The Commons is a weblog for concerned citizens of southeast Iowa and their friends around the world. It was created to encourage grassroots networking and to share information and ideas which have either been suppressed or drowned out in the mainstream media.

"But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place;' some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection." (Henry V, Act V, Scene 4)

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Boris Johnson - Bush and Al-Jazeera

From British MP and publisher of the Spectator, Boris Johnson

Bush and Al-Jazeera

The Attorney General's ban [on publishing official documents on Bush and Blair's conversations about bombing Al Jazeera] is ridiculous, untenable, and redolent of guilt. I do not like people to break the Official Secrets Act ... we now have allegations of such severity, against the US President and his motives, that we need to clear them up.

If someone passes me the document within the next few days I will be very happy to publish it in The Spectator, and risk a jail sentence. .. Sunlight is the best disinfectant. If we suppress the truth, we forget what we are fighting for

I'll go to jail to print the truth about Bush and al-Jazeera

It must be said that subsequent events have not made life easy for those of us who were so optimistic as to support the war in Iraq. There were those who believed the Government's rubbish about Saddam's Weapons of Mass Destruction. Then the WMD made their historic no-show.

Some of us were so innocent as to suppose that the Pentagon had a well-thought-out plan for the removal of the dictator and the introduction of peace. Then we had the insurgency, in which tens of thousands have died.

Some of us thought it was about ensuring that chemical weapons could never again be used on Iraqi soil. Then we heard about the white phosphorus deployed by the Pentagon. Some people believed that the American liberation would mean the end of torture in Iraqi jails. Then we had Abu Ghraib.

Some of us thought it was all about the dissemination of the institutions of a civil society - above all a free press, in which journalists could work without fear of being murdered. Then we heard about the Bush plan to blow up al-Jazeera.

Some of us feel that we have an abusive relationship with this war. Every time we get our hopes up, we get punched by some piece of bad news. We yearn to be told that we're wrong, that things are going to get better, that the glass is half full. That's why I would love to think that Dubya was just having one of his little frat-house wisecracks, when he talked of destroying the Qatar-based satellite TV station. Maybe he was only horsing around. Maybe it was a flippant one-liner, of the kind that he delivers before making one of his dramatic exits into the broom-closet. Perhaps it was a kind of Henry II moment: you know, who will rid me of this turbulent TV station? Maybe he had a burst of spacy Reagan-esque surrealism, like the time the old boy forgot that the mikes were switched on, and startled a press conference with the announcement that he was going to start bombing Russia in five minutes. Maybe Bush thought he was Kenny Everett. Perhaps he was playing Basil Brush. Boom boom.

Who knows? But if his remarks were just an innocent piece of cretinism, then why in the name of holy thunder has the British state decreed that anyone printing those remarks will be sent to prison?

We all hope and pray that the American President was engaging in nothing more than neo-con Tourette-style babble about blowing things up. We are quite prepared to believe that the Daily Mirror is wrong. We are ready to accept that the two British civil servants who have leaked the account are either malicious or mistaken. But if there is one thing that would seem to confirm the essential accuracy of the story, it is that the Attorney General has announced that he will prosecute anyone printing the exact facts.

What are we supposed to think? The meeting between Bush and Blair took place on April 16, 2004, at the height of the US assault on Fallujah, and there is circumstantial evidence for believing that Bush may indeed have said what he is alleged to have said.

We know that the administration was infuriated with the al-Jazeera coverage of the battle, and the way the station focused on the deaths of hundreds of people, including civilians, rather than the necessity of ridding the town of dangerous terrorists. We remember how Cheney and Rumsfeld both launched vehement attacks on the station, and accused it of aiding the rebels. We are told by the New York Times that there were shouty-crackers arguments within the administration, with some officials yelling that the channel should be shut down, and others saying that it would be better to work with the journalists in the hope of producing better coverage.

We also recall that the Americans have form when it comes to the mass media outlets of regimes they dislike. They blew up the Kabul bureau of al-Jazeera in 2002, and they pulverised the Baghdad bureau in April 2003, killing one of the reporters. In 1999 they managed to blow up the Serb TV station, killing two make-up girls, in circumstances that were never satisfactorily explained.

To be fair to the Americans, we must also accept that they had good grounds for resenting al-Jazeera. The station is hugely respected in the Arab world, has about 35 million viewers, and yet it gives what can only be described as a thoroughly Arab perspective of current affairs. It assists in the glorification of suicide bombers; it publishes the rambling tapes of Bin Laden and others among the world's leading creeps and whackos; it is overwhelmingly hostile to America and sceptical about the neo-con project of imposing western values and political systems in the Middle East.

And yet however wrong you may think al-Jazeera is in its slant and its views, you must accept that what it is providing is recognisably journalism. It is not always helpful to the American cause in Iraq, but then nor is the BBC; and would anybody in London or Washington suggest sending a Tomahawk into White City? Well, they might, but only as a joke. Exhausted Western leaders, living in the nightmare of a media-dominated democracy, are allowed to make jokes about blowing up journalists. I seem to remember that when I was sent to Belgrade to cover the Nato attacks, Tony Blair told the then proprietor of The Daily Telegraph that he would "tell Nato to step up the bombing!" Ho ho ho.

But if there is an ounce of truth in the notion that George Bush seriously proposed the destruction of al-Jazeera, and was only dissuaded by the Prime Minister, then we need to know, and we need to know urgently. We need to know what we have been fighting for, and there is only one way to find out.

The Attorney General's ban is ridiculous, untenable, and redolent of guilt. I do not like people to break the Official Secrets Act, and, as it happens, I would not object to the continued prosecution of those who are alleged to have broken it. But we now have allegations of such severity, against the US President and his motives, that we need to clear them up.

If someone passes me the document within the next few days I will be very happy to publish it in The Spectator, and risk a jail sentence. The public need to judge for themselves. Sunlight is the best disinfectant. If we suppress the truth, we forget what we are fighting for, and in an important respect we become as sick and as bad as our enemies.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Paul Craig Roberts - Power Über Alles

Power Über Alles
by Paul Craig Roberts
Perfidy loves company. George W. Bush instructed his British puppet, Prime Minister Tony Blair, to get moving on the detention issue so that he, Bush, would have company when he attacked the Constitution's guarantee of habeas corpus.
Habeas corpus prevents authorities from detaining a person indefinitely without charges; the guarantee of habeas corpus ensures that no one can imprison you without a trial.
The Bush administration wants the power to detain indefinitely anyone it declares to be an enemy combatant or a terrorist without presenting the detainee in court with charges. In England the power to arrest people and to hold them indefinitely without charges was taken away from kings centuries ago. Bush apparently thinks he is the reincarnation of an absolute monarch.
The puppet Blair set to work. He soon discovered that at most he could try to pass a law that permitted the British government to hold a detainee for 90 days, a far cry from Bush's desire for indefinite detention. Blair took what he called his "anti-terror" legislation to Parliament and was handed his first-ever defeat as Prime Minister.
The British Parliament knew enough history to realize that Blair's "anti-terror" legislation was in fact the opposite. Parliamentarians perceived Blair's proposal as a police state trick that could be used by an unscrupulous government to terrorize Her Majesty's subjects by the use of imprisonment without charges. The British Parliament refused to put up with such injustice. Eleven of Blair's former cabinet ministers joined in voting down the legislation.
That happened on Wednesday November 9.
On Thursday November 10, the Republican controlled US Senate voted 49 to 42 to overturn the US Supreme Court's 2004 ruling that permits Guantánamo detainees to challenge their detentions. How dare the US Supreme Court defend the US Constitution and the civil liberties of Americans when we have terrorists to fight, argued the Republican senators. What are civil liberties, the Republicans asked rhetorically, but legal tricks that allow criminals and terrorists to escape.
The Labour Party-dominated British Parliament will not allow 90 days detention without charges, but the Republican-controlled US Congress favors indefinite detention without charges of whomever Bush wants to detain.
Nothing more effectively undercuts the image that Bush paints of America as the land of freedom, liberty and democracy than the Republican Party's destruction of habeas corpus.
Habeas corpus is essential to political opposition and the rise and maintenance of democracy. Without habeas corpus, a government can simply detain its opponents. Nothing is more conducive to one party rule than the suspension of habeas corpus.
It is heartbreaking to watch the Republican Party overthrow the very foundation of democracy in the name of democracy. The name of Lindsey O. Graham, Republican senator from South Carolina, the sponsor of this evil legislation, will go down in infamy in the book of tyrants.
The next time Bush declares that "they (Muslims) hate us for our freedom and democracy," someone should ask him how there can be freedom and democracy without habeas corpus.
The Bush administration has also resurrected that second great feature of tyranny – torture. "We have the right to torture," say President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and Attorney General Gonzales.
What a hypocritical spectacle the Bush administration and the Republican Party have made of America. They boast of "freedom and democracy" while they destroy habeas corpus and practice torture.
Americans must recognize the Bush administration and the Republican Party for what they are. They are tyrants. They are bringing evil to the world and tyranny to America.
According to the Washington Post (Nov. 11), there are 750 detainees at Guantánamo. These people have been held for 3 or 4 years. If the Bush administration had any evidence against them, it would be a simple matter to file charges.
But the Bush administration does not have any evidence against them. Most of the detainees are innocent travelers and Arab businessmen who who captured by warlords and armed gangs and sold to the Americans who offered payments for "terrorists."
The reason so many of them have been tortured is that the Bush administration has no evidence against them and is relying on pain and the hopelessness of indefinite detention to induce self-incrimination. The Bush administration is desperate to produce some "terrorists."
What has become of the American people that they permit the despicable practices of tyrants to be practiced in their name? The Bush administration is in violation of the US Constitution, the rule of law, the Geneva Convention, the Nuremberg Standard, and basic humanity. It is a gang of criminals. The Republican Party is so terrified of losing power that it supports a tyrannical administration that has brought shame not just to the Republican name but to all Americans.
When a Republican next campaigns, all he can say is "vote for me because I want power to lock you up and torture you."
Habeas Corpus Act of 1679
Responding to abusive detention of persons without legal authority, public pressure on the English Parliament caused them to adopt this act, which established a critical right that was later written into the Constitution for the United States:
An act for the better securing the liberty of the subject, and for prevention of imprisonments beyond the seas.
WHEREAS great delays have been used by sheriffs, gaolers and other officers, to whose custody, any of the King's subjects have been committed for criminal or supposed criminal matters, in making returns of writs of habeas corpus to them directed, by standing out an alias and pluries habeas corpus, and sometimes more, and by other shifts to avoid their yielding obedience to such writs, contrary to their duty and the known laws of the land, whereby many of the King's subjects have been and hereafter may be long detained in prison, in such cases where by law they are bailable, to their great charges and vexation.
and from wikipedia:
In English Common Law habeas corpus is the name of several writs which may be issued by a judge ordering a prisoner to be brought before the court. More commonly, the name refers to a specific writ known in full as habeas corpus ad subjiciendum, a prerogative writ ordering that a prisoner be brought to the court so it can be determined whether or not he is being imprisoned lawfully.
The right of habeas corpus has long been celebrated as the most efficient safeguard of the liberty of the subject. Dicey wrote that the Habeas Corpus Acts "declare no principle and define no rights, but they are for practical purposes worth a hundred constitutional articles guaranteeing individual liberty."

