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, December 02, 2006

Rumsfeld Memo on Iraq Proposed ‘Major’ Change

Rumsfeld Memo on Iraq Proposed ‘Major’ Change

WASHINGTON, Dec. 2 — Two days before he resigned as defense secretary, Donald H. Rumsfeld submitted a classified memo to the White House that acknowledged that the Bush administration’s strategy in Iraq was not working and called for a major course correction.

“In my view it is time for a major adjustment,” wrote Mr. Rumsfeld, who has been a symbol of a dogged stay-the-course policy. “Clearly, what U.S. forces are currently doing in Iraq is not working well enough or fast enough.”

Nor did Mr. Rumsfeld seem confident that the administration would readily develop an effective alternative. To limit the political fallout from shifting course, he suggested the administration consider a campaign to lower public expectations.

“Announce that whatever new approach the U.S. decides on, the U.S. is doing so on a trial basis,” he wrote. “This will give us the ability to readjust and move to another course, if necessary, and therefore not ‘lose.’ ”

“Recast the U.S. military mission and the U.S. goals (how we talk about them) — go minimalist,” he added. The memo suggests frustration with the pace of turning over responsibility to the Iraqi authorities; in fact, the memo calls for examination of ideas that roughly parallel troop withdrawal proposals presented by some of the White House’s sharpest Democratic critics. [Text, Page 28.]

The memo’s discussion of possible troop reduction options offers a counterpoint to Mr. Rumsfeld’s frequent public suggestions that discussions about force levels are driven by requests from American military commanders.

It also puts on the table several ideas for troop redeployments or withdrawals, even as there have been recent pronouncements from American commanders emphasizing the need to maintain troop levels for the time being.

The memorandum sometimes has a finger-wagging tone, as Mr. Rumsfeld says that the Iraqis must “pull up their socks,” and suggests that reconstruction aid should be withheld in violent areas to avoid rewarding “bad behavior.”

Other options called for shrinking the number of bases, establishing benchmarks that would mark the Iraqis’ progress toward political, economic and security goals and conducting a “reverse embeds” program to attach Iraqi soldiers to American squads.

The memo was finished one day after President Bush interviewed Robert M. Gates, the president of Texas A&M University, as a potential successor to Mr. Rumsfeld and one day before the midterm elections. By then it was clear that the Republicans appeared likely to suffer a setback at the polls and that the administration was poised to begin reconsidering its Iraq strategy.

The memo provides no indication that Mr. Rumsfeld intended to leave his Pentagon post. It is unclear whether he knew at that point that he was about to be replaced, though the White House has said that Mr. Bush and Mr. Rumsfeld had a number of conversations on the matter.

Told that The New York Times had obtained a copy of it, a Pentagon spokesman, Eric Ruff, confirmed its authenticity. “As it became clear that people were considering options for the way forward, the secretary had some views on the subject, and this memo reflects those views,” he said.

At the Pentagon, Mr. Rumsfeld has been famous for his “snowflakes” — memos that drift down to the bureaucracy from on high and that are used to ask questions, stimulate debate and shape policy. Mr. Rumsfeld’s Nov. 6 memorandum, circulated as part of the administration’s review of Iraq policy, is written in that spirit and with the same blunt aphorisms that Mr. Rumsfeld frequently uses in public.

Unlike the lawyerly memo on Iraq policy submitted Nov. 8 by Stephen J. Hadley, the national security adviser, Mr. Rumsfeld’s listed more than a dozen “illustrative options” that the defense secretary did not endorse, but suggested merited serious consideration. “Many of these options could, and in a number of cases, should be done in combination with others,” Mr. Rumsfeld advised.

With Mr. Rumsfeld’s resignation, the options no longer have the same weight. In recent weeks, some have been discarded as the Bush administration tries to adjust its military and political strategy in Iraq. But others, like increasing the number of advisers attached to Iraqi forces, live on and have also been recommended by others.

Mr. Rumsfeld, who has presided over two wars and is one of the longest-serving Pentagon chiefs, is scheduled to leave when his designated successor, Mr. Gates, is confirmed by the Senate, expected later this month.

Titled “Iraq — Illustrative New Courses of Action,” the memo reflects mounting concern over a war that, as Mr. Rumsfeld put it, has evolved from “major combat operations to counterterrorism, to counterinsurgency, to dealing with death squads and sectarian violence.”

The first section of the memo contains two pages of options that Mr. Rumsfeld describes as “above the line” ideas worthy of consideration. Some that Mr. Rumsfeld found intriguing appear to reflect his long-held view that the United States should use relatively modest force in intervening in foreign countries to avoid creating a dependency on American power. That approach, critics have charged, left the United States unprepared to deal with the chaos that followed the ouster of Saddam Hussein.

Mr. Rumsfeld has frequently emphasized the difficulty of stabilizing Iraq and the need to turn over responsibility to Iraqi authorities as quickly as possible. But he has also been a forceful, even cantankerous, defender of American policy, often insisting his critics were unduly pessimistic. On Oct. 31, just a week before finishing the memo, Mr. Rumsfeld told a radio interviewer, “I feel that we are making good progress with the piece of it the Defense Department has.”

One option Mr. Rumsfeld offered calls for modest troop withdrawals “so Iraqis know they have to pull up their socks, step up and take responsibility for their country.”

Another option calls for redeploying American troops from “vulnerable positions” in Baghdad and other cities to safer areas in Iraq or Kuwait, where they would act as a “quick reaction force.” That idea is similar to a plan suggested by Representative John P. Murtha, a Pennsylvania Democrat, a plan that the White House has soundly rebuffed.

Still another option calls for consolidating the number of American bases in Iraq to 5 from 55 by July 2007, a considerable shrinking of the American footprint. At the same time, Mr. Rumsfeld all but dismisses the idea of setting a firm date for removing forces from Iraq, listing it as one of the less palatable ideas.

One of the more provocative options would punish provinces that failed to cooperate with the Americans by withdrawing economic assistance and security. “Stop rewarding bad behavior, as was done in Falluja when they pushed in reconstruction funds, and start rewarding good behavior,” the option reads. “No more reconstruction assistance in areas where there is violence.”

Some military officers have said that the idea of denying assistance in some areas ignores the fact that many Iraqis are afraid to cooperate with the Americans for fear of retaliation by insurgents.

Falluja has been the focus of reconstruction efforts following an offensive by Americans that crippled city services and damaged scores of buildings, leaving the United States few options beyond rebuilding or evacuating the city. Now, it is considered by the Marines to be one of the few relatively stable areas in the dangerous Anbar Province. Many of the other towns in the region have become even more hostile because the economic assistance has been minimal, leaving the residents feeling neglected by the authorities in Baghdad, military officers say.

Then, too, work on infrastructure that sprawls across the country, like the electrical grid and the oil pipelines, network, cannot be limited to nonviolent areas.

“There is an element of throwing in the towel and effectively giving up on at least some areas of the country,” said James Dobbins, a former State Department official and director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at RAND.

In any case, administration officials indicated this week that withholding assistance was not under serious consideration.

Reflecting exasperation with much of the American government, another option in the memo raises the possibility of using military reservists to “beef up” the Iraqi government’s ministries. “Give up on trying to get other USG Departments to do it,” he writes, referring to other United States government agencies.

Taking a leaf out of Mr. Hussein’s book, Mr. Rumsfeld seemed to see some merit in the former dictator’s practice of paying Iraqi leaders. “Provide money to key political and religious leaders (as Saddam Hussein did), to get them to help us get through this difficult period,” one option reads.

The list of favored options notably does not mention the “clear, hold and build” approach that the White House has touted as its strategy for waging counterinsurgency. That is a troop-intensive approach that calls for clearing contested areas with American and Iraqi troops, holding them with American and Iraqi forces and then carrying out reconstruction programs to win support. Nor does the list make the withdrawal of American forces explicitly contingent on improving conditions in Iraq.

The final page of the memo is a brief list of six “less attractive” options, which Mr. Rumsfeld describes as “below the line.” They include an “aggressive federalism plan,” an international conference modeled on the Dayton accords that produced an agreement on Bosnia and an idea that is currently being seriously discussed by senior administration officials: temporarily sending 20,000 additional American forces or more to Baghdad to try to improve security there and regain momentum.

Moving a large fraction of American forces to Baghdad to “attempt to control it,” Mr. Rumsfeld writes without further elaboration, would be “below the line.”

Defense Official to Resign

WASHINGTON, Dec. 2 (Agence France-Presse) — The Defense Department’s top intelligence official will resign at the end of the year, the Pentagon has announced.

