Robert Gibbs

If 40 Months of Drone Strikes in Yemen Haven’t Made Transfers Safe …

When on January 5, 2010 President Obama announced a halt to all transfers of Yemeni Gitmo detainees, he reiterated his intent to close the prison, even noting that AQAP formed, in part, in response to Gitmo (recall that Said al-Shihri, one of AQAP’s actual operational leaders, had been a Gitmo detainee).

Finally, some have suggested that the events on Christmas Day should cause us to revisit the decision to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay. So let me be clear. It was always our intent to transfer detainees to other countries only under conditions that provide assurances that our security is being protected.

With respect to Yemen in particular, there’s an ongoing security situation which we have been confronting for some time, along with our Yemeni partner. Given the unsettled situation, I’ve spoken to the Attorney General and we’ve agreed that we will not be transferring additional detainees back to Yemen at this time.

But make no mistake: We will close Guantanamo prison, which has damaged our national security interests and become a tremendous recruiting tool for al Qaeda. In fact, that was an explicit rationale for the formation of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

The announcement came less than a week after John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Joe Lieberman released a statement (citing Shihri explicitly) complaining about the imminent release of 6 Yemeni detainees; Dianne Feinstein and Kit Bond issued their own request. Jane Harman and Crazy Pete Hoekstra were also calling for a halt to transfers to Yemen (Hoekstra, of course, was also leaking NSA intercepts to fearmonger against Anwar al-Awlaki). The day after the announcement, DOD sources leaked a report that would later be released in more detail showing 20% of Gitmo detainees released had joined or rejoined al Qaeda. In short, in significant part it came in response to political pressure to halt transfers, something DiFi admits readily.

But the halt in transfers also came among Obama Administration guarantees that their new strategy against Yemen would quickly bring results. Brennan described the new security agreements put into place at the January 2, 2010 David Petraeus-Ali Abudullah Saleh meeting (this is where Brennan estimated the number of AQAP militants to be “several hundred”) at which Saleh agreed to let fixed wing planes, including drones, operate in his country.

WALLACE: Let me widen this discussion in that sense. Not only as you point out, obviously, were you in Yemen earlier, but General Petraeus, the head of Central Command, was in Yemen yesterday.

The British overnight have announced that the U.S. and the British are going to be co-funding a new Yemeni anti-terror counter-terror police force.

Is it fair to say that we are opening up a second front in our war on terror outside the Afghanistan-Pakistan theater in Yemen?

BRENNAN: I wouldn’t say we’re opening up a second front. This is the continuation of an effort that we’ve had under way since, as I said, the beginning of this administration.

David Petraeus has been out to Yemen several times. I spoke with him yesterday after he met with President Salih. We’re continuing to have a very close and ongoing dialogue with the Yemeni government. The cooperation is on the security, intelligence and military fronts.

We’ve had close consultations with the British. I spoke with the British last night also about the types of things that we can do together in support of the Yemeni government. So this is a determined and concerted effort.

We’re not going to let Al Qaeda continue to sort of make gains in Yemen, because we need to take whatever steps necessary to protect our citizens there as well as abroad.

WALLACE: Could that mean U.S. troops on ground in Yemen?

BRENNAN: We’re not talking about that at this point at all. The Yemeni government has demonstrated their willingness to take the fight to Al Qaeda. We — they’re willing to accept our support. We’re providing them everything that they’ve asked for.

And they’ve made some real progress. And over the past month, Al Qaeda has taken a number of hits, and a number of Al Qaeda leaders in Yemen are no longer with us because of this determined and aggressive action.

The day after Obama announced the moratorium on Yemen transfers, Robert Gibbs claimed (perhaps because several Yemenis had been transferred in December) that the moratorium came as a result of a recent decline in security.

MR. GIBBS: I have not seen or heard about the latest report that you refer to and I don’t have handy what numbers had been for similar reports in years past. Yesterday’s determination was made and announced very much on what you heard John Brennan say over the weekend. We never had a plan to transfer anybody either to their home country or to a third country that we believe — we have reason to believe will present a security situation for us or for that country. And in relating to Yemen, I think you heard John say nobody was going to be transferred back that we did not believe that the Yemeni government could handle.

