The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Monday, March 22, 2004

Scott McClellan snafu on Yassin killing?

Savour first of all the text of today's briefing - which started at 1324 ET.

The demise of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, compassed by Ariel Sharon earlier today [1], is first up: I count ten questions.

SM is clearly working to a brief not to utter words of condemnation, disapproval or, indeed, of any kind of judgement whatever on the part of USG on the killing. He says to the first couple of questions on the subject that the policy on targeted assassinations is unchanged.

When he's asked straight out
Does the White House condemn the attack?
he gives an amber light which is pretty damned close to green:
I think that, again, what we have said is that Israel has a right to defend herself, but all parties, including Israel, needs to keep in mind the consequences of their actions. Again, Hamas is a terrorist organization. Sheik Yassin is someone who was personally involved in terrorism. That's very well-documented.

That's transatlantic high-fiving by proxy from George and Ariel.

Of course, when asked
had the administration ever communicated to Israel anything about Sheik Yassin?
SM took advantage of the opportunity to answer a different question:
...What I can tell you is that we had no knowledge that they were going to carry out this effort that they did over the weekend.

Effort - I'm warming to this guy. He's shameless without being cocky. A kinder, gentler Rumsfeld.

Overall, the message from the White House, about clear as crystal, was:
Fire at will.

Mission accomplished.

Then, one reads a Reuters piece (timed at 1624 ET) with the lede starting:
The White House says it is "deeply troubled" by Israel's assassination of Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin...

Eh? What briefing was this guy at?

He explains that SM
told a televised briefing on Monday that Washington had no advance word before the attack on Yassin, and said "Israel has the right to defend herself" against the "terrorist" group.

Similar statements in the past have been interpreted as a green light for further action by Israel.

But in off-camera comments just minutes later, McClellan revised the White House position by adding, "We are deeply troubled by this morning's actions in Gaza."

Now, Yassin was killed around 0500 Israel time on Monday (2200 ET on Sunday). That is, over fifteen hours before SM started his briefing.

Ample time for his brief to be polished to perfection. Which his performance suggested it had been.

What happened in those few minutes for the brief to turn into Angel Soft?

(I'm considering the issue as a news procedural, rather than getting into the substance: more than enough 'expert' opinion available in the blogosphere for those seeking enlightenment.)

  1. I suddenly get a flash of Sydney Greenstreet playing the Cleanser of Sabra.


The transcript of Richard Boucher's briefing at State is now online.

Boucher - who started at 1313 ET - takes a slightly different tone to McClellan's presser:
There are -- I think there are a number of points to make about this event. First, starting off with the fundamentals, that there is no doubt of Israel's right to self-defense against the brutal use of terror by Hamas and other organizations. At the same time, we're deeply troubled by this morning's events in Gaza. We do think, as you asked, that this event increases tension, and it doesn't help efforts to resume progress towards peace.

Deeply troubled - whereas SM was not too many stops down the line from Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah.

Now, of course, Boucher doesn't condemn the attack: in fact, he says he doesn't have the statement with him containing USG policy on the targeted killings.

Given that that is the key subject of the day, he is either being contemptuous of concerns on the issue, or does not wish to be drawn into the detail of USG policy. Or both, of course.

He is also as firm as Jell-O on enforcement of the Export Control Act governing (I infer) the use of US-supplied weapons for internal repression.

The only real difference is that Boucher includes his nod to the statesmanlike in his briefing, whereas SM had to call a supplementary meeting.

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