Stephen A. Cambone, under secretary of defense for intelligence, is the most senior Pentagon official to announce he is leaving since Mr. Rumsfeld tendered his resignation last month. Mr. Cambone is one of the last members of the original team that came to the Pentagon with Mr. Rumsfeld in January 2001.

Mr. Cambone has been a key player in Mr. Rumsfeld’s efforts to transform the military into a lighter, high-tech force, and in carving out a larger role for American military intelligence.

The Defense Department expanded espionage and other covert intelligence gathering activities under Mr. Cambone, drawing criticism from some members of Congress that the department was intruding on turf traditionally dominated by the C.I.A.

James Glanz contributed reporting from Baghdad.

Frank Rich - Has He Started Talking to the Walls?

Has He Started Talking to the Walls?


IT turns out we’ve been reading the wrong Bob Woodward book to understand what’s going on with President Bush. The text we should be consulting instead is “The Final Days,” the Woodward-Bernstein account of Richard Nixon talking to the portraits on the White House walls while Watergate demolished his presidency. As Mr. Bush has ricocheted from Vietnam to Latvia to Jordan in recent weeks, we’ve witnessed the troubling behavior of a president who isn’t merely in a state of denial but is completely untethered from reality. It’s not that he can’t handle the truth about Iraq. He doesn’t know what the truth is.

The most startling example was his insistence that Al Qaeda is primarily responsible for the country’s spiraling violence. Only a week before Mr. Bush said this, the American military spokesman on the scene, Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, called Al Qaeda “extremely disorganized” in Iraq, adding that “I would question at this point how effective they are at all at the state level.” Military intelligence estimates that Al Qaeda makes up only 2 percent to 3 percent of the enemy forces in Iraq, according to Jim Miklaszewski of NBC News. The bottom line: America has a commander in chief who can’t even identify some 97 percent to 98 percent of the combatants in a war that has gone on longer than our involvement in World War II.

But that’s not the half of it. Mr. Bush relentlessly refers to Iraq’s “unity government” though it is not unified and can only nominally govern. (In Henry Kissinger’s accurate recent formulation, Iraq is not even a nation “in the historic sense.”) After that pseudo-government’s prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, brushed him off in Amman, the president nonetheless declared him “the right guy for Iraq” the morning after. This came only a day after The Times’s revelation of a secret memo by Mr. Bush’s national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, judging Mr. Maliki either “ignorant of what is going on” in his own country or disingenuous or insufficiently capable of running a government. Not that it matters what Mr. Hadley writes when his boss is impervious to facts.

In truth the president is so out of it he wasn’t even meeting with the right guy. No one doubts that the most powerful political leader in Iraq is the anti-American, pro-Hezbollah cleric Moktada al-Sadr, without whom Mr. Maliki would be on the scrap heap next to his short-lived predecessors, Ayad Allawi and Ibrahim al-Jaafari. Mr. Sadr’s militia is far more powerful than the official Iraqi army that we’ve been helping to “stand up” at hideous cost all these years. If we’re not going to take him out, as John McCain proposed this month, we might as well deal with him directly rather than with Mr. Maliki, his puppet. But our president shows few signs of recognizing Mr. Sadr’s existence.

In his classic study, “The Great War and Modern Memory,” Paul Fussell wrote of how World War I shattered and remade literature, for only a new language of irony could convey the trauma and waste. Under the auspices of Mr. Bush, the Iraq war is having a comparable, if different, linguistic impact: the more he loses his hold on reality, the more language is severed from its meaning altogether.

When the president persists in talking about staying until “the mission is complete” even though there is no definable military mission, let alone one that can be completed, he is indulging in pure absurdity. The same goes for his talk of “victory,” another concept robbed of any definition when the prime minister we are trying to prop up is allied with Mr. Sadr, a man who wants Americans dead and has many scalps to prove it. The newest hollowed-out Bush word to mask the endgame in Iraq is “phase,” as if the increasing violence were as transitional as the growing pains of a surly teenager. “Phase” is meant to drown out all the unsettling debate about two words the president doesn’t want to hear, “civil war.”

When news organizations, politicians and bloggers had their own civil war about the proper usage of that designation last week, it was highly instructive — but about America, not Iraq. The intensity of the squabble showed the corrosive effect the president’s subversion of language has had on our larger culture. Iraq arguably passed beyond civil war months ago into what might more accurately be termed ethnic cleansing or chaos. That we were fighting over “civil war” at this late date was a reminder that wittingly or not, we have all taken to following Mr. Bush’s lead in retreating from English as we once knew it.

It’s been a familiar pattern for the news media, politicians and the public alike in the Bush era. It took us far too long to acknowledge that the “abuses” at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere might be more accurately called torture. And that the “manipulation” of prewar intelligence might be more accurately called lying. Next up is “pullback,” the Iraq Study Group’s reported euphemism to stave off the word “retreat” (if not retreat itself).

In the case of “civil war,” it fell to a morning television anchor, Matt Lauer, to officially bless the term before the “Today” show moved on to such regular fare as an update on the Olsen twins. That juxtaposition of Iraq and post-pubescent eroticism was only too accurate a gauge of how much the word “war” itself has been drained of its meaning in America after years of waging a war that required no shared sacrifice. Whatever you want to label what’s happening in Iraq, it has never impeded our freedom to dote on the Olsen twins.

I have not been one to buy into the arguments that Mr. Bush is stupid or is the sum of his “Bushisms” or is, as feverish Internet speculation periodically has it, secretly drinking again. I still don’t. But I have believed he is a cynic — that he could always distinguish between truth and fiction even as he and Karl Rove sold us their fictions. That’s why, when the president said that “absolutely, we’re winning” in Iraq before the midterms, I just figured it was more of the same: another expedient lie to further his partisan political ends.

But that election has come and gone, and Mr. Bush is more isolated from the real world than ever. That’s scary. Neither he nor his party has anything to gain politically by pretending that Iraq is not in crisis. Yet Mr. Bush clings to his delusions with a near-rage — watch him seethe in his press conference with Mr. Maliki — that can’t be explained away by sheer stubbornness or misguided principles or a pat psychological theory. Whatever the reason, he is slipping into the same zone as Woodrow Wilson did when refusing to face the rejection of the League of Nations, as a sleepless L.B.J. did when micromanaging bombing missions in Vietnam, as Ronald Reagan did when checking out during Iran-Contra. You can understand why Jim Webb, the Virginia senator-elect with a son in Iraq, was tempted to slug the president at a White House reception for newly elected members of Congress. Mr. Bush asked “How’s your boy?” But when Mr. Webb replied, “I’d like to get them out of Iraq,” the president refused to so much as acknowledge the subject. Maybe a timely slug would have woken him up.

Or at least sounded an alarm. Some two years ago, I wrote that Iraq was Vietnam on speed, a quagmire for the MTV generation. Those jump cuts are accelerating now. The illusion that America can control events on the ground is just that: an illusion. As the list of theoretical silver bullets for Iraq grows longer (and more theoretical) by the day — special envoy, embedded military advisers, partition, outreach to Iran and Syria, Holbrooke, international conference, NATO — urgent decisions have to be made by a chief executive who is in touch with reality (or such is the minimal job description). Otherwise the events in Iraq will make the Decider’s decisions for him, as indeed they are doing already.

The joke, history may note, is that even as Mr. Bush deludes himself that he is bringing “democracy” to Iraq, he is flouting democracy at home. American voters could not have delivered a clearer mandate on the war than they did on Nov. 7, but apparently elections don’t register at the White House unless the voters dip their fingers in purple ink. Mr. Bush seems to think that the only decision he had to make was replacing Donald Rumsfeld and the mission of changing course would be accomplished.

Tell that to the Americans in Anbar Province. Back in August the chief of intelligence for the Marines filed a secret report — uncovered by Thomas Ricks of The Washington Post — concluding that American troops “are no longer capable of militarily defeating the insurgency in al-Anbar.” That finding was confirmed in an intelligence update last month. Yet American troops are still being tossed into that maw, and at least 90 have been killed there since Labor Day, including five marines, ages 19 to 24, around Thanksgiving.

Civil war? Sectarian violence? A phase? This much is certain: The dead in Iraq don’t give a damn what we call it.

Clift: Senator-Elect Webb Not to Be Toyed With

Clift: Senator-Elect Webb Not to Be Toyed With

Virginia Senator-elect Jim Webb is the rare Washington figure who doesn't suck up to power.

By Eleanor Clift
Updated: 1:42 p.m. CT Dec 1, 2006

Dec. 1, 2006 - Every so often a politician comes along who doesn’t pander to the president. Fresh off a nasty campaign that centered on the war in Iraq, Virginia Senator-elect Jim Webb had no interest in a picture of himself with President Bush, and he didn’t want to exchange small talk with the man whose war policies he opposes. So he skipped the receiving line at a White House reception for newly elected members of Congress, creating the first of what we should all hope will be many ripples in Washington.

Webb’s presumed snub of Bush is rare enough in a city where everybody who’s anybody has a glory wall, and social occasions are geared to a parade of picture taking. But what happened next is where the story really takes off. President Bush, spying Webb across the room, walked over to him and asked, “How’s your boy?” Webb’s son is a Marine in Iraq.

A more seasoned politician might have been flattered that the president knew his son was in the line of fire and bothered to ask about him. That wouldn’t be Webb, a best-selling author who got into electoral politics for primarily one reason, his opposition to the Iraq war. “I’d like to get them out of Iraq,” he replied, according to several published accounts. “That’s not what I asked you,” Bush said, repeating his question: “How’s your boy?” Webb’s reply: “That’s between me and my boy.” Afterward, a source told The Hill newspaper that Webb was so angered by the exchange he was tempted to slug the guy. That might have prompted the Secret Service to pull their weapons, which wouldn’t have been the first time Webb, a highly decorated Vietnam combat veteran, faced the barrel of a gun.

A quirky individualist who wants no part of the phony collegiality of Washington, Webb was rightly insulted when Bush pressed him in that bullying way—“That’s not what I asked you”—trying to force the conversation back to Webb’s son. Webb could have asked how the Bush girls are doing, partying their way across Argentina. He could have told Bush he was worried about his son; the vehicle next to him was blown up recently, killing three Marines. Given the contrast between their respective offspring, Webb showed restraint.

But that’s not how much of official Washington reacted. Columnist George F. Will was the most offended, declaring civility dead and Webb a boor and a “pompous poseur.” Were the etiquette police as exercised when Vice President Dick Cheney told Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy to perform an anatomically impossible act on the Senate floor? Or is that amusing by Washington’s odd standards?

Webb told The Washington Post that his intention was not to offend Bush or the institution of the presidency but that “leaders do some symbolic things to try to convey who they are and what the message is.” By standing up to Bush, Webb became a hero to a lot of people who voted against this president and this war, and whose views have been sidelined for six years. Symbols matter. Bush certainly understands their importance, or he wouldn’t have jetted onto that carrier in a flight suit and stood in front of a banner that proclaimed MISSION ACCOMPLISHED more than a thousand days and thousands more deaths ago. A president snubbed by a junior senator-elect and then, more tellingly by the puppet prime minister in Iraq, should be wondering where he went wrong, not the other way around.

It’s justice long overdue for a president who has so abused the symbols of war to get his comeuppance from a battlefield hero who personifies real toughness as opposed to fake toughness. Bush struts around with this bullying frat-boy attitude, and he gets away with it because nobody stands up to him. Bush could have left Webb’s initial response stand, but no, he had to jab back—“That’s not what I asked you.” Webb is not one to be bullied. He knows what real toughness is, and it’s not lording it over people who are weaker than you, and if you’re president, everybody by definition is weaker.

The lords of Washington will say that Webb got off to a rocky start, but so did Paul Wellstone, another iconoclastic citizen turned politician who dared to violate social protocol. It was another Bush and another gulf war, but Wellstone’s initial impropriety set the stage for what turned out to be a distinguished and even inspirational career that was tragically cut short by a plane crash four years ago. A professor of political science at Minnesota’s Carleton College, Wellstone was antiwar even then and had run on a progressive platform. At a White House reception in 1991 for newly elected members, Wellstone used his time in the receiving line with President George H.W. Bush to press his opposition to the first gulf war that loomed on the horizon and to urge more attention to education and health care. After he moved through the line, Bush was overheard saying, “Who is this chickens--t?” It's a sentiment the son surely shares.


Eric Foner - He's The Worst Ever

He's The Worst Ever

By Eric Foner
Sunday, December 3, 2006; B01

Ever since 1948, when Harvard professor Arthur Schlesinger Sr. asked 55 historians to rank U.S. presidents on a scale from "great" to "failure," such polls have been a favorite pastime for those of us who study the American past.

Changes in presidential rankings reflect shifts in how we view history. When the first poll was taken, the Reconstruction era that followed the Civil War was regarded as a time of corruption and misgovernment caused by granting black men the right to vote. As a result, President Andrew Johnson, a fervent white supremacist who opposed efforts to extend basic rights to former slaves, was rated "near great." Today, by contrast, scholars consider Reconstruction a flawed but noble attempt to build an interracial democracy from the ashes of slavery -- and Johnson a flat failure.

More often, however, the rankings display a remarkable year-to-year uniformity. Abraham Lincoln, George Washington and Franklin D. Roosevelt always figure in the "great" category. Most presidents are ranked "average" or, to put it less charitably, mediocre. Johnson, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge and Richard M. Nixon occupy the bottom rung, and now President Bush is a leading contender to join them. A look at history, as well as Bush's policies, explains why.

At a time of national crisis, Pierce and Buchanan, who served in the eight years preceding the Civil War, and Johnson, who followed it, were simply not up to the job. Stubborn, narrow-minded, unwilling to listen to criticism or to consider alternatives to disastrous mistakes, they surrounded themselves with sycophants and shaped their policies to appeal to retrogressive political forces (in that era, pro-slavery and racist ideologues). Even after being repudiated in the midterm elections of 1854, 1858 and 1866, respectively, they ignored major currents of public opinion and clung to flawed policies. Bush's presidency certainly brings theirs to mind.

Harding and Coolidge are best remembered for the corruption of their years in office (1921-23 and 1923-29, respectively) and for channeling money and favors to big business. They slashed income and corporate taxes and supported employers' campaigns to eliminate unions. Members of their administrations received kickbacks and bribes from lobbyists and businessmen. "Never before, here or anywhere else," declared the Wall Street Journal, "has a government been so completely fused with business." The Journal could hardly have anticipated the even worse cronyism, corruption and pro-business bias of the Bush administration.

Despite some notable accomplishments in domestic and foreign policy, Nixon is mostly associated today with disdain for the Constitution and abuse of presidential power. Obsessed with secrecy and media leaks, he viewed every critic as a threat to national security and illegally spied on U.S. citizens. Nixon considered himself above the law.

Bush has taken this disdain for law even further. He has sought to strip people accused of crimes of rights that date as far back as the Magna Carta in Anglo-American jurisprudence: trial by impartial jury, access to lawyers and knowledge of evidence against them. In dozens of statements when signing legislation, he has asserted the right to ignore the parts of laws with which he disagrees. His administration has adopted policies regarding the treatment of prisoners of war that have disgraced the nation and alienated virtually the entire world. Usually, during wartime, the Supreme Court has refrained from passing judgment on presidential actions related to national defense. The court's unprecedented rebukes of Bush's policies on detainees indicate how far the administration has strayed from the rule of law.

One other president bears comparison to Bush: James K. Polk. Some historians admire him, in part because he made their job easier by keeping a detailed diary during his administration, which spanned the years of the Mexican-American War. But Polk should be remembered primarily for launching that unprovoked attack on Mexico and seizing one-third of its territory for the United States.

Lincoln, then a member of Congress from Illinois, condemned Polk for misleading Congress and the public about the cause of the war -- an alleged Mexican incursion into the United States. Accepting the president's right to attack another country "whenever he shall deem it necessary," Lincoln observed, would make it impossible to "fix any limit" to his power to make war. Today, one wishes that the country had heeded Lincoln's warning.

Historians are loath to predict the future. It is impossible to say with certainty how Bush will be ranked in, say, 2050. But somehow, in his first six years in office he has managed to combine the lapses of leadership, misguided policies and abuse of power of his failed predecessors. I think there is no alternative but to rank him as the worst president in U.S. history.

Eric Foner is DeWitt Clinton professor

of history at Columbia University.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Majority of Americans Believe Iraq Is in 'Civil War', Poll Finds

Majority of Americans Believe
Iraq Is in 'Civil War', Poll Finds
November 30, 2006

A majority of Americans think Iraq is in the midst of a civil war, a new Harris Interactive poll finds, and few are confident that Robert Gates's nomination as Secretary of Defense will improve the situation there.

Sixty-eight percent of U.S. adults said they believe there is a civil war in Iraq, the online poll from Nov. 13 to Nov. 20 found, compared with 14% who disagree and 18% who aren't sure.

Mr. Bush nominated former director of the Central Intelligence Agency Mr. Gates as a successor to Donald Rumsfeld on Nov. 9.

Of 2,429 U.S. adults polled, only 13% think Mr. Gates will make the situation in Iraq better. Forty-two percent think he will make no difference and another 40% say they aren't sure of the impact.

About half of those polled would like the government to set a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. troops in Iraq, while 18% favor withdrawing all U.S. troops now and 19% favor sending more troops to stabilize the situation.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Bush Nuts

Bush Nuts

Are George W. Bush lovers certifiable?

By Andy Bromage

November 23 2006

A collective “I told you so” will ripple through the world of Bush-bashers once news of Christopher Lohse’s study gets out.

Lohse, a social work master’s student at Southern Connecticut State University, says he has proven what many progressives have probably suspected for years: a direct link between mental illness and support for President Bush.

Lohse says his study is no joke. The thesis draws on a survey of 69 psychiatric outpatients in three Connecticut locations during the 2004 presidential election. Lohse’s study, backed by SCSU Psychology professor Jaak Rakfeldt and statistician Misty Ginacola, found a correlation between the severity of a person’s psychosis and their preferences for president: The more psychotic the voter, the more likely they were to vote for Bush.

But before you go thinking all your conservative friends are psychotic, listen to Lohse’s explanation.

“Our study shows that psychotic patients prefer an authoritative leader,” Lohse says. “If your world is very mixed up, there’s something very comforting about someone telling you, ‘This is how it’s going to be.’”

The study was an advocacy project of sorts, designed to register mentally ill voters and encourage them to go to the polls, Lohse explains. The Bush trend was revealed later on.

The study used Modified General Assessment Functioning, or MGAF, a 100-point scale that measures the functioning of disabled patients. A second scale, developed by Rakfeldt, was also used. Knowledge of current issues, government and politics were assessed on a 12-item scale devised by the study authors.

“Bush supporters had significantly less knowledge about current issues, government and politics than those who supported Kerry,” the study says.

Lohse says the trend isn’t unique to Bush: A 1977 study by Frumkin & Ibrahim found psychiatric patients preferred Nixon over McGovern in the 1972 election.

Rakfeldt says the study was legitimate, though not intended to show what it did.

“Yes it was a legitimate study but these data were mined after the fact,” Rakfeldt says. “You can ask new questions of the data. I haven’t looked at” Lohse’s conclusions regarding Bush, Rakfeldt says.

“That doesn’t make it illegitimate, it just wasn’t part of the original project.”

For his part, Lohse is a self-described “Reagan revolution fanatic” but said that W. is just “beyond the pale.” ●

Copyright © 2006, New Haven Advocate,0,6516734,print.story

Powell: Iraq Is In A Civil War And Bush Should Stop Denying It

Powell: Iraq Is In A Civil War And Bush Should Stop Denying It

Speaking with CNN reporter Hala Gorani in Dubai today, former Secretary of State Colin Powell said Iraq’s violence meets the standard of a civil war and thinks President Bush needs to acknowledge that. According to Gorani’s report, Powell said if he were heading the State Department right now, he would recommend that the Bush administration adopt that language “in order to come to terms with the reality on the ground.”

Full transcript:

GORANI: Well, within the context of the leaders conference in Dubai and also within the context of this debate, this semantics debate, over whether to call what is going on on in Iraq a civil war, the former Secretary of State Colin Powell says he thinks we can call it a civil war and added if he were still heading the State Department, he probably would recommend to the Bush administration that those terms should be used in order to come to terms with the reality on the ground.

I’m paraphrasing what he told me. This was closed to cameras and this was something he said within the context of this academic debate with 2 or 3,000 people watching on in the region.

James Wolcott - All Fall Down

All Fall Down

The normally imperturbable and steady-as-ye-goes David Gergen sounded a mite rattled today on Hardball (sub host, David Shuster), his phlegmatic concern aroused by President Bush's recent mouthings from Estonia, where he seemed to be preempting the recommendations of Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group report by overestimating the influence of Al Qaeda in the Iraq maelstrom and declaring that US troops would remain there until the job was done. What appeared to alarm Gergen and the others present was the scary prospect that Bush's frail tether to reality has snapped and that he is determined to deny what is apparent to all--the whirling chaos in Iraq and the rapid air of urgency that threatens to engulf US forces.

The circles of hell are spinning with centrifugal force, reports Patrick Cockburn on Counterpunch.

Everything in Iraq is dominated by what in Belfast we used to call "the politics of the last atrocity". All three Iraqi communities--Shia, Sunni and Kurdish -- see themselves as victims and seldom sympathize with the tragedies of others. Every day brings its gruesome discoveries. Earlier this month I visited Mosul, the capital of northern Iraq that has a population of 1.7 million people of whom about two thirds are Sunni Arabs and one third Kurds. It not the most dangerous city in Iraq but it is still a place drenched in violence. A local tribal leader called Sayid Tewfiq from the nearby city of Tal Afar told me of a man from there who went to recover the tortured body of his 16-year old son. The corpse was wired to explosives that blew up killing the father so their two bodies were buried together.


In much of Iraq we long ago slipped down the rapids leading from crisis to catastrophe though it is only in the last six months that these dire facts have begun to be accepted abroad. For the first three years of the war Republicans in the US regularly claimed that the liberal media was ignoring signs of peace and progress in Iraq. Some right wingers even set up web sites devoted to spreading the news of American achievements in this ruined land. I remember a team from a US network news channel staying in my hotel in Baghdad complaining to me, as they buckled on their body armour and helmets, that they had been once again told by their bosses in New York, themselves under pressure from the White House, to "go and find some good news and report it."

Times have changed in Washington. The extent of the disaster in Iraq is admitted by almost all aside from President Bush.

But that's a pretty big "aside" barring the exit door, and one has to wonder what it will take to finally get through to Bushbot as his daughters gallivant in Argentina and Cheney finds himself beckoned to Saudia Arabia (which the Wash Post's Robin Wright called virtually unprecedented). It has been the wish, hope, and dream of Beltway centrists that the "grownups" would step in and stage an intervention to save Bush (and the US) from his folly. But suppose the grownups intervene and Bush still doesn't take heed? Suppose he tenses his jaw, sticks out his lower lip, and makes it clear that nobody (including his daddy's cronies)'s gonna push him around? Perhaps what troubles Gergen is the growing fear that not only is Bush unable to avoid catastrophe, he's unwilling to, because that would mean he was wrong, and Bush can't admit he was wrong--the cracks of doubt would bring his entire psychic superstructure crashing. And at that point we'd have a presidential crisis that would make Nixon's lunar unraveling look like a teddy bear's picnic.

Clone2 - King George's Quagmire

King George's Quagmire
by clone12
Mon Nov 27, 2006 at 11:43:45 PM CST

London, 1796 [ROTTERS]- Lord Richard Cheney, Prime Minister to King George Dubya II assured that the insurrection in the colonies are "in the last throes", as he asked the house of Commons for an additional 67 million Pound Sterling to further prosecute the war, adding to the 487 million Pound Sterling already expanded on the War against the Americas.

To underscore the just how well the war against the insurgents are going, Lord Halliburton of Essex has been asked to hire an additional 27,000 Hessian soldiers, or what are euphemistically called "military contractors". At the same time, Admiral Donald Rumsfeld has been in the process to create a "more agile, responsive" British Navy. A key achievement of Admiral Rumsfeld's initiative has been the mothballing of HMS Victory in favor of Humvee class gunboats- they are made of balsa wood hulls and fire 3 ounce spitballs.

However, the general public has become increasingly skeptical of the official story about the war. Gone are the days when, immediately after the Boston Massacre, King George II held a grand parade on the River Thames, sporting a banner that proclaimed "Ye Miffion Accomplifhed".

Thomas Friedman, Earl of Hack, counseled patience: "I know we face some difficulties in the Colonies, but the next 6 months will a critical period, just like the last two 6 months." He then goes on proclaiming that the world is flat, and round, at the same time.

Indeed, the continued inability of the British army to subdue the Continental rebels has destroyed the myth of British military invincibility. A fact made more painfully clear when Scotland was annexed by France last year. "We expected a bigger fight, really" said Mssr. Napoleon Bonaparte, "but it appears all their national guardsmen are literally stuck in Ithaca."

Many pundits continue to insist that a pullout will be a disaster for the Colonies- "Look at the sectionalism between the North and the South!", wrote David Brooks on the monthly Weekly Standard, "if we pull out they might end up in a Civil War!" Critics, however, contend that such development would be beyond the control of the British army and the presence of a foreign army only exacerbates the matter. A point exemplified by one Benjamin Arnold of New York, whose entire family was killed by the Virginia British loyalists during a botched raid: "You know, in other circumstances I might be pro-British and pro-Union, but at this point I say fuck 'em all!"

To further show their commitment to the war, the House of Lords have voted to give themselves another tax break, while pushing the bulk of the war costs to the middle class British subjects. When pressed about the new legislation, Count Tony Snow replied glibly: "This new law means that beggars of England will have more farthings thrown at them!"

Of course some go the extra mile. For example, Lord James Inhofe, Second Earl of Wal-Mart, has gone so far as to place a yellow ribbon on the back of his import Horse Buggy. "This baby has 6 horse-powers under its hood- sure it takes 3 haystacks per mile to run the baby, but I can afford it, I am the Second Earl of Wal-Mart!"

Monday, November 27, 2006

Psychologists: Money is the root of anti-social behavior

Psychologists: Money is the root of anti-social behavior

Research shows mere exposure to money makes people less likely to help others
Los Angeles Times
November 26, 2006

A team of psychologists has discovered why money can't buy happiness.
Pictures of dollar bills, fantasies of wealth and even wads of Monopoly money arouse feelings of self-sufficiency that result in selfish and often anti-social behavior, according to a study published in the journal Science.
All it took to discourage college students from contributing to a University Student Fund were 15 short phrases such as "a high-paying salary." Those primed by money-related phrases donated an average of 77 cents, compared with $1.34 for students exposed to neutral phrases like "it is cold outside."
"The mere presence of money changes people," said Kathleen Vohs, a professor of marketing at the University of Minnesota and lead author of the study.
Money makes it possible for people to achieve their goals without asking for help. Therefore, Vohs and her colleagues theorized, even subtle reminders of money would inspire people to be self-reliant -- and to expect such behavior from others.
A series of nine experiments confirmed their hypothesis. For example, students who played Monopoly and then were asked to envision a future with great wealth picked up fewer dropped pencils for a fellow student than those asked to contemplate a hand-to-mouth existence.
Money also influenced how people said they preferred to spend their leisure time. A poster of bills and coins prompted students to favor a solitary social activity, such as private cooking lessons, while students sitting across from posters of seascapes and gardens were more likely to opt for a group dinner.
"Money changes people's motivations," said co-author Nicole Mead, a psychology graduate student at Florida State University.

Colo. Residents Spar Over Peace Sign

Colo. Residents Spar Over Peace Sign

DENVER (AP) - A homeowners association in southwestern Colorado has threatened to fine a resident $25 a day until she removes a Christmas wreath with a peace sign that some say is an anti-Iraq war protest or a symbol of Satan.

Some residents who have complained have children serving in Iraq, said Bob Kearns, president of the Loma Linda Homeowners Association in Pagosa Springs. He said some residents have also believed it was a symbol of Satan. Three or four residents complained, he said.

"Somebody could put up signs that say drop bombs on Iraq. If you let one go up you have to let them all go up," he said in a telephone interview Sunday.

Lisa Jensen said she wasn't thinking of the war when she hung the wreath. She said, "Peace is way bigger than not being at war. This is a spiritual thing."

Jensen, a past association president, calculates the fines will cost her about $1,000, and doubts they will be able to make her pay. But she said she's not going to take it down until after Christmas.

"Now that it has come to this I feel I can't get bullied," she said. "What if they don't like my Santa Claus."

The association in this 200-home subdivision 270 miles southwest of Denver has sent a letter to her saying that residents were offended by the sign and the board "will not allow signs, flags etc. that can be considered divisive."

The subdivision's rules say no signs, billboards or advertising are permitted without the consent of the architectural control committee.

Kearns ordered the committee to require Jensen to remove the wreath, but members refused after concluding that it was merely a seasonal symbol that didn't say anything. Kearns fired all five committee members.

Keith Olbermann's gloves come off

Keith Olbermann's gloves come off
Anti-Bush views have driven up the ratings of the former sportscaster's MSNBC show.
By Matea Gold
Times Staff Writer

November 27, 2006

SECAUCUS, N.J. -- The Democrats may have wrested back control of power in Congress, but that hasn't quieted the ire of Keith Olbermann.

Last week, he delivered one of his trademark blistering critiques of the country's leadership — this time charging that President Bush failed to learn the lessons of Vietnam by perpetuating the "monumental lie that is our presence in Iraq." And don't think the victors of the midterm election are going to escape his sharp tongue.

"If the Democrats don't undo a lot of the things that have been done, like the Military Commissions Act and many of the other infringements on freedom, as I see it, there will be a special comment with their name on it," Olbermann vowed on a recent afternoon, wearing a crisp, striped shirt and suspenders, his large frame hunched over his desk at the cable news network's Secaucus headquarters.

The 47-year-old broadcaster's "special comments" are not a regular feature on "Countdown With Keith Olbermann," the dramatically intoned, fast-paced mélange of politics and pop culture that he has anchored since 2003 and that recently emerged as MSNBC's top-rated show. (The newscast airs at 5 p.m. on the West Coast, with a repeat at 9 p.m.)

But Olbermann's occasional soliloquies — typically a no-holds-barred excoriation of the Bush administration — have dramatically elevated his profile in the last several months, especially in the liberal blogosphere, and helped drive up the ratings for the third-place cable news network.

The longtime sportscaster, who doesn't vote and eschews any political identity — "I may be a Whig, possibly a Free-Soiler," he quipped — has nevertheless become an unexpected folk hero for the frustrated left. One woman approached him in a New York restaurant recently and burst into tears as she thanked him.

"People just think, 'He speaks for me,' " said Jane Hamsher, a Mill Valley, Calif., author who runs a liberal blog at "There was no resonance within the media for their perspective, and suddenly Keith came on the scene and gave voice to these long-simmering feelings of disgust with the war."

Olbermann said he never set out to court disaffected liberals.

"But there's a time when what you're covering ceases to look like news and begins to look like history," he said. "And you say, well, it doesn't matter how people might brand me or respond to this — I feel as if something very important is not being said."

It's perhaps a sign of the recent shift in the country's political mood that his message has translated into ratings.

"Countdown's" audience has grown by 21% this year compared with the same point last year, while its cable news competitors have lost viewers at that hour, according to Nielsen Media Research.

With an average nightly viewership of 464,000, Olbermann lags far behind Fox News' Bill O'Reilly, whose audience has averaged nearly 2.15 million viewers this year. But the MSNBC host is creeping up on second-place CNN. In October, "Countdown" edged out "Paula Zahn Now" by 11,000 viewers.

His gains come as all of MSNBC's ratings are on an upswing, a fact that has triggered no small amount of jubilation at the perpetually last-place network.

"MSNBC is now a player in the competitive world of cable news in a way that we have not been for many, many years, and that's a really big deal," said General Manager Dan Abrams, the network's onetime legal affairs anchor who was tapped to run the channel in June.

Abrams said MSNBC is finally finding its identity, which he described as "NBC News' younger brother or sister."

"It doesn't mean the older sibling is more intelligent or better at what they do," he added. "It just means they've been doing it longer. We may be a little brasher, a little more petulant, but we are one family."

Election coverage

Abrams credits Olbermann with a large share of the network's recent success, so much so that he paired the longtime ESPN host with Chris Matthews to anchor the network's election night coverage — potentially risky, considering Olbermann's outspoken political views.

"Anyone who watches what Keith did on election night can't possibly suggest that he was cheerleading for the Democrats," Abrams said.

MSNBC more than doubled its viewership compared with the 2002 midterms. And its share of the cable news audience in prime time also increased, from 15% four years ago to 25% this year.

Olbermann is negotiating a new contract with MSNBC; his current one expires in March.

"It is, to some degree, a perfect setup," he said of his relationship with the network. "They leave me alone, I leave them alone, and I deliver what they need, both in terms of journalism and the money end of it, the ratings."

As his profile has risen, so has criticism of his provocative style. This summer, amid an on-air feud with O'Reilly, he addressed a gathering of television critics by donning a mask of the Fox News host and giving a Nazi salute.

A network spokesman said the gesture was intended as a satirical comment.

Robert Cox, who runs Olbermann Watch, a critical blog that monitors the cable news host's comments, said that Olbermann employs some of the same tactics that he decries.