The determination was made that given the — as you heard the President say — the swift change in the security environment even over the last few weeks in Yemen caused the President and the Attorney General to agree that pausing any of those transfers was the right policy right now.

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US Media Shocked–Shocked!!–by Press Secretary’s Glomar on Drones

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Kudos to Chris Hayes for getting his now MSNBC colleague Robert Gibbs to admit that he was instructed, effectively, to give a Glomar — neither confirm nor deny — about the drone program.

“When I went through the process of becoming press secretary, one of the first things they told me was, ‘You’re not even to acknowledge the drone program. You’re not even to discuss that it exists,” said Gibbs, now an MSNBC contributor. That policy of secrecy, Gibbs said, made it difficult to deal with reporters asking about the program. Describing one such notable exchange in 2009 with Major Garrett, then of Fox News, Gibbs said, “I would get a question like that and literally I couldn’t tell you what Major asked, because once I figured out it was about the drone program, I realize I’m not supposed to talk about it.”

Gibbs added: “Here’s what’s inherently crazy about that proposition: you’re being asked a question based on reporting of a program that exists. So you’re the official government spokesperson acting as if the entire program…pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.”

[snip]

“I think you’ve seen recently the president discuss the need and desire to be more forthcoming,” Gibbs said. “I have not talked to him about this, so I want to be careful, this is my opinion, but I think what the president has seen is, our denial of the existence of the program when it’s obviously happening undermines people’s confidence overall in the decisions that their government makes.” [my emphasis]

The press seems shocked by this. But the instruction to Gibbs to neither confirm nor deny is precisely parallel to the response the national security establishment has given to NYT and ACLU under FOIA: based on its claim that the program itself has never been officially confirmed (Gibbs, conveniently, is no longer on the payroll, so this exchange will be added to the long list of confirmations the program exists that get discounted as confirmation by judges), the government also refuses to confirm or deny that they have documents explaining things like how an American can be killed under the program.

Of course Gibbs has to neither confirm nor deny, because if he didn’t the government would have to share information about the program with mere citizens.

But the requirement that Gibbs issue the public equivalent of a Glomar — along with the press’ seeming surprise about this — is a testament that the government puts more stock in maintaining legal deniability in the face of crumbling actual deniability than in maintaining its democratic legitimacy.

That is, for whatever reason (and I suspect it’s a combination of legal concern about the actions actually committed and an unwillingness to reveal the real state of our relationships with the Pakistanis, Saudis, and Yemenis), the Administration is willing to have even its former press secretary suggest this treatment of widely acknowledged covert operations undermines the faith in government more generally.

Gibbs, for his part, seems to think the Administration is moving to make these things more transparent. Meanwhile, someone who looks suspiciously like Gibbs’ former colleague at the National Security Council, Tommy Vietor, is bitching at the Intelligence Committees because they insist on being briefed on the drone program they’re supposed to be overseeing.

“These guys don’t even know what the hell they’re asking for,” the official said. “They think they can ‘reverse-engineer’ the [drone] program by asking for more memos, but these are not necessarily things that exist or are relevant…. What they’re asking for is to get more people read into very sensitive programs. That’s not a small decision.”

I’d say this Tommy Vietor lookalike probably has a better read on the Administration’s interest in transparency than Gibbs at this point.

The Democrats’ “Diversity Problem”

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There was a bit of a stink after Chuck Todd suggested the Democrats wish they had the diversity the GOP showed at the RNC this week. Josh Marshall said it was, “one of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard anyone say.” And then Marshall and Todd debated about it over Twitter. At which point Todd made it clear that he was reporting what the Obama campaign had said to him.

And this is reported material btw, not pundit speculation.

Marshall pointed out how diverse the Democratic party is.

Dude. Actually, let me rephrase that … DUDE. Black prez. 2 asian-am sens, 1 Hisp sen, black gov. (1/3)

2 huge caucuses of hispanic & af-am lawmakers in House, do u really believe the dems “had to go” to a red state to (2/3)

To which Todd repeatedly suggested that this came from the Obama Administration and claimed he was talking about “high profile” positions.

how many govs and senators do the dems have on this front? That was my point. High profile positions

ask the Obama campaign if they wish they had govs and sens as diverse as GOP right now.

