When both Kevin Drum and Josh Marshall lead a posting on something by noting that it is “(seriously|awfully) weird,” you know I’m going to be all over it. Anyway, from Drum: Bombing al Jazeera. And from Marshall: This is an awfully weird story…
At issue are some British newspaper reports that Bush, while meeting with Tony Blair in April 2004, disclosed a plan to bomb the al Jazeera offices in Qatar as part of pushing back against the Arab-language broadcasters for their unfavorable coverage of US operations in Iraq.
The obvious interpretation of this is that Bush was joking, since that’s the kind of actually-not-very-funny sadistic humor that we’ve come to expect from the Frat Boy in Chief. But there are interesting signs that at least some of those in the room on the British side took the statement seriously, and made notes of Blair’s subsequent efforts (successful, reportedly) to talk Bush out of it.
I think that’s the detail that raises it to non-believability for me. We all know that if Bush really wanted to do something like that, no whimpering from his poodle across the pond would change his mind.
But it’s still kind of interesting. Bush apparently said something in that meeting, and however you interpret it, it isn’t very flattering that he did so.
McClellan made the following response when asked about the story:
“We are not interested in dignifying something so outlandish and inconceivable with a response,” White House spokesman Scott McClellan told the Associated Press in an e-mail.
I really liked Philosoraptor’s take on that: I have no plans to attack al Jazeera on my desk.
Given that we know that the administration is willing to mislead with half-truths, it would simply be irrational to interpret this as a denial. Which is not to say that it should be interpreted as an admission, either. Rather, we know that we must demand ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers.
We first learned this when Mr. Bush told us that there were “no plans to attack [Iraq] on [his] desk.” Later we found out that the planning was well underway. So the plans must have been in his drawer, or have moved on to Powell’s desk, or whatever. But we discovered something important about Mr. Bush at that point: we couldn’t interpret his words in the ordinary way, in the way we’d interpret the words of someone we knew we could trust. It was a despicable use of conversational implicature to prey on our trust and good will in order to deceive us.
In fact, I feel a tug–which I want to resist–to count McClellan’s evasive answer as Winglish for ‘yes’. And given Mr. Bush’s terrible decision-making in the past, I suppose I wouldn’t put this past him. One thing I think everyone can agree on: if he was serious about bombing al Jazeera, then this counts to some degree against his stability and/or competence.
Update: More from Jeremy Scahill in The Nation: Did Bush really want to bomb al Jazeera?