"I think at the end of the day he has, by and large, become that which he has criticized — a demagogue like Bill O'Reilly," said Cox, a management consultant in New Rochelle, N.Y.

Olbermann rejects the comparison.

"I'm not trying to whip up a political frenzy," he said. "If I was out there every night beating people over the head with this, I would become a Rush Limbaugh. That's not my goal. I don't make the facts up to fit the political viewpoint that happens to parallel what it is I'm trying to express."

A longtime sportscaster who first got a show at MSNBC when he joined NBC Sports in 1997, Olbermann devotes nearly the same amount of time on "Countdown" to the tabloid stories, such as the latest Tom Cruise gossip, as to stories about Iraq.

When he's not lecturing Bush, he wears a perpetually amused expression on the air and casually tosses papers off his desk.

He said he doesn't vote because he doesn't want to be accused of having "a horse in the race." But he decided to give an on-air commentary last year after Hurricane Katrina, outraged by the lackluster federal reaction.

"We went on the air with it on Monday and got a response, and management was in here on that Tuesday saying, 'Could you do that on a regular basis?' " he recalled. "And I said, 'No, I have no intention of doing that on a regular basis.' "

The urge to speak out struck him again in late August, ashe sat on a plane on the runway at LAX and read an account ofa speech in which Secretaryof Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld equated critics of the Bushadministration to Nazi appeasers.

Response to Rumsfeld

Infuriated, he spent his flight scribbling out a response in which he compared Rumsfeld's attack on Bush's opponents to the way Neville Chamberlain attempted to marginalize Winston Churchill in the run-up to World War II.

"Dissent and disagreement with government is the life's blood of human freedom and not merely because it is the first roadblock against the kind of tyranny the men Mr. Rumsfeld likes to think of as his troops still fight this very evening in Iraq," he wrote in the essay he delivered that night on the air. "It is also essential, because just every once in a while it is right, and the power to which it speaks is wrong."

His commentary was downloaded more than 300,000 times from the website Crooks and Liars, with liberal bloggers tagging it Olbermann's "Murrow moment."

When the cable host participated in a live chat at this month, he was peppered with gushing messages, including one from former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, who thanked him for "all you are doing to reenergize the fourth estate and its role to be a skeptic of authority."

That includes the new Democratic leadership in Congress.

"They're serving as a balancing factor, a check and a balance against anybody being carted out of Gitmo without a hearing," Olbermann said. "But that's an interim measure. We have to do things to protect the Constitution.

"And if they don't," he added in a mock stentorian voice, "damn it, I will!",0,5898702,print.story

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Wave of retaliation sweeps Iraq

Wave of retaliation sweeps Iraq
Shiite bloc's threatened walkout could lead to the government's collapse.
By Solomon Moore
L.A. Times Staff Writer

November 25, 2006

BAGHDAD — Iraq's civil war worsened Friday as Shiite and Sunni Arabs engaged in retaliatory attacks after coordinated car bombings that killed more than 200 people in a Shiite neighborhood the day before. A main Shiite political faction threatened to quit the government, a move that probably would cause its collapse and plunge the nation deeper into disarray.

The massacre Thursday in Sadr City — a stronghold of Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada Sadr and his Al Mahdi militia — sparked attacks around the country, reinforced doubts about the effectiveness of the Iraqi government and U.S. military and emboldened Shiite vigilantes.

In a sermon Friday, Sadr, a strong opponent of the United States, said the Pentagon's refusal to grant full control of Iraqi security forces to the Baghdad government was leaving the populace vulnerable to insurgent attacks.

And as Sadr's militiamen took matters into their own hands in battles with Sunni Arabs, his political representatives demanded that Prime Minister Nouri Maliki signal his displeasure with the U.S. military occupation by canceling a meeting with President Bush next week in Jordan.

Sadr's representatives said they would withdraw from Maliki's government if the prime minister did not meet their demands.

In spite of an emergency curfew, gunfire crackled throughout the day and mortar rounds arced over Baghdad's jagged skyline, smashing into houses of worship, residences and shops.

By Friday night, at least 65 deaths had been reported in the capital and elsewhere.

A dozen or more Sunni mosques around the country were hit by mortar rounds and gunfire or were burned down by Shiite mobs. Masked members of Sadr's militia swept through Sunni areas, setting up checkpoints and threatening to execute families that didn't leave their homes within 48 hours.

Hurriya, a mixed area of the capital, saw some of Friday's fiercest fighting. Uniformed men in police vehicles roared through the streets launching rocket-propelled grenades into houses and raking Sunni mosques with gunfire, said an Iraqi police officer stationed in the area. The attackers killed three security guards at a mosque and injured 10 worshipers inside.

"They proceeded to bombard the building with rocket-propelled grenades and hand grenades, starting a fire that consumed the structure," said the officer, who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisal.

Attackers ambushed

As the uniformed assailants advanced to another area, members of the Battawia tribe, a prominent Sunni clan in the area, fought back.

"They were ready for them and … ambushed the attackers, countering them with RPGs and machine guns," the officer said. The ensuing fight brought casualties on both sides. A nearby hospital reported that it had received 28 dead and 32 injured.

The policeman said he and fellow officers stood alongside Iraqi army units near the battle, watching the bloodshed.

"The army did not interfere," he said. "And we [the police] didn't receive any orders to interfere. We would not have interfered even in the event that we were ordered to do so, because this is the Iraqi army's turf."

By Friday night, police had discovered at least 11 bodies around Baghdad. But the reprisals were not limited to the capital.

In Baqubah, 25 miles to the northeast, Sunni insurgents and Shiite militiamen exchanged ragged bursts of machine-gun fire in the streets and lobbed thunderous explosives as imams called out "Allahu akbar," or "God is great," from the city's mosques.

Insurgents used bombs to destroy an office of the Sadr movement shortly after U.S. troops raided the building and detained six militiamen. Later in the day, militiamen responded by destroying a Sunni mosque and toppling its minaret.

In the far northern town of Tall Afar, a car bomb blast ripped through a crowded car dealership, killing at least 22 people and injuring 26.

In the northern oil hub of Kirkuk, police found the bulletriddled body of a pipeline security guard, and a bomb damaged the Wahab mosque, one of the largest Sunni mosques in the city.

In the southern port city of Basra, rocket-propelled grenades damaged a mosque, the headquarters of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq and an apartment complex, injuring 15 people.

In Fallouja, a restive Sunni city in western Al Anbar province, a car bomb exploded at an Iraqi army checkpoint, killing at least six soldiers.

Meanwhile, a caravan of grieving Shiites drove casket-laden vehicles from Sadr City to Najaf's ancient necropolis to bury victims of Thursday's attack, the deadliest single incident in Iraq since U.S. forces toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Mourners carried the dead around the shrine of Imam Ali, the most important religious figure for Shiites after Muhammad, before burying them in the "martyr's cemetery," a series of plots festooned with Al Mahdi banners and posters of Muqtada Sadr on the edge of Najaf's tombstone forest. Amid wailing relatives and chanting militiamen, mourners lowered the remains into the earth.

"The reaction [to the bombings] will be huge," said Tahseen Ali Shareef, 28, a Najaf resident who watched the funeral processions. "The families of the victims will not be silent. The streets will be haunted with fear."

As Sunni and Shiite gunmen fought in the streets, Sadr and his followers lobbed rhetorical bombs into Iraq's political arena.

From his pulpit in the southern city of Kufa, Sadr called on Iraq's most prominent Sunni cleric, Harith Dhari — who became a fugitive this month after the government issued a warrant for his arrest for his alleged support of terrorism — to publicly forbid Sunnis to kill Shiites or to join Al Qaeda.

Sadr also demanded that Dhari, who is currently not in Iraq, issue an edict urging Sunnis to fund the reconstruction of a revered shrine in Samarra. Insurgents blew up the shrine in February, launching a similar storm of sectarian battles that left hundreds of people dead.

Sadr also reiterated his demand for the withdrawal of U.S. troops, whom he blamed for the violence.

"I denounce and condemn this incident which targeted the beloved Sadr City," Sadr said. "From this pulpit … I renew my demand for the withdrawal of occupation forces."

Sadr's political representatives in Baghdad, meanwhile, threatened to withdraw from the government if Maliki met with Bush as scheduled on Wednesday and Thursday in Jordan.

"If the situation does not improve, the government does not offer services and the prime minister doesn't cancel his meeting with George Bush in Amman, we shall suspend our membership in the parliament and any participation in the government," the Sadr bloc said in a statement.