Now, frankly, I think Chuck Todd’s problem–in this particular instance–is that he repeated what the Obama campaign said to him, rather than pointing out how crazy the Obama campaign is. It’s not just diversity they want, it’s the right kind of diversity.

Which brings me to the Sunday shows, which include the following lineups–which presumably were made with the significant input of the Obama Administration. (h/t Elliott)

ABC’s This Week:  White House senior adviser David Plouffe.

 

CBS’ Face the Nation:Gov. Martin O’Malley (D-MD), former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and Obama Deputy Campaign Manager Stephanie Cutter.
 

CNN’s State of the Union: Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Gov. Bev Perdue (D-NC), and Gov. Martin O’Malley (D-MD). Then, Obama Senior Campaign Adviser Robert Gibbs. Senior Romney Campaign Adviser Eric Fehrnstrom.
 

Fox News Sunday:DNC Chair Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Obama Campaign Senior Advisor David Axelrod.
 

NBC’s Meet the Press:Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel.

The Latino Mayor of Los Angeles, a tainted but Latino former Governor of New Mexico, lots of dickish top campaign advisors, dickish Rahm, Governor O’Malley (who’s been a superb campaign surrogate).

And just two women, one Stephanie Cutter appearance and one appearance from the Governor of the state hosting the Convention.

Not even DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who whatever else I might say about her is also a terrific media figure. Continue reading

What the White House “Official Announcement” of UndieBomb 2.0 Would Have Looked Like

As I’ve been tracing, there’s a pissing contest going on between the AP and John Brennan over the roll-out of the UndieBomb 2.0 “plot” earlier this month.

When the AP first broke the story on UndieBomb 2.0, it explained that it had held the story but decided to publish before the Administration made an official announcement on what would have been Tuesday, May 8.

The AP learned about the thwarted plot last week but agreed to White House and CIA requests not to publish it immediately because the sensitive intelligence operation was still under way.

Once those concerns were allayed, the AP decided to disclose the plot Monday despite requests from the Obama administration to wait for an official announcement Tuesday. [my emphasis]

Since that time, the Administration has tried to claim they never intended to make an official announcement about the “plot.” They did so for a May 9 LAT story.

U.S. intelligence officials had planned to keep the bomb sting secret, a senior official said, but the Associated Press learned of the operation last week. The AP delayed posting the story at the request of the Obama administration, but then broke the news Monday.

“When the AP got it and started talking about it, it caused all kinds of problems with the operation,” said a U.S. official who would not be quoted by name discussing the classified operation. “The investigation never went to its full conclusion.”

AP spokesman Paul Colford said the news agency held off publishing until U.S. officials told the AP that security concerns were allayed.

“We were told on Monday that the operation was complete and that the White House was planning to announce it Tuesday,” he said.

Then the White House tried misdirection for a Mark Hosenball story last week–both blaming AP for information about the Saudi infiltrator the AP didn’t break, and attributing Brennan’s comments implying the plot involved an infiltrator to hasty White House efforts to feed the news cycle spin respond to the story.

According to National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor, due to its sensitivity, the AP initially agreed to a White House request to delay publication of the story for several days.

But according to three government officials, a final deal on timing of publication fell apart over the AP’s insistence that no U.S. official would respond to the story for one clear hour after its release.

When the administration rejected that demand as “untenable,” two officials said, the AP said it was going public with the story. At that point, Brennan was immediately called out of a meeting to take charge of damage control.

[snip]

The AP denies any quid pro quo was requested by them or rejected by the White House. “At no point did AP offer or propose a deal with regard to this story,” said AP spokesman Paul Colford.

[snip]

The White House places the blame squarely on AP, calling the claim that Brennan contributed to a leak “ridiculous.”

“It is well known that we use a range of intelligence capabilities to penetrate and monitor terrorist groups,” according to an official statement from the White House national security staff.

“None of these sources or methods was disclosed by this statement. The egregious leak here was to the Associated Press. The White House fought to prevent this information from being reported and ultimately worked to delay its publication for operational security reasons. No one is more upset than us about this disclosure, and we support efforts to prevent leaks like this which harm our national security,” the statement said.