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

While We Were Sleeping

New York Observer

While We Were Sleeping
Where Was the Media Between Invasion and Murtha? Networks Gave Vietnam War Twice the Minutes Iraq Gets; Baghdad Bureaus Cut Back; Amanpour: ‘Patronizing’

By: Rebecca Dana, Lizzy Ratner
Date: 11/28/2005
Page: 1

On the morning of Aug. 3, 1965, a 33-year-old CBS correspondent named Morley Safer, in fatigues and with a bulky recording contraption on his hip, stood in Cam Ne, Vietnam, before a backdrop of burning thatch-roof huts. He clutched a battered metal microphone. Moments earlier, a unit of baby-faced American soldiers had set the huts on fire. Young women ran wailing, cradling babies; an elderly man hobbled toward Mr. Safer, pleading in Vietnamese.
“This is what the war in Vietnam is all about, the old and the very young,” Mr. Safer said, turning to face the camera.
Forty years later, the United States is in a desert war, transmitted instantly by satellite and broadband. There are no boundaries on our technical capabilities to cover events.
But there are other limits—commercial, political, editorial. And they have kept the war in Iraq marginal in the American media, from soon after the initial invasion in the spring of 2003 till last week, when Representative John Murtha hurled it back into the spotlight.
While Vietnam is remembered as the television war, Iraq has been the television-crawl war: a scrolling feed of bad-news bits, pushed to the margins by Brad and Jen, Robert Blake, Jacko and two and a half years of other anesthetizing fare. Americans could go days on end without engaging with the war, on TV or in print.
“There’s a dearth of seriousness in the coverage of news,” said veteran war correspondent Christiane Amanpour, “at a time when, in my view, it couldn’t be more serious.”
• Dead troops are invisible. The Bush administration’s ban on capturing flag-draped coffins is echoed in the press’ overall treatment of American war dead. A May 2005 survey by the Los Angeles Times found that over a six-month span, a set of leading United States newspapers and magazines ran “almost no pictures” of Americans killed in action, and they ran only 44 photos of wounded Westerners.
• Average monthly war coverage on the ABC, NBC and CBS evening newscasts, combined, has been cut in half—from 388 minutes in 2003, to 274 in 2004, to 166 in 2005.
• Major newspapers have cut back on the size of their Baghdad bureaus, with some closing them or allowing them to go unstaffed for stretches.
• Government regulation has spread over the battlefield, limiting mobility and access. Where Vietnam correspondents could hop a chopper to combat zones at will, Iraq reporters need to sign eight-page sheaves of rules and are pinned to single units. Health-care privacy law is invoked to keep reporters away from the wounded.
• Corporate security restrictions likewise stifle reporting. At CNN, reporters need clearance from the bureau chief to leave the network compound; similar rules apply at other networks.
The danger “really impedes our ability to get around the country to talk to average Iraqis, to get a really good sense of what’s going on on a daily basis,” said Paul Slavin, a senior vice president for ABC.
Many reporters have done heroic work in Iraq despite the obstacles. But it has failed to add up. There have been no moments like Cam Ne—in which Mr. Safer, a single Marianas-deep furrow between his brows, summarized the news and, in the process, signaled the birth of a bracing and immediate breed of war coverage: “The day’s operation burned down 150 homes, wounded three women, killed one baby, wounded one Marine, and netted … four old men who could not answer questions put to them in English.”
That nightly jungle drama, bringing a futile war to American televisions, has no counterpart in today’s coverage.
“The problem is that people aren’t publishing the work,” said Stefan Zaklin of the European Pressphoto agency. Mr. Zaklin recalled taking a picture of a fallen U.S. Army captain during the November 2004 assault on Falluja. The soldiers, he said, “were O.K. with me taking that picture,” and it ran in Paris Match, the Bangkok Post, and on page 1 of Germany’s Bild-Zeitung, Europe’s highest-circulation newspaper. Its only exposure in the U.S., he said, was a two-hour spin on MSNBC.
“The U.S. press is even worse in terms of not publishing the complete story,” Mr. Zaklin said, “and I think it’s because of the perceived taste or tolerance levels of their audience.”
“Corporations don’t want and don’t feel particularly a responsibility to aggressively rock the boat,” said Michael Kirk, a documentary producer working for PBS’s Frontline. “I think that’s certainly true. Why would Viacom want to rock the boat?”
At the networks, Mr. Kirk said, “the imperative is not to let somebody spend the time and the energy and the resources to really know it.
“We just did this huge film about torture,” Mr. Kirk continued. “We called all the people who worked at Abu Ghraib—the military police, military-intelligence people, officers. Many, many of them said no reporter had ever contacted them. This was a public list; this was not a secret list. It’s basic journalism—I call one guy and say, ‘Who else can I talk to?’ He gives me two more names. And that person gives me four more names. They also said they had not been contacted by anyone in journalism.”
So the war, in its bloodless version, fails to disturb the national media mind.
“I don’t think the networks have been able to create a narrative or mythology for the war,” said Ron Simon, the television curator for the Museum of Television and Radio. “For a narrative, you have to have an answer to Norman Mailer’s famous question, ‘Why are we here?’ Two years later, they’re still struggling to ask that question.”
Without that overarching narrative, news organizations are left to report inconclusive results under dangerous and unhelpful conditions. “I have to say, from where I sit—and this is from being on the ground—it’s really hard to do much more than figure out what the narrative over the past 24 hours was,” said New York Times reporter Dexter Filkins, on the phone from the paper’s Baghdad bureau.
Thus, in an entertainment-saturated media business, the Iraq feed has faded to an unattractive option—an option that even tends to be, with its distant and indistinct and repetitive strife, boring.
“News is news,” said John Paxson, CBS’s London bureau chief, who provides Iraq coverage to the network’s news programs. “A certain level of violence in Iraq, if it stays at that level for a period of weeks or months, it isn’t news. If it spikes upward, it’s news, and the amount of coverage on the air goes up.”
Asked if CBS is satisfying the American audience’s appetite for news from Iraq, he said, “I don’t know, because I’m not a consumer. I don’t watch American TV.”
The American news consumer is seeing far less of the war on television than Vietnam-era viewers did. In 1972, Ernest W. Lefever, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and senior fellow at the Ethics and public Policy Center, tabulated the CBS Evening News’ coverage of the Vietnam War, for a book meant to demonstrate that the network was excessively hostile to the Nixon administration. Mr. Lefever tallied 1,092 minutes of war coverage on the network that year, an average of 91 minutes a month.
Andrew Tyndall, a media analyst who tracks broadcast network news, reports that ABC, NBC and CBS combined have averaged 166 minutes a month on Iraq this year—which works out, per network, to roughly 55 minutes a month.
In 2003, after the invasion, media companies were warned not to feed the American news consumer too much material on the downside of war. The media-consulting firm Frank Magid Associates advised broadcast outlets that its survey results suggested that viewers had very little appetite for stories about casualties, prisoners of war and anti-war protests.
“There’s this kind of general, industry-wide view that Americans don’t like anything tough, don’t like anything complicated, don’t give a shit, don’t know how to spell the country much less care what’s going on there,” Ms. Amanpour said. “I find that a very patronizing attitude.”
Since the early days of round-the-clock shock and awe, as the war news has grown more ambiguous and dispiriting, Iraq’s share of broadcast time has diminished. According to Mr. Tyndall’s figures, coverage of combat in Iraq on the three top networks dropped from 133 minutes a month in 2003 to 113 minutes in 2004, then to 70 minutes in 2005.
“At the time, this looked like it was gonna have a happy ending,” Mr. Tyndall said. “There was the drama of the drive to Baghdad. The networks had time to plan for the invasion, to allocate all the resources, to get all the embeds organized. It was orchestrated as a spectacle.”
It’s not only combat that’s lost its share of TV time as the post-invasion era drags on. When Iraq’s interim government was formed in June 2004, the top three broadcast networks devoted 139 minutes that week to coverage, according to Mr. Tyndall. During the week of the January 2005 Constitutional Assembly elections, the networks spent 146 minutes, as Iraqis happily gathered around cameras waving their purple-tipped fingers.
But last month’s constitutional referendum got only 36 minutes of air time in the week it happened, Mr. Tyndall reported.
Reporters are still working the war zone, if not in the same waves as during the initial invasion. The broadcast networks and CNN are spending millions of dollars on Iraq newsgathering operations each year, and executives from the networks said that the financial commitment hasn’t dropped off.
“These are now fixed costs,” said Chris Cramer, the managing director of CNN International, who oversees Iraq coverage for the network. “They’re the price of doing business there, if you want to run a meaningful operation. We’re now spending several millions of dollars in security alone, and that’s before we get to staffing costs and accommodations.”
Print outlets, meanwhile, have gradually reduced their presence and expenses—with some withdrawing their foreign correspondents altogether. The Boston Globe no longer keeps a full-time staff journalist in Iraq; an Iraqi stringer maintains its offices in the Al Hamra hotel. Several weeks can pass between visits by Globe correspondents, said James Smith, the paper’s foreign editor.
“All bureaus are constricting to a degree,” said Rajiv Chandrasekaran, an assistant managing editor at The Washington Post who was the paper’s Baghdad bureau chief from April 2003 to August 2004. In the early days, he said, The Post maintained four or five permanent reporters, with three or four additional reporters rotating through at any given time. Now, the number of permanent reporters is down to two, with two or three more dropping in.
All of the American media have come to rely more and more on Iraqi staff. Of the roughly 40 people in CNN’s Baghdad bureau, about 30 are Iraqis. ABC has 30 Iraqi staffers in a bureau of 55; CBS has about two dozen in a similarly sized bureau. Approximately half of Reuters’ 60-person crew is either Arab or Iraqi. Of the 11 Associated Press journalists awarded the Pulitzer Prize for breaking-news photography earlier this year, five were Iraqi photographers.
The increased role of Iraqi staff comes as reporters are less able to move freely about the country. The Iraq war has become the deadliest conflict for journalists in well over half a century. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 58 reporters and 22 media-support workers (such as translators and drivers) have already been killed covering the conflict.
“I do believe that our human-interest storytelling has been hurt by the fact that we are not free to roam the neighborhoods and spend as much time as we would want to with the average Iraqi family or businessperson or child,” said David Verdi, the vice president of world newsgathering for NBC News. “We don’t freely go to the schools and the hospitals and the mosques because of the safety issues. That part of the storytelling has been hurt.”
In Vietnam, only 66 reporters were killed in 20 years of warfare. Both sides tended to respect the neutrality of the press, and the Viet Cong would go so far as to court reporters, said veteran correspondent Peter Arnett, who won a Pulitzer for his Vietnam coverage and is now writing a book about Saddam’s last years before the invasion. (Mr. Arnett was fired from NBC in 2003 after saying on Iraqi television that the American war plan had “failed.”)
Back then, “you had the impression that the Western media was not specifically targeted,” Mr. Arnett recalled.
Now, Mr. Arnett said, when he goes out, he often hides under a blanket in the back seat of a car.
For some reporters, leaving their security-patrolled, double-barricaded hotels requires permission from their employers. Last year, CNN instituted a rule limiting its Baghdad staff to correspondents and producers who have already reported from the area. When they want to leave CNN’s compound, they must get permission from the bureau chief.
Reporting teams from the three broadcast networks must also get clearance and must be accompanied by a security detail. “There is not a movement that we take outside of our hotel that is not carefully planned,” said NBC’s Mr. Verdi.
The Iraqis who have taken up the most dangerous legwork are not safe either. Five Iraqi journalists are currently being held without charges by U.S. and Iraqi government troops. Since April 2003, between 10 and 13 have been killed by American gunfire.
“It really comes from all sides,” said Reuters global managing editor David Schlesinger, who has lost three Iraqi reporters to U.S. gunfire and three more to detention facilities. “Certainly there’s a huge risk from insurgents, either to be hurt or killed accidentally … but unfortunately, there’s also been an issue with U.S. troops.”
And agoraphobic reporting, unavoidable though it is, means that the war is less compelling for readers and viewers back home.
“I think certainly you could get out in the jungles in Vietnam and prowl around and show the landscape,” said NBC correspondent George Lewis, who began his career in 1970 as a 27-year-old Vietnam correspondent. “Reporters today don’t have that freedom to roam. That makes it less visually compelling, perhaps.”
The insurgents aren’t the only ones behind the demise of the roving Vietnam-style reporter. The military, which at first reacted to the Vietnam experience by stonewalling the press, eventually discovered how to incorporate roving into the official agenda, through the embedding process.
Much was written at the outset of the invasion about the perils of embedding: how it could breed over-reliance on the official message, how it could lull reporters into uncritical camaraderie with the troops, how it could force reporters to trade accuracy for access.
A number of reporters now downplay some of those theoretical concerns. But some conceded that embedding does impede reporting.
“There’s commanders out there who, if you do an embed and they see your coverage or a particular story is too critical, they won’t invite you back for an embed,” said Ellen Knickmeyer, The Washington Post’s Baghdad bureau chief. “There’s parts of the country you won’t be able to go to. There’s a lot of good commanders out in the field, but sometimes their view of how you should be reporting doesn’t always get with how we’re used to covering things.”
“The military hasn’t stopped us,” said Alan Chin, a freelance photojournalist who covered the invasion in 2003, then returned for three months this past spring. “But they have made it hard at times.”
And as the war has devolved into a shapeless battle with insurgent forces, the role of embedment has shifted. It’s not an ethical calculation anymore, but a practical one.
“If you’re a [Western] print reporter,” Mr. Chandrasekaran said, “you’re pretty much confined to Baghdad. And if you want to go anywhere else, you basically have to be embedded.”
This also keeps the press working within an official, bureaucratic context. Jon Alpert, a filmmaker working on a documentary for HBO about military medicine, said that the MedEvac unit he embedded with for the project was surprisingly accommodating. But when injured troops reached the field hospital, officials invoked the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, the same privacy law that has come to thwart stateside reporters.
“When we were in the hospital,” Mr. Alpert said, “I had to have a public-affairs officer with me all the time. Because it was a hospital, they were applying the HIPAA laws.”
The combination of structured access to U.S. forces and open hostility from insurgents has left reporters with lopsided sources. “Who are the insurgents?” said freelance photojournalist Kael Alford, who covered the invasion and the first three months of the occupation. “Who are these people and why are they fighting? That’s a really valuable perspective …. It’s the story we have all been trying to do all along, and very few journalists have been able to get it.”
Another advantage that Vietnam reporters have is that their performance already belongs to history. Through the early part of that war, voices like Mr. Safer’s were in the minority, as overall coverage echoed the tales of smashing success coming from the Pentagon’s Saigon press bureau. Hindsight has a way of seeing highlights, not the years and months of ineffectual reporting that may have surrounded those moments.
Still, those moments were there—as when Walter Cronkite addressed his CBS audience at the end of his Feb. 27, 1968, broadcast. An anti-war movement was gaining strength and volume at home, and the North Vietnamese had swept into the streets of Saigon with the shocking Tet offensive. Mr. Cronkite himself was just home from a trip to Vietnam.
“To say that we are mired in stalemate seems the only realistic, yet unsatisfactory, conclusion,” Mr. Cronkite said. “It is increasingly clear to this reporter that the only rational way out then will be to negotiate, not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy, and did the best they could.”
The declaration shook the press and the nation. “If I’ve lost Cronkite,” President Lyndon Johnson told his aides, “I’ve lost Middle America.”
The current President has long since made it clear that he doesn’t care what the media have to say. Even if he did, there is no Walter Cronkite to say it.
On Monday, ABC announced that it will send an anchor to Baghdad: former chief White House correspondent Terry Moran, one of three rookie anchors replacing Ted Koppel on Nightline.
“The press is going through a very difficult time,” said Vietnam correspondent David Halberstam, “because the technology is changing under our feet …. You go from three or four channels to cable and the fragmentation of the audience. So that has tended to change the dynamic. First print is in decline, then the networks are in decline. The networks are utterly corporatized, not interested in news in the way the networks in the 60’s still cared …. Now you have these giant corporations that don’t really care that much about news. It is a tiny tail on a very large dog.”
If the public mood about the war is turning, it is turning less on the work of the press and more on the outrage of Mr. Murtha, the Pennsylvania Democrat and combat veteran who called for the troops to be withdrawn as soon as practicable. The Bush administration, which never hesitates to lash back at critical stories in the media, was left praising Mr. Murtha’s credentials while trying to counter his complaint.
“I think this is a very important increment,” said Mr. Halberstam. “Murtha is a guy who is really speaking for the military. So if you lose someone like Murtha, that may be the equivalent, in this new kind of war, of 500,000 people outside the Pentagon.”
While Mr. Murtha is bidding to write history, what has the press been doing?
New York Times Baghdad bureau chief John Burns said, “Considering the impediments that there are here to travel and access … the American media in Iraq has done a pretty damned good job.”
But Mr. Burns acknowledged that he worries how posterity will judge his and his colleagues’ work.
“I spend some time, as one who has some responsibility for shaping our coverage here, asking myself what are they going to be saying in the journalism classes of 2025, 2030, about the New York Times coverage here, against whatever the outcome is? … Were we too Pollyanna-ish and too optimistic? Or were we too pessimistic?” Mr. Burns said. “I think one thing we would all have to plead guilty to is having perhaps underestimated the degree of difficulty accomplishing what the United States set out to do here.”
—Additional reporting by Brad Tytel, Nicole Pesce, Raegan Johnson and Anna Lindow

