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, August 19, 2006

Frank Rich - Five Years After 9/11, Fear Finally Strikes Out

Five Years After 9/11, Fear Finally Strikes Out


THE results are in for the White House’s latest effort to exploit terrorism for political gain: the era of Americans’ fearing fear itself is over.

In each poll released since the foiling of the trans-Atlantic terror plot — Gallup, Newsweek, CBS, Zogby, Pew — George W. Bush’s approval rating remains stuck in the 30’s, just as it has been with little letup in the year since Katrina stripped the last remaining fig leaf of credibility from his presidency. While the new Middle East promised by Condi Rice remains a delusion, the death rattle of the domestic political order we’ve lived with since 9/11 can be found everywhere: in Americans’ unhysterical reaction to the terror plot, in politicians’ and pundits’ hysterical overreaction to Joe Lieberman’s defeat in Connecticut, even in the ho-hum box-office reaction to Oliver Stone’s “World Trade Center.”

It’s not as if the White House didn’t pull out all the stops to milk the terror plot to further its politics of fear. One self-congratulatory presidential photo op was held at the National Counterterrorism Center, a dead ringer for the set in “24.” But Mr. Bush’s Jack Bauer is no more persuasive than his Tom Cruise of “Top Gun.” By crying wolf about terrorism way too often, usually when a distraction is needed from bad news in Iraq, he and his administration have long since become comedy fodder, and not just on “The Daily Show.” June’s scenario was particularly choice: as Baghdad imploded, Alberto Gonzales breathlessly unmasked a Miami terror cell plotting a “full ground war” and the destruction of the Sears Tower, even though the alleged cell had no concrete plans, no contacts with terrorist networks and no equipment, including boots.

What makes the foiled London-Pakistan plot seem more of a serious threat — though not so serious it disrupted Tony Blair’s vacation — is that the British vouched for it, not Attorney General Gonzales and his Keystone Kops. This didn’t stop Michael Chertoff from grabbing credit in his promotional sprint through last Sunday’s talk shows. “It was as if we had an opportunity to stop 9/11 before it actually was carried out,” he said, insinuating himself into that royal we. But no matter how persistent his invocation of 9/11, our secretary of homeland security is too discredited to impress a public that has been plenty disillusioned since Karl Rove first exhibited the flag-draped remains of a World Trade Center victim in a 2004 campaign commercial. We look at Mr. Chertoff and still see the man who couldn’t figure out what was happening in New Orleans when the catastrophe was being broadcast in real time on television.

No matter what the threat at hand, he can’t get his story straight. When he said last weekend that the foiling of the London plot revealed a Qaeda in disarray because “it’s been five years since they’ve been capable of putting together something of this sort,” he didn’t seem to realize that he was flatly contradicting the Ashcroft-Gonzales claims for the gravity of all the Qaeda plots they’ve boasted of stopping in those five years. As recently as last October, Mr. Bush himself announced a list of 10 grisly foiled plots, including one he later described as a Qaeda plan “already set in motion” to fly a hijacked plane “into the tallest building on the West Coast.”

Dick Cheney’s credibility is also nil: he will always be the man who told us that Iraqis would greet our troops as liberators and that the insurgency was in its last throes in May 2005. His latest and predictable effort to exploit terrorism for election-year fear-mongering — arguing that Ned Lamont’s dissent on Iraq gave comfort to “Al Qaeda types” — has no traction because the public has long since untangled the administration’s bogus linkage between the Iraq war and Al Qaeda. That’s why, of all the poll findings last week, the most revealing was one in the CBS survey: While the percentage of Americans who chose terrorism as our “most important problem” increased in the immediate aftermath of the London plot, terrorism still came in second, at only 17 percent, to Iraq, at 28 percent.

The administration’s constant refrain that Iraq is the “central front” in the war on terror is not only false but has now also backfired politically: only 9 percent in the CBS poll felt that our involvement in Iraq was helping decrease terrorism. As its fifth anniversary arrives, 9/11 itself has been dwarfed by the mayhem in Iraq, where more civilians are now killed per month than died in the attack on America. The box-office returns of “World Trade Center” are a cultural sign of just how much America has moved on. For all the debate about whether it was “too soon” for such a Hollywood movie, it did better in the Northeast, where such concerns were most prevalent, than in the rest of the country, where, like “United 93,” it may have arrived too late. Despite wild acclaim from conservatives and an accompanying e-mail campaign, “World Trade Center” couldn’t outdraw “Step Up,” a teen romance starring a former Abercrombie & Fitch model and playing on 500 fewer screens.

Mr. Lamont’s victory in the Connecticut Democratic senatorial primary has been as overhyped as Mr. Stone’s movie. As a bellwether of national politics, one August primary in one very blue state is nearly meaningless. Mr. Lieberman’s star began to wane in Connecticut well before Iraq became a defining issue. His approval rating at home, as measured by the Quinnipiac poll, had fallen from 80 percent in 2000 to 51 percent in July 2003, and that was before his kamikaze presidential bid turned “Joementum” into a national joke.

The hyperbole that has greeted the Lamont victory in some quarters is far more revealing than the victory itself. In 2006, the tired Rove strategy of equating any Democratic politician’s opposition to the Iraq war with cut-and-run defeatism in the war on terror looks desperate. The Republicans are protesting too much, methinks. A former Greenwich selectman like Mr. Lamont isn’t easily slimed as a reincarnation of Abbie Hoffman or an ally of Osama bin Laden. What Republicans really see in Mr. Lieberman’s loss is not a defeat in the war on terror but the specter of their own defeat. Mr. Lamont is but a passing embodiment of a fixed truth: most Americans think the war in Iraq was a mistake and want some plan for a measured withdrawal. That truth would prevail even had Mr. Lamont lost.

A similar panic can be found among the wave of pundits, some of them self-proclaimed liberals, who apoplectically fret that Mr. Lamont’s victory signals the hijacking of the Democratic Party by the far left (here represented by virulent bloggers) and a prospective replay of its electoral apocalypse of 1972. Whatever their political affiliation, almost all of these commentators suffer from the same syndrome: they supported the Iraq war and, with few exceptions (mainly at The Wall Street Journal and The Weekly Standard), are now embarrassed that they did. Desperate to assert their moral superiority after misjudging a major issue of our time, they loftily declare that anyone who shares Mr. Lamont’s pronounced opposition to the Iraq war is not really serious about the war against the jihadists who attacked us on 9/11.

That’s just another version of the Cheney-Lieberman argument, and it’s hogwash. Most of the 60 percent of Americans who oppose the war in Iraq also want to win the war against Al Qaeda and its metastasizing allies: that’s one major reason they don’t want America bogged down in Iraq. Mr. Lamont’s public statements put him in that camp as well, which is why those smearing him resort to the cheap trick of citing his leftist great-uncle (the socialist Corliss Lamont) while failing to mention that his father was a Republican who served in the Nixon administration. (Mr. Lieberman, ever bipartisan, has accused Mr. Lamont of being both a closet Republican and a radical.)

These commentators are no more adept at reading the long-term implications of the Connecticut primary than they were at seeing through blatant White House propaganda about Saddam’s mushroom clouds. Their generalizations about the blogosphere are overheated; the shrillest left-wing voices on the Internet are no more representative of the whole than those of the far right. This country remains a country of the center, and opposition to the war in Iraq is now the center and (if you listen to Chuck Hagel and George Will, among other non-neoconservatives) even the center right.

As the election campaign quickens, genuine nightmares may well usurp the last gasps of Rovian fear-based politics. It’s hard to ignore the tragic reality that American troops are caught in the cross-fire of a sectarian bloodbath escalating daily, that botched American policy has strengthened Iran and Hezbollah and undermined Israel, and that our Department of Homeland Security is as ill-equipped now to prevent explosives (liquid or otherwise) in cargo as it was on 9/11. For those who’ve presided over this debacle and must face the voters in November, this is far scarier stuff than a foiled terrorist cell, nasty bloggers and Ned Lamont combined.

What Are the Lieberman Foes For?

What Are the Lieberman Foes For?


A few days before Joe Lieberman, who was very nearly vice president of the United States, was effectively vanquished from his party by Ned Lamont, an affable cable executive who once played a minor role in governing the town of Greenwich, Conn., I happened to talk with Jeffrey Bell. A political consultant who is as cordial a man as you will find in Washington, Bell isn't as famous as some of his fellow Republicans, but he owns a storied place in the history of the conservative movement. A young aide to Ronald Reagan during his 1976 insurgency, Bell went on to challenge a sitting Republican senator, Clifford Case of New Jersey, in 1978. He stunned the political world by winning that race. And though he lost handily to the basketball legend Bill Bradley in the general election, just two years later Reagan ascended to the White House. If anyone was in a position, then, to assess the significance of the Connecticut rebellion, it was Bell, whose small but noteworthy victory over his party's confused establishment presaged a historic political realignment. ''It's tempting for us to underrate Dailykos and,'' Bell told me, referring to the Web pioneers who launched Lamont's improbable campaign. ''It's easy for us to say these guys are nuts. But the truth is, they're on the rise, and I think they're very impressive.''

There are, in fact, some compelling parallels between this moment in Democratic politics and the one that saw the ideological cleansing of the Republican ranks three decades ago. In ''Reagan's Revolution,'' an inside account of Reagan's failed 1976 campaign, Craig Shirley notes that aides to President Gerald Ford warned that they were ''in real danger of being outorganized by a small number of highly motivated right-wing nuts.'' Those so-called nuts, meanwhile, waged war on the then widely held belief that ''if they were to succeed, Republicans had to be 'pragmatic,' they had to 'broaden the base' and they had to 'compromise.' Otherwise, they would always be in the minority.'' The very same things might be written now, substituting the words ''left'' and ''Democratic'' for ''right'' and ''Republican.'' And like those bygone Republican leaders, establishment Democrats exhibit a surprisingly shallow understanding of the uprising that now threatens to engulf them.

