It Ain’t Gonna Happen, Frank by Steven Jonas, MD, MPH

by Steven Jonas, MD, MPH
Featured Writer
Dandelion Salad
crossposted on Buzzflash.com
July 2, 2010

With his usual magnificent rhetoric, Frank Rich, Op-Ed columnist extraordinaire of The New York Times, recently laid out a grand agenda for President Obama and his administration, in order to deal with the mass disaster left behind for our nation by eight years of Bush-Cheney.  Frank said, in part:

[T]he debate over how to raise the president’s emotional thermostat is not an entirely innocuous distraction. It allows Obama to duck the more serious doubts about his leadership that have resurfaced along with BP’s oil.  Unlike his unflappable temperament, his lingering failings should and could be corrected . . . Continue reading

The Real-Life ‘24’ of Summer 2008 By Frank Rich

Dandelion Salad

By Frank Rich
NYT
July 13, 2008

WE know what a criminal White House looks like from “The Final Days,” Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s classic account of Richard Nixon’s unraveling. The cauldron of lies, paranoia and illegal surveillance boiled over, until it was finally every man for himself as desperate courtiers scrambled to save their reputations and, in a few patriotic instances, their country.

…continued

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Terror, Torture, and the Dark Side + Bush officials could be charged with war crimes

Torture

The All-White Elephant in the Room + Hagee compares Roman Church to Hitler

Dandelion Salad

by Frank Rich
May 4, 2008

BORED by those endless replays of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright? If so, go directly to YouTube, search for “John Hagee Roman Church Hitler,” and be recharged by a fresh jolt of clerical jive. [DS: see video below.]

What you’ll find is a white televangelist, the Rev. John Hagee, lecturing in front of an enormous diorama. Wielding a pointer, he pokes at the image of a woman with Pamela Anderson-sized breasts, her hand raising a golden chalice. The woman is “the Great Whore,” Mr. Hagee explains, and she is drinking “the blood of the Jewish people.” That’s because the Great Whore represents “the Roman Church,” which, in his view, has thirsted for Jewish blood throughout history, from the Crusades to the Holocaust.

Mr. Hagee is not a fringe kook but the pastor of a Texas megachurch. On Feb. 27, he stood with John McCain and endorsed him over the religious conservatives’ favorite, Mike Huckabee, who was then still in the race.

Are we really to believe that neither Mr. McCain nor his camp knew anything then about Mr. Hagee’s views? This particular YouTube video — far from the only one — was posted on Jan. 1, nearly two months before the Hagee-McCain press conference. Mr. Hagee appears on multiple religious networks, including twice daily on the largest, Trinity Broadcasting, which reaches 75 million homes. Any 12-year-old with a laptop could have vetted this preacher in 30 seconds, tops.

…continued

***

Video has been removed.

John Hagee compares † Roman Church † to Hitler

mypoliticalmind

Added: January 01, 2008

Video has been removed.

see

Clips From Hagee’s Sermons – Scary Stuff (video)

Cannon Fodder For The Rapture – The Children of Palestine & Israel

Bill Moyers Journal: The GOP’s Nominee + Christians United For Israel (CUFI)

Jesus Christ, Revolution and Socialism (subtitled)

Bill Moyers Journal: Essay on Jeremiah Wright (video)

Max and the Marginalized: Teflon John (cartoon video!)

The Billary Road to Republican Victory By Frank Rich

Dandelion Salad

By Frank Rich
ICH
30/01/08
New York Times
27/01/08

In the wake of George W. Bush, even a miracle might not be enough for the Republicans to hold on to the White House in 2008. But what about two miracles? The new year’s twin resurrections of Bill Clinton and John McCain, should they not evaporate, at last give the G.O.P. a highly plausible route to victory.

Amazingly, neither party seems to fully recognize the contours of the road map. In the Democrats’ case, the full-throttle emergence of Billary, the joint Clinton candidacy, is measured mainly within the narrow confines of the short-term horse race: Do Bill Clinton’s red-faced eruptions and fact-challenged rants enhance or diminish his wife as a woman and a candidate? Absent from this debate is any sober recognition that a Hillary Clinton nomination, if it happens, will send the Democrats into the general election with a new and huge peril that may well dwarf the current wars over race, gender and who said what about Ronald Reagan.

What has gone unspoken is this: Up until this moment, Hillary has successfully deflected rough questions about Bill by saying, “I’m running on my own” or, as she snapped at Barack Obama in the last debate, “Well, I’m here; he’s not.” This sleight of hand became officially inoperative once her husband became a co-candidate, even to the point of taking over entirely when she vacated South Carolina last week. With “two for the price of one” back as the unabashed modus operandi, both Clintons are in play.

For the Republicans, that means not just a double dose of the one steroid, Clinton hatred, that might yet restore their party’s unity but also two fat targets. Mrs. Clinton repeatedly talks of how she’s been “vetted” and that “there are no surprises” left to be mined by her opponents. On the “Today” show Friday, she joked that the Republican attacks “are just so old.” So far. Now that Mr. Clinton is ubiquitous, not only is his past back on the table but his post-presidency must be vetted as well. To get a taste of what surprises may be in store, you need merely revisit the Bill Clinton questions that Hillary Clinton has avoided to date.

Asked by Tim Russert at a September debate whether the Clinton presidential library and foundation would disclose the identities of its donors during the campaign, Mrs. Clinton said it wasn’t up to her. “What’s your recommendation?” Mr. Russert countered. Mrs. Clinton replied: “Well, I don’t talk about my private conversations with my husband, but I’m sure he’d be happy to consider that.”

Not so happy, as it turns out. The names still have not been made public.

Just before the holidays, investigative reporters at both The Washington Post and The New York Times tried to find out why, with no help from the Clintons. The Post uncovered a plethora of foreign contributors, led by Saudi Arabia. The Times found an overlap between library benefactors and Hillary Clinton campaign donors, some of whom might have an agenda with a new Clinton administration. (Much as one early library supporter, Marc Rich’s ex-wife, Denise, had an agenda with the last one.) “The vast scale of these secret fund-raising operations presents enormous opportunities for abuse,” said Representative Henry Waxman, the California Democrat whose legislation to force disclosure passed overwhelmingly in the House but remains stalled in the Senate.

The Post and Times reporters couldn’t unlock all the secrets. The unanswered questions could keep them and their competitors busy until Nov. 4. Mr. Clinton’s increased centrality to the campaign will also give The Wall Street Journal a greater news peg to continue its reportorial forays into the unraveling financial partnership between Mr. Clinton and the swashbuckling billionaire Ron Burkle.

At “Little Rock’s Fort Knox,” as the Clinton library has been nicknamed by frustrated researchers, it’s not merely the heavy-hitting contributors who are under wraps. Even by the glacial processing standards of the National Archives, the Clintons’ White House papers have emerged slowly, in part because Bill Clinton exercised his right to insist that all communications between him and his wife be “considered for withholding” until 2012.

When Mrs. Clinton was asked by Mr. Russert at an October debate if she would lift that restriction, she again escaped by passing the buck to her husband: “Well, that’s not my decision to make.” Well, if her candidacy is to be as completely vetted as she guarantees, the time for the other half of Billary to make that decision is here.

The credibility of a major Clinton campaign plank, health care, depends on it. In that same debate, Mrs. Clinton told Mr. Russert that “all of the records, as far as I know, about what we did with health care” are “already available.” As Michael Isikoff of Newsweek reported weeks later, this is a bit off; he found that 3,022,030 health care documents were still held hostage. Whatever the pace of the processing, the gatekeeper charged with approving each document’s release is the longtime Clinton loyalist Bruce Lindsey.

People don’t change. Bill Clinton, having always lived on the edge, is back on the precipice. When he repeatedly complains that the press has given Mr. Obama a free ride and over-investigated the Clintons, he seems to be tempting the fates, given all the reporting still to be done on his post-presidential business. When he says, as he did on Monday, that “whatever I do should be totally transparent,” it’s almost as if he’s setting himself up for a fall. There’s little more transparency at “Little Rock’s Fort Knox” than there is at Giuliani Partners.

“The Republicans are not going to have any compunctions about asking anybody anything,” Mrs. Clinton lectured Mr. Obama. Maybe so, but Republicans are smart enough not to start asking until after she has secured the nomination.

Not all Republicans are smart enough, however, to recognize the value of John McCain should Mrs. Clinton emerge as the nominee. He’s a bazooka aimed at most every rationale she’s offered for her candidacy.

In a McCain vs. Billary race, the Democrats will sacrifice the most highly desired commodity by the entire electorate, change; the party will be mired in déjà 1990s all over again. Mrs. Clinton’s spiel about being “tested” by her “35 years of experience” won’t fly either. The moment she attempts it, Mr. McCain will run an ad about how he was being tested when those 35 years began, in 1973. It was that spring when he emerged from five-plus years of incarceration at the Hanoi Hilton while Billary was still bivouacked at Yale Law School. And can Mrs. Clinton presume to sell herself as best equipped to be commander in chief “on Day One” when opposing an actual commander and war hero? I don’t think so.

Foreign policy issue No. 1, withdrawal from Iraq, should be a slam-dunk for any Democrat. Even the audience at Thursday’s G.O.P. debate in Boca Raton cheered Ron Paul’s antiwar sentiments. But Mrs. Clinton’s case is undermined by her record. She voted for the war, just as Mr. McCain did, in 2002 and was still defending it in February 2005, when she announced from the Green Zone that much of Iraq was “functioning quite well. ” Only in November 2005 did she express the serious misgivings long pervasive in her own party. When Mr. McCain accuses her of now advocating “surrender” out of political expediency, her flip-flopping will back him up.

Billary can’t even run against the vast right-wing conspiracy if Mr. McCain is the opponent. Rush Limbaugh and Tom DeLay hate Mr. McCain as much as they hate the Clintons. And they hate him for the same reasons Mr. McCain wins over independents and occasional Democrats: his sporadic (and often mild) departures from conservative orthodoxy on immigration and campaign finance reform, torture, tax cuts, climate change and the godliness of Pat Robertson. Since Mr. McCain doesn’t kick reporters like dogs, as the Clintons do, he will no doubt continue to enjoy an advantage, however unfair, with the press pack on the Straight Talk Express.

Even so, Mr. McCain hasn’t yet won a clear majority of Republican voters in any G.O.P. contest. He’s depended on the kindness of independent voters. Tuesday’s Florida primary, which is open exclusively to Republicans, is his crucial test. If he fails, his party remains in chaos and Mitt Romney could still inherit the earth.

That would be a miracle for the Democrats, but they can hardly count on it. If Mr. Obama has not met an unexpected Waterloo in South Carolina — this column went to press before Saturday’s vote — the party needs him to stop whining about the Clintons’ attacks, regain his wit and return to playing offense. Unlike Mrs. Clinton, he would unambiguously represent change in a race with any Republican. If he vanquishes Billary, he’ll have an even stronger argument to take into battle against a warrior like Mr. McCain.

