| Bad Thoughts -- Politically Incorrect Musings ...you won't find in the media or elsewhere:
An Old Democrat's Take on the National Derangement
(May 23, 2017)
Life-long Democratic operative, Ted Van Dyk, has a message for Democrats and their allies in the national media who seem dedicated to bringing down Donald Trump and destroying his presidency: be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.
In an exceptionally perceptive commentary piece published May 22, 2017 in the online edition of The Wall Street Journal, “Anti-Trump Democrats Invite Chaos,” the forty year veteran of Democratic administrations and campaigns channels former House Speaker Sam Rayburn who observed that “a jackass can kick down a barn, but it takes a carpenter to build one.”
Mr. Van Dyk doesn’t see many carpenters in the Democratic Party these days, and even fewer in the media, but in debunking all of the impeachment talk and wild obstruction of justice claims that have been coming out of the halls of Congress and The Washington Post and The New York Times lately, he makes his point about the current national derangement so eloquently that I could not resist quoting him even though the WSJ no longer supports the link to his article for non-subscribers:
“The political and media hysteria surrounding the Trump administration lies somewhere on the repulsiveness scale between the Jacobin excesses of the French Revolution and the McCarthy era. Thus far the public knows of no presidential action that would justify impeachment. Never mind, the crowd cries, let us have the verdict now. We can do the trial later.”
When the McCarthy era is at the better end of the hysteria scale, you know you are living through a seriously unhinged period of national discourse. I know I have never seen anything remotely comparable in my lifetime, but the scary thing is that neither has Mr. Van Dyk and he has been an important figure in Democratic campaigns and administrations for forty years, even serving as Vice President Hubert Humphrey's assistant in the Johnson White House. He points out how each of the supposed crises about which the media is daily getting a case of the vapors are neither unprecedented nor even that much out of the ordinary. Certainly, he notes, nothing Mr. Trump has done to date raises constitutional issues.
I am sorry that the original link to Mr. Van Dyk's piece is no longer available to non-subscribers of The Wall Street Journal because his debunking, on a case by case basis, of all the imagined crises breathlessly reported on by The Washington Post and The New York Times is most informative, but even without access to that perceptive analysis, I thought his perspective on the extraordinary degree of the current hysteria among Democrats and the media was worth the posting.
Putin and the FBI Ate Hillary’s Homework
(December 26, 2016)
Now that one of the worst campaigners in the history of American presidential elections has managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of certain victory, Hillary Clinton is full of excuses and people to blame.
The first, of course, is the arch villain, Vladimir Putin, who is so popular in the Rust Belt, the Old Confederacy, and the rest of the Flyover States that he managed to deliver thirty states to the Republicans.
The second is James Comey, the director of the FBI, who notified Congress a couple of weeks before the election that his agency had discovered a cache of several hundred thousand of Mrs. Clinton’s emails on disgraced former congressman Anthony Weiner’s laptop computer, and then notified Congress that they were of no probative value three days before the election. Despite the fact that Mrs. Clinton was at 48% in the polls both before and after the Comey notification, she claimed he had blunted her momentum.
The truth of the matter is that, like the apocryphal schoolchild, Hillary never enjoyed political homework and she did her best to avoid it. She enjoyed raising money from the political elites and working on wonky position papers, but she detested pressing the flesh and everything else associated with retail politics. Characteristically, it was at a fundraiser for rich donors in New York City on Friday evening of the 9/11 weekend that she delivered her most candid statement of the campaign.
Trump supporters, she said, to the enthusiastic cheers of her elitist audience, were an irredeemable “basket of deplorables,” consisting of racists, sexists, xenophobes and homophobes. Then, for a moment, her political instincts took hold and she qualified her statement. Well, maybe not all of them, but about half – the rest were merely desperate. Clearly, those were people with whom Hillary wanted no contact, and nothing to do with. In the WikiLeaks release of one of her speeches to Goldman Sachs, she assured the investment bankers that she and her husband had long since left the middle class and no longer identified with them in any way.
Since President Obama’s smashing electoral victory in 2008, the Democratic Party assumed it was riding a demographic wave that would make it invulnerable in presidential elections. They had the lock on the rapidly expanding Hispanic population, the Black vote, the women’s vote, the young, and the LGBT community. Under the tenets of identity politics, which was the core of their electoral strategy, they needed nothing else. There simply were not enough “old white men” to elect a Republican president.
Donald Trump’s improbable sweep to the Republican nomination did nothing to shake the Democrats’ faith in their electoral strategy. After all, just consider the type of person who was voting in the Republican primaries. Things would be very different in the general election.
Hillary Clinton, the queen of identity politics, and the anointed standard bearer of her party, was not about to sully herself by seeking the votes of the white working classes, whom she did not need and for whom she had nothing but contempt. Even before the primary campaign began, she rejected the advice of former president Bill Clinton, and refused to accept an invitation to address the students and faculty of the University of Notre Dame. It was not until the WikiLeaks release of the email correspondence between John Podesta and Jennifer Palmieri that it became clear just how little regard the Clinton campaign had for American Catholics.
After the conventions, Mrs. Clinton was so convinced of the demographic power of her party’s strategy of identity politics that she decided to expand the electoral map and deal Mr. Trump a crushing blow by campaigning in such traditional “Red states” as Arizona, Georgia and even Texas. The Hispanic and Black vote in those states meant they were in play.
While plotting an electoral landslide, however, Mrs. Clinton felt safe in ignoring traditional Democratic strongholds throughout the Rust Belt of the industrial Midwest. In a fascinating and perceptive article written by Lou Cannon and published in Real Clear Politics on December 22, 2016, entitled Clinton Loss Shows the Importance of “Being There,” http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2016/12/22/clinton_loss_shows_the_importance_of_being_there_132627.html Mr. Cannon points out that Mrs. Clinton never visited Wisconsin at any point in the general election campaign, visited Michigan only in the closing days, and campaigned in Pennsylvania only in the counties surrounding Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Those areas were dominated by her favored demographic groups of Blacks and college educated women. The rest of the state, where working class white people predominated, was completely ignored.
Bill Clinton pleaded with campaign strategist Robbie Mook to make an effort to reach out to working class voters in the Rust Belt, but his appeal fell on deaf ears. That strategy didn’t fit with the demographics of identity politics.
Mr. Cannon’s article points out how just a few white votes in counties that have traditionally gone Democratic could have turned the tide in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan.
Referring to the claims of Mrs. Clinton and her campaign manager, John Podesta, that the Comey letter and the efforts of Vladimir Putin cost the Democrats the election, Mr. Cannon writes:
“But analysis of final results in the three Rust Belt states – Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin – that cost Clinton the election suggests a less dramatic reason for her defeat than the machinations of Russian President Vladimir Putin. She may have lost simply because she failed to show up in crucial counties where she might have made a difference.
“Clinton, who leads in the popular vote by more than 2.8 million, lost the three states by a total of 77,759 votes. Trump won Pennsylvania by 44,307 (0.7 of a percentage point), Wisconsin by 22,748 votes (0.7 of a point) and Michigan by 10,704 votes (0.2 of a point).”
It is beyond the scope of this piece to recount all of the examples of folly and hubris the Clinton campaign committed, as recounted by Lou Cannon in his excellent article, which you can read for yourself. Suffice it to say that campaigning in Arizona which has not gone Democratic more than once since 1948, while ignoring Wisconsin which last voted Republican in 1984, was not a stroke of genius. Nor was failing to ever show up in a United Auto Workers’ union hall, turning back a busload of campaign volunteers headed for Michigan on the supposition that they were unnecessary, or telling Rep. Debbie Dingell (D- MI), a scion of the powerful Michigan political family, that she was “nuts” for repeatedly warning that Clinton’s campaign was taking Michigan for granted. Trump’s narrow win in Pennsylvania where the Clinton campaign ignored all areas other than Philadelphia and Pittsburgh speaks for itself.
Hillary Clinton refused to campaign in white working class areas of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin because she found the citizens residing in those areas distasteful and beneath her. She now blames FBI director James Comey and Russian president Vladimir Putin for her defeat rather than her own lack of diligence. The queen of identity politics has now become the Queen of Denial.
Mr. Putin and WikiLeaks were not responsible for Mrs. Clinton’s defeat. In hacking Colin Powell’s emails, however, they did provide us with the most succinct and accurate assessment of the former secretary of state and first lady’s ability as a candidate. Hillary Clinton, he said, “has screwed up everything she has ever touched, because of her hubris.”
Her hubris is the fatal flaw. Let’s hope we have heard the last of her.
Where the Boys Are, and Other Special Places in Hell for Young Women Who Support Bernie
(February 11, 2016)
Last weekend, the old feminists were out in force prior to the New Hampshire primary chiding the young women who in overwhelming numbers appeared to be favoring Bernie Sanders over the Democratic Party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Rodham Clinton.
It started Friday night when Gloria Steinem, the 81 year old ex-Playboy Bunny, who knows a thing or two about young libidos, said in an interview with Bill Maher on HBO’s Real Time that the young women who seemed to be favoring Bernie over Hillary by wide margins were doing so only because “that’s where the boys are.” The young women (unlike all the young men who supported Bernie) were, she implied, just looking for a date in appearing to support the Sanders’ campaign.
That remark, which was immediately followed by an apology for making an overtly sexist comment, came one day before former secretary of state Madeline Albright said on the stump that there “was a special place in hell for women who don’t support other women.” Ms. Albright’s support for Hillary appeared to go beyond support for a fellow alumna of Wellesley College and implied in no uncertain terms that any woman who failed to support Mrs. Clinton was a traitor to her gender.
Those sentiments from the gender wars of the 1960s apparently didn’t cut much ice in the frigid climate of last Tuesday’s Democratic primary where Bernie stomped Hillary by an overwhelming 22 percent. Young women (and young men) under 45 years of age favored Bernie by more than 70 percent, but a majority of all women, young and old, preferred Bernie Sanders to Hillary Clinton as well. Perhaps that was because the majority of voters of both genders failed to warm to Mrs. Clinton’s main thesis that she should be nominated and elected because she would be the first woman president.
It appeared that the New Hampshire primary voters were impressed by issues other than gender. Both the young and the restless, and the old and thoughtful, seemed to be more concerned with the inordinate influence of big money in politics, the shameful rate of incarceration of black men (which was jump started by Mrs. Clinton’s “husband” – she still supports the death penalty and the private prison-industrial complex), and the cozy relationship between big government and the banking and pharmaceutical industries.
Mrs. Clinton bristles at the suggestion by Mr. Sanders that she is the representative of the Establishment and the status quo, despite the fact that she has been endorsed by every woman senator with the notable exception of Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). Senator Warren has not yet gotten over the double-cross she suffered at the hands of then Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) who promised to support Ms. Warren’s consumer friendly revision of the bankruptcy law and then voted against it as the New York senator representing the Wall Street banks.
Mrs. Clinton contends that she could not possibly be a representative of the Establishment (despite all her congressional endorsements and ties to Wall Street) because she is a woman running for president. In an election year where the American public seems less than enchanted with Congress and the billionaires on Wall Street, New Hampshire voters (of both genders) seemed to be unconvinced that they should vote for Hillary simply because she would be the first woman president.
New Hampshire women, in fact, appeared to be willing to risk a “special place in hell” rather than succumb to that argument.
Are You Missing Saddam Yet?
(June 16, 2014)
I don’t want to say I told you so, but with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (a particularly brutal spinoff from Al Qaeda) rampaging through Northern Iraq and executing Iraqi soldiers and officers by the thousands, aren’t you getting just a little nostalgic for the good old days when Saddam Hussein maintained order and ruled Iraq with an iron hand?
Leaving aside entirely the geopolitical vacuum that our ill-considered invasion of Iraq created, eliminating a buffer against Iranian expansion and influence from Tehran all the way to the eastern shore of the Mediterranean, the principal function of any ruler is to maintain an orderly and tranquil society where the daily routine of ordinary life can proceed a pace from day to hum-drum day. This Saddam Hussein did extraordinarily well. When Saddam ruled Iraq, you could leave your house to go to the grocery store without having to wonder if that trip would be your last.
Contrary to the propaganda being dished out in the fall of 2002 and winter and spring of 2003 by Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice and Donald Rumsfeld, Al Qaeda was not in Iraq because the secular ruler of that country hated those religious zealots, and any member of that organization brave enough to set foot on Iraqi soil would have immediately been strung up by piano wire. No, Al Qaeda came to Iraq to fight the American invaders.
But the biggest whoppers told a credulous American public to sell the Iraq war came not from the unholy trinity mentioned above, but from deputy secretary of defense, Paul Wolfowitz. Everybody remembers his most famous tall tale, that the cost of our invasion and occupation of Iraq would be paid for entirely by revenues from Iraq’s oil industry, but what about whopper number two? That one was that the occupation by American forces would not be difficult because there was never much virulent hostility between the Sunnis and the Shiites in Iraq! And, you know, he was right because Saddam Hussein wouldn’t stand for it.
But, we tore down his statue, and fished him out of his mole hole, and turned him over to the Shiite dominated government (our chosen government) to be tried and hanged (do you remember how classy the witnesses at his execution were, jeering and cursing him?) And, what do you know, the whole damned country went to hell in a hand basket! The Shia started fighting the Sunnis, and vice versa, and two or three thousand mutilated bodies a month started turning up in the Baghdad morgue. Suddenly, under the control of American occupying forces, no one’s life was safe. Quite literally, you couldn’t set off for the grocery store with any assurance that you would make it back alive.
I knew, and I wrote (in these pages in 2002 and 2003 -- delve down to the bottom of these pages and you can still read the postings) that only a strongman like Saddam Hussein (or like Marshall Tito in Yugoslovia) could force warring ethnic factions like the Sunnis and the Shiites to live in peace. So, Paul Wolfowitz was right – there was no virulent sectarian hostility, as long as someone like Saddam Hussein was around to keep it damped down and under control.
But what did the United States of America do upon invading and conquering Iraq? Well, the first thing we did was to abolish the Iraqi army, the only force for stability in Iraq, and the next thing we did was to outlaw the Baathist party which for decades had furnished the leadership class for the entire nation of Iraq. In their place, we elevated an untrained and bitter Shiite population which had absolutely no experience in governance. Seemed like the only just thing to do, just like the Reconstruction of the Deep South after the Civil War, right? And, predictably, it turned out equally well.
The Sunnis, who for over a thousand years had run Iraq, started a bloody civil war to win back their place in Iraqi society, and it turned the country into absolute chaos until General David Patraeus came up with the surge and the more effective stratagem of buying the Sunni sheiks off. Elections were held and the newly elected prime minister of Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki, began the satisfying task of purging (and to the best of his ability) executing all of the Sunnis who previously were responsible for running Iraq. As the saying goes, the servant rarely makes a good master, and the humorless and vindictive Nouri al-Maliki definitely has not.
Representative Jim Moran (D-VA) perhaps described the Iraqi prime minister best when he said he was “like Saddam Hussein, without the charm,” and without the strength and power to hold a feuding bunch of tribes (not, by any account, a nation) together.
So, we kicked the anthill, deposed and executed Saddam Hussein, and here we are again after close to three trillion dollars, four thousand five hundred dead American servicemen, and hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqi civilians getting ready to do it all over again.
I’ll put my question to you one more time: “Are you missing Saddam yet?”
Party Like It’s 1948
(June 25, 2013)
The Supreme Court’s decision today ruling Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 unconstitutional brings to mind an old Southern joke from the civil rights era. According to the story, it was 1948 and Bubba, an ignorant redneck, and Mule, an uneducated old black man, were both trying to register to vote in Birmingham.
Both Bubba and Mule passed the oral part of the literacy test without much trouble. They correctly identified Harry Truman as president of the United States. The reading part of the test proved a good deal more difficult, however. Bubba struggled mightily trying to read the second amendment to the constitution, stumbling over words like “Militia” and “infringed” but was cleared to vote. Mule did not fare nearly as well. He was asked to read a page consisting entirely of Chinese characters. He sat staring at the page in silence for a couple of minutes until the registrar finally asked “Mule, can you make out what it says?”
“Well, yes sir, I think I can,” replied Mule. “It says ain’t no colored man going to vote in Alabama this year!”
Thanks to the votes cast by Republican senators and representatives, the Voting Rights Act made it through both houses of Congress and was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson despite nearly universal opposition from Democrats in the Deep South. As a result, black men and women were registered to vote in such great numbers in Alabama and several other states of the old Confederacy that, as Chief Justice Roberts noted in his opinion in Shelby County v. Holder, they were actually registered in some areas in greater percentages than were the whites. He concluded, therefore, that the congressional findings about pre-clearance of voting changes in the Section 4 areas where the black vote was historically suppressed no longer were relevant and Section 4 was no longer constitutionally necessary.
The Chief Justice invited the Congress to revisit and reexamine the states which might now be appropriate subjects for Section 4 type classification. Well, lots of luck with that, Mr. Chief Justice!
All of the Republicans who voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 are long gone. Neither they, nor like-minded members of their party, even exist. Today’s Republicans are centered in the Deep South, and even in areas outside the old Confederacy, are the political heirs of the Dixiecrats who opposed every piece of civil rights legislation proposed in the 1960s. Republican legislatures all over the country have passed voter suppression laws drafted by ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council) intended to make voting by blacks and other minorities more difficult. Those laws took effect in Northern and Middle Western states like Pennsylvania, Ohio and Wisconsin, but were foiled in Southern states such as South Carolina, Alabama and Texas thanks to the Justice Department pre-clearance requirement embodied in Sections 4 and 5 of the Voting Rights Act.
Thanks to Chief Justice Roberts and his four fellow Republican appointees on the Supreme Court, Republican legislatures in the Section 4 covered areas are now free to pass all the minority voter suppression laws they can conjure up. Strom Thurmond’s Dixiecrats, reborn as the newfangled GOP, are getting ready to party like it’s 1948!
You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby
You’ve come a long way, baby, but Rick Santorum wants to put you back where he thinks you belong. And if that’s not barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen, it’s not far from it. It’s not that Pennsylvania’s most doctrinaire altar boy hates women, it’s just that he hates abortion and contraception more.
So, altar boy Rick wants you to have your rapist’s baby, even if it happens to kill you, or to have your husband’s baby even if you’re fifty-five years old, already have four children, and just think it’s going to kill you. Rick will pray for you in either case. And toughen up and stop your whining – Rick’s wife had seven children (is that with or without counting the miscarriage?) and she’s not complaining.
If I were a woman (even a Republican woman), the results from last night’s Iowa caucuses would make me highly nervous. Can you just imagine what kind of Supreme Court justices President Santorum would appoint? He’s not content with just repealing Roe v. Wade – he wants to repeal Griswold v. Connecticut, too. You don’t need those birth control pills, and you sure don’t need Planned Parenthood, which he is planning to defund. And no sneaking off for a little afternoon delight to relieve the tedium before your eight lovely children get home from school, because altar boy Rick wants to criminalize adultery too.
But just be glad you’re a woman. Rick likes women (at least the ones who know their place). What if you were gay? Whoa! President Santorum’s executive order as commander-in-chief reinstating Don’t Ask – Don’t Tell would be the least of your worries.
You know, there’s a real chance the Republicans could win the next presidential election. If I were a woman, or a member of any group the Bishop taught Rick Santorum to disapprove of, I would run, not walk, to my local polling place and do my level best to make sure Mr. Santorum is not the nominee of the Republican Party!
Making Symbolic Budget Cuts and Settling Scores
Today, February 22, 2011, the newly minted Republican majority in the House of Representatives is preparing to vote on a measure stripping all $300 million of federal funding from Planned Parenthood. The folks at Planned Parenthood should have seen this coming when a bunch of actors hired by Republican operatives (a la the Acorn hoax) showed up at several of their clinics seeking illegal or questionable aid. Congressional Republicans aren’t very good at cutting federal spending (despite their claims of fiscal frugality), but they sure know what they don’t like.
And they don’t like Planned Parenthood one bit. I’m not crazy, myself, about the metamorphosis that organization has undergone since its founding in the 1930s, but I am reasonable enough to know that despite its championing of abortion in recent years it has been a tremendous force for good. Its original core mission of distributing information and medical aids related to birth control have prevented millions of unwanted and unplanned pregnancies, and the health services (such as breast cancer screenings, pap smears, gynecological exams, etc.) which it provides to poor and lower income women are invaluable in a country whose love affair with Social Darwinism has made it the only country in the industrial world which refuses to provide health care for its citizens. I’m sure that over the years Planned Parenthood has prevented a great many more abortions than it has provided.
Representative Mike Pence (R-IN) and his fellow social conservatives are fond of claiming that Planned Parenthood is the leading provider of abortions in this country. I don’t know whether that claim is true or not, but I would bet a considerable sum of money that they are smart enough to rigorously segregate the federal funding they receive from the funds they use to provide abortion services. The Hyde amendment decreeing that no federal funds may be used for abortions has been the law of the land for decades, and I am quite sure that Planned Parenthood’s lawyers and accountants have erected a Chinese Wall that would be the envy of any investment bank or trust department in separating the three percent of its budget allocated to abortion services from the ninety-seven percent of its budget allocated to providing birth control programs and health care for indigent women.
None of that matters to the Congressional Republicans eager to throw some red meat to the social conservatives in their evangelical base. For years the mantra of the G.O.P. on Family Values has been “once you’ve made it through the birth canal, you’re on your own,” and there’s no reason to think pragmatism or considerations of the national good would intrude on that now.
But let’s get one thing straight – cutting the tiny amounts of federal funding going to Planned Parenthood, or the National Endowment for the Arts, or Amtrak, has nothing to do with balancing the federal budget. If the Republicans were serious about that, they would follow the advice of Willie Sutton and go where the money is – they would focus their attention on the incredible waste in the Pentagon budget, Medicare, and Homeland Security. But they’re not any more interested in fiscal responsibility now than they were when they doubled the national debt during the Bush years. In the words of Bill Maher, they are cutting any discretionary spending “which would appeal to the listeners of NPR.”
With the exception of Representative Ron Paul (R-TX), Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), and a handful of others, most Congressional Republicans are not interested in balancing the budget. These culture warriors are settling scores.
Not Even a Beloved Old Eccentric Can Criticize Israel
A curmudgeon like me has to love Helen Thomas. Who else has the guts to ask politically incorrect questions of the slick, media-savvy pols? Not anyone from NBC News, I can tell you. But a few days ago she had the temerity to touch the real third rail of American politics – and I don’t mean reforming Social Security or addressing our death-spiraling budget deficits. No, she had something uncomplimentary to say about the State of Israel, and suddenly the 89 year-old dean of the White House press corps was gone.
The woman who had asked tough, probing questions of every president since John F. Kennedy was suddenly consigned to the status of a “non person” in the media gulag. Let her professional demise be a lesson to the next correspondent who might be tempted to suggest that the emperor has no clothes.
After a week in which the government of Israel had killed an American citizen on the high seas for the second time in her tenure as a member of the White House press corps (the first being Israel’s sinking of the unarmed U.S. Navy ship, USS Liberty, at the start of its 1967 war, strafing American sailors in their lifeboats), Ms. Thomas voiced her opinion in a May 27 interview with RabbiLine.com that the Israelis should get out of Palestine and “go home” to their countries of origin in Poland, Germany, the United States, “or everywhere else.” Oh, my, did she really say that? That sentiment shouldn’t even be thought, much less expressed.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs was appropriately scandalized. “I think she should and has apologized,” he said. “Obviously, those remarks do not reflect, certainly, the opinion of, I assume, most of the people in here, and certainly not of the administration.”
Boldly, if incoherently, spoken, Mr. Gibbs. The Obama administration should have nothing but the fondest thoughts for an Israeli government which only a couple of months ago, during a state visit, intentionally insulted our vice president by announcing another round of illegal settlements in East Jerusalem in order to sabotage our diplomatic efforts toward the “two-state solution” and Mideast peace, and within the past week has launched commando raids in international waters on ships bringing humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza, killing 13 people (including the aforementioned American citizen). Incredibly, one of the surviving American sailors from the attack on the USS Liberty was on board, as was our former ambassador to Iraq.
Contrary to Israel’s standard explanations that the commando raids were conducted in aid of a “life and death” struggle for Israel’s continued existence, the blockade of Gaza was instituted only after its residents voted Hamas into office in an internationally supervised election which the United States had encouraged in connection with President Bush’s Mideast democracy initiative. The blockade was designed to deny Gazans food stuffs, medical supplies, and other necessities of life, and thus starve and coerce them into electing a government more to Israel’s liking.