White House officials said Maliki had confirmed that he would attend the meeting, and Iraqi officials discounted the Sadr group's demands as empty threats.

"I think this is a red herring," national security advisor Mowaffak Rubaie said. "It is more political posturing, but it doesn't mean anything."

But some observers say Sadr's demands could pose a serious challenge to Maliki.

A potential vacuum

If the Sadr bloc carries out its threat of a political walkout, Maliki's government will almost certainly collapse, leaving an even greater authority vacuum that militias and insurgents could exploit.

However, if Maliki backs out of his meeting with Bush, he could be severely weakened, losing any chance of reining in Sadr's paramilitary forces.

Canceling would also signal to other factions that they might be able to run roughshod over Maliki.

"Sadr is basically challenging Maliki's ability to govern," said P.J. Crowley, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel and a fellow at the Center for American Progress, a think tank in Washington. "He has to respond in a way that allows him to survive and actually strengthens his hand."

Anthony Cordesman, a former Defense Department official and a military expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, another Washington think tank, said Sadr's challenge to Dhari might be even more dangerous than that to Maliki. If the Sunnis fail to satisfy Sadr, Cordesman argued, sectarian violence could grow even worse.

"It's going to take a couple days to know how serious this is," he said. "Will this lead to a large-scale civil war? The worse case is that this leads to enough misunderstanding and anger to drive the country into full-scale civil war. The more likely result is that it will take a week to 10 days to play out and depend on the Sunni response. A lot will also depend on what Maliki does."

Despite frequent complaints about the Iraqi government and the U.S. military, most of Iraq's political and religious leadership called for calm Friday.

In a display of unity, several members of Maliki's Cabinet — Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds among them — held an emergency meeting to discuss the deteriorating situation.

And in mosques around Iraq, clerics preached about unity, intra-sectarian accord and blame for the United States.

"As we denounce the killings of the innocent in Sadr City yesterday, we must also hold the U.S. and British troops as well as the government responsible for what happened," said Abdul Kareem Ghazi, a preacher and supporter of Sadr.

"It is true that the perpetrators of these operations are the terrorists and Saddamists, but their tactics are designed by the occupation forces, and they are the beneficiaries of what is happening."

Times staff writers Said Rifai, Saad Khalaf, Raheem Salman, Suhail Ahmad and Mohammed Rasheed in Baghdad, Julian E. Barnes and Molly Hennessy- Fiske in Washington, and correspondents in Baghdad, Baqubah, Mosul, Kirkuk, Samarra and Basra contributed to this report.,0,7100126,print.story?coll=la-home-headlines

Hail to the chief

Hail to the chief
Dick Cheney's mission to expand -- or 'restore' --the powers of the presidency

By Charlie Savage, Globe Staff | November 26, 2006

ANN ARBOR, MICH. -- In July 1987, then-Representative Dick Cheney, the top Republican on the committee investigating the Iran-contra scandal, turned on his hearing room microphone and delivered, in his characteristically measured tone, a revolutionary claim.

President Reagan and his top aides, he asserted, were free to ignore a 1982 law at the center of the scandal. Known as the Boland Amendment, it banned US assistance to anti-Marxist militants in Nicaragua.

"I personally do not believe the Boland Amendment applied to the president, nor to his immediate staff," Cheney said.

Most of Cheney's colleagues did not share his vision of a presidency empowered to bypass US laws governing foreign policy. The committee issued a scathing, bipartisan report accusing White House officials of "disdain for the law."

Cheney refused to sign it. Instead, he commissioned his own report declaring that the real lawbreakers were his fellow lawmakers, because the Constitution "does not permit Congress to pass a law usurping Presidential power."

The Iran-contra scandal was not the first time the future vice president articulated a philosophy of unfettered executive power -- nor would it be the last. The Constitution empowers Congress to pass laws regulating the executive branch, but over the course of his career, Cheney came to believe that the modern world is too dangerous and complex for a president's hands to be tied. He embraced a belief that presidents have vast "inherent" powers, not spelled out in the Constitution, that allow them to defy Congress.

Cheney bypassed acts of Congress as defense secretary in the first Bush administration. And his office has been the driving force behind the current administration's hoarding of secrets, its efforts to impose greater political control over career officials, and its defiance of a law requiring the government to obtain warrants when wiretapping Americans. Cheney's staff has also been behind President Bush's record number of signing statements asserting his right to disregard laws.

A close look at key moments in Cheney's career -- from his political apprenticeship in the Nixon and Ford administrations to his decade in Congress and his tenure as secretary of defense under the first President Bush -- suggests that the newly empowered Democrats in Congress should not expect the White House to cooperate when they demand classified information or attempt to exert oversight in areas such as domestic surveillance or the treatment of terrorism suspects.

Peter Shane, an Ohio State University law professor, predicted that Cheney's long career of consistently pushing against restrictions on presidential power is likely to culminate in a series of uncompromising battles with Congress.

"Cheney has made this a matter of principle," Shane said. "For that reason, you are likely to hear the words 'executive privilege' over and over again during the next two years."

Cheney declined to comment for this article. But he has repeatedly said his agenda includes restoring the presidency to its fullest powers by rolling back "unwise" limits imposed by Congress after the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal.

"In 34 years, I have repeatedly seen an erosion of the powers and the ability of the president of the United States to do his job," Cheney said on ABC in January 2002. "I feel an pass on our offices in better shape than we found them to our successors."

Cheney's ideal of presidential power is the level of power the office briefly achieved in the late 1960s, the era of what historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. called the "imperial presidency."

Early in the Cold War, presidents began invoking national security to seize greater power from Congress. This concentration of authority peaked under President Richard Nixon, who famously asserted that "when the president does it, that means it's not illegal." But Watergate reawakened Congress, which passed new laws to regulate presidential power.

Cheney was a close observer of that era. He landed his first job in the federal government in 1969, when Donald Rumsfeld hired him as an assistant at the Office of Economic Opportunity. The antipoverty agency, set up by Congress during the Johnson administration, was unpopular among conservatives, and Rumsfeld's and Cheney's job was to help Nixon impose greater political control over the office.

A chief target was the agency's legal aid program, headed by Terry Lenzner. Now a private investigator, Lenzner said in a recent interview that the White House pressured him to fire lawyers who filed class-action lawsuits on behalf of the poor. But Lenzner said he could not fire them because of the way Congress had written the agency's statute.

"I was being told, 'You have to put a stop to this, you have to control these lawyers,'" Lenzner recalled. "But I said that 'If I do what you want me to do, it will violate the law.'"

The orders to fire lawyers, Lenzner said, came from other White House aides, not Rumsfeld or Cheney personally. Still, in November 1970, Rumsfeld summoned Lenzner to his office, and, with Cheney at his side, fired Lenzner because he was unwilling to follow orders.

In August 1974, Nixon resigned rather than face impeachment by Congress. The new president, Gerald Ford, asked Rumsfeld to be his White House chief of staff, and Rumsfeld again made Cheney his deputy. A year later, Rumsfeld became secretary of defense, and Cheney replaced him as Ford's top aide.

In his new role, Cheney was exposed to national security issues from the perspective of a White House that wanted to preserve secrets in the face of congressional demands for more openness. Soon after Rumsfeld and Cheney took on their new posts, Congress passed a bill to strengthen the Freedom of Information Act. The bill allowed judges to review classified documents to determine if they were being shielded for political purposes.

In October 1974, Ford vetoed the legislation, telling Congress that the bill "would violate constitutional principles." Congress, however, overrode his veto, and lawmakers soon threatened to impose further limits on presidential power.

In December 1974, The New York Times reported that the CIA had engaged in an illegal domestic spying program for two decades, tapping phones, opening mail, and breaking into homes of antiwar protesters. The article, by investigative reporter Seymour Hersh, prompted a congressional uproar.

In a memo to Ford, obtained at the Ford Presidential Library in Ann Arbor, Mich., Cheney urged the swift creation of a presidential commission to investigate the CIA. Cheney wrote that doing so was "the best prospect for heading off congressional efforts to further encroach on the executive branch."

Ford created the commission, but Congress moved in anyway. A Senate committee chaired by Idaho Democrat Frank Church began demanding access to secret documents. But Cheney soon saw a chance to convince the public that investigating intelligence operations was dangerous and unwise.

In May 1975, Hersh wrote an article discussing how US submarines eavesdropped on the Soviet Union's undersea cables. Fearing that the article had damaged national security, Cheney pushed the idea of indicting the reporter using the 1917 Espionage Act.