The original AP story, however, made no mention of an undercover informant or allied “control” over the operation, indicating only that the fate of the would-be suicide bomber was unknown. [my emphasis]

Now, there are several problems with this latest White House story. The allegation of a quid pro quo rests on the premise that the Administration was also about to release the information; it’s just a different version of the request to hold the story until an official White House announcement. Furthermore, if the White House didn’t want this information out there, then why brief Richard Clarke and Fran Fragos Townsend, who went from there to prime time news shows and magnified the story?

In short, the White House attempt to blame the release of this story on the AP makes less and less sense every time they change their story.

But there’s another piece of counter-evidence to claims the White House didn’t intend to do a dog-and-pony show boasting of their success at “foiling” an AQAP bomb “plot.”

The dog-and-pony show they rolled out the last time they foiled an AQAP bomb plot targeting the US, four days before the midterm elections in 2010.

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The Blowjob that Shall Not Be Named

Politico has a festival of stupidity on yesterday’s release by Obama of his long form birth certificate. The varieties of stupid in the article include:

  • Ignoring the real precedent of the blowjob that shall not be named
  • Blaming birtherism on the InterToobz, and not cable TV
  • Conflating correct doubts about Bush ignoring warnings about al Qaeda with 9/11 Trutherism

The central argument of the piece relies on Robert Gibbs’ claim that “we’ve crossed some Rubicon” into a realm in which “there are no arbiters of truth.” And while Politico reports Obama’s advisors trace this new era to, “the decline of traditional media and the rise of viral emails and partisan Web and cable TV platforms,” Politico labels this new era simply “the Internet era.”

It’s the hippies’ fault, apparently, and not that of the traditional press (or even the cable news channels) themselves.

As a result, the argument goes, Obama faces a new challenge to rebut claims like birtherism that no one before him did.

And to sustain that claim–to sustain the claim that Obama faces something Clinton didn’t, to sustain the claim that we are only newly in an “era of public life with no referee — and no common understandings between fair and unfair, between relevant and trivial, or even between facts and fantasy,” Politco drones on for over 1600 words with no more than indirect allusions to the fact that, in an era when the NYT still reigned supreme, a President was impeached over a consensual blowjob with the enthusiastic complicity of that arbiter of truth, the traditional press.

It takes some work for Politico and those it quotes to avoid mentioning that blowjob precedent. Politico muses,

It’s hard to imagine Bill Clinton coming out to the White House briefing room to present evidence showing why people who thought he helped plot the murder of aide Vincent Foster— never mind official rulings of suicide — were wrong.

But it doesn’t consider the discussions by very serious arbiters of truth that maybe we need to see which direction the President’s penis curves to confirm or refute claims about the President’s sex life. It doesn’t consider that the Village cherished a certain semen-stained dress like the holy grail.

Because all that happened in an era when the press had a clear consensus about what was fair and unfair, relevant and trivial, you see.

And rather bizarrely, Politico quotes the man who might have preempted that blowjob impeachment by doing what Obama did, a man who has admitted to me publicly that he wanted to come out and say it was just a consensual blowjob between adults:

Marcy Wheeler: So, finally you get to the point where, yes, Clinton did not, was not completely forthcoming about a consensual blow job. The other thing that I think could have happened is that a lot of people said but, fundamentally what happened was a consensual blow job between consenting adults. I think it’s between Bill and Hillary and Monica Lewinsky. And again, that didn’t happen. So those are three things that might have short-circuited the story.

Joe Lockhart: I will say this. I spent two and a half years with great discipline not once using that phrase, and you won’t get it out of me today. I think it, I agree with you, but it’s just, it’s a mental block. You have no idea how many times I wanted to say exactly that from behind the podium. It’s just a goddamn [grimaces face]. I completely agree with that.

Yet in his extensive quotes for this story, Joe Lockhart doesn’t mention the blowjob directly either.