If Mr. Obama doesn’t fight, no one else will. Few national Democratic leaders have the courage to stand up to the Clintons. Even in defeat, Mr. Obama may at least help wake up a party slipping into denial. Any Democrat who seriously thinks that Bill will fade away if Hillary wins the nomination — let alone that the Clintons will escape being fully vetted — is a Democrat who, as the man said, believes in fairy tales.

Copyright New York Times


FAIR USE NOTICE: This blog may contain copyrighted material. Such material is made available for educational purposes, to advance understanding of human rights, democracy, scientific, moral, ethical, and social justice issues, etc. This constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in Title 17 U.S.C. section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use’, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

The Coup at Home By Frank Rich

Dandelion Salad

By Frank Rich
ICH
New York Times
November 11, 2007

AS Gen. Pervez Musharraf arrested judges, lawyers and human-rights activists in Pakistan last week, our Senate was busy demonstrating its own civic mettle. Chuck Schumer and Dianne Feinstein, liberal Democrats from America’s two most highly populated blue states, gave the thumbs up to Michael B. Mukasey, ensuring his confirmation as attorney general.

So what if America’s chief law enforcement official won’t say that waterboarding is illegal? A state of emergency is a state of emergency. You’re either willing to sacrifice principles to head off the next ticking bomb, or you’re with the terrorists. Constitutional corners were cut in Washington in impressive synchronicity with General Musharraf’s crackdown in Islamabad.

In the days since, the coup in Pakistan has been almost universally condemned as the climactic death knell for Bush foreign policy, the epitome of White House hypocrisy and incompetence. But that’s not exactly news. It’s been apparent for years that America was suicidal to go to war in Iraq, a country with no tie to 9/11 and no weapons of mass destruction, while showering billions of dollars on Pakistan, where terrorists and nuclear weapons proliferate under the protection of a con man who serves as a host to Osama bin Laden.

General Musharraf has always played our president for a fool and still does, with the vague promise of an election that he tossed the White House on Thursday. As if for sport, he has repeatedly mocked both Mr. Bush’s “freedom agenda” and his post-9/11 doctrine that any country harboring terrorists will be “regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.”

A memorable highlight of our special relationship with this prized “ally” came in September 2006, when the general turned up in Washington to kick off his book tour. Asked about the book by a reporter at a White House press conference, he said he was contractually “honor bound” to remain mum until it hit the stores — thus demonstrating that Simon & Schuster had more clout with him than the president. This didn’t stop Mr. Bush from praising General Musharraf for his recently negotiated “truce” to prevent further Taliban inroads in northwestern Pakistan. When the Pakistani strongman “looks me in the eye” and says “there won’t be a Taliban and won’t be Al Qaeda,” the president said, “I believe him.”

Sooner than you could say “Putin,” The Daily Telegraph of London reported that Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader, had signed off on this “truce.” Since then, the Pakistan frontier has become a more thriving terrorist haven than ever.

Now The Los Angeles Times reports that much of America’s $10 billion-plus in aid to Pakistan has gone to buy conventional weaponry more suitable for striking India than capturing terrorists. To rub it in last week, General Musharraf released 25 pro-Taliban fighters in a prisoner exchange with a tribal commander the day after he suspended the constitution.

But there’s another moral to draw from the Musharraf story, and it has to do with domestic policy, not foreign. The Pakistan mess, as The New York Times editorial page aptly named it, is not just another blot on our image abroad and another instance of our mismanagement of the war on Al Qaeda and the Taliban. It also casts a harsh light on the mess we have at home in America, a stain that will not be so easily eradicated.

In the six years of compromising our principles since 9/11, our democracy has so steadily been defined down that it now can resemble the supposedly aspiring democracies we’ve propped up in places like Islamabad. Time has taken its toll. We’ve become inured to democracy-lite. That’s why a Mukasey can be elevated to power with bipartisan support and we barely shrug.

This is a signal difference from the Vietnam era, and not necessarily for the better. During that unpopular war, disaffected Americans took to the streets and sometimes broke laws in an angry assault on American governmental institutions. The Bush years have brought an even more effective assault on those institutions from within. While the public has not erupted in riots, the executive branch has subverted the rule of law in often secretive increments. The results amount to a quiet coup, ultimately more insidious than a blatant putsch like General Musharraf’s.

More Machiavellian still, Mr. Bush has constantly told the world he’s championing democracy even as he strangles it. Mr. Bush repeated the word “freedom” 27 times in roughly 20 minutes at his 2005 inauguration, and even presided over a “Celebration of Freedom” concert on the Ellipse hosted by Ryan Seacrest. It was an Orwellian exercise in branding, nothing more. The sole point was to give cover to our habitual practice of cozying up to despots (especially those who control the oil spigots) and to our own government’s embrace of warrantless wiretapping and torture, among other policies that invert our values.

Even if Mr. Bush had the guts to condemn General Musharraf, there is no longer any moral high ground left for him to stand on. Quite the contrary. Rather than set a democratic example, our president has instead served as a model of unconstitutional behavior, eagerly emulated by his Pakistani acolyte.

Take the Musharraf assault on human-rights lawyers. Our president would not be so unsubtle as to jail them en masse. But earlier this year a senior Pentagon official, since departed, threatened America’s major white-shoe law firms by implying that corporate clients should fire any firm whose partners volunteer to defend detainees in Guantánamo and elsewhere. For its part, Alberto Gonzales’s Justice Department did not round up independent-minded United States attorneys and toss them in prison. It merely purged them without cause to serve Karl Rove’s political agenda.

Tipping his hat in appreciation of Mr. Bush’s example, General Musharraf justified his dismantling of Pakistan’s Supreme Court with language mimicking the president’s diatribes against activist judges. The Pakistani leader further echoed Mr. Bush by expressing a kinship with Abraham Lincoln, citing Lincoln’s Civil War suspension of a prisoner’s fundamental legal right to a hearing in court, habeas corpus, as a precedent for his own excesses. (That’s like praising F.D.R. for setting up internment camps.) Actually, the Bush administration has outdone both Lincoln and Musharraf on this score: Last January, Mr. Gonzales testified before Congress that “there is no express grant of habeas in the Constitution.”

To believe that this corruption will simply evaporate when the Bush presidency is done is to underestimate the permanent erosion inflicted over the past six years. What was once shocking and unacceptable in America has now been internalized as the new normal.

This is most apparent in the Republican presidential race, where most of the candidates seem to be running for dictator and make no apologies for it. They’re falling over each other to expand Gitmo, see who can promise the most torture and abridge the largest number of constitutional rights. The front-runner, Rudy Giuliani, boasts a proven record in extralegal executive power grabs, Musharraf-style: After 9/11 he tried to mount a coup, floating the idea that he stay on as mayor in defiance of New York’s term-limits law.

What makes the Democrats’ Mukasey cave-in so depressing is that it shows how far even exemplary sticklers for the law like Senators Feinstein and Schumer have lowered democracy’s bar. When they argued that Mr. Mukasey should be confirmed because he’s not as horrifying as Mr. Gonzales or as the acting attorney general who might get the job otherwise, they sounded whipped. After all these years of Bush-Cheney torture, they’ll say things they know are false just to move on.

In a Times OpEd article justifying his reluctant vote to confirm a man Dick Cheney promised would make “an outstanding attorney general,” Mr. Schumer observed that waterboarding is already “illegal under current laws and conventions.” But then he vowed to support a new bill “explicitly” making waterboarding illegal because Mr. Mukasey pledged to enforce it. Whatever. Even if Congress were to pass such legislation, Mr. Bush would veto it, and even if the veto were by some miracle overturned, Mr. Bush would void the law with a “signing statement.” That’s what he effectively did in 2005 when he signed a bill that its authors thought outlawed the torture of detainees.

That Mr. Schumer is willing to employ blatant Catch-22 illogic to pretend that Mr. Mukasey’s pledge on waterboarding has any force shows what pathetic crumbs the Democrats will settle for after all these years of being beaten down. The judges and lawyers challenging General Musharraf have more fight left in them than this.

Last weekend a new Washington Post-ABC News poll found that the Democratic-controlled Congress and Mr. Bush are both roundly despised throughout the land, and that only 24 percent of Americans believe their country is on the right track. That’s almost as low as the United States’ rock-bottom approval ratings in the latest Pew surveys of Pakistan (15 percent) and Turkey (9 percent).

Wrong track is a euphemism. We are a people in clinical depression. Americans know that the ideals that once set our nation apart from the world have been vandalized, and no matter which party they belong to, they do not see a restoration anytime soon.

FAIR USE NOTICE: This blog may contain copyrighted material. Such material is made available for educational purposes, to advance understanding of human rights, democracy, scientific, moral, ethical, and social justice issues, etc. This constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in Title 17 U.S.C. section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use’, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

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Who’ll be first to blink? By Eric Margolis

Our Man in Islamabad By Stephen Lendman

U.S. Aid to Musharraf is Largely Untraceable Cash Transfers By Spencer Ackerman

Antiwar Radio: Scott Horton Interviews Eric Margolis (+ video)

Noun + Verb + 9/11 + Iran = Democrats’ Defeat? By Frank Rich

Dandelion Salad

By Frank Rich
Truthout.org
The New York Times
Sunday 04 November 2007

When President Bush started making noises about World War III, he only confirmed what has been a Democratic article of faith all year: Between now and Election Day he and Dick Cheney, cheered on by the mob of neocon dead-enders, are going to bomb Iran.

But what happens if President Bush does not bomb Iran? That is good news for the world, but potentially terrible news for the Democrats. If we do go to war in Iran, the election will indeed be a referendum on the results, which the Republican Party will own no matter whom it nominates for president. But if we don’t, the Democratic standard-bearer will have to take a clear stand on the defining issue of the race. As we saw once again at Tuesday night’s debate, the front-runner, Hillary Clinton, does not have one.

The reason so many Democrats believe war with Iran is inevitable, of course, is that the administration is so flagrantly rerunning the sales campaign that gave us Iraq. The same old scare tactic – a Middle East Hitler plotting a nuclear holocaust – has been recycled with a fresh arsenal of hyped, loosey-goosey intelligence and outright falsehoods that are sometimes regurgitated without corroboration by the press.

Mr. Bush has gone so far as to accuse Iran of shipping arms to its Sunni antagonists in the Taliban, a stretch Newsweek finally slapped down last week. Back in the reality-based community, it is Mr. Bush who has most conspicuously enabled the Taliban’s resurgence by dropping the ball as it regrouped in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Administration policy also opened the door to Iran’s lethal involvement in Iraq. The Iraqi “unity government” that our troops are dying to prop up has more allies in its Shiite counterpart in Tehran than it does in Washington.

Yet 2002 history may not literally repeat itself. Mr. Cheney doesn’t necessarily rule in the post-Rumsfeld second Bush term. There are saner military minds afoot now: the defense secretary Robert Gates, the Joint Chiefs chairman Mike Mullen, the Central Command chief William Fallon. They know that a clean, surgical military strike at Iran could precipitate even more blowback than our “cakewalk” in Iraq. The Economist tallied up the risks of a potential Shock and Awe II this summer: “Iran could fire hundreds of missiles at Israel, attack American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, organize terrorist attacks in the West or choke off tanker traffic through the Strait of Hormuz, the world’s oil windpipe.”