copyright © 2005 the new york observer, L.P. | all rights reserved

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Judith Coburn - The Mother of All Constitutional Crises

Worse than Watergate?
The Mother of All Constitutional Crises
By Judith Coburn

Tuesday 22 November 2005

On July 31, 1973, while the Vietnam war was still being fought, Representative Robert Drinan, a Massachusetts Democrat, introduced the first impeachment resolution against President Richard Nixon. One of the grounds for indictment Drinan proposed was the secret bombing of Cambodia, ordered by the President. To Drinan, this was a crime at least as great as the domestic scandals which had already come to be known as "Watergate." The fourteen months of massive B-52 "carpet bombings," which killed tens of thousands of Cambodian villagers and an unknown number of Vietnamese communist soldiers in border sanctuaries, were run outside the military's chain of command. They were also kept completely secret from Congress and the public (until exposed by New York Times reporter William Beecher). In recently released transcripts of telephone conversations between Nixon and his closest aides, the President ordered "a massive bombing campaign in Cambodia [using] anything that flies on anything that moves." (The transcript then records an unintelligible comment that "sounded like [General Alexander] Haig laughing.")

The secret bombing of Cambodia involved the same abuse of power and political manipulation of government agencies as Watergate, but only a few Congressional representatives like John Conyers, Elizabeth Holtzman, and Edward Mezvinsky supported Drinan's Cambodia article, which was soundly defeated by the House impeachment committee 26-12.

There are many myths about Watergate - among them that Woodward and Bernstein rode into Dodge and rescued the republic all by themselves, that the impeachment of Richard Nixon saved American constitutional democracy from destruction, and that the grounds on which Nixon was impeached were a fair reflection of what he and "all the President's men" had actually done. In American mythology, "the system worked."

To most Americans, the slaughter of millions of Cambodians, Vietnamese, and Lao, as well as the destruction of their countries, seem unrelated to "Watergate." Henry Kissinger, one of the architects of the secret bombing of Cambodia, who had ordered his own dissenting staffers and several journalists illegally wiretapped to stop leaks, escaped indictment and would soon be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Few now remember that it was Indochina, not the burglary of Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate Complex that really set Watergate, the scandal, in motion and led to a pattern of Presidential conduct which seems eerily familiar today. In his 1974 book, Time of Illusion, Jonathan Schell wrote of "the distortions in the conduct of the presidency which deformed national politics in the Vietnam years - the isolation from reality, the rage against political opposition, the hunger for unconstitutional power, the conspiratorial mindedness, the bent for repressive action." He concluded that three presidents "consistently sacrificed the welfare of the nation at home to what they saw as the demands of foreign affairs."

