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, January 27, 2007

Frank Rich - Hillary Clinton’s Mission Unaccomplished

Hillary Clinton’s Mission Unaccomplished


HILLARY CLINTON has an answer to those who suspect that her “I’m in to win” Webcast last weekend was forced by Barack Obama’s Webcast of just four days earlier. “I wanted to do it before the president’s State of the Union,” she explained to Brian Williams on NBC, “because I wanted to draw the contrast between what we’ve seen over the last six years, and the kind of leadership and experience that I would bring to the office.”

She couldn’t have set the bar any lower. President Bush’s speech was less compelling than the Monty Python sketch playing out behind it: the unacknowledged race between Nancy Pelosi and Dick Cheney to be the first to stand up for each bipartisan ovation. (Winner: Pelosi.)

As we’ve been much reminded, the most recent presidents to face Congress in such low estate were Harry Truman in 1952 and Richard Nixon in 1974, both in the last ebbs of their administrations, both mired in unpopular wars that their successors would soon end, and both eager to change the subject just as Mr. Bush did. In his ’52 State of the Union address, Truman vowed “to bring the cost of modern medical care within the reach of all the people” while Nixon, 22 years later, promised “a new system that makes high-quality health care available to every American.” Not to be outdone, Mr. Bush offered a dead-on-arrival proposal that “all our citizens have affordable and available health care.” The empty promise of a free intravenous lunch, it seems, is the last refuge of desperate war presidents.

Few Americans know more than Senator Clinton about health care, as it happens, and if 27 Americans hadn’t been killed in Iraq last weekend, voters might be in the mood to listen to her about it. But polls continue to show Iraq dwarfing every other issue as the nation’s No. 1 concern. The Democrats’ pre-eminent presidential candidate can’t escape the war any more than the president can. And so she was blindsided Tuesday night, just as Mr. Bush was, by an unexpected gate crasher, the rookie senator from Virginia, Jim Webb. Though he’s not a candidate for national office, Mr. Webb’s nine-minute Democratic response not only upstaged the president but also, in an unintended political drive-by shooting, gave Mrs. Clinton a more pointed State of the Union “contrast” than she had bargained for.

To the political consultants favored by both Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Bush, Mr. Webb is an amateur. More than a few Washington insiders initially wrote him off in last year’s race to unseat a star presidential prospect, the incumbent Senator George Allen. Mr. Webb is standoffish. He doesn’t care whom he offends, including in his own base. He gives the impression — as he did Tuesday night — that he just might punch out his opponent. When he had his famously testy exchange with Mr. Bush over the war at a White House reception after his victory, Beltway pooh-bahs labeled him a boor, much as they had that other interloper who refused to censor himself before the president last year, Stephen Colbert.

But this country is at a grave crossroads. It craves leadership. When Mr. Webb spoke on Tuesday, he stepped into that vacuum and, for a few minutes anyway, filled it. It’s not merely his military credentials as a Vietnam veteran and a former Navy secretary for Ronald Reagan that gave him authority, or the fact that his son, also a marine, is serving in Iraq. It was the simplicity and honesty of Mr. Webb’s message. Like Senator Obama, he was a talented professional writer before entering politics, so he could discard whatever risk-averse speech his party handed him and write his own. His exquisitely calibrated threat of Democratic pushback should Mr. Bush fail to change course on the war — “If he does not, we will be showing him the way” — continued to charge the air even as Mrs. Clinton made the post-speech rounds on the networks.

Mrs. Clinton cannot rewrite her own history on Iraq to match Mr. Obama’s early opposition to the war, or Mr. Webb’s. She was not prescient enough to see, as Mr. Webb wrote in The Washington Post back in September 2002, that “unilateral wars designed to bring about regime change and a long-term occupation should be undertaken only when a nation’s existence is clearly at stake.” But she’s hardly alone in this failing, and the point now is not that she mimic John Edwards with a prostrate apology for her vote to authorize the war. (“You don’t get do-overs in life or in politics,” she has said.) What matters to the country is what happens next. What matters is the leadership that will take us out of the fiasco.

Mr. Webb made his own proposals for ending the war, some of them anticipating those of the Iraq Study Group, while running against a popular incumbent in a reddish state. Mrs. Clinton, running for re-election in a safe seat in blue New York, settled for ratcheting up her old complaints about the war’s execution and for endorsing other senators’ calls for vaguely defined “phased redeployments.” Even now, after the Nov. 7 results confirmed that two-thirds of voters nationwide want out, she struggles to parse formulations about Iraq.

This is how she explains her vote to authorize the war: “I would never have expected any president, if we knew then what we know now, to come to ask for a vote. There would not have been a vote, and I certainly would not have voted for it.” John Kerry could not have said it worse himself. No wonder last weekend’s “Saturday Night Live” gave us a “Hillary” who said, “Knowing what we know now, that you could vote against the war and still be elected president, I would never have pretended to support it.”

Compounding this problem for Mrs. Clinton is that the theatrics of her fledgling campaign are already echoing the content: they are so overscripted and focus-group bland that they underline rather than combat the perennial criticism that she is a cautious triangulator too willing to trim convictions for political gain. Last week she conducted three online Web chats that she billed as opportunities for voters to see her “in an unfiltered way.” Surely she was kidding. Everything was filtered, from the phony living-room set to the appearance of a “campaign blogger” who wasn’t blogging to the softball questions and canned responses. Even the rare query touching on a nominally controversial topic, gay civil rights, avoided any mention of the word marriage, let alone Bill Clinton’s enactment of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

When a 14-year-old boy from Armonk, N.Y., asked Mrs. Clinton what made her “so inspirational,” it was a telltale flashback to those well-rehearsed “town-hall meetings” Mr. Bush billed as unfiltered exchanges with voters during the 2004 campaign. One of those “Ask President Bush” sessions yielded the memorable question, “Mr. President, as a child, how can I help you get votes?”

After six years of “Ask President Bush,” “Mission Accomplished” and stage sets plastered with “Plan for Victory,” Americans hunger for a presidency with some authenticity. Patently synthetic play-acting and carefully manicured sound bites like Mrs. Clinton’s look out of touch. (Mr. Obama’s bare-bones Webcast and Web site shrewdly play Google to Mrs. Clinton’s AOL.) Besides, the belief that an image can be tightly controlled in the viral media era is pure fantasy. Just ask the former Virginia senator, Mr. Allen, whose past prowess as a disciplined, image-conscious politician proved worthless once the Webb campaign posted on YouTube a grainy but authentic video capturing him in an embarrassing off-script public moment.

The image that Mrs. Clinton wants to sell is summed up by her frequent invocation of the word middle, as in “I grew up in a middle-class family in the middle of America.” She’s not left or right, you see, but exactly in the center where everyone feels safe. But as the fierce war critic Chuck Hagel, the Republican senator from Nebraska, argues in a must-read interview at, the war is “starting to redefine the political landscape” and scramble the old party labels. Like Mrs. Clinton, the middle-American Mr. Hagel voted to authorize the Iraq war, but that has not impeded his leadership in questioning it ever since.

The issue raised by the tragedy of Iraq is not who’s on the left or the right, but who is in front and who is behind. Mrs. Clinton has always been a follower of public opinion on the war, not a leader. Now events are outrunning her. Support for the war both in the polls and among Republicans in Congress is plummeting faster than she can recalibrate her rhetoric; unreliable Iraqi troops are already proving no-shows in the new Iraqi-American “joint patrols” of Baghdad; the Congressional showdown over fresh appropriations for Iraq is just weeks away.

This, in other words, is a moment of crisis in our history and there will be no do-overs. Should Mrs. Clinton actually seek unfiltered exposure to voters, she will learn that they are anxiously waiting to see just who in Washington is brave enough to act.

Sidney Blumenthal - The Myth of McCain

The Myth of McCain
Once the presumptive next US president, the Republican frontrunner's popularity has nose dived
by Sidney Blumenthal

When Senator John McCain appeared at the Conservative party conference in Bournemouth last October as the presumptive next president of the US, the stars seemed fixed in the firmament for him. The myth of McCain appeared as invincible as ever.

His war story - a bomber pilot shot down over North Vietnam in 1967, held prisoner for five years and tortured - is the basis of his legend as morally courageous, authentic, unwavering in his convictions, an independent reformer willing to take on the reactionaries of his own party, an "American maverick" as he calls himself in his campaign autobiography.

The titles of his books reflect the image: Character Is Destiny, Why Courage Matters, and Faith of My Fathers. Defeat at the hands of George Bush in the battle for the Republican nomination in 2000, in which he was subjected to dirty tricks, completed his canonisation. The press corps so venerated him that he called them "my base".

McCain's political colleagues, however, know another side of the action hero - a volatile man with a hair-trigger temper, who shouted at Senator Ted Kennedy on the Senate floor to "shut up", and called fellow Republican senators "shithead ... fucking jerk ... asshole". A few months ago, McCain suddenly rushed up to a friend of mine, a prominent Washington lawyer, at a social event, and threatened to beat him up because he represented a client McCain happened to dislike. Then, just as suddenly, profusely and tearfully, he apologised.

Many Republicans who have had dealings with McCain distrust him (not just conservatives but traditional Republican moderates too). While taking rightwing positions on social issues such as abortion and gay marriage, his simmering resentment of Bush led him virtually to caucus with the Democrats in early 2001 (before September 11). Then, abruptly, he rushed to embrace Bush.

McCain's political advisers believe that he would easily be elected president in 2008, but fear that he might not capture the nomination. In 2000 he did not win a primary state where the voting was restricted to Republicans. So McCain decided to let the election take care of itself as he won over the party faithful. He campaigned enthusiastically for Bush in 2004. He sought to reconcile with the religious right, whose leaders he had called "agents of intolerance" in 2000.