Then there’s the really bad news. Much as Iraq distracted America from the war against Al Qaeda, so a strike on Iran could ignite Pakistan, Al Qaeda’s thriving base and the actual central front of the war on terror. As Joe Biden said Tuesday night, if we attack Iran to stop it from obtaining a few kilograms of highly enriched uranium, we risk facilitating the fall of the teetering Musharraf government and the unleashing of Pakistan’s already good-to-go nuclear arsenal on Israel and India.

A full-scale regional war, chaos in the oil market, an overstretched American military pushed past the brink – all to take down a little thug like Ahmadinejad (who isn’t even Iran’s primary leader) and a state, however truculent, whose defense budget is less than 1 percent of America’s? Call me a Pollyanna, but I don’t think even the Bush administration can be this crazy.

Yet there is nonetheless a method to all the mad threats of war coming out of the White House. While the saber- rattling is reckless as foreign policy, it’s a proven winner as election-year Republican campaign strategy. The real point may be less to intimidate Iranians than to frighten Americans. Fear, the only remaining card this administration still knows how to play, may once more give a seemingly spent G.O.P. a crack at the White House in 2008.

Whatever happens in or to Iran, the American public will be carpet-bombed by apocalyptic propaganda for the 12 months to come. Mr. Bush has nothing to lose by once again using the specter of war to pillory the Democrats as soft on national security. The question for the Democrats is whether they’ll walk once more into this trap.

You’d think the same tired tactics wouldn’t work again after Iraq, a debacle now soundly rejected by a lopsided majority of voters. But even a lame-duck president can effectively wield the power of the bully pulpit. From Mr. Bush’s surge speech in January to Gen. David Petraeus’s Congressional testimony in September, the pivot toward Iran has been relentless.

Reinforcements are arriving daily. Dan Senor, the former flack for L. Paul Bremer in Baghdad, fronted a recent Fox News special, “Iran: The Ticking Bomb,” a perfect accompaniment to the Rudy Giuliani campaign that is ubiquitous on that Murdoch channel. The former Bush flack Ari Fleischer is a founder of Freedom’s Watch, a neocon fat-cat fund that has been spending $15 million for ads supporting the surge and is poised to up the ante for Iran war fever.

There are signs that the steady invocation of new mushroom clouds is already having an impact as it did in 2002 and 2003. A Zogby poll last month found that a majority of Americans (52 percent) now supports a pre-emptive strike on Iran to prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons.

In 2002 Senators Clinton, Biden, John Kerry, John Edwards and Chris Dodd all looked over their shoulders at such polls. They and the party’s Congressional leaders, Tom Daschle and Dick Gephardt, voted for the Iraq war resolution out of the cynical calculation that it would inoculate them against charges of wussiness. Sure, they had their caveats at the time. They talked about wanting “to give diplomacy the best possible opportunity” (as Mr. Gephardt put it then). In her Oct. 10, 2002, speech of support for the Iraq resolution on the Senate floor, Mrs. Clinton hedged by saying, “A vote for it is not a vote to rush to war.”

We know how smart this strategic positioning turned out to be. Weeks later the Democrats lost the Senate.

This time around, with the exception of Mrs. Clinton, the Democratic candidates seem to be saying what they really believe rather than trying to play both sides against the middle. Only Mrs. Clinton voted for this fall’s nonbinding Kyl-Lieberman Senate resolution, designed by its hawk authors to validate Mr. Bush’s Iran policy. The House isn’t even going to bring up this malevolent bill because, as Nancy Pelosi has said, there has “never been a declaration by a Congress before in our history” that “declared a piece of a country’s army to be a terrorist organization.”

In 2002, the Iraq war resolution passed by 77 to 23. In 2007, Kyl-Lieberman passed by 76 to 22. No sooner did Mrs. Clinton cast her vote than she started taking heat in Iowa. Her response was to blur her stand. She abruptly signed on as the sole co- sponsor of a six-month-old (and languishing) bill introduced by the Virginia Democrat Jim Webb forbidding money for military operations in Iran without Congressional approval.

In Tuesday’s debate Mrs. Clinton tried to play down her vote for Kyl-Lieberman again by incessantly repeating her belief in “vigorous diplomacy” as well as the same sound bite she used after her Iraq vote five years ago. “I am not in favor of this rush for war,” she said, “but I’m also not in favor of doing nothing.”

Much like her now notorious effort to fudge her stand on Eliot Spitzer’s driver’s license program for illegal immigrants, this is a profile in vacillation. And this time Mrs. Clinton’s straddling stood out as it didn’t in 2002. That’s not because she was the only woman on stage but because she is the only Democratic candidate who has not said a firm no to Bush policy.

That leaves her in a no man’s – or woman’s – land. If Mr. Bush actually does make a strike against Iran, Mrs. Clinton will be the only leading Democrat to have played a cameo role in enabling it. If he doesn’t, she can no longer be arguing in the campaign crunch of fall 2008 that she is against rushing to war, because it would no longer be a rush. Her hand would be forced.

Mr. Biden got a well-deserved laugh Tuesday night when he said there are only three things in a Giuliani sentence: “a noun and a verb and 9/11.” But a year from now, after the public has been worn down by so many months more of effective White House propaganda, “America’s mayor” (or any of his similarly bellicose Republican rivals) will be offering voters the clearest possible choice, however perilous, about America’s future in the world.

Potentially facing that Republican may be a Democrat who is not in favor of rushing to war in Iran but, now as in 2002, may well be in favor of walking to war. In any event, she will not have been a leader in making the strenuous case for an alternative policy that defuses rather than escalates tensions with Tehran.

Noun + verb + 9/11 – also Mr. Bush’s strategy in 2004, lest we forget – would once again square off against a Democratic opponent who was for a pre-emptive war before being against it.

FAIR USE NOTICE: This blog may contain copyrighted material. Such material is made available for educational purposes, to advance understanding of human rights, democracy, scientific, moral, ethical, and social justice issues, etc. This constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in Title 17 U.S.C. section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use’, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

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Dems Philly Debate (videos; links)

Kucinich: Drexel U Debate + Post-debate Interview (videos)

Suicide Is Not Painless by Frank Rich

Dandelion Salad

by Frank Rich
Submitted by davidswanson on Sun, 2007-10-21
After Downing Street
New York Times

It was one of those stories lost in the newspaper’s inside pages. Last week a man you’ve never heard of — Charles D. Riechers, 47, the second-highest-ranking procurement officer in the United States Air Force — killed himself by running his car’s engine in his suburban Virginia garage.

Mr. Riechers’s suicide occurred just two weeks after his appearance in a front-page exposé in The Washington Post. The Post reported that the Air Force had asked a defense contractor, Commonwealth Research Institute, to give him a job with no known duties while he waited for official clearance for his new Pentagon assignment. Mr. Riechers, a decorated Air Force officer earlier in his career, told The Post: “I really didn’t do anything for C.R.I. I got a paycheck from them.” The question, of course, was whether the contractor might expect favors in return once he arrived at the Pentagon last January.

Set against the epic corruption that has defined the war in Iraq, Mr. Riechers’s tragic tale is but a passing anecdote, his infraction at most a misdemeanor. The $26,788 he received for two months in a non-job doesn’t rise even to a rounding error in the Iraq-Afghanistan money pit. So far some $6 billion worth of contracts are being investigated for waste and fraud, however slowly, by the Pentagon and the Justice Department. That doesn’t include the unaccounted-for piles of cash, some $9 billion in Iraqi funds, that vanished during L. Paul Bremer’s short but disastrous reign in the Green Zone. Yet Mr. Riechers, not the first suicide connected to the war’s corruption scandals, is a window into the culture of the whole debacle.

Through his story you can see how America has routinely betrayed the very values of democratic governance that it hoped to export to Iraq. Look deeper and you can see how the wholesale corruption of government contracting sabotaged the crucial mission that might have enabled us to secure the country: the rebuilding of the Iraqi infrastructure, from electricity to hospitals. You can also see just why the heretofore press-shy Erik Prince, the owner of Blackwater USA, staged a rapid-fire media blitz a week ago, sitting down with Charlie Rose, Lara Logan, Lisa Myers and Wolf Blitzer.

Mr. Prince wasn’t trying to save his employees from legal culpability in the deaths of 17 innocent Iraqis mowed down on Sept. 16 in Baghdad. He knows that the legal loopholes granted contractors by Mr. Bremer back in 2004 amount to a get-out-of-jail-free card. He knows that Americans will forget about another 17 Iraqi casualties as soon as Blackwater gets some wrist-slapping punishment.

Instead, Mr. Prince is moving on, salivating over the next payday. As he told The Wall Street Journal last week, Blackwater no longer cares much about its security business; it is expanding into a “full spectrum” defense contractor offering a “one-stop shop” for everything from remotely piloted blimps to armored trucks. The point of his P.R. offensive was to smooth his quest for more billions of Pentagon loot.

Which brings us back to Mr. Riechers. As it happens, he was only about three degrees of separation from Blackwater. His Pentagon job, managing a $30 billion Air Force procurement budget, had been previously held by an officer named Darleen Druyun, who in 2004 was sentenced to nine months in prison for securing jobs for herself, her daughter and her son-in-law at Boeing while favoring the company with billions of dollars of contracts. Ms. Druyun’s Pentagon post remained vacant until Mr. Riechers was appointed. He was brought in to clean up the corruption.

Yet the full story of the corruption during Ms. Druyun’s tenure is even now still unknown. The Bush-appointed Pentagon inspector general delivered a report to Congress full of holes in 2005. Specifically, black holes: dozens of the report’s passages were redacted, as were the names of many White House officials in the report’s e-mail evidence on the Boeing machinations.

The inspector general also assured Congress that neither Donald Rumsfeld nor Paul Wolfowitz knew anything about the crimes. Senators on the Armed Services Committee were incredulous. John Warner, the Virginia Republican, could not believe that the Pentagon’s top two officials had no information about “the most significant defense procurement mismanagement in contemporary history.”

But the inspector general who vouched for their ignorance, Joseph Schmitz, was already heading for the exit when he delivered his redacted report. His new job would be as the chief operating officer of the Prince Group, Blackwater’s parent company.

Much has been made of Erik Prince and his family’s six-digit contributions to Republican candidates and lifelong connections to religious-right power brokers like James Dobson and Gary Bauer. Mr. Prince maintains that these contacts had nothing to do with Blackwater’s growth from tiny start-up to billion-dollar federal contractor in the Bush years. But far more revealing, though far less noticed, is the pedigree of the Washington players on his payroll.

Blackwater’s lobbyist and sometime spokesman, for instance, is Paul Behrends, who first represented the company as a partner in the now-defunct Alexander Strategy Group. That firm, founded by a former Tom DeLay chief of staff, proved ground zero in the Jack Abramoff scandals. Alexander may be no more, but since then, in addition to Blackwater, Mr. Behrends’s clients have includeda company called the First Kuwaiti General Trading and Contracting Company, the builder of the new American embassy in Iraq.

