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There is not much news in Karl Rove's memoir, Courage and Consequence, which is something of a moral triumph for the author. Rove is nothing if not loyal, and these sorts of books tend to create a stir only when they betray the boss. A significant amount of dirt is dished here — an astonishing amount, actually; this is a work of titanic pettiness — but it's all tossed at enemies of George W. Bush.
One example: Hillary Clinton is criticized for sitting down, rather than standing, for a photo with rescue workers three days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Bush, who had just arrived at ground zero, is standing for photos, and it simply doesn't occur to Rove that Clinton had already spent most of the past several days there, working desperately for her constituents. Rove is not always so unfair; he manages to demolish more than a few of the sillier attacks against him and the President. But this book is primarily an act of vengeance — and, in that sense, unintentionally revealing about the nature of the Bush presidency.
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It seems to me that while acres of forest have been sacrificed to detailing the Undiebomber follies, the other terrorist attack during Christmas week–the suicide bomber who took out much of a CIA station at Forward Operating Base Chapman on the Af/Pak border–was a far more significant event. Turns out he was a double agent, operating under Jordanian "control."
This is obviously the stuff of spy novels–and there will be consequences (as the official CIA statement had it, the deaths "will be avenged"). In checking with my intelligence sources, I've learned that this was an operation that goes against the prevailing wisdom–that Al Qaeda has largely become a network of local franchises. This was most likely the work of the AQ central command and a complicated operation at that, involving the building of trust, the divulging of "secrets" that must have had some intelligence value or else the bomber would never have found his way into a CIA operations center without so much as a pat-down. If that proves out, it will have been the first successful operation run by the AQ central command–the Osama bin Laden headquarters–in quite some time.
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/WORLD/meast/06/24/iran.election/art.iran.british.afp.gi.jpg caption="Hard-line Iranian students mock British, U.S. and Israeli flags outside the British Embassy in Tehran on Tuesday."]
The most treacherous government is Britain," Ayatullah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, intoned at Friday prayers on June 19, and I had to laugh. The Supreme Leader, in the midst of announcing a crackdown on the Green Revolution demonstrators, was sounding like the lead character in the most famous contemporary Iranian novel, My Uncle Napoleon, a huge hit as a television series in the 1970s. Uncle Napoleon is a beloved paranoid curmudgeon, the Iranian Archie Bunker. He blames everything — the weather, the economy, the moral vagaries of his family — on the British. This has been a constant theme in Iranian public life for at least 100 years, although the U.S. has supplanted Britain as the Great Satan, the source of all Iranian miseries, since the revolution of 1979.
Suddenly, now, the Brits were back, and you had to wonder why. Certainly the BBC's Persian service, the most popular source of news for better-educated Iranians, was a real problem for the regime. Khamenei and various flunkies also blamed the U.S., especially the CIA, for the unrest, but the attacks on the Great Satan were muted — a curious development.
Was it due to Barack Obama's initial, temperate response to the rigged election results? Was it a recognition that Obama's Cairo speech and New Year's greeting to the Iranian people had made him popular across the Persian political spectrum, a less convincing Satan than George W. Bush had been? Was it a pragmatic recognition that one way for the regime to regain credibility with its own people would be to open negotiations with the Obama Administration, thereby demonstrating that it had credibility with the most powerful country in the world?
These questions, which roiled Obama's foreign policy team and the international community as the Iranian crisis ended its second week, reflected a growing sense that the Khamenei-Ahmadinejad regime would prevail against the demonstrators, but had seriously wounded itself in the process.
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/WORLD/meast/06/11/iran.moussavi.profile/art.hossein.moussavi.afp.jpg caption="Presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi holds up the 'V' sign after casting his vote on Friday."]
Joe Klein and Nahid Siamdoust
The day before Iran went to the polls, Mir-Hossein Mousavi, the leading reform candidate, agreed to talk to TIME magazine. The interview was held in a building that Mousavi, an architect and artist, designed himself, part of an art school and gallery complex in central Tehran. Mousavi — who is not overwhelmingly charismatic, but seems every bit the artist-intellectual — strolled into a bare conference room, with little security and only a few aides, dressed in a dark suit and blue-striped shirt. He seemed to understand the questions posed in English, but he answered in Farsi.
Mousavi has a reputation for being soft-spoken, but that is an exaggeration. He is whisper-spoken. His answers to our questions were cautious, precise, although surprisingly candid at times. He was most emphatic when we asked about the way Mahmoud Ahmadinejad conducted his campaign, which included a direct attack on Mousavi's wife, the famous artist and activist Zahra Rahnavard. "I think he went beyond our societal norms, and that is why he created a current against himself," Mousavi said. "In our country, they don't insult a man's wife [to] his face. It is also not expected of a President to tend to such small details."
We have "only one President at a time," Barack Obama said in his debut press conference as President-elect. Normally, that would be a safe assumption — but we're learning not to assume anything as the charcoal-dreary economic winter approaches. By mid-November, with the financial crisis growing worse by the day, it had become obvious that one President was no longer enough (at least not the President we had). So, in the days before Thanksgiving, Obama began to move — if not to take charge outright, then at least to preview what things will be like when he does take over in January. He became a more public presence, taking questions from the press three days in a row. He named his economic team. He promised an enormous stimulus package that would somehow create 2.5 million new jobs, and began to maneuver the new Congress toward having the bill ready for him to sign — in a dramatic ceremony, no doubt — as soon as he assumes office.