In the aftermath of the primary, Democrats settled on the idea that Lieberman fell because of his support for the Iraq war. This was technically true, in the same way that a 95-year-old man might technically be said to die from pneumonia; there were, to say the least, underlying causes. The war was a galvanizing issue, but Lieberman's loss was just the first major victory for a larger grass-roots movement. While that movement is identified with young, online activists, it is populated largely by exasperated and ideologically disappointed baby boomers. These are the liberals who quietly seethed as Bill Clinton worked with Republicans to reform welfare and pass free-trade agreements. After the ''stolen'' election of 2000 and the subsequent loss of House and Senate seats in 2004, these Democrats felt duped. If triangulation wasn't a winning strategy, they asked, why were they ever asked to tolerate it in the first place? The Web gave them a place to share their frustrations, and Howard Dean gave them an icon.

Iraq has energized these older lapsed liberals; for a generation that got into politics marching against Vietnam, an antiwar movement is comfortable space. But it was the yearning for a more confrontational brand of opposition on all fronts, for something resembling the black-and-white moral choices of the 1960's, that more broadly animated Lamont's insurgency. Connecticut's primary showdown (which now appears to be headed for a sequel in November) marked an emphatic repudiation not just of the war but also of Clinton's ''third way'' governing philosophy - a philosophy not unlike the Republican ethos of ''compromise'' and ''pragmatism'' that so infuriated Reagan conservatives.

If history were to repeat itself, this outpouring of new liberal passion would portend trouble for the party's establishment candidates in 2008 (especially one possible candidate whose last name happens to be Clinton). But there is at least one crucial difference between insurgents of the 1970's and today. When Bell ran for the Senate in 1978, he was so obsessed with his plan to slash taxes that he went to the extraordinary length of bringing in Arthur Laffer, the renowned conservative economist, to draw his famous Laffer Curve at a news conference in Trenton. By contrast, Lamont's signature proposal as a primary candidate - and the only one anyone cared to hear, really - seemed to be the hard-to-dispute notion that he is not, in fact, Joe Lieberman. He offered platitudes about universal health care and good jobs and about bringing the troops home but nothing that might define him as anything other than what he is: an acceptable alternative.

Leaders of the Netroots, as the Internet activists have been named, will tell you that big ideas are way overrated in American politics - that you first have to master the business of getting elected before you can worry about how to govern. (Most powerful Democrats in Washington now believe this too.) But even with legions of outraged conservatives at his back, Reagan would not have taken over his party in 1980 - let alone the White House - had he not articulated an affirmative and bold argument against his party's status quo, vowing to devolve the federal government and roll back détente with the Soviets. Passion and fury started the revolution, but it took a leader with larger vision to finish the job.

A Sense of Urgency, Please

A Sense of Urgency, Please
Georgia10 (dailykos)

It's difficult to appreciate the magnitude of self-censorship in the American media until you're exposed to how the foreign press reports on a given conflict. Watching the news here in Greece has helped to put things into perspective.

Here, and in nations across the globe, America's dirty little secret is exposed for the entire world to see. It's a difficult transition to make, the one from filtered news dolled up in blazing graphics and theme music to this unadulterated version of reality pouring into television sets around the globe. The anchor will usually preface the segment with a warning ("the images you are about see are disturbing, but we feel we have to show them to you"), and before your heart has a chance to tell your mind to look away, you're looking at Iraq. The camera pans the street. It's strewn with debris, not flowers. The blackened skeleton of some family car is in the foreground. There's a screaming woman on her knees, slapping her hands on the ground (the puddle of blood she's in, the reporter kindly reminds us, is that of her son). And suddenly, you feel that all-too familiar feeling as your eyes begin to sting and tear up for the death of a stranger.

Of course, it's not just the death of this particular Iraqi, this stranger that affects us so. It is the death of thousands who preceded him that weigh like a million anvils on our conscience, and it's the inevitable death of thousands more that make the shame rise so quickly to our cheeks when we're confronted with the consequences of our action (or inaction, as it may be).

Unlike the conflict that has dominated the news for the last month, the war in Iraq, as the President has promised, is a long war. As such, there are no urgent peace deals being brokered in the White House or Paris. There's no steady stream of reports from Baghdad with flashy news banners declaring this to be a "DEVELOPING STORY". No, for Iraq, the story has already developed. Iraq's story began in shock and awe and has ended in silent indifference. Flashier wars have taken center stage. Election season is upon us. And Iraq has receded into the shadows of our global consciousness, out of sight, out of mind.

About 1,228 people were killed in the 34-day conflict in Lebanon. Compare that to the 3,500 Iraqis that died n July. Or to the nearly 18,000 died in the first seven months of this year.

Chris Shays has promised to hold hearings in a month on Iraq. In a month, of course, because with Iraq (and for Republicans specifically) there exists the luxury of time. There is no real public pressure to stop the bloodshed. There are no international press conferences. There are no heated questions from the press about when and where and how will this conflict come to an end. No, in Iraq, there is always time. Time to wait for the Iraqi government to get its shit together, time to wait for the militias to disarm, time to wait for the seeds of democracy to grow (and grow they will, after all, they are being watered by the blood of heroes).

So while Iraqis are dying by the thousands each month, while our government hems and haws and pencils in tentative hearings, and while more Americans die in a civil war they shouldn't be fighting, while we, bold and beautiful America, chose to wait the situation out, the rest of the international community follows our lead.

The President preaches patience, not urgent action. And so, we see consequence of American intervention: Iraq, once touched by the hand of American pre-emption, has contracted a type of international leprosy. Nations cringe away from dealing with the deteriorating situation there. It is America's Iraq, governed by Powell's Pottery Barn Rule. And since America is content with standing in quicksand, there's no need for the world to stretch out its hands.

We knew going in that invading Iraq would open up a Pandora's box. That prophesy of bombs and blood is playing itself out on the evening news every day. But as I watch the daily bloodshed, uncensored, raw, and unrelenting, I can't help but remember what else escaped from Pandora's box--Hope. It's difficult to hold onto hope for a peaceful Iraq when it seems the world has flinched and turned its eye away from the daily horror there. But there is always--there must always--be hope. There must be a revival of urgency, a call to arms and action, and a recognition that this war--like any war in any nation--must finally come to an end.

James Wolcott - 40 Yard Line

40 Yard Line
Posted by James Wolcott

This morning's Financial Times (reg. required) brings grim tidings for the Israeli leadership, numbers that correlate to Nasrallah's triumphant mug on the cover of the new Economist.

"In the early days of the conflict with Hizbollah, Ehud Olmert, prime minister, and Amir Peretz, defence minister – both of whom have little military experience in contrast to many previous Israeli leaders – saw their ratings rise.

"But Mr Olmert’s approval has fallen to 40 per cent from 78 per cent at the height of the war and Mr Peretz to 28 per cent from 61 per cent, according to a poll by TNS-Teleseker published on Wednesday."

That is quite a high-board dive. But the bitter irony to those of us accustomed to the toasty crunch of bitter irony first thing in the morning is that even with Olmert's facedown splat he's still got better poll numbers than Bush! If Bush clawed his way back into the forties, the Note would form a conga line and bugger each other until they squeaked, Peggy Noonan would paint herself pink and roll downhill like an Easter egg, and Presidential Historian Michael Beschloss would make the rounds of the political chat shows to muse knowingly about Bush's Reaganesque Indian summer, and his durable bond with the American people (most of whom despise him, but Presidential Historian Michael Beschloss prefers to accent the positive and dip into the pantry to fetch some wry anecdotes--"Did you know, Charlie, that just before he left office, Woodrow Wilson was carried sideways through the White House like a log?").

One admirable aspect of the Israeli political system is that there's a degree of accountability completely absent from American politics. As Eric Margolis writes at Lew Rockwell (courtesy Antiwar):

"Israel’s politicians will now face the wrath of voters who are rightly outraged over the fiasco in Lebanon and Hezbullah’s crowing victory. Heads will surely roll.

"Americans, by contrast, will not draw the same conclusions about their inept political leadership that better-informed Israelis certainly will. George Bush, the war’s leading flag-waver, has received no rebuke from the US media or voters for his latest military debacle. Nor will he from the clapping seals in Congress and the Senate."

C'est vrai. From most accounts, Olmert is a goner--"a boiled brisket in the piranha pool that is Israeli politics," to quote William Lind--while we're stuck with Bush for two more years, just as the Brits seem stuck with Blair as long as he remains stubborn and Gordon Brown is willing to brood in the wings with his briefcase. Not only are we stuck with an unpopular, incompetent, incoherent president, but we're hostage to whatever "legacy" he's determined to forge for posterity, a legacy that is a midget-giant wedding of personal ego and a hypertrophied sense of historical importance. The very presumptuousness of a presidential legacy goes unquestioned in our media, as if it were among the many royal entitlements granted our chief executive, a staged exit for which the rest of us are mere bystanders.

It would be one thing if a president's legacy were to make peace with a former foe, or restore environmental health to a ravaged region, but Bush's legacy is militarized by his belief in divine mission, which could get a lot of innocent people killed, a higher slaughter rate than the ongoing fiasco in Iraq. If Seymour Hersh's sources are creditable (and I think we can all agree Hersh's track record ), Bush has made up his one-track mind for the rest of us that he will not leave office without neutralizing the threat of Iran. Not having learned the lesson of Iraq about the danger of apocalyptic hyperbole, the media are already beating the bass drums like a corps of Michael Ledeens about how there can be no end to terror until we confront Tehran, which is "terror central." (I just saw a segment on MSNBC's Tucker show, where that was the gist.) I still have my doubts as to whether the US will attack Iran. As Emmanuel Todd writes in After the Empire, the recent US pattern-- evidence of its atrophied superpower prowess--has been to bomb countries much weaker than itself, while shying away from more formidable foes (such as North Korea). Iran is no pushover, and Hezbollah out-smarted and out-toughed Israel in Lebanon, making even an airstrike on Iran a more difficult sell. But one thing we've learned in the Bush years is never to anticipate that reason will prevail.


"For America, the question is whether Washington will continue to demand that we go down with the Israeli ship."

Or is it that Israel will go down with the American ship?

I suppose it's a distinction without a difference to the watery grave.

Thomas Frank - What Is K Street’s Project?

What Is K Street’s Project?