McCain had belatedly taken the lead in opposing Bush's torture policy, an issue that could not be more personal for him. But after the supreme court last year declared Bush's secret tribunals for detainees and use of extreme interrogation techniques illegal, the president sought congressional approval of his version. At first, McCain fought Bush, but the right attacked him. McCain quickly capitulated, even agreeing to suspension of habeas corpus. Someone close to him explained to me that McCain calculated he could continue to play the issue when he became chairman of the Senate armed services committee in the next Congress. Asked about the chance that the Democrats might take control, McCain declared: "I think I'd just commit suicide."

As the neoconservatives abandoned Bush's sinking ship, McCain welcomed them aboard. "McCain began reading the Weekly Standard and conferring with its editors, particularly Bill Kristol," the New Republic magazine reported. And he hired a board member of the neocon Project for the New American Century, Randy Scheunemann, as his foreign-policy aide.

McCain positioned himself as consistently belligerent, even to Bush's right: in favour of bombing Iran and North Korea. He also proposed a "surge" of troops into Iraq, an idea gleaned from the neocons. If Bush had adopted the Iraq Study Group approach of diplomacy and redeployment, which McCain had assailed as "dispiriting", the right would have hailed McCain as a prophet with honour. However, importuned by the same neocons who had sold it to McCain, Bush seized upon the "surge".

McCain had trapped himself. He is now chained to Bush. As Bush's war has escalated, McCain's popularity has nose dived. Still the frontrunner for the Republican nomination, he might have made himself more acceptable to the base, but his political strategy has shattered his myth. Bearing the burden of Bush, he may have become unelectable.

Sidney Blumenthal, a former senior adviser to President Clinton, is the author of How Bush Rules.

Who's Helping the Terrorists?

Who's Helping the Terrorists?
By Robert Parry
Consortium News

Friday 26 January 2007

Vice President Dick Cheney's daughter Liz was given prime space on the Washington Post's Op-Ed page to question the wisdom and the patriotism of Americans who disagree with George W. Bush's long war against Muslim militants.

To Liz Cheney, who surely qualified on merit for her former job as principal deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, there's only one option - to stay the course in Iraq and to remain firmly in line behind President Bush.

"We are at war," she wrote in bold type. "America faces an existential threat.... Quitting [Iraq] helps the terrorists.... Retreat from Iraq hurts us in the broader war.... Our soldiers will win if we let them." [Washington Post, Jan. 23, 2007]

In normal type, Liz Cheney also reprised one of Bush's favorite refrains about how the American people must listen to what al-Qaeda says and do the opposite. Since al-Qaeda's leaders supposedly want a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, so they can build a giant caliphate "from Spain to Indonesia," as Bush says, the United States must stay in Iraq and fight.

"Let's be clear," Liz Cheney wrote. "If we restrict the ability of our troops to fight and win this war, we help the terrorists. Don't take my word for it. Read the plans of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and Ayman Zawahiri to drive America from Iraq, establish a base for al-Qaeda and spread jihad across the Middle East."

But U.S. intelligence knows that al-Qaeda's public statements must be taken with a grain of salt.

By contrast, analysts give more weight to intercepted al-Qaeda communiqués describing the leaders' private views. Those messages reveal that - even as al-Qaeda baits the United States about leaving Iraq - the group actually worries that a sudden U.S. withdrawal could collapse its position.

Intelligence analysts estimate that al-Qaeda's forces account for only five percent or less of the armed opposition fighting U.S. and allied forces - and many of those young jihadists are not considered committed fighters.

As Zawahiri said in one captured letter, a rapid American military withdrawal could cause al-Qaeda's new foreign jihadists, who have gone to Iraq to battle the Americans, to simply give up the fight and go home.

"The mujahaddin must not have their mission end with the expulsion of the Americans from Iraq, and then lay down their weapons, and silence the fighting zeal," Zawahiri wrote, according to a text of a July 9, 2005, letter released by the office of the U.S. Director of National Intelligence.

Bogged Down

According to the internal communications, al-Qaeda's real wish is for the United States to stay bogged down in Iraq, so the terrorist group can continue recruiting and training young jihadists while buying time to overcome the hostility of Iraqis toward outsiders.

In another captured letter, dated Dec. 11, 2005, "Atiyah," a top aide to Osama bin Laden, described the work that must be done to overcome the many obstacles facing al-Qaeda in Iraq. Atiyah then added, "Prolonging the war is in our interest." [See's "Al-Qaeda's Fragile Foothold."]

So, if the Bush administration truly based its decisions on doing the opposite of what al-Qaeda wanted, it would immediately withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq and let al-Qaeda in Iraq either disintegrate or get decimated by angry Iraqis who would no longer find al-Qaeda's anti-American brutality particularly useful.

But Bush and fellow hard-liners, like Liz Cheney, are selective in deciding when Americans should heed the words of al-Qaeda and do the opposite, i.e. only when that matches what the administration wants to do in the first place.

That selectivity was demonstrated again after Bush announced his decision to escalate U.S. troop levels by more than 20,000 soldiers. Zawahiri issued a public statement offering mocking praise for Bush's decision and urging him to expand the U.S. commitment even more.

"I ask him, why send 20,000 only - why not send 50,000 or 100,000?" Zawahiri said. "Send your entire army to be annihilated at the hands of the holy warriors to free the world from your evil." [AP, Jan. 22, 2007]

Following the Bush/Liz Cheney logic, one would have to conclude that the advocates of Bush's "surge" or the neoconservatives who want an even bigger escalation are doing exactly what Zawahiri wants. Conversely, those who call for a phased withdrawal are actually the ones thwarting al-Qaeda's desires.

Of course, the "logic" behind Bush's insistence that Americans must do the opposite of what al-Qaeda wants was never meant to be logical.

It was a rhetorical device to intimidate Americans into falling in line behind Bush - or they would face the intimidating question, as expressed in Liz Cheney's words: Why are you trying to "help the terrorists"?

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty From Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at It's also available at, as is his 1999 book, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth.'


Debunking a spitting image

In a story about Chuck Hagel and John McCain's friendship and differing views on Iraq, Newsweek says of the Vietnam era

"(Returning GIs were sometimes jeered and even spat upon in airports; they learned to change quickly into civilian clothes.)"

There's a small problem with that: Despite the widespread belief these days that troops returning from Vietnam were spat on, there's not a shred of evidence from that time period that this ever happened. In his book The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory, and the Legacy of Vietnam, the sociologist Jerry Lembcke looked for evidence of episodes of spitting. As he wrote in a 2005 Boston Globe op-ed [here is it in its entirety]

Debunking a spitting image

By Jerry Lembcke | April 30, 2005

STORIES ABOUT spat-upon Vietnam veterans are like mercury: Smash one and six more appear. It's hard to say where they come from. For a book I wrote in 1998 I looked back to the time when the spit was supposedly flying, the late 1960s and early 1970s. I found nothing. No news reports or even claims that someone was being spat on.

What I did find is that around 1980, scores of Vietnam-generation men were saying they were greeted by spitters when they came home from Vietnam. There is an element of urban legend in the stories in that their point of origin in time and place is obscure, and, yet, they have very similar details. The story told by the man who spat on Jane Fonda at a book signing in Kansas City recently is typical. Michael Smith said he came back through Los Angeles airport where ''people were lined up to spit on us."

Like many stories of the spat-upon veteran genre, Smith's lacks credulity. GIs landed at military airbases, not civilian airports, and protesters could not have gotten onto the bases and anywhere near deplaning troops. There may have been exceptions, of course, but in those cases how would protesters have known in advance that a plane was being diverted to a civilian site? And even then, returnees would have been immediately bused to nearby military installations and processed for reassignment or discharge.

The exaggerations in Smith's story are characteristic of those told by others. ''Most Vietnam veterans were spat on when we came back," he said. That's not true. A 1971 Harris poll conducted for the Veterans Administration found over 90 percent of Vietnam veterans reporting a friendly homecoming. Far from spitting on veterans, the antiwar movement welcomed them into its ranks and thousands of veterans joined the opposition to the war.

The persistence of spat-upon Vietnam veteran stories suggests that they continue to fill a need in American culture. The image of spat-upon veterans is the icon through which many people remember the loss of the war, the centerpiece of a betrayal narrative that understands the war to have been lost because of treason on the home front. Jane Fonda's noisiest detractors insist she should have been prosecuted for giving aid and comfort to the enemy, in conformity with the law of the land.

But the psychological dimensions of the betrayal mentality are far more interesting than the legal. Betrayal is about fear, and the specter of self-betrayal is the hardest to dispel. The likelihood that the real danger to America lurks not outside but inside the gates is unsettling. The possibility that it was failure of masculinity itself, the meltdown of the core component of warrior culture, that cost the nation its victory in Vietnam has haunted us ever since.

Many tellers of the spitting tales identify the culprits as girls, a curious quality to the stories that gives away their gendered subtext. Moreover, the spitting images that emerged a decade after the troops had come home from Vietnam are similar enough to the legends of defeated German soldiers defiled by women upon their return from World War I, and the rejection from women felt by French soldiers when they returned from their lost war in Indochina, to suggest something universal and troubling at work in their making. One can reject the presence of a collective subconscious in the projection of those anxieties, as many scholars would, but there is little comfort in the prospect that memories of group spit-ins, like Smith has, are just fantasies conjured in the imaginations of aging veterans.

Remembering the war in Vietnam through the images of betrayal is dangerous because it rekindles the hope that wars like it, in countries where we are not welcomed, can be won. It disparages the reputation of those who opposed that war and intimidates a new generation of activists now finding the courage to resist Vietnam-type ventures in the 21st century.

Today, on the 30th anniversary of the end of the war in Vietnam, new stories of spat-upon veterans appear faster than they can be challenged. Debunking them one by one is unlikely to slow their proliferation but, by contesting them where and when we can, we engage the historical record in a way that helps all of us remember that, in the end, soldiers and veterans joined with civilians to stop a war that should have never been fought.

Jerry Lembcke, associate professor of sociology at Holy Cross College, is the author of ''The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory, and the Legacy of Vietnam."