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Lord, things are moving fast...and also not. The stock market is moving south–fast. The number of jobless claims are moving north–fast. Economic panic is in the air...and the atmosphere is Washington is changing faster than a speeding ballot (ouch, sorry). There is a stirring in the Congress, too, where nothing of substance has happened in a long, long time. Today the hopelessly dopey auto makers received a couple of stark warnings: First, California's crusading Henry Waxman replaced the eternal John Dingell, patron saint of the gas-guzzlers, as Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which is great news for those who are looking forward to the greening of Detroit. Then Nancy Pelosi called out the Big Three, saying no bailout without a plan. Now, no one really believes the Democrats will wit(h)hold money from the automakers–but the Big 3 would have to be stupider than idiotic not to understand that higher gas mileage standards and a whole bunch of other requirements are coming down the pike. They have very few, if any, defenders left in your nation's capital and that's real progress.
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/11/05/art.obama.elex.reac.jpg caption="Barack Obama supporters celebrate at Hyde Park Hair Salon where President-elect Barack Obama gets his hair cut on the south side of Chicago"]
Eleven months ago, I attended a John Edwards speech in the little town of Algona, Iowa. It was a Sunday afternoon, and Edwards had drawn a large crowd of mostly uncommitted voters to a local factory that made wind-turbine components. Two things soon became apparent as I interviewed a dozen or so Algonans before the speech. The first was that there were a fair number of Republicans present, a phenomenon I was beginning to notice all over Iowa. They were not yet committed to voting Democratic, but they mentioned their disappointment in George W. Bush, their frustration with the war in Iraq and their dismay with the right-wing religious drift of the state Republican Party. The last time I'd seen so many crossovers was in 1980, when Democrats — angry at Jimmy Carter and their party's leftward drift — made their presence felt at Republican meetings, heralding the onset of the Reagan era.
In the days before the great election of 2008, your nation's capital was consumed by a single question: If Barack Obama wins, what's in it for me? A week before the balloting, I sat in the dining room of one of Washington's finest hotels and, eavesdropping madly, realized that my neighbors at every one of the adjoining tables were consumed by the vagaries of appointive politics — as I was, after my guest arrived.
The game of turbocharged, Cabinet-level musical chairs is the autumnal version of the summer speculation about vice-presidential picks: lots of fun, but not very nourishing, and I'm not going to indulge in it here (O.K., maybe a little). There are bigger fish to fry, like what's the new President — Obama is universally, prematurely, assumed the victor — actually going to do?
It was possible, in this rotisserie of naked self-promotion, to discern some larger themes. For the first time since Franklin Roosevelt, the next President will face the prospect of neither peace nor prosperity — and there seems a consensus that, as much as Obama (or John McCain, for that matter) wants to play in the world, the financial crisis will demand most of his time and political capital. From that assumption flows another.
For the sake of continuity and the absence of drama, it might not be a bad idea for Obama — if elected — to stick with the current national-security players in the battle against Islamic extremism.
Barack Obama has prospered in this presidential campaign because of the steadiness of his temperament and the judicious quality of his decision-making. They are his best-known qualities. The most important decision he has made — the selection of a running mate — was done carefully, with an exhaustive attention to detail and contemplation of all the possible angles. Two months later, as John McCain's peremptory selection of Governor Sarah Palin has come to seem a liability, it could be argued that Obama's quiet selection of Joe Biden defined the public's choice in the general-election campaign.
But not every decision can be made so carefully. There are a thousand instinctive, instantaneous decisions that a presidential candidate has to make in the course of a campaign — like whether to speak his mind to a General Petraeus — and this has been a more difficult journey for Obama, since he's far more comfortable when he's able to think things through. "He has learned to trust his gut," an Obama adviser told me. "He wasn't so confident in his instincts last year. It's been the biggest change I've seen in him."
"This really gets down to the fundamental difference in our philosophies," John McCain said, quite accurately, in the heat of the third presidential debate. "If you notice ... Senator Obama wants government to do the job. He wants government to do the job. I want you, Joe, to do the job," referring to a plumber Barack Obama had met on the campaign trail.
The job, in this case, was finding health insurance. And in years past, McCain would have had the better of this argument — it is the classic division between liberals and conservatives. But 2008 has proved to be a new and frightening moment for the American electorate, and having the government help in finding, and funding, health care doesn't sound like such a bad idea anymore.
McCain had a feisty debate, with some high points and a bit too much anger to make Americans feel very comfortable in his presence, but to a very great extent, his fate — like this election — was out of his control. This is simply not a good year to say, "Joe, take care of your health care yourself." It seems an impossible year for McCain's Reagan Republican philosophy.
McCain entered the third debate with Obama a chastened man. Half the Republican savants seemed to have given up on him; the other half were offering bad advice. Worse, he seemed to have realized — finally — the permanent threat to his reputation that his campaign had become. The moment of truth may have occurred at an Oct. 6 rally. "Who is the real Barack Obama?" McCain asked. "A terrorist!" a man bellowed. McCain seemed to wince, roll his eyes, retreat.
He didn't admonish the man, but the incident was unsettling, and several days later, at a town-hall meeting in Minnesota, he did begin to push back against the ugliness of his crowds. A woman said, "I can't trust Obama. He's an Arab," and McCain replied, "No, ma'am. No, ma'am, he's not. He's a decent family man — citizen — that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues."