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, February 03, 2007

In Washington, Contractors Take on Biggest Role Ever

In Washington, Contractors Take on Biggest Role Ever

WASHINGTON, Feb. 3 — In June, short of people to process cases of incompetence and fraud by federal contractors, officials at the General Services Administration responded with what has become the government’s reflexive answer to almost every problem.

They hired another contractor.

It did not matter that the company they chose, CACI International, had itself recently avoided a suspension from federal contracting; or that the work, delving into investigative files on other contractors, appeared to pose a conflict of interest; or that each person supplied by the company would cost taxpayers $104 an hour. Six CACI workers soon joined hundreds of other private-sector workers at the G.S.A., the government’s management agency.

Without a public debate or formal policy decision, contractors have become a virtual fourth branch of government. On the rise for decades, spending on federal contracts has soared during the Bush administration, to about $400 billion last year from $207 billion in 2000, fueled by the war in Iraq, domestic security and Hurricane Katrina, but also by a philosophy that encourages outsourcing almost everything government does.

Contractors still build ships and satellites, but they also collect income taxes and work up agency budgets, fly pilotless spy aircraft and take the minutes at policy meetings on the war. They sit next to federal employees at nearly every agency; far more people work under contracts than are directly employed by the government. Even the government’s online database for tracking contracts, the Federal Procurement Data System, has been outsourced (and is famously difficult to use).

The contracting explosion raises questions about propriety, cost and accountability that have long troubled watchdog groups and are coming under scrutiny from the Democratic majority in Congress. While flagrant cases of fraud and waste make headlines, concerns go beyond outright wrongdoing. Among them:

¶Competition, intended to produce savings, appears to have sharply eroded. An analysis by The New York Times shows that fewer than half of all “contract actions” — new contracts and payments against existing contracts — are now subject to full and open competition. Just 48 percent were competitive in 2005, down from 79 percent in 2001.

¶The most secret and politically delicate government jobs, like intelligence collection and budget preparation, are increasingly contracted out, despite regulations forbidding the outsourcing of “inherently governmental” work. Scott Amey, general counsel at the Project on Government Oversight, a watchdog group, said allowing CACI workers to review other contractors captured in microcosm “a government that’s run by corporations.”

¶Agencies are crippled in their ability to seek low prices, supervise contractors and intervene when work goes off course because the number of government workers overseeing contracts has remained level as spending has shot up. One federal contractor explained candidly in a conference call with industry analysts last May that “one of the side benefits of the contracting officers being so overwhelmed” was that existing contracts were extended rather than put up for new competitive bidding.

¶The most successful contractors are not necessarily those doing the best work, but those who have mastered the special skill of selling to Uncle Sam. The top 20 service contractors have spent nearly $300 million since 2000 on lobbying and have donated $23 million to political campaigns. “We’ve created huge behemoths that are doing 90 or 95 percent of their business with the government,” said Peter W. Singer, who wrote a book on military outsourcing. “They’re not really companies, they’re quasi agencies.” Indeed, the biggest federal contractor, Lockheed Martin, which has spent $53 million on lobbying and $6 million on donations since 2000, gets more federal money each year than the Departments of Justice or Energy.

¶Contracting almost always leads to less public scrutiny, as government programs are hidden behind closed corporate doors. Companies, unlike agencies, are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act. Members of Congress have sought unsuccessfully for two years to get the Army to explain the contracts for Blackwater USA security officers in Iraq, which involved several costly layers of subcontractors.

Weighing the Limits

The contracting surge has raised bipartisan alarms. A just-completed study by experts appointed by the White House and Congress, the Acquisition Advisory Panel, found that the trend “poses a threat to the government’s long-term ability to perform its mission” and could “undermine the integrity of the government’s decision making.”

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, whose new Democratic chairman, Representative Henry A. Waxman of California, added the word “oversight” to signal his intentions, begins a series of investigative hearings on Tuesday focusing on contracts in Iraq and at the Department of Homeland Security.

“Billions of dollars are being squandered, and the taxpayer is being taken to the cleaners,” said Mr. Waxman, who got an “F” rating last year from the Contract Services Association, an industry coalition. The chairman he succeeded, Representative Thomas M. Davis III, Republican of Virginia, earned an “A.”

David M. Walker, who as comptroller general of the United States leads the Government Accountability Office, has urged Congress to take a hard look at the proper limits of contracting. Mr. Walker has not taken a stand against contractors — his agency is also dependent on them, he admits — but he says they often fail to deliver the promised efficiency and savings. Private companies cannot be expected to look out for taxpayers’ interests, he said.

“There’s something civil servants have that the private sector doesn’t,” Mr. Walker said in an interview. “And that is the duty of loyalty to the greater good — the duty of loyalty to the collective best interest of all rather than the interest of a few. Companies have duties of loyalty to their shareholders, not to the country.”

Even the most outspoken critics acknowledge that the government cannot operate without contractors, which provide the surge capacity to handle crises without expanding the permanent bureaucracy. Contractors provide specialized skills the government does not have. And it is no secret that some government executives favor contractors because they find the federal bureaucracy slow, inflexible or incompetent.

Stan Soloway, president of the Professional Services Council, which represents government contractors, acknowledged occasional chicanery by contractors and too little competition in some areas. But Mr. Soloway asserted that critics had exaggerated the contracting problems.

“I don’t happen to think the system is fundamentally broken,” he said. “It’s remarkable how well it works, given the dollar volume.”

Blurring the Lines

Wariness of government contracting dates at least to 1941, when Harry S. Truman, then a senator, declared, “I have never yet found a contractor who, if not watched, would not leave the government holding the bag.”

But the recent contracting boom had its origins in the “reinventing government” effort of the Clinton administration, which slashed the federal work force to the lowest level since 1960 and streamlined outsourcing. Limits on what is “inherently governmental” and therefore off-limits to contractors have grown fuzzy, as the General Services Administration’s use of CACI International personnel shows.

“Hi Heinz,” Renee Ballard, a G.S.A. official, wrote in an e-mail message to Heinz Ruppmann, a CACI official, last June 12, asking for six “contract specialists” to help with a backlog of 226 cases that could lead to companies being suspended or barred from federal contracting. The CACI workers would review files and prepare “proposed responses for review and signature,” she wrote.

Mr. Amey, of the Project on Government Oversight, which obtained the contract documents under the Freedom of Information Act, said such work was clearly inherently governmental and called it “outrageous” to involve contractors in judging the misdeeds of potential competitors. CACI had itself been reviewed in 2004 for possible suspension in connection with supplying interrogators to the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. The company was ultimately cleared, though the G.S.A. found that CACI employees had improperly written parts of the “statements of work” for its own Iraq contract.

The price of $104 an hour — well over $200,000 per person annually — was roughly double the cost of pay and benefits of a comparable federal worker, Mr. Amey said.

Asked for comment, the G.S.A. said decisions on punishments for erring contractors “is indeed inherently governmental.” But the agency said that while the CACI workers assisted for three months, “all suspension/debarment decisions were made by federal employees.” A CACI spokeswoman made the same point.

The G.S.A., like other agencies, said it did not track the number or total cost of its contract workers. The agency administrator, Lurita Doan, who previously ran a Virginia contracting firm, has actively pushed contracting. Ms. Doan recently clashed with her agency’s inspector general over her proposal to remove the job of auditing contractors’ proposed prices from his office and to hire contractors to do it instead.

On some of the biggest government projects, Bush administration officials have sought to shift some decision making to contractors. When Michael P. Jackson, deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, addressed potential bidders on the huge Secure Border Initiative last year, he explained the new approach.

“This is an unusual invitation,” said Mr. Jackson, a contracting executive before joining the agency. “We’re asking you to come back and tell us how to do our business.”

Boeing, which won the $80 million first phase of the estimated $2 billion project, is assigned not only to develop technology but also to propose how to use it, which includes assigning roles to different government agencies and contractors. Homeland Security officials insist that they will make all final decisions, but the department’s inspector general, Richard L. Skinner, reported bluntly in November that “the department does not have the capacity needed to effectively plan, oversee and execute the SBInet program.”

A ‘Blended Work Force’

If the government is exporting some traditional functions to contractors, it is also inviting contractors into agencies to perform delicate tasks. The State Department, for instance, pays more than $2 million a year to BearingPoint, the consulting giant, to provide support for Iraq policy making, running software, preparing meeting agendas and keeping minutes.

State Department officials insist that the company’s workers, who hold security clearances, merely relieve diplomats of administrative tasks and never influence policy. But the presence of contractors inside closed discussions on war strategy is a notable example of what officials call the “blended work force.”

That blending is taking place in virtually every agency. When Polly Endreny, 29, sought work last year with the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, she was surprised to discover that most openings were with contractors.

“The younger generation is coming in on contracts,” said Ms. Endreny, who likes the arrangement. Today, only the “Oak Management” on her ID badge distinguishes her from federal employees at the agency’s headquarters.

She said her pay was “a little higher” than that of comparable federal workers, and she gets dental coverage they do not. Such disparities can cause trouble. A recent study of one NOAA program where two-thirds of the work force were contractors found that differences in salary and benefits could “ substantially undermine staff relations and morale.”

