Mojo - October 2008

On NPR, McCain Exaggerates Past Relationship with Palin

| Wed Oct. 1, 2008 2:30 PM EDT

Is John McCain exaggerating his past relationship with Sarah Palin?

On Wednesday, NPR's Steve Inskeep interviewed McCain, and he started the session with questions about McCain's running mate, Governor Sarah Palin. Noting that Palin had repeatedly pointed to Alaska's proximity to Russia, Inskeep asked what that adds to her foreign policy qualifications. McCain referred to "the fact that they have had certain relationships." Presumably, by "they" he meant Alaska and Russia, but he did not specify what these "relationships" entailed. And Inskeep did not ask him to. (In her interview with Katie Couric, Palin referred to trade missions between her state and Russia--activity which apparently did not involve her.) McCain then changed the subject and maintained that Palin has great expertise on energy issues, inelegantly remarking, "She has oversighted the natural gas and oil and natural resources of the state of Alaska."

Then came a dramatic statement. Inskeep asked, "Is there an occasion when you can imagine turning to Gov. Palin for advice on a foreign policy crisis." McCain replied,

I've turned to her advice many times in the past.

Many times in the past? According to the McCain campaign, McCain first met Palin in February at a Washington meeting of the National Governors Association. Here's how McCain's own campaign on August 29 described the interactions between the two:

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Palin Knows How To Debate

| Wed Oct. 1, 2008 2:22 PM EDT

Sarah Palin's Katie Couric interviews have made her look like a goofball, but maybe that was the idea. Noodling around with the media certainly has depressed expectations for her performance tomorrow night in the debate with Joe Biden, but perhaps the campaign was hoping to downplay the fact that the former TV sportscaster, according to the Wall Street Journal, is a damn good debater. During the Alaska gubernatorial debates in 2006, Palin trounced her opponents with her folksy nature, which trumped her utter lack of specific policy knowledge. The Journal says:

"her métier was projecting winsomeness -- making a virtue of not knowing as much about the minutiae of state government because, for most of her adulthood, she was immersed in small-town life and raising a family. The candidates she squared off against, and the reporters who posed questions in several debates, recall that she related high gas prices to the difficulties her family had buying a car. She explained that she was in tune with environmentalists because she named a daughter, Bristol, for Alaska's Bristol Bay. She demonstrated her affinity for Native American culture by citing the teachings of her husband's Yu'pik Eskimo grandparent. "

The old guys at the table didn't have a chance. You can watch the video clips here and decide whether Biden is in big trouble.

Question: Can Biden Query Palin Tomorrow Night?

| Wed Oct. 1, 2008 1:43 PM EDT

Here's a question. Will it appear condescending if Joe Biden asks Sarah Palin for specifics at tomorrow night's debate in St. Louis? For example, here are two scenarios that I image would lead to trouble for Palin:

Palin: Senator McCain and I are understand that force is the last option. We believe in exercising soft power in order to win the hearts and minds of the Muslim world.
Biden: With respect Governor, can you tell me, specifically, how you would do that?

Or another:

Palin: Senator McCain had the foresight to see the crisis on Wall Street coming.
Biden: Again, with respect. Name one way in which he did.

If you saw my blog post from two days ago, you know I believe Joe Biden will win the debate by shutting up and letting Palin stumble. Asking questions fits perfectly in that strategy. And it's not like Biden needs to make the case for himself. All the Obama campaign really needs out of this debate is one bad moment from Palin that will be played over and over in post-debate coverage, lampooned on SNL, etc. That will go a long way in solidifying the emerging consensus that Palin is not ready for the vice-presidency.

But the tactic can easily appear patronizing and disrespectful, especially if Biden does it too many times. I'm interested in your thoughts.

Mission Creep Dispatch: Nick Turse

| Wed Oct. 1, 2008 1:32 PM EDT

turse.jpg As part of our special investigation "Mission Creep: US Military Presence Worldwide," we asked a host of military thinkers to contribute their two cents on topics relating to global Pentagon strategy. (You can access the archive here.)

The following dispatch comes from Nick Turse, associate editor and research director of Tomdispatch.com, and author of The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives.

The Pentagon's Mad Scramble for Africa

On October 1, according to the Defense Department, the US Africa Command (AFRICOM) will finally become an "independent unified command." And while recently proposed budget cuts may hold the new command's ambitions somewhat in check, they aren't likely to significantly alter the Pentagon's ambitions for Africa and an increasingly permanent US military presence on the continent in the years ahead.

The Upside of Sarah Palin's Invisibility in the Press

| Wed Oct. 1, 2008 12:47 PM EDT

One good thing about the McCain campaign's refusal to grant press access to Sarah Palin? No one takes it seriously when staffers play the why-doesn't-the-press-report-the-good-news card. For example, a couple days ago, this appeared in the Wall Street Journal:

From her campaign's perspective, Gov. Palin isn't getting media attention for her contributions. For example, with foreign leaders last week, she had detailed conversations about the national-security and global implications of the energy crisis, one adviser said.

This got no pick-up whatsoever. Why? Probably because the campaign didn't allow reporters to observe those meetings for longer than 29 seconds.

(Via TNR)

Iraq's Sunni Militias Placed Under Control of Baghdad's Shiite-Led Government

| Wed Oct. 1, 2008 12:35 PM EDT

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According to a Pentagon report delivered to members of Congress yesterday, violence in Iraq is down 77 percent from this time last year. The reasons are varied and complex. There's the much-lauded "surge," of course. There's Moqtada al-Sadr's decision to call a ceasefire. There's the natural combat fatigue that follows years of intense violence. And, perhaps most importantly, there's the decision by local Sunni tribesman to stop killing Americans and start killing Islamic extremists. Thanks to their change of heart (however temporary and politically calculated it may be) violence in Anbar has waned and for the first time in years its villages are secure and its roads passable.