Friday, August 18, 2006


Representative Bob Ney, the Ohio Republican who did such generous favors for the casino clients of Jack Abramoff, announced his retirement from Congress on Aug. 7; the next morning The Washington Post reported that he had acted under pressure from his fellow Ohioan John Boehner, who is said to have told Ney that, if he stood for re-election and lost, he “could not expect a lucrative career on K Street.”

This is one of those remarkable moments when the rhetoric falls away and the mysteries of conservative government are briefly revealed: K Street, synonymous with the corporate lobbying industry, will not abide a man whose reputation imperils the Republican majority, even though he has earned that reputation in the service of K Street’s leading personality. Irredeemably tainted by his work for K Street (pronounces K Street, via the trusty Boehner), Bob Ney is now ineligible for public office. The corporate lobbying industry demands that the voters of southeastern Ohio submit a different Republican to Washington.

Besides, there are Ney’s children to think of, as Boehner helpfully pointed out. They are of college age now, and college, as we all know, is damnably expensive. If Ney wants his descendants to remain on the right side of the nation’s growing class divide, he must have K Street’s money. So the word comes down from the industry: The time has passed for “freedom fries” and sushi at Jack Abramoff’s restaurant. Bob Ney must fall on his sword, doing K Street’s bidding in political death as he did in life.

It has been many years since I was first shocked by a news item about Washington lobbyists, a story about some K Street hit man offing a proposed regulation, or a notice about some corporate grandee contributing to candidates from both parties, thus ensuring his “access” regardless of who won. But like many of the degrading things that shocked me once — bowl games named for corporations, cleavage-themed chain restaurants — those provocations now seem petty and even innocent.

Because with K Street the insults to democracy just keep mounting: the mass exodus to the pharmaceutical lobby of the people who wrote the prescription drug benefit, for example. Or the increasing integration of lobbyists into campaigning and lawmaking, as Thomas Edsall reported last winter. Or the well-known emblems of the rot: Bob Ney’s golf weekend in Scotland, Rick Santorum’s Tuesday morning lobbyist parleys, the price list that Duke Cunningham drew up for the convenience of his lobbyist friends.

Why does this pay-for-policy spectacle not bother us more? Perhaps because it’s so easy to tell ourselves, well, both parties do it. Besides, K Street is sprawling and confusing, with squadrons of lawyers representing every industry’s diverging interests and demands, many of these innocent and some of them even healthful.

But K Street is not neutral. From all its complex machinations emerges a discernible political project best described by Joseph Goulden in “The Superlawers” back in 1972, when the lobbying business was so many acorns beside today’s forest of towering oaks. The “Washington lawyers,” Goulden wrote, had over the years “directed a counterrevolution unique in world economic history. Their mission was not to destroy the New Deal, and its successor reform acts, but to conquer them, and to leave their structures intact so they could be transformed into instruments for the amassing of monopolistic corporate power.” (Goulden, by the way, is no radical: he is a former director at the very conservative press watchdog Accuracy in Media.)

K Street’s bright young men fill the top posts at federal agencies; K Street’s money keeps wages low and prescription drug costs high; K Street’s “superlawyers” fight to make our retirement insecure; K Street’s deregulation gurus turn our electric utilities into the plaything of Wall Street. What K Street wants from government is often the opposite of what the public wants. And yet what K Street wants, far too frequently it gets — if not by the good offices of Bob Ney, then by the timely disappearance of the now useless Bob Ney.

Whether we are Republicans or Democrats, we are all aware of how much more power corporations hold over everyday life than they used to. “Those who own the country should govern the country,” John Jay used to say, and thanks in large part to K Street they do.

Thomas Frank is the author, most recently, of “What’s the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America.’’ He is a guest columnist during August.

Major arms soar to twice pre-9/11 cost

Major arms soar to twice pre-9/11 cost
Systems to have little direct role in terror fight

By Bryan Bender, Globe Staff | August 19, 2006

WASHINGTON -- The estimated costs for the development of major weapons systems for the US military have doubled since September 11, 2001, with a trillion-dollar price tag for new planes, ships, and missiles that would have little direct role in the fight against insurgents in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The soaring cost estimates -- disclosed in a report for the Republican-led Senate Budget Committee -- have led to concerns that supporters of multibillion-dollar weapons programs in Congress, the Pentagon , and the defense industry are using the conflicts and the war on terrorism to fulfill a wish-list of defense expenditures, whether they are needed or not for the war on terrorism.

The report, based on Defense Department data, concluded that the best way to keep defense spending in check in the coming years lies in ``controlling the cost of weaponry," especially those programs that the Pentagon might not necessarily need.

The projections of what it will cost to acquire ``major weapons programs" currently in production or on the drawing board soared from $790 billion in September 2001 to $1.61 trillion in June 2006, according to the congressional analysis of Pentagon data.

Costs for some of the most expensive new weapon systems -- such as satellite-linked combat vehicles for ground troops; a next-generation fighter plane ; and a cutting-edge, stealth-technology destroyer for the Navy -- are predicted to cost even more by the time they are delivered, because many of them are still in their early phases. In a quarterly report to Congress on weapons costs earlier this month, the Pentagon reported that of the $1.61 trillion it thinks it will need for big-ticket weapons, it has spent more than half so far -- about $909 billion.

But the huge increase in weapons costs is already placing enormous strain on the federal budget, according to government budget specialists, who predict major increases in defense spending for years to come so that the Pentagon can afford all the weapons it has on the books. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, for example, estimates that between 2012 and 2024 the Pentagon budget will have to grow between 18 percent and 34 percent over what was appropriated this year.

Overall, annual defense spending has increased by about 11 percent per year since 2001, to about $400 billion this year, not including hundreds of billions of dollars that Congress has set aside to pay for military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Military operations and maintenance costs, as well as salaries and health benefits for people in uniform, have all gone up by about 40 percent.

But the price tag for major weapons has garnered new attention from watchdog groups and government auditors, who contend that many of the arms already on the drawing board don't have much to do with ongoing combat or the war on terrorism.

In fact, most of the weapon systems being designed, tested , or built had been in the Pentagon's pipeline long before the Sept. 11 attacks. Despite the steep price jump, there has been a relatively modest increase in the number of new weapons projects over the past five years, according to Pentagon figures.

Still, ``only a portion of these increased costs are a result of the war on terror," said Winslow Wheeler , a former congressional budget specialist now at the nonprofit Center for Defense Information in Washington and the author of `` The Wastrels of Defense ."

The weapons projects designated as ``major acquisition programs" require at least $365 million in research funding and $2.1 billion is acquisition costs. They include new armored vehicles; two new fighter jets; an advanced Navy destroyer; a package of land, air , and space-based missile defense systems; and sophisticated electronic and intelligence systems such as a new satellite communications network.

Defense specialists attribute the spiral ing costs to a variety of factors. Some projects have increased in scope, while other weapons systems have taken longer to acquire, adding to the cost. Other projects turned out to be far more expensive than project managers and contractors predicted.

For example, the Future Combat System, a high-tech fleet of armored combat vehicles being developed by the Army , was forecast to cost $92 billion when its development began in 2003, according to the GOP committee's report. As of December 2005, however, the price tag had skyrocketed to $165 billion, about an 80 percent increase in just two years.

The Government Accountability Office, the government's nonpartisan audit bureau, warned of ``the risks of conducting business as usual," and concluded in a report in November that the major weapons programs are at ``high risk" for fraud, waste, abuse , and mismanagement.

The Department of Defense ``has experienced cost overruns, missed deadlines, performance shortfalls, and persistent management problems," the report said. ``In light of the serious budget pressures facing the nation, such problems are especially troubling."

The GOP committee report was blunt about the impact of rising weapons costs on the federal budget, and expressed little confidence that Congress has the political will to reign in spending on weapons that are not critical to the war effort. Noting that ``every project has local employment implications," the report said ``weapon system politics" will make it extremely difficult to make cuts.

``Controlling the long-term costs of the Pentagon's arsenal are very nearly as complex as restraining the cost of government entitlements like Social Security and Medicare," the analysis said.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Andrew Bosworth - Welcome to Neo-Fascism 101

Welcome to Neo-Fascism 101
By Andrew Bosworth

Monday 14 August 2006

Neo-conservatives decided that World War III is to be waged against "Islamic-Fascists" or "Islamo-Fascism."

Who is reading from the new script? William Kristol, Bill O'Reilly, Christopher Hitchens, Michelle Mankin, Michael Savage, Ann Coulter, Nick Cohen, Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh, Daniel Pipes, Glenn Beck, Oliver North - even George W. Bush, prompting legitimate complaints from Muslim-Americans.

Middle Eastern powers include pan-Arab socialist dictatorships (Syria), monarchies (Saudi Arabia), constitutional theocracies (Iran), and assorted fundamentalist movements. None are "fascist." For three decades of political scientists, "fascism" is a phenomenon of industrialized societies and exhibits features alien to the Middle East.

Classical fascism was evident in inter-war Italy, Germany and Japan, and full-blown fascism exhibits three dimensions: economic, political and cultural.

1. Economic fascism is based a merger of big business and big government. Sometimes, a formal corporatism emerges; other times, the private sector (monopolies and oligopolies) simply pass over into the public sector (as in the US), capturing the state and using it to wage that most profitable of activities: war. This later scenario is what happened in the United States, and the incestuous relationship between Big Business and Big Government ushered in a new Gilded Age of cronyism and corruption. Benito Mussolini was clear: "Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of State and corporate power."

For the Middle East, the preconditions of mature capitalism (and thus fascism) simply do not exist.

2. Political fascism normally includes, as it did for Italy and Germany, a retreat from already-existing democratic practices - an erosion of democracy. The political class begins to express a disdain for human rights and international treaties, lashing out at pillars of civilization like France. Power is increasingly centered on the executive branch, and elections become less transparent, even fraudulent. Civil liberties are restricted, and constitutions are ground under the hobnailed boot.

Political fascism always depicts dissent as treason, and there is an obsession with scapegoats and plots. There are frequent mixed messages about the enemy: the enemy is strong, then weak; the enemy is important; then irrelevant. Today, the Party depicts Hezbollah as having unlimited funds from Iran and, simultaneously, selling pirated DVDs and fake Viagra in your town.