The shift away from open competition affects more than morale. One example among many: with troops short in Iraq, Congress in 2003 waived a ban on the use of private security guards to protect military bases in the United States. The results for the first $733 million were dismal, investigators at the Government Accountability Office found.

The Army spent 25 percent more than it had to because it used sole-source contracts at 46 of 57 sites, the investigators concluded. And screening of guards was so lax that at one base, 61 guards were hired despite criminal records, auditors reported. Yet the Army gave the contractors more than $18 million in incentive payments intended to reward good performance. (The Army did not contest G.A.O.’s findings and has changed its methods.)

A Coalition for Contracting

Mr. Soloway, of the contracting industry group, argues that the contracting boom has resulted from the collision of a high-technology economy with an aging government work force — twice as many employees are over 55 as under 30. To function, Mr. Soloway said, the government must now turn to younger, skilled personnel in the private sector, a phenomenon likely to grow when what demographers call a “retirement tsunami” occurs over the next decade.

“This is the new face of government,” Mr. Soloway said. “This isn’t companies gouging the government. This is the marketplace.”

But Paul C. Light of New York University, who has long tracked the hidden contractor work force to assess what he calls the “true size of government,” says the shift to contractors is driven in part by federal personnel ceilings. He calls such ceilings a “sleight of hand” intended to allow successive administrations to brag about cutting the federal work force.

Yet Mr. Light said the government had made no effort to count contractors and no assessment of the true costs and benefits. “We have no data to show that contractors are actually more efficient than the government,” he said.

Meanwhile, he said, a potent coalition keeps contracting growing: the companies, their lobbyists and supporters in Congress and many government managers, who do not mind building ties to contractors who may hire them someday. “All the players with any power like it,” he said.

That is evident wherever in Washington contractors gather to scout new opportunities. There is no target richer than the Homeland Security Department, whose Web site, in a section called “Open for Business,” displays hundreds of open contracts, including “working with selected cities to develop and exercise their catastrophic plans” ($500,000 to $1 million) and “Conduct studies and analyses, systems engineering, or provide laboratory services to various organizations to support the DHS mission” ($20 to $50 million).

One crisp morning in an office building with a spectacular view of the Capitol, Alfonso Martinez-Fonts Jr., the agency’s assistant secretary for the private sector, addressed a breakfast seminar on “The Business of Homeland Security.” The session drew a standing-room crowd.

Mr. Martinez-Fonts, a banker before joining the government, said he could not personally hand out contracts but could offer “tips, hints and directions” to companies on the hunt.

Joe Haddock, a Sikorsky Helicopters executive, summed up the tone of the session. “To us contractors,” Mr. Haddock said, “money is always a good thing.”

LA Times - Scant evidence found of Iran-Iraq arms link

Scant evidence found of Iran-Iraq arms link
U.S. warnings of advanced weaponry crossing the border are overstated, critics say.
By Alexandra Zavis and Greg Miller, Times Staff Writers
January 23, 2007

BAQUBAH, IRAQ — If there is anywhere Iran could easily stir up trouble in Iraq, it would be in Diyala, a rugged province along the border between the two nations.

The combination of Sunni Arab militants believed to be affiliated with Al Qaeda and Shiite Muslim militiamen with ties to Iran has fueled waves of sectarian and political violence here. The province is bisected by long-traveled routes leading from Iran to Baghdad and Shiite holy cities farther south in Iraq.

But even here, evidence of Iranian involvement in Iraq's troubles is limited. U.S. troops have found mortars and antitank mines with Iranian markings dated 2006, said U.S. Army Col. David W. Sutherland, who oversees the province. But there has been little sign of more advanced weaponry crossing the border, and no Iranian agents have been found.

In his speech this month outlining the new U.S. strategy in Iraq, President Bush promised to "seek out and destroy" Iranian networks that he said were providing "advanced weaponry and training to our enemies." He is expected to strike a similar note in tonight's State of the Union speech.

For all the aggressive rhetoric, however, the Bush administration has provided scant evidence to support these claims. Nor have reporters traveling with U.S. troops seen extensive signs of Iranian involvement. During a recent sweep through a stronghold of Sunni insurgents here, a single Iranian machine gun turned up among dozens of arms caches U.S. troops uncovered. British officials have similarly accused Iran of meddling in Iraqi affairs, but say they have not found Iranian-made weapons in areas they patrol.

The lack of publicly disclosed evidence has led to questions about whether the administration is overstating its case. Some suggest Bush and his aides are pointing to Iran to deflect blame for U.S. setbacks in Iraq. Others suggest they are laying the foundation for a military strike against Iran.

Before invading Iraq, the administration warned repeatedly that Saddam Hussein was developing nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. Those statements proved wrong. The administration's charges about Iran sound uncomfortably familiar to some. "To be quite honest, I'm a little concerned that it's Iraq again," Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said last week, referring to the administration's comments on Iran.


Lowered credibility

The accusations of Iranian meddling "illustrate what may be one of our greatest problems," said Anthony Cordesman, a former Defense Department official and military expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

"We are still making arguments from authority without detail and explanation. We're making them in an America and in a world where we really don't have anything like the credibility we've had in the past."

Few doubt that Iran is seeking to extend its influence in Iraq. But the groups in Iraq that have received the most Iranian support are not those that have led attacks against U.S. forces. Instead, they are nominal U.S. allies.

The Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, one of the two largest parties in parliament, is believed to be the biggest beneficiary of Iranian help. The Shiite group was based in Iran during Hussein's reign, and Iran's Revolutionary Guard trained and equipped its Badr Brigade militia.

But the Supreme Council also has strong U.S. connections. Bush played host to the head of the party, Abdelaziz Hakim, at the White House in December, and administration officials have frequently cited Adel Abdul Mehdi, another party leader, as a person they would like to see as Iraq's prime minister.

The Islamic Dawa Party of Iraq's current prime minister, Nouri Maliki, also has strong ties to Iran.

Some U.S. officials have also suggested that Iran, a Shiite theocracy, has provided aid to the Sunni insurgents, who have led most of the attacks against U.S. forces. Private analysts and other U.S. officials doubt that. Evidence is stronger that the Iranians are supporting a Shiite group that has attacked U.S. forces, the Al Mahdi militia, which is loyal to radical cleric Muqtada Sadr.

Top U.S. intelligence officials have been making increasingly confident assertions about Iran.

"I've come to a much darker interpretation of Iranian actions in the past 12 to 18 months," CIA Director Michael V. Hayden said in recent congressional testimony. Previously, Tehran's priority was to maneuver for a stable Iraq dominated by its Shiite majority, but that attitude has changed, he said.

"There is a clear line of evidence that points out the Iranians want to punish the United States, hurt the United States in Iraq, tie down the United States in Iraq," he said.

One high-ranking intelligence official in Washington acknowledged a lack of "fidelity" in the intelligence on Iran's activities, saying reports are sometimes unclear because it is difficult to track weapons and personnel that might be flowing across the long and porous border.

But U.S. forces have picked up specially shaped charges used to make roadside bombs capable of penetrating advanced armor, he said, with markings that could be traced to Iran and dates that were recent. The markings have been found on the devices themselves or the crates in which they were smuggled into the country, he said.

"Two years ago we were debating whether this was really happening," the official said. "Now the debate is over."


Documents withheld

U.S. officials have declined to provide documentation of seized Iranian ordnance despite repeated requests. The U.S. military often releases photographs of other weapons finds.

British government officials, including Prime Minister Tony Blair, have also accused Iran of supplying advanced explosive devices to Iraq.

Blair said a year ago that the weapons bore the hallmarks of Iran or Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed militia in Lebanon. But British officers stationed in Iraq at the time said they had seized no such weapons in the districts for which they had responsibility.

"We do have intelligence which suggests that weapons and ammunition are being smuggled in from Iran," Maj. David Gell, a spokesman for British forces in Basra, said last week. "We don't always manage to find any."

U.S. military officials in Diyala have had the same experience. No munitions or personnel have been seized at the border, officers said.

Sutherland, the U.S. colonel who oversees Diyala, believes that Tehran is prepared to work with any group, Shiite or Sunni, that can tie up U.S. forces. But State Department and intelligence officials have privately expressed doubts that Iranians are helping Sunnis.

Sunni insurgents in Diyala don't appear to need outside suppliers. They exploit massive weapons stashes containing materiel dating back to the Iran-Iraq war, when Hussein had a major military base in the area. U.S. military officials say they have found the type of shaped charges they attribute to Iran and Hezbollah in majority-Shiite parts of the province.

Outside military analysts have questioned how many of these sorts of weapons actually come from Iran. The technology used to make them is simple and widely known in the Middle East, they note. Iran is a likely source for some of the more sophisticated devices, but other countries could also be pitching in.

"A lot of rather sophisticated weapons have actually been released by Syria," said Peter Felstead, editor of the London-based Jane's Defense Weekly.

Others note that smugglers could be bringing weapons across the border from Iran without government approval.


'They are significant'

A second high-ranking U.S. intelligence official in Washington acknowledged that only a "small percentage" of explosions in Iraq could be linked to shaped charges coming from Iran.