There were no rockets or weapons aboard the aid ships which departed from the ports of Israel’s ally, Turkey. There were only items of humanitarian aid aboard, but since Israel has designated such innocuous items as pasta as forbidden contraband, it is difficult not to offend them. Certainly, I assume, to use Mr. Gibbs’ words, the deaths of 13 people was a small price to pay for preventing foodstuffs from reaching the citizens of Gaza.
Ms. Thomas’ words were not spoken in a vacuum, either historical or contemporary. Although Mr. Gibbs is too young to know this, after the end of World War II with the holocaust uppermost in everyone’s minds serious proposals were discussed for establishing a Jewish state in Poland, in Germany, and even in Alaska. It was therefore neither surprising nor (I would contend) unacceptably outrageous that the 89 year-old journalist would allude to those old proposals in reflecting on what might have been in terms of international peace and tranquility had those ideas prevailed rather than the more romantic notion of reestablishing the Jewish homeland on land which for two thousand years had been occupied by Arabs who were entirely innocent in the persecution of European Jews. What may seem incredibly offensive in one era, is less so to one whose experiences bridge a far longer span of time.
Ms. Thomas’ annoyance with the more recent actions of the government of Israel also provides some context for her remarks. There has been no serious existential threat to Israel (despite its constant invocation) since the crushing defeat inflicted on its enemies by Israel’s lightening strike in the 1967 war. Yet, in just the last ten years, (in addition to the two most recent provocations mentioned above) most of the civilized world has watched in horror as Israel has used its overwhelming military might to invade the West Bank demolishing every public building and facility of the Palestinian Authority (buildings constructed, I might add, with American funds); has bombed and demolished every road, bridge and airport in Lebanon with cluster bombs provided by the American military, killing countless Lebanese civilians in the process before invading and almost immediately withdrawing in ignominy from that fledgling democracy; and finally, in the last days of the Bush administration bombing and invading Gaza, killing over 1,200 civilians.
All of these heavy handed military attacks were made under the guise of fighting terrorism, but were such disproportionate responses to the futile, home-made rockets of the “terrorists” that they could not help but enrage enlightened opinion around the world against Israel and its American apologists and enablers. Massive air and ground attacks by a sophisticated and powerful military against unarmed civilians is just as offensive in today’s world as Helen Thomas’ inartful criticisms of Israel appear to be in the prissy and politically correct White House briefing room.
As long as the government of Israel continues to use its powerful military to attack and kill unarmed Arab and Palestinian civilians (and those who would seek to relieve their suffering), I hope brave, uncompromised, and unintimidated people like Helen Thomas will continue to speak out against its actions. “Certainly, I assume,” someone needs to.
Felix Frankfurter in a Skirt
Do you remember the days when there was a “Jewish Seat” on the United States Supreme Court? Well, never mind, Barack Obama does, but today the foremost practitioner of “identity politics” is concerned about other things. Having placed the “wise Latina,” Sonia Sotomayor, on the Supreme Court, he is more concerned about other things in replacing the lone Protestant, Middle Western representative from the flyover states on the Court. John Paul Stevens, perhaps the most distinguished Supreme Court justice of the later half of the 20th century, the man whose appointment Gerald Ford said was the greatest accomplishment of his presidency, the consensus builder among the ideologically split representatives of the hard right and hard left on the Supreme Court, is to be replaced by Mr. Obama’s solicitor general, Elena Kagan, a political insider in Democratic Party politics.
Justice Stevens has become something of an anomaly on the current Supreme Court. For one thing, he is neither Jewish nor Roman Catholic. For another, he is the only justice who is not a graduate of either the Harvard or Yale law schools. But most significantly, this distinguished former member of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago has been the constitutional bedrock of the court as it has shifted further and further to the ideological right with each appointment over the past several years.
As Justice Stevens, himself, observed, each of the last several appointments has carried the Court further toward the ideological right. Chief Justice John Roberts is more conservative even than was Chief Justice William Rehnquist; Justice Samuel Alito is more conservative than was Justice Sandra Day O’Connor whom he replaced; and Justice Sonia Sotomayor is certainly to the right of Justice David Souter and by no means his intellectual equal.
But for those of us who cherished the founders’ dream of a government which would not crush the individual freedoms and initiative of a citizen beneath the yoke of an all-powerful central executive, the replacement of Justice John Paul Stevens with Elena Kagan is a particularly cruel joke. Detention of the enemies of the state without trial, no problem. Suspension of habeas corpus for alleged terrorists, no problem. Suspension of Miranda rights for accused terrorists (as has been recently suggested by attorney general Eric Holder), no problem. Whatever “liberal” tendencies Elena Kagan is said to profess, support for civil liberties is not one of them.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt was said to be surprised and dismayed by how his appointment of Felix Frankfurter to the Supreme Court had turned out. President Dwight D. Eisenhower was said to be surprised and dismayed by how his appointment of Earl Warren to be Chief Justice of the Supreme Court had turned out. But, I think President Barack Obama knows precisely how his appointment of Elena Kagan to be associate justice of the United States Supreme Court will turn out. She will not interfere with his concentration of power in the executive branch of the government of the United States of America. She will not be an irritating impediment to the central government’s assumption of control over the lives of its citizens. And with her choice, there will be six Roman Catholics, three Jews, and no Protestants (and no justices from non-Ivy League law schools, or from America’s heartland) on our Supreme Court.
President Obama was lavish in his praise for retiring Justice John Paul Stevens, one of the giants of the Supreme Court of the past half century. It was a foregone conclusion that he would pick a woman to replace Justice Stevens to achieve a better balance of gender on the Court. The surprise, however, for those of us who had cherished the role that John Paul Stevens had played in our constitutional history over the past thirty some-odd years was the president’s woman of choice.
He could have chosen Diane Wood, a distinguished jurist and a liberal consensus-builder, who is well liked and respected by her conservative brethren on the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit (from which Justice Stevens had come to the Court), but instead he chose solicitor general Elena Kagan. Diane Wood, the consensus-builder on a conservative court, the Protestant graduate of a non-Ivy League law school law (the University of Texas), and a distinguished court of appeals judge from Middle America, was passed over for another East Coast graduate (and former Dean) of the Harvard Law School.
In summary, President Obama could have chosen John Paul Stevens in a skirt, or Felix Frankfurter in a skirt, and he chose the latter. We will all have to see how that works out. My guess is that people who cherish civil liberties will not be pleased by the president’s choice.
CPAC Welcomes Back Their Favorite Free Spending Totalitarian
It’s almost enough to make you nostalgic for last year when fat Rush was jumping up and down behind the podium at the leading convention of conservatives like a drug dealer who had been sampling his own inventory. At least Mr. Limbaugh’s key note speech made for colorful videotape.
This year the people who claim to love personal freedom, small government, and fiscal responsibility gave it up like groupies at a rock concert when Liz Cheney introduced her father, “Reagan proved deficits don’t matter” Dick Cheney, as CPAC’s chief headliner.
“Run, Dick, Run! Run, Dick, Run!” they chanted to the man whose administration (we can now admit that feckless “W” had no idea what was going on, can’t we?) passed the unneeded and unfunded Prescription Drug Benefit (the biggest entitlement program since Medicare), fought two wars off budget and on credit, doubled in eight years the national debt which had accumulated in all the years from George Washington to Bill Clinton, and to make up for being asleep at the switch for nine months prior to 9/11 (even blowing off the August, 2001 PBR entitled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in the United States”) passed the Patriot Act, rounded up and incarcerated without trial American citizens and resident aliens of Muslim descent, read our e-mails and listened in on our telephone conversations without court approval (despite claiming they would never do so), suspended the rule of law, and in general presided over our closest brush with living under a police state since the founding of our Republic.
What fiscal conservative and small government libertarian wouldn’t love a man responsible for a record like that? Not a skeptic was to be found in the audience, apparently, as they cheered the man who almost turned America into a fascist country even before he predicted that Barack Obama would be a one term president.
But the “forgive and forget” treatment was not reserved only for former vice president Cheney. House minority leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) drew hearty rounds of applause when he pledged that if the CPACers made him speaker of the House by returning the lower chamber to Republican control in the 2010 elections, his regime in the House of Representatives wouldn’t be like the Republican controlled majorities during the Bush years. Republicans prostitute their principles, he implied, only when one of their own is in the White House – with Barack Obama at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue there need be no worries about that. Extravagant spending on entitlements, healthcare, jumpstarting the economy, well on just about anything except fighting terrorism and wars, would be a thing of the past, at least until Republicans reclaimed the White House.
But the winner of the Amnesia Award was Liz Cheney who excoriated the Obama administration for “missing warning signs” in connection with the Christmas Day bomber. To great applause she noted “that kind of incompetence can get people killed.” Neither she nor her audience, apparently, could recall 9/11 and the Bush administration’s incompetence in addressing the threat posed by Al Qaeda during their first nine months in office. From January through September 11, 2001, Richard Clarke couldn’t even get Condi Rice to schedule a meeting to discuss the problem. President Bush told two CIA agents who had travelled to Crawford, Texas to stress the gravity of the threat during his August vacation that they “had covered their asses” and could return to Washington. He was annoyed because they had interrupted his work on a speech touting “No Child Left Behind.” All the Bushies knew that the real threat to the country was Saddam Hussein.
How quickly and conveniently they forget. “Run, Dick, run!” He appreciated the sentiment, but said he aspired to no further elective office. Too bad, because “Run, Dick, run!” is a slogan that, even in this deeply divided country, both conservatives and progressives could adopt with enthusiasm.
The Obama Administration Throws Nuremberg, Common Decency and International Law Under the Bus
You would not think that America’s black eye could get any blacker, or its embarrassment and humiliation any more intense, but the statements and inactions of top administration officials over the weekend demonstrated that any situation, no matter how disgraceful, can always be made worse. “They were just following orders,” said first term Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) in defending the president’s decision not to prosecute CIA agents who beat prisoners in their custody, repeatedly slammed their heads into walls, deprived them of sleep for eleven days at a time, encased them in small boxes with stinging insects, subjected them to freezing temperatures without clothing, and, of course, water boarded them (the preferred method of torture of the Spanish Inquisition, the Japanese during World War II, the Khmer Rouge, and sadists everywhere), in some cases subjecting “high value detainees” to that barbaric treatment 183 times and 83 times in a single month.
Not only were these stellar civil servants “just following orders,” but were doing so after requesting and receiving explicit legal opinions describing the actions they wished to undertake in excruciating detail and concluding that they did not violate American laws and treaty obligations prohibiting “torture.” The reasoning of those legal opinions, Mrs. Klobuchar (who in her prior life had headed Minnesota’s largest office of prosecutors) and the inquiring CIA officers had to know, was even more tortured than the activities they were blessing. Had those opinions been submitted by a second year law student in Barack Obama’s constitutional law class, they would have merited a ridiculing laugh and a failing grade, but until exposed recently to disinfecting sunlight and public scrutiny they accomplished their purpose in defending the indefensible.
The “just following orders” justification (you can’t call it a defense, since there will be no defendants) didn’t work as well sixty-three years ago before the war crimes tribunals held at Nuremberg, Germany and in post-war Japan, but then it wasn’t Americans committing the war crimes and we continue to be great believers in “American Exceptionalism.” Among the legal precedents which the distinguished lawyers in Cheney’s office and the Justice Department apparently missed were the sentences of death by hanging meted out to the Japanese who had water boarded American prisoners. No such worries for the torturers (or rather, the “enhanced interrogators”) of the CIA who relied on the laughable (if the subject of sadism can ever be laughable) “torture memos,” who received not so much as a letter of reprimand for their personnel files.
But the rank and file CIA agents, not to mention their current leader, Leon Panetta, and former CIA director General Michael Hayden, were pretty bummed out by the release of the torture memos and the prospect that those enhanced interrogation methods would be on the shelf for a while. General Hayden lamented the fact that now “by taking techniques off the table” our enemies would know the outer limits of our interrogations. The FBI, of course, has long contended that torture is counter productive as an interrogation method because the subject will tell you anything to get the pain to stop – that’s why they pulled out of the enhanced interrogations going on at Guantanamo. That, and their innate professionalism and respect for the rule of law.
One has to wonder exactly how effective water boarding is as an interrogation technique if one prisoner had to be subjected to it 183 times in a single month. What was learned in the 180th session that hadn’t been elicited in the first 179 times? Not much apparently, because intelligence officials have acknowledged that information obtained from Khalid Sheik Mohammed (the recipient of all that watery attention) produced almost no actionable intelligence and led to many wild goose chases.
Notwithstanding the ineffectiveness of their “enhanced interrogation” techniques, the CIA agents were gloomy that they were being deprived of them and angry, apparently, that their conduct had been revealed to the civilized world. Hadn’t their parents warned them not to do anything they wouldn’t want to read about on the front page of their home town newspaper? Well, since they went to work for the CIA, perhaps not. But, in any event, they were a bit down in the mouth and in morale, so yesterday (April 20th) President Obama paid a visit to CIA headquarters to cheer them up. As Peter Baker and Scott Shane reported for the New York Times, he was generous in his praise for the assembled intelligence officers, telling them they were indispensable, courageous, and pledged his “support and appreciation:”
“Don’t be discouraged by what’s happened in the last few weeks. Don’t be discouraged that we have to acknowledge potentially we’ve made some mistakes. That’s how we learn. But the fact that we are willing to acknowledge them and then move forward, that is precisely why I am proud to be president of the United States and that’s why you should be proud to be members of the CIA.”
I don’t know how many of the assembled CIA agents embraced the president’s message, but it’s for sure that not many Republicans did. Former vice president Cheney responded to the release of the “torture memos,” (most of which were at least ghost written by his legal adviser and chief of staff, David Addington) by accusing Mr. Obama of endangering the country by revealing national secrets. Not a single prominent Republican has supported the administration’s decision to discontinue “enhanced interrogations,” and so when Mr. Obama states that the United States doesn’t torture what he really means is that his administration won’t torture. Without prosecutions of the top officials in the Bush administration who authorized torture in violation of our statutory laws and treaty obligations, his proud statement will not survive the next Republican president.
Although we are obligated by treaties and international law to commence such prosecutions, both presidential press secretary Robert Gibbs and White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel have said in the past couple of days that no Bush administration officials would face prosecution. Hopefully, the president and his attorney general have not foreclosed that issue, because without such prosecutions the United States will have vitiated the principles of Nuremberg and all of the anti-torture initiatives of which we were once so proud, and revealed to the world that “American Exceptionalism” is just another euphemism for hypocrisy.
A Good Thought About ‘W’
Curmudgeons aren’t supposed to be sunny, cheerful or kind characters, and if you check all of the pieces posted on this site since its inception on April Fool’s Day of 2002, you’ll have to look pretty hard to find any kind remarks of mine about George W. Bush. In the rankings for worst president of our republic, many historians think he may have eclipsed James Buchanan for the top spot. I confess to not knowing enough about Mr. Buchanan to offer an informed judgment, but I can’t imagine that he really inflicted more damage on our country than our current president – the South was determined to secede, and I doubt anyone could have prevented that unfortunate chapter in our history.
But that leads me back to one of my rare good thoughts about ‘W’. We are in the midst of another War Between the States, in which narrow sectional interests are being wrapped in seductive ideological rhetoric to excuse the inexcusable. I refer to the efforts of senators from the “automotive transplant states,” primarily in the Southeast, to sabotage plans to save our domestic automobile manufacturers, located primarily in Michigan and other parts of the Rustbelt, from bankruptcy with all the attendant damage in terms of unemployment, failed parts suppliers, lost tax revenues, and transferred pension benefits that would entail.
The poster boy for this largely Southern effort to kill the relatively modest $14 billion “bailout” for General Motors and Chrysler is Senator Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), sometimes referred to in the financial media as the “senator from Toyota.” While he rails against attempts to thwart the workings of the free market, and chides the Big Three for bad business models and producing cars which “nobody wants to buy,” he conveniently forgets to mention that Toyota, Mercedes Benz, Honda and Hyundai located in his state because of generous state supported tax incentives and abatements, not to mention low wage rates and prevailing anti-union sentiments. While he speaks of bankruptcy as the only means of forcing the Detroit automakers to slim down and adopt leaner, more competitive business models and wage scales, his unspoken agenda is an attempt to break the UAW and abrogate their labor agreements in bankruptcy court.
He is joined in this effort by senators from other “transplant states,” most notably Senators Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Mitch McConnell (R- Ky.), and a host of other Republican senators representing Western states who have no reason to wish Democratically leaning organized labor well. I have never been a big fan of organized labor in general, or of the UAW in particular, but honesty compels me to acknowledge (as the above named senators have not) that it has made tremendous concessions in the areas of wages, health insurance, and its notorious “job bank,” and is prepared to make more, in an effort to make the Big Three more competitive and insure the survival of General Motors, Chrysler and Ford. Already, newly hired UAW workers at the Big Three make lower wages than their counterparts at the automotive transplants – the problem is the higher wage scales for older workers and the tremendous “legacy” costs for pensions and healthcare.
The cynicism of the senators from the transplant states and their allies from other areas in the Republican caucus is really extraordinary. Last week, that small group invoked procedural measures in the Senate to frustrate a rescue plan passed overwhelmingly by the House of Representatives which had the support of the White House and a majority of senators in their own chamber. In order to deal a blow to the UAW and advance the local manufacturing interests of their own states, they were willing to force GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy and to risk (1) the loss of an additional one to two million jobs in the domestic automobile industry; (2) the destructive effect which the loss of those jobs would have on government revenues and services throughout the Middle West; (3) the further bankruptcies of automotive parts suppliers; and (4) the transfer to the federal government of pension obligations easily ten times greater than the amount which the $14 billion bridge loan to General Motors and Chrysler would involve.
Not since the Civil War had narrow regional advantage been allowed to prevail to such an extent over the national good. Fortunately, President Bush recognized the catastrophic effect that forcing GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy would have for the economy of the nation as a whole. Yesterday, December 14th, flying back from Iraq aboard Air Force One, he announced that monies from the Treasury’s TARP program would be made available to save those companies from bankruptcy until such time as the new administration and the new congress could formulate a more comprehensive rescue plan.
It is no exaggeration to say that Mr. Bush’s decision may have avoided turning an already deep recession into a depression. For that, the people of the United States (and the entire world) owe him a debt of gratitude.
From the Folks Who Brought You the Great Depression
Congressional Republicans are mad, and they aren’t going to take it anymore. Having prostituted their principles and indulged their appetites for profligate spending for years in service to the Bush administration, they decided to draw the line yesterday in rejecting a $700 billion rescue plan first proposed by treasury secretary Henry Paulson in an attempt to free up credit and lending from the nations’ terrified banks which have been protecting what is left of their devastated capital structures by curling up in tight balls like threatened armadillos.
The Masters of the Universe at what used to be investment banking houses and their camp followers at the money center and regional banks, who used to buy any collection of fetid and smelly mortgages just as long as they were gift wrapped with bogus AAA seals of approval from the dishonest rating agencies, were suddenly unwilling to lend to credit worthy customers who they had known for years for such mundane purposes as making payrolls or financing inventories. All of a sudden, the free flow of credit was in the deep freeze and the economy was headed for what former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan euphemistically called a once in a century event. Depending on how you calculate your centuries, that might encompass the Great Depression, an economic disaster which you really wouldn’t want to slip to Number 2 in the rankings.
Nevertheless, the congressmen and their constituents were pretty hacked off at all the heads of the investment banks (hey, hadn’t Paulson been one of those?) who had paid themselves astronomical salaries and bonuses while guiding their firms to the brink of bankruptcy, and they weren’t about to “bailout” Wall Street for such bad behavior. Calls to congressional offices were running 90 to one against the rescue plan, without much consideration of the financial tsunami which was about to wash over Main Street. A week which had just seen Lehman Brothers and Washington Mutual (the largest bank failure in U.S. history) declare bankruptcy, Merrill Lynch disappear, virtually all of the stockholder equity of AIG and Wachovia wiped out, and Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley convert to bank holding companies in an effort to avoid the same fate, somehow failed to temper anger with apprehension.
Cat herding in the “People’s House” proved to be extraordinarily difficult as congressional leaders of both parties struggled to cajole a majority of their backbenchers to go along with the distasteful rescue plan which would permit the Treasury to purchase unmarketable mortgage backed securities from banks in order to free up additional capital for lending. In the end, Democratic floor leaders Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and House banking chairman Barney Frank (D-MA) were more successful in garnering votes for the administration’s rescue plan than were their Republican counterparts, John Boehner (R-OH) and Spencer Bachus (R-AL). Democrats delivered over sixty percent of their caucus, while Republicans could muster only about one-third of theirs.
It didn’t help, of course, that just before the vote House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, chose to channel her “inner bitch” and blame the entire crisis on the Republicans’ decade-long hostility toward (and elimination of) congressional oversight and regulation. While largely true, that was hardly the time or occasion to assert it, and her speech (which was in marked contrast to the rare bipartisan spirit of all the other leaders urging passage of the rescue plan) was received rather like the proverbial skunk at the garden party. When the final tally was in, the vote was 205 for the rescue package and 228 against it. Bloody noses of members of both parties littered the House floor, cut off to spite the “fat cats” of Wall Street.
The effect was immediate and emphatic. The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed down 777 points, the largest numerical decline in its history, and the third largest in terms of percentage. More ominous, the flight away from stocks and into the safety of the three month Treasury bills drove the yield down to 0.14 percent while the LIBOR rate (the London Interbank Offered Rate) which reflects the interest rate banks charge to make three month loans to each other spiked to 5.22 percent, the highest level ever. Banks have stopped lending to each other and have cut back on credit lines and loans to many of their best customers. All over the country, small businesses and corporations are hoarding cash and wondering how they will make payrolls and purchase the inventories necessary to keep their companies in operation.
Credit and lending are in danger of freezing up completely. Members of Congress, particularly the Republicans, have had enough of governmental interference and intervention and want to give the free markets a chance to operate. So did President Herbert Hoover, after the crash of 1929.
Put Hillary Clinton on the Ticket – John McCain’s!
Richard Nixon is off the hook. His “you won’t have Dick Nixon to kick around anymore” speech following his loss of the California gubernatorial race to Pat Brown is no longer the most whiny, ungracious concession speech in political history. But, on second thought, perhaps he still holds that dubious distinction since last night Hillary refused to concede. She had the egregiously bad taste to solicit a place on Barack Obama’s ticket without congratulating him on his victory or even endorsing him.
Hillary is quite the tease. For weeks, the Queen of Denial had promised to end her impossible quest for the Democratic presidential nomination only when one candidate had the necessary delegate count to mathematically eliminate the other’s chances, but when Barack did just that she still refused to end her interminable campaign, holding out for the vice presidential spot, payment of her campaign debts, or who knows what. Her agenda, as the defeated candidate, is so expansive that even she does not know everything she wants, so last night she solicited suggestions from her audience asking, “What does Hillary want?”
The answer: way too much. Obama will never be able to satisfy this egotistical, narcissistic “boomer.” Even if he put her on the ticket, she would continue to hog the spotlight, subtly denigrating him as she has done throughout the last several months, and continued to do even on the evening of his history making victory as the first black presidential nominee of a major political party. As vice president, she would demand that whole sections of the government be placed under her control. She has a history of demanding concessions for her support – as the price of standing by her philandering husband during the 1992 presidential campaign, she demanded, and was granted, control of health care reform and all Justice Department appointments, with disastrous results. If Obama offers her more than Secretary of Health and Human Services, he will be making a serious mistake.
Better yet, let John McCain offer her a place on his ticket. He and Hillary are much better friends than are the two Democratic contenders, and she has been much more generous toward the Republican nominee, saying that Mr. McCain would be a better commander-in-chief, and otherwise damning her fellow Democrat with faint praise. Think of the problems that the unorthodox pairing would solve for the lunatic fringes of both parties. All the right-wing crazies (Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, et. al.) who said they would vote for Hillary Clinton before they’d vote for McCain would have a place to go, and the bitter feminists who were still chanting “Denver, Denver, Denver,” and “Yes, we will,” last night could keep their vow (against all self-interest) to vote for Senator McCain. They’d only need to change their destination from Denver to St. Paul.
Hillary is like a bad vaudeville performer who persists much too long with a tiresome routine. It’s high time someone got the hook and dragged her from the stage.