At Ease, Mr. President

NY Times
At Ease, Mr. President

Evanston, Ill.

WE hear constantly now about “our commander in chief.” The word has become a synonym for “president.” It is said that we “elect a commander in chief.” It is asked whether this or that candidate is “worthy to be our commander in chief.”

But the president is not our commander in chief. He certainly is not mine. I am not in the Army.

I first cringed at the misuse in 1973, during the “Saturday Night Massacre” (as it was called). President Richard Nixon, angered at the Watergate inquiry being conducted by the special prosecutor Archibald Cox, dispatched his chief of staff, Al Haig, to arrange for Mr. Cox’s firing. Mr. Haig told the attorney general, Elliot Richardson, to dismiss Mr. Cox. Mr. Richardson refused, and resigned. Then Mr. Haig told the second in line at the Justice Department, William Ruckelshaus, to fire Cox. Mr. Ruckelshaus refused, and accepted his dismissal. The third in line, Robert Bork, finally did the deed.

What struck me was what Mr. Haig told Mr. Ruckelshaus, “You know what it means when an order comes down from the commander in chief and a member of his team cannot execute it.” This was as great a constitutional faux pas as Mr. Haig’s later claim, when President Reagan was wounded, that “Constitutionally ... I’m in control.”

President Nixon was not Mr. Ruckelshaus’s commander in chief. The president is not the commander in chief of civilians. He is not even commander in chief of National Guard troops unless and until they are federalized. The Constitution is clear on this: “The president shall be commander in chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the militia of the several states, when called into the actual service of the United States.”

When Abraham Lincoln took actions based on military considerations, he gave himself the proper title, “commander in chief of the Army and Navy of the United States.” That title is rarely — more like never — heard today. It is just “commander in chief,” or even “commander in chief of the United States.” This reflects the increasing militarization of our politics. The citizenry at large is now thought of as under military discipline. In wartime, it is true, people submit to the national leadership more than in peacetime. The executive branch takes actions in secret, unaccountable to the electorate, to hide its moves from the enemy and protect national secrets. Constitutional shortcuts are taken “for the duration.” But those impositions are removed when normal life returns.

But we have not seen normal life in 66 years. The wartime discipline imposed in 1941 has never been lifted, and “the duration” has become the norm. World War II melded into the cold war, with greater secrecy than ever — more classified information, tougher security clearances. And now the cold war has modulated into the war on terrorism.

There has never been an executive branch more fetishistic about secrecy than the Bush-Cheney one. The secrecy has been used to throw a veil over detentions, “renditions,” suspension of the Geneva Conventions and of habeas corpus, torture and warrantless wiretaps. We hear again the refrain so common in the other wars — If you knew what we know, you would see how justified all our actions are.

But we can never know what they know. We do not have sufficient clearance.

When Adm. William Crowe, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, criticized the gulf war under the first President Bush, Secretary of State James Baker said that the admiral was not qualified to speak on the matter since he no longer had the clearance to read classified reports. If he is not qualified, then no ordinary citizen is. We must simply trust our lords and obey the commander in chief.

The glorification of the president as a war leader is registered in numerous and substantial executive aggrandizements; but it is symbolized in other ways that, while small in themselves, dispose the citizenry to accept those aggrandizements. We are reminded, for instance, of the expanded commander in chief status every time a modern president gets off the White House helicopter and returns the salute of marines.

That is an innovation that was begun by Ronald Reagan. Dwight Eisenhower, a real general, knew that the salute is for the uniform, and as president he was not wearing one. An exchange of salutes was out of order. (George Bush came as close as he could to wearing a uniform while president when he landed on the telegenic aircraft carrier in an Air Force flight jacket).

We used to take pride in civilian leadership of the military under the Constitution, a principle that George Washington embraced when he avoided military symbols at Mount Vernon. We are not led — or were not in the past — by caudillos.

Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s prescient last book, “Secrecy,” traced the ever-faster-growing secrecy of our government and said that it strikes at the very essence of democracy — accountability of representatives to the people. How can the people hold their representatives to account if they are denied knowledge of what they are doing? Wartime and war analogies are embraced because these justify the secrecy. The representative is accountable to citizens. Soldiers are accountable to their officer. The dynamics are different, and to blend them is to undermine the basic principles of our Constitution.

Garry Wills, a professor emeritus of history at Northwestern, is the author, most recently, of “What Paul Meant.”

Maureen Dowd - Daffy Does Doom

Daffy Does Doom



Dick Durbin went to the floor of the Senate on Thursday night to denounce the vice president as “delusional.”

It was shocking, and Senator Durbin should be ashamed of himself.

Delusional is far too mild a word to describe Dick Cheney. Delusional doesn’t begin to capture the profound, transcendental one-flew-over daftness of the man.

Has anyone in the history of the United States ever been so singularly wrong and misguided about such phenomenally important events and continued to insist he’s right in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary?

It requires an exquisite kind of lunacy to spend hundreds of billions destroying America’s reputation in the world, exhausting the U.S. military, failing to catch Osama, enhancing Iran’s power in the Middle East and sending American kids to train and arm Iraqi forces so they can work against American interests.

Only someone with an inspired alienation from reality could, under the guise of exorcising the trauma of Vietnam, replicate the trauma of Vietnam.

You must have a real talent for derangement to stay wrong every step of the way, to remain in complete denial about Iraq’s civil war, to have a total misunderstanding of Arab culture, to be completely oblivious to the American mood and to be absolutely blind to how democracy works.

In a democracy, when you run a campaign that panders to homophobia by attacking gay marriage and then your lesbian daughter writes a book about politics and decides to have a baby with her partner, you cannot tell Wolf Blitzer he’s “out of line” when he gingerly raises the hypocrisy of your position.

Mr. Cheney acts more like a member of the James gang than the Jefferson gang. Asked by Wolf what would happen if the Senate passed a resolution critical of The Surge, Scary Cheney rumbled, “It won’t stop us.”

Such an exercise in democracy, he noted, would be “detrimental from the standpoint of the troops.”

Americans learned an important lesson from Vietnam about supporting the troops even when they did not support the war. From media organizations to Hollywood celebrities and lawmakers on both sides, everyone backs our troops.

It is W. and Vice who learned no lessons from Vietnam, probably because they worked so hard to avoid going. They rush into a war halfway around the world for no reason and with no foresight about the culture or the inevitable insurgency, and then assert that any criticism of their fumbling management of Iraq and Afghanistan is tantamount to criticizing the troops. Quel demagoguery.

“Bottom line,” Vice told Wolf, “is that we’ve had enormous successes, and we will continue to have enormous successes.” The biggest threat, he said, is that Americans may not “have the stomach for the fight.”

He should stop casting aspersions on the American stomach. We’ve had the stomach for more than 3,000 American deaths in a war sold as a cakewalk.

If W. were not so obsessed with being seen as tough, Mr. Cheney could not influence him with such tripe.

They are perpetually guided by the wrong part of the body. They are consumed by the fear of looking as if they don’t have guts, when they should be compelled by the desire to look as if they have brains.

After offering Congress an olive branch in the State of the Union, the president resumed mindless swaggering. Asked yesterday why he was ratcheting up despite the resolutions, W. replied, “In that I’m the decision maker, I had to come up with a way forward that precluded disaster.” (Or preordained it.)

The reality of Iraq, as The Times’s brilliant John Burns described it to Charlie Rose this week, is that a messy endgame could be far worse than Vietnam, leading to “a civil war on a scale with bloodshed that will absolutely dwarf what we’re seeing now,” and a “wider conflagration, with all kinds of implications for the world’s flow of oil, for the state of Israel. What happens to King Abdullah in Jordan if there’s complete chaos in the region?”

Mr. Cheney has turned his perversity into foreign policy.

He assumes that the more people think he’s crazy, the saner he must be. In Dr. No’s nutty world-view, anti-Americanism is a compliment. The proof that America is right is that everyone thinks it isn’t.

He sees himself as a prophet in the wilderness because he thinks anyone in the wilderness must be a prophet.

To borrow one of his many dismissive words, it’s hogwash.

Friday, January 26, 2007

A heaping helping of sycophancy

A heaping helping of sycophancy

By Bronwyn Lance Chester


The White House press corps' latest gag is no laughing matter. In fact, it's more akin to a comedic restraining order than a joke.

The supposedly funny event is the White House Correspondents' Association dinner, an annual shindig where the president and the media who cover him gather to lampoon one another and laugh at themselves.

The gala Washington give-and-take usually features an of-the-moment comedian - Jon Stewart, Conan O'Brien and Drew Carey have all cracked jokes there in years past - and is attended by a bevy of actually famous - as opposed to D.C. famous - stars.

Last year, Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert, whose shtick is playing a pompous gasbag, gave one of the scathingly funniest monologues in recent memory. It was a brilliant piece of satire that skewered both President Bush and the media, most of whom sat stone-faced through the ribbing. Interesting how those who pride themselves on dishing it out often can't take it.

So how do press poobahs plan on topping Colbert?

With the musings of - wait for it - Rich Little.

That's right. A White House that wants to take the country back to the Eisenhower era will be feted by a comedian last seen sailing to obscurity on "The Love Boat."

Lord love him, Rich Little is a remarkable impressionist. But when your comedy career peaked in the Nixon administration, it's doubtful your finger is on the post-millennial pulse.

Besides, last year's dinner also featured a President Bush impersonator. Who's left for Little to mimic? Dick Cheney? That's a guaranteed ticket to Stuporville.

Included in Colbert's too-hot-for-D.C. comedy hammering were comparisons between the Bush administration and the Hindenburg, and pointed jibes at the president's stubbornness couched in faux admiration: "This man believes the same thing Wednesday that he believed on Monday, no matter what happened on Tuesday."

He also "praised" the press corps for its refusal to cover of "downer" material - the effect of tax cuts, WMD intelligence and global warming: "We Americans didn't want to know, and you had the courtesy not to try to find out."