"But in terms of American casualties, they are significant," he said, because they are much more lethal than standard roadside bombs.

A senior U.S. military intelligence official said coalition forces in Iraq had also found shaped charges "in the presence of Iranians captured in the country." He declined to elaborate but noted that U.S. operatives who raided an Iranian office in the Iraqi city of Irbil this month captured documents and computer drives he called a "treasure trove" on Iran's "networks, supply lines, sourcing and funding."

Five Iranians were taken into custody in the raid, prompting angry protests from the Iraqi government.

U.S. intelligence officials emphasized that Iran intentionally stops short of steps that would be seen as direct provocation and provide justification for a military response. For example, Iran has refrained from supplying Shiite militias with surface-to-air missiles and other weaponry that was part of Hezbollah's arsenal in its fight with Israel last summer, they said.

A high-ranking U.S. intelligence official called it a "careful calibration" that probably reflected disagreements within the Islamic regime. "I don't doubt that Iranian national security council meetings are very contentious," the official said.


Zavis reported from Baqubah and Miller from Washington. Times staff writers Peter Spiegel in Washington and Solomon Moore in Baghdad contributed to this report.,0,4316481.story?coll=la-home-headlines

Digby: Fool Me Once. . .

Thanks to Digby:

May 24, 2002

Rumsfeld: No Plans to Invade Iraq

The United States has no plans to invade Iraq or any other country, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Friday, but he refused to discuss the Bush administration's thinking about how to deal with Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein

February 2, 2007

Gates: We're "Not Planning" To Attack Iran

With respect to Iran, first of all, the president has made clear; the secretary of State has made clear; I've made clear -- nobody is planning -- we are not planning for a war with Iran.

James Fallows - Where Congress Can Draw the Line

Where Congress Can Draw the Line

No war with Iran


D eciding what to do next about Iraq is hard — on the merits, and in the politics. It’s hard on the merits because whatever comes next, from “surge” to “get out now” and everything in between, will involve suffering, misery, and dishonor. It’s just a question of by whom and for how long. On a balance-of-misery basis, my own view changed last year from “we can’t afford to leave” to “we can’t afford to stay.” And the whole issue is hard in its politics because even Democrats too young to remember Vietnam know that future Karl Roves will dog them for decades with accusations of “cut-and-run” and “betraying” troops unless they can get Republicans to stand with them on limiting funding and forcing the policy to change.

By comparison, Iran is easy: on the merits, in the politics. War with Iran would be a catastrophe that would make us look back fondly on the minor inconvenience of being bogged down in Iraq. While the Congress flounders about what, exactly, it can do about Iraq, it can do something useful, while it still matters, in making clear that it will authorize no money and provide no endorsement for military action against Iran.

Why? Think of the three ways war between the United States and Iran might start.

One is the surprise, “surgical” air operation against Iranian nuclear facilities to take them out before they cause too much trouble. This option is beloved of the kind of tough-guy op-ed writers who earlier cheered on a war with Iraq. It is not at all beloved within the U.S. military. That is because military officials know what would happen roughly five minutes after the attacks were over: a short-term effort to make things really difficult for Americans in Iraq (where Iran obviously has huge leverage), in world energy markets, and everywhere else — plus a long-term, renewed effort to build Iran’s own bomb. More than two years ago, this exercise in the Atlantic indicated that it was simply too late for the United States (much less Israel) to deny Iran a nuclear option via surprise attack. Since then — well, it’s even later.

The second option would be land war. Please. Iran is nearly four times as large and has nearly three times as many people as Iraq. With what army will the U.S. attack and occupy such a state?

And the third would be some kind of drift into war, Cuban Missile Crisis-style. Threats and bombast on both sides, hair-trigger preparations, each side hurrying to strike because it thinks it’s too dangerous to wait for the other side to strike first. (Come to think of it, wasn’t this the essence of the “National Security Strategy” the Bush administration laid out in 2002, with its concept of “preventive” war?) For the likely consequences, see Option One.

Would it be better if Iran did not acquire nuclear weapons? Of course. But there are certain important goals that cannot realistically be attained by war. This is one of them. Analogy: it would be far better if North Korea did not build a full nuclear arsenal. The United States should do all it can to keep that from happening — but no sane person thinks that attacking North Korea, and provoking an instant assault on Seoul and neighboring cities, is the way to go.

If we could trust the Administration’s ability to judge America’s rational self-interest, there would be no need to constrain its threatening gestures toward Iran. Everyone would understand that this was part of the negotiation process; no one would worry that the Administration would finally take a step as self-destructive as beginning or inviting a war.

But no one can any longer trust the Administration to recognize and defend America’s rational self-interest — not when the President says he will carry out a policy even if opposed by everyone except his wife and dog, not when the Vice President refuses to concede any mistake or misjudgment in the handling of Iraq. According to the constitutional chain of command, those two men literally have the power to order a strike that would be disastrous for their nation. The Congress has no official way to prevent them from doing so — it is interesting, and alarming, to think that in practice the safety valve might be the professional military, trained to revere the chain of command but faced with what its members would recognize as ruinous instructions.

What the Congress can do is draw the line. It can say that war with Iran is anathema to the interests of the United States and contrary to the will of its elected representatives. And it should do that now.

The URL for this page is

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.


No Way Out



“Everything you’ve heard and read is true. And I am deeply sorry about that.” Who said it?

(a) George Bush, about the chilling new intelligence report on Iraq.

(b) Joe Biden, about his self-imploding prolixity.

(c) Condi Rice, on her ability to understand Peyton Manning’s vulnerabilities better than Nuri Kamal al-Malaki’s.

(d) Silvio Berlusconi, on his wife’s Junoesque lightning bolt after his public flirting.

(e) Jacques Chirac, after giving a Gallic shrug at the prospect of Iran getting un or deux nuclear weapons.

(f) Hillary Clinton, on enabling the president to invade Iraq.

(g) Barack Obama, for the ultimate sin of not being black enough or white enough.

(h) Mary Cheney, on her decision to work on her terrifying dad’s homophobic campaign because the thought of John Kerry was “terrifying.”

(i) Gavin Newsom, the mayor of San Francisco, about his affair with his campaign manager’s wife.

The answer is Gavin Newsom.

It’s rare to get a simple apology when a complex obfuscation will do.

Even after releasing parts of an intelligence report so pessimistic that it may as well have been titled “Iraq: We’re Cooked,” Bush officials clung to their alternate reality, using nonsensical logic and cherry-picking whatever phrases they could find in the report that they could use to sell the Surge.

In the 2004 National Intelligence Estimate, civil war was a worst-case scenario. In the 2007 one, Iraq has zoomed past civil war to hell: “The Intelligence Community judges that the term ‘civil war’ does not adequately capture the complexity of the conflict in Iraq, which includes extensive Shia-on-Shia violence, Al Qaeda and Sunni insurgent attacks on coalition forces, and widespread criminally motivated violence.”

As John McLaughlin, the former acting director of central intelligence, told The Times’s Mark Mazzetti: “Civil war is checkers. This is chess.”

Far from Dick Cheney’s claim of “enormous successes” and Gen. William Casey’s claim of “slow progress,” the report shows that any path the U.S. takes in Iraq could lead to a river of blood. It says that in the absence of any strong Sunni and Shiite leaders who can control their groups, prospects are dim for a cohesive government, much less a democracy.

If the violence gets worse, the report concludes, three sulfurous possibilities loom: chaos leading to partition, the emergence of a Shiite strongman or anarchy “mixing extreme ethnosectarian violence with debilitating intragroup clashes.”

So after four years of war, we get to choose between chaos, another Saddam or anarchy. Good work, W. And at such bargain prices; the administration is breaking the record for the military budget, asking for $100 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan this year and $145 billion more for 2008.

The White House thinks it can somehow spin the Iraq apocalypse so it sounds as if multiple wars are better than one civil war.

At a Pentagon briefing yesterday, Bob Gates rebuffed the idea of a civil war, saying: “I think that the words ‘civil war’ oversimplify a very complex situation in Iraq. I believe that there are essentially four wars going on in Iraq. One is Shia on Shia, principally in the south. The second is sectarian conflict, principally in Baghdad but not solely. Third is the insurgency, and fourth is Al Qaeda.”

That’s a relief, all right — we’re in four wars in Iraq and threatening another with Iran.

Stephen Hadley, the national security adviser, agreed that the term civil war is unacceptable: “We need to get across the complexities of the situation we face in Iraq ... and simple labels don’t do that.”

When General Casey testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday, he sounded as if he was talking about a completely different Iraq than the one limned in the intelligence report. “Today,” he said, “Iraqis are poised to assume responsibility for their own security by the end of 2007, still with some level of support from us.”

Compare that with the bleak tone of the report, which states that “the Iraqi Security Forces — particularly the Iraqi police — will be hard-pressed in the next 12 to 18 months to execute significantly increased security responsibilities, and particularly to operate independently against Shia militias with success.”

It’s official. We’re in a cycle of violence so complex and awful that withdrawing American troops will make it worse and keeping American troops there may also make it worse.

We can try or we can leave, but either way, it seems, we’re cooked.