Making an example out of Hersh, Cheney wrote, would "create an environment" that might intimidate both the press and Congress. "Can we take advantage of it to bolster our position on the Church Committee investigation? To point out the need for limits on the scope of the investigations?" Cheney wrote. The idea, however, was scrapped to avoid attracting the Soviets' attention to Hersh's article.

The next spring, after revelations that the National Security Agency had monitored the phone calls of American civil rights and antiwar activists, Congress drafted legislation to require warrants for domestic surveillance. Cheney's allies, including Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and then-CIA director George H.W. Bush, opposed such a bill as a derogation of presidential power. But Ford decided not to fight it.

Congress passed the warrant requirement as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 -- the same law that the Bush-Cheney administration later bypassed with its warrantless wiretapping program.

After Ford lost the 1976 presidential election to Jimmy Carter, Cheney returned to Wyoming and in 1978 won a seat in Congress, where he specialized in intelligence matters. During the Iran-contra hearings, Cheney failed to convince a majority of his colleagues that the Reagan administration was justified in ignoring the Boland Amendment, but he moved quickly to block new congressional encroachments on what he saw as a president's exclusive turf.

When the Senate passed a bill forcing presidents to notify Congress of all covert operations within 48 hours, Cheney led a successful fight to defeat the bill in the House. He argued that Congress was prone to leaks and had no authority to force the commander-in-chief to share information about covert operations.

"The 48-hour bill would 'get back' at President Reagan by tying the hands of all future presidents," Cheney wrote in a May 1988 Wall Street Journal column. "That approach will achieve nothing useful."

The next year, Cheney became defense secretary under President George H.W. Bush. In his new position, Cheney again pushed for an expansive view of presidential power -- most dramatically in late 1990, when Cheney urged Bush to launch the Gulf War without asking Congress for authorization.

For all major overseas wars from 1789 to 1950, presidents obeyed the constitutional provision giving Congress alone the power to declare war. But in Korea and Vietnam, Presidents Truman, Johnson, and Nixon defied this constraint. They asserted that the commander-in-chief had "inherent" power to take the country to war on his own.

Seeking to restore its constitutional role, Congress passed the War Powers Resolution in 1973, requiring presidents to consult Congress when sending troops into battle.

After Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in August 1990, Bush sent 500,000 US troops to Saudi Arabia. As they prepared to attack the Iraqi forces, Cheney told Bush that it was unnecessary and too risky to seek a vote in Congress.

"I was not enthusiastic about going to Congress for an additional grant of authority," Cheney recalled in a 1996 PBS "Frontline" documentary. "I was concerned that they might well vote 'no' and that would make life more difficult for us."

But Bush rejected Cheney's advice and asked Congress for a vote in support of the war. The resolution passed -- barely. Had Congress voted no, Cheney later said, he would have urged Bush to launch the Gulf War regardless.

"From a constitutional standpoint, we had all the authority we needed," Cheney said in the 1996 documentary. "If we'd lost the vote in Congress, I would certainly have recommended to the president that we go forward anyway."

As the Gulf War proceeded, Cheney fought with Congress on other fronts. After civilian Pentagon lawyers clashed with military attorneys over the handling of any bodies contaminated by biological weapons, Cheney asked Congress to change the law to place all military attorneys under the control of civilian political appointees. Congress rejected Cheney's proposal. But in March 1992, Cheney's deputy issued an administrative order defying the expressed will of Congress.

At the same time, Cheney was thwarting Congress by refusing to issue contracts for the V-22 Osprey, a plane that was plagued with technical problems. Cheney opposed the V-22 program, but Congress appropriated funds for it.

By refusing to issue contracts, Cheney revived a Nixon-era tactic of "impounding" funds -- refusing to spend money for programs that he didn't like. Congress had passed a law in 1974 to ban impoundment. Cheney, who later said he believes the anti-impoundment law unconstitutionally infringes on executive power, ignored it.

But Congress forced Cheney to back down in July 1992, when his top assistant, David Addington, was nominated to be the Pentagon's general counsel and came before a Senate confirmation hearing.

"How many ways are there around evading the will of Congress? How many different legal theories do you have?" Senator Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan, thundered at Cheney's aide.

"I do not have any, senator," said Addington. He was confirmed only after promising that the Pentagon would restore the military lawyers' independence and issue V-22 contracts as quickly as possible.

Cheney left government after Bill Clinton was elected president in 1992, but he returned as a deeply influential vice president eight years later. His aide Addington became a dominant member of the administration's legal team, and together, Cheney and Addington made the assertion of sweeping executive powers a hallmark of George W. Bush's presidency.

One of Cheney's first acts as vice president was to convene an energy policy task force, inviting energy company lobbyists to suggest a package of tax breaks and other incentives for their companies.

When Congress and watchdog groups requested his task force's records, Cheney successfully fought a court battle to keep them secret, arguing that presidents needed greater power to solicit candid advice. The decision gutted the Federal Advisory Committee Act, a 1972 law in which Congress tried to require such policymaking to be subject to public scrutiny.

After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, military lawyers objected to the administration's assertion that a president has the power to detain and interrogate terrorism suspects outside the restrictions of the Geneva Conventions. In response, the administration renewed Cheney's attempt to put military lawyers under the control of civilian appointees.

Citing a need for secrecy, the administration also erected new roadblocks to Freedom of Information Act requests, restricted access to historic presidential records, and threatened to prosecute journalists who published classified information using the 1917 anti-spying law -- the same idea Cheney toyed with in 1975.

In signing statements and legal memos, the administration, with Cheney and Addington as its driving force, has repeatedly used the war on terrorism to advance the idea that the president has vast "inherent" authority to bypass laws enacted by Congress. Even when Congress voted, a week after the 9/11 attacks, to authorize the use of military force against Al Qaeda, the administration quickly seized the moment to lay down its marker.

"[Congress cannot] place any limits on the president's determinations as to any terrorist threat, the amount of military force to be used in response, or the method, timing, and nature of the response," the Justice Department asserted in a September 2001 memo solicited by the White House. "These decisions, under our Constitution, are for the president alone to make."

The following year, the administration drew up secret legal opinions informing military and CIA interrogators that the president has the power to authorize them to violate laws banning torture.

"In order to respect the president's inherent constitutional authority to manage a military campaign against Al Qaeda and its allies, [the anti-torture law] must be construed as not applying to interrogations undertaken pursuant to his commander-in-chief authority," said an August 2002 memo, which was leaked to the media only after the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib came to light.

Then, in December 2005, The New York Times revealed that the administration was wiretapping Americans' international phone calls and e-mails without warrants, violating the 1978 surveillance law.

Three days later, Cheney sat down with reporters and laid out his belief "in a strong, robust executive authority." Bypassing the warrant law, he asserted, was "consistent with the constitutional authority of the president."

Cheney also indicated that he hopes to establish further precedents for the expansion of presidential authority. Listing other statutory constraints on presidential power, he said they "will be tested at some point." When Cheney was asked whether he believed that the pendulum of executive power had swung back far enough in the direction he desired, or whether it needed to swing back further, he demurred.

"I do think that to some extent now, we've been able to restore the legitimate authority of the presidency," he replied.

Charlie Savage is a reporter in the Globe's Washington bureau. E-mail

War in Iraq has outlasted U.S. role in WWII

War in Iraq has outlasted U.S. role in WWII

November 26, 2006


WASHINGTON -- The war in Iraq has lasted longer than U.S. involvement in the war that President Bush's father fought in, World War II.

As of today, the conflict in Iraq has raged for three years and just over eight months.

Only the Vietnam War, the Revolutionary War and the Civil War engaged America longer.

Fighting in Afghanistan, which may or may not be a full-fledged war depending on who is keeping track, has gone on for five years, one month. It continues as the ousted Taliban resurges and the central government is challenged.

Bush says he still is undecided whether to start bringing U.S. troops home from Iraq or add to the 140,000 there now.

He awaits the conclusions of several top-to-bottom studies, including a military review by Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Expected soon, too, are recommendations from an outside blue-ribbon commission headed by former Secretary of State James Baker, a Republican close to the Bush family, and former Rep. Lee Hamilton (D-Ind.), one of the leaders of the Sept. 11 commission.

The Iraq war began March 19, 2003, with the U.S. bombing of Baghdad. On May 1, 2003, Bush famously declared major combat operations over.

Yet the fighting has dragged on, and most of the 2,800-plus U.S. military deaths have taken place since then.

Politicians in both parties blame the increasingly unpopular war for GOP losses in the November elections that handed control of Congress to Democrats. AP