In defending his group's curious choice for its April 21 dinner, WHCA's president, C-SPAN's Steve Scully, told The Washington Post, "Do you want to invite someone to a party and make them into a political pinata?"

Well, yes, actually. It's Washington. That's what these guys - political and media - do for a living.

In fact, many of them will have a passing familiarity with character assassinations, rumormongering and outright lying. If they can't hack a comedian's televised teasing, perhaps they're in the wrong line of work.

No wonder David Letterman, Jay Leno and Billy Crystal wouldn't touch the gig with a crooked cane. Each reportedly turned it down before the group finally booked the inoffensive Little.

This year's featured speaker says more about the host and the hosted than it does about poor Rich Little.

For one thing, it says the press corps is terrified of offending the White House, which was never a consideration of employment.

Reporters who cover the White House are supposed to pick apart the politics of the party in power. They're paid to do that - it's the media's role in the system - not to be fearful that an affronted administration won't give them access.

For another, it says the tough old reporters of yore have gone the way of the dodo, replaced by a "no-offense zone" of politically correct correspondents.

And surely part of the problem stems from Bush's apparently thin-skinned, prickly nature. Those traits make it a rarity to see anyone skewer him to his face, at least judging from his sour mug at last year's dinner.

He can nickname and backslap, but Bush looked like he couldn't take a joke. Which made his much-vaunted bonhomie look like a facade.

I can't imagine Ronald Reagan, or even Bill Clinton, letting anyone - let alone a roomful of journalists or a comedian - know they had gotten under his skin. Both men would have probably busted a gut, even if they were privately seething. Heck, Reagan would have probably gotten up and given a sidesplitting rebuttal.

Note to press corps: Bring back Colbert. After all, this is the guy who coined Merriam-Webster's word of the year. Journalists should love that.

The word, by the way, was "truthiness," defined as "truth that comes from the gut."

Sort of like comedy.



Bronwyn Lance Chester is a columnist for McClatchy-Tribune News Service.

Bob Herbert - Long on Rhetoric, Short on Sorrow

Long on Rhetoric, Short on Sorrow


President Bush showed what he does well at the beginning of the State of the Union ceremony when he graciously acknowledged and introduced Nancy Pelosi as speaker of the House of Representatives. He seemed both generous and sincere, and it was the right touch for a genuinely historic moment.

At the end of his speech he introduced four Americans of whom the nation can be proud, including Wesley Autrey, a New Yorker who made like a Hollywood stunt man to save the life of a stricken passenger who had fallen onto the tracks in front of an oncoming subway train.

The rest of the evening was a study in governmental dysfunction. The audience kept mindlessly applauding — up and down, like marionettes — when in fact there was nothing to applaud. The state of the union is wretched, which is why the president’s approval ratings are the worst since Nixon and Carter.

If Mr. Bush is bothered by his fall from political grace, it wasn’t showing on Tuesday night. He seemed as relaxed as ever, smiling, signing autographs, glad-handing.

I wanted to hear him talk about the suffering of the soldiers he has put in harm’s way, and the plight of the residents of New Orleans. I wanted to hear him express a little in the way of sorrow for the many thousands who have died unnecessarily on his watch. I wanted to see him slip the surly bonds of narcissism and at least acknowledge the human wreckage that is the sum and substance of his sustained folly.

But this is a president who runs when empathy calls. While others are monitoring the casualty lists, he’s off to the gym. At least Lyndon Johnson had the decency to agonize over the losses he unleashed in Vietnam.

The State of the Union speech was boilerplate at a time when much of the country, with good reason, is boiling mad. The United States, the most powerful nation in the history of the world, seems paralyzed. It can’t extricate itself from the war in Iraq, can’t rebuild the lost city of New Orleans, can’t provide health care for all of its citizens, can’t come up with a sane energy policy in the era of global warming, can’t even develop a thriving public school system.

If it’s true, as President Bush told his audience, that “much is asked of us,” it’s equally true that very little has been delivered.

The Democrats, delighted by the wounded Bush presidency, believe this is their time. Like an ostentation of peacocks, an extraordinary crowd of excited candidates is gathering in hopes of succeeding Mr. Bush.

But such a timid crowd!

Ask a potential Democratic president what he or she would do about the war, and you’ll get a doctoral dissertation about the importance of diplomacy, the possibility of a phased withdrawal (but not too quick), the need for Iraqis to help themselves and figure out a way to divvy up the oil, and so on and so forth.

A straight answer? Surely you jest. The Democrats remind me of the boxer in the Bonnie Raitt lyric who was “afraid to throw a punch that might land.”

There’s a hole in the American system where the leadership used to be. The country that led the miraculous rebuilding effort in the aftermath of World War II can’t even build an adequate system of levees on its own Gulf Coast.

The most effective answer to this leadership vacuum would be a new era of political activism by ordinary citizens. The biggest, most far-reaching changes of the past century — the labor movement, the civil rights movement, the women’s movement — were not primarily the result of elective politics, but rather the hard work of committed citizen-activists fed up with the status quo.

It’s time for thoughtful citizens to turn off their TVs and step into the public arena. Protest. Attend meetings. Circulate petitions. Run for office. I suspect the public right now is way ahead of the politicians when it comes to ideas about creating a more peaceful, more equitable, more intelligent society.

The candidates for the most part are listening to their handlers and gurus and fat-cat contributors, which is the antithesis of democracy. It’s not easy for ordinary men and women to be heard above that self-serving din, but it can be done.

Voters should listen to Dwight Eisenhower, who said in 1954:

“Politics ought to be the part-time profession of every citizen who would protect the rights and privileges of free people and who would preserve what is good and fruitful in our national heritage.”

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Why Democrats can stop the war

Why Democrats can stop the war

Pundits say if the party gets too tough with Bush, it will be blamed for "losing" Iraq. But the real political risk is going too easy on Bush, and losing the trust of war-weary voters.

By Rick Perlstein

Jan. 24, 2007 | Earlier this month, the folks at came to me with a challenge: Study the history of Congress' efforts to halt, or at least halt the escalation of, the Vietnam War, and mine it for lessons about what Congress should do about Iraq now. They found themselves saddled with a historian deeply suspicious of using history to glibly draw battle plans for the present -- but one who emerged, nonetheless, believing that this time the lessons are clear. Last Thursday, Salon ran Walter Shapiro's article "Why the Democrats Can't Stop the Surge." I've come to a different conclusion about what Congress can or can't do. The questions are not just: Can Congress stop the surge? Can Congress stop a war-mongering president in his tracks? The better question is what are the things Congress can accomplish just by trying to stop the escalation, boldly, and without apology?

The answer to that is: an enormous amount -- and that the only thing that can guarantee Democratic political weakness in 2008 is if they abandon a strong withdrawal (or, if you prefer, "redeployment") position.

Let's start at the very beginning. Representatives and senators had been criticizing the creep, creep, creep of America's escalating military involvement in Indochina at least since 1963. The hammer really started coming down, though, in February 1966 -- when, a year after Lyndon Johnson began the first bombing runs over North Vietnam, Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman J. William Fulbright of Arkansas called hearings questioning the entire underlying logic of the war. Americans had been doing that in the streets for some time by then. Shortly after the Senate passed the president's 1965 $700 million military appropriation for Vietnam 88 to 3, the antiwar movement staged its first big Washington demonstration -- with about 20,000 young people on the Mall. But the collective reaction of the guardians of polite opinion was a sneer. "Holiday From Exams," the New York Times headed its dispatch.

By contrast, when Sen. Fulbright began his hearings, they stood up and took notice. All three networks covered the hearings live over six days. Thus did Americans learn from hippies like World War II hero Gen. James Gavin and George Kennan, architect of the Cold War doctrine of "containment" -- who said, "If we were not already involved as we are today in Vietnam, I would know of no reason why we should wish to become so involved, and I could think of several reasons why we should wish not to," and that victory could come only "at the cost of a degree of damage to civilian life and civilian suffering ... for which I would not like to see this country responsible."

President Johnson did not sit by idly. He directed the FBI to monitor the proceedings to find where they were echoing the so-called Communist line -- and had agents study wiretaps of the Soviet Embassy for evidence of friendly congressional contact. He also may have had words with the top network brass. CBS, for one, cut away from Kennan's testimony to return to regularly scheduled programming ("I Love Lucy" and "Andy Griffith Show" reruns). The execs defended themselves, claiming the hearings served to "obfuscate" and "confuse" the issues.

First lesson: Forthright questioning of a mistaken war by prominent legislators can utterly transform the public debate, pushing it in directions no one thought it was prepared to go.

Second lesson: Congress horning in on war powers scares the bejesus out of presidents.

The FBI was the least of it. The political threats were even worse. The next year, when Fulbright told the president at a meeting with the Senate leadership that the war was "ruining our domestic and our foreign policy," the president's response was a dare: Repeal the Gulf of Tonkin resolution -- the authorization of force that passed 98 to 2 in 1964. "You can tell the troops to come home" -- put up or shut up. What's more, "You can tell General Westmoreland that he doesn't know what he's doing." This was the same sword of Damocles that potential congressional anti-surgers feel swinging over their heads now: Any second-guessing of the chain of command, and I, the president, will blame everything bad that happens on you. It set a pattern for presidential push-backs against legislators' assertion of their constitutional oversight power. Nixon was even worse.

In March 1968, campaigning in the Republican primary in New Hampshire, the man who would become the next president of the United States laid down his marker on Vietnam: "If in November this war is not over, I say that the American people will be justified in electing new leadership, and I pledge to you that new leadership will end the war and win the peace in the Pacific." It was reported as if a campaign promise: A President Nixon would end the war. Nixon spent the rest of the campaign season refusing to say any more about what he meant -- claiming that to do so would jeopardize President Johnson's negotiations with the enemy.