To recast an infamous Vietnam slogan: They had to destroy American democracy at home in order to save the world for democracy.

Saving the System in the Name of National Security

It would seem little has changed. Rather than "saving the system," Watergate only slowed for a brief period the increasing concentration of power in the White House and the Pentagon, not to speak of its abuse after Ronald Reagan came to power in the name of national security. The now nearly forgotten Iran-Contra scandal during Reagan's reign revealed in a stark way the illegal lengths to which that administration's anti-communist ideologues were willing to go to defy Congress. Using every stealth method at their command, top Reagan officials defied and effectively nullified a Congressional ban on aid to the "Contras," right-wing Nicaraguans who were determined to overthrow the leftist Sandinistas then in power in their country. White House, CIA, State Department, and Pentagon officials schemed to pass along to the Contras profits from the illegal sale of high-tech arms to the fundamentalist Muslim regime of Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran. (Iran was in a desperate war with Saddam Hussein's Iraq, then officially supported by the Reagan Administration.)

Now, once again, ideologues - this time formerly anti-communist neoconservatives - have taken America into another foreign war, whose pretext was as flimsy as the fabricated North Vietnamese attack on American destroyers in the Tonkin Gulf that led to Lyndon Johnson's decision to send combat troops to Vietnam. This latest war is being run by an administration at least as isolated, enraged, obsessed with secrecy, and abusive of power as Richard Nixon's. Americans are as obsessed by the relatively minuscule number of American casualties in Iraq as they were by the 58,000 Americans who died in Vietnam and just as blind to the suffering of Iraqis as they were to the millions of Indochinese who died.

Just as during Watergate and Iran-Contragate, the machinations of Beltway leakers - in this case in the Plame affair - carry more weight politically than life-and-death issues like the legalization of torture, the creation of secret, offshore CIA "black" prisons, the administration's campaign to suspend the constitutional rights of defendants and the protections of the Geneva Conventions, not to speak of the administration's drive to create a presidency of unfettered power. Revelations of war crimes by American GIs and CIA operatives have been quickly dismissed by picking a few low-ranking scapegoats like Lyndie English while higher ups go unpunished, just as the chain of responsibility for the My Lai massacres in Vietnam stopped with Lt. William Calley. Secret agent Valerie Plame in her Jackie O shades, posing for Vanity Fair with her whistleblowing husband Joe Wilson, becomes the celebrity du jour standing in for Daniel Ellsberg, leaker of the Pentagon Papers, the secret history of the Vietnam war, who was photographed by the radically chic Richard Avedon.

The Genuine Articles

But are things simply the same as in the 1970s (and again the Reagan era) or is our present situation actually "worse than Watergate," as former Nixon White House counsel John Dean, who turned on the President and his comrades to save himself, argued in his prescient 2004 book of that title?

The articles of impeachment Congress eventually framed to indict Richard Nixon make interesting reading these days. The first article had at its heart the Watergate break-in and the elaborate cover-up that followed, including "making false or misleading statements to lawfully authorized investigative officers and employees of the United States," "endeavoring to misuse the Central Intelligence Agency, an agency of the United States," and "making or causing to be made false or misleading public statements for the purpose of deceiving the people of the United States into believing that a through and complete investigation had been conducted with respect to allegations of misconduct on the part of personnel of the executive branch of the United States..."

Article 2 was a catch-all indictment of all the violations of Americans' rights ordered by the White House, including the political use of the IRS, CIA, Secret Service, Justice Department, and FBI as well as wiretapping, surveillance, and burglaries against those on President Nixon's notorious "enemies list." In all such acts, "national security" was the justification given.

The facts may be different, but do the charges themselves sound familiar?

Article 3 concerned the White House's refusal to honor Congressional subpoenas for the infamous tapes secretly recorded by the President and various papers relevant to the Watergate investigation. "In refusing to produce these papers and things Richard M. Nixon, substituting his judgment as to what materials were necessary for the inquiry, interposed the powers of the Presidency against the...House of Representatives."

No one would expect history simply to repeat itself, especially since memories of Watergate (and myths about it) have affected presidential actions ever since. Ronald Reagan and his handlers, faced with Iran/Contragate, certainly remembered how Nixon's cover-up came to seem more egregious than the actions it sought to conceal. Reagan immediately fired Oliver North, the National Security Council staffer who masterminded the scheme, and sent his National Security Adviser Admiral John M. Poindexter packing (if only for a trip back to the Navy). He then appointed the Tower Commission and a special prosecutor to investigate, appearing to cooperate with Congressional investigations even while undermining them. In his comprehensive and fascinating book, The Wars of Watergate, historian Stanley I. Kutler points out how much cleverer the Reaganites were than Nixon's men in leaving no documents or tapes to be seized.

George W. Bush and his associates must have remarkably short memories. While he has been careful to mouth words of cooperation in the Plamegate case, he has depended on the Republican control of Congress to stonewall on just about every egregious misdeed that has seen the light of day, blocking public hearings into Abu Ghraib, the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo, the CIA secret prison system, faux intelligence on Iraq, and Plamegate itself.

That felicitous Watergate phrase "high crimes and misdemeanors" and the word "impeachment" are now heard in circles on the left, with the legal grounds for impeachment being explored by lawyers like Elizabeth de la Vega in the Nation magazine and at Tomdispatch. But what special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald may still lack to crack open the case for a White House-led conspiracy to manipulate intelligence, destroy the Wilsons, and get back at the CIA is a whistleblower like John ("there's a cancer on the Presidency") Dean or even Jeb Magruder, the top Republican campaign aide who helped plan the Watergate break-in and cover-up, only to finally cop a plea. Now that I. Lewis Libby and New York Times reporter Judy Miller, thick as thieves - "entanglement" was the word that paper's Executive Editor Bill Keller used - before the vice-presidential chief of staff's indictment, have been designated the fall folks in Plamegate and the administration's rush to war in Iraq, the question is: Could resentment for shouldering the blame alone (so far) lead Libby to disloyal testimony against his higher-ups as happened in Watergate?

Unlike in the Watergate years, however, most of the legal action that might just dent the Bush administration's imperial armor is happening abroad. Just as the most revelatory reports about American abuses of power and war-making - from the Italian newspaper La Repubblica's three-part series on the yellowcake forgery to the recent Italian TV film on the American use of white phosphorus against civilians in Falluja - have surfaced abroad, so the only real court actions against American abuses of power are taking place in Europe. There, an Italian court has indicted CIA agents for "extraordinary rendition" kidnapping operations on the streets of Milan. Spanish courts - which sought to try Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet for torture - are now pursuing American violations of national sovereignty because CIA planes ferrying detainees to secret "black sites" used airports in the Azores and the Canary Islands. Both the United Nations and the European Union are investigating the CIA use of secret European prisons and airfields in their "rendition" operations. If Congress won't act to punish Bush Administration officials who enacted a torture policy, perhaps the Europeans will.

Plamegate, after all, is no more just an odious but simple case of Beltway character assassination than the plumbers' break-in at Democratic Party headquarters was just a burglary. Famed Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein now argues that just as the Watergate break-in was the key that opened a strongbox of ugly facts about the Nixon Administration's unbridled abuse of power, so might the Plame affair break open the Bush Administration's imperial modus operandi.

The Politics of Impeachment and the One-Party State

Will Plamegate lead to the collapse of the Bush presidency or even impeachment? These are, in the end, matters less of legality than politics, consciousness, and conscience. A Republican-dominated Congress impeached President Bill Clinton for lying to a grand jury about sex with a White House intern, while President Bush remains free even from hearings, let alone legal action, on his administration's many Watergate-like excesses. Now that's politics!

What makes the Plame affair so odd, however, is this: Unlike Watergate or the Iran-Contra revelations, it doesn't really tell us anything we didn't know (or at least that we couldn't have known) before the Iraq War was launched. The neoconservatives' long-standing plans to invade Iraq, the administration's blanket policy of secrecy and the lies it told Congress and the public, the political manipulation of the intelligence community including the CIA, FBI, and the military - all rivaling in scope any similar Nixonian schemes- were in plain sight for those who cared to look during the run-up to the war. Even the Downing Street memo, the now infamous secret minutes of a meeting of Prime Minister Tony Blair's senior foreign policy and security officials, describing the White House's commitment to invade Iraq at a time when it was telling Americans it had no plans to do so, had little, if anything, new in it. (At least, its exposure in the British press, like the latest reporting on Plame affair revelations, helped chip away at what had once been a well-armored administration.)

In fact, one of the most revelatory pieces of reporting on the whole pre- and post-invasion period could be found not in the American press but in an extraordinary three-part series in the leftist Italian newspaper La Repubblica, articles which have received only a few skeptical references buried in the back pages of our major papers (while being headline news in the on-line world of political websites and blogs). The Italian investigative reporters do tell us something new - exactly how two of the key administration arguments for war in Iraq were concocted and known to be bogus by Italian intelligence and discredited by the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency and State Department officials until Vice President Cheney pounded CIA Director George Tenet and Secretary of State Colin Powell into submission.

According to La Repubblica, the yellowcake story and the forged documents that were its source were cooked up by a bottom-feeding double agent who needed the money. (He's Plamegate's most colorful character, rivaling G. Gordon Liddy, Watergate's handlebar-mustachioed, gun-loving CIA operative.) And Italian intelligence knew that the infamous aluminum tubes purchased by Saddam Hussein's regime were for rockets, not centrifuges in a nuclear-weapons program, because the Italian military had once equipped the Iraqis with that make of rocket.

High-level Italian spies are quoted in the piece as being well aware that they needed to hook up with the rogue Cheney/ Rumsfeld back-channel intelligence operation - running counter to CIA analysis - in order to keep their hand in with the White House. (Where is this era's James McCord, the Watergate burglar and CIA loyalist who told all because he feared the White House sought political control over the CIA?) Pre-war, the aluminum tubes were also roundly dismissed as evidence for an Iraqi nuclear weapons program by the UN's nuclear-weapons inspectors as well as recent Nobel Prize winner Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Ex-Ambassador Wilson was only the last in a long line to discredit Cheney's zealotry about Saddam's nonexistent nuclear program.