The Queen of Appalachia Reflects on the Summer of ‘68
Hillary Clinton has been spending a lot of time recently thinking about the summer of ’68, and it’s not just because that was her last one before graduating from Wellesley College. For weeks, the pesky pundits have been calling for her to drop out of the presidential primary race just because there is no way she could amass enough delegates to deny Barack Obama the nomination. They pretended to be unimpressed as she scored one big victory after another in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Kentucky. Well, it just goes to show how elitist and out of touch the media has become. The hillbilly heroine kept telling everybody that only she could win the votes of “hard-working Americans, white Americans,” but the pundits just said that she was in a state of denial.
Well, that just shows how little history they know. It’s enough to make a gal nostalgic for the good old days. Back in 1968 no one sneered at politicians who bragged they could get the votes of hard-working, white Americans. It worked well enough for Richard Nixon even though he had some competition from third party candidate George C. Wallace (at least before the “fightin’ little judge” got shot and had to retire from the race) --- which calls to mind another thing. In the spring of ’68 a Black inspirational leader, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated and later in June a white Democratic front runner for the presidential nomination, Robert F. Kennedy, was gunned down on the night of the California primary. Now that was two assassinations – it would only take one this year to dispatch both an inspirational Black leader and a front running Democratic candidate for president. And those stupid pundits and party officials say she can’t win! A quitter never wins and a winner never quits – just ask Hubert Humphrey.
And another thing – all that talk about primary races lasting through June and divisive nominating conventions hurting the prospects of the party is just a lot of hooey. Just because incumbent president Gerald Ford got beat in 1976 after a knock-down, drag-out battle with Ronald Reagan at the Republican convention, and incumbent vice president Hubert Humphrey got beat after Richard Daley’s memorable convention in Chicago in 1968, doesn’t mean that Hill shouldn’t take her quest to seat the rule-breaking Florida and Michigan delegations to the credentials committee in this year’s Democratic convention in Denver. As Hillary said today in her amble down memory lane, “my husband” (it isn’t wise to mention his name too often) won in 1992 even though he didn’t wrap up the nomination until June. Besides, those bitter convention fights made for great television and were a lot of fun (well, for everybody except the nominees). And remember, that nomination fight didn’t hurt Ronald Reagan in 1980! History could repeat itself in 2012.
So, cut our gritty little Wellesley warrior some slack! There are a lot of good reasons for Hill to stay in the race. And cut out all that arm-chair psychiatric speculation about her little Freudian slip when she talked about Robert Kennedy being assassinated after winning the California primary in 1968. Hey, it was at the end of a hard day of campaigning, she was tired and, as she explained, she had been thinking about the Kennedys (and 1968) a lot.
The Democrats Can’t Do Nothing
The title above is not meant to imply that Crestline Heights elementary school failed me as badly as Yale’s history department failed our 43rd president. It does not contain a crude double negative -- it means quite literally, and quite grammatically, precisely what it says. Our recently elected Democratic congress has proved incapable of doing what legislatures the world over do best. It has proved unequal to doing nothing.
If only it could have taken a page out of the Iraqi parliament’s book. Since the last purple-fingered triumph of democracy in that country, it has done a splendid job of doing nothing: no equitable division of oil revenues; no amendment of the constitution to prove to the Sunnis that they do have a future in the new and improved nation of Iraq; no move to stop the sectarian killing or toward a more workable federal system. No, the Iraqi parliament has done nothing but pass a resolution (which Iraqi president Talibani says they didn’t mean) inviting the U.S. armed forces to leave their country, and then go on vacation. Now that’s doing nothing, sure enough. It’s too bad Nancy Pelosi’s Democratic controlled House of Representatives couldn’t follow their example. If they could, our adventure in Iraq would be winding down in a matter of weeks.
I was struck again this morning reading Frank Rich’s column, “Failed Presidents Ain’t What They Used to Be,” published June 3, 2007, in The New York Times, how no one in either the media, or in political circles, is ever willing to state the obvious -- the Democratic congress did not need a veto-proof majority to fulfill the mandate the American public gave it in the recent mid-term elections to end our involvement in the Iraqi civil war. It did not need to pass a supplemental military spending bill funding the president’s war in Iraq with timetables for withdrawal. It did not even, as suggested by Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, need to pass precisely the same Iraq funding bill and send it to our stubborn and delusional president for a second or third veto, though that would have been amusing. All it needed to do was nothing.
Because of the fiscal dishonesty of the Bush administration when it comes to budgetary matters, the costs of the war in Iraq have never been included in the Department of Defense’s general budget. In order to make the deficit appear much smaller than it actually is, the financing of the war in Iraq has always been funded “off budget” through supplemental appropriations. Do you remember how irate Senator Jim Bunning (R-Ky) was when Paul Wolfowitz, who had told the Senate that the cost of the Iraq war would be paid for out of Iraqi oil revenues, came back to the Senate for the first of many multi-billion dollar supplementals to finance the “cakewalk” in Iraq? “ What the hell goes on with this supplemental,” he had thundered at Wolfie when he appeared the first time to ask for about $43 billion. Well, he and all the other Republicans got used to it, as the amounts and the frequencies of the requests for supplemental Iraq funding increased dramatically.
So, all the Democrats needed to do to bring our involvement in Iraq to an end was to do nothing. They didn’t need a funding bill with timetables (which even had he signed it, the president would have ignored anyway in accordance with his many “signing statements” claiming that Congress was unconstitutionally impinging on his powers as Commander in Chief). The one thing that our arrogant and belligerent president couldn’t sign away or veto was no funding bill at all. Even the vice-president’s legal minions, with their theories of an all-powerful executive undermining the founders’ concept of separation of powers, couldn’t get around the fact that all revenue measures have to originate in the House of Representatives. The “power of the purse” is one prerogative that not even the most fervent advocate of presidential power can abrogate to the Commander in Chief.
It would have taken some courage, of course, for Speaker Nancy Pelosi rather than personally voting against the second Iraq funding bill simply to have refused to allow it come up for a second (or, if the John Edwards strategy was to be followed, for a third or fourth) vote after presidential veto(es). The administration would have screamed that the congress was denying our troops the funding they needed during a time of war, but the American public finally knew better, and were way out ahead of both the president and the congress.
The American public understood, as the Iraq war entered its fifth year, that it was the Bush administration who had sent our soldiers off ill-equipped to fight a war for which there was no plan for, or hope of, victory. It was the Bush administration which refused to spend the money to care for our horribly wounded and maimed troops when they returned home. The only effect the failure to pass the Iraq supplemental would have had would be to deny the president another year of his war, and to bring our remaining troops home alive and un-maimed.
If only the Democratic controlled congress had had the courage to do nothing.
Nothing Could Be Done Because He Was the Mayor’s Son
If you have ever had a mischievous urge to pop an Israeli’s helium filled balloon, I would advise against it. Chances are the aggrieved Israeli not only would pop your balloon (assuming you had one), but would also fire-bomb your house and all those of your neighbors. The people who flocked to Israel after the second world war had endured a horrendous time during that conflict at the hand of the Nazis, but having survived that awful period went to school on some of the most effective methods of their tormentors. One of those which has characterized the State of Israel since its founding is the concept of collective guilt and punishment. Another is a tendency toward massive over-reaction to any event or conduct which Israel finds offensive.
The events of the last couple of weeks in both Lebanon and the Gaza strip are only the most recent examples of Israel’s typical modus operandi, but first, a bit of background. As you will recall, after Arafat’s death, Israel refused to participate in any meaningful negotiations with his more moderate successor, Mahmoud Abbas, concerning permanent borders between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and instead continued to erect a barrier fence separating portions of the West Bank from Israel along lines most favorable to the Israelis and (in Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s last contribution to tensions in the Middle East) unilaterally withdrew from Gaza without any consultations with the leaders of the PA. This unilateral approach to establishing the final borders between Palestine and Israel was hardly the series of negotiations originally envisioned by President Bush’s “roadmap” to peace, but it had the advantage, as the Israelis saw the situation, of never having to discuss the settlements which Israel had erected (contrary to UN resolutions and international law) during the thirty-some-odd years they had occupied the West Bank.
President Bush made no protests about Prime Minister Sharon’s shredding of his “roadmap,” but instead praised Israel for its decision to withdraw from Gaza (which Mr. Sharon had determined was strategically indefensible) as a step toward peace. The Palestinian people, of course, saw this series of events precisely for what they were, not as they had been characterized by the leaders of Israel and the United States. Those events demonstrated in the clearest fashion possible that the United States was going to permit Israel to do anything it wished with respect to setting the parameters of the “two-state solution,” and that Mr. Abbas would be powerless to influence the decision making about the status of the Israeli settlements or anything else.
When, just a few months later, President Bush and his secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, pressured the Palestinian Authority to hold prompt elections (in accordance with the president’s utopian plan to spread democracy throughout the Middle East) Palestinian voters, of course, threw out Mr. Abbas’ ineffectual and historically corrupt Al Fatah party in favor of the more vigorous and socially responsible Hamas factions. The president and his secretary of state professed to be “shocked” by the results of the election (despite the fact that both the Israelis and Mr. Abbas had warned them against pressing for early elections because of Hamas’ popularity), but suddenly Israel was confronted with something more than just an unpleasant surprise. By its high-handed refusal to consult with Mr. Abbas and his moderate, but ineffectual, Al Fatah party, Israel had energized the Palestinian electorate into bringing to power the “terrorist” Hamas organization.
Rather than recognize the result of the Palestinian Authority’s democratic (and indisputably honest and regularly conducted) election, and deal with Hamas and try to moderate it in keeping with its new responsibilities of governance, Israel chose the tactic of absolute confrontation. It would have no dealings or discussions of any kind with the new “terrorist” government of the PA. Its first response was to impound the duties and taxes which it had been collecting in the West Bank for the account of the Palestinian government. Its second was to close the borders so no people or commerce could pass between Israel and the PA. Its third was to successfully lobby the United States and other western countries to cut off all financial aid. Israel would teach the Palestinian people not to elect candidates of which it did not approve. It would starve the Palestinian Authority of all funds and commerce it required to survive.
In the blockaded Gaza strip, civil servants worked without pay, hospitals attempted to treat the sick without needed drugs and medical supplies, and the whole population of several million tried to muddle through under exceedingly difficult circumstances, but eventually tempers frayed and home-made rockets began to be launched from Gaza, falling harmlessly in Israeli territory. That was all the provocation the government of Israel required, and American supplied F-16s began their bombing raids over residential areas, and tanks began their incursions into the Gaza strip, just as they had in the salad days of the second intifada in 2002 when Ariel Sharon demolished all of the PA’s government buildings and infrastructure in the West Bank and Gaza. The Israelis were back to “combating terrorism” and the Hamas “terrorists,” many of whom were the duly appointed cabinet ministers of the newly elected Hamas government of the Palestinian Authority. Approximately one-half of the top Hamas governmental officials were captured in such raids and brought back to Israel for imprisonment.
Even the overpowering military supremacy of the Israeli Defense Forces does not guarantee a perfect result, however, and during this most recent incursion into Palestinian territory one member of the IDF was captured (“kidnapped” according to Israeli press reports) and military operations continue in an effort to free him. Thus, the “war” in Gaza is the second front on which (according to the American media) the embattled State of Israel is fighting.
The first, or at least primary, front in which Israel finds itself currently engaged is in Lebanon, where Israel is combating terrorism in the form of Hezbollah. Actually, the capture of the Israeli soldier in the Gaza incursion predated the Lebanon fighting by a couple of days. Nevertheless, the main fighting started a couple of weeks ago (in one of the thousands of cross-border raids -- the great majority of which have been from Israel into Lebanon -- occurring since Israel abandoned its eighteen year occupation of southern Lebanon six years ago) when a Hezbollah group ambushed an Israeli patrol on the Israeli side of the Lebanese border killing eight IDF soldiers and capturing two more. It should be pointed out here (for anyone not paying attention) that the government of Lebanon has not had any effective control of the area around its southern border with Israel for a period of approximately 24 years. Israel controlled that area during its 18 year occupation prior to its withdrawal in 2000, and Hezbollah, which came into existence solely to fight the Israeli occupation, has controlled it ever since.
Immediately after the cross-border attack by Hezbollah, Israel elected to exercise “its right to defend itself,” in the words of President Bush, not by responding in kind and raiding a Hezbollah position on the other side of the Lebanese border, or by entering into a prisoner swap as Hezbollah probably anticipated would occur from the course of past dealings, but (consistent with its governing philosophy of collective guilt and punishment and its penchant for over-reaction) with a full-scale attack on the nation of Lebanon, the plans for which had been on the shelf awaiting just such an opportunity since it had been forced to abandon its occupation in 2000. Within 48 hours, while paying scant, if any, attention to the forces of Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, the Israeli air force had bombed the Beirut airport, demolished most of the bridges and roads leading to and from neighboring countries, and reduced huge portions of the capital city of Beirut to rubble, killing hundreds of innocent Lebanese civilians (and not just a few foreign visitors) in the process.
This massive attack on a defenseless neighbor was conducted at a time calculated to deny Lebanon a principal source of revenue from tourism during the summer season, and to teach the fledging democracy a lesson: regardless of the government’s inability to control the much stronger and better armed Hezbollah forces in the south, it and its population would be in receipt of brutal punishment for its failure to do so. On a grander scale, this was simply an extension of the Israeli practice of destroying the entire neighborhood from which a suicide bomber may have come. During the second world war, it was the practice of the Nazis to round up twenty or thirty random civilians and execute them whenever one of their occupying soldiers was killed by a member of the local resistance. The modern Israelis follow the same practice, but prefer to carry out their campaigns of intimidation from military aircraft.
The systematic destruction of the city of Beirut and other towns throughout Lebanon continues even while, finally, the IDF turns its attention to the forces of Hezbollah in southern Lebanon which actually attacked its patrol. After punishing bombardments in the north which have gone on for days, IDF tanks are making their first tentative advances across the border into the Hezbollah strongholds in the south. The fighting is expected to be tough-- Hezbollah has had six years to prepare the battleground, and they are dedicated fighters. Theirs is the only fighting force which has ever defeated the modern Israeli armed forces equipped, as they are, with the best weaponry which the taxpayers of the United States can provide.
While the UN, the government of Lebanon, and the populations and governments of every Arabic or western country in the world (save one and its British poodle) appeal for a cease-fire and an end to the carnage and destruction, Israel keeps sending its rockets and jet bombers into the buildings and over the skies of Beirut and other population centers of Lebanon. Since a cease-fire would not suit the purposes of its client state, the United States holds out not for a mere cease-fire which would only succeed in stopping the killing, but for a meaningful resolution of the conflict between Hezbollah and the State of Israel which can come about only upon the eradication of Hezbollah (Israel’s own version of the “final solution” perhaps?) or in connection with Armageddon, which the foreign policies of Israel and the United States seem intent on advancing into the very near future.
Until then, the people of Lebanon (and assorted foreigners, including the four UN observers whom the Israeli military managed to kill on July 25th) will just have to continue suffering for the better good of Israel’s more perfect security. Not that the suffering is confined only to those on one side of the conflict -- far from it. While almost 400 innocent Lebanese have been killed thus far, not to mention eight or ten members of the supposedly untargeted Lebanese army, and presumably the occasional member of Hezbollah, 37 Israelis have been killed by rockets fired at the northern Israeli port city of Haifa together with a handful of IDF soldiers. In addition, scores of Israeli citizens, some as far away from the fighting as Tel Aviv, have been hospitalized suffering from “extreme anxiety.”
Not wishing to be thought insensitive to the suffering inflicted by its client state Israel on the fledgling democracy of Lebanon (which it had trumpeted as prime example of its successful project to democratize the Middle East only a few months ago), the United States announced on July 25th that it stood ready to make available humanitarian aid to that country if only it could figure out a way to get it delivered to the Lebanese people -- no mean trick since the Israelis have destroyed every airport, bridge or roadway leading into the country.
All of which leads us back to the constant puzzle of why, as philanthropic as we are, we are not more loved by the peoples of the Middle East or, for that matter, by Muslim peoples generally. Perhaps it has something to do with our unstinting support for Israel, whom we have turned into a military juggernaut, no matter how outrageous or disproportionate its actions may be. Not since 1956, when President Dwight David Eisenhower jerked Israel, Britain and France back from their attack on Gamal Nasser’s Egypt in their abortive attempt to take back the Suez Canal, has an American president really restrained Israel from committing an unconscionable act against its Arab neighbors. In 1967, President Johnson even overlooked (and forbade the investigation of) Israel’s sinking of our unarmed naval ship USS Liberty and its intentional strafing of our sailors in their life rafts. If we are unwilling even to protect our own sailors against Israel’s warlike actions, what hope do Arab governments or peoples have against this military monster of our own creation? In the administration of our 43rd president, joined as he is at the hip with Ariel Sharon and his successor, Ehud Olmert, none, none at all.
As early as his first meeting of the National Security Council in January of 2001, George W. Bush served notice that he would reverse 45 years of United States foreign policy with regard to Israel’s role in the Middle East and abandon any pretense of serving as an “honest broker” between the Arabs and Israelis. On January 30, ten days after his inauguration, he informed members of his national security team that the United States would disengage itself from the troubles and disputes of the Middle East and let events take their natural course. When his secretary of state, Colin Powell, protested that the consequences of unleashing Ariel Sharon and his Israeli army could be “dire, especially for the Palestinians,” the new president merely shrugged and said:
“Maybe that’s the best way to get things back in balance. Sometimes a show of strength by one side can really clarify things.”
That quote recalled by former treasury secretary Paul O’Neill and reported by Pulitzer Prize winning author Ron Suskind in The Price of Loyalty, Simon & Shuster 2004, at page 72, is eerily similar to the remark Mr. Bush made about the current suffering in Lebanon, as quoted by his presidential counselor Dan Bartlett to The Washington Post, to the effect that the president “mourns the loss of every life, yet out of this tragic development he believes a moment of clarity has arrived.”
Since George W. Bush’s administration arrived in Washington DC in January of 2001, that philosophy of disengagement with respect to Israeli actions, and his own war in Iraq, have led to the near destruction of three Middle Eastern countries: the West Bank section of the Palestinian Authority, Iraq, and now Lebanon. He and Dick Cheney would like to add the countries of Syria and Iran to that list, but the fiasco that their war in Iraq has become has probably saved those two countries from a similar fate. For whatever reason, the president’s born-again preoccupation with the end times, the second coming and Armageddon, or the vice president’s crazed neoconservative credo about the use of our overpowering military force to remake the face of the Middle East, the resulting and continuing chaos and destruction is the same.
The peoples of the Middle East must feel like the residents of Harvard satirist Tom Lehrer’s song “My Home Town.” In one stanza of his comical lyrics he sang:
“ I remember Sam. He was the village idiot, and though it seems a pity it was so,
“He loved to burn down houses just to watch the glow,
“And nothing could be done, because he was the mayor’s son.”
It is clear, to follow the analogy, that the long-suffering people of the Middle East are in the position of Tom Lehrer’s town folks, and that the militaries of both Israel and the United States are represented by Sam, but the position of George W. Bush in all of this is less clear. He seems, in real life, to play the role of both the mayor and the village idiot. In any case neither Sam, the village idiot, nor the mayor who winked at and enabled his atrocities were respected or much loved. Neither is George W. Bush or the United States of America, and it shouldn’t be much of a mystery why that is so.
Trashing the Truth-Teller
Yesterday, August 22, 2005, our young emperor, entirely bereft of any clothes (or of any objective evidence of recent progress in his elective, preemptive war in Iraq), headed for Salt Lake City to try and drum up flagging support for his latest experiment in nation-building before the safest audience, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, in the reddest, most conservative state in the union, Utah. Even so, he found the mayor of Salt Lake leading a group of protestors opposed to his visit and his policies. Apparently, it’s hard to convince even the Secret Service to herd the mayor of the town the president is visiting off into a “Free Speech Zone.”
What had dislodged the president from his five week retreat in Crawford, Texas and sent him out onto the stump in the Wild West was the effect that Cindy Sheehan, and her fellow anti-war protesters, were having at Camp Casey back at his ranch. Everybody knows that “W” and his cronies don’t pay any attention to the polls (except to those in Ohio and Baghdad) but only a darned fool would pretend not to notice when public support for his war slipped below 40%. It’s no fun being the “War President” with numbers like that -- might as well be known as the “Private Accounts” or the “Public Works” president with poll numbers like those. So, with Karl Rove hunkering down back in Washington DC avoiding the special prosecutor, “W” headed out onto the road to do something about the situation himself.
Deteriorating situations demand bold actions, and in Salt Lake Mr. Bush even departed from his standard text. Cindy Sheehan had been raising such a ruckus about her dead son that “W” decided to mention the rest of the dead sons and daughters who had died building his vision of a better Iraq -- not by name, of course, but by the numbers, and for the first time: 1,864 dead. The number is larger this morning, of course, because we lose soldiers and Marines in Iraq every day, but the president’s point was that we had to “stay the course” in Iraq because so many had died and we must honor their sacrifice. Carping about the lack of a coherent strategy, or about the increasing numbers of Iraqis killed by the insurgents, or about the lack of any meaningful progress in bringing the Sunnis into the political process, only dishonored the fallen. We should honor them, he implied, by staying in Iraq as long as it takes and adding to their numbers. The president pulled out all the stops -- he even mentioned Osama bin Laden by name -- as if to create the impression that his war in Iraq was somehow connected to 9/11.
Mr. Bush received a warm welcome, and polite applause, from his older audience of veterans. They laughed at his jokes about them showing up primarily to see Laura, and were on the whole a very respectful group. It must have rankled the president, however, that he couldn’t provide them with any better material. His is an administration that runs on time, and he expected that he would be able to talk to them about the new Iraqi constitution. He had given the drafters a whole week’s extension (it takes time translating our ambassador’s English into Arabic) but they still didn’t produce a constitution in time for his speech -- in fact, it took until just before midnight on the last day of the extension, and even then it was not a draft that many of the Sunnis would support or accept. Good product or not, “W” likes his policies presented on time.
But even the failure of the Iraqis to produce a draft of their constitution on schedule cannot have annoyed “W” as much as the remarks Senator Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) made the previous day on ABC’s Sunday morning talk show “This Week.” Other Republican senators such as George Allen (R-Va.), Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Trent Lott (R-Miss.) had gone on those Sunday morning shows and acknowledged that public support for the war in Iraq was slipping, but they hewed to the party line and had said that the president just needed to get out on the stump and explain to the American public that things were really going quite well, and they just needed to be patient. Well, that was just what “W” was doing -- why the hell else would he be interrupting his vacation and talking to a bunch of senior citizens in Utah?
But that Chuck Hagel wasn’t sticking to the script at all! He said that things weren’t going well in Iraq, confirming the public’s suspicions. He said “stay the course” was not a policy (well, whatever other policy was there?) and went on to observe “By any standard, when you analyze 2-1/2 years in Iraq…we’re not winning.” Now why did he have to go and say that? Maybe he was still sore about Rumsfeld and the president disregarding his advice before the war that we were invading Iraq with a force only one-third the size necessary to do the job. Well, “W” and Rummy had fixed Secretary of the Army Thomas White’s and Army chief of staff General Eric Shinseki’s wagons for saying that (it was even more infuriating when they turned out to be completely right) but senators are harder to control -- you can’t just fire or retire them. Or, maybe, he was still sore about being lied to by Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, who told him the entire cost of the war would be paid for out of Iraqi oil revenues. Whatever, ….
Nevertheless, Senator Hagel didn’t have to say that current Army chief of staff, General Pete Schoomaker’s, contingency plan to keep 100,000 American troops in Iraq through 2009 was “complete folly” even if he did think so. This truth-telling on national television can be carried too far. Honesty is not always, or even often, the best policy -- Dick Cheney could have told him that. And then, referring to General Schoomaker (who had to be recalled from retirement after General Shinseki was run off), Mr. Hagel had the effrontery to make the obvious, embarrassing observation:
"I don’t know where he’s going to get these troops. There won’t be any National Guard left…no Army Reserve left…there is no way America is going to have 100,000 troops in Iraq, nor should it, in four years.
“It would bog us down, it would further destabilize the Middle East, it would give Iran more influence, it would hurt Israel, it would put our allies over there in Saudi Arabia and Jordan in a terrible position. It won’t be four years. We need to be out.”