Political fascism is based on militant nationalism, pseudo-populism and an adoration of military power. As Huey Long said, former Governor of Louisiana: "When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the American flag." For different reasons, these values tend to resonate among economic elites at the top and the lower middle class at the bottom. In the United States, however, it appears that the lower and working classes are now questioning their leadership - or losing themselves in End of Empire entertainment: pan y circo (bread and circus).

In its advanced stages, political fascism depends upon mass surveillance and, more crucially, eternal war. Italy's mad adventures in Ethiopia and Germany's insane and unwinnable two-front war were nursed by the ideology of eternal war.

The only ingredient of classical political fascism missing in the United States is a charismatic leader - but not for lack of trying. In Red States, bil

Middle East powers - particularly the movements neo-cons describe as "Islamofascist" - are emerging in non-democratic systems. They are also pushing for more, not less, political democracy because the popular classes will catapult them to power and keep them there.

Hamas, for example, won in an election. Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood would very much like to go to the polls in more transparent elections. Shia Muslims in Iraq are also keen on voting. Iran's president won an election handily. And when the dust settles in Lebanon, the next sure winner at the ballot box will be Hezbollah, when Lebanese Christians, Sunnis and Druze will surely wait in lines for hours to endorse this radical Shia group. Democracy, it seems, is about to flourish in the Middle East - it's just not yielding the puppet regimes hoped for in Washington, London (Airstrip One) or Tel Aviv. Tony Snow claims "they hate democracy." Don't be snowed.

Islamic fundamentalist groups compete at the national level, but Islamic fundamentalism is a transnational movement inherently opposed to the pseudo-nationalism necessary for fascism.

3. Cultural fascism is based on a reaction against science, modernity, the arts and intellectualism. It distorts science to accomplish political aims. Cultural fascism always includes strong doses of homophobia.

In the US, for every person with legitimate objections to immigration (objections based on public policy), there must be three people objecting to it based on race, and for them "illegal" becomes a euphemism for "Mexican." Xenophobia is basic to cultural fascism.

Cultural fascism, in the West, tends towards anti-Semitism. For now, American anti-Semitism has an anti-Arab face. In linguistics and ethnology, the term "Semitic" includes "Arabic" and "Arabs." A Marriam-Webster definition of "Semite" is clear: "A member of any of a number of peoples of ancient southwestern Asia including the Akkadians, Phoenicians, Hebrews, and Arabs."

Thus, when neo-con pundits, politicians and even the President employ the term "Islamo-Fascist" they are being anti-Semitic.

Middle Eastern and Islamic movements can be reactionary, but these are reactions to external powers and not to the core dimensions of their own societies, which remain traditional.

So the economic, political and cultural prerequisites of fascism do not exist in the Middle East - but they do exist in the United States. Our post-WWII, Information Age neo-fascism is much like the inter-war classical fascism but softer, lighter, friendlier. Today, instead of marching, we ritually demonstrate our political will on touch-screen pads, a ceremony organized by Party-backed corporations with secret software on private servers.

It's a race: Will the future look like Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, where a "dictatorship without tears" is founded upon psychotropic drugs, false religion and biological-sexual engineering? Or will it be a world of brute force like George Orwell's 1984? "If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face - forever." It will be both: A Brave New World for those who conform and 1984 for those who don't. American fascism will both smile and grimace.

Neo-con pundits follow a clever strategy of deflection. They employ the term "Islamo-Fascism" when "theocracy" or "dictatorship" or "fundamentalist movement" would be more historically accurate. Why do they do this? Their political epithets are inspired by a subtle conditioning campaign.

Perhaps it's subconscious projection. "Projection," of course, is a defense mechanism that kicks when someone is threatened by, or afraid of, their own impulse. So they attribute these impulses to someone else. Do not be neo-conned. How can you help?

First, always replace the term "neo-conservatism" with "neo-fascism."

Second, always charge those who use the term "Islamo-fascism" with anti-Semitism (because Ara

Third, remind people who use the term "Islamo-Fascism" that the term is historically inaccurate and that the main ingredients of classical fascism - 1) monopoly capitalism; 2) erosion of democracy; and 3) militant nationalism - are coming together in the United States like a Perfect Storm.

It's not fair to perform a vivisection of the Bush regime without pointing to what a healthier body politic might look like - a "post-crisis" body politic.

1) The restoration of the checks and balances, and limited government, of a democratic republic. This includes voter protections and a pencil-paper-box voting system.

2) The restoration of foreign relations to open diplomacy (as envisioned by the Founders) - to the power of persuasion - unless attacked, upon which military force will be restricted to the forces demonstrably responsible. This means no foreign aid, no weapons sales, no forward bases, and no committing political adultery by dividing loyalties between the people of the United States and any foreign power. The American people can express their solidarity with people around the world with short-term disaster relief.

3) Challenging both Israel and Arab powers to follow the letter of international law. Compliance means full participation in an international economy and community (the carrot); and resistance invites the atrophy of embargoes, travel restrictions, and blockages (the stick). Under UN Resolution 181, Israel secures its right to exist according to the 1948 borders, with protection from the United Nations. Simultaneously, Israel withdraws all of its settler colonies from the West Bank, illegal under Article 49 of the Geneva Conventions: "The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies." And Jerusalem becomes the international city as intended in 1948.

4) Challenging the world's people and states with a transformative proposal: universal nuclear disarmament. If states do not disarm, take the proposal to their peoples. Inspired, motivated and determined, masses of people will quickly sideline both foot-dragging politicians and terrorists. The best weapon against terror is not the US Army; it is civilized men and women everywhere. The world is ready to make nuclear weapons - and then war - extinct.

Paul Krugman - Wages, Wealth and Politics

Wages, Wealth and Politics


Recently, Henry Paulson, the Treasury secretary, acknowledged that economic inequality is rising in America. In a break with previous administration pronouncements, he also conceded that this might be cause for concern.

But he quickly reverted to form, falsely implying that rising inequality is mainly a story about rising wages for the highly educated. And he argued that nothing can be done about this trend, that “it is simply an economic reality, and it is neither fair nor useful to blame any political party.”

History suggests otherwise.

I’ve been studying the long-term history of inequality in the United States. And it’s hard to avoid the sense that it matters a lot which political party, or more accurately, which political ideology rules Washington.

Since the 1920’s there have been four eras of American inequality:

• The Great Compression, 1929-1947: The birth of middle-class America. The real wages of production workers in manufacturing rose 67 percent, while the real income of the richest 1 percent of Americans actually fell 17 percent.

• The Postwar Boom, 1947-1973: An era of widely shared growth. Real wages rose 81 percent, and the income of the richest 1 percent rose 38 percent.

• Stagflation, 1973-1980: Everyone lost ground. Real wages fell 3 percent, and the income of the richest 1 percent fell 4 percent.

• The New Gilded Age, 1980-?: Big gains at the very top, stagnation below. Between 1980 and 2004, real wages in manufacturing fell 1 percent, while the real income of the richest 1 percent — people with incomes of more than $277,000 in 2004 — rose 135 percent.

What’s noticeable is that except during stagflation, when virtually all Americans were hurt by a tenfold increase in oil prices, what happened in each era was what the dominant political tendency of that era wanted to happen.

Franklin Roosevelt favored the interests of workers while declaring of plutocrats who considered him a class traitor, “I welcome their hatred.” Sure enough, under the New Deal wages surged while the rich lost ground.

What followed was an era of bipartisanship and political moderation; Dwight Eisenhower said of those who wanted to roll back the New Deal, “Their number is negligible, and they are stupid.” Sure enough, it was also an era of equable growth.

Finally, since 1980 the U.S. political scene has been dominated by a conservative movement firmly committed to the view that what’s good for the rich is good for America. Sure enough, the rich have seen their incomes soar, while working Americans have seen few if any gains.

By the way: Yes, Bill Clinton was president for eight years. But for six of those years Congress was controlled by hard-line right-wingers. Moreover, in practice Mr. Clinton governed well to the right of both Eisenhower and Nixon.

Now, this chronology doesn’t prove that politics drives changes in inequality. There were certainly other factors at work, including technological change, globalization and immigration, an issue that cuts across party lines.

But it seems likely that government policies have played a big role in America’s growing economic polarization — not just easily measured policies like tax rates for the rich and the level of the minimum wage, but things like the shift in Labor Department policy from protection of worker rights to tacit support for union-busting.

And if that’s true, it matters a lot which party is in power — and more important, which ideology. For the last few decades, even Democrats have been afraid to make an issue out of inequality, fearing that they would be accused of practicing class warfare and lose the support of wealthy campaign contributors.

That may be changing. Inequality seems to be an issue whose time has finally come, and if the growing movement to pressure Wal-Mart to treat its workers better is any indication, economic populism is making a comeback. It’s still unclear when the Democrats might regain power, or what economic policies they’ll pursue when they do. But if and when we get a government that tries to do something about rising inequality, rather than responding with a mixture of denial and fatalism, we may find that Mr. Paulson’s “economic reality” is a lot easier to change than he supposes.

Marines May Have Excised Evidence on 24 Iraqi Deaths - New York Times

Marines May Have Excised Evidence on 24 Iraqi Deaths
NY Times

WASHINGTON, Aug. 17 — A high-level military investigation into the killings of 24 Iraqis in Haditha last November has uncovered instances in which American marines involved in the episode appear to have destroyed or withheld evidence, according to two Defense Department officials briefed on the case.

The investigation found that an official company logbook of the unit involved had been tampered with and that an incriminating video taken by an aerial drone the day of the killings was not given to investigators until Lt. Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, the second-ranking commander in Iraq, intervened, the officials said.

Those findings, contained in a long report that was completed last month but not made public, go beyond what has been previously reported about the case. It has been known that marines who carried out the killings made misleading statements to investigators and that senior officers were criticized for not being more aggressive in investigating the case, in which most or all of the Iraqis who were killed were civilians. But this is the first time details about possible concealment or destruction of evidence have been disclosed.

The report’s findings have been sent to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, which is investigating members of the unit involved in the killings, as well as higher-ranking officers in the Second Marine Division. No charges have been brought yet.

The report, based on an investigation by Maj. Gen. Eldon A. Bargewell of the Army, does not directly accuse marines of attempting a cover-up, but it does describe several suspicious incidents, according to the Defense Department officials.