Joe Lockhart, who was Clinton’s White House press secretary, said: “You’ve lost the ability to starve a story to death. So what you have to do is raise the price of those who are making the charges. If Donald Trump is out there saying this, you’ve got to make him pay a price for throwing a bomb before too much collateral damage is done.”

The days of not elevating an opponent or refraining from punching down are gone.

“You literally can’t laugh anything off,” Lockhart said. “There’s nothing neutral in politics. It’s either helping you or hurting you. You’ve got to make sure it’s helping you or you’re going to lose.”

[snip]

“The political discourse is much worse now, but that’s not always to the detriment of the so-called victim,” [Ari Fleischer] said. “In this case, President Obama came out looking better.”

Lockhart agreed, recalling some of the conservatives who tormented his boss.

“Look at the rogue’s gallery of Clinton accusers,” he said. “Most of them blew themselves up.”

And Lockhart noted that even now, the most hardcore of the birthers still won’t be satisfied.

“They’ll probably ask for the first diaper,” he said. “They’ll want to see the DNA.”

It seems to me the blowjob impeachment is proof you haven’t been able to “starve a story to death” for well over a decade, long before the InterToobz purportedly ruined the consensus about fair and unfair, relevant and trivial.

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WH Press Corps Demands Photo Ops of Them Asking about Egypt

I don’t see much purpose behind the letter the White House press corps just sent outgoing Robert Gibbs:

We recognize that the crisis in Egypt is a quickly evolving story and you are working to get us the information we need in a timely manner, but we are concerned about several access issues on Tuesday and now today.On behalf of the White House Correspondents Association we are writing to protest in the strongest possible terms the White House’s decision to close the President’s Cabinet meeting on Tuesday and his signing of the START Treaty today to the full press pool.

The START treaty was held up as one of the President’s most important foreign policy priorities for almost a year dating back to the trip to Prague last spring. We are concerned that now his signing of it is open to still photographers but closed to editorial, including print and wire reporters and television cameras.

We know the President came out late last night to speak on Egypt, and we appreciate the email updates from NSC spokesman Tommy Vietor, but his emails have not gone to all members of the press corps and are not a substitute for access to the Press Secretary or the President.

Prior to the President’s statement Tuesday night, the press corps had not received a substantive update from the White House all day on the situation in Egypt. In addition, the press corps did not have an on-camera briefing, or an off-camera gaggle, with you yesterday to ask the White House about its decision-making process during this major foreign policy crisis. Now for two straight days the full press pool is being shut out of events that have typically been open and provided opportunities try to ask the President a question.

These issues are vitally important for all of our members – print, TV and radio.

We value our working relationship, and we hope you will reconsider and at least open the START Treaty signing to the full pool. [my emphasis]

Aside from the futility of demanding something from a guy on his way out the door, it’s not entirely clear what the press corps believes they’ll gain.

Look, the START treaty is an important victory, and if there were a chance in hell the press would make non-proliferation the focus of a big photo op, I’d be thrilled to see it. And I would love for Obama to come out with a strong condemnation of violence and support for democracy (but that’s partly because of my own impatience with Obama’s tepid support for democracy and human rights here in the US). I would have been thrilled, too, to see the US push Egypt harder in the past; but there’s no way to go back in time and make that happen now. I also think the White House approach of canceling press conferences until Mubarak does something has put them in the very awkward position of appearing to adopt a reactive stance to Mubarak which only feeds into Mubarak’s manipulation of the media.

So it’s not that I think the White House has adopted the best approach to the press during the Egyptian revolution.

Still, I don’t know what the press corps thinks they will accomplish with more public opportunities to question the Administration about what’s going on.

That’s because, to a great extent, this is not about the United States, and certainly not about a bunch of White House reporters who know very little about Egypt. The fate of history is in the hands of the Egyptian people right now.

Moreover, I think there’s zero chance that a highly controlled Robert Gibbs presser (like the one going on right now) is going to reveal anything that an equally controlled press release can’t say just as well. To the extent the White House does have leverage at this point–and they undoubtedly do, most significantly through their ties to the Egyptian military–that leverage is going to be best exercised privately. If nothing else, to the extent friends of ours in the Egyptian military can influence the outcome, they’re going to best be able to do that by appearing to act on their own, not in response to pressure from the US.