Friday, February 02, 2007

U.S. Reconfigures the Way Casualty Totals Are Given

U.S. Reconfigures the Way Casualty Totals Are Given

Statistics on a Pentagon Web site have been reorganized in a way that lowers the published totals of American nonfatal casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Dr. Michael Kilpatrick, deputy director of force health protection and readiness at the Defense Department, said the previous method of tallying casualties was misleading and might have made injuries and combat wounds seem worse and more numerous than they really were.

The old method lumped many problems under the label “casualties,” including illnesses, minor injuries and injuries from accidents, as well as wounds sustained in combat. But the public may assume that every casualty is a war wound, Dr. Kilpatrick said, so the site was changed to avoid misunderstandings.

On Monday, the bottom line of the Defense Department’s Web page on casualties in Iraq listed a total of 47,657 “nonmortal casualties.”

By Tuesday, the same page no longer showed a total for nonmortal casualties. The bottom line is now “total — medical air transported,” and the figure is 31,493.

The new total excludes 16,164 troops who were wounded but did not require medical air transport because their injuries were minor. The total does include combat wounds, nonhostile injuries and diseases serious enough for medical transport.

Half the nonhostile injuries are from vehicle accidents, and a third are sports injuries from activities like basketball, Dr. Kilpatrick said. About 50 disease categories — including mental problems and gastrointestinal illnesses — have led to medical evacuations. Dr. Kilpatrick said that 85 percent of those who were flown out for medical reasons eventually returned to duty.

“It may be a few weeks, or it may be a year or more,” he said.

Concern at the Pentagon about public perceptions of the wounded increased last month after Linda Bilmes, a Harvard professor, published an opinion article in The Los Angeles Times mentioning 50,508 “nonmortal woundings” in Iraq and Afghanistan. That number came from a Web page posted by public affairs employees at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

But officials from both agencies said that figure had been posted by mistake, lumping combat and noncombat injuries as well as illnesses and labeling them all “woundings” instead of casualties.

“If public affairs people at the V.A. misunderstood, we thought the public would misunderstand it, too,” Dr. Kilpatrick said.

Both Web sites were changed.

Paul Sullivan, director of research and analysis of Veterans for America, said the changes actually meant the Pentagon was trying to conceal the rising toll of injuries and illness.

Mr. Sullivan, formerly a project manager at the Department of Veterans Affairs, also said that the department was not prepared to provide the health care that returning veterans would need for mental and physical disabilities.

Paul Krugman - Missing Molly Ivins

Missing Molly Ivins


Molly Ivins, the Texas columnist, died of breast cancer on Wednesday. I first met her more than three years ago, when our book tours crossed. She was, as she wrote, “a card-carrying member of The Great Liberal Backlash of 2003, one of the half-dozen or so writers now schlepping around the country promoting books that do not speak kindly of Our Leader’s record.”

I can’t claim to have known her well. But I spent enough time with her, and paid enough attention to her work, to know that obituaries that mostly stressed her satirical gifts missed the main point. Yes, she liked to poke fun at the powerful, and was very good at it. But her satire was only the means to an end: holding the powerful accountable.

She explained her philosophy in a stinging 1995 article in Mother Jones magazine about Rush Limbaugh. “Satire ... has historically been the weapon of powerless people aimed at the powerful,” she wrote. “When you use satire against powerless people ... it is like kicking a cripple.”

Molly never lost sight of two eternal truths: rulers lie, and the times when people are most afraid to challenge authority are also the times when it’s most important to do just that. And the fact that she remembered these truths explains something I haven’t seen pointed out in any of the tributes: her extraordinary prescience on the central political issue of our time.

I’ve been going through Molly’s columns from 2002 and 2003, the period when most of the wise men of the press cheered as Our Leader took us to war on false pretenses, then dismissed as “Bush haters” anyone who complained about the absence of W.M.D. or warned that the victory celebrations were premature. Here are a few selections:

Nov. 19, 2002: “The greatest risk for us in invading Iraq is probably not war itself, so much as: What happens after we win? ... There is a batty degree of triumphalism loose in this country right now.”

Jan. 16, 2003: “I assume we can defeat Hussein without great cost to our side (God forgive me if that is hubris). The problem is what happens after we win. The country is 20 percent Kurd, 20 percent Sunni and 60 percent Shiite. Can you say, ‘Horrible three-way civil war?’ ”

July 14, 2003: “I opposed the war in Iraq because I thought it would lead to the peace from hell, but I’d rather not see my prediction come true and I don’t think we have much time left to avert it. That the occupation is not going well is apparent to everyone but Donald Rumsfeld. ... We don’t need people with credentials as right-wing ideologues and corporate privatizers — we need people who know how to fix water and power plants.”

Oct. 7, 2003: “Good thing we won the war, because the peace sure looks like a quagmire. ...

“I’ve got an even-money bet out that says more Americans will be killed in the peace than in the war, and more Iraqis will be killed by Americans in the peace than in the war. Not the first time I’ve had a bet out that I hoped I’d lose.”

So Molly Ivins — who didn’t mingle with the great and famous, didn’t have sources high in the administration, and never claimed special expertise on national security or the Middle East — got almost everything right. Meanwhile, how did those who did have all those credentials do?

With very few exceptions, they got everything wrong. They bought the obviously cooked case for war — or found their own reasons to endorse the invasion. They didn’t see the folly of the venture, which was almost as obvious in prospect as it is with the benefit of hindsight. And they took years to realize that everything we were being told about progress in Iraq was a lie.

Was Molly smarter than all the experts? No, she was just braver. The administration’s exploitation of 9/11 created an environment in which it took a lot of courage to see and say the obvious.

Molly had that courage; not enough others can say the same.

And it’s not over. Many of those who failed the big test in 2002 and 2003 are now making excuses for the “surge.” Meanwhile, the same techniques of allegation and innuendo that were used to promote war with Iraq are being used to ratchet up tensions with Iran.

Now, more than ever, we need people who will stand up against the follies and lies of the powerful. And Molly Ivins, who devoted her life to questioning authority, will be sorely missed.

Scientists offered cash to dispute climate study

Scientists offered cash to dispute climate study

Ian Sample, science correspondent
Friday February 2, 2007
The Guardian

Scientists and economists have been offered $10,000 each by a lobby group funded by one of the world's largest oil companies to undermine a major climate change report due to be published today.

Letters sent by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), an ExxonMobil-funded thinktank with close links to the Bush administration, offered the payments for articles that emphasise the shortcomings of a report from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Travel expenses and additional payments were also offered.

The UN report was written by international experts and is widely regarded as the most comprehensive review yet of climate change science. It will underpin international negotiations on new emissions targets to succeed the Kyoto agreement, the first phase of which expires in 2012. World governments were given a draft last year and invited to comment.

The AEI has received more than $1.6m from ExxonMobil and more than 20 of its staff have worked as consultants to the Bush administration. Lee Raymond, a former head of ExxonMobil, is the vice-chairman of AEI's board of trustees.

The letters, sent to scientists in Britain, the US and elsewhere, attack the UN's panel as "resistant to reasonable criticism and dissent and prone to summary conclusions that are poorly supported by the analytical work" and ask for essays that "thoughtfully explore the limitations of climate model outputs".

Climate scientists described the move yesterday as an attempt to cast doubt over the "overwhelming scientific evidence" on global warming. "It's a desperate attempt by an organisation who wants to distort science for their own political aims," said David Viner of the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia.

"The IPCC process is probably the most thorough and open review undertaken in any discipline. This undermines the confidence of the public in the scientific community and the ability of governments to take on sound scientific advice," he said.

The letters were sent by Kenneth Green, a visiting scholar at AEI, who confirmed that the organisation had approached scientists, economists and policy analysts to write articles for an independent review that would highlight the strengths and weaknesses of the IPCC report.

"Right now, the whole debate is polarised," he said. "One group says that anyone with any doubts whatsoever are deniers and the other group is saying that anyone who wants to take action is alarmist. We don't think that approach has a lot of utility for intelligent policy."

One American scientist turned down the offer, citing fears that the report could easily be misused for political gain. "You wouldn't know if some of the other authors might say nothing's going to happen, that we should ignore it, or that it's not our fault," said Steve Schroeder, a professor at Texas A&M university.

The contents of the IPCC report have been an open secret since the Bush administration posted its draft copy on the internet in April. It says there is a 90% chance that human activity is warming the planet, and that global average temperatures will rise by another 1.5 to 5.8C this century, depending on emissions.

Lord Rees of Ludlow, the president of the Royal Society, Britain's most prestigious scientific institute, said: "The IPCC is the world's leading authority on climate change and its latest report will provide a comprehensive picture of the latest scientific understanding on the issue. It is expected to stress, more convincingly than ever before, that our planet is already warming due to human actions, and that 'business as usual' would lead to unacceptable risks, underscoring the urgent need for concerted international action to reduce the worst impacts of climate change. However, yet again, there will be a vocal minority with their own agendas who will try to suggest otherwise."

Ben Stewart of Greenpeace said: "The AEI is more than just a thinktank, it functions as the Bush administration's intellectual Cosa Nostra. They are White House surrogates in the last throes of their campaign of climate change denial. They lost on the science; they lost on the moral case for action. All they've got left is a suitcase full of cash."