As for the Bush Administration's insistence that Saddam had chemical and biological weapons, last week the Los Angeles Times, in a stunning exposé, documented how German intelligence had repeatedly warned the CIA that an Iraqi defector dubbed "Curveball," who was the sole source for these claims, was a con artist who cooked up his story to get a German visa. But the CIA went right ahead, funneling "Curveball's" phony info into Secretary of State Colin Powell's UN rush-to-war speech and other presidential and vice-presidential saber-rattlings.

Even the weak-kneed Senate Intelligence Committee has revealed how analysts at the Defense Intelligence Agency and the CIA among others, discredited the administration's assertions that al-Qaeda operatives were in league with the Iraqis and gave the infamous Chalabi network of defectors (the main source for Judy Miller's "scoops") zero marks for credibility.

It's often forgotten how long it took for Watergate to get traction as a political juggernaut. The initial Washington Post reports by Woodward and Bernstein on the Watergate burglary were printed before the 1972 election and yet Nixon was reelected. (The two reporters had not then traced Liddy, McCord, and the other Nixon "plumbers" back to the Committee to Reelect the President and the White House). Three decades later, much more was known about the Bush administration's excesses before the 2004 election. But times are very different. The young investigative reporter of Watergate morphed over those three decades into insider icon Bob Woodward, the "stenographer for the White House" who managed not to report on, no less mention to his editors, his all-too-close relationship to the Plame affair, while publicly disparaging its importance.

In the early seventies, however skeptical Americans were about Washington after more than eight years of the war in Vietnam under both Democratic and Republican war-makers, some hope of political change still smoldered. Cold War paranoia was ebbing, the horrors of 9/11 yet unimagined. Government was still a bipartisan concept; corporate money had yet to completely dominate elections; the media was still diverse, independent of the Republican attack machine, and skeptical of the powers-that-be. It was still imaginable that classic American checks and balances might right the ship of state.

Now, when the President waves the 9/ll voodoo doll, Congress, the media, and the public flinch. With both houses of Congress under Republican domination and both parties beholden to corporate America but not voting citizens, there have been no Watergate-style hearings, no impeachment hearings, no public investigations at all of Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, torture and secret prisons, war profiteering, or the lies told in the rush to war. The Supreme Court is controlled by conservatives unblinkingly willing to put into the presidency a man whose party may well have stolen elections in Florida and Ohio.

We have no Sen. Sam Ervin, the avuncular constitutionalist and Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee whose Watergate hearings educated Americans about the uses and abuses of government; no Rep. Peter Rodino, who ably and calmly chaired the House impeachment inquiry; not even a Republican like Sen. Howard Baker, who began by defending the White House and came to understand during the Watergate hearings that loyalty to country was more important than the survival of a corrupt president. Congressional critics have no forum like the Watergate hearings and are dependent on the jaded Beltway media to get the word out. But in recent weeks, moderate Republicans and John McCain, one of the few politicians still willing to fight for those quaint, old-fashioned things called "principles," are gaining traction. And liberal Democrats have new allies in the antiwar fight, most notably conservative Vietnam veteran Rep. John P. Murtha, who recently leapt over gutless wonders like John Kerry and Hillary Clinton to demand the immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq.

White House attempts to tar critics with treason have met their match in retired colonel Murtha who sarcastically said he "liked guys who got five deferments and [have] never been there and send people to war and then don't like to hear suggestions about what needs to be done." (During Vietnam, Vice President Cheney received five deferments and never served in the military.)

We now have something close to one-party government in this country, an idea still so fantastic to Americans and their media that the most serious, in depth, and credible exploration of the 2000 and 2004 election fraud by any journalist - the book Steal This Vote: Dirty Elections and the Rotten History of Democracy in America - has been done by an Englishman, Andrew Gumbel of the British newspaper The Independent. He's now been joined by American professor Mark Crispin Miller, whose new book Fooled Again: How the Right Stole the 2004 Elections and Why They May Steal the Next One Too (Unless We Stop Them) digs into the subject as well.

And instead of the Woodward/Bernstein team, we have Judy Miller (and the reborn Bob Woodward). Only a tiny handful of reporters at the New York Times, Washington Post and Los Angeles Times (all with sinking circulations), 60 Minutes and almost uniquely the New Yorker's Seymour Hersh have been doing the kind of serious, in-depth investigative journalism that was done by many in the Watergate era. On-line reporters, able to circulate a single story at lightening speed around the world, are fueled by the same obsessive zeal as their age of Watergate print compatriots but have radically less money to support investigations of any sort. As Carl Bernstein pointed out recently in Vanity Fair, the Bush administration, like Nixon's, has succeeded only too well "in making the conduct of the press the issue - again in wartime with false claims and smears directed at political opponents, reporters, newspapers, magazines and broadcast organizations for supposedly undermining national security." If only the media of our era had actually justified such attacks.

John Dean was indeed right. The Bush Administration's excesses are "worse than Watergate," in part because the power that has congealed in presidential hands is much greater than Nixon's imperial presidency held in the early 1970s. As a result, its zealotry, secrecy, deceit, and abuses of power are more akin to the secret bombing of Cambodia or the Iran-Contra affair - scandals which did not unseat presidents - than Watergate itself. In both the bombing of Cambodia and Iran-Contragate, a power-hungry White House kept secret foreign policies that it knew neither Congress, the courts, nor the public would be likely to approve - even though Americans have traditionally been only too eager to give the White House a blank check on national security. No one was indicted for the secret bombing of Cambodia. In Iran-Contragate, eleven top administration officials, including two national security advisers and an undersecretary of state were finally convicted, but the first President George Bush rushed to pardon four of them as well as Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger (even before he could be indicted). The specter of this resolution of the Libby case recently prompted Democrats and then a group of CIA officials - to little media attention - to write the President demanding that he go on record indicating there will be no pardons in the Plame affair. They received no reply.

Journalist Judith Coburn has covered war and its aftermath in Indochina, Central America, and the Middle East for the Village Voice, Pacifica Radio, the Far Eastern Economic Review, Mother Jones, the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, and the San Francisco Chronicle, among others. She co-anchored (with David Gelber) Pacifica Radio's live, gavel-to-gavel coverage of the Watergate hearings.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Paul Krugman - Time to Leave

Time to Leave
By Paul Krugman
The New York Times

Monday 21 November 2005

Not long ago wise heads offered some advice to those of us who had argued since 2003 that the Iraq war was sold on false pretenses: give it up. The 2004 election, they said, showed that we would never convince the American people. They suggested that we stop talking about how we got into Iraq and focus instead on what to do next.

It turns out that the wise heads were wrong. A solid majority of Americans now believe that we were misled into war. And it is only now, when the public has realized the truth about the past, that serious discussions about where we are and where we're going are able to get a hearing.

Representative John Murtha's speech calling for a quick departure from Iraq was full of passion, but it was also serious and specific in a way rarely seen on the other side of the debate. President Bush and his apologists speak in vague generalities about staying the course and finishing the job. But Mr. Murtha spoke of mounting casualties and lagging recruiting, the rising frequency of insurgent attacks, stagnant oil production and lack of clean water.

Mr. Murtha - a much-decorated veteran who cares deeply about America's fighting men and women - argued that our presence in Iraq is making things worse, not better. Meanwhile, the war is destroying the military he loves. And that's why he wants us out as soon as possible.

I'd add that the war is also destroying America's moral authority. When Mr. Bush speaks of human rights, the world thinks of Abu Ghraib. (In his speech, Mr. Murtha pointed out the obvious: torture at Abu Ghraib helped fuel the insurgency.) When administration officials talk of spreading freedom, the world thinks about the reality that much of Iraq is now ruled by theocrats and their militias.

Some administration officials accused Mr. Murtha of undermining the troops and giving comfort to the enemy. But that sort of thing no longer works, now that the administration has lost the public's trust.

Instead, defenders of our current policy have had to make a substantive argument: we can't leave Iraq now, because a civil war will break out after we're gone. One is tempted to say that they should have thought about that possibility back when they were cheerleading us into this war. But the real question is this: When, exactly, would be a good time to leave Iraq?

The fact is that we're not going to stay in Iraq until we achieve victory, whatever that means in this context. At most, we'll stay until the American military can take no more.

Mr. Bush never asked the nation for the sacrifices - higher taxes, a bigger military and, possibly, a revived draft - that might have made a long-term commitment to Iraq possible. Instead, the war has been fought on borrowed money and borrowed time. And time is running out. With some military units on their third tour of duty in Iraq, the superb volunteer army that Mr. Bush inherited is in increasing danger of facing a collapse in quality and morale similar to the collapse of the officer corps in the early 1970's.

So the question isn't whether things will be ugly after American forces leave Iraq. They probably will. The question, instead, is whether it makes sense to keep the war going for another year or two, which is all the time we realistically have.

Pessimists think that Iraq will fall into chaos whenever we leave. If so, we're better off leaving sooner rather than later. As a Marine officer quoted by James Fallows in the current Atlantic Monthly puts it, "We can lose in Iraq and destroy our Army, or we can just lose."

And there's a good case to be made that our departure will actually improve matters. As Mr. Murtha pointed out in his speech, the insurgency derives much of its support from the perception that it's resisting a foreign occupier. Once we're gone, the odds are that Iraqis, who don't have a tradition of religious extremism, will turn on fanatical foreigners like Zarqawi.

The only way to justify staying in Iraq is to make the case that stretching the U.S. army to its breaking point will buy time for something good to happen. I don't think you can make that case convincingly. So Mr. Murtha is right: it's time to leave.

Kill Bill

Falwell fighting for holy holiday / He'll sue, boycott groups he sees as muzzling Christmas

Falwell fighting for holy holiday
He'll sue, boycott groups he sees as muzzling Christmas

Joe Garofoli, San Francisco Chronicle Staff Writer
Sunday, November 20, 2005

Evangelical Christian pastor Jerry Falwell has a message for Americans when it comes to celebrating Christmas this year: You're either with us, or you're against us.

Falwell has put the power of his 24,000-member congregation behind the "Friend or Foe Christmas Campaign," an effort led by the conservative legal organization Liberty Counsel. The group promises to file suit against anyone who spreads what it sees as misinformation about how Christmas can be celebrated in schools and public spaces.

