Thursday, January 05, 2006

Operation Photo Op, Oval Office Edition, 1.0

Bush and Former Cabinet Members Discuss Topic No. 1: Iraq

WASHINGTON, Jan. 5 - Colin Powell said nothing - a silence that spoke volumes to many in the White House today.

His predecessor, Madeleine Albright, was a bit riled after hearing an exceedingly upbeat 40-minute briefing to 13 living former secretaries of state and defense about how well things are going in Iraq. Saying the war in Iraq was "taking up all the energy" of President Bush's foreign policy team, she asked Mr. Bush whether he had let nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea spin out of control, and Latin America and China policy suffer by benign neglect.

"I can't let this comment stand," Mr. Bush shot back, telling Ms. Albright and the rare assembly of her colleagues, who reached back to the Kennedy White House, that his administration "can do more than one thing at a time."

The Bush administration, the president insisted, had "the best relations of any country with Japan, China and Korea," and active programs to win alliances around the world.

That was, according to some of the participants, one of the few moments of heat during an unusual White House effort to bring some of its critics into the fold and give a patina of bipartisan common ground to the strategy that Mr. Bush has laid out in recent weeks for Iraq.

But if it was a bipartisan consultation, as advertised by the White House, it was a brief one. Mr. Bush allowed 5 to 10 minutes this morning for interchange with the group - which included three veterans of another difficult war, the one in Vietnam: Robert S. McNamara, Melvin R. Laird and James R. Schlesinger. Then the entire group was herded the Oval Office for what he called a "family picture."

I'm not sure you really need to read the article. Anyone who is really paying attention to this White House knows that George W. Bush doesn't listen to anyone but his inner circle. This meeting was all about the photograph at the top of the article. Operation photo op, Oval Office edition, 1.0. People will hear, or see, that this bipartisan group of former officials gathered. They won't hear or see the substance. Rove's theory -- and it's been working to date -- is that a good picture triumphs the facts or the truth.

As media have proliferated, people just don't read any more. They don't even have the attention span to watch the entire evening news program. People hear a fragment, they read a headline, they glance at a picture on the front page or as they flick through the channels looking for something interesting. My parents watched the evening news religiously, and discussed it. Today, they'd be reading their email, answering their cell phones, driving their kids to extracurricular activities (in my day we took the bus for such things), flicking through their 57 or 300 or 1000 television channels, surfing the web, or working late to keep their jobs and their health insurance.

And even if people were paying close attention, there is always the Mighty Wurlitzer, Faux News and talk radio and MSNBCNNCNBCABCD, all saying "On the one hand, on the other hand...", all issues have two sides and both are equally valid.

And thus the New York Times headline: "Bush and Former Cabinet Members Discuss..." Discuss, my Irish ass. There was no discussion. There was a short, faux meeting and a very real photo op. No substance. They may have been talking, but Lalala I Can' Hear You George Bush isn't listening.

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