On Monday, another Exxon-funded organisation based in Canada will launch a review in London which casts doubt on the IPCC report. Among its authors are Tad Murty, a former scientist who believes human activity makes no contribution to global warming. Confirmed VIPs attending include Nigel Lawson and David Bellamy, who believes there is no link between burning fossil fuels and global warming.,,2004230,00.html?gusrc=rss&feed=11#article_continue

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Mahdi Army gains strength through unwitting aid of U.S.

Mahdi Army gains strength through unwitting aid of U.S.

By Tom Lasseter
McClatchy Newspapers

BAGHDAD, Iraq - The U.S. military drive to train and equip Iraq's security forces has unwittingly strengthened anti-American Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia, which has been battling to take over much of the capital city as American forces are trying to secure it.

U.S. Army commanders and enlisted men who are patrolling east Baghdad, which is home to more than half the city's population and the front line of al-Sadr's campaign to drive rival Sunni Muslims from their homes and neighborhoods, said al-Sadr's militias had heavily infiltrated the Iraqi police and army units that they've trained and armed.

"Half of them are JAM. They'll wave at us during the day and shoot at us during the night," said 1st Lt. Dan Quinn, a platoon leader in the Army's 1st Infantry Division, using the initials of the militia's Arabic name, Jaish al Mahdi. "People (in America) think it's bad, but that we control the city. That's not the way it is. They control it, and they let us drive around. It's hostile territory."

The Bush administration's plan to secure Baghdad rests on a "surge" of some 17,000 more U.S. troops to the city, many of whom will operate from small bases throughout Baghdad. Those soldiers will work to improve Iraqi security units so that American forces can hand over control of the area and withdraw to the outskirts of the city.

The problem, many soldiers said, is that the approach has been tried before and resulted only in strengthening al-Sadr and his militia.

Amid recurring reports that al-Sadr is telling his militia leaders to stash their arms and, in some cases, leave their neighborhoods during the American push, U.S. soldiers worry that the latest plan could end up handing over those areas to units that are close to al-Sadr's militant Shiite group.

"All the Shiites have to do is tell everyone to lay low, wait for the Americans to leave, then when they leave you have a target list and within a day they'll kill every Sunni leader in the country. It'll be called the `Day of Death' or something like that," said 1st Lt. Alain Etienne, 34, of Brooklyn, N.Y. "They say, `Wait, and we will be victorious.' That's what they preach. And it will be their victory."

Quinn agreed.

"Honestly, within six months of us leaving, the way Iranian clerics run the country behind the scenes, it'll be the same way here with Sadr," said Quinn, 25, of Cleveland. "He already runs our side of the river."

Four senior American military representatives in Baghdad declined requests for comment.

Al-Sadr's success in infiltrating Iraqi security forces says much about the continued inability of American commanders in Iraq to counter the classic insurgent tactic of using popular support to trump superior military firepower. Lacking attack helicopters and other sophisticated weapons, al-Sadr's men have expanded their empire with borrowed trucks and free lunches for militiamen.

After U.S. units pounded al-Sadr's men in August 2004, the cleric apparently decided that instead of facing American tanks, he'd use the Americans' plans to build Iraqi security forces to rebuild his own militia.

So while Iraq's other main Shiite militia, the Badr Brigade, concentrated in 2005 on packing Iraqi intelligence bureaus with high-level officers who could coordinate sectarian assassinations, al-Sadr went after the rank and file.

His recruits began flooding into the Iraqi army and police, receiving training, uniforms and equipment either directly from the U.S. military or from the American-backed Iraqi Defense Ministry.

The infiltration by al-Sadr's men, coupled with his strength in Iraq's parliament after U.S.-backed elections, gave him leeway to operate death squads throughout the capital, according to more than a week of interviews with American soldiers patrolling Baghdad. Some U.S.-trained units carried out sectarian killings themselves, while others, manning checkpoints, allowed militiamen to pass.

Al-Sadr's gunmen got another boost in 2005 and 2006 when American commanders handed over many Baghdad neighborhoods east of the Tigris River to Iraqi units, transitions that often were accompanied by news releases that contained variations of the phrase "Iraqis in the lead."

"There's been a lot of push to transition to Iraqis so you can show progress, but have you secured the area?" said Capt. Aaron Kaufman, a Washington, Iowa, native who works for a unit that acts as a liaison between U.S. and Iraqi forces in the Shiite enclave of Kadhamiya, across the river from east Baghdad. "I think the political pressure has hurt. ... You're wishing away, you're assuming away enemy activity, and you hurt yourself doing that."

In hindsight, many American officers said there was too much pressure to give Iraqi army units their own areas of operation, a process that left Iraqi soldiers outmanned, outgunned and easy targets for infiltration and coercion.

"There was a decision ... that was probably made prematurely," said Lt. Col. Eric Schacht, a 42-year-old battalion commander in east Baghdad from Glen Mills, Pa. "I think we jumped the gun a little bit."

Al-Sadr's militia has taken advantage of the chaos.

Iraqi soldiers, for example, often were pushed into the field by Iraqi commanders who didn't give them adequate food, clothing or shelter, said Etienne, a 1st Infantry Division platoon leader.

Etienne was on patrol one day when he saw Iraqi soldiers eating fresh vegetables and meat. The afternoon before, the same soldiers had complained that they had only scraps of food left. Who'd brought them their meal? It had come courtesy of Muqtada al-Sadr.

"Who's feeding the Iraqi army? Nobody. So JAM will come around and give them food and water," Etienne said. "We try to capture hearts and minds, well, JAM has done that. They're further along than us."

There's been ample evidence - despite claims to the contrary by American and Iraqi officials - that the death-squad activity isn't isolated to a few troops loyal to al-Sadr.

In the southeastern Baghdad neighborhood of Zafrainyah, an entire national police brigade was sent to be retrained last year- and much of its leadership was replaced - after its officers kidnapped 24 Sunnis, took them to a meat-processing plant and killed them.

Last month, four members of a neighborhood council in Etienne's sector - a mixed Sunni-Shiite area that abuts an al-Sadr stronghold - were leaving a meeting when national police trucks pulled up and men in Iraqi military uniforms piled out.

They grabbed the four men in broad daylight. One of the council members struggled. He was shot in the head and left to die on the street.

The remaining three were blindfolded and driven to a house. One of the four, a Shiite, listened as his two Sunni colleagues begged for their lives between beatings.

"They were pistol-whipping them and kicking them," Etienne said. "Finally, he heard the sound of a drill."

When the man's blindfold was taken off, he found that he was covered with the blood of his two friends, who were slumped over dead with drill holes in their heads.

"It was (al-Sadr's militia). They were trying to figure out who's who, and killing Sunnis," Etienne said. "They borrowed the vehicles from their friends in the Iraqi army and police who are Mahdi-affiliated."

A patrol from Etienne's company stopped by a Sunni neighborhood in east Baghdad last week. Two days earlier, three 60 mm mortar rounds fired from a nearby Shiite area, presumably by al-Sadr's militiamen, had hit a group of children who were playing on a rooftop. Two children died, and another lost most of a leg. A funeral tent stood empty in the middle of the street.

A soldier with a U.S. Army tactical human-intelligence team - who goes only by his last name, Brady, because of the sensitivity of his work - gathered a group of Sunni men to ask about neighborhood security.

One of the men, who said his name was Abbas al Dulaimi, asked, "When the Mahdi Army comes here, why does the Iraqi army help them shoot people?"

"I was behind a car at the checkpoint on the bridge. I saw an Iraqi army soldier open the trunk," said another man, who gave only his first name, Ahmed. "There were two men in there. The driver showed the soldier his Mahdi Army ID, and the soldier saluted him and let him drive away."

Brady didn't contradict any of the accounts. He took careful notes, shaking his head sympathetically at their stories of an Iraqi army gone astray.

He handed out a business card with a cell phone number to call in case of another Mahdi Army attack.

"We will send Iraqi army units that we trust," Brady said.

Abbas al Dulaimi stared at Brady, a blond man sitting in a circle of Iraqis, and spoke as if he were explaining something to a child.

"But if the Mahdi Army comes in here," Abbas al Dulaimi said, "they will come with the support of the Iraqi army."

Brady didn't contradict him.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Conservatism is Dead, and it's Not Coming Back

Conservatism is Dead, and it's Not Coming Back
by thereisnospoon (dailykos)

Tue Jan 30, 2007 at 10:44:59 PM CST

There is a certain audacity in declaring the near-permanent death of a political ideology, so allow me to be perfectly clear in my meaning: Republicanism is not dead--far from it--but "conservatism" as we have come to know it is. Kiss it goodbye; it's gone, and it's not coming back.

To be completely truthful, conservatism properly understood has actually been near total demise ever since the election of Ronald Reagan. Nearly every ideological facet of what used to be known as American conservatism has been largely abandoned by both political parties--or is slowly being taken over in its most benign and idealistic form by the Democratic party as a secondary plank.

Gone is the Old Right--those Paleoconservatives who believe in the venerated American tradition of non-interventionism abroad and rural-values agrarian populism at home.