At Nixon's first press conference in 1969, Helen Thomas, blunt as ever, asked him, "Now that you are president, what is your peace plan for Vietnam?" His desultory answer only repeated proposals already on the table. In reality he had no "peace plan" -- save for the fantasy that he could bomb the enemy so savagely that it would surrender at the negotiating table. The falseness of the presumption that the president intended to end the war expeditiously was revealed to George McGovern, the most forceful Senate dove, in an early meeting with Henry Kissinger. Why, McGovern asked the president's national security advisor, didn't Nixon just announce that while his predecessors Kennedy and Johnson had committed troops in good faith, subsequent events had shown that the commitment was no longer in the nation's interest? Kissinger responded by agreeing with the premise -- that the war was a mistake -- but nonetheless assuring him they had no intention of withdrawing short of victory.

In March, McGovern shocked even his fellow doves by saying on the Senate floor that "the only acceptable objective now is an immediate end to the killing." Sen. Edward M. Kennedy called his words "precipitate." The president had recently been asked at a press conference if he "could keep American public opinion in line if this war were to go on months and even years." He responded, "Well, I trust that I am not confronted with that problem, when you speak of years." The New York Times reported, "Public pressure over the war has almost disappeared." Those were the rules of the game: The president said he was ending the war. We had to trust him to do what he promised.

Of course, shortly thereafter, it was revealed that the president was secretly bombing neutral Cambodia. Shortly after that the public mind was blown by reports of the butchery of the battle at "Hamburger Hill," in which 46 Americans died in a day -- the kind of thing Americans trusted the president had put in the past. Nixon calmed things down by beginning a regular series of addresses in which he announced ever greater withdrawals of troops from Vietnam. On April 20, 1970, he made his most dramatic one yet: "The decision I announce tonight means that we finally have in sight the just peace we are seeking." The war, he seemed to be promising, was all but over.

Ten days later he went back on TV and staggered the nation by announcing he was invading neutral Cambodia.

Another lesson: Presidents, arrogant men, lie. And yet the media, loath to undermine the authority of the commander in chief, trusts them. Today's congressional war critics have to be ready for that. They have to do what Congress immediately did next, in 1970: It grasped the nettle, at the president's moment of maximum vulnerability, and turned public opinion radically against the war, and threw the president far, far back on his heels.

Immediately after the Cambodian invasion Senate doves rolled out three coordinated bills. (Each had bipartisan sponsorship; those were different days.) John Sherman Cooper, R-Ken., and Frank Church, D-Idaho, proposed banning funds for extending the war into Cambodia and Laos. Another bipartisan coalition drafted a repeal of the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, the congressional authorization for war that had passed 98 to 2 in 1964. George McGovern, D-S.D., and Mark Hatfield, R-Ore., were in charge of the granddaddy of them all: an amendment requiring the president to either go to Congress for a declaration of war or end the war, by Dec. 31, 1970. Walter Shapiro wrote that a "skittish" Congress made sure its antiwar legislation had "loopholes" to permit the president to take action to protect U.S. troops in the field" -- which means no genuine congressional exit mandate at all. But McGovern-Hatfield had no such "loopholes." (Of course, McGovern Hatfield didn't pass, and thus wasn't subject to the arduous political negotiating process that might have added them.) It was four sentences long, and said: Without a declaration of war, Congress would appropriate no money for Vietnam other than "to pay costs relating to the withdrawal of all U.S. forces, to the termination of United States military operations ... to the arrangement for exchanges of prisoners of war," and to "food and other non-military supplies and services" for the Vietnamese.

Radical stuff. Far more radical than today's timid congressional critics are interested in going. But what today's timid congressmen must understand is that the dare paid off handsomely. With McGovern-Hatfield holding down the left flank, the moderate-seeming Cooper-Church passed out of the Foreign Relations Committee almost immediately. Was the president on the defensive? And how. His people rushed out a substitute "to make clear that the Senate wants us out of Cambodia as soon as possible." Two of the most hawkish and powerful Southern Democrats, Fritz Hollings and Eugene Talmadge, announced they were sick of handing blank checks to the president. A tide had turned, decisively. By the time Cooper-Church passed the Senate overwhelmingly on June 30, the troops were gone from Cambodia -- an experiment in expanding the war that the president didn't dare repeat. Congress stopped that surge. It did it by striking fast -- and hard -- when the iron was hottest. In so doing, it moved the ball of public opinion very far down the field. By August, a strong plurality of Americans supported the McGovern-Hatfield "end the war" bill, 44 to 35 percent.

There is, here, another crucial lesson for today: Grass-roots activism works. The Democratic presidential front-runner back then, Sen. Edmund Muskie of Maine, afraid of being branded a radical, had originally proposed instead a nonbinding sense-of-the-Senate resolution recommending "effort" toward the withdrawal of American forces within 18 months. He found himself caught up in a swarm: the greatest popular lobbying campaign ever. Haverford College, which was not atypical, saw 90 percent of its student body and 57 percent of its faculty come to Washington to demonstrate for McGovern-Hatfield. A half-hour TV special in which congressmen argued for the bill was underwritten by 60,000 separate 50-cent contributions. The proposal received the largest volume of mail in Senate history. Muskie withdrew his own bill, and became the 19th cosponsor of McGovern-Hatfield.

Muskie's sense-of-the-Senate resolution was the wrong thing to do -- just as Democratic Sens. Carl Levin and Joe Biden's sense-of-the-Senate resolution, cosponsored with Republican Chuck Hagel, is the wrong thing to do. Congressional doves, by uniting around a strong offensive -- eschewing triangulation -- weakened the president. McGovern-Hatfield did not pass in 1970. But the campaign for it helped make 1971 President Nixon's worst political year (until, that is, Congress' bold action starting in 1973 to investigate Watergate). By that January, 73 percent of Americans supported the reintroduced McGovern-Hatfield amendment. John Stennis, D-Miss., Nixon's most important congressional supporter, now announced he "totally rejected the concept ... that the President has certain powers as Commander in Chief which enable him to extensively commit major forces to combat without Congressional consent." In April the six leading Democratic presidential contenders went on TV and, one by one, called for the president to set a date for withdrawal. (One of them, future neoconservative hero Sen. Henry "Scoop" Jackson, differed only in that he said Nixon should not announce the date publicly.)

This was a marvelous offensive move: It threw the responsibility for the war where the commander in chief claimed it belonged -- with himself -- and framed subsequent congressional attempts to set a date a reaction to presidential inaction and the carnage it brought. When the second McGovern-Hatfield amendment went down 55-42 in June, it once more established a left flank -- allowing Majority Leader Mike Mansfield to pass a softer amendment to require withdrawal nine months after all American prisoners of war were released. Senate doves, having dared the fight, were doing quite well in this game of inches.

Which brings us back to lesson two, above. Richard Nixon was terrified. He reached into Lyndon Johnson's bag of tricks, calling Mansfield into the White House and reminding him that he was in the middle of negotiations on the war and on arms control. He said that if they collapsed he would go on TV, too -- and blame Mansfield personally. He called in House Majority leader Carl Albert and said that if the similar resolution pending in the House succeeded he would simply scuttle the Vietnam negotiations, and blame Albert personally. The resolution lost by 23 votes.

Failure, just as Walter Shapiro says? I see a glass half full -- and a strategy congressional Democrats should emulate now. The bedrock reason is the election. The election in 1972, I mean; and the election in 2008.

It sounds crazy to say it, because anyone who knows anything knows that the 1972 election was a world-historic failure for the Democrats because McGovern lost 49 states. Put aside, for now, the story of that crushing defeat. (It is a story of the most tragically inappropriate presidential nominee in history, and the unprecedentedly dirty campaign against him -- the substance of Watergate.) What that colossal distraction distracts us from is that congressional doves, and Congressional Democrats, performed outstandingly in that election. Democrats gained a seat in the Senate, the McGovern coattails proving an irrelevancy. America simultaneously rejected George McGovern and voted for McGovernism: Democrats who voted twice for his amendment to demand a date certain to end the Vietnam War did extremely well. Nixon knew his fantasy of expanding the air war unto victory was over. In fact, those who saw him the morning after the election said they'd never seen him so depressed. Why? "We lost in the Senate," he told one mournfully. He lost his mandate to make war as he wished.

We can likewise expect a similarly nasty presidential campaign against whomever the Democrats nominate in 2008. But we can also assume that he or she won't be as naive and unqualified to win as McGovern; one hopes the days in which liberals fantasized that the electorate would react to the meanness of Republicans by reflexively embracing the nicest Democrat are well and truly past. What we also should anticipate, as well, is the possibility that the Republicans will run as Nixon did in 1968 and 1972: as the more trustworthy guarantor of peace. Ten days before the 1972 election, Henry Kissinger went on TV to announce, "It is obvious that a war that has been raging for 10 years is drawing to a conclusion ... We believe peace is at hand." McGovern-Hatfield having ultimately failed twice, its supporters were never able to claim credit for ending the war. That ceded the ground to Nixon, who was able to claim the credit for himself instead. He never would have been able to do that if he had been forced to veto legislation to end the war.

McGovern-Hatfield failed because of presidential intimidation, in the face of overwhelming public support. Nixon and Nixon surrogates pinioned legislators inclined to vote for it with the same old threats. A surviving document recording the talking points had them say they would be giving "aid and comfort" to an enemy seeking to "kill more Americans," and, yes, "stab our men in the back," and "must assume responsibility for all subsequent deaths" if they succeeded in "tying the president's hands through a Congressional Appropriations route."

But isn't that interesting: There wouldn't have been subsequent deaths if they had had the fortitude to stand up to the threats.

Every time congressional war critics made Congress the bulwark of opposition to a war-mongering president, they galvanized public opinion against the war. The same thing seems to be happening now. Already, the guardians of respectable opinion are sneering less; there are simply too many anti-surge bills on the table for that. The shame would be if today's only credible antiwar party, the Democrats, squander that opportunity by failing to harness their majority, not merely for a strong showing against escalation but in favor of a position to credibly end the war.