It says that the logbook, which was meant to be a daily record of major incidents the marines’ company encountered, had all the pages missing for Nov. 19, the day of the killings, and that those portions had not been found, the officials said.

No conclusions are drawn about who may have tampered with the log. But the report says that Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich, the leader of the squad involved in the killings, was on duty at the unit’s operations center, where the logbook was kept, shortly after the killings occurred, the officials said.

Neal A. Puckett, a lawyer for Sergeant Wuterich, was unavailable to comment.

Investigators were also initially told by Marine officers that videotape taken by the drone was not available, one of the officials said. The officials added that the marines produced the tape only after General Bargewell had completed his inquiry and they had been asked again to produce it by General Chiarelli.

The report has been closely held within the Defense Department, and the officials who agreed to discuss it did so because they said they thought it should receive wider public attention. They agreed to speak only if their names were not published because they had not been authorized by superiors to discuss its contents.

The deaths occurred outside the town of Haditha after a three-vehicle convoy of marines was hit by a roadside bomb, killing a lance corporal. The squad then began going through houses nearby, killing Iraqis found inside in what defense lawyers have said was a justifiable use of lethal force by marines who believed they were under concerted attack by insurgents.

The Marine Corps issued a press release the next day saying that 15 of the civilian deaths had been caused by the bomb explosion. But several officers in the unit have said they knew even then that marines had killed all 24 of the dead Iraqis, 9 of whom were suspected insurgents.

Since then, the idea that any of the victims were insurgents has been challenged, both by Iraqi survivors and by some American military officials familiar with the case, noting that the victims included 10 women and children and an elderly man in a wheelchair. They have said that evidence suggests that the marines overreacted after the death of their fellow marine and shot the civilians in cold blood.

Marines have told investigators that at least one Iraqi who was shot was brandishing an AK-47 assault rifle. But no records were found that such a weapon was recovered at the scene and turned in to the unit’s headquarters, as regulations require, the officials said.

Lt. Col. Sean Gibson, a Marine Corps spokesman, said: “The Marine Corps is committed to a full and thorough investigation of the events that occurred at Haditha on Nov. 19, and the actions that followed that may have contributed to any improper reporting. If allegations of wrongdoing are substantiated, the Marine Corps will pursue appropriate legal and administrative actions.”

The decision about whether to take disciplinary action will be made by Lt. Gen. James N. Mattis, the commander of Marine Corps units in the Middle East, based on his review of both the Bargewell report and the results of the criminal investigation still under way.

In addition to faulting officers in the Second Marine Division for not aggressively investigating the Haditha killings, the Bargewell report said the commanders had created a climate that minimized the importance of Iraqi lives, particularly in Haditha, where insurgent attacks were rampant, the officials said.

“In their eyes, they didn’t believe anyone was innocent,” said one of the officials, describing the attitude of the marines in the unit toward Iraqis. “Either you were an active participant, or you were complicit.”

Two days after the Haditha killings, Maj. Gen. Richard A. Huck, then the division commander, asked his staff for a briefing on what had happened, the officials said. General Huck later told investigators that he had ordered the briefing because he was concerned about the reports of civilian casualties, one of the officials said.

But the briefing provided to General Huck contained no mention of the civilian casualties, the investigators learned. Instead, according to one of the officials, it dealt almost entirely with the roadside bomb attack and other insurgent attacks on marines in Haditha throughout the day.

General Huck and other officers from the Second Marine Division have been ordered not to talk about the case, and a telephone call to the unit was referred to Colonel Gibson, the Marine spokesman. But some senior officers have previously defended their response to the killings, saying there was no reason to doubt the account provided by enlisted marines at the time, contending that civilian killings were an unfortunate but accidental byproduct of their pursuit of insurgents.

The involved marines’ battalion commander, Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani, and their company commander, Capt. Lucas McConnell, told investigators that they had not reviewed the scene within the houses after the killings, despite the high number of civilian casualties, one of the officials said. Colonel Chessani was relieved of his command in April; Marine officials would not say whether the Haditha case was involved in the decision but said there were several reasons.

The video taken by the overhead drone was very limited, according to one of the officials. The aircraft was not flying over the site until after the bomb attack, so it only captured the aftermath. Even so, the video appears to contradict statements by marines about what occurred, the officials said.

In particular, it has raised doubts about a claim by enlisted marines that five Iraqis were shot as they were running away after the roadside bombing.

The officials said the video showed the bodies of the five Iraqis on the ground close to the car that they had been riding in, the officials said. In one case, the video appears to show one body stacked on top of another, which the officials said was inconsistent with the account that the men had been shot while fleeing.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

James Wolcott - Turd on the Run

Turd on the Run
Posted by James Wolcott

It's the burning question failing to divide America.

Is Bush an idiot?

Is water wet?

Is Colin Farrell stubbly?

After six years in office, the first question pretty much answers itself. Which is not to say that Larry Johnson's yes vote and Taylor Marsh's (at Firedoglake) ruminative assent should go unappreciated.

Unlike other two-term presidents, Bush hasn't grown in office, become an old familiar whose irritating traits and lapses could be accepted almost affectionately, like Reagan's dottiness. He's demonstrably diminished, dwarfed by the reality that he continues to deny and repeating himself in press conferences like a robot whose wiring is on the fritz, for whom words and phrases are nothing more than pre-programmed units of sound. He's more irritating and dangerous than ever before, because he doesn't know anything, doesn't know or care that he doesn't know anything, and yet persists in a path of destruction as if it were the road to salvation. It's finally dawned on responsible minds that Bush could take all of us down with him before he and the neocons are through.

That would explain Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott's bull snort that Bush is crap. With Blair on vacation, Prescott's frustration with the bloody follies of the Bush doctrine blew like a manhole cover, expressing what so many in the Labour hierarchy have been keeping under their own lids.

A Different Kind of Cluelessness, Part II

A Different Kind of Cluelessness, Part II
By Billmon

In which George Will demonstrates that he's more out of touch than the neocons he criticizes:

The [administration] official is correct that it is wrong "to think that somehow we are responsible -- that the actions of the jihadists are justified by U.S. policies." But few outside the fog of paranoia that is the blogosphere think like that.

Note the straw man Will uses to try to knock down the straw man set up by his anonymous neocon. This is intended to distinguish himself from those who do think U.S. policies are, at least in large part, responsible for the rise of the jihadis. He's turned us into the functional equivalent of Ward Churchill and sentenced us to wander for eternity in the "fog of paranoia."

I think we can best describe this as the "pseudo-realist" approach to foreign relations. Will wants us to understand that he's a hardheaded guy and doesn't buy into Shrub's democracy illusion. But that doesn't mean he's willing to let go of his illusion, which is that the United States has been a beneficient force in the Middle East, virtuously upholding "stability" for the benefit of all -- the proverbial cop on the beat.

The truth, of course, is quite different. The United States has tried to enforce stability in the Middle East because until Commander Codpiece came along foreign policy elites and American presidents alike viewed it as inherently in our interests to do so -- to protect the flow of oil, keep the Soviets out of the region, open markets to Western capital, and keep the Arab-Israeli conflict from getting out of hand.

However, this most emphatically was not done for the benefit of the people of the Middle East. It was for our benefit, and, secondarily, for the benefit of the colonized elites who transferred their loyalties -- or at least their services -- to America after the old colonial powers exited the region.

You can argue (imperialists almost always do) that the masses benefited from this stability because it created security, promoted economic growth and improved living standards. The British crown tried that same argument on the American colonists in the 1770s with a notable lack of success -- and they were all Englishmen. But there is some validity to it.

However, our stability fetish (and our commercial interests) also required us to do business with brutal dictators and/or prop up corrupt feudal elites -- many of them little more than rent-seeking parasites perched on oil fields disguised as countries. Where authentic or semi-authentic nationalist movements appeared -- in Egypt, for example -- we either tried to crush them or buy them off, and usually managed to do one or the other.

We also encouraged our "friends" in the region to Westernize themselves, to abandon or at least dilute their Islamic identities and become part of the globalized culture of capitalism (not that they needed much encouraging). As the energy importance of the region increased and the penetration of Western capital and culture deepened, so did the level of U.S. intervention -- always in the interests of that precious stability.

It may sound like I'm just reciting the plot from Syriana. But these were real policies, deliberately pursued over many years. And they were, by and large, extremely successful -- both for us and for our clients in the region. They were, however, abhorrent to the fundamentalist, anti-colonial Islamic movements (like the Muslim Brotherhood) that had existed in the region since the days of the British and the French. And they became increasingly abhorrent as our political and military presence in the region expanded and our alliance with Israel became increasingly open-ended. Abhorrence turned to rage as our campaign to contain Saddam degenerated into a long, grinding seige of Iraq (with the Iraqi people trapped inside) and the CIA and the Pentagon helped our Egyptian puppets crush the Islamist revolt on the upper Nile.

Did these policies "justify" the rise of the jihadist movement? Ah, that's a moral argument and Will should know that realists -- real realists, unlike his pseudo variety -- don't do morality. All that's necessary is to recognize that the jihadis regard themselves as fully justified, and are acting on that belief. Like all polices, our relentless promotion of stability in the Middle East had a price, and now we're paying it.

In that sense, if no other, America is "responsible" for the rise of what Shrub likes to call Islamofascism. His own rhetoric about democratization (a.k.a. the "forward strategy of freedom") implicitly recognizes this. It's an effort, albeit a hopelessly naive and contradictory one, to address a problem that Will has decided simply doesn't exist -- that is, outside the blogosphere's "fog of paranoia."

So who's the realist and who's the fool here? Or rather, who's the bigger fool?

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Bush is crap, says UK Deputy PM

Bush is crap, says Prescott
Deputy PM criticises US handling of Middle East, condemning 'cowboy' President at private meeting
By Colin Brown, Deputy Political Editor
Published: 17 August 2006

John Prescott has given vent to his private feelings about the Bush presidency, summing up George Bush's administration in a single word: crap.

The Deputy Prime Minister's condemnation of President Bush and his approach to the Middle East could cause a diplomatic row but it will please Labour MPs who are furious about Tony Blair's backing of the United States over the bombing of Lebanon.