Gone is the Rockefeller Republican--the pro-business conservative who welcomes government investment in social programs but simply wants to run them more efficiently. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins are two the very last of a dying breed--outcasts in both of America's political moieties.

Gone is the Small Government Conservative. As even the Wall Street Journal staff have admitted, "The the era of small government is over. Sept. 11 challenged it. Katrina killed it." The Republican Party is the Party of Big Government Conservatism now (whatever that means), as the Cato Institute has lamented at length.

Gone, also are the old Burkeian and Hamiltonian conservatives whose preference for aristocracy and Republic over mob rule and Democracy has given way to the pseudo-populism of Bill O'Reilly and Rush Limbaugh, and the unilateral attempt to ostensibly spread direct democracy across the globe.

And gone too are the old Ayn Rand conservatives: those who view selfishness as the highest good, absent all communal forces to the contrary--including not only government but organized religion as well.

All of these proud descendants of the Burkeian conservative tradition have been utterly marginalized in today's American political discourse. And there's a very good reason for that: conservatism as we know it has ceased to provide any meaningful answers for the problems that are confronted by the nation and the world. Instead, we are at a crossroads of epic proportions that will determine nothing less than the future of the free world in ways that most of us probably fail to fully grasp.


In the place of traditional conservatism--as Thomas Frank and hundreds of others have pointed out time and again--is an alliance between what Markos and Jerome call the "Corporate Cons" and the "TheoCons". I would also add the "NeoCons"--though many would simply say that they are a subset of the Corporate Cons.

The problem with this categorization, however, is the obvious difficulty that two of the above are not conservative at all, while the third is ONLY conservative of religious tradition and nothing else. The old rhetorical adage "What Are Conservatives Conserving, Exactly?" is perfectly applicable for these people--none of whom are true Conservatives at all.

Indeed, there is absolutely nothing "conservative" about either a Corporate Con or a NeoCon. In fact, their economic policies are called Neoliberal in academic circles, and their speeches in defense of the militaristic enforcement of global democracy and "freedom" are in the liberal tradition of Wilson, Roosevelt and Kennedy.

Corporate Cons, TheoCons and NeoCons all shun balanced budgets. They shun George Washington's warnings against foreign entanglements. They shun the notion of small government. They shun the notion of aristocracy understood as such by the public (not that they don't attempt to enforce it de facto by other means, of course). They shun responsible stewardship of the environment. They shun the notion of investment in social programs. They shun traditional conservative pessimism about the ability of governments to enforce their traditions and beliefs onto others. And their rhetoric about the benign consequences of allowing people utter freedom to do whatever they will economically is almost Emersonian, shunning every conservative, Humeian conservative tradition.

They aren't conservatives at all, in fact. They're simply an evil version of Liberalism.


But why did this happen? It happened because, quite simply, traditional conservatism has completely outlived its usefulness in the modern world.

Every single problem that we face nationally and globally is completely beyond the scope of simplistic, old-school conservatism to address. Nearly every problem requires the mobilization of large-scale structures to resolve. Consider them:

Nuclear proliferation.
Global warming.
Environmental degradation of other kinds.
Peak Oil.
Stateless Terrorism.
The threat of catastropic "Andromeda Strain" viruses.
The worldwide drug trade.
Worldwide water shortages.
The "double-income" trap--with concomitant "latchkey kid" syndrome.
Moral degeneration (yes, it exists, as anyone who has witnessed the decline from Glenn Miller to Britney Spears, from MLK Jr. to P-Diddy, from Doogie Howser to MTV's Real World, can easily attest.)

And the list goes on and on.

Ayn Rand has no answers for these. Neither does Burke. Nor Rockefeller. Nor even the PaleoCons, for the most part.

These problems are enormous. Daunting. Intimidating. At times, they seem utterly intractable. So much so that one school of political thought has totally withered in the face of their unrelenting pressure, while the other stands at an historic crossroads that will define its future for generations.


One way or another, you see, the era of squabbling, self-serving independent nation-states each seeking gain at the expense of the other is drawing to a close. Permanently.

To Progressives, that era will be replaced with citizens in each nation working together to improve the lives of their fellow countrymen, while the nations themselves work in increasing harmony to resolve the world's great crises.

To Corporate Cons and NeoCons--best exemplified by utter fool Thomas Friedman--that era will be replaced with the Corporate Triumphalism of McDonald's Diplomacy. The rights and prerogatives of nation-states will be subsumed under the invisible aristocracy of multi-national corporations and their largest shareholders, and the health and safety of the world's population will depend on the continued growth (read, unfettered and increasing exploitation) of financial markets worldwide under the guise of democracy and "free trade".

To TheoCons, to whom both of the above are anathema, the problems are so insurmountable and so inconsistent with their fundamental belief in God's benevolence, omniscience and omnipotence--and so impossible to resolve by turning to simple human free will or "agency"--that an increasing number simply figure that God will take care of it and wrap it all up, with a a Darbyesque bowtie of rapture and Left Behind insanity.

The only exceptions to this rule are fringe far-right and far-left groups (often virtually indistinguishable), both of which also assume that the problems are insurmountable and actually look forward to global economic and environmental collapse in order to usher in a new age of simplicity/rusticity. But these secular millennarians are thankfully few and far between.


Conservatism, then, is dead. It isn't coming back. In its place we are left with three fundamental choices that will determine the future of Liberalism and the future of the free world:

1. A Progressive Liberal vision of partnership, long-term thinking and respect for the common good that disregards race, religion, language and even national boundaries;

2. A Corporate Liberal vision of unfettered economic neoliberalism that exploits people with a view toward quarterly profits and respect for shareholders only that also disregards race, religion, language and even national boundaries;

3. A devil-may-care pessimistic vision of big-government control with no vision that simply expects Jehovah to resolve everything.

May we choose wisely. The fate of the world itself depends on it.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Glenn Greenwald - Republicans and Congress' war powers -- then and now

Republicans and Congress' war powers -- then and now

Glenn Greenwald

Russ Feingold today is chairing a Committee hearing in order to demonstrate that Congress has the Constitutional authority to compel the President to withdraw troops from Iraq, a power that is not merely confined to cutting off appropriations. Sen. Feingold is holding the hearing in the face of claims -- mostly from Congressional Republicans and their supporters -- that only the President has the power to make determinations about troop deployments, and Congress' only power is one of appropriations.

Back in September, when Chris Wallace falsely accused Bill Clinton of emboldening the Terrorists by prematurely cutting-and-running from Somalia (a favorite right-wing meme), it was documented here (as Clinton himself pointed out to Wallace) that it was actually Republican Senators who forced Clinton to withdraw troops by imposing troop withdrawal deadlines on him and threatening further restrictions on his ability to keep troops there. But if one goes back and reviews that debate, it is quite striking that Republicans back then certainly did not seem to believe that Congress lacked the ability to restrict the President's power to deploy troops. They argued exactly the opposite - that they had that power -- and they used it to force Clinton out of Somalia (all excerpts are available here, by searching "Somalia):

John McCain's stirring pro-withdrawal Senate speech about why it was urgent that the Senate force Clinton to leave Somalia is particularly interesting in light of all of his completely contrary claims today about Iraq:

Sen. John McCain - October 19,1993

There is no reason for the United States of America to remain in Somalia. The American people want them home, I believe the majority of Congress wants them home, and to set an artificial date of March 31 or even February 1, in my view, is not acceptable. The criteria should be to bring them home as rapidly and safely as possible, an evolution which I think could be completed in a matter of weeks.

Our continued military presence in Somalia allows another situation to arise which could then lead to the wounding, killing or capture of American fighting men and women. We should do all in our power to avoid that.

I listened carefully to the President's remarks at a news conference that he held earlier today. I heard nothing in his discussion of the issue that would persuade me that further U.S. military involvement in the area is necessary. In fact, his remarks have persuaded me more profoundly that we should leave and leave soon.

Dates certain, Mr. President, are not the criteria here. What is the criteria and what should be the criteria is our immediate, orderly withdrawal from Somalia. And if we do not do that and other Americans die, other Americans are wounded, other Americans are captured because we stay too long--longer than necessary--then I would say that the responsibilities for that lie with the Congress of the United States who did not exercise their authority under the Constitution of the United States and mandate that they be brought home quickly and safely as possible. . . .

I know that this debate is going to go on this afternoon and I have a lot more to say, but the argument that somehow the United States would suffer a loss to our prestige and our viability, as far as the No. 1 superpower in the world, I think is baloney. The fact is, we won the cold war. The fact is, we won the Persian Gulf conflict. And the fact is that the United States is still the only major world superpower.

I can tell you what will erode our prestige. I can tell you what will hurt our viability as the world's superpower, and that is if we enmesh ourselves in a drawn-out situation which entails the loss of American lives, more debacles like the one we saw with the failed mission to capture Aideed's lieutenants, using American forces, and that then will be what hurts our prestige.

We suffered a terrible tragedy in Beirut, Mr. President; 240 young marines lost their lives, but we got out. Now is the time for us to get out of Somalia as rapidly and as promptly and as safely as possible.

I, along with many others, will have an amendment that says exactly that. It does not give any date certain. It does not say anything about any other missions that the United States may need or feels it needs to carry out. It will say that we should get out as rapidly and orderly as possible.