That Vatican-sized complex is the largest American embassy in the world. Now running some $144 million over its $592 million budget and months behind schedule, the project is notorious for its deficient, unsafe construction, some of which has come under criminal investigation. First Kuwaiti has also been accused of engaging in human trafficking to supply the labor force. But the current Bush-appointed State Department inspector general — guess what — has found no evidence of any wrongdoing.

Both that inspector general, Howard Krongard, and First Kuwaiti are now in the cross hairs of Henry Waxman’s House oversight committee. Some of Mr. Krongard’s deputies have accused him of repeatedly halting or impeding investigations in a variety of fraud cases.

Representative Waxman is also trying to overcome State Department stonewalling to investigate corruption in the Iraqi government. In perverse mimicry of his American patrons, Nuri al-Maliki’s office has repeatedly tried to limit the scope of inquiries conducted by Iraq’s own Commission on Public Integrity. The judge in charge of that commission, Radhi Hamza al-Radhi, has now sought asylum in America. Thirty-one of his staff members and a dozen of their relatives have been assassinated, sometimes after being tortured.

The Waxman investigations notwithstanding, the culture of corruption, Iraq war division, remains firmly entrenched. Though some American bribe-takers have been caught — including Gloria Davis, an Army major who committed suicide in Kuwait after admitting her crimes last year — we are asked to believe they are isolated incidents. The higher reaches of the chain of command have been spared, much as they were at Abu Ghraib.

Even a turnover in administrations doesn’t guarantee reform. J. Cofer Black, the longtime C.I.A. hand who is now Blackwater’s vice chairman, has signed on as a Mitt Romney adviser. Hillary Clinton’s Karl Rove, Mark Penn, doubles as the chief executive of Burson-Marsteller, the P.R. giant whose subsidiary helped prepare Mr. Prince for his Congressional testimony. Mr. Penn said the Blackwater association was “temporary.”

War profiteering happens even in “good” wars. Arthur Miller made his name in 1947 with “All My Sons,” which ends with the suicide of a corrupt World War II contractor whose defective airplane parts cost 21 pilots their lives. But in the case of Iraq, this corruption has been at the center of the entire mission, from war-waging to nation-building. As the investigative reporters Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele observed in the October Vanity Fair, America has to date “spent twice as much in inflation-adjusted dollars to rebuild Iraq as it did to rebuild Japan — an industrialized country three times Iraq’s size, two of whose cities had been incinerated by atomic bombs.” (And still Iraq lacks reliable electric power.)

The cost cannot be measured only in lost opportunities, lives and money. There will be a long hangover of shame. Its essence was summed up by Col. Ted Westhusing, an Army scholar of military ethics who was an innocent witness to corruption, not a participant, when he died at age 44 of a gunshot wound to the head while working for Gen. David Petraeus training Iraqi security forces in Baghdad in 2005. He was at the time the highest-ranking officer to die in Iraq.

Colonel Westhusing’s death was ruled a suicide, though some believe he was murdered by contractors fearing a whistle-blower, according to T. Christian Miller, the Los Angeles Times reporter who documents the case in his book “Blood Money.” Either way, the angry four-page letter the officer left behind for General Petraeus and his other commander, Gen. Joseph Fil, is as much an epitaph for America’s engagement in Iraq as a suicide note.

“I cannot support a msn that leads to corruption, human rights abuse and liars,” Colonel Westhusing wrote, abbreviating the word mission. “I am sullied.”
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The ‘Good Germans’ Among Us By Frank Rich

Dandelion Salad

By Frank Rich
ICH
10/14/07 “New York Times”

“BUSH lies” doesn’t cut it anymore. It’s time to confront the darker reality that we are lying to ourselves.

Ten days ago The Times unearthed yet another round of secret Department of Justice memos countenancing torture. President Bush gave his standard response: “This government does not torture people.” Of course, it all depends on what the meaning of “torture” is. The whole point of these memos is to repeatedly recalibrate the definition so Mr. Bush can keep pleading innocent.

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He Got Out While the Getting Was Good By Frank Rich


Dandelion Salad


By Frank Rich
Truthout
The New York Times
Go to Original

Sunday 19 August 2007
    Back in those heady days of late summer 2002, Andrew Card, then the president’s chief of staff, told The New York Times why the much-anticipated push for war in Iraq hadn’t yet arrived. “You don’t introduce new products in August,” he said, sounding like the mouthpiece for the Big Three automakers he once was. Sure enough, with an efficiency Detroit can only envy, the manufactured aluminum tubes and mushroom clouds rolled off the White House assembly line after Labor Day like clockwork.

    Five summers later, we have the flip side of the Card corollary: You do recall defective products in August, whether you’re Mattel or the Bush administration. Karl Rove’s departure was both abrupt and fast. The ritualistic “for the sake of my family” rationale convinced no one, and the decision to leak the news in a friendly print interview (on The Wall Street Journal’s op-ed page) rather than announce it in a White House spotlight came off as furtive. Inquiring Rove haters wanted to know: Was he one step ahead of yet another major new scandal? Was a Congressional investigation at last about to draw blood?

    Perhaps, but the Republican reaction to Mr. Rove’s departure is more revealing than the cries from his longtime critics. No G.O.P. presidential candidates paid tribute to Mr. Rove, and, except in the die-hard Bush bastions of Murdochland present (The Weekly Standard, Fox News) and future (The Journal), the conservative commentariat was often surprisingly harsh. It is this condemnation of Rove from his own ideological camp – not the Democrats’ familiar litany about his corruption, polarizing partisanship, dirty tricks, etc. – that the White House and Mr. Rove wanted to bury in the August dog days.

    What the Rove critics on the right recognize is that it may be even more difficult for their political party to dig out of his wreckage than it will be for America. Their angry bill of grievances only sporadically overlaps that of the Democrats. One popular conservative blogger, Michelle Malkin, mocked Mr. Rove and his interviewer, Paul Gigot, for ignoring “the Harriet Miers debacle, the botching of the Dubai ports battle, or the undeniable stumbles in post-Iraq invasion policies,” not to mention “the spectacular disaster of the illegal alien shamnesty.” Ms. Malkin, an Asian-American in her 30s, comes from a far different place than the Gigot-Fred Barnes-William Kristol axis of Bush-era ideological lock step.

    Those Bush dead-enders are in a serious state of denial. Just how much so could be found in the Journal interview when Mr. Rove extolled his party’s health by arguing, without contradiction from Mr. Gigot, that young people are more “pro-life” and “free-market” than their elders. Maybe he was talking about 12-year-olds. Back in the real world of potential voters, the latest New York Times-CBS News poll of Americans aged 17 to 29 found that their views on abortion were almost identical to the rest of the country’s. (Only 24 percent want abortion outlawed.)

    That poll also found that the percentage of young people who identify as Republicans, whether free-marketers or not, is down to 25, from a high of 37 at the end of the Reagan era. Tony Fabrizio, a Republican pollster, found that self-identified G.O.P. voters are trending older rapidly, with the percentage over age 55 jumping from 28 to 41 percent in a decade.

    Every poll and demographic accounting finds the Republican Party on the losing side of history, both politically and culturally. Not even a miraculous armistice in Iraq or vintage Democratic incompetence may be able to ride to the rescue. A survey conducted by The Journal itself (with NBC News) in June reported G.O.P. approval numbers lower than any in that poll’s two decades of existence. Such is the political legacy for a party to which Mr. Rove sold Mr. Bush as “a new kind of Republican,” an exemplar of “compassionate conservatism” and the avatar of a permanent Republican majority.

    That sales pitch, as we long ago learned, was all about packaging, not substance. The hope was that No Child Left Behind and a 2000 G.O.P. convention stacked with break dancers and gospel singers would peel away some independent and black voters from the Democrats. The promise of immigration reform would spread Bush’s popularity among Hispanics. Another potential add-on to the Republican base was Muslims, a growing constituency that Mr. Rove’s pal Grover Norquist plotted to herd into the coalition.

    The rest is history. Any prospect of a rapprochement between the G.O.P. and African-Americans died in the New Orleans Superdome. The tardy, botched immigration initiative unleashed a wave of xenophobia against Hispanics, the fastest-growing voting bloc in the country. The Muslim outreach project disappeared into the memory hole after 9/11.

    Forced to pick a single symbolic episode to encapsulate the collapse of Rovian Republicanism, however, I would not choose any of those national watersheds, or even the implosion of the Iraq war, but the George Allen “macaca” moment. Its first anniversary fell, fittingly enough, on the same day last weekend that Mitt Romney bought his victory at the desultory, poorly attended G.O.P. straw poll in Iowa.

    A century seems to have passed since Mr. Allen, the Virginia Republican running for re-election to the Senate, was anointed by Washington insiders as the inevitable heir to the Bush-Rove mantle: a former governor whose jus’-folks personality, the Bushian camouflage for hard-edged conservatism, would propel him to the White House. Mr. Allen’s senatorial campaign and presidential future melted down overnight after he insulted a Jim Webb campaign worker, the 20-year-old son of Indian immigrants, not just by calling him a monkey but by sarcastically welcoming him “to America” and “the real world of Virginia.”

    This incident had resonance well beyond Virginia and Mr. Allen for several reasons. First, it crystallized the monochromatic whiteness at the dark heart of Rovian Republicanism. For all the minstrel antics at the 2000 convention, the record speaks for itself: there is not a single black Republican serving in either the House or Senate, and little representation of other minorities, either. Far from looking like America, the G.O.P. caucus, like the party’s presidential field, could pass for a Rotary Club, circa 1954. Meanwhile, a new census analysis released this month finds that nonwhites now make up a majority in nearly a third of the nation’s most populous counties, with Houston overtaking Los Angeles in black population and metropolitan Chicago surpassing Honolulu in Asian residents. Even small towns and rural America are exploding in Hispanic growth.

    Second, the Allen slur was a compact distillation of the brute nastiness of the Bush-Rove years, all that ostentatious “compassion” notwithstanding. Mr. Bush and Mr. Rove are not xenophobes, but the record will show that their White House spoke up too late and said too little when some of its political allies descended into Mexican-bashing during the immigration brawl. Mr. Bush and Mr. Rove winked at anti-immigrant bigotry, much as they did at the homophobia they inflamed with their incessant election-year demagoguery about same-sex marriage.

    Finally, the “macaca” incident was a media touchstone. It became a national phenomenon when the video landed on YouTube, the rollicking Web site whose reach now threatens mainstream news outlets. A year later, leading Republicans are still clueless and panicked about this new medium, which is why they, unlike their Democratic counterparts, pulled out of even a tightly controlled CNN-YouTube debate. It took smart young conservative bloggers like a former Republican National Committee operative, Patrick Ruffini, to shame them into reinstating the debate for November, lest the entire G.O.P. field look as pathetically out of touch as it is.