The 8,000 members of the Christian Educators Association International will be the campaign's "eyes and ears" in the nation's public schools. They'll be reporting to 750 Liberty Counsel lawyers who are ready to pounce if, for example, a teacher is muzzled from leading the third-graders in "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing."

An additional 800 attorneys from another conservative legal group, the Alliance Defense Fund, are standing by as part of a similar effort, the Christmas Project. Its slogan: "Merry Christmas. It's OK to say it."

Fanning the Yule log of discontent against what the Liberty Counsel calls "grinches" like the American Civil Liberties Union are evangelical-led organizations including the 150,000-member American Family Association. It has called for a boycott of Target stores next weekend. The chain's crime, according to the group, is a ban on the use of "Merry Christmas" in stores, an accusation the chain denies.

On his show last week, Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly offered a list of other retailers that he says refuse to use "Merry Christmas" in their store advertising.

In signing on to "Friend or Foe" this month, Falwell urged the 500,000 recipients of his weekly "Falwell Confidential" e-mail to "draw a line in the sand and resist bullying tactics of the ACLU and others who intimidate school and government officials by spreading misinformation about Christmas."

Standing on the other side of that sand line are religious, liberal and secular organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League, whose national director, Abe Foxman, recently bemoaned the religious right's efforts to "Christianize" America.

"This amped-up effort shows how these groups want to push into the classrooms more," said Tami Holzman, assistant director of the Anti-Defamation League's San Francisco office.

"There is no war against Christmas," said Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. "There is no jihad against Christians. There is nothing going on around Christmas except these groups' incessant fundraising."

How the season of ho-ho-ho evolved into "Friend or Foe" shows how the nation's culture wars have pushed into the season of giving. Each side wants its beliefs accurately represented around the nation's winter hearth -- its public schools and government spaces.

And if not, it will sue.

"It's a sad day in America when you have to retain an attorney to say 'Merry Christmas,' " said Mike Johnson, an Alliance Defense Fund attorney in Louisiana who will push the Christmas cause.

Organizers of the Christmas campaigns say many Christians feel aggrieved by the secularization of the season. They say teachers feel too intimidated to allow students to sing "Silent Night" in school, and they believe cities have every right to place a nativity scene in a public park.

Both activities are constitutionally protected, the Christian groups say, provided that the kids also sing secular songs and the cities put up nonreligious holiday displays as well.

Friends, according to "Friend or Foe" campaign sponsor Liberty Counsel, "do not discriminate against Christmas." Foes are going to get a letter from one of the pro bono lawyers reminding them that "Christmas is constitutional," not to mention a federal holiday.

"We'll try to educate," said Mat Staver, president of Liberty Counsel. "But if we can't, we'll litigate."

Or boycott. The American Family Association called Thursday for a Thanksgiving weekend shunning of Target stores, saying the chain was refusing to allow the phrase "Merry Christmas" on in-store promotions and advertising.

"I don't know where they're coming from," Target spokeswoman Carolyn Brookter replied. "We have no such policy on Christmas. You can see it in our stores."

At one local Target, in Colma, most of the in-store advertising offers a generic "Gatherround." One of the few advertising mentions of the C-word is above a Christmas card rack that says, "Celebrate Christmas."

That's not good enough for American Family Association President Tim Wildmon, who wants to see "Merry Christmas" signs displayed prominently "if they expect Christians to come in and buy products during this so-called season."

And he isn't worried if they offend people who aren't Christian.

"They can walk right by the sign," Wildmon said. "It's a federal holiday. If someone is upset by that, well, they should know that they are living in a predominantly Christian nation."

Where's Wildmon shopping next weekend? "Wal-Mart," he said.

That chain was briefly the target of a boycott called by the Catholic Rights League after an employee described Christmas in an unflattering way in a company e-mail. The employee has since left and the boycott is off, though the Catholic Rights League still criticizes Wal-Mart for tellings its employees to say, "Happy holidays."

Wal-Mart spokesman Dan Fogleman said the "Happy holidays" greeting is "more inclusive. With 130 million customers walking through the door and 1.3 million employees, it's safe to say there are a lot of different faiths out there."

The ACLU and its supporters believe they're being drawn into a make-believe war. They say they've fielded fewer holiday-season conflicts in recent years and that everybody seems to know the rules, except those trying to make a political point.

"People are free to worship in their homes and their houses of worship and if they rent out a hall," said the ACLU's Jeremy Gunn, national director of the group's Freedom of Religion and Belief program. "You have to ask, why do they want to worship in the public schools?

"That they're doing this in the name of religion is very, very sad," Gunn said. "It would be one thing if they're talking about consumerism of the season or something, but they're not."

Other groups are actively countering the Christmas campaigns.

The Anti-Defamation League said it would send letters to school administrators nationwide on how to negotiate the "December dilemma," emphasizing that "schools must be careful not to cross the line between teaching about religious holidays (which is permitted) and celebrating religious holidays (which is not)."

The issue is a dilemma for the Anti-Defamation League, too. It commissioned a poll last month of 800 adults, 57 percent of whom said Christianity was under attack. Among evangelicals, the figure was 76 percent.

"There's a lot of fear out there," said Finn Laursen, a retired school administrator who is now executive director of the Christian Educators Association International.

Standing in the middle of the fray are school administrators like Rob Kessler, superintendent of the 24,000-student San Ramon Valley Unified School District.

Kessler said it's OK, for example, for a teacher to bring a menorah into class. "But what's not OK is if a teacher would begin lighting candles and saying prayers," he said. "Then it becomes a religious ceremony. But, honestly, we haven't seen many instances of this in the last few years."

The war has even spread to Bob Norris, head of the Christmas Tree Farmers Association of New York. He lent his organization's name to the Alliance Defense Fund's campaign because, he said, "The people who are fighting to save this country are in favor of Christmas."

Sam Minturn, who heads the California Christmas Tree Association, said his group hadn't taken a position on the issue. In fact, he doesn't mind the term "holiday tree" -- a phrase that angers some "Friend or Foe" campaigners.

"I don't care what people call them, as long as they buy them," said Minturn, who lives in Merced County. "Go ahead and call them a weed."

Max Blumenthal - Who Is Mean Jean's Marine? And Why Does He Think Murtha's A Coward?

Who Is Mean Jean's Marine? And Why Does He Think Murtha's A Coward?

Max Blumenthal
Huffington Post

On Friday, freshman Republican Rep. "Mean Jean" Schmidt mounted one of the fiercest, most personal assaults Congress has witnessed since Preston Brooks caned Charles Sumner to a bloody pulp in 1856. The target of Schmidt's attack was Rep. John Murtha, a Vietnam vet who had just introduced a resolution calling for a withdrawal of US troops from Iraq within 6 months (which included several measures designed to ensure regional stability upon pullout).

"A few minutes ago I received a call from Colonel Danny Bubp, Ohio Representative from the 88th district in the House of Representatives. He asked me to send Congress a message: Stay the course," Schmidt declared from her lectern. "He also asked me to send Congressman Murtha a message, that cowards cut and run, Marines never do."

By employing Bubp, a Marine reservist, as her surrogate attack dog, Schmidt sought to give the impression that the military rank-and-file overwhelmingly deplored Murtha's resolution. Murtha may have been a Marine a long, long time ago, but he doesn't understand the harsh realities of the post-9/11 world. But that tough-talking paragon of the modern warrior, Colonel Danny Bubp, whoever he is, sure as hell does. Or so Schmidt would have us believe.

A quick glance at Bubp's background reveals him to a low-level right-wing operative who has spent more time in the past ten years engaged in symbolic Christian right crusades than he has battling terrorist evil-doers. And throughout his career, Bubp's destiny has been inextricably linked with Schmidt's. Bubp may be a Marine, but his view of Murtha as a "coward" is colored by naked political ambition. He is nothing more than cheap camouflage cover for the GOP's latest Swift-Boat campaign.

March 1999 marked the beginning of a brilliant career. It was then that Bubp became pro-bono legal counsel for Adams County for the Ten Commandments, an ad-hoc Ohio group formed to keep 10 Commandments monuments displayed in local public schools after the ACLU filed a lawsuit demanding their removal. Bubp was assisted by a Who's Who of Christian right leaders, including James Dobson, Don Wildmon, Judge Roy Moore and Jay Sekulow. The campaign was organized primarily by Rev. Rob Schenck, a former leader of the militant anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, who was once detained for threating Bill Clinton's afterlife at the National Cathedral. (Read my profile of Schenck for the Washington Monthly for the full story on this, and many more bizarre stunts).

When the monuments' removal seemed imminent by 2003, Bubp nevertheless declared, "We've already won." Thanks to Schenck, he was able to help distribute 600 yard signs reading "We Stand For The Ten Commandments" throughout Adams County. And the devoted network of activists formed during the 8-year-long struggle would toil on his behalf when he ran for the Ohio legislature in 2004.

Bubp was elected despite a successful legal maneuver by his former primary challenger to unseal his divorce file. Bubp fought tooth-and-nail to keep these records in the dark because, according to the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists, "the file does contain sensitive tax and personal information he'd just as soon keep private." Whatever information emerged was overlooked by a local press focused on national races.

During the campaign, Bubp still found time to help his friend, Schmidt, who was struggling to counter the momentum of her Democratic challenger, Iraq war veteran Paul Hackett. At a Schmidt rally falsely billed as an event to honor war veterans, Bubp appeared in full Marine battle dress uniform to attack Hackett for criticizing his "Commander in Chief." " "I served for eight years under a president who loathed the military," Bubp said, referring to Clinton. "But we never said a word about it."

Now in the Ohio legislature, and back in his usual three-piece suit, Bubp has teamed up once again with Schmidt, this time to save the Pledge of Allegiance from "liberal activist judges." Bubp is the author of the Pledge Protection Act, which would ensure that public schoolchildren include the phrase "under God" in their daily recitation of the pledge, no matter what the comsymp one-worlders at the ACLU do. This month, at Bubp's behest, Schmidt introduced the bill in Congress.

"I am firmly convinced that our forefathers would believe it evil for anyone to try to strike the name of God from all things public," Bubp declared in an editorial promoting the bill. Not only does Bubp understand the psychology of cowards, he has special insight into the religious beliefs of "our forefathers."