Sen Strom Thurmond (R-SC) - October 5, 1993

It is past time for the Congress to come to grips with this sorry spectacle and force the administration to find a way out of the quagmire--before Somalia becomes the pattern for future United States missions with the United Nations.

Sen. Phil Gramm (R-TX), October 7

The President's decision to extend our presence for 6 more months is totally unacceptable to me and totally unacceptable, I believe, to the Congress.

If the people of Texas--who are calling my phones every moment, who are sending me letters and telegrams by the hour--are representative of the will of the American people, the American people do not believe that we should allow Americans to be targets in Somalia for 6 more months. I cannot see anything that we would achieve in 6 more months in Somalia

Sen. Dirk Kempthorne (R-ID), October 5

Mr. President, it is time for our troops to come home. I would give this directive to the military leadership and that is that they are to use whatever means they determine necessary to secure the release of American POW's in Somalia, because to leave them behind would be to issue adeath sentence to those Americans, and that is absolutely unacceptable.

But, Mr. President, the longer we leave United States troops in Somalia under U.N. command, the longer we leave United States troops in unjustified danger. I owe my allegiance to the United States, not to the United Nations. It is time for the Senate of the United States to get on with the debate, to get on with the vote, and to get the American troops home.

Sen. Slade Gorton, October 6,1993 (R-WA)

We are in a disaster, Mr. President. If we had retreated earlier, we would have left fewer dead Americans behind. It is time to retreat now and leave no more dead Americans behind and to learn the lesson that American power should be used only where we have a clear stake in a conflict, a clear goal to be achieved, the clear means to reach that goal, and the potential of clear support on the part of the American people.

As none of those exist in Somalia today, it is time to leave. And for this body, it is time to debate this issue and not the nomination of an Assistant Attorney General.

Sen. Jesse Helms - October 6, 1993 (R-NC)

Mr. President, the United States has no constitutional authority, as I see it, to sacrifice U.S. soldiers to Boutros-Ghali's vision of multilateral peacemaking. Again, I share the view of Senator Byrd that the time to get out is now. We can take care of that criminal warlord over there. We have the means to do it and the capacity to do it. But it ought to be done by the United Nations. I do not want to play in any more U.N. games. I do not want any more of our people under the thumb of any U.N. commander--none.

As a matter of fact, while we are at it, it is high time we reviewed the War Powers Act, which, in the judgment of this Senator, should never have been passed in the first place. The sole constitutional authority to declare war rests, according to our Founding Fathers, right here in the Congress of the United States, and not on Pennsylvania Avenue. I voted against the War Powers Act. If it were to come up again today, I would vote against it. I have never regretted my opposition to it.

Sen. Alan Simpson (R-WY) - October 6

Let me close by saying I am willing to support our President, our Commander in Chief, if we have a policy either for decisive, potent, and powerful military action, without quarter, without reservation--or obviously for us instead to withdraw from Somalia.

What I cannot continue to support is the continuing endangerment of Americans in the service of a policy that remains absolutely mysterious and totally muddled.

Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH) - October 4

And, thus, I hope that we, as a Senate, will proceed to discuss the issue of Somalia in the near future, in the immediate future, before any more American lives are lost; and that we shall put into definition and some focus what is our purpose there and, most importantly, how we intend to disengage or, if it is our decision, how we intend to engage pursuant to the laws which we, as a nation, have as a constitutional democracy.

In fact, one of the very few politicians who has been consistent in his views on this question is -- unsurprisingly -- Russ Feingold, who argued then what he argues now: namely, that the Constitution vests war-making power in the Congress and that Congress can (and, in both cases, should) restrict the President's use of military force:

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) - October 5

In February, I declined to cosponsor the Senate resolution which was introduced and passed in 1 day because I thought the resolution was too vague in terms of the United States mission and duration of our commitment in Somalia. It was also because of the War Powers Act, because of a lack of congressional approval for this specific mission, that I, with six of my colleagues, voted against that resolution in the DOD bill. It turns out, I believe, that the original resolution, which mandated a withdrawal of U.S. troops within 30 days unless continuation was authorized by a specific act of Congress, was probably the correct position.

I join several of my colleagues who have spoken today to say that we should leave Somalia now: we should not increase the American troop level or increase our involvement. Our continued presence risks not only more American lives but also the possibility that the worldwide broadcasting of the mistreatment of U.S. prisoners will so inflame our national pride that it will be increasingly difficult to leave.

When Bill Clinton was President, most of the country's leading Republicans did not seem to have any problem at all with Congressional "interference" in the President's decisions to deploy troops (really to maintain troop deployments, since President Bush 41 first deployed in Somalia). There wasn't any talk back then (at least from them) about the burden of "535 Commanders-in-Chief" or "Congressional incursions" into the President's constitutional warmaking authority. They debated restrictions that ought to be legislatively imposed on President Clinton's military deployments and then imposed them.

And Sen. McCain in particular made arguments in favor of Congressionally-mandated withdraw that are patently applicable to Iraq today. And he specifically argued with regard to forcible troop withdrawal that "responsibilities for that lie with the Congress of the United States." The Constitution hasn't changed since 1993, so I wonder what has prompted such a fundamental shift in Republican views on the proper role of Congressional war powers.

Bush Pretends to Crush Press Corps

I Have Had My Differences With Members of the Press. But it's Nothing That Burying them Under Tons of Earth Won't Solve

Contributed by Holly Bailey - Posted: January 30, 2007 2:10:10 PM

Does President Bush have it in for the press corps? Touring a Caterpillar factory in Peoria, Ill., the Commander in Chief got behind the wheel of a giant tractor and played chicken with a few wayward reporters. Wearing a pair of stylish safety glasses--at least more stylish than most safety glasses--Bush got a mini-tour of the factory before delivering remarks on the economy. "I would suggest moving back," Bush said as he climbed into the cab of a massive D-10 tractor. "I'm about to crank this sucker up." As the engine roared to life, White House staffers tried to steer the press corps to safety, but when the tractor lurched forward, they too were forced to scramble for safety."Get out of the way!" a news photographer yelled. "I think he might run us over!" said another. White House aides tried to herd the reporters the right way without getting run over themselves. Even the Secret Service got involved, as one agent began yelling at reporters to get clear of the tractor. Watching the chaos below, Bush looked out the tractor's window and laughed, steering the massive machine into the spot where most of the press corps had been positioned. The episode lasted about a minute, and Bush was still laughing when he pulled to a stop. He gave reporters a thumbs-up. "If you've never driven a D-10, it's the coolest experience," Bush said afterward. Yeah, almost as much fun as seeing your life flash before your eyes.

Glenn Greenwald - Andrew Sullivan and the hollow "Conservative Soul"

Andrew Sullivan and the hollow "Conservative Soul"

There is a serious fraud emerging in the political landscape that, though easily predictable and predicted, is now being perpetrated with full force -- namely, that the so-called "conservative movement" is not responsible for the destruction wrought on the country by the Bush presidency and the loyal Republican Congress which followed him. Even more audaciously, the claim is emerging that the "conservative movement" is actually the prime victim here, because its lofty "principles" have been betrayed and repudiated by the President and the Congress which have ruled our country for the last six years.

This cry of victimization was the principal theme at the so-called "National Review Institute conservative summit" held this weekend, at which one conservative luminary after the next paraded on stage to lament that the unpopular President and rejected GOP-controlled Congress "abandoned" conservatism and failed for that reason. As but one illustrative example, here is National Review Editor Rich Lowry in his opening remarks, introducing Newt Gingrich, whom Lowry afterwards described as "inspiring, brilliant, creative, visionary":

It is, in all seriousness, it is a distressing and depressing time to be a conservative. I'm reminded of the old saying by Mao -- things are always darkest before they go completely black.

In recent years, we have watched a Republican Congress disgrace itself with its association with scandal, with its willful lack of fiscal discipline, and with its utter disinterest in the reforms that America needs. And at the same time, we watched a Republican President abet or passively accept the excesses of his Congressional party and, more importantly, fail to take the steps - until perhaps now - fail to take the steps to win a major foreign war. . . .

So we need to figure out a way how to make conservative policy and principles appealing and relevant again to the American public, and we need to do it together.

Note the passive tone Lowry uses to signify a lack of agency, even victimhood -- "we have watched a Republican Congress disgrace itself . . . " and "we watched a Republican President abet or passively accept the excesses of his Congressional party . . . . " Poor Lowry and his fellow movement conservatives: they have stood by helplessly and with such sadness as the country was damaged by a President and Congress which abandoned and violated their conservative principles and left conservatives isolated and with nowhere to turn.

But the deceit here is manifest. Lowry and his "conservative" comrades were anything but passive observers over the last six years. They did far more than "watch" as the President and the Congress "disgraced" themselves and damaged this country. It was self-identified "conservatives" who were the principal cheerleaders, the most ardent and loyal propagandists, propping up George Bush and his blindly loyal Republican Congress.