    The rise of YouTube certifies the passing of Mr. Rove’s era, a cultural changing of the guard in the digital age. Mr. Rove made his name in direct-mail fund-raising and with fierce top-down message management. As the Internet erodes snail mail, so it upends direct mail. As YouTube threatens a politician’s ability to rigidly control a message, so it threatens the Rove ethos that led Mr. Bush to campaign at “town hall” meetings attended only by hand-picked supporters.

    It’s no coincidence that this new culture is also threatening the Beltway journalistic establishment that celebrated Mr. Rove’s invincibility well past its expiration date (much as it did James Carville’s before him), extolling what Joshua Green, in his superb new Rove article in The Atlantic, calls the Cult of the Consultant. The YouTube video of Mr. Rove impersonating a rapper at one of those black-tie correspondents’ dinners makes the Washington press corps look even more antediluvian than he is.

    Last weekend’s Iowa straw poll was a more somber but equally anachronistic spectacle. Again, it’s a young conservative commentator, Ryan Sager, writing in The New York Sun, who put it best: “The face of the Republican Party in Iowa is the face of a losing party, full of hatred toward immigrants, lust for government subsidies, and the demand that any Republican seeking the office of the presidency acknowledge that he’s little more than Jesus Christ’s running mate.”

    That face, at once contemptuous and greedy and self-righteous, is Karl Rove’s face. Unless someone in his party rolls out a revolutionary new product, it is indelible enough to serve as the Republican brand for a generation.


FAIR USE NOTICE: This blog may contain copyrighted material. Such material is made available for educational purposes, to advance understanding of human rights, democracy, scientific, moral, ethical, and social justice issues, etc. This constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in Title 17 U.S.C. section 107 of the US Copyright Law. This material is distributed without profit.

Shuffling Off to Crawford, 2007 Edition By Frank Rich

Dandelion Salad

By Frank Rich
Truothout
The New York Times
Go to Original
Sunday 12 August 2007

The cases of Pat Tillman and Jessica Lynch were ugly enough. So surely someone in the White House might have the good taste to draw the line at exploiting the murdered Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. But nothing is out of bounds for a government that puts the darkest arts of politics and public relations above even the exigencies of war.

As Jane Mayer told the story in last week’s New Yorker, Mariane Pearl was called by Alberto Gonzales with some good news in March: the Justice Department was releasing a transcript in which the long-incarcerated Qaeda thug Khalid Sheikh Mohammed confessed to the beheading of her husband. But there was something off about Mr. Gonzales’s news. It was almost four years old.

Condoleezza Rice had called Ms. Pearl to tell her in confidence about the very same confession back in 2003; it was also reported that year in The Journal and elsewhere. What’s more, the confession was suspect; another terrorist had been convicted in the Pearl case in Pakistan in 2002. There is no known corroborating evidence that Mohammed, the 9/11 ringleader who has taken credit for many horrific crimes while in American custody, was responsible for this particular murder. None of his claims, particularly those possibly coerced by torture, can be taken as gospel solely on our truth-challenged attorney general’s say-so.

Ms. Pearl recognized a publicity ploy when she saw it. And this one wasn’t subtle. Mr. Gonzales released the Mohammed transcript just as the latest Justice Department scandal was catching fire, with newly disclosed e-mail exchanges revealing the extent of White House collaboration in the United States attorney firings. Had the attorney general succeeded in enlisting Daniel Pearl’s widow as a player in his stunt, it might have diverted attention from a fracas then engulfing President Bush on his Latin American tour.

Though he failed this time, Mr. Gonzales’s P.R. manipulation of the war on terror hasn’t always been so fruitless. To upstage increasingly contentious Congressional restlessness about Iraq in 2006, he put on a widely viewed show to announce an alleged plot by men in Miami to blow up the Sears Tower in Chicago and conduct a “full ground war.” He said at the time the men “swore allegiance to Al Qaeda” but, funnily enough, last week this case was conspicuously missing from a long new White House “fact sheet” listing all the terrorist plots it had foiled.

The Gonzales antics are, of course, in the tradition of an administration with a genius for stirring up terror nightmares at politically opportune times, like just before the Democratic convention in 2004. The Sears Tower scenario came right out of the playbook of his predecessor, John Ashcroft. In 2002, Mr. Ashcroft waited a full month to announce the Chicago arrest of the “dirty bomber” Jose Padilla – suddenly commandeering TV cameras in the middle of a trip to Moscow so that this tardy “news” could drown out the damning pre-9/11 revelations from the F.B.I. whistleblower Coleen Rowley. Since then, the dirty bomb in the Padilla case has evaporated much like Mr. Gonzales’s Sears Tower extravaganza.

Now that the administration is winding down and the Qaeda threat is at its scariest since 2001, one might hope that such stunts would cease. Indeed, two of the White House’s most accomplished artificial-reality Imagineers both left their jobs last month: Scott Sforza, the former ABC News producer who polished up the “Mission Accomplished” spectacle, and Peter Feaver, the academic specialist in wartime public opinion who helped conceive the 35-page National Security Council document that Mr. Bush unveiled as his Iraq “Plan for Victory” in November 2005.

Mr. Feaver’s document used the word victory six times in its table of contents alone, and was introduced by a speech at the Naval Academy in which Mr. Bush invoked “victory” 15 times while standing on a set bedecked with “Plan for Victory” signage. Alas, it turned out that victory could not be achieved merely by Orwellian incantation, so the plan was scrapped only 13 months later for the “surge.” But while Mr. Feaver and his doomed effort to substitute propaganda for action may now be gone, the White House’s public relations strategies for the war, far from waning, are again gathering steam, to America’s peril.

This came into sharp focus last weekend, when our military disclosed, very quietly and with a suspicious lack of accompanying White House fanfare, that it had killed a major terror culprit in Iraq, Haythem Sabah al-Badri. Never heard of him? Usually this administration oversells every death of a terrorist leader. It underplayed Badri’s demise for a reason. The fine print would further expose the fictional new story line that has been concocted to rebrand and resell the Iraq war as a battle against Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda – or, as Mr. Bush now puts it, “the very same folks that attacked us on September the 11th.”

To understand how, revisit the president’s trial run of this new narrative, when he announced the surge in January. Mr. Bush had to explain why his previous “Plan for Victory” had gone belly up so quickly, so he came up with a new premise that absolved him of blame. In his prime-time speech, the president implied that all had been on track in Iraq after the country’s December 2005 elections until Feb. 22, 2006, when one of the holiest Shiite shrines, the gold-domed mosque in Samarra, was blown up. In this revisionist history, that single terrorist act set off the outbreak of sectarian violence in Iraq now requiring the surge.

This narrative was false. Shiite death squads had been attacking Sunnis for more than a year before the Samarra bombing. The mosque attack was not a turning point. It was merely a confirmation of the Iraqi civil war that Mr. Bush refuses to acknowledge because American voters don’t want their troops in the middle of one.

But that wasn’t the only new plot point that the president advanced in his surge speech. With no proof, Mr. Bush directly attributed the newly all-important Samarra bombing to “Al Qaeda terrorists and Sunni insurgents,” cementing a rhetorical sleight of hand he had started sketching out during the midterm election season.

In fact, no one has taken credit for the mosque bombing to this day. But Iraqi government officials fingered Badri as the culprit. (Some local officials told The Washington Post after the bombing that Iraqi security forces were themselves responsible.) Since Badri is a leader of a tiny insurgent cell reportedly affiliated with what the president calls “Al Qaeda in Iraq,” Mr. Bush had the last synthetic piece he needed to complete his newest work of fiction: 1) All was hunky-dory with his plan for victory until the mosque was bombed. 2) “Al Qaeda in Iraq” bombed the mosque. 3) Ipso facto, America must escalate the war to defeat “Al Qaeda in Iraq,” those “very same folks that attacked us on September the 11th.”

As a growing chorus of critics reiterates, “Al Qaeda in Iraq” is not those very same folks. It did not exist on 9/11 but was a product of the Iraq war and accounts for only a small fraction of the Sunni insurgency. It is not to be confused with the resurgent bin Laden network we’ve been warned about in the latest National Intelligence Estimate. But this factual issue hasn’t deterred Mr. Bush. He has merely stepped up his bogus conflation of the two Qaedas by emphasizing all the “foreign leaders” of “Al Qaeda in Iraq,” because that might allow him to imply they are bin Laden emissaries. In a speech in Charleston, S.C., on July 24, he listed a Syrian, an Egyptian, a Tunisian, a Saudi and a Turk.

Against the backdrop of this stepped-up propaganda blitz, Badri’s death nine days later was an inconvenient reminder of the hole in the official White House narrative. Mr. Bush couldn’t do his usual victory jig over Badri’s demise because there’s no way to pass off Badri as a link to bin Laden. He was born in Samarra and was a member of Saddam’s Special Republican Guard.

If Badri was responsible for the mosque bombing that has caused all our woes in Iraq and forced us to stay there, then the president’s story line falls apart. Far from having any connection to bin Laden’s Qaeda, the Samarra bombing was instead another manifestation of the Iraqi civil war that Mr. Bush denies. No wonder the same White House “fact sheet” that left out Mr. Gonzales’s foiled Sears Tower plot and, for that matter, Jose Padilla, also omitted Badri’s name from its list of captured and killed “Senior Al Qaeda Leaders.” Surely it was a coincidence that this latest statement of official Bush administration amnesia was released on Aug. 6, the sixth anniversary of the President’s Daily Brief titled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.”

And so the president, firm in his resolve against “Al Qaeda in Iraq,” heads toward another August break in Crawford while Al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan remains determined to strike in America. No one can doubt Mr. Bush’s triumph in the P.R. war: There are more American troops than ever mired in Iraq, sent there by a fresh round of White House fictions. And the real war? The enemy that did attack us six years ago, sad to say, is likely to persist in its nasty habit of operating in the reality-based world that our president disdains.

FAIR USE NOTICE: This blog may contain copyrighted material. Such material is made available for educational purposes, to advance understanding of human rights, democracy, scientific, moral, ethical, and social justice issues, etc. This constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in Title 17 U.S.C. section 107 of the US Copyright Law. This material is distributed without profit.

Patriots Who Love the Troops to Death By Frank Rich

Dandelion Salad

By Frank Rich
Truthout
The New York Times
Go to Original
Sunday 05 August 2007

Gerald Ford spoke the truth when he called Watergate “our long national nightmare,” but even a nightmare can have its interludes of rib-splitting farce.

None were zanier than the antics of Baruch Korff, a small-town New England rabbi who became a full-time Richard Nixon sycophant as the walls closed in. Korff was ubiquitous in the press and on television, where he would lambaste Democrats and the media “lynch mob” for vilifying “the greatest president of the century.” Despite Nixon’s reflexive anti-Semitism, he returned the favor by granting the rabbi audiences and an interview that allowed the embattled president to soliloquize about how his own faith and serenity reinforced his conviction “deep inside” that everything he did was right.

Clearly we’ve reached our own Korffian moment in our latest long national nightmare. The Nixon interviewed by the rabbi sounded uncannily like the resolute leader chronicled by the conservative columnists and talk-show jocks President Bush has lately welcomed into his bunker. For his part, William Kristol even published a Korffian manifesto, “Why Bush Will Be a Winner,” in The Washington Post. It reassured us that the Bush presidency would “probably be a successful one” and that “we now seem to be on course to a successful outcome” in Iraq. A Bush flack let it be known that the president liked this piece so much that he recommended it to his White House staff.