You know that whatever the facts, the right will blame "liberals" and "Democrats" for losing Iraq; that's as inevitable as the fact that we've already lost Iraq -- and as inevitable as an arrogant president playing into Democratic hands by expanding the engagement (he already is). What would be inexcusable is if wobbly Democrats managed to maneuver themselves timidly into a corner that made them only the right-wing's scapegoats -- and not the champions that truly made their stand to end the war.

In 2008, the Republicans are going to have to run either amidst an electorate convinced that Republicans will be staying the course or amidst an electorate they've managed to bamboozle into believing "peace is at hand." If they manage the latter, they'll have a good chance of winning the election. But the only way they can do that is if Democrats can't claim credit for ending it first. I hope to be able to watch the Democrats truly try to end the war; it will be glorious. Because even if they start losing votes in Congress, the president and the party that enables him can only become politically weaker by the day.

-- By Rick Perlstein

Rockefeller: Cheney applied 'constant' pressure to stall investigation on flawed Iraq intelligence

Rockefeller: Cheney applied 'constant' pressure to stall investigation on flawed Iraq intelligence

By Jonathan S. Landay
McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON - Vice President Dick Cheney put "constant" pressure on the Republican former head of the Senate Intelligence Committee to stall an investigation into the Bush administration’s use of flawed intelligence on Iraq, the panel’s Democratic chairman charged Thursday.

In an interview with McClatchy Newspapers, Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia said it was "not hearsay" that Cheney, a leading proponent of invading Iraq, pushed Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., to drag out the probe.

"It was just constant," Rockefeller said of Cheney’s alleged interference.

Cheney said in response to Rockefeller's charge that he believes Sen. Roberts "was a good chairman" of the Intelligence Committee, spokeswoman Lea McBride said.

Roberts’ chief of staff, Jackie Cottrell, said in an email statement it was Democrats’ fault the investigation remains incomplete more than two years after it was begun.

"Senator Rockefeller's allegations are patently untrue," she said. "The delays came from the Democrats' insistence that they expand the scope of the inquiry to make it a more political document going into the 2006 elections. Chairman Roberts did everything he could to accommodate their requests for further information without allowing them to distort the facts."

Roberts chaired the intelligence committee from January 2003 until the Democrats took over Congress this month.

Rockefeller’s comments were among the most forceful he has made about why the committee failed to complete the inquiry under Roberts.

The panel released a report in July 2004 that lambasted the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies for erroneously concluding that Saddam Hussein was concealing biological, chemical and nuclear warfare programs.

It then began examining how senior Bush administration officials used faulty intelligence to justify the March 2003 invasion.

Robert promised to quickly complete what became known as the Phase II investigation. After more than two years, the panel published only two of five Phase II reports amid serious rifts between Republican and Democratic members and their staffs.

Rockefeller recalled that in November 2005, the then-minority Democrats employed a rarely used parliamentary procedure to force the Senate into a closed session to pressure Roberts’ to complete Phase II.

"That was the reason we closed the session. To force him" to complete the investigation, he said.

He said that Cheney’s intervention with Roberts was part of a White House effort to orchestrate the work of the Republican-led Congress.

Republicans "just had to go along with the administration," he said.

The most potentially explosive of the three unpublished Phase II reports was to compare top Bush administration statements about Iraq’s weapons programs and ties to terrorists with what they were seeing in top-secret intelligence reports.

Carl Bernstein: Bush Administraton Has Done 'Far Greater Damage' Than Nixon

Carl Bernstein: Bush Administraton Has Done 'Far Greater Damage' Than Nixon

By E&P Staff

Published: January 24, 2007 4:00 PM ET updated Thursday

NEW YORK In an online chat at on Wednesday afternoon, Carl Bernstein, the famed Watergate reporter at that paper and now writing articles for Vanity Fair, took several hard shots at the current Bush administration -- almost every time he was asked about the Nixon era. It came just as news of the death of former Watergate ringleader E. Howard Hunt was circulating widely.

After a long explanation of how the American system "worked," eventually, with Watergate, Bernstein said:

"In the case George W. Bush, the American system has obviously failed -- tragically -- about which we can talk more in a minute. But imagine the difference in our worldview today, had the institutions -- particularly of government -- done their job to ensure that a mendacious and dangerous president (as has since been proven many times over, beyond mere assertion) be restrained in a war that has killed thousands of American soldiers, brought turmoil to the lives of millions, and constrained the goodwill towards the United States in much of the world."

Later, asked if the Nixon administration was unique in hiring disreputable characters, he replied: "Until the Bush-43 administration, I had believed that the Nixon presidency was sui generis in modern American history in terms of your question...

"In terms of small-bore (but dangerous) characters like Howard Hunt and Gordon Liddy with their schemes, I doubt that any presidency approaches the criminality of the Nixon White House. But the Watergate conspiracy--to undermine the constitution and use illegal methods to hurt Nixon's political opponents and even undermine the electoral system--was supervised by those at the very top.

"In the current administration we have seen from the President down -- especially Vice President Cheney, Attorney General Gonzales, Condoleeza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld -- a willingness to ignore the great constitutional history of the United States -- to suspend, really, many of the constitutional guarantees that have made us a nation apart, with real freedoms unknown elsewhere, unrestricted by short-term political objectives of our leaders.

"Then there are the Geneva conventions: Who would have dreamed that, in our lifetime, our leaders would permit their flagrant abuse, would authorize torture, 'renditions' to foreign-torture chambers, suspension of habeus corpus, illegal surveillance of our own citizens....

"But perhaps worst, has been the lying and mendacity of the president and his men and women--in the reasons they cited for going to war, their conduct of the war, their attempts to smear their political opponents.

"Nixon and his men lied and abused the constitution to horrible effect, but they were stopped.

"The Bush Administration -- especially its top officials named above and others familiar to most Americans -- was not stopped, and has done far greater damage. As a (Republican) bumper-sticker of the day proclaimed, 'Nobody died at Watergate.' If only we could say that about the era of George W. Bush, and that our elected representatives in Congress and our judiciary had been courageous enough to do their duty and hold the President and his aides accountable."

Bernstein was also asked about the CIA leak case and the leaking of Valerie Plame's name, which he called "a truly Nixonian event, a happenstance not atypical of the take-no-prisoners politics of the Bush presidency. But it pales in comparison to the larger questions of the Constitution, of life and death, of the Geneva conventions, of the expectation that our leaders -- from Condoleeza Rice to Dick Cheney, to the attorney(s) general to Paul Wolfowitz and on down and up the line speak truthfully to the American people and the Congress. They have consistently failed to do so."

2 election workers convicted of rigging '04 presidential recount

2 election workers convicted of rigging '04 presidential recount
1/24/2007, 5:30 p.m. ET
The Associated Press

CLEVELAND (AP) — Two election workers in the state's most populous county were convicted Wednesday of illegally rigging the 2004 presidential election recount so they could avoid a more thorough review of the votes.

A third employee who had been charged was acquitted on all counts.

Jacqueline Maiden, the elections' coordinator who was the board's third-highest ranking employee when she was indicted last March, and ballot manager Kathleen Dreamer each were convicted of a felony count of negligent misconduct of an elections employee.

Maiden and Dreamer also were convicted of one misdemeanor count each of failure of elections employees to perform their duty. Both were acquitted of five other charges.

Rosie Grier, assistant manager of the Cuyahoga County Elections Board's ballot department, was acquitted of all seven counts of various election misconduct or interference charges.

The felony conviction carries a possible sentence of six to 18 months.

There was a gasp in the courtroom gallery, which included some relatives and friends of the defendants, when a "not guilty" verdict was announced on the first charge. The courtroom went silent when a "guilty" verdict was returned.

The defendants sat near each other silently as the 21 verdicts were read.

Ohio gave Bush the electoral votes he needed to defeat Democratic Sen. John Kerry in the close election and hold on to the White House in 2004.

Special prosecutor Kevin Baxter, who was brought in from Erie County to handle the case, did not claim the workers' actions affected the outcome of the election — Kerry gained 17 votes and Bush lost six in the county's recount.

But Baxter insisted the employees broke the law when they worked behind closed doors three days before the public Dec. 16, 2004, recount to pick ballots they knew would not cause discrepancies when checked by hand so they could avoid a lengthier, more expensive hand recount of all votes.

Ohio law states that during a recount each county is supposed to randomly count at least 3 percent of its ballots by hand and by machine. If there are not discrepancies in those counts, the rest of the votes can be recounted by machine. A full hand-count is ordered if two random samples result in differences.

Grier, the worker who was acquitted, was the only defendant who commented following the verdicts.

"It has all been very stressful," said Grier, 54. "Yes, I'm very relieved. But, none of us should have been in this courtroom today. These charges should not have been brought against any of us."

Defense lawyer Roger Synenberg said in his closing argument that the 2004 presidential election was the most publicly observed ever in Cuyahoga County and the workers were simply following procedures as they understood them.

Baxter said he intends to speak with Maiden and Dreamer before their scheduled sentencing on Feb. 26 to see if they wish to make any statements that might influence the sentence.

"We'd like to listen to them if they had anything to say, if anyone else was involved with this. We still haven't been able to determine that," he said.

A message was left Wednesday with elections board director Michael Vu.

The board released a statement saying the convictions highlight the importance of changes it has made since 2004 "and the critical need to aggressively pursue additional reforms."

"The board's goal is to fully restore the public's confidence in the election process in Cuyahoga County," the statement said.

Maiden's attorney, Robert Rotatori, said he expects appeals will be filed for his client and Dreamer.

The case comes as elections have fallen under greater scrutiny since the 2000 presidential election. That's when recounts of paper ballots in Florida dragged on for weeks and the U.S. Supreme Court became involved. Cuyahoga also has been under the microscope following numerous problems with elections in bellwether Ohio.

Cuyahoga County is a Democratic stronghold where about 600,000 ballots were cast in 2004.

Statewide, Bush won by about 118,000 votes out of 5.5 million cast. Green Party candidate David Cobb and Libertarian Party candidate Michael Badnarik sought the recount and complained about its procedure.