The remark is said to have been made at a private meeting in Mr Prescott's Whitehall office on Tuesday with Muslim MPs and other Labour MPs with constituencies representing large Muslim communities. Muslim MPs wanted to press home their objections to British foreign policy and discuss ways of improving relations with the Muslim communities.

Some of the MPs present said yesterday they could not remember Mr Prescott making the remark. He has been at pains to avoid breaking ranks with Mr Blair in public although he is believed to have raised concern about the bombing of Lebanon at a private meeting of the Cabinet. But Harry Cohen, the MP whose constituency includes Walthamstow, scene of some of the police raids in the alleged "terror plot" investigation, said Mr Prescott had definitely used the word "crap" about the Bush administration.

"He was talking in the context of the 'road map' in the Middle East. He said he only gave support to the war on Iraq because they were promised the road map. But he said the Bush administration had been crap on that. We all laughed and he said to an official, 'Don't minute that'." Mr Cohen added: "We also had a laugh when he said old Bush is just a cowboy with his Stetson on. But then he said, 'I can hardly talk about that can I?'

Told that others at the meeting could not recall the words, Mr Cohen said: " He did. I stand by that."

The Deputy Prime Minister's office said last night that the meeting was private and would not confirm or deny his use of the word "crap". " These discussions are intended to be private and remain within the four walls," said one official. "They are private so that there may be frank discussions."

Many Labour MPs have been infuriated by the spectacle of Mr Bush and Mr Blair jointly supporting the Israeli action. The Labour MPs went to see Mr Prescott to lodge their criticism of the Government's foreign policy and some said last night that they would be delighted if he did break ranks over the Bush administration following the outcry at the bombing of the Lebanon.

In the private discussions with Mr Prescott, the Labour MPs representing large Muslim communities pulled no punches in their criticism of Mr Blair for giving his backing to Mr Bush. Another of those who was contacted about the conversations did not deny Mr Prescott's words, but laughed and said: " I can't discuss that." When asked whether he had heard Mr Prescott use the "C-word", he said: "I don't remember that."

The Deputy Prime Minister is said to have made it clear he strongly backed the efforts by Mr Blair to persuade the Bush administration to revive the road map for Palestine and Israel. Mr Blair has given a commitment that he will give the peace process his priority when he returns from his holiday in the Caribbean.

"There was a very robust exchange of views," said the MP. " We had a row about community relations. The Deputy Prime Minister was told in no uncertain terms that the Government was relying too much on the elders in the Muslim community who didn't have the credibility that was needed."

Muslim Labour MPs also told Mr Prescott that they needed to retain their own credibility in their communities, which was one of the reasons why they had signed a controversial letter calling for a change in British foreign policy. They said it was not helpful for the Government to have attacked their letter.

Mr Prescott has been accused in the past of making his feelings known about the Republican administration in the White House. He became friendly with Al Gore, the unsuccessful Democrat presidential candidate in 2000, during the negotiations on the Kyoto treaty and allegedly told Mr Gore after his defeat that he was sorry he lost the race to Mr Bush.

Mr Prescott is also known to have used the word "crap" in relation to political events before. Earlier this month, he angrily rejected claims that he could resign over the row about his links to the bid by the tycoon Philip Anschutz for a super-casino at the Millennium Dome as "a load of crap".

Mr Prescott was left in charge by Mr Blair when the Prime Minister went on his delayed holiday but has largely taken a back seat while John Reid, the Home Secretary, has led for the Government on security and the alleged terror plot to blow up planes across the Atlantic.

Behind the scenes, Mr Prescott had to contend with growing backbench demands for Parliament to be recalled to debate the crisis in the Middle East. It remains an option, in spite of the ceasefire in the Lebanon. Campaigners claimed they had the signatures of more than 150 MPs from all parties for a recall. Significantly, they included Ann Keen, the parliamentary private secretary to Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, who is on paternity leave following the birth of his second child. Jim Sheridan, the Labour MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire North, resigned as the parliamentary private secretary to the defence ministers over the bombing of Lebanon.

Mr Prescott has been keen to show Labour MPs that he is prepared to listen to their grievances but has insisted on party discipline to avoid splits. He will be furious at his alleged remarks being repeated, but the signs of dissent within the Cabinet are becoming greater.

Straight-talker's way with words

* Posing with a crab in a jar at the Millennium Dome, while Peter Mandelson was standing for election to Labour's ruling national executive committee, he said to cameramen: "You know what his name is? He's called Peter. Do you think you will get on the executive, Peter?"

* When asked why a car was transporting him and his wife 200 yards to the Labour Party Conference in 1999:

"Because of the security reasons for one thing and second, my wife doesn't like to have her hair blown about. Have you got another silly question?"

* On the Millennium Dome: "If we can't make this work, we're not much of a government."

* "The green belt is a Labour achievement, and we mean to build on it." (Radio interview, January 1998)

* On the Tories at the 1996 Labour conference: "They are up to their necks in sleaze. The best slogan for their conference next week is " Life's better under the Tories" - sounds like one of Steven Norris's chat-up lines."

* When asked by a journalist about Peter Law's decision to quit the Labour Party after 35 years: "Why are you asking me about this? I don't care, it's a Welsh situation, I'm a national politician."

Bush is Clueless about Lebanon

Juan Cole:

Bush came out and said that Hizbullah had been defeated, and tried to link Hizbullah to the Sunni Arab guerrillas who make his life hell in Iraq. But, George, Hizbullah is Shiite. It was your Shiite allies in Iraq who supported it. Bush underscored his permanent deer-in-the-headlights cluelessness when at a press conference he said this:

' QUESTION: How can the international force, or the United States if necessary, prevent Iran from resupplying Hezbollah?

BUSH: The first step is -- and part of the mandate in the U.N. resolution was to secure Syria's borders. Iran is able to ship weapons to Hezbollah through Syria.

Secondly is to deal -- is to help seal off the ports around Lebanon.

BUSH: In other words, part of the mandate and part of the mission of the troops, the UNIFIL troops, will be to seal off the Syrian border. '

Note that I can't even understand what he means by "the ports around Lebanon" being sealed. Does he mean Lebanon's ports? Note that you wouldn't want to seal off Lebanon's ports, since Lebanon will need to import things through them. That you could have such good port security in Lebanon that you could altogether screen out missile shipments is unlikely. Does he mean that Turkish, Syrian, and Israeli ports around Lebanon should be sealed. Just Syrian? Impractical.

Note also that the little blue strip at the bottom of Lebanon is generally where the UN peacekeeping troops will be. They aren't in a position to "seal off" the Syrian border, which stretches far to their northeast, and can't be "sealed off" by anyone at all, being rugged and long. The blue helmets of the UN, being a land force, are not in a position to seal off Lebanon's ports, such as Tyre, Sidon, Beirut, Jounieh or Tripoli. Nor could they seal off the Syrian port of Latakiya, if that is what Bush meant.

In other words, Bush doesn't have the slightest idea what he is talking about and nothing he said on this subject makes any sense at all. Why does the US press always let him get away with this?

Los Angeles Times: Group Says Iran Is 'Not a Crisis'

Group Says Iran Is 'Not a Crisis'
Former generals and officials seek to prevent an attack on suspected nuclear sites and to overhaul policies toward Tehran and Baghdad.
By Peter Spiegel
Times Staff Writer

August 16, 2006

WASHINGTON — Seeking to counter the White House's depiction of its Middle East policies as crucial to the prevention of terrorist attacks at home, 21 former generals, diplomats and national security officials will release an open letter tomorrow arguing that the administration's "hard line" has actually undermined U.S. security.

The letter comes as President Bush has made a series of appearances and statements, including a visit Tuesday to the National Counterterrorism Center in McLean, Va., seeking to promote the administration's record on security issues in advance of November's midterm congressional elections.

The rhetoric has increased since last week's Democratic primary in Connecticut, in which antiwar political newcomer Ned Lamont defeated three-term Sen. Joe Lieberman to become the party's Senate candidate — a victory that senior administration officials are describing as a sign that Democrats are embracing their party's extreme left.

Retired Army Lt. Gen. Robert G. Gard, one of the letter's signers and a former military assistant to Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara in the 1960s, said the group was particularly concerned about administration policies toward Iran, believing them to be a possible prelude to a military attack on suspected nuclear sites in that country.

Gard said the signatories — who included retired Marine Corps Gen. Joseph P. Hoar, head of U.S. Central Command from 1991 to 1994, and Morton H. Halperin, a senior State Department and National Security Council official during the Clinton administration — did not believe that Iran had the wherewithal to build a nuclear weapon in the immediate future and would push the administration to open negotiations with Tehran on the issue.

"It's not a crisis," Gard said in a telephone interview. "To call the Iranian situation a 'crisis' connotes you have to do something right now, like bomb them."

He noted that Iran had sought to open negotiations with the U.S. through Swiss intermediaries, efforts that the letter-signers said were worth exploring as a means of defusing tensions in the region.

But Gard said the administration appeared to be going in the opposite direction, adding that he was particularly concerned by recent warnings from former Israeli military officials that a strike against Iran may be needed to disable that country's nuclear program.

He noted that the Bush administration's unabashedly pro-Israel stance during the recent conflict with Hezbollah was an indication that the White House may accede to such assessments.

"This administration is clearly so beholden to Israel that it raises the concern we might go along" with a military strike, Gard said.

Organizers of the letter said the White House's recent efforts to belittle Democrats for seeking a timetable for withdrawing troops in Iraq may lead the signers to include criticism of the administration's Iraq policy.

The letter is expected to call for a complete overhaul of U.S. policy toward both Iran and Iraq.,0,5414639,print.story?coll=la-home-headlines

George Soros | A Self-Defeating War

A Self-Defeating War
By George Soros
The Wall Street Journal

Tuesday 15 August 2006

The war on terror is a false metaphor that has led to counterproductive and self-defeating policies. Five years after 9/11, a misleading figure of speech applied literally has unleashed a real war fought on several fronts - Iraq, Gaza, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Somalia - a war that has killed thousands of innocent civilians and enraged millions around the world. Yet al Qaeda has not been subdued; a plot that could have claimed more victims than 9/11 has just been foiled by the vigilance of British intelligence.