Bubp and Schmidt were honored this month by the Rev. Rob Schenck with the "Ten Commandments Leadership Award." Presented with personalized 10 Commandments plaques by a man who once attempted to hand an aborted fetus to Bill Clinton, they became decorated veterans of the right's culture war.

But in assailing the character of John Murtha, who was honored for actual combat experience with the Purple Heart, Bubp and Schmidt were unfaithful to the words inscribed on the monuments they so revere. So for them, here is a reminder: Thou shalt not bear false witness.

John Mueller - The Iraq Syndrome

The New York Times
November 8, 2005
The Iraq Syndrome

From the November/December 2005 issue of Foreign Affairs.

JOHN MUELLER is Professor of Political Science at Ohio State University and the author of "War, Presidents, and Public Opinion; Policy and Opinion in the Gulf War;" and, most recently, "The Remnants of War."


American troops have been sent into harm's way many times since 1945, but in only three cases -- Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq -- have they been drawn into sustained ground combat and suffered more than 300 deaths in action. American public opinion became a key factor in all three wars, and in each one there has been a simple association: as casualties mount, support decreases. Broad enthusiasm at the outset invariably erodes.

The only thing remarkable about the current war in Iraq is how precipitously American public support has dropped off. Casualty for casualty, support has declined far more quickly than it did during either the Korean War or the Vietnam War. And if history is any indication, there is little the Bush administration can do to reverse this decline.

More important, the impact of deteriorating support will not end when the war does. In the wake of the wars in Korea and Vietnam, the American public developed a strong aversion to embarking on such ventures again. A similar sentiment -- an "Iraq syndrome" -- seems to be developing now, and it will have important consequences for U.S. foreign policy for years after the last American battalion leaves Iraqi soil.


The public gave substantial support to the military ventures in Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq as the troops were sent in. In all cases, support decreased as casualties -- whether of draftees, volunteers, or reservists -- mounted. In each case, the increase in the number of people who considered the venture to be a mistake was steep during the war's early stages, as reluctant supporters were rather quickly alienated; the erosion slowed as approval was reduced to the harder core. (The dramatic early drop in support for the war in Korea reflected the large number of casualties suffered in the opening phase of that war.)

The most striking thing about the comparison among the three wars is how much more quickly support has eroded in the case of Iraq. By early 2005, when combat deaths were around 1,500, the percentage of respondents who considered the Iraq war a mistake -- over half -- was about the same as the percentage who considered the war in Vietnam a mistake at the time of the 1968 Tet offensive, when nearly 20,000 soldiers had already died.

This lower tolerance for casualties is largely due to the fact that the American public places far less value on the stakes in Iraq than it did on those in Korea and Vietnam. The main threats Iraq was thought to present to the United States when troops went in -- weapons of mass destruction and support for international terrorism -- have been, to say the least, discounted. With those justifications gone, the Iraq war is left as something of a humanitarian venture, and, as Francis Fukuyama has put it, a request to spend "several hundred billion dollars and several thousand American lives in order to bring democracy to ... Iraq" would "have been laughed out of court." Given the evaporation of the main reasons for going to war and the unexpectedly high level of American casualties, support for the war in Iraq is, if anything, higher than one might expect -- a reflection of the fact that many people still connect the effort there to the "war" on terrorism, an enterprise that continues to enjoy huge support. In addition, the toppling of Saddam Hussein remains a singular accomplishment -- something the American people had wanted since the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

When one shifts from questions about whether the war was a "mistake" or "worth it" to ones about whether the United States should get out, much the same pattern holds for Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq: relatively steep declines in support for continuing the war in the early stages, slower erosion later. However, it is close to impossible to judge how many people want to get out or stay the course at any given time because so much depends on how the question is worded. For example, there is far more support for "gradual withdrawal" or "beginning to withdraw" than for "withdrawing" or "immediate withdrawal." Thus in August 2005, The Washington Post found that 54 percent of respondents favored staying and 44 percent favored withdrawing when the options were posed this way: "Do you think the United States should keep its military forces in Iraq until civil order is restored there, even if that means continued U.S. military casualties, or, do you think the United States should withdraw its military forces from Iraq in order to avoid further U.S. military casualties, even if that means civil order is not restored there?" But in the same month, a Harris poll tallied only 36 percent in support of staying and 61 percent in support of withdrawing when it asked, "Do you favor keeping a large number of U.S. troops in Iraq until there is a stable government there or bringing most of our troops home in the next year?" Still, no matter how the questions are phrased, all the polls have logged increases in pro-withdrawal sentiment over the course of the war.

Many analysts have tried to link declining support to factors other than accumulating combat deaths. For example, the notion that public opinion sours as casualties increase has somehow turned into "support drops when they start seeing the body bags" -- a vivid expression that some in the Bush administration have apparently taken literally. As a result, the military has worked enterprisingly to keep Americans from seeing pictures of body bags or flag-draped coffins in the hope that this will somehow arrest the decline in enthusiasm for the war effort. But such pictures are not necessary to drive home the basic reality of mounting casualties.

Growing opposition to the war effort also has little to do with whether or not there is an active antiwar movement at home. There has not been much of one in the case of the Iraq war, nor was there one during the war in Korea. Nonetheless, support for those ventures eroded as it did during the Vietnam War, when antiwar protest was frequent and visible. In fact, since the Vietnam protest movement became so strongly associated with anti-American values and activities, it may ultimately have been somewhat counterproductive.

Moreover, support for the war declines whether or not war opponents are able to come up with specific policy alternatives. Dwight Eisenhower never seemed to have much of a plan for getting out of the Korean War -- although he did say that, if elected, he would visit the place -- but discontent with the war still worked well for him in the 1952 election; Richard Nixon's proposals for fixing the Vietnam mess were distinctly unspecific, although he did from time to time mutter that he had a "secret plan." Wars hurt the war-initiating political party not because the opposition comes up with a coherent clashing vision -- George McGovern tried that, with little success, against Nixon in 1972 -- but because discontent over the war translates into vague distrust of the capacities of the people running the country.

The impact of war discontent on congressional races is less clear. Democrats attempted to capitalize on the widespread outrage over Nixon's invasion of Cambodia in 1970 but were unable to change things much. And subsequent developments, including campaign reform legislation, have made incumbents increasingly less vulnerable.


President George W. Bush, like Lyndon Johnson before him, has made countless speeches explaining what the effort in Iraq is about, urging patience, and asserting that progress is being made. But as was also evident during Woodrow Wilson's campaign to sell the League of Nations to the American public, the efficacy of the bully pulpit is much overrated. The prospects for reversing the erosion of support for the war in Iraq are thus limited. The run-ups to the two wars in Iraq are also instructive in this regard: even though both Presidents Bush labored mightily to sell the war effort, the only thing that succeeded in raising the level of enthusiasm was the sight of troops actually heading into action, which triggered a predictable "rally round the flag" effect.

Although the impact of official rhetoric is limited, favorable occurrences in the war itself can boost support from time to time. In the case of the war in Iraq, for example, there were notable upward shifts in many polls after Saddam was captured and elections were held. These increases, however, proved to be temporary, more bumps on the road than permanent changes in direction. Support soon fell back to where it had been before and then continued its generally downward course. The same is true of negative occurrences: a drop in support after the disclosure of abuses at Abu Ghraib in 2004 was in time mostly reversed.

Some scholars have argued that support for war is determined by the prospects for success rather than casualties. Americans are "defeat-phobic" rather than "casualty-phobic," the argument goes; they do not really care how many casualties are suffered so long as their side comes out the winner. For example, the political scientists Peter Feaver and Christopher Gelpi have calculated, rather remarkably, that Americans would on average be entirely willing to see 6,861 soldiers die in order to bring democracy to Congo.

There never were periods of continuous good news in the wars in Korea or Vietnam, so there is no clear precedent here. But should good news start coming in from Iraq -- including, in particular, a decline in American casualty rates -- it would more likely cause the erosion in public support to slow or even cease rather than trigger a large upsurge in support. For support to rise notably, many of those now disaffected by the war would need to reverse their position, and that seems rather unlikely: polls that seek to tap intensity of feeling find that more than 80 percent of those opposed to the war "strongly" feel that way. If you purchase a car for twice what it is worth, you will still consider the deal to have been a mistake even if you come to like the car.

Also relevant is the fact that despite the comparatively mild-mannered behavior of Democratic leaders in the run-up to the Iraq war, partisan differences regarding this war, and this president, are incredibly deep. Gary Jacobson, a political scientist at the University of California, San Diego, has documented that the partisan divide over the war in Iraq is considerably greater than for any military action over the last half century and that the partisan split on presidential approval ratings, despite a major narrowing after the attacks of September 11, 2001, is greater than for any president over that period -- greater than for Clinton, Reagan, or Nixon. This means that Bush cannot look for increased Republican support because he already has practically all of it; meanwhile, Democrats are unlikely to budge much. There may be some hope for him among independents, but their war-support patterns more nearly track those of the almost completely disaffected Democrats than those of the steadfast Republicans.

Moreover, it is difficult to see what a spate of good news would look like at this point. A clear-cut victory, like the one scored by George H.W. Bush in the Gulf in 1991, is hugely unlikely -- and the glow even of that one faded quickly as Saddam continued to hold forth in Iraq. From the start of the current Iraq war, the invading forces were too small to establish order, and some of the early administrative policies proved fatally misguided. In effect, the United States created an instant failed state, and clambering out of that condition would be difficult in the best of circumstances. If the worst violence diminishes, and Iraq thereby ceases to be quite so much of a bloody mess, the war will attract less attention. But there is still likely to be plenty of official and unofficial corruption, sporadic vigilantism, police misconduct, militia feuding, political backstabbing, economic travail, regional separatism, government incompetence, rampant criminality, religious conflict, and posturing by political entrepreneurs spouting anti-American and anti-Israeli rhetoric. Under such conditions, the American venture in Iraq is unlikely to be seen as a great victory by those now in opposition, over half of whom profess to be not merely dissatisfied with the war, but angry over it.

In all of this, what chiefly matters for American public opinion is American losses, not those of the people defended. By some estimates, the number of Iraqis who have died as a result of the invasion has reached six figures -- vastly more than have been killed by all international terrorists in all of history. Sanctions on Iraq probably were a necessary cause of death for an even greater number of Iraqis, most of them children. Yet the only cumulative body count that truly matters in the realm of American public opinion, and the only one that is routinely reported, is the American one. There is nothing new about this: although there was considerable support for the wars in Korea and Vietnam, polls made clear that people backed the wars because they saw them as vital to confronting the communist threat; defending the South Koreans or the South Vietnamese per se was never thought of as an important goal.


