task.
CRAIG'S RAP SHEET
Meanwhile, reporters discovered that Idaho Sen. Larry Craig was arrested in an airport bathroom here in Minnesota, and pleaded guilty to soliciting sex from an undercover cop.
(Tangentially, it must be just loads of fun to be an undercover vice cop, sitting in toilet stalls and waiting for someone to proposition you. I wonder if they get a lot of reading done.)
Craig, pressured by Republican leaders, said he would resign -- but is now reconsidering that decision.
Craig denies being gay or soliciting sex, saying he pleaded guilty in hopes of making an embarassing situation go away. And the evidence against him is circumstantial -- essentially, a series of actions that are traditionally used by gay men seeking sex. No direct request, no words spoken.
Still, the sequence of events is odd to say the least -- looking into the neighboring stall, placing his bag against the front of his own stall, tapping his foot, touching the undercover officer's foot and "swiping his hand under the stall divider."
Any one of those actions could be explained away -- though the last is somewhat difficult. But all of it in sequence makes little sense except as a come-on. He might claim police entrapment -- but the officer in question has a good reputation.
On the other hand, the transcript of his discussion with the officer shows sharp disagreement about what occurred. So there's room for doubt. Nothing Craig said in the transcript conflicts with his public claims. It comes down to who you believe -- and what weight you place on the unreliability of eyewitnesses, even trained eyewitnesses like undercover officers. Craig could well be telling the truth, and he might well have prevailed had he been willing to endure a public trial.
Still, for the sake of argument, let's assume Craig is guilty. What should be our reaction?
My basic take is that, in a perfect world, this should be a nonstory. Who cares about his sexual orientation or private sexual habits, as long as they're not illegal? But the hypocrisy -- of Republicans in general, and the strongly anti-gay Craig in particular -- is what drives these sort of things. Republicans have made an issue of homosexuality, and poking their nose in people's bedrooms; this is the flip side of that coming home to roost.
Which is why a Republican strategist, Michelle Laxalt, said the following about the Craig case on Larry King:
"I happened to have come into the Republican Party during the more civil libertarian era of Barry Goldwater, Bill Buckley, Paul Laxalt, Ronald Reagan. And in their philosophy, the view about judging people regarding their personal lives was a live and let live philosophy. And somehow during the ensuing years, there has been a faction who call themselves the Moral Majority. We all remember the bumper stickers many years ago floating around Washington, which read 'The Moral Majority is neither.' And here we find ourselves virtually every single time getting whacked because of what is perceived to be a hypocrisy factor. The Republican Party needs to have some very serious introspection and return to the values that started us out, and that is individual liberty and a live and let live policy when it comes to people's private lives."
Amen. The Dems figured that out years ago, which is why nobody cares if a Dem is gay. There's no hypocrisy. In cases like this, Republicans are merely reaping what they have sown in their embrace of the religious right and "family values" issues.
Congress returns from their summer recess, and that means more hearings on Iraq. Today we got a look at a GAO report on the Iraqi benchmarks, which notes that the Iraqi government has met only three of the 18 goals it set for itself, and partially met four others. And the ones that were met were the small, easy ones. (click here for the full report (pdf))
Wednesday and Thursday we'll get Congressional reports on the Iraqi security forces and the administration's own assessment of progress on benchmarks. And next week we'll get the big surge update from Gen. Petraeus. Both sides are already jockeying for position, with the White House downplaying the importance of political benchmarks and Congressional Democrats downplaying the importance of military benchmarks. It appears that many minds are already made up, and won't be changed by anything as mundane as facts on the ground.
This is a bit depressing, though I must admit that it's funny to see the White House criticizing the GAO report as "lacking nuance" when back in 2004 President Bush famously said he "doesn't do nuance." Oh what a difference three years of plummeting popularity makes.
Me, I accept the argument that the political benchmarks are more important than the military ones. But both are important, because progress (or backsliding) in one sphere can foreshadow progress (or backsliding) in the other. And it won't be as simple as "have they been met yet?" Indeed, that is only one of two important questions to be answered about the benchmarks.
1. Have they been met yet? This question is important both as an assessment of where we stand and as a way to judge the credibility of the claimants on both sides of the war, which should have some bearing on whom we believe going forward.
2. Has there been progress? And if so, how much? If the strategy can be shown to be working -- if there is reasonable reason to believe that it will deliver the necessary results -- then it deserves more time. But if the political benchmarks remain out of reach despite battlefield successes, or the battlefield is not successful enough to sustain the political achievements, then it's time to pull the plug.
Time to pull out my crystal ball.
Assuming the predictions are correct, what we'll get is a report that shows modest battlefield advances but political paralysis. So the debate will move on to two subordinate questions: what are the prospects for political progress, and are the battlefield gains both real and sustainable?
For that, we must await the reports.
gonzales, Craig, Iraq, politics, midtopia