Still Stupid After All These Days

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From Reliable Sources last weekend:

HOWARD KURTZ: There's varying estimates on that, but the president called these reports ... wild speculation, and I'm thinking, OK, so it's OK for President Bush to authorize leaks of classified information about Iraq as he did in 2003, according to Scooter Libby. But it's somehow unfair for other people to leak information about Iran? I mean, it's not like we're...

JONAH GOLDBERG *: Well, there's a huge different standard. The president of the United States is constitutionally empowered as the person charged with being able to declassify...

KURTZ: That's a legal argument. I'm asking about the political question. How can the administration complain about these leaks, when they selectively play this game themselves?

GOLDBERG: I don't understand -- I mean, I really don't understand how you can be confused about it. It seems to me that ...

KURTZ: I'm not confused.

GOLDBERG: ... the president of the United States, he's the one who gets to determine whether or not the people have a right to know something in terms of ...

KURTZ: So it's OK when he does it?

GOLDBERG: I don't... yeah.

KURTZ: And if somebody else in the Pentagon leaks information, it's not OK, because they're not the president. They don't have the legal authority.

GOLDBERG: I think that's -- well, not only the legal authority, it's not their job. It's not a general's job to be leaking classified information to influence public policy. It isn't.

JOHN ARAVOSIS: It's Richard Nixon all over again. As long as the president does it, it's OK. You know, l'etat, c'est moi. We don't want to go too French here, but you know, it's -- what you've got is just that. The president has decided when he wants to leak stuff -- and I would argue that it may be legal for the president to leak things, but good God! Do we really want George Bush being the one deciding what classified information will and won't hurt national security?

GOLDBERG: Yeah. That's why he won an election. That's (inaudible). You want the Supreme Court deciding it?

ARAVOSIS: Sixty-six percent of the American people are not too happy right now with this president, and I don't think we want him deciding personally what ...

GOLDBERG: Oh, so we should have a plebicitory system where...


ARAVOSIS: What we're talking about, Jonah, is right and wrong and not legalities. Legalities is what...

GOLDBERG: But that's absurd!

ARAVOSIS: Legalities is what got Bill Clinton in trouble.
This is so incredibly muddled. Kurtz is trying to say Bush is a hypocrite because, apart from the legalities, it's the same thing. The problem is that Bush was opposed to "leaks" of classified information because it was illegal, because Bush ordered them not to do it without authorization. Bush never ordered himself to not do it, it was not illegal, and he had/gave authorization. They are two completely different things. The only reason the comparison of the two is a "political question" is because people misunderstand what Bush said or meant when he condemned "leaks."

So to answer his question directly: yes, it is OK when Bush does it. Of course it is. Why should anyone have a problem with that? This is one of his powers, like authorizing the use of force: if he told his generals not to authorize the use of force, does that mean Bush himself does not retain the right to do so? Of course not.

Saying this is "Richard Nixon all over again" exposes the author of as a moron. What Nixon did was violate the law and then justify it on the grounds that he was President. You could (though it would be hard to do it convincingly to me) say that Bush's authorization of the NSA wiretapping program is similar to what Nixon did in that regard, but there is no rational way to compare the "leak" of the Iraq NIE to what Nixon did.

Again: there was no "leak of classified information" in what Bush did. He authorized its release, so therefore it was declassified. This is a fact.

And for Aravosis to claim that "the American people" do not want Bush personally deciding what should be declassified is just nonsensical. More people voted for Bush to have that authority than anyone else in history. Sure, some of them have changed their minds since, but even most of them would not propose we have a do-over or impeachment to remove that authority from him.

Further, I propose we poll the U.S. Senate and find out if they would say Bush should not have this authority. Since almost all of them want to be President some day, and to have and use that authority, I doubt even the most leftwing of them would agree.

What Kurtz and Aravosis really want to say here is that it was simply wrong for Bush to release formerly classified information to make a political point. But they both knew almost three years ago that he did precisely that, as we all did, when the headlines in July 2003 read "Bush Authorizes Release of NIE on Iraq." That Bush authorized the release of that information 10 days earlier is irrelevant to the substance of what Bush actually did: that's merely a procedural question, a question of form.

And Goldebrg hits the nail on the head when he says, "It's not a general's job to be leaking classified information to influence public policy." That is precisely what Bush did (modulo the word "leak"), and that is precisely within his power, and it is something every President does. Clinton did it, Bush did it, Reagan did it, Carter did it, and so on down the line.

Reagan, for example, declassified spy plane photos of Soviet activity in the Caribbean. He did it because he wanted to pressure the Soviets, by making the information public. There's nothing wrong with that, and no one complained at the time. Similarly, Joe Wilson was making false claims about the Iraq-seeking-uranium-in-Africa claim, and Bush fought back by making some of the information backing him up public.

This is his right, his authority, and it is normal and nonremarkable. And again, the fact that it is nonremarkable is underscored by the fact that no one complained about it until three years after the fact, even though we knew it happened at the time.

* Note: The transcript on says Aravosis said what Goldberg said, in the first quote, beginning with "Well, there's a huge ... ." I watched it on the TiVo and confirmed Goldberg said it, so I fixed it here.

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<pudge/*> (pronounced "PudgeGlob") is thousands of posts over many years by Pudge.

"It is the common fate of the indolent to see their rights become a prey to the active. The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt."

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