All of this is great news. But forgive me for expressing some trepidation at this morning's reports that the U.S. military, as part of its plan to disengage from Iraq, has agreed to transfer control of the Sunni militias to the Shiite-dominated government of Nouri al-Malaki. Until now, Sunni tribesmen have received stipends... a little extra encouragement, if you will... from the U.S. government. But beginning October 31, the 54,000 Sunni militiamen in the Baghdad area will be on Baghdad's payroll to the tune of $15 million a month.

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Former CIA Director Porter Goss's Dusty Foggo Problem

| Wed Oct. 1, 2008 12:01 PM EDT

On Monday, the CIA's former number three official, a former logistics officer named Dusty Foggo, pled guilty in a Virginia courtroom to one count of federal wire fraud. I reported on the case at Mother Jones overnight, and how relieved CIA executives must have been to see the case go away with a quiet plea agreement, since Foggo was threatening to spill every Agency operational program and the identity of every CIA asset he knew about, which was a lot. But a little history on this story is in order.

Back in 2005, thanks in large part to the extraordinary investigative journalism work of a team of reporters at the San Diego Union-Tribune/Copley News Service (Marcus Stern, Dean Calbreath, Jerry Kammer and George Condon Jr.), Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-CA), agreed to plead guilty to corruption charges. Among his co-conspirators, two defense contractors, Brent Wilkes, and Mitchell Wade, who had plied Cunningham with antiques, meals, travel, hookers, and bought his old home at a profit, in exchange for more than a few hundred million dollars worth of federal earmarks to their companies.

Around the time of Cunningham's agreement to plead guilty to federal authorities back in November 2005, I began hearing from intelligence sources that there was an as yet unreported and unexplored CIA connection to the case. Namely, that Brent Wilkes' best friend was the number three guy at the CIA, Dusty Foggo, and he had also been throwing CIA contracts at his friend Wilkes. So, beginning in November 2005, I first broke several CIA-related aspects of the wider Cunningham case: the name of the Wilkes' front company to get the secret CIA contracts, Archer Logistics, discussions about a covert CIA plane network contract between Foggo and Wilkes, Foggo's connection to Wilkes and the CIA water contract, a magazine piece that raised potential counterintelligence questions about the case. Other journalists -- Calbreath, Jason Vest, Ken Silverstein, Mark Hosenball among others -- were also reporting on aspects of Foggo's long relationship with Wilkes dating back to their days in Chula Vista, CA and running through Central America during the 1980s until more recent reports of a high-tech gadget-filled "playpen" Wilkes set aside for Dusty, along with the prospect of a job, in his ADCS corporate offices outside of San Diego.

Thinking back, I had some rather unpleasant conversations with a CIA spokesman at the time who screamed that I was wrong, that he had marched to Foggo's office and Foggo totally denied what I was saying, and they couldn't find any Wilkes' company that had gotten a CIA contract, etc. And then, after I informed them that one firm, Archer Logistics, was a Wilkes' front company, nominally headed by Wilkes' nephew Joel Combs, the CIA public affairs official stopped yelling. It must have registered as a hit on some database of CIA contractors or something. After that, the conversation returned to polite ordinary civil discourse and the spokesman saying that as a rule the CIA doesn't ordinarily comment on who does or does not get CIA contracts. But the tone was utterly different. And as the evidence accumulated, the CIA was starting to realize that it had a Dusty Foggo problem. (The later 28-count indictment <.pdf> of Foggo revealed just how big a Dusty Foggo problem the CIA had on its hands).

Palin: This Election Is About Change Versus More of the Same

| Wed Oct. 1, 2008 11:44 AM EDT

In what has to be seen as a testament to his foresight, Barack Obama has framed his campaign perfectly from the beginning of this election season. He has forced every one he's faced (Clinton, McCain, now Palin) to try and make the case for their candidacies using his verbiage. And that's a losing proposition.

The latest example comes from the now-infamous Palin-Couric interview (which CBS has somehow turned into two weeks worth of news):

COURIC: I know you're heading to Sedona to work on your debate. What is your coach advising you?
Gov. PALIN: I don't have a debate coach.
COURIC: Well, what are your coaches?
Gov. PALIN: I have quite a few people who are giving us information about the record of Obama and Biden, and at the end of the day, though, it is -- it's so clear, again, what those choices are. Either new ideas, new energy and reform of Washington, DC, or more of the same.

That talking point is... shall we say, an underdog.

Katie Couric, by the way? MVP of the last two weeks.

New Voters to Push Obama Over the Top?

| Wed Oct. 1, 2008 11:38 AM EDT

Something to chew on from MSNBC's First Read:

According to [a new NBC/WSJ/MySpace poll], new and lapsed voters (those who didn't vote in 2004) back Obama over McCain by a 2-to-1 margin, 61%-30%. If you take the Bush (62 million) and Kerry (59 million) vote totals from 2004, assume turnout increases by 20 million additional voters (about what it did in 2004), and assume Obama wins these additional voters 2-to-1, then Obama would best McCain nationally by more than three million voters, 72.4 million to 68.7 million. But if turnout increases by just 10 million, then the numbers become Obama 65.7 million, McCain 65.3 million -- a virtual tie. "An Obama victory could very well depend on getting these folks to the polls," says NBC/WSJ co-pollster Neil Newhouse (R).

Update: Another quirk from new polls, which all show Obama trending up: Obama is opening up a huge lead among women.