Unfortunately, the "war on terror" metaphor was uncritically accepted by the American public as the obvious response to 9/11. It is now widely admitted that the invasion of Iraq was a blunder. But the war on terror remains the frame into which American policy has to fit. Most Democratic politicians subscribe to it for fear of being tagged as weak on defense.

What makes the war on terror self-defeating?

* First, war by its very nature creates innocent victims. A war waged against terrorists is even more likely to claim innocent victims because terrorists tend to keep their whereabouts hidden. The deaths, injuries and humiliation of civilians generate rage and resentment among their families and communities that in turn serves to build support for terrorists.

* Second, terrorism is an abstraction. It lumps together all political movements that use terrorist tactics. Al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, the Sunni insurrection and the Mahdi army in Iraq are very different forces, but President Bush's global war on terror prevents us from differentiating between them and dealing with them accordingly. It inhibits much-needed negotiations with Iran and Syria because they are states that support terrorist groups.

* Third, the war on terror emphasizes military action while most territorial conflicts require political solutions. And, as the British have shown, al Qaeda is best dealt with by good intelligence. The war on terror increases the terrorist threat and makes the task of the intelligence agencies more difficult. Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri are still at large; we need to focus on finding them, and preventing attacks like the one foiled in England.

* Fourth, the war on terror drives a wedge between "us" and "them." We are innocent victims. They are perpetrators. But we fail to notice that we also become perpetrators in the process; the rest of the world, however, does notice. That is how such a wide gap has arisen between America and much of the world.

Taken together, these four factors ensure that the war on terror cannot be won. An endless war waged against an unseen enemy is doing great damage to our power and prestige abroad and to our open society at home. It has led to a dangerous extension of executive powers; it has tarnished our adherence to universal human rights; it has inhibited the critical process that is at the heart of an open society; and it has cost a lot of money. Most importantly, it has diverted attention from other urgent tasks that require American leadership, such as finishing the job we so correctly began in Afghanistan, addressing the looming global energy crisis, and dealing with nuclear proliferation.

With American influence at low ebb, the world is in danger of sliding into a vicious circle of escalating violence. We can escape it only if we Americans repudiate the war on terror as a false metaphor. If we persevere on the wrong course, the situation will continue to deteriorate. It is not our will that is being tested, but our understanding of reality. It is painful to admit that our current predicaments are brought about by our own misconceptions. However, not admitting it is bound to prove even more painful in the long run. The strength of an open society lies in its ability to recognize and correct its mistakes. This is the test that confronts us.


Mr. Soros, a financier, is author of The Age of Fallibility: Consequences of the War on Terror (Public Affairs, 2006).

Hendrik Hertzberg | Bush's Iraq Gamble Comes Up "Snake Eyes"

Snake Eyes
By Hendrik Hertzberg
The New Yorker

21 August 2006 Issue

On February 27, 1968, Walter Cronkite, the longtime anchorman of the CBS Evening News and the gruff but kindly voice of what was then called Middle America, signed off his broadcast on an unusual note. Freshly returned from Vietnam, where the Tet offensive had just ended, Cronkite offered what he called "an analysis that must be speculative, personal, subjective." "We have too often been disappointed by the optimism of the American leaders, both in Vietnam and Washington, to have faith any longer in the silver linings they find in the darkest clouds," he said. "To say that we are mired in stalemate seems the only realistic yet unsatisfactory conclusion." Like the famous issue of Life devoted to photographs of a week's worth of American dead, Cronkite's polite demurral came to symbolize the long migration of opposition to the war in Vietnam from the fringe - the campus firebrands, the radical clerics, the flowers-in-gun-barrels hippies, the papier-mâché puppeteers - to the wide, upholstered center of American political life.

The center of American politics is no longer as roomy (or as comfy) as it was then. The fringe, now luxuriant only at the rightmost edge of the political prayer rug, has gone online and wired itself for AM radio and cable TV. And nowhere in the cacophonous, atomized "media environment" of today is there anyone capable of deploying the wall-to-wall avuncular authority that was Cronkite's stock-in-trade. Even so, in this August of 2006 a palpable, '68-like shift in sentiment is in the steamy air. Among foreign-policy élites and the broader public alike, it has become the preponderant conviction that George W. Bush's war of choice in Iraq is a catastrophe.

"It is now obvious that we are not midwifing democracy in Iraq," Thomas L. Friedman wrote, in the August 4th edition of the Times. "We are baby-sitting a civil war." Friedman may not be another Walter Lippmann (just as any number of Stewarts, Olbermanns, O'Reillys, and Coopers don't quite add up to a Cronkite), but he is the most influential foreign-affairs columnist in the country, and from the beginning he has been a critical supporter of the war. His defection is a bellwether. "The Administration now has to admit what anyone - including myself - who believed in the importance of getting Iraq right has to admit," he wrote. "Whether for Bush reasons or Arab reasons, it is not happening, and we can't throw more good lives after good lives." In a Washington Post column a day earlier, the relentlessly centrist David S. Broder, citing his colleague Thomas E. Ricks's new book, "Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq," admitted that "the hope for victory is gone" and deplored "the answer from Bush," which he characterized this way: "Carry on. Do not waver. And do not question the logic of prolonging the agony."

That same week, a summing-up confidential cable by William Patey, the departing British Ambassador to Iraq, found its way into the newspapers. "The prospect of a low intensity civil war and a de facto division of Iraq is probably more likely at this stage than a successful and substantial transition to a stable democracy," Patey wrote to Prime Minister Tony Blair. "Even the lowered expectation of President Bush for Iraq - a government that can sustain itself, defend itself and govern itself and is an ally in the war on terror - must remain in doubt." Asked about Patey's assessment during a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, General John P. Abizaid, the over-all American commander in the Middle East, replied carefully (Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was sitting next to him), "I believe that the sectarian violence is probably as bad as I've seen it, in Baghdad in particular, and that, if not stopped, it is possible that Iraq could move toward civil war." Last Monday, in an interview with ABC News, General George Casey, the top commander in Iraq for the past two years, agreed, saying that "the six last weeks or so have been the highest levels of sectarian violence that I've seen since I've been here" and that "a countrywide civil war" is "the most significant threat right now." (At a news conference that same day, President Bush himself weighed in on the subject: "You know, I hear people say, well, civil war this, civil war that." Well, at least he's listening. Or maybe just hearing.)

Three and a half years ago, on the eve of the invasion of Iraq, commentators across the board agreed that the coming war would be a gamble - "the greatest shake of the dice any President has voluntarily engaged in since Harry Truman dropped the bomb on Japan," Thomas Friedman called it. The metaphor came up again and again as the war approached. "This is the biggest gamble any President has taken in my lifetime," a foreign-policy specialist at the Heritage Foundation said. "By accident or design, President Bush has allowed Iraq to become the gamble of a lifetime," the Washington Post noted. Some viewed the gamble with apprehension. "Whatever this war's effect on the region, globally it may be an even bigger roll of the dice for the United States than either its proponents or critics have argued," Charles W. Freeman, Jr., who was the first President Bush's Ambassador to Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War, wrote. Others were thrilled by the audacity, the swagger, the sheer "High Noon" moral clarity of it all. "This is Texas poker, with the President putting everything on Iraq," a Republican senator told the columnist Robert Novak, with relish.

It is in the nature of gambling that the gamble may lose. The dice have now been well and truly rolled, and they have come up snake eyes. The war's sole real gain - the overthrow of the murderous Saddam Hussein regime - is mocked by the chaos and suffering that have overwhelmed millions of Iraqis, whose country is again a republic of fear. The concrete losses are horrific: nearly three thousand American and "coalition" troops killed; thousands more maimed; scores of thousands of Iraqi civilians dead; a third of a trillion dollars burned through. So are the less tangible ones: the unprecedented levels of anti-Americanism throughout the Muslim world and Europe; the self-inflicted loss of America's moral prestige; the neglect of real nuclear dangers, in Iran and North Korea, while chimeras were chased in Iraq. The neoconservative project of a friendly, democratic Middle East, with Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace, is worse than a charred ruin - it is a flaming inferno.

After the defeat of Joseph Lieberman in last week's senatorial primary in Connecticut, spokesmen for the Bush Administration and the Republican Party sought to portray the result as an expression of opposition to the struggle against Islamist terrorism. It was not. Virtually all those who voted against Lieberman, and many, probably most, of those who voted for him, oppose the Iraq war, as does a solid majority - sixty per cent, according to a CNN poll released last Wednesday - of the American public. But they oppose it because, among other reasons, they believe that it has harmed, not helped, that larger struggle. At the end of the week, after British authorities foiled what was evidently a large-scale plot to destroy transatlantic airliners and murder thousands of passengers, President Bush called the plot "a stark reminder that this nation is at war with Islamic fascists who will use any means to destroy those of us who love freedom." But the war in Iraq is wholly irrelevant to the means chosen by the London terrorists, and the means that thwarted them - dogged police work, lawful surveillance, international coöperation - are precisely those which have been gratuitously starved or stymied on account of the material, political, and human resources that have been, and continue to be, wasted in Iraq. Why not change the game to one that relies less on gambling and bluff and more on wisdom, planning, and (in every sense) intelligence?

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Thomas Frank - A Distant Mirror

A Distant Mirror


By now, even the most dedicated “values voter” is aware that an orgy of plunder and predation grinds merrily on in the capital, yet if polls are to be believed, the Democrats can persuade almost nobody to switch their vote on that basis. That’s because, while they have many nice slogans on the subject, Democrats offer no larger theory of corruption, no way to help voters understand what is essentially Republican about the pillage currently being visited on our national government.

I suggest the Democrats turn their eyes to the conservatives’ beloved 19th century, an era that is relevant again in all sorts of startling ways. The reigning economic faith of our time, they will find, is merely a souped-up version of the Victorians’ understanding of the market-as-nature. Again Americans thrill to the exploits of the great tycoons, and gradually we are becoming reacquainted with pervasive inequality, the wrenching “social issue” of our great-grandparents’ time.