So to some degree, both the White House Press Corps and the Administration would be best served if they released a joint notice saying “we acknowledge the government is going to have to perform the appearance of cautious distance regardless of what we’re doing behind the scenes, so let’s all agree to just skip the silly theater of us doing so.”

And if the WHPC is so interested in appearing on TV championing accountability, maybe they should be asking how our tolerance for and cover-up of Afghan corruption is dooming our efforts there. After all, that’s something that the US does have direct influence over. That’s something that more transparency might affect. That’s the equivalent of the questions about Egypt the press corps should have been asking for the last 30 years.

Has the Obama Administration Backed Off Its Plan to Reconsider Aid to Egypt?

In a press briefing on Friday, Robert Gibbs said several times the Administration would be reviewing its aid to Egypt in the upcoming days.

Q    You say these legitimate grievances have to be addressed.  I’m wondering:  Or what?  What can the President do if these matters are not –MR. GIBBS:  Well, look, first and foremost, this is a situation that will be solved by the people in Egypt.  I will say this, that we — sorry — we are monitoring closely the situation, as I’ve said.  We will be reviewing our assistance posture based on events that take place in the coming days. So that’s certainly part of it.  But this is — this will be solved by the Egyptian people.  But it is important — and there’s a very important opportunity for the Egyptian government to address, again, grievances that have been in place for a number of years.

[snip]

Q    What’s the United States doing about aid and are reviewing –MR. GIBBS:  As I said a minute ago, obviously we will be reviewing our assistance posture based on events now and in the coming days.

[snip]

Q    And I believe earlier you said, “We’ll be reviewing our assistance posture depending on the events of the next several days.”  Could you elaborate on that?  Has that been discussed in the meetings with the President?MR. GIBBS:  It has.  It has.

Q    And what kind of change in posture could there be?  Are you talking about cutting off aid?

MR. GIBBS:  Look, I think at this point I would just leave it to the fact that there — we are watching very closely the images and events that you’re watching and how that could very possibly impact our assistance to Egypt.

[snip]

Q    Robert, beyond what you’ve said today about aid, how has it been conveyed to the Egyptian authorities that billions of dollars in U.S. help could be in jeopardy if they don’t change their ways?MR. GIBBS:  Again, Peter, I don’t know every conversation that’s been had at every level in this government, but suffice to say this is something that has been discussed and we’re monitoring.

[snip]

Q    And then just to follow real quick on the aid that you’re saying you’re reviewing, you’re confident that prior to you announcing it here, the Egyptians are aware that their aid is under review?MR. GIBBS:  Again, I want to be careful, Hans, that — I don’t know every conversation that’s been had.  But suffice to say, I think I was rather clear in what I said.

Q    Suffice it to say?  Could we call it a warning?

MR. GIBBS:  No, it’s — again, I think we’ve been very clear about what needs to happen.  Violence in any form should stop immediately, and grievances should be addressed.  We will monitor what is and what has happened and future events as we undertake a review of our assistance posture.

But this morning, Hillary seemed to back off that review of aid to Egypt.

Ms Clinton said there was “no discussion as of this time about cutting off any aid” to Egypt, adding “we always are looking at and reviewing our aid”.

Admittedly, these are not necessarily contradictory statements. When Gibbs said we would be reviewing our aid to Egypt, he may have meant it was a general plan to review aid, without the possibility that we’d withdraw that aid. It’s possible it was meant to be a generalized, empty threat. But it sure seems like Hillary is saying that any review of aid is not one that will result in Egypt losing that aid.

Update: I’ve added the clip from Christiane Amanpour’s question to Clinton about this–will work on transcript (my transcript below). It sure looks like the US did threaten aid, but in light of military restraint so far, they’re backing off that threat.

Amanpour: Has the United States Administration, whether yourself, the President, or Secretary Gates told the Egyptian government specifically that any military crackdown will result in a cut-off of US military assistance.