It was they who continuously told America that George Bush was the unified reincarnation of the Great American Conservative Hero Ronald Reagan and the Great Warrior Defender of Freedom, Winston Churchill, all wrapped up in one glorious, powerful package. It was this same conservative movement -- now pretending to lament the abandonment of conservatism by Bush and the Congress -- which was the single greatest source of Bush's political support, which twice elected him and propped up his presidency and the movement which followed it.

So why, after six years of glorifying George Bush and devoting their full-fledged loyalty to him and the GOP-controlled Congress are conservatives like Lowry and Gingrich suddenly insisting that Bush is an anti-conservative and the GOP-led Congress the opposite of conservative virtue? The answer is as obvious as it is revealing. They are desperately trying to disclaim responsibility for the disasters that they wrought in the name of "conservatism," by repudiating the political figures whom they named as the standard-bearers of their movement but whom America has now so decisively rejected.

George Bush has not changed in the slightest. He is exactly the same as he was when he was converted into the hero and icon of the "conservative movement." The only thing that has changed is that Bush is no longer the wildly popular President which conservatives sought to embrace, but instead is a deeply disliked figured, increasingly detested by Americans, from whom conservatives now wish to shield themselves. And in this regard, these self-proclaimed great devotees of Conservative Political Principles have revealed themselves to have none.

When he was popular, George Bush was the Embodiment of Conservatism. Now that he is rejected on a historic scale, he is the Betrayer of Conservatism. That is because "Conservatism" -- while definable on a theoretical plane -- has come to have no practical meaning in this country other than a quest for ever-expanding government power for its own sake. When George Bush enabled those ends, he was The Great Conservative. Now that he impedes them, he is the Judas of the Conservative Movement. It is just that simple and transparent.

* * * * *

It is in this context that Andrew Sullivan's book, The Conservative Soul, is highly worth reading, both because of how revealing and frustrating it is at the same time. Sullivan was one of the very few conservatives who repudiated Bush and the Bush movement when Bush was still popular.

He did so based on the recognition that the Bush presidency never had anything to do with the Goldwater/Reagan "conservative principles" which one finds in textbooks and think tanks (but never in reality). Instead, the Bush movement is a rank fundamentalist and authoritarian movement which sought to vest virtually unlimited power in George Bush as Leader (and will do the same with its next Leader), and to expand, rather than contract, federal power in order to forcibly implement its view of the Good and to perpetuate its own power. That is what "political conservatism" in this country has become.

Sullivan's general critique of the Bush administration, and his specific complaint that it has fundamentally deviated from the abstract conservative principles to which people like Lowry profess fidelity, is both accurate and persuasive. Along those lines, Sullivan cites the borderline-religious belief in tax cuts, depicted not as sound policy but as a moral good, to be pursued "unrelated to any empirical context of consistent rationale," and thus imposed even in the face of suffocating deficits and the virtually unprecedented expansion of government spending.

And it was this same evangelical certainty in the movement's Rightness that not only led the administration to invade Iraq but to persist in the occupation and to insist that things were going well, even in the face of mountains of undeniable empirical evidence to the contrary:

In that worldview, what matters was the ideological analysis: good versus evil. What mattered was the assertion of the United States' right to act alone if necessary to defend its own security. What mattered was the zero-sum analysis that we had to choose between war against Saddam and a potential mushroom cloud in an American city. It was this rigid and abstract analysis that essentially abolished the idea that the war was subject to rational debate. . . . The fundamentalist makes his mind up instantly, makes the fundamental decision, and cannot, by necessity, stop short at a later date and ask himself if he's right. Such second-guessing undermines his entire worldview. It threatens his psychological core.

And this authoritarian mindset, as John Dean so ably documented, leads to all sorts of excesses and amoral behavior. As Sullivan put it: "Self-surrender to authority first; conscience and self-determination second."

So this is all well and good as far as it goes. Personally (and I'm aware that this is going to grate on a lot of sensibilities), I think Sullivan is an excellent writer and a commendable and insightful political thinker. As is evident from his book and his blog, he explicitly examines and frequently re-visits the first principles underlying his beliefs, which is why he is open to rational opposition and to changing his mind about his political views, even on fundamental questions. That is a trait that is all too rare.

That is what makes The Conservative Soul worth reading. It highlights the true philosophical and psychological roots of the Bush movement -- its first principles -- and reveals just how rotted those fundamentalist roots are. It does this as well as, if not better than, any other book has done. And it makes a unique and compelling case for the virtue of doubt, something from which anyone with strong political convictions would probably benefit.

As is true for many people who are driven by their passions, Sullivan himself is certainly prone to excessive, blinding emotion arising from his own self-righteous certainties. That is a flaw that has led him astray in the past into hysteria-based crusades and rather ignoble accusations against others who expressed certain political views, including anti-war and anti-Bush views which Sullivan himself has now come to embrace.

His admissions of error in that regard, while commendable, are less complete and repentant than one would like. He refers to his "analytical errors in the past few years" -- meaning, principally, his support for the war in Iraq specifically and the Bush presidency generally -- but then attributes those errors to a noble cause: "outrage at the atrocity of September 11."

But Sullivan was not merely wrong on the question of Iraq and related matters. He was really one of the leaders of the ugly lynch mobs which impugned not just the judgment, but the motives and patriotism, of Americans who did not succumb to the errors of judgment and raging hysteria which consumed Sullivan. And it's certainly understandable that some people, particularly those who were the targets of that bile, are unlikely ever to think positively about him.

On balance, though, I think the virtues of Sullivan as a political commentator easily outweigh his sins, and The Conservative Soul illustrates why. When he was cheering on George Bush and the Iraq invasion in 2002 and 2003, Sullivan was a virtual hero to Bush supporters. He was far and away the most popular right-wing pundit at the time, and he had a large and loyal constituency. He could have easily maintained and even expanded that popularity -- and preserved the material and other advantages which accompany it -- simply by adhering to his views.

But he didn't do that. He gradually recognized what the Bush movement really was and, as a result, turned on the President and repudiated the political movement which was his fan base. He did so even though he had to know that he would never really be welcomed by liberals, with whom he had been warring for a decade at least. Knowingly alienating oneself from one's core supporters, while being well-aware that it is likely to leave one isolated and without a real constituency, is a commendable act which requires courage. Courage is also required to publicly repudiate one's prior, emphatically advocated positions. That's something which most people, I think, would find very difficult, if not impossible, to do.

And, as an aside, because he has been such a polarizing figure, Sullivan's courage in other, even more important respects has been quite under-appreciated -- courage exemplified by being openly gay at a time when most people weren't, and as part of a political movement where that could only impede him; being one of the first public figures in America to openly disclose his HIV status and to talk openly about living with the virus; and advocating gay marriage long before it was anything remotely like a mainstream topic. Though most people have a strident and absolute view of Sullivan one way or the other, he is a complicated, intelligent, thoughtful and unpredictable political commentator -- open to modifying his views and admitting error -- all of which sets him apart -- and, I think, above -- the majority of the trite, standardized, lifeless pundits who dominate our political discourse.

* * * * * *

All of this brings us back to Rich Lowry and Newt Gingrich and the emerging deceit which the conservative movement is attempting to perpetrate. In contrast to the vast majority of so-called "conservatives" who loyally stood by and cheered on the Bush Presidency and the "disgraced" Republican Congress, there were a handful of conservatives who -- long before Bush's popularity collapsed -- were pointing out just how "un-conservative" the Bush movement was. Sullivan was one such person, along with people like Bruce Bartlett and Pat Buchanan and The American Conservative. And they were treated like blasphemers and pariahs by the Lowry/National Review/Gingrich/Weekly Standard conservatives, because the "Conservative Movement" became synonymous with the Bush Movement, and it therefore became impossible to repudiate the latter without being cast out of the former.

One of the principal flaws of Sullivan's book is that it speaks of "political conservatism" in a way that exists only in the abstract but never in reality. The fabled Goldwater/Reagan small-government "conservatism of doubt" which Sullivan hails -- like the purified, magnanimous form of Communism -- exists, for better or worse, only in myth.

While it is true that Bush has presided over extraordinary growth in federal spending, so did Reagan. Though Bush's deficit spending exceeds that of Reagan's, it does so only by degree, not level. The pornography-obsessed Ed Meese and the utter lawlessness of the Iran-contra scandal were merely the Reagan precursors to the Bush excesses which Sullivan finds so "anti-conservative." The Bush presidency is an extension, an outgrowth, of the roots of political conservatism in this country, not a betrayal of them.

All of the attributes which have made the Bush presidency so disastrous are not in conflict with political conservatism as it exists in reality. Those attributes -- vast expansions of federal power to implement moralistic agendas and to perpetuate political power, along with authoritarian faith in the Leader -- are not violations of "conservative principles." Those have become the defining attributes of the Conservative Movement in this country.

That is why the warnings from Sullivan and others that the Republican Party was acting in violation of "conservative principles" fell on deaf ears and even prompted such hostility -- until, that is, Bush's popularity collapsed. "Conservative principles" are marketing props used by the Conservative Movement to achieve political power, not actual beliefs. Sullivan's principal argument that the Bush presidency never adhered to conservative principles is true enough, but the same can be said of the entire American conservative political movement. That is why they bred and elevated George Bush for six years, and suddenly "realized" that he was "not a conservative" only once political expediency required it.