In Iraq, as they did in Vietnam, U.S. troops face an armed opposition that is dedicated, resourceful, capable of replenishing its ranks, and seemingly determined to fight as long as necessary. In Vietnam, the hope was that after suffering enough punishment, the enemy would reach its "breaking point" and then either fade away or seek accommodation. Great punishment was inflicted, but the enemy never broke; instead, it was the United States that faded away after signing a face-saving agreement. Whether the insurgents in Iraq have the same determination and fortitude is yet to be seen. The signs thus far, however, are not very encouraging: the insurgency does not appear to be weakening.

Many people, including President Bush, argue that the United States must slog on because a precipitous exit from Iraq would energize Islamist militants, who would see it as an even greater victory than the expulsion of the Soviet Union from Afghanistan. A quick exit would confirm, the thinking goes, Osama bin Laden's basic theory: that terrorists can defeat the United States by continuously inflicting on it casualties that are small in number but still draining. A venture designed and sold as a blow against international terrorists would end up emboldening and energizing them.

The problem is that almost any exit from Iraq will have this effect. Bin Laden, as well as huge majorities in Muslim countries and in parts of Europe, believe that the United States invaded Iraq as part of its plan to control oil supplies in the Middle East. Although Washington has no intention of doing that, at least not in the direct sense that bin Laden and others mean, U.S. forces will inevitably leave Iraq without having accomplished what many consider to be Washington's real goals there -- and the terrorist insurgents will claim credit for forcing the United States out before it fulfilled these key objectives. Iraq has also, of course, become something of a terrorist training -- and inspiration -- zone.

When the United States was preparing to withdraw from Vietnam, many Americans feared that there would be a bloodbath if the country fell to the North Vietnamese. And indeed, on taking control, the Communists executed tens of thousands of people, sent hundreds of thousands to "reeducation camps" for long periods, and so mismanaged the economy that hundreds of thousands fled the country out of desperation, often in barely floating boats. (What happened in neighboring Cambodia when the Khmer Rouge took over makes even the word "bloodbath" seem an understatement.)

There is a similar concern this time around: Iraq could devolve into a civil war after the Americans leave. Thus, U.S. officials have updated "Vietnamization" and applied it to Iraq. They are making strenuous efforts to fabricate a reasonably viable local government, police, and military that can take over the fight, allowing U.S. forces to withdraw judiciously. In Vietnam, of course, communist forces took over less than two years after the United States installed a sympathetic government. Although the consequences of a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq are likely to be messy, they may be less dire. The insurgency in Iraq, albeit deadly and dedicated, represents a much smaller, less popular, and less organized force than the Vietcong did, and it does not have the same kind of international backing. Moreover, many of the insurgents are fighting simply to get U.S. troops out of the country and can be expected to stop when the Americans leave. The insurgency will likely become more manageable without the U.S.

Frank Rich - One War Lost, Another to Go

One War Lost, Another to Go
By Frank Rich
The New York Times

Sunday 20 November 2005

If anyone needs further proof that we are racing for the exits in Iraq, just follow the bouncing ball that is Rick Santorum. A Republican leader in the Senate and a true-blue (or red) Iraq hawk, he has long slobbered over President Bush, much as Ed McMahon did over Johnny Carson. But when Mr. Bush went to Mr. Santorum's home state of Pennsylvania to give his Veterans Day speech smearing the war's critics as unpatriotic, the senator was M.I.A.

Mr. Santorum preferred to honor a previous engagement more than 100 miles away. There he told reporters for the first time that "maybe some blame" for the war's "less than optimal" progress belonged to the White House. This change of heart had nothing to do with looming revelations of how the new Iraqi "democracy" had instituted Saddam-style torture chambers. Or with the spiraling investigations into the whereabouts of nearly $9 billion in unaccounted-for taxpayers' money from the American occupation authority. Or with the latest spike in casualties. Mr. Santorum was instead contemplating his own incipient political obituary written the day before: a poll showing him 16 points down in his re-election race. No sooner did he stiff Mr. Bush in Pennsylvania than he did so again in Washington, voting with a 79-to-19 majority on a Senate resolution begging for an Iraq exit strategy. He was joined by all but one (Jon Kyl) of the 13 other Republican senators running for re-election next year. They desperately want to be able to tell their constituents that they were against the war after they were for it.

They know the voters have decided the war is over, no matter what symbolic resolutions are passed or defeated in Congress nor how many Republicans try to Swift-boat Representative John Murtha, the marine hero who wants the troops out. A USA Today/CNN/Gallup survey last week found that the percentage (52) of Americans who want to get out of Iraq fast, in 12 months or less, is even larger than the percentage (48) that favored a quick withdrawal from Vietnam when that war's casualty toll neared 54,000 in the apocalyptic year of 1970. The Ohio State political scientist John Mueller, writing in Foreign Affairs , found that "if history is any indication, there is little the Bush administration can do to reverse this decline." He observed that Mr. Bush was trying to channel L. B. J. by making "countless speeches explaining what the effort in Iraq is about, urging patience and asserting that progress is being made. But as was also evident during Woodrow Wilson's campaign to sell the League of Nations to the American public, the efficacy of the bully pulpit is much overrated."

Mr. Bush may disdain timetables for our pullout, but, hello, there already is one, set by the Santorums of his own party: the expiration date for a sizable American presence in Iraq is Election Day 2006. As Mr. Mueller says, the decline in support for the war won't reverse itself. The public knows progress is not being made, no matter how many times it is told that Iraqis will soon stand up so we can stand down.

On the same day the Senate passed the resolution rebuking Mr. Bush on the war, Martha Raddatz of ABC News reported that "only about 700 Iraqi troops" could operate independently of the U.S. military, 27,000 more could take a lead role in combat "only with strong support" from our forces and the rest of the 200,000-odd trainees suffered from a variety of problems, from equipment shortages to an inability "to wake up when told" or follow orders.

But while the war is lost both as a political matter at home and a practical matter in Iraq, the exit strategy being haggled over in Washington will hardly mark the end of our woes. Few Americans will cry over the collapse of the administration's vainglorious mission to make Iraq a model of neocon nation-building. But, as some may dimly recall, there is another war going on as well - against Osama bin Laden and company.

One hideous consequence of the White House's Big Lie - fusing the war of choice in Iraq with the war of necessity that began on 9/11 - is that the public, having rejected one, automatically rejects the other. That's already happening. The percentage of Americans who now regard fighting terrorism as a top national priority is either in the single or low double digits in every poll. Thus the tragic bottom line of the Bush catastrophe: the administration has at once increased the ranks of jihadists by turning Iraq into a new training ground and recruitment magnet while at the same time exhausting America's will and resources to confront that expanded threat.

We have arrived at "the worst of all possible worlds," in the words of Daniel Benjamin, Richard Clarke's former counterterrorism colleague, with whom I talked last week. No one speaks more eloquently to this point than Mr. Benjamin and Steven Simon, his fellow National Security Council alum. They saw the Qaeda threat coming before most others did in the 1990's, and their riveting new book, "The Next Attack," is the best argued and most thoroughly reported account of why, in their opening words, "we are losing" the war against the bin Laden progeny now.

"The Next Attack" is prescient to a scary degree. "If bin Laden is the Robin Hood of jihad," the authors write, then Abu Musab al-Zarqawi "has been its Horatio Alger, and Iraq his field of dreams." The proof arrived spectacularly this month with the Zarqawi-engineered suicide bombings of three hotels in Amman. That attack, Mr. Benjamin wrote in Slate "could soon be remembered as the day that the spillover of violence from Iraq became a major affliction for the Middle East." But not remembered in America. Thanks to the confusion sown by the Bush administration, the implications for us in this attack, like those in London and Madrid, are quickly forgotten, if they were noticed in the first place. What happened in Amman is just another numbing bit of bad news that we mentally delete along with all the other disasters we now label "Iraq."

Only since his speech about "Islamo-fascism" in early October has Mr. Bush started trying to make distinctions between the "evildoers" of Saddam's regime and the Islamic radicals who did and do directly threaten us. But even if anyone was still listening to this president, it would be too little and too late. The only hope for getting Americans to focus on the war we can't escape is to clear the decks by telling the truth about the war of choice in Iraq: that it is making us less safe, not more, and that we have to learn from its mistakes and calculate the damage it has caused as we reboot and move on.

Mr. Bush is incapable of such candor. In the speech Mr. Santorum skipped on Veterans Day, the president lashed out at his critics for trying "to rewrite the history" of how the war began. Then he rewrote the history of the war, both then and now. He boasted of America's "broad and coordinated homeland defense" even as the members of the bipartisan 9/11 commission were preparing to chastise the administration's inadequate efforts to prevent actual nuclear W.M.D.'s, as opposed to Saddam's fictional ones, from finding their way to terrorists. Mr. Bush preened about how "we're standing with dissidents and exiles against oppressive regimes" even as we were hearing new reports of how we outsource detainees to such regimes to be tortured.

And once again he bragged about the growing readiness of Iraqi troops, citing "nearly 90 Iraqi army battalions fighting the terrorists alongside our forces." But as James Fallows confirms in his exhaustive report on "Why Iraq Has No Army" in the current issue of The Atlantic Monthly, America would have to commit to remaining in Iraq for many years to "bring an Iraqi army to maturity." If we're not going to do that, Mr. Fallows concludes, America's only alternative is to "face the stark fact that it has no orderly way out of Iraq, and prepare accordingly."

That's the alternative that has already been chosen, brought on not just by the public's irreversible rejection of the war, but also by the depleted state of our own broken military forces; they are falling short of recruitment goals across the board by as much as two-thirds, the Government Accountability Office reported last week. We must prepare accordingly for what's to come. To do so we need leaders, whatever the political party, who can look beyond our nonorderly withdrawal from Iraq next year to the mess that will remain once we're on our way out. Whether it's countering the havoc inflicted on American interests internationally by Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo or overhauling and redeploying our military, intelligence and homeland security operations to confront the enemy we actually face, there's an enormous job to be done.

The arguments about how we got into Mr. Bush's war and exactly how we'll get out are also important. But the damage from this fiasco will be even greater if those debates obscure the urgency of the other war we are losing, one that will be with us long after we've left the quagmire in Iraq.