And then, since that much was demonstrably true, Mr. Hagel drew the obvious conclusion. As a down-to-earth, practical Mid-Westerner, he knows that when you are in a deep hole, you eventually have to stop digging:
“We should start figuring out how we get out of there. But with this understanding, we cannot leave a vacuum that further destabilizes the Middle East. And the longer we stay there, I think the further destabilization will occur.”
Senator Hagel who, like former secretary of state and chairman of the joint chiefs of staff Colin Powell, initially argued for troop strength two or three times larger than Secretary Rumsfeld wanted prior to the invasion of Iraq in March of 2003, understands that those larger troop levels which would have impeded the growth of the insurgency if introduced in 2003, as they should have been, will now only exacerbate the situation with the insurgency in full flower:
“We’re past that stage now because now we are locked into a bogged-down problem not unsimilar, dissimilar to where we were in Vietnam. The longer we stay, the more problems we are going to have.
“What I think the White House does not yet understand, and some of my colleagues, the dam has broke on this policy. The longer we stay there, the more similarities [to Vietnam] are going to come together.”
And unlike the people in the White House, none of whom served in the regular military or in Vietnam, Chuck Hagel knows a little something about bogging down, with failed policies, in that war. As an infantryman, carrying a rifle, in Vietnam he stayed the course long enough to be wounded twice, earning two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star. As a senator, he has visited Iraq on numerous occasions, and has talked with both enlisted men and generals who have confided things to him which, for reasons of career advancement, they could not tell their civilian superiors in the Pentagon. He was one of the first public officials to call for Donald Rumsfeld’s resignation as secretary of defense, and with good reason.
Senator Hagel knows, as the public is beginning to appreciate, that “staying the course” is not a strategy, but just a cliché, and that blindly adhering to a failed policy will only result in more deaths of American servicemen and Iraqi civilians without benefiting Iraq in any meaningful way over the long term. Iraq is not, and has never been, a cohesive nation -- it is just a group of lines drawn on a map by Winston Churchill after the end of World War I. It has taken occupying colonial powers, or a brutal strongman like Saddam Hussein, to hold its disparate ethnic groups together since it ceased to be a group of provinces of the Ottoman Empire, but whether the Sunnis, the Shiites, and the Kurds choose to stay together, or split apart into their constituent ethnic parts, is not something that the United States can, or should, influence in the long run. We cannot afford, either in terms of American blood or treasure, to substitute ourselves for the British as an occupying colonial power, and it is not in our long term strategic interest to attempt to do so. The Iraqis (or more accurately, the Sunnis, the Shiites, and the Kurds) will have to find their own way.
The decision to go to war in Iraq was a strategic mistake, sold to the American public and Congress in a campaign of deceit, and implemented with mind-boggling incompetence. Senator Hagel remained largely silent about the strategy and the questionable methods employed by the administration in promoting it, but as a former soldier, and as a member of the Senate’s Armed Forces and Foreign Affairs committees, he could not remain silent in the face of the incredibly incompetent execution of that strategy by the top civilian officials in the Pentagon.
Colin Powell’s doctrine of overwhelming force, conceived in reaction to the policy of gradualism which had proved so disastrous in Vietnam, which produced such a smashing victory in the first Gulf War, was rejected out of hand by Secretary Rumsfeld who wanted to prove that he could successfully invade a country with his lighter, leaner, more lethal force one-third the size of that employed in Desert Storm. Since the over-matched Iraqis offered no resistance, the initial invasion proved a remarkable success, but as predicted by Colin Powell, Secretary White, General Shinseki, and, yes, Senator Chuck Hagel, there were too few troops to secure the borders, take control of the countless ammunition dumps, or maintain civil order, and so the insurgency flourished in that predictable absence of control.
Rumsfeld and his civilian planners won the war, but were clueless about how to go about winning the peace with a hopelessly small occupying force. Time and time again they resisted prudent calls to increase the size of the force in Iraq, and of the Army at large. As a result, we have witnessed our Marines, Army Reserves and National Guard stretched almost to their breaking point The chaos and carnage which we are experiencing today in Iraq are a direct consequence of Rumsfeld’s stubborn refusal to listen to his more experienced uniformed flag officers. Clinging to the same failed tactics, as the president insists we continue to do in “staying the course,” will only produce more death, carnage and destruction. It is no accident that with each passing month our military casualties and the number of Iraqi civilian deaths grow larger and larger.
Again, as Senator Hagel observed, “By any standard, when you analyze 2-1/2 years in Iraq … we’re not winning.” He is not advocating a precipitous withdrawal, but he is wise enough to understand that an open-ended commitment to the status quo and to more of the same is a recipe for disaster.
The White House, Republican operatives, and their supporters in the media, like Joe Scarborough, are furious with Chuck Hagel for leveling with the American people and telling the truth about what is going on in Iraq. In their efforts to smear him, and deflect attention away from the administration’s failed policies in Iraq, they have even accused him of selling out the troops for political advantage. Nothing could be further from the truth. The soldier in the field has no greater friend in the Congress than Chuck Hagel. He took the lead in shaming the administration into providing members of the National Guard with better medical benefits and care, in raising the ridiculously low combat death benefit to $100,000, and in providing the troops with better armored vehicles and body armor. Unlike the “chicken hawks” who populate the top echelons of the White House and Pentagon, he was an infantryman in Vietnam, and he knows what they and their families are going through.
The sad truth is that this administration, to paraphrase the Marine colonel played by Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men, “can’t handle the truth.” We will see whether the American people can.
Why We Shouldn't Torture
In a happier era this piece would have been entitled "Why we don't torture," but during the presidency of George W. Bush we can’t say that because we do. So, to proceed with the alternate title, we shouldn't torture because:
a) It's immoral; and,
b) It's impracticable and counter-productive as a method of interrogation.
When you are suspending people from the ceiling by their wrists which are handcuffed behind their backs (the "Palestinian hang," a method perfected by our good friends, the Israelis), or beating them to death (or coming close to "organ failure," a method encouraged by the Office of the General Counsel of our Justice Department and endorsed by our attorney general), the tortured tend to tell their torturers what they want to hear -- not necessarily the "true poop."
If you are a decent person, of course, you don't need to go beyond point a) -- that would seem to be a self-evident proposition.
If, however, like our president, vice-president, secretary of defense, and attorney general, you are not a decent person and require further persuasion, please consult the headquarters group at the Federal Bureau of Investigation who will tell you (and, in fact, have told them) roughly the same thing mentioned in point b) above, because it is much more effective to gain the trust of, as opposed to torturing and terrifying, your interrogation subject.
But if, like the officials of our government mentioned in the preceding paragraph, and many of their bureaucratic minions, you still harbor a nostalgic fondness for those Nazi or Japanese interrogators from the movies about World War II (The Purple Heart about the torture of our captured Army Air Corps flyers by the Japanese was particularly inspiring), you should remember that you look considerably less cool, ruthless and calculating when you are so incompetent and uninformed that you are constantly picking up the wrong persons to torture as we do all the time in Iraq, Afghanistan, or, far too often, at JFK Airport while nabbing the occasional tourist who is merely changing planes en route to his native Canada. When you do that too many times, as we often have since we were terrified beyond all morality and common sense by the events of 9/11, you begin to look a little less like your role model, Heinrich Himmler of the Third Reich, and a little more like Moe of The Three Stooges.
Since, however, the officials of the administration of George W. Bush mentioned above, and those diligent bureaucrats who work for them, fervently believe that only wusses shrink from a little torture (it's almost as bad as failing to "stay the course"), innocent people around the world had better keep a sharp eye out for that Gulfstream jet which is liable to swoop down into their neighborhoods and carry them off ("extraordinay rendition," I believe, is the bureaucratic term) to an all-expense-paid vacation in the torture chambers of Syria or Egypt -- we out-source just about everything these days because foreigners can do it so much better and more economically.
So, since the officials of the Bush administration have rushed right past point a) without a moment's consideration, and aren't at all convinced by the arguments in support of point b), you had better keep a weather eye out for that Gulfstream jet. Ask not for whom the Gulfstream jet comes; it may well be coming for you.
The Time for Diplomacy Is ... When, Exactly?
If there ever was any doubt that the current administration has a collective mental age of about fifteen (the age of a high school sophomore) it has been dispelled by the nomination of John R. Bolton to be ambassador to the United Nations. During her confirmation hearings, Condoleezza Rice famously made the statement that "the time for diplomacy is now." That statement was taken by the relieved senators on the Foreign Relations committee as a sign that the administration recognized that its abrasive approach to our dealings with the rest of the world was sometimes counter-productive, and that the United States could be expected to behave a little more like an adult in George W. Bush's second term.
In drawing that reasonable conclusion, the senators forgot that in evaluating any statement made by an official of the Bush administration, it should be judged not by its general tone and spirit but according to the "technically correct" standard. What Condi meant was that the time for diplomacy was now, during the senate confirmation hearing. She had already seen the draft of the president's inflammatory inauguration address in which he pledged to spread the flame of freedom and democracy throughout the world (see "Delusions of Grandeur -- Fanning the All-Consuming Flame of Freedom" posted in January on the News Views page) which he was to deliver a few days later. That speech, which reached heights of meddling "nosy parkerism" unattained since the time of the air-headed Woodrow Wilson, contained so much sophomoric and sabre-rattling rhetoric that emissaries had to be dispatched to the four corners of the earth to explain that imminent attacks were not under consideration, and no, China, Russia and Saudi Arabia, the president didn't mean you -- not right away in any event.
As she sat before the senators in her confirmation hearing, smiling like the Cheshire cat, it must have amused Condi to think of the next Molotov cocktail that the administration would be lobbing onto the international scene -- her nomination of John Bolton to be the United States' ambassador to the UN. The president, vice president, and all the folks in the top echelons of our government's defense and foreign relations establishments are never happier than when they are giving the one-fingered salute to the rest of the world (except, perhaps, when an opportunity arises to stick it in someone's eye) and the thought of unleashing their number one attack dog, John Bolton, to take a hunk out of the pompous and ineffectual United Nations must have filled them with giddy delight.
President Bush had thoroughly enjoyed his address to the UN, chiding that organization as being "irrelevant" in world affairs, prior to our invasion of Iraq to rid the world of its imaginary Weapons of Mass Destruction, but as he mentioned in the presidential debates it's "hard" being president -- there are so many things to be attended to. Now John Bolton could attack and denigrate the world body (and through it, by proxy, the rest of the world) all of the time. "W" would enjoy listening to Bolton's acerbic insults -- that one about the top ten stories at United Nations headquarters building was particularly good.
What's more, the Bolton nomination was not just an opportunity to shoot the bird to the world community, it would also involve the delicious opportunity of flipping off Joe Biden and all those Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. What fun that would be! "W" had won the election (with the help of a little gay-bashing to rile up the Evangelicals) and now he was going to show the Democrats, the Arabs and the Euro-trash what hard-asses the neocons could be when they didn't have an election to worry about. Talk about "spending some political capital," -- how about the Bolton nomination as an initial down payment!
When we got ready to invade Iran or Syria, there wouldn't be any pussy-footing around at the UN like Colin Powell had done questioning some of the WMD intel and refusing to use that good African "yellowcake" material. John Bolton wouldn't have any such qualms, and, to make matters even better, he knew how to manipulate intelligence on his own. He wasn't the type to allow inconvenient facts to get in the way of his ideology, nor one to tolerate nit-picky intelligence analysts who wouldn't give a fellow the answers the situation required. Chew them out, and move them out -- that was the way he handled such nervous Nellies. He'd run roughshod over the bureaucrats at the State Department and the CIA; just wait 'till he got hold of those fellows over at the UN Secretariat!
"W" was going to take John Bolton and stuff him down the Democrats' throats. After all, Republicans held a 10 to 8 advantage in the Foreign Relations committee and a 55 to 45 advantage in the Senate overall. The trouble, however, is that the Bolton nomination was more than a little difficult for the moderate Republicans on the committee to stomach as well. There’s just something about a guy who browbeats his subordinates, who chases women down hotel corridors and throws things at them, and who manipulates intelligence and withholds information from his Secretary of State, that's a little "off-putting," that gives one pause. After all, the position of UN ambassador is a diplomatic position -- it wouldn't hurt to have some diplomatic skills. Nominating Mr. Bolton, who for the last fifteen years or so has made no secret of his contempt for that organization, is a little like putting someone on the board of Augusta National who hates golf.
Senator Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) clearly was having second thoughts -- he said he probably would vote for Mr. Bolton in committee but wasn't committed to voting for him on the Senate floor. Senator Lincoln Chafee (R-RI) obviously was concerned about the nomination, but reluctantly agreed to support it after Secretary Rice assured him she would keep Bolton "on a very short leash, with a choke collar." It is easy to understand why Miss Rice was eager to get Mr. Bolton out of Washington and off to New York. Certainly she doesn't want to be chased around the corridors of the State Department whenever the hot-tempered "diplomat" disagreed with one of her views.
Even after the public hearing had been completed, and Chairman Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) had scheduled what he thought would be an automatic 10 to 8 vote of recommendation, disturbing information continued to filter in. The former ambassador to South Korea, who Mr. Bolton testified had approved in advance a fiery and combative speech he had given attacking the leader of North Korea, let it be known that he had asked that certain language be deleted, but that Bolton had delivered the speech anyway in its original form, which caused the ambassador considerable trouble. More bizarre instances of abuse of subordinates and attempts to get intelligence analysts fired or transferred came to light. Finally, Senator George Voinovich (R-Ohio) said he wasn't prepared to vote without more information, and the committee vote was postponed.
In the meantime, former Secretary of State, Colin Powell, had a confidential discussion with Senator Hagel about his problems with the nominee while at State, and agreed to return a phone call from Senator Chafee who was seeking additional information. After those discussions, neither Senator Hagel nor Senator Chafee remains publicly committed to support Mr. Bolton's nomination. Obviously, all the Republican members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee would like to be in the position of supporting the president's nominees, but it appears that the administration may have pushed the envelope a little too far in this instance. There may well be an appropriate place for an enfant terrible like John Bolton in the Bush administration -- it never hurts to have someone willing to shake things up -- but it hardly seems wise in a diplomatic post with such high visibility.
I imagine that Senator Chafee and other senators, both Democratic and Republican, are harboring some doubts about the strength of Condi's "short leash" and the effectiveness of her "choke collar." No one has ever had much success controlling John Bolton in the past, and there is no reason to think restraint will be much more effective this time. If Secretary Rice really did mean it when she said "the time for diplomacy is now," perhaps it is time for a diplomat, rather than a pit bull, at the UN.
Hey, Big Spender .....
After more than four years of presiding over the most reckless orgy of runaway spending since the administration of Lyndon Baines Johnson, George W. Bush (who ran in 2000 as the champion of smaller, less intrusive and less expensive government) has finally threatened a presidential veto. That's the good news. The bad news is that he is threatening to veto any attempt to roll back his budget-busting Medicare prescription drug benefit.
It's not surprising that some of the more rational members of Congress should be experiencing some pangs of buyer's remorse after passing the president's prescription drug bill during their last session. After all, Medicare was already on life-support at the time "W" proposed the biggest expansion of a federal entitlement program since 1965, and conservative senators and representatives had to be concerned about its advertised price-tag of $400 billion dollars over its first ten years. Why couldn't the government provide the drug benefit only for the seniors who were in poor circumstances and actually needed it, they wondered?
Because, as the White House explained in some of the most heavy-handed and vicious lobbying since the days when LBJ threatened to reveal the names of Congressmen's girlfriends, the president needed the bill for his reelection effort, and to be effective it needed to provide goodies for all Medicare recipients, not just the needy ones. You would think that would be obvious -- after all, the needy ones would probably vote Democratic anyway. Talk about a lack of political savvy! No wonder "W" has promoted Karl Rove to deputy White House chief of staff and put him in charge of policy decisions. Those congressional Republicans are clearly in need of some political education.
Well, all that fretting over $400 billion of extra spending was just misplaced concern anyway. About a week after the vote in the House of Representatives (which was held open until dawn to round up the last reluctant converts) the White House revealed that their cost estimate for the first ten years was closer to $534 billion. And anyone who had the remotest experience with the costs of federal entitlement programs knew the real costs would be much higher than either estimate. This week the White House released budget figures revealing just how much higher. According to Medicare chief Mark McClellan, the costs for the period from 2006 through 2015 will be a whopping $1.2 trillion!
Now, that's such a big number there is no sense in anyone worrying about it. Why that's even more than the one trillion dollars Alan Greenspan and former Treasury chief, Paul O'Neill, said they needed to save Social Security (without any benefit cuts) back in 2002. But just in case any of the members of his party (traditional Republicans) were getting cold feet and thinking of reneging on his latest addition to The Great Society, "W" thought it would be prudent to remind them that, despite all appearances to the contrary, he did know where to find his veto pen. Just because he hadn't vetoed a single bill during his first term (his father, George H. W. Bush, had vetoed over forty spending bills while in office) didn't mean that he didn't know how.
At the swearing-in ceremony for Michael O. Leavitt, his new Secretary of Health and Human Services, President Bush warned (it was a week for warnings -- he had just issued one to Iran): "I signed Medicare reform proudly and any attempt to limit the choices of our seniors and to take away their prescription drug coverage under Medicare will meet my veto."
Hey, a guy's got to protect his legacy! And although, in a 2002 government survey, 86.4 percent of those surveyed said getting their prescription drugs was "not a problem," while 9.4 percent said it was "a small problem," and only 4.2 percent said it was "a big problem," (see Peter G. Peterson's Running on Empty, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2004, at page 126) there also were those pharmaceutical donors to worry about. It wasn't easy getting the drug makers exempted from Medicare's policy of seeking quantity discounts, and "W" doesn't want to have to go through that again!
After all, he doesn't want to mess up his new romantic liaison he's arranged with the American Association of Retired Persons. Can't you hear that seductive lobby cooing, a la Mae West, "Come up and see me sometime." And, if he's not sure he's up to the task, I'm sure his buddies in the pharmaceutical industry will supply him with all the Viagra, Levitra and Cialis he needs. No shame in that -- it takes a lot of energy to screw an entire nation of taxpayers.
"W," I think I hear the AARPers calling: "Hey, big spender, spend a little time with me!"
Guarding the Fox House
Anytime you run across someone who tells you how much progress is being made in Iraq, and how all the good news there is not being reported by "the main stream media," chances are you are either talking with a member of the Republican National Committee or a person who gets the great majority of his or her information from Fox News.
After you pick your jaw up off the ground, and force it back into place so that you can ask, "What about that car bombing yesterday that killed a hundred people?" or, "How can you say that, when so many areas in the country are 'no-go zones' controlled by the insurgents?" all you get in response is some vague answer about a school being opened somewhere in Baghdad or Mosul. It is at that point that you realize that the saying "Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?" has application not just in scenes from the movies or dirty jokes but in the real world, and begin to acquire a renewed appreciation for the wisdom of Abraham Lincoln. When he said that you can "fool some of the people all of the time," he must have had in mind a group of people very much like the regular viewers of the Fox News Channel.
Recently, it was revealed that an astonishingly large percentage of Fox News viewers still believe that Iraqis flew the planes into the World Trade Towers. This is not all that surprising since senior administration officials take special care not to confuse them too much with the facts, and they can be certain when appearing on Fox that they will not be asked too many probing or embarrassing questions. As a case in point, consider the contrasting remarks made by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld within one 24 hour period in an interview aired Sunday, October 3rd, on the Fox News Channel and then Monday, October 4th, before a much more sophisticated audience in New York while speaking to the Council on Foreign Relations:
According to a revealing article written by Richard Pyle of the Associated Press, Mr. Rumsfeld speaking on the subject of Saddam's "missing" (non-existent?) weapons of mass destruction was quoted Sunday on the Fox News Channel as having said:
"I believe they were there, and I'm surprised we have not found them yet. He (Saddam) has either hidden them so well or moved them somewhere else, or decided to destroy them….in event of a conflict but kept the capability of developing them rapidly."
It is absolutely amazing that Mr. Rumsfeld was allowed to get away with a statement like that. How many different, conflicting theories can be raised in a single interview on a single subject? He "believes" WMD were there, but he recognizes that if they were we should have found them, so they must have either been hidden well, moved, or destroyed under the supervision of the UN inspectors following the first Gulf War, but even if they weren't there Saddam could have reconstituted them. That's a lot of "tongue salad" to avoid the obvious and unspoken concession that "we were wrong; we made a mistake."
So, how was the same subject handled by the Secretary of Defense the next day before the sophisticated members of the Council on Foreign Relations? After all, Mr. Rumsfeld is not, and doesn't want to be regarded as, a fool. There he repeated the old, legalistic argument that the civilized world could not afford to continue allowing Saddam to flout UN resolutions, but he did not imply, as he did on Fox News, that the WMD were present in Iraq just prior to the war. He said, according to Richard Pyle's report, that "everyone believed" that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction and that "even the people at the UN who voted the other way acknowledged the fact that he had filed a fraudulent declaration."
Then, according to the BBC, he made the concession which never would have been made to the viewers of Fox News: "Why the intelligence proved wrong, I'm not in a position to say, but the world is a lot better off with Saddam Hussein in jail."
There is always a danger that an intelligent person in the company of other intelligent people may slip up and make a truthful and candid remark. There is no chance of that happening, of course, to our 43rd president who stays on message like a man fallen over board clings to a life preserver, but Donald Rumsfeld is on occasion susceptible to intelligent conversation. It happened, at least twice, at the gathering in New York where the Council on Foreign Relations was meeting. According to the BBC, he was asked by a member of the audience about the putative link between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, a cherished but now thoroughly discredited theory of the Bush administration in the run-up to war. In answer, the Secretary replied:
"To my knowledge, I have not seen any strong, hard evidence that links the two." Mr. Rumsfeld went on to say "I have seen the answer to that question migrate in the intelligence community over a period of a year in the most amazing way."
It was to migrate one more time, at least in the political community. Although the claim of a meaningful link between Al Qaeda and Iraq has been debunked by the CIA, the 9/11 Commission, the Senate Intelligence Committee, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and even by the president, himself, it continues to occupy a very special place in Dick Cheney's heart. It cannot have pleased the vice president, while busy preparing for his debate the next evening with Senator Edwards, to have his dearest fantasy called into question by the Secretary of Defense. Within hours, Mr. Rumsfeld issued a statement saying his comments had been "regrettably misunderstood."
Hopefully, they will never be reported at all to the viewers of Fox News. Both that network, and the senior members of the administration for which it flaks, understand the importance of keeping things simple, and "unnuanced," for their viewers. Like the president whom they so admire, Fox viewers are most comfortable with stark colors of black and white, rather than subtle and infuriating shades of gray.
Throwing Mom, and the First Amendment, into the Paddy Wagon
On Thursday, September 16th, Laura Bush was making an appearance on behalf of her husband’s reelection campaign at a rally held at a firehouse in Hamilton, New Jersey . She was already in the building when a woman, wearing a T-Shirt reading “President Bush, you killed my son,” began to talk loudly once the cries of “Four More Years” from some 700 supporters began to subside, and finally shouted questions demanding to know why her son, 1st Lt. Seth Dvorin, 24, had been sent by the president to die in Iraq.
A policeman promptly appeared, handcuffed her, threw her into a police van and drove her and her unwelcome comments away. Sue Niederer was charged with the crime of “defiant trespass”.
So, in George Bush's America this is how we now treat people who in a more civilized era were called “Gold Star Mothers." The whole sorry scene was televised by a local TV station -- if the 527 groups and other proponents of free speech don’t get hold of that tape and run it in every town in America with a military base, they are missing out on a great opportunity. The only printed message or “voice-over” necessary to complete their message would be the words of our First Amendment guaranteeing “freedom of speech… and the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Since we are hostile these days to all things French, I guess Voltaire’s words “I may disagree with what you have to say, but I will defend with my life your right to say it,” wouldn’t be as appropriate.
Sue Niederer’s comments were as pure a form of political speech protected by our First Amendment as could be imagined. Our founding fathers fought the Revolutionary War to ensure her right to express those views (which as best I could determine from the tape were expressed in a respectful, or at least non-belligerent, fashion) and, in a sense, her son died fighting for that freedom. Yet the Secret Service, and the local police who are badgered into doing their dirty work, could not abide the simple attempt of that grieving mother to speak truth to power.