Clinton: No. Right now, we’re monitoring the actions of the Egyptian military and they are–as I’m sure your contacts are telling you–demonstrating restraint, working to try to differentiate between peaceful protesters, whom we all support, and potential looters and other criminal elements who are obviously a danger to the Egyptian people. We have sent a very clear message that we want to see restraint, we do not want to see violence from any security forces, and we continue to convey that message. There is no discussion as of this time about cutting off of any aid. We always are looking and reviewing are aid, but right now we are trying to convey a message that is very clear: that we want to ensure there is no violence and no provocation that results in violence, and that we want to see these reforms and the process of national dialogue begun so that the people of Egypt can see their legitimate grievances addressed. [my emphasis]

This seems to suggest that Gibbs’ comments on Friday were meant to serve as the stick that will not be used so far as the military shows the restraint they’ve shown thus far in Egypt.

Robert Gibbs: Basket of Individual Freedoms Includes Freedom to Access the Internet

In a press briefing on the situation in Egypt (and probably his last briefing ever), Robert Gibbs made a stunning, but important statement.

We believe in the basket of individual freedoms includes the freedom to access the Internet and the freedom to use social networking sites.

Gibbs did not say (and none of the reporters asked) whether this includes access to the Wikileaks site. Or whether it includes access to the Internet at broadband speeds.

On Gate-Keepers and Pragmatists

At the beginning of Obama’s term, when he talked about governing as a pragmatist, I perhaps foolishly believed he meant not pragmatism as DC understands it–as a principle-less squishy middle–but as the Pragmatist school of philosophers would mean it–as someone fundamentally open to and respectful of the ideas and viewpoints of all. Mind you, it was clear that his top advisors–especially David Axelrod–used the word pragmatist in the tired old DC way. But out of whatever idealism or naivete, I believed a smart guy from Hyde Park like Obama, who fancied himself an education reformer, couldn’t help but to have internalized the tradition of Dewey.

Thus far in Obama’s term, it hasn’t worked out that way.

That’s because, regardless of what Obama believes or has internalized, Big-P Pragmatism requires a certain kind of process–an openness to multiple viewpoints–and such process has not existed because of the gate-keepers at Obama’s White House thus far.

Now, to Obama’s credit, every single account of Obama’s decision-making includes some description of what a good listener he is. There’s always the scene where Obama listens intently to the disparate viewpoints on a subject, makes those people believe he has heard them with respect, and then makes his decision.

There are the multiple stories that relate events that take place before such sessions, wherein someone–most often Larry Summars but also Rahm–instructs a person in no uncertain terms that they will not be able to present their viewpoint to the President. There are even stories about minor progressive successes–such as Elizabeth Warren getting Obama’s support for the Consumer Finance Protection Board–that include a person finding a clever way around Summers or Rahm.

Now there’s always the very real possibility that for all that Obama fancies himself a Pragmatist, his unacknowledged very real ideological stances won the day. It may well be that Obama will never succeed in behaving as a Pragmatist because he’s just a lot more ideologically centrist than he thinks he is.

But a significant part of the problem is that for most of his term (I suspect, but don’t know, that Pete Rouse was much better on this point), he has had gate-keepers who either are fundamentally ideological beings (Summers) or are the squishy DC kind of pragmatist (Rahm), who prevented him from pursuing a process that allows real pragmatism.

Which brings us to Bill Daley.

I oppose Bill Daley because he has been, ideologically, on the wrong side of just about every issue. I oppose him because the last thing Obama needs is another bankster in the White House. I oppose him because the optics are horrible. I oppose him because when the next JPMorgan scandal hits–there are a number brewing–it will taint the White House by association.

But given my understanding of Obama’s failed pragmatism, I do take Howard Dean’s comments on Daley seriously.

The core issue is the contempt that not just the progressives were treated by–a lot of people were treated by–a bunch of senior advisors around the President who’ve been here for 20 years and thought they knew everything and we knew nothing.

[snip]

It was more than just Gibbs or Rahm, it was the whole mindset that was going on there. That will change dramatically especially if Bill Daley comes in, who I don’t agree with a lot of stuff politically but I do think a) he’s a grown-up and b) he gets that you don’t treat people like you know everything and they don’t.

Now, Dean is a pragmatist (though with none of the intellectual conceit about being one that Obama has). And so while I disagree with Dean’s characterization that Daley qualifies as someone from outside of Washington, I am very struck by Dean’s description of contempt being the key issue here.