Are you laughing yet? Maybe not. No one died in Watergate. This time around, the White House lying and cover-ups have been not just in the service of political thuggery but to gin up a gratuitous war without end.

There is another significant difference as well. Washington never drank the Nixon Kool-Aid. It kept a skeptical bipartisan eye on Tricky Dick throughout his political career, long before the Watergate complex had even been built. The charmed Mr. Bush, by contrast, got a free pass; both Democrats and Republicans in Congress and both liberals and conservatives in the news media were credulous enablers of the Iraq fiasco. Now a reckoning awaits, and the denouement is getting ugly.

The ranks of unreconstructed Iraq hawks are thinner than they used to be. Some politicians in both parties (John Edwards, Chris Dodd, Gordon Smith) and truculent pundits (Peter Beinart, Andrew Sullivan) who cheered on the war recanted (sooner in some cases than others), learned from their errors and moved on. One particularly eloquent mea culpa can be found in today’s New York Times Magazine, where the former war supporter Michael Ignatieff acknowledges that those who “truly showed good judgment on Iraq” might have had no more information than those who got it wrong, but did not make the mistake of confusing “wishes for reality.”

Continued…

FAIR USE NOTICE: This blog may contain copyrighted material. Such material is made available for educational purposes, to advance understanding of human rights, democracy, scientific, moral, ethical, and social justice issues, etc. This constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in Title 17 U.S.C. section 107 of the US Copyright Law. This material is distributed without profit.

see:

Media Blitz for War: The Big Guns of August By Norman Solomon

Who Really Took Over During That Colonoscopy By Frank Rich


Dandelion Salad
By Frank Rich
Truthout
The New York Times
Go to Original
Sunday 29 July 2007

    There was, of course, gallows humor galore when Dick Cheney briefly grabbed the wheel of our listing ship of state during the presidential colonoscopy last weekend. Enjoy it while it lasts. A once-durable staple of 21st-century American humor is in its last throes. We have a new surrogate president now. Sic transit Cheney. Long live David Petraeus!

    It was The Washington Post that first quantified General Petraeus’s remarkable ascension. President Bush, who mentioned his new Iraq commander’s name only six times as the surge rolled out in January, has cited him more than 150 times in public utterances since, including 53 in May alone.

    As always with this White House’s propaganda offensives, the message in Mr. Bush’s relentless repetitions never varies. General Petraeus is the “main man.” He is the man who gives “candid advice.” Come September, he will be the man who will give the president and the country their orders about the war.

    And so another constitutional principle can be added to the long list of those junked by this administration: the quaint notion that our uniformed officers are supposed to report to civilian leadership. In a de facto military coup, the commander in chief is now reporting to the commander in Iraq. We must “wait to see what David has to say,” Mr. Bush says.

    Actually, we don’t have to wait. We already know what David will say. He gave it away to The Times of London last month, when he said that September “is a deadline for a report, not a deadline for a change in policy.” In other words: Damn the report (and that irrelevant Congress that will read it) – full speed ahead. There will be no change in policy. As Michael Gordon reported in The New York Times last week, General Petraeus has collaborated on a classified strategy document that will keep American troops in Iraq well into 2009 as we wait for the miracles that will somehow bring that country security and a functioning government.

    Though General Petraeus wrote his 1987 Princeton doctoral dissertation on “The American Military and the Lessons of Vietnam,” he has an unshakable penchant for seeing light at the end of tunnels. It has been three Julys since he posed for the cover of Newsweek under the headline “Can This Man Save Iraq?” The magazine noted that the general’s pacification of Mosul was “a textbook case of doing counterinsurgency the right way.” Four months later, the police chief installed by General Petraeus defected to the insurgents, along with most of the Sunni members of the police force. Mosul, population 1.7 million, is now an insurgent stronghold, according to the Pentagon’s own June report.

    By the time reality ambushed his textbook victory, the general had moved on to the mission of making Iraqi troops stand up so American troops could stand down. “Training is on track and increasing in capacity,” he wrote in The Washington Post in late September 2004, during the endgame of the American presidential election. He extolled the increased prowess of the Iraqi fighting forces and the rebuilding of their infrastructure.

    The rest is tragic history. Were the Iraqi forces on the trajectory that General Petraeus asserted in his election-year pep talk, no “surge” would have been needed more than two years later. We would not be learning at this late date, as we did only when Gen. Peter Pace was pressed in a Pentagon briefing this month, that the number of Iraqi battalions operating independently is in fact falling – now standing at a mere six, down from 10 in March.

    But even more revealing is what was happening at the time that General Petraeus disseminated his sunny 2004 prognosis. The best account is to be found in “The Occupation of Iraq,” the authoritative chronicle by Ali Allawi published this year by Yale University Press. Mr. Allawi is not some anti-American crank. He was the first civilian defense minister of postwar Iraq and has been an adviser to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki; his book was praised by none other than the Iraq war cheerleader Fouad Ajami as “magnificent.”

    Mr. Allawi writes that the embezzlement of the Iraqi Army’s $1.2 billion arms procurement budget was happening “under the very noses” of the Security Transition Command run by General Petraeus: “The saga of the grand theft of the Ministry of Defense perfectly illustrated the huge gap between the harsh realities on the ground and the Panglossian spin that permeated official pronouncements.” Mr. Allawi contrasts the “lyrical” Petraeus pronouncements in The Post with the harsh realities of the Iraqi forces’ inoperable helicopters, flimsy bulletproof vests and toy helmets. The huge sums that might have helped the Iraqis stand up were instead “handed over to unscrupulous adventurers and former pizza parlor operators.”

    Well, anyone can make a mistake. And when General Petraeus cited soccer games as an example of “the astonishing signs of normalcy” in Baghdad last month, he could not have anticipated that car bombs would kill at least 50 Iraqis after the Iraqi team’s poignant victory in the Asian Cup semifinals last week. This general may well be, as many say, the brightest and bravest we have. But that doesn’t account for why he has been invested by the White House and its last-ditch apologists with such singular power over the war.

    On “Meet the Press,” Lindsey Graham, one of the Senate’s last gung-ho war defenders in either party, mentioned General Petraeus 10 times in one segment, saying he would “not vote for anything” unless “General Petraeus passes on it.” Desperate hawks on the nation’s op-ed pages not only idolize the commander daily but denounce any critics of his strategy as deserters, defeatists and enemies of the troops.

    That’s because the Petraeus phenomenon is not about protecting the troops or American interests but about protecting the president. For all Mr. Bush’s claims of seeking “candid” advice, he wants nothing of the kind. He sent that message before the war, with the shunting aside of Eric Shinseki, the general who dared tell Congress the simple truth that hundreds of thousands of American troops would be needed to secure Iraq. The message was sent again when John Abizaid and George Casey were supplanted after they disagreed with the surge.

    Two weeks ago, in his continuing quest for “candid” views, Mr. Bush invited a claque consisting exclusively of conservative pundits to the White House and inadvertently revealed the real motive for the Petraeus surrogate presidency. “The most credible person in the fight at this moment is Gen. David Petraeus,” he said, in National Review’s account.

    To be the “most credible” person in this war team means about as much as being the most sober tabloid starlet in the Paris-Lindsay cohort. But never mind. What Mr. Bush meant is that General Petraeus is famous for minding his press coverage, even to the point of congratulating the ABC News anchor Charles Gibson for “kicking some butt” in the Nielsen ratings when Mr. Gibson interviewed him last month. The president, whose 65 percent disapproval rating is now just one point shy of Richard Nixon’s pre-resignation nadir, is counting on General Petraeus to be the un-Shinseki and bestow whatever credibility he has upon White House policies and pronouncements.

    He is delivering, heaven knows. Like Mr. Bush, he has taken to comparing the utter stalemate in the Iraqi Parliament to “our own debates at the birth of our nation,” as if the Hamilton-Jefferson disputes were akin to the Shiite-Sunni bloodletting. He is also starting to echo the administration line that Al Qaeda is the principal villain in Iraq, a departure from the more nuanced and realistic picture of the civil-war-torn battlefront he presented to Senate questioners in his confirmation hearings in January.

    Mr. Bush has become so reckless in his own denials of reality that he seems to think he can get away with saying anything as long as he has his “main man” to front for him. The president now hammers in the false litany of a “merger” between Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda and what he calls “Al Qaeda in Iraq” as if he were following the Madison Avenue script declaring that “Cingular is now the new AT&T.” He doesn’t seem to know that nearly 40 other groups besides Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia have adopted Al Qaeda’s name or pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden worldwide since 2003, by the count of the former C.I.A. counterterrorism official Michael Scheuer. They may follow us here well before any insurgents in Iraq do.

    On Tuesday – a week after the National Intelligence Estimate warned of the resurgence of bin Laden’s Qaeda in Pakistan – Mr. Bush gave a speech in which he continued to claim that “Al Qaeda in Iraq” makes Iraq the central front in the war on terror. He mentioned Al Qaeda 95 times but Pakistan and Pervez Musharraf not once. Two days later, his own top intelligence officials refused to endorse his premise when appearing before Congress. They are all too familiar with the threats that are building to a shrill pitch this summer.

    Should those threats become a reality while America continues to be bogged down in Iraq, this much is certain: It will all be the fault of President Petraeus.

FAIR USE NOTICE: This blog may contain copyrighted material. Such material is made available for educational purposes, to advance understanding of human rights, democracy, scientific, moral, ethical, and social justice issues, etc. This constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in Title 17 U.S.C. section 107 of the US Copyright Law. This material is distributed without profit.

Don’t Laugh at Michael Chertoff By Frank Rich


Dandelion Salad
By Frank Rich
The New York Times

Go to Original
Sunday 15 July 2007

Michael Chertoff, President Bush’s fallback choice for secretary of Homeland Security after Bernard Kerik, is best remembered for his tragicomic performance during Hurricane Katrina. He gave his underling, the woeful Brownie, a run for the gold.

It was Mr. Chertoff who announced that the Superdome in New Orleans was “secure” even as the other half of the split screen offered graphic evidence otherwise. It was Mr. Chertoff who told NPR that he had “not heard a report of thousands of people in the convention center who do not have food and water,” even after his fellow citizens had been inundated with such reports all day long.

With Brownie as the designated fall guy, Mr. Chertoff kept his job. Since then he has attracted notice only when lavishing pork on terrorist targets like an Alabama petting zoo while reducing grants to New York City. Though Mr. Chertoff may be the man standing between us and Armageddon, he is seen as a leader of stature only when standing next to his cabinet mate Gonzo.

But even a stopped clock is right twice a day. Last week, as the Bush administration frantically tried to counter Republican defections from the war in Iraq, Mr. Chertoff alone departed from the administration’s script to talk about the enemy that actually did attack America on 9/11, Al Qaeda, rather than Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the jihad-come-lately gang Mr. Bush is fond of talking about instead. In this White House, the occasional official who strays off script is in all likelihood inadvertently coughing up the truth.