On the Net:

Cuyahoga County elections board:

The GOP's Pied Piper Problem

The GOP's Pied Piper Problem
The Anonymous Liberal

For last decade and half, the Republican party has pursued an intentional strategy of insulating its base from reality. The goal has been to create a permanent block of loyal Republican voters who will dutifully internalize whatever the party's leaders tell them.

To accomplish this, the Republican political machine has engaged in a relentless and systematic assault on all of the institutions in our society that have traditionally served as arbiters of truth. They have attacked the press, the judiciary, academia, and even science itself. And they've been remarkably successful; we've now reached a point where much of the Republican base simply refuses to believe anything that doesn't come from a trusted partisan outlet.

Any unpleasant news reports can be dismissed as the product of liberal media bias. Any inconvenient studies can be explained away as the work of godless academic elitists. And any adverse court rulings can be chalked up to liberal judicial activism. In short, if it didn't come from the mouth of Rush Limbaugh or the President himself, it's automatically suspect.

I'm sure the architects of this strategy thought it was ingenious. It would create a loyal and reliable base of voters who were, for all intents and purposes, impervious to reality and who would simply accept whatever the party's leaders told them.

This strategy has an inherent vulnerability, though. Call it the Pied Piper problem. If you train a bunch of people to follow the Leader reflexively, they're likely to follow him right out of town (or right off a cliff).

This is the problem now confronting all sane members of the Republican party. For years now, they've been telling the American people--among other things--that everything in Iraq is going fine, that the liberal media is just refusing to report the good news, and that any criticism of the war or the President's war policy gives aid and comfort to the enemy. The vast majority of the American people have long since tuned this message out, but not the Republican base. President Bush may only have a 28% approval rating, but those 28% represent the true-believers. And those are the voters who are going to decide who the next Republican presidential nominee will be.

That puts Republicans in a terrible bind. If they acknowledge reality, which they'll need to do in order to have any hope of winning independent and moderate voters, they may well be branded as traitors by their base, who still firmly support the Leader and his Glorious War.

If you need proof of this, look no further than Hugh Hewitt. Just today, Hewitt launched a pledge drive to protest the upcoming Senate vote on a non-binding resolution opposing the President's "surge" plan. Hewitt has so thoroughly internalized the Republican party mantra--i.e., that criticism of Bush's war policy amounts to "encouragement to the enemy"--that he feels compelled to take incredibly heavy-handed measures to stifle dissent within his own party. Hewitt's pledge reads:

If the United States Senate passes a resolution, non-binding or otherwise, that criticizes the commitment of additional troops to Iraq that General Petraeus has asked for and that the president has pledged, and if the Senate does so after the testimony of General Petraeus on January 23 that such a resolution will be an encouragement to the enemy, I will not contribute to any Republican senator who voted for the resolution. Further, if any Republican senator who votes for such a resolution is a candidate for re-election in 2008, I will not contribute to the National Republican Senatorial Committee unless the Chairman of that Committee, Senator Ensign, commits in writing that none of the funds of the NRSC will go to support the re-election of any senator supporting the non-binding resolution.

Reality be damned! Criticism of the Leader's plan = treason. For some reason, Hewitt reminds me of the ED-209 in the first RoboCop movie; you know, that huge robot that blows away the company executive at the beginning of the movie because it can't distinguish between an actual criminal and a guy pretending to hold a gun. Hewitt is a creation of the Republican political machine, but now he's turned on his creators. His simple partisan programming just doesn't allow for Republican dissent on war-related issues. So he's turning his guns on GOP defectors.

This is going to be a huge problem for all of the 2008 GOP presidential hopefuls. All of them will be tempted to distance themselves from Bush and from the war in an effort to sound sane and remain viable as general election candidates. But by doing so, they risk alienating their own base, who are still very much drinking the Kool-Aid.

At this point, Bush is the Pied Piper and he's leading the Republican faithful far away from where the saner voices in the party are comfortable being (and from where the rest of the electorate is). The problem with insulating your base from reality is that there's no easy way to bring them back down to earth. You risk creating an unbridgeable chasm between your base and the rest of the electorate. If the Old Guard in the Republican party can't figure out a way to bring the Pied Piper back to Hamelin, they're going to remain in the political wilderness for a long time to come.

Juan Cole - Arguing With Bush

Arguing With Bush
Juan Cole

Yet one question has surely been settled - that to win the war on terror we must take the fight to the enemy.

Actually, it is unclear what "taking the fight to the enemy" means in Bush's ill-conceived "war on terror." He is probably still trying to sneak Iraq into the struggle against al-Qaeda through the back door. If so, that dog won't hunt. By launching an unprovoked and illegal war of aggression on a major Arab Muslim country, Bush hasn't "carried the fight to the enemy" but has rather dishonored the 9/11 dead by using their killings as a pretext to carry out his own preconceived and Ahab-like plans to "take out" Saddam Hussein. Nothing could be better calculated to increase the threat of terrorism against the United States than an attempt militarily to occupy Iraq, with all the repression and torture it has entailed. And, if Bush was so good at taking the fight to the enemy, why is Ayman al-Zawahiri still free to taunt him by videotape. Al-Zawahiri was a major force behind the September 11 attacks. Why is he at large?

Bush then claims some successes in breaking up terror plots. But these plots were broken up by old-fashioned detective and intelligence work, with some substantial dependence on our allies. It has even been suggested that Bush broke the news about the alleged airplane liquids plot in the UK before British intelligence was ready for it to become public. In any case, it is hard to see what these counter-terrorism successes have to do with his expansion of the US military or his quixotic war in Iraq.

Every success against the terrorists is a reminder of the shoreless ambitions of this enemy. The evil that inspired and rejoiced in Nine-Eleven is still at work in the world. And so long as that is the case, America is still a Nation at war.

Do we have to be at war? Couldn't we just be vigilant and do good counter-terrorism. Isn't "war" a distraction from the latter?

Our enemies are quite explicit about their intentions. They want to overthrow moderate governments, and establish safe havens from which to plan and carry out new attacks on our country. By killing and terrorizing Americans, they want to force our country to retreat from the world and abandon the cause of liberty.

Yes but it isn't so important what your enemy's intentions are. You always have enemies with bad intentions. What is important is your enemy's capabilities. Al-Qaeda was never very large or powerful, and it is increasingly clear that the September 11 attacks were a fluke. The fact is that al-Qaeda cannot overthrow the Egyptian government, or any other government, and cannot actually harm the United States or its way of life in any prolonged or serious way. This small band of 5,000 to 12,000 men in Afghanistan, now largely killed or scattered, cannot possibly be a pretext for keeping all Americans on their toes all the time, and keeping them willing to cede their constitutional liberties to Bush.

It has also become clear that we face an escalating danger from Shia extremists who are just as hostile to America, and are also determined to dominate the Middle East. Many are known to take direction from the regime in Iran, which is funding and arming terrorists like Hezbollah - a group second only to al Qaeda in the American lives it has taken.

The major Shiite religious parties with long histories of anti-American rhetoric and activity are the Islamic Call or Da'wa Party and the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq. Both of these Shiite religious parties are now allies of Bush. The Iraqi Da'wa actually helped to form the Lebanese Hizbullah in the early 1980s. A major figure in its Damascus bureau at that time was Nuri al-Maliki, now the Prime Minister of Iraq and a Bush ally. Al-Maliki supported Hizbullah versus Israel in the war last summer. The Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq is headed by Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, who is close to the Iranian regime but whom Bush hosted in the White House on Dec. 4.

So if these Iraqi Shiite parties and militias can be brought in from the cold, why is it that Bush demonizes and essentializes other Shiite groups that are equally capable of changing their policies given the right incentives?

As for the Lebanese Hizbullah, it was formed in 1984 and so was not responsible for the 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut. That was carried about by the Islamic Amal faction of Abbas al-Musawi. Elements of the latter may have later joined Hizbullah.

Hizbullah's energies have not been put into killing Americans during the past two decades, but rather into getting the Israelis back out of their country. In fact, it isn't clear that the Lebanese Hizbullah has done anything to the US for 20 years.

It is arguably the Israeli invasion and military occupation of south Lebanon that created Hizbullah in the first place. Prior to that, the southern Lebanese Shiites weren't very political and often were pro-Israel.

What every terrorist fears most is human freedom - societies where men and women make their own choices, answer to their own conscience, and live by their hopes instead of their resentments. Free people are not drawn to violent and malignant ideologies - and most will choose a better way when they are given a chance. So we advance our own security interests by helping moderates, reformers, and brave voices for democracy. The great question of our day is whether America will help men and women in the Middle East to build free societies and share in the rights of all humanity. And I say, for the sake of our own security . . . we must.

First of all, "terrorists" are just political activists who commit violence against noncombatants. Lots of political movements have used this technique including some whose goal was liberal democracy. So it simply is not true that all those who deploy terror have the same goals.

Second, people in capitalist democracies resort to terrorism all the time. Indeed, the most horrific regime of modern times, that of the Nazis, came out of the liberal parliamentary Weimar Republic and was elected to office. The Baader-Meinhoff gang in liberal West Germany, the Japanese Red Army, the McVeigh-Nichols "Christian Identity" terrorism in Oklahoma-- all of these examples prove Bush's premise wrong.

And, even if it were the case that capitalist democracies don't produce terrorism (which it is not), Bush cannot spread democracy in the Middle East by his so-far favored military means. Ask any Middle Easterner if he or she would like to have a situation such as prevails in Iraq. They will say, if that is democracy I want none of it. Bush has actively pushed the Middle Eastern publics away from democracy for an extra generation or two.

In the last two years, we have seen the desire for liberty in the broader Middle East - and we have been sobered by the enemy's fierce reaction. In 2005, the world watched as the citizens of Lebanon raised the banner of the Cedar Revolution ... drove out the Syrian occupiers ... and chose new leaders in free elections.