Hers was not an isolated incident. It was unusual only in that it was captured on videotape. It has been repeated day after day, for the past three and a half years, whenever citizens try to protest or express unwelcome political sentiments in the presence of senior administration officials. At the Republican Convention, a college student from Yale was arrested and held in jail in lieu of $50,000 bail for having come within fifteen feet of Vice President Cheney and shouting a political comment to him.
Whenever our president visits a city or town anywhere in America, the Secret Service get with the local police to cordon off a “free speech zone” far away from the site of his appearance where protesters can hold up their signs or voice their complaints out of presidential sight or hearing. Those who refuse to “move along” to the free speech zone are arrested.
Prior to the start of the Iraq war, Mr. Bush was making a visit to Columbia, South Carolina. One man, sandwiched among a throng of several hundred Bush supporters lining the route of the presidential motorcade, held up a sign reading “No War For Oil,” and when he declined to be escorted to the free speech zone half a mile away, the Secret Service had him arrested. The local authorities refused to prosecute him, so the United States Attorney prosecuted him under an arcane federal statute making it a crime to enter a “restricted area” around the president. Apparently, the area is “restricted” only if one is holding up a sign expressing unwelcome views.
Similarly, on a presidential visit to Pittsburgh on Labor Day of 2002, a man along the motorcade route was arrested for refusing to “move along” to a free speech zone or surrender his sign reading “The Bush family must surely love the poor, they made so many of us.” James Bovard, writing in the December 15, 2003 edition of The American Conservative quoted the protester, Bill Neel, as saying that he thought “the whole country is a free speech zone. If the Bush administration has its way, anyone who criticizes them will be out of sight and out of mind.” Apparently, the judge hearing his case thought so too -- she had read her Voltaire and thought the First Amendment was more important than the whims of an imperial presidency. “I believe this is America,” she said. “Whatever happened to ‘I don’t agree with you, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it’?” Mr. Neel beat the rap.
One would think that the officials of an administration tough enough to tell all of our traditional allies where to get off, and tough enough to invade another country without provocation and kill and torture its citizens, would be a little less thin-skinned and fearful of occasional criticism from their subjects (excuse me, from their fellow citizens) but apparently that is not the case. The Secret Service has been instructed not only to protect them from physical harm, but also to protect their delicate psyches from unwelcome comments or points of view.
George, Dick, Laura, if you can’t stand the heat, get out of our kitchen -- and be a little more respectful of the mothers of the soldiers whom you have sent off to die.
Born Again, Free From Sin, and From Self-Doubt
One of the lessons learned early in business or professional life in the Deep South is that if you happen to drop a pencil in the presence of certain Born-Again Christians you’d better be very careful about how you bend over to pick it up.
While the great majority of the people of that religious persuasion are simply good, God-fearing people unusually devoted to their faith, a small but significant minority have tended to use their faith as a cloak for self-interest. For them, being "saved" is like getting a lifetime exemption from self-examination or the need to inquire into their own ethics. From that point forward, whenever they want something it's because Jesus wants it for them.
A defining characteristic, however, of most of those who have been "saved," (both the benevolent majority and the self-serving minority) and who in a life altering revelation have accepted Christ as their lord and savior, is that the experience cleanses them entirely of self- doubt. Our president's decision not to seek the advice of his extraordinarily knowledgeable father, George H. W. Bush, prior to his invasion of Iraq and, despite his own inexperience in foreign affairs, to rely instead on a "higher Father" is a prime example of this phenomenon.
Nowhere has this characteristic of moral certainty been more on display than in the recent pronouncements of George W. Bush, our self-professed Born-Again president. Reports, investigations and revelations (of the civic, rather than religious, variety) on subjects as varied as the disastrous occupation in Iraq, the dire economic consequences of our skyrocketing national debt and foreign trade deficits, the depravity of utilizing torture in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo and of the opinions of administration lawyers who sanctioned it, and the systemic intelligence failures which contributed to our vulnerability in the 9/11 attacks and provided erroneous justifications for an unprecedented, preemptive war, all of which would have caused a more intellectual or introspective man to undertake a thorough-going reexamination of the policies of his administration, have had no effect whatever on our current president.
Secure in his unshakeable faith that his tax cuts will cure all of the country’s economic ills, and his unwavering conviction that his foreign policy is on course to eradicate “evil” in a black and white world, he is “staying the course” in every policy area. The facts that the peoples of virtually every other nation on the face of the earth think his foreign policy is dangerous and misguided, and that (according to recent polling) a significant majority of the people in the United States think the country is headed in the wrong direction, have had not the slightest influence on his thinking.
It may be that President Bush is not even aware of such contrary views. Every president tends to become isolated in the White House, but the present occupant is particularly vulnerable to that phenomenon because he does not read, preferring to let his White House chief of staff, Andrew Card, and national security advisor, Condoleezza Rice, digest the news for him. No one likes hearing criticism, even if it is sometimes helpful. When he was president, John F. Kennedy joked (playing on the theme of a well known cigarette ad of the time) that he was “reading more, but enjoying it less,” but “W” has succeeded in insulating himself from unwelcome opinion by not reading at all.
The reason that George W. Bush never owns up to any mistakes is that he really doesn’t think that he has made any -- and that unwillingness or inability to revisit a decision once made is truly frightening. Everyone makes mistakes, but the intelligent person learns from them and corrects them. Once “W” sets a course, however, he sticks to it no matter where it seems to be heading. There is no such thing as a mid-course correction. As he explained to former Treasury Secretary, Paul O’Neill, he doesn’t “negotiate with” himself.
Once a decision is made, even warnings given by distinguished friends and supporters who have spent a lifetime gaining expertise in a particular area have no effect. Consider the president’s determination to stick with the Pentagon’s failed plans for the occupation of Iraq despite the advice of Marine General Anthony Zinni, his special envoy to the Middle East, a former commander of CENTCOM, and acknowledged expert on Middle Eastern matters, that his chosen course was “taking us right over Niagara Falls”. Similar warnings by General Norman Schwarzkopf, CENTCOM commander in the first Gulf War, who spent much of his life in the Mid-East, were also disregarded. In the economic area, Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan’s warnings that Bush’s succession of tax cuts would cause huge deficits requiring cuts in Social Security benefits went unheeded.
Rather than pay attention to such knowledgeable advice from people who have spent decades informing themselves in their areas of expertise, our president prefers to pursue “faith based” economic plans and foreign policy initiatives. In his black and white world, he knows he is right and who is wrong; that he is good and others are evil. Even after the unanimous reports of the 9/11 Commission and of the Select Senate Committee on Intelligence concluding that Iraq had no role in the 9/11 attacks, that there was no meaningful connection between Iraq and Al Qaeda, and that Iraq posed no threat to the United States and had no Weapons of Mass Destruction, he says that he was still right to invade Iraq because Saddam Hussein was a bad man. Despite the demonstrated incompetence and disarray of our intelligence services, he says he would again be willing to rely on them and launch preemptive attacks on other nations in the future.
The president’s faith, as a Born-Again Christian, gives him the moral certitude to proceed even when overwhelming evidence and inconvenient facts would cause other men to pause and reconsider their plans. He regards such reexamination of policies, once adopted, as weakness -- as “flip-flopping” and an unwillingness to “stay the course”. Because his heart is pure, he has the strength (if not the wisdom) of ten.
Marrying For Money
Back in the days when King George was snarling for the cameras and calling himself a “War President,” looking the other way as good American jobs poured out of the country on their way to Mexico, India and China, and righteously posturing about the “War on Terror” as his attorney general used his new powers under the Patriot Act to arrest and detain thousands of Middle Eastern visitors and U.S. citizens alike without charges, access to counsel, or hope of trial, one bold critic stepped forward on the political stage to point out the folly of all of this while timorous senators held their tongues and voted to give the president more powers.
Howard Dean was like a breath of fresh American air as he criticized the war in Iraq as a counter-productive distraction in the War on Terror, decried the trade agreements and tax laws which facilitated the transfer of jobs overseas, and lambasted the president and his attorney general for their attack on fundamental civil liberties. He inspired crowds of Democrats, Republicans, and independents to enthusiastic support, and Democratic senators like Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Dianne Feinstein, and John Edwards, all of whom had timidly voted to give the president a blank check in Iraq and approved the Patriot Act, began to take notice -- it was possible to criticize the “War President” without committing political suicide, though a little difficult to explain their craven votes in the days and months following 9/11.
The Democratic faithful were overjoyed. Here at last was someone with the guts to criticize the bloody and expensive war in Iraq (he had been against it from the start); someone who was a fiscal conservative and as governor had presided over a string of balanced budgets in his home state; someone who seemed to understand the economic pain caused by exporting American jobs abroad; and someone willing to stand up and defend the fundamental freedoms enshrined in our Bill of Rights. It was love at first sight, and before the first primary vote had been cast the media proclaimed Howard Dean the presumptive Democratic nominee for president in 2004.
As the nominating process began to get started in earnest, however, the Democratic base began to get cold feet about their summer romance as they trudged through the snows of Iowa and New Hampshire. Sure, Howard Dean was a lot of fun to listen to, but was he electable? Clever and glib bumper stickers began to appear: “Dated Dean, Married Kerry”. After all, the principal mission was to find someone who could defeat Bush. In their eagerness to reclaim the White House, cynical Democrats were willing to abandon their champion who gave voice to their opposition to the Iraq war, NAFTA and the export of American jobs, and the Patriot Act and the attack on civil liberties, and to settle for a more established politician who had voted for all of those things. Like a calculating bride, they decided that you can’t live on love -- they married for money.
Howard Dean’s meteoric campaign had burned out by the time of the New Hampshire primary. John Kerry won primary after primary in the frontloaded nomination process favored by the political pros at the Democratic National Committee. Almost before anyone had a chance to take notice, the Democrats had nominated a “safe” but stiff, conventional and uninspiring candidate who represented the most liberal, left wing faction of their party. Moreover, he was not in a position to criticize the policies which rank and file Democrats found most objectionable (the war in Iraq, the Patriot Act, NAFTA and the globalization of trade) because he had voted for all of them!
As almost always proves to be the case, the political worm began to turn. Bush’s huge popularity and approval ratings began to plunge as the occupation in Iraq began to go worse than even Howard Dean (much less the neoconservative ideologues in the Pentagon) could have imagined. The reputation of the United States was dragged through the mud by the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and by the subsequent revelations of the White House, Pentagon and Justice Department memoranda denigrating the Geneva Conventions and justifying the use of torture. The 9/11 Commission has concluded that there never was a meaningful connection between Iraq and Al Qaeda as the Bush administration claimed. The Senate Intelligence Committee has reported on huge intelligence failures, without which the preemptive attack on Iraq never could have been justified. Finally, the Supreme Court struck down John Ashcroft’s unconstitutional policy of secret detention of U.S. citizens without charges, access to counsel, or trial.
It would be hard to imagine a worse two or three month period for the administration. The president’s approval ratings have dropped to all-time lows. A majority of Americans polled now feel that the war in Iraq was a mistake and has made us more vulnerable to terrorism. A majority of Americans feel that the country is headed in the wrong direction, usually a near fatal assessment for the reelection prospects of an incumbent. And yet, despite this avalanche of bad news, John Kerry remains only slightly ahead (or in some polls slightly behind) George W. Bush in the race for the White House. John Kerry is too colorless and too uncharismatic to take advantage of this series of disasters which Bush and his administration have presented to him. Can you imagine what a fearless campaigner like Howard Dean could have done with such material?
So the Democrats who abandoned their principles for “electability” can only sit and watch as their nominee passes up opportunity after opportunity to score points with the electorate. They married for money rather than love -- and they married in great haste. Now they can repent at leisure.
Stop Me, Before I Nation-Build Again!
For a guy who campaigned for president in 2000 promising to end the Clinton administration’s meddlesome practice of nation-building, George W. Bush has taken to it like a rock star to cocaine. In just his first three years in office, he has indulged that expensive habit in Afghanistan, Iraq, was sorely tempted in Liberia, and has now succumbed again in Haiti. His chief pusher, former chairman of the Defense Policy Board, Richard Perle, has finally resigned and cut his formal ties to the administration so that he can be free to advocate the overthrow of governments in Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and North Korea without scaring the soccer moms in the forthcoming election, but he has left plenty of fellow enablers behind (Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Condoleezza Rice, and Douglas Feith come immediately to mind) to feed the president’s addiction.
Like cocaine, nation-building is a terribly expensive and addictive habit, and unless someone arranges an intervention soon, it will destroy “W’s” presidency and his country along with it. A pretty good argument can be made that it already has. After the mid-term Congressional elections in 2002, George W. Bush was in position to be the greatest Republican president in over one hundred years. His party controlled both houses of Congress and the White House, and, had he chosen to do so, he could have run Osama bin Laden to ground abroad and saved Social Security and Medicare here at home. He was hugely popular, and both the Congress and the American people were prepared to follow his lead. Instead, he let his personal obsession with Saddam Hussein and Iraq distract him from the War on Terror and from critically needed reforms of domestic entitlement programs.
The opportunities which presented themselves after the mid-term elections of 2002 are now gone. Rather than making a contribution to the War on Terror, the overthrow of Saddam Hussein has turned Iraq into a fertile breeding ground for Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations. The cost of the deadly occupation is running around a billion dollars a week and can be expected to continue for years, if not decades. Thanks in large part to that costly war, and two additional rounds of tax cuts, we are running annual budget deficits in excess of 500 billion dollars a year (and that figure doesn’t even include costs of the Iraqi occupation which are accounted for separately).
When he came to the White House, Mr. Bush inherited a 281 billion dollar annual surplus from the Clinton administration. Federal Reserve Chairman, Alan Greenspan, and former Secretary of the Treasury, Paul O’Neill, figured that they needed only one trillion dollars over a ten year period to save Social Security. Those people thirty-seven years of age and younger could be switched to a market-based retirement system which would provide a minimum of one million dollars of personal funds for their retirements, while those thirty-eight and older would remain on the old system supported by the one trillion dollars. Now that money is gone, thrown down a rat hole in Iraq.
On February 25, 2004, Chairman Greenspan testified before the House Budget Committee that they would need to deal with the escalating budget deficits by cutting Social Security benefits -- otherwise long-term interest rates will rise, seriously damaging the economy. He said that the current 521 billion dollar annual deficit would increase dramatically in four years when the baby boomers start to retire. He noted that the government is seriously overcommitted at the present time, and that it should not “promise more than we are able to deliver.” “It is important,” he said, “that we tell people about to retire what it is they will have.”
Promising more than can be delivered is a time honored political tradition, especially in an election year. How else can one explain the administration’s brutal lobbying campaign for its prescription drug benefit (estimated to cost around $534 billion over its first ten years), a further burden on an already overcommitted Medicare system? If President Bush is going to continue seeking domestic spending increases like that, pragmatists like Senators Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Jeff Sessions of Alabama better start teaming with members of his father’s administration such as former Secretary of State, James Baker, and former national security advisor, Brent Scowcroft, in planning an intervention to cure him of his expensive and destructive addiction to nation-building.
Otherwise, the voters may be dishing out some “tough love” in November.
Who’s Your Daddy?
The State of the Union address delivered last night, January 20, 2004, was pretty lackluster compared to the previous editions put forth by our 43rd president. George W. Bush did not shake up the stability of our relations with other nations, as he did when he hurled the neocons’ rhetorical bomb at the international community in his “Axis of Evil” speech, nor did he try to frighten the American public and Congress into support for his elective war against Iraq as he did last year when he lied about Iraq’s nonexistent weapons of mass destruction and stated that Saddam Hussein had tried to acquire “yellowcake” for nuclear weapons from the unspecified African nation of Niger. Those scare tactics are no longer necessary -- he has gotten his war against Iraq, and for better or for worse we will be occupying that country for years to come.
Despite the speech’s lack of dramatic flair, however, it was nevertheless significant because it completed the political metamorphosis of George W. Bush from the heir of his father, George Herbert Walker Bush, to the heir of Lyndon Baines Johnson. Not even the conservative political cartoonist of The Birmingham News, Scott Stantis, could ignore the transition -- his cartoon on the morning after the address depicted Bush at the lectern beginning his remarks with “The State of our Union is….,” while a huge Tyrannosaurus Rex labeled “DEFICIT” sitting in the audience finishes his thought for him by saying “...Good!”
The similarities between the two presidents, and the two administrations, though separated by a gap of forty years, are so apparent that they thrust themselves upon the consciousness of any thinking person not completely blinded by partisan political allegiances. Both President Johnson and President George W. Bush doctored intelligence, and lied to the American public and to Congress, in order to gain support for their respective wars in Vietnam and Iraq. Both wars were not only unnecessary, and destructive of the social and political fabric of the country (not since Vietnam has a political policy so alienated friend from friend and family member from family member), but both elective wars were terribly expensive and had, and will have, detrimental effects on our domestic economy for decades to come.
Wars are enormously expensive, not only in human terms of the sacrifices of the dead and wounded, and the shattered lifestyles of their families, but also in economic terms. It is for that reason that governments throughout history have called for shared sacrifices, and belt tightening, during times of war. But neither President Johnson, nor our current President Bush, was willing to choose between “Guns and Butter”. Like the narcissistic feminists of the 1980s and 1990s, they wanted to “have it all”.
Johnson was unwilling to set aside the expensive social programs of his “Great Society” to pay for his war, just as Bush has been unwilling to give up his tax cuts and, now, his expensive election year spending in which he tries to buy votes by throwing money at every special interest group and segment of the electorate. The result of both men’s refusal to limit their appetites and choose between alternatives, was, is and will be huge budget deficits which led to, and will inevitably again lead to, inflation, skyrocketing interest rates, economic stagnation, and a crippling national debt which will have to be dealt with by future generations. Already, we are beginning to see energy prices spike up because oil is priced in American dollars and President Bush’s lack of fiscal discipline is resulting in a precipitous plunge in the value of the dollar against other currencies. This is only the first hint of the economic pain to come. Neither Johnson nor Bush chose to pay for their wars through current taxes. They both said “Charge it!” and passed the bill along to our children and grandchildren.
Our president’s father not only consented to a rise in taxes (breaking his Dirty Harryesque pledge of “Read my lips, no new taxes”) but he also vetoed over 40 pieces of expensive congressional legislation, and by so doing set the stage for the excellent economy which the country enjoyed during the decade of the 1990s. George W. Bush, whose party controls the White House and both houses of Congress, has not cast a single veto, nor even urged fiscal restraint, to control runaway congressional spending. Far from it, the Republican Party under George Bush has warmly embraced the concept of big government, and wants the federal government to be all things to all people.
Consider the “feel good” spending proposals issuing forth from the White House in just the past couple of months, each at a cost of well over a billion dollars and some several times that much. “W” proposes a federal program to encourage marriage (being unwilling, apparently, simply to let nature take its course). He and his Education Department want to throw billions more at public education, despite a total lack of evidence during the past forty years that the expenditure of money has even a minimal effect on student or teacher competence. Having presided over economic and trade policies which have resulted in the loss of 2.8 million manufacturing jobs in just the first three years of his administration, he now proposes in the last year of his term a billion dollar federal jobs training program (how Johnsonian is that, and has anyone ever known of a single good job obtained as a result of participating in a job training program?). In the “Mother of All Entitlement Programs,” his recently enacted Medicare prescription drug benefit for the poor, the middle class and the wealthy alike will cost the taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars, and as a plum for his friends in the pharmaceutical industry even went so far as to prohibit the federal government from using its huge purchasing power to bargain for discounted prices. The list of spending proposals is truly endless, but let’s conclude with his proposal for manned flights back to the moon and on to Mars (perhaps NASA’s Houston facility can be renamed the “Johnson-Bush Space Center”).
All this from an administration whose president just spent 132 billion dollars on the first year of his elective war in Iraq, and says he wants to hold down discretionary spending! It’s a good thing he’s not a big spender, because his administration has already turned a 281 billion dollar surplus into an annual budget deficit of over 500 billion dollars in just three years, and it continues to climb. You would think he’d be worried about the admonition of Senator Everett Dirksen (R-Ill.) who was Senate minority leader during the Johnson administration -- “A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon you’re talking about real money”. But President Bush has adopted the “What, me worry?” philosophy originally expressed by Alfred E. Neuman of Mad Magazine -- he’s just going to put it on plastic anyway.
“W”, who’s your daddy?
An Antidote to a Dull Republican Presidential Primary Season
Well, here we are in January of ’04, just a couple of weeks away from the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, and Democrats like feisty Howard Dean, handsome Wes Clark, happy class warrior Dick Gephardt, and Massachusetts’ own version of a California Redwood, John Kerry, are getting all of the press and having all of the fun. It’s enough to frustrate any spirited Republican political operative who, like an old war horse, hears the bugle blowing and is eager to join the fight.
But there is only one candidate, running unopposed, in the Republican presidential primaries (and some of us old-fashioned types would contend that even he is a Democrat masquerading in G.O.P. garb), so what is a savvy Republican functionary to do for entertainment prior to the general election? Well, if we can’t have a primary fight, at least we can get some practice in campaigning by coming up with slogans which will appeal to the various factions of the 21st century version of the Grand Old Party (sorry, I forgot that The Wall Street Journal has banned the use of that term) … of the Republican Party.
So, without more ado, how about these “designer” bumper stickers specially targeted to appeal to each segment of the Republican Party’s core constituencies?
For the neoconservative friends of Israel, who are impatiently waiting for Bush’s second term so that they can continue to remake the face of the Middle East: Bush/Cheney ’04: Four More Wars!
For those of us who are so terrified by Homeland Security’s color-coded threat warnings that we are afraid to go out in the mornings to collect our daily newspapers for fear that a British Airways plane will crash in our front yards, and, accordingly, crave bold, decisive and unnuanced leadership: Bush/Cheney ‘04: Leadership without a doubt!
For those of us who are frustrated, and not just a little nonplused, that no Weapons of Mass Destruction were found in Iraq, and that the administration has now admitted that there never was an Iraqi-Al Qaeda connection, and so yearn for a return to the moral certainty and emotional outrage which characterized the run up to war in the fall of 2002 and winter of 2003: Bush/Cheney ’04: Because the truth just isn’t good enough.
For the Country Club Republicans, who have so enjoyed the dividend and capital gains tax cuts: Bush/Cheney ’04: Leave no billionaire behind!
For Republicans old enough to remember, and be inspired by, Barry Goldwater’s principled and conscientious campaign for president in 1964: Bush/Cheney ’04: In your heart, you know they’re technically correct.
For the new breed of Wilsonian Republicans who, with the messianic zeal of the “true believers”, wish to deliver the gift of democracy to the whole world: Bush/Cheney ’04: Making the world a better place, one country at a time!
For the hard-shell, fundamentalist Christian Right which makes up the backbone of the Republican Party in the Deep South: Bush/Cheney ‘04: Who would Jesus bomb?
For those Republicans with a sense of irony, and a respect for the civil liberties enshrined in the Bill of Rights: Bush/Cheney 1984.
And finally, for those Republicans so cowed by their fear of Al Qaeda that they are ready to trade their personal freedoms for the illusion of security: Bush/Cheney ’04: The last vote you’ll ever have to cast.
So, let’s get practicing, y’all; time’s a’ wasting -- we’ll get those damned Democrats in November!
Editor’s note: Your Curmudgeon wishes that he could give credit to the wits who came up with these, and so many more, apocryphal Bush bumper stickers, but they came to him without attribution over the internet. He merely matched them, for appeal, to the appropriate sectors of the G.O.P.’s “big tent”.
Movin’ on to Africa
Why is it that every time a President of the United States gets caught telling a blatant lie on television he immediately heads for Africa and makes an elaborate apology for slavery? Why can’t they just stay home and apologize to the American people for telling such obvious lies and insulting our intelligence (no pun intended with reference to the latest case of presidential prevarication)?
Take your choice: “I did not have sex with that woman, Miss Lewinsky,” or “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” Both statements were not only false, but worse were known to be false when made (depending, of course, on your definition of “sex” and “learned”) and led to dreadful consequences. If you don’t believe it, look at the mess we’re in in Iraq, and consider that Hillary Rodham Clinton is the junior senator from New York.
If the British government “learned” about the African uranium, they learned about it from a decade-old, plagiarized doctoral thesis and a crudely forged document, but the essential fact is that they and the government of the United States had “unlearned” it months before the President’s State of the Union address. In February of 2002, almost a year before the most recent State of the Union address, Vice President Cheney instructed the CIA to check out the accuracy of the story that Iraq had contracted to purchase large quantities of uranium from the African nation of Niger. Joseph Wilson, the former United States ambassador to Gabon and the last American diplomat to meet with Saddam Hussein, was dispatched to Africa to check on the story and reported back about the forged documents and told intelligence officials that there was no truth to the rumors about uranium purchases.