Mr. Chertoff was promptly hammered for it. His admission of “a gut feeling” that America might be vulnerable to a terrorist attack this summer was universally ridiculed as a gaffe. He then tried to retreat, but as he did so, his dire prognosis was confirmed by an intelligence leak. The draft of a new classified threat assessment found that Al Qaeda has regrouped and is stronger than at any time since 2001. Its operational base is the same ungoverned Pakistan wilderness where we’ve repeatedly failed to capture Osama bin Laden dead or alive for six years.

So give Mr. Chertoff credit for keeping his eye on the enemy while everyone else in the capital is debating never-to-be-realized benchmarks for an Iraqi government that exists in name only. Just as President Bush ignored that August 2001 brief “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.,” so Washington, some of its press corps included, is poised to shrug off the August 2007 update “Al Qaeda Better Positioned to Strike the West.” The capital has been sucker-punched by the administration’s latest P.R. offensive to prop up the fiasco in Iraq.

The White House’s game is to create a new fictional story line to keep the war going until President Bush can dump it on his successor. Bizarrely, some of the new scenario echoes the bogus narrative used to sell the war in 2002: an imaginary connection between Iraq and the attacks of 9/11. You’d think the Bush administration might think twice before recycling old lies, but things have gotten so bad in the bunker that even Karl Rove is repeating himself.

Fittingly, one of the first in Washington to notice the rollout of the latest propaganda offensive was one of the very few journalists who uncovered the administration’s manipulation of W.M.D. intelligence in 2002: Jonathan Landay of the McClatchy newspapers.

This time around, he was ahead of the pack in catching the sudden uptick in references to Al Qaeda in the president’s speeches about Iraq – 27 in a single speech on June 28 – and an equal decline in references to the Sunni-Shiite sectarian violence at the heart of the Iraqi civil war America is powerless to stop. Even more incriminating was Mr. Landay’s discovery that the military was following Mr. Bush’s script verbatim. There were 33 citations of Al Qaeda in a single week’s worth of military news releases in late June, up from only 9 such mentions in May.

None of this is accidental. The administration knows that its last stated mission for the war – “an Iraq that can govern itself, sustain itself and defend itself” – is as doomed as the Iraqi army that would “stand up” so we could stand down. So now there’s a new “mission” – or at least new boilerplate. “Victory is defeating Al Qaeda,” Tony Snow said last week, because “Al Qaeda continues to be the chief organizer of mayhem within Iraq.” What’s more, its members are, in Mr. Bush’s words, “the ones who attacked us in America on September the 11th.”

This is hooey, of course. Not only did Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia not exist before we invaded Iraq in 2003, but it isn’t even the chief organizer of the war’s mayhem today. ABC News reported this month that this group may be responsible for no more than 15 percent of the attacks in Iraq. Bob Woodward wrote in The Washington Post on Thursday that Michael Hayden, the C.I.A. director, told Mr. Bush last November that Al Qaeda was only the fifth most pressing threat in Iraq, after the insurgency, sectarian strife, criminality and general anarchy.

So what if the Qaeda that’s operating with impunity out of Pakistan, North Africa and other non-Iraq havens actually is the most pressing threat to America? This president is never one to let facts get in the way of a political agenda. That agenda is to avoid taking responsibility for losing a war, no matter how many more Americans are tossed into its carnage. From here on in, you can be sure that whomever we’re fighting in Iraq on any given day will be no more than one degree of separation from bin Laden.

Nor do the latest fictionalizations end there. To further prop up the war, Mr. Bush had to find some way to forestall verdicts on the “surge,” which commanders had predicted could be judged by late summer. He also had to neutralize last week’s downbeat Congress-mandated report card on the Iraqi government’s progress toward its 18 benchmarks.

The latter task was easy. The report card grades on a steep curve (and even then must settle for a C-minus average and a couple of incompletes). Deflecting gloom about the “surge” is trickier. It’s hard to argue that we’re on our way to securing Baghdad, the stated goal, when attacks on our own safe haven, the Green Zone, are rising rapidly, more than doubling from March to May, according to the United Nations.

But you can never underestimate this White House’s ingenuity. It turns out that the “surge,” which most Americans thought began shortly after the president announced it in January, is brand-new! We’re just “at the starting line,” Tony Snow told the network morning news shows last week, as he pounded in the message that “we have a new course in Iraq, and it’s two weeks old.”

Mr. Snow’s television hosts were not so rude as to point out that the Pentagon had previously designated Feb. 14 as the starting line of the surge’s first operation, and had also said that its March report on Iraq should be used as the “baseline from which to measure future progress.” That was then, and this is now. The Baghdad clock has been reset. July is the new February. As we slouch toward the sixth anniversary of 9/11, the war against Al Qaeda has only just begun.

Swamped with such fiction, Washington is unable to cope. Network newscasts are still failing to distinguish the Qaeda Mr. Bush talks about from the 9/11 terrorists. The Iraq dead-enders in Congress and the neocon punditocracy have now defined victory down to defeating Mr. Bush’s mini-Qaeda in a single Iraqi province, Anbar. Meanwhile, our ally Pervez Musharraf’s shaky regime in Pakistan lets Al Qaeda plot its next mass murder.

The capital’s entire political debate over Iraq – stay-the-surge versus “precipitous withdrawal” – is itself pure hot air. Even though felons and the obese are now being signed up to meet Army recruitment shortfalls, we still can’t extend the surge past next April, when troops for Iraq run out unless Mr. Bush extends their tours yet again. “Precipitous withdrawal” (which no withdrawal bill in Congress calls for) is a non sequitur, since any withdrawal would take at least 10 months. Rather than have the real debate about how to manage the exit, politically panicked Republicans hope to cast symbolic votes that will allow them to tell voters they were for ending the war before they prolonged it.

That leaves Mr. Chertoff, whose department has vacancies in a quarter of its top leadership positions, as the de facto general in charge of defending us from the enemy he had that “gut feeling” about, the Qaeda not in Iraq. Last week we learned from a sting operation conducted by Congressional investigators that this enemy needs only a Mail Boxes Etc. account, a phone and a fax machine to buy radioactive material from American suppliers and build a dirty bomb.

For all Washington’s hyperventilating about the Iraqi Parliament’s vacation plans, it’s our own government’s vacation from reality this summer that should make us very afraid.

FAIR USE NOTICE: This blog may contain copyrighted material. Such material is made available for educational purposes, to advance understanding of human rights, democracy, scientific, moral, ethical, and social justice issues, etc. This constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in Title 17 U.S.C. section 107 of the US Copyright Law. This material is distributed without profit.

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We’re All Gonna Die By William Rivers Pitt

Fib factory running full tilt By ERIC MARGOLIS

Olbermann: Special Comment: Michael Chertoff’s Gut + Gut Feelings (videos)

A Profile in Cowardice By Frank Rich

Go to Original

By Frank Rich
The New York Times

Sunday 08 July 2007

There was never any question that President Bush would grant amnesty to Scooter Libby, the man who knows too much about the lies told to sell the war in Iraq. The only questions were when, and how, Mr. Bush would buy Mr. Libby’s silence. Now we have the answers, and they’re at least as incriminating as the act itself. They reveal the continued ferocity of a White House cover-up and expose the true character of a commander in chief whose tough-guy shtick can no longer camouflage his fundamental cowardice.

The timing of the president’s Libby intervention was a surprise. Many assumed he would mimic the sleazy 11th-hour examples of most recent vintage: his father’s pardon of six Iran-contra defendants who might have dragged him into that scandal, and Bill Clinton’s pardon of the tax fugitive Marc Rich, the former husband of a major campaign contributor and the former client of none other than the ubiquitous Mr. Libby.

But the ever-impetuous current President Bush acted 18 months before his scheduled eviction from the White House. Even more surprising, he did so when the Titanic that is his presidency had just hit two fresh icebergs, the demise of the immigration bill and the growing revolt of Republican senators against his strategy in Iraq.

That Mr. Bush, already suffering historically low approval ratings, would invite another hit has been attributed in Washington to his desire to placate what remains of his base. By this logic, he had nothing left to lose. He didn’t care if he looked like an utter hypocrite, giving his crony a freer ride than Paris Hilton and violating the white-collar sentencing guidelines set by his own administration. He had to throw a bone to the last grumpy old white guys watching Bill O’Reilly in a bunker.

But if those die-hards haven’t deserted him by now, why would Mr. Libby’s incarceration be the final straw? They certainly weren’t whipped into a frenzy by coverage on Fox News, which tended to minimize the leak case as a non-event. Mr. Libby, faceless and voiceless to most Americans, is no Ollie North, and he provoked no right-wing firestorm akin to the uproars over Terri Schiavo, Harriet Miers or “amnesty” for illegal immigrants.

The only people clamoring for Mr. Libby’s freedom were the pundits who still believe that Saddam secured uranium in Africa and who still hope that any exoneration of Mr. Libby might make them look less like dupes for aiding and abetting the hyped case for war. That select group is not the Republican base so much as a roster of the past, present and future holders of quasi-academic titles at neocon think tanks like the American Enterprise Institute.

What this crowd never understood is that Mr. Bush’s highest priority is always to protect himself. So he stiffed them too. Had the president wanted to placate the Weekly Standard crowd, he would have given Mr. Libby a full pardon. That he served up a commutation instead is revealing of just how worried the president is about the beans Mr. Libby could spill about his and Dick Cheney’s use of prewar intelligence.

Valerie Wilson still has a civil suit pending. The Democratic inquisitor in the House, Henry Waxman, still has the uranium hoax underlying this case at the top of his agenda as an active investigation. A commutation puts up more roadblocks by keeping Mr. Libby’s appeal of his conviction alive and his Fifth Amendment rights intact. He can’t testify without risking self-incrimination. Meanwhile, we are asked to believe that he has paid his remaining $250,000 debt to society independently of his private $5 million “legal defense fund.”

The president’s presentation of the commutation is more revealing still. Had Mr. Bush really believed he was doing the right and honorable thing, he would not have commuted Mr. Libby’s jail sentence by press release just before the July Fourth holiday without consulting Justice Department lawyers. That’s the behavior of an accountant cooking the books in the dead of night, not the proud act of a patriot standing on principle.

When the furor followed Mr. Bush from Kennebunkport to Washington despite his efforts to duck it, he further underlined his embarrassment by taking his only few questions on the subject during a photo op at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. You know this president is up to no good whenever he hides behind the troops. This instance was particularly shameful, since Mr. Bush also used the occasion to trivialize the scandalous maltreatment of Walter Reed patients on his watch as merely “some bureaucratic red-tape issues.”

Asked last week to explain the president’s poll numbers, Andrew Kohut of the Pew Research Center told NBC News that “when we ask people to summon up one word that comes to mind” to describe Mr. Bush, it’s “incompetence.” But cowardice, the character trait so evident in his furtive handling of the Libby commutation, is as important to understanding Mr. Bush’s cratered presidency as incompetence, cronyism and hubris.