What universe does Bush live in, that he brings up Lebanon as though it were not in flames these days, with 3 killed and 100 wounded in the opposition strike. I mean, he did once admit he doesn't read the newspapers. But couldn't he listen to the radio or something?

Note, too, that the "Cedar Revolution" government was joined by the Lebanese Hizbullah. It was a national unity government. The US ambassador in Lebanon encouraged this development. What destabilized that government was the brutal Israeli war on Lebanon of last summer. Bush collaborated in that war and even worked against the early cease-fire called for by the Seniora government. Bush can't pretend to be a friend of the Lebanese government and yet approve publicly of a sanguinary war on it by Olmert. Bush puts all the blame for instability in Lebanon on Syria, which is implausible.

Bush then goes on to complain that "the enemy" has adjusted its tactics and thrown up new challenges in Iraq and Afghanistan. But in reality, Bush just imposed a 'winner-take-all, devil-take-the-hindmost' situation in Afghanistan and Iraq, generating profound ethnic and religious resentments that have exploded into violence.

This is not the fight we entered in Iraq, but it is the fight we are in. Every one of us wishes that this war were over and won. Yet it would not be like us to leave our promises unkept, our friends abandoned, and our own security at risk. Ladies and gentlemen: On this day, at this hour, it is still within our power to shape the outcome of this battle. So let us find our resolve, and turn events toward victory.

Puh-lease. Spare us the Rumsfeldisms. Either we are in charge or we are helpless leaves being blown by the wind of the enemy. If we aren't in charge, then we have already lost.

As for the idea that we still have the power to shape the outcome, that is contradicted by his previous admission that we have been maneuvered into a different kind of war that we hadn't planned on. We couldn't shape the outcome, which is why the war is going badly. We cannot now shape the outcome by main force. We have to negotiate, with the insurgents and with Iran and Syria, if we are to avoid a catastrophe.

We are carrying out a new strategy in Iraq - a plan that demands more from Iraq's elected government, and gives our forces in Iraq the reinforcements they need to complete their mission.

You don't have a new strategy. You may have some new tactics, but that remains to be seen. Iraq's government in any case has already rejected the idea that it must meet artificial US 'benchmarks.' And, the "government" is anyway weak and divided. Most of the major political figures are linked to guerrilla or militia groups. It cannot stop the fighting because its members provoke the fighting.

And in Anbar province - where al Qaeda terrorists have gathered and local forces have begun showing a willingness to fight them - we are sending an additional 4,000 United States Marines, with orders to find the terrorists and clear them out. We did not drive al Qaeda out of their safe haven in Afghanistan only to let them set up a new safe haven in a free Iraq.

I'm confused. I thought Bush and Cheney maintained that Iraq under Saddam was already a safe haven for al-Qaeda. Now he is saying that he won't let Iraq become such a safe haven, implying that it wasn't before.

Bush's cynical use of "al-Qaeda" to confuse the American public hides the simple fact that the vast majority of violence in Iraq is perpetrated by Sunni Arab Iraqis who want an end to what they see as a foreign military occupation of their country. Most are either Baathists or Salafi Sunni revivalists. There isn't really any al-Qaeda in Iraq in the sense of a group directly tied to Bin Laden. How would they even find him to give him fealty?

If American forces step back before Baghdad is secure, the Iraqi government would be overrun by extremists on all sides. We could expect an epic battle between Shia extremists backed by Iran, and Sunni extremists aided by al Qaeda and supporters of the old regime. A contagion of violence could spill out across the country - and in time the entire region could be drawn into the conflict. For America, this is a nightmare scenario. For the enemy, this is the objective.

Yes, Mr. Bush, and you are the one who got us into this mess. Nor can you get us back out by 'staying the course' or with a mere 21,500 further troops. Any other ideas how to extract us from the dilemma?

And out of chaos in Iraq, would emerge an emboldened enemy with new safe havens... new recruits ... new resources ... and an even greater determination to harm America.

When Britain got out of Kenya, no Kenyan terrorists took advantage of the withdrawal to plot bombings of London. Kenyans were pretty happy about the British getting out. When the US got out of Vietnam, no Vietnamese terrorists followed us to the US mainland to inflict terrorism on us. Bush's charges are just propaganda.

The war on terror we fight today is a generational struggle that will continue long after you and I have turned our duties over to others. That is why it is important to work together so our Nation can see this great effort through.

The struggle against al-Qaeda proper is over with. No big new arrests have been made in its ranks for years. There are other counter-terrorism targets, which should be monitored and broken up on a continual basis. That isn't a war and doesn't require the Pentagon. The 'war on terror' as a trope won't succeed Bush by even a day from his last moments in office.

Americans can have confidence in the outcome of this struggle - because we are not in this struggle alone. We have a diplomatic strategy that is rallying the world to join in the fight against extremism.

Of all the lies and misrepresentations, this is the most egregious. Bush's policies have left the US isolated and deeply unpopular throughout the world. Some 75 percent of Indonesians had a positive view of the US before W. It has more lately been around 30% and at one point fell to 15%.

The United Nations has imposed sanctions on Iran, and made it clear that the world will not allow the regime in Tehran to acquire nuclear weapons.

The International Atomic Energy Agcency hasn't certified that Iran even has a nucear wapons esearh program. Iran was, at least a signatory of the nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty. Bush may be pushing it out of the treaty.

Bush has exacerbated conflicts throughout the Middle East. He has contributed heavily to the outbreak of three civil wars, in Iraq, in Palestine and Lebanon. His incompetence and self-contradictory policies have deeply endangered Americans and American interests. Now he is holding his own failures over our heads to blackmail us into throwing good money after bad.

President's Portrayal of 'The Enemy' Often Flawed

President's Portrayal of 'The Enemy' Often Flawed

By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 24, 2007; A13

In his State of the Union address last night, President Bush presented an arguably misleading and often flawed description of "the enemy" that the United States faces overseas, lumping together disparate groups with opposing ideologies to suggest that they have a single-minded focus in attacking the United States.

Under Bush's rubric, a country such as Iran -- which enjoys diplomatic representation and billions of dollars in trade with major European countries -- is lumped together with al-Qaeda, the terrorist group responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. "The Shia and Sunni extremists are different faces of the same totalitarian threat," Bush said, referring to the different branches of the Muslim religion.

Similarly, Bush asserted that Shia Hezbollah, which has won seats in the Lebanese government, is a terrorist group "second only to al-Qaeda in the American lives it has taken." Bush is referring to attacks nearly a quarter-century ago on a U.S. embassy and a Marine barracks when the United States intervened in Lebanon's civil war by shelling Hezbollah strongholds. Hezbollah has evolved into primarily an anti-Israeli militant organization -- it fought a war with Israel last summer -- but the European Union does not list it as a terrorist organization.

At one point, Bush catalogued what he described as advances in the quest for freedom in the Middle East during 2005 -- such as the departure of Syrian troops from Lebanon and elections in Iraq. Then, Bush asserted, "a thinking enemy watched all of these scenes, adjusted their tactics and in 2006 they struck back." But his description of the actions of "the enemy" tried to tie together a series of diplomatic and military setbacks that had virtually no connection to one another, from an attack on a Sunni mosque in Iraq to the assassination of Maronite Lebanese political figure.

In his speech, Bush argued that "free people are not drawn to violent and malignant ideologies -- and most will choose a better way when they are given a chance." He also said that terrorist groups "want to overthrow moderate governments."

In the two of the most liberal and diverse societies in the Middle East -- Lebanon and the Palestinian territories -- events have undercut Bush's argument in the past year. Hezbollah has gained power and strength in Lebanon, partly at the ballot box. Meanwhile, Palestinians ousted the Fatah party -- which wants to pursue peace with Israel -- from the legislature in favor of Hamas, which is committed to Israel's destruction and is considered a terrorist organization by the State Department.

In fact, many of the countries that Bush considers "moderate" -- such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia -- are autocratic dictatorships rated among the worst of the "not free" nations by the nonpartisan Freedom House. Their Freedom House ratings are virtually indistinguishable from Cuba, Belarus and Burma, which Bush last night listed as nations in desperate need of freedom.

Bush also claimed that "we have a diplomatic strategy that is rallying the world to join in the fight against extremism." But Monday, a poll of 26,000 people in 25 countries was released that showed that global opinion of U.S. foreign policy has sharply deteriorated in the past two years. Nearly three-quarters of those polled by GlobeScan, an international polling company, disapprove of U.S. policies toward Iraq, and nearly half said the United States is playing a mainly negative role in the world.

In his State of the Union address a year ago, Bush said that progress in Iraq meant "we should be able to further decrease our troop levels" but that "those decisions will be made by our military commanders, not by politicians in Washington, D.C." Bush now proposes to increase troop levels, after having overruled the concerns of commanders. In his speech last night, he sidestepped this contradiction, saying that "our military commanders and I have carefully weighed the options" and "in the end, I chose this course of action."

On domestic policy, Bush at one point said that "the recovery" has added more than 7.2 million jobs since August 2003. But the net number of jobs created since Bush became president in January 2001, is much lower -- just 3.6 million. The Bush administration's performance is fairly mediocre for the sixth year of a presidency, according to historical statistics maintained by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Nearly 18 million jobs were added by the sixth year of Bill Clinton's presidency -- and nearly 10 million were added at this point in Ronald Reagan's presidency.

Bush claimed credit for cutting the budget deficit ahead of schedule and proposed to eliminate it over the next five years. He did not mention that he inherited a huge budget surplus -- $236 billion in 2000 -- compared with a $296 billion deficit in the 2006 fiscal year, largely as a result of Bush's tax cuts and spending increases. Bush claimed that the No Child Left Behind Act has helped students to "perform better at reading and math, and minority students are closing the achievement gap." But states made stronger average annual gains in reading during the decade before the law took effect, education researchers have found, and half a dozen recent studies have shown little progress in narrowing the test-score gap between minority and white students.

Staff writer Amit R. Paley contributed to this report.