This is why I nominate Matthew Josephson’s 1938 masterpiece, “The Politicos: 1865-1896,” as the volume of history with the most to teach us about the present. The book is valuable for its surface qualities alone — its painstaking reconstruction of forgotten scandals, its glimpses of antique slang and high-flown oratory, its remarkable cast of politicians, like the “Easy Boss” Tom Platt and the “Plumed Knight” James G. Blaine, all of them household names once but today as obscure as Ozymandias.

Still, contemporary readers will feel the sharp poke of recognition with nearly every chapter. Then, as now, empty accusations of treason were standard rhetoric. Reformers were routinely taunted as effeminate — in the manner that conservatives today bandy about terms like “effete,” “French-looking,” and “girly man.” Roscoe Conkling, the sarcastic voice of New York finance, famously laughed off a crusading editor as a “man milliner.”

And, of course, there was corruption, the unending outrage of money- in-politics. Both parties bid for the favor of big business, and both did a considerable amount of business themselves, as the roll call of forgotten scandals attests: the Whiskey Ring, the Post Office Ring, the Credit Mobilier scheme, and the Grant administration’s ceaseless “saturnalia of plunder.” But “The Politicos” is not merely a catalog of money-in-politics, it is a study of the logic and development of money-in-politics, from the crude grasping of the “spoilsmen” in the 1860’s to the final union of politics with business in the 1890’s, when industries and even individual corporations effectively sent their own representatives to the United States Senate.

Matthew Josephson was a man of the left, but “The Politicos” is not a reassuring tale of liberal triumph. The figure who towers over this dialectic of graft as it roars to its consummation is the greatest of 19th-century political commanders, the industrialist Mark Hanna, who managed the 1896 presidential campaign of William McKinley. Hanna was famously quoted as saying openly what his contemporaries would say only privately: that we were ruled by “a business state,” and that “all questions of government in a democracy were questions of money.”

When confronted by a groundswell for the earnest reformer William Jennings Bryan, Hanna used every weapon available to make an example of the upstart. While his lieutenants portrayed Bryan as an anarchist, Hanna enlisted the financial support of industry for McKinley, going so far as to levy an assessment on the capital of large corporations. He may not have rewarded his supporters with honorifics like “Pioneer” and “Ranger,” as did his modern disciple Karl Rove, but by the end of the contest Hanna had outspent Bryan by 10 to 1, much of it on “floaters” compensated for their votes.

Hanna’s methods were corrupt, yes. “But his corruption was rational,” Josephson tells us. “It flowed from the very nature of our society and its laws.”

And as we scratch our heads over all the shocking stories of the last six years we would do well to keep Josephson’s dictum in mind. These are not tales of individual venality, separate one from the other. They are expressions of the age. The issue is not merely corruption; it is what old Will Bryan would have called plutocracy.

Thomas Frank is the author, most recently, of “What’s the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America.’’ He is a guest columnist during August.

The Los Angeles Times | Pre-Election Terrorizing

Pre-Election Terrorizing
The Los Angeles Times | Editorial

Tuesday 15 August 2006

The Republicans, again, play unseemly politics with terrorism.

The Bush Administration is a past master at playing politics with terrorism, portraying critics of its various antiterrorism initiatives as naive or even accusing them, in the words of former Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft, of giving "ammunition to America's enemies."

Vice President Dick Cheney may have provided a sneak preview of just how nasty the coming campaign will be. Speaking to reporters last week, after he learned of the British operation aimed at disrupting an alleged plot to bomb passenger planes, Cheney said that Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman's primary loss to an opponent of the Iraq war was proof that many Democrats wanted to return to "the pre-9/11 mind-set" and that the vote would embolden "Al Qaeda types."

Then Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman went on NBC's "Meet the Press" to suggest that the fundamental question in the November congressional elections is: "Do you believe we're at war?" Democrats, according to Mehlman, don't. That's why they "voted against the Patriot Act, against the surveillance programs similar to the kind of programs that were used in London to deal with the threat," and why some Democrats want to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq, which is "central to the war on terror."

For the record, the USA Patriot Act was supported by most congressional Democrats, though with changes to the administration's original proposals that the president found acceptable. Iraq, for its part, became "central" to the war on terror only after the administration decided to invade the country and botched its occupation. Finally, it's unclear what Mehlman had in mind when referring to surveillance programs that are legal in Britain but not in the United States. One major difference between the two legal systems is that police in Britain may hold suspected terrorists without charge for 28 days. But even Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, who spoke approvingly of such laws the other day, acknowledged that they might run afoul of the Constitution.

Chertoff and other administration officials are free, once they study the British investigation, to argue that Britain's success in disrupting this plot offers lessons for the United States. Even then, Congress is not as free to modify civil liberties as the British Parliament - which is not constrained by a written constitution.

But Mehlman obviously was interested less in opening a discussion of comparative antiterror strategies than in pushing the idea that what Republicans call the "Democrat Party" is really the "Defeatocrat Party." That may be election-year politics as usual, but it's unseemly, especially when the stakes in terms of national security and civil liberties are so high. You might even be tempted to call it a pre 9/11 mind-set.

Terror Tactics

Terror Tactics
Philadelphia Inquirer Online

Photobyap_17 Did the Bush Administration manipulate the British into making last week's terror-plot arrests prematurely because of politics back home?

A trio of Philadelphia progressive blogs are asking that question on the heels of an NBC News report that quotes British officials as saying U.S. officials forced the arrests one week early.

All-Spin Zone, The Tattered Coat and Suburban Guerrilla wrote separate posts over the weekend that wonder whether the threat was pumped up and the time accelerated for base political expediency.

Twenty-four persons have been detained, suspected of plotting to sneak liquid explosives onto carry-on luggage in London and blow up as many as 10 airliners headed for the United States. The NBC report contradicts some reports about just how ripe the plot was. Some have reported that there was to be a trial run this Wednesday. There have been articles about the recovery of a "martyrdom video."

But NBC quoted a senior British official as saying some plotters didn't even have passports yet, let alone plane tickets. One British suspect was ready to conduct a dry run, NBC reported. The British were prepared to let him. The Americans wanted to move on the group earlier.

All Spin Zone's Dick Cranium asks whether the Americans wanted the busts to occur prior to last Tuesday's primaries, but were rebuffed by the British, who wanted to collect more evidence.

The way All Spin sees it, the Americans had their allies in terror, the Pakistanis, grab alleged main plotter Rashid Rauf, which forced the British to move - lest word leak and the rest of the plotters go underground.

ASZ: As the story of this plot starts to unravel over the coming days and weeks (or at least morphs into something much less threatening), the media really needs to step back and take a look at how they were once again played. We're already seeing the initial rumblings of a 2004 replay in terms of terror alerts and proclamations. The GOP is making it clear that their only gambit to retain control of the House and Senate this fall is to once again go for the reptilian brain stem - fear. It's the only issue they have absolutely any control over, because they can pull the “red alert” string on the Charley McCarthy media anytime they want.

When BushCo whips out the terror card, it drowns out conversation about anything else - the war in Iraq, the economy, the culture of corruption, the decimation of the middle class, healthcare, etc.

Matt at the Tattered Coat calls the NBC report, itself, "explosive." He sees a scenario where the Bush Administration toyed with the timing to divert attention from the primary defeat of Bush ally U.S. Sen Joseph Lieberman in Connecticut and "the developing sense that America had fully turned against the Iraq war."

As Susie Madrak at Suburban Guerrilla introduces the NBC report:

Sounds like those terror suspects, as I suspected, are merely big old props in the desperate GOP attempts to shore up their poll numbers before the midterm elections.... You see why I just ignore these sort of “breaking news”? Because both the U.S. and British leaders lie and spin so much, I’d rather wait until people start leaking the details of the real story.

No argument from me how politicians on all sides have invoked the threat of terror to justify a range of ill-considered foreign and domestic programs. But I'm not ready to buy this conspiracy theory. First, this NBC piece is based on an unspecified number of anonymous British officials' comments. It makes it hard to evaluate.

As Jim S. a commenter on the Donklephant blog notes, the report conflicts with several media outlets that have said the arrests came after authorities feared one of the plotters was about to travel to a part of Pakistan where he would be difficult to track.

The Washington Post, for instance, reported this Sunday:

The arrests on Thursday occurred at least two days earlier than planned, according to several U.S. officials. Among other things, sources have said, the suspects stepped up their Internet searches for possible U.S.-bound flights, made plans for an imminent "dry run" to test security, and moved to purchase global-positioning satellite devices and other materials. British authorities were also concerned because they had lost contact with one or two of the suspects who had traveled to Pakistan, some officials said.

Given a schedule from London, senior U.S. and British government officials consulted Wednesday between 6 p.m. and midnight Washington time. It soon became clear that all the suspects could not be located immediately, raising concerns about a potential attack.

Is that the Post getting spun by its government sources? The reporters say they talked with a dozen sources in preparing its report.

The New York Times on Sunday wrote a front page article contrasting U.S. and British approaches to terror investigating, and gave a good reason why the Brits tend to wait and watch while the Americans move in:

A new British anti-terror law allows police to swoop in and detain suspects without charges. This is a fail safe, the piece reported, that lets British authorities let plots run longer, then immediately round-up suspects. (It also said the British have many more agents with language skills that allow them to penetrate extremist groups, where the U.S. still has only "a handful" of FBI agents who are Muslim or who speak Arabic, Irdu or other languages of the Islamic world.)

There is another scenario here, and ASZ touches on it.

Americans are more hair-triggered than Brits when it responding to terror threats because we are not as experienced in prosecuting these groups, and we are not as used to being attacked. The Europeans, in comparison, have faced decades of domestic attacks from nationalist or extremist groups (IRA, ETA, Algerians, Baader-Meinhof Group, etc...)

Maybe the British authorities were mindful how difficult it is to win a court victory over the Islamic extremists - unless they've gathered a wealth of evidence. The Germans have learned this.

The danger of the quick move, is that it could weaken the legal case against the plotters, as the Tattered Coat notes: "It will be much harder to convict them without passports or airline tickets." Maybe. Of course, there are many other ways of making a case -- phone and computer records, wire transfers, surveillance tapes, etc.... And there are reports the British used undercover agents. But every piece helps.

The Tattered Coat writes:

The Republicans, in other words, once again played politics with national security, and hurt anti-terrorism efforts as they did so.

Hope he's wrong.