The Chief of Staff’s job is to serve as a gate-keeper. Any Chief of Staff (or Economic Advisor in Summers’ case or Vice President in Cheney’s) can use that position to ensure that only their ideologically-favored choices are presented to the President. Or he (always he, it seems) can make an effort to serve the President’s claim to real pragmatism.

I’m not all that optimistic about Daley. All the myth-making about Obama’s bad relationship with the business community and the seeming certainty that hiring a bankster like Daley will fix that suggests that the whole point of this is about even further narrowing the ideological gate through which ideas and people get presented to the President.

But it is true that Obama’s real skill at listening isn’t worth a damn thing if Rahm or Summers are guarding his door. Let’s hope Daley will change that.

Robert Gibbs to Leave White House, Will Join “Professional Left”

Robert Gibbs has made it official: he’s leaving the White House. (Applause!!!)

Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary and close confidante to President Obama, said Wednesday that he will step down and become an outside political adviser to the president and his re-election campaign.

[snip]

Mr. Gibbs will remain part of the president’s inner circle of political advisers, along with David Axelrod, a senior adviser and Jim Messina, a deputy chief of staff, who also are leaving the White House to focus on the president’s re-election effort. Mr. Gibbs will defend Mr. Obama on television – and will expand his presence on Twitter and other Internet platforms – as well as beginning to define the field of 2012 Republican presidential candidates.

“Stepping back will take some adjusting,” Mr. Gibbs said in an interview Wednesday morning. “But at the same time, I have a feeling that I will keep myself quite busy, not just with speaking, but continuing to help the president.”

He said he has no intention of establishing a political consulting or lobbying business, but he intends to work from the same downtown Washington office where David Plouffe has spent the last two years. Mr. Plouffe, who was Mr. Obama’s campaign manager, will move to the White House and work as a senior adviser to the president.

Mr. Gibbs, who has worked in political campaigns, on Capitol Hill or at the White House for his entire career, said he also plans to try out the speaking circuit this year. [my emphasis]

Back when Gibbs was attacking the Professional Left, he made a distinction between the Progressives outside of DC and those inside DC squawking on the cable programs.

But if Gibbs is going to stay in DC, hanging out on Twitter, and appearing on the speaking circuit, doesn’t that make him a card-carrying member of the Professional Left?

Except the bit about him being so conservative, of course.

Emptywheel Twitterverse
emptywheel @ColMorrisDavis But they said this in 2004 and 2005 and 2007 and 2009 and 2010 and 2011 and 2012 and 2013.
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emptywheel Because nothing will make for better news programming than out-of-touch coastal elite in an RV "talking to voters." https://t.co/sQs2p3D9L7
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emptywheel Chuck Todd, w/health insurance so he doesn't think 500,000 people getting it anew is big deal, will Meet the Voters https://t.co/sQs2p3D9L7
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emptywheel @bmaz to be fair, PAA was birthed after all but Mueller moved on, and the problems came in part bc they changed things after Baker moved on
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bmaz RT @OrinKerr: Supreme Court denied cert in case on Davis good-faith exception to exclusionary rule, Aguiar v. US. Good news if you like exc…
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bmaz RT @EFF: In Smith v. Obama, the gov't seems to argue that the constitution has a national security exception. It doesn't: https://t.co/KZpY
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bmaz @emptywheel But, but, but....Hospital heroism!!
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bmaz @seanpaulkelley @JimWhiteGNV Come on man, @AmbassadorPower was absolutely awful on her own already, Kissinger just icing on the cake.
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bmaz @rickhasen It is absolutely brutal here. Airwaves are flooded by dark money ads against @FeleciaForAZ It is sick.
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bmaz @TimothyS @DougHenwood And thats because next President may appoint up to three Supreme Court justices. That cannot be left to a Republican
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bmaz @TimothyS @DougHenwood Fantastic article+agree completely with it. Still, if Hillary is the Dem who can win in 2016 I will vote for her.
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bmaz @jaketapper @evanperez Interesting he selected the banister issue, because they could have easily been pursued legally. So why weren't they?
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