It strains all credulity to believe, as the Vice President’s office now asserts, that the CIA never got back to the Vice President to report that the rumors were false and that there was no basis for believing them. An administration spokesman, unidentified of course, has told CNN that Cheney and his aides were “unaware of the mission, and unaware of the results or conclusion of the mission.” And, if you believe that, there’s a bridge across the Tigris River I’d like to sell you.
Writing in an op-ed piece published Sunday, July 6th, in The New York Times, Ambassador Wilson wrote “I have every confidence that the answer I provided was circulated to the appropriate officials within our government,” and he went on to explain “The question now is how that answer was or was not used by our political leadership.” Moreover, the ambassador wrote, it was easy to determine that the claimed uranium sales were false: “It did not take long to conclude that it was highly doubtful that any such transaction had ever taken place….,” noting that in an industry closely watched by international monitors and run by European, Japanese and Nigerian firms “there’s simply too much oversight over too small an industry for a sale to have transpired.”
Appearing on Tim Russert’s “Meet the Press” program on the same day that his op-ed piece was published in The Times, Ambassador Wilson stated “If they were referring to Niger when they were referring to uranium sales from Africa to Iraq…that information was erroneous and… they knew about it well ahead of both the publication of the British white paper and the president’s State of the Union address.” He went on to say “Either the administration has some information that it has not shared with the public, or, yes, they were using the selective use of facts to bolster the decision in a case that had already been made -- a decision that had been made to go to war.”
In the week following the publication of Ambassador Wilson’s op-ed piece and his appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press”, the only further information “shared” by the administration with the public is its acknowledgment that the statement made by the President in his State of the Union address was false. No individual or office within the White House has been identified or held responsible for the insertion of the false claim in the President’s speech. The administration has not even bothered to invoke the Clintonian evasion that “mistakes were made”. Quite frankly, if Mr. Bush was misled into giving false reports to the American people, he is not acting very much like an innocent man who was deceived by his subordinates. No calls have been made for anyone’s resignation, nor has the President given any indication of outrage or indignation.
No, it’s just business as usual in the secretive administration of our 43rd president. Condoleezza Rice, the National Security Adviser, was dismissive about the whole affair stating “maybe somebody knew down in the bowels of the agency” that the report was false but added that it was “a relatively small part of the case.” Secretary of State Colin Powell, who previously had been reported to have regarded the Niger uranium story as “B.S.”, and who himself refused to allude to it in his speech before the United Nations, said on July 10th while traveling with Mr. Bush in South Africa that there was no need for the President to apologize for putting forth the false information. He was quoted by Darlene Superville of the Associated Press as saying: “It turned out that the basis upon which that statement was made didn’t hold up and we said so. We have acknowledged it, and we moved on….”
When President Clinton went off to Africa to relax and avoid the glare of publicity about the “Monica mess”, he smoked a cigar and played the bongos. I don’t think President Bush plays the bongos, but he sure does know how to beat the war drums. Does anyone know the rhythm for the “Liberian Shuffle”?
Author’s postscript: Less than four hours after the above article was posted on this web site on July 11, 2003, George Tenet, the director of the CIA, took personal responsibility for the inclusion in President Bush’s State of the Union address of the reference to false British intelligence about Iraqi purchases of African uranium. A scapegoat presumably has been found, and now it is hoped that the whole controversy will simply go away. In an earlier era, Republicans in Congress would not have let the matter drop so easily; unlike the Democrats, members of the GOP were unwilling to let dishonest and unethical conduct, even in their own party, go unchallenged -- someone would have asked “What did the president know, and when did he know it?”
The Tenet whitewash doesn’t even pass the laugh test, much less the smell test. Unless one is hoplessly naïve, or blinded by political ideology, the following questions and their self-evident answers immediately suggest themselves:
1. Who in the White House pressed for the inclusion of the false intelligence in the speech? The CIA, which months earlier had debunked the spurious claim, certainly didn’t.
2. Why was the language about the false intelligence so awkwardly phrased (“The British government has learned…” and the purchases were described as being from “Africa” not from Niger, the rumored site of the alleged purchases)? Isn’t it painfully obvious that this language went through successive rewrites precisely because the CIA informed the White House that it doubted the truth of the Niger sales?
3. Of all the agencies in the government, isn’t it curious that it was the director of the CIA who was designated to take the fall? From the outset of the hysteria following 9/11, it was the CIA which kept maintaining that there was no Iraqi-Al Qaeda connection, that Iraq had no involvement in the attacks on the Twin Towers or the Pentagon, and that Iraq possessed no nuclear weapons and posed no imminent threat to the security of the United States. The CIA’s intelligence was so dispassionate and even-handed that Paul Wolfowitz set up the Office of Special Plans in the Pentagon to second-guess the conclusions of the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency in order to build a case for going to war with Iraq.
4. Who in the Bush Administration lusted for war with Iraq? It certainly wasn’t anyone in the CIA which had concluded that North Korea posed the much greater danger to the United States.
5. Why didn’t Colin Powell demand that the language about African uranium sales be stripped from the State of the Union address? He knew from State Department intelligence that those claims were bogus, and refused to be associated with them in any way, calling them “B.S.”.
6. If George Tenet really was the person responsible for allowing the President to embarrass himself by asserting false claims, why didn’t the President demand his resignation rather than expressing “absolute” confidence in him as director of the CIA? Isn’t it because it’s not that easy to find someone willing to take the blame for someone else’s mistakes? Even Tenet’s own statement doesn’t say that he personally approved the language of the President’s speech -- just that his agency was asked to clear it a short time before it was to be delivered.
7. Is it reasonable to believe that Vice President Cheney instructed the CIA to check out the accuracy of the story about the Niger uranium sales, that Ambassador Wilson was dispatched to Niger and concluded that they were false, and that no one from the CIA reported back to the Vice President’s office? Is that the way demands for information made by high powered executives are handled in the real world?
8. Who in this administration lusted most for war with Iraq? Who never second-guesses a decision once made? Who never admits a mistake or offers an apology? I don’t think George Tenet is the correct answer to any of those questions. Find the answer to those questions, however, and you will know who is the person responsible for giving false information to the American people in the most recent State of the Union address.
“Rummy” Declares War on the U.S. Army
Now that Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, and his merry band of Likudniks have bombed the most sophisticated and secular society in the Middle East back into the Dark Ages (where the Shiites and other fundamentalist Islamic clerics will try to keep it for a while) things have kind of slowed down around the Pentagon. Keeping track of the American and British soldiers who are being killed every day by the “liberated” Iraqis, who just can’t seem to understand that the promise of “freedom” in five years or so is more important than the jobs, electricity and clean drinking water they used to have under the old regime, is certainly a downer and not much fun to dwell on -- those damned Arabs just don’t seem to grasp the concept of gratitude.
What’s more, it get’s pretty boring searching all of the time for those imaginary weapons of mass destruction which Paul Wolfowitz and his Office of Special Plans convinced President Bush were in Iraq while trying to ignore the real ones which North Korea is manufacturing and loading atop their missiles on a daily basis. Even Messrs. Perle, Wolfowitz and Feith know it’s too soon to start another war in the Middle East for Israel’s benefit, so what’s a war-mongering, academic ideologue to do for entertainment?
Why, if you can’t have a real war (and don’t you think it’s time to change the name of the Defense Department back to the “War Department” since defense doesn’t seem to be much involved anymore?), you can at least have a bureaucratic one. So, in the “off year” between invasions, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz have declared war on the United States Army.
Rummy (who was a Navy pilot) and Wolfie (who was an academic dean and veteran of many a “think-tank”) like their wars “high-tech” and fast, rather like video games. That’s why they are so crazy about the Air Force, Navy, Special Forces, and even the Marines. Those guys push buttons, fire missiles, watch the targets go “poof”, and fly back to their air bases or carriers with nary a casualty, and it makes for great video-tape presentations at Pentagon briefings. On the ground, the Special Forces hit and run before the enemy even knows they are there and pull off glitzy rescues, and even the Marines (who do look a little bit like traditional fighting forces) move pretty fast with their light infantry and armor.
But the Army! What is a high powered business executive or a brainy academic dean to do with those guys, who keep asking for big artillery pieces, and think in terms of “boots on the ground”, and secure lines of supply? Why, those guys are so old-fashioned and slow that they keep getting shot and reminding the public that war is like, well, war! Why, even after President Bush declared an end to hostilities and landed on the aircraft carrier on May 1, those dull Army types are still getting themselves shot while occupying Iraq -- the Air Force, Navy and Marines had the good sense to go home after the fighting was “over”.
Where the Army really “ripped its jeans” with Messrs. Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld, however, occurred in the run up to war in Iraq when the Army brass were summoned to testify before Congress about the level of troop requirements which would be necessary to conquer and to occupy Iraq. First, Secretary of the Army, Thomas White, and then Army chief of staff, Gen. Eric Shinseki, told the Congressmen that it would take at least 200,000 troops on the ground to fulfill the Bush Administration’s mission of conquest, occupation and nation building. 200,000 soldiers -- can you just imagine? Why Richard Perle, Mr. Wolfowitz’s mentor and former chairman of the Defense Policy Board, had already testified before Congress in the year 2000 (yes, that was before September 11, 2001) that it would take only 40,000 troops to invade Iraq because the Iraqi people would rush to greet us as liberators and would overthrow the regime of Saddam Hussein themselves. Well, Rumsfeld himself had decided that it would probably require at least 70,000 after listening to all of the complaining from his overly cautious generals -- but 200,000? The testimony was an outrage, and Paul Wolfowitz and Donald Rumsfeld were furious!
Events on the ground have demonstrated, if anything, that Secretary White and General Shinseki may have been a little low in their estimates of troop requirements, but Rumsfeld immediately demanded Thomas White’s resignation. General Shinseki was permitted to stay on until his scheduled retirement in June of 2003.
Last month, as reported by Robert Novak in his June 23rd column entitled "Squeezing the U.S. Army", two statements from opposite ends of the Army’s hierarchy were repeated time and time again in the Army’s sections of the Pentagon, and demonstrated just how low morale has sunk in the Army under the battering and denigrating leadership style of Mr. Rumsfeld and his civilian academicians in charge. One was from Pfc. Matthew O’Dell of the 1st Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division, whose division after a brilliant military campaign is now relegated to performing peace-keeping duties while occupying an increasingly hostile Iraq. Private O’Dell was quoted as telling a reporter from The New York Times “You call Donald Rumsfeld and tell him our sorry asses are ready to go home. Tell him to come spend a night in our building.”
The second statement, which is even more telling, came four days earlier at the retirement ceremonies (at which no member of Rumsfeld’s civilian leadership team was in attendance or invited) for the Army’s chief of staff, General Eric Shinseki. Although the general, retiring after a distinguished career of 38 years, did not mention Secretary Rumsfeld by name, his reference was obvious. He said that it was “just not helpful and it isn’t true” for “some to suggest that we in the Army don’t understand the importance of civilian control of the military,” but added that “to muddy the waters when important issues are at stake, issues of life and death, is a disservice to all those in and out of uniform who serve and lead so well.” Referring to the strain which President Bush’s doctrine of pre-emption is placing on an army which already has 370,000 soldiers (70% of the Army) deployed in 120 countries, he noted the critical need for “a force sized correctly to meet the strategy set forth in the documents that guide us,” and warned: “Beware the 12-division strategy for a 10-division army.”
The general was much too much of an officer and a gentleman to say this, but I will. It is not helpful, to use his words and those which are constantly bandied about by Secretary Rumsfeld in his inimitable, sarcastic style, to have civilians who have never served a day in the military forces of the United States, and who have absolutely no appreciation for the hardship, sacrifice and personal danger which that service entails, minimize the efforts and forces required, and distort and skew intelligence reports, to promote a war and advance an agenda which only minimally, if at all, benefits the interests of the nation which they are pledged to serve. But that is precisely what Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, and perhaps even Donald Rumsfeld, have done. And because of it, soldiers in the United States Army will be dying in Iraq, day after day, month after month, for years to come.
As of this writing, there is no Secretary of the Army, since no one has been confirmed to replace Thomas White. It is widely assumed that James Roche, currently Secretary of the Air Force, and a Rumsfeld “yes-man”, will be shifted to that position once he is confirmed by the Senate. The filling of the position of Army chief of staff, left vacant by the retirement of General Shinseki, is even more intriguing. It was offered to General Tommy Franks, the head of the army’s Central Command who was responsible for the brilliant invasion plan in Iraq, but he wanted no part of it and opted for retirement instead. It was certainly not offered to Lt. Gen. William Wallace, the commander of the Army's 5th Corps, who so successfully implemented Frank’s strategy on the ground, because he had had the honesty to comment during the fighting that “this was not the battle we ‘war gamed’ for” angering Rumsfeld and his planners. Wolfowitz and Company had implied that the only problem the advancing troops would encounter would be wiping the rose petals off of their windshields, whereas their lines, stretched thin by the remarkably fast advance, were repeatedly attacked by rear guard, guerilla-style irregulars.
As a matter of fact, there was not a single three star or four star general presently serving in the United States Army who was acceptable to Secretary Rumsfeld to fill the position of Army chief of staff. Gen. Pete Shoomaker, who retired in the year 2000, has had to be recalled to fill that position. That remarkable fact says a lot more about Donald Rumsfeld and his civilian advisers than it does about the Army.
Barbarians at the Gates of Civilization (Updated and Corrected)
One of the most intriguing phenomena about the war in Iraq is how the initial reports about almost any subject in that conflict are usually inaccurate, and often highly inaccurate. Perhaps this is because of the misunderstandings inherent in the wide gulf between Western and Islamic cultures, rather like the misunderstandings between the English and Indian cultures which provided one of the dominant themes in E. M. Forrester’s classic novel, A Passage to India. At any rate, for whatever reason, the reporting from Iraq has been highly suspect, and this has been particularly so in the case of stories about the looting of the antiquities from the Iraqi National Museum.
When the article appearing below was first posted on this web site on April 14, 2003, press reports from papers throughout the world stated that 170,000 priceless artifacts had been stolen or destroyed in the looting of the museum. The director of Iraq’s State Board of Antiquities, Donny George, who provided journalists with much of their information, initially called the looting “the crime of the century.” Shortly thereafter, however, I was told by a friend who knew a correspondent working in Iraq that the actual number of items missing from the museum was only 36. The huge disparity between those two figures caused me to doubt the accuracy of both.
In the United States the interest in the looting of the Iraqi National Museum has largely been a numbers’ game, with the proponents of the war seizing on the lower number to minimize the tragedy while opponents of the war clung to the higher number as further evidence of the war’s disastrous consequences. As might be expected, the truth lies somewhere in between the two irreconcilable sets of figures.
In Great Britain, the thefts of the antiquities from the museum has fascinated the British public not for its political, but for its cultural, ramifications. The Guardian has published a long series of in-depth articles about the museum thefts some of which suggest that many of the items may have been removed from the museum years before the war started, perhaps at the behest of Udai Hussein. If true, it has been suggested that the initial extravagant claims of loss may have been intended as cover for those earlier thefts, but even that would not seem to explain why the museum directors would put out a story of 170,000 missing items when they knew that most of the most valuable antiquities and artifacts had been hidden before the outbreak of hostilities in secure locations throughout Baghdad for safekeeping.
In any event, as of mid- June the museum’s final inventory of antiquities still missing from among the approximately 8,000 of their most valuable items in its collection stood at 33. Out of its total collection, the numbers of artifacts still missing or destroyed is estimated to be somewhere between three and ten thousand depending on the source. So, in the numbers’ game, the claim of 170,000 missing items was wildly extravagant, but likewise the figure of 36 (even if modified to mean 36 of the most valuable 8,000 artifacts) was hardly an accurate account of the irreparable loss suffered by the museum.
Actually, among the most valuable of the antiquities, the number of unrecovered items now stands at 32, because on June 13th according to a story written by Sharon Waxman in the June 14, 2003 internet edition of the Washington Post one of the most priceless treasures of Mesopotamia, the five thousand year old Warka vase with its carvings of “intricate images of men, a goddess and nature” was returned to the national museum by three young men in a shiny red Japanese sedan. According to Ms. Waxman’s report, Pietro Cordone, the senior cultural adviser to the U.S. civil authority just happened to be at the museum when three men walked into the building and handed him an object wrapped in a blanket. It turned out to be the Warka vase, thought by many to be the single most valuable object in the museum’s collection in terms of “scholarship and the world’s collective cultural heritage.” The three young “Ali Babas”, as thieves are called in Iraq, simply walked into the museum, handed the object over, and drove away with no questions asked: “They said they had some artifacts they wanted to give back. It just so happened that Pietro Cordone was visiting the museum -- he doesn’t go every day -- and they handed it to him. He thanked them for it.”
So, one by one, day by day, the looted antiquities are being restored to the museum and preserved for the cultural heritage of Iraq and the world, but whether we are talking about the thousands of artifacts which will never be returned to the Iraqi National Museum, or only the most precious and priceless 32 still unaccounted for, the point of the “Bad Thought” set forth below still stands. I wonder what Donald Rumsfeld’s reaction would be if, through his Department’s negligence, only 32 of the most precious items in the collections of the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. or the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City had been allowed to disappear?
“ ‘How did we allow?’” Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, whined in that high-pitched, mocking tone we have become accustomed to in his Pentagon briefings. “Now that’s really a wonderful, amazing statement.”
The question which had evoked that sarcastic response from the Secretary of Defense, in his patented rhetorical style which he apparently thinks is akin to the Socratic method, had just been asked by Tim Russert on the Sunday, April 13, 2003 edition of Meet the Press. Mr. Russert, referring to the looting and ransacking of the Museum of Antiquities in Baghdad this past week, in which 170,000 priceless, irreplaceable archaeological treasures dating back seven thousand years had been stolen or destroyed, had had the affrontery to ask “What happened there? How did we allow that museum to be looted?”
Mr. Rumsfeld is not a man who takes kindly to having his actions or inactions questioned, and he immediately went on the attack: “But we didn’t allow it. It happened. And that’s what happens when you go from a dictatorship with repressed order, police state, to something that is going to be different. There’s a transition period, and no one is in control. There are periods where -- there was still fighting in Baghdad. We don’t allow bad things to happen. Bad things do happen in life and people do loot. We’ve seen that in the United States. It’s happened in every country. It’s a shame when it happens. I’ll bet you anything that if they -- when order is restored, and we have a more permissive environment, that there will be opportunities to ask people to return some of those things that were taken. We’ve already found people returning supplies to hospitals.”
After listening to this torrent of evasion and self-defense, Mr. Russert quietly suggested: “What the heads of the museum will say is that they actually asked for the U.S. to help protect it, and that the U.S. declined. Is that accurate?”
With a characteristic refusal to accept responsibility, and to hide behind the chaos which his war has created, the Secretary of Defense stated: “Oh, my goodness. Look, I have no idea. We’ve got troops on the ground, and who do you know who he asked, and whether his assignment that moment was to guard a hospital instead? These kinds of things are so anecdotal. And it always breaks your heart to see destruction of things. But…”
Mr. Russert asked another question and the discussion moved on to a somewhat different topic, so let me see if I can finish the Secretary’s thought. Might not it go something like this?
But…it’s not like all of those artifacts in the Iraq National Museum, such as the tablets on which Hammurabi’s Code was written, or the statue of the Ram in the Thicket from Ur dating back to 2600 B.C., or the tens of thousands of other priceless examples of Babylonian, Sumerian and Assyrian culture and the craftsmanship of ancient Mesopotamia going back 7,000 years, are really important. It’s not like they were the Iraqi oil fields which we did manage to protect from destruction. Hey, we didn’t bomb the museum -- it was just a little looting, like we have all of the time in Los Angeles or Detroit.
A single squad of Marines would have been more than sufficient to protect the museum. Now virtually all of its collection is gone -- utterly lost or destroyed. The head of the museum lamented "Our heritage is finished". To borrow from the cadence of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, And not just the heritage of Iraq, but the heritage of the whole civilized world.
It is not surprizing that the Bush Administration took no steps to protect the world’s most important collection of treasures from ancient Mesopotamia or the “modern” Islamic texts and artifacts dating from around 800 A.D. The people calling the shots in this administration have no respect even for American history and culture; you could hardly expect them to show much concern for the history and culture of the Middle East, even if it is the Cradle of Civilization. If you can’t pump it, or barbeque it, it’s just not that important.
A Belated “Happy New Year” from the Curmudgeon
Well, here it is Martin Luther King’s birthday (not actual, but observed), less than a week away from the Super Bowl, and there has been nothing in the way of New Year’s greetings from the Curmudgeon. How bad is that? Pretty bad, but there are still 345 days left in 2003, and I want to try to make amends. Over the Christmas holidays two or three of you asked me what had become of the Curmudgeon (since nothing had been posted in November or December) and I thought, well, if forty percent of the readership is concerned, perhaps an explanation is in order.
First, I was not designated an “Enemy Combatant” and thrown into the Navy brig in Charleston, South Carolina to keep Jose Padilla company. Nor was I unfortunate enough to be a rule following Arab or Middle Eastern visitor to this country who made the mistake of complying with INS requirements to come in and register, and, as a consequence, got to spend the holidays in jail or in detention facilities in the Arizona desert (Attorney General Ashcroft, holding his cards close to the vest, refuses to say how many Middle Eastern men were picked up in that clever sweep -- estimates are between 500 and 1,000 -- but my guess is there were not many terrorists among them). No, I have no such excuses. I have just been lazy and distracted.
At the outset, I want to say in my defense that that I have posted two new articles in this month of January: “North Korea Calls the Bush Administration’s Bluff”, the first article on the News Views page, discussing our nation’s choice to attack Iraq and to appease the much more dangerous rogue nation of North Korea; and “Have you hugged your local prosecutor today?”, the third article on the Popular Culture page, which deals with the remarkable speech made by the outgoing Republican governor of Illinois on January 11, 2003, at Northwestern University, discussing the scandalous administration of Illinois’ death penalty, and also, moving to the ludicrous from the sublime, discussing a south Alabama prosecutor’s attempt to bring capital murder charges against a retarded black man for the murder of a “victim” who never existed.
So, Happy New Year, or perhaps more appropriately for this year of 2003, Good Luck!
A couple of updates for regular readers of this website: First, The Dog in the Field, who was the subject of the article of the same name posted on the Popular Culture page in April of 2002, is still alive and well, and now has a companion, a female hound dog who is much less “stand-offish” than he is. That’s the good news -- the bad news is that some redneck stole his dog house out of the field, but it was more of a status symbol for the dog than a residence anyway, since he usually slept just outside it.
Second, last week Eddie Delahousaye made official his retirement from racing, something that I had sadly predicted following his bad fall this summer at Del Mar in “A Breeders’ Cup Without Eddie D”, posted in October as the fourth article on the Horse Racing page. This is probably good news for Eddie and his family (a prudent decision for him at age 51) but he will be sorely missed by racing fans all over the country, and particularly by those who follow racing in Southern California. I have never seen a jockey who could ride a closer as well as Eddie D could.
Since I went into hibernation in late October, President George W. Bush has pulled off a political coup unmatched at least since the time of Theodore Roosevelt. A good and thoroughly likeable man, he had the courage to lay all of his political capital on the line in the November mid-term elections, and in so doing further strengthened Republican control of the House of Representatives and actually took back control of the Senate for Republicans, a feat that hasn’t been matched by the party occupying the White House in a mid-term election in over a hundred years. With both houses of Congress and the White House in Republican hands, George Bush has the opportunity to be the greatest Republican president in over a century. If he chooses to do so, he can reform and save social security and medicare, give this country a coherent energy policy, give the nation some much needed tax relief, break the stranglehold that the obstructionist Senate Democrats have exercised to block the appointment of good federal judges, and in general promulgate and enact a progressive and effective domestic policy which could stand this country in good stead at least for the first half of the 21st Century.
If, however, he allows the neo-conservatives in charge of his defense and foreign policy establishments to play on and encourage his personal obsession with Saddam Hussein, and to push the country into an unprecedented aggressive war not just against Iraq, but with the entire Islamic world, he will not only lose his historic chance to enact his progressive domestic agenda, but will earn for this country the undying hatred of the Muslim world and the contempt of the rest of it.