Even The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, a consistent Bush and Libby defender, had to take notice. Furious that the president had not given Mr. Libby a full pardon (at least not yet), The Journal called the Bush commutation statement a “profile in non-courage.”

What it did not recognize, or chose not to recognize, is that this non-courage, to use The Journal’s euphemism, has been this president’s stock in trade, far exceeding the “wimp factor” that Newsweek once attributed to his father. The younger Mr. Bush’s cowardice is arguably more responsible for the calamities of his leadership than anything else.

People don’t change. Mr. Bush’s failure to have the courage of his own convictions was apparent early in his history, when he professed support for the Vietnam War yet kept himself out of harm’s way when he had the chance to serve in it. In the White House, he has often repeated the feckless pattern that he set back then and reaffirmed last week in his hide-and-seek bestowing of the Libby commutation.

The first fight he conspicuously ran away from as president was in August 2001. Aspiring to halt federal underwriting of embryonic stem-cell research, he didn’t stand up and say so but instead unveiled a bogus “compromise” that promised continued federal research on 60 existing stem-cell lines. Only later would we learn that all but 11 of them did not exist. When Mr. Bush wanted to endorse a constitutional amendment to “protect” marriage, he again cowered. A planned 2006 Rose Garden announcement to a crowd of religious-right supporters was abruptly moved from the sunlight into a shadowy auditorium away from the White House.

Nowhere is this president’s non-courage more evident than in the “signing statements” The Boston Globe exposed last year. As Charlie Savage reported, Mr. Bush “quietly claimed the authority to disobey more than 750 laws enacted since he took office.” Rather than veto them in public view, he signed them, waited until after the press and lawmakers left the White House, and then filed statements in the Federal Register asserting that he would ignore laws he (not the courts) judged unconstitutional. This was the extralegal trick Mr. Bush used to bypass the ban on torture. It allowed him to make a coward’s escape from the moral (and legal) responsibility of arguing for so radical a break with American practice.

In the end, it was also this president’s profile in non-courage that greased the skids for the Iraq fiasco. If Mr. Bush had had the guts to put America on a true wartime footing by appealing to his fellow citizens for sacrifice, possibly even a draft if required, then he might have had at least a chance of amassing the resources needed to secure Iraq after we invaded it.

But he never backed up the rhetoric of war with the stand-up action needed to prosecute the war. Instead he relied on fomenting fear, as typified by the false uranium claims whose genesis has been covered up by Mr. Libby’s obstructions of justice. Mr. Bush’s cowardly abdication of the tough responsibilities of wartime leadership ratified Donald Rumsfeld’s decision to go into Iraq with the army he had, ensuring our defeat.

Never underestimate the power of the unconscious. Not the least of the revelatory aspects of Mr. Bush’s commutation is that he picked the fourth anniversary of “Bring ’em on” to hand it down. It was on July 2, 2003, that the president responded to the continued violence in Iraq, two months after “Mission Accomplished,” by taunting those who want “to harm American troops.” Mr. Bush assured the world that “we’ve got the force necessary to deal with the security situation.” The “surge” notwithstanding, we still don’t have the force necessary four years later, because the president never did summon the courage, even as disaster loomed, to back up his own convictions by going to the mat to secure that force.

No one can stop Mr. Bush from freeing a pathetic little fall guy like Scooter Libby. But only those who paid the ultimate price for the avoidable bungling of Iraq have the moral authority to pardon Mr. Bush.

 

FAIR USE NOTICE: This blog may contain copyrighted material. Such material is made available for educational purposes, to advance understanding of human rights, democracy, scientific, moral, ethical, and social justice issues, etc. This constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in Title 17 U.S.C. section 107 of the US Copyright Law. This material is distributed without profit.

 

When the Vice President Does It, That Means It’s Not Illegal By Frank Rich

 Go to Original     When the Vice President Does It, That Means It’s Not Illegal

    By Frank Rich
The New York Times

    Sunday 01 July 2007

    Who knew that mocking the Constitution could be nearly as funny as shooting a hunting buddy in the face? Among other comic dividends, Dick Cheney’s legal theory that the vice president is not part of the executive branch yielded a priceless weeklong series on “The Daily Show” and an online “Doonesbury Poll,” conducted at Slate, to name Mr. Cheney’s indeterminate branch of government.

    The ridicule was so widespread that finally even this White House had to blink. By midweek, it had abandoned that particularly ludicrous argument, if not its spurious larger claim that Mr. Cheney gets a free pass to ignore rules regulating federal officials’ handling of government secrets.

    That retreat might allow us to mark the end of this installment of the Bush-Cheney Follies but for one nagging problem: Not for the first time in the history of this administration – or the hundredth – has the real story been lost amid the Washington kerfuffle. Once the laughter subsides and you look deeper into the narrative leading up to the punch line, you can unearth a buried White House plot that is more damning than the official scandal. This plot once again snakes back to the sinister origins of the Iraq war, to the Valerie Wilson leak case and to the press failures that enabled the administration to abuse truth and the law for too long.

    One journalist who hasn’t failed is Mark Silva of The Chicago Tribune. He first reported more than a year ago, in May 2006, the essentials of the “news” at the heart of the recent Cheney ruckus. Mr. Silva found that the vice president was not filing required reports on his office’s use of classified documents because he asserted that his role in the legislative branch, as president of the Senate, gave him an exemption.

    This scoop went unnoticed by nearly everybody. It would still be forgotten today had not Henry Waxman, the dogged House inquisitor, called out Mr. Cheney 10 days ago, detailing still more egregious examples of the vice president’s flouting of the law, including his effort to shut down an oversight agency in charge of policing him. The congressman’s brief set off the firestorm that launched a thousand late-night gags.

    That’s all to the public good, but hiding in plain sight was the little-noted content of the Bush executive order that Mr. Cheney is accused of violating. On close examination, this obscure 2003 document, thrust into the light only because the vice president so blatantly defied it, turns out to be yet another piece of self-incriminating evidence illuminating the White House’s guilt in ginning up its false case for war.

    The tale of the document begins in August 2001, when the Bush administration initiated a review of the previous executive order on classified materials signed by Bill Clinton in 1995. The Clinton order had been acclaimed in its day as a victory for transparency because it mandated the automatic declassification of most government files after 25 years.

    It was predictable that the obsessively secretive Bush team would undermine the Clinton order. What was once a measure to make government more open would be redrawn to do the opposite. And sure enough, when the White House finally released its revised version, the scant news coverage focused on how the new rules postponed the Clinton deadline for automatic declassification and tightened secrecy so much that previously declassified documents could be reclassified.

    But few noticed another change inserted five times in the revised text: every provision that gave powers to the president over classified documents was amended to give the identical powers to the vice president. This unprecedented increase in vice-presidential clout, though spelled out in black and white, went virtually unremarked in contemporary news accounts.

    Given all the other unprecedented prerogatives that President Bush has handed his vice president, this one might seem to be just more of the same. But both the timing of the executive order and the subsequent use Mr. Cheney would make of it reveal its special importance in the games that the White House played with prewar intelligence.

    The obvious juncture for Mr. Bush to bestow these new powers on his vice president, you might expect, would have been soon after 9/11, especially since the review process on the Clinton order started a month earlier and could be expedited, as so much other governmental machinery was, to meet the urgent national-security crisis. Yet the new executive order languished for another 18 months, only to be published and signed with no fanfare on March 25, 2003, a week after the invasion of Iraq began.

    Why then? It was throughout March, both on the eve of the war and right after “Shock and Awe,” that the White House’s most urgent case for Iraq’s imminent threat began to unravel. That case had been built around the scariest of Saddam’s supposed W.M.D., the nuclear weapons that could engulf America in mushroom clouds, and the White House had pushed it relentlessly, despite a lack of evidence. On “Meet the Press” on March 16, Mr. Cheney pressed that doomsday button one more time: “We believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons.” But even as the vice president spoke, such claims were at last being strenuously challenged in public.

    Nine days earlier Mohamed ElBaradei of the International Atomic Energy Agency had announced that documents supposedly attesting to Saddam’s attempt to secure uranium in Niger were “not authentic.” A then-obscure retired diplomat, Joseph Wilson, piped in on CNN, calling the case “outrageous.”

    Soon both Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia and Congressman Waxman wrote letters (to the F.B.I. and the president, respectively) questioning whether we were going to war because of what Mr. Waxman labeled “a hoax.” And this wasn’t the only administration use of intelligence that was under increasing scrutiny. The newly formed 9/11 commission set its first open hearings for March 31 and requested some half-million documents, including those pertaining to what the White House knew about Al Qaeda’s threat during the summer of 2001.

    The new executive order that Mr. Bush signed on March 25 was ingenious. By giving Mr. Cheney the same classification powers he had, Mr. Bush gave his vice president a free hand to wield a clandestine weapon: he could use leaks to punish administration critics.

    That weapon would be employed less than four months later. Under Mr. Bush’s direction, Mr. Cheney deputized Scooter Libby to leak highly selective and misleading portions of a 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq to pet reporters as he tried to discredit Mr. Wilson. By then, Mr. Wilson had emerged as the most vocal former government official accusing the White House of not telling the truth before the war.

    Because of the Patrick Fitzgerald investigation, we would learn three years later about the offensive conducted by Mr. Libby on behalf of Mr. Cheney and Mr. Bush. That revelation prompted the vice president to acknowledge his enhanced powers in an unguarded moment in a February 2006 interview with Brit Hume of Fox News. Asked by Mr. Hume with some incredulity if “a vice president has the authority to declassify information,” Mr. Cheney replied, “There is an executive order to that effect.” He was referring to the order of March 2003.

    Even now, few have made the connection between this month’s Cheney flap and the larger scandal. That larger scandal is to be found in what the vice president did legally under the executive order early on rather than in his more recent rejection of its oversight rules.

    Timing really is everything. By March 2003, this White House knew its hype of Saddam’s nonexistent nuclear arsenal was in grave danger of being exposed. The order allowed Mr. Bush to keep his own fingerprints off the nitty-gritty of any jihad against whistle-blowers by giving Mr. Cheney the authority to pick his own shots and handle the specifics. The president could have plausible deniability and was free to deliver non-denial denials like “If there is a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is.” Mr. Cheney in turn could delegate the actual dirty work to Mr. Libby, who obstructed justice to help throw a smoke screen over the vice president’s own role in the effort to destroy Mr. Wilson.

    Last week The Washington Post ran a first-rate investigative series on the entire Cheney vice presidency. Readers posting comments were largely enthusiastic, but a few griped. “Six and a half years too late,” said one. “Four years late and billions of dollars short,” said another. Such complaints reflect the bitter legacy of much of the Washington press’s failure to penetrate the hyping of prewar intelligence and, later, the import of the Fitzgerald investigation.

    We’re still playing catch-up. In a week in which the C.I.A. belatedly released severely censored secrets about agency scandals dating back a half-century, you have to wonder what else was done behind the shield of an executive order signed just after the Ides of March four years ago. Another half-century could pass before Americans learn the full story of the secrets buried by Mr. Cheney and his boss to cover up their deceitful path to war.

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