Already, the neo-conservatives such as Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, and Condoleezza Rice within the Administration, and their supporters in the media such as William Kristol, George Will, and Brit Hume and the rest of his cohorts at the Fox News Network are pushing the president to go ahead with the invasion of Iraq even without the support of the United Nations or of any of our traditional allies.
It is not easy these days trying to be America’s friend. In Great Britain only 13 percent of the British public, and almost none of Tony Blair’s ruling Labour Party, supports an invasion of Iraq without giving the UN mandated inspections a chance to work. Eighty-seven percent of the people of Turkey, whose logistical support we need, are passionately opposed to the war, and just the threat of such a war is already playing havoc with the economy of Jordan, a longtime friend of the United States in the Mideast. It is preposterous to suggest that Iraq is threatening this country, and so any attack on Iraq without United Nation’s approval will put the United States in the untenable position of violating the United Nations’ charter and international law.
While such a violation of international law certainly will do the United States’ reputation no good in the pages of history, it is the effect of the law of unintended consequences which may well have the direst effect on this country for years to come. While we are deploring daily Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, we are preparing for war as if it is going to be a cake walk and as if it doesn’t have any. As Richard K. Betts observed in his article entitled “How Will Iraq Strike Back?” in the January 27, 2003 edition of The American Conservative (a traditional conservative bi-weekly journal of opinion, free of the hawkish neo-conservatism which now dominates such publications as The Weekly Standard and the National Review, and one which I recommend very highly) we are woefully unprepared to protect both our soldiers and the American public from chemical and biological weapons should our attack on Iraq provoke Saddam Hussein into using them. He didn’t use them in the first Gulf War because we were merely expelling him from Kuwait, not threatening to bring down his regime. But there is no reason to think that he will not use every weapon at his disposal when his back is against the wall:
“Some also become indignant at the suggestion that an Iraqi counterattack could be blamed on American initiative, as if this is blaming the victim. This again confuses moral and material interests. If a snake strikes back when you poke him you may blame the snake rather than yourself for being bitten, but you will still wish that you had not poked him.”
Mr. Betts points out that the doctrine of containment has worked to keep Saddam Hussein in check for over ten years, and has worked in the past with reference to the Soviet Union and Maoist China. In both instances, the doctrine of preemptive attack was urged by some in the government of the United States as a means of destroying a potential enemy before it became strong enough to threaten us. Although President Bush’s West Point Speech on June 1, 2002, and the National Security Strategy of the United States published in September of 2002, were the first instances of the United States adopting the doctrine of preemptive strike as stated national policy, it had been urged on President Truman as a way of dealing with Stalin while the Soviet Union was developing the atom bomb and as a way of dealing with Communist China in the 1960s. The doctrine of preventative war is not a new one, but as Mr. Betts points out it often precipitates a crisis when one would not otherwise have developed. With considerable justification, he quotes Otto von Bismarck’s famous characterization of preventive war as “suicide from fear of death”:
“Previous briefs for preventive war have proved terribly wrong. Truman did not buy arguments for attacking the Soviet Union. Yet as Paul Schroeder pointed out recently in this magazine, ‘Stalin had nuclear weapons, was a worse sociopath than Hussein…and his record of atrocities against his own people was far worse than Hussein’s.’ Within a few years of preventive war recommendations by Navy Secretary Francis Matthews, Senator John McClellan, and others, Stalin was dead. There were numerous studies and proposals of war against China in the 1960s, and it is easy to forget that once Mao was considered as fanatically aggressive and crazy as Saddam is today….President Bush should think about how history could have turned out if preventive war arguments had sold in those cases.”
Quite apart from the death, destruction and domestic terrorism which a preemptive attack on Iraq might engender, there is also the financial cost to be considered. Estimates of the cost of this war range upwards from 100 billion dollars, depending on the length of time it will be necessary to remain in Iraq as an occupying force. Unlike the first Gulf War when we were repelling an invasion, there will be no contributions from a grateful Saudi Arabia and other nations to defray our costs. All of the states in the region, and almost all in the rest of the world, are opposed to our invasion. This war will be for our account and at our exclusive cost. And these are just the “hard costs” of war. There is no calculating the economic consequences which the uncertainties of war will inflict on our financial markets already reeling from three years of recession.
A number of the plans being circulated for the past several months about the post-war occupation of Iraq really call into question the bona fides of the neo-conservatives beating the war drums. It won’t be so expensive, they contend, because we can always recover our war costs by selling the Iraqi oil which we will control throughout the occupation (a period estimated to last somewhere between five and twenty-five years). Hearing those arguments, it is easy to understand why so many people are skeptical about out motives for going to war. Is it about weapons of mass destruction and our security, or is it about providing additional security for Israel in the Mideast and control of Iraqi oil? One does have to wonder why the hawkish, pro-Israeli neo-conservatives are so eager to go to war with Iraq which does not constitute a present threat to the United States, and so disinterested in dealing with North Korea which is a much more paranoid and unstable regime and already is in possession of nuclear weapons which can threaten South Korea, Japan, and within a very few months even the United States mainland. It’s just a thought, but could it be because there is no oil to be had on the Korean peninsula and because Korea is not a matter of Israeli concern?
Fresh from his spectacular victory in the mid-term Congressional elections, President Bush stands at a fork in the road. He can take the right fork and pursue traditional Republican policies of pushing his domestic agenda which should make possible peace and prosperity at home for decades to come, or he can take the left fork urged by his neo-conservative advisors and, giving in to his own personal obsession with Saddam Hussein, follow the essentially Democratic, interventionist philosophy of the hawks in his defense and foreign policy establishments and embark on a decade long series of wars against Iraq, Iran, Syria and other Islamic nations. He can be the president who leads us to peace and prosperity at home, or the president who leads us into a decade of war and economic dislocation. Guns or butter -- which will it be? Even a country as rich as the United States cannot afford to pursue both paths.
Unfortunately, I think I know which path he will choose. And so I will wish us all Happy New Year and Good Luck. We are going to need it.
|Mr. President, Sir: If you will remove those binocular caps, and turn 180 degrees away from Iraq, we have two incoming Korean nukes at 11 o'clock!
Incompetence at Home, Insanity Abroad
Except for one occasion when your Curmudgeon kicked over the traces, jumped the fence, and got loose in a pasture teeming with loco weed (I refer to Ross Perot’s first run for the White House), he has rooted for, and upon being granted the franchise voted for, the Republican candidate for president in every election since Dewey ran against Truman in 1948. Accordingly, I think this establishes my bona fides as a supporter of Republican politics, and of Republican administrations, but it also entitles me, rather like a great aunt who sees her beloved niece come home sporting a tongue stud and several piercings through her eyebrows and navel, to comment on the appearance of the beloved and express the hope that things will get back to normal soon. I do so now.
The overriding impression created by the Bush Administration, going back at least since the President’s needlessly bellicose State of the Union address, is of incompetence at home and insanity abroad. The events of the last two or three weeks have done little to correct that misimpression – I say “misimpression” because, on balance, I believe the administration put together by George W. Bush is one of the most talented and competent in years. Like it or not, the federal government has evolved into numerous large unwieldy bureaucracies, each larger than most Fortune 500 corporations, and for the most part President Bush has appointed splendidly qualified managers to run them. Donald Rumsfeld at the Department of Defense, Paul O’Neill at the Treasury Department, and former head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell at the State Department come immediately to mind, but managerial competence is the hallmark of this administration starting with our president, the first Harvard MBA to hold that office, proceeding to corporate executive Dick Cheney as vice president, and filtering down from most of the cabinet level appointees to the various departments. Unlike the eight years of the Clinton administration, this is a government run, at least at the top, by excellent managers rather than lawyers, and that happy change has resulted in the elevation of substance over form, with the pragmatic benefits one would naturally anticipate from such a shift in emphasis.
The managerial strength of this administration has, however, also exposed its Achilles’ heel. With the exception of Ted Olson, the Solicitor General, who has very little role in establishing policy, there is not a single excellent lawyer in the upper echelons of the Bush Administration, and unfortunately that dearth of fine legal minds is beginning to take its toll on this president, who himself has no background in the law and is therefore dependent on others to provide him good advice and counsel in that area. John Ashcroft, as a former senator and state attorney general, has been much more of a politician than a first rate lawyer for his entire professional life, and is woefully unqualified to advise the president on, and to stand up for and defend within this administration, the basic constitutional principles and civil liberties upon which this nation was founded and which have made it great. Where are the lawyers of the caliber of former attorney general Elliott Richardson when we need them?
An early example illustrating the effect of such a dearth of legal talent within this administration was the establishment of the “military tribunals” by the Department of Defense. Donald Rumsfeld, like the good manager he is, steamrolled the first draft of the executive orders setting up those “courts” based on his concerns for military efficiency and national security without giving even lip service to the fairness of the proceedings or procedural due process. Those convicted by the majority vote of the “jury” composed of career military officers (is there a group of people anywhere in the world less likely to take issue with, and critically examine, the charges preferred against the defendants by their superiors in the Department of Defense?) were initially denied even an appeal to the U. S. Court of Military Appeals. Appeals, if any, were originally to be handled administratively within the same Defense Department which would conduct the trials in secret. Presumably, a defendant could be charged, convicted by a jury of career military officers, sentenced to death, and executed in secret without a single impartial judge ever having a say in the outcome.
Now that’s efficiency, but it’s also the epitome of a “kangaroo court” and a disgrace to any nation which prides itself on justice under law. Fortunately, there was such a howl of protest from lawyers and constitutional scholars around the country that the Defense Department was forced to back off from the most egregious of the procedural provisions and provide rights of appeal, but the administration, quite properly, got a black eye from the proposal, and it would have never seen the light of day had there been a qualified lawyer serving as attorney general to advise the president that Rumsfeld’s proposals were simply beyond the pale in a civilized society. It is instructive that when the government charged the “Twentieth Hijacker”, French citizen Zacarias Moussaoui, with conspiracy to commit terrorism in connection with the events of September 11th it did not do so in the “military tribunals” for which he was eligible as a non-U.S. citizen (despite concerns about national security) but in federal court. Had he been convicted before a military tribunal, not a single civilized nation anywhere in the world would have accepted the verdict.
All told, it hasn’t been a very good last three weeks, or for that matter a very good last nine months, for attorney general John Ashcroft. He knew within several days of September 11th that the FBI had previously received a memo from its Phoenix field office noting the presence of possible Arab terrorists taking flight training (and suggesting that the FBI investigate such flight schools nationwide) but he never told the president about that ignored memo until last month when it came out in the press and in Congress. He also, along with FBI director Robert Mueller, knew of the Minneapolis field office’s repeated attempts to get FBI headquarters to approve search warrants for would-be hijacker Zacarias Moussaoui’s computer hard drive and telephone records which, if followed up, would have led to the roommate of chief hijacker Atta. Both of the reports crossed the desk of the same mid-level manager in FBI headquarters, and yet his only action taken with respect to either of them was to reprimand the agents in the Minneapolis field office when finally in the days before September 11th they turned in frustration to the CIA and related their suspicions to that rival agency.
No disciplinary action has been taken against the agent in FBI headquarters who ignored the critical reports from Phoenix and Minneapolis. In fact, he has since been promoted. Speaking to Sam Donaldson on ABC’s This Week show on Sunday, June 2nd, however, attorney general Ashcroft three times declined to say in response to Mr. Donaldson’s pointed questions that Minneapolis FBI agent Coleen Rowley, the author of the 13 page memorandum to Director Mueller and the Congressional oversight committees, would not be subject to discipline and retaliation within the FBI for bringing the matter to the Director’s (and the nation’s) attention. Ashcroft would say only that Mrs. Rowley would not be fired, and steadfastly refused to answer Mr. Donaldson’s questions about whether she would be retaliated against in terms of assignments or future promotions. It’s instructive to note that the old bureaucratic technique of killing the messenger is still alive and well in John Ashcroft’s Justice Department.
But none of the bureaucratic infighting inside the FBI, and between the FBI and the CIA, explains why Ashcroft kept the president and the Congress in the dark about the Minneapolis and Phoenix field reports for almost nine months after September 11th. Was this cover-up and deception intended to protect his dysfunctional Justice Department, home to both the FBI and the INS (the Immigration and Naturalization Service), two of the three government agencies most responsible for blunders making the tragedy of September 11th possible? Not according to a very thoughtful editorial which ran May 24, 2002, entitled “Ashcroft and ‘the memo’” in the San Francisco Chronicle.. Rather, the editorial suggests, attorney general Ashcroft had an agenda of his own to push through Congress, the Patriot Act, which might have been slowed considerably had Congress known that the clues to “9-11” were lying right there on the desk of a FBI headquarters’ manager had he taken the simple initiative to pick them up and do a little analysis and basic police work:
“Ashcroft’s response to the memo after he received it also deserves closer examination. Why, for example, didn’t Ashcroft immediately inform President Bush and congressional leaders of evidence of a memo that was central to a question that was haunting the nation: How could a plot of such magnitude slip through our vast intelligence networks?
“ It is equally disturbing to know that Ashcroft was aware of the Williams’ memo when he was aggressively pitching a multipronged repeal of civil liberties as a way to fight terrorism. Remember, Ashcroft all but questioned the patriotism of anyone who dared challenge the need for law enforcement to obtain significant new powers. He even suggested that his critics – chasing ‘phantoms of lost liberties’ – were providing ‘ammunition to America’s enemies and pause to America’s friends’.”
I believe that the editorial writer was “right-on” concerning the attorney general’s motive for hushing up the FBI headquarters’ derelictions concerning the Phoenix and Minneapolis field offices’ reports. The temptation of a lifetime politician and prosecutor to put new weapons in the hands of law enforcement was just too great –even when he knew that they had not bothered to use the information already at their disposal. The great Samuel Johnson summed up John Ashcroft and his “Patriot Act” in a single sentence that is as true today as when he said it on April 7, 1775: “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” Johnson's biographer, James Boswell, made it clear that the great writer "did not mean a real and generous love of our country, but that pretended patriotism which so many, in all ages and countries, have made a cloak for self-interest." Boswell, "Life of Johnson" (1791).
As badly as President Bush has been served by his mediocre attorney general and the FBI, a respectable argument could be made that he was even more poorly served by George Tenet’s Central Intelligence Agency and his national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice. Just this week, Newsweek has broken the story that the CIA had been aware of the existence of two of the hijackers who flew the United Airlines plane into the Pentagon since January of 2000. Those two men entered and left and reentered the United States on numerous occasions between the time Malaysian intelligence officers called them to the attention of the CIA following their meeting with other Al Qaeda operatives in Kuala Lampur in January of 2000 and their attack on the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. The CIA tracked their movements for that entire period, but never told the FBI about them nor suggested that the INS detain them upon their several entries into the country until they had returned for the last time and it was too late for the INS to intercept them.
At the congressional oversight hearings commencing June 4, 2002, looking into the breakdown of intelligence on the part of both the FBI and the CIA, the FBI apparently prepared flow charts for the joint intelligence committee (and promptly leaked them to the press) suggesting that had the CIA told them about the existence of the two hijackers which the CIA was tracking, the FBI would have discovered the identity of five additional hijackers which in turn would have led to the arrest of the entire group of the “9-11” terrorists. Since the FBI showed so little interest in their Minneapolis agents’ attempt to arrest Zacarias Moussaoui, one is inclined to take this argument with a large grain of salt, but it does indicate that the on-going turf battle between the two agencies is still alive and well, despite the president’s statement that they would cooperate better with each other in the future.
With the incompetence of the FBI, CIA, and INS having been demonstrated beyond all question here at home, the people in the National Security Adviser’s office who advise the president on foreign policy (which apparently does not include anyone from Colin Powell’s State Department) permitted him to go to West Point this past weekend to address the graduating Cadets and promulgate a doctrine of intervention in the affairs of foreign nations which far outstripped even his ill-advised “Axis of Evil” theme in his most recent State of the Union speech. Abandoning completely his well considered policy of approaching foreign nations with humility and respect for their customs and practices which he had put forth as the cornerstone of his proposed foreign policy when he was a candidate for the presidency in the fall of 2000, he not only reiterated to the Cadets that the United States would take preemptive first strikes against any nation or regime which was developing weapons that threatened our national security (as evaluated presumably by our peerless Central Intelligence Agency) but that we would take the extra meddling step to push all nations to adopt our democratic way of government. Apparently, the foreign policy gurus have convinced him that only by fostering democracy (not, of course, in Communist China but in the Islamic world) can we preserve our security here at home because democratic nations will always see things our way.
I don’t know whether Condoleezza Rice has been talking to the Weekly Standard’s Fred Barnes or not, but someone appears to have convinced her and the president that democratic governments will always throw in their lot with the United States. Your Curmudgeon is going to take some persuading on that one. When the dispute between Pakistan and India appeared likely to lead to war between America’s two allies, Fred Barnes was asked by Brit Hume on Fox News’ “Special Report” who America should side with in case war broke out. “Why, India, of course,” replied Barnes with all the certainty of a first semester sophomore (high school, not college –college students see things in a little less black and white terms) “because India is a democracy”. Well, as I recall, India was a democracy all of the time while she took the side of the Soviet Union against the United States in the cold war, and continued to be such while she tested nuclear weapons (supplied by Russia) against our strong protestations, which caused undemocratic Pakistan to seek nuclear weapons of its own in self-defense, leading to the present nuclear crisis over Kashmir, the region that democratic India has withheld from a plebiscite ordered by the United Nations for the past 54 years.
But enough about the benefits of democracy on the Indian sub-continent, lets get down to the real point of the president’s West Point speech, the democratization of our most important ally in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia. Bring on the vote, kick out the pro-western Saudi royal family, and let’s see how much the Arab street really loves us! It worked so well when President Carter persuaded the Shah of Iran that he was too autocratic and he should seek early retirement. I haven’t been too impressed with what democratic (or should that be “theocratic”?) Israel has done recently to accommodate its sister democracy in the United States. When last heard from, its ruling Likud Party voted by approximately 82% to oppose the Palestinian State favored by the United States and the rest of the world for all time and under all circumstances. That little difference in foreign policies between the two sister democracies doesn’t prevent Israel from accepting five billion dollars in aid each year from the United States, so I guess that’s pretty democratic. Come to think of it, the democratic Weimar Republic that elected Hitler Chancellor of Germany between the two world wars didn’t always see eye to eye with the United States either.
So perhaps President Bush, Condoleezza Rice, and the neo-conservative foreign policy gurus at the Weekly Standard should go back to candidate George Bush’s live and let live approach to our fellow nation states, and stop demanding that they adopt our brand of democracy which has never worked too well anyway outside of the United States, some European nations, and the British Commonwealth countries. If undemocratic Pakistan wants to be our friend and help us out in Afghanistan, maybe we should just let them. Saudi Arabia doesn’t hold political meetings like our democratic friends in the Likud Party, but the last time I checked the Saudi crown prince was a lot more helpful in advancing our goal of peace in the Middle East than was Ariel Sharon or his neo-right wing friend Bebe Netanyahu. Besides, Saudi Arabia sells us all that nice oil. Israel just takes our money to buy the tanks that they use to knock down all of the buildings that we bought for the Palestinian Authority – but they took a democratic vote and decided that they don’t like the Palestinian Authority, so I guess it's just democracy in action. They really appear to like democracy – certainly they take a great interest in our Congress.
So getting back to my initial analogy of your Curmudgeon as the old great aunt to the new, hip, assertive Republican Party, why don’t you comb down those spikes in your hair, dear, and take those metal rings out of your navel and eyebrows, and put on a nice dress and go to the party of nations? You’re really a very pretty girl when you dress nicely, and I’m sure that everyone would like you much better if you just stopped trying to boss everyone around and listened once in a while to what they had to say. Hey, it works in real life – maybe it would work in foreign policy. George Bush thought so when he was a candidate.
Almost the News….
Washington, DC, Aug. 26, 2002: At a joint news conference held today at the Justice Department, Attorney General John Ashcroft and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld announced that Republican House majority leader Dick Armey (R-Tex.) had been declared an “enemy combatant” and was being held in a Navy brig in Charleston, South Carolina.
Mr. Armey drew the Bush Administration’s ire earlier this month when speaking in Des Moines, Iowa he suggested that an unprovoked attack on Iraq would be a violation of international law. Mr. Armey said that Saddam Hussein should be left to “bluster and rant” within his own borders, explaining: “If we act against Saddam Hussein, as obnoxious as he is, without proper provocation, we will not have the support of other nation states…it would not be consistent with what we have been as a nation or what we should be as a nation.”
Mr. Ashcroft stated that such remarks were providing “ammunition to America’s enemies and pause to America’s friends.” When asked by a member of the press corps precisely who America’s friends were in the anticipated attack on Iraq, the attorney general appeared to be temporarily at a loss for words. Secretary Rumsfeld interjected that the United States had many allies in its forthcoming attack on Iraq, but their identities could not be released because of national security concerns. “We are, after all, at war,” he said.
The Secretary indicated that Mr. Armey was being held in the same cellblock as “enemy combatant” Jose Padilla.
Now why didn’t we think of that…?
Why is it not surprising that, just when President Bush, the Saudi Crown Prince, and Secretary of State Colin Powell seemed to have a legitimate shot at brokering a Middle East cease-fire and a start on the road to a negotiated peace, our duly elected Congressional legislators had to stick their oar into the process? Administrative spokesmen thanked the legislators for their concern, but said that the Executive Branch could do without the assistance of 535 deputy secretaries of state at this delicate stage of the proceedings and urged them to back off, but first Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, and then House Republican whip Tom DeLay, thanked the president for his concern, but stated that they were going ahead with their meaningless resolutions pledging their support for the government of Israel and condemning the “terrorist” Palestinian Authority.
Since the Congress has virtually no role in the conduct of foreign affairs, a cynic might suspect that our federal legislators’ solicitous concern for Israel’s well-being might have more to do with the McCain-Feingold Campaign Reform Act’s limited window of opportunity to collect soft-money campaign contributions for the November 2002 mid-term Congressional elections than any genuine concern about foreign policy. Although, with the possible exception of former New York Senator Jacob Javits, no Republican candidate for congressional office has ever received as much as 25% of the American Jewish vote going back at least until the time of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, one senses that the Congressional branch of the Republican Party is not blind to the financial opportunity which the recent troubles in the Middle East might provide.
Therefore, the political pragmatist cannot help but be impressed with Republican House majority leader Dick Armey’s recent appearance on Chris Matthews’ “Hardball” show which aired on MSNBC on Wednesday evening, May 1, 2002, as an example of “thinking outside of the box”. Not content with merely pledging support for Israel and condemning the Palestinians as had the resolutions moving toward unanimous votes in both houses of Congress, the former Texas economist took the bold step of proposing a Middle East peace plan of his own. Peace in that troubled area could be achieved, he stated, by the simple expedient of removing all of the Palestinians from the West Bank and permitting Israel to annex all of that territory up to the Jordanian border.
It is not often that one finds Chris Matthews at a loss for words, but after a pause of several seconds, he said “…but I thought you were in favor of the creation of an independent Palestinian state…”, or words to that effect. Representative Armey replied, without missing a beat, “I’m perfectly content to have a Palestinian state. I am not content to give up any part of Israel for the purpose of that Palestinian state.”
There then ensued the following remarkable colloquy:
Matthews: “Wait a minute. Tom DeLay, whose resolution you’re going to put on the floor tomorrow and schedule, has said that the entire West Bank, he calls it Judea and Samaria, belongs to Israel. How can you say that this resolution doesn’t support the DeLay position, which is Israel has a right to grab the entire West Bank?”
Armey: “No, I’m content to have Israel grab the entire West Bank. I’m also content to have the Palestinians have a homeland and even for that to be somewhere near Israel, but I’m not content to see Israel to give up land for the purpose of peace to the Palestinians, who will not accept it and would not honor it. It’s time to…”
Matthews: “Well, where do you put the Palestinian state, in Norway? Once the Israelis take back the West Bank permanently and annex it, there’s no place for the Palestinians to have a state.”
Armey: “No, that’s not true at all. There are many Arab nations that have many hundreds of thousands of acres of land and soil and property and opportunity to create a Palestinian state.”
Matthews: “So you would transport -- you would transport the Palestinians from Palestine to somewhere else and call it their state?”
Armey: “Most of the people who now populate Israel were transported from all over the world to that land and they made it their home. The Palestinians can do the same, and we’re perfectly content to work with the Palestinians in doing that. We are not willing to sacrifice Israel for the notion of a Palestinian homeland….
“I am content to have Israel occupy that land that it now occupies and to have those people who have been aggressors against Israel retired to some other area, and I would be happy to have them make a home. I would be happy to have all of these Arab nations that have been so hell bent to drive Israel out of the Middle East to get together, find some land and make a home for the Palestinians. I think it can be done.”
Chris Matthews was so flabbergasted by this breathtaking suggestion, that he failed to point out to Mr. Armey that the Israeli settlers had come to Palestine voluntarily, whereas his proposal would forcefully deport the Palestinians from lands that they had lived on for thousands of years, but at the close of his telecast he left little doubt about what he thought of Mr. Armey’s unique solution to the recent tensions in the Middle East; but it is the funny season in Washington with the mid-term Congressional elections coming on, so perhaps the Palestinians, the only remaining displaced persons from World War II, had better start preparing for another move.
Editor’s note: The quotation of the colloquy between Mr. Matthews and Rep. Armey can be found in an excellent and comprehensive study of the Israeli settlement policies entitled “Report on Israeli Settlement in the Occupied Territories” published by the Foundation for Middle East Peace, Volume12, Number 3, May-June, 2002. That report is available on its website, www.fmep.org.
A Bad Idea Whose Time Has Come Again -- The International Criminal Court
The International Criminal Court is a bad idea whose time has come again. Modeled on the Nuremberg trials at the end of World War II, the United Nations sponsored court proposes to bring citizens of every nation before the international bar of justice to answer charges that they may have committed war crimes, crimes against humanity, or the still undefined crime of having committed “aggression”. Neither the mightiest head of state nor the lowliest foot soldier will be immune from the inquisitions and judgments of this international tribunal.
The enthusiasm of international jurists around the world, and particularly in the European Union, for such a multinational tribunal is boundless. It is, after all, one of the principal means of denigrating claims of national sovereignty and advancing the new world order. It would also provide the European Lilliputians an excellent means of bringing unruly superpowers, such as the United States, down to earth. President Bush is understandably less than ecstatic about such a court -- and for good reason.
First, the Nuremberg Tribunal on which it has been modeled was one of the most flawed courts ever created. For all of the praise heaped upon it by liberal commentators claiming that it established once and for all that crimes against humanity would not be tolerated by a civilized society, and that the defense of following the orders of a military superior would no longer provide protection for officers and soldiers in the field, it was in reality just a political show trial in which the victors justified their populations’ thirst for vengeance with legal trappings, and quite hypocritical legal trappings at that.
Thus, Nuremberg treated the world to the prospect of Soviet prosecutors condemning Albert Speer for having used forced labor in his armaments factories (certainly slave labor was not a novel concept in the Soviet Union) and to the prospect of the chief United States prosecutor, Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, sending Admiral Doenitz to the gallows, along with most of the high ranking officers of the German general staff, for having practiced their military professions on behalf of the losing side. Admiral Doenitz was condemned to death for commanding his fleet of submarines in a fashion which United States Admiral Chester Nimitz, commander of the American Pacific fleet, said was consistent with accepted naval practice. Admiral Nimitz even submitted an affidavit on behalf of Admiral Doenitz “stating that he had conducted his own submarine warfare on the basis of the same principles as the German naval leadership.” Albert Speer, “Inside the Third Reich”, page 515 (Macmillan, 1970).
The principle that chief prosecutor Jackson was intent on establishing, however, had nothing to do with the ethical conduct of the art of war, but with a new rule of international law -- one which did not exist prior to the start of the Second World War, and one which the United States itself had expressly rejected by refusing to ratify the Kellog-Briand pact: the international war crime, created out of whole cloth, ex post facto, by the victors after the war, of having prepared for and carried out aggressive warfare. It was the violation of this novel legal concept, one which did not exist at the times of the acts made the subject of the charges against them, which sent the German generals, admirals, foreign ministers and economic planners to their deaths or to decades of imprisonment.
It is this same “war crime” -- preparing for and carrying out aggressive warfare -- the one that the International Criminal Court will have jurisdiction over, but has yet to define -- that rightly causes the President of the United States such concern. In the decades since the end of World War II, it has been the United States which has done most of the heavy lifting on the international scene, while the diplomats and prime ministers of Europe sat on the sidelines and criticized its efforts. Although Europe consistently has looked down on America and claimed the moral high ground, the Europeans were psychologically unable or unwilling to deal with a new round of genocide being practiced in their own backyard in the Balkans. It fell to the United States to step in and halt the slaughter of Muslims at the hands of the Serbs, and when it did so there were actually calls in some European quarters to try the American commander in the region, General Wesley Clark, as a war criminal when the military campaign which they eschewed was not conducted precisely to suit them.
President Bush has every right to be concerned that some American soldier or commander on a peace keeping mission will be caught up in a volatile situation in some unstable part of the world and charged with committing a war crime. Christopher Hitchens, the British writer for Vanity Fair, has for years conducted a campaign to have former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger tried as a war criminal for the United States’ role in Vietnam. The prospect of seeing Vice President Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and Secretary of State Colin Powell in the dock, charged with “preparing for and carrying out aggressive war” against Iraq would make the European jurists of the International Criminal Court positively orgasmic.
The International Criminal Court has been established and there is nothing the United States can do about it. The United States, in fact, deserves much of the blame for the concept because of its role in the terribly flawed trials at Nuremberg fifty-seven years ago. Furthermore, former president Clinton caused this country to sign the treaty creating this new United Nations court in one of the symbolic, though ineffectual, gestures for which he was famous, but then refused to submit the treaty for ratification by the Senate and advised his successor not to do so either.
Neither a bad precedent fifty-seven years ago, nor a futile gesture made during the last administration, however, justifies putting America’s soldiers at the mercy of international jurists seeking to use them as pawns in their efforts to weaken the concept of national sovereignty and advance the “new world order”. President Bush should stand his ground and, if necessary, withdraw American peace keeping forces from troubled spots around the world.
Are you ready to rumble…?
While continuing to assemble an armada of five aircraft carriers attached to the U.S. Fifth Fleet in international waters off Iraq (a battle group of such destructive power as to make Darth Vader and his puny Death Star green with envy), the Bush Administration continued to encounter trouble on September 26th in getting its war scheduled in legislative forums at home and abroad.
Senate majority leader Tom Daschle (D-SD), still smarting from the President’s remarks implying that Senate Democrats were soft on terrorism and unconcerned about national security, was petulantly refusing to push a vote authorizing the war through the Senate, while permanent United Nations security council members France, Russia and China seemed far from convinced about the necessity for a new resolution granting the United States authority to do whatever it thought necessary to adjust attitudinal problems in Iraq and elsewhere in the region.
In an effort to break this domestic and international log-jam, administrative spokesmen fanned out on all fronts to provide additional justification for the proposed war. Testifying on Capitol Hill before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Secretary of State Colin Powell said that while there “was no smoking gun” connecting Iraq to the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Towers “we cannot dismiss that possibility”. At a press briefing at the Pentagon, Defense chief Donald Rumsfeld said intelligence reports indicated that senior Al Qaeda members had visited Iraq, although he refused to be pinned down as to when these visits had occurred. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, who in the past has proven less inhibited by facts than other administrative spokesmen (seven months ago she told the nation that there was no way the attack on the Twin Towers could have been anticipated, despite being in possession of intelligence reports indicating that Al Qaeda had not only discussed using commercial airplanes as weapons, but had even mentioned the Pentagon and the World Trade Towers as possible targets), suggested on Wednesday, September 25th that Iraq was harboring Al Qaeda members and had given them training in the handling of chemical and biological weapons. High ranking officials of the State Department have been dispatched to France and Russia to try and head off those nation’s vetoes of the administration’s proposed resolutions in the U.N. Security Council. Finally, on Thursday evening September 26th, in the most cogent reason yet advanced by the Bush Administration for going to war with Iraq, President Bush told a group of supporters in Texas that Saddam Hussein “had even tried to kill my dad”.
With it beginning to appear that even all these powerful arguments may not be sufficient to convince the international appeasers and United Nations’ wusses of the necessity of going to war with Iraq, it is time for American patriot and entrepreneur, Vince McMahon, and his World Wrestling Federation to step forward and save this deteriorating situation. Since the Bush Administration has repeatedly told the world that the United States has no quarrel with the people of Iraq (despite making preparations to kill them by the tens of thousands) what we really need is a good old-fashioned, no-holds-barred, duel to the death between the Bushes (with whom everything is personal anyway) and Saddam Hussein.
The WWF could host the event in the Houston Astrodome just before the mid-term congressional elections in November, and bill it as the “Ultimate Texas Smack-Down”. To keep the odds of winning approximately in line with the strategic strengths of the geopolitical combatants, it could be staged as a tag-team match with the good guys’ team being comprised of President Bush, former president George Herbert Walker Bush, Vice President Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Attorney General John Ashcroft, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and just for a little spice that feisty little spitfire, Condoleezza Rice. In case any of the older members of the Bush team had to retire from the battle due to reasons of health, Ariel Sharon (who will be in the country anyway campaigning for Florida Governor Jeb Bush) could serve as an alternate. The bad guys’ team would be comprised of Saddam Hussein and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.
There would have to be prizes for the winners, of course, and if, as expected, the Bush team won they would be allowed to send members of the administration to all of the fund raising and pre-election political rallies of the Democratic candidates for Congress and impugn their patriotism, and suggest that they are soft on terrorism and don’t care about the security of the American people. Also, Ariel Sharon would finally be given permission to kill Yasir Arafat. In the unlikely event that the Hussein team won, the U.N. Sanctions against Iraq would be lifted, Saddam Hussein would be permitted to enter into personal oil drilling contracts with Russia, France and Germany, and Chancellor Schroeder would be permitted to say that George W. Bush really does remind him a little bit of Adolph Hitler.
Hey, it’s not such a preposterous idea. Think of the money it would save in not having to send in the Fifth Fleet (not to mention all of the lives that would be saved), and this solution would avoid having to ruffle all of those Arabian and European feathers. The proposed war with Iraq is really just a personal grudge match between George W. Bush and Saddam Hussein anyway, so why drag the rest of us into it?
At Home on the Range (War)
Ever since the Bush Administration’s promise of a meaningful domestic agenda was shot out of the saddle by the twin disasters of Al Qaeda’s attack on the World Trade Towers and the defection of Vermont’s Senator Jeffords, the tall Texan who runs things back at the ranch at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue (and I am referring to the President, not his paunchy sidekick who used to drill for oil and asbestos claims at Halliburton) has seen fit to adopt the lingo and mannerisms of the Old West. Even while the dust was still billowing from “ground zero”, Bush declared that Osama bin Laden (about whom one hears almost nothing these days) was wanted “dead or alive” and organized a posse to go to Afghanistan and “smoke him out”. Well, that varmint has proved to be pretty elusive, and we don’t know whether or not he is dead, but we do know that his Al Qaeda organization is very much alive and damned hard to locate, so it’s high time to turn the posse in another direction and flush out some other undesirables from the neighborhood.
Trouble is, except for that classy British marksman Tony Blair, all the rest of the posse got bored and went home. Well, that leaves our tall Texan madder than a lynch mob faced with a resolute sheriff who comes equipped with a “nit-picky” respect for due process of law and a stout jail.
So “W” finds himself frustrated and stomping around the ranch house like some young son in a bad western movie who has inherited the big “spread” from his aging father (here the analogy breaks down a little because we all know the cowboy who built the big spread was Ronald Reagan and not that easterner, George Herbert Walker Bush) and is itching for a fight. And it sure doesn’t help his disposition any that all of his crafty old gunslingers (here I refer to four star generals, Anthony Zinni, Wesley Clark, John Shalikashvili, John Hoar, and Norman Schwarzkopf), all of whom have been in a few rip-roaring gunfights of their own, are advising caution and counseling against going it alone, while the only military experience most of the cowboys urging him on (Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, and Condoleezza Rice) have is in avoiding it.
As Marine General Anthony Zinni noted, “It might be interesting to wonder why all of the generals see it the same way, and all those (who) never fired a shot in anger (and) are really hellbent to go to war see it a different way.” General Zinni’s remarks recall those of Civil War general, William Tecumseh Sherman, more than one hundred years ago who said “It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, more vengeance, more desolation.”
Well, so much for those “yellow-bellied”, combat-hardened generals who seemed to have lost their guts; it’s time for someone from the Texas Air National Guard to lead us into war. He’s cowed the town-folks in Congress into dropping their opposition, and now it’s time for an old fashioned range war to get rid of all those Islamic sheepherders who don’t think and act like us ranchers who punch cows and drill for oil.
Just one disquieting thought, however -- in those B-movie westerns the hot-headed young son, who disregarded the advice of his experienced gunfighters and started the range war, usually winds up dead in the dust. Let’s hope it’s just political careers that die in the end and not thousands of American and Iraqi soldiers and civilians.
Maybe We Should Mess With Texas
Remember the bad old days when almost everybody except dedicated feminists disliked our strident First Lady; when our rascally president discussed troop deployments in a telephone call with a member of the House Armed Services Committee while receiving oral sex (from someone a good deal more appealing than the First Lady) in the Oval Office; when the only thing Americans abroad had to apologize for was our mistake in trusting erroneous intelligence from our incompetent CIA and bombing a perfectly innocent pharmaceutical plant in the Sudan; when Lanny Davis, Eleanor Cliff and other assorted Democratic Party flaks appeared nightly on television to help explain to us what the meaning of “Is” is (or was) and why it wasn’t important anyway; and when the Dow Jones Industrial Average was quoted in the 11,000s rather than the 7,000s? Sometimes I look back on those bad old days almost wistfully. It was a lot of fun laughing at the ineffectual Clinton Administration and waiting for the next outrage to occur.
Now we’ve got a First Lady who is so delightful and charming that even hard-core Democratic Party functionaries like her. We’ve got a president who is honest, plain-spoken and morally upright (even if he does tend to see things a bit too much as black and white in a world filled with subtle shades of gray). Domestically, we’ve got an administration which is more interested in actually solving the problems which afflict the country than in playing the “race card”, stirring up class envy, and engaging in the blame game. So why is it that your Curmudgeon and the populations (as distinguished from the governments) of almost every nation outside of the United States feel such a sense of foreboding and unease?
Maybe it has something to do with Texas, or more accurately with the men who become our presidents who are from Texas. Do you think that all of that oil in the Lone Star State has been gradually seeping into the water table? Whatever the cause, the record of our last three presidents from Texas (our only three, actually) is not very reassuring. Consider the record:
When President Lyndon Johnson came to the White House we had less than fifteen hundred military advisors in Vietnam. When he decided not to run for a second term in 1968, we had 550,000 of our soldiers, sailors and airmen there, and, in addition to being well on the way to suffering the worst military defeat in our nation’s history, we had sown the seeds of an economic inflation so severe that it was to plague our domestic economy for the next 25 years.
President George H. W. Bush got us into the Gulf War against an enemy to whom we couldn’t lose and presided over a recession (apparently without noticing it) which was severe enough to get himself defeated for reelection by a philandering political unknown. The effects of his war, and of his recession, however, were not nearly so disastrous as President Johnson’s military and economic adventures had been, and perhaps that was because he really was a transplanted Connecticut Yankee and hadn’t been drinking the Texas water and absorbing the Texas culture for his entire life.
Now, with the administration of our current president, George W. Bush, we are getting a double dose of Texas because the politicos of our current Republican Party thought so little of the prohibition in the United States constitution that the president and the vice-president not be from the same state that they ran our current vice-president, Houston resident Dick Cheney, up to Wyoming for a quick cup of coffee and voter registration just before the election so that he could serve with Midland’s own George Bush.
Those two Texas oilmen have been planning our forthcoming war against Iraq ever since Ted Olson told them that he thought his argument in the Florida election controversy had gone pretty well in the Supreme Court. George has been working on the fighting, and Dick and his friends at Halliburton have been working on the drilling which will come afterwards.
While all of this military and geological planning has been going on, however, neither of them has seemed to notice or care very much that our economy has just gone through the worst two years since the Great Depression. When you have to sell all your stock (or put it in a blind trust) I guess you don’t have much occasion to notice that sort of thing. God knows, I wish I had sold all of mine on Inauguration Day! Well, growing unemployment, a tanking stock market, falling tax receipts and a burgeoning budget deficit just don’t seem to be too important when you are busy planning World War IV (against the Islamic nations of the world -- Ronald Reagan won World War III, the Cold War, against the old Soviet Union).
So here we go again! Better fasten your seat belts -- it’s going to be a bumpy life. Whatever else you can say about these Texas presidents, they don’t preside over dull times.
But after we’ve fought and spent ourselves into a state of total military and economic exhaustion, perhaps we should do a little political planning for the future. You don’t want to have this much fun more than two or three times every fifty years. So how about a constitutional amendment (one we could take seriously, unlike Article 1, Section 8 stating only the Congress shall have the power to declare war, or the part about the president and vice-president being residents of different states) that might save us from all of this death, destruction and economic devastation in the future? How about a constitutional amendment prohibiting anyone from Texas serving as president? Texans could still have their senators and representatives, of course; they just couldn’t be president.
The idea is not original with me. It was first proposed by my son toward the end of the cocktail hour. It does, however, have a certain appeal.
If we’ve got any duct tape left …. after the American public’s hysterical reaction to the ridiculous advice given last week by the Federal Emergency Management Administration (F.E.M.A.) and other federal officials following the Department of Homeland Security's decision to hike the terrorist threat alert level to "Code Orange", perhaps we should use three inches of it to place over Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s mouth the next time he leaves the country. His recent remarks equating Germany with Libya and Cuba was over the top even for the Bush Administration, which obviously still hasn’t figured out that intemperate, ill-considered language does have consequences (for those who doubt this, read the text of the president’s “Axis of Evil” speech and ponder the reasons for the recent jump start of North Korea’s nuclear program).
But to return to our petulant opinion of Germany, let’s consider what they’ve done for us lately -- besides being opposed to our proposed war against Iraq. They have been invaluable in providing information useful to the United States in its “War Against Terror” which used to be one of our priorities. Their troops have taken over the peace keeping duties in Afghanistan, freeing up our forces for adventures elsewhere. And lest we forget, all of our seriously wounded in the war against Iraq will be flown to U.S. bases and hospitals located in Germany which the German authorities will be busy protecting from our ever growing cadres of enemies. I don’t think Cuba and Libya have been quite as helpful as that.
Also, for those in the American media who seem to lack much sense of historical perspective, it might be well to remember before denigrating the Germans as cowardly “peace-niks” that for the last half of the 19th century and for the first half of the 20th they were the single most powerful military nation on the face of the earth. Unlike the American public, the German population knows a little bit about the effects of war from first hand experience. There hasn’t been any fighting on American soil since the Civil War ended in 1865. Since that time Germany (or its organizing state Prussia) has fought four major wars on the European continent: the Austro-Prussian War of 1866; the Franco-Prussian War (started by France and finished by Prussia) of 1870; World War I (assiduously opposed by Germany and lusted for by France and Imperial Russia); and World War II started by Nazi Germany. So, when Germans make a plea to give peace a chance, it is because they have had personal experience with the death, destruction and economic devastation which war brings.
Quite frankly, it’s a little bit surprising that the American public has apparently forgotten all the suffering caused by our military adventures in Vietnam -- but we are a nation with a short memory and an even shorter attention span, so perhaps all we can remember is the “video-game” experience of the first Gulf War. In a classic case of “bait and switch” disinformation, the Bush Administration has convinced us that our forthcoming war against Iraq is somehow connected with the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001. The rest of the world knows better, but for now it’s “Praise the Lord, pass the ammunition” and, oh yes, “the duct tape”.
My Country, Right or Wrong
This is not an easy column to write, even for an iconoclast. A couple of years ago, before the presidential election of November, 2000, a good friend of mine, who is a “yellow dog Democrat” told me that George W. Bush was not qualified to be President of the United States because he lacked the intellectual curiosity which was a prerequisite for the office. As proof of her assertion, she stated that prior to George W. Bush announcing his candidacy for the nation’s highest office he had traveled outside of the United States only twice: once to Mexico and once to Israel, when he was flown around the country by Ariel Sharon in his own helicopter (with whom he bonded -- with Ariel, not with the helicopter). She thought that this lack of curiosity, in a son of someone who had been President of the United States, Director of the CIA and Ambassador to China, evidenced a certain lack of intelligence or of an inquiring mind.
I disputed her conclusions. I stated that it was impossible for someone who had graduated from Yale, and who had obtained an MBA from the Harvard School of Business Administration, to be as much of an intellectual lightweight as she asserted. I made every excuse I could muster. I reminded her that he had been an excellent governor of Texas, where he had succeeded in bringing peoples of every political persuasion together. I reminded her that people of a conservative bent often were denigrated by the liberal media who lionized people of their own political persuasions (I even pointed out that George Bush’s grades at Yale had been vastly superior to Al Gore’s at Harvard and that Al Gore had come close to flunking out of law school and divinity school, while George Bush had graduated with an MBA from Harvard). But even as I made my excuses for the man, I realized that I was probably “whistling past the graveyard” -- that she had a valid point which I was too stubborn to concede.
Tonight, as I listened to the president of our country give Saddam Hussein and his two awful sons 48 hours to get out of Iraq or bring down the incredible military force of the United States upon their nation, I realized that my friend was right and I was wrong. Our president really has no sense of historical perspective, no framework upon which to evaluate his actions and our place in history. He really thinks that he is Winston Churchill, resisting appeasement and standing up to Adolph Hitler, in flouting the will of the international community and making a preventive, aggressive, strike against Iraq. He thinks that all of the rules, and all of the principles of civilization that have served humanity well for over two thousand years, changed on September 11, 2001, and all of the accumulated wisdom and nobility of the human spirit acquired before that date is antiquated, out of date, and should be thrown into the dust bin of history.
How sad. Because a few Muslim fanatics succeeded in flying airplanes into the World Trade Towers and the Pentagon, largely because of the incompetence of the bureaucracies of our CIA, FBI and INS, we are supposed to completely change our national character developed over more than two centuries and attack another much weaker nation, Iraq, which has never threatened the safety or security of the United States in any way.
In doing so, we will be throwing over the international framework which we ourselves developed and lobbied for after World War II. The United Nations, which we now ridicule and disparage, provided in its charter that one nation could attack another only in self defense or pursuant to the collective will of the international community as reflected in a resolution of the Security Council of the United Nations. We now claim that the United Nations is “irrelevant” because one nation, France, declared that it would veto our proposed resolution that we desired because it would give us political and historical cover in our soon-to-be-commenced aggressive war against Iraq. Actually, if France had not threatened to veto our proposed resolution, two other permanent members of the Security Council, Russia and China, would have. Had we had the courage to put our resolution to a vote in the Security Council, it would have failed by a vote of 11-4 with three of the five permanent members casting votes against (vetoing) it. It ill behooves the United States to complain about the “veto” power of the five permanent members of the United Nations’ Security Council -- after all, we structured it that way for our own protection.
The United States’ proposed resolution seeking cover for its aggressive war against Iraq failed, not because of the efforts of France, but because the peoples of virtually every nation on earth (other than the United States) were opposed to it. Even the peoples of the “Coalition of the Willing” supporting the United States, the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, Australia and Bulgaria, are opposed to the stance of their governments by approximately 80% of their respective populations. France’s diplomatic efforts against the resolution supported by the United States, the United Kingdom and Spain succeeded so spectacularly because there was no support for that resolution, or that war, in the world at large.
Historical analogies are almost always inexact and misleading. Changing circumstances and historical relationships almost always make them false. But if George W. Bush wants to place himself back in the time before the outbreak of World War II, he has got his cast of characters, and his role in history, all wrong. He is not Winston Churchill. He is the leader of the most powerful military nation on the face of the earth, proposing to attack a weak and powerless nation against the stated will and protestations of the international community. He is not Winston Churchill. He is Adolph Hitler, about to attack defenseless Poland.
In September of 1939 the German people, even those of intelligence and good will, supported their troops as they marched off to start World War II on the European continent, and so now must we. The misjudgments of political leaders are not the fault of our troops and they deserve our prayers and support. Let us pray, also, that the short-term effects of this war will not be as disastrous for the people of Iraq, and that the long-term consequences of this war will not be as disastrous for the people of the United States, as now seem apparent.